Sunday, September 26, 2004

TV: Comedy and SF and Middling Reviews

If somebody set out to write a sitcom JUST for me, Listen Up might very well come close to being that comedy. In other words, it doesn't have a chance of success.

Actually, ten minutes into Jason Alexander's latest attempt to wipe out the Seinfeld Curse, I was sure I was witnessing the latest two/three episodes and out sitcom. Alexander epitomizes what's wrong with today's comedies. SHOUTERS as central characters fail. You can have the odd loudmouth in a supporting role. Three of them if your lead is as strong as our old friend Jerry. But the lead can't shout, if his name isn't Jackie Gleason.

But, before Listen Up had used up the allotted 30 minutes, I started to realize I LIKE everybody on this show. The kids are cute and waaaaay less bizarre then usual. I swear the girl, Daniella Monet, is a full-scale swipe of my neice's life. Wendy Makkena proves very likeable as the wife and Malcolm Jamaal-Warner has a sense of humour (Jeremiah aside) that was honed by Bill Cosby.

And short, pudgy scribes resonate here at this computer. I've got more hair than Alexander's take-off on famed sports hack Tony Kornheiser. But I AM LOUD, too much of the time, too.

The quiet moments make Listen Up worthy of your attention. If Alexander can respond to stress with humour rather than decibel levels, than this comedy can work. I hope it does. It gives guys like me hope for the future.

The second debut to make it to the top of my tape pile was Rodney. I've never heard of Rodney Carrington before. By Christmas, I won't remember him again. The show has no future. Rodney is likeable and his wife, Jennifer Aspen, has the Okie accent that I love and have missed on TV since the days of The Torkelsons. Good-looking too. But the kids are brats, the friends' circle barely better and there isn't much to pin hope on for the future.

Moving to SF, I caught Lost and The 4400 first episodes. Both had been reviewed better than I felt about them, but were good enough to warrant continued watching.

Lost features a cast of thousands ... well at least 48 PLUS the island itself ... and as such is tough to get a handle on. In fact, as I understand it, the pilot was 90 minutes and has been chopped into two episodes. That explains a feeling of incompleteness that permeates Lost. It's from the same folks as Alias, so this feeling of uncertainity promises to last the season. Charlie Fox's Jack is fine as the lead viewpoint character. Properly heroic with a touch of everyman, as he explains an earlier near-failure to foxy Kate, played by Evangeline Lilly. The hint is that the wayward flight has landed on a dinosaur-infested isle, but the late captain looked more chewed-on than chomped. (And the web is rife with denials by JJ Abrams that this is Jurassic Park redux) My one complaint based on the limited view is the treatment of Daniel Dae Kim and his wife. Racist or Survivor? Or both? Not sure I know at this point, but I don't like the potential answer.

My main worry? Amazon. That show had a plane crash with a disparate group of survivors. Lost without hope of succor. Tropical setting. Middling star list. And it didn't pan out.

The 4400 feels like a combination of PJ Farmer's Riverworld (books and movie) and JM Straczynski's comic book series, Rising Stars. The Riverworld-like beginnings are obvious: People snatched from various periods, all put together into one group and placed in a strange place (albeit that place is current-day Earth) and finally, the group is immediately segmented. The Rising Stars reference is the powers, probably unearthly-given powers, that the group exhibits. Oh yeah, and the group is treated like freaks even before they start proving it.

Both ancestors have good pedigrees and this mini-series shows promise. Some of the actors are effective, most are neither good nor bad. The best of the lot is the little girl seer Maia, played by Conchita Campbell. She plays the part calmly rather than "Woe is me, I see the future." A neat choice. The cat-and-dog Homeland Security team played by Joel Gretsch and Jacqueline McKenzie work, although neither is completely likeable. The 4400'ers you want most to see end up well are Lily and Richard, the inter-racial couple played by Laura Allen and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. 'Cept Lily's pregnant and that's close to impossible, even give the impossible surrounding circumstances. Lily's ex-husband is a lout who was out of town during the time when 'it' happened. And how can the kid NOT be an IT at this point?

I will stick with Lost and The 4400, hope for Listen Up to smarten up and forego any further Rodney's.

Monday, September 20, 2004

BOOKS: Jody L. Nye and The Taylor Medicine Show

Jody Nye is a favourite author of mine, usually in partnership with other authors. I first read her works in the Brawn and Brainship books co-authored by Anne McCaffrey. I put her works on my book list that I give out to the family for birthdays and Christmases and ended up with the second and third books in the series, Medicine Show and The Lady and The Tiger. I couldn't get the first book, Taylor's Ark, for ever so long. So the other books gathered dust on the reading pile.

