Showing posts with label Television Shows. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Television Shows. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All Too Rare Geekerati Podcast Update

I post surprisingly few updates about the Geekerati podcast that Shawna Benson and I do on a fairly regular basis. I think that it is time for a change on that front. Shawna and I have been doing the podcast, along with a couple of other co-hosts like Bill Cunningham, since 2007 and will be live streaming our 126th episode this evening. We average 2,400 downloads an episode with most falling between 1,000 and 5,000 depending on who we have as a guest in a given week. We have had one or two episodes with over 40,000 downloads, but those were with guests who had very large followings and who heavily promoted their appearance on our humble show.

We live stream the show on Wednesdays at 8:30pm Pacific, although this has changed over the years to match our busy lives, and episodes are available for download on the website or on iTunes immediately after the show finishes airing. We recommend listening to the show on the website and putting up with the advertisement at the beginning of the show, as this helps us recoup some of the costs of hosting the show with Blog Talk Radio. The live streaming format has certain advantages for time crushed people like Shawna and me, but it does come with the requisite risks of technical glitches. We have certainly had our share of those. If you want to hear how throttled bandwidth affects Skype audio, check out our conversation with Stephanie Thorpe about the Elfquest Anniversary.

Over the years Shawna and I have had some fantastic guests, including:
  1. Matt Forbeck (Game Designer) -- Matt's actually been our most frequent guest, with Shelly Mazzanoble coming in at second. This makes them our favorite guests.
  2. John Rogers (Leverage, The Core)
  3. James Lowder (Game Designer and Editor)
  4. Marc Bernardin (Alphas)
  5. Susan Palwick (SF Author)
  6. Tim Minear (Firefly)
  7. David Goetsch (Big Bang Theory)-- Back in 2008 even.
  8. Aaron Ginsburg (Thrilling Adventure Hour)
  9. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
This is far from an extensive list. Shawna and I are quite proud of what we've been able to do with the show. So why don't you join us tonight as we chat with Clark Perry to discuss the upcoming show DEFIANCE.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Game of Thrones Title Sequence Circa 1995

Do you remember the classic Sword and Sorcery television shows of the 1990s?

Does your heart flutter fondly when you think of Xena, Hercules, and Young Hercules?

Are you a Lucy Lawless fan for life?

If you answered yes to any one of those questions, then this "fan trailer" for Game of Thrones is for you.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Advanced Dungeons & Parenting?

As you may have noticed, this week I changed the name of the blog from Cinerati to "Advanced Dungeons and Gaming." There were a number of reasons I made the change, but I thought that I would share some of them with you.

First and foremost is that the name Cinerati didn't really do a good job of conveying the kinds of posts that were most common on the blog. There are still movie related posts like this week's post featuring the trailer to RZA's upcoming Kung Fu film, but the majority of posts on this blog are game and pop culture related and I wanted the name of the blog to reflect that. Though this blog started as a response to what I thought was a poorly thought out and reactionary article by Thomas Hibbs that a friend had shared with me, time has made this blog less and less theatrical focused.

One of the main reasons that this blog has become less cinema focused is the birth of my twin daughters Mystery and History (they're the surprised girls in the upper right-hand corner of the title card).  Since they have been born, I just haven't been able to go out to the movies as much as I used to.  What was once a weekly affair -- going to see two or more films -- has become a once a quarter if I'm lucky affair.  I still watch a ton of movies, thanks to Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/Redbox but I find myself less able to get super opinionated about things I watch on the small screen months after a theatrical release.

Since the twins were born, I've been playing a wider variety of games with my gaming group.  We still play D&D -- as we have for the past 12 years -- but now there are sessions of Savage Worlds, Cyborg Commando, Marvel (many editions), and other games to fill in the gaps.  Not to mention the increase in board gaming that has been happening in recent years.  It's been quite wonderful and I love chatting about games and gaming.

I also love playing games with my twin daughters and seeing the world of pop-culture through their eyes.  I never really understood just how much I wanted to share my passions with someone until I watched my daughters playing with a Star Wars coloring book.  When History saw Yoda, she immediately described him as "Darth Vader's Goblin."  At that point, I knew I had won at life.

My daughters love the new My Little Pony, Doc McStuffins, Phineas and Ferb, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Star Wars, Captain America, and Iron Man.  History likes to dress up as Iron Man and Mystery likes to dress up as Captain America.  They both like to dress up as princesses (Aurora and Belle in case you're wondering).  It's truly magical watching my daughters express their imaginations and tell stories, and I am happy to let them tell me whatever stories they want.  I believe that a parent should set very few limits to how a child expresses its imagination.  I don't like it when some people say that "blue isn't a girl's color" or "there can only be one Captain America."  I want my daughters to find joy in whatever they find joy in.  I find it heart warming that a lot of that joy comes from "exercising their imagination show they can play with daddy and the fellas when they get bigger."

