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What’s All the Commotion About the New MTV Show: SKINS?

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, February, 6, 2011 by llsoares

MTV recently started airing a new show called SKINS. It’s based on a British show of the same name. To describe it, it’s kind of a soap opera starring teenagers. Nothing new there. But I’m guessing the level of matter-of-factness that  the characters treat things like sex and drugs and drinking gets under a lot of people’s “skins,” especially parents.

I can appreciate that. At the same time, I went on OnDemand and checked it out for myself. Mostly because there’s been all of this commotion in the media about it, and supposedly sponsors are fleeing the show in droves. There’s even been talk of MTV canceling the show because it’s just offending too many people. And this is only after two episodes! I wanted to at least watch an episode or two before they pulled it and judge for myself. Was this show just dumb junk?

Frankly, after watching the first episode, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. It seems like a combination of the Canadian teenager drama DeGrassi High and Larry Clark’s movie KIDS. There is some behavior that might be considered shocking to some people, but it’s not portrayed in a shocking way. All this stuff is routine to these kids. They don’t give it a second thought.

The first episode revolves mostly around a long-haired, wimpy kid named Stanley. He’s the best friend of the popular guy at school, Tony (how the hell did that happen?), and Tony is determined to help Stanley lose his virginity. So he hooks him up with a “crazy” girl with a loose reputation. Things don’t turn out as planned, but overall this is a plot we’ve seen a hundred times before (actually, much more than that). The characters were okay – several are arrogant to the point of being assholes – and the story was interesting enough.

You can’t really judge a show on its first episode. Pilots and first episodes tend to be weak a lot of the time, as they are just setting the characters up, and we don’t really know them yet. This is true about SKINS, too. Watching the second episode, I found it to be a big step forward. I think the main reason I didn’t care that much about the first episode was that it was so much about Stanley, a character I didn’t care all that much about. In the second episode, the focus is on Tea, a girl who is part of Tony and Stanley’s group, who also happens to be gay. I actually found her story to be much more compelling and found myself getting into the show after this one.

I’ve read a lot about SKINS. Some people condemning it. Other critics dismissing it as junk. But I actually liked it. I don’t think it’s as shocking as the media is portraying it to be, but ultimately, a show rises or falls on its characters and its ability to engage us. And I thought SKINS did a good job fleshing its characters out, and I’ll be curious to see what happens to the show.

In the new issue ROLLING STONE, critic Rob Sheffield reviews the show (and is one of the critics who dismisses it as junk), but he does bring up an interesting fact. While everyone is screaming about SKINS and its casual attitude toward sex and drugs, there don’t seem to be many people outraged by another MTV show, Teen Mom, where pregnant teenagers suddenly find themselves thrust into the spotlight and just want to be famous. Somehow a fictional show pales in comparison to the message Teen Mom is peddling.

As Sheffield says “The whole point of Teen Mom is to promise the jackpot of celebrity to the underage girl who gets pregnant in the most colorfully sordid circumstances,” and “the true casualties are the screwed-for-life babies who can’t sign consent forms.”

I can see his point.

I heard that the audience for SKINS actually went down substantially with the second episode (which is a shame, because it’s so much better than the first one), and MTV may use this as an excuse to yank the show and avoid further controversy. But I wish they’d stand by it and give it a solid chance. I think this show is much better than the bad rap its getting lets on.

Farewell to HARVEY PEKAR

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, July, 12, 2010 by llsoares

Back in the early 1980s, comic book writer Harvey Pekar started making regular appearances on Late Night on David Letterman (this is when Dave was on NBC after Johnny Carson). Right off the bat, Pekar was a real character. With his sandpaper voice, grouchy demeanor and seemingly limitless anger, Pekar played up his shot at minor celebrity status, and became a Letterman favorite. Unfortunately, he didn’t appear as often on Dave’s show when he went to CBS.

It turns out, Pekar had captured enough people’s imaginations in the 80s to build an audience, even if it was a cult audience. This all revolved around a comic book, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, which Pekar had been self-publishing every year since 1976. Magazine-sized, AMERICAN SPLENDOR was something unusual in the comics of the time. It wasn’t about superheroes, and it wasn’t as off the wall as the underground comics that had come into vogue in the 1960s and 70s. However, there was a connection to those old days. Pekar was a friend of underground icon R. Crumb, who illustrated a lot of those early AMERICAN SPLENDOR strips.

What AMERICAN SPLENDOR was about, was Pekar’s life. The everyday, hum-drum, steady momentum of one man’s existence. From silly one-page strips, to observations of his job a file clerk at a veteran’s hospital and his marriage, and various odd people he met along the way, AMERICAN SPLENDOR was a fascinating, often very funny, peephole into Pekar’s life. No costumes, no super powers, and yet it was riveting just the same.

