Lifetime movie title generator

Just match a word from each column to come up with your own Lifetime movie title!  Now you just have to cast an actress who used to be in a 1990s TV show.

Pronoun Adjective Noun
Her Mother's Past
My Deadly Romance
The Secret Kidnapping
Their Hidden Stranger
His Sister's Student
Our Dangerous Sister

There's always next season

As the season ends with a shameful fizzle for the Dallas Cowboys right on schedule, we decided to take stock of our own lackluster performance on the gridiron.  We've been a member of one fantasy football league for 14 seasons now.  We've never gone to the post-season, never even sniffed a championship.

Our cumulative record over these 14 season is 78-112-6, which works out to be a winning percentage of .397.  Pretty good for a batter, horrible for a team sport.  We lose more than we win.  In fact, we almost lose two out of every three times we play.

And there isn't an obvious learning curve, either.  Our worst record was 3-11, which we understandably put up in our first season when fantasy football was new to us.  But then the posted that same 3-11 record in our 8th season.  Our best season was our 11th, when we went 8-6.  We've won 7 games only four times in 14 seasons (our 3rd, 9th, 12th, and 14th).  Although maybe we are doing a little better.  In the last four seasons, we've never won less than six games.

All of this obsession over a completely ridiculous waste of time that ruins Sundays more than makes Sundays enjoyable gives us a special affinity for this NFL spot that returns every winter:

In a previous post, we looked at the seven stages of fantasy football.


And our minivan towed the Queen Mary

Tonight we must have seen the Toyota Tundra-pulls-the shuttle commercial about 20 times.  With each viewing, we grow more and more suspicious and skeptical.  That little truck towed that giant, freakin' spaceship?  Baloney.  But Jalopnik explains how it worked.  We stand corrected, Toyota.


Knee-jerk review: "Django Unchained"

1. The D is silent, people.
2. "Audacious" is the word that comes to mind.  Over the top.
3. And the blood, it does fly and spurt and gush and splatter.  Consider yourself warned.
4. As usual, Tarantino holds his credit until after the final image, so after the last fade-to-black, audiences can get a final loud blast of cool music and then see the "Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino" card.
5. Will Smith turned this down for something called After Earth co-starring his smug son and directed by M. Night Shymalan of all people.  We'll see how that works out for him.
6. It's probably got too many endings.  Just when you think it's over... here comes another 20 minutes.
7. We hate the lynching scene.  You'll know the one.  Way too jokey and broad for what's otherwise a dark, gritty story.  We can see the appeal of making fun of racist KKK-types, but it doesn't work.  Including Jonah Hill was a mistake.
8. Tarantino has a way with words, no doubt.  His dialogue is sterling as always.  You can see how much the actors relish those lines and long speeches.
9. Everyone's making a big deal about Don Johnson's bit part.  but we were underwhelmed.
10. We have no problem with bloody, gory shoot-outs, but we get very squeamish when it comes to hand-to-hand fighting involving cracking bones.  Why is that?
11. Dig that retro Columbia Pictures logo.
12. We're curious to learn more about how African-American audiences respond to this.  On one hand, it's clearly a populist revenge fantasy for slaves that does for racists what Inglourious Basterds did for Nazis.  But on the other hand, it's clearly got roots in seedy 1970s exploitation movies that have fun looking down on lower classes and using historical "accuracy" to allow white folks to use the N-word and sexualize the subservience of African-American slave women.
13. Some pretty random flashbacks and flashforwards, if you ask us.
14. That is one long rifle.
15. Samuel L. Jackson steals the movie and that's a tall order given the showy, scenery-chewing performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz.
16. Why make the miners Australian?  And why does Tarantino still feel the need to give himself a speaking part?
17. For us, the Tarantino gold standard remains Pulp Fiction, with Inglourious Basterds a photo-finish second.
18. The ending has narrative and structural parallels, believe it or not, with Star Wars.  Discuss amongst yourselves. 
19. The Brittle Brothers.  What a great name.
20. If you like Tarantino, go see it.


And to all a Cheese Fry night

In the spirit of the season, here are links to Knee-Jerks we've done over the years to those great evergreen holiday TV specials:

And as a special treat, here's a vintage 1970s spot for Dolly Madison, long the sponsor of the CBS airing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  We will always associate Charlie Brown with the "Zinger Zapper."

Knee-jerk review: "Silver Linings Playbook"

1. Bradley Cooper is the real deal.  A movie star with legitimate chops.
2. We can only guess how hard it must have been to strike the right tonal balance with this material.  Funny in places, sad in others, romantic in others.  Football tailgating side by side with a dance competition and therapy sessions.  What a hard movie to categorize.  Or explain.
3. Weird title.  Probably working against it.
4. Three Kings is still our favorite David O. Russell movie.  But this is a close second.  Not as grim and humorless as The Fighter.
5. The next time we're in a diner with Jennifer Lawrence, we're ordering raisin bran.  Genius.
6. When was the last time Robert DeNiro had this kind of meaty dramatic role?  Seems like lately he's doing the "DeNiro spoof" thing where he's mostly playing off his own persona rather than creating a new character.
7. What's most compelling about the movie, to us, is the idea that just about everyone, no matter how normal and ordinary they may seem, is actually grappling with some sort of secret dysfunction or burning unhappiness.  Merry Christmas, moviegoers! 
8. We won't hold against it the movie's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles... or the way the one Dallas Cowboys fan is cast as a villain.
9. Jennifer Lawrence is a real woman in an industry full mostly of scrawny girls.  That's a good thing.  She's a real find.
10. Excelsior.
11. Best scene is probably the discussion of psychiatric drugs that plays like two film buffs talking about movies.
12. Where's Chris Tucker been?  Probably counting all his Rush Hour 3 money.  He's fun here, a reminder that he can be good in very small doses.
13. Clever script in the way the backstory unfolds organically throughout the story.  There is no awkward infodump of exposition to explain everything.  You have to pay attention to piece everything together.  This is how it's done, people.
14. Still don't like Julia Stiles.  Blech.  We'd be miserable married to her, too.
15. Spoiler alert: a satisfying, old-school romantic comedy ending.
16. Worth a look.

