"I see dead Hollywood careers..."

The New Republic's Christopher Orr picks The Happening apart in excruciating, spoiler-heavy detail, plot point by plot point. If you don't want to spend $10 to find out why it's such a deeply flawed movie, just read his article.


Why "American Idol" is an abomination

The days when "American Idol" was an enjoyable guilty pleasure appear over. This past season (the seventh) was aggravating in a way that no previous season has been. The show's many sins are becoming impossible to ignore, outweighing the fun of watching the performances and wondering who'll get voted off next.

1. The parade of washed-up mentors. What's more pathetic, the contestants pretending to be excited about meeting a music fossil like Neil Young, or someone like Andrew Lloyd Weber desperately trying to stay relevant and expand his audience by mentoring these mostly talentless kids? It's hard to say. One thing is certain: watching seven singers perform songs solely from the Dolly Parton catalog makes for a fairly tedious viewing experience.

2. The increasingly uselessness of Paula and Randy.
With Randy Jackson, you do get usually a sense that the lights are still on. But with Paula, the windows are boarded up, wild cats live in the basement, and the front lawn's turned to dirt. Her incoherent ramblings have long since stopped being charming in their incoherence. Now it's almost impossible to stomach her vapid free-association ditherings, her refusal to say anything negative, and her rather sexist need to tell the girls how pretty they are. The show would be better without her. As for Randy, he may know music, but he's hopelessly inarticulate. Only Simon Cowell can be counted on to zero in on the performance's problem and offer a solution. He's almost always right.

3. The prostitution of product placement. The judges' omnipresent Coke glasses are one thing. And we'll admit that we actually like those hopelessly cheesy Ford TV spots that feature the Idols hamming it up in strange little vignettes (the Idols are office workers, the Idols are in the Wild West). But if you saw the season finale, you bore witness to a protracted infomercial for Mike Myers' new movie The Love Guru. It was an absolute embarrassment for everyone involved. The movie looks unfunny enough as is without having to create some stupid interaction between the two Idol finalists and Myers in character. It often seems like Fox will let anyone be on the show so long as the price is right. Do they ever say no?

4. The lack of taste among voters. First of all, it's hard to be completely sure if it's the audience voting these people off or if Fox is somehow calling the shots. Ryan Seacrest says only that the voting will be open "for at least two hours." Some believe Fox shuts down the voting when the Idol is wants to boot is in the bottom position. Be that as it may, time and again the more talented Idol gets the boot while some half-witted, tone-deaf knucklehead lives to sing another day. These twists aren't "dramatic" or "shocking" - they're proof of the shallow, ratings-driven nature of the entire format. The producers wanted a David versus David showdown fairly early in the season and guess what? They got it. David Archuletta is a wispy-voiced, one-trick-pony simpleton, but he's also a cute, sexless-and-safe Mormon kid that a certain demographic loved. He's in!

"American Idol" ratings were down this season for the first time, which suggests the new is at last wearing off and audiences are coming to the same conclusion as The Cheese Fry. The producers are planning some changes for season 8. But it may be too late.

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but even fools will eventually get sick of listening to Paula Abdul.

Knee-jerk review: "The Happening"

