Archive for the ‘Moving Pictures and the Tube’ Category

Top 5 TV Shows That Went Before Their Time

December 5, 2009 5 comments

I’m not in so much of a political mood these days.  Sorry.  But, anyway, here’s something maybe interesting; my favorite TV shows that bit the bullet WAY too early.  Sadly, I seem to have a taste for these shows, so they stick out.

5.  Star Trek-  Ok, maybe this should be higher up, but here’s the thing.  I tend to think that 3 years is a pretty good run for a show.  Not always perfect, but pretty good.  It’s a rare show that can maintain quality past, say, the 4th season.  Buffy managed it.  A few sitcomy things managed it, since you don’t need a huge thru plotline; Seinfeld for instance.  But most shows decrease in quality even before the 4th season.  So, while I think that Star Trek probably had another good year or two in it, it would have probably reached the end of the awesomeness road sooner than the other shows on this list.

4.  Wonderfalls-  Ivy League girl who comes to work in…a Niagra Falls gift shop.  She’s nicely sarcastic and quirky.  Oh, and bonus: plastic animals talk to her.  It got less than a season (like 13 episodes), but was a really unique and intriguing show.  I was tempted to put a more recent Brian Fuller creation here: Pushing Daisies.  The guy’s a genius and Pushing Daisies, at it’s best, was better than Wonderfalls.  But, I’d actually stopped watching Pushing Daisies a few episodes before it went off air.  No particular reason.  It wasn’t conscious.  The whole conceit  just kind of wore itself out.  So maybe…good cancel?  I’m pretty sure Wonderfalls had some  steam left in it.

3.  Firefly-  Joss Whedon at his second best.  Much better than Dollhouse.  Better than Angel by virtue of not having David Borealis.  And tragically doomed.  At first, I resisted Firefly.  I didn’t like the inside joke culture it had among the folks who watched it.  I was too good for that.  I was stupid.  I don’t think it’s the greatest show ever or anything like that, and I’ll still never be a part of that set, but it was high quality stuff that vanished way too soon.

2.  Popular-  Follows two girls from different worlds who are suddenly thrust together when their parents get involved.  I loved this show; the characters were snarky, smart, over the top, but still recognizable and real.   Does liking a show called “Popular”, make me a girl?  Don’t care.  Yes, it was uneven.  Ok, it had real potential to go off the rails- these types of shows almost always do, since their natural audience (young teenage girls) don’t necessarily have the patience for all quirk all the time.  Still, I think, of all the shows on this list (including the next one) this is the one I enjoyed the most…when it worked.  Two seasons wasn’t enough.

1.  Joan of Arcadia-  Thought I was going to say Arrested Development…right?  Well, I’m not a hipster.  Usually.  Mostly.  Joan of Arcadia was a terrific show with family-oriented, religious themes, which was hitting a kind of high when it was canceled.  The story follows a girl named Joan who can talk to God.  She lives in Arcadia.  Aka, Joan of Arcadia.  I honestly believe this could have been one of the lucky few to churn out more than 4 quality seasons.  Sadly, it only had two.

Honorable Mention:  Tru Calling-   Ok, cheating I know, but I thought up a 6th show just after I finished the original list, so you’ll have to bear it.  In this show, foxy Eliza Dushku gets to relive each day…after she comes in contact with a murdered corpse.  She can then try to save them.  This was actually a surprisingly good show which I stumbled upon the morning after my one and only hangover.  There was some kind of marathon going on and I watched like 6 episodes in a row while I convalesced.  Sadly, it had been cancelled for like 5 years at that point.  After less than two seasons.


What Should We Buy?

December 3, 2009 1 comment

Mrs. Peel has a neat post on an economics article that deals with the dead-weight loss involved in gift-giving. She writes:

Basically, when you give someone a gift, you are increasing their wealth by the cost of that gift.  However, the recipient’s value of the gift – in economic terms, its utility – is not necessarily equal to the cost.  In other words, the recipient could possibly have achieved greater utility by spending the same amount of money (the cost) elsewhere; alternatively, the giver could have spent less money to provide the same utility to the recipient.

