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


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.


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?