Monday, December 31, 2007

Submitted for your approval.

I figured there was still one more hastily written entry left in this crazy year so here's another post coming at you right under the deadline (and you thought Christmas ended last week!).

As everyone who knows me will attest to, for me there's only one meaningful New Year's Eve tradition in my book. It's not making empty, overly optimistic resolutions, watching some ball drop, binge drinking, or even the welcoming sight of the ageless Dick Clark. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day has always been about the Twilight Zone Marathon. From when it used to air on the old WPIX when I was little to its flashier, current SciFi channel home, I've always managed to ring in the new year with the classics. Some episodes are sad, some are hilarious, some are thought provoking, some are fairly awful, and some have premises so thin that they should just cut to the chase and make it ten minutes. For the most part however, the Twilight Zone really is some of the best writing that has ever been broadcast on TV. The imagination, the plotting, the dialog, is of such high quality compared to most of the hack writing you see on TV today that if writers of this caliber went on strike, you better believe people would have taken notice.

Unfortunately I'm coming to the party a little late so unless you've already been watching since this morning you and I have already missed a few classic episodes (Including my all time favorite "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up" at 7:30pm). However, there are still a good twenty plus hours of episodes on deck. So if after you're done with all the confetti and awkward kissing and find yourself in a post countdown state, rudderless on what to do in the New Year here are 5 choice cut episodes to ring in the New Year (note:these are all eastern standard time on SciFi channel):
  • 12:00am - "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street": One of the all time greatest Twilight Zone episodes, and one especially relevant in this post 9/11 world. A picturesque evening on a block in Anytown, USA is suddenly disrupted by a series of mysterious power outages and other bizarre events. Fear and paranoia begin to take hold and the shocking revelation at the end is one I envy anyone who hasn't seen it.
  • 12:30am - "The Invaders": A lonely old woman finds herself visited by a group of hostile aliens. This episode is basically a 22 minute set up for the big twist at the end, but it's a pretty good twist. You also have to give Agnes Moorehead credit for carrying the whole episode by herself.
  • 1:30am - "Valley of the Shadow": A young man accidentally stumbles across a town where its inhabitants possess scientific knowledge that is light years headed of our own time. This is one of the few hour long Twilight Zone episodes I like. This is not a real famous episode or anything and the main plot itself is fairly flat, but I just dug the soliloquies the town leaders give about how screwed up modern civilization is. The Twilight Zone was always good at waving its finger at modern times, in an entertaining way.
  • 3:30am - "Five Characters in Search of An Exit" This is literally what the title says, five random strangers a hobo, a ballerina, a major, a bagpipe player, and a clown find themselves in an empty room with no memory and no escape. One of the most bizarre and imaginative Twilight Zone episodes ever, it also has one of the most surprising endings as well.
  • 4:30am - "Printer's Devil" A struggling newspaper publisher makes a deal with the devil to make his newspaper more popular, of course these sort of agreements usually don't end very well. It's a pretty straightforward Faustian bargain message episode but basically any episode with Burgess Meredith is a treat to watch. Hitchcock had Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant; Rod Serling's leading man was Burgess Meredith.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hey Man That's Not A Prediction It's a Fact of Life

As many of have already known by now, those unstoppable New England Patriots completed stage one of their mission to cement themselves as the greatest team in NFL history by beating the New York Giants and completing the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins. It was an event that was pretty hard to avoid considering all the significance of the game, the hype, the media attention, and not to mention the three network simulcast. All in all it was I believe the most watched televised regular season game in NFL history.

As a testament to the inherent injustice of the universe I myself actually found myself with a free ticket to this historic game, courtesy of a friend with a season ticket holding father who just happened to away this weekend. In light of reports of Patriots fans paying ridiculous Super Bowl scalper prices and the Giants faithful coming out to support a Patriots beat down in the very same stadium that in Week 1 they were found to be disgraced, video taping cheaters, I was pretty low on the depth chart in terms of people who actually wanted to see this game. I would have been more content with just playing Madden at home and catching the scores afterward.

These were two teams that I really disliked. As a Buffalo Bills fan I could never forgive the Giants for their dumb luck Super Bowl XXV victory off of Scott Norwood's infamous wide right kick. Also living in North Jersey you get more than your fair share of jerk ass Giants fans all who also seem to synonymously love the Yankees (the most evil organization in all of professional sports). Of course my hatred of the Patriots is much in the vein of rest of the country outside of the New England area: their suspected cheating, their evil genius head coach, their arrogance, their relentless perfection, etc., etc. It'd be like rooting for Cobra Kai in Karate Kid, or the Hawks in the Mighty Ducks, or Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Adding to that default disdain was also the fact that they, being our division rivals, had beaten us twice this year to a combined score of 94-17.

So you could see I was torn as to who to root for. It was a decision I wrestled with all through the 6 plus hour tailgating festivities in the parking lot. No matter how many Miller High Life cans I knocked back or how many hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, I consumed it was a tough call. As we all finally finished up and made that long march across the parking lots into the stadium amidst the sea of jerseys and hooded sweatshirts I realized there was only one cutting the Goridan knot solution that would satisfy me: a tie. I know it's a fairly rare occurrence and something both teams would probably no everything to avoid, but it was the only logical way that both my goals of disappointing both teams and their obnoxious fan bases would be accomplished. A tie would technically be a blemish on the perfect season of the Pats while at the same time leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the Giants fans. As everyone knows by now, the Giants fell a field goal and a futile overtime short of achieving my ultimate goal, so here were some other personal observations from the easy to swallow bullet form!
  • Actually this was one the way to the game, but my friend and I saw on the exit to the stadium a large billboard for Citizen Watches featuring an especially intense looking Eli Manning and the words "Unstoppable" (it was basically this ad except without a picture of a watch). The notion of anyone calling Eli Manning "unstoppable" had us laughing until we got to the gate.
  • At the beginning of the game the video screens showed clips of the famous Dec 13, 1998 game between the Giants and the Denver Broncos where the Giants, led by career jobber QB Kent Graham, ruined the Broncos perfect season in week 15. This instance of past precedent in standing in the way of perfection gave me undue optimism that the Giants might pull off the upset. It also reminded me how old WR Amani Toomer was.
  • I counted at least three fights alone in the general area where I was sitting. The smattering of Drunken Masshole Pat fans and drunken Jersey Giants fans made for more tension than the Smiths.
  • During a lull in the game the video screens showed a top 5 countdown of Giants Season Finales. Former Giants star RB Tiki Barber (who abruptly retired in his prime at the end of last season and became a host on the Today Show) was featured on two of them. A healthy chorus of boos erupted every time. That's NY sports for ya.
  • I predicted before hand that if Patriots WR Wes Welker had at least 10 receptions in the game the Patriots were going to win (He had 11 for 122 yards). Of all the superstars on the Pats, I firmly believe he is the absolute key to beating them. I mean how many drives has he kept alive this season with his hella cheap first down catches?
  • When the Giants went up 28-16 in the 3rd quarter you could tell by the reaction what kind of fans were who. Most young Giants fans were overflowing with optimism, most Patriots fans were still fairly confident but starting to get a little nervous, and true long time Giants fans were glad to have the lead but were already expecting the worse.
  • The Dane Cook doppelganger with the backwards Giants hat that sat next to me kept expecting high fives and fist bumps from me every time the Giants scored, forced a punt, got a first down, drank Gatorade. At first it was just an annoying hassle but as the Giants started to flail towards the end of the game, I kinda missed it.
  • In an ocean of current stars (Manning, Brady, Burress, Moss, etc.) and former stars (Simms, Taylor, Carson, etc.) it was quite a sight to see the guy three rows ahead of me sporting a 18 Jeff Feagles jersey honoring the 41 year old Giants punter (and all time NFL punts leader).
  • If the Giants were going to lose, it really should have been in some sort of massive blow out loss so we could have beaten the traffic home. The worst possible scenario is a close loss which gives us the fans the lovely consolation prize of bumper to bumper immobile parking lot traffic.
For the G-Men I predict a standard fare first round exit by the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will most likely preserve coach Coughlin's job for another year and insure a future of perpetual adequateness with no actual breakout success. For that team of destiny from New England, I can only hope that somebody in the AFC (I'm thinking the Colts, or the dangerous Chargers) can must up enough perfection on their own to stop these magnificent bastards. Ayn Rand might be all for the objective success of this extraordinary team, but somebody needs to bring them down that notch and make them just another good team, before it's too late.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My heart healthy meaning of Christmas.

