Saturday, March 25, 2006

Body Watch

After a four-month absence, "Alias" returns to TV on Wednesday, April 19, ABC recently announced. No further details are available at this time.
With only nine episodes aired this season, it seems impossible to finish a full run in what will be left of the typical TV broadcast schedule, which ends somewhere between mid- and late May. When ABC made its announcement in November that the show would end this year, the net said "Alias" would go out with a bang. Then, reports surfaced a few months later that the suits were trimming back on the total number of episodes, which I'm sure meant further re-writes for the creative team.
Frankly, this looks like disaster. But, again, at least ABC is letting the show run to some sort of conclusion; it could have just cut and run, I guess. I just hope the next few weeks don't do damage to a great legacy.
So bring Vaughn back to life, already. This isn't "24" or "The Sopranos," it's sci-fi/fantasy—and I want a happy ending! Although, that may not be possible under any circumstances considering J.J. Abrams is going to be off promoting some stupid Tom Cruise movie instead of wrapping up the show that made him a star.
Maybe I'll just use the Season 4 finale—pre-car crash—as my series finale and try to forget this year ever happened.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I'm Too Young for This!

On the way home in the car, I heard Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" on the CLASSIC rock station.
That's what I get for listening to the radio for the first time in I don't know how many months, I guess.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your ‘Crash’ Car

If “Crash” was the “upset” winner at last weekend’s Academy Awards, what does that say about the rest of the Best Picture nominees?
I watched “Crash” on DVD last night and thought … eh. “B”. Was it better than “Brokeback”? About equal. I found “Crash” to be ham-fisted in its storytelling, because its method of coincidentally linked plotlines between a dozen characters doesn’t leave much screen time for development or depth. As a result, the characters come off as formulaic: Here’s the racist cop and his green young partner; here are two quick-quipping young black thugs, one of whom constantly rails against The Man; here’s a “respectable” elected official who can’t wait to put his arm around a black man and have their picture taken; here’s the redneck gun shop owner who hates anyone with dark skin. I’ve seen them all before.
I know they’re rather beside the point, but the coincidences that bring these characters together become so … well, ludicrous, they’re distracting. I never knew L.A. was such a small town. And the idea that so many of these people would change so radically in such a short period of time and because of just one event in their lives also doesn’t ring true.
As for “messages,” “Crash” obviously proposes the notion that just about everyone in this world is a stone-cold racist—especially white people. There isn’t one wholly redeemable white character in this entire movie, and on two different occasions, white cops shoot black men. Even Matt Dillon’s racist cop and Sandra Bullock’s paranoid housewife aren’t given enough post-traumatic event screen time to know if they’ve really changed. What we do know, however, is that Ryan Philippe’s police officer went from being disgusted at racism to shooting a black kid in his car and dumping the body. That fall from grace was given plenty of resolution—because everybody’s a racist, you’ll recall (director Paul Haggis threw in a racially-fueled fight between a South American and an Asian just for good measure).
The one element of “Crash” that I really liked came from Bullock (her best performance in, well, ever), who complains to a girlfriend over the phone about waking up every morning feeling angry. But I don’t need to watch a movie to tell me that—I just look out my driver’s side window. A better film would have uncovered what made these characters so angry.
What I find most interesting about “Crash” and “Brokeback,” however, is their relative blips on the controversy Richter scale. Sure, “Brokeback” got an inordinate amount of hype (and “Crash” was talked up pretty well last spring), but there wasn’t any real “controversy” as compared to something like 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Why the difference? Because in today's cultural climate, heterosexual white people are scared to voice dissent (which Bullock's character mentions); nobody’s afraid to trash Christianity. You talk bad about “Brokeback”? Homophobe! Talk bad about “Crash”? Bigot! Just look at the reaction to Sunday’s Oscars—many critics took the position that “Brokeback’s” loss is a sign of rampant homophobia within the Academy. The same Academy that gave its Best Actor award for the portrayal of a gay man and gave nominations to three other actors portraying homosexual characters (or does Felicity Huffman’s transvestite go into a category all its own?). It couldn’t have been Academy voters thought “Crash” was a better movie, could it?
Back to my original point about “Crash”: The fact that this film won Best Picture says volumes about the current state of Hollywood. I encourage you to read Orson Scott Card’s brilliant pre-Oscar column, especially in light of George Clooney’s inane acceptance speech. (And Card’s a Democrat, by the way.) It reaffirms my contention that “Passion” is the greatest punk-rock movie ever made.
Check it out here (you'll have to copy and paste the URL):

