A few words on "Law & Order: Los Angeles"

We didn't watch the original "Law & Order" until about the time that Benjamin Bratt started. Remember him? Where'd he go? All of those old Chris Noth and Michael Moriarty episodes? Don't exist, as far as we're concerned. We are not "L&O" traditionalists. The last cast iteration featured our favorite character in all of the "L&O" pantheon: Linus Roache's Mike Cutter, who was more of a renegade, take-no-prisoners rule-breaker than Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy ever was.

So we came to "Law & Order: Los Angeles" with genuine excitement. It seemed like the perfect idea. Transplant a successful format to a new location, watch the ratings climb. Worked out well for the "CSI" shows... depending on how you define "well." Alas, the first batch of "LOLA" (it's a little too precious a nickname, don't you think?) episodes struggled and Dick Wolf took the show to the TV mechanic's shop, opened up the hood, and rebuilt the engine.

The new version of "LOLA" is certainly different, but is it better?

What works:
* We'd forgotten how good Alfred ("Throw me the whip" - Raiders of the Lost Ark) Molina can be. The doughy face makes him seem sleepy and lazy. And while we hate the contrivance that moved his character from the DA's office back to the police force, so far he's energized the "Law" elements of the show in a way that the monotone, blank-faced Skeet Ulrich never could. Molina didn't have much to do in the first round of episodes, but now it looks like he's going to be front and center. The better to chew the scenery and glare at people with sleepy, lazy, doughy eyes.
* Terrence Howard. Gold.
* Kind of cool how the show names its episodes based on the Los Angeles neighborhood in which the crime was committed. We're the sort of TV geek that pays attention to episode titles. And we appreciate purpose and consistency, like the clever titles of "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory" episodes.
* While the revamp has reportedly tried to tamp down some of the Southern California sunniness to recapture the bleak, somber grays of the original series, there is still something fresh about the new setting. It's fun to see the detectives spend so much time in cars, driving from place to place, and it's also nice to see police work happening in places with trees and sunshine, not dank streets filled with tall buildings.
* For those of us familiar with Los Angeles, there's no better game that identifying the location of an L.A.-shot show. "Hey, that's the place over there by La Brea and Sunset!" "That's the thing by the thing in Santa Monica!"

What doesn't work:
* What's with the cheesy slow-motion new title sequence? It plays like a bad deodorant commercial. When you're chasing crooks and facing an angry press and trying to look like a bad-ass as you climb out of your car, don't stay dry. Stay extra dry. We preferred the rapid-fire, stock-photo montage of the original New York-based "Law and Orders."
* The narrative formula is getting a little creaky. We've covered this before. Crime, followed by interviews, followed by the red-herring wrong-suspect, followed by arrest of the right suspect, followed by trial curveball, followed by big courtroom showdown that may or may not lead to the punishment of the guilty. The more the show can deviate from that template, the better off it will likely be. As another critic noted, at this point there are literally thousands of hours of "Law & Order" out there in the world. How much more do we need?
* Enough with the lingering shots of corpses. It's bad enough that we hear the details, but do we need to see the horrors as well? We get it. Killing: bad, our cops and lawyers: good. The older we get, the more aggravated we are with the way cop shows like this fetishize murder scenes and zoom in on the bruises and blood. The kinkier and more outrageous the death, the better - though in "Law & Order's" defense, a great many of the murders are committed in the name of money, not depraved bloodlust. We harbor particular disgust with grubby, pseudo-scientific shows like "Criminal Minds" that wade into the bloody muck with glee, suggesting that the country is filled with serial killers and suggesting that there is no crime that science cannot solve, which is - of course - not always true. Seriously, who watches that stuff? And how can we find out where they live so we can stay away?


"Idol" odds

Lauren, 3:2
James, 2:1
Scotty, 3:1
Jacob, 5:2
Casey, 7:1
Stefano, 10:1
Haley, 15:1

Knee-jerk review: "Hanna"

1. Eric Bana is always cool. And the dude can rock a German accent.
2. But this movie belongs to Saoirse Ronan. With this, Atonement, and The Lovely Bones, she prove she's the real deal. Impressive. (Bonus points for the exotic first name.)
3. "I just missed your heart."
4. Imagine Salt or The Bourne Identity if the lead, killing-machine character were a 14-year-old girl.
5. How'd they manage to make Cate Blanchett look so unattractive?
6. A great soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers, especially the techno score that accompanies an incredible escape attempt.
7. This seems awfully harsh for PG-13. Lots of people get killed. Does it really make a difference if the violence is bloodless or off-screen? Guess the MPAA thinks so. And does the less-restrictive rating really open this movie up to wider audiences? We didn't see any kids in the audience. Why not just go for it and make it an R?
8. As great as the script is, we're particularly impressed by director Joe Wright. It can't be easy to strike just the right tone between tense action-thriller, poignant coming-of-age, and oddball black humor. It's a very strange, very quirky movie. And purposefully so, it seems. His last film, Atonement, is fairly genius as well.
9. Great use of some unusual exteriors, particularly a rundown, weed-choked amusement park in the finale.
10. That said, there is a bit of a pacing problem in the first 45 minutes or so.
11. Funny what happens to the boy who tries to kiss little assassin Hanna. She has some intimacy issues.
12. We liked it.


Top four somewhat criminal acts

1. That time we drank too many beers and had too far to drive to get home, resulting in a unavoidable need to find a deserted alley in which to urinate for what seemed like three full minutes. You're never as aware of your surroundings as you are when you're looking in every direction all at once to be sure no one's around. That said, we couldn't have stopped even if a cop rolled up.

