2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • 8 Ways Microsoft Can Improve the Xbox One

    Thu, January 30, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

    xbox-one

    Now that the Xbox One has been out for two months, gamers (myself included) have had a chance to properly kick the tires on their console. The new car smell has worn off and an Xbox One owner can see the system for what it is – a very powerful gaming console, but one with issues.

    I like my Xbox One but I don’t love it. Not like I love my Xbox 360, at least not yet. All new console launches have their issues but there are steps Microsoft can take to improve the Xbox One experience for gamers and in turn, increase its popularity. I’m not throwing any wild, unlikely scenarios out there (Have Bill Gates buy Nintendo and merge it with Xbox) and I’m not trying to state the obvious (Give gamers more games to play on it). Like a lot of gamers, I’d just like to see the Xbox One live up to its potential. Here are my eight suggestions for the Redmond, WA, based tech giant.

    1. Give the Kinect something to do or get rid of it - The $100 difference is price between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is solely due to the Kinect. Sure, it’s cool to turn on and turn off my One by using voice commands but that’s all I use it for. While I can use motion gestures to move through the Xbox One menu, it’s simpler and quicker to use either voice commands or a controller. “Kinect Sports Rivals” is coming out later this year but Kinect only games shouldn’t be the only reason to require Xbox One owners to have the device. Microsoft needs to finally figure out a way to make the Kinect an innovative tool that can enhance traditional games. Maybe then the “Better with Kinect” slogan on Xbox games will finally mean something. If Microsoft can’t solve this riddle soon, Kinect is something they need to let go of.

    2. Retry ideas you gave up on and put them on Xbox One - Microsoft comes up with some great ideas but often lacks follow through. While Faceplates and the Xbox Live Vision Camera won’t be making a comeback, it would be nice if gamers could actually do something useful with their Avatar, or better yet, play through a truly supported Game Room or enjoy a modernized 1 vs 100 on Xbox One. These and other out of the box ideas should be given serious consideration so the Xbox One can stand out.

    3. Make the Xbox One SmartGlass app useful - The SmartGlass app for Xbox 360 is pretty handy. I can check my Achievements, see what games my friends are playing and even message them. There are also some cool interactive uses for the app with certain games. With “Forza Horizon,” I use SmartGlass on my iPad to see a map of where I’m heading. The Xbox One SmartGlass app has none of the above mentioned features. The only use I’ve been able to determine it has is to make your phone or tablet act as a controller. And since Xbox One owners already have controllers, there’s no point in that. All of the potential uses we’ve seen for SmartGlass on One haven’t been realized.

    4. Clean up the menu and make the system more user friendly - Microsoft has constantly tinkered with its Xbox menu, frequently giving its console different looks (Anyone remember 360 blades?). After years of experimenting, Microsoft finally came up with a solid system on the 360 – sliding tabs gamers can scroll through to find what they’re looking for on the most important headings (Home, Social, Games, TV & Movies, Music, Apps and Settings). Everything is easy to find under each of these categories. Not so on Xbox One. Instead gamers are only given three headings – Pins, Home and Store – and have to search for everything else, leading to lots of questions with unsatisfying answers:

    - How do I delete a game? You’ll have to figure that out because the hard to find Settings tab doesn’t give you any info on that.
    - What about DLC? Do I find it in the same place I found it on Xbox 360? No, you’ll have to search for that too.
    - Where’s my Avatar? He’s not relevant any more so you won’t see him or any of your friends Avatars either.
    - How much hard drive space do I have left? After two months I still haven’t been able to figure that out.
    - What about the Guide button? The Xbox One doesn’t have that.
    - Which voice commands should I use for the Kinect? You’ll have to find a list of those online.
    - How much battery life is left in my wireless controller? Your guess is as good as mine. Oops, you’re controller just died in the middle of a “Call of Duty: Ghosts” multiplayer game.

    I understand Microsoft wanting to differentiate the Xbox 360 and Xbox One – they don’t want gamers to feel like they’ve bought a 2.0 version of their popular 360 console. However, if you’ve taken years to test new features, it make sense to take the things you’ve learned and use them again instead of reinventing the wheel.

    5. Tighten up Xbox Live - One of the most attractive features of the Xbox 360 is its online suite. Playing online is seamless and connecting to friends is quick and easy. The Xbox One is still lacking in this area, sometimes knocking players out of games and occasionally refusing to connect players who want to chat or party together online. In order to keep its rep as the place to play online, Microsoft needs to quickly address its Xbox Live issues on Xbox One.

    6. Dig into Xbox and Xbox 360 classics - Microsoft should take a page out of Nintendo’s playbook and embrace its gaming history by taking classic games from its catalog and making them available to play through download. Not only would Xbox exclusives like “Crackdown,” “The Maw” and early “Halo” games increase the Xbox One’s library of titles, it would also introduce gamers unfamiliar with the Xbox’s history to titles they might have missed out on. Take those games and give them the HD treatment (like the recently released “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition”) and suddenly the Xbox One is loaded with a great library.

    7. Embrace the indie scene - Fair or not, Microsoft is viewed as a stereotypical corporation, only interested in increasing its bottom line. Its treatment of indie games is sighted as an example of this. Once the home for indie developers on console platforms, Microsoft’s rigid rules and pricing structure forced developers to find friendlier places to display their creativity. Slowly pushing the indie menu to the background (there’s not even an indie tab on Xbox One) compounded indie developers frustration.

    If Microsoft embraced indies, letting them be creative, giving them proper tools and allowing them to share their content and make some money, the investment would be returned ten fold. Word of mouth is priceless and the indie scene is full of bright developers who could very well be the next Twisted Pixel. Microsoft has announced that its first wave of Xbox One indie games will be released early this year through its new ID@Xbox self publishing program but if the company continues to restrict indie devs, it’ll only shoot itself in the foot.

