12.24.2009

Holiday knee-jerk review: "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

1. We're very sad if a holiday season goes by and we don't catch this on TV. Which is why this year, the Cheese Fry bought the DVD.
2. But we freely admit that part of the appeal lies in wistful nostalgia and remembering the first time we saw the show (probably on CBS) as a student at F.P. Caillet Elementary and feeling a strong affinity for the characters, who - at the time - were our peers.
3. Vince Guaraldi is a genius. But you already knew that, right?
4. We knew Lucy had a problem with Charlie Brown, but it's clear that minor character Violet harbors the most ill will. She's the one who utters the classic line "Oh no, we're doomed" when she finds out Charlie Brown is going to direct their Christmas play.
5. The funniest bit: Snoopy mocking Lucy as she's giving orders to everyone.
6. "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share." Clever encapsulation by Sally Brown of everything that's "wrong" with the holiday season.
7. The show just isn't the same without all of the Dolly Madison commercials, the sponsor of the show back in the late 1970s. Whatever happened to the Zinger Zapper?
8. Weird that Peppermint Patty doesn't appear in the show. But she always was our least favorite Peanuts character. Abrasive. Annoying.
9. The bit where the gang dance to Snoopy and Pig Pen (who knew he could play the string bass?) and Schroeder's music is certainly memorable. The kids are all looped in a very cheap and crude sort of way, doing the same thing over and over again, but the dance moves are so charming. You have the twin girls in purple slinging their heads back and forth, the other boy doing the shoulder roll. Cute.
10. Love the gag where Linus Van Pelt and Charlie Brown rap their knuckles against an aluminum tree and hear it clang.
11. Thanks to Charles Schultz for making "good grief" such a useful multi-purpose exclamation.
12. If you don't feel a little fuzzy warmth in your heart when the show ends with the kids all shouting "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" and then singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," then you may not have a heart.

10.31.2009

The missing "Knee-jerks"

Were it not for the demands of caring for the littlest Cheese Fry, born June 17, we would have likely provided invaluable "Knee-Jerk Reviews" for the following films. We regret these omissions.

(500) Days of Summer
Black Dynamite
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Couples Retreat
The Hangover
The Informant!
Moon
Paranormal Activity
The Proposal
The Time Traveler's Wife
Up
Where the Wild Things Are
Whip It
Zombieland

We can only assume some of these are really good, some not so good. But that's why God made Netflix.

As is, we've been able to review just two movies post-June 17: District 9 and Inglorious Basterds.

Our 300th post

The Cheese Fry has been live in (on?) the blogosphere since May of 2005. This is our 300th post for those of you out there who are counting. Such a momentous milestone deserves an important post, a reflective post.

We're often asked, "Why not post more personal entries about friends and family?" Sadly, that is not what The Cheese Fry is about. So what makes the cut for The Cheese Fry? What's the prototypical post?

There are three guidelines, all of which have evolved over the years. When we started the blog, we weren't sure how we would fill two posts, let alone 300. Luckily, like any good creative endeavor, The Cheese Fry has assumed a personality of its own. We're just following its lead.

The guidelines, as of now...

1. A post must deal with popular culture. Usually, this will involve movies, television, and music. But anything is fair game.
2. If not #1, then a post must offer some sort of tidbit, rant, or insight into the world around us.
3. If #1 and #2 can take the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list, so much the better.
4. Nostalgic, 1980s-1990s reminiscence will be added as often as possible.

And now back to the blog.

10.19.2009

AFI 100's 26 that we never saw

In 1998, the American Film Institute - in an attempt to make itself more relevant by giving morning talk shows something to talk about between serious stories and to create a new source of revenue by creating glitzy TV specials - created its top 100 American films of all time.

Below are the 26 top 100 films the Cheese Fry never saw. In some cases, we're quite embarrassed (
every snobbish cineaste, I know, has to see Lawrence of Arabia). In other cases, we're quite proud of our avoidance (who the hell wants to see Doctor Zhivago? and is it really one of the top 100?).
Lawrence of Arabia
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Grapes of Wrath
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Treasure of Sierra Madre
The Best Years of Our Lives
Doctor Zhivago
West Side Story
The Birth of a Nation
From Here to Eternity
Rebel without a Cause
Stagecoach
An American in Paris
Wuthering Heights
Dances with Wolves
The Wild Bunch
Giant
Duck Soup
Mutiny on the Bounty
Easy Rider
Patton
The Jazz Singer
A Place in the Sun
The Searchers
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Yankee Doodle Dandy

Top five months of the year

1. November - Our favorite holiday is Thanksgiving since it combines our two favorite activities: eating copious amounts of starchy foods and watching football.
2. December - For obvious reasons.
3. October - The first crisp, chilly day of fall.
4. July - Summer's in full swing. Barbecues, baseball, big noisy popcorn movies.
5. May - Memorial Day, the gateway holiday ushering in another summer. Had a 10-year-old Cheese Fry written this list, May would probably clock in at number 2, right behind December. For obvious reasons.

10.09.2009

"Pistons popping, ain't no stoppin' now..."

The Cheese Fry has again embraced his inner 20-year-old with the acquisition of Guitar Hero 5. But better than that is the bonus included with that purchase: an advance copy of the upcoming Guitar Hero Van Halen.

Van Halen contributed important songs to our middle-school and high-school soundtrack. And because we were getting into music (1984 was one of the first three cassette tapes we bought at the Bachman Lake branch of the dearly departed Sound Warehouse chain - the other two: The Police's Synchronicity and Huey Lewis and the News' Sports) right as the band transitioned from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar, the Cheese Fry is unafraid to embrace the "Van Hagar" era.

Anticipating Guitar Hero Van Halen made us reminisce through the Van Halen catalog and do what we do best: make a list.

The best Van Halen songs are as follows:

1. "Hot for Teacher" (from 1984) - The intro's machine gun-drums and scorching guitar arpeggio would probably be enough for the top seed, but then you add in the lyric's taboo subject matter and overall raw vibe of good times gone very very good. When you're a seventh grader seeing the video on MTV for the first time, there's no doubt that this is most bad-ass song ever made.

2. "Panama" (1984) - The lyrics make no sense, but this is rock (would you call Van Halen heavy metal? we think not, but let's call it a photo-finish) at its most bare bones: crashing drums, grinding guitars, guttural vocals packed with double entendres. The prototypical Roth-era Van Halen song.

3. "Finish What Ya Started" (OU812) - A funky, twangy, jangling song in some kind of exotic time signature and with lots of sharp, clean vocal harmonies. It defies easy description. Which makes it very, very memorable.

4. "Dance the Night Away" (Van Halen II) - The kind of upbeat pop you'd expect from the Hagar years, but here it is on the band's second album. Probably the band's most catchy chorus, again with those backing chorus melodies. Take a chance, you're old enough to dance... the night away.

5. "Why Can't This Be Love" (5150) - Significant because it was the first single off the band's 5150 album, its first with Hagar replacing Roth. Because the song didn't suck, fans could more or less relax, or last least begin in earnest the debate as to which incarnation was better - the hard-rocking Roth band or more pop-radio friendly Hagar band. (Lest anyone forget, though, the band is called Van Halen. It was always Eddie's band and nothing happened without his okay.) And now music history class is over.

6. "Love Walks In" (5150) - Another synthesizer-meets-electric guitar top-40 groove that David Lee Roth would have hated. A freshman year favorite of ours, thanks perhaps to how its sentimental, optimistic vibe so perfectly meshed with the young Cheese Fry's homornal longings and ineffectual social skills. Love comes walking in and all of that stuff.

7. "Runnin' with the Devil" (Van Halen) - The first song off their first album, definitively setting the stage what with all the Roth howls and slow-and-steady grinding Eddie guitar riffs. When you're 12, it's the epitome of edgy rebellion to listen to a song with the word "devil" in it.

8. "Summer Nights" (5150) - We didn't think we liked the 5150 album all that much, but here's a third song. Go figure. More fuzzy guitars, more sing-song melodies, this one a blue-collar celebration of doing nothing in the summertime.

9. "Cabo Wabo" (OU812) - A sun-soaked ode to Mexican fun, this is the perfect embodiment of Hagar's laid-back, what-me-worry outlook. If Jimmy Buffet wrote songs for Van Halen, this is what it would sound like.

