Blogs > Tuned in to Pop Culture

They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Modern viewing habits killed the video star

Once again recently, I heard someone make an offhanded remark along the lines of: "You know, back when MTV actually played videos."

Please, everybody who has trotted out this line or something similar, do me a favor: Get in a boat with the "Why not make airplane out of the same stuff they make the black box out of?" crowd and go away.

You're not clever. You're not witty.

Here's the dirty little secret everybody forgets when they pine for the days MTV, MTV2 and VH1 playing videos for hours at a time: Nobody watches music videos anymore. Even "TRL," the last bastion of music videos being played on a basic cable channel in daylight hours, got the ax a couple months ago. And why did "TRL" last so long? Because MTV hacked videos down to 30-second highlight clips. Sit through a whole four-minute song? Surely you jest, says MTV.

Do you really want to sit and watch an hour of music videos? Neither does anybody else. And if you actually do, go enjoy the obscurity of Fuse in the digital tier of your cable package.

But ... but ... but how can people get interested in music videos if MTV and VH1 won't play them? Oh, I don't know. Maybe somehow, some way to drum up some interest in a music video.

Can you name the last music video that was a hit? Not the song in a video. I'm talking about the actual music video itself. Can you name any of the last 10 "video of the year" winners at the VMAs? You're on a really short list if you can.

Personally, I think it's nothing short of amazing that three basic cable channels - MTV, MTV2 and VH1 - that were created for the sole purpose of airing a medium that is all but dead have found a way to stay relevant.

Of course, how exactly they've stayed relevant ("Rock of Love Tour Bus", "I Love Money", "Making the Band 4", etc.) is a soapbox speech for another day.

If only we still had "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Singled Out" and "Sandblast" and ...

- Tom Valentino

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More GTA? Well, I'll be damned

Rockstar Games released its highly anticipated add-on to "Grand Theft Auto IV" this week. "The Lost and Damned" is out exclusively for Xbox 360 (sorry PS3 fans), and can only be purchased by download through the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1600 points (that's $19.99 in real-world money). Also of note: You must have a copy of "GTA IV" to get this to work.

I've yet to download the add-on (in my case "The Lost" is the dollars allotted for fun money in my checking out thanks to the “Damned” economy), so we won’t get into a blow-by-blow review of the game. Here’s a short version: Instead of being Niko Bellic, the eastern European immigrant, you’re now Johnny Klebitz, longtime member of a longtime biker gang known as the Lost. You have lots of new weapons and vehicles at your disposal to bring more terror on Liberty City, all while you listen to a bunch of new songs on the game’s soundtrack.

But while you’re admiring your handiwork with sawed-off shotguns and Molotov cocktails, you can bet the folks at Rockstar (and just about every other company in the video game industry) will be studying the success of “The Lost and Damned” very closely. Here’s why:

- Weren’t we just here? “The Lost and Damned” has been released to the public just 10 months after “GTA IV” hit store shelves and began its warpath to the top of the sales charts. For the hardcore GTA fans who have torn through every mission, stolen every car Brucie Kibbutz has wanted and shot every pigeon in Liberty City, an add-on couldn’t come fast enough. But when you’ve got one of the top-selling games of the year, odds are you’re catering to a lot more casual fans, many of whom still haven’t gotten all the way through the original game. How thirsty are these folks going to be for more “GTA”? And to think: This add-on was originally projected to hit the virtual shelves back in the fall.

- Where are we going? Here’s where it gets really interesting for the gaming industry. Xbox Live has been successful offering simple new games, old favorites and small add-ons for regular releases. This is a departure from that formula. Sure it’s an add-on for a regular release, but this isn’t a three-song track pack for “Guitar Hero.” This is a robust release being billed as “a new episode” of “Grand Theft Auto IV.” Just remember when we get to the point where we’re downloading full games, this is the bridge that was built to get us there.

Which leads us to …

- No vacancy. The Xbox 360 I got a little more than a year ago has a 20 GB hard drive, and it’s a pretty popular model. You don’t need to be a math major to figure out that you’re not going to fit many full games on a 20 GB hard drive. But fear not, Microsoft is all set to sell you a bigger hard drive to hold more games. So for every however-many games you download, you’re going to eventually need more storage space. And then you can buy another hard drive. Cha-ching! See where this is going?

But a lack of storage space for you means …

- PLENTY of vacancy elsewhere. While you’re filling up your hard drive with more games, guess what you are NOT doing? Trading them in to local stores for credit toward your next purchase. Rockstar has released “GTA” spin-offs for older consoles. You can walk into a used-game store and buy games like “Vice City Stories” for cheap now. But since “Lost and Damned” is a download, you won’t be seeing any low-price used copies on store shelves or eBay. And sure, maybe Xbox eventually drops the download price on “Lost and Damned” after a year or so. But that isn’t going to put any money into local stores that generate revenue through used-game sales. In “GTA” terms, it’s not exactly a sniper shot from a rooftop to the resale industry, but it’s most definitely a whack in the knee with a pipe. And if one day we get to the point where people download all their games through services like Xbox Live instead of buying discs from local stores? Well, let’s just say there are a lot of local merchants and national chains that would rather you didn’t just read that last sentence.

