12.09.2005

Sienna is the new Gertrude

Baby Name Wizard offers a cool interactive graph that can tell you the popularity of baby names over the last 100 years.

The Frigid 50

Film Threat lists here the "Frigid 50" - people in Hollywood right now who are anything but hot, popular, in-demand, or intriguing.

12.05.2005

There are fans... and then there are fans

The December issue of Wired magazine has a fun article about a group of fervent Star Trek fans who are creating new episodes for the 1960s TV series, using as a jumping-off point the question of what might have happened if NBC hadn't have cancelled the show after its third season.

Lost “What Kate Did”

Cool: It’s fun to see Kate blow up her lecherous drunk of a stepfather in the opening sequence, the crime that first sent her on the run from the law. Points will have to be deducted, however, because the show’s producers resort to the hackneyed camera angle of the house exploding in the background as Kate roars towards the camera on a motorcycle in the foreground. This tired gimmick wasn’t even fresh back in the 1970s when CHiPs, The Rockford Files, and Magnum P.I. were using it.
Cooler: The last scene. Michael types a response back to an unexpected “Hello” message on the Apple II-C and gets back a reply from someone (“Dad?”) who might be Walt. A powerhouse of an ending, which is good considering we won’t be getting any new episodes until mid-January.

Coolest: Mr. Eko comes through yet again, producing for Locke the missing pieces of the Hanso orientation film that will surely provide interesting tidbits in the coming episodes. Already we learn from one respliced section about the dangers of using the computer to communicate, which is - of course - what Michael's in the next room doing at that very moment.
Huh? Why isn’t Hurley losing weight? And why isn’t Jack’s close-cut hair growing? It’s been over 45 days now since the crash.
Best Line: “Don’t forget the button” – Jack to Kate as he leaves her alone with Sawyer in the hatch. A subtle reminder for the audience that despite all of the drama going on lately with the tail section survivors, Jack, Locke, Kate, et al have been working in shifts all this time to be sure the numbers get imputed every 108 minutes.

12.02.2005

Lost “Collision”

Cool: It was great to learn about what turned Ana-Lucia into such a sneering tough girl (and why she’s so at ease handling a gun and questioning "suspects" like Nathan and Goodwin). Even more intriguing is the suggestion that she’s not only angry at losing her boyfriend and her unborn baby, but also consumed with self-hatred and guilt over killing the man responsible for her losing her boyfriend and unborn baby.
Cooler: Sayid and Mr. Eko tangling in the jungle mud is about as evenly pitched a fight as one could imagine. Except maybe Mr. Eko and Locke, which is surely coming eventually.
Huh?: Does anyone really believe that the LAPD would ever allow a patrol cop to work in the precinct where her mother was her supervisor?
Best Line: “I was pregnant.” – Ana-Lucia’s line to her would-be killer Kevin, moments before pumping a number of bullets into him, some from a distance, a few more up close for good measure. Without question, this is a melodramatic development that would fit right in on Desperate Housewives, but they can’t all be home runs.
Falling: The producers – Yeah, it was gratifying to see all those reunions, Jin and Sun, Bernard and Rose, Michael and Walt’s dog. But the slow motion music montage approach to this sequence was a little cheesy, reminiscent of a feel-good Hallmark ad.

11.30.2005

Lost “The Other 48 Days”

Cool: The episode’s opening sequence. First comes the crashing tail section, shattering the calm of the tranquil beach. Then comes a jittery, post-crash chaos as survivors wade to shore and tend to the injured, all of it goosed by shaky handheld camerawork and jarring jump cuts (thank you, Saving Private Ryan).
Cooler: At last we find out who Boone was talking to on that radio conversation from last season. “No, we’re the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815!” Poor Boone.
Coolest: The Others had a list of people to take. That’s definitely goosebump–worthy. But then comes Goodwin’s explanation that only the good people are taken (“Nathan’s not a good person... that’s why he wasn’t on the list”). The implication seems to be that only the amoral, guilty, and sinful are left behind, which conforms to the fan theory that the island is a kind of purgatory where the characters are allowed a second chance at redemption. Trippy.
Huh? The tail-section survivors are terrorized by the Others in a way that Jack, Kate, Locke et al never were. Why is that, aside from the fact that the Others seem to target lesser known actors who get smaller paychecks from ABC? Did the tail-section survivors simply have the bad luck to wash up on the wrong side of the island closer to the Others’ camp? At least these guys can handle themselves. Charlie shot Ethan, but the tail-section survivors manage to kill four Others with their bare freakin’ hands (and one sharp stick).
Throwaway that May Be Important Later: What’s the deal with that 20-year-old Army knife Ana-Lucia pulled off the dead Other? Is the military involved in this somehow? Agent Mulder wouldn’t be surprised, that’s for sure.
Best Line: “If I were a savage I would’ve cut off his finger already. That’s tomorrow.” – Ana-Lucia explaining her theory on the complex intersection of compassionate civility and prisoner interrogation to Goodwin. A runner-up here would be Goodwin’s reply: “We’re not savages.” Is he perhaps trying to send a message about the Others? Are they simply misunderstood victims in all of this?
Rising: Ana-Lucia – In a remarkable turnaround, Ana-Lucia reverses several episodes’ worth of irritating negativity by proving herself a decisive woman of action. Sure, she got it all wrong with locking up poor hapless Nathan. But she sure made amends by correctly sussing out Goodwin’s true identity and then dispatching him in a manner worth of a Die Hard movie (see "sharp stick" reference above).

11.25.2005

Lost “Abandoned”

Cool: It’s a pretty creepy moment when tail-section survivor Cindy somehow disappears from the group as they’re working to hoist Sawyer-in-the-stretcher up a hill. One moment she’s with the group and the next she’s not.

Cooler: Television network promos often play fast and loose with the facts (e.g. NBC’s unending promise that next week’s episode of The Apprentice will bring us the most shocking boardroom moment ever). So it was with jaded skepticism that The Cheese Fry watched this episode of Lost, which ABC marketing wizards insisted would feature one character getting “lost forever.” Surely it would be some minor character like last season's Artz. They even stuck in the Cindy red herring to throw us off the scent. In the end, it was Shannon who died, accidentally shot dead by Ana-Lucia in the final moments. Shocking. True, she's not Matthew Fox, but she's no day player either.

Coolest: The look of rage Sayid gives Ana-Lucia when he realizes Shannon is dead (this just moments after he proclaimed his love to her). Sucks to be Ana-Lucia.

Huh?: If the Walt Ghost is clearly urging Shannon to “shush” with his finger to his lips, why does Shannon instead go running into the trees shouting his name? It's that commotion that draws Ana-Lucia's fire. Though Shannon’s flashback about her Evil Stepmom and ther Crushed Dancer Dreams added dimension to her character and created some real sympathy, she must bear at least some responsibility for her own untimely death. Insert your own blonde joke here.

Geek Factoid: In this episode, no Jack, no Kate.
Rising: Locke – Actor Terry O’Quinn is so mesmerizing that a rather minor subplot suggesting the beginnings of a Locke-Charlie power play over Claire’s baby was completely riveting. O'Quinn always does a lot with very little.
Falling: Michael – no surprise to say that he remains as annoying as ever. In the middle of a crisis with the tail-section survivors and Sawyer dying, there’s Michael blurting out “They took my son!” just to make sure no one forgot. Dude, we get it. If only he’d been the one “lost forever.”

Red State, Blue State, Purple State

An interesting page here that uses a number of maps to look at the 2004 U.S. Presidential election returns. America isn't as dominated by Red States as Republicans may like to suggest.

11.23.2005

Ode to T-NBC

Surf dudes with attitudes / Kinda groovy / Laid back moods
Sky above, sand below / Good vibrations / Feelin' mellow

Don't give it up / Don't wanna stop

Don't wake me up / Don't wake me up if I'm dreamin'
California dreams / Just let me lay here in the sun / Until my dream is done
* * * *

When I wake up in the morning
And the 'larm lets out a warning
I don't think I'll ever make it on time
By the time I got my books I give myself a look
I'm at the corner just in time to see the bus slide by

It's alright cause I'm saved by the bell

If the teacher pops a test I know I'm a mess
And my dog ate all my homework last night
Riding low in my chair she won't know that I'm there
If I can hand it in tomorrow it'll be alright

It's alright cause I'm saved by the bell

11.18.2005

Movie attendance is shrinking, whether studios want to admit it or not

From the November 18, 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly comes this little tidbit buried away in a small text box on page 109: Exhibitor Relations states that overall movie theater attendance is down 8% in 2005. That's on top of an already widely reported - and widely disputed - account that box office grosses are down 6.1%.

There's been dozens of heated debates about whether or not box office grosses are truly down. Statistics can say just about anything you want them to say and this summer, some reporters seemed to have a lot of fun poking a stick at the Hollywood studios and their so-called "slump" (the string of many weeks in the spring and summer in which 2005 box office grosses each weekend failed to match their counterpart weekend from 2004). Those stories drew attacks from Hollywood insiders who claimed the numbers were misleading, which then drew counter-attacks. Blah blah blah. In a town where creative bookkeeping is artform, it's hard to know what's really going on in the exchange of money between exhibitors, distributors, and studios.

