- On Monday, The Scotsman had a pair of exclusive pics from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (which might have been my favorite book of the series). A day later, Comingsoon.net posted three additional pics from the movie (that's one, above). I would expect more to come in the next few weeks, possibly even a trailer by Thanksgiving or Christmas. The films hits on July 13th and I'm all good and excited about it.
- In other Harry Potter news, Newsweek has Emma Watson, who plays the supposedly buck-toothed Hermione Granger in the films, wavering on whether or not she'll come back for the last two Potter films. Before we all cry foul, it makes sense. Watson states in the article that she's looking forward to university, that a commitment would keep her filming for until she's 20, and that she isn't even sure if acting is what she wants for a career. Read the short Newsweek blurb hither, or the full interview thither.
- And lastly, I promised you Ghostface, I'll give you Ghostface! Dennis Coles, aka Ghostface Killah, is on record saying that it's alright for poor people to download his records rather than buy them. In an interview with the Associated Press about a possible Wu-Tang reunion, Ghostface admits that he doesn't like illegal downloading, but lets folks who can't afford to buy the album off the hook, saying, "I mean, if you're poor, yeah."
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Monday, September 25, 2006
Yeah, Sorkin brought the funny.
So Monday night might be my favorite night from now on. Not only do you have a revitalized Monday Night Football to watch during commercial breaks, but you have actual programming to watch should said game suck bad. Honestly, whether it sucks or not, I'll be watching something else anyways. And this is why.
Heroes was seriously the best pilot of the fall so far. Better than Studio 60 even. It was tight, every second was used for maximum effect. There wasn't a single moment where I felt like changing the channel. Each plot thread was interesting enough to propel itself on its own, yet near the end of the show, the primary plot began to take shape as smaller threads intertwined. Not to be outdone, the casting and acting were superb as well. It was refrshing to see an ensemble cast that didn't act like they were making a movie of the week. Heroes will garner its share of Lost comparisons, not just because of its scope, but because it's genuinely good. Everything just clicked. Even the sets and lighting were outstanding. This was fine television, and I for one, cannot wait until next week.
And Studio 60 brung it. After last week's set-up, tonight's episode knocked it out of the park. If NBC doesn't command Monday nights by the end of the year, it'll be a dirty shame, at least as much shame as there is left for network television after having been first doled out to politicians, cable news pundits and mass murderers. I totally lost my train of thought. Something about....dangit. Okay, so maybe The Pirates of Penzance bit at the end was a little meh, but I can forgive Sorkin his little quirks. He's earned it.
So a good night? Yes. And by 11:00ish, the New Orleans Saints ought to have win #3 for the season. Even Harry Connick, Jr. showed up for the game! Could this night get any better?
Last week was Premiere Week!
Or was it?
There are still dozens of new and returning shows left to premiere, including Lost, Veronica Mars, Lost, Smallville and Lost. But here are my early thoughts on what we've seen so far (and by we've I mean I've, because television is my current drug of choice while yours is baking or the Bible or a successful career). Let's go!
Prison Break - Like I said a few weeks ago, what was a very set-driven show last season has morphed into a Fugitive type serial, this time with a whole host of men-on-the-run. The first three episodes stuck to the "we gotta get to Utah and find the buried treasure" plot that was introduced late last season. There have been some genuinely creepy moments (mostly involving T-Bag getting his hand sewed back on and giving evil looks to minors), and exciting ones as well. But the whole bit with the tattoos keeps going and going and going....it's like Michael mapped out the rest of his life on his blasted arms. At some point he's going to have to start thinking on his own, but I have a feeling that's not going to happen anytime soon. In addition, the whole subplot involving Robin Tunney's character has completed stalled with her death and with Patricia Wettig's (Vice-President Reynolds) bolting for greener pastures on Brothers and Sisters. The Fugitive angle only works as long as someone is actively trying to prove Lincoln Burrows' innocence. We'll see what tonight brings.
