Friday, March 21, 2008

A poke of "The Eye": CBS Cancels Jericho. Again.

CBS made me a liar. I had predicted they would wait a few months after Jericho's second (very short) season to announce what everybody knew in advance -that the show is done- but they didn't; they leaked (didn't even care to do a proper press release) the news that the finale would be a series finale 5 days before it aired.

For anyone with more of a life than I, here's a quick overview of the whole story. Jericho is a show which debuted on CBS in the Fall of 2006, about a small Kansas town dealing with the aftermath of a massive nuclear attack on the US. It was rich in characters and storylines, had a great cast and writers, and pulled a very strong fanbase very quickly. When announcing in Summer 2007 that the show was dead, fans rallied into an unprecedented campaign which rivaled even the one saving Star Trek in the 60s; CBS execs were flooded with complaints (even on their personal phones and emails), protests were mounted on multiple platforms and tons -literally tons- of nuts were sent to the network in a show of refusal from the fans to let their show die.

CBS was pretty much cornered; history was being made with the campaign, and all eyes were on the Eye. Would they ignore the new kind of TV-watching and fanbase accompanying while at the same time alienating part of their viewership, or at least act as though their network is in touch with the new millennium's new possibilities? Their response was a judicious one, on a business level: make them think they won. A new season was announced, with only 7 episodes and a much downgraded budget, to satisfy the fans, with a stern warning: get us more viewers or you killed your own show.

Ratings haven't improved during the abridged second run, on the contrary. Many blame the time slot -10pm on Tuesday, right after two hours or "American Idol"-, others the lack of promotion from CBS, the lesser quality of the new episodes, the increasing ability to stream and download, or the writer's strike which prompted a change of habit for many TV watchers. Bottom line is money -from advertising- which can't be cropped if TV ratings don't add up. Nielsen's statistics system might be outdated, it's still the closest and surest way to find out how many Americans watch TV at a given moment, and they said not many watched Jericho.

Many people in my entourage sarcastically asked me how much I'd spend on nuts THIS time, to which my answer remains the same since cancellation started looming (again): nothing. I could say that the impossible can't be accomplished twice, that there comes a time when you must learn to let go, that the lack of ratings proves the futility of it all, and so on and so forth. But the reason behind my decision is much more simple: I just don't care anymore.

I did watch the new season with passion and interest - even though the show feels crammed and packed instead of letting the story breath and unfold. But the original campaign was much more than about a show. It was being part of history, just like the aforementioned Trek campaign which is still talked about. It was about taking part in a revolution of medium and democracy, where our campaign could pave the way for a whole new way of moving mountains, letting our voices be heard, influencing world leaders, helping causes that need it desperately and maybe even finally save the God damn planet.

But then dissension and corruption quickly gained the upper hand inside this new army, where people were bitching each other and bickering about who shot first -Han or Greedo, while a few attention seekers try to apoint themselves reigning monarchs of the fandom. Elsewhere, the Republicans nominated another ultra-conservative geriatric as their presidential nominee. Britney's latest plea for attention stole the newspaper's front page, relegating the reasons behind the dumbest war in history to the trivial facts columns. And every time I go to the supermarket with my two children, people still look at them as spoiled little brats or freaks - no one cares that autism is the fastest proliferating affliction on the planet while remaining a complete mystery even to specialists.

I don't care anymore because I thought the movement to let a community of caring people be heard would be the tip of a brand new sword. Instead I find myself the punchline to the joke of a plastic dagger. Mega corporations and big money still rule, common people can't be civil and decent to each other, and those who bitch against it at the watercooler still won't take to the streets against it all and change things for real.

