Saturday, June 28, 2008

Supporting Superhero...

In the early part of his career, Jason Bateman was known as the cute, sandy-haired boy from the wholesome TV family. Beginning with Little House on the Prairie and taking it through Silver Spoons (where as the best friend character, he became part of the extended family) and Valerie, he wore that role like it was his own skin. Only as he aged (like with 2001’s Some of my Best Friends) did he start to include sarcasm into his portrayals, opening up a world of possibilities for him to steal scenes in a number of feature films.
In 2002’s The Sweetest Thing, Bateman’s crass, horndog brother was the perfect snort-worthy anecdote to Thomas Jane’s dry goofball. In a movie filled with overly dramatic and dislikeable characters, Bateman brought a level of sincerity to the silliness, making it impossible not to laugh out loud when he got escorted out of the club, told his brother not to “be gay in God’s house,” or sang a remarkably sober wedding band version of “Eternal Flame.” Where it would have been easy for a lesser actor to get lost in the female buddy comedy, Bateman’s knack for comic timing and delivery was actually a positive for the film as a whole, taking the tone down a notch and making at least one relationship (that between him and Jane) feel believable. While the film itself certainly didn’t break any records, it set Bateman on track for a long and lucrative big screen career.

As Pepper Brooks in 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Bateman was back playing the cocky, pompous, self-assured d-bag one can only love in the movies. His sideline commentary was completely nonsensical, as he chomped on gum and grinned like he just didn’t care that Gary Cole was shooting him annoyed looks from the adjacent seat. His carefree attitude and wide smile made you love him, and every time you shook your head in response to some inane comment he made, you laughed, too.

Playing a character (Rip Reed) pent up in a hotel room in 2006’s Smokin’ Aces, Bateman could have been a metaphor for the frenetically charged, high octane, tweaker of a film itself. He spoke in drawn out, seemingly Tourette’s induced monologues; sweaty and squinty-eyed, he was manic and A.D.D., and despite all of the chaos, he still managed to command attention during the mere minutes he was on screen. With so many characters flitting in and out—and so many bullets flying around-- they were all expendable, but Bateman grabbed onto something in the audience and implanted himself in their subconscious. Even if his character was not so lucky, his scenes would stick around in their memories.

2006’s The Ex, a blink-and-you-missed-its-release romantic? comedy about a guy (Zach Braff) who becomes increasingly, insanely jealous of his wife’s ex-boyfriend when they are forced to move back to her hometown, and he is forced to work alongside the ex (who is, of course, Bateman). In this case, Bateman is just one in a sea of fine supporting actors (Charles Grodin, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd), but he manages to stand out for the earnest way he once again plays a sleazebag. Even though you should be rooting for Braff to keep his marriage afloat, when the “other guy” is Bateman, that’s damn near impossible. Maybe it’s incredible method acting or maybe it’s his natural boyish charm, but everything he touches turns to gold.

2007’s The Kingdom was a slightly different side to Bateman, who was still comic relief but this time in a very serious setting. Playing a member of a government team sent into Riyadh to investigate the bombing of an American base, for the first time, his sometimes snide humor was gentler, subtler, and quieter. He offered a chance to smile warmly as a break from the suspense. And with his proven track record at spicing up everything from gross-out comedies to heavy, based on real life dramas, there is no doubt Bateman’s yet another supporting role in Hancock (taking theaters by storm July 2) will be a hit with critics and fans alike. Though it can be said that really all he’s doing is just playing the same character over and over again, how can one argue with such a winning formula?

In Odder News: There Are No Words...

If you're like me and you prefer an entertainment news wire over an actual one, you have your finger on the pulse (and your bookmarks set to) websites like Perez Hilton, Entertainment Weekly Online, and perhaps most notably No Control. These are sites that post religiously, pulling news and gossip from all facets of entertainment and a myriad of sources onto one central page and reprinting it for your convenience. No Control happens to be the best of the bunch (IMHO) and not just because they link to me ;) They are simply the best for finding gems of articles like the in-depth exposé on New York's first Reality Television School. Yes, it's real. It's a school for wannabe reality show contestants where they learn the ins and outs-- what to do and what not to do-- in a casting session in order to get selected for the show-- any one of the shows and all of the shows.

I intended to write a lengthier "response" piece, but I am literally left speechless after reading the craziness in that article. The whole thing sounds like a prank for yet another reality show! But sadly no, Reality Television School is where our culture has gone these days: it's acting school but for the less ambitious. And doesn't that one statement alone speak volumes for us as a society?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why CGI Ruined The Magic Of Movies...

"Back in the day" when a gun battle or a car chase came on screen in the theater, the goosebumps the audiences members got were because the things they were seeing unfold in two-dimensional form in front of them made them want to get up and experience life. Stunts have a way of fueling even the most passive movie goer's adrenaline, testing their theories about what we are capable above and making them want to take some risks all of their own. Though special effects, in one archaic form or another, have been around as long as cameras themselves-- in 1895, the first documented case of stop-motion photography (then simply known as "trick" photography) was created by Alfred Clark when he had his actors freeze in place, stopped the camera, and switched out his actress with a dummy while reenacting the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots-- they were not used with such liberalism until recently. In fact, CGI, the technology that makes effects quicker and easier than ever before, was not introduced until 1976, and even then it's technology was quite unsophisticated. Still, filmmakers were excited by the prospects, and slowly but surely, they began incorporating its elements into action films, horror films, period pieces, and lately even straight dramas or comedies: the next time you're watching something that takes place in an arena or sports stadium, think about how many of those bodies you see in seats are real and how many are bots. At first it seemed like it would blow over: everyone was just excited by the technology and what it could do, and they used it with a heavy hand, but certainly the honeymoon phase would fade away... right? Sadly no, that doesn't seem to be the case. In an ever-escalating effort to keep raising the shock factor bar, more and more action films rely on CGI enhancement to create larger-than-life moments but unfortunately just end up falling into the traps of the technology and gives us something akin to an overblown videogame: just a bit too loose at the hinges to be mistaken for anything that could pass as reality.

