Monday, May 31, 2010

The Limitations of Content Aware Fill

The new Adobe Photoshop CS5 is out there, complete with its seemingly magical Content Aware Fill functionality.

I was pretty excited to get my mitts on it... but as is often the case with effective advertising, the miraculous demos have been carefully crafted to play to the strengths of "Content Aware Fill". Note how they focus on images with large, regular landscapes, and removing objects from them. Indeed, the new Photoshop excels at erasing things from pictures.

[Each of these images represents what I accomplished with one quick pass using Content Aware Fill. Literally just a matter of seconds.]

Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" is beautiful and haunting and evocative, perhaps, but wouldn't it be better without that woman and those houses in the background...?


Street artist Banksy has surely done some gorgeous, thought-provoking work... but isn't it REALLY just glorified vandalism...?


SPOILER ALERT if you haven't seen Truffaut's The 400 Blows (I realize that some of you don't like to see a movie during its first weekend, preferring instead to see it on its 2,652nd weekend) but it ends on this iconic shot of this boy wading into the ocean. But did we really need the boy in the shot...?


(Part of the functionality requires that you yell this out each time you use it, FYI.)

Again, these images feature large spaces. There are some complex patterns but there's a lot of the pattern for the program to draw upon. And we're removing relatively small things from the images.

What happens when the images are more complex with less patterns and more structural architecture to fill in? Perhaps it's predictable...

Content Aware Fill bugs the fuck out.

In this example, you'd think that maybe the patterned wallpaper would be right up C.A.F.'s alley, but we are gouging out a large portion of the image and asking the program to extrapolate something far more complex: carpet and walls and a door frame that is largely blocked by the twin girls. You can certainly erase those girls using a number of other methods (like therapy), but C.A.F. isn't the best tool for this job.

In this example, one dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way, and this guy's sayin, "Why do I need these dogs in this boat with me?"

Well, Guy With A Nice Head of White Hair, I tried to help you out using a little C.A.F. but it was a little too complex. This one represents a few extra passes with C.A.F. and spot-fixing, and it's better than I might've imagined, but obviously too complicated. The program's built to reconstruct patterns, not rebuild anatomy.

Guess we'll have to wait for Adobe Photoshop CS6...

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

LOST Writers and Poor Planning

Excerpts from HERE:
Cuse: "There was a big, mythic architecture which included a lot of what's in the finale, in terms of where we end the show, that we knew way back in the beginning. And then, before each season, we'd have a writers' mini-camp and spend a month without any pressure of writing other scripts, figuring out the architecture of the upcoming season. That'd sort of take the artists' rendering and turn it into blueprints, and then, during the season, episode by episode, we built the structure. We allowed ourselves a lot of flexibility to change things around as we were doing construction. It was impossible to have everything planned out, and so it was kind of built in stages."

Lindelof: "Sometimes in order to make the next episode really good you need to have an incredible superstructure and the blueprints that Carlton is referring to, but at the end of day it really wasn't until we negotiated the end date that we could sit down and in a very detailed way say, 'This is exactly what we want to do over the course of the next three years. We know exactly how many episodes we have to do, and we think people will probably watch us for another three years if we're able to execute this.'"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper Has a Posse

Dennis Hopper
May 17, 1936 – May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper has a posse.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gary Coleman Has a Posse

Gary Wayne Coleman
February 8, 1968 – May 28, 2010

It seems that the world has to move to the beat of just one drum, now.

Gary Coleman has a posse.

After pwning the late-70s, early-80s, Coleman had a notoriously rocky go of adulthood. He and his Diff'rent Strokes co-stars were practically the poster kids for "troubled former child actors".

He had a peculiar marriage to a young woman named Shannon Price...

... she was ultimately the person who made the decision to pull him off life support.

He led a sad, strange life.

[When I was a kid, I wanted to be a child actor because of Diff'rent Strokes— can you imagine??? I would've been, like, sooo famous...]

Meanwhile, Conrad Bain remains suspiciously alive...

See also:

Gary Coleman has a posse.

Gary Coleman has a posse.

I'm Afraid of Filipinos

Is it any surprise that I come from a tribe that is completely insane?

The above lip-synch performance of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is perhaps almost as scary as Whitney Houston performing "I Will Always Love You". The young girl in the clip gives one of the most horrifying strip-teases I've witnessed.

The clip is horror-themed and it builds to the very end so don't quit on it.