Well another Christmas is in the can. The trash is full of opened boxes and torn wrapping paper; you may be enjoying some of the gifts you've received (my copy of Billy Joel's 52nd Street is playing in the background right now); perhaps you're finishing the last tin of Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies. Now that I've gotten all that Christmas nonsense that's been going on since the end of Thanksgiving out of the way, I'm in my favorite holidays of the year, the oft overlooked five day period between Christmas and New Years Eve. I like to call it "the neutral period".

It's a great little stretched sandwiched between two monster holidays where there's no expectations or preparations for anything. You just sit there, bask in the past shadow of that leviathan known as "the holiday season" and wait for the New Year to show up. It's the shortest span of time between major holidays so you can't really get yourself out of that lazy, no responsibility mindset before the next one shows up. Also for me personally, as a life long academic (i.e. person who never held a real world job) "the neutral period" has always been the heart of my winter break so its even sweeter. I dread the day when I'll most likely be forced to cram in some work time in between, thus obliterating most of the peace and wonderfulness of "the neutral period."

Well, I could always just never get a real job.

As you may have inferred from the tone of my writing so far, I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas or the holiday season in general. I wouldn't say I'm anti-holidays but I think it's all just too much effort. As is the case with all holidays, I personally don't like holidays telling me what to do. Whether it be buying cards on Mother's Day or eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I'll do it if I feel like it, but I shouldn't get flak for not doing it. I can mail my mother an appreciative card all the while preparing a turkey dinner that I'd be thankful for on a Tuesday in March. I think fetishizing these things for certain days kinda lowers the bar on other days of the year. Shouldn't you appreciate your mother and be thankful as often as possible? So when the holidays (and "the holiday spirit") comes along and basically becomes the be all end all day for caring, generosity, and good will, it gets to me a little. I also don't like the fact that it hijacks most of pop culture, i.e. holiday movies, songs, commercials, TV specials, etc. You don't see the 4th of July doing that (unless you count Lee Greenwood).

That being said of all baggage that the holiday season brings there's one tradition that for some reason rises above all others as what this time means to me. Some people have their "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story" moments or the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or (the extremely underrated) "Garfield Christmas". For some the lasting image of the holidays is less secular like Midnight mass or nativity scenes. Some people might just find the lasting image and meaning of the holidays in the time spent with their families and giving, and good works, etc. etc. Those are all well and good but for me it just isn't Christmas until I see the bee.

I'm pretty sure anyone who has watched any significant amount of television around the holidays during the last decade and a half has seen that commercial. In fact, its yearly airing even today must mean that people other than me find this ad to be more than just a 30 second spot for cereal. Aside from being one of my oldest Christmas memories, there's just something special about this commercial. For me there's a hopefulness and message of good will that doesn't seem forced upon you. When Scrooge is given the bowl of cereal it's not like he's magically transformed into the living embodiment of the Christmas spirit., which I've always found unsettling about the ending to all the versions of a "Christmas Carol" whether it be stage, screen, or Muppet. On Christmas morning after the ghosts Scrooge becomes downright psychotic in his sudden love of Christmas running around like a fanatic, goose waiving, philanthropy machine. If I was Bob Cratchit I'd be happy for the promotion and family dinner but I'd drop a serious "WTF?" on the whole situation.

In contrast the cereal merely manages to bring up his eyebrows with a spark of optimism and it quickly ends there with him looking out the window, the possibility of hope. For all we know that after that delicious bowl of Cheerios he's back to being the miserable gruel eating tightwad he was in the beginning. At least however for that moment there might have been a slight change, an ever so slight victory. In this hard, difficult world with all its problems and inherent wrongs and the tiny, all too short lives we lead within them, it's these small personal victories, however fleeting they may be, that we find any reason to solider on. That's what I get from that brief advert and it's the lasting image that for me personally affirms every holiday season.

That and it's a pretty good cereal...way better than Apple Jacks!

Friday, December 21, 2007

So I might as well begin to put some action in my life.

On Monday afternoon I submitted my Contracts final and thus at last crossed the finish line on my two week law school finals odyssey. The sweetest feeling in the world is that first minute after you're done with finals and you know that at that time you are the farthest away time wise from the next final. As for how I actually did on these finals? Well...let me say that after every furious three hour race of information regurgitation all I could think about afterwards while signing out was that scene from "Billy Madison".

For now I'm just putting all that testing misery behind me and enjoying these oh so precious few weeks of blissful ignorance between the end of the semester and when the grades start to come back. I'm back at home which is two toll bridges and a perpetually gridlocked Cross Bronx Expressway away from silent horrors of the law school library. However, as I sit here delightfully letting my brain atrophy and forgeting everything I've learned this past semester I have to recognize those that helped me get through all that final two week hurdle.

Twelve hour days planted in a claustrophobic study cubical staring at your computer, trying to decipher what the hell you were writing about in your class notes; all the while surrounded by your peers who you're in cutthroat competition with, most of whom are in full hyper caffeinated Jessie Spano freak out mode is no way to spend a fortnight. During those depressing days spent trying to cram information in my brain in the off chance that something may stick and trying to keep procrastination to about half the day, I found that two things always without fail managed to cheer me up at least a little bit. One was the irresistible horns of Chuck Mangione's immortal hit "Feel So Good" which really in general can cheer up any person not named Morrissey. The second and far more idiosyncratic piece of personal comfort was the classic 1980 video for Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law".

The music alone is enough to get one pretty psyched up; that killer guitar riff, Rob Halford's powerful shrieking, the anthemic chorus, the police sirens towards the end! It's a pure metal classic. However, in addition to the song you get this completely ridiculous but still perfectly metal video that's probably the equivalent of Citizen Kane relative to most other metal videos released in 1980 (considering the fact that its not entirely made of up sweaty concert footage already puts it light years ahead of about 95% of the bands of the era).

The set up is simple: Judas Priest robs a bank (thus accomplishing the titular action of "breaking the law") using the power of their music and overall metalness but there's just so many scenes and questions packed into its short 2 and a half minute run time that infinitely amused me.
  • The rest of the band is waiting inconspicuously outside of the bank for Halford to arrive, but do they realize they're dressed quite conspicuously like pilgrims?
  • Why is Halford on the other hand dressed like he's a member of the Jam in his tight black suit and is driven in on a car with apparently no driver? (I would have totally gone as him on WSOPC if only the reference wasn't so needlessly esoteric)
  • Where did that drummer come from and how did he get that whole set in?
  • While it looks like their music is so loud and powerful to the point where it incapacitates everyone at the bank, it can also be construed as their music being so awful that it incapacitates everyone at the bank. Also, every rock video should have a scene where a guitars are used like weapons.
  • Apparently Rob Halford has the strength of ten men.
  • The second most baffling question aside from who's driving the car: Why are they stealing their own gold records?
  • Worst security guard ever. Not only is he absolutely inept at preventing the robbery, his air guitar skills are down right horrendous. I think if it weren't for that inexplicably placed cardboard guitar next to him the viewer would think he was just having a seizure.
  • Although the timing is off by about three years, doesn't that London cityscape look oddly similar to the one in Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark". Could you just imagine life in swinging London around the early 80s with Judas Priest robbing banks and Ronnie James Dio screaming at you from the rooftops?
You know I didn't even realize until right now the obvious, apt connection between the title and the fact that I was in law school. Yeah, I'm pretty confident in those law school grades.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Remember Kids...