It is possible for a giver to provide greater utility than the cost if the recipient is uninformed.  For one example, say I asked for the Kindle 2, and after you asked me what I wanted from an ereader, you discovered that the Nook would be a better choice for me.  I had never heard of the Nook, so I was uninformed.  Therefore, your gift actually had a larger utility than I would have obtained by spending the same amount of money myself.

In general, however, recipients are informed, so the best a giver can do is equal the utility the recipient would have achieved.  This is commonly accomplished through cash or gift certificates.  Though the author did not address this possibility, it can also, as we have discussed in the comments here, be accomplished through wish lists.

That is an interesting article.  A couple things that occur to me: first, I think the idea of an “uninformed” consumer is much broader than laid out here.  I’m uninformed, maybe, about the best e-book reader, but I’m also uninformed about all sorts of things.  Contra Peel, I’m almost certainly generally not informed, relative to the collective knowledge of my associates.  For instance, I’ve seen a limited number of movies.  There are, literally, thousands of American movies I’ve never even heard of.  And I’m a movie buff.  If you buy me a relatively obscure movie, and you know me well enough to understand my tastes and interests, there’s a decent chance that you’ll be getting me something I’d love, but would have no reasonable expectation of encountering in the ordinary course of things.

Since I am movie buff, this is how I sometimes approach gifts; I’m pretty confident that I can get someone a movie they’d thoroughly enjoy, which is effectively beyond their reach.  And this is part of limited usefulness of utility; because getting someone something they’ll enjoy, but don’t possess the interest or expertise to come into contact with themselves, has a utility all its own.

It opens up new networks for one thing.  A few months ago I’d seen only three Alfred Hitchcock movies, when a friend pointed to an AMC marathon of Cary Grant movies.  I saw To Catch a Thief and adored it.  Now I’ve watched over a dozen Hitchcock movies and that has led me in all sorts of other directions.  To Catch A Thief probably wouldn’t crack my top 10 favorite movies (maybe top 20), but it had a value greater than the monetary amount I would have shelled out had I known it existed.

And I’d say this is particularly true when you’ve started to, sort of, exhaust a subject.  I’ve read so many books, I find that half the time, when I go in a bookstore, I can’t find anything new that even vaguely interests me.  And I can’t see any reasonably easy way to get information on whether or how much I’d enjoy these other books.  You know, if the book jacket isn’t doing it for me, where do I go?

I don’t begin to have the time to read a dozen pages of every novel.  Yeah, maybe things like Symantec Web will make this sort of search much easier, but that’s still early stages.  For now, I need people who know me, who maybe have a greater expertise but similar interests, to point me in the right direction and open up new pathways.

So I’d mostly suggest this: give what you know, not what they know.  If you don’t know clothes, and you don’t have any concrete thoughts on their opinion on clothes, don’t get clothes.  You can’t possibly buy them better clothes than they’d buy themselves- you’d have to become a whole new person to do so.  If you do know music, even if your thoughts on their opinion is vague, you might want to consider getting them music.  This might sound strange and counter-intuitive; some of the worst presents are sometimes variations on “this is my favorite thing and I demand you like it”.  And it seems somewhat egotistical.  But, I really think it’s the best way.  My little sis never read- ever- but I just kept on buying her books for birthdays and Christmas, and now she reads a lot.  Maybe I played a part.  I definitely seemed to do worse when I tried to cater to interests I knew nothing about.

Film Postcards

October 25, 2009 1 comment

So I finally went out and bought this Cary Grant DVD box set I’ve been eyeing for awhile.  I wanted it because it had two great Jean Arthur (my favorite actress of all-time) movies and a Grant/Hepburn movie, Holiday, which I’ve never seen anywhere else.  Throw in His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth, and I figured it’d be worth every cent of the $37 I paid.  But, I drastically underestimated its awesomeness; inside were 10 DVD sized postcards.    I am irrationally excited about them.

