The Sunbaked King

What’s Hot and What’s Not: American Idol Top 11

You know the drill: 50% Vocals, 30% Appeal/Marketability, 20% Kerwin Bias. To recap last week’s performances: Danny kicked ass, Adam stirred people’s souls, and Alexis was a dirty little Diana. Remember those names, because you’re going to see them earlier in this list than usual.

Top 11
The Grand Ol’ Opry Night

11 Scott MacIntyre. Wild Angels. Vocals: 10th + Appeal: 11th + Bias: 11th = 50.00%. Peak Position: 11th. Average Ranking: 11.5.

Give him Stevie Wonder glasses, please! For the love of God, if he’s gonna stay long, give him Randy Santiago shades! It will make me like him more, promise! Randy Travis, what’s not quite right is his EYES! AND!!! Paula made sense! Simon is wrong! Stop making me write exclamation points! I am going to hell!

10 Allison Iraheta. Blame it on Your Heart. Vocals: 11th + Appeal: 9th + Bias: 9th = 61.50%. Peak Position: 10th. Average Ranking: 10.

I really don’t hate Allison. But there’s just something in her voice that I dislike. (Amazingly, this “something” in her voice is precisely the reason why people like her.) Maybe she’s just not my cup of tea. Her voice sounds flat at times, and I agree when Simon said it was a bit toneless.

9 Lil Rounds. Independence Day. Vocals: 4th + Appeal: 9th + Bias: 10th = 70.50%. Peak Position: 5th. Average Ranking: 7.

Country wasn’t made for everyone. While Lil’s vocals were good, they lacked that spark. Maybe because she held back on her R&B style? I would hate boxing her into that category, but whatever. I’m not really that invested into her, anyway. And the long back-and-forth between the judges? Tiresome and not at all enlightening. This space is full of BLAH, MEH, and *shoulder shrugs*.

8 Alexis Grace. Jolene. Vocals: 7th + Appeal: 4th + Bias: 6th = 70.75%. Peak Position: 3rd. Average Ranking: 5.5.

My like for Alexis cannot compensate for this so-so performance. I’m thinking I liked it better when Brooke White sang it last year, and I didn’t even like it all that much then. And what’s with the dirt comments? I hope Christina Aguilera week comes around and she picks “DIRRRTY.” I would love to see her wearing those big red gloves.

7 Michael Sarver. Ain’t Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up. Vocals: 7th + Appeal: 7th + Bias: 3rd = 71.00%. Peak Position: 6th. Average Ranking: 6.5.

His voice really suited the song, and he must have worked quite a country twang in that performance. It was fun and enjoyable to listen to. Another side of me thinks, however, that it took effort to sing those words, and it showed. There was a slight struggle there.

6 Adam Lambert. Ring of Fire. Vocals: 9th + Appeal: 1st + Bias: 8th = 71.75%. Peak Position: 2nd. Average Ranking: 4.

I feel harassed, molested, and kicked in the head for good measure. I don’t feel good. I should file a lawsuit.

5 Megan Joy Corkrey. Walking After Midnight. Vocals: 6th + Appeal: 7th + Bias: 7th = 72.00%. Peak Position: 5th. Average Ranking: 8.

Hmmm. Interesting.

4 Danny Gokey. Jesus Take the Wheel. Vocals: 4th + Appeal: 4th + Bias: 4th = 75.00%. Peak Position: 1st. Average Ranking: 2.5.

Isn’t it one of the cardinal rules of American Idol NOT to sing the hits of an alumnus? And an especially spectacular one like Jesus Take the Wheel? He took it right out of the park when he reached the chorus, but even then, I kept on wondering how he could take on someone like Carrie Underwood. I mean, Carrie, really? Man, my favorites are depressing me tonight. Thank goodness for Kris Allen.

3 Matt Giraud. So Small. Vocals: 3rd + Appeal: 4th + Bias: 4th = 76.25%. Peak Position: 3rd. Average Ranking: 5.

I take back what I said about the cardinal rules of singing in American Idol (see Gokey, Danny). It can be done. Matt did it with enough competence, and did the song justice. I wish he’d go far. This guy’s versatility is something to look forward to week after week.

2 Anoop Desai. Always on My Mind. Vocals: 1st + Appeal: 3rd + Bias: 2nd = 82.50%. Peak Position: 2nd. Average Ranking: 5.5.

