Jan. 13, 2006

Web Junk 20 on VH1 — The Video Meme Show

Apparently Viacom bought iFilm back in October and now they plan on making use of it — “Web Junk 20” is premiering on VH1 this evening:

“Web Junk 20” is a weekly show based on clips and shorts that will be shown on VH1 and on-demand via VH1's broadband network VSpot.

Set to premiere Jan. 13, “Web Junk 20” is a countdown of the strange and humorous videos being spread virally around the Internet. Hosted by comedian Patrice O’Neal, the show is executive produced by Rick Hankey, Shelly Tatro and Michael Hirschorn. […]

Sounds like fun — with this and Best Week Ever, maybe I’ll be able to stay current with pop culture ;).

Sept. 2, 2005

Stephen Colbert on Letterman Tonight

Via the excellent TV Barn what’s-good-on-tv-tonight mailing list (today’s post), I learned that Stephen Colbert of The Daily Show will be on David Letterman this evening (11:35 /10:35c). I look forward to watching that as I enjoy The Daily Show but I'm curious what Colbert is really like when he's not playing his Reporter Character on the show.

Sept. 2, 2005

Serenity — Review

Full disclosure: Grace Hill Media offered bloggers a free screening pass in exchange for writing an entry about Serenity; I participated in that offer.

Well, let’s get right down to it — if you liked the show, you'll love this movie. Heck, even if you’ve never seen the show, you'll probably still like this movie. Now, admittedly, I hadn't really seen the show. Firefly (on which Serenity was based) aired on Fox from 2002–2003. [Typography geek aside: Yes, that really is an en-dash there :).] Anyhow, I watched a few episodes of Firefly when it was first on the air, but I never really got into it. Mostly, it was the steampunk nature of the show that I couldn’t get past. I mean, these guys had spaceships but rode on horses once they landed on a planet? What, someone figured out the jet engine but the old rod-and-piston was too elusive for their society?

I’ not going to go into the plot too much here, for two reasons. The first of which is that any Firefly fanboys may be annoyed if I give away too much of the movie. However, secondly, and more importantly, is this: all you need to know is that there’re plenty of guns, explosions, spaceships and special effects (see also the trailer). If that sounds like it could be your kind of movie, then this is your kind of movie.

Anyhow, other than what I saw in the trailer, I didn’t know much about what to expect as I walked in — I didn’t even know any of the characters’ names. And, by any account, there are some kick-ass special effects in that trailer. All that aside, what most impressed me was the dialog in the film. And, I really have to give writer Joss Whedon credit for this (he also directed the film). I don't really want to give away the punch lines but, as a way of example, I’ve been told that it was he who wrote what may have been the best line in the X-Men movie:

[Cyclops doesn’t know if Logan’s an impostor]
Wolverine: It’s me!
Cyclops: Prove it!
Wolverine: You’re a dick.
Cyclops: Okay.

It's that kind of playful snarkiness that goes on throughout Serenity, and to great effect. Whedon also has a knack for comic relief — in some heavier scenes, he offers a respite through jesting snarktitude.

Another quality that the movie had going for it was its villain. I’m not really giving anything away to say that the guy goes unnamed, which I suppose is neither here nor there. In any case, unlike countless Bond villains, this guy isn’t crazy! Really, in an action movie, a strong villain is as important as a strong hero; and, a villain who is evil merely due to a mental imbalance just deflates the gravitas of the villain’s perspective. What's great about this flick is that the villain is driven by reason (granted, it’s faulty reasoning, but reasoning nonetheless).

Now on to the downsides, of which there’s one more significant than the other. The more significant of the two is that this movie suffers a bit from The Transporter Effect. In case you haven't seen The Transporter, it’s a movie from 2002 which prominently features driving at high speeds (a good thing). And, if that movie kept up what it was dishing out in its first third, it may have been one of my top-10 favorite movies (you may already see where this is going). However, after about that first third, The Transporter becomes more ordinary and not quite oh-that’s-awesome as the first part.

