Monday, November 24, 2008

The Great Programming Conspiracy

When it comes to prime time television programming, I seem to be cursed. Every time I latch on to a particular show, inexplicably, it typically gets cancelled within two seasons.

The reason I am going on this little rant today is because I found out that two shows in my weekly diet, PUSHING DAISIES and ELI STONE are going the way of the dodo. Obviously, it is chalked up to poor ratings and probably more accurately, a lack of proper promotion. It isn’t like these shows were lacking for content. I think the bigger issue is that many of these shows that get cancelled within a season or two do not connect with the mass audiences. Many of the jokes leave the average couch potato staring blankly, waiting for a fart joke or some time-proven slapstick. It is because of this that I fear that my latest weekly fave, THE BIG BANG THEORY will probably vaporize within a year, too.

PUSHING DAISIES, I thought, was a great premise. It had great use of color, excellent character development, and a cast composed of people you could really feel for; even Chi McBride’s über-cynical Emerson Cod. And the odd guest stars were always a welcome treat, especially Paul Reubens’ olfactorily-enhanced Oscar Vibenius. Quirky, yes, but it took on the challenges of relationships in a fresh, twisted light, much like its sister shows, WONDERFALLS and DEAD LIKE ME. All three of these, it comes as little surprise, were all the brainchild of Bryan Fuller, a man who also seems to have a curse, since everything he gets on the air has a relatively short lifespan, only to become cult classics when released on DVD.

ELI STONE, on the other hand, was probably a victim of its own implausible plot. A lawyer with a brain tumor, who could die at any time, has danger-ridden visions of the future (because of the tumor), and tries to adjust his life to avoid or quell the danger before it happens. The first season was great; lots of recognizable faces (Natasha Henstridge from SPECIES, Loretta Devine from GREY’S ANATOMY, and Victor Garber of ALIAS among them), and heartwarming stories lined with sardonic humor. It should be noted that Garber was also on a program about two years ago that I thoroughly enjoyed, JUSTICE, but was cancelled during its premiere season. See, I’m cursed.

Anyway, ELI STONE, like I said was bound by its own premise. At the close of the first season, the title character received an operation, thus eliminating the cause of his visions. Then, miraculously, during the early part of the second season, his brother starts having visions. Whoa, did you see that shark??? Anyway, I kept watching it, because I liked the characters, not that I could really relate to them in any way, but I liked the fact that they all seemed to be working really hard to better their own lives. And that alone is a great message to send to people sluggishly draped over their furniture, who are still waiting for that punchline.

I don’t know. Maybe I want a little more out of my television entertainment. That, or I just have REALLY bad luck. But like I said, I’ve latched on to tons of TV shows over the years that didn’t have legs. Even growing up in the 1980s, I aligned my loyalties with programs too ludicrous to continue to exist, like AUTOMAN, STREET HAWK, and MISFITS OF SCIENCE. Sure, I also watched those ratings-hounds, like THE A-TEAM and KNIGHT RIDER, but I mostly watched them so I had something to discuss with the kids at school. Hell, even in the late 80s, when FOX TV came into existence, some of my favorites included PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE, HERMAN’S HEAD, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BEANS BAXTER, and THEY CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (I don’t think this one was a FOX show, but it had the same sensibilities as a FOX program).

Again, I do have my tendencies to follow the occasional network hit, like FRIENDS, BOSTON LEGAL (which dies in two weeks), DOCTOR WHO (does that count?), LOST (which had a pre-ordained lifespan), and HAWAII FIVE-O (which aired its final episode what, 30 years ago???). But it will always be those little shows that come in, make their statement and then vanish into the ether, that always hold a special place in the recesses of my memory.

To this day, one of my favorite (and arguably the best-constructed) television shows in history is THE PRISONER, which itself lasted only 17 episodes. So I guess I should just suck it up and enjoy these little nuggets while they are around. I will leave the rest of America to wallow in its self-loathing ambience of FAMILY GUY, CSI, and 24, while I wait around for the next INSIDE SCHWARTZ.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Psychos ‘R Us or The Problem With MySpace Fan Groups

We have all been a fan of something at one point or another, be it for a sports team, a music artist, a film or television show; something. And most of the time, there are official fan clubs for victims of said vice. With the onset of the Internet came a new means of fan expression, which is the online fan group. Now the doors have been broken down and fans of whatever can join these exclusive (though most of them claim to be inclusive – as in, open to anyone, but if you’re not really a fan, you don’t belong there), no matter where they are in the world. The Internet has created a new country, of sorts. One nation under a colon-right parenthesis.

Along with the Internet and fan groups eventually came MySpace, a lovely little gathering place where music artists and film-makers can promote their wares free of label interference. It’s also a happy meeting ground for people who don’t want to interact in the real world. Eventually, MySpace hopped on the fan forum band wagon, and now it seems that everything on the planet, from Super Mario Bros to toilet paper has some form of forum where fans can get together and have online conversations relating to that one topic.

Modern forums, however, take a more personal stance, and use the vice to lure people in to become “friends” based on a mutual admiration of the given topic. These devolve into day-to-day life (a la SIMS) conversations that have little to nothing to do with the primary thread of interest. And this is where public forums go wrong. Once you cross the barrier into everyday nonsense, you automatically assume that everyone reading is your “friend” and actually cares about that which you are discussing. This type of conversation neither fosters new membership, nor does it really help anyone outside of simple catharsis, which is what I thought the point of a blog was…silly me. Sometimes these forums get back on topic, but mostly, online forums have replaced the mid-day soap opera.

