Saturday, December 31, 2011

When are your favorite shows returning from the holiday hiatus?

Now that the New Year is upon us, our minds turn to the truly important things – like when are our favorite television shows returning from the winter hiatus?

Following is a list of shows (sorted by day of the week that they air) and when they return.


The Bachelor (ABC) – Jan. 2
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family) – Jan. 2
How I Met Your Mother (CBS) – Jan 2
2 Broke Girls (CBS) – Jan. 2
The Lying Game (ABC Family) – Jan. 2
Two and  Half Men (CBS) – Jan. 2
Mike & Molly (CBS) – Jan. 2
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS) – Jan. 2
Wife Swap (ABC) – Jan. 2
Castle (ABC) – Jan. 9
Gossip Girl (CW) – Jan. 16
Alcatraz (FOX) – Jan. 16
House (FOX) – Jan. 23
Hart of Dixie (CW) – Jan. 23

The Biggest Loser (NBC) – Jan. 3
Switched at Birth (ABC Family) – Jan. 3
NCIS (CBS) – Jan. 3
NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS) – Jan. 3
Body of Proof (ABC) – Jan. 3
Parenthood (NBC) – Jan. 3
Unforgettable (CBS) – Jan. 3
The Game (BET) – Jan. 10
Glee (FOX) – Jan. 17
90210 (CW) – Jan. 17
New Girl (FOX) – Jan. 17
Raising Hope (FOX) – Jan. 17
Southland (TNT) – Jan. 17
Justified (FX) – Jan. 17
White Collar (USA) – Jan. 17
Ringer (CW) – Jan. 31
The River (ABC) – Feb. 7

The Middle (ABC) – Jan. 4
Suburgatory (ABC) – Jan. 4
Modern Family (ABC) – Jan. 4
Happy Endings (ABC) – Jan. 4
Revenge (ABC) – Jan. 4
One Tree Hill (CW) – Jan. 11
Whitney (NBC) – Jan. 11
Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC) – Jan. 11
Ghost Hunters (Syfy) – Jan. 11
Law & Order: SVU (NBC) – Jan. 11
American Idol (FOX) – Jan. 18
Criminal Minds (CBS) – Jan. 18
CSI (CBS) – Jan. 18
Royal Pains (USA) – Jan. 18
Touch (FOX) – Jan. 25

The Vampire Diaries (CW) – Jan. 5
Wipeout (ABC) – Jan. 5
The Secret Circle (CW) – Jan. 5
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) – Jan. 5
Jersey Shore (MTV) – Jan. 5
Private Practice (ABC) – Jan. 5
30 Rock (NBC) – Jan. 12
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) – Jan. 12
Rob (CBS) – Jan. 12
Parks & Recreation (NBC) – Jan. 12
The Finder (FOX) – Jan. 12
The Office (NBC) – Jan. 12
Person of Interest (CBS) – Jan. 12
Up All Night (NBC) – Jan. 12
The Mentalist (CBS) – Jan. 12

Nikita (CW) -- Jan. 6
A Gifted Man (CBS) – Jan. 6
Supernatural (CW) – Jan. 6
CSI: NY (CBS) – Jan. 6
Blue Bloods (CBS) – Jan. 6
Kitchen Nightmares (FOX) – Jan. 13
Fringe (FOX) – Jan. 13
Grimm (NBC) – Jan. 13
Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO) – Jan. 13
Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC) – Feb. 3

The Simpsons (FOX) – Jan. 8
Once Upon a Time (ABC) – Jan. 8
The Cleveland Show (FOX) – Jan. 8
Family Guy (FOX) – Jan. 8
The Firm (NBC) – Jan. 8
Desperate Housewives (ABC) – Jan. 8
The Good Wife (CBS) – Jan. 8
American Dad (FOX) – Jan. 8
CSI: Miami (CBS) – Jan. 8
Pan Am (ABC) – Jan. 8
Californication (Showtime) – Jan. 8
Undercover Boss (CBS) – Jan. 15
Napoleon Dynamite (FOX) – Jan. 15
Leverage (TNT) – Jan. 15
The Voice (NBC) – Feb. 5
The Apprentice (NBC) – Feb. 12
The Walking Dead (AMC) – Feb. 12
Secret Stash (AMC) – Feb. 12

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The best science fiction shows of all time . . . hide your guinea pigs.

If you can’t already tell, I’m a huge proponent of television, books, movies, music, video games – well, just about all media really.

My heart truly belongs to science fiction, though.

Growing up, I remember being allowed to watch ‘Jaws’ when I was five and ‘Aliens’ when I was seven. I liked the movies, don’t get me wrong, in fact I’m still traumatized by ‘Jaws’ to this day. When I was eight, however, something magical happened.