Such is the case with Serenity. If you’ve seen the trailer, almost all the cool spaceship-chases and action that you see there take place in the first third or so of the movie. Not that the last half is dry, but I was almost left wondering if Whedon cut back on his caffeine intake halfway through writing the screenplay. Another possibility which I’m not entirely discounting is that perhaps either the CG folks ran out of time in which to render scenes that may have been planned, or money with which to buy hardware to do that rendering. I have to give the CG team credit, though, for their astounding particle effects — remember that ship with the smoke pluming out of it from the trailer? That looked even better on the big screen.

There’s one other niggle which I have with the film and I’m going to be ambiguous here since I don’t want to give anything away for those who are going to see the the film. In any case, you might say that a film may embody various emotions from one scene to the next — you know, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness, jealousy, love, and so on. Well, there was a certain set of two scenes where the film changed from one emotion to another emotion quickly and I thought it just didn’t work at all. The two scenes could have worked just fine if they were juxtaposed differently, but that wasn’t the case.

One last thing. This pertains mostly to the audiophile in me, but I couldn’t help but notice it — while the sound design was mostly top-notch, this film had some awful ADR in parts. In case you're not familiar with it (which isn't really surprising), automated dialog replacement is the process in films by which dialog is dubbed into the same language. So, much in the same way that an English film could be dubbed into French for French-speaking audiences, so could an English film be dubbed into English — portions of films are routinely dubbed into their original language. One common example would be outdoor scenes. Due to wind noise or other environmental noise, movie scenes filmed outdoors hardly ever have usable audio.

So, the actors re-record their lines inside a studio; those lines are then synced with the original photography so that the filmed lips match with the words recorded (and, if done right, it’s unnoticeable). The problem is with the acoustics. Just as someone's voice sounds different if you’re talking inside a library vs talking inside a warehouse, dialog-replaced audio recorded inside a studio often sounds like it was recorded in a small room (which it was) rather than (say) outside in a field. And, Serenity had a few such scenes. In some flashbacks, a group of students students are in an outdoor classroom but the dialog sounds like it was recorded in anything but an outdoor setting.

So, all of those factors together, is Serenity a good movie? Yeah, it sure is. Would I recommend seeing it? If you've seen the show, I'm sure you need no further convincing (since those that regularly watched the show are usually rabidly enthusiastic about it, not that there's anything wrong with that). But, maybe you haven't seen the show? Well, take a look at the trailers — if what you see looks like a fun time, you'll find that’s the case.

May 31, 2005

Hell’s Kitchen is Awful

I like cooking shows as much as the next guy (well, ok, maybe a little more than the next guy) and I have a soft spot for some reality shows as well. So, I've been having a great time watching Cooking Under Fire — a cooking/reality show airing, of all places, on PBS. In this show, there’re three judges, Ming Tsai, Todd English and Michael Ruhlman. Tsai is the host of several cooking shows, English owns multiple restaurants in New York and Ruhlman is a successful food author.

There’re twelve contestants and they each cook dishes for the judges; a contestant is eliminated after each round and the winner will be awarded a job at one of Todd English’s restaurants in New York. In some ways, this is my favorite variety of reality show — sure, it’s rooted in reality, but each of the contests is merit-based rather than just luck. So, simply the best cook wins; it's not just a matter of seeing who can balance on a log the longest or something equally obtuse.

Cooking Under Fire is an excellent show and I look forward to it every week. Then, I heard about another cooking-based reality show, Hell’s Kitchen which airs on Fox. This too features a set of aspiring cooks that want to win a job in the host’s restaurant (in this case, there is just a single judge/host, chef Gordon Ramsay). The difference this time around is that Ramsay is an asshole.

I had my TiVo record the premiere episode last night and I eagerly sat down to watch it later that evening. The show opened with the obligatory meet-and-greet where the contestants were in their finest attire in some ballroom drinking sparkling wine as they tried to get to know one another. A little while into the evening, two of Ramsay’s sous chefs were introduced and they addressed the group. They informed the group that the contest won’t be easy and that chef Ramsay demands perfection… blah blah blah.

At this point, they revealed to the contestants that the contest was starting right now and that they had to prepare their “signature dish” for chef Ramsay using the adjacent kitchen. As if riding the cliché wagon for all its worth, the sous chef with the shaved head then yelled to the group, “What are you waiting for?! Go!”. So, the group rushed off to the kitchen to prepare their dishes (still in their fine clothes, of course).

