The Light from the TV Shows: A Series of Random TV-Related Ramblings

It had to happen eventually: I don’t have a column.

Well, not really, anyway. I mean, normally, I’ve got an interview or a preview of a new series or a commentary on an existing TV series, and it’s enough to fill up an entire column, but not this time. Between all the writing, transcribing, and family matters going on over the past few weeks, I’ve had precious little time to watch TV these past few weeks, and what I have watched has tended to be in short spurts, which means that I’m way behind on just about all of my favorite shows. Mind you, that’s not to say that I don’t have anything to say. I’m just going to kind of run through some of the things I’ve been watching lately – some new, some old – and offer up my thoughts about them.

First up: the same show just about everyone else was talking about this morning:

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Seems like only yesterday that I walked up to Jimmy Fallon at the TCA Press Tour and asked him outright if he was scared shitless about starting his talk show. (His response: “Why, yes. Yes, I am.”) Now look at the guy: slow-jamming the news with the President of the United States. You know, I’d say “I don’t care what your politics are, that’s just awesome,” but I know Republicans better than that. I will, however, note that President Obama earned a little extra respect from me for taking the time to give a shout-out to Key & Peele. It wouldn’t surprise me if you forgot that I talked to them back in January, since the piece didn’t get so much as a single comment, but they’re a hilarious couple of guys, and they deserve all the success they’ve been getting with their Comedy Central Series. But I digress. Here’s that slow jam I mentioned, just in case you haven’t caught it yet:

Dancing with the Stars

If you’re a parent, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the addition of children to your life inevitably results in a number of changes to your lifestyle, but one of the most crucial is how it affects your TV viewing habits. It seems like it’d be easy to tell a little kid what they’re going to watch, but you’d be surprised. Battles are often fought in our living room over what I want to watch versus what my daughter calls “my shows,” a short list which includes a variety of programming that I have no interested in sitting through. As such, my wife and I regularly try to find shows that are at least somewhat of a middle ground for us all, thereby avoiding these arguments with a little lass who’s 1/4 my size, and in an effort to avoid watching “Dance Moms” at all cost, I finally asked a question I never thought would come out of my mouth: “Do you want to try ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”

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Southern Comfort: Bullz-Eye goes down south to sample Star’s metric cruisers

The South has played a large part in forging the identity of the United States. Its influences include BBQ, country music, NASCAR, and taking life a little bit slower than those in the north. It is the region of good times and good old boys. And if there’s one segment of motorcycles that defines the entire U.S. industry, it’s the heavy cruiser. Nowhere else do these big, bellowing beasts sell in such large numbers.

They’re so important, in fact, that 50% of all motorcycles sold in the U.S. are cruisers. And with all that money on the table, the segment is crucial for many brands to be successful in the United States. Yamaha knows this too. Since 2004, Yamaha’s Star brand has had a double-barreled focus on selling more metric cruisers. So here we are, deep in the heart of Dixie to test Star’s newest motorcycles, because if you find success here, you can make it anywhere in the U.S.

Origin of Star

Yamaha is not new to selling cruisers, and neither are their Japanese competitors. Termed “Metric Cruisers,” these Japanese bikes have been available for some time, but like the metric system as a whole, adoption has been spotty at best. Reason being, many of the metric cruisers didn’t have the qualities customers wanted. They may have been more reliable, but they looked flimsy, had plastic instead of metal in most places, and didn’t offer the attitude that cruiser customers wanted. Star’s goal is to create bikes that change those perceptions.

Since 1978, Yamaha has sold cruisers. However, customer research showed that this dissuaded many potential customers since they didn’t want to be associated with Yamaha’s supersport products like the R1. They were into style, not speed. So for their more basic tastes and needs, Yamaha branched out their cruisers under the Star banner in 2004. Star has its own team inside Yamaha devoted to giving their customers the experience they want: high style, large customization and a reasonable amount of refinement.

With this focus, Star has a full lineup of cruisers to fit a bike for every person and every need. From the starter bike V Star 250, all the way up to full baggers like the Stratoliner Deluxe, Star has a full portfolio that drives home their brand values. Star had all their products available to ride in Atlanta, but one stuck out in particular to show what they are trying to accomplish.

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Have a blast at Machine Guns Vegas

I’ve had some memorable times in Las Vegas over the years, as Sin City has always been about creating over-the-top experiences with all the gambling and wild nightlife. But on this last trip I tried something new and exhilarating that I’ll remember for years!

I was invited to check out the all-new Machine Guns Vegas (MGV), a unique attraction that will soon be on most to-do lists for guys visiting Vegas. MGV combines a VIP ultra lounge setting with the ultimate firearms experience. The selection of guns you can shoot will blow your mind, so it’s perfect for gun enthusiasts along with first-timers who want to feel the thrill of firing these powerful weapons.

I’m the latter. I’d never shot a gun before even though I’d always wanted to try it. Now I’d get my chance, but it wouldn’t be with a simple handgun. I was going to shoot three badass, fully-automatic machine guns, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

As soon as you arrive at MGV you enter into a spacious and comfortable lounge area where you can relax and get ready. The staff is very professional and you can pick all sorts of packages for your experience. Guests are matched with a shooting host who uses interactive multimedia displays on an iPad to showcase each of the shooting experiences offered. Long lines are not an issue here as you can relax in the lounge while you pick your experience and wait your turn. My experience would consist of three machine guns – the M4 5.56 (US), the MK-47 (Russian) and the HK MP5 9MM (German).