Wow. Second set of goosebumps for the night. His song choice was perfect, his vocals were spot-on, his delivery was flawless, and his control was just impeccable. That was spectacular. I love his personality, I love him taking all the praises in, and I love that he said “impetus” during his interview. Definitely the best I’ve seen from Anoop.

1 Kris Allen. To Make You Feel My Love. Vocals: 1st + Appeal: 1st + Bias: 1st = 85.00%. Peak Position: 1st. Average Ranking: 2.5.

That was amazing in so many levels. From some other contestant, it would have probably bored me, but Kris transformed the song into something quite touching. When he sang the first few notes, I got goosebumps. Pure is right. Tender is right. Beautiful is right. Whoever doubted Kris’s chances in going far can think again. This boy can sing.

ai8_kris_allen

Picture taken from americanidol.com.

Like I said, those were pretty disappointing performances from Danny, Adam, and even Alexis. My second tier bets, however– Anoop, Kris, and Matt– churned out amazingly “vulnerable” vocals, stealing the spotlight from the abovementioned crowned ones. Country is never an easy genre for those who have not grown accustomed to singing it (Lil), but it sure can revive the chances of those who were brought up with it (Megan).

So who’ll be out? I dearly hope it’ll be Scott’s turn tomorrow.

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Filed under: The Couch Potato, TV

What’s Hot and What’s Not: The Rest of Them

You know the show The Soup? A witty guy named Joel McHale hosts it, and I just love that show. [The Soup: 5 stars]. In any case, The Soup basically lines up the most noteworthy things that happened during the week in TV and comments on them. It’s like E! without the pretense of presenting gossip as journalistic news. [E!: 1 star]. What I’m going to do is to comment on the shows that I download and watch each week. Just my opinion, so definitely your mileage may vary. I’m no Joel McHale, but at least I’m not going to end up like Jimmy Fallon on his first days as Late Night host. EPIC FAIL! (Just kidding. I haven’t watched Jimmy Fallon’s show, and I don’t download late night TV episodes. That’s going to take up the entirety of my 320 GB Maxtor EHD. Besides, I have already made up my mind that Conan O’ Brien is still the best thing that’s happened to late night TV.)

Let the pop references– and the spoilers, too, if you haven’t watched the latest fresh US episodes– rain forth! For emphasis: SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!

American Idol, Season 8

ai8_kris_allen Let’s begin with the most popular, and the one everyone’s most likely to have watched: American Idol. I’ve recapped my thoughts on the performances here, so you can browse through those, and in the process see a massive dose of bias for Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert, and Kris Allen. Those three aren’t going anywhere.

But enough of those fabulous people, let’s talk about THE TWIST for just a second. Is it hot or not? It’s definitely a HOT for me. While the choice of Chris Daughtry and Tamayra Gray are laughable (they got booted fourth, people, so they won’t really be saved by the Judges’ Save), it’s an interesting twist that brings something new to the table. Some people may dismiss it as a way to save the judges’ crowned ones, but they are crowned ones for a reason– they’re going to get a lot of votes. Complacency happens almost rarely before Top 5. So I think the judges are going to use it for someone other than the crowned ones. I have a feeling it might be used for Allison Iraheta.

A shameful confession: I want Scott MacIntyre to get booted next. I’m not mad that he’s still there– in fact, I like this season’s contestants– I just find him disorienting. But as of now, Jasmine Murray and Jorge Nunez will have to do.  [American Idol: 4 stars]

America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 12

antmThe usual band of suspects are back, and Tyra Banks is the goddess, the beacon of light, to lead them all to the path of model insignificance. It’s Episode 2 and the bitches are getting their hair done! Yes, Tyra-lovers and Tyra-haters, it’s makeover time! It’s probably not going to matter since they’re all going to have their hair redone each photo shoot they take, but whatever, right? It’s a Tyracracy, and Ms. Jay and Mr. Jay will ensure that you all bow down to Tyra’s will– the Ms with his skinny chocolate legs, and the Mr with his electrifying silver hair. Be very scared.

Honestly, ANTM is still fascinating, but it’s also getting a little tired. Wannabe models bitching at each other, crying over hair being cut, Tyra telling us to look fierce and smiling with our eyes– been there, done that. Perhaps this is the reason why they decided to shake things up next season and looking for models that are 5’7 and below. Now, that’s bound to exciting. Eva Pigfords of the world, unite!