    8. Create more connectivity between Xbox 360 and Xbox One - Yeah, I know. I keep suggesting Microsoft port ideas on the 360 to the Xbox One but that’s for a good reason – the 360 has done so many things right. Backwards compatibility will never be reversed, but allowing gamers to import their Xbox Live Arcade library to Xbox One would only encourage gamers to upgrade instead of staying with their older system. And what’s the harm in allowing gamers playing on Xbox One to play multiplayer games with or against Xbox 360 gamers? At this point the only difference in games between the two systems is graphical and it would increase the number of competitors online and allow for a transition between the two consoles.

    The Xbox One is a system with a ton of potential. If Microsoft makes a few tweaks and follows the path set by the success of the Xbox 360, it will certainly live up to gamers’ lofty expectations.

     

  • Denver Comic Con Wants You…To Volunteer

    Thu, January 30, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

    Michael-Rooker-The-Walking-Dead-e1366141611182

    Want a chance to see Michael Rooker (above), Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell and dive deep into the world of comics and pop culture, all for free? The Denver Comic Con is offering you a chance to do just that this summer, if you lend a hand.

    Denver Comic Con announced today it will increase its volunteer force for the event by 300 percent and offer 300 hours of programming, up from last year’s 250 hours. The 3rd annual Denver Comic Con, will be held at the Colorado Convention Center on June 13 – 15, 2014.

    “As much fun as it’s been the first two years, we’re always striving to make Denver Comic Con better,” said Dr. Christina Angel, director, Denver Comic Con, in a press release. “By putting the right people in the right positions we’re streamlining operations, and by adding more panels and speakers we’re delivering a world-class comic con and focusing on some things that set us apart—such as kids’ and under-20 programming.”

    Denver Comic Con is taking applications for volunteers now on the website at http://denvercomiccon.com/dcc/volunteering-welcome, but the volunteer opportunities will be capped at 1,000.

    “We encourage people to get signed up early,” said Beth Kovacs, Denver Comic Con’s volunteer director. “Volunteering with DCC is a lot of fun—our volunteers also have free access to the con the day of their shift—but it’s also a great resume builder for a lot of people. It’s not a surprise that most of the volunteers from years past are returning again for 2014.”

     

  • ‘Transporter The Series’ coming to TNT this fall

    Tue, January 28, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    If you’re a fan of “The Transporter” movie franchise, you’re in luck. “Transporter The Series,” which has already aired its first season in Europe and Canada, is coming to American TV sets on the TNT network.

    TNT will air the first and second seasons of the series, which will make its U.S. television debut on the network in fall 2014. Season two, which is slated to premiere worldwide in late 2014, will go into production Feb. 26, with shooting planned for Morocco, the Czech Republic and Canada.

    “Transporter The Series” stars British actor Chris Vance (pictured above), whose credits include “Prison Break,” “Dexter” and “Burn Notice.”  Vance also has a recurring role on the TNT series “Rizzoli & Isles,” in which he plays Lt. Col. Charles “Casey” Jones.

    For those unfamiliar with the movies, “Transporter The Series” centers on Frank Martin (Vance, taking on Jason Statham’s role from the films), a professional “transporter” paid to pick up and deliver people or cargo from anywhere in the world. Frank is the best at what he does and handles only the most difficult dangerous and assignments. “Transporter The Series” features exotic locations, action and suspense.

     

  • Q&A: Nicole Beharie dishes on ‘Sleepy Hollow’

    Thu, January 23, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Last Friday I sat in on a Fox conference call with “Sleepy Hollow” star Nicole Beharie, who plays Lt. Abbie Mills. Here’s a transcript of the conversation.   

    Q:  Sleepy Hollow has become such a fan favorite very quickly.  What do you think it is about the show that has drawn in so many viewers?

    Nicole: I think the show has managed to strike a nerve with so many people.  I think the success of the show is about the audience.  People are open and ready to take that kind of journey and are looking for the sort of fantastic, but mysterious drama.  I think that the show has a lot of different elements to it and demographics that definitely open it up to a much broader audience.

    But, I think it’s really all about the audience because it is kind of outlandish. We’re all over the place, and you never know which way we’re going to turn.  It’s really the audience’s engagement with us and they’re sort of coming along with the contract that makes the whole thing live.

    Q:  When you started early on in the show, how much of the plotline did you know in advance?  Did you know how it was going to go throughout the season or were you really surprised as you went along?

    Nicole: They gave an outline of the option to know where it’s going.  I just basically asked at the beginning for any information that I needed to know that Abbie would have known like when they’re uncovering gradually things about her past and things like that.  I wanted to know that.  But, as far as what was going to happen with each demonic entity or each monster or each level of fighting the Apocalypse, I didn’t really know that.  I wanted to discover it as we moved along.  I think each writer brought something new.

    So, even when we had an idea of what the next episode was going to be, we had no idea how it would actually come to fruition.  Yes, I didn’t really know.  We had sort of an outline.  But, I couldn’t have imagined for the most part by any means what we ended up doing, what we were starting with.

    And, I have to say from looking at the pilot to now, to the finale, it’s drastically different.  I know after Abbie has grown so much and changed so much.  It’s a drastically different world that we’re living in now.  I love that that everything keeps changing and evolving.

    Q:  Are we going see more of Abbie/Luke and kind of learn more about what went on with them?

    Nicole: I’m not really sure to be totally honest.  I think that there may be more into the two.  But, now with the season finale, we have a lot of massive fish to fry.  But, I think there may be something going on with Luke.  That’s all I can say.