Expect to see the usual pop culture fare here at Advanced Dungeons & Parenting, but also expect to see some posts about my pop culture experiences with History and Mystery.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cinerati Netflix Recommendation: "The Last Detective"

Picture, if you will, the typical American police procedural.  If you have the same picture in your mind that I do, then you are picturing a team of detectives rushing to solve a crime.  They are rushing to fight against the "First 48" hours after which the solution of a murder/crime becomes more difficult.  They receive their forensic data at lightning speed, have a coroner on call, and the episodes often contain exciting chases and flashy gunfights. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, we get to see the actual procedures of the investigator -- if we happen to be watching a classic episode of "Law & Order."  Even then, the show is episodic and mystery driven.  Certainly, in the best procedural dramas like "Justified," the main detective evolves as the season progresses and his life is an on going sub-plot that ties episodes together.  But it is rare that the detective's story move beyond sub-plot to become the driving force in the show, and it is the mysteries themselves that dominate.  The best procedural dramas have strong sub-plots that become long standing arcs where the characters evolve over time and become real to the viewers.  In the worst procedural dramas, some of which are among my guilty pleasures, the detectives never become more than ciphers who rampage through mystery after mystery.  Yes...rampage through mystery after mystery, their gunfire solving crimes as often as the justice system.

The ITV drama "The Last Detective" is the best sort of police procedural.  It's mysteries take their time in resolving themselves, and the detective exploring them is a delight to watch.  He is calm, understated, and intelligent.  Detective Constable "Dangerous" Davies, played by Peter Davison, is anything but dangerous and is initially disliked by his fellow detectives for his low key personality.  In the first episode, he increases their dislike of him when he relentlessly pursues a mystery investigation to its unfortunate end.   "Dangerous" is given the title "the last detective" because of this investigation.  It is his supervisor's way of telling him that when a crime comes to the department, Dangerous will be the last detective called to investigate it.  That is unless the crime is so lame/irritating that no one else will do it.

The manner in which the pilot episode allows the investigation to reveal the life and personality of the murder victim is a marvel to watch.   As the investigation unfolds the viewer comes to care for the victim, a rare phenomenon in procedural dramas.  The third episode has that rarest of rarest occurrences, an unsolved crime, but that unsolved crime leads to an interesting narrative of obsession and the risks that detectives constantly take.

I have always had a soft spot for Peter Davison as an actor.  He was the first "Doctor" I watched on television and the "Fifth Doctor" is still my favorite.  Davison brings all of his charm and charisma to this show.  If you've got the time, give it a try.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Geekerati Radio: Once More Speaking Out with Our Geek Out

On May 14th, 2007 the Geekerati Radio podcast streamed its first "live streaming" episode at Blog Talk Radio. That day I turned on my computer, started up Skype, and dialed a conference call with Bill Cunningham, Eric Lytle, and Shawna Benson. Within minutes we were discussing what we thought of the then upcoming 2007 summer blockbuster movie season. We scheduled the show to run for one hour, and the episode ended up at 73 minutes. Sixty of those minutes streamed live, the remaining minutes were "overtime."

Given our love of all aspects of popular culture the "overtime" feature became a regular component of our show. Unlike most podcasts, those based at Blog Talk Radio are live shows that can receive callers and we wanted to take advantage of that benefit. We also seem to have an uncanny ability to speak on and on about the things we love. So this left us with circumstances we could leverage to make our show a little more distinct from other podcasts/online radio shows. We could have live callers like a radio show (not that we ever received too many of those), and we could have bonus footage that could only be heard on the archive of our episode. Those who listened live could call in, but those who relistened -- or listened at a later date -- could hear the full content of our show. We loved it.

Between May 14th, 2007 and September 13th, 2010 we recorded 131 episodes of the show. For the first couple of years we aired weekly almost without fail, but that changed as life's obligations intruded one time too many into our schedules. The show came to a grinding halt, but that is all about to change.

Tuesday marked the 1 year anniversary of the "last" episode of Geekerati Radio, but this Sunday marks the triumphant return of an activity I deeply enjoy. Shawna Benson and I will be joining forces to discuss the upcoming fall season of television. Shawna is quite the television buff and she's got the lowdown on what's hot, what's not, and what the sleepers and disappointments will be. It should make for a great discussion.

Join us this Sunday at 4pm Pacific as we discuss the upcoming season, reminisce over Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and ponder the future of "television scheduling." We live in an exciting era for content. If you want to participate in the conversation, you can call us at (646) 478-5041 during the episode. We'll be happy to take your call, it can't be as weird as our infamous "what is this show about" call.

Our past episodes include interviews with:

  1. Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis
  2. Brandon Sanderson
  3. Brent Weeks
  4. Marc Bernardin
  5. Tim Minear
  6. John Rogers

That's only a smattering of the guests we've had in the past, and the kinds of guests we'll be having in the future.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Because My 80s Nostalgia Won't Die: Psych -- "Flashback" Don't You Forget About Me

I can't help it. Whenever I hear the "Classic 80s" Simple Minds tune Don't You Forget About Me, my mind grows nostalgic and I remember the angst ridden teen that I was who believed that The Breakfast Club was one of the most important films ever made. It was a film that portrayed all the "cliques" that had existed for prior generations of high school students, cliques that still exist but that aren't as rigid as they were in the annals of high school history. The Breakfast Club showed us that no matter your clique, you shared teen discontentment and frustration.

 There were at least four characters in the film who I believed represented me, or who were aspects of my personality. I think this was true of many Gen X-ers, and probably a lot of teens today.

 I may not still believe that The Breakfast Club is one of the great works of Art in Western Civilization, but I do think it is a darn good film and holds up pretty well. I fully admit that could be by nostalgia goggles clogging up my judgement though...

 Anyway, to the reason for the post. USA's television show Psych is gearing up for its new season and their promo is based on the old Simple Minds video.