As for this season, I’m rooting for London the street preacher cool chick and Celia the modelesque-but-too-old-and-will-probably-be-eliminated-before-the-final-two contestant (who, by the way, reminds me a lot of a less beautiful but funkier Renee in Jaslene‘s cycle). While Jessica reminds me of Vanessa f*ing Abrams (who, interestingly, is played by Jessica Szohr),  I don’t like the burn victim Tahlia more (I don’t like the burn victim story, and I hate how the name is spelled). And for this week’s photo shoot, I thought she deserved to go home more than Fo or Jessica. I know Tahlia won’t win, I just don’t like her around that much. For that: [America’s Next Top Model: 2.5 stars]

P.S. What’s up with the quality of the photos this season? It’s been two weeks already, and they’re showing photos that are terribly blurry and uninspiring. I know some people who could produce better photos than that, Nigel Barker and Tyra.

Dollhouse

dollhouse Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is back with a vengeance with this spankin’ brand new series about people who get their minds wiped, imprinted with personalities, and then get sent out to the world with missions embedded in their passive little brains. If you haven’t heard about this yet, better catch up quick. It’s a fantastic series, and yet there are rumors of its cancellation so early in the rankings game. I know you and I can’t pretty much save it by downloading the episodes way after they’re shown in the US, but a little love never hurt!

This week, Echo (played by Eliza Dushku) is a midwife in the opening scenes, and there is no justification to that little part at all. It didn’t progress the episode any, and if it were a commentary, it was done a little too heavy-handedly. Thank goodness the rest of the episode went very, very well. I forgot how some of my favorite Buffy episodes were those that were done with a touch of subtlety in moving the season’s plot along (see Season 5, Glory and the annoying little Key). Joss Whedon is good, and it showed itself gobsmack in the middle of this episode. Echo is implanted with the personality of a kick-ass thief. While in the middle of the mission, she gets a call from her Handler (played by Harry Lennix), and while in the middle of that call (I told you it was gobsmack in the middle), her mind gets wiped. Kick-ass thief persona gone. Echo descends into a hodgepodge of fear and innocence and understanding and it’s really just very brilliant. It forms a whole new facet of how the Actives and the Dollhouse work, and it provides enough story to make you wonder: what else is there?

Note to the reading public, whoever you may be: download Dollhouse. If it doesn’t get you hooked, I don’t know what will. [Dollhouse: 4.5 stars]

As for the rest of the shows I watch and download and get emotional about:

The Amazing Race, Season 14.

the_amazing_raceWell played, Luke the sneaky deaf kid! You probably just Blind U-Turned the toughest competition you’ll ever have in this race out of it. But also: BOO! for taking out the eye candy. You mean and evil child. You deserve whatever cold you get in Siberia next week.

I kid. [The Amazing Race: 4.5 stars]

The Apprentice: Celebrity Edition, Season 2.

the_apprenticeGood for you, Tom Green! I always thought that Scott Hamilton was a non-celeb, and he’s a snooty non-celeb at that. While I do think you were being sneaky too, I would do the same thing just to annoy the hell out of Scott. And who in hell doesn’t use a name starting with a Z to create a mascot for a website called Zappos.com?!? EEE?!? Realleee, Scott?

Good call on this one, Mr. Trump. [The Apprentice: 3.5 stars]

Hell’s Kitchen, Season 5.

hell's_kitchenThe show is getting tiring. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gordon Ramsay to pieces, but the dynamics of the game hasn’t really changed since its inception. I wish they threw a wrench in the rules somewhere. Or even create rules in the first place. The “choose two of your teammates up for elimination” doesn’t call for strategy (or pathetic begging from teammates) because Gordon Ramsay has the last say. In the previous week’s episode, the two people up for elimination were sent back in line and another is sent home packing. Yes, Colleen was a little thick by opening a culinary class while she herself doesn’t know how to cook, and yes, she failed in proving her worth for five episodes running, but… hmmm, I forgot the but. I think Gordon was right. He always is. I’m a donkey for not remembering that. [Hell’s Kitchen: 3 stars]

These are the shows that I’m following this season. I’m adding a couple more to my repertoire: Make Me A Supermodel (the first 2 episodes of Season 2 I’m downloading as I type), and Kings, a new series depicting a modern-day King David story. The second one sounds very promising.