In-camera special effects, such as stop motion technology or stunts allow filmmakers to get creative with their storytelling but to do so in a way that still lives in reality. There is an element that keeps the scenes grounded in reality: everything we watch unfold before us is something that a real person actually did. Not only does that give us a surge of power about what our limitations are, but it adds credibility to the work of fiction. CGI most certainly allows filmmakers to get creative in other ways; their horizons are expanded and roadblocks to ideas are virtually torn down, but there's a thin line with what's complementary and what's just too much.

Let's take today's release, Wanted, as an example. The Fight Club meets Smokin' Aces on meth high-octane shooter flick boasts a protagonist whose sped-up heart rate actually allows him to see things in slow motion and focus on details of chaos in front of him, grabbing a metal ball from inside a piece of clenching machinery, racing atop a moving train, and curving a bullet. But let's back up a minute: one of the first scenes in the film is an assassination on a Fraternity member who supposedly went rogue: standing in a high-rise office, a laser beam cuts through the windowpane, hitting his female companion in the middle of her forehead and sending her blood, as red as the laser light itself, splattering onto the wall behind her. From there the man takes off, running for the elevator, assumedly fleeing to safety. Instead, he breathes deeply, crouches down, and everything in his vision begins to pulse. He presses his foot against the back of the elevator, and the wall crumples like he's turning into the Incredible Hulk. He runs at down the hall, sending papers flying in his path, and plunges through the window, shooting at men on a rooftop across the way. Then, in a move over which Jerry Bruckheimer will probably sue, we see a bullet push through a man's forehead, as he gets shot from behind, and then everything reverses, and we follows the bullets path, sucking out of his skull and spinning back through the air into the barrel of a gun. Cool? Sure. Additional quality? Not at all. If anything, it was a cheap tactic to show off what they figured out their Macs could do.

The first time the young protagonist in Wanted is introduced to his destiny it is during a similar shootout, which once again focuses on the trajectory of the bullets rather than the dance the shooters have to do to in their chase. He, too, flees the scene and ends up in the center of a parking lot, with a delivery truck barreling down on him. His savior comes in the form of Angelina Jolie who whips a cherry red Viper around and manages to scoop him inside without even stopping. She can curve cars and bullets; she must be the master. While that shot had the audible "how'd they do that?" gasp going for it, what follows is a computer generated inspired mess of a chase that is incomparable in its frenetic nature, as well in the number of cars she purposefully drives into or against. Stunts like these used to be about artistry: about perfecting the use of an instrument (be it a prop gun, a car, or even just their own bodies) to the point where they would bring it to the edge (get inches from another car, for example), but at the last second they would always regain control with a simple smirk and flick of the wrist. Stunts are about grace and creativity and testing boundaries, but computers are just about formulas and equations and the easiest way possible to make something louder, faster, and more over the top. Stunts get you on the edge of your seat; though you know the players involved will survive, you still want to see how far they push themselves. CGI removes that risk and therefore a lot of the suspense, and to compensate, the result is often much glossier and flashier than it need be, provoking eyerolls and chuckles of disbelief. A dangling Amtrak train off a bridge that ultimately splits apart and plummets down a cliff to water below; a young hero blowing away his enemies one by one with muzzle flashes and mini-bombs? CGI can (and did) do that, but there's no choreography there; there's no interaction between a director, his actors, his stunt doubles-- his trained professionals. There's only a guy sitting behind a computer screen, creating a cartoonish, isolating world, and while CGI hasn't completely eliminated the need for actual people in films just yet, I'm sure (especially with all these talks of strikes) producers would love to work out a way for that to happen. And suddenly, Toto, we're not in filmmaking anymore; suddenly we're just computer programmers projecting our code onto a big screen. And is that art or just machinery?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Smile Oilier Than EVOO...

OMG, you guys! Okay, so though I may have never officially committed my feelings about Rachael Ray to print in the past, it has never been a secret how little I care for her. Her loud "Italian" mouth, wild hand gestures, and abrasive laugh all scream "I'm drunk" a little more than I enjoy my talk show hosts to. Plus, I just don't find her cute. I'm sorry; I don't. She's not some spunky, petite, little firecracker in the kitchen; she's just plain annoying. And she's one of Oprah's protégés, which, let's face it, makes me like her even less.

Needless to say, when I saw her pop up on The Next Food Network Star last year, not only was I shocked that she agreed to allow these "wannabes" onto her "precious" program (I attributed her ultimate commitment to the fact that she was, in fact, drunk when her assistant or manager or producer or whoever got her to sign the paperwork), but I was also bummed that this would be an episode out of which I could half-tune. But this season, oh this season! Working in Video On Demand, one of the perks, I guess you could say, is that content is often delivered to us prior to it airing linearly. We process it and prep it for pitch out to the cable companies and affiliates, and while its start date is more often than not after the first linear airing, it often sits in our library for weeks prior. Every now and then I sneak an early peek. Ssh, don't tell anyone ;)

This week (it airs Sunday night; set your TiVos!) on The Next Food Network Star is once again Rachael Ray week, and immediately I groaned inwardly at the thought. However, the surprise twist was that not only would each contestant have to create a fun "kid friendly" meal to prepare in front of her live studio audience-- and in only a four minute segment!-- but that they would each be working with a Girl Scout in order to do so. The challenge was one part cooking, one part playing to the audience, one part engaging the kid and Rachael, which is no short order! While some contestants admitted they were overwhelmed by the lights, cameras, and audience members, one said she was intimidated by Rachael herself, and to that I have one piece of advice: hide the knives and the wine! A few contestants really excelled in this challenge, using their honest, open personalities to make everyone feel involved, as well, but of course the best moments came with the contestants (or in this case one in particular, Kelsey) who stepped on Rachael's toes. And that's when I sat straight up in my chair and removed my finger from the fast forward button.

Kelsey is one of the youngest chefs in this competition and also one of the smallest. She is tiny and blonde and looks like she belongs more in at a pep rally or sorority house than commanding a kitchen, so one of the criticisms given to her in weeks past has been that she really has to step up her authoritativeness to let everyone know she's in charge. And that she did with Rachael.

