Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Suite! It's the New Version of Roxio's Easy Media Creator

The latest iteration of Sonic Solution's Roxio multimedia software, Easy Media Creator Suite 10 has more features than you can shake a stick at.  It purportedly can do everything from burning a DVD of shows recorded on your TiVo, to recommending music in your library based upon what songs you like at that moment, to helping crop photos so that they look just right on your mobile phone.  For the record, it can also, apparently, do everything in between.  As with all software however, some of these features work better than others.

The suite's main menu breaks down all the various odds and ends into eight main items in order to make navigation more simple, which is a huge help as there is a ton of material contained in the software.  Even so however, reading the manual that accompanies the program is absolutely essential, as "MyDVD" creates DVDs in a different way than "VideoWave" or "CineMagic" and invariably one program will lead you directly into another as your project progresses.  It is, to put it simply, quite confusing at first and very easily overwhelming.  Until one truly gets the hang out how the video programs work every task is daunting.

Once things become clear however, after a few hours of study and some dreadful mistakes, creating a video project becomes, if not a snap, eminently do-able and users will be able to go from "CineMagic" (your basic video "wizard") to "VideoWave" (which gives you a much more detailed look at the videos timeline and progression) to "MyDVD" (where the whole thing is finalized with pretty menus and chapters) with ease. The video software allows editing on a timeline and can include up to 32 tracks.  That seems like overkill for the program, most people editing home videos will not use more than three or four, but it could hypothetically come in handy for more complicated projects.

One of the best things about video creation in EMC10 is the suite's ability to randomize and easily insert music into videos and slideshows using pre-selected genres and music that comes with the suite.  Additionally, if one is creating a slideshow, the program can be set to randomly choose between dissolves, wipes, fades, and all manner of cuts between photos.  Creating a  wonderful looking slideshow for a birthday, anniversary, or other special event can be done with great ease by the most inexperienced of users.  The one problem with the creation of a slideshow (or any video) is that if the files reside in different directories on your computer the files from one directory have to be selected and okayed before going back and adding more files from another directory.  This makes the process somewhat more cumbersome than it ought to be. 

Roxio's "Photosuite," which is made for organizing and editing digital photographs is also easy in this updated version of EMC10.  Added to the program for this iteration is the ability to "autofix" one's digital photographs.  Essentially, this means that after selecting a photo to edit one can click the "AutoFix" button and have the exposure, saturation, and sharpness all adjusted automatically based upon what the program perceives to be the best choices (if one doesn't like the result the "reset" button is easy to spot).  "Photosuite" also allows for the look of a photograph to be changed manually, as well as the edition of special effects, the elimination of redeye, and cropping of the photograph. 

While all these features are nice, if multiple photographs are opened and available for editing at a single time, the program will not remember from one picture to the next what crop (or other) settings were used.  Thus, if one is cropping 100 photographs to 4x6 size, it is necessary in the crop tool to change the shape to rectangle, the size to 4x6, and select landscape or portrait (default is portrait) every single time.  This becomes an incredibly tedious process when one is working with multiple photos. 

The suite of audio programs included with Easy Media Creator 10, while generally useful, lacks the panache and ease of iTunes.  It should be noted that the interface for the audio programs, most notably selecting audio files to add to playlists and CDs is far more simple than selecting video files and photographs.  Selecting audio files for CDs does not have the same issue with taking songs from multiple folders that exists for photos and videos (oddly though, the problem resurfaces when having the program "AutoMix" feature).  Having Roxio go through the 5,000 plus songs on my computer (all in mp3 format) took hours between analyzing the songs and then obtaining the track information, far longer than a similar process in iTunes.  One of the more useful audio features present in the suite is the ability to convert songs to a plethora of formats.  However, the "AutoMix" feature, which takes songs inputted by the user and attempts to create a playlist with similar songs, while cute, requires inputting a multitude of songs before a playlist that makes sense can be generated. 

In fact, it is the more gimmicky features of the this product that are the most frustrating.  Adding digital media to a mobile fun can certainly make one's phone more fun, and certainly Roxio tries to make such a dream a reality.  However, the utility to perform such tasks takes an extended period to become comfortable with, and, in the end, was almost not worth the effort. 

On the flip side of this, and perfected by Roxio a long time ago, the burning and copying of CDs (and DVDs) is a pleasure to use.  Whether one is using the one-touch copy ability or the drag and drop method within "Creator Classic," EMC10 excels at the creation of data and audio CDs.  This new version even has the ability to burn onto next-generation (HD and Blu-Ray) DVD discs. 

In the end, much of what Roxio's Easy Media Creator 10 Suite does, it does very well.  It takes some time to get used to the quirks of the video editing software (shows imported from TiVo can be used in "MyDVD" though not "MyDVD Express"), but the power placed at the average consumer's fingertips is impressive.  What makes it all more impressive is the "one-stop shopping" nature of the suite.  Virtually anything one wants to do with media (or copying of data), whether it be importing, exporting, or converting, is possible in EMC10.  Some other programs may do individual pieces better, but one would be hard pressed to find a single product that does everything so well. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chuck and Heroes Abuse My Trust (and Faith)

Is there anything worse on Heroes than the Hiro in the past storyline? I so hoped when they put him in the past as a cliffhanger at the end of season one that it was going to be good. I really thought it could be, but it isn't.

Kensei is an idiot. I'm fine with that, I'm even fine with his betraying Hiro. I don't mind Hiro's falling for the princess either, but there has to be more to the story than there is. Last night they even ruined the one part of that story I liked - Ando (and the audience) only seeing what was happening due to Hiro's having left the story for Ando to find. It would have been a far better tale if we remained as in the dark as Ando. The show established that conceit a couple of weeks ago, and it's worked wonderfully; Ando's reactions to Hiro's tale are all far better than the tale itself. Why kill the device at the end of the episode? Wouldn't it have been smarter to have Hiro show up in the present and then recount to Ando what happened? Why yes, it would have. Great point. I don't think they're going to be killing the character in the past, so there is no reason not to structure it that way.

Now, I am wrong about something I wrote above. There is no way that Hiro's being in the past storyline is the worst thing going on in the series. That prize has to go to Claire and her boy-toy using their superpowers to dethrone the wicked queen cheerleader. Last season this girl helped save the world. Now, she is fighting lukewarm evil back in high school. The ante has been lowered a wee bit, don't you think? Surely they could have given the head cheerleader some superpower (outside of being a super-witch) to make the story a little better.

Before I finish my complaining, let me ask how long you think Chuck is going to have trust issues with his handlers and vice versa? How many of the episodes of Chuck have been spent on this now? How many plot points have come about exclusively because Chuck didn't trust Sarah and John or the other way round? My goodness, it is as though this nation would be perfectly safe and the agents that protect it god-like genius warriors if only they would trust the Human Intersect and allow themselves to be trusted by him. Yes, trust is hard to come by, but Josh Shwartz, I must tell you, you're losing mine every time the issue comes up on the show.

I guess there are trust issues on Journeyman as well, but they don't interest me at all. I'm moderately annoyed that Dan's brother, Jack, does things like running checks on Dan's finances behind Dan's back. Surely Jack checking into his brother's financial situation by calling the credit card companies and banks is an illegal abuse of Jack's authority as a police officer, right? But, like I said, I'm only moderately annoyed by that. Frankly, I'm only moderately interested in it too. The one thing that concerns me about the show, as I've said before, is the who, why, and wherefore, of Dan's time traveling. I like the fact that last night's plot played into time travel, it was the only good thing they have done with Dan's trips to the past thus far. But, let me ask this: how small is San Francisco in the minds of the producers? I ask because every time Dan time travels he runs into his wife or his brother or himself or someone he knows. It's as though there are ten people living in the city.

Very happily, How I Met Your Mother airs on Monday nights, and that's a show I can find little to complain about. I just love everything that happens there. Or, almost everything, but definitely everything that happened last night. John Cho was hysterically funny as was Lily's credit card problem. Barney may not quite have been there enough, but Ted Mosby, porn star, was a good storyline (even if too close to a Friends plot). Is anyone out there besides me watching the show? If not, why not? You should definitely give up Chuck to watch HIMYM. Or, at the very least, watch one, TiVo the other and stay up too late catching up on your viewing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Some Desperate Housewives Square off with Bob and Lee

I like Desperate Housewives, I know that I complain about it on a regular basis, and am going to do so below, but I do like the show. It's funny and over the top, it's just not as funny and over the top as it used to be. The first season set the bar so high, I just don't think the producers have ever obtained that level again. On with the complaints…

Bob and Lee. I think they're great additions to the show. I hope that they will have the opportunity in the future for a truly serious plotline, but for right now the show seems to be working them into the overarching story slowly, bit by bit (it's a good plan). But, I want to know some things about the way in which the fountain-sculpture plot unfolded, so please, enlighten me in the comments section below. First question: if Bob and Lee knew that the homeowners association was nominating a new president (and they did because they talked to Lynette about it), why did they not attend that meeting? That way one of them could have gotten nominated to run against Katherine Mayfair rather than Lynette having to jump in and do it.