(Those of you at work, I've got nothing for you. Head back to camp.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Silent But Deadly

For me, it's only the classics.

NOTE TO SELF: If you don't land this one, don't feel too badly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whatever Happened to Tom Hanson?

Back in the day when Johnny Depp was a tweeny-bopper, Tiger Beating heart-throb on 21 JUMP STREET, he was mortified by the fame and the tv show and his adolescent fanbase.

Now that he's gotten a bit of distance, and a few feature film roles under his belt, Depp's appraisal of the property that launched him has softened. In reference to the big screen 21 JUMPSTREET adaptation (being penned by Jonah Hill), Depp says:

"I’m hoping they’ll let me do a cameo. Someone will say, ‘Whatever happened to Tom Hanson?’ and they’ll find me somewhere hoarding jars of peanut butter and shaking in my underpants.”

(P.S. The LOST finale sucked.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

24 Problems (but a Smoke-Monster Ain't One)

I've talked a lot of shit about how "24" has been an exercise in sucking... but the adventures of Jack Bauer ended on Monday night and it's no spoiler to say that the finale managed to close out the series in a manner that didn't totally betray the expectations of long-time viewers.

That wasn't so difficult, now was it...?

I'm gonna try to stop ranting about LOST because I've wasted enough time on it and there are other people expressing similar frustrations.

Here's a round-up of critical appraisals.

One last thing before I quit...

J.J. Abrams had another show before LOST, called ALIAS.

ALIAS never found a LOST-sized audience but still managed to make it through 5 seasons.

ALIAS was another show that was brimming with mysteries and mythology. It had its creative ups and downs, but it was always ambitious. The characters were very well-realized. Unlike LOST, the producers did NOT have the luxury of knowing their end-season several years in advance, yet they still managed to resolve a grand swath of mysteries and loose ends on the journey to their finale.

Abrams oversaw LOST less and less as the years wore on and he got busier with other projects, but I wonder how different it would've been if he'd been instrumental in plotting the endgame. (Meanwhile, Abrams's FRINGE is doing a far better job with paying off mysteries.)

I can be a sucker for romantic treacle, but I believe that it has to be earned. The LOST finale was a shitload of romantic treacle with a bunch of smoke and mirrors thrown in to try to distract you from the fact that they hadn't bothered to set up any grounded logic. Yes, it's emotional to witness a series of happy endings for these characters—you WANT to see them all get what they want in the end. I think that many people got so emotionally invested in these happy reunions, once the underlying premise of the "sideways narrative" was revealed (it was all just some fantasy land they collectively created after dying) they just went along with it.

But if they were all dead in the sideways narrative, then there was never anything really at stake. Since the start of the show, people have been speculating on the idea of "what if they all died in that plane crash and the island is purgatory"—and the showrunners continually shot that down. Because it would've meant that there was nothing at stake on the island. The sideways narrative they came up with for the final season was an even WEAKER premise because the characters didn't even share a common cause of death (plane crash)—according to their premise, they all died at different times, under different circumstance. And they all ended up in this purgatory world where they met up again.

Okay. Let's talk this through. Boone died when he was young, on the island (season 1). Kate got off the island *twice* and let's say she lived to a ripe old age. So... was Boone just spinning his wheels for decades in this purgatory world? Never aging, never questioning it, never aware of time while he had to wait for everyone else to die? Also, it seems that everyone's waiting for Jack to come into the fold but he's not the last island alumnus to die. A bunch of people outlive him. You could make up some bullshit about how anything can happen in The Afterlife, but that's as much of a cheat as "it was all a dream".

That's the underlying mess of the entire 6th season "flash sideways" narrative. What happens "for real" in the main island narrative is a clumsy mess of nonsense logic, dressed up with heaps of spiritual hokum to try to mask the nonsense. The Cavern of Glowing Light felt like some sub-par Indiana Jones device, except an Indiana Jones movie would at least come up with some clearer explanation for HOW THINGS WORK.

Let's talk this through. The cavern of light has some sort of fountain of light with a stone cork in it. We've been given a lot of non-answers for what the light *represents*. (If I were a character in this world, I would not accept a metaphor as an answer to the question of "What is that thing?" Tell me what it is or tell me what it can do.) Desmond gets lowered into the cavern and he doesn't even know what he's supposed to do there! Then he sees this fountain with a cork and he just decides, "I guess I'll pull that cork out." (It's like videogame logic: there's nothing else I can interact with in this room so let me just click on this and see what happens. Maybe save my game before I do it.)