Rachael always smiles a big fake smile like being paid millions to stand in front of the audience for a few hours a week is just torturous work. Then along comes perky, cheery Kelsey, whose smile is always big, bold, and ridiculously genuine, and suddenly, standing next to her, it is just painfully obvious (even to her supporters) that Rachael has something stuck up her nether regions. Something tells me she will now decline any future involvement with this show. Kelsey starts at the top by throwing a task Rachael's way: one that is probably a bit menial for such an "experienced" chef; she asks her to prepare an egg for a breakfast sandwich. Rachael tries to make a joke about how she's getting stuck doing Kelsey's job, but in Kelsey's innocence and sweet, bubbly nature, it just makes Rachael sound bitter, and the tension begins. Kelsey further adds to it (probably without even realizing it) by calling her "Rach," to which I thought her eyes would pop out of their sockets, and she'd overturn the hot pan of eggs on the younger chef's head. Thankfully, there was the kid there to act as a buffer, though she was smart enough to stay on the other side of Kelsey, safely out of Rachael's path and wrath.
The rest of the show, "judge's table" included, was far less eventful, but I kid you not, the four minutes between Kelsey and Rachael were well worth the price of admission. I hereby submit them into the blogosphere as Best Reality Duo-- like the cooking Odd Couple! I won't spoil the outcome and tell you how the judges thought Kelsey (or any of the others) fared. I will just tell you that if you've never tuned into this show, now is the perfect time to start! I can't wait to see what craziness gets cooked (get it?) up next week!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How Soon Is Too Soon?...

Not even a decade into the new millennium, VH1 has capitalized on the popularity of their previous I Love The… series by debuting I Love The New Millenium last night. Typically, the series runs two episodes/years per night, over the five night workweek. However, since this is just 2008 (and the year is still young), it kind of begs the question as what they will do with Friday evening: speculate on the future or just end a bit prematurely?

As I Love The New Millenium kicked off with the infamous Budweiser Whazzup? Guys (were the frogs pre-2000? I honestly can’t remember) and only a brief verbal mention of Y2K, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of angle small-time comedians like Godfrey, Bill Dwyer, and Hal Sparks (who is best known now for his reality show stunts… I mean, stints) and even smaller-time actors like Beth Littleford and Joe Manganiello would put on things that haven’t seeped out of our consciousnesses yet. What is normally so great about the I Love The… series is the sense of nostalgia it provokes: we can laugh at the silliness of the B-movie plot or toy they are describing all while remembering its place in our own childhoods. I Love The New Millenium, therefore, just seems premature.

The first two installments brought us the Baha Men, Shaggy, TiVo, Moulin Rouge, the best summaries of Gladiator and Castaway ever (seriously, you don’t even need to see those movies now!), CSI, the singing bass fish plaque, Razor scooters and Segways, daytime darling Kelly Ripa, XFL, and Melissa Etheridge’s baby daddy, David Crosby (which only really reminds me how old her kids are now and that musicians are weird). The recurring segments this time around feature Johnny Fairplay, Perez Hilton, Taylor Dane?, Moby :( (who actually plugged his own song on his 2001 playlist: LAME!), and Sisqo, who lists people from the year he’d like to see in thongs. When they were all women, I was actually shocked; I think it would have been much more memorable if he had used the segment to admit he’s gay once and for all. Maybe if this had been distributed on Bravo…

In one very poignant episode of South Park, the characters muse that something tragic doesn’t become funny until 22.3 years later. And if that’s the case, then I can’t help but wonder what the good people at VH1 could have done with I Love The New Millenium: 2001 in the middle of 2023. The end of the episode turned very quickly from moderately chuckle-worthy into a flag-waving, “Proud To Be An American” singing, half-circle swaying numb robots. And yes, I shed a tear. But then they wrapped it up with the Mets and Piazza’s homerun. Damn you, VH1; you have to ruin everything!

Friday, June 20, 2008

In Odder News: Why I Hate Teenage Girls...

Remember back in the nineties when MA officials got all up in arms about Eminem's "offensive" lyrics? They were so afraid of this artist, musician, and public figure that they considered banning his records from their city stores. Maybe they should have focused their attention elsewhere; I'm thinking all of those suited up men and women are cringing in retrospect. You have much bigger fish to fry, MA. As do we all.

Perhaps inspired by anti-conformist teenage hero Juno McGuff, a group of seventeen girls in Gloucester MA vowed to get pregnant during their senior year of high school. The majority of them when through with the plan, and some have already had their babies. One girl was even so desperate to fulfill her end of the bargain (or perhaps face ostracization from the rest of the group?) that she propositioned a homeless man, and now unfortunately for him, statutory rape charges may be brought by the P.O'ed parents and school officials. Poor man; he probably thought God threw him a bone. Not so much, sir; not so much.

I have a few things to say about this: first off, this is exactly why I don't want teenagers. They do stupid sh*t, give into peer pressure, and are just manipulative and hormonal. I went through it once when I, myself, was a teen, and I certainly don't need to do it again. The scars are still fresh, thank you. It's also why I don't particularly want daughters. I know it's how you raise them and who they're influenced by and blah blah blah, but seriously? Here were seventeen girls, who seemed by all accounts to be friends; they were and are a support system for each other. In fact, one girl being interviewed said she wanted to go through with the pact so her baby would grow up with all of her friends' babies. If I'm not mistaken, that's the Paris Hilton plan for pregnancy, is it not? Great.

So here were seventeen girls who also said getting pregnant "kept them from partying or drinking too much." Too much? So they still did it a bit, right? I mean, they must have in order to get pregnant. A drunk high school guy will notice the hole in his condom a lot less than a sober one (or maybe not; high school kids are often pretty stupid). If they were so against partying and drinking, they were SEVENTEEN of them! They could have all just "abstained," for lack of a better word. Hell, teenage girls are vicious enough on their own, but put seventeen of them together, and they're practically a gang. They could have redefined what the "cool" kids did on weekends... actually, I guess in a way they sort of did.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Five Cents: "Little Boxes Dimebag #1"...

Just in time for the premiere of the fourth season, Lionsgate has released a special companion soundtrack to their hit comedy Weeds. Though an official album, featuring music from and inspired by the show, has been released in conjunction with each season’s DVD release (and the third is upcoming this fall), this new album is perhaps the only true collector’s item, even if it’s a bit kitschy.