After talking to my instructor, we decided to go with the biggest gun first, the M4 5.56 carbine fully automatic machine gun. The M4 is a shorter and lighter variant of the M16A2 assault rifle, sharing 80% of the parts, but it’s still a beast. It’s used by the U.S. military and is slated to replace the M16 for many combat units in the army. The instructor explained the proper way to shoot the gun. The stance is critical, as you don’t want this thing to knock you back when you fire. Balance and leverage is important as you keep your right foot back and prepare yourself to lean forward as you press the trigger. The instructor then sent out the target and I was ready to go.

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Blu Tuesday: Funny Money, Haunted Inns and More

Last Tuesday’s Blu-ray selection wasn’t quite as poor as it has been these last few weeks – with such notable titles as “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Shame” on the schedule – but I didn’t receive any review copies in time for my column. Thankfully, things are finally starting to pick up again, which is great news for Blu-ray collectors. Although there really isn’t a standout title among this week’s releases, there’s still a good variety to choose from, including this trio of very diverse movies.

“Contraband”

Mark Wahlberg’s latest action thriller isn’t a terrible movie by any means, but it is an incredibly unmemorable one that, although it likely earned the actor a nice paycheck and the opportunity to work with guys like Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons and Giovanni Ribisi, isn’t up to par with what his fans have come to expect. A big part of the problem is that director Baltasar Kormakur vastly overcomplicates the film’s simplistic setup by making the actual heist so unnecessarily complex that not even Danny Ocean and his crew could pull it off. Worse yet, the story is so predictable that you can see every twist and turn before it happens. There’s hardly a single original idea to be found, which is ironic considering it’s about counterfeiting, and though Kormakur was presumably given the directing gig because he was familiar with the source material (having played Wahlberg’s role in the Icelandic film that it’s based on), he fails to demonstrate what made that movie so special that it deserved a remake.

Blu-ray Highlight: I’m a sucker for a good making-of featurette, and the one included here is better than most, covering a range of topics including the differences between the Icelandic original and the remake, casting and filming on location in New Orleans.

“The Innkeepers”

I saw Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” two years ago at South by Southwest, and whether it was because “Insidious” had just given me a mini panic attack the night before, or because I was simply expecting more from the film, I didn’t find it to be particularly scary. Though West’s slow-burn approach is pretty effective in the opening half, there’s very little payoff, to the point that when the horror elements finally do kick in, they’re not as terrifying as you’d expect. Instead, the movie spends most of the time camped out at the front desk where its two leads banter back and forth and play tricks on one another. It’s amusing at times, but never enough to hold your interest, despite the fact that Sara Paxton and Pat Healy have good chemistry. If there’s one redeeming quality, it’s the fantastic score by Jeff Grace, which at least makes the movie more watchable. Unfortunately, “The Innkeepers” is a mediocre horror film at best, and that’s a shame, because while it had the potential to revitalize the genre, it falls short.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not much to choose from on the single-disc release, but fans of Ti West will certainly enjoy the director’s pair of audio commentaries – one with producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick, and another, much livelier affair with stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy.

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Game of Thrones 204: Garden of Bones

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

I don’t think there’s any question that “Garden of Bones” is the best episode of the second season so far. There’s so much to discuss, so let’s just get right into it.

“Game of Thrones” has the best opening sequence on television. Not only is it awesome, it’s educational. We all know that the show has the potential to be very, very confusing. So it’s only fitting that its intro shows a map to help get our geography in order. Each week, any new locations are added into the sequence. This week there was Harrenhal and Qarth, “the greatest city that ever was or will be.”

This intro lets all us fans know that after a week-long wait, it’s finally “Thrones” time again. Sometimes it feels like it would be more appropriate if this was the show’s opening.

The Battlefield

“Garden of Bones” opens with a fart joke… or does it? There was all that buildup just so the guy could “break wind,” or so we thought until another kind of wind, Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind, pounces on them. We see Robb with a number of his men, the screen fades to black and we hear cries of “The King in the North!”

There will be those who complain that many, in fact most, of the battle scenes occur off screen (we all remember Tyrion getting knocked out before the Battle of the Green Fork towards the end of last season). This is going to be a fact of the show, and I’m here to tell you why the haters are wrong.

In the books, Robb is not a point of view character. All we see of him is through Catelyn’s eyes and thus many battles are not witnessed firsthand. Battles are handled similarly in the show, and it’s not an issue. David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners, are working on a limited budget in terms of both money and time. Let’s consider how much the CGI for the dragons and direwolves must have cost. Do we really want them blowing that money on every little fight? Plus, Weiss and Benioff have 10 episodes to adapt a 1000-page novel. This show is driven by characters, not action or plot. We can’t be wasting valuable screen time on action scenes. I can promise you this: there is only one battle that you need to see this season, and you’ll get every brutal second of it. The author of the books, George R.R. Martin, wrote that episode and they spent a month (as opposed to the standard 10 days) filming it.

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