Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Week of Death

People die every day. That's always certain.
Still, who would have thought that in just eight days, we'd lose three American icons, and a wrestler that true fans would recognize?

We'll start with Michael Jackson. When I had heard he was in the hospital due to cardiac arrest, I couldn't believe it. I thought it was another internet rumor. When TMZ said he was dead, two hours before everyone else, I could not believe it. Why should we believe some internet site that's slightly less reputable than the National Enquirer?
Eventually, we had to face it: a man who has been a legend way too soon, whose image was tarnished although his talent was unquestionable, was dead. At age! Of a heart attack possibly caused by a deadly cocktail of painkillers.

Now, that hasn't been confirmed officially. That will take another month or so. But it seems Jackson wanted a Fountain of Youth to recapture his glory days of the 70s and 80s, where he was the King of Pop...before too much plastic surgery, before Bubbles, before the accusations.

He wanted to show the so-called pretenders, from Justin Timberlake and Prince to Kanye West, that only Michael Jackson was, and is, the King of Pop. He hoped 50 shows in London would prove that, once and for all.
Now, it looks like his last grasp at the past fell short, very short. If he was allowed to age gracefully, or normally, he'd still have his throne, and would have been happy to help make the thrones of Kanye and Timberlake. Most importantly, we would still have Michael Jackson with us, as a living legend along with Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin.

Some are comparing this to the loss of Elvis Presley nearly 32 years ago. I remember I was at my summer job in San Jose when I heard the news. That was a couple of years before the 24/7 news cycle would even be born. Back then, we'd get a few minutes of national news, and maybe an hour-long tribute while radio would play Elvis as long as we were in mourning.

Compare it to now: at least three channels putting the world on hold to cover all angles of Jackson's death while at least three music channels play his videos, or anything related to him.

One thing is for sure...his death has done wonders for his CD sales. It's one of the unwanted benefits of death for a pop star. Suddenly, everyone wants to buy your records. It's a way to own a piece of the idol forever. It happened when Elvis died, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and many other musicians who died too soon.
On the other hand, there were many reports of people paying tribute to Jackson with vigils, makeshift memorials or just his music being played for all to hear. I don't think anything like that happened when Elvis died. I think we can thank Twitter and Facebook for that. There was a really big vigil for Jackson at Land Park in Sacramento last night.
We'll continue to think about Michael Jackson for weeks to come, and try to get a little piece of him before he fades away. It may be a download for out iPods, or taking another look at his videos on the internet when MTV goes back to showing The Real World much more often than "Billie Jean".

Now, we should also remember who else we lost in less than a week. We lost Farrah Fawcett to cancer at 62. Was it that long ago her smiling face and incredible hair were part of our walls? She wanted to be more than that. She wanted to prove to be more than teeth and a haircut. She wound up as a good actress, with some memorable roles. Some of us also remember her posing nude in Playboy, or acting goofy with David Letterman. For most of us, we'll remember Farrah Fawcett as one of the real Charlie's Angels. Now, she's an Angel in another sense.

Before that, we saw Ed McMahon head for that Tonight Show in the sky. Conan and Fallon did good jobs on their shows honoring the man who was the ultimate sidekick that soon got a chance at being a star (or at least making them on Star Search). It's funny that while NBC had one-hour specials on Farrah and Michael, they didn't didn't do that for Ed McMahon. He had been part of NBC for more than 30 years, even as a game show host. They could have given Ed an hour on primetime. Maybe he didn't have great hair, or could moonwalk, but Ed McMahon did something just as important. He helped make Johnny Carson a TV icon.

So, that leaves Mitsuharu Misawa, a Japanese wrestler who was a big star in the 1990's and later a wrestling promoter. He started as a masked wrestler, but once he unmasked himself, he became a star. Some of his matches are available on YouTube, and they hold up against any matches from the WWE elite. He may not be as well known as Triple H or John Cena, but Misawa was someone who put on a good show every night. Just like Michael Jackson.

The difference is that Misawa was still plugging away, maybe a little longer than he should have. He was in a tag team match when he took a suplex on his back. It's something he'd done hundreds of times before. It's the life of the wrestler. He was in his mid-40s, but still able to do what he did best. It was just one suplex too many, and it wound up killing him. It was just one of those things.
Sure, maybe just shy at 47 he'd would have to take some painkillers after a match because he wasn't as young as he used to be. Still, he was able. It was the suplex that killed him, fatally injuring his spine. It was just one of those things.