10. "Beautiful Girls" (Van Halen II) - Here I am, ain't no man of the world. All I need is a beautiful girl. Amen.

You'll note "Jump" appears nowhere on this list. That's because it's overplayed and, frankly, completely overrated.

10.07.2009

The ten worst neighbors

1. The horrible, awful people across the street with the yipping, barking, utterly useless dog. If we had the technology to kill that dog without worry of being caught, we would do so. There is no purpose for its existence as far as we can tell.

2. The weird hippie woman downstairs who hosted numerous mysterious roommates, including a teenaged girl who liked to play her keyboard loud in the middle of the night. The same six chords over and over and over.

3. The chatterbox old man who was perfectly nice and harmless, but who enjoyed cornering you by your car to carry on a 30 minute conversation.

4. The Russians who like to argue with their windows open. Is it better that we can't understand what they're saying?

5. The girl next door who always parked her stupid Volkswagen so close to the gate that we could barely squeeze through. Those times we accidentally scuffed and scratched your paintjob trying to slither past with arms full of laundry or groceries? Don't care.

6. The oh-so-hip twentysomethings who seemed to all have apartments behind our building and liked to have loud parties until 3am on the weekends that featured angry, drunken arguments on their balconies about ex-boyfriends or current girlfriends or some such crap. Yes, it is better when you can't understand them.

7. The creepy tattooed Goth couple who liked to have sex with their window open. We're not making this up.

8. The girl upstairs who refused to loan us 50 cents to call our roommate when we got locked out, even though she was surrounded by stacks and stacks of quarters. But, as she put it, "that's for my laundry." How could we argue with that?

9. The guy upstairs who peed so loud you could hear it through the ceiling.

10. The couple across the courtyard with the crying baby. Yes, we see the irony.

Essential ingredients for "COPS"

It's hard to imagine a world without "COPS," the addictive, ubiquitous half-hour show filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement that not only helped usher in the current reality-show craze but also helped launch the Fox television network way back in 1989. The show recently began its 22nd season, suggesting that the show's novelty (or that of the "Bad Boys" theme song) has yet to wear off.

What makes this show so captivating? Why are we always so eager to watch it?

Is it that undeniable sense of superiority we get from looking down our nose at the often illiterate, poorly-dressed knuckleheads who have to explain themselves to the police? Is it the red-state conservative in us that craves swift and certain justice, that assumes that these folks are surely guilty (even though they've been in police custody for a matter of minutes) and will soon get what they have coming, extenuating circumstances be damned? Is it an armchair law enforcement curiosity factor at work, an interest in seeing the "everyday" experiences of uniform cops which is so far removed from the fictional blood-soaked thrills of the "CSI" and "Law and Order" franchises? Or does the show serve a purely instructional purpose, a vivid what-would-I-do lesson in how best to handle (or to not handle) unexpected situations like traffic stops or domestic violence?

Nah, it's probably just the car chases and fistfights.

Most episodes of "COPS" have several of the following elements. The very best episodes have all of them.

* "That's not mine, officer."
* A bumpy through-the-windshield shot of a fleeing car, accompanied by the sound of the police car's revving engine. Bonus points for the police car's headlights slicing through clouds of dust.
* A suspect without a shirt, preferably revealing bad tattoos.
* A suspect without a tooth.
* "I only had two beers."
* A grotesque prostitute, paired with a surprisingly normal-looking john. Ew.
* Even better, the normal-looking john coming up with all kinds of implausible reasons why he has a grotesque prostitute in his car.
* "Why did you run?"
* The boss sergeant who shows up after the situation's fully under control, who then proceeds to stand there impassively while the patrol cops explain everything that's happened.
* "What'd I do?" asked by a suspect after he just ran for six blocks from the police.
* A scraggly woman with more kids than she can handle.
* A suspect who says he doesn't have anything in the car, but who - in fact - does indeed some something in the car.
* Little baggies of drugs. Where do they get those tiny little baggies?
* A cop behind the wheel, typically at the top of the episode, giving us a quick little summary of either A) why he's in law enforcement, B) what a great community it is he lives in, or C) how much he enjoys his job.
* A domestic violence situation, with each person involved insisting that it's the other one who started it, the other one who should go to jail, the other one who won't stay away. Extra credit if one of them is bloodied somehow.
* Relatives of the suspect gathering around to yell at the police and defend the suspect, inevitably followed by some variation of "Get back or you're going to jail too!"
* A suspect who can't seem to follow directions that require he simply sit still on the curb.
* A drunk and/or crazy suspect kicking and/or head-butting the window of a patrol car's back seat.
* The tell-tale used crack pipe.
* Two or more cops analyzing their brief moment of excitement and adrenaline in apprehending the suspect as if discussing a touchdown in flag football.
* A broken tail light.
* "Get down on the ground now!"
* Bleeped profanity.
* One last catchy, pithy line from a victorious cop as we dissolve to the blue and red flashing "COPS" logo. It has to be a clever phrase that sums it all up, something along the lines of "Too bad tonight he's going to jail" or "This is just another day on the job" or "That's one more bad guy off the street."

9.21.2009

Top 10 "I Love Lucy" episodes

We're always amazed by how well this 1950s sitcom continues to hold up. Then again, this show practically invented the format. Time has been quite kind to Ricardos and the Mertzes, thanks perhaps to the fact that almost every episode was written by the same three people: Madelyn Pugh Davis, Bob Carroll Jr,. and Jess Oppenheimer. Geniuses all.

1. The one with Vitameetavegamin. "Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular?" ("Lucy Does a TV Commercial")

2. The one where Lucy and Ethel tear down and then rebuild Ricky's barbecue. "If I'd have know this is what friends are for, I'd have signed up as an enemy." ("Building a Barbecue")

3. The one where Lucy keeps stopping the train. "Did you pull that cord?" ("The Great Train Robbery")

4. The one with the wax tulips and the runaway lawn mower. ("Lucy Raises Tulips")

5. The one where the boys dance with the hot young girl at the country club. ("Country Club Dance")

6. The one where Lucy gets stuck in the freezer. ("The Freezer")

7. The one where Lucy meets with a Hollywood studio head and pretends to be Ricky's agent.
"Released?" "Released." ("Ricky Needs an Agent")


8. The one where Lucy switches all of the clocks in the apartment so she won't be late, but then they're late for an important event anyway. ("Lucy's Schedule")

9. The one at the chocolate factory. "Speed it up, boys!" ("Job Switching")

10. The one where the Ricardos sells the Mertzes their washing machine. "Look what happened to your washing machine." ("Never Do Business with Friends")

Six football plays that sound dirty

1. Wishbone Option
2. Skinny Post
3. Double Reverse
4. Buttonhook
5. Naked Bootleg
6. Stop and Go

Favorite beer evolution

Miller Genuine Draft (a.k.a. "MGD"), 1991-1998
Guinness, 1998
Rolling Rock, 1998-2002
Newcastle Brown Ale, 2002-present

9.16.2009

On Stephen King

Stephen King paperbacks were a staple of the Cheese Fry's bookshelf during his high school and college years. They filled one entire shelf, arranged neatly in order of publication (of course), spines crinkled and worn with use.

We've lost touch with Mr. King since the early 1990s (though we are faithful readers of his Entertainment Weekly columns), but much of his work has stuck with us. No one is better at mixing everyday pop culture ordinariness with scary, out-of-the-ordinary thrills and chills. But there's more to it than just cool scary stories.

King may be a best-selling populist author, but he's ambitious, long-winded, and literary in ways that the Stephanie Meyers and Dan Browns of the world never will be. His books aren't always high-concept. It's not just about the hook. His many books and short stories (he's nothing if not prolific) can be sprawling and messy. He's really trying to understand who we are and why we do what we do. He'll try anything once, it seems, always trying to stretch himself as a writer. So not everything is a home run. He often has trouble with his endings. With set-ups so outrageous, there are sometimes no easy resolution that plausibly allows the hero to save the day. And we do stipulate that some of his books are just plain awful (don't ever, ever read The Tommyknockers). This odd inconsistency makes him seem all the more mortal and fallible. He's not perfect. He's just very, very good at what he does.


