12.19.2007

Why the second season of "Heroes" was so lame

The Cheese Fry was a big fan of NBC's "Heroes" when it debuted last season. What initially seemed to be some half-baked X-Men rip-off turned out to be engaging and smartly produced. It was deservedly a breakout hit. While ABC's similarly mythic show "Lost" was getting bogged down in tedious subplots and red-herring tangents that took the narrative one step forward and two steps back, "Heroes" moved at a relatively breakneck pace, packing in more twists and cliffhangers and revelations in a single episode than "Lost" mustered in a whole season.

Which is why the second season of "Heroes" was such a huge letdown. It was a mess and you know it. Even creator Tim Kring knows it.

Here's the reasons.

* Rehashed elements. Season one involved one character getting a horrifying glimpse at a future apocalypse (the "exploding man") that destroyed New York City. Season two went to the same exact well, only this time the future apocalypse was a man-made plague so it's, you know, completely different.

* Not playing fair. As abbreviated and anticlimactic as the season one finale may have been, there was real power in the shocking twist that seemingly killed both Nathan and Peter Petrelli. Network TV shows don't do that sort of thing, which is why it was so unexpected and... real. But here in season two, Nathan and Peter are back in action. And the show did very little to explain how exactly Peter survived being the cause of an explosion that lit up the Manhattan night sky. Then again, even if the show did work harder to explain it, we wouldn't be buying it. Shades of Bobby Ewing in the shower: Nathan and Peter survived for the simple reason that they're popular characters. Further points must be deducted by introducing the idea that Claire's blood can regenerate anyone, even someone shot in the face. Now apparently no one can die, which further undermines any genuine worry we may feel for these characters' safety.

* Too much Hiro. His cutesy broken-English and sad-sack romanticism gets real old real quick. Season two inexplicably spent weeks and weeks on Hiro's boring visit to feudal Japan. Moments after the Cheese Fry saw Hiro meet his beloved hero Kensei and realize Kensai was a loser drunk, this entire subplot was immediately apparent: Hiro must show the hero how to be a hero. Which is exactly how it all played out. Very very slowly. No curveball, no twists. Audiences don't like to connect the dots that quickly. It's boring.

* Horrible new characters. By the Cheese Fry's count, season two was 2-6 in the new character department. The troubled immortality of Kensei/Adam Monroe was certainly interesting, but the show waited until the last couple of weeks to really explore him (and how seeing hundreds of years of human cruelty had warped him) in any detail and so everything felt rushed and clumsy. Maybe it's just the plucky charm of Kristen Bell, but there was also something likewise intriguing about her character, the petulant and lonely Elle. The other four new characters, however, ranged from the dull (muscle mimic Monica - cool power poorly utilized) to the derivative (evil nerd Bob) to the infuriatingly pointless (twins Maya and Alejandro). Maya may be the most annoyingly gullible, dim-witted, and whiny character ever put in a prime-time TV show without being intended to come across as annoyingly gullible, dim-witted, and whiny. The Cheese Fry hates her.

* Narrative confusion. Can someone explain to us what the hell exactly was going on with the virus and the cure and all that? A bunch of mumbo jumbo.

* Narrative volume. There's epic and then there's bloated. This season tried to cram in too many characters, too many subplots, too much intrigue. Try watching an episode of "Heroes" with someone unfamiliar with the show and see how convoluted and ridiculous it all sounds as you try to explain the characters and their backstories.

* Mohinder. We'd like to apologize to Maya. Mohinder Suresh is the most annoyingly gullible, dim-witted, and whiny character ever put in a prime-time TV show. We can only hope that his character will die a most painful death as quickly as possible. Perhaps we can throw him to the Sarlaac.

* Using amnesia as a plot device. This is never a good thing. Ever.

Knee-jerk review: "I Am Legend"

1. There are two movies here. One - about what it means to be the last man alive as Will Smith ekes out a lonely existence and seems to be losing his grip on sanity - is pretty fresh and interesting. The other - about fighting (and surviving) a zombie plague and seeking a cure - is one we've seen before.
2. In fact, the makers of 28 Days Later could have a plagiarism case here. There are that many similarities. Had that film not been made, I Am Legend would probably be a lot more memorable.
3. Will Smith is the man. If you were making an A-list action thriller, who would you cast in the lead to insure a slam-dunk? Nowadays, there's Will Smith and there's Matt Damon. That's about it. Maybe Tom Cruise. And the fact that we're saying "maybe" to Tom Cruise says a lot about how his fortune has changed.
4. The movie toys with the suggestion that some of the zombies, er, "infected mutants" have developed an intelligence, but it never really follows through.
5. The panicked, cruel evacuation of Manhattan is vividly portrayed here, but - again - there's a sense that we've seen it all before.
6. Film's best sequence probably is the one that involves a little strip of sunlight slowly shrinking.
7. How does Smith's character - who's all alone - manage to install a high-tech containment lab in his basement and install all of those steel barricades on his windows?
8. It's hard to believe a mutated virus could create some of these symptoms, like being so susceptible to UV light that your skin burns, or growing big long fangs, or having a stretchy mouth that looks an awful lot like CGI effects.
9. Is it worth a look? Yes. Will you want to ever see it again? Probably not.

12.13.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Enchanted"

1. Exceedingly cute and charming. It's been a long time since there's been a hilarious comedy this... well, pleasant. The great comedies of the last year or so have been either edgy (Little Miss Sunshine), raunchy (Superbad), or just plain twisted (Borat). Enchanted throws in a few requisite gross-out gags, but for the most part it's all very PG.
2. Much has been made of Amy Adams' breakout performance here as Princess Giselle. What you've heard is all true. She lights up a film frame like Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan once did. Some may wonder if Adams is just playing herself since both Giselle and her Oscar-nominated role in Junebug are so similar: the wide-eyed ingenue innocent. But the Cheese Fry suspects she's got more layers than that.
3. The big dragon ending may have been too much, but if you have Susan Sarandon playing your villain, you probably should give her something to do at the end.
4. The premise is pure genius. One of those ideas that seems so obvious you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. What happens when a Disney princess comes to our world and realizes the real world is no fairy tale?
5. That Disney was the one to poke fun at those cliches earns them bonus points. Although, as some critics have suggested, this good-natured deconstruction of the familiar Baby Boomer Disney movie is also lovingly rendered in such a way that the film also honors that tradition. Yes, "happily ever after" is cheesy, but don't we all also sort of long for it?
6. The little chipmunk Pip steals the movie.
7. That narrator may sound familiar. Can you recognize the voice? No fair peeking.
8. Old screenwriting rules suggest every great movie needs at least three memorable set pieces, the kind of thing audiences remember long after they leave the theater. This one has two huge ones that probably count as three. One is Giselle's clean-up of Patrick Dempsey's apartment. Two is the showstopper musical in Central Park. Instant classics.
9. James Marsden's always seems a little wooden and dim, traits that serve him perfectly here as Prince Edward.
10. You're seeing a new Disney franchise being born. Maybe they don't need Pixar after all.

12.10.2007

Knee-jerk review: "The Mist"

1. Writer-director Frank Darabont has certainly carved out an odd niche for himself. He's written and directed four feature films and three are Stephen King adaptations, including this one. The best, obviously, is The Shawshank Redemption. But you knew already knew that, right?
2. It's a good movie, but it never quite becomes a "great" movie. Or even a "pretty good" movie.
3. What the heck happened to Thomas Jane's career? It all looked so promising for him back in 1999 when he was the star of the deeply strange, steroid-shark thriller Deep Blue Sea. He's got a stoic and steely charm about him that's not unlike Steve McQueen. If they ever remake Bullitt - and they probably will/are - Jane's the guy.
4. You may have heard about the ending. Yes, it's different from the original Stephen King novella, but not necessarily better. Whereas the novella ended on a note of hopeful ambiguity, the movie answers all of the questions and offers up a very depressing twist moments before the fade-out. At first it feels like a real sucker punch, a cinematic middle finger offered to the audience for no good reason other than it's "cool" to do it to us. A twist for twist's sake, much like the dark and pointless ending of The Departed. But upon further review, Darabont may actually be onto something. If the story is all about faith and hope in the face of tragedy and certain death, then the ending undeniably suggests what can go wrong if one stops holding out hope.
5. Marcia Gay Harden's always great, even if she's stuck here with the stereotypical religious kook role that's so prevalent in King's stories.
6. The mist refugees, all huddled up in that supermarket, display a curious lack of preparation and foresight. They know something's out there, they have hours and hours to prepare... and when the creatures attack, these people run around like the Keystone Kops. It's the kind of phony moment that creates exciting action and suspense in the story (i.e. someone catches on fire and no one knows where the extinguishers are), but does so at the expense of logic and plausibility.
7. Best part of the movie is Toby Jones as bagger Ollie.
8. Points must be deducted for the blatant Aliens rip-off involving cocooned people.
9. Additional points must be deducted for stooping to explain the mist with one of the most cliched and tired excuses possible. It might have been cool and intriguing back in 1990, before "The X-Files" debuted on Fox.

11.11.2007

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose

Via the very-readable film/TV criticism blog The House Next Door comes a great posting by Joan O'Connell Hedman who ponders some possible reasons for the continued struggles of NBC's Friday Night Lights.