P.S. Thank God, tomorrow’s the next episode of Gossip Girl. I was getting worried for my show. I hope they already fixed that ridiculous Ms. Rachel Carr plotline. And whatever happened to Jack Bass and Blair Waldorf on New Year’s?! Are we ever going to find out?

Filed under: The Couch Potato, TV

Hopeless Emptiness

A COMMENTARY ON REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
Leonardo diCaprio, Kate Winslet

On the surface, everything looks composed and organized. A modest house with room for the kids, a newly-mowed lawn, a decent car. mparevolutionaryroadposterSuburbia. This is the stuff mainland America is made of. This is the stuff people want for themselves. After all, who doesn’t want stability in their lives? Who wouldn’t want to wake up each morning knowing that there are going to be scrambled eggs and orange juice on the table? Who wouldn’t want to go to work knowing that there’s a job out there waiting for him, and perhaps a modest paycheck to feed himself, the wife and kids?

People who want more from life, that’s who. People who were born to be over and beyond what society dictates them to be. People who truly believe they exist to create a difference in the world. For these people, the perfectly composed suburban scenario is nothing but a trap. It stifles. It reeks of pretense.

Frank Wheeler (Leonardo diCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) have moved into their new home in Revolutionary Road, and there they learn that that their lives are going to be anything but revolutionary. With a job Frank hates, and a housewife role April despises, they set out to be better than who they are by moving to Paris. Acknowledging that they have lived what Frank calls a “hopeless existence” is only half of the equation, however; getting out of it is another matter entirely.

Hmmm, hopeless emptiness. John Givings (Michael Shannon), a mathematician plagued by a case of insanity, said it best: people hint at the emptiness, but never really see the hopelessness. This is perhaps the reason why people moan at the redundancy, but never recognize the futility of living the redundancy. So they do things again and again, believing that something is out for them, when in fact everything stays the same. By the time they realize that something’s amiss, their entire life has passed them by, and they end up bitter and sad and mad at the world. What’s worse, they end up bitter and sad and mad at themselves. For failing to see. For failing to act.

A road can lead two ways, and it’s perfectly fine to use both of them. The only mistake is to stay behind without using at all.

[Revolutionary Road is a comeback for the famous Titanic tandem of diCaprio and Winslet. diCaprio’s and Winslet’s performances are spot-on and quite effective. They’ve gone a long way since Titanic, which I didn’t even watch on the big screen (can ya believe it?). The music is quite minimal, and it works. In fact, the scenes are quite minimilastic; you get the idea that while suburban life may be this clean, a tiny speck of dust (or blood) is all it takes to destroy the entire picture.]

Filed under: Cinema, Domesticated, Mindlifting, The Couch Potato

What’s Hot and What’s Not: American Idol Top 13

Time to dust the cobwebs off my Elaborately Xciting Calculator for Entertainment and Love (EXCEL) because American Idol Season 8 is upon us once again! It’s up to me to compute the impact of these 13 individuals on my life and on my soul, because from here on out, I am a wreck because of them. Cheering to the point of destroying furniture and booing to the point of getting into arguments are such tiring, tiring chores, so I might as well establish a facade of objectivity behind my senseless actions.

So how does the EXCEL system work? Each week, the AI hopefuls are subjected to rigorous auditory and visual assessment, and are given points based on 3 criteria: Vocals, Appeal or Marketability, and Kerwin Bias. Vocals comprise 50% of the grade; appeal, 30%; and Kerwin bias, 20%. Some of you might already raise eyebrows on the Kerwin bias, but its presence is important. I need to inject a little bit of me into the system, you know… make it my own?

Now that the explanations are over, the entries for the next weeks are going to be much shorter. At least until I find one true Idol and blab about him or her endlessly. (Hint: It’s probably going to be a him.) Let’s begin!

Top 13
Michael Jackson Night

13 Jorge Nunez. Never Can Say Goodbye. Vocals: 12th + Appeal: 13th + Bias: 12th = 40.00%.

That was painful.

12 Scott MacIntyre. Keep the Faith. Vocals: 9th + Appeal: 12th + Bias: 13th = 50.25%.

The slow parts were not so good to listen to, and his singing failed him at these times. When the song peaked, however, I began to enjoy it. Will God punish me if I state for the record that looking at Scott’s face while he performs disturbs me a little?