Jericho's a great TV show, and I'll miss it. When it's gone, I'll change the channel and dumb myself down with something else before going to sleep. Such is the way of the world we live in. I'll fight my own battles my own way, on my own terms, for my own reasons from now on.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

2008 Drama/Western

STARRING Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Paul Schneider, Sam Shepard
WRITTEN BY Andrew Domink, based on the novel by Ron Hansen
DIRECTED BY Andrew Dominik

There's a lot to be said of a movie whose title dares spoil the punch right from the get go, since in a way in doesn't really. Of course Jesse James ends up assassinated by Robert Ford - just as we knew the Titanic sinks, Marty gets back to the future and Fredo Corleone is a wuss. What it truly spoils though is the irony; History remembers Robert Ford as a sniveling weasel who killed his friend to get famous and rich while Jesse was a Jolly-Golly great guy who loved everyone and never had an evil bone in his body. But the truth, although probably truncated a bit in the film for dramatic purposes, was much more complex, sad and dark.

The story picks up Jesse James during his last big job with brother Frank, and a bunch of hired tugs to help out since the original gang members were all either dead or in jail. One of them Robert Ford, initially tries to become a sidekick to his childhood idol Jesse, only to realize that the myth was much larger and sunnier than the man. As health leaves Jesse while paranoia gains him, both men will lock themselves in crash course with an inevitability that plagues whatever is left or their lives.

Many naysayers and critics of the film denounce its length -2 and a half hours- for making it a boring tableau of depressing dialogs. Lucky for them the original 4-hour cut was trimmed down for theatrical release, but that's besides the point. Their real beef is that most movie goers were expecting a western, an epic with lush action sequences and great moments of emotional roller coasters. The absence of which is what actually makes it such a piece of art.

The very melancholic (and striking) music brings forth and carries a sense of doom and sadness throughout the film, adding to the forebaring narration which puts the viewer on a path to feeling heartbreak for all of its protagonists. With the "mystery" out of the equation, the viewer is allowed to experience the true surprise and discovery - knowing who exactly was Jesse James as a man, what could go through the mind of his killer, what influence did they both have living and dead. Truly majestic editing allows such discoveries and appreciation, even beyond the titular event which isn't the end of the line.

All of it would mean nothing without outstanding performances, by all involved. Of course Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, with all of his usual ticks and mannerism, but the man also carries tremendous charisma which is a trait everyone seems to agree on for the famous outlaw. The true acclaim however goes to his cast-mates, none of them stars or A-listers but each and everyone respected and admirable thespians, bringing much grounded credibility to the project. To be noted among them are Paul Schneider (previously noticed in "Elizabethtown" and "The Family Stone"), Micheal Parks, the always lovely Zooey Deschanel in a blink-and-youll-miss appearance and even left-wing commentator James Carville as a self-righteous state governor.

All of them are however overshadowed by the increasingly amazing Casey Affleck, who brings such a mixed bag or mystery, emotions and empathy to his character or Robert Ford that along with "Gone Baby Gone", little-bro Casey has managed to completely shatter the perception of being nothing else than Big Ben's sibling.

A piece of advice - WATCH the movie, in peace and tranquility, without interruption. It is truly one of those epics that deserve such attention to be fully digested and understood.

Final score on the CC Scale: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sesame's Nasty Street: censored & deleted scenes

I found these clips individually on YouTube, and couldn't resist the idea that the venerable and almost legendary kiddie show "Sesame Street", which I admitedly grew up with, could have a few nasty skeletons in its closet...

So here's my little montage of these very funny clips.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blondie and her Headphones: DJ Zoé

Parents of special children sacrifice a lot of things out of love for their wee ones. One thing this dad ain't ready to part with is sanity - which will soon be lost if I have to listen to "Barbie: Island Princess" one more god damn time!

So I found a solution to free myself of that torturous feat for at least a few minutes...

Friday, March 14, 2008

MOVIEW REVIEW: Jumper (2008)

2008 Action/Sci-Fi
STARRING:Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson.
WRITTEN BY David S. Goyer & Jum Uhls, based on the novel by Steven C. Gould

If Jumper succeeds in one area, it will be to make viewers want to read the book, since it is unquestionably a very intriguing twist on a recycled-yet-cool concept. But as far as the movie goes, it's a great concept that tripped at the finish line. Well, actually, tripped all through the race track.