 It's pretty genius.

As always, the Psych creative crew has managed to touch all my nostalgia buttons, while still making me feel young and hip. The Shawn and Gus characters are still to young to be as nostalgic for the 80s, but James and Dule and show creator Steve Franks are right in the sweet spot to share the same nostalgia.

 My favorite thing about all of this? That everyone looks like they are having fun.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Thundercats Ho!

I am overjoyed that I live in a world where I will be able to share new episodes of Thundercats with my twin daughters.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nostalgia and Self-Loathing -- "Legends of the Superheroes"

It is the curse of Generation X. In our youth, we experienced some of the best pop culture entertainment ever produced. We grew up watching The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch (you can really tell the Michael Man Episodes), Kolchak the Night Stalker and reading Watchmen, The Killing Joke, Tim Truman's Scout, and the Giffen/Maguire/DeMatteis Justice League, Star Wars, The Terminator, and Tron.

We also had to endure the legacy of the ultra-camp "too hip to like pop culture" mentality of many Boomers. Case it point is the "Legends of the Superheroes" television special. Gen X kids loved the Super Friends cartoon, especially when the show added the Wonder Twins, so we eagerly begged our parents to let us watch the "Legends of the Superheroes" special when it aired.

After all, what could be better than a live action version of our favorite show?

Apparently, a kick in the face would have been better. The show was campy and awful, and the follow-up roast was a mockery of everything the kids loved about shows like Super Friends.

And yet...I still have this compulsion to buy and watch the special and relive the hopes that I had for the show, even as I re-experience the nightmare of its reality.

There must be some connection between nostalgia and self-loathing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes vs. Iron Man Animated Adventures

My daughters adore the Nicktoons series Iron Man: Animated Adventures. In fact, one of my daughters' favorite games is for me to "fly" her around the house while she wears "Tony's Suit" and becomes "Iron-Keyo!" The show is witty and has excellent and engaging animation.

Next month Marvel Comics is releasing their new Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes series. The new show has many of the same writers as the Nicktoons show, and some excellent voice actors, but if the animation matches the style in the "Micro Episodes," the show will leave a lot to be desired from a visual comparison.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hulu Recommendation Friday -- Raising Hope

What are your thoughts about the new sitcom Raising Hope? I enjoyed it, but I'm wondering just how long they can maintain the raw humor before they slip into the land of the routine.

Any sitcom that features a scene of a father covering his baby's eyes as the baby's mother is being electrocuted for murder is showing a nice audacity, but I hope they can keep it up.

So far I've really enjoyed the performances of Cloris Leachman, Garret Dillahunt, Martha Plimpton, and Shannon Woodward.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The CW's Nikita is Stylish, Sexy, and Soulless

When considering how to approach the CW's new action television series Nikita, I reminded myself of a couple of my core rules to follow when reviewing works of entertainment. In this case, I wanted to make sure that I followed rules #2 and #7. I find that having certain principles of review ensures that a review is as fair as possible to those who made the effort to produce an entertaining product. Making an entertainment product requires a lot of work, and those working on the products do so because they want to entertain the public.

So what are rules #2 and #7 and what are some examples of them in application?

Rule #2 -- When reviewing a property that has been translated from one medium to another, it is only fair to compare the property to the source material as far as the property relates itself to the original.

An intellectual property that perfectly exemplifies the importance of rule #2 is Frank Herbert's Dune series of books. If one were to compare David Lynch's version of Dune to the novel one would find numerous differences and omissions, but that would be a disservice to Lynch's brilliance in the film. Lynch's Dune isn't a translation of the novel adapted to the big screen. Instead, it is a story inspired by the book that attempts to tell a similar story through a different medium. It approaches the central conflicts of Herbert's SF masterpiece and builds a film narrative structure around it. It also uses the strengths of the different medium to add new levels of spectacle to the property. One should judge Lynch's work apart from Herbert's because it departs widely from the original property.

The several Syfy series based on Dune, which claim to be "faithful" adaptations, should be scrutinized heavily due to their claims of fidelity. In fact, the failure to live up to the claims of fidelity -- followed by the invention of lame filler narrative -- is one of the chief flaws of the Syfy versions of Dune. The others are low production values and poorly choreographed melee combat (inexcusable in the post HK New Wave era).

Rule #7 -- Never judge a new television show purely upon its pilot episode.

Pilot episodes are often clumsy and the actors frequently have yet to build the chemistry that will make a series worth watching week after week. If one were to look only at Star Trek's original pilot, one would wonder how the show ever got picked up by a network in the first place. The concept is solid, but the execution is awkward -- something I often call "pilotitis." Additionally, the first episode shown may not even be the first episode "narratively." When Fox released Firefly, they showed a middle episode as the pilot and viewers where left without any context for the "universe" they were experiencing. As any Browncoat can tell you, this was a shame because viewers missed out on what ended up being a great ride.

I waited to review CW's Nikita for these very reasons. First, I had to judge just how closely they were associating the property with the original Luc Besson film, then I wanted to see if the show's quality improved or declined in the second (and eventually subsequent) episode.

From the advertising posters to the opening scene of the pilot episode, it is clear that Craig Silverstein and crew are making deep associations with the original film. Both posters show Nikita in a similar pose, and both properties begin with the robbery of a drug store for pharmaceuticals. This association continues in the second episode when Nikita's protege Alex is given "two weeks to improve" before the Division decides to "eliminate" her, the identical raising of stakes Nikita faced in the film.