I don't know about any of you out there but many times I've found myself wondering if something I remembered was real or a memory based on a dream. My view is that either I have really elaborate, well detailed dreams or my dreams are just so boring and mundane that they become nearly indistinguishable from reality itself. Once I could have sworn I mowed the lawn a week ago but when I went outside the grass was still uncut (I'm thinking dreams about lawn chores fall into the second mundane category). I find this happening more often with memories of my childhood. As I become more of an "adult", those childhood memories that were once so vivid and recent start to become confused and disorganized. Places, people, things you did all sort of get crossed; kind of Rashomon-like (or like that episode of Mama's Family where everyone tells different stories to Vint about how Mama got hit on the head with a pot). Thankfully for me nearly all my childhood memories involved watching TV so there is always a lasting record somewhere...most likely on the internet...on YouTube.

This leads me to the my most recent moment of self revelation courtesy of the 'Tube.

Anyone around my age who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons knows that during the halcyon days of Segamania in the early 90s there were not one but two completely distinct Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. There was the "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" with its goofy plots, bright colors, and wacky interpretations of the characters, all generally in the slapstick humor vein of cartoons like "Looney Tunes", "Animaniacs", and "Ren and Stimpy." On the complete opposite side of the map was "Sonic the Hedgehog" which took great liberties with the video game and set everything in a sort of bleak dystopian future where Sonic and a large cast of new characters fought a constant struggle for survival. Aside from the more serious tone of the show, it also had a high emphasis on a dramatic running plot, and character development. It was more like "Gargoyles" or "Batman: The Animated Series" or "Justice League Unlimited."

While the darker "Sonic the Hedgehog" was probably the superior show in terms of production, storytelling, and lasting appeal (I think they continued it as a comic), I personally still preferred the light hearted fare of "Adventures". Although I technically I prefer cartoons that take a more mature stance and consider "Batman: the Animated Series" probably the greatest Saturday morning cartoon ever, I have always considered the Sonic games to be more in the wacky, fun mold of "Adventures" and consider it just more faithful to that vision. Another more important reason for me, at the time, was that "Adventures" had the classic Sonic Says PSA statements!

As with many Saturday morning shows of the period, "Adventures" had 30 second vignettes where Sonic would tell you standard PSA things like not to smoke, drink, or tolerate sexual molestation. I used to love all these sort of PSA as a kid; not only were they bonus show content in my mind, but also gave me a piece of advice and daily affirmation (although the anti-drinking message has evidently not caught on with me).

Going back to the original reason for all this exposition, for years I had this memory of one particular Sonic Says that completely baffled me as to its existence. I recalled that there was one Sonic Says where Sonic and Tails were trapped in some sort of large dryer and they were complaining about the heat and then they would later go on to explain that kids shouldn't be going into dryers. To me this just couldn't have been real! Were other kids really that stupid? Was there enough of an epidemic of children jumping into the tumblers of their local laundromat that this issue had to be addressed? Were tumble parties springing up all over suburbia, a bunch of bored kids and a roll of quarters looking for a good time? It seemed unprecedented. I couldn't remember another show who's PSA mentioned this problem (GI Joe, Captain Planet, The More You Know, etc.). As I got older, the commercial seemed more and more unreasonable and that such a message could have only been created deep in recesses of my muddled subconscious. Then one bored Saturday afternoon a quick search on YouTube game me horrific vindication for my sanity. It was Charlton Heston on the beach at the end of Planet of the Apes ("Oh My God!...We finally really did it!...You maniacs!). There it was, the lamest PSA ever recorded. Don't do drugs, stay in school, drink your milk, don't talk to strangers...and don't go in the DAMN dryer!

Although I mock it now, who knows? Maybe my fuzzy memory of it in the back of my mind in the long run saved me from a tragic end, bloodied, broken, and burnt in the extra loads section. Maybe some kid today will run across the clip and it'll make him think twice about looking for a cheap thrill down at the local strip mall. One can only dream.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?

So if you've been watching televised sports since around the World Series last month (and to a lesser extent whatever constitutes prime time network television sans writers), you must have been exposed to the latest slew of ads for Apple's newest breakthrough in portable MP3 field, the iPod Touch. It's youthful, hip, sexy, infinitely catchy, and of course unavoidably ubiquitous. On the surface it's essentially the same type of advertising that I condemned Apple Marketing for in my open letter concerning the iPod Nano a few months back. I should hate it, but for me it's actually an improvement over the iPod Nano commercials.

The main improvement with this new ad goes to really the crux of the problem I had with the old ad, frequency. I don't have any quantifiable data on the issue, nor have I done an official study but it seems that Apple got the message that repeating the same commercial, regardless of how cool and interesting and ascetically pleasing they feel it is, is a terrible, outdated way of marketing that may possibly hurt the product image in the long run. Granted, I am watching somewhat less TV than I was in late September due to the mediocre play of the Buffalo Bills and the lack of new Office episodes; but definitely not less enough for it to be a significant factor. I think the ad has reached that healthy medium where it's a frequent visitor to your home but isn't taxing your patience, a fine line to walk.

On a purely subjective level I just like the Touch ad better than the Nano ad. I was getting tired of the white background, kinda quirky, Apple ads. It's a great look, no doubt, but it just made the commercial seem sort of repetitive on the first viewing. It was a new ad but it went with whole general scheme of Apple ads; instead of Jeff Goldblum and stoned teenagers telling me to switch or Justin Long ragging on John Hodgman, it was the iPod Nano doing it's thing. The new commercial wasn't groundbreakingly innovative or spectacular but it was a refreshing difference from the norm that I noticed and appreciated. I also liked Cansei De Ser Sexy's "Music is my Hot Hot Sex" (title alone is superior) to Fiest's "1234". If the strength of marketing can propel "1234" to a peak of number freakin' 8 on the Hot 100, I'd like to see how far ad wizardry can propel an obscure Brazilian indie band. According to wikipedia the song has so far hit #63, the highest charting single by a Brazilian band in the history of the chart (what no Sergio Mendes?).

And just how did the highly paid marketing wizards at Apple manage to come up with this new and improved commercial? Simple, they just used the ideas of "unqualified" advertising minds like myself. The new direction, the great choice of song, the new presentation that was so noticeably different from the previous million dollar ads? It was basically a polished up version of a home video made by a teenager. What other industry is there in the world where a guy off the street can do just as good or better of a job than its most skilled and experienced specialists? And here I am in law school.

Interestingly enough, the real winner in all this may be Canadian singer/songwriter/Avril Lavigne clone Skye Sweetnam whose song "Music is My Boyfriend" has no doubt attracted the attention of many misguided searchers.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Being There

As with any individual of my generation who grew up watching the "Back to the Future" Trilogy I have a hypothetical list of dates and activities I would do if I somehow managed to get access to a time traveling Delorean in reality. Notable temporal activities would include: (1986) watch game 6 of the World Series at Shea, (2525) see how prophetic Zager and Evans were in their predictions all those years ago; (1618) witness the Second Defenestration of Prague; (1999) really party like it's 1999 instead of being distracted by Y2K and Pokemon; (1848) fulfill that literary dream of a threesome with the Bronte sisters (sans Anne) at the peak of their writing talents.

The most recent addition to that ever growing mental list would be to transport myself back 24 or so years right into the thick of the 1983-1984 NBC television season. It would be at this point that I could actually witness, and verify with my very own eyes and ears, quite possibly the worst prime time network television season in the history of the medium. For now I can only dig up artifacts, uncover second hand accounts, and hypothesize about things that once were and that time has mercifully forgotten. I can only accept the historical records of the season where every prime time show that premiered in the fall was canceled by the end of the season. I can only begin to imagine a season so poor that it would count mid-season replacement detective series "Riptide" as one of its major successes. I can only attempt to rationalize how network executives and producers could with a serious face greenlight certain shows with premises so bizarrely awful in concept and execution for a mass audience.