But, even before that, why didn't Susan just ask Bob and Lee to not turn the fountain on until a decent hour of the day. Surely they could have agreed on that. If Bob and Lee's complaint was Susan being loud during the day and them needing the fountain to drown her out, why did they have to turn the fountain on to drown her out at 6am when she was still asleep? If they had just worked out a compromise the Katherine/Lynette homeowners association face off would not have been necessary.

Lastly with Bob and Lee, I'm curious as to exactly how small the Desperate Housewives universe is. These two guys just happen to know someone on the board of the same hospital that Katherine used to work at. Katherine just happened to come up in a conversation Bob and Lee had with their friend and so they were able to find out Katherine and her husband's (the woefully underused Nathan Fillion) Chicago secret. Anyone want to sing a line or two from that Disney classic about the size of the world in which we live?

Enough about Bob and Lee, I also have a question about our dear friend Bree and it's been bothering me for weeks. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Bree was an horrific parent to her first two children, right? Didn't she end up ditching one of her children on the side of the road and hiding the other in a convent because the girl was pregnant? Hasn't Bree shown herself to be a wretchedly bad parent? Why does she think she's going to do a good job with this new child that she is planning on stealing from her daughter? What's worse, in my mind anyway, is that no one on the show has pointed out this inconsistency to Bree. Surely her loving children ought to be chiming in on Bree's parenting skills at some point. And, if they don't want to I certainly will. I'm giving the show just one more week before I dash off a quick note on some lovely stationery for our dear Mrs. Hodge.

Nova Issues a "Marathon Challenge"

This week's episode of Nova takes something of a different tack than the usual episodes. Gone are stories of history, great discoveries, and cutting edge science. Instead, this week's episode focuses on running the Boston Marathon.

Months before the event, Nova put together a marathon team representing a cross-segment of society. There are 13 members of the team, some in decent condition, but the vast majority, if not overweight, are "over-fat." These "over-fat" people, while they weigh an average amount, have far too high a percentage of body fat. This is, the show tells us, a more and more common occurrence in our society and something that our marathoners hope they are able to rectify.

The 13 members of Team Nova, as the group is called, are followed through nine months of training. Each member does solo runs during the week and then on the weekend they get together for a group run. They are directed in their training by their head coach, Don Megerle (director of Tufts' Annual President's Marathon Challenge) and Uta Pippig, a former Olympian and three-time Boston Marathon winner. Their progress is also monitored by doctors and nutritionists every step of the way.

The narrator explains early on in the episode that Nova's producers have been told to expect that nearly half of their team may not make the marathon (this is why they follow so many people). However, in the end, only one member of the group drops out. The woman in question did not quit of her own choice, but rather due to a recurring leg injury that prevented her from being able to run.

While this fact is a testament to the fortitude and luck of the members of the team, as well as the excellent work of the coaching staff that trains them, it makes the story of each individual member harder to tell. There simply isn't the time necessary to tell 13 individual stories over the course of an hour long episode without losing the overall narrative. Wisely, the show chooses to sacrifice some individual stories in favor of the overarching narrative. This is the better choice to make, but it means that there are people on Team Nova who speak nary a word. It certainly isn't Nova's fault that their runners are successful (it is what they hoped for), but it does hurt the storytelling.

Beyond focusing on the runners themselves, the show does get into some of the science surrounding running. Animations describe the changes that the runners' circulatory, muscle, and respiratory systems undergo due to their training.

Interestingly, the show never discusses the history of the marathon, and never goes into the legend of Pheidippides and the miles and miles of running the soldier did. More than likely, there simply isn't time, but it still is an important, and missing, element.

The concept of this show is a good one. The idea allows for an examination of the marathon in general, the Boston Marathon in particular, the science of running, and provides an opportunity to tell the stories of the runners on Team Nova. It was absolutely essential that Nova put as many people on their team as they did because if they had taken fewer people they may have ended up with no one in the race and that would have been a disaster for the episode. The stories the show does tell about its runners are interesting, but not as in depth as one would like.

Nova – "Marathon Challenge" airs Tuesday October 30 at 8pm. Please don't take my word for it though, check your local listings instead.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lullaby, and Goodnight, a New Baby Einstein Takes Flight

With over two dozen DVDs on the market, the Baby Einstein brand has to keep pushing to find new and innovative topics. They have done just that with their latest release Baby Einstein - Lullaby Time.

As the name implies, the DVD is full of lullaby music. The music is accompanied by pictures of babies either with parents, alone, or with stuffed animals. For the most part, the infants are in their pajamas and clearly preparing for bed.

Additionally, some scenes feature soothing views of the ocean, tranquil shots of clouds, and the usual assortment of toys and games that the Baby Einstein line of DVDs are known for. The DVD is, very consciously, a soothing blend of imagery and music. As with all Baby Einstein DVDs, one gets the sense that every single frame of the production is thought out in advance, with the most minute of details considered.

The point of it all is to prepare your child for going to sleep. Even the lamb puppet that hosts the DVD eschews the usual wackiness and jokes (save for one time at the very end of the credits). Instead he is seen doing things like rocking a teddy bear in a bassinet to sleep and reading a story to a bunny.

Just when one thinks the DVD cannot possibly continue with the lullaby music, a soothing voice comes on and recites a bedtime story about a baby lamb. This is accompanied by a computerized picture book that features images that match the story being told (one wonders if the picture book is immediately available for purchase). The reading of the story is available to be viewed by itself in the bonus features section of the disc.

The program even finishes with a drop to black and a moment of silence. An astute parent whose child does in fact near sleep towards the end of the video will have time to quickly grab the remote and turn off the television before the credits begin to roll and music returns.

The DVD features several extras including "Aren't Ewe Sleepy," which features the lamb puppet looking at a bedtime story and then preparing for bed by putting away toys and being tucked into his own bed to go to sleep. He even proceeds to dream of sheep jumping over a fence, which is portrayed in a less than soothing fashion and seems like an odd choice for the video.

One of the other extras, "Sleep, Sleep, Mr. Sheep" shows our sheep host falling asleep in various places including in his food (a truly distressing experience as any parent who has witnessed such things will attest to). A third one, "Sheep Dreams" shows relaxing, virtually still, images of nature like water rippling on a lake from behind a tree, and grass slowly blowing in the breeze. These are accompanied by sounds of nature and it lasts nearly as long as the main title itself.

This certainly isn't the most stimulating or imaginative entry into the Baby Einstein series, but nor does it intend to be; in fact it wishes to be the very opposite of these first adjectives. The goal is to put out a DVD that both fits into the Baby Einstein mold and that will help calm your child down. Does it work? I have to imagine that the answer to that depends greatly on the child. There certainly is little present that would cause them to be more active. I will say that I certainly felt entirely soothed and relaxed upon completing my viewing of the program.

It's True That I'm Getting Older, But I Still Don't Know How I Feel About a Little Nip/Tuck

Nip/Tuck is a show that constantly reinvents itself. Rather than following its name however and going for little tweaks here and there, the show routinely undergoes total and complete makeovers. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) are always at the heart of the tales, and they in fact change very little, but everything else shifts like buildings during an earthquake. For a couple of seasons the show is about work and family, then it is about a serial killer, then family, now it is about our two doctors moving to Los Angeles from Miami.

McNamara/Troy had been a hugely successful practice in Miami, but the beginning of this season finds our doctors unable to get any clients to grace their new digs. In a town that is all about name recognition, McNamara and Troy are two unknowns. After an unsuccessful attempt to troll for clients at a bar (it seems that every attractive woman in the city already has a plastic surgeon of choice), they come across Fiona McNeill (Lauren Hutton), publicist to the stars. Left with little choice, the boys hire Fiona to help them out and the season gets under way in earnest. From the bar scene through at least the end of the second episode, Nip/Tuck whips out one Hollywood stereotype after another.

The first episode focuses on the addictive nature of power via Craig Bierko's portrayal of Bob Easton, an industry heavyweight who can only lower his stress level with frequent trips to his dominatrix, Mistress Dark Pain (Tia Carrere). It focuses on the inability of middle-aged actresses that look middle-aged to get good roles using Daphne Zuniga as Carly Summers as their prime example. And, the season could not be complete unless Sean and Christian found themselves working on a television show, so the boys quickly end up working with Freddy Prune (an over the top Oliver Platt) who is the show runner for Hearts 'n Scalpels, a plastic surgery-based drama. It almost goes without saying that the star of the show, Aidan Stone (Bradley Cooper) is a narcissistic, shallow, prima donna.

Despite its heavy use of stereotypes, Nip/Tuck's look inside Hollywood is exceedingly entertaining to watch. They are by no means breaking new ground, but the guest stars on the show are all fantastic and help bring new life to the fifth season. Particularly good in the premiere is Bradley Cooper, whose scenery chewing portrayal of Stone is hysterically funny from beginning to end, and his character on Hearts 'n Scalpels is Troy, but ratcheted up a few notches.

By far the biggest problem with the show are the two characters it centers on, Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Despite four full seasons of these two men acting out their every desire, competing for women repeatedly, going around like immature buffoons, and having to deal with the repercussions of these actions, they do not seem to have changed. The backdrop may be different for the show this season, but any viewer that turned the series off during its first season would need a scant 30 seconds to catch up on what has happened since. The two men, Troy in particular, are incredibly self-destructive and have failed to learn anything from their past trials and tribulations. Oddly though, the show has the two men discuss their past problems, recognize that they are acting similarly to the way they have in the past, and then just continue down the same road.

