Sunday, October 4, 2015

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Being somewhat of a TV junkie, I always look forward to the start of the new season every September. So far, the 2015 of new and returning shows is turning out to be a real letdown.

With today's announcement that MacGyver is being rebooted by CBS, it's official that there are absolutely no original ideas floating around Hollywood. Seriously, I'd rather see a TV series based on MacGruber, the Will Forte SNL parody sketch. The 2015-2016 season's new slate of shows certainly bears the mark of this lack of originality, so let's start with the two series that were preceded by films and/or novels.

Minority Report (FOX) - A reboot of the 2002 Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg sci-fi collaboration, which picks up about a decade after the events of the film. One episode and I was finished with this snoozefest. Not engaged by any of the characters, the premise for the story, or the writing. The 2012 television version of another Cruise film, "The Firm," was 1000 times better, even though it was one of the most poorly rated network shows in history. Report opened to tepid numbers, and I expect it to be gone soon.

Limitless (CBS) - The Bradley Cooper/Robert DeNiro film was a modest hit, and overall a decent movie, which was itself based on a novel. Now, the idea is retread again in the form of a Cooper-produced network series, in which he also guest stars in the same role he played in the film. The show is quirky and has potential, but the first two episodes have been uneven, and there were a couple of glaring writing goofs in the pilot. CBS has already ordered a full season slate of episodes, so I figure I may as well give it a chance, but I'm hoping they ratchet up the action in a big way very soon.

From there, we go to a new show that shares a title with a past film, yet has no relation to that previous work...

The Player (NBC) - Nothing to do with the Robert Altman film, it took me all of 1 minute to realize that this effort was a steaming pile of crap. Then about 15 minutes in, there was a brief moment where I thought, "Hmmm...this could get interesting." But, it didn't. Wesley Snipes' co-starring acting performance was as wooden as his face is plastic. Next.

Not exactly reboots, but there are a couple of Tuesday-night FOX comedies that star some familiar faces from the 80's...

Grandfathered (FOX) - John Stamos stars as a pretty boy entrepreneur who suddenly learns he not only has an adult son, but also a baby granddaughter. This one is trying really hard to be funny, and the pilot succeeded in certain spots, but there's a lot of work to be done. I'm not totally buying into Stamos' performance yet. It may take a few more episodes to reach a final verdict.

The Grinder (FOX) - Apparently, the creator of this show convinced Fred Savage to return to acting. My question is, "Why?" Where Grandfathered is trying too hard to be funny and engaging, this effort, co-starring Rob Lowe, doesn't appear to be trying at all, and unfortunately, it's succeeding in that vein. I'll hold out for another one or two episodes, but I sense a short leash here, and I have a funny feeling that the network may sense the same thing.

And then of course, there's the obligatory hospital drama. And I use the term "drama" loosely...

Code Black (CBS) - Marcia Gay Harden stars as the head of one of the country's busiest Emergency Rooms. You'd figure with all that activity, that the pilot would be more action-packed. Instead, it was a whole lotta nothing. I didn't care about a single character. Luis Guzman did add some flare as a senior nurse. It's nice to see him with what looks like could be a juicy role after years of being the "I know I've seen that dude in something" guy. But I'm not sure how long this one is going to last. I'll give it one or two more shots.

Then, the show that's not a remake, retread, reboot, sequel, or prequel, but somehow feels like it's been done before...

Blindspot (NBC) - A woman is discovered in the middle of Times Square with no recollection of who she is, and mysterious tattoos stamped all over her body. Now, the FBI uses her tattoos, along with her unique brand of skills, to solve cases, save lives, and hopefully unravel the riddle of who she really is. Back in 2002, FOX aired a short-lived drama called John Doe, starring future Prison Break alum, Dominic Purcell as a guy who wakes up naked on an island with no memory of who he is, and who subsequently uses his unique brand of skills to assist the local police department in solving crimes. Sound familiar? OK, so he didn't have the tattoos. All things considered, this is so far, my favorite new show of the season. I just wonder if the two totally unknown leads can carry this series to success. I guess it depends on where they go with the central mystery.

And that leaves...

Quantico (ABC) - A bunch of new FBI recruits are suddenly all suspects in a terrorist attack on American soil. Sounds like it could have promise, right? Until you realize that showrunner, Joshua Safran was also responsible for previous efforts like Smash and Gossip Girl. This turns Quantico from what could be a tension-filled thriller, into a cheesy soap opera. The question will remain, will it be two parts soap and one part thriller, or the other way around. That may determine how long I hang out here on Sunday nights.