I knew this girl in college who just loved writing letters.  She was, like, morally opposed to email.  Hand-written letters and Graham Greene novels and I thought it was just about the sweetest thing.  You need to be that kind of person, or at least understand that kind of person- the glory of pen in hand and the passage of time, of blotchy ink and relics- to appreciate these kind of postcards. I’m not sure if I know anyone like that.   Maybe I’ll hide them away somewhere, and send one off every few years.  Here are a few pictures.

The Awful TruthOnly AngelsBack

A Tale of Two Movies

So this weekend, I saw two movies in theaters-  Whip It and Zombieland.   So brief review time (mild spoilers follow).

Whip It, in case you didn’t know, is the new Ellen Page (of Juno fame) flick.  Page plays a misfit Southern teen, whose mother wants her to become a beauty pageant winner and, if the politics of the film are any guide, a housewife.  Predictably enough, Page quickly breaks out of this strait-jacket and sneaks surreptitiously (twice a week) into Austin to compete in a roller derby league.  What follows is unintentionally revealing liberal propaganda.  We’re treated to the classic “rebellious sophisticate must escape barbaric fly-over types” plot.  At one point Page sees an older boy picking on a younger boy in an old fashioned ice cream parlor.  He breaks the kid’s cone or something.  Page just shakes her head in disgust.  Do you see the seamy underbelly of Middle America?  Ice cream parlors aren’t ice cream parlors.

Austin is much hipper of course.  They allow underage kids to join 21 or older leagues without, apparently, any identification at all.  Oh, and the uneducated cretins don’t drawl, they…do whatever it is Juliette Lewis does when she opens her mouth.  These are almost passing swipes, though, compared to the big punches it lands in the name of post-modern feminism.  Every female character outside of Podunk USA is liberated; see their willingness to engage in rough and tumble brawls or their almost purposely alarming lack of femininity.

They have a few girl fight scenes which, in a “lesser” movie, might have been highlighted.  Here they’re just womachismo in leather coating.  And of course, at one point, Page’s character yells something like “stop trying to turn me into your ideal of a 50’s woman” replete with withering, androgynous scorn.  She even manages to pull off the “I don’t need a man to validate me,” trope in a rare bit of last minute narrative agility.

Plot-wise?   What do you expect?  Its a sports movie and pretty conventional in that sense.  Scrappy underdog must beat past barriers and arrive at a glorious upset/come to realize something unique about the human heart and the power of friendship.  In a movie with less of an agenda, with less pretense at seriousness, this would have worked well enough.  Everyone loves the Mighty Ducks.  But, this isn’t that movie.  Oddly enough, the agenda very nearly undermines itself.  When the initial parental showdown comes, Page flips out and takes a traditional “liberation”/”rebellion” tact.  And it goes very badly for her, at first.  Without spoiling it to much: she discovers that finding ones self isn’t all its cracked up to be and that irresponsibility has real consequences.

Then, hilariously, the plot ties itself up in neat little bows, though curiously pretzel shaped bows.  From the mountain comes the movie’s final lesson: you shouldn’t totally rebel against your parents, in a bid to assert your sexual freedom and independence.  You should just convince them to accept your freedom, independence, and hysterical bratishness, through a ludicrously manipulative plot device.  Give in to their demands, all sincere-like, whereupon they’ll pity you and realize that “they can’t really control you…can they?”  Puuleeaze.

Zombieland, is a movie about an America where just about everyone has become a zombie.  Except for super-beta male Jesse Eisenberg.  And Woody Harrelson.  And surprisingly unannoying Emma Stone and a not super precocious Abigail Breslin.  Basically, the movie rocks.  The beta male acts like a beta male.  Woody Harrelson acts like Woody Harrelson.  And, best of all, ravenous mythical monsters act like ravenous mythical monsters.  It’s glorious.  No zombies that glitter in the cemetary or have to go to counseling meetings to overcome their insecurity (that’s actually a real book…sadly).  Just flesh-eating monsters eating flesh and imperfect people trying  to make sure it’s someone elses flesh.  What more could you want?  Well, you’ll get a whole lot of funny too.  Seriously, if you’re an adult, and don’t mind a little raw language (a very little) see this movie…now.