Wow, three paragraphs of setup; I’d better get to my point. I, too, have been bitten by the online fan group bug, and on occasion, have been known to pop in, give my support or two cents on a given topic, and ultimately try to help cultivate mutual appreciation for the topic or kick-start a conversation. All in good fun, as they say. However, I have also been privy to several online forums, particularly housed in MySpace, where the good nature and mutual respect of others devolved into bizarre contests, where members would puff their chests and compete with other members, with the air of “I’m a better fan than you, because…”. I’ve also witnessed MySpace forums where they say that they are open to both sexes, but when you try to get into a conversation about a particular artist, the comments turn very “girly”, and discuss an artist’s looks rather than any meaningful insight. It is times like this when you see that many people are “members” of a forum, but only 10-20 are actually active, thus nullifying the actual “size” of the conversational party.

Now, I normally wouldn’t have a problem with this, because usually, I would just call it a day and leave the group, allowing them to wallow in their own self-righteousness. However, thanks to MySpace, these fan groups now have the ability to promote themselves directly to the artist. This becomes a problem when the artist, thinking nothing nefarious is afoot, directly opens a line of communication with the fan group. Why is this a problem? Well, to put it simply, fan groups are there to appreciate an artist, not the other way around. There are several fan groups out in the world that share their appreciation without the need for personal contact with the artist. However, these MySpace groups feel the need to shove themselves in the artists’ faces and eventually start asking for favors that cross the boundary between fan and artist.

I completely understand the overwhelming honor it is to receive a personal message from someone you admire, and I think it is even more special when you get an opportunity to meet the artist, but there are MySpace groups out there that actually demand acknowledgement from the artist. And THAT is simply wrong.

There is a MySpace group out there that was founded about a year ago. It was designed to pay homage to a band the members “discovered” during a certain band’s 30th Anniversary Reunion Tour. Honestly, I believe the group was actually formed, because the singer of this band is the son of the singer of the band that celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. (NOTE: I am evading the use of these band names, because I don’t want this cropping up on a Google Alert and getting picked up as a piece of “press.”)

Here is the mission statement for the main page, minus the artist’s name, of course:

I am making it my mission to help promote BAND NAME HERE as much as possible and to that end I am creating this group for everyone who loves the band and wants to help support them. We already have a few successful road trips under our belts all around Europe and one or two in the US too! We get actively involved in promoting the band on regular occasions. It's all going on in here! Welcome to the SILLY FAN NAME group page and I hope that you enjoy it in here even half as much as I do! ROCK!!!

Now, based on that, one would think this is an altruistic forum designed to actually help the band progress. Nothing wrong with that. However, there is much more going on in this forum than anything a band would want to associate itself with. Shortly after forming, the administrator of the forum began bombarding other fan sites message boards and even the band’s own MySpace Comments section with a recruitment pitch, which gets re-posted several times per month:

For all the new fans just logging in - the SILLY FAN NAME fan group is actively recruiting new members at the moment. It's a great place to hang out - you get loads of news and updates, meet loads of other awesome BAND NAME fans, there are competitions, photo's, video's, music and MORE. We are also very active in supporting the guys through various promotions and PR campaigns so if you want to help spread the word - come on over!You will find us here:

Again, we see that it looks like that it is a great group to be a part of. Competitions, loads of news, and are active in promotion! Hell, sign me up. Slow down. Unfortunately, all that glitters is definitely not gold, and there is a sickening, almost inhuman underbelly to this group.

Let’s begin with competitions. Yes, there are competitions, open to everyone (who has a MySpace account and is a member of the fan group). However, most of the prizes are obtained from begging, prodding, and sometimes lying to the band. I’ve actually witnessed it happening. And the band, not wanting to disappoint (or lose) fans, obliges, providing prizes that would be considered somewhat collectible on the secondary market. So, the MySpace group has its little contests. Who wins? One of the 10-15 ladies in the group’s inner circle. These are the ONLY people who ever win the contests. This is in addition to the fact that the group’s moderator usually keeps the most choice “prizes” for herself.

News and Updates? Well, occasionally they offer news, but 9 times out of ten, they stole it from one of the actual fan-run websites devoted solely to promoting the band. Many members of the MySpace group are also members of other forums on these fan-run websites. Sometimes they share information, and sometimes they just keep it to themselves.

Active in promotion? Sure, I guess you can say that, once in a while, they do little promotional campaigns to try to spread the band’s name. However, they are limited to the fact that there are less than 20 of them doing it, and many of their promotions are coordinated without the label’s or management’s knowledge. A lot of times, these promotions are completely for naught, such as begging a radio station relentlessly to play the band, when the station isn’t even aware of the band’s existence. Sure, you could say this is a way to introduce the band to the station, but many times, either you are stepping on the radio promoter’s toes (you know, the guy whose job it is to have a relationship with the correct stations) or you are simply annoying a DJ who wants nothing to do with you, because he’s got a set playlist from which to choose songs, as directed by the mafia…I mean, Clear Channel. Other promotions they do actually involve the label, but usually, they are online, street-team related projects that merely act as free advertising for the label.

Again, I guess I still am not making my point clear. What exactly is the problem with this MySpace fan group? Quite simply, they started out appreciating the band, but now, they want the band to appreciate them! Last year, they organized a special meet-and-greet with the band after a performance in Amsterdam at a pub down the street from the venue. They gave the band Xmas presents and took a lot of pictures. No big deal. Then, a couple months back, the group celebrated its own 1-year anniversary party at a pub where the band’s lead singer often played solo shows. Therefore, they prodded the band to come out to celebrate with them. Thankfully, that never came to fruition.

