Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rewind: American Idol

Given my personal taste in music, I really shouldn't care about American Idol at all. I'm more into the indie/alternative kind of music that doesn't play on the radio, or appear in celebrity gossip, or well, get covered on Idol. Plus, it's the kind of music where vocals aren't necessarily the most important thing. And when Idol first started, it definitely was primarily a purely vocal performance talent competition.

But now, with song choice and song arrangement starting to take precedence, and especially with the contestants allowed to play instruments...the show's been attracting some different kinds of talent. Ones that I might actually listen to in my normal life! I mean, I still detested David Cook last season and think Daughtry is horribly unoriginal, but they're definitely closer to what I like than past Idols like Jordin Sparks or Carrie Underwood or Taylor Hicks.

And this year, three of the top four were on the rock side of things. Kris and Adam especially made me like them just because of their song choices, namely "Mad World" from Adam, and "Falling Slowly" and "Heartless" from Kris. So I'm actually looking forward to what kind of albums they're all going to put out. Allison I think could possibly go the Kelly Clarkson route, maybe a little less pop, Adam I see doing a My Chemical Romance/Muse type of thing (or be the frontman for Queen?), and Kris is definitely the Jason Mraz/John Mayer singer-songwriter type. But we'll just have to wait and see!

So while the talent and performances this year were actually more enjoyable for me, the show itself was even more of a hot mess. First of all, there was Kara. I guess she was supposed to bring a songwriter's perspective or something, but that's just laughable, considering that piece of steaming crap that she co-wrote for the finale, "No Boundaries." And I thought that most weeks she didn't have anything different to say at all, strangely agreeing with "for you, for me...but you can SING" Randy Jackson most of the time, amidst all sorts of erroneous pop culture references (Studio 57? Saturday Night Live disco? Early Aerosmith?). Plus, a fourth judge, good or not, just means more time devoted to the critiques.

Which brings me to the next problem: the show running over. It's ridiculous how much time was wasted on things that were NOT SINGING. There was one week where Adam's entire performance aired after 9PM. That's ridiculous. Back in seasons 2 and 3, they managed to have time for the top 5 to perform two songs each. But this year, in the top 4, we only got one each, and those stupid duets. What is going wrong here?

I also thought the judges were being too obvious with their desire for an Adam-Danny finale. I didn't get the Danny pimping at all -- while the judges were constantly ragging on the others for not knowing what kind of music they were about, Danny was never questioned at all. I felt it was so obvious that he was the least current and the least marketable of everyone. Then when it came down to Adam and Kris, Kris was sort of being treated like "Nice try, thanks for showing up," and the finale was so obviously structured around Adam, with Kiss and Queen and everything. Don't get me wrong, I liked Adam and would have been happy to see him win too but I liked that the Kris win was kind of a slap in the face for the judges/producers.

Finally, this isn't new, but Ryan Seacrest sucks. I can only imagine what the show would be like if it had a host like, say, Cat Deeley...

Oh, and the stupid judges' save isn't even worth discussing.

What does make Idol so much more fun to watch though, is the Idolatry videos on I highly recommend watching the Kris, Adam, and Allison exit interview segments because they're just awesome. (You can watch Danny's too, if, you know, awkward babbling and colossal cluelessness are your thing.) Also check out Anoop's and Matt's...I wasn't really fans of them on the show but they both came off as just really cool guys.

Until next season...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't judge a DVD by its cover: Shanghai Kiss

Just a quick post about a movie I watched the other day: Shanghai Kiss. I'm pretty sure I actually saw this in some stores and, judging by a big smiling Hayden Panettiere on the cover, dismissed it as being some dumb direct-to-DVD teen romance. But I was looking up Ken Leung on wikipedia (he plays Miles on Lost, which I've actually been catching up with...I'll write about that more in a later post though) and saw that he was actually the lead in this movie. Which, it turns out, is neither a star vehicle for Hayden Panettiere nor a teen romance. It's actually kind of an indie film about Chinese-American identity. I guess they figured that with Hayden being in Heroes putting her on the DVD cover could help sales but it kind of misrepresents the movie, and I feel like it could turn off a big portion of the audience that it should be targeted to.

Anyway, I actually really enjoyed this. There aren't too many films with a Asian-American male in the lead, and Ken Leung's sort of refreshingly different from the usual kind of Asian-American actors that are out there. It is sort of a romantic comedy, but it has some smart commentary on being Asian-American -- Ken Leung's character is an actor in LA who gets asked if he knows martial arts or speaks Chinese while auditioning for a toothpaste commercial. When he's in Shanghai, at first he feels like he's somewhere he finally belongs but is later accused of not knowing anything about being Chinese. It's really too bad this went straight to DVD and too bad that the marketing has probably deterred a lot of people who I think would enjoy it from checking it out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rewind: Little Dorrit

Confession: I'm not a big Dickens fan. Actually, let me clarify that: I've never been a fan of reading Dickens. I've really only made it all the way through Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. I don't know what it is exactly, because his stories are pretty fantastic and have made for some really great TV and film adaptations. There was Bleak House a couple of years ago, and this year, there was Little Dorrit, which I LOVED. Like Bleak House, I don't think I'd ever even heard of the book before, but it turned out to be such a delight. So maybe I do need to go back and try reading Dickens again...

