30 November 2005

Doctor Who comes to DVD in the US!

In a surprise reversal, the BBC has decided to release the new Doctor Who on DVD in the United States.
Here's the news release from the sci fi wire:

The BBC told SCI FI Wire that it will release the complete first season of the new British SF TV series Doctor Who on DVD in the United States on Feb. 14, 2006, offering Americans their first official look at the hit U.K. show. BBC Video will release Doctor Who: The Complete First Series with all 13 of the first-season episodes, starring Christopher Eccleston as the immortal Timelord and Billie Piper as his sidekick, Rose, as well as more than four hours of extras. The DVD set will carry a suggested retail price of $99.98.
The BBC is choosing to release the DVD set in advance of any plans to license Doctor Who for broadcast in the United States.
The latest incarnation of the venerable British SF series debuted on the BBC last May, written by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk), Steven Moffat (Coupling) and Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen).The DVD set, virtually identical to one already available in the United Kingdom, will also feature audio commentary by cast and crew, including Davies, Piper, John Barrowman (Captain Jack), Mark Gatiss and Simon Callow; a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix on all episodes; more than five hours of "making of" interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; a BBC interview with Eccleston; and a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming holiday episode The Christmas Invasion, starring David Tennant as the new Doctor, which premieres this month in the United Kingdom.

27 November 2005

Goblet of Fire

One of the challenges to the Harry Potter films, is how much to keep and how much should go. Despite the success of the first two films, most critics believed Chris Columbus stuck too close to Rowling novels. With The Prisoner of Azkaban, the producers and new director, Alfonso Cuarón, excised some the more superfluous scenes in favor of a more leaner -and linear - story.

Goblet of Fire does the same here, opening the movie with Harry and friends visit to Quidditch World Cup -and the consequences of that coming together: Death Eaters and the Dark Mark. The plot quickly returns to Hogwarts where three different wizarding schools will compete in the Triwizard Tournament.

Things quickly get out of hand as Harry is somehow selected to compete in the game, even though he is too young, While petty jealousy will nearly destroy Harry, Hermione and Ron’s friendship, the evil that is Lord Voldemort will not be undone. And Harry will finally meet the one creature who will do anything to see him dead.

Like Azkaban, Goblet flows very smoothly and director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves not only make an enjoyable fantasy film, they also make a first rate thriller. The three challenges that Harry and the other three Triwizard students go through are well constructed, with the dragon that Harry must avoid to get the golden egg, perhaps the best action piece of the first four films.

While reading Goblet a few years ago, I remember saying how dark the series was getting, but until I saw it on the screen this past Thanksgiving Day, I did not realize how dark it really was. Rowling has done wonders here, by giving her characters faults, and not making them perfect little heroes.

And with this film, the three main actors really come into their own more, thanks, to previous director Cuarón’s decision to make them act like kids, thus giving them a three dimensional personality. Under the helm of Newell, the increasingly handsome Daniel Radcliffe becomes a very accurate teenager, full doubts about his role in Hogwarts, his growing attraction to the opposite sex and how much he needs his friends.

Emma Watson shines as Hermione, as she becomes more beautiful and talented with each film. There were two scenes which stuck with me, first her attempts to keep Harry and Ron’s friendship from going south (“I am not and owl”) and at the Yule Dance where she reveals more than ever her attraction to Ron.

Rupert Grint -who Maggie Smith has called a “born comedian” - is once more the heart and soul of this troika. His timing and his ability to be an awkward teenager who won’t admit he likes Hermione (and seems even cruel to her, at times) will strike familiar with anyone who remembers when they young and noticed that girls where very different than boys.

The only complaint I might have, is the lack of screen time for the all three of the other wizards in the game. While Cedric (the charming Robert Pattison) had the most lines, Viktor Krum (the handsome Stansilav Ianevski) and Fluer Delacour (Clémence Poésy) are given little to do other than be eye candy. Also, I was sad to see Alan Rickman’s screen time cut, also. Severus Snape is one of my favorite (but I am also happy to know what a critical part he’ll play in the latter books, so it’s not that bad). Even Tom Felton’s (who is growing like a weed) Draco takes a backseat, but it was a delight to see-if only briefly - Jason Isaacs’ return as Draco’s father, Lucius.

But equally, it was nice see Matthew Lewis’s Neville Longbottom come forward, especially, as it seems, Rowling is making this shy boy become more important to the series as a whole.

Finally, as Hermione says, everything is changed as they head home after the fourth year comes to a tragic close. Death has claimed a hero and Lord Voldemort is back and Harry Potter’s future -and the ones tied to his destiny - now must look forward to a more darker path.

Where it will lead is unknown, but the once fact remains: Harry will need all his strength to survive. And this was the first of the film that I really felt that just before the end credits began, To Be Continued... should've appeared on the screen.