The band is performing once again in Amsterdam, but this time, the band’s management arranged a meet-and-greet in conjunction with one of the fan-run websites, at the same pub, and this MySpace group is all up-in-arms, claiming that they were usurped, that they should be treated to such information directly from the band, that it’s “THEIR” pub, and that there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding it, with the band not being notified or anything.

Got news for ya, kids, standard meet-and-greet procedure is that the band USUALLY doesn’t know anything about it until the week before, or the week of the event. I know this, because I spent several years as a music publicist.

Now, what makes this situation really disgusting is that most of these “ladies” (I put it in quotes, because I have a hard time considering them as human beings) are already going to be attending four of the other performances leading up to the Amsterdam gig, where they will surely have plenty of time to visit with the band.

Oh, I almost forgot, they are also planning (unwittingly) to piss off every other fan attending the Amsterdam show by somehow rigging their way to the front row. You see, one of them had this “great” idea of making black t-shirts, each adorned with one letter in the band’s name, and standing along the front row, so the band can see its own name bouncing back at them. Sure, it sounds novel, but they aren’t taking into account that they JUST MIGHT NOT be the only fans of the band there. This venue holds 1900 people, and the show is almost sold out. Also, this band is the headliner. So what does that tell you? Methinks there will be a fight or three!

But, back to the meet-and-greet. Apparently, the group moderator became so flustered by the lack of acknowledgement that she sent a whining email, crying directly to the band. And, do you want to know something EVEN MORE pathetic and disgusting? In an effort to retain those fans, and not upset its 10-15 MySpace Fan Group members, the band has agreed to do something special for them. This is REALLY sad, because two of these “ladies” already possess articles of the band members’ clothing, and one of them , I have no idea how she got this, but one of them has one of the customized speaker cabinet covers for one of their amplifiers! Am I jealous? Maybe a little, but to be fair, I DON’T ASK FOR ANYTHING besides maybe an autograph and a photo with the artist. I don’t need more than that to be satisfied with the experience. Apparently, this fan group thinks it has transcended the notion of “fan” and deems itself members of the band’s inner family.

And now, I present you, the most frightening bit of evidence, depicting this “fan group” in its natural habitat. I’ve removed their names, because…well, because it’s just a nice thing to do in a situation like this. (For the record, the only words in this I inserted and capitalized were PSYCHO, SILLY FAN GROUP, FAN WEBSITES, BAND MEMBER, PSYCHO MODERATOR, BAND, DRUMMER, and PSYCHO WHO DOESN'T POST. Everything else, they did themselves.) So, grab some popcorn, cue the Bernard Herrmann music, and enjoy.

PSYCHO 1: It seems like a nice gesture, although I do hope they will still meet us SILLY FAN GROUP after the show. This meet & greet in the afternoon sounds like a publicity stunt..not quite the atmosphere we are after methinks? I wíll go, of course..

PSYCHO 2: Honest to God ! This whole meet’n’greet sounds like a nightmare !!
I mean, if it’s been posted on just about every forum, it’s gonna end up with hundreds of people being there !!
I’m sure there’s a better chance of meeting the guys earlier on ! Tho, it is a bit sad (very selfishly speaking here...) that they’ve become so popular, that they can’t do a meet’n’greet.......

PSYCHO 1: I was trying to be nice about it, but YOU SAID IT SIS! I am actually horrified that this was posted so publicly. This was OUR nice little tradition that is now made public. BAH. I feel I should go to show my loyalty, but I don’t look forward to it much.

PSYCHO 3: that’s what i thought when i saw that post on FAN WEBSITES (and it will surely appear at facebook maybe...) - it’s gonna be so many people there.. :(
i just hope they will meet us before of after show. somehow i think we still ARE kind of special fans for them... or no??

PSYCHO 4: I really don’t know what to make of this but judging by how popular they are in Holland I’d imagine it will be mobbed. Seems a bit strange to do this when they really don’t need to do that much promotion with the gig mostly sold out. Lets see what PSYCHO MODERATOR makes of it, I say!

PSYCHO MODERATOR: I am horrified!!! That was OUR place! We set that meeting up last year and I asked them if they would meet US again this year - not the whole bloody world and his wife; Added to the no response to emails situation I can only assume they are backing off from us. They have probably been advised to by "management". I know they are planning on celebrating BAND MEMBER’s birthday after the gig so they are probably heading off to a club or somewhere. Well, we knew it wouldn’t last too long - that once they were a bit bigger............
AND - why are management sending the information to FAN WEBSITE and not us??! I feel a little let down I have to say. I made that happen last year - that was all because I set it up - I don’t understand why they could not give us a heads up :-(

PSYCHO 1: I hear ya all. BUT I have unwavered faith in the boys themselves. I think with them being on a break, they are not as much hands on with the plans that are made for them. Anyway we can ask them about it after the French shows. I KNOW they would never piss us off deliberately.
And PSYCHO MODERATOR, I don’t think they are close to big enough to forget about the old school fans. I think they have a bit of a distance to go for that. I just don’t see it. To my mind, things are not THAT different from one year ago. And they have never been very diligent with the e-mails before... I say let’s NOT PANIC! It will be OK!