This is the best drama on television. This statement is true even with this season's rather obvious attempts to expand its audience base by making it more of a traditional prime-time soap (e.g. road trip to Mexico! dead body in the river!). Even with that tinkering this remains a tough show to categorize, a fact that is clearly driving the NBC promotions department crazy. Everyone agrees it's a good show, but how to get good ratings? This isn't a slick, violent, high-concept police procedural like CSI or an over-the-top, wink-wink dramedy like Desperate Housewives.

Friday Night Lights may be a little too gritty and real in its depiction of everyday life. Yes, there are some uncomfortable and painful truths, but there's also some poignant and uplifting triumphs. But you'll never know unless you try it.

11.04.2007

New TV season three-word reviews

* "Survivor: China" - Still enjoyably addictive
* "ER" - Time to cancel
* "Friday Night Lights" - Soapier but solid
* "Bionic Woman" - Gilmores meets Alias
* "The Office" - Getting much sillier
* "Heroes" - Losing my patience
* "30 Rock" - Deserved the Emmy
* "Desperate Housewives" - Regaining its glory
* The Bachelor" - Shameful and embarrasing
* "Kid Nation" - Clever but icky

Knee-jerk review: "Dan in Real Life"

1. Funniest line of the movie: "This corn is like an angel."
2. There's been much ado in the reviews and PR about the film's use of a single songwriter - Sondre Lerche - to provide the music, with some applauding the bold decision and others complaining the songs are too heavy-handed. Truth be told, the songs really doesn't have much of an impact either way. They're just some nice background filler.
3. It is possible: Dane Cook can dial down his self-satisfied mugging and deliver an understated performance if he so chooses.
4. John Mahoney's looking old.
5. Steve Carrell's most naturalistic role yet and he hits a home run.
6. A tough film to market. More a warm, sweet romantic comedy than the sort of broad, profane, high-concept comedies that have been so popular lately. Hopefully word of mouth will get audiences into theaters.
7. Nice to see a big extended family that actually, you know, gets along and enjoys each other. No one in this film is dysfunctional in the brash, exaggerated way Hollywood movies families typically are.
8. And for those of us who don't come from the East Coast, there's something incredibly soothing and attractive about the rural Rhode Island setting of this movie. All flannel and fleece, sprawling lake houses, and fall colors. It's like a J. Crew catalog, only wthout the snooty condescension. You want to be there with the characters.
9. We'd probably pick Juliette Binoche over Emily Blunt, too. But it's close.
10. A good reminder of how satisfying a movie can be if you really, truly care about the characters. All of the characters.

10.28.2007

The New England Patriots Must Be Stopped

Lo, there was a time when The Cheese Fry was an unapologetic New England Patriot fan.

What wasn't to like in the early 2000s as the Patriots won their first Superbowl in 2001 in the shadow of 9/11 on the arm of an unknown quarterback (Tom Brady) and the leg of a clutch kicker (Adam Vinatieri)? Unbeknownst to those of us watching, that victory sowed the seeds for a powerful NFL dynasty. New England won two more Superbowls in 2003 and 2004, a streak unprecedented in this new era of NFL free agency. Before the Patriots began their roll, analysts liked to say the days of the Steelers/49ers/Cowboys dominance were over. Indeed, the Dallas Cowboys were systematically dismantled in the mid-1990s as its Superbowl teams were raided by free agent defections. Maintaining a good team year in and year out was virtually impossible; player turnover was just too high. So they all said. But the Patriots kept finding a way.

Verily, in the early- to mid-2000s it was fun to root for the Patriots. Why?
1. Tom Brady was as mild-mannered a recluse as Peyton Manning was an extroverted media darling, making Brady seem refreshingly no-nonsense and all-business. He didn't appear in stupid TV commercials like Manning. Instead, Brady spent his time winning Superbowls.
2. The Patriots had no real history of winning, so this was an entirely new experience for them (and for the viewers at home). Remember, as late as 2002 or so, the Patriots were still sort of playing the role of underdogs. They weren't a glittery, premier franchise like Green Bay or Dallas or New York.
3. Coach Bill Belichick was known for being some kind of coaching android, able to dissect an opposing team like a thorasic surgeon to expose vulnerable weaknesses. You wished he coached for your team.
4. There was also something very blue collar about the Patriots: players didn't earn big contracts in New England; in fact, they took pay cuts to stay. Those who dared to ask for more money, like CB Ty Law or WR Deion Branch found themselves shown the door.

And so it has come to pass, that almost midway through the 2007 NFL season, the Patriots look unstoppable. Adding a new corps of capable receivers in he 2007 off-season has at last given Brady a fleet of able targets. And he's good enough to use them - give him enough time and he'll find the open man. Especially if there's five men trying to get open. This team is like a franchise Terminator, sent from the future to win another Superbowl.

But enough is enough.

The Cheese Fry is off the Patriots bandwagon. And we're trying to find a way to break its axles and slash, no, steal its tires. Why?

1. The cheating scandal. This is where it all started to come apart. Belichick's staff was caught videotaping Jets defensive signals at a game earlier this season. Supposedly, this practice - though expressly forbidden by the NFL - is somewhat common. But it was the Patriots who got caught. Naturally, people started to wonder how long they'd been doing this and what sort of edge it provided. What role did this kind of cheating have on those three Lombardi trophies? Such speculation angered Patriots players and coaches to no end. Which brings us to...

2. Belichick is kind of an asshole. When questioned about the scandal by reporters, Bill Belichick stubbornly refused to comment. And he refused to comment with a smugly unashamed tone to his voice that made The Cheese Fry want great harm to come to him. This was a major scandal and Belichick was acting like his staff was just caught out past curfew. You'd think a coach would want to say something about what had happened, how he understood it might tarnish the whole team, how he regretted it, how he wished it hadn't happened, how he wanted to reassure fans he ran a clean outfit of the utmost integrity. Just some lame PR babble would have sufficed. But instead, he only wanted to talk about the next game. He's oh so above it all.

3. Running up the scores. Here's where things get interesting. Apparently, those who dared to besmudge the great invincible powers of the Patriots Dynasty were beneath contempt. Players, especially LB Tedy Bruschi, huffed and puffed about how awful it was to suggest their Superbowls were somehow tainted by the cheating scandal. This rage may be getting vented on the football field. The Patriots seem to be a mission to punish other teams and Make a Point. In the waning minutes of the Cowboys game, backup RB Kyle Eckel runs in a touchdown with 20 seconds to go, making the final score 48-27. And today, up 45-0 on the Redskins, the Patriots are still trying to score. And so they do with backup QB Matt Cassell scrambling for the endzone as if the fate of the game hung in the balance. This isn't the BCS, Belichick, and you're not LSU. Yes, it's a fine line between running up the score and ensuring victory in a league where every team can win on "any given Sunday." But like pornography, we know it when we see it. And today, we saw it. Utterly classless. Even in the waning minutes of the game, with the score 52-7, the Patriots were running pass plays. Luckily, NFL teams have a long memory - hopefully there will come a day when Belichick gets a taste of his own medicine. Wonder if he'll have a comment about that.

4. Tom Brady is kind of a louse. We'll keep this simple: when you get a girl pregnant and then leave her and the baby, you lose points. You lose additional points when you leave impregnated Hot Actress to hook up with Hot Model. Very dickish. Say it ain't so, Tom.

5. Dynasties are no fun. At this point, no one seems capable of stopping New England. Maybe Indianapolis, maybe Pittsburgh. Everyone else is playing for sloppy seconds. One wonders why we don't just call the whole thing off, hand them the Superbowl trophy now, and give us some free time to go read a book or take up pottery. Some talk of the good old days when the Steelers ruled the 70s, the 49ers the 80s, the Cowboys the 90s. But those dynasties weren't like this Patriot juggernaut. The Cheese Fry enjoyed cheering the Cowboys to three Superbowls in the 1990s (it's fun to have a winning hometown team), but the road to those Superbowls were tough. Every game was a question mark. Emmit Smith once played with a dislocated shoulder in a final regular season game to make sure the Cowboys beat the Giants to win the NFC East. These 2007 Patriots, by contrast, are cakewalking. There's no dislocated Patriot shoulder in the immediate future for anyone, it seems. Unless you live in Boston, it ain't fun.

6. False humility is almost worse than justifiable arrogance. Following the Washington stomping, WR Wes Welker gave a post-game interview in which he actually said Washington has a good defense. Is he serious? He's referring to the defense that just gave up 52 points, right? Who the hell does he think he's kidding? Such phony sentiments somehow make all of this even more infuriating. Yes, we'd be mad if Welker said "Clearly, their defense really sucked and we enjoyed riding them like $10 whores," but at least it would seem honest.

7. Belichick's ridiculous sideline hoodie. This was a charming idiosyncracy back in 2001. Now it's just pathetic.

And so, we say unto you, that The Cheese Fry is irrevocably revoking its support of the New England Patriots. We ask you to do the same. Perhaps together, our hatred and anger can give Tom Brady a sprained elbow or at least allow Randy Moss to become the irrational jackass locker-room cancer we all know he can be.

This team must be stopped if mankind is to survive.

