Thursday, June 29, 2006

Broken System

Two things from behind the camera that have bothered me as of late...

Item #1. AMC's first foray into filmmaking resulted in some boffo ratings for the cabler. IMDB reported yesterday:

In a rare instance of a cable television show beating the broadcast networks in the ratings, Sunday night's telecast of Broken Trail, starring Robert Duvall, wound up as the highest-rated program of the night, drawing 9.8 million viewers. AMC's first part of a two-parter (the second installment aired on Monday), drew more than twice the number of viewers who tuned in to watch Desperate Housewives on ABC (4.5 million). It was the first original film produced for the movie channel -- and produced the biggest ratings in its history.

This, quite frankly, rocks. AMC certainly isn't a channel I head to for serious movie watching anymore - they rarely show stuff in widescreen, but the commercial interruptions are basically the dealbreaker for me. It wasn't always like this; AMC used to be a bitchin' network on which to catch old movies. These days I head for either Turner Classic Movies or the Fox Movie Channel.

That said, it's great news that AMC pulled such mind-bogglingly fantastic numbers right out of the gate and it goes to show the kind of draw well-marketed & produced cable programming can have. Granted, it was reruns most everywhere else, but still...nearly 10 million viewers?!?! Impressive.

Today, IMDB reported the numbers for Night Two:

AMC's telecast of the second part of its Broken Trail miniseries once again drew a huge audience Monday night. The show, starring Robert Duvall, attracted 9.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Research, down only slightly from 9.8 million on Sunday. Ratings trackers, however, pointed out that some 74 percent of the audience was 50 years old or older, the demographic group that advertisers traditionally snub.

So let me get this straight. Because basically a bunch of old people tuned in, the numbers don't count!?!?!? Because it wasn't largely the coveted 18-49 demographic!?!? A network snagged 10 million people over two nights and it's somehow irrelevant because they don't own iPods!?!?

Good lord. The day the Morgue has even a thousand readers - and if they're all checking in from the grave - you can bet I'm going to seek out an advertiser or two.

Check out Jeanne's review of Broken Trail here and Matt Seitz's review here.

The miniseries/long movie/whatever it is has a DVD release date of Sept. 5th. AMC will play it again, in its entirety, on Thursday, July 6th at 7 PM CST.

Item #2. One of the few summer movies that's on my "Must See" list is Strangers with Candy. While I've never been an obsessive fan of the Comedy Central series the movie's based on - a little Jerri Blank can go a long way - I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the whole concept to be a sick, subversive scream.

Amy Sedaris is a total original and I love watching her on Letterman. But last week Dave had her on the show to promote the movie, and strangely absent from their conversation was the fact that Letterman produced it!!! Yes, Worldwide Pants is the producer of Strangers with Candy and it was never once mentioned, alluded to, or scribbled on one of Dave's notecards. Conflict of interest? Hell yes!

I guess since The Late Show isn't considered journalism, they can get away with that sort of thing, but you'd think it might have come up in conversation somewhere. That old bastard Letterman acted as if he hadn't even seen the damn thing.

I'll still go see the movie, but consider me rubbed somewhat the wrong way.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Selfish Preservation

My father went under the knife for some major surgery this afternoon. Since he lives several states away, it's impractical to be there with him - although the distance is probably less of a factor than the fact that I’d have had to deal with his wife.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say I’ve very concrete reasons for having cut this person out of my life – I’ve cut her out to the point where it’s now been about four years since I’ve even been in the same room as my dad. I’m happy to talk, deal with or see him so long as she’s not around. He knows this but doesn’t want to acknowledge it, even though I’ve made it very clear in both word and action these are “my” rules; rules which I feel I’ve earned the right to lay down and have respected and understood.

Talking with him late last week, he seemed fairly positive about the surgery, which if you knew him kinda sorta says something - he’s not the most exuberant person I’ve ever known. But upon asking how I might contact him post-surgery, he said he would have her call me.