PSYCHO 5: What the frikkety do da is this all about?!
I do feel really bad for you though PSYCHO MODERATOR...i thought they would have at least mailed you so you had a heads up - i do feel that’s bad craic. Have they forgotten who you are and what you’ve done for them? I hope we’re missing a clue to the mystery of manners here.

PSYCHO 2: I think there’s something odd about this....1. How does the BAND management know about the pub??? None of them were there last year!? So I’m thinking the idea must come from the guys themselves...2. Have they even checked with the pub if they’re prepared for the potential massive invasion of fans?? If even 100 people show up, there’s gonna be problems with the space (if it’s the same pub we were in!). I remember we were less than 20 people, and we filled up more than 1/4 of the pub!

PSYCHO MODERATOR: Thanks - to all of you for your comments! As I said before - I never "expect" anything from them - why would I?! I didn’t do this to get favor with the guys - I did it because I believe in them and want them to do well! BUT. I was miffed. Very miffed. Am even more miffed now that I know that they are doing a meet and greet at someone ELSE’S behest in OUR pub.
PSYCHO 1 was right. Apparently they never knew about it until this evening and only because SOMEONE (who shall remain nameless!) contacted them and basically told them about the kerfuffle. So - I got an email from DRUMMER - who said that he had only just heard and that he knew that we met up there and it was something his manager must have set up (but he didn’t even seem sure about that). He also said he hoped it wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes!! I wasn’t going to lie to him so I told him there WAS a lot of consternation about it as (in total fairness I think) we considered that OUR pub as our night there last year was very special for all of us. I told him that the thing we/I was most miffed about was that every other site except us was informed. I also said I assume it meant the meet and greet I had requested was not on the cards but they probably never even got that request now I think about it. So. The upshot is I told him I WAS very glad he had contacted me anyway~ I mean he didn’t have to! And they do have a lot of OTHER fans. So at least they felt it was important enough to warrant an email and now I feel a bit better! You were right PSYCHO 1! You did say so earlier on the phone to me as well - and it appears that it is just a coincidence. Some coincidence though huh?! I don’t know if I will go or not - I mean I WANT to - but I really wanted to get a new group picture for the page - and I can’t see that happening really - I also wanted to get a pic of us all in PSYCHO WHO DOESN’T POST’s tee shirts with them - but I guess we can do that without them! They still look after their fans very well at gigs and everyone should have the opportunity to have a meet and greet with them - we were just very lucky last year that it worked out the way it did and was organised so far in advance. I should have maybe realised they had not received my message about it - I just thought they didn’t want to do it or hadn’t decided about it yet. Silly me. He who dares wins!

PSYCHO MODERATOR I am not saying too much now as I can’t. We may not have to stand in line all night. Not sure exactly yet but something nice is heading our way ok?? And I will NOT be posting it up here - I will be contacting everyone coming individually. As with our secret meeting last year, there has been a suggestion made but it has to be kept quiet. Sorry - I know I am being very mysterious! We may not have to be in Amsterdam QUITE so early but I think it might be a good idea to still plan to be there that early.
So - don’t be holding your breath or anything but all the guys and their manager are upset that we are upset as there really was just a lack of communication but they are trying to sort something out for us specially (cuz they ROCK!!!).

So, am I out of line? Am I seeing something that isn't really there? Or are there some MySpace groups out there that take the term "fan" to mean a little bit more than it's root "fanatic"? Seriously, this sort of behavior reminds me of something you would see on an after school special, or one of those freaky PG-13 movies that star complete nutters. The Crush and Swimfan come to mind. I will leave you with this frightening nugget. The primary difference between those movies and this fan group is that in the movies, the "ladies" are obsessive teenagers. This fan group is comprised largely of housewives and single "ladies" in their 30s-50s. Scary!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Halloween! Where's my Silver Shamrock mask???

I’ve been lapsing in my posting, so I’m going to try to make up for it with a rather long one. Enjoy!

With Halloween lurking around the corner (a matter of hours, actually), I deemed it necessary to chime in on a heinous crime that is being enacted on this hallow-ed (I know, bad pun) day.

When I am at home on Halloween, there are a couple things I always look forward to:
1. hoarding the best candy from the giant metal bowl, so that I don’t feel so guilty for giving it to unthankful children
2. being a complete jerk to those kids (usually teenagers) who just didn’t feel like dressing up, and
3. kicking back with the TV on and watching hours upon hours of horror movies.

While the first two of that list will surely come to pass, it is unfortunate that I will really have to search around to find any good Halloween programming this year. Most cable networks, including Turner Classic Movies, AMC (Awful Movie Crap, formerly known as American Movie Classics), and ABC Family have been showing horror films throughout the month leading up to Halloween. That said, I did a bit of scanning ahead with the ol’ DVR to see what all the networks have planned for Friday. And here is the list of Halloween-related programming for 10/31/08:

Beginning at 6pm ET:

FX – House of Wax (4:30)
HIST – Haunted History of Halloween
TRAV – Halloween’s Most Extreme
BRAVO – 100 Scariest Movie Moments (marathon)
TCM – Bedlam (5)
AMC – Constantine
E! – 20 Most Horrifying Hollywood Moments
BIO – Mediums: We See Dead People
HIST-I – History’s Mysteries: Crypts, Coffins and Corpses
WE – Extreme Ghost Stories
TDIS – Alvin & The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein
HBO2 – Ghost, then The Craft
HBOSE – The Crucible
HBOF – Ghost Trackers
MAX-E – Hills Have Eyes 2 (remake)
MMX-E – Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist
MAX-W – Rosemary’s Baby
TMC-E – The Dark (5:15)
STARZ2 – Hatchet (5:30)

