A Dimm View of Life

Location: Illinois, United States

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Computer Generated Income

Unless you have been under a rock for the past ten years or more, you know about CGI, or “Computer-Generated Imagery”. It has driven the more common two-dimensional form of animation away. Studios do not draw anymore. They create images on their computers.

Toy Story” was the first CGI feature length film I remember. It was fun to watch the new technology. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and all the voices were funny. Randy Newman’s songs were great, even if he doesn’t like them.

Even though some of us knew that this was just the beginning (even though Pixar had been around for awhile), none of us expected what was to come.

Pixar continued to produce some great movies with great stories, including “Finding Nemo”, “Monster’s Inc.” and others. Competitors came along with some fun family films including “Shrek”, “Ice Age” and the more recent “Over the Hedge”.

Even independent producers have gotten into the act. Big Idea’s “Jonah” was hilarious, as was Blue Yonder/Kanbar Entertainment’s “Hoodwinked”. It seems that when people began to see the kind of money CGI generated, everyone wanted to climb aboard.

However, if this summer is any indication, it is all downhill from here. My son and I went to see “The Ant Bully” this weekend. For a movie, it made a great storybook Even Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep could not save this one. Throughout I kept feeling like I had seen better versions of this story before. A nice message of working together to solve a problem has been done before. The visuals were nice, but not amazing. The music was not memorable.

What is disappointing is the level of humor filmmakers drop to when creating a film for young people. At one point an insect apparently bites the villain’s male organ. They leave a little to the imagination, but not much. There are plenty of poop, burp and gas (PBG) jokes. Why are these necessary?

Even Pixar, with their most recent film “Cars”, offers its share of such “brown” humor, but some of the more recent films insist on making nearly every joke center around the toilet.

Disney’s “Chicken Little” had the main character losing his pants early in the film. Did it really add to the film? It is a common nightmare for most people, but why does it have to be brought to life? (For the record, I really liked “Chicken Little” even with its few flaws.)

In my view, upcoming films “Barnyard", “Open Season” and “Flushed Away” look like little more than opportunities for more low humor. I have more hope for “Happy Feet”, but with Robin Williams among the voices, you know what to expect.

Even Pixar’s next movie “Ratatouille” involves 1) rats; 2) food; 3) eating. Sounds like we can expect more PBG as the CGI continues to fill the seats at a theatre near you.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Odds and Ends: LCS, JazzStage and other Podcasts

*** I was out of town Wednesday night, so I watched the finale of “Last Comic Standing” Friday night. I was pleasantly pleased.

First, Anthony Clark was more nervous than he has been, mispronouncing names and words. I may not be able to do a better job, but I bet others could. My vote for next year goes to the very funny John Heffron or the previously mentioned Kathy Griffin. Both could add a lot of spin to the show.

Josh Blue may not have been the “funniest” comic, but he is fun to watch. I hope he has a long successfully career. Ty Barnett had a very funny set Wednesday and I have high hopes for this young Chicago comic. Overall, this year’s program rivaled year two. Let’s hope for an even more improved year five!

***Rodney and Jim have a new “Detroit JazzStage” podcast available and it is another winner.

The spotlight this month is on the amazing Tumbao Bravo. Jim and Rodney visit with band leaders Alberto Nacif and Paul Vornhagen. Both men have spent years in the Detroit area and the performances showcased here are exceptional.

As great as the music is, the interviews truly make the program. I always come away with a new perspective. This month, listen for the discussion of the description “Latin” music.

Trumpeter Mark Byerly, an important member of the JazzStage team, dedicated to the fine piano musician Hilton Ruiz. Visit the JazzStage website and click the link to learn more about this exceptional musician who left us way too soon this past June.

***I am looking forward to sharing some new podcasts with you. Each week I am scouting for new, original podcasts of any variety.