Interviews with the cast and crew promise that the show will have the rest of the regulars venturing out to Los Angeles to see Christian and Sean. In the second episode Julia, Sean's ex-wife, does in fact make a visit in order to tell the boys about her new relationship. The show feels forced at this point, like when the star of a show goes to visit a spin-off. The series may have been wiser to jettison the rest of the regulars if everyone's trip to L.A. is going to be done in the same manner, but maybe the other visits will be fit in to the series in a more natural way.

Nip/Tuck is high gloss, fast paced, and entertaining to watch. But, much like the work McNamara/Troy does on its patients, it is never more than skin deep. Yes, there are moments when something deeper is touched, but much like the fat removed from around the middle of an overweight character, the result of any deep exploration is only ever a surface improvement. There is something to be said, however, for taking an hour every week to stare at something beautiful, even if it has little depth.

Nip/Tuck airs Tuesdsay nights at 10pm on FX.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Who Wants to Use the Potty? What if Pocket Snails Helped Out?

Trying to figure out how to get a toddler to go to the bathroom in a potty as opposed to using a diaper can be a daunting task. Potty training is an absolutely essential part of a child's growth and development, and yet (or maybe consequently) it can be one of the most frustrating. Any and every aid available to parents to try and help with this task is welcome. A new DVD, featuring the Pocket Snails, entitled Pocket Snails: Potty Adventure has recently entered the fight to help the potty training process.

The Pocket Snails are a group of three snails, who, as their name suggests, live in a young boy's pocket. The snails, Gordon, Dale, and Buttons, go around helping Jake (the boy in whose pocket they reside), and in this case Jake's little sister, Wendy, learn about certain things. As the title makes clear, this time around it is how to use the potty.

Upon learning that Wendy is going to be potty trained, the snails take it upon themselves to use their Potty Steps Map to go through how to use the potty and take pictures along the way of the various important items that are necessary for using the potty (the potty itself, toilet paper, etc.). Once they finish this task they go back to Wendy and Jake and take them through the steps again, showing off their photographs.

In fact, over the course of the DVD the Pocket Snails and Wendy go through the various steps required to go to the potty several times and even have songs about potty training. Repetition is often the key to have toddlers understand and be able to accomplish tasks, so the tactic makes sense.

Happily, despite the fact that every step is covered multiple times, the DVD story manages go through the steps in a multitude of ways so that parents can actually manage to sit through the entire 30 minutes of program. It may seem odd that the snails sing in front of dancing diapers at one point, but if it helps get your child to use the potty, how bad could it be?

The animation, while not terribly nuanced, is bright and cheerful. The potty that Wendy is to use emits a wonderful glow that promises that it is full of magic, excitement, and just a grand old time.

Gordon, Dale, and Buttons, our Pocket Snails, are amusing and incredibly enthusiastic about venturing into the bathroom. I do wonder if their rolling and unrolling the toilet paper a few times isn't sending a bad message to children about what is and isn't acceptable bathroom etiquette, but that is a small quibble.

Included with the new DVD is a copy of the Potty Steps Map. The DVD also has some bonus features including a scene to help encourage children to use the bathroom, another that congratulates children on the successful use of the potty, and a "blooper reel" that features some mishaps with the snails during the "filming" of the feature.

Does it all help a child learn to use the potty? That is a harder question to answer, but I certainly cannot imagine it making potty training more difficult. I fully intend to show my toddler the video several more times.

Veronica Mars's Final Season Comes to DVD... I Don't Know Whether to be Happy or Sad

The third season of the cult television show Veronica Mars moved the private eye, played to perfection by Kristen Bell, from high school to college.  Once one accepts the conceit present in so many shows that make this move that somehow the important players in the gang all decide to go the same school, there is much fun to be had in this final season. 

In an effort to boost viewership, the third season eschews the season long mystery and in its place has a couple of multi-episode mysteries as well as stand alone episodes.  Despite this change in the storytelling structure, all the hallmarks of the show's first two seasons are present, from the noir mysteries, to Veronica's problems with her love life, to her ever so snarky comments. 

The first of the two multi-episode mysteries deals with rapes happening on the campus of Veronica's new school, Hearst College.  The plot was initially brought up when Veronica went to visit the school during a season two episode.  Nearly the first half of this season is spent with Veronica investigating the rapes and getting herself into deep trouble with all the possible suspects.  Nine of the 20 episodes from the season are spent with Veronica on this case, and also find her just starting to get her footing at college. 

By the time she is starting to finally get the hang of the whole higher education thing, she is on her second case, the apparent suicide of a faculty member.  Lucky for Veronica the faculty member just happened to die in the exact way Veronica wrote that a "perfect murder" could be committed for one of her classes. 

Unlike the first mystery, this second one ends in a way that is all too predictable.  The whodunit can be figured out several episodes before Veronica actually puts all the pieces together. 

However, throughout all the cases, murders, double-crosses, and general college fun, the show really finds its center in relationships.  It is Veronica's relationship with her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni), her on again off relationship with Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) as well as her friendships with Wallace (Percy Daggs III), Piz (Chris Lowell), and Mac (Tina Marjorino) that are at the heart of the story.  The mystery cases may provide a great way to enter the series, but it is the relationships that keep people hooked. 

One of the things that the show does so successfully is the character of Veronica herself.  She is a part of virtually every storyline the show puts forth, and despite the numerous setbacks she has had in her life (like her mother abandoning Veronica and her father) she is still a likable character.  Undeniably, she has a mean streak, but somehow she is able to smile an ironic, mocking, smile, use her razor sharp wit, and win over a sizable percentage of those she encounters.  There are hold outs, like the girls from Lilith House, a feminist group on the Hearst College campus, but it seems like a smaller group of people in college than at Neptune High School. 

One of the more interesting parts of this DVD release is the sixth disc, which focuses entirely on special features.  The first two items included on the disc are all about the hypothetical fourth season of the show.  Rob Thomas (creator and executive producer of Veronica Mars) along with his team put together a presentation for the CW network as to what the fourth season of the show could be (it fast-forwards a few years and puts Veronica in the FBI).  The presentation, which is essentially an extended tease, shows off Veronica's new colleagues, potential friends or enemies all, and gives some hints as to what happened during the "missing" years.  The next special feature has Rob Thomas and Dan Etheridge (supervising producer) discuss the presentation in greater depth.  They go into why they put it together as well as what exactly it took to get the entire presentation off the ground.  Sadly, as we all now know, the CW declined to pick up the show, but there is still a certain morbid curiosity attached to viewing the presentation itself.

Other special features on the disc include Thomas and Etheridge discussing various story beats, characters, and changes in the show from one season to the next.  These discussions are punctuated by clips from the show that provide examples of what they are talking about.  There are also unaired scenes, a gag reel, and some interviews that were on the Veronica Mars website included.  

Throughout its tumultuous three seasons, Veronica Mars garnered a loyal, but small, viewership.  It is one of the shows that, though wise and witty was never a big hit with audiences.  Veronica Mars - The Complete Third Season may not be the best entry into the series (watching the first two seasons of the show is helpful), but it is certainly possible to solely watch these 20 episodes of the series, have a great deal of fun, and lament a show that disappeared before its time was up. 

Friday, October 26, 2007

How Did 30 Rock Get a Hold of My Life Story?

Okay, 30 Rock is getting just plain scary now. I have no idea how they figured out about my life and decided to mock it and me, but they did, they have, and I'm getting really nervous. I'm more than a little afraid Tina Fey is going to knock on my door in the middle of the night and waterboard me until she gets more stories for Kenny.

Last night, as you may recall, the head page, Donny (Paul Scheer), threatened to send Kenny to CNBC, to exile him to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey for losing his jacket. Well, upon completion of my year in the Page Program, where did I end up but exiled to CNBC in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey? (Not that I didn't have a great time working with lovely people in Englewood Cliffs -- hi Brian and Rich!) And it was there, in Englewood Cliffs, that I worked with Paul Scheer. Do you see what I'm getting at? There is clearly some book about my time as a page hidden in one of the writers' offices at 30 Rock, and they're taking the stories of my life from it. I feel like Kramer when J. Peterman bought his tales - anything I say about my time as a page is going to get me sued for stealing from 30 Rock. It may be funny, but it's just not right.

What's also not right is Earl making a new list on a pillowcase because his old list was taken away from him. That storyline didn't sit well with me at all; there is just no reason that Earl's doing the right thing has to be tied to a list, I think it's fine if the show moves away from the list while our hero is in jail. This is especially true if the show focuses itself on Joy and Catalina. Their storyline from last night, Catalina blackmailing Joy for having an accident, was great. I may have liked to see Catalina do a little bit more with Joy's picture in order to torment the lady, but there was still enough back and forth and evil Joy (one of the show's perpetual highlights) to make last night worth tuning in for that plot alone.