After the season three finale, where Nancy (Mary Louise Parker) set fire to her own house during a mandatory evacuation of Agrestic due to the wildfires (a move that proved to have much insight, as her friends were all simultaneously being interrogated about the grow house found in Celia (Elizabeth Perkins)’s pre-fab box), the show announced that they would be retiring their theme song, appropriately named “Little Boxes.” If Nancy would no longer be in Agrestic, the whole opening sequence would have to be scrapped, simulating that while she as a mother and a businesswoman would be moving on with her life, so would the show be heading in a new direction (one which is apparently west, according to the fourth season premiere). Each episode over the three years featured a variation of the original Malvina Reynolds ditty, spanning genres from the folksy tempo of Randy Newman to the country twang of Billy Bob Thornton to salsa and hip-hop and even a ballad. “Little Boxes Dimebag #1,” therefore, is a ten-track volume of said covers, collecting the most original and perhaps most inspired but still promising that this is just a little taste, and more will be forthcoming… if we want it.

Anyone who watches Weeds—religiously or just on occasion—can attest that this song gets under your skin and stays in your head for days after that initial viewing. We’re addicted to Weeds’ product as a whole—not just the smart writing or sharp acting but everything in between. “Little Boxes” has always been catchy, but now that it has been released in a multitude of genres and tempos, there is virtually a version for everyone. Lionsgate definitely knew what they were doing here: feeding the addiction, giving us more and more of the phenomenon, little bits at a time. “Little Boxes Dimebag #1” is only available online but is definitely worth a download... C'mon; all the cool kids are doing it!

Missed Out Again!...

When I was in first grade, my teacher gave our class the assignment that simply said: “Rip Van Winkle has been asleep for quite a few decades, but he finally awakens, and it is your job to teach him about an invention he hasn’t yet seen.” I interpreted that to mean something new, something upcoming, something we could look forward to in the near future. Since at the time my grandparents lived in Florida, and I could only visit them once or twice a year, but we talked on the phone every Saturday morning, I invented the picture phone. Or at least I thought I did.

Apparently, though, the first variation on the invention was patented in 1955, with early ideas being quoted as on the record as early as 1910, quite a few decades before my amateur pencil sketch garnered me a check plus on the assignment. I didn’t learn it was already a real invention until a few years later, studying advances in technology in a later grade, and needless to say, I felt a bit jipped. Now those feelings are flooding back.

Just the other day I was telling a friend how I would love a “smart” refrigerator—you know, the kind you see in programs about time travelers on ABC Family Channel. I wanted to invent one that could inventory everything inside and then make a grocery list for you based on what’s running low or what’s missing all together. And then today happened.

Good Day LA sent one of their reporters to Disneyland for the opening of two attractions. One is the Toy Story 3D laser gun ride, which doesn’t look unlike the already existing “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters” game. The other, though, is a smart house, complete with a bedroom in which you can stand in front of a mirror and virtually try on all of the clothes in the closet, saving you from physically trying them on before a big date or first day of school or work, shaving dozens of minutes off of your preparation. It truly is the wave of the future. But the point is that of course Disney thought of the smart refrigerator, too, and one is featured front and center in their whole smart kitchen, where all of their appliances are taken above and beyond proving that my imagination is feeble, as I only managed to think of one cool advancement and again, way too late. While the refrigerator also makes menu recommendations, and everything in the kitchen is done on a touch basis, the HP-technology run house does not feature a bathroom. Does that mean in the future we’ll find another way to take care of what normally goes on in there? Or is there actually a corner of the market still open for suggestions? Because I’ve got quite a few ideas for in there, too, only I think I’ll keep them to myself so no one else steals them and subsequently my millions!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

If You're Reading This, You're Either A Woman Or Gay...

I know, I know; I said I would live blog, but from the opening (musical!) number, I was hooked and decided I wanted to just concentrate on watching the snark unfold without worrying about coming up with something clever of my own to inject into the night.

2008 A-List Awards - Vocal Stylings Of Kathy Griffin
Hopefully soon the full version will be available for downloading.

However, as the minutes ticked off into a very odd hour and a half run time, there were certain things that just screamed begging for my commentary, least of all the fact that the winners were really announced on the red carpet special, when the at-home audience got their first glimpse (well, aside from Getty Images, that is) at who showed up. It became clear that whoever and however these “winners” were chosen, an important criteria was that they appear on a Bravo program. Though they were up against stars on other networks, and in often cases on more renowned or at least publicized programs, the Bravo audience is a specific one, and a loyal one, and some Power That Be decided they would expect nothing less than to celebrate their own. Well, yeah; as the artsy, quirky kid in school, Bravo knows enough to stick with its own-- those who understand and embrace it.

And that they did: the presenters and audience alike were a cornucopia of Bravo shows past and present, from the very recognizable Jay McCarroll (Project Runway’s first winner) to the “Huh? Who the hell is that?” Tabitha of Shear Genius. Bravo managed to plug its own programming within the awards ceremony, not just through the faces in the crowd or commercials but through special pre-recorded segments, such as ex-Project Runway contestants creating original gowns for other Bravo stars to wear during a special, one-night only fashion show. Each unique design would then be auctioned off for charity… or perhaps to raise the money to bring Project Runway back to Bravo. See? That's just the kind of "aw, burn" humor that would have killed at the A-List Awards!

But for Anna Sui, who memorized an emotional acceptance speech, no one else seemed to take the show too seriously, which was consistent with the tongue-in-cheek nature of the network on a nightly basis. The Real Housewives of rival coasts poked fun at each other on stage for “living in California but sixty-five miles from the beach” and because they “talk funny;” the girl who introduced Anna Sui's category didn't seem like she had ever heard any of the words on the teleprompter before; Tom Colicchio of Top Chef competed in a commercial break-length quick fire challenge; a handful of comediennes snuck in mini stand-up routines; there was an actual award for "Best Ass," and it referred to posteriors (complete with photos!); the "In Memorandum" segment was not actual dead people but just a "Dead To Kathy Griffin" segment and was mostly just a photo of Ryan Seacrest (oh and Dr. Phil, the Scientology center, and of course W.); Simon Dooney practically rolled his eyes while reading his copy off the teleprompter but instead just delivered his lines in a saucy, sassy accent; Kathy actually did roll her eyes at Tila Tequila…

Oh, and speaking of our gracious host, she ate food off the floor, allowed cameras with her backstage while she took part in a ninety-second wardrobe change, and then of course performed the beginnings of another song-- a hiphop duet-- with Lance Bass.