Although I have already shared my interest in television rebroadcasts of political programs (Face The Nation, C-SPAN’s Q&A, etc.), and radio rebroadcasts (KCRW's LeShow, BookWorm, etc.), in my view, what really makes a good podcast is something original.

My enjoyment of music has encouraged me to scout around music programs, but many are either disk jockey shows, or individuals spouting opinions (Like me with my blog. How ironic!). Whether you are talking about a movie, television show, political speech, song or podcast, the measure of any such a production is what it leaves with you when it is finished.

Sometimes you are left with a motive to pursue an agenda. Sometimes you are left remembering something good from your past. Other times you are simply left with a smile.

Any way you slice it, a successful program leaves you thinking. I have found a few programs that do just that and am looking forward to share some of those in the near future.

If you have a favorite podcast, please leave a comment or email me at the link to the left.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

House M.D.

I admit it. I am late to the parade on this one. There have been many positive reviews of the FOX program “House, M.D.”, which will be entering its third year next month. There have been even more plaudits for its star, Hugh Laurie.

In my view, however, I could not generate much excitement. There are three reasons why I failed to tune in before now.

First of all, the lead, Hugh Laurie, is British. That, in and of itself, is not a sin. There is a wealth of excellent British actors. Laurie is one of them.

However, in today’s world, I see no need to “stretch”. This is not the sixteenth century and we do not have to hire men to play women’s characters on stage or anywhere else. We do not have to hire have to have actors today play different genders, races, illnesses, nationalities, etc. The character, Gregory House, is an American doctor with a limp. Certainly, there are a number of American male actors with a limp who can play the part.

Likewise, we do not need Kevin Costner to play Robin Hood. That is silly. Let Hugh Laurie play Robin Hood. He would be excellent.

All that said, Laurie is nearly perfect in his portrayal of the cranky Dr. House. After watching several episodes being replayed on the USA Network, I can not picture anyone else doing it better.

Secondly, FOX has a terrible record regarding hour long drama. “23 Jump Street” and “X-Files” are the only successes I can recall the network having in twenty years. They have had plenty of success with sitcoms, reality shows and primetime cartoons, but very little in this venue. It made me leery of sampling this outing which was a late starter in November 2004.

Thirdly, after watching programs from late in the first year and early the second, there are obvious problems with the show. There is an overuse of the visual gimmick where the camera seemingly enters the patient and lets you see the horrible disease in living color. The first time it was used I found it interesting. Little did I know the writers and producers include it a couple times each episode.

Couple this with graphic surgical scenes normally left to documentaries on the Discovery Channel and even the least squeamish will find themselves turning away.

Let us not forget the pretty people. The doctors are pretty. The patients are pretty. The administrators are pretty. All the people going in and out of the hospital are pretty. Laurie is not that pretty, but the women on the show think he is, so he must be pretty too. (Wait! I forgot. This show is on FOX. Problem explained.)

My point is to explain why I was not quick to tune in, and see and hear what all the excitement was about this oddly titled program. Now I get it. The cast hits the mark, with standouts being the aforementioned Laurie and Omar Epps.

The story lines, although sometimes they have glaring holes, are interesting. The hook of course is the cantankerous doctor. Most doctors are portrayed as Robert Young style nice devoted men, or at least George Clooney/Noah Wiley good guys. Ted Danson turned things around with his bitter doctor “Becker”.

Now we have Dr. House. He believes he is smarter than everyone. He is bitter about his leg. He is unhappy with his life. Still, he is a dedicated doctor. So why does he, and his staff of three other (pretty) doctors, only take one case at a time? Sounds like a pretty cushy hospital environment.

In case you missed it during his “Superman Returns” promotional tour, Bryan Singer is an executive producer for this show. His previous successes include the X-Men movies.
With that in mind, "House, M.D." could easily be labeled either as science fiction or as a soap opera. Singer and his friends tell twisted stories that are barely rooted in reality. Yet it does make for entertaining television.

Congratulations are in order for the FOX network. My bet is that Dr. House will continue to diagnose medical problems for years to come.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

America’s Got Talent!