NBC started showing a miniseries about aliens coming to earth to steal our resources. They looked like us, but when you ripped their faces off they were really lizards underneath. Oh, yeah, they wanted to eat us, too.

I remember watching ‘V: The Original Miniseries’ without being able to take my eyes off the screen – especially the scene where Jane Badler’s Diana eats a guinea pig whole. Even though the special effects are dated by today’s standards, the series still holds up because of the acting and heart of the story. I still watch it on a regular basis.

With New Year’s Day upon us, the one thing that comes to mind when watching television on the first day of the year (most people nursing hangovers, I’m sure) is college football and holiday marathons. When I looked through the list of marathons running this year I was appalled at the lack of science fiction options.

Sure, ABC is running a full day of ‘Once Upon a Time’ to catch up viewers and Soap Net is running classic episodes of ‘One Life to Live’ – hey, soaps are more fantasy than reality – but other than that, there’s really no marathon that caught my eye.

What happened to the days of 15-hour ‘Twilight Zone’ marathons, or even ‘The X-Files’ marathons?

Then I started thinking even more, I mean science fiction television shows have really left an indelible mark on society. When I think about my favorite television shows of all time, a lot of them are fantasy and science fiction shows.

So, as I expanded my mind even further, I thought why not, a list of the best science fiction and fantasy shows of all time in honor of the New Year.

So, without further ado, welcome to the jumble of science fiction memories that occupy my head.

10. Seaquest DSV – When this show debuted in 1993 I was a senior in high school. Despite my busy social calendar (read: stalking boys) I became immediately fascinated with it. Not only was Steven Spielberg one of the producers of the show, but it also starred one of my all time favorite actors Roy “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” Scheider. The first season of Seaquest was truly wonderful. While I opted to pass on crushing on then teen heartthrob (now sad child actor cautionary tale) Jonathan Brandis in favor of Don Franklin, I was enamored with the eclectic stories (special shout out to the ghost ship episode) and talking dolphin. Then, in season two, NBC mandated that the show have more "fantastical" elements, for lack of a better word. All of a sudden the crew were being taken over by ghosts from Atlantis, threatened by prehistoric dinosaurs, fighting flesh-eating plants and traveling to the future. The true strength of 'Seaquest' was in character development, not gimmicks. Scheider was so disgusted by the turn of events he quit before season three. That season, the show jumped 10 years in the future, brought in the always wonderful Michael Ironside as the captain and dropped the ridiculous season two stories. Unfortunately, it was too late and NBC cancelled the series halfway through the third season.

9.  The Incredible Hulk – If you listen to my mother, I was always a super hero when I was a kid. When I was in a good mood, I would wander around in my Wonder Woman bracelets being sunny and nice and fighting whatever crime happened to be loitering around the house. If someone ticked me off, though, I would spin around really quickly and turn into the Hulk, where I proceeded to walk around the house and growl for the remainder of the afternoon when anyone deigned to talk to me. My love of the big green guy goes back to the late 1970s – and it has sustained since then. I’m a big fan of the late Bill Bixby and I think Lou Ferrigno is 10 times the Hulk that the last two CGI characters have been. I own all five seasons of the show and, yes, it’s silly that we’re supposed to believe that somehow Ferrigno’s massive thighs and Bixby’s teeny tiny thighs could inhabit the same denim space. But most of the stories still hold up well today and if you look closely, you’ll see a lot of recognizable stars in guest spots. There were also three follow up movies, one involving Thor, one involving Daredevil and one involving the Hulk’s death. I own all of them and at least once a year I pull them out and throw them in the DVD player. Oh, and ask my co-workers, even to this day you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

8. Alien Nation – Kenneth Johnson is responsible for three of my all-time favorite science fiction television shows, including ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ ‘V’ and the early Fox show of the 1990s ‘Alien Nation.’ The show was based on the movie of the same name, but if you ask me it had a lot more heart. Focusing in on the central alien family and their bizarre cultural differences – they got drunk off spoiled milk, the man helps carry the egg before it hatches into a baby, etc. – was only part of the show, though. The central theme was one of discrimination. With the aliens, they were forced into shanty towns and FEMA-like camps to keep them away from a disgruntled Earth population that was really scared of their superior strength and odd looks. Even though it only last for a season – and a handful of follow-up movies – ‘Alien Nation’ really is one of those shows that turned the alien into the everyday.

