Monday, April 30, 2007

WKRP - Round Three

Sometime this week I will buy the Season One box set of WKRP in Cincinnati. It’s important that's understood as you read the rest of this entry.

A year ago I made much hay over the fact WKRP wasn’t on DVD due to the music licensing issues. Then in December the first season was announced – with rumors that “some” music would be replaced and that Fox had hired someone to find “appropriate” substitutions. I claimed I’d give it a shot regardless. A few weeks ago Jaime Weinman at Something Old, Something New received a press copy of the set and dropped the bomb: Not only had some of the music been replaced, but nearly all of it had and there were even some edits as well as three of the episodes being the shorter, syndicated versions. So much for The “Complete” First Season (as the set is labeled). I announced I'd likely have no part of it.

WKRP has a rabid following and with good reason. It’s dramatically and comedically stood the test of time more than many sitcoms that lasted longer, got higher ratings, and are generally thought of as cornerstones of American TV (I’m talking to you The Cosby Show). WKRP is one of the greats and why Fox didn’t see fit to honor it properly by going the distance remains a mystery. TVShowsonDVD recently ran a piece that was enlightening on numerous levels but still smacked of bullshit rationalizations (um, the guy at Fox). Yes, we (the fans) understand the music would have been expensive (and most of us would've paid double to get the real deal). Yet Universal has somehow managed to release Miami Vice season sets -- chock full of ‘80s music -- without too much problem. Same goes for Saturday Night Live Season One, which retains all the music performances (one can only imagine how much it cost to include ABBA!). As Jaime Weinman pointed out, if Fox had even paid for a handful of tunes from key scenes -- such as Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” and Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” (the latter omission actually resulted in dialogue edits to the scene!) – fans probably wouldn’t have made such a fuss.

Yet what’s done is done, right? The other night I started reading reviews on Amazon and was swayed. Why? Because person after person who’d actually bought the set said that even though they noticed what’s missing, what remains is far more valuable. I thought about that -- I might not get to see Les Nessman putting on a toupee to Foreigner, but if I don’t buy it I certainly won’t be seeing Herb in a fish costume fighting with the WPIG pig in the men’s room. Or Johnny threatening the elderly in the DJ booth. Or Les reporting that the shopping mall is currently being bombed by live turkeys. Yeah, the music was a big part of WKRP, but not nearly as big as Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Howard Hesseman, Frank Bonner, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers & Hugh Wilson and all the other people who brought the show to life.

I wanna share WKRP with my kid – who’ll never notice the changes because he’s never seen it before. Sure, I’ll silently grumble every now and then, but I’ll probably laugh my ass off a hell of a lot more often. WKRP is an MTM production, and Fox has already had numerous problems with Mary Tyler Moore (another of my faves) and there are rumors that, due to poor sales, there isn’t going to be a Season Five set for that series. I’d like to own as much WKRP as possible, and maybe if Fox sees that it sells, they’ll work harder and spend a few more dollars on Season Two. But if it doesn’t sell at all, maybe there’ll never even be a Season Two DVD.

So if you’re against this DVD on principle (which believe me, I understand), I ask that you reconsider based on another principle: WKRP rocks without Foreigner making it rock a tad more. And if you've never seen WKRP at all, get thee to a DVD retailer pronto because none of this crap will make a difference.

Be sure and check out the Morgue WKRP DVD review as well as the other articles I've written on 'KRP by clicking here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

007 in '007: Tomorrow Never Dies

My first viewing of Tomorrow Never Dies was at the Screen on Baker Street Cinema in London. The film premiered in the UK a week before the U.S. and I was lucky enough to be there that week. Being an American, these circumstances were ideal for viewing a Bond flick, and as a result my view’s slightly colored: Dies has always been my favorite Brosnan flick…which isn’t saying much since I’m not wild about the quadrilogy in the first place. Having not seen the movie for several years, I was curious as to whether or not it would hold up.

One aspect of Brosnan’s tenure that’s more noticeable with hindsight is how different each entry is in tone and execution. Tomorrow Never Dies smacks of a good old-fashioned Roger Moore-era outing. It’s the least complicated of Pierce’s movies and moves along with a brisk pace. It’s got some great action scenes, an over-the-top villain and a surprising number of witticisms that don’t fall entirely flat:

Bond: (In bed with a language tutor) “I always enjoyed learning a new tongue.”

Back at MI6, M walks up behind Moneypenny, who’s talking to Bond.

Moneypenny: “You always were a cunning linguist, James.” (To M) “Don't ask.”

M: “Don't tell.”

Yet the wit is about all there is to praise in Bruce Feirstein’s script, because there’s barely any plot and character motivation must have been thrown out the window during what was apparently a very messy writing process. The first half attempts to rectify this with a “GPS encoder”, serving as a handy MacGuffin to distract us from the realization that satirizing the media isn’t enough of a mission to keep a Bond film afloat.