The Entertainment Weekly blurb notes also that thanks to a 2% increase in ticket prices this year (the average is now $6.34 per ticket) it now takes fewer moviegoers to spend the same amount of money as they did in 2004. Which means that about 102 million fewer tickets have been sold in 2005 when compared to 2004. That's a lot of people. Multiply 102 million times $6.34 and you get $646 million in lost revenue.

Even taking into account the fact that statistics can be twisted, these two facts (box office down, attendance down) may well suggest that the movie business is about to be in trouble. The evidence seems to be becoming less and less anecdotal and more impossible to ignore. People aren't going to the movies the way they used to. Whether it's because of bad movies, competition from the Internet and video games, or the growing phenomenon of thousand-dollar home theater systems, it's hard to say. Big branded event films can and will still draw huge crowds, whether it's a giant ape or a wizard named Harry, which is why Hollywood is more and more trying to turn every single movie into an "event" that has to be seen. Soon, though, there will be some real audience fatigue and smaller films will increasingly get lost in the shuffle.

We're at a brink of a huge transformation in the movie business. No one can say for sure where this is going, but the old days are over. Whether Hollywood likes it or not.

11.11.2005

Lost “...and Found”

Cool: We get here our first real glimpse of the Others – aside from the late spy Ethan – as they walk through the jungle right past Mr. Eko and Jin, who’ve hidden themselves in the bushes to avoid detection. Eko had earlier said the Others “don’t leave tracks,” a fact that seems borne out by the fact that the Others seem to tread very, very quietly. Weird. They are human, right? Right?

Cooler: Perhaps the episode’s most indelibly unsettling image is that of a beat-up teddy bear being dragged along the ground by a child in the group of Others.

Huh? Sawyer makes a reasonable request in asking the tail section survivors why they’re all so scared. But they (more specifically, unofficial bitch leader Ana-Lucia) refuse to answer the question, demanding instead that they walk first and talk later. How difficult can it be to just tell our heroes what’s going on? Just say it! This is clearly one of those irritating logic hiccups required by the needs of the story. The writers don’t want us knowing too much just yet so the characters can’t say too much just yet, whether it makes sense or not.

Rising: Mr. Eko – Yeah, it’s awfully convenient that this set of survivors has their own version of John Locke, the strong-but-silent bad-ass who knows how to track. (How many trackers were there on Flight 815?) But actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje sure is a lot of fun to watch.

Falling: Ana-Lucia – As annoying as this character is with her needless sarcasm and tough-girl posing, the real problem here is the casting of one-note Michelle Rodriguez who’s clearly trying to make a career for herself playing the same sneering tomboy character as many times as possible.

11.08.2005

Lost “Everybody Hates Hugo”

Cool: Though it’s certainly enjoyable to see Kate step naked out of a shower all wet and clean, letting Jack accidentally walk in on her as she’s doing so feels like something out of a late-night Cinemax movie.
Huh?: Why would Jack put Hurley in charge of the bunker’s food supply? He can't be serious with that.

Best Line: “You want me, Hot Lips?” – Sawyer's sneer to Anna Lucia, who clearly doesn’t like him.
Falling: Charlie – He’s fast becoming the show’s annoying kid brother. Here we get to see him whine and pout and stomp his feet over some stupid peanut butter. Like there aren't any other, more pressing issues to be managed first.
Rising: Hurley – It’s an unexpected, though completely understandable, moment to learn Hurley didn't immediately cash in on his winning lottery ticket, choosing instead to carefully consider the consequences. He correctly guesses that his humdrum (though pleasant) life will change forever.

Lost “Orientation”

Cool: You have to love the grainy, faded 1970 Dharma Initiative “orientation” film, which answers a few questions and raises many others. Clearly, something very weird (and very purposeful) has been happening on the island.

Cooler: This is a good time to give gold stars to the show’s distinctive sound cues: the gradual “whooshing” that signals the beginning and end of flashbacks and the resonant “booms” that accompany the act breaks going into commercials. Both are subtle elements that add to a feeling of creepy unease.
Huh?: I can understand Michael and Jin being a little gullible, but how does a streetwise con man like Sawyer get so easily get duped by Anna Lucia? She persuades him to hand over his gun, at which point she turns it on him. She seems suspicious the moment she shows up. Prime example: she says she’s been out in the woods all alone since the crash 40 days ago, but she sure doesn’t look like someone who’s been living off the earth for over a month.
Best Line: “We’re going to have to watch that again.” – Locke, after seeing the orientation film with the look on his face of a thirsty man just handed a frosty glass of Vanilla Coke.
Rising: Sayid – His soldier skills are on fine display here as he gets to work trying to fix Desmond’s broken computer without wasting time to ask for details about why it needs to be fixed. He just attacks the problem. This is a guy you want on your side.

Lost “Adrift”

Cool: Did you notice that weird octagon logo on everything in Desmond’s bunker? Suggests that something corporately wicked is involved somehow and may point towards a shadowy, X-Files-style conspiracy.
Cooler: Another one of those sublimely hair-raising endings: Michael and Sawyer stagger to shore, exhausted but alive... and then here comes Jin running out of the jungle, beaten and bloodied, tied to a post, and jabbering in Korean. It’s not clear what he’s saying until you hear the one English word – “Others.” Cut to a group of wild-looking people wielding clubs, charging at the camera, silhouetted by the sun. And then cut to black. End of episode.
Huh?: The writers inexplicably rely on a number of clichés in this episode. The Cheese Fry can maybe let slide the stale, familiar custody battle legal showdown with Michael and his ex, but not the decision to let Kate escape from danger by using an air vent. An air vent? Seriously? That hasn't been believable since the 1980s.
Falling: Michael – He’s still by far the most irritating character. Despite the fact that Sawyer gave Michael CPR and arguably saved his life after the raft sank, Michael doesn’t hesitate to give Sawyer all kinds of snotty self-righteous, poor-me attitude. If only the Others had taken him instead of Walt.
Rising: Sawyer – When’s the last time you saw a guy in prime time dig a bullet out of his arm? Exactly.

Geek website:
Sledgeweb’s Lost Stuff

10.25.2005

Lost “Man of Science Man of Faith”

Cool: That opening teaser sure packs a real wallop, doesn’t it? What initially seems to be some kind of weird 1970s flashback of one of the main characters is actually taking place in the hatch. Someone’s living down there. On purpose. As Hurley would say: “Dude, that’s messed up.”
Huh?: The first season ended with a particularly sweaty episode involving this horrible fear that the Others are coming. That threat - complete with ominous columns of black smoke - rightfully sent everyone into a panic and led Jack and Locke to decide to try and blow open the Hatch to hide everyone inside. But as the second season opens, everyone’s just sort of hanging around and ambling here and there. What happened to all of that urgency? For people that are supposedly terrified of impending death, Jack and Kate and Locke sure do seem chatty here.

Best Line: “You.” – Jack upon seeing Desmond and remembering him from a chance encounter years earlier in the U.S. Which of course shatters Jack’s arrogant confidence that Locke’s repeated mantra that “everything happens for a reason” is all a load of crap. Of all the people in the world to find in the Hatch, it's someone Jack knows? Trippy. As this episode’s title suggests, the show seems to be slowly ratcheting up the tension between Jack’s rational “head” and Locke’s instinctual “heart."

Summer 2005 Box Office Prognostication Results Show

Back on May 23, the Cheese Fry took a look at some of this summer’s high-profile movies and predicted the box office gross for each. How did we do? Take a look:

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SithCheese Fry prediction from May 23: $360 million
Actual U.S. box office gross as of October 10: $380.2 million
Differential: +$20.2 million

War of the WorldsPrediction: $212 million
Gross: $233.5 million
Differential: +21.5 million

Cinderella ManPrediction: $115 million
Gross: $61.6 million
Differential: -$53.4 million
Just about everyone thinks it would have done better as a fall release.

The Wedding Crashers
Prediction: $103 million
Gross: $207 million
Differential: +$104 million
Big is one thing, but this was huge.

Batman Begins
Prediction: $73 million
Gross: $205.1 million
Differential: +$132.1 million
Never underestimate the power of a truly good popcorn movie.

Dark Water
Prediction: $28 million
Gross: $25.4 million
Differential: -$2.6 million
This – along with The Fog’s recent flop open – suggests the horror cycle is dead. For now anyway.

Stealth
Prediction: $32 million
Gross: $31.7 million
Differential: -$0.3 million
Never underestimate the awareness of audiences who can usually tell when a movie sucks.

Mr. and Mrs. SmithPrediction: $59 million
Gross: $185.9 million
Differential: +$126.9 million
How much of this was driven by the tabloid stories of Brangelina?