7. Star Trek: The Next Generation – The original ‘Star Trek’ is really the quintessential ‘Trek’ but when it comes to quality and continuity 'The Next Generation'  really was superior. I mean, I love William Shatner more than just about anybody (If you haven’t heard his cover on ‘Common People’ I insist you go here to listen to it now) but Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean Luc Picard really was superior to James T. Kirk. The Next Generation ironed out those pesky problems associated with sending both the captain and first mate on every away mission. It also gave the women more to do than essentially answering the phone. In addition, 'The Next Generation' introduced us to two of the best Trek characters ever in Brent Spiner’s android Data and Michael Dorn’s conflicted Klingon Worf. Not everything about The Next Generation was perfect, though. I mean, their chief engineer wandered around with a banana clip over his eyes and Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher could have been the most annoying boy genius to ever grace the screen. Even with those drawbacks, however, 'The Next Generation' remains quality television today – and Picard never found the need to wear a hair piece.

6. Buffy The Vampire Slayer – This is a show that a lot of people wrote off because they thought it was for teenyboppers and had a dumb name when in reality it was really one of the best quality shows on at that time. It had a talented cast, great writing and story arcs that had meaning and were full of symbolism. So why isn’t it higher on the list? The first five seasons of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ were some of the best television to ever grace the small screen. The final two seasons are a different story, however. In the grand scheme of things, seasons six and seven were still a lot better than the dreck that was on other shows at the time – but they weren’t up to the quality of the first five seasons. While some fans argue that season six of Buffy is really about growing up, it’s actually about character assassination and the propping of James Marsters’ Spike character. Now Marsters is a tremendous talent and Spike was an entertaining character (until they turned him into a total wet rag) but there is only so much of one character you can take and the show essentially made Spike the vampire that ate Sunnydale – and sucked all the life out of the show at the same time.

5. Angel – It’s rare for a spin off show to get rated higher than the original – but that’s the case in Joss Whedon’s wonderful vampire series. David Boreanaz, who played the brooding good vampire with a soul long before Robert Pattinson came on the scene moved his Angel character to the city of angels after the third season of Buffy. Unlike it’s source show, though, the quality of Angel never went down. After hitting a few stumbling blocks out of the gate early  (mainly due to some cast problems), once the show settled in it never fell back. By the time the third season of Angel rolled around (coinciding with the sixth season of Buffy) the underdog spin off show was almost always outperforming Buffy. Another plus in ‘Angel’s’ favor is that it didn’t  overstay its welcome. While Buffy should have gracefully bowed out after the fifth season, ‘Angel’ did just that and the overall legacy for the show is much stronger than that of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer.’ In addition, ‘Angel’ did something that Buffy couldn’t – it redeemed the Spike character.

4. The X-Files – When this show first debuted on FOX I didn’t know what to think. I found it interesting. I liked the chemistry between the two main characters. But, let’s face it, it was a genre show at a time when there weren’t a lot of genre shows succeeding. ‘The X-Files’ managed to hang on despite my dire predictions at the time, though, and it became one of FOX’s signature shows. I think the show really hit its stride when it started doing the “funny” episodes, like season two’s ‘Humbug.’ I think a show – whether it’s science fiction and fantasy or not – really needs to find the balance between the serious and slapstick. ‘The X-Files’ greatest gift was that you could laugh one minute and cry the next. Now, despite heaping all this praise on the show, it too hung on a little longer than it should have. It would have been better if it ended with  Mulder’s exit at the end of season seven. The damage the show’s legacy underwent over the next few seasons without his character was really too much for it to recover from.

3. Battlestar Galactica (2004) – This show really did everything right. It cast diverse actors in strenuous parts. It didn’t force itself to remain faithful to an original that was often weighted down by cheese. It also wasn’t scared to kill off a big character here and there. Yeah, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ really had it all. I honestly think the show benefited from the fact that it was on SyFy (or whatever they’re calling the network these days – I can’t keep up with the name changes). Being the biggest and essentially first true hit the network produced, show runners had a lot of leeway to do what they wanted and not bow to network pressure. Of course, if the big four networks really want to recapture the quality that is flourishing on the cable networks these days, maybe they should stop trying to cater to the masses and instead bring quality to the masses and let them decide themselves.

2. Lost – This is a polarizing show. I can admit it. But you know what I like about it? Just about everything. Let’s start with the fact that the actors were all top notch. Matthew Fox, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson, Elizabeth Mitchell and Jorge Garcia were some of the greatest talents that JJ Abrams could have found to anchor a show. The story was also engrossing and, yes, they didn’t answer every mystery but the people clamoring for everything to be tied up in a neat little bow aren’t generally the type of party people I want to hang with anyway. Every week I couldn’t wait for the show to return so I could see what would happen next. ‘Lost’ was one of those rare shows where you could laugh one minute and cry the next. I mean, who didn’t have a great time with a Hurley-centric episode and then bawl their eyes out a few episodes later when Charlie sacrificed himself to save Desmond? As for the ending? I don’t think that ending could have been a bigger success. You want to know why? We’re all still talking about it and debating its merits years after the fact aren’t we?

