29 October 2006

Monster House on DVD

One of the differences between the 147 other animated films that have been released in 2006, Monster House was the same, yet different.

This Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg production uses the same technology used on the Zemeckis directed Polar Express: Motion capture. But where that movie went for photo-realistic look for the characters, the draw back to it was that, at times, gave the characters a creepy factor, and very zombie-like.

Director Gil Kenan went a more stylized look, where bodies are thin and head a bit larger than normal CGI films, and where the motion capture design focused more on the vocal talent.

Despite Disney's last few films failing to attract an audience, there greatest abilities was casting the right voice. This, at times, failed for DreamWorks animation -beyond the Shrek franchise.

The voice talent is used perfectly in this film and its young stars, Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke, with supporting rolls going to the excellent Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Kathleen Turner and John Heder.

The script by Dan Harmon, Pamela Pettler and Rob Schrab is much darker and funnier than most kids movies and can almost be an animated film for adults. The dialogue is memorable, devlivered with an earnest not seen in many live-action films.

If there is one issue I had with the film, its Nick Cannon's role as the mouthy, black cop. At times, the character, in its design and persona, could almost be considered racist. But its a small complaint, and does not really distract from the film.

It is the best animated film of 2006.

Below is my quick review of the film when I saw it in July:

A long time ago, Disney held the mantel when it came to animation. During the late 1970's and 1980's, it went to pieces, but there were not many studios producing the quality films. Disney, of course, regained it back in 1991. But those years are behind them again. Still, with the aide of Pixar, Disney has maintained a high profile. However, with out the CGI company, Disney continues to fall behind.

For the most part, the reason it has failed to get a hit is because they’ve lost the ability to tell a story. They’ve let the bottom line and investors run the company, parading out direct-to-DVD sequels to their most classic films like candy in a vending machine, failing to understand that what makes a movie -animation or live action - is the story.

That leads to Monster House, one of the best, funniest and well written story not to come from Disney. This animated film uses the same technology as Polar Express, but the motion capture and the other technology in the film is not as important as the story and believability of the kid actors. This solid story telling is what makes the film so entertaining.

The voice talent is excellent, led by Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke, with supporting rolls going to the excellent Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Kathleen Turner and John Heder. Directed by Gil Kenan, the film never drags and will keep kids, and adults, entertained.

Executive Produced by Robert Zemekis and Steven Speilberg, I did pickup on at least three “in jokes” from previous Zemekis films (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Castaway), but unlike, say the Shrek films which rely on many pop culture references, this film has little or none at all.

26 October 2006

Books of 2006, Part 13: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

The epic fanatsy novel.

I've read a lot of them over the last 30 years, and while I've enjoyed most of them, they all still pale to the granddaddy of them all, The Lord of the Rings.

Still, where I gave up on the endless Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, I do have a soft spot for Tad Williams. I read his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy years ago and enjoyed them, even though the last book in the series was well over 1,000 pages in hardcover! And last year, I finally read his stand-alone fantasy The War of the Flowers, which I enjoyed also.

Still, I have left the multi-volume series books if only because I get bored with waiting years between volumes, as this one was released in 2004, followed by a trade edition in 2005 and now the mass market this year (which is what I read). The second volume is due in January, which means the trade edition will be out in January of 08, followed by a mass market late in the year or early 2009. So, it could be two years and 2 months before I read volume 2, and by then, I will have forgotten what had gone on before, and I don't plan to re-read the 762 pages again.

Still, it did take an effort to stay with this book, as Williams loves to write and write, creating a richly detailed universe, with its own language and what not. Sometimes, that is a problem. Going into so much ennui -while rich in texture and substance - also makes me want to skip pages as he can go on and on about the minorist of things.

And for me, that's what ruined the Jordan series. The Wheel series is long, filled with unappealing characters and just way too much detail that inferferes with the story. And that's where Williams has a leg up on Jordan. His characters, while not original, are much more fun -and once again, we meet a future queen who seems to hate all the pagentry that goes with the title, another tomboy who likes to get down and dirty.