Here are some of the offerings the prime time NBC viewer was rewarded with circa 1983 for following NBC's request to "Be There!":

Jennifer Slept Here
Jennifer Farrell was a once popular actress who got run over by an ice cream truck and now haunts her Los Angeles home. Her lawyer's generic 80s TV sitcom family (complete with sassy generic 80s kids) moves in and hilarity ensues. The hilarity ensues to a critical level when it turns out that only the teenage son Joey can see and hear her (hearkening back to the "classic" Fred and the Great Gazoo era of the Flintstones). This constantly gets Joey into trouble and makes everyone think he's crazy. Oddly enough this was apparently one of the more popular offerings of the season and even cracked the top 20 once, although in the end it was dead on arrival. Also, the opening sequence seemed to visually give very little insight into what the show was about.

We Got It Made
Mickey Mackenzie is a hot young woman who applies to be the live in maid to two zany bachelors David and Tom who share a two bedroom apartment. They become smitten by her and she is hired. However, hilarity ensues as this causes tension between their two respective girlfriends Claudia and Beth who are suspicious of their boyfriends living with the beautiful Mickey. This seems sort of like a mix of the equally awful contemporary show "The Big Bang Theory" and the fake pilot to "Jerry" ("because he's my butler") on "Seinfeld". I can't imagine why this show petered out, the complex set up had legs to go for at least a decade. It must also have been a Herculean effort on the part of the show's producers not to change the "Made" to "Maid" in the title.

As the William Conrad narrated introduction explains, Dr. Johnathan Chase is a wealthy, young, handsome man who traveled the world, learning the ability to transform into any animal he wants, which he uses to fight evil! So it's basically like Batman except with transformation powers...and a limited special effects budget. Despite the myriad of animals he could have turned into, apparently hawk or panther was the choice most of the time. Also scenes where he needed to change into something more complicated (snake, dolphin) the change would occur off screen ("Wow, did you see that?! He turned into a snake! Here he comes now!"). In only three months of airing it gained a reputation as one of the worst science fiction shows ever aired and even an apparent cult following (I guess there might be worse cults to be a part of).

Mr. Smith
So here's the entire show in a line: Mr. Smith is a talking orangutan (played by Clyde from "Every Which Way But Loose", the Lawrence Olivier of orangutan actors) with an IQ of 256 who is a political adviser in Washington DC. Take that Reagan Era America! How did he get so smart you might ask? By drinking a bottle of an experimental formula of course! This is a show that flies in the face of conventional logic. It's one of those complete "what were they thinking?!" kind of shows that, while completely ridiculous in their execution, deserve special notice for even making it on to national television; from "My Mother the Car" to "Cop Rock" to "Caveman". Of course as the case with such high concept fare, "Mr. Smith" lasted all of 13 episodes.

There were many more failures but they just weren't as interesting or noted. Other lowlights included: "The Yellow Rose" (some sort of lame "Dallas" clone about a cattle ranching family with Sam Elliot), "Bay City Blues" (a series centering around a minor league baseball team that sounded like the forgotten 2004 CBS series "Clubhouse"), and "For Love or Honor", "The Rousters" and "Boone" which I couldn't really find any information on.

So I guess the moral of all this is, in the context of modern TV, Thanksgiving, and the on going writer's strike, that for every "Chuck" or "Carpoolers" or unnecessary "Bionic Woman" remake we should be thankful for what we've got and that things could be much, much worse.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Picture This!

Giants Quarterback Eli Manning after losing the game, and basically any chance at the division, to the Cowboys yesterday

uncannily similar to...

A bemused Jim Halpert

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boo! Five things that idiosyncratically scared the crap out of me when I was little...and still kinda creep me out today.

Halloween is upon us and lost amidst the brisk fall haze of excused debauchery, sugary snacks, fake cobwebs, and slutty maid/nurse/policewoman/state senator costumes is, in my view, the true ethos of Halloween: fear. We all know the pagan back story (or saw "The Crow"), the one night of the year where the boundaries of the living and the dead come together and all that spooky shit. Not to get all Bauhaus on everyone but I think the most universally scary thing about Halloween is that it is one of the few (and definitely the most prominent) holidays that reminds us of our inescapable mortality. Aside from the association with the dead, the leaves have all fallen, it's getting colder, darker and I think we all just sort of try to reconcile and disarm that grim feeling by having an over the top celebration of it whether it be partying all night, trick or treating, watching Saw IV, etc.

The fear on Halloween is different though, it's not like the boring real fears that plague us all in our everyday lives like fear of loneliness or global warming, or losing your job, or your hair,etc. Halloween is about the sort of irrational personal fear that makes you unique, the constant reminder of mortality sort of reminds you of those crazy things that you wouldn't be thinking about in the middle of August. However, I think it's a good thing in the long run to be scared and face your fear. I don't even mean like stand up to it, you can take one look at it and run away like a coward but at least you took a peek at it rather than just suppressing it. I don't know, that's just my two candy corns on Halloween, I mean I still dig the fact that it's turn back the woman's lib movement clock night.

So in the grand tradition of Halloween fear, here are five things that legitimately frightened me personally growing up and that I still to this day sort of find creepy:

Every other element about Pee Wee's playhouse I found comfort and joy in. I know some of my friends found the whole thing a bit unsettling on its own, I even had a friend who's parents wouldn't let him watch it. I for one always found the universe of Pee Wee to be quite comforting, like a peaceful happy utopia where your biggest problem was trying to get someone to say the secret word. This is what made the random times when the Salesman would show up all the more disturbing. It would aways catch you off guard, Pee Wee would be making ice cream soup or playing with tape or talking to the chair when all of a sudden the doorbell would ring, and you'd expect a friendly visitor: Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne, Reba the Mail Lady, or fi you're lucky even The King of Cartoons, then suddenly this monster appears! The worst part was the music, it was the soundtrack to my nightmares, this super intense horror style score that was totally alien from any other music on the show. The Salesman itself was also a little intense at first sight; this giant headed caricature flailing around. No wonder it would always send Pee Wee screaming.

Mac Tonight

If you haven't figured it out already, growing up, I watched a lot of TV and in my formative years I was exposed to a lot of questionable advertising content, including Mac Tonight. This guy was basically my boogie man. I was too young to understand fully what he was advertising, all I knew was he had a regular body and this completely deformed, monstrously large moon head. Also since he was apparently created to advertise McDonald's late night hours, he always appeared at night inexplicably wearing sunglasses! The thing that made Mac truly scary to me was that he was not a cartoon and almost real enough to possibly exist in reality. You couldn't imagine the fear I had staring up at the ceiling in the dead of night half expecting this gigantic crescent with it's demonic smile peering into my window, ready to drag me away into the darkness.

The Twizzlers Mouth

This is another case of Madison Avenue shaping my childhood fears. I always had a thing against claymation. I still find the whole process unsettling. They're moving around, but in that unnatural stop motion sort of way. When I imagine my nightmares coming to life, they are always in stop motion. It's really the only way these improbable things could exist and move around in reality. So here I am this pre-teen being spoken to by a floating disembodied mouth that appeared so large on the living room television that it could have literally bitten my head off as easily as strand of Twizzler. How could this mouth exist? Was it part of another unfortunate giant's face? Where do the Twizzlers go when he eats them?!? When I finally was able to forget enough about Mac Tonight to fall asleep, the Mouth was waiting for me in my dreams...with the Pee Wee song!