24 November 2005

CBS cancels Threshold, ABC pulls the plug on Alias

After the success of Lost, ABC, NBC and CBS decided that genre shows might work again; then all three announced in May that each would have some sort of alien invasion show. ABC had Invasion, NBC announced Surface and CBS went with Threshold. Each were similar in many ways, but each were also unique. But everyone who knows TV was just curious which -if any -would survive the 2005-06 TV season.
While all three shows did not score high ratings, both ABC's Invasion and NBC's Surface were scoring with the critics and were building a dedicated audience. Still, there were many critics who were enjoying Threshold and were vocal about why the show had not yet been picked up for a full season of 22 episodes. After all, both the Alphabet and Peacock networks had given the green light for the back nine of each of their sci-fi shows.
While CBS has maintained a stronghold on the all important 18-49 demographic with its CSI franchise, Survivor, The Amazing Race and its Monday night line up, it discovered that while the Friday lead-in of The Ghost Whisperer was doing great, the audience the show built was lost when Threshold aired. Plus, it seemed, the network was supporting the low-rated CSI clone like Close To Home more than its new sci fi series -which initself is not big news. The Tiffany network is not known for producing out-and-out genre shows, sticking to the more down to earth fanatsy shows like Touched By an Angel and the quick rise-to-bust Joan of Arcadia. It also seemed that Close was generating a large female audience and had already discovered that Ghost was doing the same.
So, on Friday, November 18, CBS switched out Threshold with Close To Home and -no suprise here - the ratings for Close where better than Threshold. CBS quickly announced they were picking up Close for the remainder of the season and the show would stay put in 9pm, Friday timeslot.
On Tuesday, Novemeber 22, CBS aired Threshold in its new timeslot and predictably, the show stumbled. In its original Friday slot, the alien conspiracy show was earning a low 5.2/9 share (Nov. 5) and a 5.7/10 share (Oct. 22). Its 11/22 air date only scored a 4.4/7 share, finishing a distant third that night and giving CBS all the excuse it needed to offically cancel the show.
Its failure marks another blow to show runner Brannon Braga (who is the sole reason I stayed away from this show, other than the boring plot lines), who only this past winter was handed his walking papers when UPN cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise after four uneven seasons. And while he was recently hopefull CBS would give the go ahead to finish out the season, it was also reasonable to think that three genre shows with similar themes would not survive.
Surface has done reasonably well, despite many sci fi fans complaints that they steal directly from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And ABC's Invasion has held on, mostly because its huge lead-in audience is coming from Lost. But, if critical praise was a barometer at which to gage a success, both Surface and Invasion have won more than Threshold.
Meanwhile, in a surprise move (and something that could save Invasion), ABC announced they are pulling the plug on the five-year old spy series Alias. No clear exlpanation was given for this move, but the show is very expensive to produce and has never been the big hit ABC expected to be, judging by the several attempts over the years to reboot the shows concept to gain a higher audience.
But Alias' demise could assure a second season of Invasion. Despite full season pick-ups of both Surface and Invasion, it does not guarantee a second year. But with Alias now gone for the 2006-07 TV season, Invasion could find itself in a rather safe timslot after the Lost.
Time will tell.


The happy Thanksgiving to all

23 November 2005

Spike Returns?

When the WB cancelled Angel in January of 2003, it was done mostly for cost reasons, or so the bean counters at the Frog network would tell you. The show was the number two highest rated drama, behind the now cancelled 7th Heaven (which is ending its ten-year run in May 2006 because it is expensive). But the WB felt the shows audience was not going to grow beyond what was already there, even after the producers bowed to pressure to make the show more episodic.

One thing the WB did not realize was that Angel had a huge fanbase and would not take the cancellation sitting down. But, despite the protests and the mass petitions, Angel left the airwaves in May 2003.

However, soon after (and much later as the fall schedule of 2004 sputtered), Garth Ancier, president of WB programming, admitted that cancelling the show was probably a mistake. He said the decision was rather rushed, so it sounds like it basically came down to a coin toss. Angel loss.

Since last summer, rumors have been going around that Ancier was liking the idea of doing some TV movies (which, at the time, the WB had yet to do). Perhaps bring back the surviving cast members from Angel 's series finale -Angel himself, Spike, Gunn (who looked near death) and now-dead-Fred-possessed-by-Illyria. He mentioned in several interviews that he was willing to listen to anything Joss Whedon was willing to do.

But now Whedon was off doing Serenity and even shut down his TV division of Mutant Enemy to focus on his next film, Wonder Woman. And the cast of Angel went their different ways. David Boreanaz now is starring in the new FOX show Bones, Amy Acker will be seen on the new CBS midseason action show The Unit and J. August Richards & Alexis Densiof are doing guest shots on other shows, along with James Marsters who popped up on last seasons stink bomb known as The Mountain and has a recurring roll this season of Smallville.

Boreanaz, like Sarah Michelle Geller, has made it known that he's not ready to return as the brooding vampire, while Marsters appears to be willing to go through the bleaching again to return as Spike.

Now, after all this time, it looks like a Spike TV movie is closer to becoming a reality, as the planets and the stars seem to lining up. Anthony Stewart Head, who played Giles (and has returned to England to live and work) and who had been rumored to be doing a possible Giles TV series for the BBC has made mention in the latest issue of the Buffy the Vampire Magazine that the long talked about TV series may now become a "TV movie that might be a part of a series of DVD's that we are talking about doing for different characters from the shows."

This appears to where 20th Century Fox is going towards, since they own the rights to both Buffy and Angel and has heard the cha ching of register sales on both shows on DVD. Plus, series producer/writer Marti Noxon told the scifi wire that "There are serious discussions going on about bringing some of the characters back and making a few movies that will go straight to DVD, but they will certainly be the quality they've alawys have been."

Now the syfy portal has is reporting that writer Tim Minear, who wrote for both TV shows and Whedon's short lived Firefly, will write and direct a Spike TV movie. He is reported -in the same magazine - as being asked by Whedon to do the film. It is also noted that talks are underway not only to bring back Marsters as Spike, but also Amy Acker as Illyria.

The time frame for this movie -and eventual release on DVD- is unknown. But, I'm sure we'll be keeping all our ears open -and our necks covered in garlic.