ION – The Canterville Ghost (7pm - 1996)
FX – Halloween H20
HIST – Modern Marvels: Halloween Tech
TRAV – Ghost Adventures
FAM – Poltergeist
TOON – Goosebumps
TCM – The Haunted Palace (1964)
AMC – Resident Evil
E! – Doomed To Die? 13 Curses
TVLAND – marathon of Halloween episodes of classic tv
SCIFI – Ghost Hunters Live
BIO – More Haunted Houses
WE – Extreme Ghost Stories
NTOON – Are you Afraid of the Dark?
FUSE – (7pm)
ENCR1 – Silence of the Lambs
G4 – The Host
IFC – Eaten Alive (7:15pm)
RETRO – Night of the Living Dead
HBOCM – Snakes on a Plane
SHOCE – Hannibal Rising
TMCE – The Dead One (7:30)
STRZ2 – The Bone Collector (7pm)
STRZ3 – Resident Evil: Extinction

CN8 – Sometimes They Come Back (9pm)
ION – Legend of Sleepy Hollow (9pm, 1999)
FX – Ghost Ship (9pm)
HIST – Primal Fear (doc, not movie)
FOOD – Food Network Challenge: Haunted Gingerbread Houses
DIS – RL Stine’s Mostly Ghostly
TCM – Die, Monster, Die!(9:30)
AMC – House on Haunted Hill (1999)
BIO – Ghosts: Fact or Fiction
WE – Ghost Moms
TDISE – Power Rangers marathon
FUSE – Hellraiser (9pm)
ENCR1 – Child’s Play
FLIXE – The Blair Witch Project (9:45pm)
TVONE – Blacula (9pm)
MAXE – Jaws
MAXW – Fear (1996)
AMAX – Predator
WMAX – The Reaping
SHOCE – Incubus (2005)
TMCE – Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horrors
STRZ2 – 30 Days of Night
STRZ3 – Seven
STRZ5 – Grindhouse

BRAVO – The Exorcist (11pm)
TCM – The Shuttered Room (11pm)
AMC – Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007)
FUSE – Body Snatchers (11pm)
ENCR1 – Firestarter (11:30pm)
ENCR5 – Maniac Cop 2 (12:10am)
RETRO – Videodrome (11:40pm)
FLIXE – The Wicker Man (1973, 11:10pm)
TVONE – Scream, Blacula, Scream (11)
TMCE – Man’s Best Friend
STRZ3 – The Cell

There are a few things that strike me as terribly odd with this batch of programs, and I will delve into each in turn. Firstly, do you notice that I didn’t list ANYTHING from the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc.)? Well, that is because they must feel that Halloween is beneath them, so they are all sticking to their regular Friday programming schedule. Was it really so long ago that you could chill on a Halloween night and flip from channel to channel to channel and almost always land on a spook-fest of some sort? Anyway, it seems that the cable networks (and the premium networks) are trying to pick up some of the slack. Let’s move on.

Okay, we’ve got The History Channel, Travel Network, Bravo, E!, Biography, History International, WE…essentially all of the Infotainment & Gossip networks all playing some form of scary countdown or quantitative theme show that centers around something resembling the macabre. Let me ask you this, when you’re handing out candy with the lights off, do you really want some bland narrative running in the background? Where is the atmosphere in that? Come on, I’ve seen movies shown on most, if not all of those channels on normal programming days, why stop now? I’m probably going a little bit overboard on this one, because at least they are ‘trying’ to get into the spirit of the season. I’m a little biased, because I feel a lot of those ‘Top Ten’ list shows are a bunch of crapped that were actually compiled by the show’s own producers, thereby forcing the viewer what is considered the elite of the given topic. Don’t get me started with those damned VH-1 shows…moving on.

Some cable networks are following the major networks’ lead and ignoring the holiday altogether. Here’s a little rundown:

TNT – The Da Vinci Code
TMCXE – Employee of the Month
STZ1 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
STRZ5 – The Holiday
STR6 – Daddy Day Camp

TBS – Fun With Dick and Jane
TVLAND – Police Academy
THE N – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon
ENCR6 – Catch and Release
TDISE – Power Rangers marathon
STRZ6 – Next Friday

Okay, I’ll give you The Da Vinci Code, because Tom Hanks’ hair was truly frightening. And I’ll even give you Pirates of the Caribbean 3, simply because the fact that Disney let that one even see the light of day was a horrifying experience. The other programming? Well, I don’t know, maybe they are directed at the fundamentalists and hardcore Christians who think Halloween is an abomination (which is to say, they are all angry because they couldn’t , or forgot to dream up some bizarre, ritualistic, Biblical-themed holiday to usurp the celebration). I really don’t want to tread down this route, so I’ll save this discussion for another time.

Let’s take a little look at AMC. Now, as previously mentioned, the channel’s name is an acronym for American Movie Classics. Now, for everything else on the planet, in order for something to be considered a classic, it has one little criterium: it must be AT LEAST 25 years old. What is AMC showing on Halloween? Constantine (released in 2005), Resident Evil (released in 2002), House on Haunted Hill (released in 1999), and Return to House on Haunted Hill (released in 2007 – it’s basically brand-new!!!!). So, nothing they are showing on Halloween night is over 10 years old. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, these are also part of AMC’s special marathon called The Evil Eight, hosted by Rob Zombie. This is funny, primarily because none of these movies are even in Zombie’s directorial canon, and I seriously doubt he truly enjoyed them. The way these things usually work is that they have a list of movies to show, they get a host (usually someone ‘in’ the scene), give them a bit of a script (for the really bad jokes), and force them to say nice things about mediocre movies. The guest host has no real control over the situation at all. My guess is that AMC is having him on, because they may be planning to put House of 1000 Corpses or Devil’s Rejects into rotation soon, and are using him as a tool for free promotion. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of sinister theories like this.