Here are the best:

1. The Shining - Probably the scariest book we've ever read.
2. Firestarter - For those of us who love an evil-government-conspiracy-thriller, this is a classic.
3. Pet Sematary - This one goes to some very dark, very depressing places. Not exactly entertaining, but certainly memorable.
4. The Green Mile - One of King's fastest-paced, most spry novels.
5. The Stand - Even though it's an epic story, the book is probably too long. But it's one of the best post-apocalyptic stories where the end of the world prefaces a literal clash of Good versus Evil.
6. The Dead Zone - King's most high-concept book: what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler before he rose to power?
7. Cell - King's take on zombies. The Cheese Fry loves zombies. Ergo we loved this book.
8. On Writing - King's detailed, fascinating rumination on the struggles and challenges of being a writer. Essential reading for would-be writers.

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger...

Here at the Cheese Fry, we're somewhat low-class. We'll occasionally enjoy a fine steak and $20 piece of sushi, sure. But sometimes nothing beats a messy fast food cheeseburger to clog your arteries and stretch your waistline.

The best places to go, in order:

1. Fatburger (Southern California)
2. Sonic
3. Whataburger (Texas)
4. Carls Jr. (Southern California)
5. In N Out Burger (Southern California)
6. Dairy Queen
7. Burger King
8. Wendy's

You'll note McDonalds didn't make the cut. That's because their food is gross. And no, the irony is not lost on us.

8.29.2009

There can't just be seven, can there?

Wired this month offers another of their cool little info-graphics, this one attempting to chart the prevalence of the seven deadly sins in the United States. Funny how the conservative, God-fearing southeast seems so disproportionally sinful.

8.26.2009

Knee-jerk review: "Inglorious Basterds"

1. Audacious.
2. We're not sure, but this may be something of a minor masterpiece. Pulp Fiction remains the gold standard for QT, of course. But this could be a close second. In case you're wondering, Kill Bill loses points because Volume 2 isn't as sleek and steely as Volume 1.
3. Some critics have called Brad Pitt's performance as a hillbilly solider lazy or one-note. We don't understand these people. He's great.
4. There really aren't many writers out there who can write dialogue like Tarantino. It seems so easy, doesn't it? Trust us, it ain't.
5. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as pop culture regurgitation, a self-conscious blending of cheesy B-movie genres. That all may be true, but this is also a movie with layers and subtext. Complex questions about cinema, about war, about language, about nationalism, about racism.
6. Christoph Waltz? Genius. Look for him as a Best Actor nominee. He walks away with the whole movie. And he knows it.
7. We probably could have done without the Mike Myers cameo.
8. Who knew that Germans gestured numbers with their hands differently than Americans and Brits?
9. The baseball bat scene is incredibly brutal. We had to close our eyes a little. Worse than the ear cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs by about a factor of 20.
10. There are pregnant pauses in movies. And then... there are... Tarantino's... pregnant... pauses. We appreciate the ratcheting up of tension as Wait for Something Bad to Happen, but sometimes he can takes things too far.
11. Poor Max's father.
12. "And I want my scalps."
13. Melanie Laurent, where have you been all this time?
14. The ending has to be seen to be believed. And even then you may not believe it.
15. Good stuff.

8.23.2009

Knee-jerk review: "District 9"

1. Believe the hype.
2. It's very satisfying to see the Hollywood establishment collectively freak out when a movie with no stars and a relatively small budget opens at number one with a $37 million gross. "Does not computer." But a strong story can trump any presumed liability. Most importantly, a great concept executed well makes it easier for the marketing departments to get the word out.
3. There is a big twist halfway through. If you can, see the movie without learning what it is. We had an idea of it and the moment wasn't as strong as it could have been had we gone in blind.
4. The TV spots sold hard the social satire element of the movie - alien xenophobia equals human racism. But the film is much more than that.
5. Since it involves Peter Jackson, you should expect a fair amount of blood-and-guts action. People don't just get shot. They're blown to bits.
6. The bad guys are, to us, a little bit over-the-top. They practically twirl mustaches. But maybe that's okay.
7. It is surely no accident that the bad guys' company - a Blackwater-styled outfit named MNU - shares the same initials as the UN. They even drive the same white armored vehicles.
8. The ending is ambiguous and rather heartbreaking. Just the way we like it.
9. One of the best movies of the year.

The Most Interesting Post in the World

Sometimes, television advertising can be more entertaining and well-made than the show you're watching. Case in point is the hilariously deadpan Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign.

It's not just the concept - you should drink Dos Equis because the world's most manly man "prefers" it. It's also the execution. Funny one-liners matched with oddball mockumentary footage of the Most Interesting Man in the World in all sorts of ruggedly worldly adventures: playing jai-alai, rescuing a fox from hunters, arm wresting a banana republic dictator (in black and white archival footage), leading a vote at the UN, splashing down in an Apollo space capsule, playing a back alley game of craps with what appear to be Pacific Islanders.

Seth Stevenson at Slate took an in-depth look at the spots.

Below are our ten favorite one-liners describing the Most Interesting Man in the World.

1. His blood smells like cologne.
2. He has never lost a sock.
3. If he disagrees with you, it's because you are wrong.
4. He can speak French in Russian.
5. He lives vicariously through himself.
6. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.
7. He once had an awkward moment... just to see how it feels.
8. People hang on his every word... even the prepositions.
9. He'd never initiate a conversation about the weather... even in a typhoon.
10. He won the same lifetime achievement award twice.

My mascot can beat up your mascot

In theory, sports mascots are designed to evoke certain elements of ferocity and determination, to energize the fans, to intimidate opponents, to inspire the players. Some work better than others, coasting on tradition rather than reality. Which NFL mascots, in the real world, are the scariest? Which mascot would you not want to bump into at the end of a dark alley?

Our picks, in order from the scariest to the silliest...

1. Titans - We're going with the definition that suggests a "titan" is a omnipotent god. Doesn't get much more formidable than that.

Next come the big animals.

2. Bears
3. Lions
4. Bengals - Funny that our top three match the things Dorothy was most afraid of in The Wizard of Oz.
5. Panthers
6. Jaguars - Jaguars seem fast, but the word "panther" suggests a certain cunning and stealthiness. Edge to Carolina.

Now the scary, presumably angry, and often armed humans.

7. Vikings
8. Raiders - The name suggests their main objective.
9. Buccaneers
10. Patriots
11. Chiefs
12. Redskins - Chiefs are the bosses and presumably smarter. Advantage Kansas City.
13. Cowboys - Not aggressive per se, but usually have a gun and don't back down from a fight. If only Dallas had the same mentality.

Now the smaller animals who might only pose a threat if spooked and charge at you.

14. Rams
15. Bills
16. Broncos - Evoke a snorting wild animal, not a cute and cuddly baby horse. Edge to Denver.
17. Colts
18. Browns - This one's a stretch, but in theory a bulldog could maul you.

And the predatory birds. Surprising how many birds there are.

19. Seahawks - The word "hawk" just sounds aggressive. It's the consonant K.
20. Falcons
21. Eagles

Now the more benign humans.

22. Giants - Being tall doesn't make you scary.
23. Saints - Even holy men can be pushed to the limit. We've seen the movies. And if they're in New Orleans, they're probably drunk and spoiling for a fight.
24. Steelers
25. 49ers
26. Texans - We needed more information on this one. What kind of Texan? From what time period? An Alamo-era Texan or some blue-blood oil millionaire from Houston?
27. Packers - We know how to pack, too. Big whoop.

And the bottom five.

28. Ravens - Isn't a raven essentially a fancy name for a crow?
29. Cardinals - Are they serious with this one? Why not call a team the Sparrows?
30. Dolphins - Obviously.
31. Jets - We're assuming this is a commercial plane and not a fighter. As long as it doesn't crash on top of you, no one's frightened, New York.
32. Chargers - We weren't sure how to address this one. Is it just pure energy? One could argue that this should be number one since electrocution would seem to be a real possibility. But we need more information.

8.02.2009

Cassette tape rewind: senior summer

The Cheese Fry was on top of the world back in July 1989. Working the concession counters at the state-of-the-art UA Park Lane movie theater (now torn down), developing an award-winning proficiency with a large plastic mascot head, rolling in a 1979 sky blue Ford Granada (a sleek silver model is pictured below), eating his weight in chicken strips and french fries, anticipating a great high school senior year.

The top ten songs from July 29, 1989:

1. Martika "Toy Soldiers" - Great time-capsule song, layered synthesizers and drum machines that instantly evokes the late 80s. Still worth listening to. "Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down..."

2. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince "Batdance" - Lame then, lame now.

3. Madonna "Express Yourself" - Solid middle-of-the-road Madonna, neither as catchy as "Into the Groove" or "Open Your Heart" or nor as annoying as "Who's That Girl" or "La Isla Bonita."

4. Love and Rockets "So Alive" - Best one on this list, part of that trendy late 80s/early 90s "alternative" wave of gritty pop music. You're not still listening to KISS-FM, are you? You have to be listening to 94.5 the Edge! Great song.

5. Bobby Brown "On Our Own" - Guilty pleasure song from a guilty pleasure movie (Ghostbusters II). Yeah, we sang along when it came on the radio. So what? They're Ghostbusters and they're in control.

6. Simply Red "If You Don't Know Me By Now" - We know we're all supposed to like this bluesy, jazzy song. It's oh so very artistic. But honestly, it's too slow, too repetitive, goes on way too long, and the lead singer is kind of freaky looking.

7. Bon Jovi "Lay Your Hands on Me" - Whatever.

8. Great White "Once Bitten Twice Shy" - Part of that hair band craze of the late 1980s. At least this song rocks a little. How hilarious is it that all of those cheesy metal bands (Cinderella, Warrant, White Lion, et al) only had radio hits with sappy, ponderous love ballads?

9. Dino "I Like It" - We don't remember it, either.

10. Richard Marx "Right Here Waiting" - You'll get a cavity listening to this one, a schmaltzy, melodramatic ode to love and longing. So romantic, so reassuring especially for fickle hormone-fueled teenagers. High school proms all across the country put this one on heavy rotation, including Thomas Jefferson HS.

7.25.2009

Knee-jerk review: "The Hurt Locker"

1. Can it be a knee-jerk review if we saw it three weeks ago? Probably not.
2. We don't get the title, either.
3. It's the best movie we've seen so far this year. It's Oscar caliber, no question.
4. Director Kathryn Bigelow still has the goods and we're glad to see her back. Point Break and Strange Days are both way underrated.
5. Thanks for the great cameos, Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes.
6. Best sequence: the sniper shootout. Who'll be the first one to zero in from a mile out with 50-caliber rifles.
7. It's not without its familiar cliches, like the officer with no real idea what combat is like. You can guess what happens to him.
8. And truth be told, the whole thing with the fearless soldier who's probably a little crazy and probably a lot addicted to the adrenaline rush of war... that's familiar too. But sometimes meat and potatoes are okay if they're this tasty.
9. Packed full of sweaty suspense. As Roger Ebert noted, usually Hollywood gets a kick out of blowing stuff up (cough-Michael Bay-cough), but here you're desperately hoping nothing does blow up.
10. We remain very dubious of Evangeline Lilly's thespian ability.
11. "If he's not an insurgent, he is now."
12. A star-making turn for Jeremy Renner. Good for him.
13. The first great Iraq war movie. Go see it.

Essential dialogue for "Hell's Kitchen"

1. "This risotto is the worst I've ever tasted!"
2. "You donkey."
3. "It's raw!"
4. "Jean-Phillipe, please open Hell's Kitchen."
5. "Yes, chef!"
6. "Shut it down!"
7. "Why should you stay in Hell's Kitchen?"
8. "I'm not here to make friends."
9. "An hour into dinner service and the blue team is still struggling with the appetizers, while the red team is already serving the main course."
10. "Who have you selected for elimination and why?"
11. "Where's my sea bass?"
12. [BLEEP]

The New Rules for Digital Gentleman

Wired magazine next month offers the "New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans," guidelines and rules of thumb for the digital world.

Our favorites, the ones by which we wish all would abide:
1. For marital peace, keep separate Netflix queues.
2. Turn off "Sent from my iPhone" signatures.
3. Ditch the headset.
4. Hunger and fatigue are not interesting status updates.
5. Ignore Facebook polls.
6. Give credit when repeating tweets or blog posts.
7. If you call drops, call back.
8. Provide subjects for all e-mails.
9. Back up your hard drive. Right now.
10. Never bcc anyone.
11. Ask for free tech support only from immediate family or significant others.
12. Avoid looking at other people's screens.

Musings on Michael Jackson

* As the Cheese Fry marinated in unwelcome wall-to-wall 24-hour news coverage of the death, the disposition of the remains, the possible child custody fight, the rehashing of his up-and-down career, and finally the absurd memorial service in a basketball arena, we couldn't help but notice that Jackson has not been relevant to popular music for almost 20 years. What would happen if Beyonce or Bruce Springsteen suddenly dropped dead? Would Larry King have gone on the same sort of self-serving journalistic jihad? Probably not because...

* ...As much as everyone discussed and praised Jackson's "genius" the truth is that we're mostly interested in his death because he's spent the last 20 years as a national punchline, the resident sideshow freak always doing something weird. We're gawking at him even in death.

* The best Jackson song is "Billie Jean." End of story. Followed by "Thriller."

* Joe Jackson is still a complete asshole, near as we can tell.

* Have you ever sobbed over the death of someone you never met? We haven't. These people on TV crying over Jackson's death seemed in worse shape than people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. How out of touch with reality can you get? And when was the last time you think any of them actually listened to a Jackson song?

* True, Jackson was a megastar at a time when the world as a lot smaller. Album sales meant everything. MTV united everyone. But when you see someone in his 20s like Justin Timberlake talking about how important Jackson was to him, it seems odd. The Cheese Fry is pushing 40 and almost was too young to truly experience the impact of the "Thriller" sensation in the early 1980s as it was happening. So how could these younger people be so affected by Jackson? Was he really still a sensation in the 1990s? We don't remember that to be the case. It all just feels like bull.

* Speaking of disingenuous hangers-on, how about all of those singers showing up for some face time on stage at the Jackson memorial service? What was that all about? Usher? Seriously? As acidic Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke so astutely noted, where were all of these "friends" of Jackson when the guy was suffering through all his years of legal and financial trouble? Their support sure could have helped. Guess they decided to publicly declare their love for Jackson only after his weirdness can no longer infect their petty careers.

* The most irritating of all was the "Reverend" Al Sharpton, who never met a camera he didn't like, eulogizing Jackson by claiming nothing was wrong with him. We don't have to trash the guy, but let's not insult the intelligence of, well, the entire planet. Any reasonable person could take one look at Jackson and see that he was tortured to no end by some serious mental problems. The plastic surgery, the bizarro need to be around kids, the pathological introversion. And now we're learning of a serious drug habit.

* Another interesting sociological curlicue in all of this is the inequitable way America treat s drug abuse. Wealthy Hollywood elite get addicted to prescription drugs, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fancy retreats that call themselves rehab clinics, and rarely do jail time. The rest of us alcoholics and meth-heads do hard time in real prisons serving mandatory sentences. That seems fair.

* How are these Hollywood doctors who provide unneeded prescription meds to the stars any different than my corner crack dealer?

* It we ran Santa Barbara we would be pushing hard to turn Neverland into the West Coast Graceland. It seems like a no-brainer.

* AEG owned Jackson's tour, AEG owns Staples Center. You trying to tell me that memorial service wasn't a way to somehow make them money? Look soon for the AEG DVD of the memorial service. Already there's reports of how AEG is eagerly looking at ways to turn the rehearsal footage of the tour into a movie or a DVD or something, anything, to make money.

* But don't ask AEG to help foot the $4 million bill that Los Angeles racked up to help provide support for that exploitative memorial service. It's the craziest thing we ever heard, putting on an event and doing nothing to help pay for the city services necessary for that event.

* And then there's the heartbreaking reality of Jackson's kids, embodied by the plaintive goodbye by his daughter Paris at the memorial service. He may have been our sideshow freak, but he was her father. And now he's gone.

Top five choreographers: "So You Think You Can Dance"

1. Wade Robson - The resident twisted genius, worthy of the top spot because of his dancing "Ramalama" zombies. A perfect blend of song, costumes, makeup and choreography:



2. Mandy Moore - The show's second best routine: the "Sweet Dreams" job interview.
3. Nakul Dev Mahajan - The Bollywood dude.
4. Napoleon and Tabitha D'umo - The choreographers most resembling an annoyingly good-looking high school power couple: jock and cheerleader. Please see the "Bleeding Love" routine.
5. Mia Michaels - The bipolar choreographer who claims to be the dancers' mothers but who also takes perverse glee in doling our brutally cruel honesty. She likes props: the bench routine, the door routine, the bed routine.