The story follows David, a kid from a broken home whose life is saved when discovering the ability to teleport. His mastering of this unique power allows him to escape his home front and forge a dream life for himself, one where the entire planet is his playground. His new lifestyle however puts him in the path of a secret society of quasi-religious fanatics bent on annihilating his kind, and a fellow "Jumper" who fights them back.

Although the visuals F/X were bashed by critics all over, they provide jawropping sceneries and actions scenes, which is almost enough to make a good movie. The viewer truly feels swept along with the hero when he jumps, dizziness and all.

What makes it veer into lousy-movie territory though is "Manakin" Skywalker (hopefully about to drop out of sight) as the lead, and very poor narrative development. Interesting characters are showcased with walking-tree performances to support them, save for Jamie Bell who litterally explodes with charisma in each of his scenes; Sam Jackson phones-in one of his rare bad guy roles, Micheal Rooker is given nothing to work with and Diane Lane shows up for little else but to pick up her monthly paycheck. Along those lines, mysterious elements are introduced to great viewer-interest only to be left unexplained or unused - A ritual knifed wielded by Sam Jackson which we never learn anything about, David's mother who could have been the next Darth Vader, the anti-hero Griffin who's storyline is left litterally "hanging", a mention of centuries-old conflicts that are never exposed and the origin of the power itself which is never explained. The story (and film) ends abruptly with no resolution and VERY little satisfaction, as if it was only the pilot of a yet-unproduced TV show.

Still an entertaining film, Jumper should be seen with low expectations and with a focus on the few strengths, which are the awesome visuals and the always-amazing Jamie Bell as badass jumper Griffin - who most definitely should've been the true star of this movie.

Final score on the CC Scale: 2 out of 5

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"I Am Legend"s Better Ending

A lot has been said about the theatrical success of Will Smith's Holidays blockbuster "I am Legend", namely that the ending came far too abruptly and that it completely veers away from the spirit of the original material. And I say Will Smith's because even though it wasn't the usual "Aww HHell No" Big Willie-style star vehicle, it wasn't even 15% of Richard Matheson's groundbreaking novel of the same name.

The thing is, if you want a $100M+ movie to succeed, you have to make it highly commercial; Matheson's novel is far from that. It's gritty, the hero is unlikeable, and the ending is a downer shrouded into a grave lesson for all of humanity: we're much too arrogant of our place in this world for its or even our own good. it's understandable, from a business point of view, that studio execs requested some "changes".

The climax of the novel has hero Robert Nevile, a construction worker who mysteriously survived a modifying plague, discovering that some of the "new Humans" have formed their own society; and he's been killing them off on the basis that they are monsters out of mythology who's place is not in this world, when in actuality he's the monster who's place is in legends and children's bedtime spook stories. He's a predator who needs the be dealt with by society - the new society. When he understands it, he lets himself be caught and judged, and accepts that execution is the only way out of his nightmare.

The movie has COLONEL Robert Nevile, MD (!!) fighting to find a cure to the plague and restore society as it was. When he finds a pair of other survivors, he sacrifices his own life in a blaze of glory so that they can escape with the cure and join a colony of survivors to try and repel the plague themselves. WOW did THEY miss the point.

HOWEVER, just this week, the original ending, IE the one that was scrapped by the studio in favor of the "hero" one in time for theatrical release, found its way (like everything these days) on YouTube. It's already become a source of tremendous debate among the geek community, some saying it sucks (I like that very vacant and close minded argument) while others praise it to high genius.

I usually try to look at both sides of any argument, and find the common ground to bring peace on earth and please everyone. this once, though, I have to take a stand. The alternate ending is MUCH BETTER! First, because it keeps in line with the books: Nevile realizes he's been hunting the meta-humans like they were beasts outside their cages when in reality they are the new dominating race, able to think, feel and gather in a somewhat-coherent society. Second, because Neville is anything but a hero - he shouldn't die like one, in a blaze of glory or some other honorable death. Third, because the end is left ambiguous, like everything was back when the novel was written; IS there a colony of human survivors? Will they leave the meta-humans alone? Will they survive their journey? Are they the very last humans or not, and do they understand their new place in the world?