Knee-jerk review: "Red Dawn"

1. What can we say? We were curious. The 1984 original - the first movie ever rated PG-13, true story - is a something of an iconic classic for Generation X.  We loved it.
2. But this remake? Not terrible. Not great, either.  Mostly, it's just sort of pointless.
3. You'd think this kind of thing would really resonate in an age of American occupation where one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist insurgent.  It's all a matter of geopolitical perspective.  But this is not a very deep movie.  Disappointing, but not surprising.  Probably didn't help that the finished film sat on the shelf for a couple of years while MGM sorted out yet another set of financial troubles, robbing the movie of whatever meager relevance it might have had when it was made.
4. The producers' last-minute decision to use post-production CGI to make the bad guys North Korean instead of Chinese (to avoid offending that huge box office audience) is not only hilariously cowardly, but also completely implausible from a narrative perspective.  Anyone who's at all familiar with the pathetic realities of North Korea knows they could never mount any sort of large-scale invasion of anything.
5. That one shot of the paratrooper parachutes drifting down out of the sky, lifted from the original, is still pretty powerful.
6. "Wolverines!"
7. Josh Peck (in the Charlie Sheen role) is apparently some kind of up-and-comer in Hollywood, but we found his scratchy-voiced, hooded-eye brand of James Dean-style brooding to be annoying and, frankly, rather douchey.
8. The movie just feels small, whereas the original had more of an epic scope to it.  Or is just that as a 12-year-old in 1984, we had lower standards?
9. This despite the fact that the remake creates a new MacGuffin element that allows our heroes a clear mission to accomplish.  That should have helped address the original film's rather mushy second half.
10. Adrianne Palicki.  Sigh.  We'd probably watch her do anything.
11. The weary cynicism of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in the Powers Boothe role) makes the most of his handful of lines.  He steals the few scenes he's in, but his character is really not much of a factor.
12. What teenaged high school guy wouldn't want the opportunity to fight a foreign army?  
13. There's a lot of macho talk about making "tough choices" (i.e. fight or collaborate) but the remake skirts complex questions about the messy nature of guerrilla warfare.  We're thinking of the horrible moment in the original in which our heroes realized they had a spy in their midst.  The remake cleverly mutes that situation to sidestep any unpleasantness.
14. We saw it so you didn't have to.  You're welcome.


Knee-jerk review: "Skyfall"

* Casino Royale is still the best Daniel Craig Bond movie.
* The first 90 minutes here are dynamite... so we thought Casino Royale was about to be dethroned, but then the movie takes a very odd detour for the climax.  It's somewhat unsatisfying, even if it makes sense from a thematic perspective.
* Real men do scorpion shots.
* Albert Finney?  Seriously?  It's like he's walking in from some other movie.  Worse, it's like he's walking in from some other movie parody.
* We love movies where there's a footchase through crowds of people.  Nothing cooler than a hero shoving aside clueless bystanders as he's sprinting past.
* Our fellow moviegoer made the point that the Craig movies are steeped in psychology.  Which is precisely the point, post-Jason Bourne.  This is not your father's empty-headed spy caper.  This "blunt instrument" Bond has angst.  Indeed, this movie's exploration of the M/Bond surrogate mother/son relationship adds a nice layer of emotion we weren't expecting.
* Yeah, the Adele heme song is good.  But let's all back away from the suggestion that it's the best Bond song ever.  "Live and Let Die" owns that title until ever.
* Komodo dragon fu.
* That is one disgusting rat story.
* Ralph Fiennes is always a welcome presence.
* The idea of a broken-down James Bond was explored sort-of in Die Another Day when Pierce Brosnan languished in a North Korean prison, but it's taken to more plausible, dramatic extremes here.
* Aston Martin fu.  (With some much appreciated Goldfinger references.)
* Always good when the villain seems rational and logical in his villainous thinking, rather than deranged and irrational.  Helps also, of course, that Javier Bardem is playing him.
* It's a long-standing Bond film tradition: one of the pretty actresses you've never heard of gets killed by the villain midway through to prove that he's ruthless and evil.  Look it up.  Just about every Bond movie follows this model.
* We also love movies set in the sleek, glass-and-neon cityscapes of Asia.  The Shanghai sequence here is beautiful to look at.  Like a manga.
* "Take the bloody shot."
* Cool title.  Lame in-movie explanation for the title, however.
* Miss Moneypenny was never that hot.  We like.
* When we heard there's a big third act twist, we had an idea what would happen.  We were right.
* Does this mean Bond grew up with money?  Is that part of the Ian Fleming canon?
* For the record, Quantum of Solace, to us, seems unfairly denigrated by fans and critics.  It's not that bad.  Victim of the last big writer's strike.
* James Bond's hobby is "resurrection."  What a cool line.
* Worth seeing, yes.