Vanished - Vanished had better shape up soon. The mood and tenor of the show are fantastic: they do 24 even better than 24 does 24 these days. But the cast is a bit on the weak side: there's no Keifer Sutherland or Hugh Laurie to really take the reigns and lead this show. Heck, I'd settle for someone like William Fichter, whose been a terrific foil for Michael over on Prison Break. Luckily, another Invasion alum, Eddie Cibrian, is rumored to be joining the cast soon, but the cast isn't all what ails the show. The plotting has been sketchy for the past couple of episodes, with an absurd suicide, a pointless ransom drop-off (which was done much better in the first episode of NBC's Kidnapped), and a Kim Bauer-ish subplot involving the Senator's daughter, her affair with a Supreme Court nominee, and her relationship with her current boyfriend. With Heroes starting tonight, Vanished's days might be numbered.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - I shared my pilot episode thoughts last week, but on a further note, I'm really looking forward to the new episode tonight. From what I've heard around the horn, it's even more entertaining than the pilot, as we get out first real look at the late-night players and into how the show is made. And while the pilot was a little over-the-top preachy at times, future episodes ought to bring the funny.
Smith - I was thoroughly unimpressed with Smith. Ray Liotta plays a great thief, but so does Andre Braugher, and much better I might add. While Smith went with the slick Oceans 11 vibe, it doesn't sit well when its lead characters kill innocent guards during a heist. Andre's Braugher's (short lived?) Thief dealt with the moral ramifications of murder in a way which would have made Flannery O'Conner proud. It was FX-ey without being gratuitous about it. But apparently, no one was watching. So now all we're left with is the CBS version. Joy.
Jericho - I was honestly looking forward to Jericho, until I started watching it. Whereas Lost began with a bang, Jerichoo sort of whimpered along for a good 15 minutes. Remember the first few minutes of Lost's pilot, when Jack sort of woke up on the island, stumbled onto the crash site and started saving people left and right? Jericho had none of that. When the actual disaster actually happened (a nuclear explosion), it was too far away to do any serious damage to the town. Instead, we got two bus crashes: one a school bus which was rescued by the mayor's black-sheep son, and another a prison bus with a bunch of nasty convicts onboard, which dun-dun-dun, was left for future episodes to resolve. The cast has the same problem as Vanished, thus far. Skeet Ulrich is no Matthew Fox, you know? And don't get me started on the amateur tracheotomy. It had me in fits of giggles. Not a good sign.
Kidnapped - Vanished sometimes seems like a 24 knockoff, which is the intent, I guess. Kidnapped, on the other hand, sometimes seemed like a TV mini-series knock off. A well-produced, handsomely shot and expertly acted TV mini-series knock off, but still a knock off none-the-less. The production values are high, on the order of a John Wells/Aaron Sorkin type series that NBC loves so dearly (even the credits seemed very NBC-ish, somehow). But Delroy Lindo and Jeremy Sisto bring something to Kidnapped that most new shows this season are lacking: gravitas and great chemistry. Word is that Kidnapped failed to deliver in the ratings against CSI:NY, which could signal the return of the original Law & Order to its old stomping grounds on Wednesday at 10/9 Central. And that would be a shame. The next two weeks will probably decide Kidnapped's fate. Here's to crossed fingers and knocks on wood.
Grey's Anatomy/Six Degrees - I'm not sure what I expected. I caught most of Grey's while waiting for the premiere of Six Degrees, and I was disappointed on both counts. Grey's was everything I loved/hated about Dawson's Creek. Some capable acting, witty dialogue, and loads and loads of emotional porn. I couldn't handle it then, and I can't handle it now. Melodrama can be loads of fun, as long as its broken up by super-powered teens or mystery islands. That being said, Six Degrees didn't do anything to brighten my spirits. J.J. Abrams had nothing to do with the writing of the pilot episode, and it showed. The plot was just one cliche right after another, which could probably describe any TV show when you get down to it, but Hope Davis was the only actor who was able to transcend the trappings of TV drama with her performance. Everyone else just basically went through the motions, and delivered a pretty boring pilot in the process. The sad thing is, it's light years ahead of its competition with Shark and ER, so given time, maybe it'll make something of itself. I'll be back for episode two, though now, just out of curiosity.