1. V (1983-1985) – This should really come as no surprise given the beginning of this column. I was enthralled with this show from the very beginning. As a kid, I wanted to fight alongside Mike Donovan, Juliet Parrish and Ham Tyler. I never wanted anyone to get what they had coming as badly as I wanted Steven and Diana to get run over by a truck. Yeah, the weekly series had some issues, but from what I’ve read those were going to be addressed and fixed with the return of Michael Ironside and the death of the star child Elizabeth at the start of the second season. Unfortunately, that second season never came to fruition. Now I liked the reboot a few years back, but it lacked the heart the original had. For me, I’ll always manage to clear a day every three months or so to pop in one of the miniseries installments and spend a whole afternoon with the visitors and rebellion.

And since every great list isn’t complete without a few honorable mentions, here is my list of shows that I also loved but couldn’t quite make the cut.

·        Heroes – Actually, I really only loved the first season of this show. It was a great first year. Then, of course, it fell apart in fantastic fashion. I believe, if they had kept the arc of the first season and let it run its course over several years, the show would have been that much better over the long run.

      Falling Skies -- I really love this TNT gem I discovered this summer. It had a great freshman season and I’m looking forward to its second year this summer. Of course, much like 'Heroes', ‘Falling Skies’ could, well, fall apart in the second season. Let’s cross our fingers that doesn’t happen.

·        The Twilight Zone – Yes, I know, this really should have made the list. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one show I would bump in its favor. Loving science fiction often has its limitations – and scaling a science fiction television list down to 10 also has a few casualties. Unfortunately, this was one of them.

·        Being Human – We’re talking the BBC version, not that SyFy travesty here. The first few seasons of the little known on this side of the pond show have been funny, entertaining and heartbreaking – all in the same breath. I’m curious, given Mitchell’s untimely death at the end of last season, how things are going to shake out for our heroes this season. I’m a little worried things won’t be the same and I won’t be able to stick around for the long haul.
·        The Dead Zone – This was really Anthony Michael Hall’s comeback vehicle – and what a star turn it was. I had little hope when the show debuted – remember this was long before USA became known as a haven for quality television. Boy was I surprised by not only how well written the show was, but how well acted as well. Unfortunately, the show stuck around a little too long and in an effort to cut costs, almost the entire secondary cast was cut by the time the finale aired. I would have rather had the show end a full season earlier than lose all the fun that was Bruce, Purdy and Walt.

What do you think? What are your favorite science fiction and fantasy shows? Did I miss anything?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most entertaining movies of the year . . . you won’t find an Oscar contender among them.

I have a very basic philosophy when it comes to movies: If it makes me laugh (for the right reasons) or cry (also for the right reasons) then it’s a good movie.

I guess it’s not that simple, but I’m not one of those people who can sit through some mind numbing Oscars contenders just because they’re supposed to be good. For example, I think Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best actors of his generation – I’m still not going to sit through ‘J. Edgar,’ though. I have no interest in the movie and I know it wouldn’t entertain me.

I’m not denying there are probably a lot of movies out there I didn’t see this year because I knew they weren’t going to hold my interest. That doesn’t mean they're bad movies. It also doesn’t mean I’m so dense I can’t comprehend these “heavier” stories. I just know what I like.

So, with that in mind, I decided that putting together a top ten list of the best movies of the year really is a misnomer for me. I also haven’t seen every movie put out this year, so I really can’t say what is and isn’t the best movie of the year.

I can tell you what I did see and what entertained me, though, and that’s the route I decided to take.

A brief caveat before we get into the list, I have a strong feeling that ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Young Adult’ would have made this list – thus bumping a few movies on it – but I honestly haven’t found the time to see them yet. I’ll keep you updated (I know you can barely stand the suspense) when I do.

So, here they are, the most entertaining movies I saw this year (followed by a short list of movies that made me want to smack somebody for making them):

10. Thor – There were a couple of super hero/comic book movies that came out this year – ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Captain America’ would be the big two. It was ‘Thor,’ however, that managed to capture my imagination. I liked the initial setup of the movie and the cinematography was fantastic. Kenneth Brannagh has proven himself a capable director and the cast had some notable heavyweights with Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard (‘True Bloods’ Alexander Skarsgard’s father for the teenage masses). Chris Hemsworth is the real find here, though. The only other thing I remember seeing him in prior to this was the ‘Star Trek’ reboot. At the time, I remember thinking, wow, they found a guy who looks a lot like Chris Pine. Hemsworth proves his metal here, though, as ‘Thor’ – and I’m not just saying that because of the scene where he runs through the rain and his shirt is clinging to his very impressive body (that is a big selling point, though).