How does he know that he has to pull a cork out of a glowing fountain?

How does Jack know that he has to put the cork back in afterwards? Why is that cork even there?

Let's go back to the character of Jacob. He's able to live forever, warp on and off the island whenever and wherever he pleases. He manages to control the fates of all these different "candidates" so that they all end up on this plane that crashes on the island. Jacob is a clearly a god on earth. The Man in Black is the devil incarnate. Why are god and the devil living on an island on earth? Assuming that Jacob is god (and if he isn't, how does he have all these powers?), it seems odd that he's so easily "killed" in such a pedestrian manner by Ben. He's dead but he's not dead because he can appear at will to the remaining candidates.

Oh my fucking lord. I really didn't want to go on a rant but there's so much sloppy plotting duct-taped together with rules upon rules and pseudo-spiritual jibber-jabber, you could go around in circles for days pointing it all out.

Fuck it.

I am letting it go now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST Actor on the Finale: "What a joke."

Prior to the airing of the Lost series finale, there was a two hour-special on the making of Lost. It featured a plot summary, show clips, show runners patting themselves on the back, and lots of glowing accolades from the cast about how amazing and ground-breaking the series was. Well, that’s how they described it for the cameras, anyhow. One cast member had less glowing things to say when the camera wasn’t rolling. Specifically, that even the cast members didn’t understand the convoluted plot. This particular actor never had any idea whether s/he was “filming a scene of a flash back, a flash forward, a flash sideways.” This same actor did not like the ending at all. S/he said that it “f*ing sucked. What a joke.” S/he also joked that s/he might avoid public appearances for a while in case some fan who felt robbed at the ending wanted to throw a punch their way.

Over 120 Hours of Utter Shit

Hey, true believers! Did you give up on LOST years ago?

Well, I didn't.

I kept watching even as it grew frustrating and downright obnoxious. Because I honestly believed that it was going somewhere. For years, the showrunners promised concrete answers to a growing stockpile of mysteries and a breathtaking endgame.

Sunday night, they shat their endgame into a toilet bowl and flushed away the entire series.

Beyond not offering answers to ANY glaring questions, with one obscenely shitty plot twist they succeeded in negating any goodwill I had for the show.

LOST fails so spectacularly with its finale, it strips the entire show of value.

There will be many apologists who will contend that the show ultimately wasn't about the mysteries, but that's a complete cop-out. Because many of the mysteries involved the peculiar, extended motivations of many of the characters. This is more than just a handful of loose ends. This is a profoundly relentless failure.

Grade: B-

"The LOST Finale Was Incredibly Dumb"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

These Fishbiscuits Are Making Me Thirsty!

No suitable fish-shaped cookie cutters found. So I bought the clover.

A little hammering out.

The testing phase.

The launch phase.


Milking the LOST Cow

Hey, kids! After the shock of the 2.5 hour LOST finale, don't forget to stay tuned for Jimmy Kimmel and... I don't know, some after-show thing. Gotta milk that LOST cow for every drop.

Some humorous parodies featured on Mr. Kimmel's programme:

Letterman's Top 10 with the Cuse/Lindelof Monster:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dramatic Reading

Will Forte reads from Tommy Lee's autobiography.

What We Watched For: The Preemptive LOST Backlash

GAWKER's Richard Lawson posted a really great article about the LOST fan backlash that's occurring even before Sunday night's 2.5 hour finale. An excerpt:
At some point this season or last, things got a little more urgent. And as episode after episode failed to answer this riddle or that mystery, rancor grew and grew. Now you have beleaguered cast and crew trying to hold strong against the backlash—they made the show they wanted to make, and fans will have to deal with it one way or the other. What happened happened. Which, OK, holding firm on artistic principle is all well and good. We can get behind that.

And yet they then announce that the Season Six DVD package will contain answers to additional mysteries. So wait a tic. They had answers to things but didn't put them in the show? Why, did they run out of time? Do they not care about creating the perfect bow-topped present for us? And this here is where the anger comes in.
I know. It's just a tv show. Nothing to get up in arms over.

Except... it's 6 years.

120+ hours.

That is a lot of time to devote to something.

Yes, it's "free". Insofar as no admission ticket needed to be purchased to watch. A lot of people worked very hard to give us this "free" entertainment. But a lot of people worked very hard and got paid very well and regularly.