Very awkward silence on my end of the line and then after a split-second thought, “Ummm, yeah. Sure. I guess. Whatever.” More awkward silence from his end this time. And then some terribly awkward, rushed goodbyes and "I love yous" from both ends. In the aforementioned split-second it occurred to me that I do not have to pick up the phone – all I need do is keep an eye out for a certain area code on the Caller ID and check the messages afterwards.

Which is exactly what happened about an hour ago. Even her voice is like my own personal heebie-jeebie inducing boogeyman. I was fine with the message's content – which detailed his room number and so forth - up until the very end in which she said, “I’ll try back later”.

Why!?!? I’m not going to answer then either. There’s nothing that verbally needs to be exchanged between the two of us. My silence ought to say plenty. Even if, perish the thought, something had gone wrong in surgery, there are other people in his life (like his brother) who can contact me and provide the same information without me having to go through her.

So now you, loyal reader, can judge for yourself whether I’m a world-class prick or just a guy whom early life fucked over enough times that he's been reduced to playing stupid, bullshit high-school games like the one outlined above.

UPDATE: The phone has now rung two more times since the initial message.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pimping Myself

So, you want to be a screenwriter? Whether you’re a novice or a professional, the new SA Film Forum is for you! It’s educational, informative, and a great networking opportunity. So, don’t miss out. Come be a part of something new and exciting.

The San Antonio Film Commission would like to invite you to the "SA Film Forum," a series of educational and informational forums that will be held monthly at the downtown Central Library, located at 600 Soledad Street.

SA Film Forum: "Screenwriting: Format, Form and Function of the Screenplay"

Tuesday, June 27th, 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Central Library, 600 Soledad
(in the library’s auditorium, located on the first floor) Parking is available in the library parking garage.

The topic of the second forum, moderated by Primadonna's Nikki Young, is "Screenwriting: Format, Form and Function of the Screenplay" and will feature screenwriters from San Antonio including Vaughn Taylor ("Long Ride Home"), Pete Barnstrom, Kevin Williams ("Sandwich"), Ross Ruediger ("Ravenswan"), TJ Gonzales (NALIP fellow) and Stacy Schoolfield (former reader, Austin Heart of Film Screenwriting Festival).

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pimping Ricky

The Morgue has talked up the uber-coolness of Rick Reynolds and his temple, The Church of Rick, in the past. The Church has recently morphed into something a little different that he's calling "The Happiness Project". Unless he's a total charlatan, he's been working hard on this and providing his readers with daily updates. I hope this works for Rick, but he still seems bummed much of the time.

He's currently having a cash flow problem, so maybe you can help him out by purchasing one or both DVDs of his one-man shows that are available through the site (1 for $15 or both for $25). While I do not know if this will put money in his pocket - I haven't discussed the matter with him - I can only assume that it will. Before you think I'd recommend the parting of hard earned cash soley to help someone out, think again.

I caught his first special Only the Truth is Funny on Showtime back in the early '90s. It repeated a few nights later so I taped it, and over the years that tape wore down to the point where Rick could easily have been mistaken for Kevin Spacey. Earlier this year I won an even crappier VHS screener copy on eBay to replace the old fuzzy copy which I loaned to someone whom I don't think ever got around to watching it, hence it never made its way back into my hands. (Maybe they did put the tape on and thought it was a rare rehearsal copy of American Beauty?) I myself haven't exactly been basking in moolah as of late, but I plan to order both shows within the next month.

I don't know the right way to explain my love for Only the Truth is Funny, other than how I did above in saying it's something I'm able to return to time and again over the years and never tire of viewing. (Click here to check out some IMDB user comments.) Even though Rick's life appears to have changed considerably since that show, it remains a timeless monologue that everyone with working gray matter should experience. It's both screamingly hilarious and gut-wrenchingly poignant in its honesty. You'll definitely laugh, it's possible you might even cry, but mostly you'll come away from it thinking "I'm so glad that guy doesn't live next door to me".

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Underrated Flix Intoxicate

Head over to Mr. Middlebrow's casa, A Drinking Song, and check out his collected handiwork of "125 films that deserve a second look".