18 November 2005

12 Songs

For many Diamond fans, ever since the Jazz Singer, the man has put out one tepid album after another. Hey, I’m all for expanding the career and going in different directions, but with the album that went with the movie -and which I think sold more than theater tickets, Diamond went into overdrive with over produced songs with pedantic lyrics and looking like a real bad Las Vegas lounge singer. I mean, he’s not as bad as the creepy Celine Dion, but his fans base became the stereotypical blue-haired lady set that needed umpteen encores of Forever in Blue Jeans.
I started listening to Diamond when the classic double vinyl album Hot August Night came out. Man, that is just one brilliant concert record.
Over the years, I would enjoy the follow ups -like under-rated Beautiful Noise - but some where in the late 1980's, early 90's, Diamond took an odd turn. It began, I think, with Headed For the Future -but I could be wrong. It was then that Kraft should’ve really started to sponsor his live shows, as the he began to really put on the cheese.
Even after he claimed he got his muse back with Three Cord Opera, I still felt that Diamond was more concerned with sequine shirts and entertaining middle aged women who thought he was more romantic than their husbands.
However, with a few exemptions, 12 Songs is a terrific throwback to his early career. Producer Rick Rubin shaves back the glam that overtook Neil in the last decade or so, and in doing so, makes Diamond shine.

Now, here’s something I got from Amazon.com reviewer named monoblocks from Seattle, Washington. It was something I was not aware of, and may have opened my computer to attack.
The good news was he like the CD, but "...The bad news is of course the vile rootkit technology that Sony decided to use in their digital rights management strategy that others here have previously alerted website visitors to, which if you're a Windows PC computer user means VERY bad things in the long term (and not-so-long term, given recent announcements in the past day or so). Rootkits are simply put, bad news. This one that Sony chose to use embeds itself into Windows so deeply that even Windows is powerless to track its operation. You don't and won't know that it's operating, period. That in and of itself is bad enough, because it allows Sony to track and monitor whatever it wants. By allowing this to install on your Windows PC (and to play '12 Songs' on your PC, you HAVE TO allow it to install), you've given Sony that priveledge by clicking 'yes' on the end-user licensing agreement that you DIDN'T read and just automatically glossed over. Virus and malware writers are now grinning ear to ear because Sony, in their own zealous anti-piracy foolishness has released to the world cloaking technology that when hacked will allow the evil doers of the internet to get their trojans, worms and viruses to reside on your Windows computer, to open your machine to WHATEVER THEY want your computer to do, without the user ever being the wiser. Sony's little spyware foray just got REALLY bad. Online banking? The invisible trojan will simply log all your keystrokes and phone home with the data...and you and your firewall, anti-virus and spyware software will NEVER have known. Turn your machine into a spamming zombie? Again, thanks to Sony's clandestine rootkit, you will never know, at least until your internet provider turns off your service because your computer has become one of the worst porn and conterfeit Viagra junk mailers on the Web. Thanks to Sony and their partner, First 4 Internet (the creators of this rootkit), if you use 12 Songs on your computer, you've just opened the door to the worst that the internet has to offer. And as of November 10, 2005, that door has been swung WIDE open. Symantec, the makers of Norton Anti-Virus, as well as other AV companies, have reported the first 'bot' trojans and viruses are now live and living on the internet, taking full advantage of this rootkit's stealth technology. But with this first batch of malware, ONLY those people who have played SonyBMG CDs like 12 Songs or Carlos Santana's latest are vulnerable. I feel your pain, or more accurately, your pain to come. To date, there are few precious measures that will allow you to simply remove this hole from your computer (though it sounds like Computer Associates may now have a tool available soon); Sony's OWN procedure to remove this involves emailing their customer service division to get specific instructions; how EASY those instructions are I don't know...I'm so far rootkit-free (and plan on staying this way). If you're intent on buying the 12 Songs CD (and musically, it's DEFINITELY worth it), please save yourself some agony and use this disc ONLY in stand-alone CD players, or on Apple Mac and Linux-based PCs (rootkits have not been released for those formats...at least yet). Or buy a download version, like from iTunes Music Store. If you're as upset with Sony as I am, you might consider not buying this collection at all, as a form of boycott protest over Sony's own foolishness and hand in giving virus writers an open avenue to your computer; but that's up to your own conscience and whether you mind that by buying this and similar infested CDs Sony will profit from your future infection misery. Musically, this is INDEED one great album, something that DESERVES to be listened to and enjoyed for years to come. It's a crying shame that Sony chose to forever tarnish its luster by releasing this disc with such foolhardy security holes. I still rate this music a 5, but the disc and its malware a BIG FAT ZERO. Well, at least when the Bank of America, GM, Citigroup, your power company, etc., get crippled with viruses and trojans courtesy of this cloaking rootkit, you will know and understand WHY Sony will have gone out of business under the mountain of lawsuits it was buried under as a result.