Men in Trees - This is the kind of show I will like 20 years from now, if I someone happen to be a woman by then, too. It's light and breezy, all girl-power for the soccer mom who-may-or-may-not-be-in-a-serious-relationship set. Anne Heche is wonderful. The cast around her is great. And it's set in not-New York, i.e. Alaska. But I'm not in my 40s. And I don't have a uterus. So there's not much left for me here. Oh well. I'd like to see it make the cut, though. It's the kind of TV that really deserves to be on TV. Honest.
That's it so far. Keep reading though, below, I actually blog about something that might matter to you. God help me, I've still got it!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Round 11, Richies vs. Poories
This is the sort of piece I'd usually save for Midwest Mindset, but I'd rather not detract from the brewing Moody controversy (as I like to hype it), so it falls here instead. Face front, True Believers!
Time Magazine ran a really great cover story last week titled "Does God Want You To Be Rich?" There were interviews with Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and Ron Sider, and some non-pastor types as well. Instead of copying and pasting chunks of the article here, I thought I'd just throw out a few quotes from the piece to give you a general idea of what it contains.
"I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to enjoy our lives. I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich." -- Joel Osteen, megapastor and author of Your Best Life Now
"Prosperity Lite is everywhere in Christian culture. Go into any Christian bookstore, and see what they're offering." Rev. Chappell Temple, Methodist minister
"Who would want something where you're miserable, broke and ugly and you have to muddle through until you get to heaven? ....I believe God wants to give us nice things" -- Joyce Meyer, television preacher, author of too many books to mention
"They have neglected the texts about the danger of riches. Prosperity Gospel Lite is one of the most powerful forms of neglect of the poor." -- Ron Sider, professor Eastern University, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
"God wants you to own land. The entire Old Testament is all about land. Land represents that God is with you and God has blessed you." -- Kirbyjon Caldwell, minister of the largest United Methodist congregation in the U.S.
"The idea that God wants everyone to be wealthy? Baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net-worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?" -- Rick Warren, megapastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life
"We need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health--it is a disease of our American culture; it is not a solution or answer to life's problems." -- Ben Witherington, New Testament theologian, Asbury Seminary
"Jesus' words about money don't make us very comfortable, and people don't want to hear about it." -- Collin Hansen, editor Christianity Today
The article is a doozy. But it's a topic that deserves the cover story treatment (and deserves to be read, too). It points out that many Prosperity churches are heavily involved in charity giving. And that's great. But God never commanded a potential disciple to give generously to charity and follow me. Furthermore, a telling statistic from the article is that 31% of Americans believe that if you give money to God, he will in turn bless you with even more money, as if God's greatest blessing this side of heaven is greater wealth.
However, it was that last quote from Collin Hansen that interested me most, because of how true it is. The article continues to quote a Princeton sociologist who says that "There has long been a taboo on talking candidly about money" in the U.S. church. I'm a testament to that. The only money talks I heard growing up were concerned with tithing. Give to God what's his, pre-taxes, and figure out the rest for yourself. For some reason, pastors are comfortable preaching about sexual mores and time management and even sometimes politics. But money? No way.
After half a century of over-emphasis on eternal destiny, at the cost of social inequality, evangelicals are finally wising up to the whole Gospel of salvation and liberation, both in the afterlife and here on earth. But what is it about finances and material wealth that make them such uncomfortable topics? Again, I'd go back to the Hansen quote: Jesus' words about money don't make us very comfortable.