It's times like this I consider rethinking my whole "No to TiVo" stance because I'd love to have some of these clips forever stored on a little digital box. I guess that's what Hulu is for now, though, right?

They're Making This An Annual Thing, Right?...

In the last few years-- ever since I moved to Los Angeles, if I'm being truthful-- award shows have lost some of their shine. I blame it in part to the fact that I can no longer watch them live, and it is inevitable that within the three hour delay (save for the Oscars), the biggest categories get spoiled for me by some random website I happen to surf onto. Mostly, though, I've come to find that too many attendees, presenters, and nominees take the things waay to seriously, and their stuffy nervousness takes the fun out of it for me. More often than not I am not a fan of the majority of the nominees, either, leaving me with a very ho-hum-yawn feeling about the whole ordeal. I've even taken to skipping the pomp and circumstance ceremonies altogether, choosing instead to flip on during commercials of whatever happens to be on opposite the awards show that strikes my fancy more and then tuning into the morning news for the fashion/highlights round-up. It's awards show viewing in a nutshell, which is just perfect for today's You Tube driven media.

Ironically, though, from the moment I saw the first promo for Bravo's first awards show, I clapped audibly alone in my living room, giddy with possibilities. With the very yummy Tyson Beckford appearing in the commercial, alongside Kathy Griffin, who is one of the few people in this industry whose job I actually covet, and including an auditory cameo by one sassy grandpa, Tim Gunn, I had no idea what kind of statues would be given out or to whom, but I didn't care: I was hooked. So now, a few weeks and quite a few repeated viewings of said commercial later, the night is upon us. And I couldn't be happier to present to you:

Live Blogging Bravo's First A-List Awards...

20:28 I stop playing online mahjong a few minutes early to turn my attention (and the channel) to Bravo so I don't miss even a second of the red carpet coverage, especially because I have a feeling the host of tonight's festivities, none other than Kathy Griffin, might bring her Emmy as her date.

20:30 Oh, Tim Gunn is hosting the first half-hour, and then they're breaking for Kathy's season premiere of My Life on the D-List. Well, shit; I may as well just regroup at ten when the awards actually start.

20:30.75 Christian Siriano is so tiny and talk so fast, he's like a leprechaun on crack. Except, you know, without the green. So he's like a leprechaun on crack at a funeral (he wears a lot of black). Also, he's twenty-one: who the hell gave him a book deal and why can't they be my publisher!?

20:32 I don't know who this co-host dude is, but I'm pretty sure it's safe to say I think he's gay, and yet he just told Jeff (Flipping Out)'s assistant he wants to see her nipples. And considering she's a hopeful actress, I bet she's about to whip one out.

20:33 What the hell is wrong with Lauren Hutton? She said she feels like swooning, falls onto Tim Gunn, who looks like he doesn't want to touch her, and then says something odd about personal problems. And where is she from exactly? She's doing an accent, am I wrong? Lifting her hair up, waving erratically with her arms; aw, it's not cute when old people lose it.

20:35 OMG Dalton Ross, I love you; marry me!

20:35.5 Uh oh a pre-edited package with faces on the carpet and some very stiff V.O. from Tim. Get back to Dalton!

20:36 Oh, thank you :)

20:37 "Incomparable Molly Simms?" Are you high, Mr. Gunn?

20:38 "You, me, Tim Gunn, and a hot tub," says that random co-host to Nick from Project Runway. I'm just glad to see him back. He makes a joke about being Greek and therefore hairy, and the Tim Gunn introduces some guy who I swear he calls "Hairy" (or you know, his name is Harry, but I choose to believe it's the former).

20:39 Gail Simmons from Top Chef, so I guess it's all about the Bravo stars, hmm? Then where the hell is my Tyson? I bet he's wandering around Jamba Juice...

20:41 Commercial break. I'm going back to my mahjong game momentarily. I've turned into my grandmother.

20:45 Padma is friends with Lauren Hutton? Girl's circle just keeps getting weird.

20:46 The Real Housewives of New York admit their show is a fraud because they are not really housewives; "[they] all work... [they] all have businesses." Well, don't you deserve an award, in addition to your own reality show and millions of dollars and Hamptons manses. Implants clap.

20:47 Jonathan Adler and some sort of clay wheel? Is it me or does he look more and more like Jon Cryer everyday?

20:48 Oh, I still don't know who this guy is (nor can I find a photo on Bravo's website), but he just called out the other "Real" Housewives for being "real fake." In other words, he just won my heart.

20:48 Margaret Cho! I just saw her indie film Bam Bam & Celeste, and I really wish she would have shown up on the red carpet dressed as her mom. Instead she's standing a mile back from Tim, talking just as fast as Christian Siriano, and her hair is in a jet black bob that is "so convenient, just wash and go."

20:51 I just nodded off for a minute, but I think I heard Tim get called a "big, black woman." I really have no response to that; it might be even weirder than Kathy calling herself a “Strong Black Woman.”

20:52 Shameless plug for Kathy's show; I wasn't even really listening to the list of what's to expect, and I am so there!

20:52.5 Ironic or expected, an integrated commercial for Kathy's reality show, complete with a tag to watch the A-List Awards. It's a commercial within a commercial! How post-modern! Now where's the commercial for her new comedy album out on Tuesday?

20:57 Whoops, my dog started barking, and I had to investigate, and it turns out a neighbor's cat had gotten onto my patio, and he's just like me and doesn't like anyone encroaching on his space, so I had to chase the cat away and then give him a cookie to say thank you for alerting me to the problem. I don't think I missed anything, though.

20:59 Credits over super fast video of all of the "leftovers:" celebrities (and by that I mean, Bravo stars) who weren't deemed important enough to stand with Tim. I spy Tyson in there. How dare they not allow his beautiful face to grace our screens??

