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.