Post-yuletide malaise

You'd think a grown adult would grow jaded about Christmas, develop an immunity to yuletide cheer. Not us. The run-up to December 25 remains our favorite time of the year (some might call it that most wonderful time of the year), which means December 26 leads to a calendar sugar crash of immense proportions.

No more anticipation regarding the presents - gifts are suddenly open and what was a pile of mysterious packages is now just a pile of wadded-up paper. No more stop-motion 1960s holiday TV specials. No more of that infectious holiday buzz at malls and grocery stores as everyone rushes to get everything done on time. No more "A Christmas Story" marathons. No more lines to get a picture with Santa. No more holiday-themed TV episodes or commercials where everyone's looking out a snowy window or presenting perfect snacks on candlelit suburban tables. No more countdowns of shopping days. No more turkey and dressing leftovers. No more over-the-top set decorations on the network morning shows that are all snowflakes and aluminum trees. No more reason to stay in town to see family and old friends, not when the real world and your job awaits back home. No more uttering of "Happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas" to strangers. No more wink-wink "scientific" discussions of tracking Santa's progress on Christmas Eve. No more "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses on your local radio station. No more relevance to the many artifacts that remain until January 2, things like rooftop Christmas lights, your living room tree, or that mistletoe-scented candle, things that are now instantly obsolete and serve only to cruelly remind us that it's all over.

See you next December.

Knee-jerk review: "My Week with Marilyn"

1. Finally, a legitimate indie arthouse drama. Call it a palate cleanser after the in-your-face pyrotechnics and sequel theatrics of Mission Impossible 4 and Sherlock Holmes 2.
2. Michelle Williams dazzles. She doesn't look at all like Marilyn, yet at the same time looks exactly like her, if that makes sense. She seems to somehow capture Marilyn's essence (as if any of us even know what that might be). And she completely nails the voice.
3. But she nearly gets the movie stolen out from under her by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench, both at the top of their game.
4. Marilyn may have suffered under the invasive scrutiny of her fans, but she would have been miserable without their attention. If you buy what this film is selling, she simply had to have the adoration. She was desperate for approval and love.
5. What red-blooded American male wouldn't have wilted at the phrase "Call me Marilyn"? Gulp.
6. We were very engaged by the backstage drama involving the making of The Prince and the Showgirl, especially the arguments over Method Acting and the delicate politics of handling a temperamental star. The sycophantic hand-holding, the chronic tardiness, the ineffective self-medication that does more harm than good, the crippling self-doubt of fragile egos... is this a period piece or a modern-day documentary? On-set problems with A-list movie stars all remain the same.
7. Marilyn refers to her persona at one point in the third-person "her" - suggesting she turns on that charm and performs as Marilyn when she thinks that's what required. Fascinating.
8. We were trying to imagine what sort of modern-day movie star might be Marilyn's equal. That is, if you're a first-time employee of a big Hollywood production and you wind up in a strange romance with the leading lady, spending a weekend with her, sharing both kisses and a bed, what sexy contemporary star (i.e. someone every man wants) would it have to be to rival the ridiculous situation our young hero finds himself in? Angelina Jolie probably wins the "sexy" scale, but is she an A-list movie star? Maybe. We also considered Julia Roberts in her early 1990s prime, but as huge as she was, Julia was never sexy and desirable like Marilyn, was she? The landscape has changed.
9. Emma Watson probably shot her scenes in three days.


2011 movies we wished we'd seen

The 2009 arrival of Li'l Fry has put a crimp in our habit of seeing one or two new releases in theaters every weekend. That sort of social-life spontaneity is now a completely alien concept. The list of movies we have seen in theaters can be counted on two hands (The King's Speech, Hanna, Bridesmaids, X Men First Class, Super 8, Moneyball, The Muppets, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).

The movies we wanted to see, but didn't, are legion:

30 Minutes or Less
The Adjustment Bureau
Another Earth
Apollo 18
The Artist
Captain America
Cars 2
Cedar Rapids
The Change-Up
The Descendants
Dream House
Fast Five
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Green Hornet
Green Lantern
Hall Pass
The Hangover Part II
Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Help
Horrible Bosses
The Ides of March
In Time
Like Crazy
The Lincoln Lawyer
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Midnight in Paris
My Week with Marilyn
Our Idiot Brother
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Scream 4
The Skin I Live In
Sucker Punch
Take Me Home Tonight
Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon
The Thing
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Young Adult

In a perfect world, all of these would have clever, pithy knee-jerk reviews that would amuse and dazzle you.


Knee-jerk review: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

1. Like the first movie, the plot can be impossible to follow. Sure, you'll understand the broad strokes of the story. But connecting the dots in a he's-doing-that-because-of-this way is often impossible. The action will shift locations, a new character will pop up, something important will happen and you'll hear an ominous music cue, and you won't understand any of it. So you'll just sort of have to go with the flow.
2. Not happy at all with the first act turn that does something dastardly to a character played by a Future Ex-Mrs. Cheese Fry.
3. Some pretty good action bits, especially the train sequence. But this is a movie that likes to chop up the fight scenes into little staccato chunks (perhaps the better to hide the fact that it's stuntmen doing the hard work rather than our actors). It's exciting and energetic, but also disorienting and confusing in a Michael Bay sort of way.
4. There is a certain novelty to an action movie set in 1891. Take this same story and put it in contemporary times and it wouldn't be as interesting.
5. Also a big help: the wry British humor.
6. The first 40 minutes or so is a tedious drag. The exposition and chit-chat goes on and on. Things perk up once Holmes meets his match in Professor Moriarty. Always good to have a villian who is the equal of the hero.
7. We don't think it's going to happen, Noomi Rapace. Sorry.
8. Lame Pulp Fiction ripoff. Points deducted.
9. We do like the bits in which Holmes uses his deductive reasoning.
10. But we hate the inclusion of Holmes' daffy brother. A big distraction who doesn't fit the rest of the movie.
11. Interesting theme involving the way technology is intertwined with war. For a story set at the turn of the century, but still many years away from the meat grinder of World War I, it makes perfect sense that so much is made of the growing war-making industries, especially a running gag in which the characters find bigger and bigger guns to use against one another. The days of knife fights and fist fights are coming to an end.
12. Robert Downey Jr's zippy chemistry with Jude Law remains the reason these films work as well as they do.
13. Unlike the first movie, this movie's climax doesn't feel like a cheat. Good fun, especially the final scene.
14. Tough decision as to whether it's really worth paying a movie admission or waiting to make it a DVD rental.


