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.


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


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.


"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")


Manly movies

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

* The 47 we have seen
Iron Man
12 Angry Men
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
The Godfather
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
Broadcast News
The Terminator
Dirty Harry
Raging Bull
Citizen Kane
The Shining
Fatal Attraction
The Incredibles
Blade Runner
Sling Blade
Glengarry Glen Ross
Double Indemnity
Do the Right Thing
Gone Baby Gone
Reservoir Dogs
The Maltese Falcon
Dr. No
The Road Warrior
True Romance
All Quiet on the Western Front
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
Wall Street
Runaway Train
Johnny Dangerously
The Great Escape
Shaun of the Dead
Bad Day at Black Rock
Shakes the Clown
Straw Dogs
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
Run Silent Run Deep
Paths of Glory


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"
"Lie to Me"
"Brothers & Sisters"
"Private Practice"
"Ugly Betty"
"The Closer"
"Grey's Anatomy"
"The Amazing Race"