Then, about a month ago, I happened upon Taylor's Ark at a book and software blowout store. What a happy happinstance.

Taylor's Ark proved to be a medical mystery thriller in outer space with a decided humanistic approach to its lead character, Dr. Shona Taylor. There's murder most foul in the book, a corporate baddie who is despicable, medical puzzles and a series of supporting animal characters to make Shona's life an abosolute joy to read about. Chief amongst the animals is a sentient cross between an otter and a turtle. I LOVE otters. I LOVED Chirwl, the ottle. He injected that little bit of humour that HAS to be part of any medical story about life and death.

Shona's husband, Gershom was largely absent in this book, but somehow was still all too real. By book's end, there was an addition to the family, if a little extra-legally. And the good guys did win out in the end, as all good trilogies demand.

The second book, Medicine Show, brought Gershom closer to the action, while moving the villain from the first book, off-stage, where he manipulated making Shona's life miserable. The setting of the book was Chirwl's home planet and picture the Ewoks in costume and you have a good idea what Shona had to deal with. Shona and Gershom solved the problems with adoption and ended this book with an addition to their family of their own.

Like the first book, which I passed along to doctor-wannabe Krystal from my Movie Mob, this book was a joy to read.

Alas, the third book, The Lady and The Tiger, just peters out. Each of the first two books took about fice days to read, mostly during the pre-sleep period I reserve for reading each night. I was mostly reluctant to put the book down each night.

It took almost three weeks to get through the third book. Mostly, I'd get a chapter in and then call it a night. The joie de vivre from the first two books was missing. Gershowm, so important a character in the first two books, just wasn't around much in this third book. Shona's brood had grown yet again and now she was playing harried mother more than infectious disease problem-solver.

The setting didn't help the book. Unlike the multi-planet tour of the initial volume and the Ewokian-like setting of the middle book, this book was set on Jandidor, a planet of rich, elitist, lazy, mostly contact-phobic snobs. It doesn't work. You just don't care if Shona saves this group or not. And there's no death threats hanging over her head from the second book.

My recommendation is that you get and read the first two books in the series. Leave the third book for when the reading pile has nothing else in it.

MOVIE: Sky Captain

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is an interesting picture to look at. It's all black and white and washed out earth tones. The only sight of primary colours is Polly Perkins' red, really red, lipstick.

Perkins, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law's Sky Captain share the (blue) screen for most of the movie. It's the blue screen that makes this movie a must-see, even if it's only eventually on the small screen in your living room. The movie was shot in a room painted blue, with the odd blue painted box to sit on. The rest of the movie was digitally created. Many, many shots feature LAYERS of special effects. You will see blimps against a background of New York City with snow falling in the foreground. There's all kinds of skylights lighting up the night sky and you sit there and wonder what the film budget must have been.

In reality, it was less than $70 million, a mere pittance in today's film-making mega universe. But it took about eight years for creator/director Kerry Conran to finish the movie. Most of it was doing the animation, some of which started life on a Macintosh computer waaaaay less powerful than the computer you are probably using right now to read this.

The wonderment of all of this, plus the resulting visuals, are the reasons to someday watch this movie. I look, very much, to buying the DVD with its extras.

How was the movie, other than as a spectacle? So-so at best. The film lags in the third half-hour. Characters impossibly survive and scene transitions don't make sense all the time. Paltrow doesn't do much for me. Neither does Angelina Jolie, who crops up about the time the movie let me nod off for a bit of a catch-up on the night's sleep. Disclaimer here: It was a late-night screening and I have been working hard at pretending to work hard.

Bottom line, you SHOULD see this movie at some time. It's not for kiddies, despite its comic book roots. But any adult with any kid left in them, will find it a useful waste of time.

TV: Heather and the Flame-Haired Youngster

As work permits, I get to catch up with the new TV shows courtesy of videotape. This weekend, the debuts were LAX and Canadian rock half-hour Instant Star.

LAX tries hard. There's more than a few wacko moments that strike one as trying too hard. Especially the complete Serbian crew who gets drunk and then tries to hijack the plane they are supposed to be flying home, but have been prevented from doing so thanks to the usual serendipity. They are stopped when a heroic LAX exec drives her car up against the wheels of the soon-to-depart jet.

The car is driven by an adrenalin-junkie character played with her usual relish by Heather Locklear. From our first sighting of Locklear stumbling out of a car after a night partying to the finish shot where Locklear races through the airport with the ladies' hubba-hubba, Blair Underwood, she is the ONLY thing worth watching intently in this show. Underwood plays unlikable with some relish. He'll obviously have to have a heart of gold. But it doesn't show right now.