    Q:  What have been your biggest challenges as an actress on the show?

    Nicole: It just happened so fast.  I think we finished a week and a half ago, like two weeks ago and now it’s out there.  As we were shooting, we started in like late July/August and we’ve just been going ever since because we didn’t have much time in between shooting and the air dates.  So, it was just kind of like keeping up with it and staying energetic and really committing to some of the bigger, crazier moments has been a lot of fun.  I think a lot of people are like acting’s so hard.  It’s actually a blast, like that’s a lot of fun.  It’s just the sort of quick pace.  I’ve done a lot of film work and it’s just a little bit slower, you know?

    Q: There’s a lot of pain for the characters in these last two episodes.  I just was wondering do you feel like the writers are setting Season 2 to kind of feel like a departure or are moving into a new direction or what can you kind of tease us in terms of what to look forward to next year?

    Nicole: I feel like the finale in and of itself is the tease.  I feel like you just have to watch it.  I can’t really tease the tease, you know what I mean?  Of the season, I think all I can say is it’s drastically different from where we started, where we’re going.  I don’t think anyone will expect what we uncover.  I know, that’s horrible.

    Q:  Do you feel like Abbie and Ichabod are still on the same side by the end or are we going to see maybe a rift between the two of them?

    Nicole: I definitely think that there are challenges along the way for every character.  I think in the last episode you saw there was a little bit of questioning and even the episode with where they captured the Horseman.  They have their issues.  But, I think for the most part they are on the same side, yes.  We’ve seen that throughout.  I don’t think that part has changed.

    But, there are a lot of tests coming up.  I’ll say that.  So, with tests come those sort of challenges and definitions of what your character, not just the actual acting character, but the character’s character, who they are and what they really stand for, and how much they can actually withstand.  I think we see some of that, and that’s challenging.  If I might add, Tom is really good at all that emotional stuff, too.  It’s beautiful … work in the finale.  It’s really good.

    Q:  A lot of people think that Ichabod and Abbie should be together, but Ichabod’s still waiting for his wife.  So, if you were a viewer and if you weren’t a part of this at all, you’re just kind of watching this, would you root for Ichabod and Abbie or Ichabod and Katrina, because they’re in a weird spot?

    Nicole: It’s hard for me to separate myself as if I weren’t.  I’m not a viewer.  I do this thing every day.  I’m highly invested, you know what I mean?

    I will say those are questions made for really interesting viewing and seeing everyone’s comments and things.  I actually hadn’t really seen people thinking that Ichabod and Abbie would become an item.  I know they have chemistry, but God only knows what happens in the future.

    I know Abbie personally isn’t really thinking that way.  I think that they have a massive job of massive undertaking.  Trying to save the world is a pretty big deal, and try to keep it clean and basically out of trouble.  Flourishing in the modern world is enough.  But, you know, who knows?

    Q: Do you think that a romance on the show – so far, there’s been none, which makes sense.  They’re fighting demons.  You can’t really think about kissing someone when you’re fighting a demon, but –

    Nicole: Right, exactly.  It’s like Sandman shows up and you’re like, “Thanks for saving me!”  Now, it’s like make out.  It’s like no.  And, they move so fast on the show.  By the time you have a moment to blink or bat your lashes, there’s something dragging you through the next portal of doom.  So, it’s like there really isn’t a time for that.  I think he’s been longing for his wife and Abbie cares about him and wants him to be happy.

    But, I think there’s potential that Abbie could have some things going on.  I thinks she’s finding her power.  So, I think with that there may be relationships in the future ….

    Q: I wanted to find out maybe if you could tell us a little bit about the audition process for your role and what that was like for you?

    Nicole: Okay, my audition.  I liked the script and I thought it was outlandish, but fun.  I thought it was intriguing.  So, it was like, “Okay, I don’t know about this.  We’ll see how this goes.”  I had other auditions that I put … of a first priority zone, because I didn’t feel they would cast me in this.

    For some reason, I was just like this doesn’t seem like something I would be cast in.  I’m short.  I’m black.  It’s like that’s kind of like not going to happen.  It’s just not something that we’ve seen before.  So, I was like, “Yeah, sure.  Maybe I’ll go and do this.  But, first let me do these other ones that seem like more practical.”

    Then, it came back around and I just ended up going in for a meeting with the creative team and fell in love with Alex Kurtzman and Len Wiseman, Heather Kadin.  These people are really special, you know, so ….  And, they were telling me everything about their vision of the show and basically, it was a pilot at the time, what they foresaw and how they saw Abbie.

    I was like, “Look, it has to be like this, da, da.”  They were like, “We’re with you.  We’re with you.”  Keep it dry, have fun.  They gave me that path to interpret her as I felt.  Then, I went in for a cast, a test read.  I think it was the very next day I found out I got the job and then had to do a chemistry read with Tom, and that was ….

    Yes, because you have no idea who the person would be because I had only read the Washington Irving piece.  So, I was sort of expecting, even though I read our pilot, our pilot didn’t necessarily mean it was going to be like some attractive, tall Englishman.  I thought he was going to be gangly and nerdy and all this stuff.  I was like, “Okay, I’m going to meet this guy.”  And, I had a vision of him and then Tom walks in.

    I was like, “What the hell is going on?  What’s this?”  But, it was great.  He kept me on my toes and we kind of played a little bit.  I think neither one of us really knew what was going to happen for them, but it’s history now.  So, it was great.

    Q:  You mentioned that John Noble is going to be appearing in the season finale.  I know you guys have worked together before.  I just wanted to find out maybe a little bit about working with John, what that was like on the show so far for you?