Knee-jerk review: "Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol"

1. Grade immediately after the lights came on in the theater: A+.
2. Grade on the drive home, thinking about the plot: B+.
3. It's that kind of movie. It moves so fast and with such relentless energy that you happily swallow all of the convoluted plot turns and glossed-over implausibilities. But there's a lot of "How come?" questions once you start analyzing it all.
4. As cool as this movie is, "Ghost Protocol" could not be more cheesy. It's like something an 8th grader thought up because it sounds cool.
5. Always good to see Tom Wilkinson.
6. We like to watch Tom Cruise run. He's got that look of sweaty panic that suggests if he doesn't get to where he's going as fast as he possibly can, sprinting rather than running, he'll be completely screwed and the world will not be saved. You buy it 100%.
7. The middle section of the movie that takes place in a monster Dubai high-rise (you've seen clips in all of the trailers and TV spots), is a crackerjack set piece. Best part of the movie and arguably among the best action-suspense scenes ever made. Some ingenious moments.
8. Too bad the climax in India never quite reaches those same heights, though the business with the steel suitcase is pretty exciting.
9. The director, Brad Bird, also directed Pixar's The Incredibles, which was packed full of intricately-choreographed action sequences where everything that can go wrong does go wrong and the heroes must endlessly improvise. Same kind of vibe at work in Ghost Protocol.
10. Paula Patton is undeniably hot, but the real surprise here is how deep a character she gets to play. She's grappling with the loss of a boyfriend, the question of whether vengeance will make her feel better, and professional self-doubt in a job where confidence is everything. She's not just the eye candy.
11. Spy movies got a bit boring once they became all about stealing passwords and passcodes.
12. The hallway hologram thing? Way cool.
13. Extra points for the Sawyer cameo.
14. It's not an action movie without someone falling to his/her death, is it?
15. Where does it rank among the Mission Impossible movies? Probably right at the top. The only thing we remember about the first one is the CIA white room bit and the offensive plot twist in which Jim Phelps turned out to be a traitor. The second one was John Woo gunfights and motorcycles and the sourpuss that is Thandie Newton. We liked the last one with snide villain Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the rabbit's foot (whatever that was), and Tom Cruise getting a love interest. But this one seems stronger. More epic, tighter and more complex plotting, more ingenious "Mission Impossible" gimmicks.
16. Way too many kick-ass moments to count. Cars flying, guns pointing, buildings exploding, martial-art moves moving, fireballs roiling. A real roller coaster.
17. Go see it, people. You'll really love it until the car ride home. And even then, you'll like it a lot.


Best #1 songs of 2011

The following fourteen songs all placed in the number one spot on Billboard's singles chart during 2011. We figured it was worth a look to see which ones still stick in our heads and seem the most worthy and which ones we don't remember and seem like big mistakes.

1 "Party Rock Anthem" LMFAO - We thought this group was a Black Eyed Peas ripoff (two weird dudes, one hot girl) when we first saw them on some TV show. Then we heard the song. The zippy backbeat and tweaky synth melody got our vote for song of the year.
2 "Last Friday Night" Katy Perry - We heard about parties like this in high school but never attended one in person. Catchy and memorable. Great twist also in that the disastrous, black-out events of last Friday will soon be repeated this Friday. The stubborn, reckless stupidity of youth.
3 "We Found Love" Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris - No idea what the verses say, but that soaring chorus is nothing short of amazing. "We found love in a hopeless place." Evocative.
4 "Give Me Everything" Pitbull - Another of those techno hip-hop songs (with yet another LMFAO-style earworm synth hook) that we know we shouldn't like, but then can't help ourselves. Pitbull was everywhere this year - you couldn't turn on a music program without seeing him hamming it up.
5 "Firework" Katy Perry - A cheesy, transparent, overly earnest attempt to create an empowerment anthem. We know. But we still like it. For those very reasons.
6 "E.T." Katy Perry featuring Katy Perry - Gee, we really must like Katy Perry. So be it. This one isn't her usual peppy, polished pop music jewel. It's weird and dark and oddly robotic. "Infect me with your love and fill me with your poison." What do you suppose that means?
7 "Rolling in the Deep" Adele - Objectively, this should probably be the song of the year. Nothing else was as ubiquitous or beloved. But despite the hook and Adele's big-belted vocals, it's not exactly the kind of thing you can sing along to. And it was way overplayed. We heard it everywhere to the point of diminishing returns.
8 "Born This Way" Lady Gaga - There are better Gaga songs, but it's solid and hooky. Plus, we found this one unfairly attacked for sounding too Madonna. Strange, since Madonna hasn't sounded like Madonna since 1998.
9 "Grenade" Bruno Mars - The Bruno Mars phenomenon is a curious one. He's talented and silky smooth, sure, but we can't quite connect. Lil' Fry did love the "Lazy Song" video, however, with the dancers in monkey masks. So bonus points for that.
10 "Someone Like You" Adele - Powerful and poignant. But we ask you: would you really pay to see her sing this live on stage in concert? It's soooo slow... and soooo dreary.
11 "Moves Like Jagger" Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera - We're big fans of Maroon 5. How can you not love the whistling? But we have to take away points for invoking the image of a rock star 30 years past his prime.
12 "Hold It Against Me" Britney Spears - Wouldn't know it if we heard it. And proud to say so.
13 "Black and Yellow" Wiz Khalifa - All we know is that it was maybe inspired by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
14 "S&M" Rihanna featuring Britney Spears - Huh?