2. That time in college we stepped away from a first-run episode of "Seinfeld" to buy beers for a couple of freshmen. The store was right up the street, so it didn't take that long. But we did feel a pang of moral regret. Trust us, those knuckleheads had no business drinking.

3. That time in high school we helped steal a Dallas Morning News newspaper vending machine to try and get the change out of it. Turns out those things are pretty secure. Sorry, Belo Corporation.

4. That other time in high school we helped steal a bunch of fire extinguishers from a parking garage, then set them off in a creek behind a church. The resulting plume of CO smoke led someone to call the fire department. As we were leaving, we passed the fire truck, lights and sirens blazing. It's very hilarious when you're 17.

Evaluating the Charlie's Angels

The Cheese Fry was well aware of the ABC hit drama - and we use that term loosely - "Charlie's Angels" back in the late 1970s. Though were a little too young to fully appreciate its unique, shall we say, charms, we remain big fans of that groovy title music, the vaguely sexist "But I took them away from all of that" voiceover, and the exploding-fireball silhouettes:

If we were putting together a detective agency comprised of nothing but Hollywood starlets and our disembodied voice coming through a 1975 speakerphone, who'd make the cut?

1. Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd) - If Farrah Fawcett was the senior who sneered when she caught you looking at her, Cheryl Ladd was the cute girl next door who'd go roller-skating with you on weekends. Big Angel crush.
2. Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith) - She stuck with the show for its entire five-season run, so she gets points for that. And she seemed to be the smart one because, you know, she had brown hair. Hollywood's rule, people, not ours.
3. Julie Rogers (Tanya Roberts) - We don't remember her on the show very well, but she's really really pretty. Gold star.

Left looking at the want ads:

1. Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson) - Now Sabrina's the really smart one: brown hair that's also short. But there's just something know-it-all about her, don't you think? Pass.
2. Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett) - Honestly, we never understood the whole Farrah thing. All of that hair. Plus she always seemed a little dim. Overrated.
3. Tiffany Welles (Shelley Hack) - Who?

For the record, yes, the first Charlie's Angels movies was fantastic, whereas the sequel Full Throttle was unwatchable.

"And now they work for us. Our name is the Cheese Fry."


The best of 2009 (15 words or less)

That's no typo, people. The mid-2009 arrival of the Li'l Fry put something of a damper on our ability to see movies each weekend at a theater near us, which thus put a damper on our yearly best-of list. We know there are at least seven people out there who'd come to look forward our year-end rundown of the best and worst in movies. To those seven, we do apologize. Better late than never, right?

Now, sixteen months after most Best of 2009 lists were published, we can release ours. Thank you, Netflix and DirecTV's free trial of HBO and Showtime.

Sadly, for the aforementioned reason, this may well be the last Cheese Fry best-of list for quite some time, ending a tradition started on our black-and-white Macintosh Classic in 1994 (our top five movies back then: Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, Speed, Forrest Gump, and Little Women - not too shabby, though we'd argue in 2011 that Forrest Gump has aged not well at all).

To make things interesting, our recaps will be no more than 15 words.

1. The Hurt Locker - Oscar got it right. Sweaty, tense, urgent, and vividly real. A minor masterpiece.

2. Up - Certainly the darkest Pixar movie, but also the most poignant. And with unexpected whimsy.

3. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction (1994 callback!). Complex, layered, bloody wish-fulfillment. Christoph Waltz zings.

4. District 9 - Proving how sci-fi can provide sophisticated social satire while pretending to be a conspiracy thriller.

5. (500) Days of Summer - Clever jigsaw plotting explores ups and downs of romance. Best ending of the year.

6. Up in the Air - Strong characters, sharp dialogue, movie-star acting, important themes, all polished to a shine.

7. The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Hard to describe the quirky charm and oddball sensibility of Wes Anderson's animated caper.

8. Zombieland - We love zombies almost as much as we love the deadpan talents of Woody Harrellson.

9. Taken - Slambang action. Doesn't always make sense, but it always commands your respect and attention.

10. Precious - Sometimes movies show you things you'd rather not see. Happy ending measured in baby steps.

Honorable mentions: Avatar (we begrudgingly admire the visuals), Away We Go (the token Sundance-style indie), 2012 (ridiculously over the top, but it, like, completely commits to its ridiculousness), Angels and Demons (way better than we thought it'd be given the dreck that was The DaVinci Code), The Hangover (so hilarious and well-done that it almost made our top-ten list), He's Just Not That Into You (Gennifer Goodwin's sunny presence carries the movie), Knowing (we know, we know - this should have been terrible, but it wasn't), The Proposal (classic Hollywood romantic comedy done very well), Star Trek (not as good as everyone made it out to be, but appropriately epic and important).

The two worst movies of 2009:

Terminator Salvation - There's a fine line between a dark, gritty future that's fun and cool (like Blade Runner) and a dark, gritty future that just makes you depressed and numb (like this monstrosity). We wish they'd stop making Terminator movies but with Schwarzenegger out of politics, it's surely only a matter of time before they recruit him again. And we wish Hollywood would stop force-feeding actor Sam Worthington on us. We'd offer a witty comment about the ending, but we fell asleep before we got to it.

Sherlock Holmes - The rapport between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is exceptional. And we're happy to look at Rachel McAdams any day. But this movie is so cumbersomely plotted and crammed full of subplots and sideways red herrings that at the end, we were exhausted and just wanted it to be over. We're also not cool with the movie's decision to withhold Holmes' deductive powers until the very end. What fun is that? It makes us feel as stupid as everyone else who meets Holmes.