Knee-jerk review: "Argo"

1. While we admit to having a special fondness for sweaty political thrillers, that doesn't change the fact that this movie is something of a masterpiece.
2. Yeah, you read that right.
3. Who would have thought that a rather bland, smug actor like Ben Affleck could evolve into so confident and efficient a filmmaker?  We loved Gone Baby Gone, liked The Town (it was a little long), but Argo is his finest to date.  It's becoming a fact that if Affleck directed a movie, you know it'll be good.  It just doesn't make sense.  But it's completely true.
4. We knew how this story ended, but the climax was still almost unbearably suspenseful.  
5. Alan Arkin is a national treasure.  Period.
6. Dig those 1979 wardrobes, man.  Plus, everyone smokes!
7. If you want to know more about this dark chapter of American history, read Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah.  Fascinating, meticulous examination of the experiences of the American hostages.
8. It's hard to imagine people volunteering for these kinds of CIA jobs where it's not an exaggeration to say that they may not come back.
9. The character arc of one of the hostages is completely predictable... and also completely effective.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they work.
10. The opening sequence depicting the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is chilling.  
11. Bonus points for employing the old oval "W" 1970s-era Warner Bros. logo to open the movie.
12. We have vague recollections of this whole hostage crisis from when we were kids.  There was always that scary stock image used again and again of the one hostage with the big bandage wrapped around his face as a blindfold.  Those people were held for what seemed like forever to us, with the newscasts happily keeping count of the days in captivity.
13. The film is mostly about the brazen operation to extract ("exfil" in the movie's lingo) the hiding diplomats, but it certainly doesn't shy away from suggesting the complicated, ambiguous nature of American foreign policy in the Middle East and the way old choices can become new problems.
14. "This is the best bad idea we have, sir."
15. Four stars.  Go see it.


Knee-jerk review: AMC's "The Walking Dead"

1. We love zombies.  We just can't believe that so many other people love zombies.  This premiere scored the biggest TV ratings of the season.  Including broadcast networks.  That isn't supposed to happen, not in a world where cable shows must usually be content with tiny ratings.  But this is a monster (pun maybe intended) hit.
2. Who's this cute blonde girl in the group?  We assume she's a Herschel Daughter, but we don't remember seeing her before.  We understand why little Carl would be smitten.  
3. A fairly grim opening, showing our heroes existing in a hollowed-eye state of exhaustion and barely-hanging-on survival.  It looked like little Carl was about to eat dog food, for crying out loud.
4. Could you take a hatchet to someone's leg?  Even if you had to?
5. Lori remains annoying.  We can't even stop ourselves from irrationally blaming her for being pregnant during a zombie outbreak and causing all of this extra trouble for everyone.
6. Doesn't Daryl get tired of pointing that crossbow?  It looks really, really heavy.
7. What's the deal with Michonne's zombie pets?  Is there a purpose other than to look like a bad-ass?
8. At some point, we really should read the comic.  We know that.
9. This was probably the most bloody and gory episode of the whole series.  Exhibit A: that one zombie dude whose skin got peeled off its skull.  Yuck.
10. We were wondering about the ammunition supply.
11. "This isn't a democracy."


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Nashville"

1. Well, now that was interesting.  
2. It has the hallmarks of a "Desperate Housewives"-style women-centric soap opera, what with the complicated romantic triangles and problems-with-bring-rich hand-wringing and the snarky woman-on-woman insults.  All that plus seedy politics and unrequited love tragedy.  We smell a winner.
3. But there's also a grit and realism here that lends a degree of gravity.  This isn't perhaps the four-star genius "The Good Wife," but it isn't self-conscious fluff.
4. You probably don't have to like country music to enjoy the show, but it certainly helps.
5. And you can imagine the music-license goldmine ABC stands to enjoy if this show takes off and spawns iTunes singles.  The one presumably original song in the pilot was catchy.
6. Honestly, we didn't think Hayden Panettiere had it in her.  She worked it.  Who knew Claire-bear could so convincingly play a maneater?
7. Powers Boothe, as always, cuts a commanding presence, even with the sorta girly cosmetic work he's apparently had done.
8. Makes us want to visit the Bluebird Cafe.
9. Part of the fun is trying to work out which real-life music star the fictional characters are emulating.  If she's Taylor Swift and she's Reba McEntire, then who's the other girl?  That kind of thing.
9. It's a tough lesson in Hollywood: you're only as good as your last project.  What have you done for me lately?  Second tough lesson: there's always someone younger and hungrier waiting backstage.
10. You really can't ask for more from a drama than to feel immersed in a strange world, whether it's the hospital of "ER" or the White House of "The West Wing" or the small-town football locker room of "Friday Night Lights."  This show offers what seems to be a genuine glimpse at the inner workings of the Nashville music scene.  It feels genuine anyway.
11. Connie Britton, it seems, can do no wrong.
12. Bonus points for the involvement of Callie Khouri, screenwriter of one our most favorite films, the brilliant Thelma and Louise.
13. Solid.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Elementary"

1. If ever a network was a perfect fit for a Sherlock Holmes "re-imagining," its CBS, a company that never met a string of pretty female corpses it didn't want to build an show around.
2. When you're dealing with Sherlock Holmes, casting the lead character is pretty important.  And Johnny Lee Miller does a pretty good job.  He's clearly having fun.
3. But the show is very... simple.  There are plenty of clever bits where Holmes gets to show off his powers of observation and deduction (and isn't this the same gimmick as "The Mentalist"?), but no real surprises.
4. It's the TV equivalent of a airport paperback.  You know what you're getting and mostly just hope the execution is competent and mildly diverting.  Which it is.
5. The most interesting thing about the show is the suggestion of Holmes and Watson's dark, damaged substance-abuse, foiled-career pasts.
6. Lucy Liu seems to be an acquired taste.  The only thing in which we ever really liked her was "Southland" last season.
7. Don't even get us started on the notion that this outside consultant can have this kind of free reign over NYPD resources.  We don't care how well you know Aidan Quinn.
8. A quietly decent little show, but we get the gist.  We don't have to watch it again to know how it all turns out.


Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Fringe"

1. This is probably one of our favorite TV shows.  Ever.  (And we haven't even seen every episode yet.  Our journey started with the second season.)
2. What started out as a kind of "X-Files" monster-of-the-week FBI procedural rip-off has changed into something very strange and very genius.
3. John Noble is doing the kind of work that would have gotten him a number of Emmy nominations if he'd been cast in a traditional drama.  He is nothing short of amazing.
4. It's a show that has reinvented several times, shifting and warping its premise with audacious "re-sets" in the first episode of each new season (i.e. Joshua Jackson's character gets erased from history at the top of season 4; Anna Torv's character is kidnapped in an alternate universe and her double sent to ours as a spy at the top of season 3; you get the idea).  
5. This final season is no exception.  Supposedly, all 13 episodes will take place completely in the future as our heroes fight the Observer occupation.  
6. If you don't know what an Observer is, you should probably go to Wikipedia and get caught up a little.
7. Egg stick, anyone?
8. Fox deserves credit for hanging in there when it didn't have to.  This is a show with very low ratings and no one would have blamed Fox for canceling it.
9. We could be wrong, but there's a sense that this show will have the kind of satisfying resolution that completely eluded the muddled, flat endings of "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost."  And don't even get us started on the slow, painful death-rattle of "The X-Files," a show we stopped watching way before it ended.
10. We continue to hear stories of how troubled and crazy the show's production actually is, with actors arriving on set without knowing what they'll be shooting, rewrites happening 24 hours a day, chaos in the writer's room.  The show should be a complete narrative disaster.  We don't know why it isn't.
11. Plus, after every episode, you get to soak up a master's class analysis from Entertainment Weekly's "Doc" Jeff Jensen, whose epic weekly essays single-handedly made "Lost" seem thematically deeper and more literary than it really ever was.


"May the infographics be with you, always."

A genius named Marc Morera turned the plots of the six Star Wars movies into detailed infographics.  And who doesn't like detailed infographics?


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Last Resort"

1. Okay, well... that was kind of awesome.
2. Andre Braugher.  Just one of those actors, you know?  Magnetic.  Many a Friday night was spent by us watching "Homicide: Life on the Street" and Braugher chew scenery as Frank Pembleton.
3. We've paid to see two-hour movies that weren't as engrossing and suspenseful as these 48 minutes.
4. It's like Crimson Tide on acid, in a way.  And we loved Crimson Tide.  Criminally underrated.
5. We never get tired of stories that take us into the rigid ritual and protocol of the military.  Always fascinating.
6. And who doesn't love a sweaty scene of will-they-or-won't-they nuclear missile key-turning?
7. The pilot does a great job setting up a number of conflicts among a fractured collection of characters.  The best may be the one we didn't see coming: the local crime boss who doesn't much like the idea of the Navy upending his little fiefdom.
8. We're not sure what the truth is behind the suspicious launch order, but we know it surely has something to do with the president's impeachment troubles.  What better way to stay in office that create a national defense distraction?  Wag the Dog, maybe you heard of it?
9. Ms. Cheese Fry kept asking us to explain what was going on.  Like we knew.
10. "That's you little bitch, lieutenant."  Snap.
11. The world would be a cooler place if instead of saying letters, we all used the military alphabet.
12. Robert Patrick's looking old.  But it suits him, don't you think?  He looks good grizzled and tired.
13. We are on board.


Where did the old pull tabs go?

Slate.com's Tom Vanderbilt wrote one of those quirky articles about everyday minutiae that the Cheese Fry would want to write if we worked for Slate.com.  It's a look at how the soda-can pull tab was redesigned into the current pop top.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "The Mindy Project"

1. You certainly can't say this show doesn't have a distinctively skewed and dark point of view.
2. Mindy Kalin clearly has no qualms about allowing her character to do some completely unlikable things, like disrupting an ex-boyfriend's wedding with an inappropriate drunken toast or trying to avoid a phone call from a patient having a medical emergency.  She's kind of a self-absorbed mess... but one who's also completely aware of that fact.
3. We've all seen the dreamer who loves romantic comedies and aspires for that kind of romance.  But not the dreamer who's also a bit of a drunken slut.  That's a funny edge and one we hope continues to be developed.
4. The ob-gyn office setting feels fresh.
5. Hey, the best friend is the girl who played the intern on "The Good Wife"!
6. "You look nice." "Go to hell."  Funny.
7. Stephen Tobolowsky didn't have much to do in this episode.  But we have faith.  We saw him at the airport once, having a fairly personal phone call in a loud voice on his cell phone.
8. Worth another look we think.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "2 Broke Girls"

1. Sadly, not much has changed from last season.  It remains a frustrating, underachieving sitcom.
2. More sex jokes that are more "did they just say that?" shocking than funny.
3. More tired gags with the one-note diner employees.
4. More Jennifer Coolidge doing her Eastern European schtick.
5. The chemistry between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, who are way better than the material they're given but seem to actually be having a good time and enjoying each other's company, remains the only thing worth watching on this show.  And it's really not enough.  The show works best when it's just the two of them.  But the writers keep sticking them with all of these other ridiculous characters.
6. We have to give some begrudging credit to the way the show looks at our current financial state and the gap between rich and poor.  But, come on, this is a show that mostly enjoys devising new sexual innuendos.
7. It could be so good.  But it's so mediocre.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Survivor: Philippines"