As I said in his talkback, this is a great list of stuff for anyone looking to avoid the multiplex crap or the "New Release" section of your video store this summer (or indeed any time of the year).


It is filthy here!

Cobwebs, corpses, and copious amounts of empty caskets[1].

Perhaps this will change later today?

We'll see.

(Or rather you'll see - it won't be a huge surprise for me one way or the other...)

[1] Maybe I should move the corpses into the caskets?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Post-Parting Depression?

These two vids might help!

The Doctor Who Children in Need Special was created and broadcast for charity last November. It's highly unlikely it'll ever be broadcast on Sci Fi [1] (however I imagine it'll make its way onto the eventual Season 2 DVD box set).

Basically it's a 7 minute bridge sequence - set soley in the TARDIS - that connects "The Parting of the Ways" and "The Christmas Invasion". It's a noteworthy piece as it's somewhat imperative to the storyline: The two stories don't dramatically connect without it, especially in regard to the Doctor's behavior from one to the other, not to mention that when TCI begins, Barcelona is no longer in the cards. All of this is explained in the special.

It's here on YouTube - check it out. Might be gone tomorrow.

And here's a funny little sketch from the Brit show Dead Ringers, which explains the truth behind Christopher Eccleston's decision to leave Doctor Who:

Now I'm taking some time off from the Morgue - no new articles for this week. Take care, folks!

[1] It does seem to me, however, that an edit of the CIN Special (7 min.) and "The Christmas Invasion" (60 min.) together could be made that would snugly fit into a 90 min. Sci Fi programming block. As is, the 60-minute X-mas special is going to be an awkward fit for them.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Exit Stage So Very Right

The Doctor: You know what they call me in the ancient legends of the Dalek homeworld? The Oncoming Storm.

Surely there isn’t a wasted minute in “The Parting of the Ways”, Christopher Eccleston’s final stand as Doctor Who. Nor are there any missed opportunities at exploring the full range of emotions the season has been building toward. Action, suspense and Daleks? Yup, it’s all there. Maybe most remarkable is how all of these aspects gel together flawlessly.

The Doctor: That’s right! I sang a song and the Daleks ran away!

The sheer number of Daleks on display, and the sequences in space with the Dalek army swarming on Earth and the Game Station, are a fanboy’s wet dream. The last time this many Daleks were seen at once on Doctor Who was in the Patrick Troughton era, but that was in the 60s and they were a bunch of toy models, shot on a tiny set.

That story, “The Evil of the Daleks”, seems to be the direct inspiration for much of “The Parting”: It was the first and only appearance of the Emperor Dalek, who reappears here, and it also concerned the Daleks being corrupted by the “human factor” - that concept is given a fresh spin by Russell T Davies. Unfortunately, “Evil” is one of the classic stories that was scrapped by the BBC – only episode two still exists. I saw it for the first time recently when the “Lost in Time” DVD set was released and found it a heartbreaking viewing because it was outstanding 60s Who and yet I know I’ll likely never get to see the other six episodes that comprise the story.

Rose: That’s how good the Doctor is!

The Dalek factor aside, the highlights of the episode begin with the Doctor tricking Rose into going back to her time period on Earth. The hologram scene that follows is pure, magical magnificence. A shimmering image of the Doctor turns, looks directly at Rose and says, “Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose - have a fantastic life.” This goosebump-inducing moment must rank in the Top Five moments in the whole of Doctor Who. Rose’s reaction to realizing what he’s done to (for?) her – “You can’t do this to me. You can’t! Take me back…take me back!!” – reduces me to tears. Her subsequent scenes back in her own time with Jackie and Mickey pack equally strong punches - most notably when the trio sit in the cafĂ© and Rose gives the “He showed me a better way of living your life” speech, and then later on in the TARDIS when Rose reveals to Jackie that she met her father and was with him when he died.

The Emperor Dalek: Then prove yourself, Doctor. What are you - coward or killer?