And there's the rub. Its nice to think about saving babies and taking purity pledges and spending more time with our families. These are clear-cut issues of justice and responsibility and righteousness that evangelicals can all agree on. But no one agrees about money. And when we do agree, it's still an uncomfortable subject (unless, you're one of the so-called experts that's written a book or something, hence, the quotes). I don't like mentioning it, but when I spent a year with AmeriCorps in Montana, I was too stubborn to ask my parents for help every now and then, and ended racking up a hefty credit card bill to pay for groceries and travel money (I drove somewhere new in Montana just about every weekend, and while gas prices weren't so bad two years ago, Montana is a big state). It's embarrassing to admit, especially because of my general hatred of credit card companies these days (also due to a fantastic Frontline about the industry), but it's what I did, and I can't undo it. I can only pay it off.
But is that the only reason evangelicals don't like to talk about money? Because we're embarrassed by our past financial transgressions? Or because we disagree on how to handle our individual finances? Is it because Christ's sayings are hard? Or is it because they're sometimes confusing? Has it always been this way? Or is this a uniquely American taboo? If you're so inclined, what do you think?
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Short Bulletpoint Thingama--Oh forget it. Does anyone else remember when I used to be able to come up with clever blog titles?
- So the premiere of Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip has come and gone. And I was pleasantly pleased. Not blown away (though the Matthew Perry/Bradley Whitford scenes came awful close), but I enjoyed it all the same. Sorkin's dialogue sparkled, and Tommy Schlamme's direction was like the welcome return of an old friend. But: 45-minute pilots that have to introduce some 7 or 8 main characters are going to be a bit clunky. Remember that in The West Wing's pilot, President Bartlett was barely introduced -- he only had a short scene near the end of the episode -- which allowed Sorkin to focus exclusively on his other five stars. Once the characters of Studio 60 are established (which they mostly have been), I expect the show to start humming along. That being said....
- News is the series premiere of Studio 60 was overcome in the rating-wars by the season premiere of CSI:Miami. Surprisingly, Studio 60 actually lost ground as the hour went on, as a sizable amount of viewers tuned elsewhere for their entertainmennt during the second half of the show. That Studio 60 lost to CSI:Miami doesn't surprise me much. The show targets an audience that probably doesn't watch CSI:Miami in the first place, so it's a good program to square off against (though NBC likely wouldn't mind if they could steal away some of CSI:Miami's current audience, no doubt). That Studio 60 lost ground is a bit alarming, but when you consider it, the drop makes sense. Studio 60's lead-in was the wildly (at least for another couple of months) popular Deal or No Deal -- a two hour edition no less. While it may be a ratings grabber, it's definitely not a good thematic or genre lead-in. After two hours of watching people open briefcases and make funny faces, it's no wonder Studio 60 couldn't keep that audience. It's everything Deal isn't -- smart, fast-paced and irresistibly charming. In fact, the Judd Hirsch speech that opened Studio 60 railed against the very same television that Deal or No Deal represents. And while I've no personal problem with dumb entertainment (hello, Johnny Knoxville), it's only the fault of NBC's programming execs that Studio 60 wasn't able to hold its lead's audience.
- Speaking of stupid entertainment, and stupidity in general, there's an interesting piece in last week's Time Magazine (Sep 18th cover date) about Mike Judge's new film, Idiocracy. Judge, who you might know as the creator of Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, and everyone's favorite cubicle-comedy Office Space, has been hard at work on Idiocracy for over two years now (it's been in the can for months), and with Luke Wilson starring, you'd think you would have seen a trailer for it by now. But nothing. No press, no marketing campaign, no trailer on Quicktime's website for us movie geeks, no nothing. Idiocracy tells the story of a normal guy from our present (Wilson) who is frozen and thawed out in the year 2505, and finds himself in a strange future where he's the smartest person alive. Judge's vision of the future is alot like our present, only a hell of a lot worse. Corporations and advertising have dumbed down culture so far that everyone is an idiot, and everything around them is gaudily uniform. (My favorite quote from the article describes a scene where "Costco takes up miles of space and has greeters emotionlessly repeat, 'Welcome to Costco. I love you.'") Time cites the failure of Fox's marketing division to create a trailer that test groups reacted positively to for Fox's decision to limit the movie's release to just seven cities. Let's hope that Fox's creative failure to find a way to market the film doesn't hurt its chances to get a proper DVD treatement. Most likely, Idiocracy will play like another Office Space by slowly building a cult audience then exploding to the point where Comedy Central and TBS are engaged in a blood feud for the television rights. Anything to replace their repeated airings of Malibu's Most Wanted, please!