1. Yes, we still watch it.  There was one season a couple of years ago where we fell behind in the DVR queue and then just gave up.  But other than that, we haven't missed an episode.  We've been there from the very first season. 
2. It's still the most fascinating reality-TV competition on the air.  Equal parts physical strength, strategy, sociology, and personality.
3. It's always amusing to see contestants completely unable to practice what they preach.  All of these Type-A people know that outspoken, cocky "Survivor" leaders are often targeted at Tribal Council.  But they just can't help themselves. We're looking at you, Russell.  Sheesh.
4. Seems like a good cast this season. Likable people. 
5. Though we had no idea what Zane was talking about when he tried to describe his elaborate "ruse" strategy.
6. If you were picked to be on the show, wouldn't you immediately take a crash course in making a fire from scratch?  And wouldn't you also immediately begin some kind of, like, work-out regimen to develop endurance and strength?  Many contestants don't seem to do this.
7. Do the producers seriously think any viewer is buying that those cut-in shots of spiders and sharks and snakes are anywhere near the contestants?  No one's falling for that.
8. There's no one better at this kind of thing than Jeff Probst.  He's part of what makes this show so engaging.  Just think of the phony snark and smirk of other hosts like Ryan Seacrest or Tom Bergeron or Chris Harrison.  It'd never work in the jungle.
9. Big fan of Penner. Big fan.
10. There's really no call for the show's opening credits to be that artful and painterly.  But that's because "Survivle" goes the extra mile for you.
11. Yes, we have the soundtrack.

Thus Spake Chewbacca

From the files of "We Wished We'd Thought of That" comes a piece of cartoon art that outlines every line of dialogue uttered by Chewbacca in the original Star Wars.  Rrreeeowr.

No more Old-Timers with Cheese here

The Cheese Fry wore black recently to pay respects to the dismantling of the original Chili's Bar and Grill location in north Dallas.  We had the pleasure of eating there several times.  You will not be forgotten, old friend.


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Revolution"

1. There's certainly a tediousness to pilots like this as the producers have to get everything set up and introduce the characters and arrange it all just so on the narrative chess board.
2. Billy Burke completely steals the show playing a variation on the Han Solo dashing-badass-who-doesn't-want-to-get-involved.
3. Would vegetation and trees really overrun everything in just 15 years?  Wrigley Field looks like the end of Logan's Run.  We'll have to re-read our copy of World Without Us.
4. Elizabeth Mitchell sighting.  Sigh.
5. It calls to mind Stephen King's "The Stand" what with the breakdown of civilization and the return to more of an old-fashioned Wild West mentality involving hangings and flintlock muskets and horses.  We don't mean that as an insult.
6. The militia's meadow headquarters of canvas tents is clearly meant to evoke the Civil War.
7. It's not bad, but we can't help but wonder how much darker and edgier and satisfying this would be if only it were on HBO or AMC.
8. We'll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and not read too much into the Katniss Everdeen similarities of cute teenaged archer heroine.
9. Even if an airplane lost power, it wouldn't fall out of the sky.  It could still glide to a landing.  Right?
10. Dig the cling-clang of the swordfights.
11. The only thing we really didn't see coming was the poison alcohol.  Everything sort of played out the way we expected, but that didn't necessarily make it any less enjoyable.
12. We're in for now.


Knee-jerk review: Fox's "The Mob Doctor"

1. Are they kidding with that title?  It's just begging to be mocked.  How can you not say it in a deep, booming Phil Hartman voice?
2. Yes, she's a brilliant surgeon who fights insensitive bureaucracy, performs cutting-edge surgery, and has the gritty no-nonsense backbone of a girl born on the wrong side of the tracks... who happens to be played by a cute blonde thirtysomething actress.
3. Nothing much is subtle here.  It's all way over the top, rife with coincidence and contrivance, and relayed to the audience in big flashing letters.  Case in point: why be cagey and crafty in complaining about your boss when you can just make a big scene that humiliates him in a way that insures he'll become a mortal enemy?
4. The last 20 minutes or so did have our complete attention.  It's one thing to suture bullet holes for dimwitted button men, but another to commit a premeditated in-surgery execution of a federal witness.  Isn't that right, Mob Doctor?  Rule one of being a Mob Doctor: don't make the mob angry.
5. We get it.  It's "The Sopranos" meets "Grey's Anatomy."  Don't think that's not how it got pitched to Fox.  And we admit it is compelling in a cheesy sort of way.
6. And this show was apparently based on a book.  What?  It's true.  Really.
7. East Dillon QB1 Matt Saracen's not old enough to be a doctor, people.  But there he is, delivering a lot of the episode's best lines.
8. Zeljko Ivanek is one of those actors we'd watch read a deli menu.  You thought we were going to say "phone book," didn't you?
9. Though the pilot ends on a note of intrigue, we probably won't be back.


Knee-jerk review: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in IMAX

1. "Snakes.  Why did it have to be snakes?"
2. Remember when Paramount was a Gulf +Western company?
3. We don't recall the pacing and editing being this fast and this lean.  There's no time wasted anywhere.  It's one set piece and one sequence after another, bang bang bang.  Maybe we have a different memory because of so many airings on television, which slices and dices everything for the commercials and stalls the momentum.
4. People (including us) had big problems with the silly alien element of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  But look at this ending.  Angels and demons and melting faces and laser beams of holy wrath.  That's pretty out there, too.  Ditto the guy who gets his beating heart ripped out in Temple of Doom and the 1000-year-old knight guarding a magic cup in The Last Crusade.
5. Whatever happened to Paul Freeman?
6. It may be one of the best lines ever.  "It's not the years, honey.  It's the mileage."  Gold.
7. The story may hold up, but this is still an old movie.  The special effects and the process shots all look surprisingly grainy and shaky.  But we appreciate that Spielberg hasn't pulled a Lucas and gone back to polish it all up.
8. When we were younger, the dialogue scenes between the action scenes were the boring parts.  But as we get older, it's clear that this is where the real story lies.  Most notable are the lines dropped throughout that fill in Indiana and Marion's troubled backstory.  Just how young was Marion when Indiana fooled around with her?  Eek.
9. We also never really appreciated until now how much of a skeptic Indiana is when we first meet him. He doesn't believe in the supernatural.  Even as he's telling the Army intelligence officers about the Ark's Biblical power, he's barely able to keep from rolling his eyes.  He's Dana Scully.  And then at the end of the movie, he gets it.  It's all real.  These aren't just objects for a museum.  These things have power.  "Close your eyes, Marion!"
10. We're older now than Harrison Ford was when he made this movie.
11. "Throw me the whip!"
12. Raiders of the Lost Ark is 31 years old.  That's as old as Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve (both released in 1950) was in 1981 when Raiders was released.  Something to think about.
13. "We are... we are not thirsty."
14. Somehow we saw a behind-the-scenes featurette on how they painstakingly choreographed and filmed the Nepal bar fight, shot by shot, set-up by set-up.  This was a huge influence on sharpening our obsession with movies and Hollywood.
15. We may finally understand the appeal of Karen Allen.  She's not conventionally attractive, but there's a zesty, sexy spunk to her.  Marion really is Indiana's equal.  A hard drinker and a hard fighter.
16. "They're digging in the wrong place."
17. Can you really fling a grown man through a truck windshield with one hand?
18. This movie wouldn't work as well as it does without John Williams' score.  Yes, we bought the soundtrack.  On LP.
19. Check out the way Spielberg shoots Ford when the workers are opening the lid to the Well of Souls.  Lightning behind him, eyes wild, sweaty face.  Indiana looks like a crazy person, presumably to underscore his obsession.
20. "Bad dates."
21. How many bullwhips were sold in the 1980s because of this movie?  Just curious.
22. They also hit pretty hard that film-school cliche of the villain being a mirror image of the hero.  First Belloq says it explicity in the cafe.  "I am a shadowy reflection of you."  And then later, in case you didn't get it, in that bazooka scene (even though Indiana initially says he only wants Marion) Indiana realizes he's just as interested in opening the Ark as Belloq.  
23. If you're a film buff, you better know the difference between real IMAX and fake IMAX.  We saw Raiders in fake IMAX because believe it or not, in all of Los Angeles there are only two real IMAX theaters and neither was showing it.
24. We'll never think of this movie as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Sorry, George Lucas.
25. We noticed for the first time that Dr. Jones' female students are all making dreamy goo-goo eyes at him. It's not just the girl with "love you" written on her eyelids. 
26. One of Hollywood's most memorable film deaths is surely the bald Nazi who gets shredded by the plane propellor.  Sprrratt.
27. Speaking of which, as epic and memorable as the truck chase is, the better sequence is probably the one that precedes it with the flying wing.  Everything that can go wrong does go wrong as the danger and the violence escalate.
28. We still probably could have done without the monkey.
29. Applause moments during our screening: the Paramount logo, Indiana first stepping into the sunlight when he bullwhips the double-crosser in the jungle, Indiana smirking at Marion in the bar and saying "Trust me," and the end credits.
30. "Top.  Men."
31. At this point is there anyone who hasn't heard the story behind the scene when Indiana just pulls a gun and shoots the big Arab dude with the scimitar?
32. Dear Raiders of the Lost Ark, thank you for existing.  Sincerely, the Cheese Fry.


We watched "Saturday Night Live" so you didn't have to

If you're like us, you have an on-again, off-again relationship with NBC's "Saturday Night Live," a show that's more cultural tradition than entertainment series.  At this point we wonder if NBC would ever cancel it.  It'd be like canceling "The Today Show."  This coming season will be the show's 38th.

In middle school and high school, the show was a pretty big deal for us.  We'd watch with our friends so we'd have something to talk about on Mondays, so we'd feel cool and hip.  But then once we got our driver's license, we sometimes had better things to do on Saturday night with our 11th grade friends.  This continued in college, though there were those Saturday night keg parties with the show playing in a dark corner.  We'd take a look.  But as we grew older, got a job, found a serious significant other, starting paying bills, there were many other things to do than keep track of the rotating cast and newest catch-phrases on "SNL."

Earlier this summer, while staying home to take care of Littlest Fry for a month, we had the opportunity to watch several episodes of "Saturday Night Live" back to back, clearing out hours of shows stacked up in our DVR.  We saw a lot of hosts, some surprisingly game (Mick Jagger, Daniel Radcliffe), some predictably mediocre (Lindsay Lohan), some predictably strong (Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell).

Here's what we learned.

1. Bill Hader is a genius.  And Stefon is perhaps his best creation, even if part of the appeal comes from watching him crack up.  He cannot get through these segments without losing it.  And we cannot get enough of him losing it in these segments.

2. It's easy to mock "SNL" when it seems lazy and lame, which it often is.  Sketches go nowhere, no one seems able to even try to learn lines, and every bit seems to be a variation of a tired TV talk show parody.  Some of this is surely a function of the demands of creating 90 minutes of content every week.  But some of it surely also complacency.  Even so, when the show is good, it's very very good:

"Almost Pizza" commercial

"The Californians"

"Disney Housewives"

3. Our favorite bit remains "Weekend Update."  It's often where the strongest, clearest jokes live, perhaps because they don't have to be stretched out into five minute sketches.  And while Seth Meyers seems at times to be polarizing, we like him.  So it was something of a let-down when Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon came back to the "Weekend Update" set for a joke-off to see which "Update" team could offer the best gag.  A strong idea.  But disappointing in execution.  Maybe you can't go home again.

4. It was a sweet dance send-off for genius Kristin Wiig on her last show, but we will not miss the strange recurring bit she shared with Fred Armisen in which they were a singing duo and she never knew the words.  It was funny for about 90 seconds.  And then it wasn't.  They mostly seemed to be amusing each other rather than the audience.

5. Keenan Thompson is funny, people.  And it's even more funny that he refuses to modulate in voice in any way from sketch to sketch.  No matter who he's playing, the dude sounds exactly the same.  (But we have had enough of the Scared Straight sketches and the awkward riffs on prison rape.)

6. We just don't get Fred Armisen.  He's funny sometimes, we suppose, but mostly he seems very smug and condescending.  He's his own best fan.

7. Taran Killam would seem to be the next break-out cast member.  He nails everything, doesn't he?

8. Abby Elliott will not be missed.  We never understood the reason for Elliott's presence on the cast.  And frankly, seeing her name in the credits often irritated us, especially when the more-talented Jenny Slate was axed last season.  All Elliott really offered was a dead-on Zooey Deschanel impersonation.  Though good, that's hardly a qualification for steady comedic employment. 

9. Jay Pharoah could be the next Abby Elliott if he's not careful.  If Elliott's a one-trick pony, Pharoah's so far maybe a three-trick pony.  He can nail Denzel and Jay-Z, but so what?  Is there anything more in the tank?

10. If there's no Andy Samberg, what will become of the "SNL Digital Short"?

11. The most artistic part of the show is surely the beautifully composed bumper photos of the guest host that run between segments.  The photographer is Mary Ellen Matthews and she's a genius.

The Cheese Fry gets organized

For those dozen or so Cheese Fry regulars out there who want a better way to sift through our voluminous and invaluable content, we've started adding searchable tags to each post.  Now if you want to access all of our "Knee-jerk reviews" you can do so.

Look for these tags, which Blogger calls "labels," at the bottom of each post.

You're welcome.

Knee-jerk review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

1. We thought for sure we'd be among the last to see this movie.  But no, there were a few other losers in the theater like us.
2. It was hard to sit through the opening few minutes without thinking of the Aurora, Colorado shooting victims.  Those images were the last those people would ever see.  It's easy to imagine the horrific chaos of gunfire and screams playing out against such a loud, raucous movie.  We also noted a new AMC trailer that talked about what to do in an emergency.  We don't think they're referring to a fire.
3. As for the film itself, it's kind of a mess.
4. We had the same sort of reaction to The Dark Knight, though that was a far superior movie.  The Dark Knight was essentially two movies crammed into one.  You had the Joker's story and then you had Harvey Dent/Two-Face's story.  Had they been integrated better, it might have worked.  Instead, you got 2 hours of the Joker and then suddenly the Two-Face twist crammed into the final rushed half hour.
5. This new movie is even worse, stuffed full full of characters and subplots and backstabs.  This is the kind of film where just about every character has a sad backstory that they reveal in a melodramatic monologue, sometimes with a flashback as well.   It's just too, too much.  
6. Good luck keeping everything straight as to who's working for who and why.  The whole Daggett subplot seems so completely needless.  You really just have to go with it.
7. It's frustrating because Christopher Nolan has such grand ambitions and always infuses his big-budget movies with big themes and compelling subtexts.  But it gets lost in all of the confusion.
8. One friend told us he suspects this is a case of no one at Warner Bros. daring to tell Nolan no given the huge success of The Dark Knight and Inception.  Nolan did this one the way he wanted, right or wrong.  
9. We loved the discussion about how being unafraid of death is a weakness, not a strength.  Those who want to live will fight harder and longer and smarter.  A genius concept that we hadn't ever considered.
10. Bane is no Joker.  And his voice sounds like a dime-store parody of Sean Connery's brogue.  And poor Tom Hardy having to act without using his face.
11. Despite the film being soggy for so long (sorry, auteurs, but no movie should be 2 hours and 45 minutes), the epilogue sequence is a complete knockout.  Very satisfying.
12. Who knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt could be such a bad ass?  Wow.  We cannot wait for Looper.
13. We saw that betrayal coming from a mile away.  And just step back a moment and think about all of the steps that were required to get that nuclear bomb into the bad guys' hands.  How convoluted.
14. The idea of fomenting a 99% revolution against the 1% upper class is a good one, but again, it's just one of many ideas stirred into the movie.  None of them get fully cooked really.
15. Some truly arresting visuals, like the army of cops charging at the army of crooks.  As liberal as one might view the anti-wealthy bent of the movie, there are also some very right-leaning perspectives on the value of law-and-order ruthlessness and the importance of the police.
16. Anne Hathaway.  Sigh.
17. So not only does Bruce Wayne pull on that suit, but he also takes the time to put blackout makeup around his eyes.
18. Gary Oldman, action hero.  Who doesn't love that?
19. Of all the people in Gotham City, just one beat cop has figured out who Batman really is?  Really?
20. Selina Kyle is totally playing the Han Solo role here.
21. Blowing up the stadium is exciting visually, but more and more we find the killing of innocents to lack the sort of raw entertainment appeal it used to have for us.
22. We know they did work to make Bane more intelligible.  But we didn't couldn't understand a lot of what he said.
23. Credit the filmmakers for making a sequel that actually requires knowledge of the previous two films.  This trilogy is indeed one long story.  So bonus points for that.  If you didn't see Batman Begins, you'll likely be lost trying to understand all this fuss about the League of Shadows.
24. Great line from Bane about the stock market.  Some flunky tells him there's no money there to steal.  He says, "No?  Then why are all of you here?"
25. Overall, a missed opportunity.