I do praise this new ending to high genius. Plus, it makes much more sense toward the rest of the movie: why the meta-humans followed him home, why he was set up in a trap, etc. It redeems a movie that I initially condemned as one more inaccurate and downright lame version of a great novel, to the point where I wish to high heaves that the studio will release a director's cut with that original ending, the same way Paramount allowed Brian Helgeland to materialize his vision of "Payback".

If only for my own enjoyment, here's the ending in question, in all its YouTube glory.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Having an Autistic child isn't a disaster

Parents who just learned their child is afflicted with autism might very understandably feel the sky falling on their head, with no hopes of it lifting off again anytime soon.

The good folks at graciously agreed to let me post their very beautiful video made to help, reassure and inspire such parents who, like me, face challenges that seem much bigger than they will turn out to be.

Don't let fear and uncertainty overwhelm you; take it one step at a time, allow yourself to make mistake, and let things unfold as they naturally should. Not to sound cheesy, but every little thing's gonna be alright. Watch this, and pass it on to others like us.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League -The New Frontier

I admitedly never was a big comic book enthusiast; not that I don't like them, it's just too big a world to start investing in for me. Nevertheless, I am a DC cartoon series fan (Teen Titans, JLA, Batman Beyond and such, and as such had been waiting for Justice League: The New Frontier like a kid for Christmas. Unfortunately, only über comic book fans had a visit from Santa.

Based on the 2004 limited comic book series of the same name, the film is an exercises in progressive nostalgia; it is an attempt at writing and drawing the way it was done 50 years ago, keeping in mind what we know today in terms of human rights, political activism and war. The story, set in the mid-50's, features classic DC superheroes having to band with the US government to stop the threat of a powerful entity known simply as The Center.

There are a few bulls-eye hits in the film itself; starting with the art and visuals; classic costumes and drawing look absolutely great with modern animation techniques, giving us a glimpse at something that looks completely new when in actuality its been around for ages. The costume themselves were bold choices, dressing up Wonder Woman like a cave woman, Batman the way he was in Bob Cane's mind and superman looking like George Reeves. The soundtrack is inviting and pitch perfect, the editing shows great savoir faire and the production is chock-full of references and wink-wink moments to delight any big kid.

The first big problem though, is that the big kids targeted as an audience are those who know this universe and its denizens inside out; the film acts as if we all grew up reading every single CD universe comic book ever printed. Meaning there's no room for character development, just look backs and references. While the book form was much more expanded and rich in min and orbital storylines, this adaptation cuts quite short - just over an hour short. The story itself, dragging aimlessly until there's 10 minutes left, feels like a series of "hey remember that from the book, and that, and that here".

A great superhero epic also needs a memorable villain; this one has dinosaurs inexplicably coming out of its pores, a Satanism-like cult following, the appearance of a flying island and Keith David's voice. Only the last attribute make it worth being called villain (nobody threatens like Keith's voice), thus dousing the dramatic impact on the overall product.

Then there's voice casting, which again is more behind-the-scenes fun than actual helpful to the film itself. Kyle Mclachlan playing Superman after being denied the George Reeves part in "Hollywoodland" induces a smile, so does Lucy Lawless playing a battle-drunk Wonder Woman. Even Jeremy Sisto manages to surprise with his cynical and nuanced Batman. But Sisto can't quite erase the work, of Kevin Conroy, nor do any of the other performers. And don't get me started on the very cheesy and thinly veiled use of 50's patriotism to promote humanitarian values...

New Frontier deserves an A for the effort and sentiment, but ultimately it feels like the unfinished pilot for a potentially great series. Many juicy extras on the DVD sweeten the investment, but again, mostly for hardcore comic book fans. Others might wanna borrow the thing from a neighbor. For those who'll argue that I simply stacked my expectations too high, well you're darn right I did, and boy am I disappointed.

Final score on the CC scale:
2.5 out of 5