21:01 "Get outta my way/you A-List bores..." is suddenly so much more fitting now!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Five Cents: Suburban Shootout

Little is yet known about Suburban Shootout, a television series revolving on a couple who moves to an idyllic little county from a big city, only to discover there are two rival gangs of housewives living in their newfound paradise. Well, little is known about the American version, anyway, which has been picked up by HBO but has been kept pretty tightly underwraps thus far. Based on the British black comedy, HBO's version is destined to be like Desperate Housewives on crack, undoubtedly yanking some absurd situations directly from the original (such as one gang taking extreme action against inane "threats" like kids wearing hooded sweatshirts), all the while, replacing their foreign curses (which really just elicit giggles) with a healthy dose of some choice 's' and 'f' words.
I was bummed last month when ABC pulled Miss/Guided from their schedule after only six stuck-in-the-middle-of-the-strike episodes. The show was funny, different, and a shot in the arm to that network's fledgling half-hours, but moreover, I was just bummed Judy Greer didn't get more of a chance to shine in a lead role. Then along came the upfronts' announcement of Suburban Shootout only a few days later.

Sandwiched in a cast with other comedic heroines (Kerri Kenney, Rachael Harris, and Kelly Preston) and directed by crossover chameleon Barry Sonnenfeld, my only fear is that Greer might get swallowed up a bit in the action, as she is not playing one of the gang leaders. I have never seen the original, so I do not know if Greer's character abhors or embraces her menacing neighbors, but of course I only hope it is the latter. How badass would it be to see four strong female friends who don't just cover-up crimes (ala Desperate) but also commit them? It's one more step away from the passivity of, well, our past. There's a sense of vindication in all of this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Five Cents: How Hot Is This!?...

So Ryan Seacrest apparently has a production company, though I can't believe this is the first I'm really hearing about it, and it's exceptionally fitting then that the project being promoted right now under that company is the first guy-guy dating show. Being deemed the real Entourage, Seacrest's new reality show will chronicle a group of so-called regular guys as they come to Hollywood to compete in a series of challenges, group dates, and alone time Bachelor style with the hopes of being chosen by Brody Jenner (yet another "Why do we care about him?" members of Young Hollywood, known only for his famous family) as part of his real life entourage. Though just like The Bachelor, there is no reason to believe their place in his life will be even part-time permanent.

Now, admittedly I watch a lot of crappy reality television because it reruns all of the time, and my favorite shows are the ones that feature pretty men at whom I can just stare with the volume turned all the way down (where's the second season of America's Most Smartest Model, btw?). This Seacrest/Jenner venture proves to be just another one of those, as Jenner himself has the Matt Leinart thing going for him without being sweaty or beefy, as footballers tend to be. Apparently, and the aspects of this detail are still a bit fuzzy since the show was literally just announced this morning, the "bros" will have to sit around in a Hot Tub during the elimination ceremony, undoubtedly poking fun at the ridiculousness of reality dating competitions while simultaneously offering just as much eye candy as the programs of which they are bashing. As Jenner calls their names, probably tossing them a personalized Ed Hardy hat instead of a rose, the rejected bro will have to stand and exit the hot tub, dripping wet and half naked, and exit the house.

And I'm the first to admit now that I plan to tune in eagerly. Sure it sounds dumb in the long run, but knowing the superficiality not only of reality television but also of Jenner in his everyday life, there is no way the cast won't be pretty... so pretty! If we have to endure hour after endless hour of women prancing around in low cut tank tops and tight jeans (if that, usually it's more like bikinis and pixelation), the least they can do is give us this. Sure, we'll probably have to endure some frat boy-like antics along the way, but that's what the mute button is for!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Risk It? Risk It!...

From that taunting warning in A Christmas Story that “You’ll poke your eye out!” to the rumor that mixing Pop Rocks and soda would make your stomach explode, some of the most fun that could be had during childhood was testing boundaries and defying the so-called dangers of certain toys and games. While nothing was as hazardous as Mainway Toys' Mr. Skingrafter or “Bag O’Glass,” parents still often expressed worry, and when they did it only made us want the items more. We risked riding around on sleds with metal runners; we played with paddle balls and yo-yos even after getting bonked on the forehead repeatedly; and we proudly displayed Lite Brite in our bedrooms even with the potential fire hazard… so just what was it about these toys that made them so darn irresistible???

For those who grew up yearning to be on Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That On Television or Double Dare, there were a few products that allowed you to join in on the fun from the safety of your living room… until your parents caught wind of what you were doing anyway. Nickelodeon’s slime was messy but virtually harmless, but the invention of Gax and Floam that followed were a bit more controversial. Gak gained its popularity due to the farting sounds it would make when compressed into its container, and Floam was its lighter, mushier counterpart. The chemical compound surely created the sound but also emanated a plastic odor that lingered on your hands well after you had packed the Play-Doh rip-off safely away. Soap and water helped, but what kid actually washed their hands after playing like they’re told to? Later still came Gak-In-The-Dark, which not only maintained the same odor but also glowed in the dark, made of more complex chemicals that were certainly harmful upon contact, absorbing into the skin the way we used to be warned ink would do if we drew on our hands and arms, and yet kids happily pressed Gak to walls, countertops, and each other with reckless abandon, eager to own a piece of their favorite game show.

Slap Bracelets are considered collector’s items now because in the mid-nineties the news media released reports that flexible piece of stainless steel that allowed for the bend and snap motion of the bracelet could pierce the thin layer of decorative cloth and cut children’s arms. The ruler-sized rectangles came in bright colors, loud patterns (like animal print), and both shiny and fuzzy fabrics, allowing for maximum expression of personality for minimum cost, so regardless of any risk, girls lined them up on their forearms like tribal bands. Everyone had at least one, and if you wanted to be cool, you had many and probably couldn’t resist slapping them against your arm repeatedly in class, just to cause a minor disruption.