And then there was Scrubs. The show was never a huge success ratings-wise, but has maintained a level of funny through its seven years on the air that I'm going to be very sad to see it go. The show has always managed to blend heart and humor in a way I think is admirable. Elliot last night going to see Keith while he was packing up his stuff from their apartment is a great example of this. Elliot is there, feeling terrible about what she's done, she really doesn't want to hurt Keith, but she believes that the two ought not get married. Elliot cracks a few jokes, and even does a riff on how the two of them like jokes that are "too soon," and throughout, Keith just stares at her, incredibly upset. When the camera is on Elliot, and she's telling her jokes, it's impossible not to laugh, the jokes may be outrageous and told at the wrong moment, but they're just so funny. When the camera is on Keith however you feel horrible for the guy. It's an incredibly hard balance to strike and one the show does very well.

It's kind of like Dwight creating a second Second Life on The Office. The guy is hurting because of his break-up with Angela, and the fact that he spends so much time in a virtual world is a really touching symbol of that. The Office producers take it all a step further though, having Dwight retreat even more into the computer non-game by creating a virtual world within the virtual world, his second Second Life. It's touching and sweet and sad and funny all at the same time.

Lastly for today, oh my goodness I just saw something awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. At least it looks like it will be. Below is a fantastic little widget that has the trailer for the seventh season of 24 on it. Check it out and get ready, it seems as though Jack Bauer is, once again, about to have the longest day of his life.

Let's Just Pretend This Was Published Thursday

For reasons various and sundry, while written on Thursday this didn't get published till today. Please accept all "last night's" as "Wednesday night's" and any "tonight" as "last night."

Was I imagining things or last night on Bionic Woman did they rejigger the old school bionic sound and play it when Jaime was jumping around the rooftops? I think they did and I know I liked it. But, you know me, I can't leave well enough alone, so let's talk about my problem with the episode…

For some, inexplicable reason, the show tried to pawn off the cute TA guy as the bad guy when the instant the bearded TA guy showed up we knew it was him. I actually got really confused and had to re-watch parts of the episode because it was obvious the bearded guy was the enemy. Seriously, I went back to check and see if I had missed where bearded guy was crossed off the list and he never was, thus, I couldn't fathom why Jaime was wasting her time with the other TA. I should be a spy apparently.

There are still other huge problems with the show like pacing, the ever-shifting tone, and things like that, but I'm not sure the show will ever iron those things out, so my real question about the episode is whether Michelle Ryan and/or the producers decided that she couldn't keep doing the American accent all the time. It seemed wholly arbitrary that she had to pose as a British student. I imagine that if Michelle Ryan wasn't British her undercover identity would have been an American one. Silly plot point aside, it was great to hear her speak with the British accent.

No matter what though, nothing was as great as Pushing Daisies pushing They Might Be Giants last night. I was worried for the most fleeting of moments that despite Olive using the phrase "birdhouse in your soul" they weren't going to sing the They Might Be Giants song of the same name. Thankfully, the tune soon issued forth from Olive and her compatriots and all was right with the world.

Yesterday, you may recall, I was quick to be distressed by the Andi/Sam relationship on Reaper and the fact that it doesn't seem to progress week after week. Chuck and Ned have a similar problem on Pushing Daisies, but I really don't take issue with that. Why is that the case, I wonder. Neither pair will be consummating their relationship any time soon and both shows seem only too happy to keep dangling the relationship before the viewer. The tactic works for Pushing Daisies, but on Reaper it is just annoying. I think the main difference is that the Andi/Sam relationship doesn't progress because they just don't talk to each other whereas the Ned/Chuck one doesn't progress because if it did Chuck would fall down dead on the floor. It's the difference between "will not" and "cannot." It is also the difference between clever and stale. The relationship can't progress on Pushing Daisies for a reason that I don't think I've ever seen before, it can't progress on Reaper because of a reason that I see (and don't accept) on show after show after show.

The biggest question I have is will JD and Elliott get together on the final season of Scrubs? It starts tonight people, and boy am I excited about it. I know I've told you about these sorts of things before, but NBC is doing an online chat tonight with Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence. Apparently, they're not quite sure how to end the series and want input. Have at it folks - the show actually wants to know what the fans want. I don't know if it's a good idea or not, but they don't ask for my opinion. Well, they did ask for my opinion, but not my opinion on whether they should take someone else's opinion.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Starz Sinks its Teeth Into Bloodsucking Cinema

Throughout the month of October the premium movie channel Starz has been airing their "Fear Fest." As one can guess from its name, it mainly consists of horror movies. As one must remember, Halloween is at the end of the month.

One of the other things that Fear Fest incorporates, though, is a brand new documentary entitled Bloodsucking Cinema that focuses on vampires throughout the course of cinematic history. The documentary airs as a part of Starz's Starz Inside series and is hosted by Richard Roeper.

Complete with talking heads speaking from critical, industry, and fan boy perspectives, the documentary, after a brief introduction, quickly heads back to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu and the origins of the vampire movie. Rather than simply going through the evolution of the vampire movie from that time to this however, it jumps back and forth from modern era vampire films to the past and back again.

While this is an interesting way to tackle the topic -- most documentaries would simply trace the evolution on a simple timeline rather than jumping back and forth -- it becomes clear soon enough why Bloodsucking Cinema is structured in this fashion. The method of organization is necessary because the film's talking heads from the industry make up the vast majority of interviewees and they are all there, it seems, to plug their work. To put all these industry people at the back half of the documentary would make the last 30 or 40 minutes of the hour documentary one long commercial. Thus, they, and their films, must be interspersed throughout.

Even so, interesting relations are drawn from modern movies to ones from the past, such as From Dusk Till Dawn coming out of Mexican vampire movies. This sub-genre in turn came from the Spanish-language Dracula that filmed on the same set as Bela Lugosi's classic version when the Lugosi crew was at home for the night. It is in an interesting way to trace the lineage, and certainly seems valid, but it seems odd to have Cheech Marin do the heavy lifting. Cheech, while he has starred in a vampire flick, and is always great fun to watch, is not whom one thinks of when they contemplate vampire film experts.

Nor, for that matter, is Kristanna Loken, who appears to discuss her vampire movie, Bloodrayne (she is most often thought of as the Terminatrix from Terminator 3). Should a discussion of Loken's vampire picture be necessary, the director, Uwe Boll, may be a better choice to discuss the film. Happily, he is included in the documentary as well, but he makes Loken's presence unnecessary.

As no discussion of the vampire film would be complete without a look at the films that came out of Hammer Studios, Bloodsucking Cinema discusses them as well. As with all decades-old vampire films, less time is spent here than is deserved, but some choice moments are shown in detail, including Van Helsing's fighting off his own transformation by cauterizing a bite and pouring on holy water (Brides of Dracula).

Also present to talk about the genre are several special effects and makeup artists who go into some detail as to how they go about creating the look and feel of vampire films. They discuss where their influences come from and moments they admire, and are often more interesting than some of the directors who appear in the documentary.

In the end, while Bloodsucking Cinema does trace the history of the vampire film, it never quite goes into as much depth on the films of the past as it does the films of the present. Consequently, it often feels like little more than a promotion for recent vampire titles. Despite this shortcoming, and the fact that it means that the piece goes into little depth on older films, it does make some interesting connections and those starting to get interested in the genre would do well to begin their studies here.

Bloodsucking Cinema premieres on Starz Friday October 26 at 8pm (check your local listings anyway though, just in case).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oh Tuesday Night Television, What am I Going to do With You

Reaper is about to disappear from my TiVo. I liked the first episode, I thought it funny and clever, and have been more and more and more disappointed with every episode that has followed. I think the series is trending down, and based on the fact that last night's viewership was dismal, many of you out there seem to agree with me.

As you may recall, last week I complained that the Andi/Sam relationship needed to progress or die. Last night, virtually the entire episode was Sam lamenting his inability to get together with Andi, the exact problem I said had to go away. I understand that my complaining about something one week is not going to lead to an immediate change, but I have the distinct impression that the producers of the show think I'm misguided in this assertion. Their goal, it seems after last night, is to ratchet this whole non-relationship issue up. I could almost forgive them if I thought it was going to go somewhere, but I don't think that's the case. I would bet that it's just going to ebb and flow week after week and continue ad nauseam.

Be warned Reaper, you're thisclose to being cut from my TiVo schedule.

The problem with my cutting the show is that I will then only be watching two Tuesday night programs, Cane and Boston Legal, both of which air at 10pm. What will I do from 8 to 10 and why should I have to stay up until midnight to watch two hours of primetime? Sure, I could hope for more wildfires that get Boston Legal pre-empted for a special edition of 20/20, and that eventually ABC will shift Boston Legal to 9pm in order to air the episodes they have waiting in the wings, but that's just plain mean. Even I think that hoping for such a thing is completely wrong and wish for nothing but a speedy end to the problems in Southern California.

I do like Cane though. I know that the show is just a rehash of the umpteen high-powered catty family shows that have come before it (Dallas, Dynasty, et cetera), but Jimmy Smits, Nestor Carbonell, and Hector Elizondo are enough to keep me tuning in. Jimmy Smits is quite the brooder, proving as much last night, when the scowl never left his face. Carbonell's Frank Duque though constantly wavered about how he felt about his own actions. The man clearly wants to do what is best for his family and just doesn't seem quite sure what that is. I don't think that he has any desire at this moment to have power over Smits's Alex Vega simply to have power, I think he actually wants to help his family. It's just too bad that Elizondo didn't get much time on the show last night.