Zee Villain: Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul Elliot Carver is an insane megalomaniac drawn in the old-school Bond tradition; William Randolph Hearst were he alive today with Rupert Murdoch’s power & technology at his disposal. Carver lives by his catchphrase, “Tomorrow’s News Today”, and the idea drives the meager plot. He creates political disasters for the sole purpose of being the first to put them in the headlines. His current scheme involves inciting war between China and the UK, which will in turn give him some kind of media stranglehold -- um, yeah…I don’t really get it either, but since the entire affair harkens back to flicks like You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, perhaps we’re expected to care less than we are to bask in a form of nostalgia.

Back to Pryce…you know, it’s Jonathan Goddamn Pryce. Need this man’s stellar resume even be listed? The guy’s just class and surely has never given a bad performance. He’s played good guys and bad blokes and chaps somewhere in between. He’s been the lead as often as he’s been the supporting player. He plays notes of comedy and drama to perfection, regardless of whether they’re set in past, present or future. He makes us laugh, he makes us cry, and he’s even scared the crap out of us. Jonathan Pryce is one of the most flexible, underrated actors in the business and the fact Carver stands out given how piss poorly he’s drawn is further proof of Pryce’s talent (not that further proof was required). Without Pryce’s antics and line delivery, this film would have no dramatic center.

Les Girls: Before she was a bed-hopping desperate housewife, Teri Hatcher, as the inanely named Paris Carver, soiled the linens of both James Bond and Elliot Carver. It seems Paris has some kind of history with James – something that’s supposed to elevate her above the Bond girl pack. But given what’s shown on-screen, we’d never know it if we weren’t told it. Her limited screentime amounts to wagging eyelashes, a push-up bra and smacking James across the face before falling back into bed with him.

You know what would have worked here? A character/actress from an older Bond movie. Maybe Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy from The Living Daylights? As a concert cellist, she was something of a celebrity and it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for her to fall for Elliot’s charms and vice versa. If we’re to believe Bond’s got a history with a girl, why not give us a history we already know? At least the script never offers up a dreadful spin on “We’ll always have Paris”.

The primary Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies is Michelle Yeoh’s (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Wai Lin, an agent who’s essentially the Chinese government’s version of Bond (again, reminiscent of The Spy Who Loved Me). Michelle Yeoh is a kick ass babe, and it’s a credit to the script that she never falls into bed with Bond (well, not until the final seconds anyway, which in turn gives us the perfect Roger Moore ending). Unfortunately, like the rest of this film, Wai Lin’s got virtually no character and pretty much amounts to her martial arts skills, which is obviously why Yeoh was hired, despite being nearly as good an actress.

Zee Henchmen: A wasteland of nothingness! In a movie where the main characters are underwritten, it should come as no surprise that the henchman suffer even more horrible fates. Carver’s two primary employees are Stamper (German actor Götz Otto) and Mr. Gupta (illusionist Ricky Jay; why does he have an Indian surname?). The former is the muscle, the latter is the brains. Had the pair been combined into one character, they might’ve amounted to something memorable. Vincent Schiavelli cameos as Dr. Kaufman -- a “professor of forensic medicine” with orders to kill Bond. He makes a bigger impression than the other two guys with only a bad German accent and a few minutes of screentime:

Dr. Kaufman: “My art is in great demand, Mr. Bond. I go all over the world. I am especially good at the celebrity overdose.”

Bond, James Bond: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The script blows. Bond’s motivation (orders from M notwithstanding) ranges from ridiculous to non-existent, and Brosnan has little to do other than jump from one set piece to the next. He shows little remorse over whatever the hell went down in the past with Hatcher’s Paris, but after her husband has her killed, Bond seems motivated to avenge her death rather than get on with his job. Soon though he forgets Paris, and becomes overprotective of Wai Lin – and with no good reason other than she’s a hot woman whom he has yet to bed (would Bond get so worked up over a male Chinese agent?). Add in the fact that Wai Lin simply doesn’t need Bond looking over her shoulder. She’s more than capable of taking care of herself, until a moment near the finale where she isn’t – a development which degrades both characters. On one occasion Brosnan’s forced to deliver a quip to no audience other than us; this was Moore territory and a gag he mastered -- it feels clunky when Brosnan attempts it. After the meaty script (by comparison) that was Goldeneye, Dies must’ve been a massive disappointment for Brosnan the actor.

Tuneage and Credits Sequence: Even though Maurice Binder’s title sequences didn’t always hit the bullseye, they’re sorely missing from Brosnan’s era and it’s almost painful to see the various stabs at aping his distinctive style. Dies’ titles are about half success, half failure: The parts featuring half-naked women brandishing weapons and marching against fields of X-Ray work pretty well; the stuff featuring computer generated nudity comes across as more creepy than erotic.

The music, however, is a success on every count. Sheryl Crow’s title song (co-written and produced by Mitchell Froom) pays sensual tribute to Carly Simon’s "Nobody Does it Better" and Sheena Easton’s "For Your Eyes Only", while simultaneously dishing up a little something original and right. Composer David Arnold’s excellent work deftly underscores the action and breathes life and mood into areas where there otherwise wouldn’t be any; indeed, it’s possible Arnold contributed more “character” to Tomorrow Never Dies than anyone else. He also wrote “Surrender” -- a bombastic riff on Shirley Bassey sung by k.d. lang over the end credits. If all this musical goodness isn’t enough, the film even crams Moby’s cool, thumping remix of the James Bond Theme into the proceedings.