The Easy Bake Oven, a classic for raising little 1950s housewives, offered the opportunity to bake small muffins or tarts one at a time, powered by a light bulb. Little girls, and the occasional evolved boy, could pop something in before leaving for school and hopefully come home to a lukewarm treat. Aside from the obvious danger from frustration at the time it took to cook something, the Easy Bake Oven was notorious for sparking and for the oven door slamming shut on little fingers. Later models introduced decades after the original showcased stovetop burners (just like our mothers’ real ones!), which could also cause burns if a child leaned on it. Despite the potential trip to the doctor’s office, the lure of being able to eat cookies or cupcakes anytime because you made it yourself was too great, and Santa has worked over-time year after year to lug those big square boxes down the chimneys.

Like jump rope for the one-legged, Chemtoy’s Lemon Twist in the late sixties, and the late eighties copycat of Skip-It attached at the ankle via a thin plastic hoop, which often scratched and/or got stuck. Created as a way to make exercising more fun (and colorful!), the child had to swing their leg with the attached toy a little bit harder to get it to swing around, causing a spastic skipping motion. Lemon Twist was light, and only the uncoordinated kids had trouble avoiding it as it came at their other leg, tripping over the small plastic yellow lemon end. The featured on such popular shows like Saved By The Bell (to explain its popularity, mayhaps?), Skip-It, however, had an electronic mechanism attached that supposedly counted the number of times it swung around and was successfully hopped over, which weighed down the ankle and practically pulverized the other one when it inevitably crashed into it as the child grew tired. On the playground, Skip-It also took out many an unsuspecting tag player as he or she ran by, oblivious to what was circling on the ground below them… which actually became a more fun game than the Skip-It by itself and as intended.

Though the Parker Brothers and Hasbro’s Bop It wasn’t inherently a dangerous item when it first debuted in toy stores across the country as a stick-like plastic device with three electronic elements, the act of putting it to use could be very violent depending on who your opponent was. In its original form, Bop It was used individually but could easily be turned on a friend or schoolyard acquaintance if he or she got a higher score when passed the toy. Bop It Extreme, however, had two handles for two players, creating a face-to-face rivalry as the toy spit out instructions, and struggling ensued not to miss your cues while your opponent attempted to wrestle the thing out of your hands. Many a kid heard the robotic “Bop It” instruction and had to restrain themselves from actually using the device to “bop” their opponent on the head.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Is This Really Our Reality?...

With the summer television season just around the corner, the influx of new reality shows about to inundate our small screens is just about inevitable. With gems like Farmer Wants A Wife or The Greatest American Dog set to hit primetime, we can be breathe a little sigh of relief that at least they can’t possibly be as bad as some of reality shows past… or so we hope.

In 2005, USC professor Todd Boyd made a prediction to his students that the next big thing in hip-hop was going to be a white, female MC. Three years later the infamous MC Serch branded EgoTrip and brought forth Miss Rap Supreme, a competition reality show featuring ten aspiring MCs who are picked to live together in the same house while battling each other for the same prize: $100,000 and the title of “Miss Rap Supreme.” Unfortunately for VH1, no self-respecting MC would submit themselves to a show that uses only four initial bars to figure out who has the most talent. With the actual amount of spitting (lyrics) kept to less than ten minutes of on-screen time, Miss Rap Supreme is filled with tasks and challenges that have nothing to do with embracing hip-hop swagger and just make all the ladies in the house (but MC Serch most of all) look like fools. Even co-host Yo-Yo can’t hold back her embarrassment at being involved with the show, and every week, she grimaces like she’s counting down for the damn thing to be done.

Hooking a loved one up to a lie detector test and forcing him or her to reveal answers in front of a live studio audience, three cameras, and a nation sounds, in theory, like a recipe for some laughs, and assumedly, that’s what Fox was banking on with Moment of Truth. Unfortunately, host Mark L. Wahlberg drums up extra drama by insinuating salaciousness and pausing strategically with every question. When he asked a contestant on a recent episode if he had ever felt attraction to another man, the wide-eyed expressions and audible gasping caused more controversy than was warranted and basically set the progression of the network back a couple of decades.

Fox’ The Swan and it’s little sister on MTV, I Want A Famous Face, were more than just your typical feel-good-makeover shows, as they both promoted the use of drastic plastic surgery to make the contestants all new people. The Swan even went so far as to “rank” the successes of the surgeries by crowning a winner, and I Want A Famous Face encouraged teenagers to conform even more than typical peer pressure by indulging them in the nose jobs, chin implants, and veneers to resemble their favorite actors and/or other public personalities. The result was always a bit more robotic than organic, and we couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when the pain meds wore off, and they realized they actually look nothing like said celebrities… or even a passable human being.

Reality shows featuring the Why Are They Even On TV? personalities have always been head-scratchers. Who are these well-coiffed but little known people and why do they warrant their own shows? More importantly, why do we watch? MTV’s There And Back followed former boy band member Ashley Parker Angel (of O-Town infamy-- Really? Him?) and his struggles for a solo career and to become a family man; Keeping Up With The Kardashians (E!) follows three sisters of a very affluent and fashion-obsessed family as they party, primp and process, getting ready to party, and then primp and process, recovering from their partying. While LA locals have known the Kardashian name for years, very few knew the faces until this show came along, and most are still left wondering just why exactly they’re famous in the first place. Similarly, E!’s new Living Lohan features the not-so-glamorous escapades of Dina and Ali, neither of whom is very interesting on her own, nor would be in the limelight without Lindsay’s public career and even more public legal troubles.

Flavor of Love has become the quintessential trashy competition for “love” reality show, making a mockery out of the concept in the process. Taking the least-respected member of a rap group that had its heyday decades ago, VH1 hoped by casting twenty wannabe actor and/or models and plying them with plenty of alcohol, they would have an instant hit on their hands… and they did, if you consider a train-wreck a hit (with both, sometimes you can’t look away). Flavor of Love gives reality dating shows a bad name because of all of the screeching, hair pulling, finger pointing, and drunken hysterics, sure, but mostly because the guy at the center (Flavor Flav, who is supposedly looking for a soulmate) is such a cartoon and can’t be taken seriously; news of casting the newest season spreads while the current season is still airing, so clearly he, just like all of the contestants, are only in it to get on television. Due to its ratings success, Flavor of Love can even be blamed for the slew of spin-offs and copycat dating disasters (I Love New York, A Shot At Love, Rock of Love) running rampant recently, too; need we say more?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Children Are Our Future (Even Of Television)...