Now, it would have been one thing to have each of the contestant’s kitchen attire (“chef’s cloak”?) on hand, but that wasn’t the case. More importantly, though, the contestants didn’t have access to their own knives; rather, they had to scrounge around to find some knives to use within the kitchen. To you and I, knives are probably pretty similar from one to the next. But, through watching countless cooking shows — all in the name of research, natch — I’ve learned that chefs consider their own set of knives a unique personal asset.

Or, put another way, foisting an unfamiliar set of knives upon a chef would be like requiring a developer to use an foreign editor. Say you like to use Crimson Editor or maybe HTML Kit but then your boss forced you to use Emacs all day? Well, how do you like them apples?! Not so much fun, eh? (And, before the Emacs guys jump on me, I only used your beloved editor as a hypothetical example; feel free to substitute Vi there if you would feel better.)

To show such disrespect for these aspiring chefs astounded me. But, it didn't end there. After everyone’s dishes were ready, Ramsay began tasting them. He walked over to a pasta dish and started by asking who prepared it; a guy in his mid-20s stepped forward and stated that it was “Andrew’s Awesome Penne” (though I have a hunch about the fellow’s name, I’m not certain I remembered it correctly). In any case, Ramsay tasted the food and then spat it out into his hand.

Granted, this guy is probably used to “the best of the best” but that gesture was simply unnecessary. Of course, Ramsay began berating the guy at this point for what he considered a lousy dish and I just (beep-boop-boop) deleted the show and its Season Pass from my TiVo. I’m all for reality shows with civility and especially reality cooking shows; but where does this acridity come from? Maybe I should’t have expected such high standards from Fox.

May 25, 2005

Autoblog on Speed Channel’s WRC Coverage

In a post last month about how Netflix tried to recommend a pregnancy workout disc to me after I had added an autocross driving disc to my queue, I made an attempt at describing WRC (World Rally Championship racing). However, I came across an entry at Autoblog (a car blog in the Weblogs Inc family) that painted a better picture:

I personally think that the WRC is the most exciting race to watch, and the more you guys care, the more chances they’ll show it live in the US. Here are the reasons to care: It has fast drifting turns, spectacular scenery, death-defying leaps over blind crests and some dude in the passenger seat reading out the turns to a guy driving at 100mph who hasn’t seen the road before. These guys have balls, real manly ones. Oh, did I mention awesome crashes into trees? Yeah, they got that too. For those of you who want to start watching, the WRC Magazine show airs on the Speed Channel.

After reading over that, I really began to ponder whether I should sign up for DirecTV sometime (or some other television service which includes Speed Channel). Really, I’m not even sure what my options are, Speed Channel-wise. I’m pretty sure that DirecTV carries it, but might Comcast Digital Cable or Echostar carry it as well? Oh, and just to clarify a minor thinko in Autoblog’s post — the drivers have seen the roads before, during the pre-race “recce” (however, in the midst of a race, the driver steers largely on the faith of the directions blurted to him by his navigator in the passenger seat).

April 8, 2005

So Much for Kojak

USA Network has a new series “Kojak”, based on the 70s series starring Telly Savalas. This time, Ving Rhames plays the title role. It looked interesting from the teasers and so I set my TiVo to record the pilot. What a mistake that was.

The show opens with a set of two detectives interrogating a suspect. They’re asking him about the location of something and who hired him — you know, the usual clichéd detective-suspect chatter. One detective is apparently named Crocker and the suspect mocks him about this, including some crack about how he must have been called “Betty Crocker” as a child (or something). Obviously, these detectives aren’t having much luck and so they walk out of the room, warning the suspect that Kojak is on his way.

Instead of having Rhames walk in at that moment, the producers treat us to a drawn-out introduction to Ving-Rhames-as-Kojak as he walks down a hallway. He’s mostly shot from behind or in silhouette — <sarcasm>ooh, he’s mysterious!</sarcasm>. Finally, Kojak reaches the interrogation room with his trademark lollipop dangling from his lips. He walks in and places his lollipop on the interrogation table; he then proceeds to empty his revolver (revolver!) of its bullets. He inserts a single bullet and spins the chamber, wild-west style.