    Nicole: Oh, it’s fantastic.  It was like one of my favorite things.  He’s been on Fringe for a while and he’s just like such a breath of fresh air and the voice of reason.  We haven’t done a great deal of television, Tom and I, so he’s just been giving us pointers about what it means to be on a series and … in shows, to sort of finding your legs.  I feel like the timing, him appearing in the world of Sleepy Hollow and just on the set is perfect because we are just starting to really, in my opinion, we’re really starting to find our legs and things are starting to feel really good in these last three episodes.

    So, what better than to have a pro like the kindest, easiest actor to be around?  I mean he really brings it, too.  He really brings it and just keeps the stakes alive and everyone in a really creative place.  So, I think we’re really lucky to have him.

    Q:  You’re saying that they gave you, when you auditioned, some leeway to play Abbie your own way.  I was just wondering how did your version differ from their vision of her.

    Nicole: I think the cool thing is that they were open.  I think that they just wanted to find something that felt real perhaps, but that could also live in the supernatural storytelling version of the show.  So, I guess that’s what I mean.  I think that there are certain ways that things could have been played, you know.  Girls on TV, they want to sex it up.  They want them to look good and all that kind of stuff.

    But, I was just kind of like, “Look, she’s gruff.  She wants to get out of town.  She’s not really too concerned about what anybody thinks because she had like a hard life and she has secrets.”  I think she should have secrets and does have quite a few secrets.  We’ve only, I think in Season 1 sort of chipped some of that off, a little bit of it.  But, I think that there’s potential for more there.  I said with that there’s a certain ground that we can sort of have.

    So, there is comedy, but it comes out in a really sort of dry, dry way.  Even her cynicism in the beginning, I think people at first were a bit like, “Does she like him?  Is she being a b-i-t-c-h?”  It’s like no, it’s just what anyone would do.  It was like “You’re crazy.  I’m committing you.”  So, to play that straight, I think, could have been a risk.  But, I think it also helps ground things and it made it better for it actually.

    Q:  What kind of chemistry do you think you have with Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Jenny?  

    Nicole: I think we have great chemistry.  I think we have great, great chemistry and I think it’s only getting stronger.  We had a ball working on the finale.  We actually did a few things together where by the end of it we were a bit like, “Damn!  We’ve got to wait a few more months to do this again.  It’s starting to get good.”  So, I’m looking forward to us doing it again.  Yes, we’re just having a great time.  She’s really lovely to be with, to be around.

    I’m really fortunate that the writers are creating such a complex backstory for us, for us all.  They’re not just creating complicated emotional themes; it’s going somewhere … that’s going somewhere.  So, there’s a payoff eventually and I think that that’s so worth it. And, you know, you don’t really see, I think, any … really see sister relationships that are on television, like even sibling relationships period that are complicated really.  It’s either like a comedy and they just kind of tease each other and they’re a little different.  But, for it to be so complicated and for them to have to work together and everything, it’s really interesting, you know.

    Q:  Abbie’s seen and gone through a lot of things since the pilot.  How is the Abbie we see in Monday’s finale different or even the same from the person we met thirteen episodes ago?

    Nicole: The sameness – the only things I think are the same are that she knows that she had a larger purpose.  I think in the finale she knew that she had another purpose, but didn’t know what it was.  That’s why she wanted to get out of town.  I think that’s the only thing that’s the same basically.  She knows she has a purpose and she has to sort of serve it.

    The rest of it is like her mind is completely blown open.  She’s done so many things that she could never imagine, seen things that what’s going on in this world sort of underneath our day to day life.  It’s like understanding what you were or what you thought you knew is not actually all that there is.  It’s like a huge thing.  I think it’s a huge theme in the show.

    She’s basically given over to that now, like she’s not cynical.  She is cautious, but she is no longer cynical about what they’re doing.  She’s in it now.  I think now it’s just about serving that purpose.

    I feel like everything has changed, including the ensemble.  I think she started in a cop uniform and then we were in the jeans and now it’s like yoga clothes, and it’s like she’s getting more and more comfortable in her skin and thinking outside the box.  She was just very narrow about the resources that she was willing to use to get answers.  Now, you see her breaking into homes and break the rules and all sorts of things ….

    Q:  This has been a huge year for African Americans in television and film, with yourself and Kerry Washington being featured in prime time roles.  As well as your former colleague, Steve McQueen’s recent award season success, what are your thoughts on these barriers being broken down?

    Nicole: I think it’s a fantastic time.  I feel really lucky to be an actress during this time when people are sort of opening up to having more diversity in their home and just being interested in a lot of different stories.  The one thing I really love about our show is that even though I think it’s one of the most diverse shows on television, not even ethnically, but gender wise.  We don’t even talk about it.  We don’t make it an issue.

    That being said, Steve McQueen is amazing and I’m so happy that he’s been doing well.  Actually, we’re staying in the same hotel right now.  I bumped into him.  I think we’re doing Arsenio tonight at the same time.  So, it’s like the world is getting smaller.  It’s just really nice to see other people that you love and that have opened up opportunities for you doing well.  Yes.

    Q: The show can get pretty dark and some of the story lines, at least to me, have been kind of creepy.  Are any of those kind of things, is there anything on the show that you guys have explored that maybe creeps you out a bit?

    Nicole: For the last episode, the possessions like having something take over your person; because the other ones have been like monsters, you know.  But, the possession thing kind of freaks me out.  You can go on YouTube and see.  I don’t know if they’re real or fake, but you can see videos of like some small Argentinian town or like the video of a possession that someone has – I don’t know whether it’s mental illness or what it could be, but I don’t really want to be around it in real life, like “Nicole wants nothing to do with that.”

