Thursday, March 29, 2007

But at least it's a flat-screen TV, right?

Something of a double whammy here. Not only has it been forever since my last post, but I've managed to not see a movie since then. Blame basketball, travel and the baby, but there's no question that your faithful blogger isn't living up to his title.

To hold you over, here's a rundown of what I am watching -- namely a host of TV shows, some of them far from great.

The Apprentice: Yeah, let's get the most shameful out of the way. While I swore off "Survivor" after the first few years, I've stuck with Trump, save for one disastrous diversion to the Martha Stewart version. It's one of the few things my wife and I both watch, and The Donald is still amusing in his dipsh*t way. Does that excuse this show being on the list? Of course not.

Battlestar Galactica: Another silly entry? Far from it! Sure, it's sci-fi and therefore geeky, but it's also a bonafide show with great political and philosophical angles. No, really! Don't believe me ... just read the reviews. Oh, all right. It's still geeky. But Cylons are cool!

Rome: Not my favorite show but maybe my favorite type of show: a high-quality dramatization of real-life events, highlighted by much bloodletting and boinking. (And even more historically important than the dearly departed "Deadwood," another fave.) I started watching this just because I knew the HBO series would be class, class, class. Little did I know it also would be accurate. How about that? I now have my Caesars straight.

Prison Break: Hugely implausible from the start but still grand fun in that "what will they think of next" way. Besides, the woman doctor is hot, and bonus points for including everyone's favorite creepy guy, William Fichtner, this season.

24: I've been there from the beginning, even catching up on the season I missed when business travel got too heavy. Did someone say implausible? My wife always berates the "real-time" angle, which I admit is ludicrous. Sadly, that's the most believable stuff compared to everything Jack Bauer has to deal with in a day. That said, I can't look away.

Jericho: Sure, it sounded like "Lost" in the middle of Kansas. And sure, I probably would give up this show first if I pared back my TV viewing. But it's nice to see Skeet Ulrich dust himself off from his movie career and find a place as Major Dad's son.

Dancing with the Stars: Um, no. Just making sure you're paying attention.

Lost: Yep, we're still with the castaways, even as every episode that purports to reveal answers really just yields more questions. I read somewhere that this is becoming "The X-Files," in which mysteries aren't so much solved and perpetuated, tweaked and otherwise muddled. That can go on for only so long, and hopefully "Lost" won't peter out like Mulder and Scully did.

CSI: While the idiotic Miami version lasted only one season in our house, we've stuck with the Vegas crew for a while. As if you care, there have been two major breaks from formula this season. As dumb as the Grissom-Sara romance is, you gotta love this Minature Killer thread that has been running from show to show. Let's see "Law & Order" try that!

My Name is Earl: While I get the feeling this show could be twice as funny as it is, it's still quirky enough to keep me watching. The No. 1 reason: Jamie Pressly, whose Joy character remains hilarious even as the people behind the show have become too aware of her trashy appeal. Oh, and she and the Latina maid are both hot.

The Office: I'll swear to my dying days that the British version is funnier, but it's getting harder to be certain the longer this show goes on. Not only have they taken some of the characters and storylines from the original and tweaked them well, but they've also made those characters genuinely funny in their own right. I mean, Dwight? That guy's just not right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nope, you're still a bunch of geeks: "Wordplay"

What is it with these word savants? Not long ago, we had the book "Word Freak" and the movie "Word Wars," both about competitive Scrabble players. Now comes "Wordplay," about the guy behind The New York Times crossword puzzles, his cronies and his devotees -- from the famous (Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns) to the, shall we say, obsessive/awkward/kill-myself-if-I'm-caught-with-them-in-an-elevatoresque.

If I recall correctly, "Wordplay" was somewhat acclaimed as a documentary, and it is entertaining to watch these folks rant and rave about how much the NYT crossword and its master, Will Shortz, mean to them and the universe in general. Sure, who wouldn't want to watch Clinton or Stewart do the same puzzle, each offering commentary in his own distinctive way?

Also kind of cool was to see exactly how one of these puzzles comes together, courtesy of one of Shortz's stable of "constructors." You learn not only what the rules of puzzle layout are, but how these guys have a bunch of arrows in their quiver when it comes to making words fit with others. Essentially, it all starts with a theme, and from there you just have to fill in the blanks. Sounds simple, but I admit, there's both an art and a science to it.