The Letterman appearances increased the profile of the comic, and Ballantine Books put out some collections of the “Best Of” strips. Along the way, Pekar became a respected member of the comics community, and an equally respected jazz scholar. He adopted a daughter, struggled with bouts of cancer, and for awhile there AMERICAN SPLENDOR was bought by DC Comics and put out in regular comic book format (and more than once a year).

There was a AMERICAN SPLENDOR stage play at one point, and in 2003, Paul Giamatti starred in a movie version of AMERICAN SPLENDOR, which got a lot of critical praise and featured not only Giamatti played Pekar, but scenes of Pekar himself,. The movie was as unusual as its comic book source, and was a festival favorite.

Pekar died today at age 70. There are no details yet of his cause of death, but he had been “suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression.”

Pekar was a big influence on me, and ever since the first time I saw him on Letterman’s show, I was hooked and followed his career regularly. A new AMERICAN SPLENDOR comic was always a good thing, and his comics and graphic novels (including titles like OUR MOVIE YEAR, and OUR CANCER YEAR) deserve a wider audience.

He’ll be missed.

American Splendor was collected in several BEST OF collections

A LION’S DIET

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, April, 9, 2010 by llsoares

There’s a little store in the North End of Boston called Savenor’s. It’s basically a little gourmet store that sells some fresh produce and exotic condiments, but the main reason to go there is for the selection of meats. As soon as you go inside, you know what you’re in for. There’s a photo of Julia Child in the window. She was a regular customer.

I go there every once in awhile to check out a special area where they have the exotic meats. So far I’ve gotten venison, kangaroo and wild boar. Good stuff. Some of the items – like an entire rattlesnake, skinned and ready to eat – are rather expensive. The rattlesnake was $135. And no matter how much I’d like to try it, that’s not going to happen. They had fillet of python today, too.

I ended up getting a couple of things in my price range (about $10 each). One was antelope meat (I can’t wait to try that!) and the other was alligator (which I’ve had and like a lot). Maybe next week I’ll try the yak meat.

Kinda cool to be buying exotic meats in the same store where Julia Child used to shop. I’m always looking to try a new kind of meat. I think the one I want to try most right now is zebra.

It’s like I have a lion’s diet sometimes.

Some Sites I’m On

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, March, 10, 2010 by llsoares

Some fun sites that I’m on this week:

1) Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews asked most of the people who were nominated for the Stokers this year some questions about being nominated. Michael Arruda and I (do I need to remind you we write “Cinema Knife Fight” at this point?) are two of the writers featured. Here’s the link: Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews

2) Writer Mercedes Yardley has a blog where she posts writers and other creative people wearing masks every Friday. It’s called Be Mysterious I was the guest writer this week.



Happy B-Day, Jim

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, March, 3, 2010 by llsoares

I know I haven’t posted here in a long time. I’ve been focusing on the Cinema Knife Fight site instead, lately.

Today’s been a weird day. My best friend, Jim Lavoie, would have been 47 years old today (on March 3rd). He died of cancer just over a year ago, and it’s strange not to have him around. We knew each other since fifth grade. I miss him.

FEAR ITSELF – THE LOST EPISODES

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, January, 3, 2010 by llsoares

The Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, was an interesting concept. Created by writer/director Mick Garris, it paired talented horror movie directors with stories often based on classic horror fiction. The first season was above-average, with just a couple of clunkers, but the second season was very weak. Instead of going to a third season, the show went to network television (NBC) and changed its name to FEAR ITSELF. The change of location (and stricter restrictions on content) didn’t help matters, and it ended after one season on a sour note. A show that never lived up to its original promise.

Before it was cancelled, there were five episodes that never aired. The cable OnDemand channel FearNet recently aired them, and I checked them out. For the most part, they were business as usual, but there were a few surprises.

***

EPISODE ONE: CHANCE (directed by John Dahl)

This one is yet another riff on the doppelganger theme. Chance (Ethan Embry) is a guy who needs money desperately and brings an antique vase to a dealer. It turns out he was sucked into a scam (the dealer offers him much less than his original offer) and things turn violent. An antique mirror gets broken, unleashing  Chance’s doppelganger, who helps him cover up the murder. Which leads to more murders.

I thought this one was okay, but not very original. I expected more from the director who gave us the excellent movie THE LAST SEDUCTION.

For mirrors and dopplegangers, you’d be better off seeing the far superior movie THE BROKEN, now on DVD. In comparison, this is a pretty lame.