Fantastic Four

Prediction: $32 million
Gross: $154.2 million
Differential: +$122.2 million
As a corollary to the “never underestimate the awareness of audiences who can usually tell when a movie sucks,” keep in mind that huge advertising dollars can sometimes create just enough buzz to overcome a mediocre movie.

The Pink Panther
Prediction: $29 million
Gross: N/A – release date moved, which isn’t a good sign
Differential: $0

The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants
Prediction: $88 million
Gross: $39 million
Differential: -$49 million

Herbie Fully Loaded
Prediction: $75 million
Gross: $66 million
Differential: -$9 million

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryPrediction: $52 million
Gross: $204.9 million
Differential: +$152.9 million

DominoPrediction: $60 million
Gross: N/A – release date moved, but it opened with a huge flop
Differential: $0

The Dukes of Hazzard
Prediction: $63 million
Gross: $80.1
Differential: +$17.1 million

* Most accurate prediction: the flop Stealth
* Least accurate prediction: the hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
* Total differential: +$285.8 million (or an average of +$23.8 million per movie)

10.19.2005

Battlestar Galactica: “Pegasus”

Cool: Check out the ashen look on Roslyn’s face when Adama says to his superior officer, newly-arrived-from-oblivion Admiral Cain “Yes, sir.” Everything just changed, didn’t it, Laura? And probably not for the better. Honorable mention must go to the sneer Adama lets slip when Cain dares to berate Galactica’s crew. We know how much Adama loves his crew.

Cooler: The way Cain’s iron-fisted return makes everything go haywire. It’s one thing to bust Apollo down to Raptor pilot because truth be told, it’s hard to say just how good a CAG he really is when it so often seems that Starbuck is the true badass strategist. But that development is left in the dust by the story turn that sends Helo and Tyrol into a kangaroo court-martial on the Pegasus that summarily slates them for execution. Dude!

Coolest: The way this episode ends (and with it, season two) is utter sci-fi geek nirvana, on a par with the sublimely pants-peeing ending of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s classic cliffhanger “Best of Both Worlds” episode that faded to black right after Picard appeared on-screen as “Locutus of Borg.” Here we have two squadrons of Vipers flying right at each other, seemingly ready to fight to the death in support of their respective commanders. Who needs the Cylons when civil war is so much fun?

Bonus Points: The writers are very sly in this episode, working overtime to create some real sympathy for the mistreated POW Cylons – Caprica-Boomer on Galatica and Six’s double Gina on Pegasus – thus further confusing the rules of engagement and blurring the line between enemy and victim.

Best Line: “I’m getting my men.” – Adama’s angry growl to Cain which leads to the final scene (see “Coolest” above).

Rising: Admiral Cain – Actress Michelle Forbes has always excelled at icy confidence and she’s found a meaty part in Admiral Cain, the kind of merciless leader who shoots people in the head for insubordination.

A lot of "TV," but not much "M"

The L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke speaks for all disaffected Generation Xers with her recent rant about how ridiculous MTV has become:

Let's talk about the end of civilization as we know it, in this case signified by the rise of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and My Super Sweet 16, the logic-defying successors to the creepy I Want a Famous Face and that scummy Cribs. We feel your pain. We, too, remember when MTV used to be all about the issues — subversive and usually liberal. Now the network is all gab about the glam lifestyles, love triangles, mean girls and staged cat fights on these impossible-to-ignore unreality shows starring spoiled simpletons. We don’t mean to make like the Rev. James Dobson, but we’re certain that the MTV execs who green-lighted these docudramas about socioeconomic excess are headed straight for hell.

Nor are we alone in our thinking. Increasingly, college newspapers everywhere feature angry articles by normal students complaining that the once-worshipped music channel has abandoned its values and is embracing acquisitiveness for the sake of crass commercialism. Consider, for instance, this recent column in the Penn State Daily Collegian: “The saying used to be ‘I want my MTV.’ But for the last few years, all I can say is that I hate my MTV. I wish my friend Holden Caulfield was here. He would tell you how phony, superficial and just plain crappy that network has become. No music and no real substance . . . Does anyone believe money buys happiness? You would if you watched shows like Sweet 16 or Laguna Beach. Gag me with a spoon... MTV has hijacked who we are right now...”

How that writer would have howled had he heard Mr. MTV Network himself (since 1987), Tom Freston, Viacom’s co-president and CEO, boast at a Goldman Sachs global confab on September 21 that his company has created a “hit machine,” which he described as a “consumer-obsessed, terrific, program-development model.” The result is that “We take 25 cents of every dollar that is spent on cable.” Freston may actually believe what he says: that “the philosophy at MTV is constant experimentation, constant pushing the needle.” But to what end? He semi-apologized to the analysts for putting on shows like Cameron Diaz’s Trippin’, which he termed a “pro-environment show essentially.” Said Freston: “We knew it wasn’t going to be a big ratings success. But when we thought in terms of the pro-social part of things we do, and the image part of things we do, it made a lot of sense.” What he didn’t say was the truth: We only ran that show because this really hot celeb who dates Justin Timberlake hosted it. We all know the subtext: Ignore those do-gooder shows MTV throws up as a sop to our audience, and pay attention to our profits.

But MTV’s do-gooder shows are few and far between these days. Once upon a time, MTV meant something. Sure, there was commerce, and lots of it. But there also were milestones, ranging from Live Aid, to Rock the Vote, to the Motor Voter Drive, to anti–status quo news and politics aimed at younger demographics. Meanwhile, one news report this week says CBS boss Les Moonves is considering MTV entertainment chief Brian Graden to sex up CBS News. It's Graden who bears responsibility for all the crap on MTV now, having developed sickening fare like Laguna Beach, The Osbournes, Pimp My Ride, Jackass and Newlyweds.

“I’ll tell you exactly the day the music died on MTV,” former VJ Adam Curry (from 1987 to 1994) told me last week when I called him in London. “It was when the game show Remote Control came on air. It was a tremendous success. People were, metaphorically speaking, running through the hallways because all of a sudden there were major fucking ratings. That was the knife. And after that, they ran Beavis and Butt-head, and so on. It was an understandable decision from a business standpoint.”

Which is why it’s too bad the buzz around Laguna Beach’s second season, which wraps up this month, has made it the ninth highest-rated cable series, with nearly 4 million viewers a week. What a shame that L.B.’s first season on DVD is doing brisk business. How sad that Journey’s golden-oldie song “Don’t Stop Believin’” became one of iTunes’ most downloaded songs after it aired on this season’s premiere. Kind of pathetic that the MTV Overdrive Web site plugs style news from the beach babes, who advise: “Wear oversized sunglasses, the bigger the better.” (No wonder the girls all look like they’re in the Witness Protection Program.) Clearly, this kind of contrived pablum is more palatable when it’s shot with high-tech digital cameras, made to seem like a movie, features surf wear and skimpy sundresses, and stars peroxide bimbos and six-pack-abs himbos. How we hang on every word of the riveting dialogue, like the wasted way that heartbreaker Jason Wahler (yes, these dimwits have last names) keeps responding to every probing question from his series of lovesick girlfriends with a simple “Dunno.”

Determined to kill off still more of our brain cells, MTV just announced a third season of Laguna Beach. In fact, the producers are in the midst of interviewing prospective cast members. Good luck: There’s something like a 20-page application to fill out. (Note to parents: Lock up your teens lest the cameras catch — as they did with Jessica this season — your daughter saying she’s a slut.) For next season, the producers are lobbying for access to the local high school. Not to worry, though: No one’s tampering with the concept. The old gang will come home occasionally to mingle with the new gang. All will swap spit — that is, when they’re not swapping phone numbers for Hollywood agents and publicists.

Yes, it’s sad but true: The entertainment business has spawned yet another brood of infamous no-talents mistaken for iconic figures. Already they’re staring out from magazines (Kristin Cavalleri on the covers of Seventeen and Rolling Stone, Stephen Coletti in a fashion spread in Teen Vogue), signing recording contracts (Talan Torriero and Alex Murrel) and hanging with Lindsay Lohan (at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel). For now, they are 15 minutes of fame away from hitting bottom and begging to take part in the next Reality TV All-Star Reunion Show for dumbed-down Bravo. What this means is that the L.B. airheads have driven north on the 405 freeway and settled in the Los Angeles area to seek stardom. But who wouldn’t dream big after months on end of being followed around by the two to three cameras assigned each cast member?

Kristin’s flack Jack Ketsoyan says she’s taking acting lessons, auditioning for roles and living in Marina del Rey. Talan is sporting a new rocker image, and his forthcoming album should be out next summer. He also has signed with United Talent for acting gigs. And Lauren Conrad (L.C.) is working as an intern for Teen Vogue, while camera crews follow her around Condé Nast’s West Coast bureau. That footage may mean a possible L.B. spinoff or just inclusion in the third season.

