Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"The Vampire Diaries" Suffers from Anemia

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 7
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If Dark Shadows and Twilight had an anemic baby, it would be The Vampire Diaries. The new TV series, based on the Y/A books by L.J. Smith, debuted on The CW last week and the first episode followed a well-known and, by now, more than tiresome formula.

For nearly 20 years I have been reading books and watching films, and television shows about vampires. Finally, this otherwise useless vault of knowledge will come in handy.

The latest vampire craze has been painful for me for three reasons:

1. All of this has been done before.
2. I prefer vampires who live up to their name, not vampires trying to be human.

The parenthetical information included below will help you Google your way to sighing over the monotony.

Set in the fictional town of Mystic Falls (ohhh...ahhh), Episode One kicks off with a couple being attacked in their car from above (see: The Lost Boys).

Next, we meet our gorgeous, but haunted human heroine (see: Bella from Twilight, Mina from
Dracula, Sookie from True Blood, Beth from Moonlight and Caitlin from Kindred: The Embraced). Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) has recently lost her parents in a car accident. However, a new school year has begun and our brave little toaster straps on her emotional armor and hides her pain with a smile.

Everyone loves Elena because she is just so beautiful! All the boys want her and all the girls want to be her (why does this sound so familiar?). Recently, Elena dumped super-jock Matt (Zach Roerig) because their relationship lacked "passion."

Rather than moving on, Matt humiliates himself in public by pathetically continuing to pursue her (see: Mike and the rest of the Bella harem in Twilight, Sam in True Blood).

To round out the female archetypes and make sure young women realize they can only fall into one
of two camps - good girl or WHORE - there is Vicki Donovan (Kayla Ewell). Vicki is free-spirited and sexually extroverted (see: Lucy in Dracula, all those chicks that were offed in the first season of True Blood, and any young woman who has had sex in a horror movie ever).

Vic dislikes it when boys want to talk to her or establish anything resembling emotional intimacy (we women SO hate that crap). Elena's substance-abusing brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) is just such a lad. He refuses to give up on Lucy - er, I mean Vicki - because, like all teenage boys, he wiles away his hours scrap-booking future wedding plans, longing for true love and an oh-so-serious relationship.

I am not sure what is causing the severe lack of testosterone in these young men. Perhaps the water in Mystic Falls is contaminated with enormous amounts of estrogen.

Because of her sextra-curricular activities, we know that Vic, like Lucy, is sure to be chomped early on. When she is discovered after the attack, we are treated to the obligatory "Oh-my-God-she-has-teeth-marks-in-her-neck-and-her-blood-has-been-drained-and-she-must-have-been-attacked-by-a-wild-animal" scene (see: every movie, book, short story, or TV show about vampires or werewolves ever).

Now on to the vamps. Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) sees Elena and is instantly smitten (see: Edward Cullen, Barnabas Collins, Dracula, Mick St. John, Julian Luna, Bill Compton). He enrolls in high school (see: Edward Cullen) even though he is like 400-years-old because he must get to know her! We find out later that Elena looks exactly like Stefan's former true love/soul mate (see: Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dark Shadows).

Stefan is "on the wagon" when it comes to killing humans (see: all of the Cullens, Louis de Pointe du Lac of The Vampire Chronicles, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, most of the vamps in Kindred: The Embraced, the "assimilating" vamps in True Blood). He is also desperately in need of tweezers because Peter Gallagher's eyebrows have reincarnated on his face.

Stefan begins following Elena around, showing up at her house late at night without calling first and disappearing as if he has (GASP!) supernatural speed (see: Edward Cullen, Batman). He also gets all shaky, pale and generally wack at the sight of her blood (see: Dracula, Twilight, Kindred: The Embraced, Dark Shadows, a bunch of other stuff I'm forgetting). However, our heroine is not creeped out in the slightest by this strange, Ted Bundy-like behavior. On the contrary, she is delighted (see: Bella Swan, women who write love letters to inmates).

At this point, I was not entirely sure that I wasn't watching a new episode of 90210 written by Stephenie Meyer. I also wondered exactly when a hot vampire with normal supercilia was going to show up.

Enter Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), the best The CW could find. Damon is Stefan's
high-spirited brother. He is pro-vamp, definitely not a "vegetarian" and enjoys hunting humans - a major no-no in his bro's opinion (see: Lestat de Lioncourt from The Vampire Chronicles, all of The Lost Boys, Spike and Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Victoria's gang in Twilight, the anti-assimilation vamps from True Blood).

It is immediately obvious that, despite having spent several centuries together, these boys do not get on so well (see: Louis and Lestat from The Vampire Chronicles, Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Eric and Bill from True Blood). It is also revealed that Damon is responsible for the attacks on Mystic Falls' residents.