It's almost summer, and you know what that means: the kids will be home from school soon, and even the most athletic ones sometimes can't resist just slumping down on the couch in a nice air conditioned living room to watch a few straight hours of television. With so much free time about to be on their hands and access not just to the remote but also to hundreds of shows streaming on the Internet, the programming options are wide open... though not always acceptable for their age group. Most parents nowadays just turn the channel to Nickelodeon or Disney and let their kids sit there for hours; in fact, most parents admit that their kids often do the channel turning themselves. Sure, the amount of age-appropriate programming on those two channels alone can keep a child occupied for the better part of the day, but the level of quality still varies. Here is a look at the best (the most creative but also with the most important messages).

Nickelodeon premiered their newest cartoon, The Mighty B!, last month to rave reviews-- predominately due to the Amy Poehler-helmed cast of comedic geniuses behind the pre-pubescent characters’ voices. Revolving on an over-achieving young girl who wants nothing more than to earn the most Brownie badges in the history of the troupes, B may have her dorky moments, but she is extremely self-assured and comfortable in her own skin, offering a solid and quirky role model, befitting any modern little girl.

Also on Nick, iCarly focuses on another driven and determined young woman, but this one is also an entrepreneur despite still being in high school. Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) and her two best friends film and broadcast a web show from her bedroom, becoming instant (and overnight) celebrities with kids their own age but from all around the world. The show is unique for its Internet tie-ins, being the first of its kind to invite their fans to submit videos of their own through its companion site. The Internet—and the Internet generation—is our future, and iCarly is the first program to really embrace that.

Over on the Disney Channel, Phineas and Ferb is an animated throwback to the importance of good old-fashioned imagination. Disappointed by spending summer vacation stuck in their backyard, young brothers Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (Thomas Sangster) scheme and plot (but in a creative, productive, non-threatening way) to have all kinds of exciting adventures. With the help of their secret agent pet platypus (the writers must be true kids at heart!), they even manage to outsmart their older sister (High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale). Even in cel form, Phineas and Ferb makes viewers feel like they can do anything they set their minds to (whether it be win a race or visit outer space), and perhaps more importantly it energizes them to the point where they want to do it all. It is no small accomplishment when a television show makes kids want to get off the couch.

Life With Derek is a new millennium Brady Bunch or even Step By Step, focusing on the gentle rivalry between Casey (Ashley Leggat) and Derek (Michael Seater), who were both the oldest in their family (and therefore used to getting their way) until their parents met each other and got married. While the kids adjust to their new lives and new families, their banter induces laughs but their ever-growing affection for each other induces warm smiles. Life With Derek teaches the importance of embracing family in just a subtle, slightly sarcastic enough way that modern audiences won’t roll their eyes at the cheese factor.

Despite being a bit dated, reruns of modern classic favorites like Full House and new installments of Power Rangers get the seal of approval, too, especially from parents who are young enough to have grown up with those shows themselves. It's a bit of the nostalgia factor, sure, but it's also just nice for them to know something intrinsically about the shows towards which their kids are gravitating. It’s so hard to keep up nowadays, this way just makes it easier to bonding to ensue. :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Fancy Prayer...

The following is a transcription of my thoughts from what was set to be the final performance of RENT but what is now just the final Broadway performance I will see of RENT:

When the theatre goes dark tonight, and the tree comes down, and the posters get pulled from the walls, we aren’t just saying good-bye to a piece of pop culture or music history: we are saying good-bye to a young artist’s legacy. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jonathan were here tonight, he would have another brilliant play in development, if not already on Broadway. Sadly, though, that can never be the case, and I only hope he can be proud of the success RENT has had, even though he could not be here to revel in it.

When RENT first opened, I was twelve years old, and my parents wouldn’t let me see it. They thought I was too young for the content; somehow they had convinced themselves that I had never been exposed to sex or drugs or disease before, and they wanted to shield me from it— in effect to shield me from life. That summer, though, I was able to hear the words from the soundtrack album, and I was moved in a way I had never been before. Roger and Mimi’s combativeness in "Another Day" perfectly depicted what I was battling within myself on a daily basis. Could I adopt the “live in the moment” attitude I so admired from a true Bohemian or was I destined to be a constant worrier, desperate to set myself up now for a future that may never even come?

I greatly admired the carefree joy of “La Vie Boheme,” yelling along at the top of my lungs with the names of those incomparable creatives and yearning to be one of them. When Anthony Rapp sang "Is anyone in the mainstream?" I couldn't stop the tears from welling up in the corners of my eyes; that single line summed up exactly how I wanted to be. During years when I could not feel more different, here were some other young people just living their lives and happy to do so in the way they wanted to: they didn't think they were the outsiders, and they were genuinely confused by the idea of “the masses.”

What You Own” made me want to rebel against my upper middle class mother’s way of buying my love; I was both Mark and Roger in the middle of “Good-Bye Love;” and I painfully understood “One Song Glory” and “Santa Fe” and that deep desire to be somewhere great and to do something great, just to leave your mark on this world as it chews you up but before it spits you back out.

Normally I would never encourage anyone to run out and purchase Chris Columbus’ bastardization of this beautiful story, but I am going to do so now; I will even provide you with a direct way to do so. If you can get past all of the glossiness and bright colors and fake sets of the Hollywood lens, which seems to have tried its damnedest to make a very gritty, very real, sad story family-friendly, and if you can forget about all of the eloquent words Columbus omitted or changed, there is an extremely touching documentary on the second disc about Jonathan—his life, his work, his passion, his art. That is the film that should have been shown nationwide; that is how you should remember this story and these characters if you’ve never had a chance to see it play out on a stage.

So I don’t hope that the final night closes with the full rendition of “Seasons Of Love,” but rather “Louder Than Words” from "tick Tick BOOM" instead. I think those are the words and the message Jonathan would want us to be left with at this time of change. If nothing else, there is something poetic in how he ended up doing a lot of what he sung in that number. He is the voice of a generation, and through the touring company, the Original Broadway Cast recordings, and any subsequent revivals, he will be the voice of many future generations, as well.

Thank you, Jonathan Larson!