As for My Super Sweet 16, MTV has gone out of its way to showcase the most shocking examples of obnoxious teens and their over-doting parents. The result is a world where a coming-of-age party is imitative of Hollywood Babylon, with red carpet and VIP rooms (which exist solely to distance the popular from the not-so-popular in the nastiest way possible). We’re confronted by foul-mouthed scions demanding that their personal fantasies be indulged down to the last detail, no matter if that means horse-drawn carriages, couture clothing or Mercedes/BMW roadsters. Meanwhile, we’re bewildered by this I-wanna-be-a-princess, I-deserve-the-best attitude they all seem to have for simply existing. Who’s to blame: Princess Di? Paris Hilton? Disney movies?

The first Real World featured seemingly spontaneous angst over racism, sexism and homophobia. Now, MTV’s best-watched series has devolved into nothing more substantive than sordid bed-hopping. And Dubya might have been dumb enough to invite Ozzy to dinner at the White House, but we now know the Father Knows Best image MTV gave us of The Osbournes was complete bullshit. Behind the scenes of those palatial digs and those decadent dinners and that compulsive shopping was an entire brood eventually headed to rehab for addictions and eating disorders.

My own disappointment with MTV occurred in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraqi war. That’s when Stephen Friedman, the vice president for public affairs, told me the network was compiling footage both pro and con the invasion for a big hourlong broadcast. It was going to feature young Marines going off to Kuwait, and anti-war activists like Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The old MTV would have gone ahead and made the documentary with a deliberately liberal point of view, conservatives be damned. But again and again, Friedman told me that MTV’s role was to “show all sides” — yet he mischaracterized the anti-war movement as “a small and vocal minority.”

In fact, MTV’s flabbiness on the issues was directly related to the increasing scrutiny that the Federal Communications Commission was giving media companies. No company was a bigger advocate of mergers and acquisitions than Freston’s Viacom at the time, and the FCC had regulatory control over that. But even that paled in comparison to the FCC’s 24/7 decency watch following Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction on that Super Bowl show organized on CBS by — you guessed it — Freston’s MTV. After that mishap, Viacom begged for mercy from the howling right-wing hordes.

At MTV, executives like to say, “We worship at the altar of our audience.” But O.G. VJ Curry, who set up MTV.com in the pre-commercial days of the Internet and is now nicknamed the father of podcasting, wants to know “Just who is MTV’s customer these days: the viewer or the advertiser? Some of the great things you’re talking about that MTV did were actually fought for and put on the air by passionate individuals, who themselves were really talented kids who made it happen, then moved on. And there was compassion for it from an executive level.” Curry sighs, “But those kinds of people aren’t there anymore.”

Instead we have Kristin, and Talan, and Jason, and Alex M. frolicking in Laguna Beach. It’s an appropriate time to remember it was Dante who said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

10.11.2005

“I’ll read the votes.”

Top Nine Jeff Probst Lines from Survivor

9 “Once the votes have been read the decision is final and the person voted out of the tribe will be asked to leave the tribal council area immediately.” The run-on sentence legalese of Survivor. The use of the word “immediately” makes one wonder what might happen if someone refused to go. It’s bound to happen eventually, right?

8 “I’ll go tally the votes.” Uttered just as Probst steps off camera to confer with the show producers on how to arrange the paper votes in the most dramatic order possible so as to best milk the vote reveal sequence. Instead of seeing that, however, the audience gets instead a series of dramatic cross-dissolves of the Survivors at Tribal Council, most of them staring worriedly into the fire.

7 “Once again, immunity... back up for grabs.” If it’s the tribal immunity idol, Probst might punctuate this line with an emphatic pat of the idol top. But for the individual immunity necklace, he’ll just kind of hang it back up on its bamboo pole.

6 “Previously on... Survivor.” It’s that oh-so-brief, melodramatic pregnant pause between the “on” and the “Survivor” that helps explain why Probst makes the big bucks.

5 (tie) “Come on in, guys.” and “Head on back to camp.” The show invariably uses variations on these Probst-isms to signal the beginnings (Survivors gather together, squinting in the sun) and ends of challenges (one tribe celebrates in slow motion, the other drops their heads in slow motion shame and disgust), respectively.

3 “Survivors ready... go!” Classic Probst, but only if accompanied by that self-serious arm thing.

2 “Want to know what you’re playing for?” This one invariably leads to that week’s clumsy product placement, whether it’s a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a sixer of Mountain Dew or an ugly new Pontiac Aztek.

1 "The tribe has spoken.” Followed by the climactic snuffing of a torch by a coconut shell thing that looks like something the Professor would have invented on Gilligan’s Island.

Battlestar Galactica “Flight of the Phoenix”

Cool: Bonus points to the writing staff for even thinking up a term like “Cylon logic bomb.” What is it exactly? It’s never made completely clear. But it sure sounds scary, don’t you think? Not sure Norton Anti-Virus would catch that one.

Cooler: What makes this show so compelling is the smart way it handles the characters. These are some completely ludicrous situations, but the characters’ reactions always feel logical and believable. The best example in this episode may be the cold shoulder and muttered insults Helo gets from the other Viper pilots. Helo’s fallen in love with a Cylon and now he has to deal with some predictably cruel anti-Cylon racism – assuming Cylons are indeed a “race,” a classic sci-fi sociological question (What is “human”?) that deserves a whole other discussion.

Huh?: The bit where Caprica-Sharon communicates with the Galactica virus by shoving a fiber optic cable into her arm is something out of a bad student film. Are they serious with that? Why didn’t she just stick her finger in the nearest electrical outlet?

Best Line: “I don't care who or what he fracks.” – Starbuck’s hard-boiled defense of Helo to the other Viper pilots, who aren’t too keen on his relationship with a Cylon (or, as some Colonials call them, “toasters”).

Rising: Caprica-Sharon – The enemy who unexpectedly goes reverse-Benedict Arnold and turns good is always an interesting character, but all this business with the logic bomb (and her thwarting of the Adama/Apollo assassination on Kobol, for that matter) makes one increasingly wonder how much of this is just a ruse to get the Colonials to trust her. Someone really ought to keep an eye on her.

10.10.2005

Make mine a Sprite.

Pop vs. Soda offers a very cool map that examines in detail the geographical idiosyncracies that predispose people from Chicago to call "pop" what someone from San Francisco and New York city would call "soda" and what someone from Dallas might call "Coke."

Okay, this all makes sense, but what to make of that weird pocket of "soda" yellow between Missouri and Illinois in the middle of blue "pop" and red "Coke"?

Battlestar Galactica "Final Cut"

Cool: Thanks to interviews conducted by TV reporter D’anna Biers, we get a few glimpses into the minor characters’ backstories, like learning that poor Dee got into a nasty argument with her father and stopped speaking to him just three weeks before the Cylons attacked. Guilt trip, anyone?
Cooler: Were the Cheese Fry a pathetic loser sci-fi convention nerd, mention would have to be made here of the pleasantly gratuitous scene of sweaty Starbuck pounding a punching bag while wearing a skimpy sports bra. But we’re not, so we won’t.

Coolest: Experiencing the battle between the Vipers and two attacking Cylon Raiders strictly from the claustrophobic POV of the Galactica CIC and hangar crews, everyone intently focused on the static-garbled radio chatter, necks craned to squint dramatically at the display screens to try and get a sense of what was happening out there. Good stuff.

Huh?: Are the Cylons trying to exterminate humanity or procreate with it? It can’t be both, can it? Moments after the Cylon “attack” is foiled, the show cuts to a group of human Cylons who are watching the D’anna footage and squeal with delight to learn that Caprica-Boomer’s baby is still alive.

Best Line: “They’ll put Adama on a pedestal and hang you out to dry” – Ellen Tigh, doing her Lady MacBeth routine again to work Colonel Tigh into a lather over his role in the infamous Gideon Massacre.

Falling: Baltar – Yeah, it was kind of funny to see him pace around nonchalantly near reporter D’anna in a pathetic attempt to get her to notice him and ask him for an interview. But is that kind of goofiness a good fit for this brooding show?

Rising: D’anna Biers – This is one crafty cookie, obligingly pouring Tigh a drink to loosen him up for his sit-down interview with her... and then revealing herself to be a frackin’ Cylon! Extra credit for doing all of this in Lucy Lawless’ Australian accent.

8.30.2005

"Come on down, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right!"

“Here it comes... television’s most exciting hour of fantastic prizes. The fabulous 60-minute Price is Right!”

One of the Cheese Fry’s old college professor’s once remarked that The Price is Right is a corrosive influence on society because the only way to win the game is to prove that you’re a skilled and experienced consumer. If looked at in a certain Marxist light, it’s indeed a show that rewards materialism over intellect. He’s got a point.

But one cannot deny the addictive nature of this show or the sly way its perennial broadcast (it’s been running CBS weekday mornings with Bob Barker as host since 1972) has seeped into our collective pop culture consciousness. Just about every Generation Xer has a fond childhood memory of this show, whether it’s the Big Wheel or Bob’s relic of a microphone or that cheesy theme song.