At the end of the episode, Elena invites stalkin' Stef into her home, and we all know what that means (see: Dracula, The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood).

The Vampire Diaries is, quite simply, Twilight for TV and all of the characters, the plot and the mythology have been recycled from better films, books and TV shows. Granted, Smith's books were published pre-Twilight, so it is really Stephenie Meyer (big surprise) who has done most of the stealing. However, the real question is: why waste the air time?

This is what happens when a sub-culture phenomenon catches the attention of the public at large and becomes a trend. Any originality and depth is left by the wayside to appeal to the larger, less discriminating mainstream audience.

Remember the hair bands of the 80s? This show is the equivalent of Winger.

I cannot blame The CW for jumping on the fang-bang bandwagon. After all, a lot of money stands to be made. What is frustrating is that they chose a Twilight-esque series of books to base the series on, when they could have chosen something with a premise we haven't seen before, or invented an entirely new mythology.

If someone could create (or at least remake with passionate fervor) a vampire protagonist that actually kills people, it would be most refreshing. If his primary motivation is to fall in love with Mary Sue, then he is really just a human with bad teeth.


Episode Two airs Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.

What did you think of the show? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Supernatural" Fills the "Buffy" Void

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 3
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Following the demise of my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003, I essentially gave up on network television. This was easy to do as I have no interest in cop, hospital or legal dramas. I like my shows quirky, dark and witty, with a dash of the occult.

Earlier this year, while conducting interviews for another story, one of my sources suggested I check out Supernatural. This recommendation stuck with me and this summer I finally got around to renting Seasons One through Four.

The series follows brothers Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) as they travel across the country in a bad-ass 1967 Chevy Impala listening to cock-rock and hunting evil.

They had me at Back in Black.

At first, it seemed too good to be true. This show had everything I love clever writing, ghosts, demons, psychics, witches, good vs. evil but throw in a soundtrack featuring Black Sabbath, Ratt and Soundgarden, and I am definitely in it for the long haul.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the two leads are extensively easy on the eyes, but I digress.

I suspect the writers of Supernatural have taken a Joss Whedon Master's class. Like Buffy, each season thus far has followed a main story arc, with side-roads throughout. Another big plus is that, at times, it is downright scary.

In an interview featured on the Season One DVDs, creator Eric Kripke said that his intention was to make a mini-horror movie each week and this vision has been successful, although, in some episodes more than others.

The series began with the guys hunting creatures based on urban legends, such as Bloody Mary and the infamous Hook Man, but for Season Five the show has taken on an arc of biblical proportions. At the end of Season Four, Sam had inadvertently unleashed Lucifer, signaling the beginning of the Apocalypse, and Dean had been chosen by the angels to stop it all.

Kripke told TV Guide Magazine that viewers will indeed see an Apocalypse, complete with "four horsemen" and that they have definitely put a new spin on Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino).

"One of our goals is to depict Lucifer in a way that’s rarely seen on television," Kripke said. "We want Lucifer to be the most sympathetic character this season. He’s this wounded angel who feels very betrayed by God and his fellow angels."

Lucifer may be the Devil we don't know, but the Apocalypse sounds disturbingly familiar.

"Our version of the Apocalypse includes things like hurricanes unexpectedly slamming into the U.S. coasts, and swine flu, and North Korea suddenly arming up with nuclear weapons," Kripke said. "We’re really trying to create the idea that we always have, that this could be happening right outside your door and you don’t know it."

Characters from seasons past will also be returning, including angel Castiel (Misha Collins), demon Meg (Rachel Miner) and even Sam's dead fiance Jessica (Adrianne Palecki).

So far, we have angels, demons, the resurrected dead and Lucifer, so how about the Big Kahuna?

"God will be a character on Supernatural this season," Kripke confirmed. "He’s vanished from Heaven, which is why the Angels have taken over the joint, but we’re planning on God’s return, probably around the end of the season. This story thread has generated much hilarity in the Supernatural writer’s room. We ask ourselves questions like, 'Well, what’s God’s motivation in this scene?' And then we start laughing, cause, you know, Gossip Girl just ain’t having these problems.

At this point, my fellow Buffsters may be wondering if Supernatural is (dare I say it?) better than Buffy?

Not yet. In fact, only the dialogue has, occasionally, come anywhere close to Buffy standards, but that could all change this season. So instead of watching the same tired NBC Thursday night sitcoms this fall, give Supernatural a shot.

After all, what could be more exciting than the Apocalypse?