9. Fright Night – As a general rule, I’m not a big proponent of remakes. I think they cheapen the originals and very rarely add anything new and exciting. There are a handful of exceptions (‘Dawn of the Dead’ is probably the biggest), and now ‘Fright Night’ fits into that category (because, let's face it, the original was cornball heaven). Is it the best movie in the world? No. Is it perfect? No. There’s just something about the humor of the movie mixing with a manic Anton Yelchin and a really hot and buff Colin Farrell that gives the movie its oomph. I’m a big fan of funny horror movies that work – ‘Shaun of the Dead’ rules – but it’s a slippery slope that can turn a horror movie into a parody like ‘Scary Movie’ if you’re not careful. ‘Fright Night’ manages to straddle the line between humor and genuine scares – and I sincerely applaud the effort.

8. Horrible Bosses – This movie had so much talent involved it was ridiculous. I mean Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey have all turned in some really great performances. It was Aniston that got the most attention for her part in this movie as a randy dentist that goes after Day’s more chaste character. For me, though, it was Farrell’s almost unrecognizable turn as the office tool (who doesn't recognize that character in their own life?) that made me laugh out loud. I’m not going to deny that I pretty much watch anything Farrell is in – but he really does steal the show in this movie for me. If only I could forget about his turn in the horrific ‘Alexander,’ all would be right in my movie going world.

7. Bridesmaids – This movie has gotten a lot of attention this year – and I think most of it is well-deserved. Too often female comedies are of the "petite and dainty" variety. That's definitely not the case in this movie. While it might not be realistic for everyone, it is realistic for a lot of women who are just as foulmouthed and fun as their male counterparts. That being said, I don’t think it’s the best movie of the year by any stretch of the imagination – no matter what TV Guide says. I do think both Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph have mad chemistry as friends who are at a crossroads in their life. I also think that Rose Byrne shows a side of herself I didn’t know she was capable of, even thought I loved her in 'Damages' and '28 Weeks Later'. As everyone and their brother has pointed out, though, it’s Melissa McCarthy’s movie and she steals every scene she’s in, including the absolutely hilarious "dress shop" scene (you know which one).

 6. Red Reding Hood – The key to this movie was ambiance. Right from the opening scenes, the viewer is drawn into the richly developed world which is offset with splashes of color in an otherwise dark and dismal setting. The whole thing is breathtaking and magical. Amanda Seyfried continues to prove that she’s one of the most talented actresses in young Hollywood today as the central character. The movie isn’t perfect, the reveal at the end about who the big bad wolf is proves to a touch lame, but the chemistry between Seyfried and Shiloh Fernandez is practically sizzling and Gary Oldman’s turn as a crazy wolf hunter is a scenery chewing extravaganza. The success of this movie paved the way for ABC’s exciting and fantastical ‘Once Upon a Time’ and two upcoming versions of ‘Snow White.’ It seems fantasy is back in a big way these days.

5. Soul Surfer – I am not religious and I usually don’t engage emotionally with a movie that has a lot of religion in it. I think that’s why ‘Soul Surfer’ took me by surprise. From the moment the movie came on the screen I was hooked. AnnaSophia Robb was fantastic as the heroine in the real life story of Bethany Hamilton – a teenage surfer in Hawaii who thought she’d lost her dream of becoming a professional surfer when a shark bit her arm off. Instead, Hamilton became a professional surfer who says she overcame true adversity with the help of her faith. ‘Soul Surfer’ manages to embrace religion without trying to shove it down your throat and I don’t know anyone who could watch the final surfing scenes (all the trick surfing throughout the movie was done by the real life Hamilton, by the way) and not get a little giddy with Hamilton and Robb’s outstanding performances.

4. Super 8 – The magic of this movie is that, somehow, some way, the always reliable JJ Abrams managed to make a movie that made you feel like you were back in the 1970s. Some people might not think that’s a good thing, but as someone who fell in love with movies like ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Goonies’ back in the day, the nostalgia surrounding ‘Super 8’ is a wondrous thing to behold. Another great think about ‘Super 8’ is that they didn’t cast a superstar to lead the movie. Instead they left it in the capable hands of Elle Fanning (she’s getting as good as her sister) and Kyle Chandler who manage to anchor the entire film in a believable and emotional way. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite add up to ‘E.T.’ – but, then again, there is very little in the movie world today that could.

3. Fast Five – There isn’t one guy in this action series that I consider a top tier actor. In fact, in the case of Dwayne Johnson, I would often put him in the bottom tier of actors. That being said, ‘Fast Five’ was entertaining from start to finish. A lot of people complained about the franchise jumping from racing movies (which was essentially what the first four films in the series were about) and turning into a heist movie with some really cool driving sequences. I actually liked that aspect. I also think, with the addition of Johnson, Vin Diesel finally has someone who he doesn’t dwarf in fight scenes. When Diesel and Johnson fight in this movie, there really is doubt about who would win. The series’ other star, Paul Walker, is solid if unspectacular in the films. Let's face it, he's pretty but he's never going to win an Oscar. That being said, Walker remains one of my favorite stars who I have ever interviewed. Not only is he as good looking in person as he is on screen (which isn’t the case for most actors) but he’s also friendly and amiable and genuinely interested in what you as a person have to say to him. Oh, he's a big 'Star Wars' fan, too, and we bonded over that.