BFI's "Greatest Films" we never saw

The British Film Institute - via the cineaste journal Sight and Sound - recently updated their rather stodgy list of cinema's top 50 movies of all time.  To us, it's the sort of screening list we saw in film school.  Lots of "medicine" movies, many of them either quite old or quite foreign (because, you know, American and recent equals mainstream crap), that may not taste good but are supposed to be good for you.

Sure, we've seen Vertigo (the new number 1), Citizen Kane (the old number 1), and Some Like It Hot (ranked at a criminally low 42).  But there's a lot we haven't seen.  And some we've never even heard of.

Here are the movies we would be trying to make an effort to see, if only we didn't have two small children, a full-time job, and a underdeveloped sense of film snobbery that tends to prefer any movie not spoken in English.

Tokyo Story
La Regle du jeu
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
The Searchers - We really would like to see this one.  It's on our list.
Man with a Movie Camera
The Passion of Joan of Arc
8 1/2
Late Spring
Au hasard Balthazar
Seven Samurai - We wouldn't mind seeing this.
Le Mepris
In the Mood for Love - Heard lots of good things.  On our list.
Andre Rublev
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles - Is this really a movie?
The 400 Blows
La Dolce Vita
Journey to Italy
Pather Panchali - Huh?
Pierrot le Fou - Now you're just messing with us.
Play Time
Close Up
The Battle of Algiers - Heard good things about it, wouldn't mind seeing it.
Histoires du Cinema

That's a whole lot of Dreyer, Tarkovsky, and Godard, filmmakers all who lean towards the tedious, the esoteric, and the dull.  No thanks.  We'll take Dazed and Confused, Pulp Fiction, and Goldfinger.

The shorter list may be the "Greatest Films" we have seen:

Citizen Kane
2001: A Space Odyssey
Battleship Potemkin
Apocalypse Now
Singing' in the Rain
The Godfather
Mulholland Drive
The Godfather Part II
Taxi Driver
The Bicycle Thieves
The General
Some Like It Hot
City Lights
Ugetsu monogatari - Thank you, film school.
La Jetee


Knee-jerk review: "Opening Ceremonies of XXX Summer Olympics"

1. Of the two, we prefer the Beijing opening in 2008.  Even with its vaguely threatening show of socialist uniformity and conviction.
2. Danny Boyle looks like the weird high school chemistry teacher you made fun of behind his back.  But the guy has talent.  Trainspotting's overrated, though.  Sorry, film geeks.  Slumdog Millionaire is the masterpiece.
3. On one hand those glowing blankets that kids had are very space-ace cool.  We kind of want one.  But on the other hand, how can you go to sleep with your blanket glowing right in your face?
The forging of the giant Olympic ring?  And then how it floats up and joins the other four rings?  Genius.  Drama.  Goose-bumps.
4. Enough, Ryan Seacrest.  Enough.  Please.
5. We begrudgingly give respect to the James Bond-Queen Elizabeth II gag.  If only because it seemed like something so impossible to pull off given the stature of Her Majesty and what would imagine would be her refusal to do such a thing.  But we hated the animated Churchill statue.  Too Disney.
6. What's the deal with the enormous Ferris wheel with the round glass bubbles?  How scary must that be to ride?
7. Can someone tell us definitively: is David Beckham really a good soccer player or not?
8. Beware the army of the flying Mary Poppinses.  We think that was a line in Shakespeare somewhere.
9. Sorry, NBC.  Not only did we fast-forward as much as possible through the unending parade of nations, but we fell asleep through most of the part we had to watch in real-time.
10. For us, the Rowan Atkinson bit just didn't fit with the import and pageantry of the Olympics.
All of the filmed bits made the ceremony feel a bit like the Oscars.  Maybe it was how Atkinson morphed himself into Chariots of Fire.  That hasn't been funny since Billy Crystal did it in, like, 2002.
11. And by the way, for the record we're still irritated that Chariots of Fire, a movie no one we know has ever seen, beat Raiders of the Lost Ark for Best Picture.
12. NBC ran a montage of past Summer Olympic posters.  Los Angeles 1984 didn't make the cut.  
13. Love that the torchbearer ran into the stadium through a line of the construction workers who helped build it.
14. At some point, doesn't someone at Ralph Lauren ask the guy sitting in the cubicle next to him, "Hey, shouldn't we have these American Olympic uniforms, like, made in the U.S.A.?"
15. Is it us, or did the pastoral cottage setting of the initial set-up seem like it ought to have a few Hobbits running around?
16. We respect Muhammed Ali, but we're not sure why he suddenly popped up to touch the Olympic flag.
17. Paul McCartney may look now strangely like an old woman, but there's nothing dated about "Hey Jude."  All of those thousands of people singing the "na na na" chorus was beautiful.
18. We're not ashamed to admit we always get a little emotional when the big stadium cauldron finally gets lit.  The moment here was a great one as many small urns slowly caught fire one by one then raised up into one single giant flame.