Some delicious children's breakfast cereals

* Honeycomb (Post)
* Trix (General Mills)
* Frosted Flakes (Kellogg's)
* Apple Jacks (Kellogg's)
* Lucky Charms (General Mills)
* Cinnamon Toast Crunch (General Mills)
* Trix (General Mills)
* Froot Loops (Kellogg's)
* Cocoa Pebbles (Post)

Scariest 10 movies

1. The Blair Witch Project - An ingeniously simple concept (three teens get lost in the woods while chasing a witch legend) spoiled by hype that made it impossible for the film to ever live up to its reputation. The scares here come from what isn't seen, such as the main characters fleeing into the dark woods surrounded by mysterious noises that may be chasing them.
2. Night of the Living Dead - The grainy rawness of director George Romero's low budget approach makes it all the more terrifying as a group of strangers huddle in an isolated farmhouse to escape the army of undead outside. A watershed film that spawned an entire sub-genre of pop culture (see #6 below).
3. The Ring - Usually Hollywood can't be trusted to remake a foreign film, but this is the exception. Exporting a strange "J-horror" premise (you die seven days after seeing a weird haunted videotape) gives the film an unexpected freshness that makes it impossible to predict how it's all going to turn out. The weird music is just the cherry on the cake.
4. The Omen (1976 original) - Many prefer that other tale of superatural childhood evil, The Exorcist, but that movie's too intellectual and, frankly, rather boring in the first half. It's like sour medicine: you know it's good for you, but it's not that much fun. The Omen, however, is the tasty junk food, delivering big scares start to finish.
5. The Others - Many lumped this in with The Sixth Sense because of the fashionable Big Twist Ending That Changes Everything, but this is a much scarier, much creepier movie because of the old-school Gothic ghost story elements: the rambling house full of shadows and lanterns, the question of what's real and what isn't (including the sanity of a brittle Nicole Kidman). Good stuff.
6. Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake) - A peerless updating of the zombie genre. A bigger budget allows for more action, better zombie effects, and a better cast (yes, Ving Rhames is always good, but the revelation here is Jake Weber). Director Zach Snyder stuck to the Romero playbook...
7. 28 Days Later - ...while director Danny Boyle reimagined the Romero template by making the monsters "infected" rather than "undead" and, of course, by making them sprint like terrifying Olympic relay runners. Points must be deducted for a muddled and anticlimactic third act, but the first hour is so strong and scary that we can overlook any shortfalls.
8. Hostel - Unfairly labeled as worthless "torture porn," this does what any good horror film does: take society's fears to the extreme. Here we get a murky Internet rumor come to life as our hapless characters stumble onto an Eastern European black market snuff ring. It's scary because you imagine such a thing is possible.
9. The Shining - The cold dread of this movie, filling the empty rooms of the massive Overlook Hotel, is almost palpable. So many of the small touches can still give one goosebumps, such as little Danny Torrance suddenly seeing the ghosts of two dead twin girls. The Cheese Fry is freaked out just typing that.
10. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 1974 original) - Like #2, the cheap grit of this low-budget film gives everything a sweaty newsreel immediacy (i.e. "oh my god, this is really happening"). And because it's filled with unknown faces, you have no one of predicting who - if anyone - will survive. The godfather of the many teen slasher movies (FYI, the best of the 1980s: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the quintessential slasher movie).

Knee-jerk review: "Michael Clayton"

1. This is a movie that makes you work. It takes about 30 minutes to piece everything together and figure out who's doing what to who and why. While it's nice that the filmmakers so clearly trust the audience to be intelligent, a little bit of narrative hand-holding would have helped.
2. We're also not convinced the confusing flashforward prologue was 100% necessary.
3. A plausibly complex look at big-money machinations of corporate lawyers, their multi-millionaire clients, and the class-action lawsuits that brings them together in an ugly symbiosis of profits and self-delusions.
4. An outstanding cast that clearly relishes the A-level dialogue supplied here by writer-director Tom Gilroy.
5. George Clooney may not be a movie star who can open films just be the virtue of his being in them (this one's struggling a bit at the box office), but the guy knows how to pick projects. If he's got anything to do with a film, chances are it will be a good one. Even better, chances are it will be an interesting one. Clooney's more than willing to use his power to make unconventional films. Looking back on his career, the only real dud is 2003's Intolerable Cruelty.
6. The murder that happens here is unusually chilling in that it happens so simply and matter-of-factly. It doesn't take much at all to end someone's life.
7. There's something strangely attractive about Tilda Swinton. Or is it just us?
8. Love the satisfying ending, even if it disappointingly relies on one of the more creaky of thriller cliches.
9. Very very good, but not quite as great as it could have been.

10.16.2007

Cassette tape rewind: Sophomore year (part 2)

Back to the fall of 1987 and the Cheese Fry's 10th grade hell of senior pranks (please don't ask about the "I ride the bus" sign) and secret crushes. Billboard Issue date: October 17, 1987.

1. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam "Lost in Emotion" - This actually made to #1? Go figure. Whatever happened to Lisa Lisa? And why the two names? She was probably a little too similar to Paula Abdul for her own good back in the day. Same sort of baby-girl voice and exotic ethnic look. A catchy song without question with a dreamy steel drum/marimba vibe.

2. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince "U Got the Look" - A truly great song, even with the rather dated lyrics "Your body's jammin'/Your body's heck-a-slammin'." When Prince is on his game, the guy is a genius.

3. Europe "Carrie" - Ouch. Among the worst of the hair-band 1980s power ballads. That's one musical trend that's particularly embarrassing for Generation X. But the Cheese Fry never liked this song. Seriously.

4. Michael Jackson "Bad" - I think we can all agree that Jackson peaked with Thriller. "Your butt is mine"? Eww.

5. Madonna "Causing a Commotion" - Catchy dance pop song, neither here nor there.

6. Whitesnake "Here I Go Again" - Among the best of the hair-band 1980s power ballads. I've got my cigarette lighter up.

7. Heart "Who Will You Run To" - The Cheese Fry definitely had a thing for guitarist/singer Nancy Wilson. She's the skinny blonde sister, not the pudgy brunette sister. Good stuff.

8. Levert "Casanova" - Hmm, this sounds familiar, yes. But can't remember the melody. Or the lyrics. Or what Levert looks like.

9. John Mellencamp "Paper in Fire" - Solid Mellencampian rural twangy rock. It aged nicely. The Cheese Fry wasn't a fan of the song when it was on the radio, but now it's definitely in the oldie-but-goodie category.

10. Bananarama "I Heard a Rumor" - Among the best dance pop songs of the 1980s. It's essentially perfect. A sonic masterpiece of fluff.

11. Tiffany "I Think We're Alone Now" - Cough-guilty pleasure-cough.

12. Expose "Let Me Be the One" - A fun song, but if Expose's songs were never played again, you'd probably never notice.

13. Fleetwood Mac "Little Lies" - Part of that little mid-80s hiccup of Fleetwood Mac renaissance. The darkly odd "Big Love" is the better song.

14. Billy Idol "Mony Mony" - One of those utterly annoying songs that top 40 radio played the all-hell-crap out of. Couldn't stand this stupid-ass song in 1987, can't stand it now. Even worse: the Thomas Jefferson H.S. drill team performed this as one of their numbers so the Cheese Fry had to actually play this song in marching band. Oh the humanity.

15. Whitney Houston "Didn't We Almost Have It All" - Yawn.

Knee-jerk review: Drew Carey on "The Price Is Right"

1. The good news is that while the set's got an upgrade (don't worry, it's still ridiculously garish), the overall feel of the show remains exactly the same as the Barker era. That includes the iconic handheld wand microphone.
2. Drew Carey is certainly having a good time, it seems, especially the way he's willing to share a laugh with the contestant...
3. ...but he also seems a little nervous. Fidgety. He keeps dipping one hand into his coat pocket where he keeps the "actual retail price" for the contestants' row bids.
4. He certainly lacks the effortlessly smooth polish of Bob Barker. Doing several thousand shows can probably takes some of the edges off.
5. Carey also misses a chance to pay respect to Barker. Introducing a game called Barker's Bargain Barn, Carey tries to make a joke and say it's named after the founder of the show Ezekial Barker. It's almost like Roger Moore giving Sean Connery the finger. A weird moment.
6. CBS hired Carey to pursue a younger audience. We'll have to wait and see if it works.