11 November 2005

FOX cancels Arrested Development

During the World Series, FOX promoted the hell out of Prison Break (along with a few of their new shows and some of the returning ones). It worked, and the show has succeed in the ratings and has gotten good critical praise.
I'm not sure if they promoted Arrested Development, but they sure didn't as much as Prison Break. Sure the World Series was low rated (except maybe in Chicago and Houston), but that does not explain why FOX continued to ignore AD.
Yesterday, FOX announced that they were pulling AD -along with the lame Kitchen Confidential - for the remainder of the November sweeps. This comes on the heels of AD's return to the schedule on November 7 after the baseball induced hiatus. The double episode only scored about 4 million viewers (where a rerun of Prison Break the week before scored 5.9 million). They also cut the episode order from 22 to 13. Basically, they cancelled the show (without "officially" saying it) and told the producers of Kitchen that they should not expect an order for anymore shows beyond the 13 they requested.
Thus, Arrested Development now becomes another notch on the wall of shows that die long before they should. The show is funny, brilliantly acted and written. The narration from executive producer Ron Howard is as droll as the comedy on the screen.
So why did this happen? Well, obviously -and maybe a tad stereotypically - it failed because Americans are stupid and TV networks create shows for an auidence with a 12th grade education. Its the only way to explain reality programming and endless parade of procedural shows.
Satire is lost on Americans, and shows like Arrested Development (and others like Undeclared, Wonderfalls and Freaks and Geeks) which swim in its ocean, seem to get lost. Comedy shows like Two and Half Men, Still Standing, Yes, Dear, Joey, Will & Grace, all the WB and UPN "urban" sitcoms somehow all remain on the air, despite them all -with a few exceptions - have leached the humor out once was a vibrant business. And AD's cancellation comes on the heels of ABC picking up the pedantic Freddie for a full season.
There is no justice.
While FOX has been known to take risks with such shows as 24, the aftermentioned Prison Break, The X Files, The Simpsons (which has lost a crap load of its originality) and Malcom in the Middle (which has outlived its usefullness), it has continued to go after the lowest common denominator with such shows as American Idol, The War at Home, Family Guy and its endless association with ubiquitous - and hateful -Paris Hilton. And the network acts like baboons on crack when it comes to its programming. Basically, if you are not a hit from the get go, don't expect to survive. So with that philosophy, it seems surprising that FOX would develope a show such as this, knowing full well that its core audience -the straight, white male - will ignore it.
Maybe its a case of just not letting another network take the show -even though ABC,NBC and CBS are all going after the same demographic as FOX.
Because Arrested was a risky show -which (borrowed from the AD web site) revolves around Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the “normal” one in a family of crazies, who is forced to stay in Orange County and run the family real estate business after his father, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), is sent to prison for shifty accounting practices. While George Sr. spent the last year in the slammer discovering his newfound Judaism and recording inspirational tapes, Michael spent it picking up the pieces and trying to teach his offbeat family how to live without an endless expense account. All the while, Michael has also been trying to do right by his 14-year-old son, George Michael (Michael Cera), an earnest kid who works diligently at the family’s frozen banana stand. The Bluths are led by manipulative matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), a socialite who is as icy as her martinis. Then there’s the oldest son, GOB (Will Arnett), a womanizer and struggling magician (sorry, “illusionist”) whose biggest trick will be to make a real job appear. The youngest brother is Buster (Tony Hale), a neurotic professional grad student and glorified mama’s boy (he spent 11 months in the womb). The Bluth siblings are rounded out by cause-obsessed sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), who is married to the hapless Tobias (David Cross), a doctor-turned-actor who might get more work if he wasn’t a self-proclaimed “never-nude.” Lindsay and Tobias are the ultra-permissive parents of Maeby (Alia Shawkat), a 14-year-old who loves finding unique ways to rebel against their overindulgence. It substituted belly laughs and paint-by-number jokes with sly humor and it let its very talented cast -along some brilliant guest star turns - get real loose with a show that played with a less than linear plot line. The show -in its first season -earned 7 Emmy nods and walked away with three, including Best Comedy Show (a rarity in the TV award business). And while in season two, the producers made it more accessible, by toning down the criss-crossing story arcs, and making each episode more self-contained and exiled the subtle references while adding physical comedy, the show was still the funniest on TV.
But it seems that all was for naught. Americans, who seem to want an endless parade of Law & Order and CSI clones and think lame comedies such as Freddie, and whatever ABC airs on Fridays are funny is killing perhaps the most hilarious show in decades.
Through their stupidity and desire not be challenged by TV, shows like Arrested Develpoment are forced to die long before the deserve and while, thanks to DVD's, they will live on, its still a sad commentary and one that forces me day in and day out to consider finally pulling the plug on cable and keeping the TV only for DVD's.
Maybe then I could finally get to Confederacy of Dunces -another piece of satirical work - that would be lost on NASCAR (i.e. most FOX viewers) set of folks who think TV Guide is equivalent to reading Les Miserables.

09 November 2005

Eye Candy

A fired Brosnan rants to Playboy

Pierce Brosnan spoke to Playboy Magazine about his 10 year stint as James Bond and the recent decision for Sony and Eon Production to replace him with Daniel Craig.

Since the last Bond film, Die Another Day, the billion dollar franchise has been stuck, mostly due to MGM being sold to Sony. Plus, both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were fearing franchise "stagnation" after Die -though a success -did not perform as well as expected.

Plus, Brosnan was making little comments about how he disliked the quips Bond made and felt that the series needed to make and take more risks. What follows is excerpts (via CommanderBond.net) from the Bond related parts of the interview, where he expresses a lot of bitterness about his years as Bond, plus he takes on former Bond actor George Lazenby:

Playboy: Where you ready to step down as James Bond?
Brosnan: It would have been a trip to do another one. I prepared myself to do it. I psyched myself. But they have set sail. The made their decision. They want to reinvent it and make it a period piece. The want to get a younger guy. I'll always be known as Bond, but now I don't have the responsibility of being an ambassador for a small country ruled by a character."