But, we'll see if I pick up volume two in January, or wait a year and half. I have so much other things to read, so I'll have to consider if I want devote so much time to it. I mean, heck I've yet to read the first book in the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which is another multi volume series with years between each. For a moment, I considered going back and reading the first six again, something that I have not done in 20 years! But I got real, and will just read the What's come before... chapter.

John Whiting gave me the 4 volume Otherworld series by Williams, and I'll get to them with in the next few months, as I'm off to read Stephen King's latest Lisey's Story first. And I still want to read The Confederacy of Dunces.

I just need to turn the tube off, and ironically, this damn computer.

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green is a light romantic comedy, based on the Eric Orner comic strip. Daniel Letterle -who stole the show in the indie comedy Camp - plays Ethan, who seems to stumble from one relationship after another if only because he forces these abandoments, because he always feels something missing.

Faced with moving due to his ex-boyfriend selling the house Ethan shares with his lesbian friend Charlotte, he begins to wonder if he'll ever be happy. While everyone jokes about how Ethan screws up his relationships (including his mother, played by the brilliant Meridith Baxter), he still fails to see its really him all along.

While the film has nothing big to say, it is fresh in the sense that it is not another coming out story. Of course, the production style is a bit distracting, but that's what you get with a low budget indie film. And the in your face treatment of gay sex might have a few people gasping, it none the less works in favor in the film.

The story is nothing new, either, and you know how it will end, but it is bouyed by Letterle's role as Ethan, along with scene stealing performaces from veteran character actors Joel Brooks and Richard Riehle as the Hat Sisters.

So, while not great, it is worth the time and effort.

I would give it a B

Scrubs is back, so is the NBC Thursday comedy block

NBC has announced that Scrubs will return to their schedule November 30.

The Peacock Network will team Scrubs with 30 Rock, which will move to Thursday's (and this will bump Twenty Good Years, which is expected to be cancelled, as NBC will not commit to any new episodes beyond the 13 they ordered.

So, the new line up will look like this:

My Name is Earl
The Office
30 Rock

followed by ER.

While I love the fact that Scrubs is coming back, setting it in the Thursday Time Slot of Doom -9 to 10 pm - against two shows battling each other for viewers -CSI and Grey's Anatomy -seems to me that NBC wants this show to die. Of course, if NBC was to bring it back for a seventh season, it would need to negociate new contracts with the the cast. So, expect a pink slip for this show in May. As for 30 Rock, I'm unsure what to say about this. Both shows-within-shows (including Studio 60) are doing okay, but not what NBC expects. Still, 30 Rock is cheaper than the $3 million an episode that is Studio 60, so its a good chance this one could survive if Sorkin's show continues to lose viewers.

24 October 2006

NBC to dump scripted programming by 2008

What might be a new trend in TV, NBC announced that by the end of 2008, it will shed up to 700 jobs -- 5 percent of its workforce -- and slash $750 million from its budget. And while the Peacock Network has seen a bump in ratings -moving up from fourth to third place behind CBS and ABC - it is no longer "a growth business it once was."

While network TV was once an unrivaled media market, it seems it needs to find a way to survive the increasing competitiveness of YouTube, video games and other new media outlets. The major broadcast networks also face eroding ratings from cable, which after 20 plus years, has effectively changed the way TV is produced. NBC Universal thinks its future is in digital delivery, via the Internet and mobile devices.

And one of the biggest changes we’ll see on NBC by that same time frame, is the dumping of any scripted programming during the 8 pm time slot. And thanks to American’s fascination with reality programming and game shows, expect the network to fill that hour with them; they are cheap to produce and -right now- have achieved ratings success, sometimes beating scripted programs on all four of the networks.

So keep watching Dancing with the Stars (and all the copycats), American Idol, Survivor, Supernanny, America’s Next Top Model, Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100, cause by 2008, we’ll be flooded with them. NBC has seen the future, and what American’s want, it seems (along with investors all important dividends), is cheap programming that costs nothing and delivers high ratings.