10.10.2007

Top 10 "Gilligan's Island" episodes

1. The one with the active volcano that the Professor hopes to seal up using a gourd bomb with a bamboo timer. (“Operation: Steam Heat”)
2. The one with the experimental robot the castaways train to walk all the way to Hawaii underwater. (“Gilligan’s Living Doll”)
3. The one where the castaways eat vegetables grown from radioactive seeds, giving them supernatural powers – Lovey gets double-time energy from beets, Gilligan gets superhero strength from spinach, Mary Ann gets incredible eyesight from carrots. (“Pass the Vegetables Please”)
4. The one where the big radioactive meteor crashes on the island and the Professor rigs up those weird all-silver suits so he, the Skipper, and Gilligan can investigate. (“Meet the Meteor”)
5. The one where Gilligan’s hunted by big-game hunter Jonathan Kincaid ala “The Most Dangerous Game.” (“The Hunter”)
6. The one with the ancient stone tablets that show a secret way off the island. The best episode button in the series: when the castaways realize Gilligan’s had the last missing tablet piece all along - using it as a serving tray - he’s so excited that he drops and breaks it into a million pieces. Fade out. Classic. (“The Secret of Gilligan’s Island”)
7. The one where Gilligan falls asleep when he’s supposed to be keeping an eye on the castaways’ precious oranges (The Professor: “Those tiki torches must stay lit!”). (“V for Vitamins”)
8. The one where Gilligan knocks some burning logs out of whack so an orbiting pair of astronauts see a message on the island reading S.O.L., not S.O.S. (“Splashdown”)
9. The one where Gilligan’s likeness appears at the top of a headhunter totem pole. Ever notice how many headhunter tribes there were in that part of the Pacific? (“High Man on the Totem Pole”)
10. The one where a mad scientist uses a mad-scientist-type contraption to switch the castaways’ personalities. Perhaps the most ridiculous episode in a ridiculous television series – shamelessly implausible. (“The Friendly Physician”)

10.04.2007

Knee-jerk Round-up

The Kingdom
1. An interesting movie in that it tries to have it both ways - inciting some simple-minded, anti-Arab American bloodlust with the shoot-em-up gunfights while also suggesting that the Middle East situation is, like, you know, complex with by daring to show the Saudis are people, too. The action movie meets the arthouse drama. It doesn't quite succeed at either. But you have to give it points to trying.
2. The Cheese Fry isn't sure what the big deal is with Jennifer Garner.
3. No way they surive that alleyway ambush. Seriously.
4. Chris Cooper always gives an interesting performance.
5. Inside joke: Jamie Foxx gives an onscreen shout-out to his real hometown of Terrell, Texas. Yee haw, y'all.
6. Clever bit: you can always spot a bombmaker because he's missing fingers.
7. Nice set-up and pay-off with the lollipops.
8. Don't you wish in the real world someone would insult the U.S. Attorney General like that?

The Brave One
1. That one scene in the cafeteria with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard is worth the price of admission. Brilliantly written, directed, acted. One of those great scenes where what they're talking about isn't what they're really talking about.
2 Nicky Katt's always fun to watch.
3. Not exactly sure what point this movie is making about vigilantism. It may destroy your psychic soul, but some thugs deserve it anyway? Don't try this at home because it's bad, but have a good time watching someone else do it?
4. The ending pretty much goes off the rail and undermines a lot of what we've known about the two main characters. Disappointing. Going or the big catharsis whether it makes logical sense or not.
5. It may be flawed, but the movie's better and more intelligent than most films. Jodie Foster - with the exception of 2005's unfortunate Flightplan - knows how to pick projects.
6. "I want my dog back." Cheesy, predictable, eye-rolling money line. And very effective.
7. The brutal attack that starts the movie is very tough to watch. We get it, the bad guys are bad and deserve Jodie's wrath. Enough is enough. Have mercy on us, director Neil Jordan.
8. Come on, seriously? Jodie Foster's occupation is a talk show commentator?! Yeah, that's an everyman sort of job. No one in movies are ever databasemanagers or air condition repairmen.

3:10 to Yuma
1. One of the best movies of the year. Oscar worthy, people. For real.
2. The ending may stretch credibility in some ways, but as a Cheese Fry colleague noted, you really do have to look at it as myth or melodrama. This is a big story of Good and Evil told on a big, sprawling canvas. It's not a documentary.
3. Russell Crowe is very good. But Christian Bale is even better - and he's got the less showy role.
4. Get thee to a cinema and see it.

The Invasion
1. If you want to make a zombie movie, make a zombie movie. Don't be ashamed. Don't dress it up as a pod person movie. You're not fooling anyone.
2. We've seen all of this before - and done much better. Case in point: the projectile vomiting of the infected, which is a steal from 28 Days Later.
3. There's something... plastic about Nicole Kidman. And she's getting more and more plastic as the years go by, it seems. The charming humanity of Moulin Rouge is but a distant memory these days.
4. Naturally, the cure to the "invasion" is in the blood of our heroine's son thanks to a rare disease. And her ex-husband is a bigwig at the CDC. Yeah, it's that kind of movie.
5. For about 10 minutes, the film gives you a hint of what it could have been as Nicole Kidman must try to "pass" as a pod person (quietly assisted by other secretly uninfected humans who are "passing") among crowds of pop people by showing no emotion. Truly terrifying.

Sunshine
* All you need to know if this: for the first 3/4 of the movie, this is the kind of smart, suspenseful, plausible science fiction movie they just don't make anymore. It's just this side of brilliant...
* ...and then the wheels come completely off in the final 20 minutes with such unexpected suddenness that you're left completely stunned. Did that just happen? It's a terrible thing to do to a good movie.
* Cillian Murphy is too feminine and weird-looking to be a good guy. You keep figuring he'll snap and kill everyone.

8.26.2007

Top 10 "Brady Bunch" Episodes

1. The one with the cursed Hawaiian tiki, Greg's surfing wipe-out, and the spider crawling on Peter. ("Pass the Tabu")
2. The one where everyone covers for Peter's crime of breaking a vase. Mom always said don't play ball in the house. ("Confessions Confessions")
3. The one where the kids sing "Keep On" and "It's A Sunshine Day" in matching outfits and with choreography for a TV talent show. ("Amateur Nite")
4. The one where Peter tries to defend lisping Cindy against the taunts of nerdy bully Buddy, who says "baby talk baby talk, it's a wonder you can walk." ("A Fistful of Reasons")
5. The one where Marcia gets smacked in the nose with a football and her date dumps her. Oh, my nose! ("The Subject Was Noses")
6. The one where Cindy can only bring one parent to her school play. What kind of sick school is this? ("Eenie Meenie Mommy Daddy")
7. The one where Marcia's slumber party gets cancelled because a horrible picture she drew of George Washington is mistaken as a caricature of her teacher, which gets her in trouble with the principal. Considering she's a straight-A student, it's awful how, like, no one believes Marcia when she says she's innocent. What kind of sick school is this? ("The Slumber Caper")
8. The one where Carol gets taken to court over a fender-bender and Mike saves the day by throwing his briefcase on the floor and proving the plaintiff is faking his injury. ("The Fender Benders")
9. The one where Bobby's inexplicably obsessed with Jesse James and Mike manages to track down someone whose parents were killed by James. What a show off. ("Bobby's Hero")
10. The one where the rival high school jock uses Marcia to get a chance to steal Greg's playbook. Only in 1973... on television. ("Quarterback Sneak")

Cassette tape rewind: Sophomore year

When The Cheese Fry was but a tater tot entering the 10th grade in the fall of 1987 and considering such topics as Algebra II and Economics, the following songs were on the Billboard Hot 100. The soundtrack of Generation X, whether on MTV or your local Kiss-FM radio station. Issue date: August 29, 1987.

1. Los Lobos "La Bamba" - Here's a song no one's likely clamoring to hear again. They played it a whole lot on the radio. But it sure came in handy in Spanish class when you had to recite a Spanish poem from memory. Mr. Hidalgo let us use this song.

2. Madonna "Who's That Girl" - Forgettable song from a forgettable movie.

3. Richard Marx "Don't Mean Nothing" - There's undeniably a guilty pleasure aspect to the repertoire of Mr. Marx's cheesy college-creative-writing-class lyrics, "tender" sensibility, and perfectly arranged power chords. This was his first hit; his prom power ballads ("Hold Onto the Night" and "Right Here Waiting") hadn't yet invaded our culture. "Don't Mean Nothing" is his most interesting song, cynically exploring the many ways that Hollywood screws artists over.

4. Suzanne Vega "Luka" - We can all agree that this is an Important Song, but do you really want to ever hear it again? The radio played the hell out of this. Luka lives on the second floor, upstairs from you, perhaps you've seen him before. Yadda yadda. We get it. And in hindsight, it's really pretentious.

5. Debbie Gibson "Only In My Dreams" - Textbook 1980s bubble-gum pop, all synthesizers and drum machines.

6. Michael Jackson "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" - Kind of hard to enjoy Michael Jackson music these days (exception: "Thriller" and "Billie Jean") knowing What We Know Now.

7. The Whispers "Rock Steady" - The first surprise of the list, one of those catchy R&B funk songs that you forgot how much you liked until someone reminds you of it. "And we begin to rock (dee-deeee) steady... steady rockin' all night long." Good stuff.

8. Whitney Houston "Didn't We Almost Have It All" - Typical Whitney ballad. Boring verses, great chorus. Whatever.

9. Starship "It's Not Over (Til It's Over)" - Seriously?

10. Dan Hill and Vonda Shepard "Can't We Try" - Very VH1.

11. U2 "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - The only song on this list considered today to be a classic. Those guys are the real deal, it seems. The perfect song representative of The Joshua Tree.

12. Dionne Warwink "Love Power" - We don't remember it, either.

13. George Michael "I Want Your Sex" - If you were going to put a 1980s mix tape in a time capsule, this song would have to be on it. So tame now, but it created a firestorm of controversy when it first hit the airwaves. And the jingle-jangle, woodblock backbeat still seems fresh.

14. Huey Lewis and the News "Doing It All For My Baby" - We all know Huey Lewis plateaued with the Sports LP. But an argument could be made for "Hip to Be Square." Maybe.

15. Whitesnake "Here I Go Again" - Hell yeah. Make the devil horns! One of the few on the list that could easily go back into heavy rotation on the radio.