Playboy: How does it feel to be told that you're too old?
Brosnan: It was kind of shocking to have ageism come on me when I was just getting started. It's shocking to be told that you're too old, that you're past your sell-by date.

Playboy: Do we detect some bitterness?
Brosnan: It's bloody frustrating that the f*ckers pulled the rug when they did. It was like, "Come on, we're family here. You talk about being a family. You know my late wife; you know my family now. Yet I get a call from my agents at five in the afternoon in the Bahamas, and I hear that you've shut down negotiations because you don't know how, where or which way to go and that you'll call me next Friday?" What can I say? It's cold, it's juvenile, and it shouldn't be done like that, not after 10 years and four films.

When asked how he assessed his four Bond films (GoldenEye,1995; Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997; The Word Is Not Enough, 1999; Die Another Day, 2002) the actor responded:

Brosnan: All the movies made money. Creatively, maybe, they could have been stronger, but they were Bond movies, and they advanced a certain degree out of the dolddrums where they had been. They were tricky to do. I never really felt as as though I nailed it. As soon as they put me into a suit and tie and gave me those lines of dialogue, I felt restricted. It was like the same old same old. I was doing Roger Moore doing Sean Connery doing George Lazenby. I felt as if I were doing a period piece dusted off. They never really took the risks they should have. [...] It would have been great to light up and smoke cigarettes, for instance. It would have been great to have the killing a little more real and not wussed down. My boys watch the movies on DVD, so I see them from time to time. I see myself with nowhere to go, and it's all rather bland.

Brosnan went on to expresses his disappointment that the sex scenes in his Bond films where never steamy enough for his own tastes ("It would have been great to have sex scenes that were right on the button."). When asked who would be his ideal Bond Girl, Brosnan had this to say:

Brosnan: Monica Bellucci is a ravishing beauty -- a gorgeous, gorgeous woman. She screen-tested to be a Bond girl a while back and the fools said no. Teri Hatcher stole the day instead.
Asked about the reports of his clashes with Teri Hatcher in the set of Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce explained:

Brosnan: The Teri Hatcher incident was blown out of proportion. She was late to set because she was newly pregnant. I didn't know that until the end of the day. [...] I was vexed because I had a call time of six or seven AM, and we didn't do any work until three or four in the afternoon. No one told me her situation until afterwards. By that time I'd already shot my mount off and cussed and moaned and groaned. That's all it was, a storm in a teacup.

The most bizarre part of the interview is when the topic of former Bond star George Lazenby arose. This has garnered some outside press attention.

Playboy: How about George Lazenby, who played 007 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service? He once said about you, "If he walked into a room, I doubt anyone would look up. But this is the 1990s and women want a man who shows his feminine side. Pierce definitely has that.
Brosnan: George is just an angry, old, pissed-off guy. He was never an actor but some pissed-off Aussie who doesn't know how to show his feminine side. I met him, and he's got that kind of brittle edge to him. People want to take swipes. I have no idea why.

Brosnan went on to suggest Clive Owen would make a good James Bond, but when the conversation turned to his new film, The Matador, Brosnan once again let his fury fly:

Brosnan: I would like to see this film be a glorious poke in the eye to certain parties and to be a success and have other glorious roles follow in it's wake. [...] When the f*ckers try and hem you in with Bond, it's great to come back with The Matador. It's great to say, "F*ck you, a**hole. F*ck you who wouldn't give me a job. F*ck you who thought I was some wuss. F*uck you, who thought I was a pretty boy. F*ck you, who thought anything of me without even knowing me or giving me the chance. F*ck you." But when you go around with all that inside you all the time, you end up completely mangled so you have to let it go.

07 November 2005

Gay Cowboys?

People are already complaining about Brokeback Mountain, the Ang Lee adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning authors E. Anne Proulx novella about two cowboys who meet up in the wilds of Wyoming in 1963 and begin a 20 year love affair. Called by many "the gay western", the film promises to pull no punch, as in nudity and explicit gay sex.

Now, while the script bounced around Hollywood for years, it wasn’t until Lee -who helmed another gay themed film, the delightful Wedding Banquet -took interest in it, that it finally went ahead. Casting Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as the two cowboys, Ang Lee is quick to point out that the film and even its stars see it more as a love story between two men who really don’t understand how this all began.

"He’s always battling his genetic structure, " Ledger said of his character of Ennis Del Mar. "He was battling the traditions and morals and fears and beliefs that have been passed down to him, and they’ve been imbedded in him so deeply, he couldn’t get past them."

Of course, this is what many gay men and women have gone through for generations. And if you live in one of those red states, the hatred of ones self is driven in even more.

This movie also takes on the mystique of the cowboy. The illusions created by Hollywood and novelist such as Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey about the cowboys of the 19th Century have been fully ingrained in the minds of American’s. The white hat cowboy was good, ethical and always macho. And the girls swooned. Even the bad cowboys were portrayed as macho, and even then the girls -who liked the bad boy - would swoon.

And while no one complained much about Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar winning film Unforgiven, which took on those classic oaters and blurred the line between heroes and villains and man and mythology, Brokeback Mountain is drawing some ire from folks in Wyoming, the state in which it is set (and also, coincidently, where three teenagers murdered gay student Matthew Shepard years ago).