When the Doctor builds the Delta Wave, a device that will kill all life in its path, and it comes down to fuck or walk…he chooses to walk. This is certainly a noteworthy decision, as the events that add up to a saved day were outside his sphere of knowledge. He was willing to sacrifice humanity to the Daleks rather than destroy everything outright. It was a choice he'd made once before – and it led to him mistakenly believing he'd ended the Time War. It was a choice/mistake he wasn’t prepared to make a second time. Godlike though the Doctor may often appear, it’s a bizarre twist that brings his best friend to him, in a form that itself is godlike in both appearance and ability.

Rose: I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me…I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself.

Deus Ex Machina? Perhaps. Perhaps the Bad Wolf revelation is even the ultimate execution of the phrase. Does Rose’s “absorption of the time vortex” or her “looking into the heart of the TARDIS” make any sense? It does if you buy into a mythology that’s clearly a creation of the fantastic and you don’t dissect it too much. There’s something about the operatic way the whole thing is handled that makes any possible lack of logic ultimately forgivable.

One thing I’ve always wondered - did Rose bring everyone on the Game Station back to life, or just Captain Jack? It’s hard to believe she was feeling selective at the moment, and yet it’s equally difficult to believe she’d have brought Lynda with a Y back to life. (Catfight & ~snicker~!!!) Speaking of Jack, his goodbye kissing of both Rose and the Doctor near the beginning of the story, and his feeling that he was "much better off as a coward” is a beautifully executed moment. Back when I wrote an entire entry on Jack, this scene was hugely influential in my overall opinion of his character.

The Doctor: Before I go, I just want to tell you…you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic! And do you know what? So was I.

Regeneration. What can be said? Most notably – in the history of the series – this is the first time the Doctor has regenerated standing up. Usually he’s laying on the ground, next to death. I think I read somewhere that Davies very much wanted to do the first “vertical” regeneration. Well, he did and afterwards you got your first look at the 10th Doctor – David Tennant.

The Doctor: New teeth. That's weird. So where was I? Oh, that's right - Barcelona!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Girl, You'll Be a Woman...Soon

About ten years ago I developed a theory that cross-dressers and/or transgendered individuals were ideal fodder for filmed drama, and I backed it up with a long list of movies that proved the idea – everything from Some Like It Hot to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (which may have been the film that inspired the theory). The only movie I could come up with that bucked the trend was Mrs. Doubtfire. In the years since, I haven’t kept score as diligently, mostly due to the fact that movies and TV shows featuring characters that fall under the parameters are far more common than they used to be.

Enter Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), the central character of Transamerica, who reminded me why I came up with the theory in the first place. Just when it seemed as though every variation on the theme had been exhausted, along comes a little movie like this which proves there are still remarkable stories to tell involving these sorts of people.

Bree used to be Stanley and now is on the verge of having the big operation. She’s unlike other filmic transgendered characters in that she doesn’t frequent the club scene, listen to disco, sleep around, take drugs or compete in drag competitions. Her closest friend is her therapist and she works part time at a Mexican restaurant and part time from home as a telemarketer, and her life isn’t much more exciting than that. Until one day she gets a call from a son, Toby (Kevin Zegers), whom she didn’t even know existed.

Through a mildly convoluted series of events, she’s forced to leave L.A. and go to New York to bail him out of jail for prostitution. Not only does she not tell him upfront that she’s his father, but she also fails to tell him that she’s a transsexual. It’s a credit to Huffman’s performance that it doesn’t occur to Toby that something’s a little “off” about her and the viewer doesn’t question it either. (Of course, maybe that’s the genius of casting a woman in the role in the first place.) It's also noteworthy that Toby is presented as the far more troubled of the two - in the "fucked up" department, Bree's pretty normal next to her son.

The pair set off on a road trip back to L.A. The journey is predictable only in that they learn an awful lot about themselves and one another along the way. The movie plays as a drama, but with some peculiar, dark comedic bits peppered throughout. Much of the background music consists of country tunes, which made me think that country artists have come a long way over the years – and there is nary a k.d. lang song to be heard.