Next up on my head-scratching list is the notable absence of certain movies/shows. Go ahead and scroll back up to see if you can spot anything missing. How about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Oh, someone aired that on Tuesday, so there’s no need to play it again. Okay, how about some of the tried-and-true Halloween classics, like Psycho? Not scheduled to air. ANY of the vintage Universal monster movies, i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, or The Mummy? Not scheduled to air. A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th? Oh, a lot of networks ran that over the summer. Certainly we cannot go a Halloween without a HALLOWEEN marathon! I live for John Carpenter’s genre defining movie on the day in which it was set. Oh, AMC is showing a mini-marathon of Halloween, Halloween 4 and Halloween 5…IN THE MORNING, starting at 9:30am. Don’t get me wrong; watching the original Halloween over a bowl of Corn Pops does have its morbid charm, but the movie isn’t the kind of television entertainment I want to be experiencing while the sun is out. Besides, I think I spent most of my growing years with Halloween and Halloween 2 as the backdrop to MANY of my Halloweens. (Wow, that was a weird sentence.)

Has the advent of the DVD deteriorated the networks’ interest in providing new generations with the movies that we grew up with? Or are they so hell-bent on making a buck, they don’t feel that Halloween is profitable anymore? Whatever the case, I think most of these stations are missing out on an excellent programming opportunity, especially since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, which means, most people will be having all-night parties, and they will require some form of televised stimulus, if not for background noise alone. It is sad, really, that we have moved so far beyond those golden days of being able to expect favorite shows and movies to return at those special points in the year. Now, it seems that the networks are run by accountants, rather than creative individuals who take pride in their work. I suppose I will have to rely on my DVD player for proper atmosphere this Halloween.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Technology Rocks!

The technology age in which we live really astounds me. Think about it. In a mere 20-25 years, we have developed telephones that play music and videos, portable Global Positioning Systems so we no longer have to get directions from anyone, and we can order pizza and pay almost any bill via computer! But one of the technological advancements that continues to amaze me is’s uncanny ability to dictate what I should be spending my money on based on their Recommendations.

If you haven’t visited, it is an online one-stop retailer, where you can purchase almost anything. I believe the company started out merely as an online bookseller and exploded from there. Anyway, if you are registered with the site, Amazon has some form of quantitative data crunching technology that makes purchase recommendations for you based on a number of factors: things you have previously bought from them, tastes of other customers who also bought what you have previously purchased, items you have rated on the site, items you have in your shopping cart, and current market trends.

And beneath each recommendation, Amazon feels it must justify why it is telling you to buy this item, by trying to put the blame back onto you, the consumer, based on one of your previous actions on the site. It will say something like, “TOP GUN, Recommended because you purchased RISKY BUSINESS,” or “LE MORT D’ARTHUR, Recommended because you rated THE 13TH WARRIOR” or something silly like that.

Anyway, one of my little time-killing hobbies is logging on to Amazon, clicking on the Recommendations tab, and perusing through the 300 or so items they think I would have an interest in purchasing. I chuckle at some of the things, because they are dead wrong with my personal taste, but at other times, I am amazed and say to myself, “Yeah, I do want that! Thanks Amazon!” More often than not, it feels like Amazon has somehow reached into my subconscious and is telling me things I already know, but didn’t actually think about.

So, without further ado, here are the top 20 items Amazon thinks I need to own to be a happier person:

1. Craig Armstrong – THE INCREDIBLE HULK film score CD
2. Danny Elfman – HELLBOY II: GOD’S ARMY film score CD
3. Pyramaze – IMMORTAL CD
5. VIKING: BATTLE FOR ASGARD videogame soundtrack CD
7. David Buckley – THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM film score CD
9. Symphony X – PARADISE LOST CD
10. Brian Tyler – EAGLE EYE film score CD
15. Witchfinder General – DEATH PENALTY CD
18. QUO VADIS (Two Disc Special Edition) DVD
20. Meshuggah – OBZEN CD

Strangely, Amazon recommended most of those CDs simply because I rated the AGE OF CONAN: HYBORIAN ADVENTURES videogame soundtrack. While I did truly enjoy that CD, I really don’t believe it sounds anything like the products mentioned above. In fact, all of the aforementioned soundtracks were recommended based on that one item. Not sure how that happened, though I would like to own the HELLBOY II film score. I reviewed it for Muze when it was released (yeah, I do freelance CD reviews for them, which pop up all over the internet – in fact, I linked HELLBOY II to one of them), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, though my review was based on what I was able to listen to on So I truly would welcome the disc. Maybe I’ll get it this weekend.

Moving on, Pyramaze and Amon Amarth were recommended because I rated the new Evergrey album, Meshuggah and Watchtower were recommended because I rated an Anacrusis album, Symphony X was recommended because I rated an obscure Morgana Lefay album, and Witchfinder General was recommended because I rated a Cirith Ungol CD. What do these all have in common? Pretty much nothing. I don’t think any of the recommended titles sound anything like the rated items. Okay, I guess Evergrey and Pyramaze are progressive melodic metal bands, but Amon Amarth is a death metal band! I guess it was recommended because both bands are Swedish. That makes a lot of sense.