How soon will ABC and CBS follow?

19 October 2006

Is Studio 60 doomed for the cancel bin?

It seems almost certain that NBC will eventually cancel Aaron Sorkin's dramedy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Ratings continue to erode, as both CBS' CSI: Miami and ABC's What About Brian are easily beating the show.

As a matter of fact, NBC will air a new episode of Friday Night Lights on Monday, testing the waters to see if that show -also suffering from low ratings, but seemly someone at the Peacock network loves this show -can get a higher rating against the above said counter programs and ESPN's Monday Night Football.

One can guess that if the show does better, you can say bye-bye to Studio 60.

The sad part is, the Sorkin show is thousands times better than CSI: Miami or the anemic What About Brian. True, there are way too many serialized shows on TV this season, and maybe the Neilson American's are picking and choosing this season, but still.

The biggest issue here, I think, is American's unwillingness to understand satire. Studio 60, for all its a-show-within-a-show format, is really a satire, mixed with drama.

But, here in America, where Two and Half Men is considered funny, and where a show like Scrubs is treated like a red-headed stepchild, they need the obvious joke, the fart and toilet humor. Smart humor is treated as almost anti-American.

Studio 60 deserves to be saved.

Get rid of something else, say ER?

Grey's Anatomy star T.R. Knight outs himself

According to TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, Grey's Anatomy actor T.R. Knight confirms he is gay:

The actor confirmed to People this afternoon that rumors about his sexual orientation have not been greatly exaggerated. "I guess there have been a few questions about my sexuality, and I'd like to quiet any unnecessary rumors that may be out there," he said in a statement. "While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I'm gay isn't the most interesting part of me."

What precipitated this confirmation seems to have been the recent behind the scenes turmoil at the hit ABC medical drama, especially between stars Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey. What was once thought as just tabloid rumors (via The National Enquirer), was later confirmed by reps at ABC: back on October 9, both Dempsey and Washington were arguing about delays, when they nearly came to fisticuffs.

But was Knight’s outing of himself of his own free will, or the other rumor that Enquirer noted about Washington? They reported that during their fight, Washington yelled to Dempsey "I'm not your little faggot like (name deleted)."

The National Enquirer never printed Knight’s name, and refused to reveal the source who told them of the incident, but now that the actor has confirmed it to the press (well, as close as you get to press with People Magazine), was what Washington said true?

Anyway, I'm happy for Knight, but if this slur did take place, I'm hoping Washington's reps issue something. And maybe, ABC saying something other than the usual, non-committal “we are all happy” workers.

18 October 2006

Ratings slide for Battlestar, The CW cancels a show and ER to stay put

The ratings woes for Battlestar Galactica continue, as the critically acclaimed series just mustered out a 1.6 million viewers this past Friday, hitting a near series all time low.

Meanwhile, the CW has pulled the plug on Runaway, having only averaged 1.8 million viewers, while NBC is thisclose to picking up Friday Night Lights -itself looking for viewers - for the full season.

With CBS moving Without a Trace to Sunday, viewers have not stayed with CBS, even though Shark is still doing well. ER, now in season 13, was suppose to run 13 episodes, then be taken off for 13 weeks, only to return in the spring for the final 9 episodes of the season, for a no-repeat season. But ER's ratings appeared to have been revived due to the Without's move, and NBC has scrapped that plan. It will, however, have to air a few repeats, but are also considering ordering additional episodes to extend the season.

16 October 2006

Heroes: Chapter 4: Collision

Episode 4 of Heroes continues to make this the best new show of the season, for its clever writing, its diverse cast and Masi Oka’s wonderful, breakout performance.

Collision, written by Bryan Fuller (Star Trek, Wonderfalls), starts to bring some of the heroes together, as Peter gets in contact with Mohinder. Meanwhile, Claire wakes up in the morgue, and discovers Brody panicked after his attempted rape, and Matt finds himself in the clutches of Claire’s dad, who with the mysterious man Matt could not read, are trying to figure out his powers. Hiro and Ando are in Vegas, and quicky discover that there many things they can do with Hiro’s powers.

And Nathan is in Vegas also, to drum up some money for his campaign, while Niki is put in a position that will cause her alter ego to come fully out.

Anyway, another great episode as many things are revealed: Nathan may be just as evil as Claire’s dad; Isaac only see’s the future while on heroin; we get to see Niki become her killer opposite and Hiro finds out that while his power can make him rich in Vegas, he and Ando still get caught. That mysterious symbol pops up again, this time on Altered Niki’s back. And the episode has two more allusions that I caught: When Ando and Hiro care coming down the escalator in their new suits, it’s a direct shot from Rainman; and when Hiro and Ando are thrown out of the Vegas hotel they are ripping off, it in none other than The Montecito Resort and Hotel -the same one featured on NBC’s Las Vegas. Coincidence?

And then the cliffhanger: Apparently Hiro can travel backwards in time from the future, as we see him with long hair and speaking perfect English.

13 October 2006

Kidnapped slotted for Saturday; Medium returns in November

CBS confirmed this week that they've picked up Jericho for the rest of the TV season, ordering the back nine. This the third new program of the 2006-07 season to earn that right (behind Heroes and Ugly Betty).

Meanwhile, NBC has announced that Medium will return in Novemeber in a new timslot and day, airing Wednesday's at 10pm, filling the timeslot of the now cancelled Kidnapped, which will finish it's 13 epsiode run on Death Night Saturday.

Finally, with Stargate: SG1 coming to end this spring, it will not vanish altogether. MGM has granted the a green light and the money to produce two Stargate movies, most likely to debut on DVD. The first movie will deal with tieing up all the shows loose ends from the series finale, and will be written and directed by producer Robert Cooper. A second film will deal with time travel and will be written by Brad Wright. While no one has signed on, I'm guessing MGM would've never given the money if some or not all of the cast was returning.

Both films should be released in 2007.

11 October 2006

Battlestar's third season opener hailed by critics, fails to score bigger ratings

After four months of hype from the press on how great it is, one would've guessed the season opener of Battlestar Glactica would've scored Sci Fi's highest ratings. Sadly, while the show was the highly rated in the all important 18-49 demographic, it only scared up 2.2 million viewers, 900,000 less than the previous season opener.
Of course, there are other factors here. Season 2 opened in the summer time, when the only thing on is reality programs and re-runs. Plus, it also aired and hour later 10 pm on the west and east coast (9pm central). It also faces The CW's Smackdown!, now airing on the former WB networks (and moved from Thursday to Friday), which has shown a huge increase in viewership, and is the same audience that BG goes after.
There could be some that might even suggest that its lead-in, the new version of Doctor Who, could be effecting Galactica's ratings. Back when BG launched season two, the lead-ins were Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis.
But, again, it was summer.
Was delaying the start of season three a good idea? One would guess that due to the fact that BG was, and still is, a critics love machine that it could survive the start of the broadcast networks TV season and the baseball play-offs?
Does anyone think that history is repeating itself?
Farscape was the same thing, loved by critics and hard-core fans, but slipping ratings geared the show to a halt when the bean counters at Sci Fi could not justify the shows budget with the low-ratings.
This does not bode well.

10 October 2006

CBS gains 3lbs. from the loss of Smith

The 2006-07 TV season continues to evolve, as CBS has pulled Smith from the airwaves after three low-rated airings. It will air reruns of other shows in its timeslot until November, when the Tiffiany Network will push up 3lbs., the Stanley Tucci medical drama that was originally scheduled for a January start. Execs at CBS have been impressed with the first few episodes of the drama, which also stars Mark Feuerstein, and have ordered four additional episodes.

Meanwhile, new network The CW has switched its Sunday and Monday schedule. 7th Heaven and Runaway will now air on Sunday's while Everybody Hates Chris, The Two of Us, Girlfriends and The Game will now air on Monday's.
FOX, meanwhile, will move ailing Vanished to Friday -which should doom the serial drama for good.