It seems like even my favorite returning shows, like Blacklist, Modern Family, and Big Bang Theory are starting out on a stale note. Here's hoping things will turn around quickly.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Olympus Has Definitely Fallen

This review may contain some spoilers, but I use that term loosely, as I won't actually be "spoiling" anything for you. Trust me, I'm doing you a favor by telling you what happens. Just spare yourself the 2 hours needed to actually watch the film.

A while back I watched "White House Down," a cheesy action flick with Channing Tatum about an attack on the White House. It was OK for what it was. There was another really similarly themed movie that came out that same year, which I assumed would be the better of the two. It took a while, but "Olympus Has Fallen" finally arrived on cable. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, or "Training Day" fame, and with an all-star cast including Gerard Butler, Dylan McDermott, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, and Melissa could you go wrong. This movie, my friends, is how. What happened to the good old days when action and action/comedy films had sharp, witty dialogue, solid performances, thrilling scenes, and plots that may not have been completely believable, but at least followed some sense of logic? Die Hard, Midnight Run, the Lethal Weapon films, Beverly Hills Cop, Total Recall. I haven't seen an action film like that in ages. 

OHF was just a complete crap fest. Butler was actually serviceable as the hero. But if you want to see him in a decent performance in an actually decent film, try "Law Abiding Citizen," which ironically also features Jamie Foxx, who was in "the other White House movie." Once you get past Butler, there's pretty much nothing redeeming about this movie. Dylan McDermott plays a fellow Secret Service operative who ends up being the token traitor, as he sells out to the North Korean terrorists who take over the Washington D.C. landmark. There is never a clear motive established for his character having wanted to harm the President or his country. Yeah, there's the money factor, but shouldn't we assume it would take a little more than that to turn an operative whose sole job it's been to PREVENT the President from getting hurt? 

The sort of MacGuffin of the film (an object that one or more of the characters spends the majority of the film trying to obtain) are the "Cerberus Codes." It's explained that these were a set of three in possession of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, one held by the Secretary of Defense (Leo), and one by the President, that when entered into the computer (conveniently located in the White House bunker where all three of those people were being held hostage), would basically give access to and control of the United States' nuclear arsenal. The North Korean villain started to torture both the Chairman and the Secretary to get their codes, but the President (Eckhart) ordered them both to give up the codes, insisting that he would never give up his, so they would be useless to the terrorist. 

The evil Kang's plan to subvert this ploy by the President, was to capture his young son, knowing that the threat of harm to the kid would break the President and lead him to surrendering the final code. However, the very next thing that happens is the kid rescued by Agent Mike Banning (Butler), and everyone in the bunker finds out that he is safe. Then, for some reason that can't possibly be explained, Kang is able to obtain the third code from the President anyway. Completely nonsensical. To add to the mystifying actions by the characters in this film, the Speaker of the House (Freeman), who is now the acting President, since the Vice President is also being held in the bunker, caves into Kang's demand that the US start withdrawing all of its troops from the North/South Korea border. THEY'VE ALREADY RESCUED THE PRESIDENT'S SON and supposedly thwarted Kang's entire plan, so why would he possibly make this decision? 

Of course, Agent Banning ends up shutting down the Cerberus system as the "clock" ticks down to its final seconds...a tired and predictable action movie sequence. And then, he kills Kang in one of the most boring villain kill scenes I can remember. 

Overall, this film was a waste of everyone's considerable talent. Hard to believe they assembled a cast and director like this and got these results. Even more incomprehensible is...THERE'S GOING TO BE A SEQUEL!! "London Has Fallen" is due out next year, and almost everyone except Fuqua is returning. Yeah thanks!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Top 40 Songs of 2014

For me, 2014 could be labeled the year of the comeback. Several of the songs on my year-end best list are by artists who either have not put out material in a while, or whose stuff I haven't liked in recent years. I'd say, overall, it was a good year for singles, although some of the songs on my list are so close in quality that I seriously had no idea what many of the Top 10 songs would end up being. As usual, my compilation is meant to give an alternate take to the Grammy Awards, and the traditional year-end lists. Maybe you'll think I'm crazy. Maybe you'll discover something you'll like. The widget at the bottom will give you the chance to listen and decide.