“Psst! Hey NBC, Simon Cowell and anyone connected with the program ‘America’s Got Talent!’ This is Alexander Dimm and I have a great idea that could make everyone a ton of money.

“I don’t know if any of you realize it, but you have created a ‘vaudeville’ show. A yodeler, jugglers, singers, cloggers, kids, seniors and more packed into a ten act ticket. Imagine putting them all on the road. You would clean up.

“Think about it. You don’t have to worry about any of them being a headliner and having ninety minutes or more of material to trot out on stage. They only need to do one or two bits, filling about ten minutes. That could fill close to two hours.

“What’s that? What if ‘Rappin’ Granny’ or others don’t want to tour? No problem. You have a whole list of people who would love to go on tour. You don’t think you could convince ‘Leonid the Magnificent’ or Rudi Macaggi to make the trip? Audiences would roar!

“Okay, I know what you’re thinking. There are no comedy acts. No problem. This is an NBC show. Send one of the ‘Last Comic Standing’ comics along. Have Josh Blue and Kirsten Key appear. This is a family show, but Josh doesn’t do much ‘blue’ material. Key would have to dial back a bit, but it would be safer than sending Roz.

“Yes, I know the program would need a host. Don’t send Regis. He doesn’t have the time anyway. Don’t send Anthony Clark either unless you want the audience to fall asleep before he introduces the first act.

“How about sending Caroline Rhea? She would be hysterical. She is hysterical. Plus it promotes another NBC reality show, ‘The Biggest Loser’. It’s a perfect fit!

“So, can you picture it? The show opens with a big opening number allowing all the acts from the show to appear onstage and get some applause. Some big sappy off-Broadway style show tune family audiences love will be fine. Then introduce Rhea. She comes out and does ten minutes.

“When she’s done, she’ll introduce the first act which could be the dance couple. If you put them later in the show the audience may become restless. Better to put them up front. They will have an elaborate set to dance around.

“Then close the curtain and bring out someone who could perform in front of a closed curtain. Maybe ‘Dave the Horn Guy’ or the snapping fingers guy could fit here. They don’t need big sets to entertain a crowd. Plus they can do one song and you move on to the next fancy set and winning act from the show.

“Gradually, you work your way through the acts until you get to next week’s winner of the competition. They can have an extended set, blowing the crowd away. Then bring everyone back out for a final bow and everyone goes home happy.

“This works for everyone. NBC should love it because you have an opportunity to promote two or three shows in one evening. The acts should love it because most of these people don’t have a whole show they can headline alone. This will give them a chance to develop material for their own show someday. In some cases it will allow them just a few more moments of glory.

“Crowds will love it. They already know these people from the show. Have them travel coast-to-coast to meet the thousands of people who voted. After the shows, some can go to the lobby and sign autographs.

“The producers and promoters will love making money because these people will clean up wherever they go.

“I’ll love it because… well, I’ll have a sense of pride that I thought of the idea. Don’t worry; my lawyers won’t be contacting you for my share (although a thank you in the program might be nice; it’s spelled A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R D-I-M-M).

“I’m just happy that I could recognize a good idea and let you know. After all, you went to the hard work of re-creating a solid Vaudeville show worth of any Orpheum theatre. Might as well put them to work, right?”


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Last Comic Standing: Gabriel, where are thou?

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.” – Charlie Chaplin

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” – Mel Brooks

Comedy is not pretty” – Steve Martin

How easy is it to judge comedy? It is impossible. Comedy is personal. Comedy can be lost on someone who is not in the mood. Comedy can be lost on someone who is ready for the jokes. Comedy is unexpected. Comedy is spontaneous.

Tonight is the finale of the summer reality series “Last Comic Standing.” It will be the final episode until next summer, or at least until the second finale appears tomorrow night.