11 Megan Joy Corkrey. Rockin’ Robin. Vocals: 12th + Appeal: 10th + Bias: 8th = 51.00%.

I don’t understand what’s up with Megan. Has she been this melody-less? I know a lot of people who like her, but ever since I’ve seen her in the semis, she’s done nothing but bleat at me.

10 Allison Iraheta. Give In To Me. Vocals: 11th + Appeal: 6th + Bias: 9th = 60.00%.

Her attempts at “rock” fell flat. She might seem like a post-Idol Kelly Clarkson, but remember, even Kelly Clarkson had My December.

9 Anoop Desai. Beat It. Vocals: 10th + Appeal: 7th + Bias: 6th = 61.75%.

I love Anoop’s parents! Wee! Such joy, these Indians! Go Slumdog Millionaire! Oh, sorry, wrong sentiment. Anoop’s vocals were thin althroughout, and I did not enjoy his performance. If he keeps on doing this, he’s going to be gone soon, Slumdog Millionaire‘s victory notwithstanding.

8 Jasmine Murray. I’ll Be There. Vocals: 3rd + Appeal: 10th + Bias: 11th = 64.25%.

Consistently good vocals. Boring song. Performance lacked soul. Like Kara, I was on the edge thinking she might botch some of the notes (and didn’t!); however, I don’t think she has much stage presence. As can be seen from the breakdown, it’s my bias and her lack of appeal that did her in.

7 Matt Giraud. Human Nature. Vocals: 8th + Appeal: 8th + Bias: 6th = 66.00%.

Matt has this tendency to sing well, and then botch the notes completely. It’s inconsistent, and quite distracting. The falsetto didn’t do it for me this time around, but it has potential.

6 Michael Sarver. You’re Not Alone. Vocals: 6th + Appeal: 8th + Bias: 4th = 67.75%.

I hated the arrangement, hated how the song was changed. He sang it competently, but I felt he was too loud. I know he wasn’t shouting, but it felt like it. I still like him, though. Seems very down-to-earth.

5 Lil Rounds. The Way You Make Me Feel. Vocals: 3rd + Appeal: 4th + Bias: 10th = 72.25%.

I liked it perhaps more than I should have, but the problem is this: it lacked oomph. It didn’t surprise me, it didn’t truly excite me. (Lil Rounds also proves that the Kerwin bias doesn’t really matter that much if you can sang. Yes, bow down to my objectivity.)

4 Kris Allen. Remember the Time. Vocals: 6th + Appeal: 1st + Bias: 1st = 75.50%.

He doesn’t have the vocal chops of one Danny Gokey, but he has as much appeal (if not more), and I am liking him more than I did during the semifinals. I love how upbeat and light everything was. PAULA, STOP GUSHING! YOU’RE WET! RYAN, WATCH THE GRIP ON THE SHOULDER!

3 Alexis Grace. Dirty Diana. Vocals: 2nd + Appeal: 5th + Bias: 4th = 75.75%.

This is how you do it, Allison. At first I thought it was a matter of preference, since rock isn’t exactly my thing, but Alexis was able to infuse a sultry, sexy vibe to the entire shebang, and it made me like it tremendously. (Note the very close proximity to Kris Allen’s grade. That, guys, is what you call “willpower”.)

2 Adam Lambert. Black and White. Vocals: 5th + Appeal: 1st + Bias: 2nd = 77.50%.

A better Blake. Somehow that makes sense. The performance is electrifying, the presence is magnetic, and– unlike Blake– he has vocals that are insanely out of this world. While sometimes it feels like he’s bordering on screeching and tearing out my eardrums, I don’t care. Blake didn’t have the best vocals, but I ended up loving each and every performance of his.

1 Danny Gokey. PYT. Vocals: 1st + Appeal: 1st + Bias: 2nd = 82.50%.

Gosh, I like the growl! The choice of song, however, did nothing for me. He sang it well, but there’s only so much that he can do with “Na na na na”. (BIAS ALERT) I must agree with Paula– Danny is in here to win it. Love him!

ai8_danny_gokeyPicture taken from americanidol.com.

Well, that’s pretty much it, folks and fellows. If I may say so, Michael Jackson Night is eons better than the Beatles Night last year. In general, that is. However! Outstanding performances (such as Brooke White’s Let It Be) are still yet to be found. Keep ’em coming! I’m sure Adam will conjure something soon.