6.30.2009

Knee-jerk review: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Are you kidding me? No way the Cheese Fry pays good money to see that pile of crap. We can smell it from here. Michael Bay is the enemy of all that is good and just about cinema. Even his "good" movies - Bad Boys, Armageddon, The Rock - are barely watchable, so packed full of unending explosions, testosterone-fueled posturing, and machine-gun editing that makes it utterly impossible to follow the action. Pearl Harbor is about as offensive a movie as you can make, turning a real-life tragedy into popcorn entertainment packed with cool CGI effects. Look, kids, see how cool it is to see the Arizona get sunk! Imagine 9/11 as a Jason Statham action movie. That Michael Bay is a multi-millionaire surrounded by people who think he's a genius is the sort of ridiculous situation that can make your bile boil. But then again, that's showbiz... where talent has little to do with success.

6.28.2009

"Ooooohhh..."

Bill Hader is quickly raising himself to Kristen Wiig standards on "Saturday Night Live." Case in point is the genius sketch below, brilliant because A) who knew that Keith Morrison could be so mercilessly mimicked like this and B) it actually has a beginning, middle, and end on a show full of half-baked sketches consisting of a funny premise and nothing more.

The poor, poor wealthy people

New York magazine earlier this year ran a compelling, if disheartening, look at how the privileged Wall Street elite were "struggling" with the recession and public pillorying of their useless ilk. They just don't get it. Ever think maybe the U.S. could use a French-Revolution style populist uprising? Or did I just get too Noam Chomsky on you?

Live long and be nerdy

ComicMix offers a very detailed "footnote" examination of the new Star Trek movie, including how movie elements fit in (or doesn't) with the established original canon. Just the kind of pathetic obsessive-compulsion we love.

Knee-jerk review: "The Taking of Pelham 123"

1. Denzel Washington and John Travolta are bona fide movie stars. They know what they're doing and are so fun to watch. Everyone else just needs to stay out of their way.
2. Surprisingly not a lot of traditional shoot-em-up action here. Mostly sweaty tension and tough-guy dialogue. In fact, what action is present, especially at the end, feels a little forced.
3. "You may be the last friend I ever make."
4. Solid through and through, but not especially memorable.
5. Love that Denzel's character isn't the angel you expect in a summer popcorn movie hero. Ditto his pudgy mid-section.
6. We wouldn't like a rat crawling up our pants leg either.
7. We're still not convinced whether or not James Gandolfini is a good actor. He always seems to be doing a variation on Tony Soprano.
8. Not sure why director Tony Scott kept using that lame step-frame photography effect. It was more distracting than energizing.
9. In the end, we were hoping for more.

6.04.2009

Tom Selleck was supposed to be Indiana Jones

That's the only meta reason we can figure for this strange, but very amusing mashup of Star Wars and "Magnum P.I."

5.25.2009

Knee-jerk review: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

1. On the whole, it's more fun that we were expecting.
2. But it's also a little tedious and simplistic - the typical sort of chase movie motivated by revenge: you killed someone I love, so now I have to spend 45 movie-minutes hunting you down and asking a lot of people where I can find you.
3. The adamantium-infusion scene is pretty cool.
4. We also enjoyed the final showdown on the "island." That includes a twist we didn't see coming.
5. The easter egg after the end credits probably means more to actual comic book readers, which we're not. Apparently, a second easter egg that we might have appreciated more wasn't attached to the print we saw.
6. There's simply too much extraneous nonsense, like the boxing ring fight with Dukes. Pointless and actually rather embarrassing for all involved.
7. The same goes for Taylor Kitsch's Gambit. A fun character, but wholly unneeded.
8. They can call this an "Origins" movie, but it's really X-Men 4 what with all the mutants fighting each other.
9. We don't know where actress Lynn Collins came from, but we want to go to there.
10. For all the mayhem and murder going on, there's a implausible lack of blood thanks to the PG-13 rating.
11. It's Hugh Jackman's movie and he's appropriately bad ass.

5.24.2009

Ranking sitcom characters

As we all know, some sitcom characters are funnier than others. So who's the most funny and least funny? At long last, the answer to that question.

In order of more funny to less funny. The bigger the number, the less funny.

"How I Met Your Mother"
1 Barney Stinson
2 Marshall Eriksen
3 Robin Scherbatsky
4 Lily Aldrin
5 Ted Mosby

"The Big Bang Theory"
1 Sheldon Cooper
2 Leonard Hofstadter
3 Howard Wolowitz
4 Rajesh Koothrappali
5 Penny

"The Office"
1 Michael Scott
2 Kevin Malone
3 Creed Batton
4 Dwight Schrute
5 Andy Bernard
6 Toby Flenderson
7 Kelly Kapoor
8 Jim Halpert
9 Angela Martin
10 Stanley Howard
11 Phyllis Lapin
12 Meredith Palmer
13 Pam Beesly
14 Ryan Howard
15 Oscar Martinez

"30 Rock"
1 Liz Lemon
2 Jack Donaghy
3 Tracy Jordan
4 Jenna Maroney
5 Kenneth Parcell

"My Boys"
1 Andy Franklin
2 Kenny Morittori
3 Mike Callahan
4 Brendan Dorff
5 PJ Franklin
6 Bobby Newman
7 Stephanie

5.17.2009

Non-knee-jerk review: "Star Trek"

1. Right after we saw it, we thought it was fantastic. Everything we could have hoped for.
2. Nine days later, we're not so sure. It's very good, but just not quite great.
3. We have to deduct a lot of points for the weakness of the villain Nero. His motivation is rather convoluted, plus he's just not in enough scenes. And the ones he is in typically involve him delivering his lines sitting down. Dude, feel free to stand up.
4. We're also subtracting points for the big chunk of exposition delivered midway through the movie that explains Nero's above-mentioned convoluted motivation. This all happens in flashback as one character tells another character. It's a classic info-dump scene, the sort of thing screenwriters are supposed to avoid like the plague.
5. That said, the opening U.S.S. Kelvin prologue offers slam-bang excitement that raises goosebumps. Ditto the dramatic, over-the-top reveal of the "Star Trek" main title.
6. Karl Urban is doing a spot-on DeForest Kelley imitation. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but in this movie it sure is fun.
7. "Buckle up."
8. Great callback to the Kobayashi Maru test.
9. The sequence of events that puts Kirk in the captain's chair is a little far-fetched, clearly ignoring Starfleet chain of command.
10. The phaser shootout at the end is uninspired, the sort of thing you'd see in "The A-Team." But the new phasers are exceedingly cool, the barrel flipping back and forth between "stun" and "kill."
11. Simon Pegg is a perfect Scotty, but he's making it his own, rather than trying to channel James Doohan.
12. The ice planet monster was not needed.
13. We always like seeing Bruce Greenwood.
14. We also always like seeing green-skinned Orion hotties.
15. "Buckle up."
16. Zachary Quinto is an okay Spock. Chris Pine is a better Kirk.
17. The bridge beeps and chirps are from the original series. We noticed. We appreciated it.
18. There's an awful lot of running around in the halls of the Enterprise. Frantic running doesn't always equal dramatic suspense.
19. Some say there's a tribble visible on Scotty's desk. We unfortunately didn't see it.
20. We figure the next movie will feature the Klingons.
21. It's a great moment when Kirk finally appears in his gold command shirt.
22. Strangely, one of the most fleshed-out characters here is Uhura, who was traditionally the flimsiest of the main seven Enterprise characters reduced to some variation of "hailing frequencies open."
23. Leonard Nimoy is looking old.
24. The good news is that whatever problems we had with this movie have nothing to do with any nerdy worry about maintaining the Star Trek canon. That's why it's call a reboot, people. We're starting over and the Cheese Fry is okay with that. JJ Abrams and his writers take great pains to try and show that the Nero subplot has created a new timeline ala Doc Brown's speech in Back to the Future, thereby preserving the old Shatner-Nimoy timeline. If you say so. It's just as easy to sit back and enjoy the ride, just as we enjoy the Daniel Craig James Bond, which technically wipes out the Sean Connery/Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan movies.
25. Paramount has now successfully revived the franchise. Congratulations. We have confidence the sequel will be better since even-numbered Star Trek movies always are.