Others populate the show, but owe their continuing jobs to Heather. Pretty good job insurance, if you ask me [G].

Instant Star debuted with a double-episode hour after the Canadian Idol final and it felt like a musical Degrassi High spin-off. And that's pretty high praise. Alexz Johnson, she of the strange name-spelling (even her character's name is missing letters- Jude) and Mary Jane Watson-like long, red hair, is a likeable kid too young for the cut-throat world of rock-and-roll music, but out there too much on her own. She has a Lizzie McGuire-like family, replete with mostly antagonistic sibling and two parents too wilfully unaware of what's happening with their darling girl.

What I like about the show is how Kris Turner's Tommy 'Q', the former boy band crooner turned record producer is a little more complex than the usual adult. He's smart enough to squash the inevitable immediate crush Jude develops, but not too nice. He seems to be settling into the role I would envision a producer would fill.

This show is from the folks who have churned out Degrassi material for most of the last two decades. It's almost always quality stuff. Now, if I can only get my neice to watch it ...

Thursday, September 16, 2004

DVD: Keen Eddie- The Complete Series

The joy of watching collected series of television shows, is watching them in order. To watch FireFly or any of the Stargate years, is to watch a gigantic story being laid out in its intended order by the creators. Frequently, it adds a whole different layer of understanding.

AND cliff-hangers don't bug you nearly as much!!! AND you get to see episodes you missed or were never broadcast. Watching TV on DVD on your TV is a good thing.

AND it gets better with the release this month of the much lamented Keen Eddie series from Fox a couple of summers back. I caught eight of the 13 episodes the first (and second) time around, as a local station blew out its inventory in a post-midnight two-week marathon after Fox cancelled it. I got them onto tape, but kept gnashing my teeth over the missing episodes.

Now I have them. The smile should be visible from low-space orbit. This is a FUNNY cop show. It mines territory explored years ago by the wonderful Dempsey and Makepeace, starring Michael Brandon and gorgeous Glynis Barber. Take a New York cop, plop him down in good old London town, and watch the sparks fly.

Keen Eddie's titular star is Mark Valley, playing Eddie Arlette. Mind you, his mutt Pete, is equally Yankee in tone of behaviour. Team Eddie up with randy Brit partner Pippin, played with hilarious kinkiness by Julian Rhind-Tutt, and you have the makings of a good show. In keeping with Dempsey and Makepeace, the tortured commander Keen Eddie reports to is neither friend nor foe, which is the usual way of handling the dynamic. Colin Salmon plays the role with intensity and submerged personality.

The ladies in the show include Carol Ross, played by Rachel Buckley, and Fiona, played by Sienna Miller. Fiona is Eddie's unwilling flatmate and Miller has the same fiesty attitude and stunning looks as Barber's Makepeace. Had the show continued, Eddie and Fiona would have had their Sam and Diane moment (or two). But we can only imagine at this point. Carol, dubbed Moneypenny by Eddie, serves the purpose of erotic foil, having one dream sequence each episode where Eddie fantasizes that the cool and collected secretary of the commander has said something totally inappropriate.

There were more than a few recurring characters in the short-lived series. None was more seen than Alexei Sayle's Drug Chemist/Dentist/Actor/Informant. You'd have to watch the series to understand the reference, although all shows Sayle is in features the deadpan delivery of the vaunted Brit commedian.

This DVD is very competitively priced, but features NO extras. I mean NONE! It's a menu and three or four epsisodes per disk. That's it. I would have paid extra for SOME extras, but boy is it refreshing to get just the stuff I want most and to get it for two thirds the price I pay for season sets of other shows.

If you are an adult (the shows do have more sexual innuendo than is appopriate for a youngster) and you have a pulse and a brain, then Keen Eddie is a worthwhile use of your DVD player.

TV: Yawn! Hold on! There IS TV worth watching!

The TV season is off to a colossal yawn. Well, it was until I finally caught a new show worth catching.

That show is Jack and Bobby. Here in Brampton, I watch it on CKVR channel 20 on Sundays. It's worth seeking out. The show is told in flashback form, the interviewees all in 2041, talking about an ex-president, his early days, his interesting family. The talking heads set up a variety of scenes that help you find out just who Jack and Bob McAllister are, shown in their high school years in the present. It takes a whole first episode to tell which one becomes the future president. It does so with finesse. You almost miss it.