The showrunners dug their own graves by giving so many interviews and making so many promises. When they negotiated an end-season for the show, several years in advance, it gave them a chance to do what few American tv shows have been able to do: plot out a long-term end-game.

And, initially, this seemed to revitalize the show. For a time, there seemed to be less water-treading episodes. Character development is a lovely luxury in a long-form, serialized narrative, but how many stories do we need to sit through illustrating Kate's commitment issues?

But excessive, water-treading character development was quaint next to the stockpiling of additional mysteries and a flagrant disregard for all the other loose ends dropped along the way. And how about the premise of the show?

1) time-travel
2) island that can teleport (somehow) by turning a donkey-wheel
3) parallel universe
4) god figure and devil figure live on the island

How about picking ONE concept and making it work?

How about the fact that all this time has gone by, 6 seasons of story, and we're not even sure what the premise of the show is. And don't give me any shit about how it's about redemption and free will and fate: those are a bunch of themes thrown into a blender. What's the goal of our heroes? (To get off the island? To "kill" a bad guy with unclear motives of his own?) What happens if they win? What happens if they lose? What's at stake?

This final season should have been explosive from beginning to end with little time wasted. And while I'm sure there will be some fireworks and bombshells reserved for the final 2.5 hours, the season leading up to it has been an exercise in dicking around.

An old interview that JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse did with ABC Nightline (October 17, 2006):
CUSE: Certainly "Twin Peaks" was a cautionary tale in terms of basically frustrating an audience by never giving any answers and/or by also focusing on one central mystery and putting so much emphasis on that mystery that once that mystery is solved -- in that case "Who killed Laura Palmer?" -- then everyone's interest in the show goes away.

We looked at "Twin Peaks" as a model of what not to do in terms of stringing the audience along...
Here, a discussion of what went wrong with THE X-FILES:
LINDELOF: ...the pragmatic reality of the network television business is we don't own the show. We don't get to decide when the show ends. If we lived in a world where Chris Carter could say to his masters at Fox, "I want to end the show after five seasons," then you could point the finger and say, "Shame on you."
Again, this interview was done back in 2006, before they did negotiate an end-date to the series. Ergo, Carlton/Cuse said to their masters @ Disney, "We want to end the show after six seasons," which—by their own account—allows us to point the finger and say, "Shame on you".

On whether or not they have an end in mind (again, interview from 2006):
NIGHTLINE: Do you have in your minds an endgame, where the show ends, what happens? Is it all sketched out that broadly?

LINDELOF: Absolutely. I mean when we first started talking about the show in that -- in that very first meeting we talked about, you know, OK, everyone was saying what would Season 2 look like, what would Season 3 look like, what would Season 4 look like?

And we started having those conversations and obviously that conversation ended with "and here's where the show ends." This would be theoretically what the last episode of the show would be. But the reality is you're sorting running a race, a marathon, where no one has told you where the finish line is. So your plan at how how you're going to feel and how you're going to finish when you cross mile 26 changes because when you're passing the nine mile marker someone tells you the marathon has been extended to 40 miles.

So what our original ending is hopefully is going to still be in play. But the reality is the characters who were involved in that ending and what happens on the island might change as a result of external factors. God forbid, Josh Holloway decided to leave the show after six seasons, which is what he's contracted for. If that were to happen, we as writers would have to change our minds about certain story directions that we're taking. But the kind of conceptual idea of the ending is in place.
Acknowledging that they know all the answers to the mysteries they present:
CUSE: They've been incredibly supportive of what we've done here. We went in to Steve McPherson, the head of ABC, and we said, "OK, when we go inside the hatch there's going to be this guy down there and he's pushing a button every 108 minutes because he thinks he's saving the world." And he said, "That sounds cool." I mean what more could you ask for out of a network executive than that? But then they also say, "So what happens if he stops pushing the button?" And primarily our dialogue with the network is they want to know where we're going with things. And in that way they do serve as a great litmus test because you can't throw arbitrary things up against the wall.

When we do we have to go in and explain to them how it's going to pay off. Our rule has always been when we introduce a mystery on the show we have to know what the answer to that mystery is. So if a polar bear comes running out of the jungle in the pilot we had to have a conversation of OK, where did this polar bear potentially come from? Is it a figment of Walt's mind, did he manifest it from the comic book? Then we have to know that. Or is it a remnant of a Dharma Initiative experiment? We have to know that in order to know what role the polar bear is going to conform to.