Filed under: Geekery, The Couch Potato, TV

High School Musical 3

BEHIND THE LINE

High School Musical 3

Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Gabreel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman… [anyone else I missed?]

mpahighschoolmusical3posterHollywood is confusing me. I don’t know what to make of it anymore. Who represents the high school teens of America more?

In one corner, we have the beautiful lads and lasses of 90210. The West Beverly High teens are a bunch of rich kids with nothing much to do but swap girlfriends and boyfriends boringly, make cheesy remarks boringly, fight with parents and fellow students boringly, and bitch around in parties boringly. I didn’t realize that teen life in California, and by association the entire United States, was so sleep-inducing. But 90210 proved me wrong. Who am I, a foreigner, to disagree with the American show? I can’t even control my adverbs.

In another corner, coated with gold stripes of wealth and splashed with green streaks of envy, are the fabulous teens of the Upper East Side. With Gossip Girl constantly revealing the scandalous news of Manhattan’s elite, it’s hard not to think of American teens as shamelessly rich and deliciously mean people who can’t seem to find any time to go to class. Instead of biology, they have sexual chemistry; instead of graphs, they have other exciting evil things to plot.

Interesting choices we’ve got so far. But wait, there’s one final contender: the kids at East High. With their Montez smiles, Bolton muscles, and Evans flair, maybe these joyous teens re-pre-sent? Granted, Disney exaggerates the happiness and the camaraderie, but I can’t help but wonder whether American teens aren’t as cynical or as liberated as media purports them to be. Maybe it’s really possible that jocks can be invited over by Julliard if they can scream loud enough in empty gymnasiums without attracting any security intervention. Maybe it’s really possible to giggle the Gabriella way without getting socked in the face. Maybe it’s really possible that a guy (say, Troy) and a girl (say, Gabriella) can really stay in a room all alone and not do anything (say, sex). 

But then I remember that Vanessa Hudgens plays Gabriella Montez, and I am suddenly convinced otherwise. Upper East Side for the win!

Filed under: Cinema, The Couch Potato, TV

Tropic Thunder

BEHIND THE LINE

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black

Speaking of being self-aware, Tropic Thunder premiered in theaters around three weeks ago. I watched it twice: the first time on a Friday with my officemates, and the second time the night after with my father and my bro. Now, in case you read my back-to-back movie excursion as a good omen, I’d like to throw you a curveball: one of my friends slept through the movie, and my father did the same thing, as well.

No worries, though. They were just tired.

Three weeks in and I’m still wondering how Ben Stiller did it. He co-produced, co-wrote, directed, and starred in probably one of the funniest films of 2008. And that’s not even the most fantastic part. The best part? Stiller managed not to annoy. After Zoolander, Stiller has become more and more intolerable. I don’t know if it’s the characters he plays, or it’s just him. I’m leaning towards the latter. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing he made (and wrote and directed and starred in) this movie, or else he would have gone the way of the Unfunny Carrey.

Thanks to the writing of Stiller, Justin Theroux, and Etan Cohen, Tropic Thunder is a classic example of a parody done well. It comments on the absurdity of Hollywood war movies, and borrows scenes from the good ones, but as a whole, it still portrays a distinct, coherent film. A lot of the movies attempting to spoof other movies are just that– spoofs. Nothing makes sense. What these so-called movies offer is a hodgepodge of scenes that are distortions of their originals, created under the impression that the familiarity and the hilarity are enough. Guess what? Not every scene is familiar; not every joke is hilarious.

Of course, the film is not without its faults. I thought that Matthew McConaughey’s character was extraneous and could be removed; Nick Nolte was not utilized enough; and we should have had more endorsements of Alpa Chino’s Bust-A-Nut and Booty Sweat. But I’m just nitpicking. Despite its flaws, Tropic Thunder is one hell of a funny movie, and you would be one hell of a tropic blunder [not my words, but theirs] if you haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.

P.S. By the way, you know how your friends tell you to stay in the theater until the credits are over because something awesome is going to happen after the credits roll? I suggest the same thing, only in reverse. Come early. Something awesome happens before the movie even starts.