It should be noted that the new Nikita isn't attempting to be a remake by any means, rather it is striving to be a sequel. It is a "what happened next" story that is using the original as a jumping board. This would typically make it a heavy candidate for rule #2 suspension of disbelief, except for the numerous overt parallels between this series and the original. Since it isn't a direct remake the show doesn't deserve "strict scrutiny," but it does deserve "close scrutiny" because it keeps reminding me of its relation to the original property.

So how is CW's Nikita in light of this level of comparison, and how is it in its own right?

Maggie Q is sexy and powerful in her portrayal of an expert assassin who seeks revenge against the organization that did her wrong, but she's too sexy and too competent. Anne Parillaud was vulnerable and sympathetic. She was a fish out of water, who we cared for in spite of the terrible things she does in the first scene of the film. It's easy to like Maggie Q, but it isn't easy to empathize with her. She's too glossy, too strong, too competent -- except when she inexplicably isn't.

The closest parallel to Parillaud's Nikita is Lyndsy Fonseca's Alex character. Fonseca's performance often demonstrates the vulnerability and humanity of the Parillaud version, but these moments are undermined when the show's "twist" is revealed. Alex suddenly becomes less vulnerable and become an instrument of revenge -- losing some of her humanity in the process.

Allow me to elaborate.

Besson's Nikita opens with an amazing image. Four drug addled youths are walking brazenly through the late night streets of Paris. One of these addicts is carrying an axe and dragging a body behind him. It's a disturbing image that plays off of the classic heroic introduction in The Right Stuff with an ironic twist. These young people are attempting to break into a drug store to get a fix, and as it turns out the drug store is owned and operated by the father of one of the youths. There is a touching scene where a father recognizes his child, and is saddened and horrified by what he sees. The tension and sorrow are palpable. Eventually, it almost seems as if everything is going to turn out okay and deescalate when the police arrive and the scene explodes in gun fire. The first two casualties are the father and son, then all of the youth save Nikita who had been curled up under a desk suffering from withdrawal symptoms. A policeman sees this young woman, attempts to gently help her out of the store and is coldly murdered by her. Her addiction has eliminated her humanity. The rest of the film is about -- among other things -- her rediscovering her humanity.

It is a sad story that constantly keeps the audience worried about the protagonist. We forgive her murders because we see her desperation and vulnerability. Besson makes us care about the killer from the first two minutes.

One of the perfect demonstrations of this vulnerability is expressed in the movie poster.

While Nikita is dressed in a sexually appealing outfit, high heels and all, what immediately registers with the viewer is fear and vulnerability.  She is in a near fetal position.  She is gripping the gun with two hands, and her eyes gaze worriedly off camera at some unseen threat. The viewer is interested in the character because the viewer is worried about her safety and we wonder what it is that she is looking off camera for. Who or what is just off the screen?

In contrast, the new Nikita opens in media res with a robbery of a drug store taking place in mid-action. The robbers are both wearing masks -- one bunny and one pig -- dehumanizing the criminals from moment one. Our first view of Alex, and we later discover Nikita, is as inhuman mask wearing figures. This sharply lessens our ability to empathize with them as vulnerable characters. The bunny mask is captured after the pig mask murders someone on site. The "innocent" bunny is unmasked and we first see the face of Alex, who will be our Alice in the rabbit hole that is Division. Where Besson knew that he could get us to sympathize with a murderer Silverstein makes sure that the new recruit is seen to be "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and doesn't trust the audience can be empathetic. We meet Alex, the "next" Nikita in this scene.

Then we are introduced to Nikita herself, the stylish and sexy Maggie Q. Through voice over and flashback we are given her back story and informed that she intends to get revenge against Division for them killing the man she loved. This is all presented pro forma, its just enough to set up the situation but lacks any emotional weight.

As the story unfolds we are introduced to Michael (Shane West), the "Bob" (Tchéky Karyo), of the series. West's performance isn't as subtle as Karyo's, but it is strong and gets better as the show progresses and his character is given more dramatic conflicts to resolve. Michael and Alex, along with Amanda (Melinda Clarke), are very compelling components in the show. They have a "realism" that is lacking in the almost superhuman confidence of the Maggie Q Nikita. Though the Michael/Alex relationship once more highlights the lack of heart in the television series.

In a scene that parallel's the movie, Michael informs Alex that she has two weeks to improve in training or she will be eliminated. This scene comes after Michael has saved Alex's life -- nominally -- and Michael notifies Alex just as she is about to thank him. It is a scene that works well as Michael is simultaneously asserting that he will not allow himself to become personally involved with a trainee (again), but that he does feel vulnerable in Alex's presence. The scene is good, but is shallow when contrasted to a similar scene in Besson's film.

In the film, Nikita has been acting out upon being forbidden from leaving the training facility. She has frightened the techie, bitten the ear off the judo instructor, danced in celebration of biting off the ear, and painted graffiti all over her room. "Bob" has been notified that she has two weeks to improve or Division will kill her. He enters her room with a birthday cake and a gift -- a poster of Degas' The Star.