Now, finally, a few words about the Damages finale. My goodness, for a show that I so looked forward to, a show that I so thought could be fun and smart and keep me guessing, it only managed to do one of those three things. Throughout the entire season I sat there and I kept guessing - I guessed as to why the cops could be so stupid, I guessed as to whether the producers knew where they were going, I guessed as to why they structure the show with so many flashbacks and flash forwards. I actually came up with an answer for the last of these questions: the show had to be structured that way to keep the audience from being able to grasp a clear picture of what was happening, as the plot never made any logical sense and showing the events sequentially would make that clear.

Oh sure, the finale tried to fix some of that with the D.A. wanting to prosecute Ellen despite the evidence (you know the blood on her coat that wasn't hers or David's that the cops never seemed to care about) in order to get votes, but that felt more like a cheap way to fix the show's mistakes. And, I respect the idea that the show wanted to set up the second season last night, introducing the FBI thing, but that felt so hugely out of place and silly I can't imagine why they did it. What I really want to know is whether Frobisher lived. Last night, seeing another scene between Glenn and Ted Danson, I had to wonder why these two didn't come face to face more often. Every time they butted heads it made for great television. The murder mystery felt so forced, what the show really needed was these two actors squaring off week after week.

That is something I would tune in for if there is a second season.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oh Veronica Mars Girl, You're one of my Heroes

Every week I find so much to like about How I Met Your Mother.  They're always doing something different and wacky and just plain old awesome.  Barney established the "Vicky Mendoza Line" last night with a graphical look at how to judge girls on a hot versus crazy scale (not to be confused with other techniques for identifying crazy-hot girls).  It is the very idea that Barney codifies such things that is funny.  Even if no one has actually codified such a scale in the real world, people think in these terms. 

Speaking of the crazy and hot scale, I haven't quite decided where Sarah on Chuck lies on the x,y plane.  Sure, she appears normal, but I'm convinced there is crazy lurking below the surface. You can't possibly think I'm wrong about that, can you?  Maybe it's a season three or season four development (if the show gets that far, the ratings are not outstanding), but I have to believe that she's got some dark secrets buried beneath the surface that will show the crazy. 

But, will I still be watching if the show exists at that point?  That I simply don't know.  The ways in which Chuck tries to hide his secret agent life from his friends and family is completely uninteresting.  Completely.  It's not done in a new, different, clever, or fun way.  Raise your hand if you didn't know that by the end of the episode Chuck's sister would completely forgive him.  Raise your hand if you think the show isn’t going to continue using these tropes week after week.  See, very few of you raised your hands either time.  I'm going to say that this is not a sign of apathy or thinking that I'm speaking in a purely hypothetical manner, but rather the fact that you're in complete agreement with me. 

Heroes, however I'm enjoying.  I think I'd rather watch the entire season over the course of three or four days than over the course of eight or nine months.  The individual revelations and story beats are interesting, but the show just doesn't have enough of them in a given episode to make me feel like I've gotten enough after the hour (or 44 minutes, minus, probably, the ridiculous Bee Movie stuff).  Even so, the Matt Parkman story line continued to develop in ways I liked yesterday, particularly with his father trapping Matt and Nathan in different nightmares.

Okay, now what you really want to know about – Kristen Bell's first appearance as, it seems to me, the anti-cheerleader.  Her relationship with the man she identified on the phone as her father seemed to be the exact opposite of Claire's with HRG.  I really don't think it's going too far out on a limb to suggest that this parallel has been established on purpose. Well, if I'm right, if she is being set up as the anti-cheerleader, I think we may have a fantastic battle to look forward to in the future.  At least, if will may the fan boys and oglers happy. 

Journeyman… well… I just don't know.  Dan is certainly being sent back with a purpose each time, it's a given.  There are then two choices as to who is sending him back – some omniscient god-like creature or a group of people that are trying to help the world.  If it's the former, and I don't think it is if the crazy scientist from Livermore Labs can call Dan in the past, last night is forgivable.  If it's a more human group that is doing it, their actions are completely unacceptable – they took Dan and left his kid alone in a crowd.  That is not okay.  These people are hurting Dan and his family in order to help others.  Who is Dan, Job?  If a god-like creature is doing this there may be no talking to it, if it's people they're just plain evil.  I can't imagine an acceptable explanation of than "hehe, whoops."  How exactly are they going to get out of that one? 

We'll see, we'll see.

Bouncing Here and There and Everywhere, They are the Care Bears

Care Bears, the toy, television show, movie, cross-platform wonders from the 1980s are back. They have been completely re-imagined as CGI, and still have the unbounded optimism that was their hallmark twenty years ago.

A new Care Bears DVD release, Care Bears: Oopsy Does It! features some of the classic bears along with a new character, Oopsy Bear. Oopsy is the one Care Bear who doesn't have a belly badge. Instead, Oopsy carries a multicolored pencil which he uses to draw various badges from time to time on his belly as a joke (they do not provide Oopsy with any special abilities). As Oopsy's name indicates, he is accident prone, the Care Bear equivalent of Clumsy Smurf if you will. It is important to note that just like Clumsy Smurf, Oopsy's oopses are not the product of malice, he is just unlucky.

In this new feature, Oopsy is helping some of the other Care Bears, including the classics Grumpy Bear, Cheer Bear, and Funshine Bear, put together a new amusement park for all the bears in Care-a-lot. As one might predict however, Oopsy hurts the entire process more than he helps it, and with the opening only hours away, Oopsy is sent on the menial task of putting up signs to the new park.

Meanwhile, somewhere outside Care-a-lot, the evil Grizzle is planning a dastardly scheme to take all the Care Bears' belly badges using a machine he has built called the Care-taker. In order for the machine to work he needs to obtain the powers of three bears and sends his henchman, a robot named Wingnut, to accomplish the task. Wingnut, not being the smartest of henchman, mistakes Oopsy's drawn on belly badge for an actual one and returns with him to Grizzle. Oopsy is tricked by Grizzle into helping him get the caretaker up and running. In the end, Oopsy realizes what is going on and becomes the only Care Bear who can save the day.

The basics of the plot may be well-worn, but there is an enthusiasm to the Bears and the script that make this forgivable. Adults looking for a retro-fix will be both pleased and distressed by the new Care Bears. Still present is their generosity, spark, and infectious glee, but the CGI animation does create a vastly different look to the series.

Of course, children have little to no experience with the Care Bears and the two decade old show, so the new look won't make any sort of difference to the younger generation. Additionally, at just over 70 minutes, the movie provides a more fleshed out story than the average episode of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Care Bears: Oopsy Does It! will almost certainly provide enjoyment for young children; the glee of the bears is hard to ignore, without offending any parents in the room. It may not be new or different, but the movie does use a well-liked formula.

The DVD comes with only a single bonus feature, a Care Bears music video. It will be released October 23, 2007.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Laughlin is Lost, but the Housewives are Found

I was going to spend plenty of time today talking about how I don't really "get" Viva Laughlin. I think that having the actual vocal tracks play so loudly along with people singing sounds terrible. Also, if I counted correctly, last night's episode only featured two and a half songs, one of which wasn't even sung by anyone in the cast at all, though it is never a mistake to play "Fat Bottom Girls."

But, I don't have to do that as CBS has pulled the series in order to start airing The Amazing Race. Wow. That was fast. The first scripted series of the season is down, and only days after its first episode. Take that, pundits who said that scripted shows wouldn't be canceled so quickly this year due to the possible writers' strike (mark your calendars kiddies, the contract is up in less then two weeks). Shows what we know.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the show's cancellation. I didn't think that either of the episodes I watched were terribly good, but they had some potential. There were some huge problems with the way in which the story was told, but it was still a moderately interesting tale. I was really perturbed watching the two cops last night. Did they really have to, in their first scene in the second episode, explain to the audience each of the murder suspects' motives? Unless they share a brain, both cops knew the motives, so it was completely unnatural (on screen anyway) for them to go through them. But, I promised not to complain about the show as it's a moot point anyway, didn't I?

The real problem is that the cancellation doesn't make my life any easier. I thought that once new series started to die off I'd have more free time on my hands. I was assuming that they would be replaced by stuff I wasn't interested in, but there's no way I'm not going to watch The Amazing Race, talk about good reality TV (keep your fingers crossed for a lack of bottlenecks this season).

I actually found myself really enjoying Desperate Housewives last night. I know, I don't do really do it that much, but on the whole I liked the episode. Gaby, Edie, Carlos, and Mr. Mayor getting crabs was a good time (at least for those of us watching).

I would, I'm sorry about this, like to ask one little question though. Can one of you fine readers, or more if you feel like it, explain Susan to me, because I don't get her. Week after week she comes up with these insane plans and ideas and week after week, they fail. I have to believe that at some point in her life some of her ridiculous plans succeeded, which has prompted her to continue down that track, but I've never seen nor heard any indication of this. Why does she pursue her insane little plans? Surely she's figured it all out by now.

One guy that clearly hasn't figured it all out by now though is Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. This guy, whom I tend to like, does insane things. Like last night for instance – there he was talking to the TiVo repairman when his wife, Cheryl, called from the airplane she was on, thinking she was going to crash and die due to the turbulence. What did Larry do? He asked her to call back in ten minutes. Okay, I'll give you that him doing that is funny, but it's also sick in a slightly disturbing way. Surely the man ought to know better than that. Did he deserve for Cheryl to leave him because of his idiocy? No, he did not, but that doesn't make his actions okay either.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Meet The Robinsons? Actually, We've Met.