5.16.2009

"Today is a good day to die."

Slate recently took a closer look at the creation of the Klingon language. Yes, it's a real language. No, we don't speak it.

Ranking the "Star Trek" movies

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - Obviously still the series benchmark. Strong themes of aging and mortality, a formidable villain, great space battles, a shocking twist ending. Lean and mean. We previously cataloged the movie's best lines.

2. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) - The Borg are obviously Star Trek's scariest, most powerful antagonists and it pays off here. Dark, suspenseful, high-stakes action. Plus we get to see Earth's first warp drive test. It was all downhill from here for the "Next Generation" cast. Previously, we looked at the best "Next Generation" episodes.

3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - Espionage in space as Kirk and crew are framed for a political assassination that could derail peace talks with the Klingons. It's no mistake that Star Trek II's director Nicholas Meyer directed this one, too.

4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) - The one with the whales. The lightest, frothiest movie of the series as it mostly plays for laughs the crew's time-travel fish-out-of-water escapades in 1980s San Francisco. Good times. "I'm from Iowa, I only work in space."

5. Star Trek (2009) - The new reboot.

6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) - We're starting the slow slide into mediocrity here. This one's mostly a two-hour effort to reverse the death of Spock in Star Trek II, which makes for a tedious movie. Bonus points for the shocking moments in which the crew first steals the Enterprise and then, a few days later, blows it up.

7. Star Trek Generations (1994) - It was good to see the "Next Generation" crew on the big screen, but the cheesy Nexus plotline and the incredibly lame way they killed off Kirk are, frankly, unforgivable sins.

8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - We have to give this one its due for simply launching the movie franchise. But this is one turgid, slow-moving, oh-so-serious film that is very, very impressed with its special effects team. Consider yourself warned.

9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - We're only guessing because we haven't seen it since buying a ticket at the General Cinema Northpark I and II.

10. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) - The one where Data starts to get really annoying with his whiny need to understand humans and F. Murray Abraham is an alien with a strechy face. It's like an extended episode of the TV series, which is a death sentence for a feature film.

11. Star Trek Nemesis (2002) - The one with the Romulan Picard clone. Whatever. This debacle deserves the last slot because its sloppy, small-minded awfulness almost killed the entire "Star Trek" franchise.

Top 5 "Star Trek" episodes

1. The one where Kirk and Spock go back to 1930s Earth and Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler only to realize that Edith has to die to prevent the Nazis from winning World War II. ("The City on the Edge of Forever")

2. The one with the evil alternate universe where Spock has a goatee. ("Mirror, Mirror")

3. The one where Kirk battles the lizard-like Gorn to amuse a godlike species, but then refuses to finish the Gorn off, thereby proving humans are worthy and earning the god-like species' begrudging respect. ("Arena")

4. The one with the plant spores that shoot into your face and make you calm and docile - and if you're a Vulcan, make you fall in love with Jill Ireland. ("This Side of Paradise")

5. The one with the heavy-handed 1960s racism allegory in that it depicts the two warring aliens who are half black and half white and who refuse to stop fighting even though they're the last of their species. ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield")

5.12.2009

Manly movies

The June 2009 issue of Esquire lists the "75 Movies Every Man Should See."

* The 47 we have seen
Iron Man
Jaws
12 Angry Men
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Chinatown
The Godfather
Ghostbusters
Rosemary's Baby
North by Northwest
Lone Star
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Conversation
The Thin Blue Line
The French Connection
Miller's Crossing
Dawn of the Dean
First Blood
Bottle Rocket
Tootsie
Broadcast News
The Terminator
Dirty Harry
Raging Bull
Citizen Kane
The Shining
Fatal Attraction
The Incredibles
Blade Runner
Sling Blade
Glengarry Glen Ross
Serpico
Double Indemnity
Do the Right Thing
Gone Baby Gone
M*A*S*H
Alien
Reservoir Dogs
The Maltese Falcon
Dr. No
The Road Warrior
True Romance
All Quiet on the Western Front
Platoon
Caddyshack
Blazing Saddles
Three Kings
On the Waterfront


* The 28 we haven't yet seen
In the Heat of the Night
Slap Shot
Save the Tiger
Fitzcarraldo
Glory
Wall Street
Runaway Train
Johnny Dangerously
The Great Escape
Shaun of the Dead
Hate
Bad Day at Black Rock
Shakes the Clown
Straw Dogs
Giant
Down by Law
The Searchers
The Big Kahuna
The Verdict
The Warriors
Stalag 17
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Misfits
Cool Hand Luke
Patton
Run Silent Run Deep
Hud
Paths of Glory

5.06.2009

Non-knee-jerk review: "Southland"

The Cheese Fry rather mercilessly mocked the slow, painful death of NBC's one-time juggernaut hit "ER." That show finally went off the air last month, taking its curtain call with a rather ordinary episode that benefited most from a very cool closing CGI shot that at long last showed viewers the exterior of County General:


But we digress.*

"ER" was replaced on the NBC schedule with another John Wells drama: "Southland."

Thursday night (and every other night, for that matter) has been something of a wasteland for NBC for a while now. Not to get too inside baseball on you, but the executives that run NBC have a reputation for, shall we say, being a bit hapless, chasing trends and advertising innovations (see Nissan's starring role in "Heroes") rather than strong stories. That the network is inexplicably giving one hour of primetime every weeknight next fall to Jay Leno - a disaster that will be oh so fun to watch - suggests NBC is sort of throwing in the towel when it comes to cultivating quality dramas. The "Law & Order" franchise is starting to fray around the edges, the showrunners ran "Heroes" right into the ground, and the two vaunted new dramas of 2008, "Knight Rider" and "My Own Worst Enemy," were canceled a long time ago. The NBC dramas that do find some meager success, like "Friday Night Lights" or "Medium," seem to thrive in spite of the network.

As a result, we had very low expectations for "Southland." Just what we need, another cop show. Not enough of those on the air.

And then this creepy title sequence came on.



That's different.

It's not as gritty as something you'd find on HBO. There's a cheesy Hollywood polish to the characters and the dialogue of the sort you'd expect from the guy who co-produced "The West Wing," a show about what we all wished politics were like, not what they were really like.

That said, the "Southland" producers are doing what they can in a network timeslot to push the envelope. The bloody crimes aren't always solved; in keeping with the post-9/11 interest in antiheroes (see also: "Rescue Me," "The Sopranos," "The Shield"), a lot of the cops are just as messed up as the crooks they chase; the camerawork is loose and appealingly grainy; the action is quite clearly filmed on location on the mean streets of Hollywood (most locations mere blocks from where the Cheese Fry used to live), which add vivid detail of the sort you can't get if you were shooting in Toronto or Long Beach or, egads, North Carolina; and - in the show's most inspired stylistic decision - the dialogue is chock full of four-letter words that are bleeped out as if this were a raw documentary airing on the Sundance Channel. It all works.

Best of all, unlike so many police shows on TV now, "Southland" isn't a procedural. You're not following a crime from execution to arrest to conviction. You're not learning clever legal strategies or seeing cutting-edge forensics in the crime labs. If you want that, there's about 12 shows on CBS waiting for you. This is a show that's instead interested in the weary people who work in law enforcement, who're trying to find the will to carry on, to balance work with life, to make sense of it all. In that way, it's very much like "ER" where the neurotic doctors' foibles were just as important as the exotic medical cases.

"Southland" also employs a rather big sprawling ensemble cast of uniformed cops and plainclothes detectives. Their paths sometimes cross since they seem to work in the same precinct, but not always. You get the sense that they're not all best friends. They're certainly not a team like the CSIers or the minions working for Jack McCoy's office. One episode might feature the patrol cops, another might show only the detectives. This kind of narrative messiness makes the show distinctive. It feels real. You might see your coworker tomorrow, but maybe she's out and you're in a meeting all day. It's that kind of detail that zings.

Plus there's also Regina King, who steals every scene she's in. Has she always been this good?

The show isn't perfect, folks, but it's trying. Which is more than a lot of shows can say. We'll definitely be paying attention, especially since NBC recently picked up the show for a second season. (Maybe the executives aren't so hapless after all.)

Excuse us while we re-watch that title sequence.