Playwright and life-long Wyomingite Sandy Dixon told the Casper Star Tribune she’s never met a gay cowboy (that she knows of, really. Never heard of Gay Rodeos?) and feels that Hollywood should not portray the state of Wyoming with gay cowboys. "Don't try and take what we had, which was wonderful -- the cowboys that settled the state and made it what it was -- don't ruin that image just to sell a book." She added, "There's nothing better than plain old cowboys and the plain old history without embellishing it to suit everyone." Regarding the reaction of Wyoming people to the film, Dixon said it depends on the viewer: "Those that want to make a queer story out of it, they will, and those that know real cowboys will say it's all hogwash."

Of course, this is typical rhetoric from closed minded people. And the people of the state were not too pleased with Proulx’s short story collection Close Range anyways, when it was published in 1999. The writer explained to the newspaper this past spring "that when a writer places deviant characters in a setting people love, the writer will get a lot of flak. But as a historian and an observer, she said she writes what she sees. "It is dysfunction that attracts me," she said."

The film won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this fall, and it was reported that there was not a dry eye in the house after a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. The film is also garnering a lot of Oscar buzz. Still, New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews predicts the gay cowboy movie may be "too much for red-state audiences, but it gives the liberal-leaning Academy a great chance to stick its thumb in conservatives' eyes."

But Matthews maybe right. It will be an Art House film, playing in major cities and will never get out to ‘burbs and the megaplex’s that show four screens of latest crapfest starring Vin Diesel. It will play in some red states, but expect it to be a bi-coastal player with Chicago maybe being the only big city in the Midwest to report significant grosses.

And while Brokeback Mountain (which opens December 9) could be a pipe dream that shows the world that gay people are your brothers, sisters, father, mothers and everything in between, it could also reignite the hate that conservatives already have for people like me and my fellow gay humans.

06 November 2005

Schism, Part 2

As I said, I wrote this in 2001.

The second season continued Rick Berman's stiff attempt to make the show different, except most stories were unmemorable and many fought each other for, what writer David McIntee called, "maximum dullness". Once upon a time, Brannon Braga was a talented writer, penning many of the best TNG stories. But now, as the show began year two, he was a shadow of what he once was; more YES man than a writer. The Braga penned Non Sequitur had no real drama, because you knew Harry was going to get back to Voyager and Cold Fire, a belated sequel to the series opener, was filled with many bland ideas and stretched the mind to wonder what Braga was actually trying to say. Then there was Threshold which was perhaps the worst episode ever produced in the Trek canon. It was a high concept story that once again showed Trek putting the cart before the horse; hitching their ideas on the thinnest of threads.
One actress I like from the show, was Roxann Dawson, who was the proverbial Mary Richards, some one who could take a nothing script and turn it into something special, such as she did with Prototype. While the script added nothing to the arc and turned out rather silly, her performance made you want to watch the show, even though it could risk death from boredom. There were some highlights of season two, including Meld, which had the always-reliable bad guy character actor Brad Dourif delivering a truly subtle and creepy performance. And only a guest star turn by Joel Grey in Resistance saved that episode. And while not original in any stretch of the word, with uninteresting bad guys and a story that has no real motivation, Grey salvages the hour. There was, also, the marvelous return of Q. If you look beyond the obvious ratings stunt the show was, Death Wish was well acted and the script actually works (and mostly because Piller wrote a great story dealing with a touchy subject -euthanasia). And while the Vidiians make another appearance, the second season is dominated by the Kazon along with Tom, Tuvok and Janeway's plan to root out a spy ( which, if anyone is counting, made the second in two years) on Voyager. Once again, I must mention how silly the Kazons really are and how the only high point was actor Anthony de Longis performance. He brought a menace to the role of Culluh, but sadly he was hobbled with Seska, a shrew if there was one. Thaw was just plain creepy, but in the good sense. Some have said that this show was a real throw back to TOS, at least in the set design. I say that this is what made the show work. It was by means no budget breaker, but its surreal setting and Michael McKean's queer performance really makes the show. As a person who thinks clowns are scary to begin with, I found the idea of people dying by being scared to death really frightening. So, the rest of season two rambled on, but the show still had not found its space legs and concluded with a cliffhanger that was not as good as it should have been. Basics began to resolve the Kazon issue, but beyond Dourif's return as Suder, the show lacked any sense of threat and it was fairly obvious the crew was going to lose. And stranding the crew on the planet Hannon 4 was out of character for the Kazon, also. However, maybe Seska did have a moral streak running through her.
Personally, and most logically, Culluh should've killed them.
Season three saw the loss of co-creator Michael Piller, and the tone of the series shifted. "I thought Voyager was less focused over the years but certainly had fine moments, and certainly is a proud achievement for everybody involved with it," Piller diplomatically told Cinefantastique's Anna L. Kaplan. Meanwhile, the Kazon and the Vidiians would finally be left behind (it had been stated many times that both their space was not that large, yet the crew kept bumping into them, even after spending days and weeks in warp). And Brannon Braga began his rise as the new executive producer. He immediately drew the ire of many fans, with his 30th anniversary Trek episode Flashback. While the concept of the story was silly (it just an excuse to get Janeway and Tuvok on the bridge of the Excelsior during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country with special guest star turn of TOS actor George Takei as Captain Sulu), his lack continuity showed through, killing off a character that never died in the movie (and add his speech about how the exploits of Kirk and Company would have gotten them "booted" out of Starfleet these days. This was, essentially, what was incongruously wrong with the series. The fun of Kirk's era was gone, replaced by a chain of command from corporate America. Though, I might add, this type of attitude had slithered into TNG, especially in the two-part Unification, where Picard accused Spock of "cowboy diplomacy").
Still, like season two, there were one or two shows that stood out from the rest of the crap. Despite some of its shortcomings, Flashback was well directed and acted (though you can tell Grace Lee Whitney's acting has not improved with age). False Profits was a hilarious sequel to TNG's The Price, and while the two-part Future's End also had some problems, it was well done (and introduced the Doctor's mobile emitter and a 29th Century Federation Captain named Braxton who will cause many problems later on in the series). And while Warlord was nothing to write home about story wise, the acting of Jennifer Lien was top-notch. If only more stories like this came her way, maybe she would have not been shoved out after this season. John de Lancie's returned in The Q and the Grey, a sequel to the previous seasons Death Wish, and Kate Mulgrew's turn as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Macrocosm were also better than average. But then there was Remember, a clunky show with a theme done many times in Trek history -the story of a group of minorities who get blamed for everything, who are then shuttled off to a "better place" and then killed. Once again, a great performance from Dawson, but we are pounded over the head with much repetition, on the allegory they are trying to put forth. Don't get me wrong, parables are Trek's bread and butter. However, over the years, they've become pedantic in nature, and usually ends with the crew jaunting away, leaving many unanswered questions, when their metaphor gets too complex. Season three also was featured the return of the Borg. Somewhat. With shows ratings dipping, Paramount felt that show need a ratings fix (like the appearance of Q), and since it was mentioned in Star Trek: First Contact, and vaguely referenced during TNG's run, that the cybernetic creatures come from the Delta Quadrant, wasn't it about time they bumped into them? At the end of the lame-assed Blood Fever we see a dead Borg, which came off as a late minute add on, I might hazard a guess. Then Unity happened, and once again, Braga showed why his pisses the fans off, because while this show is stupid, it never really was about the Borg, but about a group cut off from the Collective. Plus it had a glaring error in continuity. One character says she was assimilated at the famous battle from TNG's fantastic two-part Best of Both Worlds. There is no way in which she could've been at Wolf 359. Mainly, because there was only one Borg cube heading for Earth. It is illogical to accept that after the battle, the Borg ship went into transwarp, dropped a few crews off and returned to the Alpha Quadrant. It was more logical to assume that she was assimilated -along with the Roluman Borg during the events of The Neutral Zone, the season one finale of TNG, where Federation colonies and a few Romulan War Birds encountered early incursions of the Collective. It was just another attempt by Braga to alter Trek for his own agenda. Unity, by the way, was a rating hit, but most fans felt they had been baited, and were disappointed with the episode. Meanwhile, the last half of season three trudged along, producing more bad shows like Rise, Real Life and Displaced. The only highlight of the last few shows was Distant Origins, which I kind of liked and the season finale, Scorpion, which featured the return of the Borg (and we are told that their space is "vast" - a plot point to explain the Borg stories that would follow over the coming years), but in a better story.