It's a much different ending that what happened to Michael Jackson, who thought a dangerous Fountain of Youth would make him King again, like he was in his younger days.

In the end, we should remember these people for what made them special, and why we admired them. Maybe their lives weren't perfect, but they were still special to us.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Christmas in July? Not This Year

Fans of Disney animation are mostly interested in the latest Pixar entry, Up, and the next Toy Story movie coming in about a year from now. People seeing Up are already getting a look at both.

However, Disney wants people to start thinking about next Christmas, when they're about to present its first Motion Capture animated feature, A Christmas Carol. What better way to do that...than with an old-fashioned train tour?
OK, how does that compare to the usual way, like the internet or even certain sci-fi conventions? It would be cheaper to just go to Comic-Con, and tell people about A Christmas Carol. You just won't be able to get as many people, especially if you're competing against Lost, Transformers, and the latest comic book craze.

No, to get people to embrace Motion Capture movies, and the fact they are becoming much-more lifelike than The Polar Express, you need...

Christmas Carol Caboose

...and some sponsors, like Hewlett-Packard, who helped put the movie together, and Amtrak, for the train.
They started this during Memorial Day Weekend, and will continue it to November first. It's quite an exhibit. Here's a sample of what families saw when the tour reached Old Sacramento...

Yes, Scrooge was as tiny as Tim

Yes, even animated movies need costumes

Some Dickens memorabilia, too

Two faces of Dickens

Scrooge and Marley model

Motion Capture Center

Visit this link to see the rest of the photos I took. Nowhere else will you see a Victorian Christmas Choir with kazoos.

The real test, of course, is the film itself. They provided a couple of scenes, including the classic scene where Scrooge sees Marley's ghost. The 3-D effect is outstanding, and seeing Jim Carrey bring Scrooge to life is just great. He's always been a great mimic (you should see his Jimmy Stewart from the early '80s). Also, there's not much concern about recreating flesh-and-blood people, as there was in Beowulf or Polar Express. It's retelling one of the great stories of our time, but in a brand new way. We all have out own favorite versions of A Christmas Carol, whether it has Alistair Sim, Blackadder or Mr. Magoo as Scrooge. Seeing Motion Capture Scrooge up close as the picture of Victorian selfishness, complete with "bah,humbug" in 3-D, gives you a special holiday feeling. As with the two previous Motion Capture pictures, Robert Zemeckis directed this movie. It's not that surprising, since he's the man who directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Disney is smart to spend the cash for a nationwide tour. It keeps this movie in the minds of movie fans, even though it will be competing with summer blockbusters. In the long run, this tour will reach thousands more than one quick panel in San Diego.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Big Saturday Night Stars Awfully Small

This is how small: GSN calls me three times for a chance to get on the show as a contestant.
I miss all three times, but they did call me that often. I never get that lucky on the regular GSN Live show.

So, how was GSN's attempt to be as big on Saturdays as they are during weekdays?
Not good, actually. Getting Ross the ex-intern from Jay Leno and Keegan Michael Key from Mad TV aren't my choices as budding game show hosts. They have a good bench in Debra Skelton, Julie Brown and Fred Roggin. They have a couple of other people whose name I can't remember, but are entertaining. Use them!
Also, why do you need comedy sketches on a game show? They should tell Keegan this isn't Mad TV anymore.
Now, for the two game shows...

Someone told me that 20Q would have worked better if they condensed it to 30 minutes. This would be done easily if they chose three contestants, and one wins the chance to go against the computer for 10 grand. The computer should also sound more like a Transformer.
As for Money List, this was slow, but apparently they will pick up the pace in future shows.

One other complaint...the theme songs for both shows sound too much like the theme for Deal or No Deal. That also goes for Million Dollar Password. Compare that to the shows you see at GSN. The sets are basic, and the theme songs aren't loud enough to almost be part of an action movie soundtrack.

I know this is the first week, and GSN Live had its own period of adjustment before it clicked on all cylinders. I just think the BSN guys should start with the GSN Live pattern, then tweak it enough so the format can work on its own.