Time travel stories are difficult to tell.  When watching a movie that focuses on time travel, the audience is often quick to point out the multitude of story problems and paradoxes that ought to make the entire film unspool far differently than it does.  When the film in question is an animated movie put out by Disney and geared for children, as with Meet The Robinsons, the target audience is probably somewhat less demanding.  It is lucky for Disney that this is the case, as Meet the Robinsons is riddled with plot holes, paradoxes, and a multitude of ill thought through notions.  While children in the audience won't be picky about these, it does lessen the enjoyment for adults. 

The movie focuses on young Lewis, an orphan who fancies himself an inventor.  Sadly for Lewis, none of his inventions work, that is, until he decides to come up with a machine that will tap into people's hippocampus in order to show trapped memories.  Just as Lewis is about to unveil this creation at his school's science fair, a strange young boy named Wilbur Robinson appears.  Wilbur warns Lewis of a sinister man in a bowler hat.  While Lewis has not encountered Bowler Hat Guy to this point, the villain does make an appearance just as Lewis is about to unveil his creation. 

The bowler hat itself (it is a robot) breaks the memory machine just as Lewis is about to fire it up, causing enormous destruction and devastating Lewis.  Lewis opts to quit his inventing, which was the Bowler Hat Guy's goal, much to the chagrin of Wilbur Robinson.  Wilbur, as it turns out, is a boy from the future who has traveled back in time to try and stop Bowler Hat Guy from ruining Lewis's invention. 

Quicker than you can say "danger Will Robinson," Lewis, Wilbur, and Bowler Hat Guy are headed to the future as Wilbur tries to stop Bowler Hat Guy and convince Lewis to continue inventing.

 If one opts to not apply logic to the film, it is a children's movie after all, things are much more fun.  Director Stephen J. Anderson's (who also voices Bowler Hat Guy) vision of the future is fun and bright and cheerful.  Wilbur and his family live in a fantastic place where, even if things don't work as they should, everyone tries to "keep moving forward," which happens to be the Robinson family motto.  While the computer animation is not quite as spectacular as what emerges from Pixar, there is still plenty to look at and be impressed by.

However, even steering clear of the pitfalls of time travel, the film has one major problem - Bowler Hat Guy is unsatisfying as a villain.  The bowler hat turns out, the audience learns very early on, to be far more evil than the head on which it sits.  While this helps make the piece more palatable (the hat makes for a better bad guy than Bowler Hat Guy), it in no way makes Bowler Hat Guy appealing to watch.  He is a whiny, inane, villain and nowhere near as good as the majority of bad guys that reside in the Disney pantheon.  He is overly comedic and neither he, nor the hat, ever really put forth the necessary sense of dread or menace required even of a cartoon villain.

While Meet The Robinsons is moderately amusing, it is, at times, annoying and ends up leaving the adult audience longing for Walt Disney's golden era or, perhaps, another Pixar-helmed production.

The film does however have some wonderful moments.  The Robinson family is superbly funny and nice and despite their oddities the exact sort of people we would all like to know.  There are actually numerous moments and episodes in the film that are great fun to watch, and much of the piece feels like a roller coaster rid, as a whole though, Meet the Robinsons is simply not as much fun as it ought to have been. 

Lewis and Wilbur make for a great pair in the film, and are amusing on screen together.  The dynamic the two characters have with one another quickly moves from hugely suspicious and disheartened to somewhat cautious and completely curious to utterly fast friends.  The movement, though speedy, is believable and part of the charm of the movie.

The DVD release of Meet The Robinsons features deleted scenes, music videos, and a Robinson family matching game.  There is also a behind the scenes featurette and another that looks at how inventors have changed the world as well as an audio commentary by Stephen Anderson for the feature film itself.

While Meet The Robinsons has its share of funny pieces and cute moments, it lacks some of the charm and storytelling that have made the Disney name what it is today.  Children will enjoy the feature, but it will not end up alongside Disney's greatest works in anyone's imagination. 

Saturday, October 20, 2007

If Only Mrs. Pritchard Could Be President

The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard is, well, amazing.  Focusing on politics in England, the show centers itself on the unlikely character of Ros Pritchard (Jane Horrocks).  Ros, as the series opens, is the manager of a Greengages grocery store, but she doesn't remain as much for long.

When two candidates standing for a seat in Parliament start a fight with each other in front of Ros's store, Ros gets involved.  Initially Ros just breaks up the fight, but soon after she has a few choice words for the press about the candidates.  Before too long, Ros is giving more and more interviews and running for the seat herself all while forming her own political party.  Then, quicker than one can blink an eye, other people (mostly women) are joining her party and running in their districts.  Pretty soon, current MPs are defecting from their parties to Ros's, most significantly Catherine Walker (Janet McTeer) a shadow minister in the current administration.  The groundswell continues and by the end of the episode Ros has become Prime Minister. 

Ros's political party's main point is what we all know, too many of our politicians say and do too little for the people while promoting themselves incessantly.  Politicians say this to us all the time with it being little more than hot air, Ros's selling point is the fact that not only does she mean it, it is perhaps true that our politicians do mean it (but being politicians they do not particularly care), but she is not a politician.  She, to this point, has not been a part of the problem.

Acting as sometimes support, Ros has a family of her own.  They have to struggle dealing with this curveball, too.  Her husband, Ian (Stephen Mackintosh), may have the most difficulty with Ros's running and her new job early on, but it is her eldest daughter, Emily (Carey Mulligan) that may have the worst time of it.

Yes, the entire event is unlikely.  Ros getting elected is highly improbable.  Ros's party winning a majority is utterly impossible.  But, it is truly marvelous and only the first hour of the six hours in the season.

The last five hours never quite recapture the wonder and amazement of the first one.  There is a certain whimsy and charm in that hour that would be nearly impossible to put into every moment of the series.  Yet, each of the subsequent episodes throws new challenges before Ros and her team, and her status as a novice both helps and hinders.

Lest one believe that the show does not believe in anything that politicians do, the series does, regularly, acknowledge that there are good things about them too.  When Ros is running for office she unquestionably puts forth the notion that her party will need people that know the way Whitehall works.  She also, very wisely, points out that they will need people on their team that understand the economy as a whole.  The show could have gone very, very wrong putting forward a Ros who would believe that "running the economy can't be that different from managing a grocers." Lesser shows may have gone down that road, but The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard is wiser than that.

Every episode focuses not just on the political problems that Ros and her compatriots face, but her family's problems and transformations too.  The show deftly balances the two, even causing them to intersect when necessary.

The show moves forward with one impossible conceit:  Ros Pritchard is in charge of the nation.  But, from there, everything that follows seems down to earth, logical, and almost wholly believable. 

The saddest thing about the show is that it will never actually happen, nor will anything similar. 

The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard airs as a part of Masterpiece Theatre on PBS at 9pm ET/PT from October 21 to November 18 and is well worth adding to your calendar.  Check your local listings for specific times and dates.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Kenny the Page and Jim & Pam and Earl

I find myself impressed by Jim and Pam. These two kids actually went out and helped Dwight Schrute last night. I find Dwight to usually be an irredeemable character and deservedly the butt of numerous jokes. Even so, feeling bad for him, Jim and Pam did what they could to make Dwight feel better about losing Angela. Even more strangely, they did so after spending a night at Schrute Farms Agro-Hotel or whatever Dwight was calling his bed and breakfast.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic that they went out and helped a guy in need, but it was Dwight, so I can't promise that it's the sort of thing that I would have done given the opportunity. However, I think The Office was trying to show that they are a show with heart (and perhaps a soul) and therefore they made sure that our favorite couple did what they could for a coworker (I won't say "friend") in need. But, I already knew the show had heart, so I didn't need to see it displayed in quite this way.

I think the real people in need are the nice folks over at My Name is Earl. They have to figure out a way to get Earl out of jail soon. Don't get me wrong, I think that last night's episode was utterly hysterical (one of the funniest in a long, long time), but they have really moved far afield from the notion of Earl's list. Last night the list never came up, not even as a little side joke.

My Name is Earl initially set itself up with this really narrow mission -- Earl must improve who he is as a human being by crossing things off the list. Maybe the producers have gotten tired of that. I think that last night's episode and sending Earl to jail for two years may be their attempt at trying to broaden what the show can do. Of course, sending the main character to jail really limits them, but it is still their effort to get away from the list. I do not believe that a move away from the list is necessarily a bad thing, but there has to be a far more concrete reason given for it. Maybe Earl should realize that he can just give money to the Smile Train in the names of everyone he has wronged and thereby cross everything off the list. That seems like the right way to approach moving away from the list, not to air a show about everyone trying to use their imagination to write a story. The stories in question were hysterical, but really far removed from the general mission.

Lastly, 30 Rock. Ah 30 Rock, that bastion of funny. My main problem with the show is also, quite possibly, the best character, Kenny. I love Kenny. I love Kenny because, as I've said in the past, I was an NBC Page, just like dear Kenny. I think he's hysterically funny and shows just enough humanity to get by as semi-believable. My problem with him is that everyone that knows me watches Kenny, and starts to laugh as he does something stupid (like singing Seinfeld's theme song to Jerry Seinfeld in the elevator) not because what Kenny did was funny (though it was), but because they think I would totally have done that as a Page. I didn't. I wouldn't. I never once quoted a line from a movie or a TV show to anyone I met. I did, after meeting famous people, walk away flushed, giggling to myself all happy-like, but that's totally different. Totally.

