A binder full of movie tickets

Regular readers know the Cheese Fry's obsessive-compulsive fixation on movies started at an early age. But it much worse than that: since 1984, we've saved the ticket stub to every movie we've ever paid money to see. Ever. As of now, that's 848 titles. What was surely an amusing quirk for a middle-schooler has now become a somewhat embarrassing secret habit for an adult pushing middle age. But it's a streak we can't possibly stop now. Can we?

Watch how the admission prices increase. It's true, kids, movies actually used to cost less than $5 per person. Also true: before the arrival of Lil' Fry, we often saw a movie or two every weekend.

1: Witness, Uniter Artists' Walnut Hill 6, $3.00 - date illegible
50: Big, Furneaux Creek GMC, $3.50 - June 18, 1988
100: Spirit of 76, Glen Lakes AMC, $3.50 - March 10, 1991
150: Jennifer 8, AMC Highland Park, $6.50 - November 13, 1992
200: The Ref, Hollywood USA Furneaux Creek, $3.25 - March 26, 1994
250: The Net, United Artists, $3.75 - August 5, 1994
300: A Very Brady Sequel, Mann's Hastings Ranch, $4.50 - August 30, 1996
350: Face/Off, Mann's Hastings Ranch, $4.50 - June 28, 1997
400: The Big Lebowski, Pacific's Crest Theater, $6.00 - April 11, 1998
450: Rushmore, Laemmle's Playhouse 7, $7.50 - February 6, 1999
500: Mansfield Park, Cinemark Legacy, $4.75 - December 27, 1999
550: O Brother, Where Art Thou, Laemmle's Sunset 5, $7.00 - January 28, 2001
600: Panic Room, Pacific Theater's The Grove, $9.50 - April 9, 2002
650: Chicago, Pacific Theater's The Grove, $7.50 - February 16, 2003
700: The Stepford Wives, Mann's Chinese Theater, $11.00 - June 12, 2004
750: Superman Returns, Mann's Chinese 6, $11.25 - June 29, 2006
800: Juno, Cinemark Legacy, $8.50 - December 26, 2007
848: Bridesmaids, L.A. Live, $10.00 - May 17, 2011


Knee-jerk review: "Bridesmaids"

1. It's about what you would expect from a Judd Apatow-produced movie. Funny but sweet. Hilarious but sometimes disgusting. Fairly realistic main characters surrounded by strangely eccentric minor characters. Check, check, check. Our favorite, of course, remains Superbad.
2. Kristen Wiig, that sound you hear is your Hollywood stock rising. For once, she plays a relatively normal person. And she does it well. We like her very much.
3. Someone once told us that a comedy needs three big funny scenes to make it stick in viewer's minds. Here they are (your results my vary): dress fitting scene, airplane scene, bridal shower scene.
4. Melissa McCarthy steals the show without question, looking and acting nothing like the cutesy stock character she seems to play on the CBS sitcom "Mike and Molly" (we haven't seen an episode, but have bore witness to countless promos).
5. We, too, loved Wilson Phillips circa 1990.
6. The one false note, to us, is the wacky British roommates. Too much.
7. Would cops really let civilians (i.e. possible new girlfriends) ride along with them in a patrol car when they're on duty? Or let them sit on the hood of their car in a parking lot? Or let them work a radar gun?
8. Stray dogs in a restaurant parking lot is never a good sign.
9. Funny that Maya Rudolph's fiancee gets zero lines.
10. Dropping off a junker car at a swanky valet stand? We've been there, people. Not fun.
11. Good stuff. And will hopefully help get more smart, female-centric movies made.
12. As an aside, we saw trailers for Friends with Benefits and What's My Number, both of which seem atrocious, the sort of paint-by-number, connect-the-dots romantic comedies that feel completely artificial and contrived (and usually star Kate Hudson and/or Katherine Heigl). No thank you. Bridesmaids is no documentary, but at least it feels like it's a part of the real world.


"Survivor" Hall of Fame

Boston Rob, who won "Survivor: Redemption Island" last night, is surely the most deserving winner in "Survivor's" 22-cycle history.

"Survivor" juries can sometimes let their own bitterness and disappointment cloud their judgment, as when the "Samoa" jury infamously refused to give the $1 million prize to Russell, even though he'd dominated the game at Boston-Rob-like levels. Indeed, it never ceases to amaze the Cheese Fry when juries display such ridiculous sanctimony, preaching to the finalists about integrity and honor in a game where backstabbing is practically one of the rules. In this case, however, there was no doubt that Boston Rob pulled the strings from start to finish, making him a first-ballot inductee to the "Survivor" Hall of Fame. His was a master class in personal manipulation, poker-faced lying, physical and mental toughness, and social politicking.

The complete list of 2011 inductees:

* Boston Rob ("Marquesas, "All-Stars," "Heroes vs Villains," "Redemption Island") - Only four-time player. Dominates the social game and the challenges.
* Russell ("Samoa," "Heroes vs Villains," "Redemption Island") - Two-time finalist, two-time loser. But unfairly robbed of the prize in "Samoa" due to a sour-grapes jury that could appreciate his brilliance. His one liability is an apparent inability to play the social game and avoid antagonizing others.
* Parvati ("Cook Islands, "Fans vs Favorites," "Fans vs Favorites") - Perhaps the best social player in the show's history. Those who considered nothing more than a flirt often learned otherwise the hard way.
* Richard ("Borneo") - The godfather of it all. Inventor of the "alliance" strategy that has defined how the game is played. Too bad he's in prison right now and can't attend the induction ceremony.
* Stephenie ("Palau," "Guatemala," "Fans vs Favorites") - Toughest female competitor ever.