Of course, this movie wouldn't succeed without a climax -- in this case, the annual crossword competition in lovely Stamford, Conn. We see the wily veterans and the young guns, including a truly dorky college student. Sure, he seems well-adjusted enough on the surface; heck, he's even a frat boy! But I find it interesting that we never saw him with a girl even once in this movie. I mean, why even pledge, dude?

That said, the contest has enough drama and provides a fitting rendezvous for the various characters to wrap the movie up in a nice package. It helps that the movie's running time checks in at less than 90 minutes. Come to think of it, that's how long it takes me to do the crossword. In USA Today. For kids.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Well, James Brolin IS a bigger deal than that Newman guy

The funny thing is that the Yahoo news headline does reference "Cool Hand Luke" over a middling horror movie. But on the story itself, "Amityville" rules."

Seriously, though, "Cool Hand Luke" as your first directing effort? Not bad, not bad at all.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I really need to stop wasting my time on crap: "Poseidon"

What, you were expecting some kind of pun, pop culture reference or other attempt at cleverness? Tough. I was sick this weekend, and this movie isn't worth the seconds it would take to come up with a zippy line.

You may recall a post a while back on "The Poseidon Adventure," the first incarnation of this tale of a cruise ship turned upside down. That wasn't anything great, believe me, but you could forgive it and its rampant cheesiness as part of that unfortunate wave (pun intended ... happy now?) of '70s disaster movies. Why someone wanted to update it, even in this fantastic CGI world, is beyond me. Yet update it, Wolfgang Petersen did.

As you know, Petersen became big with Western audiences through Das Boot, then went on to make some decent stuff, i.e. "In the Line of Fire" and "Air Force One." Heck, I didn't think "Outbreak" was that bad, and I'll confess "Enemy Mine" as a guilty pleasure of sorts. Come on, like it isn't cool to see Louis Gossett Jr. in all that alien makeup.

Petersen also has had some misfires, such as "Troy" and "The Perfect Storm." But hey, at least they looked good, right? I think he was going for the same thing in "Poseidon," but it fails on even that level. Oh, it's neat enough to see the giant wave topple the big boat. After that, though ... nothing special. As a ragtag band of passengers heads up -- formerly down -- to freedom, it was just run of the mill explosions, water and other assorted mayhem. Or maybe it wasn't. All I know is that at no time did I think, "Whoa, that's a cool effect." OK, one time, but that was Fergie's cleavage.

As for the passengers, well, it's a questionable lot. Josh Lucas, who I've always considered to be Matthew McConaughey Lite (not a good thing), is his usual charismaless self here, this time as the young ne'er-do-well who turns out to be not that bad. Kurt Russell is a brave dad, who also happens to be the former mayor of New York City. His daughter, Emmy Rossum, is annoying. Richard Dreyfuss is a gay guy who just got his heart broken. Jacinda "Real World London" Barrett is a single mom. Her kid is annoying, too. And so on.

Yeah, if you thought the original Poseidonites/ians/ers were silly, here's a worse group. In fact, I can think of one scene that was kind of cool, and -- morbid as this might be -- it was when someone drowned. It actually seemed kind of real to me, and scarier than any of the pyrotechnics and rushing water that otherwise dominated the movie. Believe it or not, Wolfgang, sometimes less is more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I liked it better when it was her panties that were missing: "The Forgotten"

Don't pretend you don't think of that scene in "Short Cuts" every time you see Julianne Moore. I don't care how many Oscar noms she has -- four, in case you wondered -- she'll always be the woman who had Matthew Modine all rattled by walking around bottomless. Can you blame him?

Can't say I was interested in "The Forgotten" when it was in theaters. Looked like hokey suspense to me, and the reviews did nothing to change my mind. But with The Person Who Gives My Life All Meaning now controlling the Netflix queue -- thank you, maternity leave -- this somewhat lame movie recently arrived in our mailbox. Junk mail, indeed.

Moore plays a distressed woman whose young son was killed in a plane crash. She's in therapy, of course, but soon notices some weird stuff -- namely, evidence of her son's existence being erased. From his face disappearing in photos to scrapbooks suddenly empty, it's like she never had a son. Hmmm, maybe she didn't. Or maybe she did, but he's now among ... THE FORGOTTEN. (Shiver.)

After her husband (Anthony "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" Edwards) and her shrink (Gary "Snake Eyes" Sinise) tells her they never had a son, Moore eventually finds an ally in a man (Dominic West) whose daughter died in the same crash. He doesn't remember at first, but soon they both try to find out why they're the only ones who can't forget about all the poopy diapers, toys stuck in the VCR, keys flushed down the toilet, etc.

This takes them across some NSA agents and a weird, smiling man before they find out the deal, which is ... eh, nothing great. I suppose the lack of detail is necessary to roll with the story, but it also smelled of a cop-out. I'm also a little torn on how troublesome people are disposed of in this movie. It's not bad at first, but then gets a little silly and -- as one poster to an IMDB message board mentioned -- reminiscent of a certain scene in a certain Monty Python movie. (I hate to spoil it, but just make sure you're certain when someone asks what your favorite color is.)

In the end, this could have been worse, but it doesn't have anything to make me recommend it. If only someone had tried to calm down a hysterical Moore by saying, "Now, now ... just keep your pants on."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I'm special (special!) ... so special (special!): "The Ringer"

Come on ... The Pretenders? Anybody?

Here's what I learned from this "movie": Working with the Special Olympics apparently lets you off the hook for a patently offensive premise. It doesn't, however, absolve you of not being funny.

Why did I even give "The Ringer," a story about a guy who lies about being challenged so he can rig the Special Olympics, a chance? After all, I clearly remember my friend Tex sending an e-mail about it way before its release with a message along the lines of "What has the world come to?" So yes, there was no chance I'd pay money to see Johnny Knoxville fake retardation. Stick with diving into a port-a-john, bud.

But when the movie popped up on HBO, I recalled a radio interview with the Farrelly brothers, who produced the movie. First, I generally like the Farrellys. Even lackluster efforts like "Shallow Hal" and "Stuck of You" have their amusing parts, and I regard "Kingpin" as a work of genius -- a better bowling movie than "The Big Lebowski," even. Second, there was that "we got the Special Olympics on board" thing. OK, I thought, let's see just how this all worked out.

The answer: not well. No, not well at all. I'm tempted to say I appreciated the effort, but, no, I didn't. They owe me 94 minutes. Well, maybe 80 minutes. The 14 minutes Katherine Heigl was on screen was tolerable. She's easier on the eyes than Knoxville, who has never not looked hungover. I guess that's what jumping out of moving cars will do to you after a while.

Our plot, if you can call it that, has Knoxville as a working stiff who suddenly has to pay to have his company's janitor's severed fingers reattached. (Don't ask. I can't bear to spend more time on this truly lame setup.) His uncle -- Brian Cox, officially abandoning his last shred of dignity -- convinces him to enter the Special Olympics, where he'll supposedly beat the regular champion, thereby allowing his uncle to win a big bet. Hilarious, right?

Now I'll grant you that the athletes at the Olympics are a game supporting crew, and have some pretty funny moments. That is, if you're convinced that you're laughing with them, not at them. Sadly, I wasn't. First, Knoxville's character knowing this is wrong obviously doesn't forgive the overall premise. Second, when it comes to the plot, a few challenged people in on the joke doesn't really make the joke OK. Third, and back to the casting of this picture ... some of these guys weren't challenged! That's right, they were acting, just like Johnny, who at least was acting within his role. I don't know, just rubbed me the wrong way.

But not nearly as much as how unfunny the movie was overall. Even the outcome of the competition, meant to be upbeat, rings hollow. That, however, is positively Scorsesian compared to the hamhanded romance between Knoxville and Heigl, who almost certainly must regret this now that she's riding the "Grey's Anatomy" gravy train. True, she didn't have much to her credit before this. But to think "The Ringer" was a good move? That's just retarded.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

So you're saying we CAN'T just be friends? "My Super Ex-Girlfriend"

I know what you're thinking, and you're right. Dame Judi Dench was originally considered for this role.

I remember seeing the trailer for "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" and thinking, "You know, that could be funny, but probably not." Then the reviews rolled in, confirming my suspicions. Did that keep my wife and I from watching it on DVD last weekend? Does the Pope wear a funny hat?

Our story, such as it is, starts with mild-mannered Luke Wilson, the real reason my wife was interested. (She confessed to not being able to decide which Wilson brother she liked best -- Luke, Owen or Mookie.) Unlucky in love, Wilson happens across a seemingly buttoned-down type on the subway, and they strike up a romance. Unbeknownst to him, though, the woman (Uma Thurman, slumming) is a superhero in her other life. Yes, this is a world where "G-Girl" swoops around saving the day. Just go with it.

Alas, Luke sours on Uma, mostly because he's hot for his co-worker. That's Anna Faris, who was hilarious in "Lost in Translation" and "Just Friends" but is unfortunately restrained here. It's really a shame, given what she can do. She's so bad that we weren't sure it was her until the end credits. That's not good.

Anyway, Luke breaks it off, but a scorned superhero can cause all sorts of problems. Sadly, none of this is very clever. Hey, she put his car into orbit. Ha ha ha. Hey, she threw a shark through a window. Ho ho ho. Yes, it's as hokey as it sounds. The main supporting guys -- Dwight from "The Office" as Wilson's friend, Eddie Izzard (also restrained) as the villain, as it were -- also bring little to the proceedings.

So yeah, not much here, and kind of a shame given the abilities of these actors -- Thurman more than Wilson, of course. While Uma has the body of a superhero, she pretty much misfires in this role, being convincing neither as the hero nor the alter ego. And when she's mad, it's just crude, not funny. The climax -- again, as it were -- is appropriately unsatisfying as well. But as the great Brian Flanagan said, "All things end badly, or else they wouldn't end."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Well, we all need someone to look up to

Or, in Alan Ladd's case, down to. Sounds like he was a shorty.

Caught a couple of movies lately that would make a compelling double feature on kids idolizing flawed men. Decide for yourself if you want to see these together.

Mild, mild west: "Shane"

Yep, another classic Western I finally got around to seeing. All I knew before actually seeing the movie was (a) there was a gunslinger named "Shane" involved and (b) some kid wanted him to come back at the end of the movie.

As it happens, there's a little bit more to this, and while a tad long, it's not a bad story. We meet Shane as he happens across a homesteading family way out west. We know it's way out there because every other shot in this movie has mountains in the background. I recall hearing that was another claim to fame -- the great scenery -- but I'll confess that at times it felt like director George Stevens was hitting me over the head with it. Then again, this was 1953.

Anyway, Shane finds the family and other homesteaders being threatened by the local cattle baron who wants free range of the area. Shane really just wants to work for the family and mind his business, but when trouble rears its head, so do his fighting skills -- first with the fists, then with the guns. All the while, the family's little boy idolizes Shane. Sounds nice, maybe, but the kid is really, really annoying.

All in all, it's not bad. Alan Ladd as Shane is decent, but the air of mystery about him is kind of empty. One treat: A young Jack Palance -- billed as "Walter Jack Palance" -- as a gunfighter hired by the cattle baron. It's a little jarring to see him without the wrinkles and gasping, but he's got a quiet menace that's mostly effective. Forget those one-armed pushups. I think I saw him doing no-armed pushups!

He loves me, he loves me Nazi: "Apt Pupil"

And now for something completely different. Remember when you were a kid and you were convinced the old man in your neighborhood was a former Nazi officer? But instead of telling anyone you just blackmailed him into telling you all about the horrors of the death camps? Wasn't that fun?

In this case, Ian McKellen is the old man and Brad Renfro is the teen. Pretty hard to say after a while which one is creepier, as the two engage in a mental power struggle while mindf*cking each other. It's an interesting idea, no doubt, but also a rather unpleasant one, as each guy finds himself testing his limits when it comes to torture, killings and general bids of ultimate power over others. Sounds like a party!

The most notable thing about this movie, though, is the director: Bryan Singer. This came after his success with "The Usual Suspects" and before he started doing the comic book thing (the first two "X-Men" movies, "Superman Returns"). Sort of an odd fit in the resume, it would seem. Then again, when Ang Lee does a comic book movie, anything's possible.