* We were big fans of the recent "ER" episode that brought back Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway. Who can resist the tilted-head doctorly charms of George Clooney? Not us. The way Doug and Carol, who live in Seattle now, wound up in the show (the old transplant subplot trick) was fairly clever. Bonus points also for the chat Ross had with some current cast members of "ER" trying to see if they shared any common colleagues at County General. Turns out too much time had passed. Ross didn't know them; he didn't know them. Sniff.

But who could have guessed that the real power of that episode would be the reunion of Dr. Peter Benton and Dr. John Carter? Their prickly, begrudging relationship had been a constant of "ER's" golden age. So there was some real poignancy in seeing them reconnect and share some laughs. It's like having a drink with old friends. The real kicker comes when Benton insisted on supervising Carter's kidney transplant, using his arrogant jackassery in the OR to browbeat a fellow arrogant, jackass doctor (who's the bigger jackass? Benton, of course!) into taking proactive steps that - naturally - helped save Carter from a possibly deadly complication. That's good stuff.

Change the channel

Sixteen television shows of which we're proud to say we've never seen a single episode:

(in reverse order of perceived lameness, lamest at the top)
"Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"
"The Tyra Banks Show"
"Tyler Perry's House of Payne"
"Rules of Engagement"
"The Biggest Loser"
"Smallville"
"Lie to Me"
"NCIS"
"Fringe"
"Brothers & Sisters"
"Private Practice"
"Ugly Betty"
"The Closer"
"Bones"
"Grey's Anatomy"
"The Amazing Race"

4.19.2009

One full order of cheese fries

Regular readers of The Cheese Fry, all nine of you, will notice our shiny new header image.

The photo* is indeed of a plate of hot cheese fries, served up last January at Snuffer's in McKinney, Texas. These are the cheese fries from which this blog got its name. If you're the sort to keep a list of things to do before you die, add towards the top "have a plate of Snuffer's cheese fries." That's no joke.

Back in the day, you'd get your order of cheese fries (inexplicably called by the more haughty name "cheddar fries" on the menu) in a basket lined with crumbled tin foil. Welcome to the 21st century, where cheese (sorry, "cheddar") fries arrive on a porcelain dish.

* Not pictured: the side of chives, bacon, and jalapenos.

4.18.2009

"EA Sports... It's in the game."

In light of John Madden's retirement this week from NFL announcing, which probably came 4 or 5 years too late, Sports Illustrated posted the covers of all 20 editions of EA Sports' "Madden NFL Football" video game.

The influence of that game on 20- and 30-something men cannot be understated. It's a cultural touchstone. A shared experience. Most guys you meet today, if asked, will have played Madden sometime in the last 12 months. It's just the way it is. Its appeal is universal and undeniable, made better of course with beer, soft drinks, and/or greasy burgers and/or pizza.

There's the competition and camraderie, sure, running your favorite team against your friend's favorite team. Those two teams are probably awful in the real world, but there you are, throwing for 400 yards or organizing a 85-Bears-like defensive shutout. You prefer the sweep left, but don't mind an occasional bootleg right. You could be a coach. Hell, you could be a player. Look how you pushed that X button and hit that hole. That was a busted play, bro, but you turned it into a first down. Glorious.

But it's not all lollipops and roses. You're human. You push the circle when you meant to push the triangle. You call a time-out when you meant to just pause the game. Adding to the anguish of making a mistake is having to suffer the indignity of Pat Summerall stating the obvious and mocking your miserable play. Like you didn't know that was a bad throw. Or that time is running out. Thanks, Pat. And he makes his comment with the same obvious and mocking phrase - embedded deep in your PS2's electronic brain - you've heard a million times before. That's when you make a cruel comment about Pat's alcoholism. Or his advanced age.

Aside from all of that, though, the even more meaningful contribution of Madden is football education. The Cheese Fry probably learned more about the Xs and Os of football from calling Madden plays than from watching actual games. It's one thing to hear about the value of the running game or the need for savvy clock management. It's quite another to experience it first-hand and learn hard lessons.

Madden makes us better fans. And it makes us better people.

Thanks, John Madden, for giving us "Madden."

Do you know what stands in the shadow of the statue?

Variety's Michael Schneider offers some great ideas on how ABC can milk "Lost" between the end of this season and the start of next season, its last.

Mr. Drummond is a kidnapper

Via Newsweek's Pop Vox comes this ingenious YouTube clip that illustrates the power of music in film and television. Change the opening theme music and "Diff'rent Strokes" suddenly becomes a creepy exploitation thriller in which no good will surely come to the poor Jackson brothers.

4.13.2009

Sitcom sets in Lego

This strange collection of 1970s-80s Lego sitcom set replicas is one pop culture obsession that we at the Cheese Fry can truly admire. It's the sort of oddball OCD thing we would have done. (If you ever want to see an extensive collection of handmade Star Trek props rendered in balsa wood and Testor model paint, let us know.)

4.12.2009

The 1-800-Dentist lady

It could be another of those love/hate things or some people, but the Cheese Fry is strangely intrigued by the oddball chatterbox woman in the recent batch of 1-800-Dentist spots that take place on the world's biggest office elevator. You know the ones.

If you share our interest, you may want to know that the 1-800-Dentist people have actually created a whole YouTube channel that features this campaign. (It also features a lot of corporate office party type videos that don't seem designed for public consumption.)



Our investigative team have discovered that the actress in the spots is improv comedian Suzi Barrett. You'll find five long "outtakes" on the YouTube channel, which allows Suzi to riff in all kinds of tangents and play up the sexual tension between her and Fred the 1-800-Dentist guy.

4.11.2009

Cassette tape rewind: College graduation

April 1994 was a good time for the Cheese Fry as its four-year college journey slowly wound down. Back then, the most pressing decision to be made was whether or not to skip a lame Film Criticism class (Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Here's the top ten songs from the week of April 16, 1994.

1. R. Kelly "Bump N Grind" - Really? This was a number one song? Are you as surprised as us?

2. Ace of Base "The Sign" - A fairly annoying song in its day, in constant rotation on the radio, but the years have been quite kind. Nostalgia has given it a glossy sheen. We turn it up when it comes on now.

3. Mariah Carey "Without You" - Mariah Carey's songs all sound the same, don't they?

4. Crash Test Dummies "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" - This is the one A+ keeper on this list, a deeply weird, deeply catchy song involving families who have seizures at church and kids who go directly home right after school. A karaoke staple for us. And a textbook definition of "one-hit wonder."

5. Celine Dion "Power of Love" - Whatever.

6. All-4-One "So Much in Love" - No idea.

7. Salt N Pepa "Whatta Man" - This one may not have aged well, but it's one of those hooky rap-meets-R&B songs before such a thing became so ubiquitous. (Plus Fox Sports used it to showcase Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith in a huge game against the Giants.) The quintessential Salt N Pepa song, of course, remains "Push It."

8. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" - We can take it or leave it. It's good, sure, but we won't be sad if we never heard it again.

9. Richard Marx "Now and Forever" - Marx was huge back in the Cheese Fry's high school days, so this must be the song that Marx figured would signal some kind of 1990s comeback. No idea what it sounds like.

10. Bruce Springsteen "Streets of Philadelphia" - Lots of people find Springsteen to be a modern-day poet, a genius of music and lyrics. The Cheese Fry is not one of those people.

3.06.2009

Knee-jerk review: "Watchmen"

1. Yes, we saw it at the 12:15am show. No, we won't do that again. Four hours of sleep on a school night? We're not 20 anymore.
2. "I'm not locked in here with you... you're locked in here with me!"
3. They basically recreated the comic book, shot for shot, scene for scene. So what was the point? Why bother?
4. Some cool stuff, but also rather tedious. This was an adaptation that could have used some, like, adapting. You get a sense that the filmmakers were too shackled to the source material, too afraid to alienate the fans by deviating from the text in any way.
5. We remain big fans of director Zach Snyder, though. 300 was awesome and his remake of Dawn of the Dean is way underrated.
6. Jackie Earle Haley completely steals the movie as Rorschach. Intense performance.
7. If you haven't read the comic books (er, excuse us, the "graphic novel"), it's hard to say how you'll respond. It's very dense and very convoluted. We're not ever sure we fully understand it all.
8. Wait until you see the circular saw scene. You'll know it when you see it.
9. The Owlship is pretty cool. And the use of its flamethrower gives the film two of its biggest laughs.
10. It's not the most feminist movie ever made. The women characters (well, there's really just one) are all completely defined by their relationships to the male characters.
11. Matthew Goode as Ozymandias sounds like he's channelling Criss Angel's flat, sing-song, lispy monotone.
12. Who doesn't love Nena's "99 Luft Balloons"?
13. As one Cheese Fry colleague noted, the graphic novel feels more alive and cinematic than the actual movie.
14. And no, there's really not even that much cool action, slow-motion, double-time, or otherwise.
15. The look of the movie is very cool, of course.
16. It's arguable that the credit sequence is the best part of the whole thing.
17. One thing is certain: there has never been a character quite like Dr. Manhattan. One of a kind.
18. In the end, our reaction is a sort of reluctant, disappointed "ehh."