Filed under: Cinema, The Couch Potato

There Has Been Only One

Let’s admit it: most of the soaps they’re showing on local TV these days are crap. What grates me is a combination of these three things: the underwhelming CGI effects reminiscent of Hollywood sci-fi movies made in the pre-Star Wars era, the jokes that insult man’s intelligence, and the unrealistic conversations that we will never utter in this modern age and in this modern time. Gems that escape these annoyances are far and few; the last soap I truly truly loved was Mula sa Puso, and Rico Yan was still alive then. And Princess Punzalan still had a career.

When I first saw There Has Been Only One, I immediately dismissed it as a big publicity stunt that was bound to fail. The stunt? Another shot at fame for one of the lead actors, a controversial celebrity that just reappeared after a very long hiatus from showbiz. And perhaps a much-needed career boost for the lead actress, as well, whose recent soaps have not received the buzz worthy of a true TV soap princess. It was quite a sad deal from the beginning, actually. Bland actors with glutathione overdose fight over bland actress with glutathione overdose. Same old same old. I pronounced the show dead even before it took flight.

But somewhere along the way, it got fabulous.

There Has Been Only One became aware. There’s no other way to explain it. The show became aware of itself; the show embraced how the entire TV soap “industry” worked. That self-awareness was just what the writers needed to come up with the wonderful realization: “Let’s crank this full-time.” And crank it they did. They vamped up the dialogue with the most exquisite lines and the wittiest comebacks; they sent the protagonist into poverty then wealth then poverty then wealth then poverty again; and to drive home the point, they sent her into prison several times, and in court more times than that.

One of the biggest weaknesses of Philippine soaps is that they take themselves too seriously. Their goal is to manipulate people’s emotions into sympathizing with the characters, and in order to do that, they must literally flood the screen with tears and misery. There Has Been Only One refused to do that, because the show realized that the only thing it needed to do for people to keep watching the show was to keep them entertained

A shift in perspective converted one of the most boring soaps on television into one of the greatest ever. Congratulations, There Has Been Only One. Or should I say: “Congratulations, Iisa Pa Lamang?”

Filed under: The Couch Potato, TV

Eagle Eye

BEHIND THE LINE

Eagle Eye

Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson

At first, I thought I was watching Wanted. There’s this guy, a few months’ behind his rent, working at a job that doesn’t satisfy, when suddenly he finds himself awash with money at the ATM, an alpha female is dictating orders left and right, and he’s in an endless chase involving cars, trains, guns, and one big massive conspiracy. Well, ARIA is no Angelina Jolie, which is a disappointment, but that electronic lady can sure bully anyone around. 

Few more minutes in, and this time I felt like Maximum Overdrive was on the screen. (Along with The Blob, Maximum Overdrive is one of the scariest films I’ve watched in my younger years.) Only this time, instead of machines becoming self-aware and bringing mechanical doom on everyone living, horror has gone electronic and specific. ARIA chooses only an unfortunate few (You have been activated”), and sends the entire digital crew to “service” them.

Finally, due to its strong political overtones, the film seemed like the more improbable cousin of Enemy of the State. More improbable, and definitely more intense. Removing the bugs from your shoes and your clothes, not using your credit cards, and basically becoming a hermit are not enough to guarantee safety, especially from someone who can read the English language through coffee cup vibrations. As ARIA herself says: “We know who you are. We are everywhere.” If the words weren’t enough to creep you out, her intonation surely would.

So watching Eagle Eye brought to mind an assassin thriller, a Stephen King horror, and a Big Brother nail-biter. In my world, that’s one heck of a fantastic combo. Critics might call this sort of movie “preposterous” and “fantastical,” and urge everyone to avoid it. I, on the other hand, would call the movie “preposterous” and “fantastical,” and, with a big smile on my face, urge everyone to watch it. Even if you had to sit in the 3rd row closest to the screen, if it came to that.

Filed under: Cinema, The Couch Potato

Death Race

BEHIND THE LINE

Death Race

Jason Statham

On one sunny day in 1991, my father arrived home from his oath-taking in Manila, carrying with him a big box. I thought the box contained a pair of shoes; the size was just about right. When the plastic bag was placed aside and the package revealed, my eyes almost popped out from their sockets. It was a stunning, high-tech, top-of-the-line… Family Computer. 