Anyway, as for Little Dorrit, I think one of its biggest surprises for me was Matthew Macfayden. I wasn't impressed with him at all in the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice...he just wasn't right as Darcy. (And I'm not one of those Colin Firth fangirls who doesn't find any other Darcys acceptable. While Colin Firth is my favorite by far, I did really like Elliot Cowan in this other P&P-related series called Lost in Austen, which I also highly recommend--it's hilarious.) But here, I fell in love with him instantly. Arthur Clennam isn't very Darcy-ish at all...he's friendly and loyal with a good heart, intelligent and determined, and Matthew Macfayden was just perfect for that. He's also a little clueless when it comes to love which kind of makes him even more endearing. His romantic counterpart is Amy Dorrit, played wonderfully by Claire Foy. Amy is supposed to be good and sweet but Foy manages to make her sort of quietly strong and not irritating or boring. Their story is very sweet.

Arthur and Amy are the moral center of the story, but like in all Dickens, they're surrounded by a huge number of richly drawn supporting characters, all with their own subplots weaving in and out of each other. Some of my favorites were Amy's sister, Fanny, who starts off as a kind of mean girl but turns out to be pretty smart; John Chivery, the son of the gatekeeper at the Marshalsea debtors' prison where Amy and her father live, who's in love with Amy (Russell Tovey was excellent in this role...he broke my heart several times); Pancks, a rent-collector and aspiring detective; Cavaletto, an Italian ex-con who gets taken in by the Plornishes, a well-meaning family with lots of children and not a lot of money; Arthur's rigid and cold mother and her cruel servant Flintwinch (gotta love the names Dickens comes up with!); and of course there's William Dorrit, Amy's father. A lot of reviews pointed out how timely this production seemed, given that there's a a remarkably Madoff-like Ponzi scheme on many of the characters. Mr. Dorrit goes through a number of reversals of fortune, and he never really adjusts. He's a really complex character--proud but childish, a loving father but somewhat deluded and Tom Courtenay does a excellent job with the role.

It aired as a five-part series which seems like it would be enough time, but I really wanted even more. Some of the storylines were not really resolved, not having read the book I'm not sure if that's the case in the source material too, and I was left with a couple of questions. But overall I think it was the best Masterpiece series this season. I'll definitely be adding this to my growing DVD collection of British period dramas.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rewind: Battlestar Galactica

I'm not sure why, but I just haven't felt the inspiration to blog these past couple of months. I guess it's my inclination to want to do these sort of long, composed posts with organized, complete thoughts about stuff which require me to sit down and really harness my brain energy. It's kind of opposed to the trend of the web these days, what with facebook status and twitter being the new blogging, and it's also kind of strange for me, considering I used to hate writing essays in high school English class, but I don't know, that's just the way I am!

Anyway, I've suddenly become more inspired to blog, and I realize there were quite a few "big" TV events that I hadn't written about and wanted to record here, for posterity or whatever. So I'm planning doing a couple of these "Rewind" posts to catch up with my thoughts.

First up: the final season of Battlestar Galactica. It's pretty hard for me to sum up my feelings about the show as a whole...I do know that it's definitely one of the best shows I've ever watched. I really wish the stigma of sci-fi (the genre and the network) and the silly title hadn't prevented it from getting a lot of the recognition and the large audiences that it deserved, but so it goes.

Of course, the show had its ups and downs, and there were some things I kind of hated, like all the dreamy, Moonlight-Sonata stuff on the Cylon baseship, the terrible Dualla-Lee-Kara-Anders love quadrangle, Tigh and Caprica Six being all happy couple, Baltar's religious cult or whatever it was...and really, the very end of the series, with Hera being our mitochondrial ancestor or something (meaning we're all, like, half-Cylons)? I could have done without that. And Kara as a ghost/angel/supernatural entity? That wasn't so satisfying either.

But overall, I did really love the last season. Maybe I was just drinking the Kool-Aid, but I was pretty impressed with how they managed to answer so many questions and tie up so many storylines, all with the same quality of storytelling and character development that's defined the show. A lot happened. So instead of trying to sum up everything, I think I'll just list some of the moments and scenes that have stayed with me from the last season, even as it's been a couple of months. In a way, it's sad that the show is over, but I'm glad that the writers were able to end it on their own terms. I know, I sound like a broken record when it comes to this, but so many shows out there would benefit from a similar approach....