Happy holidays circa 1960s

Nothing says Christmas like the rerunning of animated holiday specials first aired back in the 1960s and 70s. We've knee-jerked three of the most popular in past years:

"The Year Without Santa Claus"

And to all a good night!

Observations from an NFL stadium

The Cheese Fry was in attendance at the Christmas Eve game at Cowboys Stadium in which the Cowboys again prove that they're just good enough to disappoint their fans time and again.

* If you think getting to the game two hours before kickoff is "early," about 10,000 other fans think so, too.

* People sometimes joke that their Sunday religion is the NFL. If so, then the steel and glass monstrosity that is Cowboys Stadium is surely their church. It is enormous.

* 16 ounces of beer is $8.50. We will admit, however, that it was ice cold.

* It's hard to not watch the infamous 60-yards-long HD screen as if you're still in your living room. You have force yourself to watch the action down on the actual field.

* You don't have to have a screw loose to go to a game in face paint, but it probably helps, don't you think? Especially for those who go shirtless and apply face paint to their pasty white pudgy torsos.

* The video packages displayed on the in-stadium screens are incredibly sophisticated and polished. And remarkably effective in stirring emotion. They play you like a cheap violin. You will laugh... here. You will get fired up... here.

* We're glad we brought binoculars. All the better to see Tony Romo huddle up with Steven McGee on the sideline to try and figure just what in the hell is wrong with the Dallas offense.

* We have new respect for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The most we usually ever see of them involves mugging for the Fox Sports cameras as the games go to commercial, but at the stadium, they're working hard between quarters and during TV timeouts. The halftime routine was easily ten minutes of choreography.

* Nachos are $9. And it's the exact same kind of nachos you'd pay $4 for at your local cineplex.

* Not many things more miserable than watching your team flail and stumble while the opposing team racks up yards and touchdowns. Well, there is one thing more miserable: having the opposing team's fans cheer and holler. Who knew there were any actual Eagles fans outside of Pennsylvania?

* In person, NFL game day is like a one-day, PG-13-rated house party. Wall to wall people, loud music, crazy clothes, lots of food and alcohol. Plus Santa Claus.

* If there's a way to honor the military, the NFL will do so. Not passing judgment on the questionable pandering that hasn't ebbed since 2001, just making an observation.

* Some of the players in pre-game stretching exercises look like they could perform with Cirque de Soleil the way they contort and bend.

* Plastic bucket of slightly stale popcorn is $10. But you get to keep the souvenir bucket.

* There's always one or two jackasses who won't take off their hat for the national anthem. What is their malfunction?

* It's such a big operation that the stadium has something of an in-house TV show going on, with a host setting up videoclips, interviewing guests, and announcing promotions. All of it coming to you live from the concourse.

* Looking at all of the corporate signage, the mind reels in thinking how much Jerry Jones is paid for the privilege. Dr Pepper, AT&T, Miller Lite, Ford. The list goes on and on.

* Are we old or is the stadium audio turned up about two notches too loud?

* We hate not sitting on the aisle. There's no graceful way to shuffle down the row without getting intimate with the people you're passing.

* Bottle of water is $5. Bargain of the day.

* You surely can't find a more enjoyable way to drop $200 or so, spend an entire day standing in line in the cold, then sitting in a hard plastic seat, all to watch your team get dropped like a JV squad.


Knee-jerk review: "The Muppets"

1. We were the only person in the theater not seeing it with a small child.
2. We were also the only person in the theater seeing it alone.
3. We probably looked creepy.
4. Sweet and charming. And for Generation Xers who remember watching "The Muppet Show" in syndication back in the late 1970s, also a bittersweet nostalgia trip.
5. Which connects nicely to one of the movie's unexpectedly dark themes: a worry that one's glory days can never be recaptured or bettered.
6. We'd follow Jason Segel anywhere. Dude's way underrated. A minor genius.
7. Watching a re-enactment of "The Muppet Show" opening number? Goosebumps.
8. In a way, all you really need to know about this movie is that the arch villain played by Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper raps. If that idea amuses you in any way, this movie is for you.
9. We always liked Kermit, sure (though we still can't accept his new, non-Jim Henson voice) but mostly just tolerated Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. Real fans know it's Animal and Beaker that deserve our full attention.
10. It's a Disney movie, so it stands to reason that the film's "Muppet Theater" is really the Disney-owned El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
11. We sometimes wish we could travel by map.
12. Strong original songs here, some tender and poignant, others goofy and ridiculous. None will be noticed by the Oscars.
13. As much as we enjoyed it, we probably liked the Pixar "Toy Story" short that preceded it even better, especially the way it cleverly skewers something that so richly deserves skewering: the cheesy, cheap, one-gimmick plastic toys that come with fast food meals.


He won the lottery and died the next day

Does Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" provide actual examples of irony or just bad luck? We've heard this argument before many times, but it's still interesting to think about and the L.A. Weekly offers a fairly in-depth look at the lyrics.

Is this the worst song of the 1990s as Ben Westhoff suggests? That's a whole other question. We vote for "Macarena" and "All Star."