Isn't it?

How to Hoax Some Other Folks

I am constantly amazed by the words "based on a true story."  The words are awfully tricky.  Movies that advertise those five little words walk a very thin line.  The story that they tell needs to be mainly true to life, and yet be appropriately "tweaked" in order to make for an interesting movie.  Go too far in either direction and the filmmakers will never be forgiven.  Richard Gere's latest film to appear on DVD, The Hoax, more often than not manages to negotiate the difficulties successfully. 

The film, directed by Lasse Halström, follows the exploits of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), as he tries to convince first a publishing company, and then the world, that he is collaborating with Howard Hughes on Hughes' autobiography. 

In reality, Irving is collaborating with a different writer, Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina), and has never met Hughes.  Rather, the two of them have decided to pull the wool over the eyes of their publisher and make some money in the process.  Irving never met Howard Hughes.  Irving was not working with Howard Hughes.  Irving and Suskind did a lot of research on Hughes, including searching the Library of Congress and talking to people that used to work for him, and fabricated much of what they wrote. 

Irving thought he could get away with it because there were so many rumors about Hughes and no one knew what the truth was.  The only thing that was clear was that Hughes was a recluse and never confirmed nor denied stories about himself (one of the reasons Irving thought they could get away with it). 

The movie shows various moments during Irving and Suskind's writing of the book that they could have gotten caught, that they almost got caught, and that they should have gotten caught.  Yet, somehow, until Hughes came out of hiding and gave a phone interview, they never quite did.

Gere is the standout in the film, carrying much of the weight of the picture on his shoulders.  He appears completely believable as the con man Irving, and succeeds in getting the viewer on his side during the film.  Molina, as his compatriot, is perfectly acceptable in the role, but ends up far too often being comedic relief.  One is never quite sure why it is that Irving accepts Suskind as a co-author much less a friend.  Suskind is made out as sniveling, inconstant, and entirely too scared to ever have partaken in such a scam.

The main problem with the film however is that Irving's reasons are never made clear.  The movie posits early on that Irving decided to pretend to be working with Hughes on the book because he was hurt that the publisher didn't like his last submission and that he needed money. 

While the former may be true, one of the bonus featurettes included on the DVD states that Irving had plenty of money. Whether or not he did, the complexities of the scheme he concocted seem wholly out of proportion with the goal. Though Hughes was a recluse and refused to talk to some of his closest advisors, The Hoax makes it appear as though Irving would have had an easier time getting through to Hughes than going around him. 

While the movie is very good at recording the various tricks that Irving developed to convince people of the veracity of his claim, too little time is spent exploring the character himself.  By not providing Irving with sufficient, and believable, motivation for his actions, the audience is constantly left pondering why Irving even bothered. 

Watching The Hoax unfold is enjoyable, some of the fancy footwork Irving goes through is quite incredible (and some of the better moments may never have actually happened).  However, because the film cannot provide sufficient, logical, reasons for Irving to do what he did, one cannot help but feel that the movie lacks something crucially important. 

What Irving did was monumental.  He convinced everyone, including Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, that he was telling the truth.  But the "why" is missing and really needs to be there.

The DVD release of The Hoax includes two behind the scenes featurettes (one of which focuses on Mike Wallace), deleted scenes, and an extended scene.  It also has commentary on the feature itself by two of the producers. 

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kitchen Nightmares Starts Visting Restaurants I've Eaten At

How nice was it to see that that Pushing Daisies continued last night to explore how Ned figured out the rules to his "gift."  I think they answered several of my questions from the first episode, including what dies when he brings fruit back to life.  I still want to know about whether it's an equal and opposite reaction or whether it does not need to be "equal."  We saw flowers die last night as Ned was bringing peaches back to life for his pies.  Does it have to be flowers?  Why could it not be a customer?  I think the show will get there eventually, and I am beginning to have some faith in it.   

It all makes me wonder if I'm too harsh, I want to know things like the the rules during the first episode and have a tendency to believe that if I'm not told them it's because they haven't been thought out.  At the very least, I need promises up front that the rules are in place.  Maybe it's a once bitten, twice shy kind of thing. 

Happily, Chuck found out the main rule last night (one dead for one alive).  That's the exact sort of thing that causes me great upset when it's drawn out, and let's not pretend there aren't shows that draw that sort of thing out.  It's the exact sort of tension shows like to create and draw out and then have no idea quite how to solve, so it getting taken care of so early on really makes sense.  And, it makes me happy, and really, that's what counts.

Also, for the record, any show that references Winnie the Pooh getting stuck in the opening to Rabbit's house is fantastic. 

Then there was Kitchen Nightmares.  Have I told you how much I like Kitchen NIghtmares, because I really, really like Kitchen Nightmares.  What's more, last night the restaurant they were at, The Olde Stone Mill, is just an olde stone's throw away from where I grew up and spent (save school) the first twenty some-odd years of my life.  Actually, I've even eaten at the restaurant.  I thank the Powers That Be that there was no disgusting kitchen scene in the show last night.  I love that scene, but to know that I shared a crab cake (or whatever it was that I ate as I honestly don't remember) with a roach or a mouse or a... gulp... rabies infected rat would have been distressing.  Now I can just going to tell myself that the place was completely clean which is why there was no such scene.

I still feel as though the storytelling doesn't really work on the show.  I know that they have a set agenda for each episode:  show the place awful, show Gordon trying to fix it and people disagreeing, show everyone accepting Gordon's idea, show the restaurant as a success, but not everything quite fits the mold.  It's like trying to get a chopped salad into a funnel and then dumping it onto a plate so that you're serving a conical chopped salad (amazingly, just like last night's episode).  What if the lettuce doesn't want to stay, what do you do then?  You keep chopping and cutting and changing a little bit here and there, some nipping, and some tucking.  By the time you're finished the salad might fight in the funnel, but maybe it would have looked better just, you know, as a regular salad in a bowl.

Did you see that the show has been picked up for another cycle?  I'm excited.  Maybe Gordon will get to do restaurants outside the tri-state area and Los Angeles (where he ventures next time around).  It may not be worth having him fly to Oklahoma to fix the only restaurant in the state, but surely he could venture down to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington, D.C., right?  And, frankly, there are some restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area that could use a little help too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Would You Please Stop Sewing and Reaper Already

Okay, I'm sorry, I apologize, I missed writing this column Monday and Tuesday, so let's quickly recap my thoughts there before moving on to last night.

Desperate Housewives.  I know that Carlos actually paying someone to kill Edie was highly unlikely, but I'm still disappointed that it's just a financial thing and not death.  Aren't you?  I may harp on this every week, but don't we all want Edie gone?  And I mean dead and gone.  It would be great if she had the ability to do the voiceover narration for the show.

NBC's Monday night lineup.  I'm liking Chuck still and thought Heroes was better this week than in past weeks.  It's just a little too fortuitous for me that Sylar should just happen to end up in the car with our newest super-powered buddies, but I still like the idea that the story is slowly, ever so slowly, starting to creep forward.  And, good for the producers giving Matt Parkman something of a more complete storyline.  I wonder if his father really is the Bogeyman, it would be great if that were the case.  Maybe Parkman himself is a little evil.  I don't think he is, but it would be a fun turn of events. 

Did you notice on Journeyman that they actually threw a nod to Quantum Leap?  Dan wakes up in the church at the beginning of the episode, clearly having just leaped back in time, the priest sees him and utters Sam Beckett's famous words, "oh boy." 

I think I figured out what bothers me about the show -- the stories of the people he has to save are completely boring.  Because the show has to try and balance what's happening in Dan's present with what he is trying to do in the past, neither gets explored deeply in a single episode.  However, because the present remains constant from one episode to the next, the producers are able to add a little bit of depth to that story in every episode.  The same is not true of the past.  The stories in the past are little one-offs.  They don't role over from week to week and consequently they are never explored with any depth.  I think the show tries to get away with this by having the viewer see the past from Dan's perspective and having him be completely in the dark, but that got old after the first two episodes.  I will give the show that they are trying to do something hard here, but I still think they need to work on either the balance between past and present or the way the stories in the past are developed.

Last night, watching Reaper, I couldn't help but wonder if I'm getting too old.  Maybe it's me, I'm not sure, but the Sam and Andi will-they-or-won't-they storyline is already tired.  Every week Sam laments the fact that he isn't together with her and how much he wants to be, and every week something ruins it.  Okay, so we have only seen four episodes, but it's there every time and I'm getting more than a little sick of it.  Frankly, I think the Devil ought to start smacking Sam around about his attitude toward Andi.  I know that Sam and the Devil have spoken repeatedly about her, and the Devil has chastised Sam for not acting, but I think he really needs to be a little more forceful.  Or, perhaps, Sock should write Andi a love note and pretend it's from Sam.  I can see absolutely no reason why the story can't progress with the two of them either dating or completely uninterested in each other.  I can see no reason why we have to be subjected weak after weak to Sam's whining on the topic. 