2. The Help – I just recently caught this little gem when it came out on video a few weeks ago and I was stunned that I didn’t realize how powerful and profound the movie could be when it was in theaters. I remember seeing the promos and thinking, "That looks mildly interesting." When it came time to go to the theater, though, I always managed to find something else I wanted to see more. It’s a fluke that I saw it at all – and I would have missed out on a great film had I not. The movie’s greatest strengths come in the unity between Emma Stone’s Skeeter and Viola Davis’ Abileen, but it’s true heart comes out in the surprise performance by Octavia Spencer as the “fly-off-the-handle” Minny. As someone who has never been able to understand racism because I was born after it was a big deal, the movie really made me sit back and reflect on the hate that some people could have for others simply because of the color of their skin. Accolades should also go to Bryce Dallas Howard who embraced one of the most hateful characters in the story and made her not only funny, but entertaining as well.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – The entire movie series stands up beautifully and this final installment does the characters and the fans tremendous justice. While Part 1 dragged in places and was full of a lot of sometimes boring exposition, Part 2 is pretty much non-stop action. I do have a few quibbles with the final movie, I didn’t like the shortage of screen time for Hagrid, Fred, George and Lupin, for example, but I think that all the storylines and characters came to a satisfying conclusion that did manage to give me chills at times. The movie’s greatest strength, though, comes in the powerful performance by Alan Rickman in the sendoff for ultimate hero Severus Snape. Those scenes packed an emotional wallop that most fans desperately needed to let the series go. I will miss Harry and his friends, but I’ll always have the movies whenever I want to revisit and ultimately blow up Hogwarts.

And, while I don’t want to do an entire list of movies I hated this year (there actually were fewer than normal) there are a few standouts that deserve their public flogging, so here goes:

·        Apollo 18 – I am so over “camera” movies. It was intriguing and cute when ‘The Blair Witch Project’ did it more than a decade ago. Now it’s just trite and annoying. The “horror” in this movie, which focuses on another government conspiracy – this time with the moon landing – is just ridiculous. At a certain point, I wanted to break off one of the astronaut’s arms and beat the other one to death with it just to get them to shut up.

·        Shark Night 3D – I absolutely love animals eating people movies. ‘Jaws,’ ‘Lake Placid,’ ‘Deep Blue Sea,’ ‘Piranha’  – I’m a big fan of all of them. So, when I went to this movie this summer I expected it to be stupid but entertaining. Well, it was stupid but it wasn’t entertaining. You expect the acting in something like this to be bad, you don’t expect it to be cartoonish, though. Here’s hoping the upcoming Australian shark movie, ‘Bait’ doesn’t disappoint as well.

·        Paranormal Activity 3 – No true horror fan thinks these movies are good. In fact, when you go into them and are laughing because the acting is so terrible and the plotline is so horrible then it’s a clear sign that a franchise is a joke. The first ‘Paranormal Activity’ was ludicrously bad. The second was a joke. The third? It was a travesty of monumental proportions. Here's hoping they've beat this dead horse about as much as they possibly can -- of course, I don't remotely believe that. I'm sure we have at least another two installments in our future.

·        Abduction – Taylor Lautner can’t act. He has zero charisma. He’s like Keanu Reeves – except Reeves is smarter and more engaging. Enough said.

·        Green Lantern – Somebody needs to lock Ryan Reynolds in a basement. He’s very attractive and, yes, he has a great body, but he can’t act for . . . well, you know. I think everyone can agree, if Reynolds feels the need to be on the big screen he should just stand there with his shirt off and not open his mouth. It will be of great benefit to society.

What do you think? What were the most entertaining movies of 2011?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

American Horror Story goes out with a big, fat whimper

(Note: There are going to be spoilers in this. You’ve been warned – so go whine about spoilers some place else.)

‘American Horror Story’ was touted as the new “it” show of the season.

It was supposed to shock us.

It was supposed to gross us out.

It was supposed to make us sit down and really think about life themes.

Well, it officially shocked me last night – but not for the right reasons.

I’ve already expounded on why FX’s freshman horror series was a mixed bag this season in a previous post. 

After last night’s season finale, however, I’m upgrading it to full on disaster.

The show started out with a decent hook and premise. It was a little slow getting into the mythology, but it was still interesting. Then, starting around the third episode and lasting for about the next four episodes, it really started to find its groove.