Emil from Robocop

Robocop is one of my all time favorite action movies, a film I can endlessly watch anytime. However, if I had a time machine I'd go back in time to tell my parents that it is an incredibly irresponsible move to expose your 8 year old to a rental copy of. The violence didn't really get to me, it was so over the top that it approached the realm of the cartoonish where it was so removed from reality that it couldn't have been a bad influence. The part that scarred me for life was towards the end when Emil, one of Boddicker's gang members crashes into a vat of toxic waste and comes out a half alive mess of former humanity. His skin, hair, fingernails, appendages, are all literally melting off him as he's crawling around desperately calling for help. This totally caught me off guard, I thought he'd die like the dozens of other people in the film when he crashed into the waste but then to show this walking horror living a fate worst then death, it blew my mind. I still cringe when I watch that scene and still feel the same wave of relief when he gets run over and put out of his misery. Considering how much this short scene of horror traumatized me, I'm forever grateful I didn't get to see the Jeff Goldblum "Fly" until I was much older.

Paul Verhoeven 2. My carefree childhood 0. "Total Recall" is definitely a top 10 all time desert island movie in my book. I might one of these days write my take on why it just may be the greatest action movie (possibly even just movie) ever made. However from a children's perspective you're better off showing hardcore pornography to your little child. At least with the porno your child would probably lose interest and forget about it in week. There are literally about a dozen deeply disturbing scenes in this movie that scared me to the point where I became wary of the VHS tape itself, knowing what kind of demented visions it held. Where do I begin, the big eyed Arnold struggling for air on Mars, that freaky fat woman disguise he wears, Kuato, that mutant cab driver, the three breasted hooker, all wildly inappropriate for little eyes. However, all the unsettling horrors of the film are synthesized by the Johnny Cab robot. There's just something so inexplicably creepy about his faux-human face, dead eyes, ominously cheery voice. There's also the element that once you get into one of these futuristic robot cabs, your life is in the nonexistent hands this evil head and torso. Then there's that final scene with it where the cab has crashed and his face is melting and he's still talking. It encapsulates all my fears about robots.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Soundtrack Serendipity (Not the soundtrack to Serendipity)

Recently I've gotten back on the Netflix horse and have been watching a fairly steady stream of movies...instead of studying. I find it a much more pleasant option to watch "The Paper Chase" than actually live it (although I might give hitting the books a shot if I got to sleep around with the Bionic Woman too). So I'm watching these movies and every once in a while afterwards I'll hear a totally random song and think to myself "that would go well with 'x' movie".

This sort of thing seems to happen every so often, a song and a movie separated by time and circumstances with no direct connections at all inexplicably complement each other, with the song fitting like a glove in the film's soundtrack. I'm not talking about meticulously setting your Pink Floyd records up at specific time signature or anything; it's just general connections that make me wonder if only they had existed at the same time. I don't think it's necessarily irony. It might be dramatic irony, but I think that only exists works of fiction. It might just be the kind of erroneous psedo-irony you see the classic Alanis Morressete song "Ironic" which (everybody all together now) is ironic since there's nothing ironic about it. For now I think I'll just categorize it as bad timing or cosmic mis-scheduling.

"Gold" - Spandau Ballet (1983)


GoldenEye (1995)

Has there ever been a band, past or present, that was more in tune with the ascetics and spirit of James Bond then these guys? I mean look at the guys in the band, it's a like it's made up of a bunch of James Bonds. Personally I actually prefer "Gold" to "True" as my favorite Spandau Ballet song. The song itself fits all the requirements of a truly classic Bond theme without it being an actual theme. It has the grand soaring vocals, the inherent sexiness, the cryptic lyrics about danger and intrigue, and some exotic sounding drums for good measure. Stack "Gold" against my all time favorite Bond song "A View to A Kill" by Duran Duran and it still holds its own. Even the video itself pays out like a Bond thriller (or at the very least a Duran Duran thriller, which is just as good). I'm fairly confident that had Spandau Ballet been able to hold onto their success a little longer they would have been tagged to write a theme for at least one of the Dalton films.

Lyrically, it is quite relevant to the general story of GoldenEye; although relevance to the plot is pretty much optional when crafting a Bond song. The song seems to be about two old friends meeting possibly under shady pretenses a la 007 and 006. The themes of gold and lust for power seems to abstractly follow along with the lines of the main plot of the film. Actually the song might also work with the other auric themed Bond classic "Goldfinger" but it already has one of the all time classic Bond themes. I figured "GoldenEye" deserved better than that forgettable, Bono and Edge penned, number with Tina Turner.

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: "After the rush has gone/I hope you find a little more time/remember we were partners in crime."


The Warriors (1979)

One of the all time great two hit wonders, Scandal, have some similarities with the classic 1979 Walter Hill movie aside from the name of the single. They both originate from New York. There's that sort of tough street persona. They're both of that late 70s early 80s punk rock, new wave sort of scene. In fact I think it's quite plausible that the Warriors when they weren't fleeing for their lives through dark subways and streets of New York might have been listening to Scandal (had they existed only a few years prior..and if they were real). The music video for "The Warrior", aside from being the most ludicrously choreographed and flagrantly homoerotic video not to be directed by Russell Mulcahy, seems to exist in the sort of exaggerated, street gang world of "the Warriors" where the band itself looks like its own gang (still less ridiculous than the Baseball Furies) .

Lyrically the song goes well with the movie. The general themes of running away, trying to survive, night time activities, all go hand and hand. You can even extrapolate the bang bang chorus to the shooting of Griff or the Lizzies and their guns. The song itself with it's demands of passion and love almost seem from the perspective of Mercy, the girl who begins to falls in love with Swan and her declaration that she is now a member of the Warriors. I'm surprised the band never claimed any inspiration from the film.

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics:
"I am the warrior/Well I am the warrior/And heart to heart you'll win/If you survive"

"All That She Wants" - Ace of Base (1992)


The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)

This song and movie combo actually comes the closest to crossing paths. "All that She Wants" was released in late 1992 while "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle"came out at the beginning. In a perfect world both would have come together. There really isn't much on the surface connecting a Swedish dance pop outfit and an American thriller. On a deeper level though you can say that they existed purely in their times. The eurodance sounds of Ace of Base were right at the crest of a wave of such groups in the early 90s a la Real McCoy, Blackbox, C+C Music Factory, Snap!, while "The Hand" was a prime example of the whole "disturbed intruder tries to destroy our once happy life" series of thrillers that had their heyday in the early 90s like "Single White Female", "Basic Instinct", "Sleeping with the Enemy", "Poison Ivy", the "Cape Fear" remake. With both being the defining examples of their respective early 90's pop cultural touchstones, it would have seemed all the more appropriate had they come together.

If you read the "she" as the Rebecca DeMornay character the lyrics are eerily reflective of the main thrust of the story. She indeed "leads a lonely life" due to the actions of Annabella Sciorra and her revenge is basically to usurp her of her happy home and baby to replace the happy life that she could have had. The song is most likely about a maneater-like woman who's hunting for a man but if you take it literally she really does want "another baby" after the miscarriage of her first child. She is literally hunting people, not to get with them, but to actually kill them. Innocuous dance pop or a harrowing look in the troubled mind of a killer?

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: So if you are in sight and the day is right/She's a hunter you're the fox/The gentle voice that talks to you/Won't talk forever.

Friend and fellow Twisted Mister Andrew U. made the brilliant prediction that if they review "Hollow Man" for the inevitable I Love to 00's they would definitely play the Clay Aiken tune in the background. I can't see any other song being considered a fitting companion piece to the film. The song would be a perfect fit with "Hollow Man" even just on the basis that there are practically no other songs about invisible men (I can only think of "Invisible Man" by 98 Degrees and they make it a lot clearer it's a metaphor). The most amazing thing about "Invisible" is however the fact that one of the purest adult contemporary mainstream pop tunes by one of the most vanilla of American Idol stars somehow manages to unintentionally reflects all the creepy and disturbing elements of control and voyeurism that the movie "Hollow Man" addresses. Where people so seduced by the sleek production and toothy smile that nobody paid any attention to what was going on in this song?