Writing about its music brings me to the strengths of Tomorrow Never Dies. What the movie lacks in plot and character, it more than makes up for with the thrilling, escapist action and stuntwork that’s become a major hallmark of the franchise. There may be a bit of CGI in the movie, but its carefully hidden and the bulk of the action looks very “real”.

One improbable sequence begins with Bond and Wai Lin, handcuffed together, escaping from the top of a skyscraper by grabbing a giant banner covering the building’s exterior, and tearing it straight down the middle until about halfway down when they crash through a window and into an office full of surprised workers. The scene is humorously punctuated by Elliot’s face emblazoned on the banner! It’s the kind of thing that only Bond movies can pull off and it’s just an intro to an action centerpiece that goes on for an interminable amount of time as the still handcuffed duo steal a motorcycle and are chased by a helicopter into all manner of improbable situations.

Another showcases Bond skydiving into the ocean – replete with scuba gear – opening his chute only several hundred feet before hitting the water. The underwater photography that follows -- Bond swims through the remains of a wrecked submarine (running into Wai Lin along the way!) -- is breathtaking. Yet another fun scene details Bond’s escape from Carver’s lackeys in a parking garage -- by navigating a Q-issued BMW via remote control from the back seat. The car is in turn equipped with more gadgets than any other vehicle in 007 history.

Tomorrow Never Dies shows off some amazing cinematography courtesy of Robert Elswit, and Roger Spottiswoode’s (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!) direction, all things considered, is pretty damn good. As many criticisms as I’ve launched, it remains my favorite Brosnan flick because it’s an easy watch that miraculously entertains from start to finish. It takes viewers back to a time when we weren’t supposed to take Bond all that seriously. Admittedly, this conflicts with my subjective feelings of where Bond should’ve been in 1997, yet it sidesteps the problem by being a fun movie whose only goal is to entertain. It’s tough to dislike an outing that accomplishes the one thing I really want from 007.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Steal James Bond from Amazon


Amazon is practically giving away Bond movies at criminally insane prices: Goldfinger, Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldeneye are selling for $7.99 apiece!!!

And it looks like more are on the way...

This "breaking up of the box sets" must have happened around the time Casino Royale hit DVD, but I didn't notice. I'd heard the films would be available individually sometime this year, and clearly they're now trickling out.

While these aren't the double disc versions available in the box sets, they're still the same transfers and include the commentary tracks. What you get here for $8 a pop is still a pretty sweet bang for your Bond buck - and if you only want to own Goldfinger, you don't also have to buy The World Is Not Enough just to get it.

Status? Highly recommended.

UPDATE: It looks like the prices on these discs are fluctuating a bit - a couple of them have gone up a dollar or two since I posted this earlier this afternoon.

A Doctor Who Christmas in July on Sci Fi

SCI FI Channel announced that it will air the third season of BBC's Doctor Who, beginning in July. The new season will kick off with the Doctor Who Christmas special "The Runaway Bride," guest-starring award-winning British comedy actress Catherine Tate.

In season three, David Tennant returns as the time-traveling Doctor, joined by a new companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). The first episode of the season is called "Smith and Jones."

In the third season, which is already airing in the United Kingdom, the Doctor and Martha meet William Shakespeare, deal with bloodsucking alien Plasmavores, encounter the Judoon (a clan of galactic stormtroopers) and uncover a Dalek plot in 1930s New York.

The second season of the new Doctor Who earned impressive ratings during its airing on SCI FI, delivering an average of more than 1 million viewers each week.

Doctor Who is produced by Phil Collinson. Executive producers are Julie Gardner, the head of drama, BBC Wales, and Russell T. Davies, who is also lead writer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Violence is a very horrible thing!"

(The above title is a quote from A Clockwork Orange.)

Two great pieces on the blogosphere led to this entry.

The first is from Edward Copeland at his Institute for Lower Learning.

The second is from Damian Arlyn's Windmills of My Mind.

Check out their reactions to some of the stuff that's been going on the past couple days in regard to the media and the Virginia Tech tragedy. They've got more to say than my piece, which is just a reaction to issues they both pondered concerning violence in the media and the age-old "chicken and the egg" debate about whether or not violence in film inspires violence in the real world or if it's the other way around.

The way I see it, there are as many different types of filmic violence as there are sex, comedy, animation, etc. But for the purposes of my reaction, I’ll boil it down to 4 categories.

1. The type of violence Hollywood generates the majority of the time is the senseless kind, designed to titillate and thrill - the stuff displayed in most action films and video games. There aren’t any hard consequences from it and it (hopefully) doesn’t register to most as real violence. (Bond movies fall into this category; even Casino Royale --despite its attempts to “make it real”-- still resides here.)

2. Following right behind that is the slasher-type violence seen in horror films (and also in many video games). Again, we’re removed from this stuff because it’s usually perpetrated my some unseen monster with no personality or means of audience identification – and it also helps that we know our characters are set up to be victims anyway, so we invest nothing in them. (This category needs to be separated from #1 because it's typically drenched in blood, whereas #1 is mostly about action.) Oddly, this too is meant to be a form of "fun".

