31 December 2011

Parting Shot

I can assume that when these boys look at this picture, oh 10 maybe 15 years from now, they'll say "Why did my mom let me leave the house dressed like a clown?" Emo-boys. Pretty, but really poor dressers.

Final Post of 2011

With the ending of 2011 today, I'm hoping that 2012 becomes a better year. The year started with questions about Borders further existence. The company was on the ropes, and was hoping the 2010 holiday season would see us make even a small bit of profit. But soon, we learned, that did not happen.

Borders began not paying vendors and eventually announced Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection and began to reorganize. It was forced to close 220 Borders at first, then hoped that with the remaining 400 or so, it could survive. By July it became apparent that Borders was finally doomed. By the end of September, a 40 year-old company was gone. And I was unemployed.

Which is where I remain on this December 31.

I have mixed emotions with 2012, an election year and the continued downturn in the economy. I have no idea when, or if I'll find a job. One of the many reasons Borders failed was its inability to evolve. Sadly, I'm in the same position. Retail is what I know, but it's a dying -or becoming just a collection of a few gigantic corporations- due to the internet.

And what I know most is books, though I can do anything in retail. I'm just one to believe that what is not that important with in a retail environment is the shareholder. Anyways, I'm aware that the book business is evolving, but I remain hopeful the physical book is not going the way of LP's (though they're still preseed for dance bars).

And the sad part is maybe even I have failed to evolve. My resistance to buy an e-reader just kinda of proves it, right?

So with the end of 2011, I'm hoping things brighten in 2012. But I'm sadly thinking -even though I will try- that more or less, things will remain the same.

Mirror Image

30 December 2011

The Nerdist? On BBC America?

It seems incredibly strange that The Nerdist Podcast would get picked up for various TV specials by BBC America, and not the cable net (supposedly) devoted to science fiction -and thus nerds and geeks- The Sci Fi Channel. Oh wait, they call themselves SyFy, which seems to have given them license to do as little science fiction as possible.

The Nerdist Podcast was started by Chris Hardwick, host of the E! cable series Web Soup. The weekly show is about, as Hardwick says, "what it really means to be a nerd." It began in February of 2010, and Harwick has had an eclectic group of guest that have included Rob Zombie, Stan Lee, Jeri Ryan, Ozzy Osbourne, Drew Carey and Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. 

It's success led to a 2011 TV pilot with guest appearances by  Craig Ferguson and current Doctor Who, Matt Smith. The pilot scored well with BBC America, which then ordered five more specials to air beginning Christmas Eve and to continue on the cable net through 2012.

As I watched it, I began to wonder what a show that is devoted to mostly nerdom -super-hero, science fiction and fantasy movies, along with everything in between -sci fi TV, games, music, science and which actress was hotter (though, sadly no books or anime) is on a BBC America and not, say the damn Sci Fi...sorry, SyFy Channel? This is not a slight against BBC America in any way, because somehow this cable network is filling a void left by NBC/Universal's dismal attempt to crossbreed science fiction with Daytime Television story lines, while airing snooze inducing reality programs, game shows and wrestling.Not only is Doctor Who been a hit since moving from the Sci Fi Channel, they've brought us Being Human (and have tried a poor copy here in the US) and other well done British science fiction.

I know there is a audience for it, though. Sadly, SyFy's low-budget crap-a-thon Saturday Night Cheese Fest Movies (and the more silly the title, the more viewers apparently as well) does extremely well for them. I'm unsure though they care that they are producing crap that -perhaps- Roger Corman should not be suing them for copyright infringement. It seems, in the end, about profit and the shareholders. It seems Craig Engler, the senior executive at Syfy, is in reality the real Jack Donaghy of one NBC's best comedies, 30 Rock. Donaghy will do almost anything to get ratings up at the series "fictional" NBC network, and will scrap the barrel if he has to do it. His "synergy" has lead to some hilarious (MiLF Island) interactions on how network TV considers shareholders first, viewers last (even though I believe a show like this would actually work. No one would admit they watch it, but it could get great ratings).