40. Word Crimes - "Weird Al" Yankovic
For me, Al has always been a genius, but the novelty has kind of worn off in recent years. This was one of his best tracks in a very long time. I guess it's the grammar snob in me, combined with my hatred of the original "Blurred Lines" that led me to enjoy this so much. Click HERE and listen while watching the video...a must see.

39. Heart to Heart - James Blunt

38. Greens and Blues - The Pixies
Never been a big Pixies fan, but this track, off their first full-length album in 23 years, was ultra-listenable.

37. Lightning Bolt - Pearl Jam

36. Breakfast in Bed - Catrien Maxwell

35. Mother - Lissie
A decent cover of the 90's Danzig hit. Lissie is such a talented and overlooked singer.

34. Take a Chance on Me - Swedish Hitz Goes Metal
Another cover tune - this one a very campy remake of the ABBA hit single. Swedish Hitz Goes Metal features the lead singer of a power metal band called ReinXeed, and did an over the top version of the pop dance track that just works on every cheesy level for me.

33. California Wasted - Toad the Wet Sprocket

32. You Ruin Me - The Veronicas

31. Ordinary Love - U2

30. I Don't Know You Anymore - Bob Mould

29. Thirsty For My Tears - Joan Osborne
Osborne never really went away after her signature hit, "One of Us," but I, like many others, have not been following her career. So this track was a nice surprise. Could have been a big radio hit in another time, another place.

28. Final Masquerade - Linkin Park

27. Same Damn Life - Seether

26. It's Holy - Veruca Salt
For me, one of the most anticipated rock reunions in recent memory. I'm anxiously awaiting their new album, but for now, getting to see them live, and hearing the two singles off their EP, were enough to whet my appetite. Not many chicks rock like Nina and Louise.

25. If You Love Someone - The Veronicas
I got into this Australian sisterly duo back when they debuted with "The Secret Life of..." in 2005. What started out, for me, as a great pop rock band with amazing vocal talent and smooth harmonies, has evolved into a dance-y/Top 40-ish disappointment. But on some tracks, their true talent shines through. Absent from the album scene since 2007, I was really hoping their self-titled third effort would represent a return to form. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the result. The two tracks I highlighted on this list, however, serve as an example of what the Origliasso sisters can do with their talents.

24. Invisible - U2

23. Sleepwalking - Lissie
Again, Lissie has gone largely overlooked in the U.S. Here, she's doing her best Stevie Nicks impression...clearly an influence.

22. Crazy Lucky - Better Than Ezra
"Better Than Ezra hit number one on the college charts this week. At number two...Ezra." - Norm MacDonald, SNL Weekend Update. Had to throw that in there. I've always been a marginal BTE fan. But their last two albums represented some of the best material of their career. With a five year hiatus since "Paper Empires," I was encouraged by this peppy lead single. As with many artists these days, the finished album ended up being a major disappointment. Oh well.

21. Back to the Shack - Weezer
Another good lead single. Another disappointing album from an artist I like.

20. Every Breaking Wave - U2
Three entries from the Irish rockers on my list this year. Impressive...since they hadn't done much to hold my attention in recent years. Their last album was abominable. I wasn't blown away by "Songs of Innocence" on the whole, but it was nice to see a few listenable tunes from a 35-year-old band.

19. The Moment - Toad the Wet Sprocket

18. I Hope You Find It - Cher
Yes, I'm a straight male and Cher is making an appearance on my year-end top songs list...ha ha. It happens. This was a straight-up pop ballad...actually written by a couple of country songwriters and originally recorded by Miley Cyrus. I do think Miley is a pretty decent singer, but Cher just blows her version out of the water. It's probably not a song you'd remember ten years from now. Just a simple love song.

17. Future Days - Pearl Jam
A few really good songs on their latest effort. "Sirens" was my #13 from 2013, and this one was almost as good.

16. Lanterns - Birds of Tokyo
There's usually one or two modern rock bands per year who release an album with one REALLY enjoyable track, and then disappear off the face of the Earth. I expect Birds of Tokyo to fall into that category.

15. House on a Hill - The Pretty Reckless
Taylor Momsen starred as a teen on the TV show "Gossip Girl," which I never saw. Now she fronts a rock band I know nothing about. Turns out, they have a few good songs on their latest album. Actually, this one was more than good. Haunting melody, painful lyrics, gravel-tinged vocal...great rock track.