He cuts her a piece of cake -- with a switchblade -- and tells her that she is only excelling in painting and dance. He is referring to the graffiti and the dance of humiliation she did earlier, which are demonstrations of her individuality and humanity that he appreciates. The Degas painting's portrayal of dance and the individual amplifies this association. He gives her a brief moment of celebration and kindness, and then drops the bomb that she has only two weeks to live if she doesn't improve. It is a powerful scene. It has a weight entirely lacking in television show.

Throughout the first two episodes Nikita attempts to undermine the actions of Division, but she soon discovers that not all who oppose Division are her allies. Maggie Q's Nikita is continually shown as powerful, competent, and sexy -- with one moment of almost farcical incompetence in the second episode in a "sniper" scene. Since the show is using Alex as the proxy "film Nikita," Maggie Q's Nikita is almost the direct opposite of Parillaud's. A quick cheat for what I am referring to is the marketing poster for the new series. Look at how it parallels and differs from the original film poster.

Here Nikita is holding two guns, one in each hand, and has a spare sub-machine gun at her feet.  She is lounging sensually in a chair holding her pistol with one hand and looking at the viewer with confidence and authority. The background is sharp and red, as opposed to foggy and blue. This is the image of a ruthless and attractive killer and not a vulnerable and sympathetic fish out of water. If it weren't for the way that the poster, and show, reference the original as they simultaneously reject it, I wouldn't make note of it. But the fact is that they are constantly referencing the original, and not in an "easter egg" manner.

I have thought long and hard about why the show would both reference the original and then advertise its rejection of the template and the only reason I can come up with is Dollhouse. This version of Nikita is as much a response to Dollhouse as it is to Besson's Nikita. The new show's glossy style and sensuality is reminiscent of Dollhouse, while the story structure is reminiscent of Nikita.

It's almost as if this Nikita is saying, "this is what Dollhouse could have been."

As critical as I am of the lack of emotional weight of Nikita so far, I have to say that I am impressed with their twist. I am impressed enough to watch the show for a few more episodes to see where they go.

At the end of the pilot, we discover that Nikita was the pig in the opening scene and that Alex is being used as her "mole" inside Division to help her destroy it from the inside. It is a nice twist and one that I wasn't expecting.

The show has some interesting moments, but it's going to have to acquire some "heart" if it wants to retain me as a viewer. It can either do this by giving me empathetically dramatic stakes, or by adding humor. I don't care which one they do, but they have to make the show stand apart from its origins.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I Recorded Hellcats to My DVR Because I Love Phineas and Ferb

As the father of identical twin daughters, who turn 2 1/2 this month, I have watched uncountable episodes of Phineas and Ferb. As a Gen X-er, I would have watched this brilliant show without the need of youthful encouragement, but my daughters absolutely adore "The Candace Show." My youngest daughter, by one minute, used to actually squeal with joy when the theme song played -- and my wife and I have heard the phrase "again!" in reference to The Candace Show more often than any other entertainment offering.

The show is fantastic in all the ways that a cartoon can and should be. It has all the humor of The Family Guy with none of the cynicism. And when it comes right down to it, I think my daughters have it right. The reason the show is so effective is the Candace character. Disney is really dropping the ball with regard to merchandising Candace. She is the character who gives the show heart and is an ideal "straight man" for much of the shows humor.

A perfect example of why the Candace character works, is the "Ducky MoMo, is My Friend" song that Candace (Ashley Tisdale) sings during the hilarious "Nerds of a Feather" episode. It has the right balance of comedy and pathos, just like the character.

So...that love of Candace led to me recording Hellcats on my DVR. I'll watch the show this weekend and let you know what I think.

Yes, I'm that guy. The guy who watches Real Housewives and Project Runway -- in addition to Top Gear.

Is it just me, or does Ashley Tisdale looks like Candace in this promo image?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Dresden Files [Hulu Recommendation Friday]

Watching the preview for THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, put me in the mood for watching the Dresden Files television show.

Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series is one of my literary addictions. I enjoy the way Butcher combines urban fantasy and noir detective fiction tropes in the books. Harry Dresden is a Wizard for Hire in a world that doesn't believe in magic, much to it's own peril.

In 2007, Syfy (then the SciFi Channel) aired twelve episodes of a series based on Butcher's books. The early shows, like the pilot below, were clumsy, but the show eventually found its voice and became quite entertaining.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy Theory: Substance or Tin Foil Hats?

The number of Gen X-ers who have fond memories of the classic myth and conspiracy television show In Search Of are legion. Each episode, Leonard Nemoy would narrate an "investigation" into some popular myth, ancient legend, or conspiracy. Viewers would learn a lot about the myth as myth, but leave most episodes with little knowledge of the "truth" regarding any of the topics being studied.

The show presented the topic, but didn't engage with it critically -- only observationally. Episodes about UFOs would feature interviews with those who claimed to have seen UFOs, or who claimed to be abducted, but wouldn't usually present the skeptical view.

Years later, Gen X-ers were among the first to enjoy the mythbusting exploits of James Randi, the "Mythbusters," and Penn and Teller. These individual provided wonderful tonic for many of our modern superstitions and did society a service by promoting skeptical thinking. More than that, they also provided great entertainment.

Myths and conspiracies are topics which captivate the imagination, and like most people I love learning about new ones. While the mythbusters listed above spend a great deal of time testing and exposing myths, they don't spend a lot of time introducing us to new ones. That is work for other people.

Enter Jesse Ventura.

The Former Governor, Navy SEAL, and Professional Wrestler has a new show entitled CONSPIRACY THEORY debuting on truTV Wednesday, December 2nd at 10 p.m. (ET/PT). The show builds on Ventura's reputation as a rebel and combines his passion for conspiracy theories with his blunt and forceful personality.

Each episode, Ventura and his circle of intrepid investigators (images of Doc Savage and his crew are currently running through my mind) go out into the field to examine these claims and present their results to the viewing audience. truTV describes the show as follows, "They're on a mission to examine possible conspiracies surrounding secret societies, global warming, alleged 9/11 cover-ups, a research center in Alaska that could be a secret government weapon, and apocalyptic prophecies, to name a few."

The first episode, which airs tonight, investigates claims made about a remote joint Air Force and Naval research center in Alaska called HAARP (The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). Throughout the episode various claims are made about HAARP. It is a secret weapon, it can control the weather and create earthquakes, it is a mind control device. Ventura and his team present each of these suppositions and interview individuals about the mystery of HAARP.

I think that this was an interesting, and odd, choice for a first episode. I had never heard of HAARP before the episode. This made me interested to learn more about it, but it also meant that it was curiosity with the new and not excitement that brought me to the episode.

Most of the investigation in this episode is less than engaging, that is until Ventura interviews Dr. Nick Begich. Dr. Begich is good television. He is the kind of guest that Penn and Teller's producers work hard to get on their show. The Begich section of the episode is so engaging, particularly after some of the earlier interviews, that I am having to hold myself back from writing more in order to avoid giving out spoilers.

CONSPIRACY THEORY's first episode introduced me to a conspiracy with which I was completely unfamiliar, and it did eventually manage to entertain, but it didn't do what I had most hoped for in a show of this type. Maybe it's because I live in a post-Randi world, but I expect shows like this to question the conspiracy. Ventura and crew didn't, they presented the conspiracy. Which is fun, but I want more.

In coming weeks, the show will feature episodes on the following topics:

  • 9/11
  • Global Warming
  • Big Brother
  • Secret Societies
  • Manchurian Candidates
  • Apocalypse 2012

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday -- The Best Chrismukkah Ever

In 2003, Jody and I were still pretty new to life in the Southland. We were also both very busy, especially Jody who was attending USC for Film School at the time. During mid-term week and finals week, she would pretty much spend the full week on campus. During these times, I would drive from our apartment in Crenshaw to the USC campus to spend breakfast with Jody and then I would head out to work and school out in Glendora and Claremont. Then at night, I would stop by the USC campus to eat dinner with Jody and return to our apartment to work on papers, read for class, or prep for my weekly D&D game while listening to the sounds of helicopters and police sirens.

2003 was also when The O.C. came on the air. I avoided the show like the plague for its first season. I had no interest in watching the 00's version of 90210 -- though I guess that job is now being done by 90210. It wasn't until the summer of 2004 that I began to watch the show. Jody had caught an episode from late in the season and it had piqued her interest by the sheer absurdity of the narrative. Eventually, we added the show to our Netflix queue and we've been hooked ever since.

Yes, the show was an evening teen soap, but its combination of geek references and self-referential style was just the thing to give Jody and me a few laugh. Doug Liman's direction of the first episode is magnificent, and we have been big fans of Josh Schwartz since we saw The Best Chrismukkah Ever episode. What red blooded male comic book collector hadn't wished that his girlfriend would dress up as Wonder Woman as a Christmas present? It was laugh out loud funny.

The first season, and the last season, of The O.C. are the best seasons of the show. They both maximize the elements that make the show worthwhile -- family, friends, and geek references. The show got lost in the middle somewhere as show runners took the show in less satisfying directions, but the show's finale is one of my favorite episodes of television.

Enjoy "The Best Chrismukkah Ever"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: V -- The Series

With ABC running a remake of the classic V miniseries, I had no other choice than to have this week's Hulu recommendation be a V related one.

While there has been much talk lately regarding how SF and Fantasy have come to so dominate popular culture and the collective social conscience that we may now be entering into a "post-SF" era, it should be noted that film and television have been saturated with SF and Fantasy narratives since their beginnings. Even prior to the television and films that affected me as a young Gen X viewer, these media had entertained generations with fantastic SF/F. This earlier influence is what made growing up an SF/F fan in Generation X such a joy. There was an amazing abundance of quality sfnal material to watch when I was growing up, and it wouldn't have been there if not for how much earlier entertainment influenced those who created entertainment in the 70s and 80s.

Let's take a quick look at some of the entertainment offerings that Generation X was able to enjoy. On television, we had THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and the BIONIC WOMAN, SUPERFRIENDS, JOHNNY QUEST, STAR BLAZERS, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, SPACE 1999, SALVAGE, and V. In film, we had ALIEN, OUTLAND, STAR WARS, KRULL, THE LAST STARFIGHTER, EXCALIBUR, SUPERMAN, FLASH GORDON, and BLADE RUNNER. The lists above don't even scratch the surface of how much wonderful sfnal material was being produced as Generation X was growing up. Science Fiction and Fantasy films may have bigger budgets today, but they are no more ubiquitous today than they were in the 70s and 80s.

It is often jokingly remarked that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13 (or insert some other young age), as that is the time one can best enjoy the fantastic tale merely for the sake of its being fantastic. I'm not one who usually agrees with this statement, as I have yet to be disillusioned about the SF/F I read as a child. Most of what I enjoyed, I still enjoy. Most of what I missed that others tell me I should have read, but may not enjoy as much now that I am "a more mature reader," I have enjoyed. Sometimes, as was the case with the ending of SLAN, I find small quibbles with particular narrative devices or decisions, but for the most part I find that a good story remains a good story.