Supernatural Season Five kicks off on the CW Sept. 10 at 9 p.m. EST.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"It Might Get Loud" Pays Homage to the Guitar

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1
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What kind of music would we be listening to if the guitar had never been invented? Would we all be jamming to Mozart while sitting in rush hour traffic? I pondered this thought while waiting to discover when It Might Get Loud, the new documentary by Davis Guggenheim, will be premiering in my city.

In his film, Guggenheim explores the instrument that links three talented musicians, each from a different generation. First, there is guitar legend Jimmy Page from the Yardbirds and, of course, Led Zeppelin. Next we have the Edge from U2 and Jack White of The White Stripes. The film recounts how each man discovered the guitar and attained fame, but Guggenheim said there is also a universal message.

"It's less about the gadgets and the toys and the guitars and more about these guys' creative path," Guggenheim told USA Today. "It's the story of what it's like to be a kid in a remote city wanting to say something and finding your voice."

Getting the three to participate was the first challenge.

"I'm not the sort of person who wants to be bothered about being profiled all the time," Page said. "But it is important to pop out now and then to show you're not 6 feet under."

The Edge said he does not usually like to discuss music because it is difficult to avoid cliches, but that the film was able to capture honest moments.

"I sort of forgot the cameras were there after a while because I was absorbed in the memories."

It Might Get Loud opened in N.Y. and L.A. Aug. 14 and will be premiering across the country over the next few months. Release dates can be found at the official Web site.

Check out a clip from the film featured on the Spin Web site.

Who is your favorite guitarist of all time?

This topic often produces much spirited debate between musicians and fans. Below are some of my favorites. Post your choice in the comments!

Jimi Hendrix
Often cited as the greatest guitarist of all time, Hendrix began his career at the age of 16. Known for his flamboyant playing, which included using his teeth, Hendrix pioneered an innovative style by combining fuzz, feedback and controlled distortion, which other guitarists tried to emulate, but never quite mastered.

Jimmy Page - Led Zeppelin
It is no surprise Guggenheim invited Page to participate in It Might Get Loud. After working as a first-call studio musician at Decca Records in London for several years, Page eventually joined the Yardbirds which evolved into the powerhouse known as Led Zeppelin. Page's powerful riffs and solos, as well as his innovative use of a bow, helped make him one of the most influential guitarists of all time.

Eric Clapton
Nicknamed Slowhand because of his laid back style, Clapton started playing guitar at the age of 13. Influenced early on by the blues roots of American music, he made it his own. Clapton's solos burst with blues, soul and creativity, making his oeuvre required study for young guitarists everywhere.

Robbie Krieger - The Doors
Perhaps the most underrated guitarist in music history, the riffs Krieger created with The Doors proved not only his creative talent, but also his versatile artistic style. Trained first in flamenco, Krieger went on to study folk, jazz and the blues, all of which are present in The Doors' body of work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Has the Curtain Fallen Forever on Decent Teen Movies?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 5
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When the news broke last week that writer/director John Hughes, 59, had died of a heart attack, I will admit that I got more than a little teary-eyed. Like most of my generation, I grew up with his films, and his marvelous dialogue still peppers my everyday speech. In fact, the day he passed away I had already quoted The Breakfast Club twice before I even heard the news.

Although he had given up on Hollywood years ago and had made countless entertaining films outside the adolescent-angst genre (Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Home Alone, just to name a few), while Hughes was alive there was still hope. Hope that one day he would return and do what he did best — write and direct a movie about what it is really like to be a teenager.

The pain, the heartbreak, the struggles, and the laughter, these integral elements were all present in Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles and, of course, the mighty Breakfast Club.

Nobody did it like Hughes. He did not write teenage characters as one-dimensional, sex-crazed idiots because, as actor Judd Nelson confirmed, that is not how he saw them.

“John’s desire for the truth of the spoken word aligned perfectly with his gift for treating young people not as children but as developing adults,” Nelson said in a statement to Buzzine.

Hughes also had not forgotten those awkward years which, for many people, are the toughest of their lives. In an article she wrote for The New York Times, actress Molly Ringwald said that Hughes relived his teens through the characters he created in writing and nurtured through directing.

“In retrospect, I feel that we were sort of avatars for him, acting out the different parts of his life — improving upon it, perhaps,” Ringwald wrote. “In those movies, he always got the last word. He always got the girl.”

The teen movie has suffered so completely since Hughes retreated, it is no longer even worthy of a genre. There is no ache of first love, merely sex shenanigans with dessert foods. There is no dialogue, just profanity lazily used as adjectives. There is no trace of the sarcastic, clever comedy Hughes brilliantly wove into his screenplays, merely stereotypes who can barely tie their shoelaces.

No thanks — I’ll stick with Duckie’s side-splitting interpretation of “Try a Little Tenderness.”