Kung-fu Kirk

The nerds at io9 compiled a hilarious list of Captain Kirk's best fight moves. Seems like hand-to-hand combat will become a lost art in the 23rd century. We've always been a fan of the strange karate "hi-ya!" chop to the opponent's neck.


Don't let the Dodger Stadium door hit you

Dodger fans rejoiced when news emerged last week that shamelessly stubborn slimeball Frank McCourt finally saw the writing on the wall (e.g. that Bud Selig would never, ever let him keep the team and, in fact, wished he could find a DeLorean to go back in time and prevent himself from ever allowing McCourt to come within 1000 feet of the team, much less buy it with what was essentially a maxed-out Visa credit card). McCourt, you see, agreed to sell the team.

Good things (if you don't count Game 6, also known as the Ninth Inning We Don't Talk About) happened to the Texas Rangers with new ownership. Maybe the Dodgers are in for some sunnier times as well.

Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness catalogs the many crimes and misdeeds of Frank and his blowsy wannabe-Real Housewife of Beverly Hills wife Jamie. They came to Los Angeles wanting to be loved and respected power players, they leave hated and reviled and listed among the city's most infamous figures.

Nicely played, losers.


Not-so-knee-jerk review: "Moneyball"

1. We saw it a few weeks ago. So it's not exactly fresh in our minds.
2. A fairly riveting look at the inner workings of a baseball team front office: scouting players, riding the ups and lows of a season grind, wheeling and dealing for trades on the phone, cutting players.
3. Make no mistake. Brad Pitt is a Movie Star. And he has his charisma cranked way up here. The perfect part for him.
4. Too bad the story didn't build to a stronger ending. No World Series run. Just a win streak. Sometimes the truth isn't as compelling as fiction.
5. It's a Columbia movie so all of the electronic gadgets have a very prominent Sony logo.
6. Loved the power-struggle between GM and manager. You won't start the players I want, then I'll trade your players away so you have to start my players. Ruthless.
7. Major League was a lot of fun and Field of Dreams certainly captures the romance and nostalgia of baseball, but Bull Durham remains the undisputed best baseball movie. We also have a soft spot for the underrated For Love of the Game and The Rookie.
8. No, we didn't read the book either.
9. We know someone who knows the player Brad Pitt cuts. A little detail the movie didn't mention: that player was cut just a few days shy of a contractual benchmark that would have granted him a full pension from Major League Baseball. He's now a high school teacher.
10. Always fun to watch stubborn old-timers get told off, isn't it? They just Don't Get It.
11. A guy with an ugly girlfriend has no confidence. Funny. And kind of true, if you think about it.
12. Worth seeing.

Knee-jerk review: FX's "American Horror Story"

1. Well that was certainly disturbing.
2. Yeah yeah, it's been on the air a while now. We just watched the pilot. Thank you, DirecTV DVR.
3. If we didn't know the two showrunners also created the narrative-train-wreck that is "Glee," we would never have believed it.
4. Only in movies and TV shows do people have no problem buying a creepy house in which someone was killed. How often do you think that happens in the real world?
5. Connie Britton. So amazing. But we feel like she's cheating on Kyle Chandler when we see her with a new TV husband.
6. The credit sequence gave us goosebumps. And not in a good way. Few things more unsettling than old turn-of-the-century black-and-white photos where the people just sort of stare dead-eyed into the camera. We almost stopped watching.
7. Dylan McDermott's character is a complete jerk, but he's Dylan McDermott so you still kind of like him.
8. "You're going to die in there."
9. Pilots are supposed to clearly sketch out the main characters and provide a clear indication of future subplots and storylines. No lack of possibilities here. A brilliant, efficient introduction into a fairly complicated situation.
10. Genius: wife sees housekeeper as dowdy and wrinkled, husband sees housekeeper as young and sexy. Shades of The Shining.
11. The producers sure do like to take advantage of FX's willingness to let a certain s-word fly free. A little much, if you ask us.
12. Jessica Lange seems to be enjoying herself.
13. Great stuff. We may even like it better than our favorite other new show, "Person of Interest."


Zombie all-stars

The Cheese Fry is a self-proclaimed zombie connoisseur. To us, there's something uniquely horrifying in a relentless, mindless attack by hordes of the undead. They can't be reasoned with or bargained with, not just because higher brain functions have shut down making it impossible to communicate, but because what drives zombies is the very primal need to feed... right... now. A zombie will keep going and going until it finds something to eat or until you kill it. Worse, for the heroes of zombie stories, it usually seems to come down to an issue of math: there's more of them than there are of you. Kill one and six more stagger in to take their place.

Here's our favorites.

28 Weeks Later (2007) - The first movie, 28 Days Later, starts strong (and we love the idea of fleet-footing running zombies, a scary update on the staggering and shuffling Romero-style zombies) but we never liked the last third of the movie when the action shifts to the military compound. The scope and scale of the sequel, however, as well as its depiction of how the government and military might respond to a genuine zombie crisis, make for a far more compelling story. And yes, we know the monsters are technically not dead, just infected with the rage virus. Let's not quibble.

Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) - We suspect this is the movie that kick-started the recent zombie renaissance. The opening sequence is an instant classic, a sucker punch of bloody horror and shocking chaos invading a placid suburban neighborhood. Dynamite horror action that explores that classic zombie movie trope: strangers stuck together in an isolated location (here, an empty shopping mall) trying hard to survive and plot a successful getaway. Bonus points for a surprisingly downbeat twist ending.
"Dead Island" teaser (2011) - We're not big videogamers, so we can't speak to the quality of the title it's selling. But there's no question the three-minute teaser (see below) is a haunting, stylistically ingenious account of one family's bloody demise. If you hunt around on YouTube, you'll find some versions that fans have recut to make the action unspool linearly. For us, though, it's the unsettling non-linear mosaic that's more effective. It's better than a lot of full-length features.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) - "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" The one that started it all. The cheap, grainy, zero-budget rawness only adds to the unsettling claustrophobic horror as strangers gather in a farmhouse (there's that set-up again) to hide from a sudden zombie scourge. Lean, mean, and unashamedly nasty. It's best to watch it on a late-night cable station while you're huddled up in bed under the covers.

Resident Evil (2002) - Probably the guilty pleasure of the list. It's undeniably shlocky, what with the heavy metal guitars and derivative slow-motion fight scenes. But shlock can be fun. There is something appealing about the propulsive action-thriller plot, the convoluted Umbrella Corporation conspiracy-theory backstory, the creepy Red Queen computer voice, and a nice amnesia-sufferers-remembering-the-truths act-two twist. And who wouldn't respond favorably to Milla Jovovick spending the entire movie in a little red dress?

AMC's "The Walking Dead" (2010-) - How could a cable channel turn everything we love about zombie apocalypse stories into a serialized show? It just didn't seem possible. But "The Walking Dead" is managing it quite well and drawing a pretty big audience. (On our to-do list: read the graphic novels on which the show is based.) You get all of the usual elements here: perfect strangers banding together to fight for survival, a collapsed social infrastructure, moral questions about hard choices the living sometimes must make to save themselves, and lots of running from shuffle-step zombies. The show is never afraid to go to some very dark places, whether it's putting children in jeopardy or suggesting some of the living may be just as inhuman as the undead.

World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) - "Genius" is how we describe it. A kind of literary mockumentary, fiction pretending to be oral-history non-fiction. It's told from the point of view of some distant future after a global zombie war was won. Rather than a single conventional narrative, "World War Z" is divided up into a number of personal accounts of the zombie war, whether it's a personal story of some ordinary citizen or a look at the choices of higher-ranking officials who propose some fairly radical counter-attacks. Coming soon to a theater near you, of course.

Zombieland (2009) - Give us a thumbs down for still having not yet seen Shaun of the Dead. We think if we had, it would have made this list. Instead, we're nominating Zombieland in the category of black-comedy zombie movie. Unlike a lot of people, we're not too keen on the Bill Murray cameo. But the stylish visual flourishes, the deadpan humor, the sprinkle of romantic comedy elements, and a hilariously intense performance by Woody Harrelson (who so desperately wants a Twinkie) make this a stand-out.


Robert Stack's voice still haunts us

We suspect that if you ask any Generation Xer about the things that most scared and scarred their childhood, NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries" would crack the top ten. We certainly had trouble watching the show when our parents were gone. And Mrs. Cheese Fy just had a unmistakably panicky emotional reaction when she noticed us composing this post and looking for the clip below on YouTube: "Where are you doing? No way."

It's not just the eerie, relentless, synthesizer-heavy theme song that's been seared into our memory. And it's not just the terrifying stories of people who just, like, disappeared into thin air or met a gruesome death (we still remember the story of a guy who vanished and whose car later turned up abandoned with the doors open and the keys in the ignition at an interstate rest stop - the authorities could only speculate who left it there and why and where the owner went) - people just like you and your parents. No one is safe. It was also host Robert Stack's gravel-voiced, poker-faced narration that remained flat and dispassionate no matter how horrible the stories became. This was TV's Eilot Ness, after all, telling us that the cops couldn't do it alone and needed your help. How scary is that?

Happy Halloween. And sweet dreams.


More songs we never get tired of

Last year, we listed 20 songs on which we'd never change the station. Here's a new batch:

1 Stone Temple Pilots, "Creep"
2 Jimmy Buffett, "Margaritaville"
3 Len, "Steal My Sunshine"
4 Hole, "Malibu"
5 Jane Child, "Don't Want to Fall in Love"
6 Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind"
7 Third Eye Blind, "Jumper"
8 Foo Fighters, "Everlong"
9 Chicago, "25 or 6 to 4"
10 Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over"
11 Estelle featuring Kayne West, "American Boy"
12 Paramore, "That's What You Get"
13 Eddie Rabbit, "Driving My Life Away"
14 The Breeders, "Cannonball"
15 Tears for Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
16 Pink, "Perfect"
17 Don Henley, "The End of Innocence"
18 Jade, "Don't Walk Away"
19 Foghat, "Slow Ride"
20 B.o.B. featuring Hayley Williams, "Airplanes"


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Pan Am"

1. Looks like it has at least twice the budget of NBC's "The Playboy Club." Fantastic, retro 60s production design. Plush and sleek.
2. To us, Christina Ricci has always been rather odd looking.
3. It's a bit more soapy than we expected, but why wouldn't it be? Anything that skews female will (rightly or wrongly) work the romantic angles. We should have expected that.
4. The sister rivalry subplot feels kind of fresh, though since this is a TV show even the "plain" sister is hot by normal people's standards.
5. Will the "Lost"-style character flashbacks carry over into the series or was it just a pilot gimmick? They worked okay.
6. Curious to see more of that crazy Bay of Pigs evacuation.
7. Where have they been hiding Karine Vanasse?
8. If we hadn't read an article proving it's true, we never would have bought the idea of stewardesses working as government spies.
9. Unlike the stock-character product-placement phoniness of "The Playboy Club," this show feels more organic and layered. It helps that the "we're a new breed of woman" revisionist feminism is mostly downplayed. They're stewardesses, people, not suffragists.
10. Girdles? Seriously?
11. Bridget is annoying. And she's barely in the show.
12. Who owns the Pan Am name and logo now? If this show hits, someone could probably make a lot of money selling baby blue leather flight bags.
13. The biggest concern is the pacing. This is one... slow... show. Glacial at times. Pick up the pace, folks.


Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Terra Nova"

1. Cracker-jack premise: ecologically-destroyed future Earth sends colonists back through time to the dinosaur era to start over. Love it.
2. It's a Hollywood rule that Stephen Lang cannot play a good guy, so we were immediately suspicious of his true intentions when he showed up. And sure enough, by the end of the episode he looks like he's not to be trusted.
3. Call us chicken, but it's never a good idea to go "OTG." Outside the gates. Not in the Cretaceous Period, anyway.
4. Spielberg's fingerprints are all over this, what with the heavy-handed, overly sentimental Family (with a capital F) themes.
5. Love this world.
6. But as of now, we're not particularly endeared to the married couple leads. In the future, it's illegal to have a third child. This seems perfectly reasonable. The planet looks like Coruscant - one big giant polluted city - and everyone wears breathing masks. So our couple decides to have a third kid anyway and dad goes to prison. And we're supposed to feel sorry for them why exactly? Worse, when asked why they had the third kid, he just shrugs "Seemed like a good idea at the time." What an ass.
7. No way do we buy the whole escape-from-prison, break-into-the-colonist-center sequence. A clumsy contrivance to add some tension and conflict in the first half hour (and to introduce that favorite trope of Spielberg's, the Absent Father, via the prison sentence). Which is stupid, because there's plenty of organic, natural tension at Terra Nova.
8. That wide shot of Terra Nova is a terrible painting. Look, kids, where we'll soon live: Matte Painting World!
9. We do like those rifles with the built-in flashlights.
10. Do shows now have to have an overarching, "Lost"-style backstory mystery? Is it written into the contracts?


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Prime Suspect"

1. The consensus seems to be that Maria Bello is too good for this show.
2. There's a definite haze of been-there, done-that here. How many more gritty NYPD-set police procedurals can one viewing nation tolerate?
3. It may be steeped in realism, but it's just hard for us to buy the level of antagonism, sexism, and open disgust Bello's character has to face in her own squad room. It's feels contrived. So these guys have never had to work with a woman before? Never had to face a coworker who may have pulled a string to get a promotion? We call bull.
4. Plus, the show does such a good job painting those other cops as arrogant, lazy, intolerant idiots it's very hard to muster much interest in what happens to them.
5. They're sharing a drink in the middle of the day, people. In the squad room. Hollywood thinks that makes them, you know, complex. We think it's makes them unsympathetic jackasses.
6. It's also a little precious the way everyone's got those authentic New York accents.
7. In other words, it's trying too hard and we just don't care.
8. That doesn't mean it's not polished and well-made. We're just not interested. No thank you.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Person of Interest"

1. Now that's a pilot. Hoo-wee.
2. There is an undeniable thrill that comes from watching a supremely skilled and cold-bloodedly confident Special Forces bad-ass conduct business. With Jim Caviezel, Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer has a successor in the don't-cross-me staredown.
3. Smart, lean, exciting.
4. Our only complaint is some of the on-the-nose, spoon-feeding dialogue that's there just to be completely sure viewers at home are following along and don't missing anything.
5. Big third act twist! Bonus points. We hate ourselves for not seeing it coming.
6. But is Caviezel's character too invulnerable and too resourceful to create genuine tension? Will audiences ever wonder about whether or not he'll prevail? We predict he'll get kidnapped and beaten up once per episode to help with that.
7. Michael Emerson is always smooth, isn't he?
8. Genius premise, but haven't we all just about had enough of J.J. Abrams and his hit factory?
9. The 9/11 subplot feels somewhat organic here. So many movies and TV shows shoehorn it in to make things feel topical or add some level of sympathy for the characters.
10. Of all the new shows we've seen thus far, this is the one we're most excited about.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Glee"

1. Our patience is wearing thin, McKinley High's New Directions.
2. This show is surely one of the most illogical and ridiculous things on the air. We spend half the time analyzing the stupid plot contrivances and implausible character choices. It's like the producers aren't even trying to be realistic. Like, at all. Exhibit A: it's fundamentally impossible that the Glee Club are social pariahs so long as the varsity quarterback and two hot cheerleaders are members. That's just not how the high school hierarchy of popularity works.
3. But there's something addictively exuberant about some of the dance numbers, such as this episode's "We Got the Beat" lunchroom number or the "It's Not Unusual" number in the quad. When they work, they work.
4. But then there's all of those other stupid scenes without singing and dancing that just don't work.
5. As un-P.C. as this may sound, we're getting tired of Kurt. And his wardrobe.
6. But the person we're most tired of is Sue Sylvester. Her conflict with Mr. Schu hits the same beats in every single episode. Plus, in the real world, both of them would have been fired long ago. She's psychotic, he's pathetic.
7. Yes, Lea Michelle remains a member of the Future Ex-Mrs. Cheese Fry Club.
8. Coach Beiste is probably our favorite character.
9. We also find strange amusement in the rapid-fire "previously on" recap that comes at the top of every episode that ends abruptly with a-- "Glee!"