I’d guess that about 95% of all filmic violence falls into one of the above two categories.

3. Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant because he practically created -- or at least honed -- this brand of violence...and almost nobody’s as good at it as he is these days. QT’s violence occurs within his hyperreal, stylized world. Sometimes there are consequences; sometimes not. Sometimes you feel for the victims; sometimes you’re not supposed to. Sometimes you root for the perpetrator; sometimes you fear him or her. But whatever’s going on in a Tarantino film, a strange barrier still separates his world from our reality - worrisome is the notion that some people don't see that barrier. His brand of mayhem could be the most subversive – there’s arguably nothing more potentially dangerous to a weak mind than stylized violence that just looks fucking cool, especially when it's perpetrated by someone the viewer identifies with. Other good examples of this are Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange [1], Fincher's Fight Club and DePalma's Scarface. This category is very specialized and covers a mere 1%.

4. The other 4% is the “ugly violence with hard consequences” category. This is my personal favorite and the one that separates the men from the boys: A man will wince and feel the pain; a boy will laugh and think nothing of it. I enjoy feeling horrible about seeing atrocious acts of screen violence in a similar way to how I enjoy feeling horny as a result of a hot sex scene or laughing my butt off at some well-played slapstick.

Some examples: Dorothy Vallens getting raped by Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. The knifing of Billy Batts in Goodfellas (both in the club and then later in the car). The attack on Parry in The Fisher King. The killing of Honorah at the end of Heavenly Creatures. Pick a scene from a war movie of your choice (Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, etc.), and it too likely fits in this category: Hard violence that hurts when you watch it -- as violence should and does. The Sopranos sometimes resides in this category, but also frequently dances with Tarantino and #3.

My son – who turns 14 next month – is as potentially “desensitized” to categories 1 & 2 as not only any kid his age, but also as most of us have become. I don't see a problem with that -- it's called growing up. I’ve yet to show him much fare from category 3 because of the potential dangers I outlined above.

Two things I’ve watched with him in the past week fit into category 4: A) A fairly lengthy sequence that closes Season 2, Episode 1 of Twin Peaks, in which snippets of Laura Palmer’s gruesome murder at the hands of Bob are shown in a very jarring manner and B) The movie Deliverance and all the nasty shit that goes down in that 2 hour period. He was disturbed and shocked and felt as one should feel toward the acts of violence he viewed in this fare – even though he full well knows it isn’t “real”.

So my point is that no matter how much carnage we view on our TVs and movie screens, when violence is presented as the horrific act it is, most people --I hope-- react accordingly. It’s difficult for me to swallow the accusation that watching one mindless action pic after another or playing Grand Theft Auto for 12 hours straight is making soulless zombies of us all…unless, of course, we’re beginning to appreciate bad screenwriting as a result – but that’s a different matter entirely.

[1] It's worth mentioning Kubrick's UK-only withdrawal of Clockwork when some copycat attacks occurred back in the '70s.

The Death of Musical Appreciation


At the time of writing - 11:16 PM CST - the daily IMDB poll nears its close.

The question...

With Sweeney Todd and Hairspray coming soon, which of these post-1970 musicals is your favorite?

The Top 10 votegetters (unlikely to change much before the poll closes):

1. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut 2887 [votes] (15.3%)

2. Moulin Rouge! 2417 (12.8%)

3. Grease 1942 (10.3%)

4. My love of film does not extend to this particular genre. 1577 (8.4%)

5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1472 (7.8%)

6. Chicago 1100 (5.8%)

7. The Phantom of the Opera 1004 (5.3%)

8. Little Shop of Horrors 700 (3.7%)

9. Rent 677 (3.6%)

10. Cabaret 515 (2.7%)

Admittedly, I voted for Rocky Horror. I know it isn't the best of the lot, but its impact on the genre and film as a whole is weighty, and I'd be lying if I pretended the damn thing didn't still give a rush anytime I put it on.

Had I been playing based on quality (i.e. a film that rocked & raised the bar), my vote would've gone to either Moulin Rouge! or Chicago. And I certainly understand why Grease is so high up there. I'm mildly surprised by Little Shop's high placing, but would never argue against it. I've still never seen either Phantom or Rent, but the fact that they made the Top 10 doesn't rattle my cage. And if you don't like Cabaret, then there's something seriously not cool about you.

Heck, I even "get" #4 - some people don't like musicals -- and given that fact, why did so many of you vote for...


What the fuck, people? Know the box which you should tick.

Hey, I like the movie - I really do. And I long ago accepted that it was indeed a musical. But come on... Number Freaking One?? Get some perspective folks. Move away from your "everything's become so unfunny that the world's just a big joke" mentality and appreciate some beauty from time to time, even if it's in the form of an alien in fishnets or a singing plant.