You'll never guess what came next. Oh, wait, you can see this coming from a mile away? Quelle surprise. Naturally, Kojak slams the suspect’s head onto the table and places his revolver against the perp’s right temple. At first, the suspect calls Kojak’s bluff and continues his jibber-jabbering,but Kojak pulls his trigger a few times as the gun clicks emptily. The suspect soon realizes that the single bullet is soon coming his way; Kojak demands the location of the event and who he’s working for and the suspects whimperingly mumbles the relevant bits to our hero. Triumphantly, Kojak removes his gun and strolls off.

The next scene features Kojak at the scene of the event with a cadre of policemen, thwarting whatever crime was to take place. This was at about the ten-minute mark into the show (out of an hour) and I just stopped watching; I deleted the episode and removed the Season Pass from my TiVo. Clichés aside, I was annoyed by Kojak’s methods in this series (and I speak only of this Ving Rhames version as I’ve never seen Savalas’ version). The best part of detective shows (and, yes, I mean you, Monk) is the lead character’s puzzle-solving abilities. Here it was just brute force, which doesn’t make it much of a detective show, now does it?

I try to keep an open mind about “new original series” on cable (as they like to call them) as many of them can be quite good. But, this time around, I just don’t know what they were thinking. Kojak didn’t hold up as a traditional detective show and it didn’t have enough action to fill that genre either (unless something miraculous happened after that eleventh minute). If you were on the fence about this new edition about Kojak, you needn’t bother.

Feb. 23, 2005

It Takes a Thief

I’ve recently been enjoying a new show, It Takes a Thief, on The Discovery Channel. And, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what channel it was on until I Googled for it — when I first heard about the show from a network spot while I was watching another show on my TiVo, I paused the show, added It Takes a Thief as a Season Pass and resumed watching the first show. And, since then, I’ve just been watching the series as recordings appeared on my TiVo.

Anyway, the basic premise is this: the show stars two former ex-burglars, Matt Johnston and Jon Douglas Rainey. Each episode, they scout out a house in the tri-state area which looks like it might have poor security. Then, Matt knocks on their door, explains that he's part of a tv show, and asks the homeowners if they would allow his ex-burglar parter to rob their house in exchange for a security revamp.

Sounds simple enough, right? Jon only gets 10 minutes to break in, “rob” the house and make out with the loot. Of course, it’s all pretend and the homeowners aren't really losing their stuff. After the robbery, the crew helps sweep, organize and generally clean up any messes. And, the homeowner’s house gets a full security update after that — new window or door locks, motion-sensors on any expensive paintings, thorny bushes planted below any tempting windows and the like.

“So, how bad could it be? Only 10 minutes? Ok, sure”, so says the homeowners.

You may already see where this is going, but the show may as well have been called The Schadenfreude Robbery Show. Here’s how it generally plays out, after the homeowners agree to the premise:

  • While Matt is talking with the homeowners (and getting a tour of their house and its security measures), Jon waits outside so as to give Jon no additional advantage (not that he needs any help, hehe).
  • A video production van is parked on the street outside the house to which wireless video cameras which are setup throughout the house send live video from the house.
  • The homeowners are instructed to completely lock their house and then meet host Matt in the van.
  • Once everyone is inside the van and the video monitors are cued up, Matt confirms with the homeowners that they're ready to go through with it.
  • After confirmation, Matt calls Jon’s cell phone and gives him the go-ahead. The clock starts and the homeowners view the break-in as it happens.
  • In the first minute or two, Jon tries the obvious entry points such as the front or side doors (in case they’re actually unlocked).
  • Shortly thereafter, Jon gets in and robs the place as if he were really robbing the place. Bookcases are cleared in a search for hidden trinkets. Cookie jars are smashed on the tile kitchen floor, just in case money is hidden inside. Mattresses are overturned on the chance that valuables may be hidden between the mattresses or under the bed.