Grade: C

***

EPISODE TWO: THE CIRCLE (directed by Eduardo Rodriguez)

A scorned witch seeks revenge on her ex-boyfriend, an author (Johnathon Schaech) who is going through writer’s block.  This takes the shape of living darkness which surrounds a cabin in the woods where the author, his new girlfriend,  his publisher (and his wife), and his agent have assembled.  Some people die. Some people get “infected” by the darkness and turn into monsters. If it sounds like a riff on EVIL DEAD, I thought so, too.

But for some reason this one worked for me. The acting is part of it, but the main thing is the script by actor Schaech and Richard Chizmar. Despite not being a very original plot, the writing is crisp and the pacing is great. I really enjoyed this one. Definitely the best of this bunch, and maybe the second best episode of all the FEAR ITSELF shows, after Larry Fessenden’s entry, “Skin and Bones.”

Grade: B+

***

EPISODE 3: ECHOES (directed by Rupert Wainwright)

Waintwright previously directed the godawful remake of John Carpenter’s THE FOG (2005), as well as the movie STIGMATA (1999), so I should have known what I was in for.

This one just plain pissed me off. None of these episodes are particularly clever or original, but this one just seemed so clichéd and so overly familiar that it was annoying to watch.

A nerdy guy named Stephan (Aaron Stanford) moves into a new house, which was the site of a murder in the 1920s. Turns out the murderer back then (Eric Balfour) was Stephan in a former life, and the woman he kills (his flapper girlfriend) is Stephan’s current girlfriend (Camille Guaty) in a former life. Both the 1920s murder and the events in modern day begin to blur together.

This one was so damn predictable, that I just hated it.

Grade: F

***

EPISODE FOUR: SOMETHING WITH BITE (directed by Ernest Dickerson)

Urgh! This one was directed by Ernest Dickerson who gave us movies like BONES (2001). His name especially sticks out because he was responsible for some of the worst episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR, including maybe the single worst episode “The V Word,” which was about kids who stay overnight in a mortuary and meet up with a vampire played by Michael Ironside (who deserved better).

In this one, it’s werewolves. A veterinarian named Wilbur (Wendell Pierce), who everyone walks all over, has a bizarre “patient” one day. It’s about the size of a bear and looks an awful lot like a werewolf. Some trucker brought it in, saying he hit it with his car. While trying to save it, the creature bites Wilbur, thus turning him into a werewolf as well. Like in the Jack Nicholson movie, WOLF, the change transforms him not just at night, but when he’s human as well. His senses are magnified (especially his sense of smell – he sniffs everything! Which is damn annoying), and he begins to be very self-confident and assertive in his regular life. People no longer push him around. His libido makes him a dynamo in bed for his formerly frustrated wife. The family of the first werewolf come to pick up the animal’s body, and the vet ends up visiting them to learn more about his condition.

This one was just irritating. If this thing is a dangerous werewolf, then how did a trucker bring it to the vet’s office in the first place? Once he drops it off, he refuses to touch it. But if he hit it, he had to pick it up to bring it there. And why didn’t it bite him? This is just the beginning of the episode – and already it’s annoying as hell. Like most of Dickerson’s other horror-related work, this episode tries to be funny and scary at the same time, but he achieves neither very well. Pierce does what he can with the role, but Wilbur is a irritating character, and the rest of the characters aren’t much better. And a storyline about a murderer who desperately wants to be bitten just seems asinine. I really didn’t like this one.

Grade: D-

***

EPISODE FIVE: THE SPIRIT BOX (directed by Rob Schmidt)

I thought this one might be interesting, because I wasn’t exactly sure what a spirit box was. Turns out it’s kind of a home-made Ouija board. Two teenage girls , Shelby (Anna Kendrick) and Becca (Jessica Parker Kennedy) make one on Halloween night when they’re bored and get in contact with the spirit of a slain classmate. They try to unravel the mystery of her death, and reveal the identity of the murderer. There’s a twist ending.

It was a little better than the last two at least.

Schmidt also directed the so-so horror flick WRONG TURN with Eliza Dushku.

Grade: C

***

Well, that’s it for FEAR ITSELF. Rest in Peace.

Cinema Knife Fight On the Radio

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, January, 3, 2010 by llsoares

Tonight at 10pm EST, Michael Arruda and I will be on the GHOSTMAN AND DEMON HUNTER radio show to discuss horror movies. Yep, the Cinema Knife Fight guys bring the column to the radio.

If you miss it, the show will be archived and will be posted on places like iTunes.

Come support your favorite movie reviewers! And have a few laughs along the way.

As always, thanks for your support!