And... an ominous end note:
LINDELOF: Yes, our goal is if we can't end spectacularly at least we'll fail spectacularly. Nobody wants to go out with a fizzle.

Friday, May 21, 2010


just managed to hit the gym 4 days this week instead of 5 because i am a big, fat loser, and nobody likes me, and this is exactly why i will die alone. a lonely, painful death would be what i deserved if i kept this up. i haven't gotten enough writing done and i've let other things fall by the wayside for no proper reason. except that i suck at life and i need to do better because fat, ugly things like me have to work harder than everyone else.

Lost Chef: Elimination Challenge

The big, fat, impossible-to-disappoint Series Finale of LOST crash lands this Sunday. An opportunity for friends to gather together and share in the letdown. But what sort of menu do you prepare for a LOST party?

For a show about people stranded on an island, you would think that food would've played a larger role in the 6 seasons. (You'd think that logic would play a larger role, too.) But with a few exceptions, food has remained in the background of the show. A season of SURVIVOR depicts more food than the 6 seasons of LOST.

Yes, the first season of TOP CHEF MASTERS included a "Lost Supper" challenge where the chefs cooked Lost-themed dishes for the writers. But the food was general island fare.

Aside from fish biscuits and a giant tub of ranch dressing for Hurley, where do you go...?

Lostpedia compiled a list of food featured over the course of the series. It's a good start. Remember pregnant, pre-crazy Claire's insatiable craving for peanut butter? Remember that grilled cheese sandwich that pre-dead Juliet made for Dr. Jack?

Well, the lack of emphasis on cuisine is probably not my biggest issue with the show at this late stage in the game. But it's certainly not helping with finale party menu planning. Something with coconuts, then...?


Extra: Matthew Fox gets interrogated by Jimmy Fallon (because you probably don't watch Jimmy Fallon)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Random Elementary School Memories

So much of writing requires an ability to remember. It's interesting, the things I can remember without effort and the things that fade away. Just trying to recall elementary school...

Mrs. Zoom. (Pronounced "Zome", rhymed with "home".)
PS 346 in Brooklyn.
Class "1-7". Filled with bad kids.
There was a mentally-disabled kid ("David") in the class that I inadvertently befriended, before I knew what "retarded kids" were. In the cafeteria one day, I spit a mouthful of hot dog into a napkin; David turned to me and asked if he could borrow my napkin. I informed him that my napkin was dirty. Not understanding, he asked me again, "Can I borrow your napkin?"

Another day, I played a dirty trick on David. I noticed he kept alternating between standing up and sitting down on his chair while he was doing some work at his desk. When he was standing, I walked up behind him and pulled his chair away. When he tried to sit again, he fell on his ass and started crying. I immediately felt guilty and ran to his rescue, playing the innocent good guy, trying to calm him down. I also didn't want to get in trouble.

Another time, this girl was standing in front of the class, waiting to give some presentation. She looked nervous, her legs crossed as she stood. Mrs. Zoom was having a hard time quieting the class, so the girl kept waiting. And then without warning, a wet stain blossomed down the girl's pant leg and she broke out in tears.

Mrs. Zoom was old and beat-up looking. She was a smoker. One day, she wheeled a TV into the classroom and told us we were going to watch "E.T." because she thought it was going to be broadcast. This was sometime around 1982, when the movie was breaking box office records. There was no way "E.T." was going to be broadcast on TV in the middle of a weekday. But we didn't know any better, and clearly Mrs. Zoom didn't know any better. And we were all properly disappointed.

I remember having trouble learning how to read.

I've got a slew of memories of 1st grade...

Mrs. Santana.
PS 346 in Brooklyn.
Class "2-2". Filled with kids not quite smart enough to be in "2-1".
We started getting spelling tests. I didn't know how to study and I started failing these tests until I discovered the art of cheating. I started getting perfect spelling test grades until my system fell apart and I almost got caught. (This Korean kid, "Young Chae Cho", threatened to rat me out, but didn't.) After my scare, I tried studying for the tests and started acing the tests again and that's why come I spel so gud now.

Mrs. Santana was a husky, mean teacher. One day, she dumped my desk out onto the floor in the middle of class and made me put it back together while everyone watched. This big, black boy tried to help me but Mrs. Santana wouldn't let him.