OK, I’m not trying to come across as some conspiracy theorist wing nut here. One downloadable add-on for one game on one console isn’t going to throw the entire video game industry into chaos. But make no mistake: Video game makers are watching this experiment very closely.

So get out there and shoot some bad guys. Rockstar is counting on you.

- Tom Valentino

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tom and Jerry: Say no to PEDs

In the wake of the Alex Rodriguez fiasco, baseball is once again buckling under the crushing presence of performance-enhancing drugs. Records are tarnished. Heroes are frauds. The national pastime is in peril.

And to think, all of this could have been avoided if athletes would have just paid attention to Tom and Jerry.

OK, so maybe the cartoon world's favorite cat and mouse have been guilty of moral turpitude here and there. But know this, folks: Tom and Jerry warned us of the dangers of performance enhancing substances long before the International Olympic Committee threw down the hammer on doping with a ban in 1967.

Don't believe me? Check out "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse" from 1947.

To review...

- Jerry gained a competitive advantage over his rival in the form of unnatural size and strength by ingesting a potentially dangerous substance.

- Jerry becomes a rage-aholic capable of tearing a phone book in half.

- Jerry's unnatural size and strength disappear when the effects of his substance wears off, and he becomes dependent on it to maintain his edge.

- In an effort to overtake the intermittently jacked-up Jerry, Tom overdoses on the performance-enhancing substance. As a result, he becomes a shriveled up shell of what he once was.

Meanwhile, steroids have been known to...

- Give athletes a competitive advantage in the form of unnatural size and strength.

- Make athletes sporadically go into fits of rage.

- Ultimately cause athletes' bodies to break down with lasting, damaging effects.

So there you have it, folks. Taking a shortcut like using PEDs can give you a boost in the short term. Ultimately, though, it will leave you a broken-down punching bag for a mouse ... or the court of public opinion. Stick to hitting your foes with waffle irons and golf clubs, instead.

- Tom Valentino

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tightrope act is tantalizing

"Man on Wire" is so exhilarating, so riveting, so breathtaking, that when you're finished watching you won't believe the events actually took place in New York City, 1974.

If you've run out of Oscar-nominated films to watch in preparation for Sunday's Academy Awards, be sure to check out Magnolia Picutures' documentary about a young Frenchman Phillipe Petit's quest to tightrope across the then-newly constructed Twin Towers.

With Petit's personal footage, the documentary chronicles how Petit and his friends illegally rigged a wire across the Twin Towers. The buildup is spell-binding. The dramatic conclusion when Petit tightropes for almost an hour reaches its zenith when the Frenchman decides to relax by laying down -- on the tightrope!

"Man on Wire" is not a hidden gem, however. It has been nominated for best documentary feature, and is likely the favorite to take home the Oscar.

I plan on seeing Frost/Nixon and other Oscar favorites before Sunday, but one viewing of "Man on Wire" has me convinced there might not be a film from 2008 more worthy of an Academy Award.

- Mark Podolski

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Batman sequel delayed? Good.

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

This week the Hollywood Reporter reported The Dark Knight director, Christopher Nolan will opt to direct “Inception” for his next project instead of another Batman sequel.

That’s not to say there won’t be another Batman sequel, but it will obviously have to wait at least 2 more summers.

I don’t know about you, but this is great news for me.

I’m fairly certain that I include Christopher Nolan in a small group of man-crushes that I have (the other men on that list being legendary rapper Nas and phenomenal acting talent, Ryan Gosling among others that I may or may not get to in a future blog. Yes I know, I’m strange.)

Getting back to Nolan, I like the re-created series of the Batman films (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) just as much as the next guy (or lady) but what really does it for me are his other three movies, Memento, The Prestige and Insomnia.

Memento is far and away the best movie I have ever seen. It’s absolutely brilliant (and extremely confusing) in my opinion.

Every time I watch it I come up with new theories. The way the film goes back and forth and starts at the end makes it almost impossible to ever fully grasp. Every time I watch it, I think I have it down, then I'll watch it again and have to think about it more.

The Prestige starring the recently revealed raging maniac, Christian Bale, is a few notches below Memento. Insomnia, which flew under the radar despite having an all-star cast including Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, was vastly underrated.

Basically what I’m trying to say is, although I like the Batman films, I would much rather Nolan direct and write non-superhero films.

So I look forward to “Inception” even though all anyone knows about it is “a contemporary sci-fi auctioneer set within the architecture of the mind.”

Sounds confusing.

But if you’ve seen Memento or The Prestige, Nolan is best when he is trying to confuse us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bale blowup: Just another day in Hollywood

Celebrity tantrums bring out the best on Youtube, the worst for the celebrity involved.

Yet, we as a society, are quick to forgive and forget … only when it comes to movie stars.

Just wondering, but why are they given a free pass when sports figures on the same level are condemned from the start?

Anyone, anyone? Racking my brain for an answer, but I don’t have one. Hollywood blowups happen all the time. This actor is a jerk, this actress is high maintenance, this director treats people like dirt.