For a young Cheese Fry sitting Indian-style on green and orange pile carpeting just two feet from the TV screen, it seemed like the coolest job in the world would be design and build the game sets used on The Price is Right. Of particular interest were any games with A) a moving part (e.g. the big dials on Safe Crackers), B) an oversized prop (the slot machine-looking thing with the handle on the Race Game), C) some kind of unusual interactivity element (filling out the giant check in the Check Game), D) a weird sound effect (the trill of Penny Ante), or E) all of the above.

Top Ten Classic “Price is Right” Games


10 (tie) Ten Chances, Three Strikes, and Secret X – We’ll begin with three games from the TPIR canon that always seemed a little unfair.

With Ten Chances, you have ten chances at unscrambling some numbers to correctly name the price of three prizes. Coming up with prices like this out of thin air is just about impossible. Here we get the Moving Part (the blue Ten Chances pad slides down the chances) and the Interactivity Element (using a fat marker to write on the pad). How about that groovy white lattice?


Three Strikes is even more unfair. With Ten Chances if you know what you’re doing, you can maybe win. With Three Strikes, you’re totally at the mercy of fate. If you draw three strikes out of the bag, you’re done, whether you know the price of the car or not. But you have to love that omnipresent curly-cue "$" logo.

Secret X is the same deal: you could play it perfectly and still lose. You have to match up the Xs like tic-tac-toe. But because there’s no way to win three Xs it’s impossible to guarantee a victory. This one provides nerd youngsters with the Moving Part (that big middle section of the board flips over to reveal the eponymous Secret X) and the Oversized Prop (those big cardboard Xs).

7 Hole in One – As always, below you can see that Barker’s got the contestant holding his ridiculous microphone for him as he takes his traditional “inspiration putt.” Points will have to be deducted, however, for the game’s recent incarnation as “Hole in One... or Two” which gives the contestant a second chance to sink the putt.

6 Dice Game – The giant red foam dice used in this game are perhaps the king of Oversized Props. Not only did the contestant roll the dice, but then they became part of the game board to help figure out the price of the car. (The runner-up in the Oversized Prop division would probably have to be the Shell Game, with its big fake shiny walnut shells.

5 Range Game – Here again we have a Moving Part (that range finder slides up the scale with its cool little red plastic range window) and Interactivity Element (choose carefully when to slam the red button and stop the range finger). For a first grader in 1978, this game was incredibly bad ass.

4 (tie) Pathfinder and Plinko – Two newer games don’t go back as far as others on this list, but they certainly deserve mention. With Pathfinder you get that WEE-AWW Weird Sound Effect if you step on the wrong number.

And Plinko, supposedly the show’s most popular game, is the show’s best example of an Interactivity Element. It’s all luck, but the contestant’s prize money is left solely in their hands. Bonus points for the way that Plinko used to be introduced: the camera would cut to one of those horrid rotating carpeted studio walls that would flip to reveal not an actual game, but simply the Plinko logo.

2 Clock Game – Perhaps the most classic of all the games and probably the oldest one on this list. Simple it its design but difficult to master. At some point, Barker gives up with this “higher” or “lower” clue and just lets the contestant speed talk (“445, 46, 47, 48, 49...”).

1 Cliffhangers – The obvious choice for obvious reasons. Everyone loves the little yodeler.

The screen captures below and additional useless TPIR trivia (i.e. the origin of the Cliffhangers yodel) can be found at Game Show Central.

Battlestar Galactica “Home Part 2”

Cool: Starbuck, Adama, and Roslin use the Arrow of Apollo in the Tomb of Athena (I know, it’s hard to keep a straight face with all of that) to seemingly teleport themselves to the surface of Earth, which allows them to see constellations of the 12 colonies (Aquarius, Aries, Cancer, Capricorn, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Taurus and Virgo). Using those stars as guides gives them an idea of which direction to head for Earth. Things are really getting interesting now. They recognize those constellations from the designs on the 12 colony flags. But how is this possible? Did the 12 colonies originate on Earth? Perhaps the kind of questions only a nerd cares about answering.
Cooler: When some of the Galactica crew refuses to clap for Roslin, Adama forces them to do so by initiating a “slow clap” that everyone joins and then pushing that to turn into applause. A nice moment conveying through action (rather than a long-winded speech) that Adama is determined to heal the wounds caused by Tigh’s martial law declaration.
Huh? In this episode Six for a moment drops her Cylon persona and appears to Baltar as a neutral character of sorts (she's even got her hair up in a stereotypical "I'm demure" ponytail), suggesting this has all been a hallucination for Baltar. An intriguing suggestion that could change everything about Baltar and his situation. But then the show drops that idea and soon Six is again appearing to Baltar as a Cylon. Why bring up that hallucination possibility if it's not even going to pan out? It just seems sloppy. The point seems to be that Six's ploy was to persuade Baltar to do a brain scan and learn that he really doesn't have a Cylon chip in his head and that Six's connection to him is much more complex. Or something. Whatever. As with everything involving these two, it seems needlessly confusing. Then again, The Cheese Fry would never claim to fully understand all the Baltar-Six mumbo-jumbo doubletalk.

Best Line: “We’ve never met, but I remember you.” – Caprica-Boomer to Chief Tyrol, suggesting she has memories of his girlfriend Galactica-Boomer even though it wasn’t her he had the relationship with. Are you with me? Best of all, this sets up the possibility of one weirdo love triangle between Cylon Boomer and Boomer-smitten humans Helo and Tyrol. Note the look on Helo’s face when Tyrol walks up in this scene.
Falling: The show’s casting director. Come on, you have a treacherous henchman character named Meier and so you cast... James Remar, who’s made a career out of playing treacherous. It just seems so unimaginative.
Rising: Caprica-Boomer continues her ascension with the thrilling moment in which she betrays Zarek’s henchman Meier and thwarts the attemped assassination on Kobol of Adama and Apollo. It’s her attempt to persuade Adama that she makes her own choices. And to show the audience what an amazing marksman she is: two shots, two kills. How trustworthy is she really, though? Caprica-Boomer's quickly becoming one of the more fascinating characters on the show.

The Two-Pop: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Island, November, and The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is undeniably a triumph of production design. The sets are truly amazing and splendiferous. But this is a movie without heart. Part of the trouble is that the story is so familiar. There’s a tedious quality to the action as the story hits all the expected beats with doomed brats Augustus Gloop, Violet Bureaugarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teevee. Much was made of the fact that the filmmakers were going back to Roald Dahl’s original story and avoiding some of the embellishments of the 1971 Mel Stuart film, but some embellishments might have been a good idea to provide audiences with a bit of unpredictability. Director Tim Burton, who can be a genius in the right circumstances, has stayed true to Dahl’s plot but has inadvertently crafted a story without a human center. Charlie Bucket, as played by bright eyed Freddie Highmore, is too good to be true in a blandly annoying sort of way. This is the kind of kid who’d probably react to a kick in the groin with a toothy smile. And that means that the story must hinge on the humanization of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. Depp, as always, delivers a tour de force performance of weirdo affectation (no one does that better) but when the film clumsily tries to explain why Willy’s weird by unveiling a labored backstory involving a cruel dentist father, you just have to laugh. Explaining Willy’s weirdness isn’t key to the story. Some people are just weird. The key should lie in the present and in the way Willy connects with Charlie, but that’s a relationship the film seems unsure about. To extend the candy metaphor, this is a melted blob of a movie wrapped in a sleek and shiny wrapper: it looks like it'll be delicious, but more than likely you'll get a bit of a stomach ache.

There was much fun to be had this summer watching the U.S. implosion of the clone thriller The Island. What was more entertaining, seeing the film bomb with audiences just days after director Michael Bay was quoted bragging about his unblemished record at the box office; watching the finger pointing by producer Walter Parkes who blamed the cast, the marketing campaign, and even the film’s title as if he – one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers – had zero influence over any of those elements; or learning about a copyright infringement lawsuit from the makers of a 1979 film called The Clonus Horror? It’d be fun to report that the movie itself is as bad as these disastrous rats-fleeing-the-sinking-ship indicators might suggest. But it’s really not. If you look at The Island with the right perspective, it’s actually pretty entertaining in an empty-headed popcorn-movie sort of way. You just have to go with it and let the many preposterous and illogical moments (and they are legion) wash over you, then pick it all apart on your ride home from the theater. There’s also a fairly frustrating schism in the film as it divides itself between a rather thoughtful conspiracy thriller in the first half and an unending chase movie in the second. And as with any Bay movie, this one has its share of loud, noisy sequences full of rapid-fire cuts and visual confusion, but he seems somewhat tamer this time around when compared to his truly awful films like Armageddon. As a postnote: if any of you hoped that The Island’s failure with American audiences might send a message to Hollywood, rest assured that message was probably not received. The film is a blockbuster hit overseas.