Those who should be most offended by the pieces of drivel being marketed to young people is the target audience themselves. Is this how they want to be perceived as a generation? More importantly, is this how they see themselves? I hope not. In fact, I hope one of them will step up to the plate and do it right.

John Bender and Ferris Bueller would no doubt have endless fun tormenting the neo maxi zoom dweebies of today’s teen flicks, while Duckie cheered them on from the sidelines and Samantha Baker subjected them all to a severe sarcasm beat-down.

Below are some of my personal favorite John Hughes quotes. Please share yours in the comments.

The Breakfast Club

John Bender: What do you guys do in your club?

Brian Johnson: Well, in physics we...we talk about physics, properties of physics…

John Bender: So it's sorta social. Demented and sad, but social. Right?

John Bender: Hey, how come Andrew gets to get up? If he gets up, we'll all get up, it'll be anarchy!

Pretty in Pink

Andie: You know you're talking like that just because I'm going out with Blane.
Duckie: Blane? His name is Blane? That's not a name, it’s a major appliance.

Andie: Were you here long?
Duckie: No, no! Three, four... hours.

Some Kind of Wonderful

Laura Nelson: Check it out. This girl is popular, she's beautiful and, obviously, in the middle of some emotional shootout to consent to date the human tater tot. What did you do to her, Keith? Threaten her life?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Greatest Movies Never Made

Sunday, August 9, 2009 1
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For many people film has always been a welcome diversion from the often harsh reality of daily life. However, of late, Hollywood seems bent on rehashing, remaking, or endlessly sequel-ling (exactly how many “visions” of “Halloween” do we need, Mr. Zombie?) films based on ideas that were not even that good in the first place.

It has become painfully obvious that no one can come up with an original idea. My solution? Steal a great one from someone else, of course! Below are four that I would like to see.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

It is annoying that such a prolific novel has never found its way to the big screen, especially when countless rip-offs of the protagonist have. It has been reported that Salinger is not keen on the idea and, given the hatchet-job Hollywood has done on a number of wonderful novels over the years, I can’t say that I blame him.

The book recounts the story of a discontented youth, but it is much more than a run-of-the-mill rebel’s tale. It reveals society’s complexities, flaws and injustices. Hollywood loves this story and has made many films based on the same premise, so why not the grand-daddy of them all?

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

This comic book series could, in the right hands, become such a major franchise it might even rival the wizards and vampires of Tweendom. Dark, moody and sprinkled with love, lust, and death, this series is a Tim Burton wet dream.

The story centers on a group of mysterious immortals called The Endless who each rule over an aspect of the human condition. Chief Immortal, Morpheus (aka Dream), is assisted by his six brothers and sisters: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium and Destruction.

The last decade has proven there is a huge market for fantasy films and this haunting, remarkable series should be allowed to take its rightful place among them.

Wonder Woman

Could we get a female super-hero movie, please? We have seen Iron Man, Batman (two different franchises for this one now, and counting), Spiderman, Superman (again TWO versions), The Green Lantern, etc. and the Amazon chick who can stop bullets with her jewelry continues to be ignored. As a woman, I am angered by this slight, and as a super-hero fan, I am, well, PISSED!

Sure, the series featuring the lovely Lynda Carter was cheesy, but I still watched it every week. However, if this is the reason we still do not have a film version, could we talk about the super-cheesy on a mountain of cheese the old Batman series was? Who doesn’t want to see a hot lady with super-powers kicking some villainous ass? It is a theme that crosses all lines of ethnicity and gender. That’s right —Wonder Woman could unite us all! Well, probably not, but I have an objective here, people.

Star Wars: Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

Had they been done well, I might have been more receptive to the prequels of this beloved franchise. As it turned out, I would have preferred that Vader’s origins remain a mystery. Watching golden-boy Hayden Christiansen attempt to “become evil” was more painful than the time I sprained my ankle on Gran’s stairs — and don’t even get me started on Jar Jar Binks.

I wanted to see what happened to Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and those lovable droids. After the deaths of Vader and the Emperor, did another corrupt leader gain power? Did Leia ever learn the ways of the Force? What happened to Han and Leia’s kids? Did Leia’s daughter make fun of her mom’s sound-reducing-headphones hairstyle in the high school yearbook? Any combination of answers to these questions could have been the basis for a decent sequel. Alright, maybe not the hairstyle bit, but you get the idea.

There are countless others I could list, but I do not want to run the risk of overwhelming in the hopes that one of these will actually be produced. There, Hollywood! That pesky creative part of actually coming up with an idea is already done for you, pick any one you like. Just try not to ruin it, mkay?

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