And then there was Damages, a show I will now whine about.  Ah, Damages.  I still can't help but feel that things aren't being fully thought out with the show.  Last week David saw people in his apartment screwing in light bulbs.  Three different workers just happened to be there when he got home, and one was screwing in a light bulb.  Now, I know I watch a lot of TV, but if you didn't instantly know upon seeing these three weirdos in David and Ellen's apartment that the apartment was now bugged I can't help you.  And certainly no one can help David.  Readers -- if you ever come home and find weird people in your apartment, no matter the reason, you call the police.  If you see them messing with your lamp you check your lamp and see what they did.  Personally, I would imagine you look for a microphone.  David, apparently being a moron, did nothing of the sort.  He booted the three men and then went about his daily routine.  He almost deserved to get robbed last night because of it.  He didn't deserve to die, very few people do, but he did deserve some sort of awakening for his stupidity.

The real problem here is that I can't imagine anyone ever behaving as David did, which is why I blame the producers.  David's complete inaction upon finding men in his apartment is ridiculous.  No one would have done what David did, which troubles me greatly.  He didn't need to catch the people in his apartment, it wasn't necessary for the story, and his having done so ruins it for me.  It would have been just as easy for him to open the door as the people in the apartment to climb out the window and go down the fire escape unspotted.  Why that didn't happen I don't know, maybe we'll find out next week in the finale.  I certainly hope so. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dance with Me, Your Partner has been Murdered, Can't You See? Viva Laughlin is on TV...

Described by press materials as a "mystery drama with music," CBS's new show, Viva Laughlin, represents an uncomfortable mixture of all three. The show, based on the British show Viva Blackpool, centers around Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen). Holden is a former convenience store chain owner who has managed to pull together enough money to open a casino in the town of Laughlin… sort of.

Within the first twenty minutes of the pilot, Holden's backer and partner, who had been about to pull his money out of the casino, is murdered. Making matters more complicated for Holden is the fact that Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman), a rival casino owner, is aware of Holden's financial problems. Holden mistakenly went to Fontana for help after the funding was pulled but before his backer died. Fontana turned Holden down as he was already aware of Holden's misfortune (and quite possibly helped orchestrate it). Holden's final hope for opening his casino on time may be Bunny (Melanie Griffith), who happens to the be wife of the murdered partner.

The fact that Holden's two children and wife (Mädchen Amick) care deeply for him, want to spend more time with him, and are worried about him doesn't seem to make Holden's life any easier. Holden is an "A-type" personality and needs to succeed. Quite possibly (but this critic doesn't think so), Holden needs to succeed badly enough that he would commit murder.

So, that is the "mystery drama" part of the show. There's also, inexplicably, the music bit. Characters just break out into song here and there in an odd and disturbing way. None of the songs are original music made for the show, and as the character sings the classic tracks are played underneath. Thus, when Hugh Jackman first appears stepping out of a helicopter, his character is introduced singing "Sympathy for the Devil" with the Stones in the background. The show even has a tendency during the pilot to cut away from the character who is singing the song, and there are points, it seems, when only the original track can be heard.

The most often referenced television program, outside of Viva Blackpool, when Viva Laughlin is being discussed is Cop Rock, the hugely unsuccessful (and in some corners) cult favorite that was on television for a half a season in 1990. That show also had characters breaking out into song, but that was original music and featured bigger production numbers than Viva Laughlin. Here, it is all about the characters just sort of singing in a sly, wink-wink, nudge-nudge way to the audience. It might work better in future episodes, but in the pilot the songs felt out of place and entirely gimmicky.

The biggest problem the show may face however is that Hugh Jackman, possibly the biggest draw for the audience, is not a star on the show, he is merely a recurring character. He does serve as executive producer, and will appear as his film schedule allows, but after the first few episodes it may not be that often.

I very much applaud the show's audacity at doing something so far outside the norm. While the first episode was not terribly engaging, the show's pedigree is interesting enough that I will be tuning in to see what happens next.

Viva Laughlin premieres on Thursday October 18 at 10pm before shifting to its regular Sunday 8pm slot on October 21.

Donovan, the Damages Finale, and Me

People out there who have been watching Damages religiously (of whom I am one) have one great hope: that, come the season finale, the questions will be answered, that things will be wrapped up. In a recent conference call, Tate Donovan, who stars on the show as Tom Shayes, had this to say on the topic: "The big central sorts of mysteries are solved. But what they’ve done is they set up a dynamic for next year that is fantastic. I mean when I finished reading it I was like, 'That is so good.' It totally makes you, you know, satisfy and then it totally makes you go, 'Oh, my God. I got to check out next season because that’s going to be amazing.'"

This is all well and good, although, as Donovan is quick to point out, the show has not yet been picked up for season two. While he was not forthcoming with specifics as to the finale or the cliffhanger, it is nice to know that the producers know where they want to head.

Frequent readers of my column will know that I have not always been happy with the way the story has progressed. I have been unsure as to the series's direction as well as individual plot points. It is true that Donovan was not always given insight into where his character (or the story) was going prior to getting the script. This of course does not mean that the producers were not aware of the entire plot. For his part, Donovan notes that while he may "like to know the story arc… this has been one of the best experiences in my life. I think ultimately you just want to know that the people who are in charge are really bright and really good." Donovan quickly follows this up with the fact that the producers "really are super bright and really good at what they do… I know that they’re going to come with something great. So it’s just great to be part of it."

He also points out that that neither he nor the cast was able to figure out who killed David before reading the final script. However, once the cast read the script and saw the answer, that "it makes total sense… they’ve [the producers] been sort of laying this sort of plot for a long time. And when you’re – when you find out who the killer is you’ll be like, 'Oh, wow.'"

I think we can all be happy to hear that, because with two episodes left in the season, the show has an incredible amount of wrapping up to do. Starting on October 16 this happens, as the time between the Frobisher case and Ellen Parsons' incarceration dwindles down to zero. With this episode the two time periods melt into one and things should, hopefully, become clear.

I, for one, have my fingers crossed and am quite excited to find out who murdered David Connor (I have some suspicions, but won't be sharing).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Planet Terror Grinds out a Victory

Based solely upon box office receipts, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez theatrical double-feature, Grindhouse, was a less than successful endeavor. The theatrical release featured the Robert Rodriguez-helmed Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, with fake trailers placed between the two. The idea was to pay tribute to the "B" movies and movie houses that used to feature various types of exploitation films.

The two films are now being released separately on DVD, the cynical would say in order to boost profits and recoup production costs. Tarantino's Death Proof made it to DVD in mid-September, and on October 16, it will be Planet Terror's turn to emerge in an extended and unrated edition. The Rodriguez film arrives in a two-disc special edition that features some of the allegedly "missing" footage that did not make it into the theatrical cut.

Planet Terror is both an homage to zombie movies and one itself. The nonsensical plot features the release of a biochemical weapon that causes some people to turn into zombies simply by breathing in the vapors. Other people have to actually be bitten or ingest the blood of a zombie to turn into one themselves. The "infection" actually takes a good deal of time to spread (at least early on in the film), which allows one of the infected, a go-go dancer named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), to have her leg amputated in time to stop her from turning.

In a brilliant move, Cherry ends up with a gun attached to her stump which she can seemingly fire at will. She and the rest of a group of misfit survivors, including a doctor (Marley Shelton) who is running away from her abusive husband (Josh Brolin) in order to reignite a lesbian relationship, and a man with a hidden past named El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), band together in order to try and escape to Mexico.

If the entire plot sounds ludicrous, there's a very valid explanation: it's supposed to be. The sole raison d'etre of the films Planet Terror is honoring is to show beautiful women, copious amounts of blood and viscera, and feature lots of cursing. It's a simple formula, and if Planet Terror is to be reviewed solely on those counts it succeeds in a big way. The film is cheesy and ridiculous and way over the top. The movie features characters like Abby, played by Naveen Andrews (Lost). Abby was helping create the zombie gas for a military organization and, for some inexplicable reason, likes to store human testicles in a glass jar.

In order to better pay tribute to the grindhouse features that Rodriguez is honoring, the film contains "missing reels" (the film skips a scene or two here and there) and innumerable "scratches." The "missing" scenes and scratches, the latter of which seem wholly computer generated and like something anyone can do using a PC these days, are far more annoying to the viewer than a tribute to bad projection and bad projectors.

Even so, the film provides an amusing hour and forty-five minute diversion from the everyday insanity of the real world. The stunts, dialogue, explanations, and explosions are both fun and funny if you have ever liked B-movies. The second disc of the two-disc set features a number of behind-the-scenes looks at all of the elements that went into creating the mayhem in the film.

Where the film really falls down is that, as fun as it is, and as good an homage as it may be, it has the feeling of all being very recycled. Save the notion of the leg-gun, nothing in the movie feels new or different -- there's just more of it and it's made with more money (without more money one cannot use a computer to digitally remove McGowan's leg and put a gun in its place). That may not make Planet Terror any less fun, but it does make it somewhat less interesting.

These faults are both the greatest strength and weakness of Planet Terror. It is a movie that, as fun as it is, through the somewhat recycled nature of the material, "scratches," and "missing" reels shows exactly why the movies and theaters being paid tribute to no longer exist.