- New Topic: Rupert Murdoch wants your money, evangelical America! In addition to their lack of trailer cutting skills, Fox now has a Christian film marketing arm, aptly named FoxFaith. Fox plans to release small-budget Christians films on DVD while specifically marketing them to Christian audiences with the help of churches like yours. Additionally, FoxFaith will market a select few films each year for theatrical release as well. Fox does not have any plans to produce big-budget Passion of the Christ epics however: their first film will an adaptation of Christian romance novelist Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy. For those of you not familiar with with the Christian romance scene, it's a lot like Harlequin novels, except the sex scenes are replaced with more wholesome conversion experiences. Can I get an amen?
- And finally, while none of you will care, Joss Whedon is taking over the plotting/scripting duties for Marvel Comic's Runaways beginning with issue #25. I'm not even sure if I care, save for the fact that the book was created by Brian K. Vaughan (of Y: The Last Man fame), and that Whedon is TV geek royalty. Runaways has always sounded like a fun read, and maybe someday, if I can get past the fact that it's not published before the 1990s, I'll check it out.
P.S. Jake, can you remember to get my copy of Lost Season One from that one guy whose name I can't remember? I think it's safe to say that he's had a chance to view all 22 episodes considering how he's had it for about a year now. Thanks, chief.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
In light of the "12 most important bands" debate going on at Andy Sikora's blog & Midwest Mindset, I had a thought about music in general yesterday that might bring peace and joy to all mankind and volcanoes, too.
I was reading this one part in High Fidelity where Marie LaSalle plays a short set in Rob's record shop, and mixes in a bunch of cover songs from artists Rob sells, and this is what flashed in my brain: All bands/artists ought to devote around half their sets to cover songs. Because all bands have influences, (and of the ones I'd like to see) I wouldn't mind hearing them sing and perform some of those influences. And of the ones I'd rather not see, maybe they'd be so embarrassed that the reason they first picked up a guitar was because of Hootie and the Blowfish, that they'd actually start seeking out more carefully crafted songs to cover, and actually become more talented songwriters because of it.
There are some genres, like country or jazz, that just lend themselves to covers -- and it's never thought to be hackneyed or derivative in the least. In fact, jazz artists never even play covers, they perform standards. Something by Ella Fitzgerald or Miles Davis or Duke Ellington. And everybody goes nuts over it.
But maybe rock bands can't do that. Maybe they're so used to trying to find their own sound (or trying to sound exactly like band-X) that to cover too many songs would be detrimental to everything they stand for (or expose them for the charlatans they are). I don't know. But I do know we'd be better off as a listening public if the artists we enjoy would play more things by the artists they enjoy.
Besides, we could all stand to hear more new music, especially if it's new music that we might not have ever heard otherwise.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
....Is that he was both an entertainer and an educator. Anyone who watched one of his programs for more than five minutes would have realized how passionate Irwin was about animals and wildlife conservation. He made it his life to bring wild nature, in all her terrifying glory, into the homes of everyday people. Many of the animals he observed and wrangled with were either endangered, or are in-danger of having their habitats exploited and destroyed. With all the shit we have to put up with these days, from Nancy Grace to election spots every four seconds, it's no wonder most people don't give a damn about conservationism.
Irwin was an entertainer, no two ways about it. But he was also able to educate those same viewers who tuned in for his crazy stunts. Not too many entertainers can actually claim to be teachers as well. It takes a special kind of filmmaker, a special kind of musician, a special kind of personality, to pull that off. Irwin wasn't stupid. He knew the risks involved in his line of work. But for his own reasons, he felt that it was the right thing to do. If he could get people interested in the wild kingdom, or involved in protecting open spaces for wildlife to thrive and survive, then all those close calls were worth it. You wouldn't tell Salman Rushdie he took unnecessary risks for writing The Satanic Verses. And you wouldn't tell Johnny Cash he took unnecessary risks for protesting the Vietnam war. They believed in these things -- risks be damned.