Friday, March 10, 2006

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

Ironically, I was just thinking of Myrtle Beach this morning as I stepped off the Metro onto the King Street platform and a warm breeze swept across my face. I always reminisce about Myrtle on days like this—when it’s warmer than expected and the air smells particularly fresh. Living in South Carolina for a year and a half, there were times I swore I could smell the salt water in the air, even from three hours away.
There are places in this world that are sources for such joy and dear memories, I actually hold them in my heart like a person. Myrtle Beach—for all its kitschy glitz and neon—is one of those locales.
And it’s about to change irrevocably.
Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., owners of downtown Myrtle’s Pavilion amusement park, announced Thursday the 58-year-old facility will close after the 2006 season. It’s a blow to me, personally, because the Pavilion is an institution in my life. My family went to Myrtle on a near-annual basis throughout my childhood, and, of course, the amusement park—which seems to magically appear up out of the street along Highway 17—was always a highlight of every trip to the Grand Strand. “Galaxy” and “Corkscrew” were two of my first roller coasters (they’re already gone, actually); the “Log Flume” was a must, as it bordered the street, beckoning to me as soon as we got out of the car; and the “Rainbow,” with its gorgeous views of the ocean, flipped my stomach every time.
This shutdown has been in the offing for years—nearly a decade, from what I read. Burroughs & Chapin say it’s been a struggle just to break even, and attendance has flatlined. Plans haven’t been finalized for what will now occupy the 11 acres of prime real estate at the hub of Myrtle Beach tourism, but the owners say it will be a mix of condos, shopping, and other attractions. In other words, it’ll go from one of the most unique sites on the strip to looking just like everything else.
I can understand why they made the decision, though. Nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills. I hadn’t ridden even one of the attractions in a decade or more, but not because I didn’t want to—they just got too expensive. And in the current bloodthirsty real estate market, the Pavilion’s sweet site is sure to be worth millions and millions.
So I’m not going to rant like some misty-eyed moron. These guys are businessmen. I understand that.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I can go to the Gap (well, okay, I don’t EVER do that), or eat at some chain restaurant here in Maryland. There was only one Pavilion, and for a good portion of my life, it was one of my favorite places on the planet. Even now, it was a little like Disney World for me—just walking around that place transported me to another time. For a few moments, even as a skeptical 26-year-old, I didn’t have a care in the world, content to just take in the sights, smells, and sounds of my youth. Sappy? Sure. I don’t care—those that can’t put the cares of this world aside once in a while are bound to drown in them. You can’t just slip something else into the place in my heart occupied by the Pavilion. It doesn’t work that way.
Or maybe it does.
Let’s face it: Myrtle Beach’s Pavilion hadn’t been the Pavilion of my youth for a while. Must be time to find a new place to fill that hole. Life goes on, man.
And, hey, at least I still have the Golden Griddle. For now, anyway.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fascination with the Abomination: FLAVOR FLAV!!!

Reality television is like a car crash—I never really want to see it, but if it comes across my radar, it can be hard to look away.
That’s especially true when C- and D-list celebrities are involved, because there’s something satisfying about seeing how people who you used to think had it all are actually rather worthless human beings—and they don’t even know it. VH-1 has been ahead of this curve for a while, what with the cable station’s “Surreal Life,” which jams ancient or semi-celebrities together in a house and tapes their interactions “Real World”-style. The channel even came up with its own (fantastic) name for this phenomenon: “Celebreality,” a term that implies both the fascination and the abomination all in one conjunction.
There’s no better example of this, however, than VH-1’s latest foray into the life of a hanger-on, “Flavor of Love,” which goes straight to the top of the list—or bottom, as the case may be—for reality TV that utterly demeans the human condition.
The show stars Flavor Flav, one half of the influential rap duo Public Enemy, as he searches for “love” in a group of 15 “women” (“gold diggers” or “whores” may be more appropriate). It’s essentially “Survivor” with lots of sex, as Flav kicks a few girls off his personal pleasure island each week.
I was too young for Public Enemy’s 1988 “masterpiece,” “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” and I’m not in the habit of exploring the history of gangsta rap. So my first real exposure to Flavor Flav was his previous VH-1 celebreality show, “Strange Love,” chronicling his romantic—but ultimately doomed (shocker!)—exploits with fellow D-lister Brigitte Nielsen (a spin-off from the odd couple’s insane hook-up during one season of “Surreal Life”). “Strange Love” was by no means appointment viewing, but cable TV as a rule constantly replays programming, so the show always seemed to be on during weekend work sessions. It was something I could have on in the background, looking over once in a while to hear Flav yell his trademark “FLAVOR FLAV!!!” whenever something went his way.
I’ll say this for Flav: If nothing else, he’s good for the occasional laugh, with the crazy outfits, the Viking helmets, the clocks-as-jewelry, and his marbles-in-the-mouth speech pattern. Someone so completely unaware of his own ghoulishness can actually be quite funny—again, in a man-I’m-glad-that’s-not-me kinda way.
But not even that outsized personality can save “Flavor of Love.”
Make no mistake, I have not watched much of this show—certainly not an entire episode. It’s deplorable, even for celebreality and even for Flavor Flav, and belongs one rung above the circle of hell currently occupied by “The Swan.” Each episode essentially consists of these women throwing themselves at Flav, each trying to outdo the other in “affection”; Flav gives them some “challenges” in each episode (cooking dinner, meeting the moms, lie detector tests with Brigitte—you know, the usual), but as far as I can tell, the idea is for Flav to get as much action from as many different women (separate or all together) as he can before the rules of the show force him to kick some of them out using another ubiquitous catch phrase, “You know what time it is.” The two most recent rejects (sent home after they slept with him, of course) were bounced because one, according to Flav, “just wanted to be friends,” and the other, again—according to Flav, had been on too many reality TV shows. That, coming from a celebreality whore, was his reasoning—I wish I were kidding. The contestants are so objectified, they don’t even go by their real names, instead adopting nicknames such as New York, Hoopz, Goldie, and Pumkin (all spelled correctly, according to the show).
It sounds like I’ve watched a lot of “Flavor of Love,” but I assure you, I have not. It doesn’t take long to figure out what time it is in Flav’s world. When I first came across the show while flipping channels several weeks ago, just 30 seconds were enough to demonstrate how vile this show is, and I quickly turned it off. But, like I said, VH-1 reruns its featured programming continuously, so eventually this car wreck wore me down. “He is a loathsome, offensive brute—and yet, I can’t look away” (bonus points for whomever can identify that quote). I can’t take it for long stretches, but each time I flip back, I think the same thing: “These are terrible, awful, subhuman beings.” In some way, it’s fascinating to observe something so objectionable, as well as reassuring—thank goodness I’m not one of these people. I’ve never been happier with my life than when watching Flavor Flav’s.
What, then, is the point of all this? I honestly have no idea. But if you want such an otherworldly experience (celebrities really do live in a different world—I’m convinced they sacrifice their humanity for fame, but that’s a subject for another time), VH-1 is—surprise, surprise—hosting a “Flavor of Love” marathon Sunday leading up to the final episode, capping two months of debauchery and dehumanization.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? FLAVOR FLAV!!!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oscars 2006: Get Your Swag Out of My Face!