You’re probably wondering about the other stuff, so here goes. Cathedral was recommended because I rated another Cathedral CD. Of course, the logic here is, if you like one, you should like them all! Try telling that to all those snot-nosed ‘purists’ who thought George Lucas’ STAR WARS prequel trilogy diluted the divine essence of the original trilogy.

THE DEVIL’S TEETH was recommended because I put a book about great white sharks in my shopping cart (so that does actually make some sense). And in all honesty, I already own a copy of THE DEVIL’S TEETH, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. ROBOT CHICKEN was recommended because I rated the ROBOT CHICKEN STAR WARS SPECIAL. Again, this makes perfect sense. However, SPACED was also recommended because of this same DVD. I guess Amazon thinks that Simon Pegg and Seth Green are the same brand of comedy? I dunno.

The Steve Martin book was recommended because I added another Steve Martin book to my cart. Okay, Amazon, you are currently winning this argument. THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO BLUES RECORDINGS was recommended because I plopped the similar guide to Jazz in my cart. The DISNEY CD was recommended because I rated the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN Disney Park ride CD. And although I also rated tons of other Disney CDs, somehow, it chose that one as the clincher.

And finally, QUO VADIS was recommended because I got a kick out of the 1945 film version of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (and if you haven’t noticed, the very story from which this movie was based is also the place where my blog name originated – woo hoo!). This one doesn’t really make any sense at all either. One is a gladiator film about the rise of Christianity, and the other is an Oscar Wilde cautionary tale that borders on horror. I’m struggling to see the connection here. Maybe they had a cast member in common, or Warner Home Video coerced Amazon into advertising the two together to try to somehow piggy back sales from completely unrelated audiences. I don’t get it. I guess that’s why I’m not in advertising.

The one thing this tells me, though, is that I probably need more hobbies that don’t revolve around CDs, DVDs, and books, because according to Amazon, that is all I spend my money on. If only Amazon sold food, then my Recommendations would REALLY be interesting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So Ends Another Era...

I came home from work tonight and popped onto Facebook to see what everyone was up to, and if anyone was on to chat, and I came across something that floored me. One of my friends posted his status as being “sad that the Original Gangster Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite passed away”.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Rudy Ray Moore was a prolific, if not raunchy comedian/actor who rose to fame in the mid 1970s with movies like DOLEMITE, DISCO GODFATHER, and my personal favorite, PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW.

I immediately went over to to see what kind of eulogy they had prepared for him, and there wasn’t even a blip of a news item announcing his passing. I did a google search and found that reported on it, stating the following:

Dolemite actor Rudy Ray Moore died last week due to complications from diabetes. He was 81. In addition to being a blaxploitation film icon thanks to Dolemite, his character’s fast-talking, street-walking persona served as a blueprint for many hip-hop stars whom he would inspire. Moore was one of the early champions of the hip-hop culture and collaborated with artists like Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane and 2 Live Crew (on the song “Throw the Dick.”) After starting out as a singer, Moore made the segue into comedy, releasing over 30 comedy albums and appearing in 18 films over the course of his career, but he’ll always remembered for his role as Dolomite, the silver-tongued pimp. Moore helped paved the way for comics like Richard Pryor, as Moore’s records were often so controversial for their language that stores would either refuse to stock his albums or place them behind the counter in brown bags. In 2000, Moore resurrected the Dolemite character for the first time in 20 years for the Insane Clown Posse film Big Money Hustlas. Moore is survived by his daughter and 98 year-old mother.

Sadly, this was written as if it were merely culled from bio information the writer may have found on Wikipedia, not by someone who actually appreciated (let alone was even familiar with) his work. What is more depressing is that IMDB (the almighty authority on all things film-related) didn’t even have a Trivia page or Bio listed for the man. It’s as if he was merely another inconsequential actor wading in a sea of mediocrity.

I am doubly saddened by this whole ordeal, because I have a lot of fond memories that circulate around Rudy Ray Moore. A friend and I used to celebrate his works, with an ample supply of malt liquor, on weekend nights, with many an evening culminating in the viewing and recitation of the aforementioned PETEY WHEATSTRAW or one of the DOLEMITE flicks.

On a trip to New York City this past spring, I even picked up a copy of the PETEY WHEATSTRAW soundtrack on vinyl!!! I was shocked that a label would recognize the understated, classic R&B brilliance of the album. I have even heard that they also released it on CD! Of course I highly recommend checking it out.

More recently, PETEY WHEATSTRAW became a clinching factor in my bonding with a couple members of Snoop Dogg’s entourage during his 2008 Summer Tour (alongside 311 and Fiction Plane). I had bumped into a couple of the guys at a nightclub and mentioned that I remember them from the Snoop Dogg show the night before in VA. We got to talking about the philosophy of Snoop’s music, which is, in essence, an update and a celebration of classic R&B and funk, and we eventually got on the topic of movies. I told the guy (who I later found out was Snoop’s own half-brother Bing) that I was a big fan of those 1970s movies like COOLEY HIGH, SHAFT IN AFRICA, BUCKTOWN, TRUCK TURNER and PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW. He was actually awestruck that I had even heard of the movie, most likely because I am white – yeah, I know it’s a semi-racist assumption, but honestly, can you blame me for thinking it?