The show, which features Christine Lahti as the scenery-chewing mother of the boys, is a treasure for the language. The show is wordy. Sometimes wordy to the point where I fear less-literate viewers might tune out. But give it a try. Please. PLEASE!!!! This is a series worth watching.

As such, it stands out amongst the new entries in my video-tape library. Joey? A laugh or two, and I really quite like Drea DeMatteo. But there seems to be too many dim-wits in this group for my liking. The rocket scientist nephew doesn't exhibit smarts. Even the next-door potential love interest lawyer seems less than forceful. (And I already miss Ashley Scott, the former Dark Angel/Birds of Prey hottie, who piloted the role, but didn't make it to primetime) It has to grow to grow on me. Maybe, maybe not.

Medical Investigation also suffers from the (lack of) pulchritude factor. Neal McDonough might catch the ladies' eye, but he doesn't do much for me. It's a humdrum medical show with not one thing to make it worth watching instead of something else average. Not bad. Just not better than average.

Same thing goes for Hawaii. Maybe the show would look better if North Shore hadn't gotten to the 'Bra' beat first. That's 'Bra', as in the Hawaiian corruption of Brother, not the bikini top. There's a good Hawaiian show out there. It's called Magnum PI re-runs. The eye-candy is a bit hit and miss in both island shows. Tamara Craig Thomas, the Canadian cutie, has never looked better in Hawaii. Nikki DeLoach and ex-OC siren Amanda Righetti light up the increasingly dull North Shore. But where are the island girls? Lots of beach shots, but no starring roles. Both shows can be watched. But why?

The last of the debut shows I've seen is Father of the Pride. An adult animated show. And the effort is wasted. Ralph Bakshi proved long ago that smutty cartoon animals are just as boring as witless humans working with boring scripts in live action fare. The animation is very good, but familiarity breeds contempt. And after a while, you forget just how miraculous such animation is, technically. With the cost of this show, I'd expect an early cancellation and a release on DVD of the complete series in time for Christmas 2005. But the nine-month lead-time for each episode might mean we are stuck with this stinker for the season.

Let's take a brief moment here to say a sad farewell and R.I.P. to the one decent summer-time series. The Days was the rarity amongst family shows. The kids were all likeable, although imperfect. And the parents were likeable too!!! Shows about pregnant teenagers and pregnant 40-year old mothers don't survive. But they should have. I will miss The Days.

NOW, go set your VCRs for the double-episode of Jack and Bobby on Sunday if you have other plans for the early Sunday evening.

SPORTS: Good bye Vincent Lamar Carter

At this point in time, Vincent Lamar Carter is a Toronto Raptor. He doesn't want to be. And the feeling is SOOOOO strong, that this little mama's boy FINALLY worked up the gumption to say it out loud, within hearing distance of more than friends, family and stooges.

Is Mr. Carter growing a spine? Nah. He waited for the CBA lockout and went public figuring he wouldn't be public enemy #1 when there were so many hockey players and NHLPA union leaders around to excoriate. Like Baron Davis, who I wished ill health, I hope Carter suffers every indignity possible, short of life-threatening.

Carter had a case against Richard Peddie, the meddlesome corporate PITA. Had he come out and stated his case, there would have been immense support for him, including from here. But Carter proved gutless, while a string of syncophants and stand-ins whined for him. And gutless was followed by being clueless. The reputed demand for the Raptors to chase after players it couldn't LEGALLY afford (Steve Nash) nore REASONABLY trade for (Jamal Magloire) only revealed his intellect for what it is: small and hard to notice.

Vincent Lamar Carter doesn't get it. There will come a day, now closer than it was before, when he no longer a Raptor. To that day, we look forward.

Good bye Vincent Lamar Carter. I hope we get a basketball player when you leave. I DO know we will have one less crybaby when you are gone.

SPORTS: What else, the NHL Situation

In my misspent youth, a union came to my aid. I was stringing for a major Toronto daily, covering the local minor-league basketball team. I had worked for the team as an announcer, but at this juncture, was back to being an ink-stained wretch. At one point, my editor informed me that the space allotted to the team would be cut in half, immediately. I mentioned that to the team's GM in my daily discussion with the man. He phoned his owner who phoned my boss who phoned me to tell me my services were no longer required.

As it turned out, the journalist union came to bat for me and got the firing reversed. Without my asking. I didn't figure I had done anything wrong at the time. But when the wheel of phone calls finished, I knew I'd screwed up. So, even though I wasn't fired, I never worked for that editor again. Indeed, I only did a few more articles for the paper before deciding I didn't want to work for them ever again. It was a mutually happy parting of the ways.