In the weeks since the Academy Award nominations were announced, I've been trying to gather the gumption to write my annual preview piece.
Forget it.
This crop of crap is so bad, It doesn't even engender in me enough passion to rant on and on about how out of touch Hollywood elites are with the mainstream audience (nobody's seen these movies!), or how I can't remember a bigger celebration of political propaganda in the history of this already over-hyped event, or how "Walk the Line" and "King Kong" got screwed.
I say this every year, but this time I mean it: There's no way I'm watching this pretentious, masturbatory exercise. I hope Joaquin and Reese win, but other than that, who cares? I'm certainly not "rooting" for any of the Best Picture noms. I've only seen one, and that's only 'cause I thought I ought to. And it wasn't even that great.
So instead of analyzing these insipid awards, I'm going to watch my brother play basketball, check out the new Dave Chappelle movie, read a book, watch more basketball, go to church, and spend time with my wife.
I suggest you do some of the same. Hopefully if we all ignore the Oscars at the same time, someone out there in LALA Land will get the message.
Oh, wait, I forgot. This is Hollywood, where bad dreams live on—in remakes, sequels, and George Clooney movies.
Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Make or Break? Pearl Jam in ’06

It’s official: Pearl Jam’s new album, the band’s eighth, comes out May 2, with a tour to follow (dates will be announced soon).
This is an important release in Pearl Jam’s career. It’s been more than eight years since the band’s last great album, 1998’s “Yield,” and we’ve had more than three years to realize the last effort, 2002’s “Riot Act,” simply doesn’t hold up against the rest of the catalog. PJ continue to cement their concert legacy (for proof, see my October 2005 review of a transcendent night in Philly), but it’s time to prove they can once again capture that energy in the studio. After such a long wait, if this one, too, is subpar (by Pearl Jam standards, mind you) … well, I’m not going to entertain those ramifications quite yet. Let’s allow the album to speak for itself, without prejudice.
The record is self-titled, which I take as a good sign. As the band’s first official studio release for new label J Records, I hope simply using “Pearl Jam” is symbolic for a rebirth of sorts—both a return to form and (hopefully) a giant step forward into a new era.
Speaking of rebirth, the band’s official site,, re-launched this week after a much-needed redesign and upgrade. It’s outstanding—finally the Internet domain diehard fans have been waiting for. The unquestionable highlight is the “Songs” section, which not only lists everything the band has ever played (in the studio or in concert, including covers), but includes (most) lyrics and every time a song was performed live. It’s a gigantic down-the-rabbit-hole database: You can list them alphabetically, when they debuted, or by frequency (“Even Flow” leads the pack by far and away at 521 incarnations). All of the setlists (on first glance, it looks like every single show the band’s every played!) are fully linked, so clicking on one song takes you to its official page, which then provides another jumping-off point to some other realm of PJ’s history.
And while you’re surfing PJ’s little corner of the web, I encourage all fans to visit, the best unofficial Pearl Jam site. In honor of March Madness, it is hosting a variation of the Big Dance, only with Pearl Jam songs. Every single one (originals only) has been seeded and broken into eight brackets, with voting for a different “region” each day until there’s an overall winner (“Immortality” and “I Got Shit” are the two previous champions). It’s nerdy, I know, but I think it’ll be pretty fun, too. My money’s on “Corduroy,” even though my personal fave is “Do the Evolution.”
If nothing else, it’s a way to kill a few long weeks of new album wait time.