    My family is West Indian on my mother’s side and they have a lot of stories about that kind of thing.  They call them … the ghosts.  They call them … and like there’s a lot of at least over Christmas you can sit down and talk about basically ghost stories, but indigenous ghost stories that have been in the family for years and years and years.  It always used to scare me, and possession was one of those things that would come up like somebody, some spirit would take over someone and do something and then they would forget about it.  I’ve always been really kind of freaked out about that.

    Q:  I was just wondering what do you think of all the revisionist kind of history that you feature on the show.  That seems to be kind of an entertaining factor for the audience.

    Nicole: I just think it’s nifty.  The writers are so imaginative.  It just makes for a lot of fun. A lot of people know these stories, some people don’t.  It just gives a little twist to things that we already know, just like we’ve basically done with the Washington Irving story, turning it into something new, or the history of George Washington, or Jefferson, for example.  Just getting a different perspective on it and having a little bit of fun I think is pretty juicy.  And, there’s a lot of mileage in it like you’re going to see in the finale the things that we discover about Washington are definitely worth it.  They may not be true, but then again, it’s fiction.  Who knows if it isn’t true?

  • Preview in Two: Greg Kinnear in “Rake”

    Tue, January 21, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Preview in Two is a new feature on the Pop Culture Blog. Pi2 is a quick preview of an upcoming TV show that you can peruse in about two minutes (I watch the pilots of shows so you don’t have to!). This way, you’ll quickly know whether an upcoming program is worth your time or not. We started off  2014 with “Killer Women” and “Enlisted.”  “Today we’ll take a closer look at the Fox comedy, “Rake.”

    What is it?: ”Rake,” watch the official trailer here.

    Star appeal: Greg Kinnear

    When does it air?: The pilot episode airs Thursday January 23 at 8 p.m. on FOX

    What’s the premise according to a Fox PR rep?: “Rake, a character-driven drama based on the Australian nominee for Best Television Drama series of the same name, follows the comedic and chaotic life of criminal defense lawyer Keegan Deane (Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Greg Kinnear, “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Kennedys”). On a single day, Keegan Deane is described as many things. His ex-wife-calls him “unreliable”; his son calls him a “pal”; most judges think he’s “an outrage”; the IRS calls him a “defendant”; and to his former dealer, he’s simply a “tragic loss.” Brilliant, frustratingly charming and with zero filter, Keegan is one of life’s great addicts.”

    What are the highlights?: If you were a fan of the Fox show “House,” chances are you’ll get a kick out of “Rake” as Kinnear’s Keegan Deane seems to be Dr. Gregory House’s legal doppleganger. Deane is smarmy but can also be smart and charming. Kinnear’s interaction with his therapist ex-wife (played by Miranda Otto) and relationship with his soft hearted friend Ben (John Ortiz) should provide plenty of opportunities for water cooler chatter.

    What are the lowlights? Creator and writer Peter Duncan tried to paint Keegan Deane as a lovable lout but the first episode shows Kinnear as much more lout than lovable. The hour long program spends most of its time making sure viewers know just how despicable Deane is. Throughout the show we see him take advantage of his son, ex-wife, secretary and friends and act like a petulant child when he doesn’t sell a tuna for as much money as he thinks it’s worth (that sounds funny but it really wasn’t). He also drinks too much, has enormous gambling debt and a prostitute girlfriend. None of these flaws I actually have a problem with (I like “Mad Men” ya know) but by the time we get to Deane’s redeeming qualities, there’s only 10 minutes left in the show, and even then he’s not nearly as clever as we hoped he’d eventually display.

    The Grade: (C-): I’ve always enjoyed Greg Kinnear and love the versatility of “that guy” actor John Ortiz. But “Rake’s” first episode focused too much on lawyer Keegan Deane’s faults and lacked the humor and cleverness the trailers for the show promised. I kept waiting for breakout moment where I’d finally find Deane to be funny or sly or interesting or smart but it never really happened. Unless Fox gives viewers a reason to like “Rake,” its future is uncertain.

  • Q&A: Actor Arif S. Kinchen on ‘Saints Row,’ ‘Police Academy’ and the value of mints

    Thu, January 16, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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     I first met Arif S. Kinchen at E3 in Los Angeles last year. It was at an after hours event hosted by video game publisher Bethesda, we were introduced by a mutual friend. The timing couldn’t have been better as I had been tearing through “Saints Row: The Third” before coming to LA and Arif has played the role of Pierce Washington since the franchise started.

    We talked about “Saints Row” and had a great conversation about video games, voice acting, acting in front of a camera and life in general. I’ve kept in touch with Arif since then and with the Gazette’s new Pop Culture blog finally had an opportunity to interview him.

    Last week Arif and I traded emails about his work. A transcript where he talks about how he got his start, the “Saints Row” franchise and gives advice to aspiring voice actors and actors is below.

    Terry Terrones: Tell me a little about your background. Where are you from and when did you first get into acting?
    Arif S. Kinchen: Well Terry, I am one of a select few actors actually from L.A., CA ;) Specifically, Korea Town. And I got into acting 1) because of a cute girl in my 6th grade production of The Music Man and 2) I lucked up getting into the movie House Party when I was a teenager due to good friends from LACHSA (LA County High School for the Arts), and I haven’t looked back.