I've tweeted Engler a few times over the last few months about his cable net, being critical of such sci-fi lite programs as Warehouse 13, Eureka and Haven (which gets the award for producing a fantasy show based on classic Raymond Chandler style noir novel called The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which had no elements of fantasy at all). He, of course, believes the "millions" who watch these shows would take a critical view of the way I think they're trash. Which is fair, everyone has an opinion. My arched eyebrow comes from the extreme knowledge that I no longer am part of the demographic that this cable net is after. That means -for some reason- I can no longer have great shows like Caprica, Battlestar Galactica and Farscape because they're themes, as the late Michael Piller once said about Star Trek: Voyager, were "too lofty for a (show like Voyager's) broad-based audience." Somehow, I think this is how Engler approaches series development.

Part of the blame is that there is so much to view these days, so many platforms for people to watch them on, that the cable nets (who don't have the same budgets that broadcast net's have) have to produce shows cheaply. But that being said, if money can't be spent on sets, visual effects and location shooting, why are the scripts not more character driven? It seems they know a plot driven show is expensive, but ignore it for paint-by-numbers characters and trying to show more sex than most nerdist need, or want. After all, a nerdist likes the girls (lesbians's included), but they're terribly afraid of the opposite sex. Gay male nerdist have it the worst, in my opinion. 

So why is not the Nerdist a weekly, monthly or occasional special on SyFy? Did no one think at NBC/U that people would watch this? Though, even as I say thing, I can picture Engler printing out reams of data indicating that they would not. But the show would be cheap to produce, and even a tepid rating would make money for them -would studios not be interested in airing trailer for their upcoming nerdist movies on a show like this?

Yes, true science fiction has been regulated to "cultish" nerd girls and boys, but with the rise of social media, explain to me why a cable net that was designed -at least at first- as a place for all nerdist to live, has kicked us to the curb in favor of wrestling and ghost hunting? With the continued success of certain superhero based movies and, on occasion, a pretty good sci fi film (which does escape me at this moment) and fantasy we nerds deserve a show like what Hardwick is doing.

And as much as I love BBC America, this show should be on The Sci Fi Channel.



26 December 2011

New Presents

Hobbit stuff

Books Read in 2011

Thanks to Borders going under, I was able to read a bit more than I would have this year. If I had continued working, I probably would have only finished about 28 books. I mean the last 4 out of 5 books well well over 500 pages, with King, Martin and Williams being between 700 to 900 plus. Basically, I probably would have finished Stephen King and been happy with it. Until I get a job, I'm going to work on a few long books. The next 4 books in the George R.R. Martin books total somewhere in the area of 4,000 pages, so that's first. I'm also wanting, for the first time since there original release dates, to re-read the 7 volume Harry Potter series, and re-read the entire Lord of the Rings series (including The Hobbit) before the end of next year (because The Hobbit film adaptation hits in December). All of this, or course, depends on if I get a job.

And I don't kill myself.

01. Horns by Joe Hill
02. Starbound by Joe Haldeman
03. Spooner by Pete Dexter
04. Beyonders by Brandon Mull
05. Shadowrise by Tad Williams
06. I Don’t Want To Kill You by Dan Wells
07. Star Trek: DTI: Watching the Clock by Christopher Bennett
08. A Dark Matter by Peter Straub
09. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
10. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
11. The Passage by Justin Cronin
12. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
13. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
14. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons
15. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
16. First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
17. The Bothers Sisters by Patrick de Witt
18. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
19. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
20. Living Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
21. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
22. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
23. Star Trek: Ishmael by Barbara Hambly
24. The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
25. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
26. The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
27. Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey
28. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
29. Canticle for Leibowitiz by Walter Miller, Jr.
30. The Poet by Michael Connelly
31. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
32. Shadowheart by Tad Williams

24 December 2011

Unwrapped

Holiday Tunes 14

This song means more to me than any other Christmas Carol. There is truth here.