Of course, the homeowners are horrified, not only at how easily Jon got in but of the complete destruction of their house. Surely they must have been made aware of what could happen, but they probably didn’t realize just how much damage a burglar can do in ten minutes. Generally horrified, they then walk back in their house and view the carnage. Matt consoles the homeowners as, even though it was a fake robbery, it’s still fairly traumatic for them.

A little while later, they get all their stuff back and begin to put their house back in order. And, in the days following, they get the security updates to their home. I wasn’t sure what to make of the show when I first saw the teaser for it (and set the Season Pass) as the spot was fairly vague, along the lines of “See what happens when a burglar is allowed to break into a home” However, I’m really enjoying the show and I think it comes down to two aspects of the show.

Firstly, I find the burglar’s entrance fascinating, as he tests the house’s weak points and manages his way in. And then there’s the denouement of the episode where Matt works with the contractors to close all the security loop holes which a burglar might use to get in to the house. And I’ve learned a few things that I’ll probably put to use whenever I buy a house (for instance, they recommend snipping the garage door opener release cords as a burglar could break a garage door window and then yank on that cord to release the garage door).

Jan. 25, 2005

Go Baby!

Ah, TiVo. It works in mysterious ways. For those of you sans TiVo, each TiVo can be set to record “Suggestions” — these shows are recorded based on ratings given to past shows. And, over the weekend, I had discovered that my TiVo had recorded Go Baby for me. Now, I have no kids, so I wasn’t sure why TiVo recorded it for me. But I then remembered that TiVo also records some suggestions based on aggregating the shows I like with the shows that other TiVo owners like (sort of like the “you might also like” feature at some online retailers).

So, I looked over the show’s details and discovered that it was only five minutes — so, suckish or otherwise, I figured that I had little to lose. Not having ever heard of the show, I had no idea what to expect (though I did have a hunch that it could be a children’s show). Well, the show starts up and it stars this live-action baby, animated South Park-style, via animating and rotating among a variety of photographs of the baby. Still confusing? Well, it turns out that the Disney Channel — the network which airs it — has the entire episode online (just click on “Farm” to see the episode which I’m writing about).

So, there’s this baby — who mostly just giggles and gurbles — and the narrator talks to the baby and the audience. And, it’s mostly just that silly dialect which adults adopt when conversing with babies:

Narrator: Look, Baby is on a farm. Baby is looking for a lost sheep today. Will you help Baby find the lost sheep?

[narrator points to a pig]

Narrator: Baby thinks that’s a sheep! Do you think that’s a sheep? [pause] You’re right — it’s not a sheep!

[…]

I was only slightly drunk at the time, but I found it hilarious. And, as I watched it a second and third time, I noticed that the narrator’ voice sounded awfully familiar but I just couldn’t think of who it was. Then it dawned on me that it was Richard Kind (yeah, “Paul Lassiter” from Spin City, among other roles). In any case, I now have a Season Pass for Go Baby :).

Jan. 9, 2005

Bumpy vs Smooth Klingon Heads

So, I suppose you've been wondering why TNG Klingons have bumpy heads while TOS Klingons have smooths heads? Or is that just me? Well, Sci Fi Wire is reporting that an upcoming episode of Enterprise will deal the subject. (For those unaware, Klingons in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had alien-looking bumpy heads while the actors in “The Original Series” had no such prosthetics.)

In the episodes, the Enterprise heads back to Earth for the official launch of the Columbia NX-02, Starfleet's second warp ship, commanded by Erika Hernandez. Phlox is abducted by aliens and finds himself in the presence of Klingons who tell him the Empire is facing its gravest threat in centuries. Along the way, as Archer and company investigate and pursue, it’s revealed that one of our main characters has a secret past, which comes into play, the site reporte. […]

I did some additional investigation and discovered that the episode, Affliction is scheduled to air on February 18th. And, as I enjoy Enterprise, I’ll watch the episode when it airs. But I’ve never cared that much about this issue — I just figured that 60s television shows didn’t have those kind of makeup effects. (On the other hand, some Trekkers have completely over-analyzed the subject, to the point of hypothesizing scientific theories within the Star Trek universe which could have explained the discrepancy.)