1. We cannot endorse this movie.
2. The concept is undeniably intriguing and deserves a big, epic movie to explore it. But this movie clocks in at about 90 minutes. That's not much time. The whole thing feels rushed and truncated. Where's the rest of it?
3. It takes a special kind of ineptitude to make Mark Wahlberg this bland and stilted. Putting him in a sweater vest doesn't help.
4. How is it that the toxin efficiently and swiftly affects a large group of pedestrians in Central Park... except for the one movie character who has to witness the whole thing with bug eyes?
5. In general, much of the movie rings phony. The characters don't seem genuine, what they say feels forced, and what they do strains credibility. That makes for a fairly painful experience as an audience member.
6. But Zooey Deschanel sure is smoking hot.
7. It's the kind of movie that suggests a character is a nerdy math teacher by giving him a tic in which he has to always push up his glasses on his nose. That's the sort of lame character shorthand you'd expect in a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
8. Can someone explain to us the purpose of the Betty Buckley character? Seriously, she had no point.
9. If you want to see a vivid, scary look at what might happen during the panicky few hours after a catastrophic disaster, go watch Cloverfield.
10. Like everything else, the R-rating feels forced. It's like the filmmakers crammed in a lot of gore and violence just to goose everything up to an R. You might think we're referring to the lawnmower scene, but no, the more upsetting bit involves the falling construction workers.
11. This probably isn't the career-ending flop for M. Night Shyamalan that some critics predict, but it does him no favors. And on the heels of the train wreck that was Lady in the Water, it futher sullies Shyamalan's reputation as a Hitchcock/Spielberg heir apparent. The best thing he probably could have done was stop making movies after Signs and gone into grumpy J.D. Salinger seclusion where he could be worshipped as an artistic genius based on a tiny sample.
12. To recap, Shyamalan's best film is without question The Sixth Sense. From there, things get subjective. The runner-up is probably Unbreakable, if only because the story sticks to its own strange logic and sells it. The Cheese Fry actually liked The Village, even with the insane twist ending. Signs gets a bad rap because of "swing away" and the glasses of water, but it's a scary, thoughtful movie until the final 10 minutes. Lady in the Water certainly goes at the bottom of the list, below even The Happening. So here's the ranking: 1. The Sixth Sense, 2. Unbreakable, 3. The Village, 4. Signs, 5. The Happening, 6. Lady in the Water.


Knee-jerk review: "What Happens in Vegas"

1. The romantic comedy is not dead. This movie and Forgetting Sarah Marshall prove that with a clever concept, the old boy-meets-girl genre still has a lot of gas left in the tank.
2. It's far funnier than you probably think it is. Hilarious, in fact.
3. The Cheese Fry loves Rob Corddry. "I'm the law, bitches!"
4. You know it's a great comedy when the throwaway subplots are packed with memorable gags and funny characters (see also: the Judd Apatow oeuvre). Here we get Cameron Diaz's rival, an ambitious-yet-awkward woman named Chong, and Ashton Kutcher's weird friend, a guy called in the credits "Dave the Bear."
5. Yes, the premise is hard to boil down to a Hollywood logline, but once you're on board, it works: couple get drunk-married in Vegas, win a $3 million slot pull, but the judge won't let them divorce and split the money unless they try to live as man and wife for six months. Hilarity ensues.
6. With only a few exceptions, there's no story fat to be found. The plot moves quickly and cleanly.
7. Ashton Kutcher may just get himself an real acting career yet.
8. Some good chemistry between the leads. You will be rooting for them to get together.

Knee-jerk review: "Prince Caspian"

1. Call this Lord of the Rings lite. Working hard to be epic and dark and important, but still very much a Disney movie for families.
2. It's enjoyable, but also a little forgettable in a way that other summer blockbusters, like Iron Man, are not.
3. Peter Dinklage steals the movie. Runner-up is Georgie Henley.
4. Some very cool battle sequences that are more imaginative than you might expect. Best example comes when two armies poised to do battle instead allow their differences to be perhaps settled by a one-on-one sword fight (that allows for "time outs"!) between the two kings. That's fresh.
5. 2005's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was better.
6. There's something a little creepy about the lion Azlan.
7. It's got to be tough to rule a magical kingdom for many years and then get zapped back to your boring life in 1940s England.
8. Funniest line out of context: "I don't think that bear could talk at all."
9. Extra credit to the costume designers and their scary armor for the Telmarines.
10. Is it us, or does Prince Caspian seem to be too much of a pretty boy to be a great leader?


Indiana Jones and the Lame Sequel

Mystery Man on Film looks at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from a story structure/screenwriting perspective and... well, he eviscerates it. Fifty reasons why the movie is deeply flawed, poorly executed, and sloppily written. A very comprehensive look at how the movie could have been so much better. The Cheese Fry blames George Lucas.