Knee-jerk review: "Superbad"

1. One word: McLovin.
2. Jonah Hill's Seth may be the more aggressively wise-cracking character (think Vince Vaughn as a high school loser), but it's the quietly stammering drollness of Michael Cera's Seth that carries the movie. He's hilarious.
3. Dig those opening credits, baby. Bonus points for the retro 1970s Columbia Pictures logo.
4. Though Judd Apatow didn't direct this film, it's definitely got his R-rated sensibility. Like this summer's Knocked Up, which Apatow did direct, the language here is exceedingly profane. The f-bombs (and c-bombs - since when did that supplant the d-word to describe the prime male reproductive organ?) come fast and furious to the point that it goes from distracting to annoying. Do high school kids really talk like this? They sure didn't in the late 80s.
5. The middle of the movie drags. You really want the guys to make it to the house party already to find out what happens with the girls they're pursuing.
6. But the real problem with the middle of the movie are the cop characters played by Seth Roger and Bill Hader. They're funny, yes, but they belong in another film. They're every bit as cartoony and over-the-top as Seth and Evan are realistic and utterly plausible. This is a movie with some serious tonal problems. Just because something's funny doesn't mean it belongs in the movie.
7. Extra credit to the filmmakers for making Jules an unexpected teetotaler, even if it feels rather implausible.
8. After all the gross-out humor and explicit gutter talk, the ending is surprising sweet and earnest. The last scene involving an escalator is especially satisfying as our heroes finally consider the possibility of a future in which one's best friend is someone of the opposite gender.
9. Let's say it one more time: McLovin.

8.12.2007

Knee-jerk review: "The Bourne Ultimatum"

1. Jason Bourne is a bad ass. End of story.
2. Director Paul Greengrass demands our complete attention. He also delivered 2004's locomotive The Bourne Supremacy (which surely influenced the decision to strip down the James Bond character in Casino Royale) and 2006's harrowing United 93. This guy has the goods.
3. Poetic symmetry in the way this film ends with a watery shot reminiscent of the beginning of the first film, 2002's The Bourne Supremacy.
4. David Strathairn is always a pleasure. Even when he's stuck barking all those cheesy spy-movie dialogue cliches.
5. Considering the non-stop action, the film is curiously bloodless. Less so, it seems, than the first two films. Yet a quick check of IMDB surprisingly confirms that all three films received a PG-13 rating. The Bourne Ultimatum is all car crashes and fistfights and footchases. One shooting death, one death by explosion. That's just about it for extreme violence. Which serves as a reminder than blood splatters and noisy special-effect
squibs aren't always necessary to create satisfying action.
6. Instant classic sequence: Bourne trying desperately to shepherd to safety Paddy Considine's reporter in a crowded train station packed with assassins and agents. (Note to self: always follow Bourne's instructions. To the letter.)
7. The Cheese Fry has never been a big Julia Stiles fan, but she looks nice here. Really nice.
8. Nothing good was ever code-named "blackbriar."
9. That Bourne was brainwashed and turned into an assassin is sort of expected... how he "commits to the program" is a shock.
10. Albert Finney is looking old, people.
11. Go see it.

7.22.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Live Free or Die Hard"

1. That's a pretty lame title.
2. But this is a pretty kick-ass movie.
3. With the possible exception of Harrison Ford in his Indiana Jones prime, no actor can take a beating quite like Bruce Willis. It never takes long for Willis' John McClane to get bruised and bloody and covered in a film of sweat and grease. He always seems to be just barely hanging on...
4. ...then again, the McClane character has by now proven to be wholly indestructible. There's no hopelessly dead-end situation that he can't somehow manage to wriggle out of at the last possible moment (see also: "jumping off a high-rise building tied to a fire hose" and "using an ejector seat to avoid hand grenades"). With this film in particular there's a clear connection to the 1930s cliffhanger serials. You know he'll get out of it - you're just not always sure how.
5. Maggie Q is exceedingly hot, just in case there was any debate.
6. It's hard to remember a movie with this many scenes of people typing on computer keyboards and staring into computer screens with colorful, sleek graphics that only exist in Hollywood movies.
7. Here's how The Cheese Fry rates the Die Hard movies: 1) 1988's perfect Die Hard, 2) 2007's Live Free or Die Hard, 3) 1990's over-the-top Die Hard 2, and 4) 1995's abominable and essentially unwatchable Die Hard with a Vengeance.
8. The PG-13 rating feels a bit awkward, what with the many bloodless shooting deaths and the clumsy use of "jerkoff" as a curse word. It's a wonder McClane's trademark "yippe-ki-yay" line got to stay in.
9. The action scenes here certainly do strain credulity at times (note the spectacular but silly truck/plane fight or the SUV-in-an-elevator-shaft sequence), but this is without question the best pure action film since Casino Royale. And much of it is fairly cleverly plotted, one move ricocheting into another and spinning things out of control.
10. Justin Long, the guy from the PC/Mac ads, is much better than you'd expect as McClane's reluctant sidekick. He fares much better than Samuel L. Jackson did as the sidekick in Die Hard with a Vengeance.

7.15.2007

"So You Think You Can Dance" shagging odds

Jaimie and Hok, 3:1
Sabra and Dominic, 5:2
Sara and Pasha, 6:1
Lacey and Kameron, 10:1
Lauren and Neil, 30:1
Anya and Danny, 500:1

Knee-jerk review: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

1. It's fun to see Gary Oldman channeling his considerable thespian energy into playing a heroic character like Sirius Black. He is the man.
2. This is a pretty dark movie.
3. Yes, Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge steals the whole movie, her sweet smiles and cheery sing-song voice hiding some very scary, very fascist aspirations. This story is a product of post-9/11 jackboot politics, with the Ministry of Magic suggesting that anyone who dares disagree with its myopic, misguided policies is "disloyal."
4. A close runner-up to Staunton is Evanna Lynch's creepily oddball character Luna Lovegood. She's hilarious.
5. For the uninitated, there's quite a bit of dialogue and backstory that can get pretty confusing, especially in the first 15 minutes or so.
6. How cool would it be if Patronus Charms were real and you could use them to whack pretentious snob jackasses who text-messages during a movie like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Whoever you are, Mr. Porkpie-Hat-and-Plain-White-T, be glad I'm not a wizard.
7. Alan Rickman seems to enjoy the brooding character of Severus Snape.
8. The Cheese Fry, as uninformed as it may be when it comes to the Potter universe, still maintains that it's very possible that Voldemort is Harry Potter's father, a la Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
9. Emma Watson isn't legal yet (she's 17), so stop thinking what you're thinking.
10. The ending gets a little bit protracted with all of the swooshing special effect sparks and lightning and clouds, though it is invigorating to see Harry and his classmates band together to fight the bad guys.
11. In a world that's so consistently creative and clever, there's a tired quality to this business about Harry's mind being invaded by Voldemort. Been there, done that.
12. Harry gets the best line of the movie as Dolores Umbridge meets her fate.
13. What does Harry see in Cho Chang?
14. All in all, not as entertaining and magical as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but still solid.

6.12.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Ocean's Thirteen"

1. Is it Ocean's 13 or Ocean's Thirteen?
2. A lot of what happens in the movie just doesn't make a lot of logical sense. You just have to go with it. If the filmmakers say some chemical doo-dad that Matt Damon's character wears will make the Ellen Barkin character swoon with unquenchable lust, so be it. But it often goes beyond that. There's also a lot of plot points here that hinge on happenstance that simply could not have been predicted or planned for, not even by seasoned con men like this.
3. The movie's a lot of fun, but very long. We really didn't need the Mexican worker strike.
4. No matter how many times The Cheese Fry saw Brad Pitt and Matt Damon talk in the TV spots about how "the nose plays," it's still damn funny. And you know what? The nose does play.
5. Two very funny Oprah Winfrey gags.
6. With their silky smiles and perfectly-fitted designer wardrobe, George Clooner and Brad Pitt make it all seem so effortless. Bastards.
7. The cinematography - it's director Steven Soderbergh working as his own DP under the psuedonym Peter Andrews - is spectacular, all strange contrasting colors and lights. It's like looking at paintings.
8. Ellen Barkin's great, true, but we could have used a few more women.
9. The premise, you have to admit, is very clever: instead of stealing from a casino, the boys rig the games so that the house loses, thereby punishing the very tan bad guy Al Pacino.
10. The Don Cheadle as the Robby Knievel-style daredevil bit didn't work.
11. The mug shot morphing that happened in that same scene, however, did work. Hilarious.
12. In the end, this is a movie with charm and style to burn. The epitome of cool. And so the film's chief strength is also its chief weakness - it's all sizzle and no steak. These aren't characters so much as chess pieces to be moved here and there to wow us with the film's narrative gymnastics. The pleasure doesn't come from worrying if Danny Ocean and his ever expanding crew will succeed. They're so ridiculously unflappable that success is essentially a given. The only pleasure to be had instead comes from seeing how this mousetrap contraption - which consists of a great many moving parts (did we mention the diamond necklaces that also have to be stolen?) - will work together.

Cootie Queens and Lint Lickers

Following in the footsteps of Mac vs. PC ("I'm a Mac." "And I'm a PC.") and the Geico cavemen comes another ingeniously oddball commercial that demands repeat viewing.