Christian Bale provides laughs when something like his tirade on the set of “Terminator Salvation” hits the Internet, as it did last week. If an athlete did that, it would be no laughing matter. It was years before the public forgot about the Patriots’ messy harassment of Boston Globe reporter Lisa Olson in 1990. That’s just one example.

Bale’s outburst was the verbal beatdown of all verbal beatdowns. The f-bomb-laced explosion was directed at the movie’s director of photography, Shane Hurlbut. Bale later apologized on a Los Angeles radio show saying, “I was out of order beyond belief … It is inexcusable.”

Regardless of the apology, it’s not unreasonable to assume Bale has issues with anger management. In a few weeks though, how many of us will really care? As long as Bale’s Terminator flick is a success and he continues to don Batman’s cape and cowl, fans will keep on flocking to the theatres, whether we think he’s a good or bad person.

Unfortunately, if a sports figure is branded a bad guy in today’s society, he or she is branded for life. Go figure.

- Mark Podolski

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Talkin' Grammys while tooting my own horn

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

In an earlier blog, “Nick’s picks: Most anticipated part one,” I listed a Blink-182 reunion as my 2009 music prediction.

Well look no further.

It didn’t take long for that prediction to become a reality, further proving the simple fact that I, Nick Carrabine, am awesome.

While it’s the only prediction I made for the whole entire year about anything at all, and of course it has absolutely zero relevance (or probably interest) in anyone life, I felt the need to toot my own horn for what I consider to be a monumental achievement.

The threesome, Travis Barker, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge will be presenting at this Sunday’s Grammys together.

Who knows if they’ll ever perform again, but hey, that wasn’t part of the prediction.

It was simply reuniting, which is what they’ll be doing.

Speaking of the Grammys, you are probably wondering, “Well Nick, why don’t you strike while the iron is hot and predict who will win some Grammys Sunday evening?”

And to that I say, “Does anyone really care about the Grammys?”

Here’s a prediction: There will be a better chance of Lil Wayne showing up to the ceremony with six additional facial tattoos rather than him winning best album of the year.

Not to say that he didn’t have the best album of the year (which he didn’t) but the Grammy voters typically like to pick a legendary performer (Robert Plant) or a safe softcore rock group (Coldplay) for the evening’s final award (which will probably come about three and a half hours following the start of the boring telecast.)

To put it simply, anything but a rap album will always claim victorious for the best album of the year.

So while Lil Wayne may lead the field in nominations, he won’t go home with the top prize.

There. Two for two in predictions for 2009.

If you are interested in who will take top honors in the polka, spoken word or children’s categories, here is a full list of nominations for the Grammys.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Still ‘Lost’ and loving it

And you thought “Lost” was confusing BEFORE this season.

Well, I hope you’ve had your seat belts buckled and your compass locked on a bearing of 315 degrees. If the first three hours are any indication, season five of the engrossing ABC drama is going to be a wild ride.

As usual, the start of a new season has brought few answers but certainly more questions.
— Where did the island go?
— WHEN did the island go?
— What the heck is wrong with Charlotte (Rebecca Mader)?
— Why does Ben (Michael Emerson) have only 70 hours to get the Oceanic Six back on the island?

I have been hooked on “Lost” since its debut in 2004. I’ve been enthralled by nearly all the trials and tribulations of the group of plane crash survivors and the mysterious “Others” already on the strange, uncharted island. I’ve stayed a true believer as friends have given up on the show, sure that all the visions, polar bears and smoke monsters would, ultimately, add up to very little.

Even if you’re worried the ending may not be all that satisfying, how can you not enjoy this ride? The characters are great, and the situations are unique.

Yes, it’s frustrating when a character who actually knows what’s going on at any point in time simply doesn’t have time to explain. And sure, I’d like fewer scenes with a shirtless Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and more with a bikini-clad Kate (Evangeline Lilly), but you take the bad with the good, you know?

I like how every season introduces new environments and situations. After the first season took place on the surface of the island, much of the second centered on an underground compound. In season three we spent more time with the Others, while the fourth season put several characters back in civilization and introduced us to a group of new characters — and re-introduced us to an old favorite —aboard a freighter bound for the island.

This season, as viewers know, has centered on time travel. I held off on even a preliminary judgment of this storytelling device after the two-hour season premiere because it felt cheap, and I thought it would lose a lot of people. But I’ve warmed to it after last week’s episode, which gave further hints on how this whole mythology would tie together.

So Locke (Terry O’Quinn) TOLD Richard (Nestor Carbonell) to visit him during his birth, which was to happen a few years from that particular point in time. Of course! It’s so obvious!

And how cool was it to meet a young Charles Widmore (Tom Connolly) on the island in the past? It makes sense that he was an Other (as much as anything on this show makes sense). What about Ellie (Alexandra Krosney)? Could she be Penny’s (Sonya Walger) future mom? Or how about Faraday’s (Jeremy Davies)?

I’d like to think next year’s series finale — and the episodes leading up to it — will make sense of the visions, polar bears and smoke monsters. In the meantime, I’m ready for more questions (and Evangaline Lilly in a bikini).

— Mark Meszoros