Mrs. Santana eventually took positive notice of my writing ability. For one creative writing assignment, I wrote an advert for something I made up called "Popcorn Pickles". For another, I wrote a scary story called "Arms", about a bunch of arms that rise up out of the ground and kill a guy sitting on a park bench.

Mrs. Schwartz.
PS 346 in Brooklyn.
Class "3-2". The runner-up class.
I had a crush on Mrs. Schwartz. It's hard to remember her face now but I think she may have looked a little like a young Sigourney Weaver. She could be mean but she was capable of being nurturing. She insisted that she had "ESP" and could read our minds. One time, she told us about taking her kids to Disney World and I was jealous. (I'm not sure if I'd been yet.)

I think this girl named "Randy" had a crush on me. I remember thinking she was cute—but what the fuck do you do with that in the 3rd grade?!

This other girl blackmailed me for a while. I'd gotten upset that I'd bombed on a test one day and I tore up my test paper—this girl saw me and was all like, "Oooh, I'm gonna telll!" This school was filled with rats. To get her to NOT to rat on me, I had to do things for her... I don't even remember what she made me do, but I remember feeling like I had no choice because I didn't want to get into trouble. She kept threatening to rat me out and I kept trying to keep her happy until enough time had passed that I figured it wouldn't matter if she ratted me out. (A few weeks? A month?) Statute of limitations expired, we settled out of court.

I remember learning multiplication and division that year.

Mr. Sockoloff.
PS 346 in Brooklyn.
Class "4-1". My promotion to first class. (Thanks to a recommendation from Mrs. Schwartz.)
First male teacher. He had a beard. He was generally a lot nicer than any of the female teachers I'd had.

One day in class, I was wearing these gloves that I thought looked cool on my hands. Mr. Sock made some dumb joke about me being a race car driver. No one laughed. Then he asked me to take the gloves off.

Started having some troubles with bullies. This one kid's name was "Roger Gruchalski", I think. He was a dick to me in class but I saw him in the supermarket with his mom once and he was acting like we were all cool.

Everyone was increasingly a dick in school. This was the last year we lived in the city.

Mrs. Martini.
Grandview Elementary in Rockland.
First year in the suburbs. All the kids were way too nice.

Mrs. Martini was an old, plump, white-haired lady. She sent me to the school shrink because she thought I was too quiet. She took notice of my writing ability.

Mr. ???
Lime Kiln Elementary in Rockland.
I can never remember this guy's name. He was a bit uptight. When he'd get angry, his face would turn bright red.

First time befriending another Filipino kid who I wasn't related to.

My memory from here forth gets notably spotty. Why are my memories of 1st grade so much more vivid than my memories of 6th? What was I smoking?

Neutral Milk Hotel, live at The Knitting Factory, NYC
March 7, 1998

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gaffney Girls

Nick + Emma
+ Georgia
+ 1.

Dahlia Jane Gaffney
May 19, 2010
Lebanon, NH

8 pounds 2 oz
20.5 inches long

(Sorry I missed the call.)


Reinventing Guns N' Roses

I have always wanted to be Axl Rose.

This may not be news to old friends of mine. But to assume that this is some ironic, kitsch sentiment is to not understand me.

When you are young and you have those wet dreams about how cool it would be to be a "rockstar", I feel like you have your own version of what that would mean. And, more pointedly, which rockstar mold you'd like to be cut from. Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Bono Vox, Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, Justin Bieber...

For me, without hesitation: W. Axl Rose.

Before I get too verbose, a clip from a well-known CBGB's gig from 1988. The original lineup of GNR... a very early rendition of "Patience"...

AXL: "I've sang this song once, we've played it together twice... We'll try this."

Young Axl was the textbook definition of a rockstar. Wiry. Mercurial. Girlish good looks. Violent. Hypersensitive. Said the wrong things most of the time. The "homophobic" tag sullied his name years before Eminem walked on the scene. (Funny how both of them did duets with Sir Elton John, Queer Royalty.)

Older Axl...?

Reclusive. Mercurial. Hypersensitive. Litigious. Perfectionist. The popular perception seems to be that he's a cautionary tale for what you don't want to become as an aging rockstar.

Much has been made of the fact that there are no originating members of the outfit that he currently calls "Guns N' Roses", but I feel like he's excelled at these smaller, secret NYC club shows. Look at the footage from this gig at the Rose Bar in 2010 and you see a band that seems to genuinely enjoy playing together.