Over the next few weeks, Mario became my best friend. I guided him across infinitely deep gorges, helped him avoid the fiery fury of King Koopa, prompted him to step on that turtle in Stage 3 a hundred times so that he can gain a hundred lives, and consoled him when he was met, not by the Princess, but by that annoying mushroom seven freaking times. When he jumped, my joystick jumped. When he tiptoed across narrow cliffs, my toes curled. When he died, I kicked the computer away. (Kidding.)

The fantastical thought has crossed my mind several times. How it would feel like to be inside Mario’s World? Would it be just as fun? Or would the prospect of an incoming bullet (with a maniacal smile, no less) be actually dangerous? Death Race tells us that no, it wouldn’t be fun at all, but it would be one hell of a successful marketing strategy.

Death Race presents a world where the US is no longer the superpower, criminals roam the land, and private corporations gain profit from managing prison establishments. One of the many ways by which they do this is through TV (or maybe TiVo) subscriptions from rabid fans of the Death Race. With this one sensational concept, the movie provides a commentary on the extremes of capitalism, the addiction of people to reality TV, and the regression of a nation to its dark, bloodthirsty ways, all without appearing preachy or boring.

Boring, in fact, is one word I will not use to describe the movie. Boring is not a term I will use to describe Mario Kart in Time Zone, boring is not a term I will use to describe Need for Speed, boring is not a term I will use to describe Gran Turismo. The Race, which is a cross between a reality TV show and a video game, is a vivid spectacle of gunfire, gore, and machinery. With a respectable action star at the wheel (Statham), the result is a fast-paced film that will make you reach for that invisible joystick pad in front of you.

For $99, Stage 1 of the Death Race is worth every penny. For P170, Death Race is worth every cent.

Filed under: Cinema, Gadgetry, The Couch Potato

This Is A Competition, For Crying Out Loud

The Pinoy Dream Academy scholars have been trimmed down to just The Final 6. Right off the bat, I’m going to say this: I could not have hoped for a better set of Top 6, nor could have I asked for a better season. Pinoy Dream Academy Season 2 boasts of better execution, better implementation of rules, better judges (Gerard Salonga), and most important, a better batch of contestants (aside from the disappointments named Jet and Ross– I hate quitters and voluntary exit-ers). For all this and more, congratulations. The show has got me hooked.

I have, however, one BIG gripe with this show in particular, and with Filipino reality shows in general. It’s the lack of willingness to acknowledge that they are in a competition. It’s the lack of admission that they are in it to win it. Stark contrast to American reality TV shows, where cutthroat is the way of life. Consider, for instance, the self-ranking the scholars did earlier this week. They were asked to rank themselves and each other from 1 to 6, where 1 indicates that they won the competition. Only one of them (one!) put himself in the number 1 position (go Miguel!), while others moaned about how they’re not really good enough compared to others, settling for 2nd or 3rd. If this were America’s Next Top Model, Tyra wouldn’t even deign to pick you if you admitted that someone was better than you were.

Of course, others would say that self-awareness is an attribute that’s sorely lacking in several reality shows, but the thing is, I don’t think it was self-awareness that prompted them to “humble” themselves. For me, it’s a distorted sense of modesty. In any case, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they are indeed being self-aware. Fine. But this brand of self-awareness could not possibly explain the above-mentioned voluntary exits. I’ve seen enough of this show, and all the various installations of Pinoy Big Brother, to come to realize that some contestants would rather leave the show they auditioned for in the first place. Amazing. This is even more horrific if this happened in PDA, because singing talent is something that they can assess. If you know you’re better than at least a handful of the contestants, why leave? You’re just wasting the slot better reserved for others. You’re just wasting audience visual space.

This is not to say contestants need to be crass and downright dirty to win. Cutthroat isn’t always pretty. However, you can be honorable and play the game at the same time. Furthermore, you can be not poor and be entitled to win these competitions at the same time. Aha! Another gripe. Miguel summed it best: “Just because I came from a well-off family does not mean I can’t have the chance to win competitions with prizes.” Word. And yet people still vote based on need and not ability. I know this sounds generalizing, but it’s a common trend. “Nakakaawa kasi” and “Mukhang kailangan niya” are two of the biggest reasons why people vote. Never mind if they can’t sing or can’t act a damn. They simply need this.

It’s going to take some time before attitudes change regarding reality shows. As for now, I’ll just have to be resigned to the fact that Bugoy will probably win it all. Bleh.

Filed under: The Couch Potato, TV