We're talking, of course, about Orbit Gum's campaign to suggest that its gum is so refreshing that it will clean the dirtiest of mouths. The dirt-eating secretary was funny, yes, but the grand prize surely goes to a spot called "The Affair." You can find it here, here, and here.

Funniest Lines from "The Affair"1. "Who are you calling a cootie queen? You lint-licker!"
2. "Stinky McStink Face."
3. "What the French, toast?"

4. "Pickle you kumquat!"
5. "You Hoboken."

6.10.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Knocked Up"

1. Not as consistently hilarious as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but very funny nonetheless.
2. This probably won't make her a bankable movie star just yet, but Katherine Heigl's definitely well on her way. She's very funny and likable. If anyone could inspire a pothead loser to turn his life around, it'd be her.
3. An added benefit: remembering the late, great, one-season TV shows of director Judd Apatow "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared." Much of the Knocked Up cast worked on one of those (or both).
4. The Cheese Fry has obtained real-world confirmation that for (some) women adultery indeed isn't as grave a crime as lying to one's wife in order to sneak off for a fantasy baseball draft. Incredible but true.
5. Paul Rudd continues to be underrated. Possible best line of the movie: "You look like a cholo dressed up for Easter." Possible runner up: "There are five different kinds of chairs in this hotel room."
6. Who knew Leslie Mann could be this great?
7. Ben's right: who genuinely likes Steely Dan? Who even knows a Steely Dan song?
8. Is that really how you get pink eye? Gross.
9. We bet the "missing gynecologist" sequence feels a little too scary and real, doesn't it, new parents and soon-to-be new parents?
10. There's one quick cutaway shot here that you won't believe.

5.27.2007

Knee-jerk review: "28 Weeks Later"

1. The term "kick ass" comes to mind.
2. Now that's what the Cheese Fry calls a kiss of death. When you see the movie, you'll know.
3. Remember that technically these folks are not zombies - they're infected with the rage virus. There is a difference.
4. The director - Juan Carlos Fresnadillo - is definitely someone to watch. This is a movie with lots of energy and style. Fresnadillo shoots many of the action scenes here with shaky, claustrophobic close-ups that makes it impossible to know how close the threats are to the characters (i.e. you're always worried that something bad's looming just out of the frame). This is particularly true of the harrowing opening sequence.
5. But even a satisfying movie like this doesn't always play fair - one major plot point requires that an important and potentially dangerous character be left completely unattended by the authorities in a way that is wholly implausible. Oh well.
6. It's nice to see Jeremy Renner play a good guy. His specialty is usually sweaty, duplicitous punks.
7. The subway night-vision sequence is, shall we say, intense.
8. Yes, one can definitely read this as an allegory of the war in Iraq as the American military in trying to help repopulate England A) puts into place a deeply flawed (and in some ways not very well thought out) occupation plan that backfires in horrible ways and B) ultimately must destroy a city in order to "save" it.
9. The film's better than 28 Days Later, which unfortuately suffered from an awkward, plodding third act involving that military detachment.

Top 6 Lucky Charms (c. 1989)

In order of most to least magically delicious.

1. Green clovers
2. Yellow moons
3. Pink hearts
4. Blue diamonds
5. Orange stars
6. Purple horeshoes

5.24.2007

Things you probably didn’t know about “The Price Is Right”

* There are people who camp out all night on the filthy sidewalks of Fairfax Avenue just to be assured of a seat. Tents, sleeping bags, ice chests... it's like a Yosemite campground out there. Rumor has it that the line can sometimes be 20 people long at 8pm the night before. At 2:00am, it can be 180 people long.

* The studio (Studio 33, a.k.a. the Bob Barker Studio) seats about 350 people. And yes, it looks much smaller than it does on television. Tiny, in fact. Part of the reason is that the studio's seating is so flat rather than raked. It's like a shoe box.

* Show announcer Rich Fields waves his left arm as he's reading the plugs, urging the audience to clap for the "items up for bid" and the pricing game prizes. He'll also walk out on stage during a pricing game and make an exaggarated "what do you think?" gesture to encourage everyone to start shouting help to the contestants.

* Your hands will get tired from all the clapping. And then you realize you're clapping for an ugly wall clock.

* Each contestant is indeed "interviewed" in the loosest sense of the word prior to show taping. To work through 300 people like this takes about 2 hours. You're set up police line-up style in groups of 12 or so and forced to chat with an unctious contestant coordinator who's equal parts used car salesman and standup comic. After working down the line saying hello and asking a couple of questions, you're dismissed and he confers with his cohort about who made the cut. But with 300 people and only 9 possible slots, the odds ain't so good.

* You know how the contestants on stage will always bend over and peer out at the audience for help like some kind of mental patient? They're trying to see around all the cameras and crew. That stage is tiny enough as it is, but during the show it's crammed full of three big video cameras and maybe 10 crew people. The only empty space is what's in the shot. From the audience you can sometimes barely see the game being played.

* Once a prize is shown on camera and the camera cuts away, stagehands are already wheeling it off. That includes the pricing games. This is probably why the contestants sometimes ask "What kind of car is it?" The doors have already closed on the car in question so the stagehands can start setting up the next game.

* If you're sitting on the left side of the audience, can’t see the showcase turntable where the two final contestants stand and Bob wraps up the show with his "spayed and neutered" line.

* Because the audience is going so nuts at the top of the show - it's hard to even know for sure that the show's started they've got everyone whipped up into such a noisy frenzy - as Rich Fields calls the first four contestants' name, they also hold up with signs with the names spelled out so you can see it if you don't hear it. By the way, during this part of the show, you don't stand up unless your name is called. That's apparently an official rule.

* Before the showcase, Rich and Bob specifically ask the audience to "ooh" and "ahh" over the showcase prizes, rather than simply clap. Weird.

* Between games, when the taping's paused and Bob's talking to the audience and taking questions, a big curtain drops down right in front of contestants' row so no one can see the next game being set up on stage.

* The studio seats aren’t bad – worn red canvas, like what you’d find in an old movie theater.

* A sample of the Barker wit during the commerical "stop downs." Question: "What kind of drink do you like?" Bob: "What have you got?" Question: "What will you miss most when you retire?" Bob: "My money." Question: "Will you sign my shirt?" Bob: "I can't sign your shirt - I’m working here!"

* It's a long and complicated process to sit in the audience. At around 6am, they start handing out pink "Order of Arrival" paper tickets, which are numbered. Then at 7:30am you bring those tickets with you inside CBS to a big holding pen outside the studio. It's covered like a shed. Long benches. Once you're in the shed, they line you up in order of your pink tickets. 1-1-50 over there, 51-100 over here... And slowly now the pages work their way through those lines and, using a black marker, write a number on your actual CBS "Price Is Right" ticket. When this happens you turn in your pink ticket. (The pink ticket seems to be a needless element in the process - why not write on the actual ticket to begin with out on Fairfax?) Now you're free again to leave, but you must come back to the shed at 10:30am. At that point you cannot leave the CBS lot. You're stuck. Speeches are given about the rules and procedures. And then the pages start working their way down the long lines again - everyone's still lined up in order - giving out blue cards with a number and a space to write your name. Then the pages come through again a half hour later and hand out the yellow price tag name badge sticker. By now it's 12:30pm. And then the interviews begin (see above).

* CBS refuses to ever guarantee you a seat. That said, the pages will tell you that getting the iconic yellow price tag name sticker just about “seals the deal.”

* The CBS gift shop - available in the shed to contestants while they wait - is lame. It's just about as lame as the three shelves and two clothes racks that make up the NBC gift shop available to audience members of "The Tonight Show." The networks are missing a prime market here.

* You really do have to witness for yourself the intense cult of Bob Barker to truly appreciate the devotion middle Americans have for this guy.

* Yes, they have one of those old-school applause signs hanging in front of the stage.

* For a moment before someone turns up the sound effect, the Big Wheel's arrow just click-clacks in a very plastic and uninspiring way. But the "dings" of a bid popping up come through loud and clear every time.

* You have to provide a picture ID and a Social Security number to be eligible to be a contestant. And if you actually win a prize, you have 30 days to produce a copy of your actual Social Security card.

* Some enterprising character rents plastic chairs to the all-nighters lined up on Fairfax. Five bucks a chair. Their stack of chairs is about 12 feet tall. Do the math.

* Contestants must use the left-hand stairs to get up on stage because that's the direction the cameras are pointing.

5.19.2007

Hollywood Feuds

ScreenGrab lists the top ten Hollywood off-camera feuds. Who knew Burt Reynolds knocked a director unconscious? Part 1 and part 2.

What they don't want you to know

The Hot Button's David Poland offers up an interesting list of ten things the Hollywood Studios don't want anyone to know about the business side of filmmaking. Numbers 1-5 and Numbers 6-10.