23 December 2011

Trailer Park

Books: Shadowheart by Tad Williams (2010)

Tad Williams is a great talent at world building, and for no more other reason than that, he is brilliant at what he does. Fantasy has always depended upon an author’s ability to create a believable world with easily defined characters to make up for all the fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarfs and magical monsters that inhabit the world they create. The success of The Lord of Rings trilogy as a book series and movies always hinged on how much real humanity you brought to the characters.

However, at times, much like the late Robert Jordan, these authors get so wrapped up in their universes, that the books become bloated and so long that you wonder if the a good editor needs to stand up and say, enough is enough. 

This series, originally planned as trilogy, but became a tetralogy (much like his Otherland series) due to many things, I’m sure. And I praised the last book, Shadowrise, as a book that moved swiftly and felt that there was not much Williams could have cut to shorten to a trilogy. But for the first time reading Williams, I feel he went on too long. Shadowheart, at 722 pages, goes on forever. To me, it’s about 300 pages too long (the first half took me forever to get through). 

We do see all the puzzle pieces finally falling into place, as we begin to understand why Southmarch is so important to the Gods of this series. The characters, and there are many, are separated into so many stories –some less interesting than others- that the action is sometimes forgotten for these little character pieces. Which is not say I don’t like a well-drawn out tale of character plotting; it just that when you are approaching the finale, some of these stories should have been ended by now, or at least truncated.

Still, I give Williams accolades for ending the series in a less than happier way. It reminds us that while war, power and death are some horrible aspects of life, it never ends with everyone living happily ever after.

22 December 2011

Prometheus

For months now, Ridley Scott has denied again and again that Prometheus is a prequel to his classic 1979 film Alien. Today's trailer seems to indicate that its some sort of hybrid of that film. IO9 did a frame-by-frame analysis of the trailer, and it seems to confirm that this new film will take place sometime before Ellen Ripley ever entered the picture. Since the original film never told us at what point in the future it is set, it's hard to judge where this film will fit in the timeline. One of the problems of doing a prequel 30 plus years later is the technology has advanced. Back in 1979, some of the stuff -especially the computer core- was probably somewhat cutting edge. Now, in 2011 those intervening decades have made what we saw then extremely archaic. So, how many years this film will take place before Alien, and more importantly how different the technology is will be interesting to see. I mean, Star Trek: Enterprise certainly does not fit in with canon (on so many levels), but years from now, watching the franchise in linear fashion will be jarring.

So you take this film and put it ahead of Alien and its going to be very obvious these films were made a long-time apart.

So how much of Prometheus is a prequel will probably answered in the coming months. But, like  The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises trailer, 2012 looks to be a great year in visual filmmaking.The

Holiday Tunes 13

This is an entry for a contest sponsored by Perez Hilton. Michelle Monica is a friend of Brian Lam, a friend of mine, who contributed 2 songs to the JUDAS KISS soundtrack.

American Horror Story

This show was...difficult to like. Mostly, I think, due to its continuous desire to throw a thousand plot lines against the wall and see what stuck. It's not that the show wasn't linear, but what bothered me the most was Murphy and crew just getting cra-cra because they could do it. It was a hot mess from week-to-week, and you were left with your mouth open, and not because they went there, but because they went there with no plan as to figure out why they went there. Which is what is going to make season two more difficult. I'll agree with some, that the show will need to shift away from the Harmon clan and The Murder House. Perhaps what we are seeing here in the final moments of the finale is another take on The Omen (why not, the ripped off so many other movies, why not this one as well?). It's my understanding that Lange (along with the rest of the main cast) all signed on for one season. And to be honest, after viewing the finale, I would be happy if the series DID NOT go on. They tied up so many loose ends, that it seems anticlimactic to return to the Harmon family and the house for another season of scaring people who move in (all you have would be a Ghost War, which is silly).