The remainder of the results for those who care about such things:

Jesus Christ Superstar 493 (2.6%)
The Producers 479 (2.5%)
Newsies 388 (2.1%)
Dancer in the Dark 354 (1.9%)
All That Jazz 325 (1.7%)
Other 315 (1.7%)
1776 311 (1.6%)
Totally High School Musical! 262 (1.4%)
Tommy 261 (1.4%)
Victor/Victoria 260 (1.4%)
Hair 216 (1.1%)
Dreamgirls 172 (0.9%)
Annie 168 (0.9%)
Everyone Says I Love You 157 (0.8%)
Evita 156 (0.8%)
A Chorus Line 115 (0.6%)
8 Women 106 (0.6%)
Pennies from Heaven 42 (0.2%)


Since cutting and pasting this poll off of IMDB last night, the wording of the poll has been slightly altered -- it now includes the phrase "live action".

While this absolves the poll's omission of the Disney fare Edward Copeland mentioned in the talkback, suddenly the South Park win has become all the more irritating.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thoughts on a Dark Day

One of the tenets of The Rued Manifesto: "My faith is the belief that humanity far more often than not will do the right thing". Days like today put that faith to the test. It's also days like this that make me wince at the name of this blog. All of a sudden the gag doesn't seem so funny, so bear with me until we hit a brighter day.

The details of exactly what happened at VirginiaTech --or rather why it happened-- are still pretty sketchy. But whatever the shooter's reasoning may have been, it'll sound insane regardless of any eventual explanation. There isn't anything logical about this tragedy. I know that this person must have had big problems and attempted to solve them in all the wrong ways. This person does not represent humanity on the whole. What they did is not what most of us would do even if we had the very same problems.

I was set to go see Grindhouse this afternoon, but simply couldn't bring myself to sit through three hours of imaginary, violent mayhem. Instead I'll sit at home and know that somewhere, two people who otherwise wouldn't have much to say to each other, have been brought together over this incident and are helping ease one another's pain.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Barry Nelson

It would be hollow for me to not mention the passing of Barry Nelson, the first actor to play James Bond onscreen, given the "007 in '007" series I'm doing.

But it'd be equally shitty to pretend it's a big deal to me.

Some guy -- years ago -- gave me a crappy VHS copy of Nelson's Casino Royale that I got less than 10 minutes into before shutting off. The quality sucked. What else can I say?

Other than I'll hunt for it later today, and see if I've still got it. If so, I'll check it out from beginning to end and report back.

Maybe I'm a shithead, but you -- like 99.9% of everyone else -- consider Sean Connery the first James Bond. It's a cruel world out there...and I bet Barry Nelson figured that out a long time ago.

R.I.P., Barry. You were in The Shining....let's not split hairs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Sanjaya Factor

This year I jumped onboard the American Idol bandwagon for the first time. Why? A) One of the contestants -- Haley Scarnato -- is from San Antonio, which means that B) Jeanne, being the local TV critic, is currently a slave to this year's March of the Singing Soldiers. I, in turn, chose to be her slave.

Being an Idol virgin of sorts, I'm finally seeing it for the misguided sham I always suspected it might be - only now I have the gory details. I almost feel sorry for these kids who are forced to parade their wares back and forth across the stage every week and then sit on pins and needles the next night, waiting to find out whether or not they're toast...'course they do not until after many words from the people who make the show possible. Almost feel sorry...they took an easier ride to fame & fortune than most, thus sympathy only goes so far.

AI's ugliest feature? Those atrocious Ford commercials the kids have to appear in every week. These little “movies” must take at least a day to shoot – a day the contestants could either be working on their weekly routine or maybe just getting some much-needed rest. Oh man...the legal obligation to suck Satan’s cock (thank you Mr. Hicks) before working your own way to his mighty throne and then deciding for yourself whether or not to kneel. Tragic, I say, tragic!

I’ve tired of Randy Jackson’s “Yo dog!/Listen up!/Check this out!” as each performance winds down. I’ve been denied the Paula Abdul freakshow I’ve heard about for years. Simon Cowell, however, amuses me to no end. I'd prefer Idol if he was the only judge. I’m pretty sure I’d get along with Simon since he's British and I love Doctor Who -- he'd have plenty of ammo for a good time. His “call it like I see it” attitude is admirable, and he isn’t content to let the contestants slide. This guy’s a cupcake compared to what these kids are gonna have to deal with when/if they move into the halls and studios of the recording industry. And Ryan Seacrest is clearly the product of some genetic cloning experiment – he’s too good-looking and gets too much done in a single day to be just one guy. Oh...I'm also tired of the word "pitchy".

But look past the commercial muck & window dressing, see the hard-working contestants, and know that some of 'em are worth the tune-in. Leslie Hunt, the sweet lady I was pulling for, got booted off ages ago. She did a swank rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" that I still hear in the back of my mind all these weeks later. And her "Feelin' Good" fried my bacon. It's a shame she's gone, but some things are maybe too specialized for Prime Time TV. After Leslie, I had a mild Gina Glocksen fixation, but now she’s gone, too. Hopefully Gina finds her “thang” out there in the fickle music world. It's been too long since we've had a Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde-inspired rocker babe that wasn't a skank.