Seriously was Clay Aiken watching a dvd of "Hollow Man" when he was writing this song? This is clearly written from the point of view of the Kevin Bacon villain. The woman that he is pining for is obviously Elizabeth Shue his ex-girlfriend that he is still obsessed with. All the actions that the song lays out as hypothetical, Kevin Bacon does or attempts i.e. "watch you in your room", "make you mine tonight" , "tracing your steps", "make you see that I'm alive". Even the psychotic ego and arrogance of Kevin Bacon's scientist character is referenced to when he sings if I was invisible I would be the smartest man and the subtle line of changing the word "invisible" to the malicious "invincible" later in the chorus. For me though, the creepiest moment in the song comes at the end of the "if I was invisible" chorus when he sinisterly states "oh wait...I already am". So disturbing!!

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: The whole song, every last disturbing lyric.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

One of the slight benefits of having watched a lot of movies is that almost anytime you're having a conversation with a group of your friends and someone asks "have you seen [blank] movie?" you can usually say yes and be part of the conversation. It's a good little feeling; you don't have to worry if you should be hearing this spoiler or awkwardly ask someone to explain the plot; you're on the same page and the conversation flows. Sometimes a movie becomes such a pop cultural talking point between the people I meet that I make a deliberate effort on my part to catch up.

Then there are those movies that aren't really all that contemporary and that don't come up in everyday conversation but when they do people wonder why you haven't seen it. It's your White Whale, the movie that everybody else has seen and logically you probably should have seen as well. You may have even tried to see it at one point or another; or you caught a fleeting part of it on cable one night; or you know the actors in it, the director, the plot, even the twist ending but you've never sat down and actually watched it; it has somehow eluded you through chance and circumstance, this elusive piece of cinema.

I have a couple of White Whales in the back of my mind but today I finally got to harpoon via Netflix the wily beast that was "Bottle Rocket". For years everyone I knew, saw this supposed cult classic but me. Of course if you factor in the inherent movie snobbery of the average NYU undergrad, whom most of my friends were, it doesn't seem all that ridiculous that everyone saw this but me. Nearly all the conversations I can recall about talking about a recent Wes Anderson film, the line "but have you seen Bottle Rocket?" appears somewhere in the discussion. Also however now I like Ahab have finally completed my long quest only to have it in end in disappointment (sorry if I pseudo-spoiled "Moby Dick" for anyone out there who where planning to get their "Melville On" tonight. I'll post adequate spoiler alerts next time if I start blabbing about "Bartleby the Scrivener ").

Any time you nail down one of your White Whale movies there's a bit of a let down. It's unavoidable given the inherent hype it has just for being a White Whale movie, but beyond that sometimes the movie just isn't as good as you thought it would be. My sort of main beef with "Bottle Rocket" was actually the exact opposite of the main beef critics have about his latest film "The Darjeeling Limited". The main criticism about Darjeeling is that it was basically too Wes Anderson for its own good; the meticulous detail, the excessive preciousness, the archetypes of slightly offbeat characters, it's all just a retread of his previous movies, the signs of an auteur not maturing but regressing. I however thought "Bottle Rocket" didn't have enough of those trademark elements that for better or worse make his movies so uniquely him. There were some of the basic elements: the Mark Mothersbaugh 60's tracks laden soundtrack, that trademark blocky title font, upper class white folks with emotional problems, Kumar Pallana, and that slow motion closing sequence. I kinda wished there was more of all that: more aesthetic detail, more people talking in bizarrely calm tones with each other, more Salinger...ness. Too much of the movie seemed altogether too "real", too conventional to make it that memorable to me.

On a totally idiosyncratic note, I was also distracted by the fact that Owen and Luke Wilson had each other's haircuts throughout the film. The normally close cropped Luke had the flowing locks of the butterscotch stallion and vice versa. I couldn't shake it. On the plus side it had the chick from "Like Water for Chocolate" which I caught on HBO when I was in middle school and was totally hot for (My senior year English class actually read the novel which wasn't all that bad recipes and erotic magical realism). Also I'm pretty sure James Caan's been playing the same badass old school mafia type guy for the last 20 years.

Overall I pegged it a three star on my list. I might need to watch it again, Wes Anderson films usually turn out better after you've watch them more than once. For now, I'll continue on my next quest, maybe "Sixteen Candles" or "The Departed" or maybe even "Godfather Part III", steady as she goes, ready that harpoon Queequeg.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An Open Letter to the Apple Marketing Department

Dear Apple,

Let me just start out by stating that I am a big fan of the Apple iPod and it's family of portable mp3 players. I myself have a rather outdated, but still reliable 3rd generation iPod, which continues to allow me to carry and listen to, without boundaries, all my Billy Joel albums and everything else that makes up my sizable mp3 library. I bought my mother an iPod shuffle and the engineers over at Palo Alto should take the greatest of pride in the fact that their design was ingeniously simple enough for even my technology challenged mother to operate unaided. The iPod has truly changed the way I, neigh the world consumes media and it's undeniable effect on contemporary culture is a testament to its innovative functionality and ascetics.

With that being said, could you please, in the name of consumer safety, stop or at the very least significantly cut down on playing that FREAKIN' iPOD NANO COMMERCIAL WITH THE FEIST SONG!!!

I understand that the third generation of the iPod Nano is a big deal to the company and when something new like this product is introduced you want as much attention and exposure for it as possible. However, I believe there's only so much the American TV watching public can take. No exaggeration, in the last three weeks that I've watch NFL games on Sundays and Monday nights, I must have averaged at least two dozen viewings of that commercial per game. I don't think more then a single commercial break went by without me hearing the ghostly voice of Leslie Feist counting to four. It has become the stupid John Mellencamp "Our Country" song of this year. However, it's worse since "Our Country" is still playing fairly frequently this year.

Of course this isn't limited to just Sunday football action. The commercial itself is also in fairly heavy rotation on both network and cable TV. It's pretty obvious you're upping the dosage since the new fall season is beginning. Actually it has also existed perversely beyond the world of tv and into the world of not TV since HBO's heavily advertised promos during the summer using the song. Of course the HBO issue is no fault on your part maybe you guys should have looked into it; and it still doesn't take away the fact that I'm muttering the lyrics in my sleep.

I'm sure everyone of in the marketing department took some sort of advertising class in college and many of you might remember the work of advertising pioneer Rosser Reeves, the unique selling proposition guy? As you may recall, Reeves advocated that ads shouldn't entertain, move, educate, enlighten, or basically do anything else but unrelentingly hammer into the brain of the viewer the monotonous single slogan to buy their product. This method initially worked but people eventually refused to tolerate this hyper aggressive, creatively fascist approach to adverting and has been abandoned by most companies. However, in an ironic twist this is exactly what you guys seem to be doing. For all the modern, style, hipness, and chic creativity that Apple supposedly prides itself on, slamming the same, repetitive, unchanging commercial on the TV viewer, over and over again like some sort of advertising Chinese water torture trap is about as modern as McCarthyism.

So in conclusion, as Roberto Duran famously said "No Mas!". You're all highly paid marketing wizards, can't you find a less obtrusive way to get word out on the Nano? I mean, you could start by maybe I dunno...showing ANOTHER SONG? We've all seen how well the Nano can play "1234" by Feist, how about further demonstrations? I'm sure there are plenty of indie songstresses out there with equally intimate sparse, catchy songs; Cat Power or Regina Spektor both have plenty of commercial ready tunes. You don't need an advertising washout like me telling you exactly what to do, but it's just a start, this is America in the most mediated age human history, there are OTHER CHOICES.