Knee-jerk review: "Spiderman 3"

1. Remember how the Batman movies started to suck when the filmmakers started cramming in too many villains? Same thing here.
2. That opening fight between the New Goblin and Spiderman could have been truly amazing if it were a little easier to follow what was happening. With the camera's unending swoops and swirls and spins, you're lucky if you can tell which way is up, much less understand the action. If they'd locked the camera down a couple of times they probably could have saved $8 million on special effects alone in that sequence.
3. The whole movie really is something of a disappointing mess.
4. If The Cheese Fry had to pick for Peter Parker, it'd be Bryce Dallas Howard's Gwen Stacy over Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Parker. No contest.
5. Bruce Campbell's French maitre d' just about steals the movie.
6. The most ridiculous element: an incredibly dangerous particle accelerator contraption... that's located in a New York City suburb... and protected only by an eight-foot-tall cyclone fence. It's lazy writing.
7. The runaway crane scene is the film's best action moment.
8. There's a stale retread feel to the entire movie, particularly when it comes to Peter Parker's character. He's spent many months (maybe even years) by now as Spiderman, yet he still seems to be just as gawky and nerdy and clueless. How is this possible? How can the experience of being a, you know, superhero not have changed him?
9. If anyone wants to argue that Kirsten Dunst doesn't have strong acting chops, offer this up as Exhibit A.
10. You really do have to deduct points from a movie that dares to go to the temporary-short-term-amnesia well. You do realize this, right?
11. Spiderman 2 was the best of the series. Probably one of the greatest comic book films ever. And guess what? One villain.
12. It's pretty cool that Peter Parker uses what looks like a RadioShack police scanner to find crimes as they're being committed.
13. The secret to destroying Venom is also pretty cool.
14. For someone trying to maintain a secret identity, Peter Parker sure does take off his mask a lot in public places. He also leaps out of his apartment window in full Spidey suit.
15. The Daily Bugle scenes with J. Jonah Jameson have always been way over the top in these movies and in this one they're excessively so. J.K. Simmons' bellowing acting just grating.
16. There are some interesting themes here about revenge and forgiveness. If only they'd been more fleshed out.
17. The jazz bar scene where Peter Parker humiliates M.J. is just ridiculous. Worst part of the whole movie.
18. The film's record box office is somewhat disheartening - the lesson seems to be that "event" films will draw huge crowds no matter how good or bad they may be. Bad word of mouth can't put a dent in these blockbusters because people apparently want to experience it for themselves. This principle is solely responsible for the bombastic and mostly unwatchable Pirates of the Caribbean series. If a deeply flawed and unsatisfying movie like Spiderman 3 makes $150 million in three days, why would Hollywood ever attempt a more stringent effort at filmmaking quality control? If it ain't broke, why fix it?

5.16.2007

The Cheese Fry Hot 19 (TV Character Edition)

1 Tami Taylor
2 Dr. Juliet Burke
3 Brooke Davis
4 Melinda Gordon
5 Allison Dubois
6 Detective Olivia Benson
7 Niki/Jessica Sanders8 Tyra Collette

9 Kate Austen
10 Lorelai Gilmore
11 Sun Kwon
12 Dr. Isobel Stevens
13 Lieutenant Kara Thrace
14 Liz Lemon

15 Dr. Abby Lockhart16 Special Agent Samantha Spade17 Angela Martin
18 Calleigh Duquesne
19 Dr. Neela Rasgotra

4.30.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Disturbia"

1. You can just hear the Diet-Coke-fueled pitch meeting: "It's Rear Window, see, but for teenagers!" Even so, the movie's smarter than you might expect.
2. Part of the reason is the considerable scruffy charisma of lead
Shia LaBeouf.
3. The violent prologue may not be explicit, but it's definitely intense and scary. That's a pretty hard PG-13 scene.
4. David Morse is always good, isn't he?
5. How did Shia LeBeouf's character get his hands on the blueprints for the house next door? LocalBlueprints.com? There's hard to believe and then there's something laughable like this.
6. It's one thing to buy that a serial killer might build an extra room onto his house for grisly deeds, but what's with the creepy giant basement and then the cave-like sub-basement? When would he have time to build all of that? Why would he try to find the time to build all of that?
7. The garage door opener bit is clever.
8. The climax gets a little ridiculous, but that's unfortunately just the way these kinds of things usually end.
9. Sarah Roemer's bikini scenes add, shall we say, extra value.
10. That's a pretty cool title, isn't it?
11. Always fun to see local
Los Angeles news anchors pimping themselves out for fake newscasts in movies.
12. Seriously, if you hit someone in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, you're probably going to kill them.

Hollywoodus celebritanius

Carlos Santana, in the waiting lounge at the Burbank airport (The Cheese Fry can't bring itself to call it the Bob Hope Airport), strolling over to the bathroom before taking a seat in the far corner facing the wall.

4.15.2007

Knee-jerk review: "Grindhouse"

1. Kurt Russell is the man. No doubt about it. The guy oozes effortless cool, even as a psycho bad guy. Especially as a psycho bad guy.
2. Yes yes, Quentin Tarantino has an ear for clever, poetic dialogue. We get it. Can we all just move on now? Especially Tarantino.
3. Was Rose McGowan always this gorgeous? Whoa.
4. The head-on car crash may be one of the more horrific sequences put to film. Very violent. And not in a check-it-out-cool way, but an eww-gross-did-we-need-to-see-that way.
5. Everyone's attacking Robert Rodriguez's film "Planet Terror" and praising Tarantino's film "Death Proof." Truth is, they're pretty equal in terms of what works and what doesn't. They both have lots of fun with the drive-in-style exploitation films they're mimicking, but they're both way too long and self-indulgent. You get the feeling that in making this film Rodriquez and Tarantino were mostly interested in amusing one another - whether or not audiences like it is sort of beside the point.
6. Bottom line: they're not nearly as clever and brilliant as they seem to think they are.
7. Before the film, one of the genuine coming attraction trailers was for Rob Zombie's needless remake of Halloween. It was a skeezy, loud, nasty little trailer... and almost completely indistisguishable from the "fake" trailers that ran in Grindhouse.
8. You know who else is really good in this? Josh Brolin. Seriously.
9. There's no need for this to run over three hours. No need at all.
10. Edgar Wright's fake trailer for a British horror film called Don't is genius.
11. The last 15 minutes or so of "Death Proof" are pretty exciting, especially that final freeze frame.
12. The first 15 minutes or so of "Death Proof" are incredibly boring.

4.04.2007

"Don't you forget about me... Don't, don't, don't, don't..."

Here's a clever analysis of the John Hughes films, surely the most impactful 1980s pop culture force for Generation X that doesn't involve R2D2 or MTV.

3.23.2007

The Best and Worst Films of 2006

1. Children of Men - Criminally and inexplicably overlooked by the year-end award shows. A powerful, tour de force story of a sexually-sterile future world plagued by terrorism and totalitarianism (two sides of the same coin) that’s all too easily imaginable. Clive Owen’s strong as a reluctant hero dragged into an underground rebellion and asked to smuggle the world’s only pregnant woman. But it’s the filmmaking razzle-dazzle (courtesy director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) that grabs your attention, particularly two incredible long-take fight sequences that drops you in the middle of the action in ways guaranteed to make your palms sweat.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth – It’s easy to dismiss this as an esoteric fantasy, one of those weirdo foreign films that appeal only to film snobs. Don’t make that mistake. It’s easily the best-written film of 2006, writer-director Guillermo del Toro cleverly and lyrically interweaving a complex, dangerous fantasy quest (or is it real?) of a young girl with the bloody, oppressive reality of her life with her ruthless Franco fascist stepfather. The political metaphors and fairy tale symbolism are piled on, giving the film a vividly literary – practically mythic – sensibility.

3. Casino Royale – We’ve already rendered a verdict on this one. The best James Bond film in 40 years thanks to a grittier, more down-and-dirty approach to the character and the world of espionage. Here, a clenched fist gets you farther than some expensive gadget and you’re always one wrong step (or drugged drink) away from certain death. Daniel Craig is the perfect Bond, steely and dangerous in a way none of the others have been, including – dare we say it – Sean Connery. Rebooting the series and going back to 007’s origins, which includes a look at the doomed romance that paves the way for Bond’s hard heart, was a stroke of genius.

4. Borat – Don’t let anyone suggest this film is anything less than a masterpiece of satire. Yes, it’s packed full of fearlessly crude and outrageous moments (perhaps you’ve heard about the nude male wrestling) that leave you cringing even as you laugh out loud. But the real power of the film is that it's a hidden-camera social experiment – “Punk’d” with a PhD. Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat character is a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, horny moron (surely a reflection of America’s raging xenophobia), but he’s so slyly sweet about it that his on-camera American citizen “co-stars” put up with for him far longer than they should. And it’s his search for the line of decency – that crass moment when Borat’s co-stars finally put their foot down (or should but don’t) – that makes the film so fascinating.

5. The Prestige – Writer-director Christopher Nolan has a thing for nonlinear narrative puzzles. He first strutted his backwards stuff with Memento and then with last year’s Batman Begins. The story here of two dueling illusionists (goody-goody Hugh Jackman and brooding Christian Bale) desperate to one-up the other by any means necessary is likewise told out of order. But because Nolan has immense respect for the audience, there’s no hand holding. You have to put the pieces together yourself, which is well worth the effort. As you slowly make the connections and realize the truths, everything builds to a final series of money shots that is as audacious and astonishing as anything you’ve seen. Seriously satisfying.

6. Little Miss Sunshine – The little, yellow, clutch-less bus that could. A perfect blend of gold-star acting, writing (Michael Arndt), and directing (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris). What could have been a throwaway festival film about a crazy dysfunctional family’s crazy dysfunctional road trip winds up instead the Oscar-nominated, feel-good film of the year thanks to the sheer force of its effortless charm. It knows when to push the quirkiness and when to pull back, when to go for the sarcasm and when to go for emotion. Best of all is the hilarious and heartwarming ending – when we finally see little Olive on stage seeking the Little Miss Sunshine crown – which brings down the house.