November is one of those brooding little indie films that plays for a week and your local theater and then disappears forever, until the one day you spy the DVD box at your neighborhood Blockbuster store and have a vague memory of having heard of it somewhere before. November is also one of those mindbend Mobius-strip movies that folds in on itself and plays with the audience’s (and the main character’s, for that matter) perception of reality, replaying a number of scenes with distinctly different outcomes to suggest that some of what you’ve seen didn’t happen at all. Is it a dream? Are the characters crazy? Or is it something else? Astute viewers will realize the truth fairly easily. But this film seems to exist more for the ride than for the destination. And with the running time well under 90 minutes, it’s an engaging ride that benefits from giving Courtney Cox the chance to give a completely convincing dramatic performance. But in the end, one wishes there were a little something... more to it all.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin delivers about what you’d expect from a movie with that kind of title. It’s an unending riff of sex and virgin jokes that put hapless hero Andy (Steve Carrell, in a surprisingly subdued performance) in a number of amusing sexual and romantic situations that climaxes, as it were, with a relationship with a single mother (the always sterling Catherine Keener). And that’s sort of the problem with the movie. Unlike, say, Wedding Crashers, this film doesn’t really hang together in a cohesive narrative way. It feels more like a collection of gags and sketches. It can be very funny, yes, such as Andy’s encounter with a drunk girl and his efforts to channel “David Caruso in Jade” in order to be an aloof jerk to women. But it leaves an aftertaste of disappointment. There’s a nagging sense that this could have been so much better. This is particularly true of the strong supporting cast whose characters doesn’t seem as well defined as they probably would be in a truly brilliant comedy. That said, the film ends with a showstopper musical number (yes, you read that right) that may be the most inspired and hilarious thing you’ve seen on screen in years. For that ending alone the film deserves your $8 ticket price.

Battlestar Galactica “Home Part 1”

Cool: It’s a lot of fun to watch the hapless new CAG Birch (replacing Apollo) fail at managing the most seemingly menial of Galactican tasks, whether it’s an asteroid Viper exercise or a simple refueling mission.

Cooler: When Caprica-Boomer leads the charge on Kobol in taking out the Cylon Centurion ambush, it’s clear she’s nothing at all like the wishy-washy pushover that was Galactica-Boomer. This version is a real bad-ass, suggesting perhaps that not all Cylon copies are made alike. Unless, of course, this is all Part of the Plan.

Huh? Yeah, I know, it's a nice scene between Adama and Dee in which she pleads for him to put his differences with Roslin aside for the good of the fleet. But it’s hard to believe that this one exchange of dialogue can so completely change Adama’s mind. He just seems to stubbord and proud to admit a mistake without a little something more dramatic or irrefutable. But this scene does gives us...

Best Line: “It’s time to put the fleet back together.” – Adama, grimly proclaiming his intention of returning to Kobol to bring back Roslin and the 24 ships that followed her.

Falling: Baltar and Six – As always, they're continuing their boring little dance of obtuse dialogue (accompanied by that plinking piano) that makes it seem like their subplot is advancing without ever really revealing anything new. The less of them, the better.

Battlestar Galactica “The Farm”

Cool: A gratuitous, but much appreciated, shot of Starbuck walking around in her underwear to start the episode.

Cooler: Caprica-Boomer’s apparent switching of sides to align herself with humans, presumably because of her love for Helo. First she helps rescue Starbuck by leading the Caprica resistance to the farm, then by piloting the Heavy Raider to strafe her fellow Cylons to help Starbuck escape. But one can’t help but wonder if her “rejection” of the Cylons is all Part of the Plan.

Coolest: Starbuck kills the Cylon doctor Simon with a mirror shard to the neck, proving her ferocious ruthlessness and giving us the pleasure of watching a Cylon wheeze in wide-eyed shock “You... killed me.” Yeah, that's what us humans do sometimes when a robot species tries to wipe us out.

Huh? Adama sobs over Galactica-Boomer’s corpse in the ship morgue, crying “Why?” What is going on here exactly? At first you figure it’s just Adama raging at the horror of the situation in which a trusted crew member like Galactica-Boomer has betrayed him, especially with all the little suggestions of how he sees his crew as family. But the scene goes on for so long that it begins to get a little creepy what with middle-aged Edward James Olmos crying over a much younger (and very dead-looking) Grace Park. Did these two have a relationship? If so, is there anyone Boomer didn’t sleep with?

Best Line: “That’s almost a third of the fleet.” – Tigh, letting us know how significant it is that 24 ships joined Roslin in abandoning Galactica and jumping back to Kobol. So much for Adama’s prediction that no one would follow Roslin’s religious quest.

Rising: Starbuck – She’s already a great character, equal parts bad-ass warrior and vulnerable loner. She gets bonus points here, though, not only for the mirror shard to the neck (see above), but also for the crafty way she unplugs her IV drip to regain her senses and get to the bottom of everything, which she does here with a classic Patient Breaks the Rules and Creeps Around the Hospital scene.

8.15.2005

"Rock Star INXS" Haikus

Marty (odds to replace Michael Hutchence - 2:1)
Evil looking guy
Played the acoustic card: smart
Weird arm waving thing

Jordis (3:1)
INXS loves her
Angel’s voice, big long dreadlocks
But pick a girl? Nope.

Mig (3:1)
Married, weird jawline
Comes from the land down under
Too nice for this biz

J.D. (4:1)
Once a front runner
Good but so frickin’ cocky
Now with a shaved head

Ty (6:1)
One in the Mohawk
Cries about racial pressure
He’s kinda scary

Suzie (10:1)
Hot girl on the show
Does she have tattoos or not?
Better than you’d think

Deanna (12:1)
Classic whiskey voice
She's good at what she does but...
Can’t last much longer

Jessica (25:1)
Bottom Three her home
Better off on the Idol
A nice belly though

8.09.2005

Battlestar Galactica “Resistance”

Cool: Boomer’s public assassination by Cally as she’s being led in handcuffs by authorities through a crowd of people. Any similarity to the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald is strictly intentional. Bonus points for the stricken look on Chief Tyrol’s face as Boomer dies in his arms, making it clear he really did love Boomer, Cylon circuitry and all.

Cooler: Baltar’s shockingly ruthless decision to fatally poison Chief Tyrol as a way to extort from Boomer’s Cylon subconscious the number of Cylon agents on Galactica – i.e. if she didn’t tell Baltar the truth, he’d let Tyrol die. A truly sweaty, powerhouse moment, the kind of thing one expects on 24 not the Sci-Fi Channel. Whether or not Boomer was telling the truth – she said there are eight Cylons on board – remains to be seen.

Coolest: The series’ growing web of political intrigue involving double agents and witch hunts and splintering governments and resistance fighters and declarations of martial law is nothing short of captivating. This is what science fiction (think Star Trek) excels at: using a future setting to comment on our own present. The show seems to really be hitting its stride now.

Best Line: “So. What’s happening on my ship?” – Adama, after shuffling from the infirmary to make a surprise appearance in Tigh’s quarters just moments after Tigh let prisoners Roslin and Apollo successfully escape Galactica to re-establish the colonial government in exile.

Falling: Billy – Roslin and Dee sure are into this guy, but what does he bring to the table besides puppy-dog loyalty? He always looks so bewildered. Here he decides to stay on Galactica and not follow Roslin into the breach of wrongdoing. Whatever. Who cares?

Rising: Baltar – Even though his unconventional “interrogation” of Boomer was done mostly to save himself (e.g. he exonerated the Chief in order to appease Cally, who demanded his help in return for her continued silence regarding the Crashdown incident on Kobol), the fact that he can be so resourceful and cold-blooded suggests an interesting future for this character regardless of which side he ultimately aligns himself with. One wonders, though, how much longer he can straddle the line between humanity and Cylons.

"This is Ceti Alpha Five!"

Top Ten Lines from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

10 “Jim Kirk was many things, kiddo, but he was never a Boy Scout.” – Dr. Carol Marcus to her son David, who’s days away from finding out the loathsome non-Boy Scout in question is in fact his father. They’ll meet for the first time (in a particularly heartwarming moment) when David attacks Kirk with a knife on Regula I.

9 “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, doctor.” – Admiral Kirk to Dr. McCoy in the film’s opening scene, nicely foreshadowing the film’s Big Theme #1: How does a brash hero like Kirk deal with growing old? Uhura doesn’t see many movies, apparently, because she replies with “Now what was that supposed to mean?”
8 “Ship... out of danger?” – A gravel-voiced Captain Spock to Kirk moments after Spock saved the Enterprise by uncapping a big steel cylinder, revealing a very bright light inside (read: futuristic deadly radiation), and adjusting something inside with his hands. What exactly did he do, plug the warp drive back in?

7 “Get back your command. Get it back before you turn into part of this collection. Before you really do grow old.” – McCoy to Kirk in Kirk’s San Francisco swinging bachelor pad, hitting harder Big Theme #1. (Also fun in this scene is learning that Kirk is allergic to Retinax Five.)

6 “One thing is certain – we cannot escape on auxiliary power.” – Spock’s tidy assessment of the battle damage inflicted on the Enterprise by Khan’s hijacked Reliant, pointing at one of those neato computer graphic bridge displays that looked so cool in 1982.