I remember V being a very good story. It was a wonderful reversal of the alien story told in films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. We had aliens who were visiting our planet claiming to be peaceful, like in DAY. Unlike the humans in DAY, we believed them much to our eventual dismay. That one small difference made V more plausible to me than the high minded and hopeful narratives offered by movies like DAY.

The argument in DAY is, essentially, that if all the scientists can work together (because they understand the futility of war) then Earth can become a wonderful and peaceful place. Of course, if they cannot then the Earth will be destroyed, since apparently the Galactic Community believes in using violence preemptively to stop nuclear capable planets from attacking them. I very much enjoy DAY, but still have trouble with the "we have evolved beyond violence and if you don't..we'll destroy you" narrative. The short story is better with regard to this issue.

The argument in V is "beware of aliens bearing gifts." The aliens come to help us achieve peace and can end all the problems facing human society. One small thing, they really want to turn us into dinner. Given the messages that tyrants have used throughout history to attain power have been ones of "peace," "equality," and "progress." I found the story plausible. (I also found the narrative in ALIEN NATION extremely plausible, and more compelling than V as a "human" story.) The costumes the aliens wore, and the way they manipulated specific humans in order to get their "help," are fairly obvious references to Nazism.

I cannot wait to see what ABC is doing with the new V series on November 3. To get ready, I recommend watching the miniseries link above from google video and watching the spin-off series on Hulu. I've embedded the first episode of the followup series below. It isn't as solid as the miniseries, and I don't know how it will hold up as I'll be finding out over the weekend, but I have fond memories.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Heavy Gear

In the spring of 1994, Dream Pod 9 released its popular Heavy Gear tactical miniatures game. The game featured a grim and gritty universe where giant humanoid shaped vehicles did battle on the battle scarred landscape of Nova Terra -- and throughout the galaxy. The game featured an easy to learn tactical game system that could be easily scaled to a companion role playing game, so players could use the same characters in both the rpg and the tactical miniatures game. The components were high quality, and the sourcebooks were -- and still are -- engaging.

Dream Pod 9, a company that started business as the creators of a licensed setting (Jovian Chronicles) for another company's role playing game (Mekton), emerged as a force of their own with the creation of Heavy Gear. Eventually, Dream Pod 9's Jovian Chronicles setting would be translated from the Mekton system into the DP9 in house Silhouette system. From small beginnings, the company became a gaming establishment whose product line diversified and whose IP became desirable commodities. Their Heavy Gear game has been licensed as video games and as an animated series. The company has also shown an ability to adapt to changing market forces and have released new editions of their game lines.

In 2001, Sony's 40 episode animated series based on the Heavy Gear IP was released worldwide -- though it seems that there was not much advertising in the American market for Heavy Gear gamers who might have wanted to watch the show. I know I certainly never saw any advertisements for the show, and I was actively looking.

The show had a similar animated style to Reboot, which should come as no surprise as both shows were produced by Canada's Mainframe Entertainment -- now Rainmaker Entertainment. Where the role playing and tactical Heavy Gear games featured a grim setting, the animated series toned down some of the darker elements and aimed a a younger audience. The gear battles at the beginning of the series take place in an arena in formalized, almost athletic, competitions. The show's tone was a far cry from the setting established in the games.

The original press release hints at what the initial concept for the show was intended to be. It appears that the initial concept was closer to the original IP than the end product. That release stated:

The animated series' storylines will focus on the soldiers who pilot the Heavy Gears combat machines, combining state-of-the-art storytelling with the fascination of heroic dogfighter pilots and the dynamics of Japanese mechanical warriors. It will also deliver a tremendously rich storyline that lies beneath the action of Heavy Gear: politics, love, religion and unexpected mysteries as well as unexpected enemies all play their part in the saga of Heavy Gear.

In the end, the show ended up focusing on a character named Marcus Steven Rover whose characterization is close to that of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films. Watch the opening episode with A New Hope in mind and you can see how being a Gear Pilot can be seen as analogous to going to the "Academy." The end product, as DP9's current site describes it is:

The Heavy Gear: the Animated Series followed the adventures of Marcus Steven Rover, a young Gear pilot just recruited into the Shadow Dragons, a special independent dueling squad of the Southern MILICIA. His team is pitted against the Vanguards of Justice, their counterparts from the Northern Guard. Both squads meet in a series of events and battles in the arena desert town of Trash City to determine who will take home the coveted Heavy Gear Championship cup and its associated glory. Major Alexander Wallis III, the leader of the Vanguards, will let his team do anything to secure a victory against the ragtag team of Southerners.

Gone are any mention of politics, love, or religion. All that remains is the quest for the cup and a battle against a team willing to cheat to win. As always, we are rooting for a "ragtag team" fighting against the odds.