14. I'm Not Your Suicide - Michael Sweet
Stryper has continued to put out quality rock music long past their commercial peak in the 80's. At the same time, lead singer, Michael Sweet churned out a really strong solo effort...punctuated by this title track.

13. Dying to Live - Scott Stapp
One of the best albums from the 2013/2014 timeframe, "Proof of Life" by Creed lead singer, Scott Stapp, provided one track included on my '13 year-end list, and THREE entries on this list. And yes, they're all in the Top 13.

12. A Song Can Be About Anything - Dan Wilson
The ex-Semisonic frontman has, against all odds, become one of the most sought after songwriters in the business today, having now won a Grammy Award for the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" and penning the worldwide Adele smash, "Someone Like You." Due to his work with other artists, his own recorded material has been few and far between. "Love Without Fear" was therefore one of my most heavily anticipated albums in a while. I'd say it fell a bit short of some of his previous work, but this was one standout track. I actually enjoyed the live acoustic performance of this song, which I saw him do at Joe's Pub in NYC, much more than the recorded version. But listen to the lyrics...nobody can put a song together like this guy. A song about songwriting. Who does that?

11. Nothing More - The Alternate Routes
It's been hit and miss for these guys since 2007's amazing "Good and Reckless and True." Still awaiting an album release, but this solitary single bodes well.

10. Animals - Maroon 5
As far as I tend to stray from the pop charts, there are always a few radio hits that sneak in there. Maroon 5 continue to churn out quality pop tunes. This is one of their best in a while.

9. Crazy For You - Scars on 45
A talented British band that has gotten virtually no radio support here. This is the standout track on a solid album.

8. Sleeping With a Friend - Neon Trees
Neon Trees should just write and record one song for each album, because they've pretty much had one amazing single on each of their first three records, and that's it. The rest is filler. But boy, are they good at perfecting that first track.

7. Sun on Sunday - James Blunt
Easily one of the biggest surprises for me was how much I liked Blunt's 2013 release, "Moon Landing." The lead single, "Bonfire Heart" was my #8 for 2013. Here, I'm cheating a little, because "Sun on Sunday" was never released as a single, but it's my list, so for this year's Top 10, I've included a few tracks that were never singles, but should have been. This one is one hell of an apology song. I think the girl should forgive him.

6. Is There Anyone Out There - Toad the Wet Sprocket
In the year of the comeback, none was more pronounced for me than the rock quartet from Santa Barbara. One of my favorite bands of all time returned to the fold in 2013 with their first effort in 16 years. This is the third entry from them on my 2014 list, after having one on last year's, showing how strong a comeback it was. Not quite as good top to bottom as their 90's work, but that was a mighty high bar they set back then. This was another one that wasn't an official release, but it's far and away the best track on the album, so here it is.

5. Break Out - Scott Stapp
Such an upbeat and positive rock song...saying hello to a new'll never stop me...don't even try. Sounds like a great message. I wish Stapp was actually living his lyrics. Unfortunately, the only exposure the singer's gotten lately has not been for his incredible music, but for his strange mental and emotional behavior. Clearly on a downward spiral and still fighting demons from the past, Stapp recently completed a stint in rehab. Here's hoping he can get back to fulfilling the new start he sings about on the phenomenal "Break Out."

4. Two - Dan Wilson
In my opinion, the best track from Wilson's second solo album.

3. Museum of Broken Relationships - Veruca Salt
The lead single on 2014's Record Store Day promo EP...a blast of rock from Nina Gordon and Louise Post...not heard from together since the late 90's. Can't wait for the full-length album.

2. Try - Colbie Caillat
A totally unexpected selection for my number 2 song...I actually spent a bit of time debating which of my Top 3 tracks should be number one. I've sort of liked a couple of past singles from Caillat, but I think this is far and away her best. I wish this had been a much bigger radio success, as I think the track actually contains a very important message for young women. I'm not typically one who looks for "message" songs, but with all the self-confidence and self-esteem issues facing girls today, usually only exacerbated by media messages, I thought this was a welcome departure. The video concept was unique as well. Kudos to Colbie.

1. The Only One - Scott Stapp
Another uplifting lyric from the Creed rocker. Another great rock song. "Even when you feel so low like you might let go. I will be the first hand reaching out. I will be the last one giving up on you." I hope there are several someones reaching out to Stapp so he doesn't end up going the way of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, and so that we'll be able to enjoy future solo and Creed output in the moving forward.

Top 40 of 2014 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark