Sunday, November 15, 2009


Tuesdays and Thursdays have been invaded by LOST wannabes. V and FLASHFORWARD are two new shows that air on these two nights (respectively) on ABC. There are some major similarities between these new shows and the mega-hit LOST (which will end it's sixth and last season this May). Here is the breakdown for how these shows rip-off LOST and other major sci-fi shows.

1) CASTING. A major grievance of mine is the casting. In both of the new shows, casting directors pulled from LOST. Elizabeth Mitchell plays Juliet on LOST and now is the lead FBI agent in V. This could just be a coincidence, but then comes Dominic Monaghan who was Charlie on LOST playing the bad-guy scientist in FLASHFORWARD. We get it, ABC, you want the success of LOST to carry over to these two series. We get it. And you are using actors from LOST to make the connection for the audience. It's a bit overkill.

2) PLOT SIMILARITIES. Sure there is no magical island as in LOST on the two new shows, but there are some serious similarities between the three shows. Both FLASHFORWARD and LOST are about normal human beings dealing with magical, unexplainable forces that change their lives. For LOST it is the island, for FLASHFORWARD it is the seeing the future part. However, LOST comes with a bible courtesy of J.J. Abrams the show's creator. And with that bible comes numerous seasons each richer than the last. As for FLASHFORWARD, it seems hard to see it coming into its 5th or 6th season with the expiration date that is the entire focus for the show's first season, unless it changes dramatically. Cause what happens when we get to that date in April? Then, for V it so clearly rips off BATTLE STAR GALACTICA (BSG). The idea of aliens coming to Earth, disguised as humans who befriend humanity and then pillage the Earth has been done. Not only has it been done, ABC, but its been done better. Sorry ABC, you're too late.

3) CINEMATICALLY SIMILAR. While I am all for cinematically interesting television shows that elevate the level of taste for a network series, these new shows are just too similar. I watched V and FLASHFORWARD back to back and the cinematic style between the two are just way too similar. I even wonder if they aren't using the same sets, just dressing them differently. If I didn't know any better and muted them, I might think they were the same show. This is especially upsetting since these are the shows slated to replace the multi-Emmy winning LOST. LOST's cinematic look is due to a few things. 1) It's shot on location in Hawaii, that's right FLASHFORWARD and V, on a real island. 2) It has a cinematic point of view. It is not the typical three camera set-up from age-old television. The camera is in the action, making it feel more like an hour film. 3) It has a distinct look. Unlike V and FLASHFORWARD (which are insanely similar in looks), LOST looks like nothing else on television.

4) TITLE CARDS. V is totally ripping of the famous LOST title card that happens before the first major commercial break. However, LOST is still superior in this strategy as it has major cliffhangers before the title card appears. Also the ominous LOST sign is absolutely terrifying with its creepy music and spiraling motion. Not only does V lose here as it is clearly a rip-off on LOST, but it doesn't even beat LOST's epic title card. Sorry, V.

5) V's OTHER RIP-OFFs. V rips from more than just BSG and LOST. The name V with its blood-stained look comes from a few other entertainment mediums. V is trying to get audience members by having a similar name as the movie V FOR VENDETTA. ABC execs are not dumb. They are using the times (harsh economy, political unrest etc...) to stir audiences into a revolutionary minded show. In the show, a revolution is about to begin between the visitors and the humans-in-the-know (total rip-off of BSG!). And one way to do this is to reference to revolutions is use iconography from a movie about social unrest. Enter V FOR VENDETTA which had an eerily similar V symbol. Hmm. Also, let's not forget about the new craze for vampires everywhere. ABC wanted to capitalize on this without actually making a vampire series (and thus joining the bandwagon). Anyone watch TRUE BLOOD on HBO? Well the vampires' blood on that show is called (unsurprisingly) V. Of course since the show is about vampires and blood is in the title of show AND since the noun "V" means blood in the contextof the show, why shouldn't blood be associated with TRUE BLOOD's V? That's right ABC'S V, TRUE BLOOD was there first, too.