The acting became better (Dylan McDermott not withstanding). The stories were intriguing. Jessica Lange was chewing scenery left and right. Things were looking good for the show.

Then, right about the time oldest daughter Violet offed herself, there was a shift in the tone of the series.
Executive Producer Ryan Murphy has made a name for himself on television by being one of those guys that starts great series (Nip/Tuck, Glee) and then lets them turn into truly awful shows (both the aforementioned shows fall into this category as well). Well, it didn’t even take an entire season for him to help tank ‘American Horror Story.’

Within a few episodes time we had the reveal that Violet had killed herself and the mother, Vivien (played by the wonderful Connie Britton) died in a bloody child birth scene, along with one of the twins she was carrying.

So everyone was ready for a season finale that would pit McDermott’s Ben against Lange’s Constance in a battle for the surviving baby. That’s what the promos suggest anyway.

So what did we get? McDermott is killed by his vengeful mistress and a few other ghosts in the house within the first 15 minutes or so, Constance steals the baby and, wait for it, . . . nothing.

Forget the fact that none of the characters in this show acted in any way, shape or form that would suggest they had any modicum of common sense. For them all to turn into moronic lumps, though, well that is just really lame.

In a short amount of time after the death of Ben, another family (this time Hispanic) moves into the house, announce they want to try for a baby and essentially force Ben, Vivien, Violet and a few other friendly ghosts to terrify them out of the house before the abode can claim more victims.

Then, we get some happy family Christmas scenes with the ghosts reclaiming their dead baby from the nut job in the basement and decorating a Christmas tree together. Sounds totally feasible for a family that has hated each other for the entire season and not settled any of their issues (that’s sarcasm, in case you didn’t notice).

To be fair, not everything about the episode was crap. There was a strong scene between the wonderful Evan Peters’ Tate and Ben about whether or not Tate is psychotic (I think his pyromaniac tendencies, penchant for killing and the fact that he raped his girlfriend’s mother should have been hints for him, but I digress). Then, at the end of the episode, we find out the surviving baby – at the tender age of three – is a little bloodthirsty himself and likes to off his nannies and then rock in a chair while leaving bloody hand prints all over the house.

In the end, though, the entire final episode was an anticlimactic disappointment.

Now we already know that ‘American Horror Story’ has been picked up for a second season, so I’m curious how this is going to go.

There’s been no formal announcement, but Internet chatter says that the show is moving to an entirely different haunted house next season (reportedly, the house this season was filmed in has been put on the market). If they actually do it, that’s an interesting premise, but I’m not sure it’s entirely feasible.

People have already become attached to the central family – even though they’re now all dead. On the flip side, though, the writers have kind of cornered themselves. There are only a few questions that haven’t been answered from the first season, the biggies being what is with the monster baby in the basement, why can’t the ghosts move on and is the surviving twin really the Antichrist?

Either way, ‘American Horror Story’ was an interesting experiment but I think it will ultimately end up like the rest of Murphy’s creations – a one season wonder.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Top Apps of the year . . . Yes, Angry Birds is on here, sue me.

I’m a huge proponent of anything that keeps me from cleaning my house.

This includes television shows, movies, video games and even iPad, iPod and cell phone Apps.

Now there are literally hundreds of thousands of Apps out there for public consumption – but the key to a really great App is that you can spend six hours playing with it and not even realize an hour has gone by.

To be considered a good App – you have to have a decent price and solid game play for the dollar amount.

To be a truly great App, though, you must transcend time and work your way into the public zeitgeist.

That’s what ‘Angry Birds’ has done, for example.

It started out as a simple computer App that allowed users to fling birds at ugly little green pigs in an effort to essentially “capture the castle.” That was two years ago. This year, there are ‘Angry Birds’ stuffed animals, hats, costumes and apparel.

Not every App can be ‘Angry Birds’ – but there are a lot out there that are just as entertaining.

So, without further ado, the top Apps of the year:

10. My Sketch – This is a photo App that took up a lot of my time a few weeks ago. Essentially, you can take any snapshot – new or old – and turn it into a photo that looks like it was hand drawn by some really great artists. You can choose from blunt pencils and fine pens. I’ve taken a lot of my old childhood pictures and put them through the App and come up with some really terrific photos that are now modernized with a new twist (and make great Christmas presents).

9. Jaws Revenge – I love shark movies. Heck, I love a lot of movies that have Mother Nature’s finest taking a bite (literally) out of unsuspecting humans. I’ve even been known to watch those really bad Sci-Fi monster animal movies. That’s why ‘Jaws Revenge’ appeals to the teenager in me, I think. In the game, you’re the shark and you have to keep him fed if you want to survive. Level after level offers you the chance to snack on scuba divers, water skiers and, my personal favorite, sunbathers. Yes, Jaws can jump out of the water and slide along the deck of a boat to eat the denizens before moving on. What’s not to like about that?