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Fringe"

1. Oh how we love this show.
2. It's clearly a descendant of "The X-Files." But one could argue that this show is better in that the overarching mythology still makes sense and the producers aren't afraid to answer questions and keep the plot moving forward. That's in contrast to the frustrating way "The X-Files" was determined to keep everything as murky as possible for as long as possible. (We hated "X-Files" mythology episodes.) For every question that was answered, three new ones were posed and eventually audiences stopped caring and changed the channel. This is the same sort of thing that crippled "Lost."
3. Very clever of the writers, the way so many lines of dialogue had that "Peter is gone and I don't even know it" double-meaning.
4. Agent Lee's horn-rim glasses. Very 1960s chic.
5. It's clear evidence of genre bias the way Emmy ignores this show. John Noble has been doing sterling work since the very beginning and now with Anna Torv playing two very different versions of the same person (the first scene of this episode should go directly to Emmy voters), the oversight is becoming ridiculous. You can't tell us Torv's work last season wasn't better than the hammy theatrics of Kathy Bates on "Harry's Law" (Emmy loves movie stars) or the tired, empathetic retread of Mariska Hargitay on "SVU" (Emmy loves nominating the same people over and over).
6. The first page raises your security clearance, the second page says we'll prosecute you if you talk about what you're about to see.
7. We like Astrid's new haircut.
8. Note to self: erasing someone from time requires a cathode-ray tube.


Studio audience breakdown on "The Price Is Right"

86% tourists from out of town
79% will watch the whole show on the TV monitors rather than looking at the stage
77% self-proclaimed die-hard TPIR fans
73% will need the audience's advice to make every decision on stage
68% spunky and spry retirees
60% from the Midwest
55% overweight
42% will scream louder than they did at the Duran Duran concert they saw when they were 13
37% groups in matching T-shirts with cute phrases ironed on the front
34% college students
22% will hug Drew Carey a little too hard
21% have zero chance of ever making the right bid to get out of Contestants' Row
20% active military in dress uniform
19% friends/spouses of self-proclaimed die-hard TPIR fans dragged along
14% locals taking the day off
13% couples in matching T-shirts with cute phrases ironed on the front
11% RV drivers
7% newlyweds
6% too frail/small to spin the Big Wheel

Fantasy "Survivor"

The pop-culture savants at Grantland have done it again. They've concocted a fantasy-football style game based on CBS's hit "Survivor," exposing all of the show's cliches and themes.

Take a look:

* No points for unintentional nudity
* All hook-up points scored at triple value (they deserve them for hooking up with someone who hasn’t showered for a month)
* Making a catty exit speech: 25 points
* Wining a “tie vote” challenge: 10 points
* Stealing or hiding food: 15 points
* Killing a mammal and eating it (i.e., no fish or insects): 15 points (only killer gets points)
* Receiving medical attention: 20 points
* Adding additional flair on tribal vote card (smiley faces, hearts, symbols, etc.): -10 points
* Announcing that you are "in control of this game": 5 points
* Accusing someone of eating more food than they were rationed: 5 points
* Being sent home with an unused immunity idol: -20 points
* Jeff Probst stops addressing you by your real name and starts using a nickname: 25 points (one time only)
* The Loved One who comes to the island is not a parent, spouse, kin, or sibling: 20 points
* No Loved One comes to the island: 100 points
* Claiming your real job gives you an advantage in the game: 25 points
* Crying in Tribal Council: 5 bonus points
* Jury member makes a survivor cry in the Final Tribal Council: 20 points
* Getting injured in an immunity challenge in an unathletic manner: 15 points
* Having so much trouble swimming that it briefly seems like you might drown: 10 points
* Being unable to light a fire: -5 points
* Being unable to make fire in a tie breaker: -5 more points
* Comparing another contestant to vermin in Tribal Council: 10 points
* Faking possession of an immunity idol: 10 points (one time only)
* Unsuccessfully hiding the immunity idol: 5 points
* Claiming that you will "teach these young people a thing or two": 10 points
* Saying something that makes Jeff Probst raise his eyebrows: 10 points

Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Law & Order SVU"

1. Now we remember why we quit watching this show.
2. Though Linus Roache should have his own spin off: "Mike Cutter, D.A." We love his character. So good to see him again. We miss the original "Law & Order."
3. Mariska Hargitay looks very old and tired here. Maybe she should have left the show with Chris Meloni.
4. And what's with her crying scene? Eliot's retiring, he's not moving to Norway.
5. We still can't believe Ice T has created a television acting career for himself.
6. Same with Richard Belzer. We remember watching him as some scary R-rated comic on a 1980s HBO comedy special.
7. "SVU" is just plain crazy. The season premiere isn't as loopy as some recent episodes, which often pile on plot twist after plot twist at the expense of logic and plausibility, suggest that every suspect is a criminal mastermind and/or foamy-mouthed sociopath, and never met a salacious detail that wasn't worth exploiting. Tonight we get discussions of gang rape, forced oral sex (and the disposition of the resulting fluid), and mass murder, along with some sanctimonious preaching about African civil wars, Euro-trash politicians, U.S immigration policy, and classism.
8. The show wants to educate you, sure, but it mostly wants to shock you with sex and violence.
9. Once upon a time, "Law & Order" would use a real world headline only as a jumping-off point. But here, the season premiere pretty much spends the first 30 minutes following the same exact narrative as the infamous Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case. What is this, "Dateline" with Ann Curry? Where's the fictionalization and dramatic license? Yawn.

Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Whitney"

1. Perhaps you've heard of it? NBC has spent what is surely a fortune in promotion. We've seen Whitney Cummings in TV spots, on the sides of buses, on thirty-foot-tall billboards, and stuck to plywood walls of construction sites. We get it. There's a new show on called "Whitney."
2. NBC is not only showing it love with advertising, this show also has a plum post-"Office" timeslot. NBC's doing everything it can outside of tying you down and making you watch.
3. "Half of all marriages end in sweatpants." That's kind of funny. "I don't mean to be rude means you're about to say something crazy rude." That's kind of lame.
4. Which summarizes this show in a nutshell. Kind of funny, kind of lame.
5. It's very traditional. Live studio audience, wacky characters, bright no-contrast lighting, set-up/punchline jokes. Interesting that the Cheese Fry's inventory of new sitcoms has continued to lead to this question of reality versus artifice. Should sitcoms strive to capture the natural humor in our lives (like "Modern Family") or create an alternate universe that's completely bonkers (like "Cougartown")? Is one better than the other?
6. Case in point: in the real world, no one knocks themselves unconscious trying to pull off a pair of pants.
7. But there is something genuine and honest about a comfortable, veteran couple worried about maintaining that romantic spark.
8. Good, but not great. And we had such high hopes.
9. Luckily for Whitney, her other show is much better; she's a co-creator of "Two Broke Girls."


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "The Playboy Club"

1. Hmmm. Not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. Also not at all as good as it could be.
2. Clearly a "Mad Men" ripoff, but without the somber, downbeat realism and basic-cable edgy fearlessness. It wants to be sexy, but it's stuck on NBC, people. If only it were on FX or Showtime.
3. Surely one of the show's reasons for being is to polish the Playboy brand, what with the Hugh Hefner voiceovers and whispered suggestions about how progressive and feminist the whole hot-girls-in-bunny-outfits actually is. We wonder if this show wasn't Hef's idea.
4. The Cheese Fry doesn't often throw this word around, but actress Amber Heard is beautiful. Incredibly so.
5. The 1960s mod production design may be the best part of the show. Who wouldn't want to live in that guy's two-story apartment with the circular staircase and the sliding bathroom door?
6. But come on, a Chicago mobster murder in the first 15 minutes? Really? Shouldn't you save that for sweeps at least?
7. And he's killed by... wait for it... a high heel. Get the symbolism? Nudge nudge.
8. The most interesting thing may be the logistics of the Chicago Playboy Club. You have to present a key to get through the door. And once you're there, they slide a nameplate onto the wall so everyone knows which members are present. (Wikipedia tells us that membership at the Chicago club was initially $25 a year.)
9. To us, Eddie Cibrian looks like a kid playing grown-up.
10. The best-developed character is Laura Benanti's character, the older "bunny" (should that be capitalized?) who's trying to reinvent herself.
11. It's an amusing diversion, but ultimately too fluffy.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "New Girl"

1. We stipulate that your enjoyment of this show will have a lot to do with whether or not you find Zooey Deschanel's nerd quirkiness endearing or annoying. We like it, but it's easy to see how someone might hate it.
2. We've made a big deal recently about TV shows that feel real versus TV shows that are clearly existing in a writers-room alternate universe. "New Girl" is definitely not a portrayal of the real world. No, this is Sitcom World, where everyone's witty and good-looking and getting dumped is the worst thing that could happen to you.
3. Four 20-somethings share a huge, spacious loft apartment? One's a bartender, one's a trainer, one's a marketing guy of some kind, and we're not sure what Zooey does. No way they can all afford that place.
4. We wish we had a theme song.
5. The show deftly captures what it's like to have roommates who aren't your best friends. You like your roommate, you hang out with your roommate, but there's still that tension.
6. We could use a Douchebag Jar at our office. Brilliant.
7. Zooey's cheating boyfriend is played by an actor who starred as possibly one of the most sociopathic characters in the history of television advertising. Whenever we saw this commercial, we wanted to punch this guy right in the balls as hard as possible.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Two Broke Girls"

1. Very charming.
2. And also doing as much as it can to at least try to look like reality, rather than a laugh-tracked alternate reality where entry-level jobs pay for huge city apartments, no one locks their front door, and everyone's acquaintance is a cutesy-quirky "character" with a snarky catchphrase.
3. We also like that the show didn't take the easy route and make spoiled rich girl Beth Behrs an airhead. Here, she clearly has a considerable education and a clear sense of decency. Which dovetails nicely with Kat Dennings' street smarts and unapologetic misanthropy.
4. Some very funny lines. Laugh out loud lines.
5. We like also the final card showing us the tally for the girls' savings. Clever running gag idea.
6. We know it's only a sitcom, but there's something vaguely feminist about the show that feels fresh and lively. Two smart, strong women (who so far don't seem to need men) pooling their resources to work for a better life.
7. Yes, Kat Dennings is hot. Especially with those boots.
8. We're not sure the show needs Garrett Morris as the cashier. We predict he'll be gone soon.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Two and a Half Men"

1. No matter how awful Charlie Sheen may have acted towards CBS, Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre, it seems to us really hateful to kill off his character with such glee. "He exploded like a balloon filled with meat." Wow. Like, icky. The whole funeral open was exceedingly unfunny.
2. We never were fans of this show. It was always funny in that forced set-up/punchline sort of sitcom way. But it is also completely focused on crude, graphic sex jokes to exclusion of all else. (This despite the fact that it features an underage character.)
3. Ashton Kutcher did fine in what's a somewhat thankless role, but the dynamic between his character and Jon Cryer's character seems completely different than the Jon Cryer-Charlie Sheen relationship. We applaud the producers for daring to go in a completely different direction. But will it work? More importantly, will we ever watch again to find out?
4. We noticed the title sequence billing of Cryer and Kutcher. One of those Towering Inferno credit agreements, it seems, where one gets the left-hand slot, but the other gets the upper-slot.
5. Angus T. Jones was barely in the episode for reasons unknown. He was there for a couple of delightful fart jokes, however. His agent must be so proud.
6. Even if you don't watch it all the time, surely you can still sing it with us: "Mennnn."
7. They couldn't help themselves, could they? Urn of ashes must always lead to hilariously unintentional cloud of spilled ash. Must be a sitcom rule somewhere.