Though the show abandoned a darker tone, which would have appealed more to the gamers who play the game, it is still an entertaining series. It just happens to be a series for a younger audience. One could look at it as a show you get your kids to watch to "prepare" them for shows like Robotech.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Full Metal Alchemist (Brotherhood)

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were captivated once a week by a wonderful anime series called Full Metal Alchemist. The show follows the adventures of two brothers as they attempt to learn the secret of the Philosopher's Stone in the hopes that they can reverse the "price" they paid when they attempted to resurrect their mother using the power of Alchemy. The show wonderfully captured the horror trope hightlighted in classic horror tales like Frankenstein and Faust. No power comes without a price, and the brothers paid a high price indeed. As an added bonus the characters are named Edward and Alphonse Elric. How can I not love a show where two of the characters are named ELRIC?!

The cartoon was a hit, but it also varied wildly from the manga on which it was based. The series had an ending that was nowhere to be seen in the manga, which continues to this day, and which left one feeling mildly disappointed. There was much of the world left to explore and Jody and I felt a little bit robbed by the ending.

Thankfully, the animation studio Bones, has contracted to do a reboot of the series and the show is a part of the hulu streaming video stable. The episodes become available two weeks after they air in Japan and are a new start for the series. Old fans will find much that is familiar, but the new series is closer to the manga and goes into greater depth into many of the secondary characters.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Battlestar Galactica Classic

With today's news that Bryan Singer is signing on to direct a new Battlestar Galactica movie, inspired by the original series, it seems only appropriate that this Friday's Hulu recommendation be the Glen Larson epic.

Singer has a strong track record in genre films, with only one argument starting hiccup. Singer's X-men movies perfectly captured the tone of what made the Claremont/Byrne run of the comics so engaging, while simultaneously translating the narrative to a different medium. This was no small task and Singer should be rightfully praised -- especially since audiences would soon learn how easy it is to make a bad X-men movie when the third film in that franchise hit theaters.

Singer's one hiccup is his attempt to make an engaging and topical Superman film. His Superman Returns managed to simultaneously get everything right regarding how amazing Superman can be, while getting everything wrong about what makes the character great. The film is beautiful and follows in the footsteps of two excellent Superman films, ignoring the misguided 3rd and 4th films, but it is exceedingly flawed. While it is plausible that in the minutes following the ending of Superman II Kal-El would fly off into space to find news of his home -- especially after the meaningful final conversation with Jor-El -- Superman as deadbeat dad is still a painful concept with which to grapple. It also forgets the most critical aspect of Superman's personality, and the underlying reason Superman has a secret identity. There is no practical reason for Superman to have a secret identity. If Superman were Superman full time, no one would be at increased risk of villain attack. Unlike Spider-Man, Supes secret identity doesn't protect an "Aunt 'Em." Unlike Batman, his identity doesn't protect a vast fortune that can be used to aid the needy. Superman's having a human identity actually puts people at risk rather than protects them. His secret identity causes more problems than it solves. But it does do one thing, it allows him to become human and connect with community. Superman -- like the "perfected man" in Aristotle -- needs the city, that's why he has a secret identity. Singer would have been well served to remember this one fact. Still, the film is spectacularly beautiful and contains two of the best Superman sequences ever filmed. It is a work of contradictions.

The same may end up being true of Singer's Battlestar Galactica. All signs point to his version being closer to the vision of series creator Glen Larson. Larson's BSG was Mormonism as SF narrative. It was biblical allegory with a touch of humor. It was filled with hope in the face of despair. It was more Orson Scott Card than William Gibson, it was more Heinlein than Haldeman. For these reasons, a generation of viewers were engrossed each week as the show aired for its sole season -- we won't count Battlestar 1980. It was a perfect example of golden age SF Space Opera.

When Ron Moore -- who shall forever be known to Cinerati as the man who killed Kirk because Picard couldn't win a fist fight -- re-envisioned the franchise for his 73 episode run, he did so as a writer influenced by Gibson and Haldeman and the events of a post-9/11 world. The story was dark and hopeless, and featured a human civilization not worthy of saving. The colonies of Moore's BSG are craven and deserve destruction, but as individuals they are more human. The series is often praised for its writing, but such praise is misguided. The show is amazingly acted -- the cast does a phenomenal job -- but any series that ends with the ultimate SF cliche ("and their names were Adam and Eve") lacks the depth that its facade presents to the world at large. BSG is the poster child for a generation of viewers/readers who believe "grim means philosophically deep." For those who grew up on the SF of Heinlein and Asimov, deconstructive tales are refreshing. For those who grew up on the SF of Moorcock, Haldeman, and Gibson, deconstructive SF is stale.

I am among those who found BSG stale and staid, but well directed and acted. It is the "reconstructive" narrative that I find refreshing. Give me The Incredibles and Wall-E over most modern SF. Give me Old Man's War instead of Forever War. These are what I find well crafted, innovative, and refreshing.

Singer will have an arduous task ahead of him. Moore's BSG won critical acclaim and brought new audience to the IP, at the expense of losing some of the nostalgic crowd -- people like me. Larson's original is dated and overly campy, so it can't be directly remade. It must be properly reconstructed or those fans who were dissatisfied with Moore's work will still be dissatisfied. But it also has to have complex characters, something Moore's definitely had, or those newer BSG fans will reject the vision as well.

Singer has the same challenge he had with Superman Returns, presenting a narrative of hope that contains complex characters. It is likely any Battlestar he creates will contain some of the same flaws as Superman Returns. Given Singer's ability to craft beautiful visuals and given the stable of actors who frequent his films, I look forward to seeing Singer's Battlestar...flawed or not.

As always -- for those in the US -- hit play, then click on the full screen button and enjoy.