He's an all-too-easy target of ridicule, but that just makes him more endearing to me.

Flawed. Disrespected. Under-appreciated.

The Man Who Had His Glory and Blew It.

But nothing is keeping the guy from partying...

I like that he's not just an amber-encased figure of what he was. I like that he's aged, that his rhythm and movement is older. He's not wearing kilts and catcher's masks anymore. His style has evolved and he's grown more comfortable in his skin.

Now, if he could just emerge from the underground party scene, he could get back to owning the world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fabulous Secret Powers

Lost Battlestar

For folks who have watched BSG:

Has LOST already given us more answers than Battlestar Galactica did?

And for the rest of you:

50 Questions LOST should answer before the end.

Sore Survivor


Requisite apologies to non-watchers of the great show SURVIVOR. The finale aired Sunday night and this online document of mine would be incomplete without a statement.

The burning finale question:

How did Russell Hantz know that he'd lost the previous season of SURVIVOR?

So the story goes, Russell had something like 9 days from the wrap of shooting SURVIVOR: SAMOA before he was recruited and choppered into SURVIVOR: HEROES VS VILLAINS. It would be many months later when he'd actually tape the live finale of SURVIVOR: SAMOA and be privy to the final tally of votes.

And yet—from the last episode of SURVIVOR: HvV—this quote from Russell before the final tribal council:
"You say you can do it but it's a lot harder than you really think. And I've done it. Twice. Day 39. Tonight I believe I have a good shot at winning this. Last season, I brought two people coz I thought I could beat em. Coz they were the weak players. And I didn't."
That one statement ("And I didn't!") provoked a pausing of the DVR and a lively argument over whether or not the producers would have told RH the results of the previous season before he would get to tape the live finale of that season.

The opposing side insisted that what we had just watched HAD to be a statement taken out of context. There's no way in hell that the producers would've tipped off a contestant before a live finale.

Frankly, I don't think enough has been made of the fact that Russell went directly from one season of the show to the next with almost NO recovery time. While you can debate the advantages and disadvantages of none of the other All-Star players having seen his gameplay, a clear disadvantage for him was that he:

a) didn't get time to physically/mentally recover
b) didn't get the opportunity to
objectively watch his own gameplay and reassess for his next round
c) didn't definitively know whether he won or lost.

So, what's it going to be, then?

Was the statement he made taken out of context through editing? Did the producers tip him off at some point during the filming of HvV ("Hey, by the way, I peeked into the urn and you didn't get one damn vote for the way you played last season, asshole!")?

None of the above.

Excerpt from a post-finale interview with Hantz:
Did you know you lost Samoa when you played Heroes vs Villains?
“Yeah. I knew I lost because you can read what they tell you and how things are going. It’s common sense to know that you did not win.”
I've got to say, from watching the tribal councils of both Samoa and HvV, it was pretty clear that Russell didn't have a chance in hell of winning either season. There is no end to the shenanigans involved in assembling even the most respectable of these reality shows, but I'm willing to believe that Russell intuited that he'd lost the previous season by the way he was received during that tribal council.

Supporting that, during the final HvV tribal council, Russell makes a few comments about how all the jury members are looking at him as if he were the Antichrist. (My term, not his.)

Another post-finale interview with Hantz.

So, SANDRA (of all people) is the one that ended up winning the season. Not even Parvati. It's funny how Russell got beat by women during both of his seasons—arguably two of the weakest women, both times. Natalie White was the portrait of a coattail-rider. And while Sandra was pretty good at skulking about and keeping her own throat from being cut, she didn't play as hard and fast and expertly as Parvati.

Yes, you could argue that Sandra won the million—the first time anyone has won "Sole Survivor" twice—and that's all that counts. She played twice, she won a million dollars both times, that's a good average.

I think the debate gets fuzzy because people talk about SURVIVOR as if it were a sport. It resembles a sport. It has sports elements in it. But it's ultimately a reality show and reality shows thrive on surprises. The rules change for each new season of SURVIVOR, to keep contestants on their toes, to try to make things more dramatic. Each season is designed to defy the expectations of the players: this is not a sport that you can practice because a large factor is sheer luck.