5 “I like to think there are always... possibilities.” – Kirk to Lieutenant Saavik, justifying his decision to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test and touching on the film’s Big Theme #2: How does a brash hero like Kirk – who always manages to find a way out – deal with death?

4 “We’re not going to make it, are we?” – Sulu’s question in the film’s sweaty climax, answered for Kirk by David’s grim shake of the head. Perhaps the movie’s most chilling moment.

3 “A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face.” – Kirk to Saavik in the film’s opening scene, explaining to her the value of the Kobayashi Maru simulation and foreshadowing Spock’s sacrifice when he faces such a choice at the end of the film. Kirk also invokes in this exchange Big Theme #2 with his line to Saavik “How we deal with death is at least as important as how deal with life.” It’s all theoretical preaching for him at this point, of course, because he hasn’t yet faced death.

2 “So much for a little training cruise.” – Sulu, muttering to no one in particular, right after Kirk takes over the Enterprise (“Stop energizers”) to investigate the possibility that Dr. Marcus’ Regula I space station and the Genesis device may be in danger.

1 (tie) “I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet. Buried alive... Buried alive... Buried alive...” – Khan’s hateful taunt to Kirk after he steals the Genesis device and presumably leaves Kirk for dead. Kirk responds to this with one of the Star Trek franchise’s most famous lines:

1 “Khan!” – Kirk, accompanied by a dramatic timpani roll. William Shatner really puts his heart into this one, teeth bared, lips curled, veins bulging. How did he not get an Oscar nomination for this?!

7.31.2005

Battlestar Galactica "Fragged"

Cool: Colonel Tigh makes it official with his “I’m declaring martial law” speech to reporters, dissolving the Quorum of Twelve and taking the storyline where we all knew it would eventually lead what with all those civil-yet-frosty “debates” between Adama and Roslin over how to lead the fleet. This is a particularly dark turn for Tigh, who earlier in the episode assured another character that Adama would never allow martial law. His decision here suggests Tigh is no longer as worried about doing things the way Adama would have done. Tigh even calls Galactica “my ship” at one point.
Cooler: That tense Tarantino-style standoff on Kobol between Crashdown and Tyrol over how to handle the insubordination of Cally (who only enlisted to pay for dental school) was maybe the show’s most suspenseful moment yet. Bonus points for Baltar’s unconventional solution, though it would have been a much bigger surprise had the episode not been named, uh, you know, “Fragged.”
Best Line: “Leading the charge.” – Baltar’s answer to Apollo’s question about how Crashdown died. Just why Baltar did this (to cover his ass or to protect Crashdown’s honor?) is unclear, but it certainly could make for some interesting possibilities in future episodes. Cover-ups like this rarely end well, especially in TV shows.
Falling: Six continues to try our patience. She’s the show’s worst offender in spouting all of that religion exposition double-talk about the Greater Purpose for all of this. Hopefully, the writers will explain this annoying discrepancy between the Cylon Centurions who want to kill all humans and the Cylon-humans like Six who seem to love humans on some weird level.
Rising (tie): In the hero corner we have Chief Tyrol, whose level-headed leadership on Kobol under extreme duress (in contrast to Crashdown’s adrenaline-fueled sloppy irrationality) has gone a long way to redeeming his inexplicable denial last season of Boomer’s role in a couple of instances of Cylon-style sabatoge. In the villain corner we have Tigh’s slimy wife Ellen, who’s more and more taking on a Lady MacBeth persona as she starts to nudge Tigh into taking control. Keep in mind Ellen’s strange return last season. Everyone thought she was dead and then she pops up on one of the fleet’s other ships having emerged from a coma or something. Odds that she’s a Cylon spy: 4:1.

Geek website: Battlestar Wiki

Battlestar Galactica "Valley of Darkness"

Cool: Colonel Tigh quickly susses out the Cylons’ attack strategy, having “seen this before,” and correctly surmises that they intend on venting the human crew into space. Which would be bad.
Cooler: It’s been a while since we’ve seen Cylon Centurions up close like this. They’re a scary and formidable adversary, especially when they kick on their Gatlin-gun claws and fire off an seemingly inexhaustible spray of bullets.
Huh? After Helo spent weeks on “Cylon-occupied Caprica” laying low, quietly ducking and dodging Cylons like John Rambo in ninja-guerilla mode suddenly there seems to be no worry about being discreet. Starbuck takes Helo back to her old place, cranks up some music, then - just in case any lurking Cylons didn't hear them - they tear out of town in Starbuck’s souped-up Colonial Hummer. Where’d all the Cylons go? Runner up: This new Baltar-Six baby subplot is further muddled with a protracted dream sequence in which Adama drowns Baltar’s baby. It’s all so Symbolic and Meaningful. Whatever.

7.24.2005

Battlestar Galactica "Scattered"

Cool: The Galactica using “FTL” – this is a show that loves acronyms – to safely zap away from a Cylon attack... only to realize that a absent-minded procedural error has separated them from the rest of the fleet, which zapped to some other unknown location. Uh oh.
Cooler: The apparent crash of aCylon ship into the Galactica that wasn’t an accidental crash (or a Colonial victory) at all, but rather a clevert tactic to put on board an invasion force of Cylon Centurions. After weeks of interaction with the human-copy Cylons, it’s good to finally see a return of the robot Cylons.
Huh?: Enough already with the tedious nonsense between Baltar and Six, taken here to a new low with this weirdo baby dream sequence. It's clearly meant to be Very Important, but all it does it make you go for the "Fast Forward" button on the TiVo. And what was at first a cool piano plink-plink soundtrack that accompanied Six’s scenes is now just plain irritating.
Best Line: “The bitch took my ride.” – Starbuck, upon seeing that Boomer has flown off in the Cylon Raider, just moments after she was preventing from killing Boomer by a lovestruck Helo.
Falling: Boomer – She’s annoying in both “copies.” Yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be poignant the way she’s grappling with her human side and her Cylon side, carrying out missions of violence at the same time feeling the twinge of human emotions. But she’s mostly just pathetic, like her inability to kill herself with a space-age blaster gun pointed right under her chin.
Rising: Tigh – This was a showcase episode for actor Michael Hogan, tracing Tigh’s tortured efforts to overcome a self-stated fear of command and step out of Adama’s shadow (taking a risk perhaps that “the old man” Adama may have never considered) to save the fleet. Tigh may be the show’s most complex character, equal parts grouchy loser and loyal soldier.

7.19.2005

Vince + Owen = Comedy Gold

It’s been so long since there’s been a movie as exuberantly hilarious as Wedding Crashers that it catches you almost totally by surprise. Too many comedies settle for just putting a smile on your face or a warm buzz in your belly. But this movie – directed by David Dobkin and written by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher – aspires to more than that. This is Something About Mary funny, Meet the Parents funny, American Pie funny. It will do just about anything to make you laugh, including one memorably bawdy sexual encounter at a dinner table. This is a film unafraid to embrace its R-rating. And sometimes that eagerness crosses the line, such as with a fairly uncomfortable side plot involving a creepy, vaguely predatory gay man that feels like it belongs in a movie from 1985. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn – wisely sticking to their firmly-established personas as a rumpled romantic and a wise-ass scoundrel, respectively – are bachelors who spend their free time crashing weddings to take single women to bed. Their routine hits a speed bump when Wilson’s character John starts to fall for one of his marks – the luminous Claire Cleary, played by the twinkle-eyed Rachel McAdams. This leads Wilson and Vaughn to spend a weekend with Claire’s weirdo upper-crust family, headed by Christopher Walken. (It should tell you something to know that Walken’s playing one of more normal and level-headed people in the movie.) Naturally, over the course of the story, Wilson and Vaughn’s characters learn to Change Their Ways. The end result is a foregone conclusion. How we get there is where the fun lies. But while the movie has a amusingly zippy energy when it’s stuck in WASPy blue-blood world of khaki and cocktails, once the wedding-crasher ruse is exposed – as ruses always must in these kinds of movies – and Claire rejects John for being a liar, the story languishes in a plodding third act that goes on and on and on for at least half an hour too long. The film’s hurt further by an increasingly silly tone (a last-minute cameo by a well-known comedy star is more irritating than inspired) that undercuts what meager sense of realism it had initially created. Which is a shame because although the climax is funny, it’s also the kind of thing that never, ever happens anywhere but in movie like this. Then again, maybe “funny” is sometimes more important than “realistic.”

7.17.2005

Oompa Loompa Miscellany Part 2

From WonkaFacts comes lyrics for the Oompa Loompa songs (from 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) to which everyone knows the melody:

Augustus Gloop: Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo/I've got a perfect puzzle for you/Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dee/If you are wise you'll listen to me. What do you get when you guzzle down sweets?/Eating as much as an elephant eats/Where are you at getting terribly fat/What do you think will come of that? (I don't like the look of it) Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah/If you're not greedy you will go far/You will live in happiness too/Like the Oompa Loompa Doompadee Do.

