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!
Paranormal Activity
The Proposal
The Time Traveler's Wife
Where the Wild Things Are
Whip It

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.


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
An American in Paris
Wuthering Heights
Dances with Wolves
The Wild Bunch
Duck Soup
Mutiny on the Bounty
Easy Rider
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.


"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.


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."