2.28.2009

8-bit Randy the Ram

One of the best parts of The Wrestler happens when Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) plays a 1980s Nintendo wrestling video game, one more sad way he's stuck in the past, reliving his glory days. The video game is a small detail in a single short scene, but it goes a long way to providing a strong dose of verisimilitude.

Kotaku talks to the folks who designed that fake NES game. It actually worked.

2.24.2009

Best and Worst Movies of 2008

1 Slumdog Millionaire – There’s a lot going on in this epic story: star-crossed love, rags to riches redemption, brutal crimes, resilient orphans. It’s Charles Dickens meets Bollywood. You can spend a lot of time slicing and dicing the film’s layered themes and symbolism or the way it so skillfully shifts gears from comedy to tragedy. The lasting impact of this film in exporting Indian culture to a wide Western audience cannot be overestimated. Memorably indelible.
Our knee-jerk review

2 Wall-E – Pixar movies are so consistently smart and sleek that superlative adjectives begin to lose all meaning. This one, however, may be the best yet, mashing together a critique of all-American consumerism, a cautionary tale of ecological ruin, and – most satisfying of all – a poignant
romance between two robots far more endearing and vivid than most glossy Hollywood romantic comedies. The first half-hour, which is almost completely without dialogue, is particularly magical. An instant classic.

3 Iron Man – Imagine Bruce Wayne without all the psychological baggage, a multi-millionaire who might actually, like, you know, enjoy fighting crime with cool gizmos. The movie’s got a dark edge to it in that it deals with the morality of arms dealing and the mortality of the main character. But mostly it’s sunny, fizzy fun thanks to Robert Downey, Jr. in a role he was born to play. This one ranks up there with Spiderman 2 and X-Men as one of the best superhero movies ever. Far more humor than you’d expect.
Our knee-jerk review

4 Cloverfield – Godzilla from the point of view of the screaming citizens. How’s that for high concept? The first 15 minutes can be tedious as the (yes, we admit it, cardboard) characters get introduced, but once the monster attacks, it’s a powerhouse roller-coaster of a movie and a special effects tour de force. Dig that leaned-over skyscraper. Extra credit for a surprisingly downbeat, somber vibe where a happy ending is not a sure thing. Vastly underrated.
Our knee-jerk review

5 Rachel Getting Married– This is what’s so great about independent filmmaking. Flawed characters get together and talk about why they’re so flawed and how they might (or might not) get better, ugly dark family secrets are pushed into the daylight, editors don’t have to conform to trendy chop-chop-chop rapid-fire cuts, perky Hollywood stars like Anne Hathway get to prove that they really can act, and established talents like Debra Winger have a chance to remind us how good they can be.
Our knee-jerk review

6 Gran Torino – A lean, gritty little movie about letting go of hateful habits and embracing the possibility of redemption. Eastwood hits the jackpot playing a surly Korean War veteran who still has some ass-whooping left in the tank. Some have rightfully pointed out that had Eastwood’s character unleashed his slurs on African-Americans rather than Asian-Americans he might not be so amusing a character. In a strange way, that’s just the sort of uncomfortable question about race that drives the whole movie.
Our knee-jerk review

7 Hancock – A lot of movies pay lip service to exploring “what it would be like if superheroes were real,” but this film really runs with the idea. A cranky superhero who’s blamed for the property damage he causes, drinks to forget the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and ultimately hires a PR flack to help rehab his image. And that’s just the first half of the film. Midway through, the story takes a wooly left turn that Changes Everything. But you have to go with it. Seriously. Don’t fight it. Embrace the plot twist. You won’t be disappointed.
Our knee-jerk review

8-9 Forgetting Sarah Marshall/Role Models– Don’t believe for a minute that the sloppy train wreck that was Tropic Thunder was the best comedy of the year. These two are more hilarious by a factor of at least five. And far more plausible. There’s comic alchemy at work here, matching actors playing to their persona strengths (e.g. Jason Segel’s sensitive shlub, Paul Rudd’s wiseass misanthrope) with comic filmmakers at the top of their form (Nicholas Stoller and David Wain).

10 The Dark Knight – Make no mistake: this is one extremely overrated movie. There’s too much story, the film straining at the seams to contain all of the subplots and characters and themes. Smaller would have been better. But we must begrudgingly admit that few “popcorn” summer movies would ever dare to tackle such epic ideas about justice and obsession. And there’s nothing overrated at all about Heath Ledger’s blistering performance as the Joker. He makes you forget all about Jack Nicholson’s take on the character. Ledger’s creative fire will be sorely missed.
Our knee-jerk review

11 The Visitor – The quietest, simplest, and most human film on the list. What would you do if you found a Muslim couple squatting in your apartment? It’s a look at how small choices can have big consequences, how the middle-aged can always start over, and, on a bigger scale, how American immigration policy can be aggressively (and perhaps needlessly) impersonal and heartless. The lead role was written specifically for Richard Jenkins and it shows. He’s pitch perfect.

12 The Reader – There’s indeed something tired about Holocaust movies, which often seem to have been designed to wow critics and win awards. And a lot of what happens in this movie is fairly familiar. It’s the tragic characters that make the story pop, locked as they are into self-destructive choices fueled by shameful secrets. The final 20 minutes pack a real punch. Stephen Daltry’s only directed three movies – all three have been nominated for Best Picture. That’s quite a track record.

Honorable Mention: Baby Mama, Frost/Nixon, The House Bunny, In Bruges, Kung Fu Panda, Marley and Me, Man on Wire, Milk, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Quantum of Solace, The Ruins, and Wanted.


The Worst of 2008 (in alphabetical order)

Changeling – If the Angelina Jolie character were played by Valerie Bertinelli, this would be right at home on Lifetime. You wouldn’t have to change a word. It was the best of times, it was the worst of time, huh, Clint? (See #6 above.)
Our knee-jerk review

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – This is one of those stuffy, stiff movies that tries so very hard to be Important that it fails miserably to be engaging on any level other than the lush production design. We couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Our knee-jerk review

The Happening – It’s safe to say the bloom is off the M. Night Shyamalan rose. What was once a strong brand name is now a joke. A terribly silly movie with a ridiculous ending. Avoid it like the plague. You have been warned.
Our knee-jerk review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls – We liked it at first, too. But upon further review, we cannot endorse this disappointing, lazy exercise in George Lucas ego stroking. He wanted aliens and by God, he got aliens over the objections of just about everyone involved. Thanks, George. Way to ruin one of our childhood icons. Aliens. Seriously?

Tropic Thunder – Robert Downey, Jr. is amazing, no doubt. And the “Simple Jack” bits are hilarious. This slapdash mess is never as funny as it thinks it is. It certainly could have been a great comedy, but that would have required more rewrites and a clearer, sharper vision than director Ben Stiller can bring to bear. The people making the movie seem to be having a lot more fun that you will be watching it.
Our knee-jerk review

Vantage Point – If you saw the kickass trailer, you probably wanted to see this movie. Sadly, the movie they sold is not the movie that they made. It’s something that happens a lot in Hollywood, but the transgression is never this insulting. It’s cheap, implausible trash that thinks it’s Three Days of the Condor.
Our knee-jerk review

X Files I Want to Believe – This is how you kill a movie franchise. It’s not even up to the level of a mediocre episode of the series.


The Cheese Fry wishes the above list were more exhaustive and comprehensive, but time and budget realities meant that we simply didn’t get a chance to see everything. Films we heard very good things about but have yet to find out first-hand: Doubt, Frozen River, Happy Go Lucky, I’ve Loved You So Long, Nothing But the Truth, and Vicky Christina Barcelona.