The Mentalist

September 28, 2009 1 comment

For some reason, I’m not a big TV guy, but every once in awhile I’ll get the urge to buy a show I’ve heard something about- if it’s on sale, I usually will.  Yesterday, I came across the first season of the Mentalist for$27 at BJ’s.  I’ve watched the first 10 episodes and here’s a kind of review.  Despite the surface similarity to the USA show Psych (they both involve consultants with fake psychic powers), the Mentalist actually plays more like Columbo.  In Psych, you’re shown, if only briefly, the clues Shawn notices.  You may not catch exactly what they mean- you don’t have his extraordinary memory for details after all- but you’re mostly following along.

The Mentalist’s extraordinary success has less to do with observable details (to the viewer) and more to do with his technique/personality.  Columbo was successful, in part, because he played a bumbling naif who opponents constantly underestimated.  And he was intriguing because that feigned innocence got the viewer thinking.  What was he up to?  There’s something of that in the Mentalist.  He’ll wander off, occasionally, to do something that seems totally random, but which turns out to be pertinent.  Most of these episodes work very well.  In one, for instance, they head to Nevada to and the Mentalist spends a large chunk of the episode gambling, while his team is trying to solve a crime.  Why?  You find out and it’s fairly clever.   Later, you can trace the plot so that the odd actions make a kind of logical sense.

More than a few episodes don’t work this way.  The Mentalist does things that seem inexplicable, even afterward, and he comes to conclusions that we never understand.  In one episode he’s trying to exonerate a man who was found in a room with a dead body.  The room was locked from the inside and therefore everyone insists that he must have been the only one in the room.  The “how did the real murderer escape from a room locked from the inside” is a key plot question.  But, the Mentalist just solves it.  There’s no Eureka moment.  There’s no clue anywhere, as far as I can tell, that could lead the viewer to the right conclusion.  It just comes out of nowhere.  Columbo’s “oh, and more thing” randomness, in contrast, is always a real clue for the viewer.

There’s another type of “solution” which I’ll call the “pop-psychic for the non-psychic” gambit.  It involves The Mentalist just “knowing” that someone is innocent or guilty- telling the truth or lying.  When asked to explain his remarkable intuition, he’ll say something like “it was in her eyes”.  Another variation of this is the “look into his or her eyes and mystically make them spill their guts” technique.

This is all baffling and stupid given the show’s premise.  The Mentalist became a consultant because his fake psychic career caused a serial killer to murder his wife and daughter.  He is now reflexively and rigidly anti-mysticism.  More than a few episodes revolve around this stance.  But, it’s hard for the viewer to tell (since he rarely bothers to technically explain these “feelings”), a lot of the time, why his “intuitions” aren’t as mystical as the stuff he decries.  It seems more mystical in some ways.  Traditional mysticism has a system.  That’s why we can watch Star Wars and not guffaw at the Force.  Because given the rules of the universe,  there’s nothing strange about it.   The Mentalist inhabits a rational world, but frequently resorts to non-rational solutions.  It detracts from an otherwise compelling characters and story.

And the characters are pretty compelling- wafer thin, like all the characters in procedurals, but compelling nonethless.  Well drawn, anyway.  Simon Baker, who plays the Mentalist, is a remarkably nice fit for the role.  Charming and breezy, but vaguely haunted; arrogant, but kind.  Granted, it stretches Baker’s smile (his only real talent) to the breaking point, but it all comes together nicely.  You get enough of the character to care what happens to him, but not so much that he loses the mystique he needs to pull off some of the deus ex machina-esque solutions.   The supporting characters all have fairly distinct personalities (again, in context).  Would I recommend it?  Probably only if you’re a big fan of procedurals.  Despite the flaws it’s an above average example of the genre.  Personally, I probably won’t watch past the season I own (I need through-plotlines in my stories to maintain interest), but I don’t regret buying it.