Violet Beauregarde: Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo/I've got another puzzle for you/Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dee/If you are wise you'll listen to me. Gum chewing's fine when it's once in a while/It stops you from smoking and brightens your smile. But it's repulsive, revolting, and wrong/Chewing and chewing all day long (the way that a cow does). Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah/Given good manners you will go far/You will live in happiness too/Like the Oompa Loompa Doompadee Do.
Veruca Salt: Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo/I've got another puzzle for you/Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dee/If you are wise you'll listen to me. Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?/Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat/Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame/You know exactly who's to blame (the mother and the father). Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah/If you're not spoiled then you will go far/You will live in happiness too/Like the Oompa Loompa Doompadee Do.

Mike Teevee: Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo/I've got another puzzle for you/Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dee/If you are wise you'll listen to me. What do you get from a glut of TV?/A pain in the neck and an IQ of three/Why don't you try simply reading a book/Or could you just not bear to look (you'll get no commercials). Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah/If you're not greedy you will go far/You will live in happiness too/Like the Oompa Loompa Doompadee Do.

Oompa-Loompa Miscellany part 1

From now-defunct humor magazine Me Head is an old posting on Oompa-Loompa labor trouble:

"Oompa-Loompas Push for Change" by Kabob Stevens

It's been six years since Wonka was forced to renegotiate wages for his staff of Oompa-Loompas; now they're threatening to strike if work conditions don't improve.

Union clerk Sandy Oompa-Meyers predicts that Wonka Corp. can't ignore complaints much longer.

"We've registered our complaints, all the way up to Bucket (Charlie Bucket, CEO of Wonka). He's no vernicious knid - we think he'll listen," explains Oompa-Meyers.

After its original owner, William Wonka, handed the company reigns over to Bucket in the mid-70s, Wonka Corp. experienced a series of hard hits: The company reached a settlement with various child plaintiffs; Grampa Bucket, VP of Operations; resigned over a scandal involving a Loompa intern; and the Everlasting Gobstopper failed to meet public expectations, driving sales further down.

Among the requests Loompas are proposing:

-Clearly marked exit signs.

-On-site career counseling.

-Stature-friendly bathroom facilities.

"If we don't hear from Bucket soon, then oompa-loompa-oompadee-dim, we'll have a secret waiting for him," says Oompa-Meyers.

Bucket's office had no comment on the proposals. Oompa Loompas are renowned for their confection-handling skills and musical work philosophy.

7.16.2005

Is America losing the "War on Terror"?

From the July 14 L.A. City Beat, columnist Andrew Gumbel's "This is London" explores what the London bombings say about American efforts to battle terrorism...

One might have been forgiven, before the abrupt horror of last week’s bombings on the London transport system, for thinking the Bush administration had all but forgotten about its war on terror. The White House has been so distracted in recent months – by Social Security, by the growing morass in Iraq, by Terri Schiavo, by John Bolton and Priscilla Owen and the looming battle over the Supreme Court – that a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that only half the electorate still considered President Bush an effective fighter against terrorism.

That’s an astonishing sea-change for an administration which won a second term largely on the basis that the voting public felt safer in its hands. Whatever happened to those color-coded alerts, which used to be flashed along the bottom of our television screens with such drumbeat regularity? Where are the cabinet officers who used to warn us in grave tones every few weeks that they had received word of a threat of a maddeningly non-specific nature?

Could it be that Al Qaeda has simply given up its ambitions to attack Americans on their own soil after last November’s presidential election? Hardly. Or is it rather that the Bush administration has given up – that, having exploited all those warnings and orange alerts to win reelection, it has no further use for them?

There is nothing pleasant about ascribing such chillingly cynical motives to a government on a subject as elemental and important as the safety of its citizens. But it is also impossible to get around, especially when – as the bloodshed in London so graphically illustrates – the threat of attacks on civilians in just about any high-profile location remains as vivid as ever.

Like many people, I took the London bombings very personally. London is my city. I’ve been on all the underground trains that were hit. I know how asphyxiatingly crowded they can get at rush hour, can imagine the abject panic that must have set in amid the helplessly mashed walls of human bodies as soon as the bombs exploded. When I heard about the bus in Tavistock Square, I could conjure up in my mind the square’s understated brick buildings, the tree-filled park, the squat little statue in the middle celebrating Mahatma Gandhi and his espousal of nonviolence.

People on this side of the Atlantic understand very well, I think, that this was more than just an attack on London, in the same way that many people around the world instinctively felt that the destruction of the Twin Towers was more than just an attack on New York. Such undirected brutality, such killing for the sake of killing, is an affront to human civilization as a whole, and needs to be resisted with all the solidarity and sense of common purpose we can muster.

The Bush administration, of course, has chosen another path. Not only has it divided the world and its own electorate. Not only has it been deceptive and exploited people’s fears for political gain. It has also been singularly lousy at doing the one thing one might reasonably have expected, which is to do everything in its power to minimize the risk of another attack within the United States.

Aside from pumping up airport security and reorganizing the bureaucracy in Washington, the administration’s record is largely one of failure – failure to institute an effective container inspection system at Long Beach and the country’s other major ports, failure to speed up the process of securing loose nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, failure to provide state, county, and city authorities the funds they need to institute their own local counterterrorism programs.

Perhaps most insanely, the USA Patriot Act distributes federal counterterrorism money according to the logic of the electoral college, not on the basis of need. So Wyoming is swimming in federal money – more per capita than any other state – while Manhattan and L.A., where an attack is several orders of magnitude more likely, are gasping for it.

The Bush administration has spent way more money on tax cuts and the war in Iraq than it has on counterterrorism. (Of course it argues that the war in Iraq is counterterrorism, but if the White House’s fight-them-there-so-we-don’t-have-to-fight-them-here line looked dubious before the London bombings, it looks downright absurd now.) Until this week, in fact, when the Senate decided to reexamine the question, the administration was proposing spending just $600 million on safeguarding the nation’s ports, mass transit systems, bridges, railways, and energy facilities in 2006. That’s roughly what the country spends every two to three days in Iraq.

Law enforcement, meanwhile, shows no indication of having any more of a clue than it did in the fateful summer of 2001. Six of the seven members of the alleged sleeper cell in Lackawanna, outside Buffalo, were pressured into guilty pleas and lengthy sentences before the weakness of the case against them could be exposed. It appears to be a similar story in Lodi, where the FBI’s initial wolf-crying about a plot to attack hospitals and supermarkets has not translated into a single indictment on a terrorism-related charge. There are serious grounds for doubting whether the Pakistani terrorist training camp mentioned in an FBI affidavit even exists.

Ice cream salesman Umer Hayat and his son Hamid are being held on the distinctly unspectacular grounds that they lied to investigators, while three other suspects, including two local Muslim clerics, are being held on relatively minor visa violations.

Expert after expert has come forward to characterize those caught up in the FBI’s net as a bunch of amateurs – people with distasteful views who keep bad company, perhaps, but hardly guerrilla fighters so fearsome they need to be apprehended rather than kept under surveillance even before any specific plot has actually been hatched.

The Lodi arrests, in fact, smack of politicization. The FBI acknowledged it had been watching the suspects for a long time and has yet to give a convincing reason why it made the arrests when it did. Can it be a coincidence that the story erupted just as Congress was debating whether or not to renew the Patriot Act, as the FBI and the Bush administration have been urging?

I recently spoke to Tim Naftali, a national security expert and consultant on the 9/11 Commission whose recent book, Blind Spot, recounts the patchy history of U.S. counterterrorism since World War II. He didn’t think it remotely implausible that the FBI, looking for an eye-catching counter-terrorism case to bring to public attention, simply looked through its surveillance files and pulled out the most promising one.

Naftali also argued that the sleeper cell problem is a particularly tricky one. The evidence of 9/11 – Al Qaeda members risking exposure by coming in and out of the country and traveling all over it – suggests that in 2001, anyway, Al Qaeda didn’t have a sleeper cell in the United States worth a damn. Has that state of affairs changed? Given the absence of attacks here since 9/11, perhaps not. Then again, the considerably better prepared law enforcement authorities in London and Madrid were caught out by groups whose existence they had not even clocked.

The point is that the United States urgently needs to take proper stock of the real risks, which indubitably exist, and discard all the deceptive political flummery that serves only to confuse and divide people. 9/11 could not have been a louder wake-up call, but President Bush chose to expend the bulk of his office’s resources on defeating Saddam Hussein and John Kerry instead of Osama bin Laden, and the country fell back to sleep. The London bombings should jolt us awake all over again. Some of the administration’s actions in the immediate wake of last Thursday have actually seemed quite reasonable. Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security director, explained in admirably cogent fashion that he had no intelligence concerning any particular threat but was raising the alert level for mass transit systems anyway. It was the first official pronouncement that I remember since the onset of the war on terror that was free of the whiff of political bad faith. Will the White House be able to keep this up? Like a drunkard going on the wagon, we need to hope and pray and embrace our new sobriety one day at a time.