NBC has given a full season pick-up to Heroes, the first new show on any network to be picked for 22 episodes.

In other news, NBC has tapped Battlestar Galactica excutive producer David Eick and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis to reboot another 1970's TV series. This time, The Bionic Woman will find itself updated. The original series, the spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man, managed to surpass its origins mainly based on Lindsay Wagner's performance and Harve Bennett's shred production style.

Instead of focusing on terrorism and militarism, the new Bionic will explore the role of professional women in contemporary society and how they juggle their various roles.

08 October 2006

What's the appeal of horror films?

Interesting article in this weeks Entertainment Weekly, talking about horror movies and their impact on the box office and why, more and more, they are becoming the norm.

The sad part is they are highly lucrative -the last four horror films this year: Descent, The Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, and Saw II have grossed over $200 million. The impressive thought here, is all four films together cost less than $35 million to make.

All of this means, with October now here, we’ll see more of these sick genre films. Apparently, because this is what the audience really wants, or so says Hostel director Eli Roth: “People want something that’s visceral, grisly, violent, and realistic.”

I question the sanity of some one who pays for and then watches a film so they can get off watching people cut off body parts to escape a serial killer.

Do these films represent everyday peoples fear? And that going to them some how makes those fears go away? I can’t say I have a fear of having to cut off my leg because its caught in a bear trap. It’s not a realistic in any sort of the way, because I know its never going to happen.

I like a good scare (the original Halloween scared the pants off me, but you never saw a drop of blood), but what’s with the gore? Is it necessary to show this type of violence (especially towards women, even though Hostel turned the corner on that mainstream philosophy)? Or is this a pure masturbation fantasy of straight teen males (who make up the majority of the box office totals for these films, along with DVD sales)?

While, I guess, there is a need for cheap films that make a great return for its investors, does anyone question the disturbing minds behind these films? Eli Roth, Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) and James Wan (Saw) are all making sequels to their films, all pushing the violence and gore up a notch, “There’s a bit of a pissing contest between directors to try and get the most blood in their movies,” Roth told EW.

And before someone says what about the violence in, say, Lord of the Rings or even the old Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons, I’ll say that is all it is: cartoon violence. They never reveled in that type of violence.

If I may paraphrase Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park

Today’s horror film dress themselves in blood and gore simply because they can. If I may paraphrase Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park , the studios and directors are so preoccupied with whether or not they could {get more gory) , they don’t stop to think if they should.

05 October 2006

Kidnapped cancelled; NBC picks up Heroes and Sci Fi renews Eureka!

The winner for first show to get cancelled is NBC's Kidnapped. The serial drama has scored way below the peacock networks expectations. And my guess is the show is very expensive, so if the ratings are not there to match the cost, you'll not last long.

But, NBC still has some love for the show, stating that they will air all 13 episodes ordered and that it will tie-up all its loose ends so the fans will not be totally disappointed. Then again, if the show continues to loose viewers, NBC may drop the show in favor of two shows that are waiting in the wings: Medium or Crossing Jordan.

Meanwhile, even as NBC announced this, they confirmed they have given the green light for the back nine of Heroes, which next to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, are two best new shows on the network.

Finally, the Sci Fi Channel has picked up Eureka for a second season of 13 episodes. The offbeat show has scored very well for the cable channel, the first original series since the success of Battlestar Galactica.

So, one serial drama in the 24 tradition gone, but two genre shows are continuing.

Not bad.

Emma Watson dropping out of the final two Harry Potter films?

Emma Watson is hinting that she may not return to play Hermione Granger for the final two Harry Potter films. The now 16 year-old, filming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, has stated that she's unsure if she'll commit to The Half-Blood Prince or the final, yet un-named 7th film. "I don't know yet. Every film is so huge and it's a long time. I love to perform but there are many other things I love doing."

Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have made it known they are in for the long haul, returning for all seven films.

While I can understand her concern -after all she'll be 20 by the time the series is finished - on other hand, I can't see why she would give up this great gig. One that has set her up for life.