Didn't make the final cut:
* Amanda ("China," "Fans vs Favorites," "Heroes vs Villains") - Made it to the finals twice, lost twice. First contestant to log 100 days in the game.
* Amber ("Australian Outback", "All-Stars") - Standard-bearer for how the "coat-tails" strategy works. Boston Rob did all of the work, she came along for the ride and wound up winning.
* Coach ("Tocantins," "Heroes vs Villains") - One of the strangest contestants on the show, equal parts crazy-talk philosophizing, competitive determination, earnest sincerity, and outrageous let's-play-to-the-camera performance.
* Erik ("Fans vs Favorites") - Perhaps the most bone-headed strategic play in the show's history. Badgered into giving his immunity idol up to another contestant, then voted out. Classic.
* Phillip ("Redemption Island") - See Coach above.


You are now leaving Dillon, Texas

For those with a DirecTV subscription, we hope you were smart enough to watch the last season of "Friday Night Lights" this past winter. If not, then you're hopefully catching up as the show reruns its final episodes on NBC. If Emmy were just, this show would get a slew of nominations for its final go-round. It really is that good. (And the closing moments of the series are supremely satisfying in a way we were not expecting - fans of the show are indeed rewarded.)

Those who've seen it, love it. But it was always tough to get audiences to sample the show. Too adult for teens, too teen for adults; too much football for non-football fans, not enough football for sports nuts. It was never an easy sell in a world where pre-sold titles drive ratings. Slap a "NCIS" on the title or revive some old fossilized brand like "Hawaii Five-O" and, bingo, you have yourself a top 20 show. Quality too often seems beside the point. If the networks don't have to take a chance to get a hit, why should they? (Rumor has it NBC brass insisted on a rather contrived and melodramatic "Desperate Housewives"-"One Tree Hill"-style murder-subplot in Season 2 in a desperate effort to up the ratings, one of the show's rare missteps.)

We've praised this show before, but it's worth repeating: there have perhaps been better dramas on television, but those typically involve high-stake, high-conflict jobs like cops, detectives, criminals, and doctors. It's very rare to find a show that wrings genuine emotion and tension out of "mundane" everyday situations: paying the rent, maintaining a marriage, coping with divorce, grappling with family problems, separating work pressures from home pressures. There's no wry one-liners or polished movie-star charm here, no handguns or out-of-breath footchases. This is a show that always strived for suburban realism, which may be another reason audiences had trouble with the show. It's easy to escape into an overblown world of rampaging serial killers and lovelorn wealthy doctors, less so when the middle-class TV characters deal with the same impossible problems from which you're trying to escape. This is a show, after all, where major characters by turns went to prison, took steroids, lost everything in a bad real estate deal, had an estranged father killed in action in Iraq, and suffered quadriplegic injuries. And that doesn't even include the fact that our hero was transferred to a horrible high school with no tradition of winning football - the horror.

NBC and DirecTV deserve our thanks for cutting a deal to share the costs and keep the show on the air. Critically-beloved, but low-rated shows like this simply don't run five seasons any more. Indeed, we may not again see this sort of quiet drama on network television, although "Friday Night Lights" showrunner Jason Katims' new NBC show "Parenthood" does seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Also worth celebrating...

* The show's distinctive visual style. "Friday Night Lights" employed a loose, raw feel in which actors were encouraged to improvise and cameramen filmed the action handheld as if shooting a documentary. This is a show that never felt staged. It felt captured.

* Real locations. "Friday Night Lights" was produced two time zones east of Hollywood and it showed in every frame. The Texas locations (mostly in and around Austin) added another element of grit and realism, whether a rundown hamburger shack, a crowded high school football stadium, a modest suburban house, or a proud (but struggling) car dealership.

* The moody country-rock soundtrack. The dreamy, wistful instrumentals were provided by Explosions in the Sky, but the show also added liberal doses of bands you don't always find on top-40 radio. End result: "Friday Night Lights" didn't really sound like any other show.

* A healthy marriage. Eric and Tami Taylor were surely two of the healthiest spouses ever depicted on television. They got into fights and disagreements, the worst of which of course comes in the final episodes of the series, but there was never any doubt of their commitment and admiration for one another. Marriages on TV are too often a narrative tool, a way to create a ratings event (let's have the main characters get married!), add vague backstory sorrow (let's have the main character be brooding because his wife left him!), or provide conflict (he can't be a doctor because his wife won't let him!). Real marriages just aren't that exciting - they involve constant compromise and negotiation, just like the sort we saw the Taylors engaged in.

* Football. For those who do like football, this was a show steeped deep in the obsessive culture of Texas high school football, exploring what it means to play on the field, coach from the sidelines, watch from the cold rickety stands, or long for your own teenage glory days years after you should have moved on. Yes, the show's climactic games almost always came to some ridiculous, gadget-play, last-second series of downs engineered by Coach Taylor... but it didn't always work. In keeping with the show's interest in realism,
Taylor's teams often won, but sometimes they lost.
And so we bid goodbye to the sights and sounds of Dillon, Texas.
Gone but not forgotten (thanks to DVD box sets).

For the record, our favorite character was always Buddy Garrity, but we sure did like looking at Tyra Collette.

Alan Sepinwall at Hitflix does a great job recapping the best moments of the series.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.