7. United 93 – It’s probably not as harrowing or as tough as you may have heard, but it’s certainly a wrenching experience. Director Paul Greengrass creates a vivid “you are there” urgency and realism to this story of September 11, focusing on two stories: on the ground we have the bureaucratic confusion and decision-making vapor-lock in the military and FAA; in the air we see the goings-on in the cabin of United 93, the last plane to crash that morning following a hostage mutiny. The handheld camera, the no-name actors, the overlapping dialogue. It all feels very real, reopening old sorrow and outrage. Powerful and important, if not exactly “entertaining” in the usual sense of the word.

8. V for Vendetta – Another gripping, dark parable for these uncertain times. In a daring twist, however, this film – dynamic and eye-popping just as we’d expect from the director, Wachowski Brothers protégé James McTeigue (the Brothers wrote the script) – actually urges us to root for the terrorist to succeed. It’s a curious experience and an unsettling reminder that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It’s a variation (as is Children of Men) on George Orwell’s dystopian 1984, a bleak world of martial law and paranoia in which blindly following sheep (here, civilian Natalie Portman and cop Stephen Rea) slowly wake up to the evil lies of the government. Good stuff.

9. The Departed – Did director Martin Scorsese deserve an Oscar for this? Probably not. It’s not as operatic and scary as GoodFellas. This is much more of a shoot-em-up cops-and-robbers thriller. But it’s a very good one thanks to the high-concept premise of two moles (one in the police, one in the mob) trying to ferret one another out. The cast is outstanding, particularly Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio. Wahlberg gets all the good lines (and the best exit) while DiCaprio finally shakes loose that whiny man-boy thing he’s been hamstrung by for so long. The shocking ending is worth discussion if only because it almost derails everything. It’s not what happens so much as how it happens – one can imagine Scorsese rubbing his hands together in geeky anticipation of sucker-punching the audience. Some people love the ending. Maybe you will. But it’s a big reason why this film fell so far in this list.

10. (tie) The Devil Wears Prada and Apocalypto – For every polished popcorn audience pleaser like The Devil Wears Prada, there’s an equally twisted and misunderstood lump of coal like Apocalypto. These two films are the yin and yang of 2006, the witty, sophisticated Ambitious-Girl-Seduced-by-Fame urban comedy and the violent, primeval extremely-period Hero-Must-Save-His-Family action film. Both are worth a look. In Prada, we get not only Meryl Streep vamping it up in a deliciously acid role as a fashion mag editor but also the emergence of a possible successor to the Julia Roberts/Reese Witherspoon throne in bright-eyed Anne Hathaway. This is a writer’s film (thank you, Aline Brosh McKenna and the many script doctors
) – the juice comes from the dialogue. Apocalypto, however, is very much a director’s film. It’s visual storytelling at its very best. Say what you will about Mel Gibson’s loony-tunes personality and outlook on life, the guy can direct the hell out of a movie. Yes, this film continues his strange obsession with dead languages and humanity’s cruelty. But it’s a rousing, if needlessly gruesome, ride.

Honorable Mention: 16 Blocks, Cars, Dreamgirls, An Inconvenient Truth, Inside Man, Invincible, The Lake House, Little Children, The Queen, Rocky Balboa, Stranger than Fiction, Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, X-Men: The Last Stand.

Click – The problem with this movie was the misleading ad campaign, so maybe the real blame rests with the studio marketing executives. Audiences were promised a typically screwball Adam Sandler comedy about a guy who can control his life with a remote control. That’s high-concept comedy gold. The movie starts out that way, sure, but then it get deeply dark (and deeply weird) as the Sandler character fast-forwards through his entire life and winds up all alone... in a sci-fi future... in old age makeup. No way this gets made if it’s anyone but Sandler.

The Da Vinci Code – Now you know what they mean when they say “That novel’s unfilmable.” The Dan Brown book was poorly written (surely he’s the most successful hack of our generation), but at least the guy did his research. The bare-bones plot was padded out with plenty of fascinating history lessons and arcane trivia, more textbook than novel. But put that on a movie screen and you’re stuck with two hours of endless, blathering exposition. Never has Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, and Ian McKellen been so utterly boring. Unwatchable.

Flags of Our Fathers – It’s hard to believe Clint Eastwood directed this. It’s that muddled and unsatisfying. There’s the confusing, disjointed battle scenes that never come close to replicating the horror of a Saving Private Ryan (or even a Children of Men); the cardboard performances of C-level actors like Jessie Bradford and Ryan Phillipe; the unexpectedly leaden script that keeps hammering home its Big Ideas about Heroism; and last, but not least, the excruciatingly long running time.

Freedomland – This is one humorless, depressing movie. The whole thing was shot in grays and browns. Julianne Moore, all tears and whines, is supremely annoying. And the movie puffs itself up with delusions of grandeur, believing this ham-handed story of a race riot (caused by a Susan Smith-style fake kidnapping in a fictionalization that feels very “Law & Order”) has Important Things to Say. As if. Consider yourself warned.

Superman Returns – We’ve already covered this film’s sins in a previous post. No need to rehash it. More than likely a casualty of a studio system that locks in a release date and then forces the filmmakers to work backward from there, whether there’s enough time to make a quality product or not.

3.22.2007

Don't cry for me, Sanjaya.

If you're a regular viewer of the Idol (obsessives drop the American and add a "the"), you witnessed this week the curious scene of a hysterical, sobbing tweener girl acting like she was at The Ed Sullivan Show circa 1963. Even more curious is that she seemed all atwitter over the incredibly untalented contestant Sanjaya. Who was this girl? Surely she wasn't for real. Well, it wasn't exactly a plant, but it wasn't exactly spontaneous, either.

3.21.2007

It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife

Like poor Winona Ryder in Reality Bites, we find "irony" to be an elusive term. You probably think you know it when you see it. But how do you spot it?

Last month John Winokur wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times:

When it was revealed in 2003 that William J. Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues," had a secret gambling habit, more than one commentator termed it a delicious irony, and it was indeed a pleasure to see a sanctimonious scold get his comeuppance. But it wasn't irony, just hypocrisy.

It was ironic when, on "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart commended Bennett for his indignation, and for "standing up to the William Bennetts of the world."

Here's another example of irony: the 1959 episode of "The Twilight Zone" titled "Time Enough at Last," in which Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bemis, a bookish bank teller with thick glasses and an insatiable appetite for reading. One day, knocked unconscious by a giant explosion, he awakens to find that he's the last man on Earth.

Wandering the desolate city, overwhelmed with loneliness, he is about to kill himself when he notices the ruins of … a library! Cut to: stacks of books piled high on the library's steps and Henry, giddy with joy. But as he settles down on the curb with the first book, his glasses fall off and shatter on the ground, trapping him forever in a blurry world.

Now that's irony.

Irony is one of the most misused words in the English language. Much of the confusion comes from the existence of several distinct forms of irony. Verbal irony is the act of saying one thing but meaning the opposite with the intent of being understood as meaning the opposite, as in, "Nice weather we're having" on a rainy day.

Cosmic irony involves quirks of fate, as when a UPS driver on his way to deliver parts to a hospital has a serious accident, is taken to the same hospital by ambulance, but the hospital can't perform necessary tests because one of its machines is down and the parts to fix it are in the driver's wrecked van.

Socratic irony is a strategy for refuting dogma. In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates assumes the role of the eiron, a sly dissembler who feigns naivete by asking seemingly foolish questions that gradually hang his opponents by their own admissions. A modern practitioner is Sacha Baron Cohen, whose characters Borat and Ali G expose pomposity by pretending to be stupid.

Irony is about the interplay of opposites, not the random proximity of events. It's ironic that Beethoven was deaf, but merely coincidental that Brad Pitt tore his Achilles tendon while playing Achilles in Troy. People miss the distinction and say "ironic" when they mean "coincidental," an abuse encouraged by Alanis Morissette's 1996 hit single, "Ironic," in which situations purporting to be ironic are merely annoying ("a traffic jam when you're already late, a no-smoking sign on your cigarette break").

It is ironic that "Ironic" is an un-ironic song about irony. Is that perfectly clear?

In case you're confused, here are some more examples of irony:

• Brewing heir Adolph Coors III was allergic to beer.

• County supervisors in Pima County, Ariz., held a closed meeting to discuss Arizona's open meeting law.

• U.S. Border Patrol uniforms are manufactured in Mexico.

• When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, so many visitors were taking souvenir pieces that a protective fence was installed, so that, yes, the Berlin Wall was guarded by a wall.

• Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's 2005 state of the nation address, in which he promised to remedy his country's chronic electricity shortages, was blacked out by a power failure.

• A 17-year-old Amish boy was electrocuted by a downed power line that became tangled in the wheels of his horse-drawn buggy.

• The "Marlboro Man" died of lung cancer.

• A 2001 Father's Day tribute on ESPN featured "How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You)," sung by Marvin Gaye, who was shot and killed by his father in 1984.

• Entries for the Florida Press Club's 2005 Excellence in Journalism Award for hurricane coverage were lost in Hurricane Katrina.