And it's about time we recognized Steve Irwin for that as well. We should be so lucky to get just one man, so passionate about all God's creatures (great and small), in our lifetime. It wasn't his fault that most Westerners refuse to take note of wildlife unless it's in their faces. He gave the people what they wanted, and in turn, helped bring a voice to creatures who couldn't speak. Just remember, if we hadn't been so insistent on a mini-mall in every backyard and millions of open acres for cheap beef, then we wouldn't have needed someone like Steve Irwin to warn us about endangered habitats and their animalia residentialis.
Luckily, he had the courage to shake off the dust of indifference in our already over-stimulated minds.
And I say, good for him.
Friday, September 01, 2006
"It's like Amistad, but with lots more religion."
Bring on the 18-century political intrigue, my friends! An American film distributor has purchased the rights to a film based on the life and work of British abolitionist William Wilberforce, titled Amazing Grace, which was financially backed and produced by Walden Media, the same production company that brought us Holes, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the upcoming How To Eat Fried Worms. Walden Media, owned by Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz, has promised to launch an educational/marketing program dealing with slavery in today's world and social steps people can take to combat it.
In an interesting Walden Media twist, what might make the film appealing for evangelical Christians is the fact that William Wilberforce was an evangelical Methodist and a friend of John Newton (where we the get the title, "Amazing Grace", I'd presume). Wilberforce worked for much of his life as a member of British parliament in opposition to the Empire's slave trade. While not an outright abolitionist in the sense that he wanted to see every slave freed, he did fight for an end to the gross inhumanities perpetuated by the global slave trade. With the evangelical angle, Wilberforce's story seems an easy fit for targeting a Christian audience (evangelical or otherwise).
But what's really piqued my interest are the players involved in the production of the film. While Anschutz's Walden Media can boast a fine pedigree for getting evangelical butts in the seats for The Chronicles of Narnia, Amazing Grace may be an entirely different film altogether. Handling the scripting chores is Steven Knight, who received an Oscar nomination for his work on Dirty Pretty Things, while director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Nell, HBO's Rome) oversaw things from behind the camera. If not for the inclusion of Walden Media, I would assume the pic to have an R or PG-13 rating based on the creators involved. While an R rating for a story based on the crucifixion of Christ might not hurt a movie's chances for reaching evangelicals, it could turn that same audience away from a historical film dealing with British politics.
But the plot thickens a bit when you add to the fact that Chuck Colson (conservative Christian founder of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint ministries) has an evangelical think tank named in honor of Wilberforce, the Wilberforce Forum, whose mission is to "help Christians approach life with a biblical worldview so that they can in turn shape culture from a biblical perspective." Said think tank deals with issues such as the Federal Marriage Amendment, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, creationism and global human rights. While I might not line up politically with Colson, I harbor the man no ill will, mostly due to his fantastically readable autobiography Born Again, and also due to the fact that he was the first evangelical leader to come out in support of the Harry Potter series of books. That being said, getting Colson behind Amazing Grace would be a gigantic first step in marketing the film to conservative Christians, which is why having an owner like Philip Anschutz behind Walden Media will be an important piece to that puzzle.
No matter who the film is marketed to, and no matter what rating it's given, I'm looking forward to what ought to be a fairly engrossing film. Wilberforce -- coming from a wealthy family, converting to Methodism at an early age, and spending such a large part of his life in opposition to a lucrative business for English slave traders and the British crown -- is an interesting character, and if the pic is done well, worthy of a good two hours. Let's just hope that in an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience (young children included), Walden Media doesn't feel the need to sanitize certain events in order to maximize its profits. Wilberforce was a flawed individual who fought for a righteous cause during a very ugly time. Looking at the players involved, I hope they have the courage to tell that story, warts and all.