8. Pandora – This App is a free radio program that only plays music that you like. So, for example, if you like rock and roll but would rather deafen yourself with Q-tips than listen to, say, Nickelback – Pandora radio can help you weed out the groups you hate and create a unique radio station just for you.

7. SleepMachine – I’m one of those people who needs perfect conditions to sleep. It has to be pitch black and I need the sound of fan to truly send me off to Neverland. I cannot fall asleep with a television on in the room or the sounds of music being played too loud. This App, by SleepSoft LLC, actually gives you 100 ambient sounds, like thunderstorms, crickets, the ocean, and even faux fan sounds to help usher you off into sleep. In addition, you can mix the sounds with music from your own playlists and set a time period when the sounds will shut off. I still sleep with my fan every night, but I enjoy adding the thunderstorms from this App for a truly good night’s sleep.

6. Royal Envoy – I came to the world of time management games late. I mean, I had played ‘Diner Dash’ and been entertained for a few days, but I had never really been enveloped by the medium. On a whim one night, I downloaded this PlayRix game. Ten hours later it was 6 a.m. and I hadn’t been to bed yet – nor had I gotten the game up to 100 percent. I have since played the game a couple more times – and each time I get just as obsessed. I’ve downloaded a decent amount of games that are “kind of” like ‘Royal Envoy.’ None of them have the addictive qualities of the original, though.

5. Harry Potter Lego – Most video games originally created for traditional platforms don’t translate well to your iPad. ‘Harry Potter Lego’ is the exception. Not only did the game developers switch up the game play enough that those who had the actual video game and the App weren’t bored, but they also give you a lot of game for your $4.99. I was immediately drawn into the action, thrilled when I got it to 100 percent, and then immediately started it all over again. That’s the mark of a good game in my book. I only hope that the rumored second part is still coming to IOS and is just as entertaining.

4. Strange Rain – This App isn’t for everyone. If you’re one of those people that hates mystery and intrigue and needs a set beginning and end for a game, then just ignore this App completely. For those that like a little mystery and intrigue, though, ‘Strange Rain’ is one of those ambient sound Apps that actually tells a haunting little story. For those intrigued by literature and love the sound of rain (who doesn’t right?) ‘Strange Rain’ is probably one of the most enigmatic Apps of the year.

3. Pixlr-O-Matic – Everyone likes taking pictures – especially given the ease of phone cameras these days. Once you have the photo, though, that’s when the fun really begins, especially when you have an App like ‘Pixlr-O-Matic’. The program allows you to change the hues in your photo, as well as its overall appearance with a bevy of different special effect features and cropping options.

2. Angry Birds – Ah, I’m sure you thought this was going to be number one. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the Rovio Mobile game and everything it represents. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy flinging birds at green pigs? Anyone who says they don’t is just un-American in my book. The thing is, while I used to sit and wait for a new update – it really doesn’t matter if it’s the original game, Seasons or Rio, I own them all – my interested has waned somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I still get giddy when I see an update has come in but there is one game that I get more excited about.

1. Cut the Rope – Developed in 2010 by ZeptoLab, ‘Cut the Rope’ looked to be one of those games that was just trying to ride the ‘Angry Birds’ bandwagon right to the bank. The thing is, when you actually sit down to play the game you realize that’s not really the case. Both are ‘puzzle solving’ games but ‘Cut the Rope’ is actually more thought provoking. Much like ‘Angry Birds,’ just finishing the game isn’t the ultimate goal. If you want to be truly satisfied with your game play, you have to get three stars in each level and, trust me, that’s not an easy feat. Of course, that could be why I continue to come back for more. Since I have something of an obsessive personality, I can’t rest until that game is up to 100 percent – and since they keep adding levels, the odds of it getting to 100 percent are slim to none.

And, of course, here’s a few honorable mentions for the year:

Sonic CD – I just got this App, but from what I can see so far it’s phenomenally fun. It’s the actual first Sega Genesis game featuring Sonic the Hedgehog. For those that played the game on a cartridge player all those years ago, it’s a nice nostalgic reminder of when games didn’t look like real life.

Pages – I know a word processing App doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but when I wrote my book I couldn’t believe what a relief it was to have this App. In addition to blank pages and a unique scroll method for documents, the program also has a lot of fun templates for recipes, resumes and business cards – among a bevy of other offerings.

Scrabble – I know this isn’t exactly young and fresh, but it is addicting. The graphics are great and – given the level you set the game at – it can be very challenging.

Drawn The Painted Tower HD – This is one of those hidden picture/puzzle games that most people will tell you only geeks play. Well, I loved it, and the graphics were truly engrossing. Does that make me a geek? I have an office done in ‘Star Wars,’ what do you think?