    TT: You’ve performed in television, films and video games but you’re most well known as a voice actor. Describe a typical day of recording.
    ASK: A typical day is getting my kids to school, making sure my phone and tablet are charged and the studio/location is in my GPS. Sounds funny but that’s really important. Then I get to the studio about 10-30 mins early, see if the copy/script has changed since last night and get settled. Most times I’m in a booth alone facing three or more persons on the other side of the glass, depending on the gig. I’ve had up to 10 people looking at me for a Pepsi gig. Can you say #NowImNervous;)? More often than not I’m alone in the booth. But sessions like Saints Row 3 & 4, Am/Pm and Dead Rising 3 allowed for a multi person collaborative experience. And some solitary ADR (pickup/add stuff in) sessions later. Also ADR sessions like 12 Years A Slave and 8 Mile absolutely require multiple people in your session to emulate “Real Life” experiences.

    TT: Was getting into voice acting something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it by accident?
    ASK: I used to mimic my favorite characters from TV growing up. I think my mind shifted when I heard Michael Winslow in Police Academy though. It made me aware that I could do “things” with my voice. Then I met James Avery and I told him I wish I could do cartoons. He said, “You’ve got a great voice, go find a VO agent.” So I did. I’ve been with Sutton, Barth and Vennari Talent Agency since December 1996.

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    TT: Did you get a bunch of work as an actor right away or was it a more gradual process?
    ASK: Ups and Downs and Marathon’esque is how I describe my climb. It was “Accelerated’ly Slow” getting here.

    TT: In your opinion, what makes for a good voice actor?
    ASK: Stability, stamina, improv, light-heartedness, be able to act and the gift to LISTEN! Plus mints, because you’re in peoples faces. ;)

    TT:  Are we reaching a point where gaming is becoming more like movies and TV? As an industry vet with experience in so many mediums is this what you’re seeing or does it just appear that way to outsiders?
    ASK: The tide IS shifting and the lines are becoming more blurred! No film or TV show doesn’t have an online component ala twitter, Instagram feeds and YouTube. Plus people are getting TV shows because of social Media. So digital has kicked traditional media in the nuts ;) Now with that being said, due to the fragility of the traditional media market, a lot of the talent that would’ve been at the forefront of this generations TV film, animation and such have gone to the call of the new frontier – video games, CGI and NuOldeTv ala steaming services and deals (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc). So without the constraints of having to kinda stay in the box and express the visions anyway they want, plus the rendering capabilities and the talent pool of actors, producers and artists that can see what video games mean to people, it’s easy to believe and see why the Video Game World is taking over. Plus, if your games are made, the viewers experience is different every time you play (or at least a little bit different), so more bang for the consumers’ wallet.

    TT: One of the roles you’re most associated with is Pierce Washington from the Saints Row franchise. There are things Pierce says and does that are pretty wild. Do you ever come across dialogue or actions that your character does that makes you uncomfortable?
    ASK:  Yes, in regards to Zimos at the gimp races in Enter The Dominatrix and calling those nice establishments #FreckleBishes ; )

    TT: How did you get the role of Pierce Washington?
    ASK:  Auditioned + Douglass Carrigan + God’s Grace = me getting Pierce Washington

    TT:  Aside from Pierce, what other characters have you enjoyed playing over the years?
    ASK: Professor Rocket on Crashbox, Lil Dee in The Wash, The Booty Jeans song on Sym-Bionic Titan, being Marlow Briggs, the NEWEST guy RED from Dead Rising 3 and ALL the characters I portrayed in The Suffering: The Ties That Bind

    TT: Actress Katee Sackhoff recently stated she’d love to play Harley Quinn in the new Superman/Batman movie and would like to get into the Star Wars reboot. What other types of roles, whether acting or voice acting, would you like to be a part of?
    ASK:  What she said :) I really want to get on Almost Human, The Crazy Ones, The next Marvel property, anything Transformers related, a season on The Cleveland Show, a TellTale Games project (not Game Of Thrones) and anything with Team Ninja or Naughty Dog.

    TT: Time to give some career advice. If someone wanted to get into voice acting, what advice would you give? What about film or TV acting?
    ASK:  For VO, I’d say WHY? Because most people want to do it because they think it’s EASY, and they make all their friends laugh, “When I talk like Jar Jar Binks.” And that sucks. VO is the same amount of cerebral and, sometimes physical, prep (if you do motion capture) plus you gotta really be able to act because NO ONE sees your face! Traditionally, your face helps you convey your intent, humor and passion, right? (LOL LOL LOL)  For on camera w/a hint of VO, I’d recommend they get ready for more “No” than “Yes” as you begin your journey. Most times your talent has nothing to do with why you didn’t book the job. There are scenarios that you can’t fathom that prevent you from getting the gig. I know, in my heart of hearts that more often than not “your audition today is for your job tomorrow and beyond.” So, stay levelheaded, don’t cuss out casting directors or actors, and take classes. If you’re an amazing actor, you can still learn something ; ) If you’re in school (college/high school) take a theatre class, at the very least. In closing, have fun.

  • Q&A: Actress Tricia Helfer talks ‘Killer Women’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’

    Wed, January 15, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Ask any sci-fi fan about “Number Six” and the first thing that pops into their mind won’t be a number. Instead you’ll hear them wax rhapsodic about the seductive, dangerous and manipulative Cylon from “Battlestar Galactica” named Number Six, a role popularized by model and actress Tricia Helfer.

    Helfer has long since moved on from Battlestar, playing special agents, lawyers, FBI agents and doing voice over work for video games. In her latest role, Helfer stars as Texas Ranger Molly Parker on ABC’s “Killer Women.” Recently I had a chance to talk to Ms. Helfer about her new series, her charity and even a little BSG. All while I was consistently coughing in her ear because of a cold.