Now in all fairness, both of these new shows are interesting. However, I think V has more staying power since it can take off in many directions. Unfortunately I find this to be the weaker of the two. FLASHFORWARD deals with issues of fate v. free choice, past v. present v. future, and what Time means. Most interesting, FLASHFORWARD has found a way to incorporate the ideas like if reading a horoscope before your day happens, will it influence you and your choices? Far more interesting then V's alien landing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

THIS IS IT! (oh yes it is!)

THIS IS IT is the Michael Jackson documentary that was supposed to be a limited engagement, but has had an extended theatrical release due to great audience attendance. On its opening weekend (10/28/09) it ranked #1 making $23,234,394 (box office mojo). Domestically, the major documentary made $59,348,197 and worldwide $188,475,839 as of this writing (box office mojo). Clearly, the King of Pop reigned at the box office.

Overall if you are a MJ fan, you MUST see this film. It shows a behind the scenes look of the superstar. We see the rehearsal process plus some of the dress rehearsal numbers. You can totally tell how the show would take us to new heights as an audience. The special effects were gonna be huge. The sets? Even bigger. MJ never did things small and his "final curtain call" would have been no different.

All the major hits are in (Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Man in the Mirror, Smooth Criminal). The only two noticeably missing songs are Bad and We are the World. Bad is a particular loss since the original music video was so amazing with its leather and choreography (directed by Martin Scorsese). Then the We are the World song is sadly absent. The song was one of the highlights of MJ's philanthropic career as it benefitted poor in the US and Africa. Plus, it united the music industry together, under the quiet conductor, the King of Pop.

While the dancing is incredible and MJ clearly kept up (and showed up) those 20-somethings, the best part of the documentary is seeing Michael's personality. We saw him laughing, playing and having a good time with his dancers, producers, and musicians: his friends. For once, we saw him relaxed, confident, and...more human?...while not on stage. We see him laughing and joking around when the producer makes him try out the cherry-picker for safety. His child-like playfulness is so enigmatic. Then the music begins and he is a different person altogether. He's a superstar.

Yet, the most poignant moment in the documentary that sums up his entire being is the moment when his head is lowered, fedora covering his eyes, and the spotlight encases him as the darkness around him falls away. And then. He smirks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Rethinking Kennedy: An Interpretive Biography

RETHINKING KENNEDY: AN INTERPRETIVE BIOGRAPHY by Michael O'Brien is a fantastic read for anyone interested in the most charismatic president. O'Brien is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Fox Valley along with being a Kennedy expert. He wrote a book previously to this one, a more comprehensive (read: less accessible?) biography on the same subject entitled: JOHN F. KENNEDY.

O'Brien makes a sincere effort to make history totally accessible and readable. His biography gives a terrifically balanced point of view while traveling from Kennedy's youth, through his elections, to his death. While the author is clearly on Kennedy's side, O'Brien shows both sides of the aisle equally, while proving points. He covers major issues from Vietnam to the Bay of Pigs. O'Brien shows the strengths and weaknesses of these major events, controlled by the young president. Even more interesting, are the chapters about JFK's life with Jackie, his childhood, and his sexual life. O'Brien does not shy away from the tough questions about Castro and possible assassination attempts on the Cuban leader or relations with Marilyn Monroe and Mob leaders. Then the concluding chapter describes the president's final morning alive. I highly recommend this biography where O'Brien serves great justice to a well-loved president, while still pointing out some flaws and some controversies.

The critics agree:

"What you need to know about modern history's most compelling and complicated president is delivered in Michael O'Brien's compressed, highly readable package gleaned from his own deep knowledge and the volumes of scholarship, some of it quite critical, spawned by the nation's 35th president."
-Charles M. Madigan, Presidential Writer in Residence, Roosevelt University

"Based on recent scholarship, this lucid, interpretive summary of John Kennedy's life should appeal to the general reader and university undergraduates alike."
-James N. Giglio, author of The Presidency of John F. Kennedy