Still, I suppose, as an actor you need to explore new roles and new challenges. She's already commited 6 years of her life to the franchise, with at least 4 more years to go. At 10 years, that is a long time playing one role and the down time between films is so short, she and the rest of the actors have little chances to do other things.

This might be a ploy, but if it is, I'm unsure of her strategy. Warner Bros. could loose millions if she chooses not to return; fans could be turned off by a new actress playing a beloved character.

But if she is holding out for more money, I'm sure the studio would be willing to throw caution to the wind and re-cast the role.

This bares watching.

04 October 2006

Movie Review: Brick

Dubious of PK’s choice of movie, I was surprised when Brick turned out to be one the best movies I’ve seen this year. Which, I guess, I should have known. As a fan of independent films, ones that are story and character driven, they are usually thousands of times better than half the films the major studios produce, even the ones they save for Oscar season.

This debut film from writer and director by Rian Johnson, is a stylized and clever film noir, where the teenaged cast speak in the jargon of the classic black & white films of the 1940's.

Levitt-Gordon plays Brendan, a teen who is an outsider who wants to be just that, with his floppy hair and round glasses, that makes him look like a cross between Harry Potter and Jared Padalecki from TV’s Supernatural. When his ex-girl friend contacts him unexpectedly, sobbing about how she’s screwed up every thing, and then disappears he becomes consumed with finding her.

But to do it, he must submerge himself within the dangerous drug culture of southern California. He contacts The Brain, his one and only peer, who can get him information on socialite girls, a dangerous thug named Tugger, a girl named Kara and school’s quarterback Brad. In doing so, Brendan also comes into orbit of The Pin, a drug kingpin of the area.

When Lukas Haas turns up late in the film, as the baroque Pin (looking like Jonathan Frid from Dark Shadows fame) he steals the film.

At first, I found the florid dialogue a bit distracting, it reminded me of the updated Romeo and Juliet from a few years ago - set in present day, but using the Shakespearean talk. But after a while, the story sucked you in, along with Gordon-Levitt’s and Haas performances.

A winner of a film.

01 October 2006

Jericho: The Day After will be filled with cliches

Jericho's second episode continues to hit all the cliche buttons and thus, I'm losing interest. Now the guy who will become the new sheriff has a troubled marriage -which maybe the reason he brought his family to Jericho.
This is one of many reasons why broadcast TV is falling down. A current article in Entertainment Weekly talks about the down trend in TV comedy, where shows like Two and Half Men are considered funny shows, despite the obvious that they are trite and about as humerous as a cold sore.
Networks seem afraid to create anything that will stimulate the mind, using the age old acorn that viewers would rather have endless retreads of comedy and cop drama's, three CSI and three Law & Order shows than support a drama or a comedy show that is more character driven.
This MTV style of programming, this idea that 18-49 year-old people (which, in reality is more like 12-24 year-olds) are more important than anyone older -and who would watch more TV if the networks stopped pandering to them so much -is causing this schism. Teenagers are not appointment bound TV viewers, but a rather ficjkle bunch of kids who do not really understand what they want.
Advertisers like this demographic, because they spend money willy-nilly, but these kids are becoming as shallow as the spoiled rich kids featured on MTV. And they are ruining TV and movies, because they have this attitude.
Now, I'm not saying that there is no room for such B craptacular stuff as the Grudge 2 and The War at Home. But its become the norm and not the exception it should be. TV can be good, and at times, even great. But today's TV is fallow, with only a handful of shows worth my time. And movies, well, movies are mostly dead to me. A lot has to do with the turnaround from the theaters to DVD -which a lot of people are doing these days. Another has to do with with the audience, as everyone is so used to seeing movies at home, talking during the film, distracted by their kids and the phone, that when they go to the theaters they can't seem to shut and just watch those flickering images on the white screen.
And theater chains, unwilling to anger any goer -even if they are part of the problem, will usually turn the other cheek. So when I do go to movies, its usally a mantinee. It can be cheaper and is usally less filled.
Anyway, I might chance to watch an episode of Jericho again, but how many more cliches will they cart out?