    Terry Terrones: Tell me about Killer Women. What about it drew you to the role of Molly Parker?
    Tricia Helfer: When I first read the script I just loved the character immediately. I thought she was multi-layered – she’s strong, she’s smart, she’s tough but she’s also got a quirky and vulnerable side and she’s hiding a secret. She just seemed like a really fun character to play and I liked the script because it didn’t take itself too seriously. It’s light, it’s fun and it’s a bit stylized. It’s a procedural but it’s got a bit of cheekiness to it. I’ve come off some dark, heavy things so I was looking for something a little lighter and fun.

    TT: Is that “cheekiness” something we’re going to see more of? It felt like it struggled to come across during the pilot.
    TH:  I said “cheekiness” because you’re right, it’s a little hard to put your finger on what the right word is. The one thing I think new shows struggle with is coming up with exactly the right tone. If you’re trying to have a procedural that is a little fun but has some heart to it, how much of each do you put in? I think throughout the season, as most shows normally do, it will find its flow.

    TT: You bring up a good point. Sometimes with TV pilots, they’ll grab you right away and other times a show takes awhile to find its footing. I think there is humor in “Killer Women” but do you think people are missing that?
    TH: I think that’s what we’re trying for. I saw someone compare it (“Killer Women”) to FX’s “The Bridge and I was thinking that all because two shows are set in similar locations doesn’t mean you can compare the two. I watch “The Bridge” and I love the show but it’s completely different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. That show is extremely dark and serious and our show is not trying to be that at all. There’s some heart to it and there’s some serious issues – we talk about domestic violence and there’s action – but I’d agree with you that there’s so much on TV right now that it’s hard to survive long enough to have an audience find you that does get it and does enjoy it. So far I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from fans via Twitter who loved the first episode and can’t wait for the next episode. Hopefully we do find an audience who gets the quirkiness that we’re trying to put on it.

    TT: For those who haven’t seen the show, tell them what they’re missing.
    TH: I think it’s just a fun ride. There are strong female characters without being overly dramatic. Molly is a kick butt character. I think she’s relatable to women because she’s not just a one-note chick who’s tough and can take anybody. It’s not like she’s invincible. Sometimes we see a physically strong female character and it’s almost laughable how they can take anybody. We’re not playing Molly as if she’s infallible. And with the angle on the female killers, I think we have a unique take. I just think the show is different and there just isn’t anything else out there like it right now. And that can hurt us or it can help us, if it finds its audience. It’s just hard to place it in a category but I like that about it.

    TT: Can a show be fun but also have a positive message about women in the workplace as well?
    TH: I think so. But I don’t think the show is about beating people over the head about being a feminist or anything like that. I think it’s more about a cop procedural that’s trying to have a bit of fun and has a strong female character. I don’t think it’s about feminism as much because that’s going down a more serious path.

    TT: Give us a teaser for the rest of the season. What can viewers expect the rest of the way?
    TH: The first couple of episodes are a bit more on the procedural side. The relationships start getting delved into a bit more mid-season. You’ll see the ex-husband a bit more and Molly’s brother Billy, played by Michael Trucco, has a secret he’s dealing with and that’s going to really start to take center stage near the last episodes. By episode seven we find out what that is and by episode eight it’s really about what he’s gotten himself into as opposed to the “murder of the week” type thing. So the first part of the season is a bit more “murder of the week” and the second half is more about relationships.

    TT: As you just mentioned, your former Battlestar co-star Michael Trucco is on the show and I know you’re good friends with another BSG alum, Katee Sackhoff. Is there any chance we’ll see her or any other BSG alums guest star on “Killer Women?”
    TH: Not in the first season. For episode three both Michael and I recommended Katee for a role but she wasn’t available but we do have some other great guests coming in. If we went another season I’m sure some would pop up but in the first season we don’t have any other Battlestar actors.

    TT: Speaking of BSG, chances are for the rest of your career you’re going to be associated with “Battlestar Galactica” and the role of Number Six. Is that a blessing, a curse or a little of both?
    TH: I think it’s completely a blessing. It was my first series and I couldn’t have gotten luckier with the group of people I was able to work with. I think Battlestar is something that continues to live on because it continues to find a new generation of audiences and I think it is a show that will continue to do that. I don’t have anything bad to say about it because I don’t look like Number Six anymore. I mean Number Six is me but unless I dyed my hair platinum and walk around in a red dress I don’t even get recognized really from the show. I certainly don’t walk into a casting directors office and have them go, “You can’t play anything else other than a robot.” (laughing) and I’ve gone on to play lawyers, FBI agents, Texas Rangers, mothers and wives. If my hair was still that white, then that maybe it would be a problem but by the second season my hair started falling out in chunks and I had to wear a wig. That was a little limiting when I had to wear the white hair, that hair color only works for robots, rock singers or strippers (laughing). But no, I’ve never thought of it as a hindrance at all it’s only been good for me.

    TT: You and Katee have a charity called Acting Outlaws and you sell a calendar as a fundraiser for it. Can you tell me a little more about the organization?
    TH: Katee and I started this a few years ago because we’re really good friends, love motorbike riding and the culture around it and we want to give back. We both do on our own individually but we started talking and decided to make a company that’s just us. We do charity rides and are about to put out a release on what we’re doing in terms of rides in 2014. We’re starting off with the Tulip Ride out of Seattle that benefits the Humane Society and the Red Cross. And we’re doing one around Sturgis in the summer and we’re looking to do one in the fall in Los Angeles. Our biggest thing we’ve done to date is probably the La La Ride documentary that we’ve done to help raise awareness of the continued clean up of the Gulf spill a couple years ago. We filmed that and made a documentary available on our website that’s available for download. It’s something that we have fun doing and its something that we can do to help raise awareness of different causes and a little money to help people out.

    TT: Thank you so much for your time. I hope “Killer Women” does well for you and it was a pleasure talking to you.
    TH: Thank you, you as well. And get over that cold.