I also suggest that people have a chance to get prizes by just logging in, in case they can't get on the air. Or, more phone games, even for smaller prizes.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More powerful than a recession

The speculation has started on which shows will be part of Comic-Con next month.
One thing is for sure...the only place left to get tickets is eBay.
I just found out all, and I mean ALL, tickets have sold out, from one-day to four day passes. Even Sunday tickets are gone.
Thus, one absolute truth is proven again: the last thing you do at Comic-Con is buy tickets for next year.

That's what I did, and I am guessing others have done that, too, just ahead of the sudden recession. You'd think with airlines and hotels suffering from the recession, the show wouldn't sell out. Despite auto layoffs and high unemployment, the event sold out faster than ever. Must be the fact that it's the 40th anniversary of Comic-Con, and people are expecting the biggest event ever.

Well, we can expect, at the very least, Dollhouse, Joss Whedon and even Felicia Day to make appearances, along with the cats of new sci-fi shows like V, Vampire Diaries(ugh!) and Flash Forward. Panels about Avatar,(maybe, but expected since it's the big Christmas movie)Last Airbender, Iron Man 2 and Harry Potter are also sure things. Maybe something about Toy Story 3-D, with a guest appearance by one of the writers who has gone on to an (ahem) adequate career. There are also rumours that one show may not be there. That might be Heroes, because NBC's saving its cash for Leno. Maybe it could be Doctor Who, to build anticipation for the 11th Doctor...and also its filming schedule may prevent it from getting people there, like John Barrowman. The flood of info should start four weeks from now.

In any case, I am already set, ticket, hotel room and all, done a year ahead of time...and it looks like I will have to do that again to keep reporting for Whedonopolis. At least with Wondercon, it's not so frantic.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

MMA visits my neighborhood

It's not every day that a prelude to an important sporting event comes to my neighborhood.
The WEC, or World Extreme Cagefighting, decided to have its weigh-in ceremony for its big card Sunday at Acro featuring Urijah Faber and Lightweight champ Mike Brown. The two fighters, along with a few others had a weigh-in ceremony at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. I was curious about how these things work, and how well the city had renovated the place.

Here's a look at the stage...

full view of Sac Memorial

About a thousand people showed up, since it was free. They saw some matches from Versus' coverage of WEC, including the match where Brown defeated then-champ Faber. Naturally, the fans were pro-Faber.
Speaking of which, here he is, stripping for the weigh-in, and looking savage.

Savage CA Kid

And here is Brown, who has made quick work of his previous opponents...

Basic Brown

Now here's Faber and Brown, posing for what they'll do soon enough...

Just getting ready

However, if you have these two girls on a stage, who needs a fight?

Fight, what fight?

Supporters of Faber were also busy turning a dollar, selling a bunch of "Alpha Male/California Male" t-shirts outside the auditorium. While I am more of a pro wrestling fan, as long as it's from the '80s, I will see if Faber can get his belt back. After all, he's a local guy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh, and there was this red carpet

There were two main reasons why I decided to go to L-A this past weekend. One was to hopefully find the red carpet to the MTV Movie Awards at the Citywalk. That didn't work out.

The other reason was the red carpet event for Land of the Lost, with Will Farrell. The tough part of celebrity-watching is that you're forced to do that from the other side of Hollywood Boulevard. Still I got some nice photos...

For the pre-Red Carpet snack

Seen from across the street

Not in Land of the Lost, but....

(She's not in the movie, but she was cute.)

Zachary Levi

Same here, but he's Zachary Levi, aka Chuck

Will Farrell, at the center

The star himself, Will Farrell.

I only wish I could have gotten some of the other co-stars. I hear Anna Friel looked more stunning than usual. I was ready to dedicate a pie to her, since she was in Pushing Daisies.

The best place for red carpet appearances is still Westwood, where the Bruin and Fox Westwood Village are located. I hope the next time I'm in L-A, I'll be seeing stars walking down the red carpet in Westwood.

Some other interesting sights in Hollywood

Some will probably blame iTunes or Amazon, but this decision is a sign of the times...