Huffman first blew me away a couple years ago in the short-lived Showtime series Out of Order. Compared to Lynette on Desperate Housewives (for which she received an Emmy), her portrayal of Order’s Lorna is sorta like comparing Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane to his wine commercials – he does both like no one else could, and yet it’s still all about the material.

Huffman’s as good as she possibly could be on Housewives, given what she has to work with. Transamerica, on the other hand, is serious acting. I wasn’t sure what to think when the movie began, but by the second or third scene, she sold me. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria – a woman playing a man playing a woman, although the comparison ends there. It was a brave role for her to take; the shape of Huffman’s face is indeed somewhat masculine, and a less humble actress might even have been insulted by the offer of the role. Yet I think of some of the other great character actresses working today, like Laura Linney or Joan Allen, and while they possess the acting chops, I don’t believe they have the physical features it takes to pull off this role.

There’s a lengthy section of the third act that takes place in Phoenix, where Bree’s parents and sister live. It begins as you might expect, but manages to go into areas I didn’t see coming. The first scene with her mother reminded me of the brief scene with Patrick Swayze’s mother in To Wong Foo – and maybe what happens in this movie is what would have happened in that film if his mother hadn’t closed and locked the door upon seeing her son wearing a dress.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bad Wolf (Part Two)

This may be the toughest Doctor Who entry I’ve yet to attempt.

What is there to write about? The skewering of reality TV? I already kinda did that this week in the Coyote Ugly entry. The three series (Big Brother, The Weakest Link & What Not to Wear) our trio of time travelers are each dropped into are sent up with equal amounts of affection and ridicule. That the hosts of each series (Davina McCall, Anne Robinson and Trinny Woodall & Susannah Constantine, respectively) agreed to join in the fun by providing their vocal talents is an indication, I guess, that the whole thing is played for laughs more than as a serious condemnation of reality TV. Or maybe it goes to show the kind of respect the Doctor commands over in the UK - actors, celebrities and presenters are all eager to be on the show and work for Russ Davies & Co.

Mostly “Bad Wolf” is a vague indictment of the Doctor’s haphazard, devil-may-care lifestyle, as was pointed out to him by Margaret in “Boom Town”. Upon his exit from Satellite V at the end of “The Long Game”, his attitude was as if his work there was finished and humanity could & would take care of itself. As the events of “Bad Wolf” reveal, this wasn’t the case – humanity was so frail, and had for so long been unable to think for itself, that it fell deeper into a cheap lifestyle which allowed a force greater and more insidious than the Mighty Jagrafess to take control. (There may be some very subtle themes at work here – stuff I’m realizing even as I type – for which I previously failed to give the episode credit.)

It’s also the first half of a two-parter, and a peculiar first half at that. This is a case of the buildup having little to do with the events of the finale. The two episodes almost exist independent of each other, married only by the characters, the location, and the final five minutes of the episode. Don’t expect any more reality TV jabs next week (well maybe one…), because it's going to be all about…

DALEKS! You silly Daleks. Oh you goofy little Daleks. If you’re new to Who, then the lone Dalek from earlier in the season ended up a bit of a wimp compared to what we get next week. These are the real, badass, mutha' fuckin' snakes-on-a-space station deal. You'll get no tentacles-reaching-for-sunlight in next week's installment - that I will gleefully toss out as a spoiler.

“Bad Wolf” is not a perfect episode, but it is a fantastic buildup to the season finale. It begins tying together numerous other themes and stories which have been constructed throughout the season, all leading toward next week's operatic big finish. It likely could have done whatever it wanted to do and I’d have forgiven it based on the final moments alone, which are some damn fine Chris Eccleston & Dalek-driven Doctor Who:


The Doctor: No.


The Doctor: I said no.


The Doctor: It means “no”.


The Doctor: No! ‘Cause this is what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna rescue her. I’m gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m gonna save the Earth and then – just to finish off – I’m gonna wipe every last STINKING Dalek out of the sky!!!!


The Doctor: Yeah! And doesn’t that scare you to death? (beat) Rose?

Rose: Yes, Doctor?

The Doctor: I’m coming to get you.