Although I spent a good chunk of my youth in a suburbanite setting, another good chunk was spent in some not-so-friendly areas. I was somehow drawn to these urban films, probably because of their harsh, yet easily relatable, visions of life. I was captivated by their rawness, their crassness…their ‘realness’. I expressed this to Bing, and I can’t help but think we developed a sort of kinship in that moment, but then again, that probably could have been due to the Cognac. Anyway, we ended up singing the PETEY WHEATSTRAW theme song in the club for a bit, and that is one of those little memories that I will honestly cherish for some time to come.

But back to Moore; his films, while cheaply produced, were full of comic action, music, and inventive storytelling. Moore’s blending of martial arts, gangster action and comedy was pioneering, and to date, I don’t think anyone has managed to bleed the genres as seamlessly as he. Sure, you can say that he wasn’t the greatest actor, but his movies were so full of heart and his passion for expression that you really couldn’t help but adore him. He was silly when he needed to be, but when he was serious, his coldness could chill you in an instant.

Now, as you can see, I was more familiar with his films than his comedy albums, and it does somewhat shame me that his albums have largely passed me by. But I suppose now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with his non-film work. Then again, it may make me just a little bit sadder that another genius has been extinguished. Regardless, I am sure his albums will bring a smile to my face.

Of course, there are many dissenters out there, who would quickly pass him off as a callous, untalented hack. These are people who cannot look beyond a fleeting glimpse; they do not want to understand. And it is even more distressing to think that there are thousands of people out there who have never even heard the name Rudy Ray Moore, because popular media has shunned him for so long. While an incredible advocate (and practitioner) of The First Amendment, Moore was semi-silenced for many years by our lovely fundamentalist, mass appeal media system, which abhors anything that isn’t quite “family-friendly”.

Thankfully, there is a DVD box set out there containing 7 of his classic films, and many of his CDs are still in print, so we can still revel in his brilliance.

Rudy Ray Moore, you will be missed. May your legend live on to affect (infect) many generations to come. Thank you for the memories.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

There's a bit of tarnish on THE SHINING

I just finished watching THE SHINING for the first time since childhood, and I came to the startling conclusion that it really did not hold up well over time. In fact, I found it shockingly boring and drawn out.

Let's back up a bit. My fiancee told me that we have to attend a wedding tomorrow up in the mountains at a lodge that reminds her co-workers of The Overlook Hotel, which is actually Timberline Lodge (but you can look that up on Wikipedia on your own). Anyway, I asked if she'd ever seen THE SHINING, and she admitted that it was one that slipped by her.

So I tracked it down, and we watched it. Now, as the film was starting, my memories of watching this movie when I was 6 or 7 came flooding back (the 2 scary dead/not dead little girls in the hallway, the naked lady who gets scabby in the bathroom, poor Scatman Crothers getting hacked up by the concierge, and Jack Nicholson's frozen face at the end). I was thinking about those moments and the fact that EVERYONE seems to consider this a horror classic, so I settled in for a good chill-ride down memory lane.

However, I found myself becoming bored very quickly. Sure, the cinematography was top-notch, and the scenery was stunning...but that was about it. The dialogue was very choppy and uneventful, and Crothers round-about explanation of what "shining" actually entailed and how it related to Danny/Tony didn't really make a lot of sense. People (MANY PEOPLE) credit Stanely Kubrick as some kind of filmmaking prophet, but I really didn't get that from this movie. In fact, the only parts of the movie I actually enjoyed were the aforementioned ones held over from my childhood.

I began thinking of the things that led to my dissatisfaction with the film. First, I started with Stephen King. I loathe the man's books, but once in a while (CARRIE, CHRISTINE, and dare I say it, THE MIST), movies based on his work have an understated, if not cheese-filled charm that make for a pleasant diversion. Then again, since THE SHINING was only loosely based on his book of the same name, I chucked that notion out the window.

Then I moved on to the acting. Of course, you can't fault Nicholson. The guy could be cast in a live-action SMURFS movie and make it convincing (at least his role, anyway). Scatman? Come on, the guy voiced Jazz in the old TRANSFORMERS cartoons. How about Ms. Shelley Duvall? Well, I did enjoy her hopelessly ditzy Olive Oyl in POPEYE (yes, hanging my head, I liked that movie...which probably tells you a little bit about my often easily amused taste). However, I just didn't find her convincing as a weak-willed, yes-man of a housewife. I dunno, her bug-eyes made me think she was more nuts than Nicholson, despite his ski-slope eyebrows and teeth-gnashing.

Okay, so we have one thing that reeked of obnoxious. Also, believe it or not, Kubrick's direction really didn't sit well with me. I know he was trying to push the feeling of isolation and being alone too long with one's thoughts, but everytime they showed Danny barreling down those hallways on his big wheel, I couldn't help but imagine how fun that would have been. Hell, I would have taken it a step further and used the staircases as toboggan ramps, a la GREYSTOKE. Also, Kubrick must have either been short on budget or really wanted you not to forget certain things, because his incessant reuse of several shots -- over and over again -- really started to grate on my nerves. The movie was slow enough as it was; I didn't need another excuse to go grab another beverage (I was drinking hot chocolate, mind you, nothing more).

Ultimately, I was left wondering how I even had the attention span to sit through this same movie during my childhood. I must've either been bolted to a chair, or I wasn't paying close attention to the tv. I'm sure that another 20 years down the line, my memory will abbreviate the film once again back to those fleeting moments. Either that, or I will remember drooling from this viewing.