A future hole on Hollywood Boulevard

It's the latest Virgin Megastore to close, this time at Hollywood and Highland. Others have closed around the country including Sacramento and San Francisco. I just wonder who will take over that spot after it closes. Maybe H&M will move across the street.
Still, it did attract a lot of people looking for bargains, even including the most recent CDs and DVDs. Getting the latest Green Day CD for 11 bucks is pretty good.

Then there's some crumbling infrastructure that should be fixed soon...

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

This may be a small part of the Walk of Fame, but Ruby Keeler should get more care. I found another broken star a few blocks away, but I thought this was more telling. I am sure they'll get this piece fixed soon, and any other parts of the Walk that need repair.

OK, now where is this?

Arty shot of subway roof

It's actually the roof of the Metro station at Hollywood and Vine. This is an arty, close-up shot.

And...some interesting ways to advertise:
Just call her Nurse Cable

She's plugging a new show on USA cable

Advertsing on four wheels

And this VW Beetle plugging a special brand of Iced Coffee.

and that's Hollywood!!

Now they're casting audience members?

I went to the Universal Citywalk hoping to find the red carpet where the guests to the MTV Movie Awards would be seen just before the big event. I never found that carpet, because it was inside the Gibson Amphitheater. That meant you had to pay 155 bucks to see the show and the guests march and pose.

While I was disappointed, I was surprised to see this...

Now casting for the next 150 reality shows

At first, I thought it was a crowd of teenagers trying to find the hottest night club in town. Then, I found this sign...

No typical teenagers need apply

Now they're casting budding actors for award shows, as audience members...and getting paid.
So, so they add this to their resume, "Third row in stunning yellow mini at MTV Movie Awards"?
This is silly, They should add typical teens to the audience, too.
Like these guys...

Three people in search of a reality show

I remember MTV actually gave out comp tickets to the VMA's last year so they'd have crowds for the music events. I just hope talk shows don't decide that casting audience members looks better on TV than getting ordinary people. I am sure Bonnie Hunt or Conan won't try that. Could the Grammys do that, though? Let's hope not. Ordinary-looking people should have the right to bask in the light of big-time stars...from a reasonable distance. It was that way during game shows of the recent past. Just saying.

Welcome to the El Capitan Circus

How's the view up there?

Sometimes 3-D isn't enough to get people to come to the theater. You need some razzle-dazzle, and the El Capitan in Hollywood had that during the first weekend of the new Pixar movie, Up.

Here's a gal on stilts, tossing some rings around.
We also have a juggler...

Entertaining while they wait

and a real big man...

A big man at the El Capitan

One thing about the El Capitan...if you can't get to Disneyland, a piece of that theme park is definitely easy to reach. This theater doesn't just show the coming attractions, 3-D or normal, but they have an organist, and a pre-movie dance routine. After seeing the latest one, I'll never complain about the admission price again.

Now, the admission for Pixar's next Academy Award winner, although Coraline may put up a good fight because it's 3-D stop-action animation (a first!), is 16 bucks. However, it's slightly higher than the AMC googolplex at the Citywalk, and that was selling out in record time. In Sacramento, it's 13 bucks, but it's also selling out in record time. I had to get the 9:40 showing because it was filling up the place very quickly. I don't even go to midnight showings except for Serenity and There Will Be Blood.

Make no mistake, though, Up! is incredible in 3-D. You easily get lost into this special world, whether it's seeing Carl's house float in the sky, or incredible chase scenes. The story, meanwhile, is practically 435-D! You may know the basics: a retired balloon salesman decides to move his house to his dream vacation destination, a place called Paradise Falls. He gets an unlikely companion in Russell, an eager scout who assists Carl for the adventure, and a merit badge he wants to get. I saw the first 45 minutes at Wondercon, but the second half takes that basic story to interesting, and maybe dark, directions. Let's just say it involves someone Carl and Russell meet, and how this man is so obsessed in one thing, he forgets the other things he's done. His identity is actually revealed early in the film.

Whether you see this in 2-D or 3-D, you will remember this movie. Pixar is doing what MGM used to do, and that's selling movies through a reputation for quality so strong, asking who's in the movie is nearly secondary. With Toy Story, having the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen was the selling point. Now, you just need the characters they play, and you have the audience hooked.

Still, having some jugglers to get people in the theaters works, too.