I will say the whole personal responsibility thing was a good idea. We've had a long history of blaming others for our misfortunes -especially the ones we cause our selves. While Ben was a complete ass when he was alive, death gave him a new insight. His parley with Tate was brilliant, and I admit its about time someone realized that Tate was evil and should not be thought of as some anti-hero. The series tried so hard for so long to make the audience to like Tate -that he was a victim of circumstance (he mentions he burned to death his Mom's boyfriend, but I;m not sure we ever got a full explanations as to why he did it), but in the end I think they did the right thing.

As for Hayden, my least favorite amongst a cast of characters that are all pretty annoying, I agree with her when she tells Tate to grow a pair. She's crazy as a box of hair, but she is does have one moment of clarity. Still, Tate mourns he'll get her back if it takes an eternity. And they have a lot of that. And if that remains a plot line for season two, then its going to get old very quick.

Jessica Lange, perhaps in more control than from the start, gives a good performance (the mirror speech reminded me of the evil queen in Snow White for some reason). She is delusional as the rest, and perhaps the craziest of them all, but I see Constance now as the mother of a killer who is, maybe, I don't know, the devil? Again, I sense that season two may shift towards Constance grooming little toe-headed Michael for greater evil. What we shall, perhaps, was prologue to another story (The Omen?)-a story that needed to be told to explain things that will happen later.

I don't know. In the end, I was left with mixed feelings. AHS is good when it does not show all the crazy stuff up close and personal. When it goes for the jugular, well, it makes it no better or worse than a Friday the 13th movie. Horror is not about cutting someone in half, or showing guts falling out, its what the mind sees, not the eyes.

21 December 2011

Something Like Summer

It became official this week that my friends J.T. Tepnapa and Carlos Pedraza, who won acclaim this summer for their first film Judas Kiss, will adapt Jay Bell's novel Something Like Summer as their next project.

Love, like everything in the universe, cannot be destroyed. But over time it can change. The hot Texas nights were lonely for Ben before his heart began beating to the rhythm of two words; Tim Wyman. By all appearances, Tim had the perfect body and ideal life, but when a not-so-accidental collision brings them together, Ben discovers that the truth is rarely so simple. If winning Tim's heart was an impossible quest, keeping it would prove even harder as family, society, and emotion threaten to tear them apart.
Something Like Summer is a love story spanning a decade and beyond as two boys discover what it means to be friends, lovers, and sometimes even enemies.

Holiday Tunes 12

Hump

20 December 2011

Self

Terra Nova



I’ve been accused of being a curmudgeon, and not happy unless I can complain about something. I am very aware, at times, that I can be very critical of things like movies and TV shows that insult my intelligence, but I don’t think that makes me a curmudgeon. To me, it makes me more aware of the manipulation by these folks who run the studios that if they cart out a few explosions and add a few sex scenes, I’ll not notice their stories are so paint-by-number. 

 So, despite knowing the track record of Brannon Braga (Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise) and his corporate utopian views, I watched Terra Nova each week to see if this sci fi adventure show had anything to offer beyond the sci fi lite that the cable network the SyFy Channel offers viewers. 

I do think the premise is interesting, showing us a very possible future of 2149 where man has basically destroyed the Earth. And while the idea of a space-time rift actually exists is silly, I can forgive them because that’s what makes sci fi so great, the idea. So a select group of people (gays not included, it seems. I mean, I guess your “re-populating” the Earth, so the biblical message is [sort of] subtle, but it’s there) are traveling back to an alternate Cretaceous period some 85 million years into the past (and it’s a one-way passage, once the people are here, they can’t get back, but they can communicate with the future). The series centers around the Shannon family, father Jim, a cop, his wife Elisabeth, a scientist, and their three kids, Josh, Maddy and Zoe. We know from the start that the Shannon family are rebels –having three kids in 2149 is forbidden, and Jim serves time for it (thus setting up the classic “daddy” issues between him and emo son Josh). As soon as they arrive, they become involved in the politics of Terra Nova along with an ongoing feud between Nathaniel Taylor (Commander of Terra Nova), his son Lucas and a group of renegade people known as the Sixers.  