All that said, there are clearly some brilliant moves and some bone-headed moves played in the game. And if you were to empirically score up the SOCIAL GAME, the PHYSICAL GAME and the STRATEGIC GAME played by the finalists—based on the hard video evidence—
Parvati had to have decimated Sandra this season. Russell would have beaten her, too. If this were a sport where you could score technical points along the way. (Number of blind-sides executed, number of hidden immunity idols found, number of challenges won.) I think that THIS is what Russell was TRYING to articulate during the Live Reunion Show—he was claiming that the game was "flawed" because the American public doesn't get to vote, but I don't think that's the heart of it. (Though, to be fair, Russell did win the $100K audience favorite award BOTH TIMES HE PLAYED.) What I think Russell really would've liked would've been if SURVIVOR were judged like a boxing match. Counting the number of jabs.

People argue that Russell plays an awful social game. I'll argue (for Russell's sake) that the game is weighted far too much on the social aspect. That's how you get people like Sandra winning. Russell and Parvati executed some downright incredible maneuvers this season, and yet bitchy little Sandra ends up winning because... she and Courtney were BFFs? Because Sandra FAILED to get the Heroes on her side and someone like Rupert decided that THIS was a person who deserved to win the title?

You get my point. Look, I get it: jury systems suck. You let 12 Angry Losers pass judgement and innocent people end up on death row.

Dalton Ross has a good assessment:
The best final Tribal performer ever was probably Todd from China. He owned up to everything he did, but then told the jury members that he simply had to do it because they were all such great players that that was the only way he could beat them. He managed to stroke all their egos while still taking responsibility for everything he did. That is Russell's fatal flaw: He simply can't credit anyone else for anything.
This has been way too many words about the finale but I haven't even gotten to the part that fascinates me even more...


Why, why, why am I so fascinated by these videos from the Ponderosa?

I find them so fascinating because they're a natural extension of the show but they are so tonally different from the show. You get a far better sense of each person/character.

I loathed Courtney on the show... she just seemed like a useless, catty stick-bug grotesque. But in the Ponderosa videos... she came across as far more human. Even someone I'd enjoy partying with.

One of the things that makes a difference: the Ponderosa videos aren't as aggressively edited as the broadcast episodes. For obvious reasons, there's a lot less footage they're editing together for the Ponderosa pieces. There aren't a dozen interweaving narratives of people scheming. It's just people enjoying good meals, trying to suss out what happened and, honestly, simply enjoying each other's company.

One of the things I read about a lot in SURVIVOR interviews is how often people keep in touch with each other after the show. I'm personally fascinated by extended/surrogate families. Mainly because my own immediate family is so scattered to the wind, and I get a vicarious thrill out of watching other people enjoy each other's company. It's like emotional pornography. (If you count food pornography, violence pornography and good old-fashioned regular pornography, I am quite the connoisseur.)

That's why I was so riveted by the Ponderosa Tapes. They offered a much deeper portrait of this drama.

And while Russell, Parvati and Sandra never got voted out, all three went to the Ponderosa after that last tribal council.

At the dinner table, someone looked a bit left out...

And yet, for all the talk of freezing him out socially as soon as he got to the Ponderosa camp, people still welcomed him. They may not have given him the most enthusiastic hugs, but they didn't exactly leave him out in the cold.

For all the snappy editing and tv-ready monologues, the Ponderosa videos show these characters as human beings. Some more awkward than others. Some more bitter than others. Some more delusional than others. Some more sympathetic than others. This is why I watch.


Sandra burning Russell's hat at the end provided an almost perfect narrative symmetry to Russell's arc. When we first saw him in SAMOA, he was burning people's socks. Sandra didn't even know about that.

Russell made some extremely misogynistic assessments about some of his competitors in SAMOA. Yet, through that season and this season, it's women who end up besting him.

In many interviews (including this last live finale), Russell talks about how he feels like he played one long season instead of two separate seasons, and that shows in his gameplay through the two seasons. Note that in HvV: he doesn't make up lies about being hit by Katrina, he doesn't go to great lengths to conceal the fact that he's an "oil tycoon" millionaire who doesn't really need the money. This could easily be due to editing but the fact that he doesn't need the money doesn't seem to be as much of a factor in an All-Star game when several of the players have previously won the million dollar prize.

Best Survivor Season Ever. I was slightly underwhelmed by the teaser for SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA—kind of hard to go back to a regular season of unknowns after the one-two punch of the past two Russell seasons. Hopefully, the casting people will come up with something to pique my interest... but you know what I really want to see...

39 DAYS.


(I hate writing these long entries!)

Russell and Parvati play cute with Dalton in the aftermath.