04 November 2005

Schism, Part 1

The death of Michael Piller and his legacy of what he did during his tenure on TNG, DS9 and Voyager made me reflect back on what happened to Star Trek after he left. Deep Space Nine remains my favorite of the spin-offs. Mainly, I think, it was because Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were still shepherding TNG and getting prepared launch Voyager. He sort of had some free reign in what direction DS9 would take. And since he was also responsible for the open-submission’s, he hired and trained writers like Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and René Echevarria in his style -trying to find the moral center of the story.

Still, DS9 had a rough beginning -suffering the same fate of TNG’s first two seasons. It wasn’t until Michael Piller joined Trek for the third year, did the first spin-off come into its own. But while there were some stinkers in DS9's first two-seasons, they were never as cringe inducing stories during TNG’s first two seasons.
I wrote this back in 2001, just as Voyager was ending:

When he help launch Voyager in 1995, he left the day-to-day work to show runner Behr, who made DS9 the most different and closer, I think, to Roddenberry’s more cerebral idea of Trek. But by the time Voyager came on, his magic touch seemed to fade, but the blame I think was not him. Rick Berman’s style of producing Trek was forcing the writers to produce less and less allegory stories (the franchises bread and butter, so to speak) for more action stories, with tons of violence directed at women and an overabundant reliance on sexuality. And the magical candy like reset button became a mantra that created a huge schism in Trek’s fan base.

Voyager's concept was to show what would happen to a crew stranded far from home, away from the protection of Starfleet and the Federation, with a crew made up of politically correct Starfleet officers and survivors of defiant Federation constituents -seeds of the this series were planted in a two-part DS9 episode The Maquis. Before her mission can begin, the crew is swept the crew 70, 000 light years away, into the uncharted space of the Delta Quadrant. While the series was a return to TOS old fashioned naval romance, it had a dangerous corporate utopian view that I was unable to overlook. That being said, however, the opener was not half-bad, and it set up many, many story ideas that could have been expounded on. One might have been the mixing of the Starfleet crew and the Maquis crew -a strong criticism from critics and fans that actually had its roots on TNG and something which many thought should have been explored in much more detail. Or Tom's voyage from a misguided youth to redemption (something that was covered a bit in season' one and two- all part of a plan to discover who was sending transmissions to the Kazon, and then oddly picked up again in season five -which by then seemed out of character), to the plight of Harry as always an ensign and never anything more How about Tuvok, who must deal with Chakotay as his commanding officer (one guessed that Tuvok was a full commander during the pilot, and somehow was demoted). But all of that was quickly brushed aside like so much dead leaves under the TNG's jingoistic notion that we were all one, big happy family. They took away the conflict, and any sort of great drama that comes from it.

Meanwhile, as DS9 was beginning to lose its episodic roots, Voyager was returning to TOS (and TNG somewhat) of self-contained story telling. The only real arc to the series would be them lost in the Delta Quadrant. So with Voyager, the show was designed not for the fans of either TNG or DS9, but for the causal fan; for the viewer who could not remember the show was on week-to-week, the "absentee viewer" as someone once put it. So the story telling of DS9 was replaced, because those themes were "too lofty for a (show like Voyager's) broad-based audience," as Piller once put it in an interview with the official Star Trek website (that locution, in particular, has become an over used catch phrase, which can easily be translated as straight, white males). So continuity and the Prime Directive were tossed out airlock with the baby water, all in the name of telling a story.

As the first season progressed, it wobbled, it sank, it rose, and it shifted its concept like sand in a desert. It introduced two very inferior alien enemies, the Kazon and the Vidiian's. Both mostly failed because they weren't sinister enough to scare a cockroach back into its dark corner. The Kazon, who where to be based on L.A. gangs, were just a bunch of petulant children who had cool ships, but were always fighting to find out which sect would rule. And despite the Seska/Culluh alliance, they never were more menacing than stock TV villains. The Vidiian's, while creepy, were mishandled. Besides they weren't really evil, they just did appalling things in pursuance of their goals. So, these two were not the Klingons or the Cardassians. They were just boring. So, the first season limped along like a cart with a misalign wheels. And while most of the acting was good outside of Mulgrew's, the stories lacked real originality, filled with terminally uninteresting characters, and featured way to much technobabble, with Time and Again being one of the most well known episodes to go overboard using it. Most of the stories seemed to be hobbled together from other concepts; as if Piller, Berman and Braga took all the stories they had not used on TNG and DS9 and tried to make them some how work on Voyager. But proposing the same flawed ideas over and over again was not making the show good. Only Eye of the Needle and Jetrel can be said to be one of the best of the first season, and while I enjoyed Emanations (because it will become a rare treat to watch Garrett Wang at the center of a story), the rest of season lacked a certain quality.

01 November 2005

Death of a great writer

Michael Piller 1948 - 2005

For me, after Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991, Michael Piller became the heart and soul of Star Trek. And while people like producer Rick Berman are needed to help balance the scales, to keep shows in budget and not let the stories get bogged down in ennui, Berman (and his toady Brannon Braga) however, let too much of what Piller started go.

Piller passed away in the early hours of November 1 after an apparent long battle with an aggressive form of neck and head cancer. He was only 57. The writer/producer began his career with CBS News in New York. Subsequently served as managing editor of the WBTV-TV News in Charlotte, North Carolina, and assistant news director at WBBM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Chicago, where he became long-time friend of the late Gene Siskel.

When he moved onto Hollywood, he became a writer-producer for such shows as Simon & Simon, Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, Probe, and Hard Time on Planet Earth. In addition, he co-created and executive produced the syndicated series Group One Medical.

Michael Piller came to Star Trek during its second season, writing the much delayed opener. It was during this time -and especially when the third season began - that TNG became the classic series it is regarded today. It was he who masterminded the open-submission policy, which got many into the TV-writing doors.

He helped create Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and let writers like Ira Steven Behr ("I think we created a much more complete universe in which you can have all these characters with all these back stories, all these races, all these supporting characters. You knew more about Garak or Gul Dukat, ultimately, than you knew about Riker. So that to me is the contribution.") go deeper into the stories and characters that led many fans to claim DS9 the best of all the Trek series.

"Without him, lots of writers wouldn't have gotten their first break," said Lynda Foley, a Voyager intern during Piller's tenure there in the show's second season. "When I would get writer's block or have problems with rewrites, he always gave the same advice: 'It's always about the human condition. Go back to that and you'll find your story.'"

And, he helped create -unintentionally, of course - the schism that would divide fans for years. Voyager remains a problem for many and there might’ve been some regret from Piller when he left Star Trek after Voyager’s second season. He told Cinefantastique's Anna L. Kaplan that when he was with Voyager he always tried to find a allegory in the tales. "The whole idea of exploring space is a metaphor for exploring ourselves," he said. "When Voyager did that, I think it did very well. I think the Seven of Nine stories gave us some insight into humanity and the meaning of humanity that the series sorely wanted. It had its moments. But when it did the exploding spaceships and space-monsters and so forth, the problem is that that's what everybody does in science fiction. I have always encouraged the writers to try to find the human elements, the moral and ethical dilemmas, I think there was less an appetite for that after I left."
After leaving Trek -with the motion picture Insurrection being his final script, Piller went onto develop The Dead Zone (co-starring former DS9 actress Nicole De Boar) series with his son Shawn for USA Network, which is now in its fifth season and the recent ABC Family cable show Wildfire, which will return for a second season in 2006 (and starred former DS9 actor Nana Visitor).

"Michael Piller was a class act, a generous soul, and a genuinely nice guy to work for," said graphic designer and scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda, who has been involved with the Star Trek franchise since the original series feature films. "We're all indebted to his talent and his hard work. He left us far too soon, and we will miss him greatly."
His legacy will remains the open-submission policy. With out that, TNG never would've became what it did after it's shakey first season and strike plauged second year. With out it, DS9 never would've lost its episodic roots it needed to become -for some - the redheaded step-child many fans call it. It became a different Star Trek, and that really started with Piller and his desire to find "the moral and ethical" dilemma in the script.

In addition to son Shawn, Michael Piller is survived by his wife Sandra and daughter Brent.