In my view, NBC goofed up again. On Wednesday night, they have scheduled the sometimes salty “LCS” for 8:00 – 9:30p EST, while playing family-friendly (most of the time) America’s Got Talent from 9:30 – 11:00p. Does that make sense? Maybe that is their effort at comedy?

Either way, "LCS" is starting to lose its steam and is ready to be packed away for the summer. After a strong start, last weeks performances by Chris Porter, Josh Blue and Ty Barnett were weak. None of their routines stood out leaving us to vote on who wore the best outfit rather that “who was the funniest.”

Or maybe I was not in the mood. Maybe I was too hopeful of being blown away.

Among my disappointment with this year’s edition is that the truly funniest people were left behind. I have nothing against Chris, Josh and Ty, who are very funny. Gabriel Iglesias, who was a bright light throughout the show, was kicked out because he failed to follow the rules. Sure, the rules were unusually restrictive, but they are still rules.

Funny women were included, but quickly fell out of favor. Roz was eliminated following her best performance. Older (but not old) and more polished Michele Balan contributed so much to the show, only to be pushed aside for three young fellows. It all leads me to wonder, is America is really this shallow?

Viewers are asked to vote, and they appear to want their comedy from young attractive men. Quickly people will point to Josh, but even he has a boyish charm and, as Kathy Griffin is eager to point out, gets points for sympathy, much like Dat Phan from the first season of the show.

Dat Phan. Ralphie May. John Heffron. Alonzo Bodden. These are all young men. Even with the “online” voting of people who failed to make the cut, Theo Von and Josh Wolf, two other young men, will perform.

Maybe the reason why “Last Comic Standing” is unable to sustain an audience for more than a few weeks is that format still does not allow us any surprises. After a few weeks, we know what to expect. We know Josh will joke about his illness. We know Chris will be vulgar and sound like a George Carlin wannabe. Ty’s strong showing the week before last was a nice surprise. Ty had not performed much on the show and had a terrific riff, but last week felt like a weak continuation.

I hope the network continues to tinker with the format. Maybe instead of stand-up performance competition, they could do improv competition. This could get the audience more involved. Save the big standup set for the finale?

Whether they go that route, or another direction, I hope they keep working to improve. I do not agree with Woody Allen about much, but I do like this thought: “Everybody says that comedy is harder to do. That’s become a truism by now, but it’s wrong. Comedy is not harder. The hardest thing to do is good work, whatever it is.”


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Runway, the Free Fall Cat

This is a story I came across that has been printed in a company newsletter and submitted to another daily publication.

Rantoul, Illinois may be the home to the USA’s largest skydiving convention with people visiting Rantoul from all over the world, but there is one who will be happy to be leaving Rantoul for a new home.

During one of the first days of the event, a small brown cat was found on one of the runways in Rantoul. “It was emaciated, little more than a bag of skin and bones,” says her new owner.

When the cat was found, it was brought to the airport tower. It could not move and its eye was infected. There wasn’t much hope for the stranded feline.

Farmer City, Illinois resident Tom Brown was given the nickname “Tomcat” several years ago by one of his fellow skydivers. He didn’t know much about looking after animals, but decided to take the cat back to his campsite.

From there, he located a fellow skydiver, Dr. Wolfe from Georgia. Dr. Wolfe looked the animal over and determined it needed an I.V. Another sky diver went into town for supplies to assist with the I.V. and to help with the cat’s eye infection.

In just an hour or so of medical attention, “Runway Centerline”, a temporary name that may catch on, was purring and looking healthier and happier. Many of the others attending the event have brought food over to Brown’s tent.

Her left leg still appears to be a little sore. The doctor felt “Runway” had lost some muscle tissue while ill. Still, it appears there is a lot of life left in the little cat. “Jumpers have been generous with food, attention and time. I’ve needed time away and there have been people helping baby-sit for me.”

As the annual event comes to a close, Brown will be returning to Farmer City with a new companion; a cat who can thank its lucky stars for the Free Fall convention and the good hearted people who attend.