As far as SA’s Miss Scarnato goes, she was terrible for the first few weeks. Surely, I predicted, she’d be voted off (and deservedly so) before the Top 12 lap of this journey began? Instead the photogenic Antonella Barba went bye-bye and Haley improved considerably. Two strong back-to-back displays -- Diana Ross’ “Missing You” and The Exciters’ “Tell Him” -- showed what she hadn't been showing. (The latter put her on the Idol radar big time.) Since then she’s given mediocre variations on those perfs and is by no means Idol finalist material. But she’s a trooper, seems to have a good heart and with perseverance and smart management she’ll get some good jobs on Broadway. Two Idol alumnae (Cassie LaBeau & Jonathan Jones) were in my New York City Rhythms play and either would have been a superior contestant, which sorta shows the dodginess of the Idol process. I’m neither for nor against Haley, and all things considered the Alamo City could have been represented by far worse. [The near 9PM (CST) edit: Haley gone! But she left with class...]

And so I come to the ubiquitous Sanjaya Malakar, whom I’ve liked from the moment he auditioned and that’s the truth. He reminded me of Michael Jackson before Jacko went wacko -- which for those who remember that far back is a huge compliment. I really felt for Sanjaya because he seemed like such an underdog – the guy auditioned with his sister (seemingly “just ‘cuz”), thinking she’d have a shot at going to Hollywood long before him. But that didn’t happen and these days his sister, Shyamali, can usually be seen pulling for him in the audience. For the first few weeks Sanjaya’s performances were depressingly mediocre. He knew it and his hangdog vibe said so. Every week when he wasn’t voted off, you could see him feeling bad about it. He knew better singers were exiting in lieu of his je ne sais quoi, and it pained the guy.

But after a while he wised up, dropped the droopy ‘tude and figured out America was voting to keep him on the show. They liked him...and truth be told, what’s not to like? Hell, I like the guy for a half a dozen reasons at this point, and chief among them is his jamming of the wheels of the Idol process. Sanjaya is his own unstoppable machine. He’s the worst thing to happen to the show since William Hung because he’s actually got loads of talent. Well, loads may be an overstatement, but he’s got plenty. Read on…

1. Sanjaya adapts. Week after week, the show trots out some tired theme, and week after week Sanjaya embraces the shift better than anyone else. Randy said to Sanjaya last night, “You’re one of the smartest contestants I’ve ever met”, and he was right.

2. Sanjaya entertains. Even when performing what was arguably his weakest display -- “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks -- he still rocked the goddamn house. Sure there are better singers on the show, but nobody has been as consistently entertaining.

3. Sanjaya is camera friendly. The guy is easy on the eyes and the best looking of the guys…and he knows where the f’in camera is! (At present, he may be the only contestant who does.)

4. Sanjaya has personality. Oh I’m sure the rest of them do too, but you wouldn’t know it based on what they put forth on the show. Sanjaya makes the most of what little screen time he’s got, and manages to throw down something worth noticing each week. Admittedly, his ego may be a tad out of control at this point, but hey, the way I look at it he’s readying himself for his future as a pop star.

5. Sanjaya’s hair. See 1 thru 4 above for more info.

6. Sanjaya can sing. Yes, he can. He can’t sing everything, but who can? Name me a singer that covers any and all genres of music. Idol contestants have off weeks because no singer can cover all ground. A big part of becoming a star is finding your niche. Sanjaya is on the way to finding his, and a big part of it is just being Sanjaya.

Sanjaya Malakar deserves to win American Idol because he is an American idol (nobody else on the show even comes close). Good thing he doesn’t have to win, given the win-win situation he's already in.

Simon insists Idol is a “singing competition”. I disagree; if it were, it’d play on the radio. Look no further than Britney Spears (for example) to see that singing is neither the beginning nor the end of what America demands of its idols. If the show were only about singing, its success rate would be higher; consider the various fates of those who’ve won or come close to winning. It takes dozens of factors – many of which cannot be calculated -- to make an idol. Bob Dylan never would have made it past the Idol audition stage. And neither would Janis Joplin.

Perhaps American Idol will learn a valuable lesson from Sanjaya – judging the contestants on vocal ability alone is not the way America will vote. Besides, any moderately decent singer can be made to sound fan-friggin'-tastic in the recording studio. On the other hand, maybe Idol doesn’t care to learn a lesson, maybe they just want to continue selling ad time to Ford and Coke – which Sanjaya’s been undeniably good for. Ultimately, in this pop culture, dollars make idols before voices do. I preached a version of this rant to my pal Bart recently and he said if he had a time machine, he'd travel back ten years and play my words for the 25-year old Ross, and the dude would refuse to believe it came from the future-him. Bart makes a good point, but sooner or later the ugly truth of the dollar must also be acknowledged.

But so must the entertainment factor. Sanjaya, at the time of writing, is safe once again. I do not know when or if he'll go, but if he does, this show's entertainment value will drop quicker than a tab of acid on Tim Leary's waiting tongue.

I’d bankroll Sanjaya in a heartbeat and become a millionaire in less than six months. And I’m not whistling Dixie -- I’ve got a creative strategy that will work, and it’s bigger, better and a hell of a lot more fun than anything any pop star’s done in years. Interested investors are welcome to inquire at lynchnut at gmail dot com and we’ll take it to the phones, airplanes and boardrooms from there. I bet Coke will help pay the bills.

Friday, April 06, 2007

When the Sheik Hits the Fan(s)

It's with no small amount of pride that I link to frequent Morgue commentator Sheik Yerbootie's debut at The House Next Door.

The Sheik came out of the gate today and bombed the House with not one, but two pieces.

The first is titled "Wizard of the unexplained: The Dresden Files", and it's a fair breakdown of the SciFi TV series versus the Jim Butcher book series it's based on.

The second is Yerbootie's contribution to Sopranos week at the House. It's called "A Contrarian Opinion" and is a must read.

Good work, Tom!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

007 in '007: Piercing Brosnan

“Pierce Brosnan was the Greatest Hits of James Bond.”

I’ve used that line so many times even I’m tired of hearing it, and yet here it is once again for posterity’s sake.

The reality, though, is that it’s the truth, and was eventually confirmed in Brosnan’s exit from the franchise, Die Another Day -- which actually was Bond’s Greatest Hits.

Now before going further it must be understood – I’ve got nothing against Pierce as an actor. He’s an underappreciated talent who came into the role of a lifetime amidst a rebirth. Pierce Brosnan is probably the only actor to accept the part of James Bond with a near-universal acceptance from fans -- without even having seen him play it yet. Who didn’t want to see him handle a Walther PPK and flirt with Miss Moneypenny? Had any other actor – regardless of their talent - been cast in Goldeneye, I have grave doubts the series would’ve survived, as it'd been steadily losing steam in the public eye since around A View to a Kill. Pierce Brosnan, in the public consciousness, fit Bond like a glove so snugly, that upon Goldeneye’s release people flocked to see him play the part he was born to play – not to see a new James Bond film.

Unfortunately some realized dreams are too perfect, and due to Albert Broccoli’s failing health, producing duties fell upon his children Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. I can only speculate that they were skittish about where to take the franchise and as a result took it nowhere. On one of the DVD supplementary discs, Wilson says something honestly profound: “Every time we do one of these [Bond films], we set out to make another From Russia With Love, but end up making another Thunderball.”

Brosnan’s era is marred by crowd-pleasing action scenes, crappy one-liners and boring gadgetry. His four entries contain everything we’d seen before, often miraculously taken to even more predictable levels. There’s rarely a fresh display and when there is it succeeds only about half the time. Amidst the entire spectacle --if you look close enough-- you’ll see Brosnan sinking in the quicksand, gasping for fresh air...and Pierce is such a pro that you gotta read between the lines to see the struggle.

But why take my word for it? Read what the man himself says on the subject (courtesy of his IMDB page):

Brosnan: "It never felt real to me. I never felt I had complete ownership over Bond. Because you'd have these stupid one-liners - which I loathed - and I always felt phony doing them. I'd look at myself in the suit and tie and think, 'What the heck am I doing here?' Such sentiments were nothing new. That was always the frustrating thing about the role. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson play it so safe. The pomposity and rigmarole that they put directors through is astounding ... I can do anything I want to do now. I'm not beholden to them or anyone. I'm not shackled by some contracted image."

Now in all fairness to Wilson and Broccoli, where’s the real harm in playing it safe (especially with a franchise built on formula)? The Brosnan films did quite nicely at the box office and delivered what the public wanted from James Bond…but then again the public doesn’t seem particularly ambitious in their dramatic expectations of this series. If they were, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would be near the top of everyone’s list of faves.

Brosnan: "[Wilson and Broccoli are] too scared. They feel they have to top themselves in a genre which is just spectacle and a huge bang for your buck. But I think you can have your cake and eat it. You can have real character work, a character storyline and a thriller aspect and all kinds of quips, asides, the explosions and the women. We're just saturated with too many overblown action films with no plot. That's ludicrous. It's so damn crazy! That's absolutely sheer lunacy because Casino Royale is the blueprint of the Bond character. You find out more about James Bond in that book than in any of the other books. I would love to do a fifth Bond and then bow out, but if this last one is to be my last, then so be it. My contract is up. They can do it or not."

Sometimes I wonder exactly how much influence Brosnan’s opinions eventually had on the franchise.

The public doesn’t often recognize quality until they're beaten over the head by it. Casino Royale has proven to be that rare Bond film which resonates with both critical and financial success. Why the producers finally chose to no longer play it safe I’m unsure, but it’s a good thing they altered strategies as the movie is where Bond should’ve been taken if not at the beginning of Brosnan’s era, at least somewhere along the way. Again, to be fair, he was thrown the occasional bone here and there (the complexity of The World is Not Enough, the first 20 minutes of Die Another Day), but never was he given the full, bloodied carcass. I liked Casino Royale immensely, but all this talk of Daniel Craig being “the best Bond ever” is a bunch of hooey. He’s fantastic in the role and unquestionably a great Bond for this day and age, but remove the origin aspects of the very same script, and Pierce would’ve steamrolled Daniel in two shakes of a martini.

The proof is in The Matador, which is as much of a revisionist Bond film beneath, as Casino Royale is on the surface. I’ve spoken before of my love for The Matador, and have found it a more rewarding film with each successive viewing. It isn’t so much a slice of where James Bond should be, as a spin on (to quote myself again) “where Bond ends up when Her Majesty no longer requires his secret services”. Brosnan’s Julian Noble may be his finest acting ever, and I’ve come to even see it as his unofficial fifth Bond film. It should be required viewing for anyone who’s seen his 007 entries.

Is it a shame Pierce didn’t get to do Casino Royale? Maybe. And if it is, it’s mostly a shame for Pierce himself, who – more than any other Bond -- deserved to go out with a bang bang. This is a guy who’s been a version of James since starting Remington Steele in 1982. His entire career led up to the job, and when he finally got it, the plan didn’t go as it should have.

So this entry stands as a disclaimer: When I start picking apart Brosnan’s flicks for the 007 in '007 series, any barbs aimed at the lead actor are rooted in feelings about his tenure as a whole. Yet my age and experience with this franchise betrays another truth -- for a certain generation of people, Pierce Brosnan is James Bond, and that can never be taken away from him.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Janice: The Appreciation

Sopranos Week is ongoing at The House Next Door. My humble offering declares my loving hatred of the dame who gets no fan love: Janice.

The “villains” of The Sopranos are the weak, the predictable and the easily led. Identifying a hero on the show requires noting some kind of moral fiber that elevates a character above the pack. If you buy that equation, Janice is a true villain because she's completely amoral -- a totally expedient character.

Check out the rest of "Janice will be Janice" at The House Next Door.

Monday, April 02, 2007

BBC America set to Regenerate

According to a BBC America press release "...the entire channel is undergoing a 'radical makeover' later this year. The channel will now focus exclusively on bringing U.S. audiences the very best in contemporary British programs..."

Amidst the proposed slate are numerous noteworthy programs on their "Supernatural Saturdays" lineup: "...a world of science fiction and paranormal events where nothing is what it seems. In a BBC AMERICA co-production, James Nesbitt stars as Jekyll in a modern re-telling of the classic tale of scientific misadventure. And from the creators of Doctor Who, spin-off series Torchwood, follows a team of modern day investigators as they use sci-fi technology to solve crimes in both alien and human worlds. Returning series include all-new seasons of time-travelling Life on Mars, spine-chilling Hex and sci-fi favorite Doctor Who."

Great news about Torchwood, which chronicles the adventures of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in present day Cardiff. I've been wondering where and when it would show up over here, as the production values of the show are too strong for America to pass on (not to mention the built-in audience it'll get from Doctor Who). Speaking of the Doctor, what falls under the banner of "all-new seasons"? Season Two is a probability, but will BBC America, rather than Sci Fi, play Season Three? I haven't heard a peep out of Skiffy lately as to when Season Three might show up on their schedule.

Lastly, Jekyll is something to which I've looked forward since first hearing about it -- it's exec produced & written by Steven Moffat, the genius behind "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" as well as "The Girl in the Fireplace". And then there's Coupling...there's always Coupling. Jekyll's quality is nearly guaranteed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

WKRP on DVD...Finally

UPDATED - Apr.1st (Not an April Fools Joke to the best of my knowledge.)

Something Old, Something New reports on the music changes made to the WKRP First Season Box set...and it ain't pretty, folks. Assuming the report is correct, it pretty much negates the rest of this entry (which was written several months ago), and I doubt I'll be picking up the set as a result.

Yes, ladies and gents, the moment is right around the corner. Check out the official press release at TVShows on "The Complete First Season" set has been on the drawing boards since early December, but I didn't want to write an entry until it was officially confirmed by Fox.

My love for all things WKRP in Cincinnati has been evident for quite some time (well...maybe not all things). Last year I ranted and raved and pleaded to the unnamed powers that be to sort out the problems surrounding a theoretical DVD release -- namely the music licensing issues.

Certainly any WKRP DVD set has got to better than no WKRP DVD set, and yet I'm forced to reserve total judgment and/or utter excitement until sitting down and view it on April 24th. The one issue conspicuously absent from the press release is any mention of the dreaded music licensing issues. Even the usually meticulous Gord Lacey of TVShowsonDVD has only addressed the issue once, and that was back on 12/11, when the site reported: "...there will be music substitutions...the studio has spent a lot of time with a music supervisor to ensure that the replaced songs fit the show. [WKRP creator] Hugh Wilson...thought Fox did a good job."

Additionally, the Wikipedia entry on WKRP gives the situation a considerably more positive spin: "While the DVD set will include the original music that the current syndicated version lacked, there will be some musical substitutions, but Fox has tried hard to keep the music within the spirit of the original song used in the scenes where music must be replaced."

I haven't been able to find any more information on the issue, and I'm starting to believe fans won't know anything for sure until April 24th. If any reader finds something more detailed, please post a link in the comments section of this article or e-mail me at lynchnut at gmail dot com.

Regardless, I'm more than willing to give this set a chance and will be the first in line to buy a copy, as it's something I'd pretty much given up on ever happening. At least Fox isn't just trotting out the atrociously edited syndicated versions. If you are a WKRP fan, I urge you to support this release so the other three seasons can also see the light of day. If you've never seen WKRP, buy it anyway. You're in for a treat. What other series features dialogue like this?:

(after an elderly couple has broken into the DJ booth)

Dr. Johnny Fever: "All right you two - up against the wall! I don't know what you want here but I think you should know I've killed a lot of old people in my time...and I'm not above doing it again."