- The flashback where Lee and Kara first meet. I was never a huge Lee/Kara shipper, but this scene just really got me. It was just so obvious that he basically fell head over heels for her the minute he saw her, and it was easy to see why. Their attraction, the tension, was so unreal. And how they almost sleep together with Zak (her fiance, his brother) passed out on the No wonder their relationship was doomed to be messed up.

- Zarek massacring the Quorum. I knew that something bad was going to happen, but that was just chilling. I thought that whole storyline was really pretty surprising. I mean, Felix Gaeta, of all people, the mastermind? At first I didn't understand why this was happening, with so few episodes left in the final season to wrap up everything, but it really did make sense. For the whole series, we've really been only seeing things through the eyes of the government and the military, and very little from the perspective of the civilians. Step outside of that all that we knew personally about Adama and Roslin and the Final Five and things really were crazy and out of control. At times, I actually even found myself sympathizing with Gaeta and Zarek.

- Dualla killing herself. Again, I knew something was up--Dee hadn't been featured much at all and she was the focus of the episode. But the actual suicide scene was so sudden, and the fact that she had been reconnecting with Lee, and was seemingly was haunting.

- When the crew splits in two, and Romo Lampkin is left as President and Hoshi as Commander? Both hilarious and horrifying at the same time...

- Ellen as the Fifth. Honestly I always thought she was kind of annoying and didn't mind when Tigh "killed" her, but on her return, I thought she was great. It was a bit of an off-the-wall choice, I thought, but with Tigh, it fell into place pretty nicely. Kate Jackson did a really great job keeping her Ellen, but as the Fifth, calmer, wiser, empathetic AND sympathetic.

- Tyrol strangling Tory at the last second, breaking the connection among the Cylons, and effectively voiding the deal they had made with Cavil. Poor Tyrol. He was one of my favorite characters, and I felt like the writers were constantly dumping on him. I was actually probably the only person who liked Cally, and was pretty bothered by Tyrol's angry tirade against her where he basically says she was second best after he lost his true love, Boomer, so I was secretly really excited that he got so angry when he found out that Tory killed her. Besides which, Tory was a bitch and she deserved it, especially the way she was trying to bargain before they shared their memories.

- There's always been plenty of action on BSG, but the battle scenes at the Colony and on Galactica during the finale were so super intense. Good stuff.

- Basically all the scenes with Adama and Roslin together, and especially their last one. You gotta love that on a show with plenty of hot younger actors, the most compelling romance is between two of the older ones.

- Athena, Helo, and Hera, our happy little family unit at the end. I was so sure that they were going to kill off Helo...

As a final note, I watched the pilot for Caprica which is a BSG prequel of sorts, with Bill Adama's father on Caprica and the beginnings of the Cylons. I thought it was pretty intriguing...very intense and dark and with all the rich characters that we're used to in the BSG world. The series won't be airing for real until next year, but I'll definitely be checking it out. There's also the TV movie, The Plan, which will be airing this fall, and is from the Cylon perspective. I think it'll actually be a little weird to delve back into all of it after the finale, but I'm looking forward to that as well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

kids books vs. adult books

As a whole, I love fiction. I love immersing myself in a really good story. (and even better when that story is extended into a whole series! Well, as long as the series has an end and doesn't drag on forever.) I love character development; I love good stories and great relationships; I love new and interesting worlds different from the one I know. So... why is it that I find that this is more easily found in children's literature rather than in adult literature?

I recently read a book called The Lightning Thief by... some guy. Oh, Rick Riordan. It was fun in a Harry Potter kind of way but much different, too. The premise is that there are these children who were born of a human parent and a Greek god parent, thus demigods. When these children are made aware of their non-full-human state, they become a threat to other non-humans. Many classic Greek mythological themes are thrown into a cute storyline making for a fun read. But as mentioned earlier, this left me wondering why it had to be in a children's book context that this fun read worked. Plus, if this type of premise were created at an adult-level, it probably would be nothing more than a fantasy story or a trashy romance novel. Why can't something like this be simply literature?

I definitely have no answers, but it means I will continue to look for fun literature in the children's section for years and years to come. :)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Top 20

So many unfamiliar or uninteresting faces in Top 20. Was hoping that the older brother of the bow tie-straight tie duo would make it on. :(. But glad the older sister of the combined-Leann Rimes lookalike duo made it. Super duper mad that Natalie didn't make it. She seriously was gypped yet again! The arthritis girl made it through all those rounds and she was TERRIBLE in all of the choreography, but Natalie just got cut like that?

Not too many of the other dancers stood out but truthfully I didn't like Katee much during audition rounds of last season and I grew to LOVE her so... There's still hope. Yay for SYTYCD!!!