  • Colorado Springs resident to appear on ‘The Price is Right’

    Sun, January 12, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Late last week The Gazette was informed that Colorado Springs resident Susan Mancini will be a contestant on the CBS game show, “The Price is Right.” We’re not sure of the results of Ms. Mancini’s appearance but you can cheer her on when her episode airs this Friday at 10 a.m..

     

  • Preview in Two: Fox’s “Enlisted”

    Thu, January 9, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Preview in Two is a new feature on the Pop Culture Blog. Pi2 is a quick preview of an upcoming TV show that you can peruse in about two minutes (I watch the pilots of shows so you don’t have to!). This way, you’ll quickly know whether an upcoming program is worth your time or not. We started off  2014 with ABC’s “Killer Women.” Today we’ll take a closer look at Fox’s military comedy, “Enlisted.”

    What is it?: “Enlisted,” watch the official trailer here.

    Star appeal: Geoff Stults and “that guy” actor Keith David

    When does it air?: The pilot episode airs Friday January 10 at 8:30 p.m. on FOX

    What’s the premise according to an ABC PR rep?: “A military-set family comedy, Enlisted centers on three brothers on a small Florida Army post and the group of misfits who surround them. Charming, funny and a natural-born leader, Staff Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) was on a path for a huge military career until one mistake overseas got him booted stateside to Fort McGee, the post where his two younger brothers – Corporal Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell) and Private Randy Hill (Parker Young) are stationed. Now, as their platoon sergeant, Pete must serve both as big brother and military boss.”

    What are the highlights?: Most movies or TV shows that feature the Army are serious in tone so it’s nice to see a military comedy. As someone who has previously served in the armed forces, I know it’s a world with plenty of opportunities for humor. When the comedy in “Enlisted” works, it has a “Private Benjamin-y” feel, with a gang of goofballs getting away with various hijinx. There were several chuckle inducing one liners in the pilot, most of them courtesy of the underrated Geoff Stults and the always reliable Keith David.

    What are the lowlights? There are a number of times when “Enlisted” crosses the line from “Private Benjamin” fun to “Police Academy” stupidity. Much of that has to do with cast. The men in Pete Hill’s platoon are straight out of Nerd Casting 101. There’s the two heavy set guys, the crazy person everyone is afraid of, the over the hill clueless guy and the nerd who looks like John Cochrane from “Survivor.” The Hill brothers don’t fare much better. One is a lazy, disobedient bitterman and the other has a Forest Gump level IQ. Aside from Stults and David, there just aren’t many likable characters. At least not yet.

    The Grade: (B-): “Enlisted” elicited some laughs. If developed properly, I could see it being a military version of “The Office,” with goofy characters who shine brightest in brief moments. But during the pilot, this show was too full of cliches and stereotypes and had out of place moments of cheesiness that should have best been saved for when we’ve gotten to know the characters better. “Enlisted” doesn’t make the best first impression but it has potential.

     

  • “Masters of Sex” calendar and DVD giveaway

    Mon, January 6, 2014 by Terry Terrones with no comments

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    Who wants some free stuff? You do, of course! And I’m here to provide. As part of my job as The Gazette media columnist I have access to TV shows before they come out. These shows are called “screeners.” Now most of the time these screeners are only viewable online on a special media only website. However, some networks will send me discs of shows to view and sometimes (rarely) those discs come with promotional materials.

    For the TV show “Masters of Sex,” Showtime sent me a promotional calendar and DVDs with all 12 episodes of season one. I was sent this sometime in September but I wasn’t comfortable giving it away until the show’s first season has ended. Now it can be all yours. Here’s what you’ll get:

    - An artfully decorated calendar that goes from Sept 2013 to August 2014 and has a little dirt on the cover because I’m kinda messy

    - Info on the cast and the production process

    - A set of DVDs that contain all the episodes of the “Masters of Sex” season one

    The pic at the top of this post is of the cover and one of the screener discs. More pics are at the bottom of this post. Don’t let the title of this show fool you though, none of the pictures in this calendar are risque. They look like pics taken right off the set of “Mad Men” so they’re very classy. The content on the discs however is a different story. But if you don’t know what this show is about don’t bother trying to win.

    So how do you win this cool prize, anyway? Easy, just comment on this post and tell me why you deserve it. You can comment as many times as you like but writing multiple posts DOES NOT increase your chances of winning. One random winner will be drawn Wednesday afternoon and I’ll update this post to announce who the lucky winner is around 4pm-ish. If you live in Colorado Springs you can pick up your prize at the new downtown Gazette office on Thursday. If you live out of town I’ll mail it to you.

    Now, a couple quick things about how I do contests. I’ve been giving stuff away on Twitter for years and there are things people will do that force me to drop the ban hammer. So here are my contest rules: 1) Keep it clean. If you curse you’re automatically eliminated. 2) Be a good sport. If you lose, be classy. Nobody likes a complainer. 3) A sense of humor is always a good thing. 4) My winners are always selected RANDOMLY. Don’t get bummed if you don’t win. 5) Don’t ask questions in the comments section. I don’t have time to read them. My instructions are simple enough and if you don’t read them you have no one but yourself to blame for misunderstanding the rules. 6) If you don’t like how I giveaway or award prizes, don’t feel obligated to enter. Simply stated, just follow Wheaton’s Law and you’ll be fine.

    Sorry if that last paragraph was a bit of a downer but it needed to be written. The anonymity of online personalities sometimes brings out the worst in people. Okay, now that that’s out of the way. Let’s get to it.

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     UPDATE:  Congrats Daniel Nguyen! You’re the winner! Email me at terry.terrones@gazette.com.