Victor Lee

P.S. I'm no design engineer or anything but do you really think people want to watch tiny 2 inch videos? Will we ever be in a situation where we want to watch a music video or an episode of "The Office" that desperately the we can't wait until a TV or a computer screen or even a regular sized iPod is available? I'm just saying...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Supporting the D-War

Do you know what the number four movie in America is? That's right, just behind the modern comedy classic "Mr. Woodcock" is "Dragon Wars" (or "D-War" as it is officially titled) the commercial zenith of Korean movie making. It was the most expensive movie in Korean history, it obliterated opening box records at home, sold out theaters abroad, and it has now finally took on the greatest challenge of all and made it all the way to open in over 2200 screens in the US. As relatively modest as this opening position was, it was seen by many as the triumphant culmination of over fifty post-war years of struggles and efforts in the establishment and cultivation of a unique national cinematic identity, it was the South Korean answer to the gaudy blockbusters of the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, and Bay.

My initial impressions of the film itself completely sucks.

I mean it looks awful. It looks like something the Sci-Fi channel could have just slapped together in a week; just get Ron Pearlman, some clumsy CGI, half a script, a shooting location in Vancouver, mix and serve. To flex their casting budget muscles they used an all English speaking cast including headliners Robert "Remember Jackie Brown?" Forster and Jason "I was the star of Roswell" Behr. The totally irony free, incredulously earnest plot appears to be so confusing that every scathing review I've read had a different interpretation of what was going on, something involving and ancient army of dragons, wizards, lizards with missile launchers tied to their backs, and virgin sacrifices. I've decided the most accurate synopsis is probably the wikipedia plot outline:
As a young boy, Ethan Kendrick (Cody Arens) encounters antiques dealer Jack (Robert Forster), who has a glowing dragon scale in a Korean chest in his shop. Jack tells Ethan that he is the reincarnated spirit of Haram, an ancient warrior apprentice from 500 years ago. This warrior saved his love Narin from Buraki, a 200 meter long Imugi serpent. Jack gives Ethan a powerful pendant and tells him to find the reincarnated version of Narin; for when she turns 20, the pair will be be forced to fight Buraki again. 15 years later, the adult Ethan (Jason Behr) is a television news reporter who coincidentally meets Sarah Daniels (Amanda Brooks), the reincarnation of his love. Together, the duo must fight Buraki who has returned in modern-day Los Angeles along with an army of reptilian monsters.
So yeah, I guess it's kind of like "Transformers" meets "Reign of Fire" or something like that. It currently occupies at 34 on Metacritic, one of the lowest for movies currently in theaters and a 14% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There isn't a single element about this film that I find appealing and I can only take solace in the fact that it mercifully doesn't attempt to back up its absurdly grandiose story with an equally absurdly grandiose run time (a tolerable 100 minutes).

Despite all that I can guarantee you that I'll see it.

There's one lone overriding reason that I'll throw away over an hour and of half of my youth watching this chore of a movie: Korean pride. It's that inescapable part of me that despite a lifetime of living in America and completely immersing myself in American culture that still stubbornly compels me to go. It's a hardwired nationalism within every Korean that has developed from a millennium of defending our barren little rocky peninsula against the surrounding superpowers of the ancient and modern world. It's an inner pride that rises within us every time we see people buying Samsung LCD flat screens, or our national teams racking up worthless gold medals in archery, or Sun and Jin on "Lost" (not so much Sandra Oh people seem split on her). So when an international Korean achievement of this magnitude comes up I have to do my part regardless, it's the very definition of nationalism. My parents are set to go despite the fact that there's technically nothing Korean about it except for the production credits (kind of like a Simpsons episode) and they won't even know half of what's going on.

And don't think the filmmakers aren't counting on national pride for success. Critics in Korea think the movie sucks just as hard. As one Korean reviewer so succinctly put it "they want it to be successful in the US because it's Korean, not because it's good". The way I see it though is if you want see an acclaimed Korean film you can watch Cannes Grand Prix winner "Old Boy" in a tiny arthouse somewhere, if you want to be part of the big, ugly mainstream and help leave its pop culture footprint on the masses you watch "D-War". Apparently the Korean print of the film even ended with a direct message from the director to the audience proclaiming that "D-War and I will succeed in the world market without fail" set to the national folk anthem. Imagine if Michael Bay or Sam Raimi came out like that at the end of a summer blockbuster with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing in the background, it'd double the weekend gross!
So as you can see it's more duty than desire that I enlist myself and support this effort and as any true blind nationalist I will march without question, unwaveringly, and full of senseless pride straight into the horrors of "D-War".

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider...Sitcom shows go to college to completely suck.

In his recent review of the season long series run of the not-so-brilliant and canceled "Undeclared" friend and fellow blogger Andrew U. ruminates as to why this sitcom and possibly any future sitcom set in college is inherently destined to fail. It's a position that I tend to agree with, "Undeclared" totally sucked and thus far no show has come to my attention that I would say even remotely captured my college experience (although as ridiculous and caricatured as it was, the MTV animated series "Undergrads" probably came the closest).

I agree that the main element is the complete inability to show the profanity, lewdness, substance abuse, and general immorality that comes from the average college life. Not to say that America's campuses are a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah but most people will find themselves at the end of their four years with at least a handful of memories of something that they'd never be able to tell their parents about or would be inappropriate to be depicted on network television. I also agree somewhat that the dynamics of the friends and people you meet in college is far more fluid and unpredictable than the daily routine of high school where you might become a friend with someone just because you see them at the same time every day of the school week. Not only are these the two main reasons why shows set in college never prosper, they're also the reason why no show has gotten better from entering college.

This whole concept of shows going to college to die really became apparent to me this summer after I spent a good part of it watching TBS and ABC Family reruns of the 90s teen sitcoms I grew up on. I would be watching and enjoying these episodes during my mid afternoon breakfast and then every once in a while they'd air a late series "college episode" that completely turned it into a different, totally unwatchable show.

Three cases in point:

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

Yes, I used to watch Sabrina back in the halcyon days of mid 90s TGIF (which almost every preteen adolescent was watching on Friday nights). For a show based on an Archie comic, it really wasn't that bad. Melissa Joan Hart (the Mary Tyler Moore of kid's sitcoms) was as charming as ever, frequent Penn Gillette cameos, and what's not to love about a wisecracking Nick Bakay voiced cat? The show had a simple yet effective set up, there was the protagonist, the jocko boyfriend, the best friend, the antagonist bitch, and goofy principal (played by the eternally goofy Martin Mull); every week Sabrina would cast a spell with good intentions that would go horribly wrong with hilarious results and by the end everything was resolved and lessons were learned. For 4 seasons this was the set up and it was good, then she went to college....

The show should have fittingly ended after the 4 seasons on ABC, however in an attempt to milk that TV tween market the show moved to late 90s WB (where good shows when to die and bad shows are born) and thus began the new chapter of Sabrina's life in higher learning. First off on principle, the show couldn't have even been called Sabrina the Teenage Witch after he first year of college right? All the old friends, the bitchy antagonist, her series long love interest, gone; replaced by her new one dimensional roommates including a bitchy grown up Punky Brewster in some gigantic house they all could never afford. Of course, they couldn't make her go totally alone so they make her Aunt Zelda a PROFESSOR IN THE COLLEGE. So for an additional 3 more labored seasons Sabrina drinks soda at parties, works at the campus eatery, and has the same worthless high school problems that now just seem totally immature and out of place in the world of college.

Boy Meets World

"Boy Meets World' was the definitive TGIF show, it owned the 8:30 slot for most of the decade and aside from a strange absence in the Spring of 96 to make room for the ill-fated "Muppets Tonight" it would have tied "Family Matters' in terms for the longest TGIF stretch in one time slot. The generation before me had Fred Savage guiding them through their awkward adolescence, our generation had Ben. The show itself was actually quite well done, the problems and adventures were relatable, it had heart but it didn't get too preachy (yet), Corey had a real every kid appeal to him, and William Daniels as Mr Feeny played the "kind of stern asshole that you still respected" he had been playing since "1776" through "St. Elsewhere" (even KITT was kind of jerk at times). Thus the show prospered, from middle school and making the seamless transition through high school. It should have culminated at the end of high school in season five where the titular "boy" had finally grown to at least a young man to meet the world. Of course it didn't end there...