So the premise was pretty good, and as the series progressed, we learned that a cadre called The Phoenix Group in 2149 was communicating with the Sixers in hopes of exploiting the past to help the future. But since we were told that no one from the past could return to their future, how did the Sixers and the Phoenix group intend to roll out their plans? Well, we also learn that Taylor’s son Lucas was a brilliant scientist who is working for this group to enable the portal to be a 2-way access, and there we have our main conflict.
And that is where things fall apart.

The characters are all archetypes, which are not so bad, but while every story has been done before, why make all the characters so bland and stereotypical? Jim, while not remorseful for having a third child, becomes the Saint of Terra Nova when he and his family arrive, seemingly the only one who has the ability to think in any logical thought process. I like Jason O’Mara, who plays Jim. He embodies the character with a certain earnestness that belies the characters stick-figure creation. Still, as the season progresses, you wonder why he’s not in command of Terra Nova. He can be emotional when it comes to his family, but Commander Taylor is a complete asshole, hiding what an emotional mess he truly is, because his son is a prick and the Sixers exist to begin with.  

And by making Taylor an asshole, and a variation on his character in Avatar, you’re supposed to love the Shannon family even more, despite the fact they are the most boring kids on the planet. We have son Josh, played by an actor who has just one facial look –emo-hang-dog- by Landon Liboiron. It was obvious that this actor was selected more on looks, than his ability to play a character that needs to have an emotional struggle with leaving his girlfriend in the future and a disappointment with his father. Perhaps it was the failure of the writers to create a better conflict, or it was Liboiron’s inability to grasp the motivations of his character that led to the role of Josh being so bland, so emo-ish. But in the end, he became indistinguishable between every other teen on TV that you could no longer care what happened to him. I often hoped that his boorish rebellion would get him killed off. But alas, this is a “family” show, and killing off someone like Josh was never even considered (someone should be watching shows like Game of Thrones to understand what I mean).

Maddy, played by Naomi Scott, is –perhaps- the most interesting of the Shannon’s kids. But sadly, even Scott cannot not escape the reality she is playing the TV version of Lex Murphy from Jurassic Park movies. She’s smart, bookish, making her so much like Lisa Simpson, it isn’t funny. And like any teenage girl, she immediately falls for Mark Reynolds, the handsome military man played Australian actor (doing a good American accent) Dean Geyer. Through the first season, we see their attraction grow, and even in the finale we see them kissing (with Reynolds partially out of uniform, mind you) when her dad walks by, catching them. But Jim seems to have no issue that Reynolds is nearly shirtless, with his tongue down his daughter’s throat. Sure, they break away (Geyer gets kudos for being able to portray Reynolds as an awkward kid in love), but had Dad not stumbled in on them, where would this “family” show have truly gone? 

Zoe, I can careless about her. Her main function on this show is to appeal to 10 year-old girls. This means she does cute things (like hugging Commander Taylor after learning about the death of his second-in-command) and getting into trouble every couple of episodes. 

Shelley Conn is underused as mother Elisabeth. The series tried to introduce a former flame into the mix, but it was painful to watch Malcolm moon over her. This was also, I think, a plot device to make the audience think Malcolm’s loyalties were questionable. Would he sacrifice Terra Nova for his lost love, Elisabeth? Conn has the mother lode of techobabble to say, but she seems unsure of what she really is saying. 

Then we have Lucas Taylor (played with so much mustache twirling gusto by Ashley Zukerman), who seems have the bigger “daddy issues” than Josh. He is shown as brilliant scientist, yet mentally unstable and ruthless all because he has resented his father ever since his mother died because Taylor could not save her. Never mind the fact that it was revealed in the season finale, that his mother could not be saved. But hey, then we would have no drama.

The problem of Lucas is that he becomes such a cartoon villain, spouting out the silliest of dialogue, that there is no subtly to him. A good villain needs not always be so obvious. He’s ruthless, but even his killing of Washington is an over the top act. It’s like the writers decided that Lucas was not coming over evil enough, so they had to have him murder someone in cold blood. That, the writers seemed to say, is to show the asleep audience that Lucas can no longer be redeemable (unlike Skye, who betrayed Terra Nova a number of times by passing info to the Sixers. Though it’s revealed that her ill mother is being held by the Sixers, and being forced to do these things against her wishes).

Then they turn Lucas into Jason Voorhee’s. He is shot twice by Skye, yet is able to get away without either her or Taylor noticing he left, even though the two did not move away from where he was shot!

The whole series reminds me of Deep Space Nine in many ways. Which, I guess is not bad, as DS9 was best of the later Star Trek series. But the wholesale lifting cannot be so ignored any more. Terra Nova is then space station at the mouth of a time portal (i.e. the wormhole). There exists, on the other side of this portal, a mysterious company called The Phoenix Group (the Changelings/the Dominion)  who have nefarious plans for Terra Nova and beyond. In the finale, to protect Terra Nova, Taylor plans to destroy the portal (where DS9 mined theirs to stop the Jem’Hadar and the Dominion). There is a bar in Terra Nova, run by the shifty Tom Boylan, who occasionally trades with the Sixers. He’s Quark, really. And seriously, is not Jim Shannon really Constable Odo? Lucas is Gul Dukat (well, the crazy part. It’s an insult to Marc Alaimo who the Cardassaian, I know).

So, as pointed out to me, all the stories have been done before. Okay, I can accept that. Then what is left is too create more believable characters, one’s who stories are not so paint-by-number. What makes European TV shows so much better is that they challenge the audience to like what are essentially unlikable heroes. Plus, to give a show some heightened suspense, main characters can be killed off at any given time (some American TV shows are starting to embrace this concept, but they mostly exist primarily on the premium cable channels). I would be less critical had Terra Nova killed off a larger character than Washington. Killing off one the Shannon kids, or someone more important to the survival of Terra Nova would have been impressive. Instead they kill of a replaceable red shirt military girl. 

This is where Terra Nova fails to be creative. This is where broadcast TV and basic cable fail every time. If every story has been told, then let’s try to create interesting characters. People are so different, their stories so different, you think someone would want to try to make them stand-out. But instead, we get poor characters with ill-defined lives, played by actors who seem to unaware of how to play them.
Again, perhaps it’s the writers and producers fault more than the actors?  

In the end, I’m through with this show. FOX has said they’ll make a decision on Terra Nova’s future sometime in 2012. Its ratings have been tepid at best, and it’s a hugely expensive show to produce. They may renew it just to see if they can get a return on their investment, but unless the show can prove to be something more than the sum of its parts, I would call the cast home. Not since The X Files has this network given us a sci fi show that breaks out the typical TV series tropes (well, there was Firefly and Wonderfalls).
Still, if the upcoming Alcatraz is successful, and House finishes its run in 2012, Terra Nova could be back.
Critical, yes, but I don’t like the moniker of being a curmudgeon. I don’t think expecting a lot from movie or TV shows is horrible thing. Setting the bar high is not a wrong thing. 

You know?

18 December 2011

Holiday Tunes 10

Should note that this kid is just 16 years-old. He comes from a musically talented family in Ontario, Canada, as well.

Sole

17 December 2011

Hair

Holiday Tunes 9 -Shameless

Holiday Tunes 8

The Ponds to depart the TARDIS


In what is probably not a surprising announcement (it's happened before, and it will happen again) Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat has confirmed that while Amy and Rory will be returning for the series 7th (33rd) season, their story will come to "a heartbreaking end." At what point actors Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvil will depart is unknown -either mid season or at its end. While it is always sad to see companions leave, the truth of the matter is what makes this series so unique is its ability to change its cast (including its lead) from time to time.

It's longevity is based on this successful ability.

As to who will replace them is not known, but I'm sure news will leak out sometime in 2012, when the series resumes production in the Spring for a fall premiere.