Going back into my family history, which has a predominantly British background, I have been assured that unions were helpful on the odd occasion. Indeed, unions have been very helpful to those who find themselves in an easy-to-exploit situation where repetitive task labourers were (and sometimes still are) liable for replacement.

Many unions are good things. Many unions are not. As a rule, I think they are anachronistic dinosaurs. My father was a victim of a union where he got the worst of the scheduling because he didn't play party politics. Union bosses have frequently replaced hellish owners as the worst thing that could ever happen to a worker. As such, I have a dim view of unions. And in places where the talent of the individual SHOULD be the work guarantee that is basically the sole raison d'etre of a union, the union is a pain in the butt to all, workers, owners and third parties alike.

Welcome to the mess that is the NHL. The union lives in a fantasy world, claiming it will NOT give up the free market evaluation of salaries. It will NOT partner up with the NHL and accept an in-toto percent of the revenues. It will sit on the sidelines and NOT play hockey this year, members NOT making money, rather than accept the fact that owners, unwilling to continue losing money to let the fat cat unionistas live life large, need a change in the system. The union wants the ability to pig out at the owner's trough, no matter how unhealthy the situation comes for them and for the owners. This group-think is mostly associated with lemmings. I don't think the union is that smart.

For those of you amongst the lower-paid ranks of the NHL, let me tell you the union is bartering your jobs away. Jobs will be lost in the reconstituted NHL when you come back to play after a long stoppage. Tenuous franchises in the American south will be folded or merged. Roster sizes will be decreased. And those lost jobs, which might be as few as 30 and as many as 250, will come from the ranks of the lowest paid. Are YOU willing to risk that cushy livelyhood (approximately a half million dollars a year) so that the best-paid of your brethren have unlimited access to some owner's ego?

Right now, the NHL is committed to a system that saves all the jobs and assures a reasonable amount of money for all players. It does nothing to prevent individual players from getting silly money. You can dream of the REALLY BIG payday, still. IF you EARN it. This is the plan your union refuses to even listen to or negotiate over.

Wow. You've been told you can win this fight. You can keep the unreasonable system that makes losers out of badly-run franchises (Rangers) and well-run ones (Devils). The owners will cave because the fans will demand they throw in the towel as they have done so many times before. The owners, who will lose money during the lockout, will reach a point where they will decide they want some bang out of their bucks and just say "one more year under the old agreement." That that agreement was working in the last two years (thanks mainly to the looming CBA expiration, which the union won't mention). And, most importantly, so that the next generation of NHLers don't look back on your time in the Big Show and curse you for being lily-livered wusses.

Your union lies to you. The fans will NOT fight for you to get on the ice no matter the cost. We, the fans, are tired of paying through the nose, just so you can thumb your noses at us. The fans side with the owners.

Make a deal now. Save the season. Save all your jobs. Else be prepared to be forgotten in America and reviled in Canada. THAT is what your legacy will be.

Friday, September 03, 2004

RANT: Baron Davis

Hey Baron, break a leg. Really. Break a leg. Your agent's would do. And while you're at it, check the mirror and see if you are looking back from the glass.

A year ago, you signed a contract with the New Orleans Hornets. Guaranteed money, no matter if you stunk the joint out, got hurt or otherwise embarassed the club for maxing you out. You've chosen door number three. You want, no DEMAND, a trade to a contending NBA club.

You ungrateful snot. You selfish SOB. You could play like a max player, a first-team all-star and try to drag your club up like lesser-paid Chauncey Billups does. But you don't play that well. You're not a first-teamer and you've only got an injury complaint of some sorts as a fig leaf of dignity.

You, sir, are an honour-less cretin. And the shyster you call an agent is only better in terms of being an educated honour-less cretin. Your word is worthless. Your cowardice when faced with the challenge of making N.O. competitive should mean any self-respecting NBA contender should want nothing to do with you. The Hornets' bad result last season was as much YOUR fault as anybody's. Why would anybody want to trade a decent, hard-working player or two to New Orleans for you?

There is some solace for you. You're not the only village idiot in the me-first, show-the-world-the-NBA's-the-best league. Oh, that's right. It's players like you that made the USA what it has become. A first-rate school for troubled children, a first-rate hi-lite reel show and a third-rate show of basketball.

The just result would be a stint riding the bus in the minors. The contract you signed, that New Orleans will honour, won't permit that. Aren't you lucky OTHERS feel honour-bound to back up their signature with action?

Break a leg Baron.