First off you know there was something seriously wrong when MR FEENY FOLLOWS THEM TO COLLEGE (see Aunt Zelda)! I could see him moving up the administrative ladder in the local school system from middle to high school but come on, he becomes a professor, at the same college? The spirit of "Boy Meets World" has been to capture a sort of realism about growing up, however this fails miserably in college since after all the standard growing up problems of high school all the problems you get in college are sort of unrelateably idiosyncratic and existential. The show's ham fisted attempt to tackle this was making every other episode awkwardly serious from a professor (played by Fred Savage) sexually harassing Topanga, Corey marrying Topanga, Shawn's father dying, Shawn looking for his real mother, Eric adopting a child. Also, in the complete opposite move of Sabrina, everybody goes to the same college: Eric, Feeny, Corey, Topanga, Shawn which makes the whole situation regress back to high school. Of course there's plenty of pop (unless it's a serious episode about drinking) at parties, and everybody lives in fine apartments together. This madness limped on for 2 additional seasons.

Saved By the Bell: The College Years

Of course the Citizen Kane of all college transition sitcoms is the infamous "Saved By the Bell: The College Years". Although it might technically count as an original spin off of Saved By the Bell, there's just too much connected to the original series to not consider this a logical extension of "Saved By the Bell". Just as I count "Good Morning Miss Bliss" prior, I count this afterwards to form a total view of "Saved By the Bell". The original series is a fairly polarizing subject, some people really despise it and critically, aside from an ironic sort of love by Chuck Klosterman, it's as bottom as the barrel as TV gets. The millions of my generation that grew up on it and I find the show hypnotically watchable in its simplicity. Even as adolescents, I think we all sort of knew that the show had little basis in the reality of high school, but we didn't watch it for that, it was all in the campy spectacle (even when we didn't know what camp was). Jocks fought nerds, everybody wanted the cheerleader, after school you shopped or grabbed a burger at the Max, and there was always a plan to pull one over on Mr. Belding. Did anyone ask why nobody went to class? Or why Screech was friends with Zack? Or how Tori disappeared without a trace? No, it all just fun for 5 seasons. Then they had to go to college....

Instead of everybody coming or nobody coming, the show took a literal compromise and had roughly half the cast attend the same school. You would think people as different has Zack, Slater, Screech, and Kelly would have different academic needs and standards that one school could not encompass, of course you'd be wrong. The rest of the "gang" was filled up by one dimensional roommates Leslie and Alex. The show resisted the impulse to inexplicably promote Mr Belding to dean of the college, only using him as a cameo in one episode. They had their Belding-esque figure in tough but gentle ex-football player/RA Mike Rogers, a character type that seems to have been misplaced from another sitcom. Kelly ends up dating a professor which is sort of inappropriate and completely negates 5 years of romance with Zack, Zack tries to get with Leslie for a while, and Slater is lost without a clue. Plenty of soda pop is drunk and despite only 18 episodes, very special ones abound including one about Screech being pressured to steal nitrous oxide and one where Slater gets in touch with his Chicano roots. A season in, the fans say enough and the series is canned. Although the entire series does get a proper send off in grand fashion via the made-for-TV film "Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas".

Saturday, August 25, 2007

We've Only Just Begun....

As I've observed in my first week of classes so far, apparently every one in law school has a laptop. So being the ever dedicated, competitive academic scholar that I am (and realizing that this was a great opportunity to get a parentally subsidized new laptop) I heeded the advice of a fellow unemployed NYU alum and got myself a Dell.

I'm pretty satisfied with my purchase thus far. Everything seems to be working fine, Vista isn't nearly as annoying as I thought it would be, and compared to the outdated leviathan that was my old Toshiba from when I started undergrad it'll be a refreshing change not to suffer a hernia every time I tote it around. It's been a few years since I got a new computer (or had to completely format a computer and start anew) and I every time I always enjoy the feeling of a fresh computer with a completely blank slate. Everything runs faster, loads quicker, there's plenty of hard drive space, and there isn't the byzantine system of folders, files, and programs that usually develops through the course of my use. It's all clear virgin territory at the start and I always say to myself this time I'll organize all my files, or keep track of all the programs I install and uninstall, or the porn will be summarily categorized by genre for easy access. I try my best but a year or two down the line I'm trying to remember what I saved that term paper under, or what this random exe file does, or I'm finding a chick on chick video in the middle of a folder of Huey Lewis mp3s. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in that initial boot up.

While I enjoy most of the activities associated with setting up a new computer the one major annoyance is getting all my music in iTunes in order. Now, this never used to be a problem back in my early days of mp3 enjoyment. I had my small handful of mp3s that each took me hours to download through Napster via a 28.8K modem connection and I would just select and play my precious little collection of files on my winamp player. By the end of high school friends started getting cable lines and CD-R drives and we found ourselves being able to connect to each others' computers and transfer our files through a "network", growing our collection exponentially. As the cache of mp3s began to grow I began to the start organizing them in separate folders based on artists and genres, still accessing them individually using winamp. This behavior reached a critical mass when college started and everyone got a high speed internet line and copious amounts of free time to download and trade music. This all changed during my sophomore year, when our lone Mac using suitemate, against my wishes, installed iTunes 4.1, the first edition available for windows on my computer. I begrudgingly gave it a try and found it diabolically exploiting my personal compulsion to categorize and rank things. By the end of the year my entire collection had been given meticulous star rankings and arranged in countless different playlist groups. I also got a new fangled "iPod" that year, thus further strengthening iTunes' monopoly over my personal music.

Now I find nothing wrong with this arraignment, it's a great system for me. However, this becomes a serious issue every time I have to move my collection over to a new computer. I guess to slow down rampant song piracy iTunes has made it a total bitch to perfectly transfer all your files and information to another computer. Physically moving the song files over is easy enough but the real appeal of iTunes: the stars ratings, the accumulated play counts, the carefully created playlists, stubbornly refuses to move. Since I didn't want to spend countless hours re-organizing thousands upon thousands of song, I searched the internet and found about a million sites, boards, and blogs with solutions to this issue. As it turned out though many involved shady third person software, complicated jerry rigging of code, or flat out didn't work. After about two hours personal trial and error I managed to trick the files into thinking they were in my old computer by creating a near identical directory on my new PC (don't tell them). This was a compromise solution however since I was able to preserve everything but the song counts.

Thus my collection enters a brave new world of statistics. History has been completely reset to zero and the hallowed heights of my "Most Played" smartlist are now open to any number of songs catchy enough, replayable enough, and lucky enough to be considered the most played. With respect to the accomplishments of the past, as of earlier this week the top five most played songs of all time were as followed:
  1. Doctor My Eyes - Jackson Browne (53)
  2. Rich Girl - Hall and Oates (50)
  3. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - The Smiths (48)
  4. Sleeping With the Television On - Billy Joel (45)
  5. Someday Someway - Marshall Crenshaw (44)
So who has the chops to wrestle the title from the Pretender? Well, a look at the early exit polls over the last week indicate a wide open field:
  1. Goodbye to Love - The Carpenters (3)
  2. Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check - Busta Rhymes (2)
  3. Queen Bitch - David Bowie (2)
  4. 19 way tie at (1)
Whether Karen and Richard can maintain this momentum in the long run remains to be seen and these numbers will see no doubt some definite fluctuation as I continue to listen to my iPod during my 3 hours daily commutes. You can probably bet Billy Joel and Hall and Oates will make multiple appearances in the days ahead, but until then what lies in the future is a mystery to us all, no one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls.