Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"American Idol" 02/28/06 -- Top 10 Women

Song: "All In Love Is Fair"
My Take: I continue to find Nanny McPhee adorable and the news that she and Kelly Pickler have pillow fights and do makeup for each other hasn't changed anything for me. She's a little sharp in places. Actually, a lot sharp once or twice. She does a little flirting with the camera, but otherwise, there isn't much to her on-stage presence beyond the voice. At some point, that'll have to improve.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thinks it was a safe choice and that it wasn't her best. Paula also thinks she's been better. Simon thinks Katharine was in her own world. Katharine smiles through it, even admitting to Ryan that she was only OK.

Song: "I'm Here For the Party"
My Take: Kinnik's voice isn't really right for this Gretchen Wilson song. Her voice is too big to fit in with the melody and she basically finds herself shooting over the over-arranged music and backing vocals. That's a lot of shouting.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy likes her energy, but agrees that the song wasn't right. Paula echoes the "wrong song" comment. Simon applauds her for trying to stand out, but says that it was a theme park performance.

Song: "Who's Lovin' You"
My Take: It's another fairly safe choice, but I like what she does with it vocally. She over-emotes a tiny bit, but plays well to the camera. The song starts too low for her, but it comes to a fantastic conclusion.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy is looking for more vocal gymnastics. Paula disagrees. Simon thinks she'll sail through, but she needs to be careful with her choices.

Song: "Why Haven't I Heard From You?"
My Take: Can anybody say "Jessica Sierra"? Like Ms. Sierra, Melissa is an entirely solid husky-voiced singer who's utterly forgettable except for when she uses sex appeal as a prop. Last week I didn't pay any attention to her. This week, shirt low-cut and midriff exposed, I like her a lot. I'm even willing to ignore how often she was outsung by the annoying backing vocals. This, unlike the previous three, was a good song choice, for me. Next week, she'll choose some boring country ballad and I'll forget her again.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy was feeling the song choice. Paula wants her to keep coming out of her shell. Simon loves her voice, but didn't like the song and wants her to make more of a connection with the audience.

Song: "Hero"
My Take: Hey, you know who does a great job of singing Mariah Carey songs? Mariah Carey! You know who doesn't do a great job of singing Mariah Carey songs? Heather Cox! Oops. She couldn't be more tentative and boring. She her confidence gains a bit, but it's not even to the level of so-so. The notes are off and her doesn't connect with the camera at all, pretty as she is.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula thinks she's beautiful and that Heather was better than last week. Randy name drops his ties to Mariah and says that singing her song was a mistake. Simon agrees with Paula and Randy and calls it pointless.

Song: "Last Dance"
My Take: So, um, is Brenna a female impersonator? I don't wanna be mean, but that's sure the vibe that I got tonight. She's trying too hard in every way. Trying too hard to be sexy, trying to hard to be a powerful vocalist, trying too hard to be audacious. She's trying hard, but it's all just fake. She's shrieky and annoying. Also, was her performance shorter than the others or did I just find a way to tune her out?
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula's just confused. Brenna insists everybody loves her. Randy's missing both the vocals and the attitude. Simon compares it to a drunk girl at a bar.

Song: "Wind Beneath My Wings"
My Take: Hey, you know who does a great job of singing Bette Midler songs? Bette Midler!!! You know who does an OK job of singing Bette? Paris. I didn't like the performance until about half-way. Then she started belting and it all mostly came together. It's not the best of song choices, but holy whoa could this have been worse. Not sure how I feel about the tightly-done up hair, excessive jewelery and bland costume. Last week I was totally into Paris. This week? A bit wary.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula wants her to have more fun and be more youthful. Randy tells her not to play it safe and not to sing such old songs. Simon has the same warning he had for Lisa.

Song: "I Want You to Need Me"
My Take: What horrid song choices this week! Make it stop. This one isn't a dull song, it's just a stinky power ballad. Ayla starts off breathless and boring and improves to a point that's somewhere between powerful and over-singing. I think it tended more toward the latter, but at least it's a song that let her show some range here and there. She still has VERY limited personality.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula thinks Ayla wants this and that she's growing. Randy's surprised by her. Simon thinks she's working hard and trying hard to improve -- he's surprisingly constructive about her mix of ambition and mechanics.

Song: "Something to Talk About"
My Take: Yes. Is Kelly getting votes by emphasizing how huge a bumpkin she is? Yes. Probably she is. She's perplexed by spinach, calamari and dogs with clothes. I'm perplexed by the fact that week in and week out, she just keeps being Carrie Underwood-lite. Her version of Bonnie Raitt is almost annoying polished and personality free. Her only interpretation of the song is that she's stripped it of the warmth and sex appeal that Bonnie Raitt gave it. It's just another piece of boring pop pap. Is it possible that her looks are being sanded down every week? There was something raw about her at first, but now she's just another cute blond -- she's just a better Heather Cox. But so what?
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula thinks Kelly's adorable. Randy invokes the Dawg Pound. Simon can't help but like her and suggests that America will fall in love with her. Me? I may have turned her off.

Song: "Cry"
My Take: Yay! Mandisa puts a strong end to a really bad night of female performances. I love her stage command, her camera awareness and her phrasing. And her voice? Solid enough to satisfy me.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Paula calls her one-of-a-kind. Randy wasn't quite as into it, feeling that he didn't get it all. Simon wants her to steer away from the cabaret look.

IN DANGER: Heather and Brenna.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Moviewatch: "Eight Below"

"Eight Below"
Director: Frank Marshall
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 65
In a nutshell: There have already been more than a handful of movies this year in which I cared much less about the human protagonists than I cared about the dogs in "Eight Below." Unfortunately, one of those movies is "Eight Below." Given the success of "March of the Penguins" last summer, you'd have figured that somebody at Disney might have had the courage to attempt to cut Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs and the fantastically named Moon Bloodgood out of the movie entirely and just let Max and Mya and Shorty and Dewey and Truman and the rest of the dogs just carry the day. Whenever the dogs are on screen, "Eight Below" is fairly thrilling, in no small part due to Marshall's confident direction. The problem comes when Walker shows up and starts whining about finding his dogs. Yes, we know. Before you interrupted us, we were watching them. However, since Paul Walker is the above-the-title star, I guess he's contractually required to undermine the rest of the movie.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Woe Is Us: Critics Lament Absence Of Critics' Screenings

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post has a semi-interesting article about the rapidly increasing studio practice of hiding movies from the critics. It used to be that only the absolute cinematic dregs were held back, prompting the inevitable "Well, if they didn't show it to critics you know what that means..." argument. That's really no longer the case. It's a change that began happening last fall with "Aeon Flux." The Charlize Theron vehicle was certainly a bad movie, but it was hardly the kind of reprehensible debacle to require the studio to hide it from critics. Already this year, we've had such unscreened classics as "Grandma's Boy," "When a Stranger Calls" and, this weekend, "Madea's Family Reunion." On those movies, the studios determined that whatever audience the movies were going to have, those potential viewers didn't give a hoot what Roger Ebert, Kenneth Turan or poor Lou Lemenick had to say. It's tough to argue. If you look, you'll see that only "Grandma's Boy" wasn't an unqualified hit.

Unfortunately, Lumenick undermines his entire point with this sentence " 'Doogal' and 'Madea' are joining a growing number of wide releases that are skipping the customary critics' screenings, much to the dismay of consumers looking for opening-day guidance."

Yes. I know the guy has to justify his reason for existing (and, if I'm being honest, my own reason for existing), but if you're going to claim consumer dismay, you've really gotta find a "consumer" willing to go on the record to express the unbridled confusion that the absence of a "Doogal" review caused in their life. Oh those poor consumers!

You'll notice, interestingly, that despite the absence of critics' screenings, I had my "Grandma's Boy," "Stranger" and "Madea" reviews up the morning of the movies' release anyway. The trick is although studios have learned that reviews just aren't good press for some movies, celebrity puff pieces are always decent publicity. Those three films all had limited junkets and the movies were screened for reporters before the junkets. The duality of my job is that I'm willing to do the necessary profiles and features when I go to a junket, but I also review the movies. They're different hats, but I need the Critic Hat to stay sane if I'm also wearing the Junketeer Hat.

Anyway, expect the absence of critics' screenings to be an ongoing trend. Sigh.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Idol" Results and Weekend Movies

My policy on Round of 24 "Idol" eliminations is simple: Provided the right 12 singers make it to the Top 12, there really isn't any point in quibbling with the specific details. Yes, this was certainly the correct week for Bobby and Stevie to be done. Probably Patrick and Becky went out a smidge earlier than was necessary, but who's to quibble? If it wasn't this week, it'd have been next week or the week after. Yawn.

Now if the American people had gotten rid of the adorable Nanny McPhee or the force of pure patriotism known as Taylor "The Gray Ghost" Hicks... We'd have to rumble.

Changing the subject, this isn't a particularly good weekend to be heading to the multiplex unless you happened to really really really love Tyler Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." Or unless your love for Paul Walker is entirely unconditional. I wouldn't recommend any of the three releases I reviewed this week and as low as my star-ratings are for each movie, I get the feeling that I may actually be being generous.

My Zap2it reviews for the week:
"Madea's Family Reunion" -- 1.5 stars
"Running Scared" -- 2 stars
"Dirty" -- 2 stars

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"American Idol" 02/22/06 -- Top 12 Men

If the "American Idol" girls are beautiful, bland and uninspiring (save, say, three or four), this year's guys are a rag-tag lot. If this were the NFL draft, you'd compare them collectively to this guy Jay Cutler everybody's buzzing about: There are a lot of unknown quantities with huge upside and equal potential to be busts.

Song: "Come to My Window"
My Take: Is "largest Adam's Apple" in "Idol" history a worthy goal? Patrick seems to have this in the bag. Bizarre song choice. The gals are in the background singing along. I'd rather hear eight or nine of them. I don't know what to make of him. His voice isn't bad at all -- a couple sharp notes here and there -- but what could you do with him? If he were playing a piano in a lounge, you'd stop to listen. That's not what this show is about. At 27, he's too old to magically transform into Clay Aiken.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy noticed that he was nervous. Paula wants him to stick to what he does best. Simon thinks it was an awful song choice.

Song: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
My Take: In the opening auditions, Paula expressed concern that David was just a one-note performer. Tonight's performance proved she's wrong. Unfortunately, every note that isn't "crooner" may be wildly out of tune. He's affected and cheesy from note one. The teenage girls may love him, though. He's like a spazzier, better looking John Stevens. I don't think that's a good thing.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thinks it was like a high school talent show. Paula doesn't think it was horrible. Simon thought it was a joke, but he recognizes that old people will want to hug him. David is a good sport in the face of the criticisms. That also bodes well for him.

Song: "Simple Man"
My Take: Scarier facet of Bucky: His facial hair? His vampire-esque canines? Or the fact that the judges thought he was one of the 12 best male singers in this competition? Dunno. When he doesn't have to carry a tune, he's raspy and effective. Whenever the notes change, there's about a 50 percent chance he's gonna be out of tune. We haven't seen much of him to this point. Color me unimpressed. Bucky, you ain't no Bo Bice.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thought he oversang, but thought he was cool. Paula thinks he's growing, bad notes aside. Simon likes his rawness and makes a veiled stab at Constantine. He says there are Buckys at 1000s of bars around America. That's SO true.

Song: "I Want You Back"
My Take: Is he 12? Boy he's young. He's less annoyingly affected than David, I think. He shouts the song, which isn't necessarily better than doing a Michael Jackson impression. He's got an Adam Brody thing going on, which could be big with the FOX audience. He's OK. Sorry. The men are boring me.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thinks he did his thing. Paula compares him to Bobby Brady. Simon thinks he's cute, but vocally average. Ryan needs to shut up. He's not a judge.

Song: "Reasons"
My Take: If it's the first time America has really seen you? Do you want to do a whole song in falsetto? No. No you don't. He can certainly get high, can't he? When we have an "Aaron Neville Theme Night," this guy's gonna knock it out of the park. If we're going for uniqueness, I'd take Sway over the assortment of bland teen crooners.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thought it was hot and original. Paula calls it amazing. Simon's confused and calls it "pimpy."

Song: "Wanted Dead or Alive"
My Take: You've gotta love the guy's backstory and you've gotta love a guy who's willing to do "Wanted Dead or Alive" on a show like this. I also like how he shares Bo Bice's refusal to take the mic off of the stand (at least until the very end). He's sure a huge step up from Bucky. Did he get outsung by the backing vocalist, though? Ooops. That's not as positive. If there are 1000s of bar band singers nationwide better than Bucky, there may only be dozens better than Chris. That's not so bad.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy calls it really, really good. Paula doesn't know where to begin. Simon likes the choice of song and he's finally hearing somebody with potential.

Song: "One Last Cry"
My Take: I've seen a couple writers say he looks like a fetus with glasses. What could I add to that? He's a mediocre young operatic type without an iota of stage presence. That shouldn't be considered a total insult. With four years of growing and training, he might be good. But why does he have to be here now? There isn't a chance he was one of the 12 best singers who auditioned this year. This isn't a show where kids compete to see who America wants to pat on the head the most. "American Mensch" perhaps?
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thinks he's an honest, real kid and calls him da bomb. WHAT?!? Paula loves him as well. Simon apologizes with a "but" and scales his age rang up to 90 and says it verged on excruciating. How is it possible that Ryan is getting worse?

Song: "Shout"
My Take: His over-enunciated cue card reading makes me giggle. Awful song choice. He's more energetic than he is melodic, but he's so sure he's a star it's nearly enough to be plausible for a round or two. He's right on the edge between creepy and energetically creepy. No idea what that means.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy liked the song choice. Yeah. We're not together tonight. Paula says he's different and unique. Simon compares it to watching a warm-up for the Chippendales. Oh.

Song: "If You Really Love Me"
My Take: If Elliott were a pirate, he'd be named Neckbeard. It's a tough song, but he sounds really good on it. He has it set an octave too low, I'd say. That causes him to be overwhelmed whenever the music picks up. When the music goes down, he shines. His stage presence is a bit weird. But he's just a solid vocalist. But again, is this guy going to win? That'd be surprising..
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy? Happy. Paula? Happy. Simon? Thinks Elliott may be the best male vocalist they've had. GEEZ.

Song: "Copacabana"
My Take: No. No. No. Bad karaoke. I can't even begin to guess what show he'd be good on. That E! thing that Wayne Newton hosted? No. They had talented people on that show. This was a wasted Top 12 place.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy generously thinks he's a performer from a different era. Paula enjoys his showmanship. Simon dubs it "a complete nightmare."

Song: "Father Figure"
My Take: Is this his real name? Nice. Singing George Michael? Tee-hee. Ace is the kind of guy who wins the "Idol" competitions in other countries. If this were England, he'd be unbeatable for "Pop Idol." Unbeatable. This performance? A yawn. The voice is good, but the song isn't challenging in any way. If girls fall in love with him -- and some probably already will -- it won't matter that he isn't running scales.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy thinks he's a star. Paula's breathless. Simon notes that it doesn't matter if Ace can sing, because he's got the X-factor.

Song: "Leave On"
My Take: Here's what I've decided: You know who doesn't like Taylor Hicks? Terrorists. A vote for Taylor Hicks is a vote for Freedom. I'd love to see him become America's Favorite Goofball, at least for another couple months. Who knows what songs and artist he can Joe Cocker-ize. Huzzah for Taylor Hicks. I don't care that when he sings, he looks like he's sitting on the toilet.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy loves him. Paula loves him. Simon retracts his earlier comment about Taylor not making the finals.

TONIGHT'S BEST: Taylor, Ace and Elliott, I guess.

IN DANGER: Bye Bucky. Bye Bobby.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"American Idol" 02/21/06 -- Top 12 Women

After writing an average of 2500 words per week for Zap2it about "American Idol" for the show's Second, Third and Fourth installments, I'm currently without a recapping venue. However, as old habits die hard, I'll post my opinions here. The end results will be shorter recaps with fewer complete sentences and more typos. Plus, no deadlines. Or at least that's my plan. Also, since I'll be TiVoing the episodes and not commenting on their every facet, I'll be able to skip Ryan Seacrest, meaningless background blather, group sings, any guest performances and any commercials trying to convince me to buy a second Ford Focus. WHEE! Enjoy. And please feel free to comment.

Song: "Never"
My Take: Horrible backing music, horrible sound mix, horrible flames in the background. Mandisa can blow, though. Anybody with less of a voice would have been engulfed entirely by the production. It looked like a freaking Viking Funeral. Mandisa's beautiful enough to overcome the inevitable "she's too big" stigma.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy calls it "hot," but that she overdid it at times. Paula says "phenomenal." Simon says she has an "unbelievable personality" and predicts a Finals berth.

Song: "How Far"
My Take: Let's make this simple: Kelly Pickler is Carrie Underwood with a better sob story. Nobody's gonna let Carrie Underwood win two years in a row. Also, that thing where she's always on the verge of tears because of her jailbird dad will get tired. Oops. Too late. Nerves aside, she's a darned polished product. Not spectacular on the vocals (what's with the tinny sound?), but she looks like an Idol. By that, I mean she looks like Carrie Underwood. Only not quite as good. She's cute. I won't kick her off just yet.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy calls it full of nerves, but "good." Paula calls her "unpretentious." Simon endorses her "likeability."

Song: "Because the Night"
My Take: The "Idol" women were cast this year with aesthetics in mind, but even by those standards, Becky is just stunning. When she gets booted, she'll get a correspondent job at E! or TV Guide or something in a heartbeat. As a vocalist, she has no polish at all. She doesn't know how to breathe (this is her biggest problem) or pace herself or modulate her tone. Nothing. I think the raw materials are there, but who has the time? That come-hither look of hers will turn men on, but will it scare the women?
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy loved the performance. Mostly he thinks she's hot. Paula praises her charm and command, but she's less happy with the vocals. Simon gives her a 6.5 for vocals and a 10 for visuals.

Song: "Reflection"
My Take: Go Future BC Eagle!!! On isolated notes, I like Ayla's voice a lot. On other notes? She doesn't know where she's going. She'd kick my butt. So I won't say anything more.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy is pleasantly surprised again. Paula agrees. Simon reckons she's a hard worker, but she may have a talent ceiling.

Song: "Midnight Train to Georgia"
My Take: She's fantastic. In every way. She knows how to work the stage. She knows how to make even the most identifiable song her own. Heck, she even knows how to dance and breathe at the same time. She seems personality-filled and likeable. How's anybody going to compete?
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy says it looks like she's been doing it all her life. She's Paula's Idol. Simon is all praise.

Song: "To Where You Are"
My Take: She says she strives to be the girl version of Josh Groban. Can she please do that on her own time? I'd blame the song, but even as soporific as it is, some of the notes were just weird. By weird, I mean "wrong." Regardless, she couldn't be wronger for this competition.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy has no idea of how to deal with her and admits to daydreaming. Paula disagrees and calls her brave. Simon agrees with Randy and says she messed it up.

Song: "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"
My Take: Do I like Brenna or does she really annoy me? Definite thumbs down on the flood pants. Personality aside, she's pretty consistently flat on the low part of the song and surprisingly boring on the rest of it. On a pure vocal level, she's out of her league, so if she's going to be dull as well, she's pretty pointless.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy wasn't feeling the attitude. Paula's tepid. Simon wants her to be who she is and calls this performance "horrible." Brenna's mouth-y in the face of the criticism. Will viewers like that attitude?

Song: "When You Tell Me That You Love Me"
My Take: If Kelly Pickler is a poor man's Carrie Underwood, Heather Cox is a poor man's Kelly Pickler. Instead of a sob story, though, she's got a bit of a porn star name. She starts off really rough. Like "hide under my couch" rough. Up on the balcony, even the other constants can't feign interest. She's fetching. But so are the other gals.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy is harsh and calls it boring. Paula tries to find something nice to say. She can't. Simon calls it "forgettable" at first, but turns to "horrible" by the end.

Song: "When The Lights Go Down"
My Take: Who? She hasn't gotten much screentime so far, has she? Her voice is a bit husky and different from anything else we've heard tonight. Her range seems to be hugely limited -- she can't go high at all -- but in her comfort zone, she's not bad at all.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy says she started pitchy but worked it out. Paula calls it a shining moment for her. Simon's in the middle. He likes her voice, but finds her eyes lifeless.

Song: "I Am Changing"
My Take: How is Lisa gonna stay out of Paris' shadow for this entire season? I think she's a great singer and great performer. Is she perhaps just a bit more noticeably calculating than Paris? It's the night's most challenging song (points for not playing it safe) and except for a few iffy notes (she goes flat at times), she just powers through like a champ.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy praises her ambition and says she worked it out. Paula thinks she's a precious little gift. Simon thinks she has the potential to be special.

Song: "Get Here"
My Take: She comes across as a good deal older than the other women -- in appearance, in age, in demeanor. She's got the potential to have a huge voice. She hits bit, but she also misses big. Price of doing business. Fortunately, she hits big on her last note. She's a bit affected with her mannerisms. She's Jennifer Hudson-esque.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy gives her a six. Paula calls her powerful. Simon thought she was overwhelmed by the younger girls.

Song: "Since I Fell For You"
My Take: Katharine's got a Rachel Ray-vibe. It's tied to both her adorable demeanor and her nervous energy. For me? That's a huge plus. I love the tone of her voice. She's not as polished in her stagecraft. There's a lurching thing that she's going to have to be trained not to do. It shouldn't be hard. The voice and the appearance need very little work.
Irrelevant Judicial Opinion: Randy loved it. Paula just loves her job. Simon calls her the best of the night's four superior vocalists.

TONIGHT'S BEST: Obviously Paris, Lisa and Katharine. I get the feeling that may be a trend for the rest of the competition.

IN DANGER: Stevie, Melissa, Kinnik (perhaps not deservingly).

Is This Heaven?

This is only tenuously related to entertainment, but I don't care.

How superior is it that the White Sox have a top pitching prospect named Ray Liotta? According to Baseball America, he's the No. 7 prospect in their system. That's not bad for a 51-year-old character actor.

Actually, this new Ray Liotta is a non-roster spring training invitee. He's a 6'3" southpaw and he was a second round draft pick in 2004. In all likelyhood, he'll be ticketed for AA this year, something like that. The dude plays for the wrong Chicago club, though, because it's the Cubs who have the AAA team in Iowa, which would have produced no end of "Field of Dreams" jokes.

On the other hand, how appropriate is it that one year after vanquishing the Curse of Shoeless Joe (who belongs in the Hall of Fame), there's an off chance that a Ray Liotta could make the club?

OK. Fine. I'm amused. Don't care if anybody else is.

Medical Mimicry: Dude Looks Like A Lady

So you're FOX and you know you've got 80 hours of "American Idol" to program this week, but you've also got a new episode of "House" kicking around ready to air. What could be better than plugging it in on Monday night at 8 p.m. for some bonus ratings? Yes, that's how viewers ended up with a family hour medical mystery about drugs, childhood sexual molestation and [SPOILERS] TV's latest doctor show to mine the profitable "Girl Who Turns Out To Really Be a Boy" surprise diagnosis.

It was only a month ago that "Grey's Anatomy," in the episode titled "Begin the Begin" went to that well with George (T.R. Knight) testing an artistic middle school girl who turned out to have some variation of hermaphroditism (I'm really unclear on the specifics). The twist in that episode was that for George's patient, the diagnosis was something of a relief, it confirmed things that she'd always feared or suspected about herself (himself?) . It freed him/her.

Not-so-much with last night's "House." To begin with, I like Cameron Richardson just fine. She's definitely beautiful. But just as I didn't buy her as a high school student on the late and not-so-lamented "Point Pleasant," I sure didn't believe that the 26-year-old actress was 15. As my colleague Alan observes, casting her made it only barely less disturbing that large portions of the episode were dedicated to discussions of her breasts, her rump and her sexual history. Sigh. In any case, the writers were just a little bit too blatant with their clues this week. By the time the docs were making off-the-cuff and unmotivated conversations about the fact that she'd never had a period and that her ovaries were, if anything, undersized, I was sitting at home going, "Oye. She's a dude." She reacted with the flip side of what happened on "Grey's," with rage and confusion and a bit of exhibitionism that made sense for the character but was doubly disturbing.

Do I remember "E.R." doing a similar plot at some point? Sounds right.

Oh and "24" has reached that annual point where the writers lose all grasp on the plot and spend several episodes killing off potentially useful witnesses at inopportune times. Three weeks, three prematurely assassinated witnesses. That's bad writing. After such a promising start, TV's most erratic show is back on a downswing.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Moviewatch: "Ask the Dust"

"Ask the Dust"
Director: Robert Towne
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 70
In a nutshell: Working perhaps too literally from John Fante's novel, Towne turned out a beautifully evocative depiction of a Depression Era Lost Angeles that may never have really existed. Caleb Deschanel's cinematography and the production design and costumes are flawless, going beyond the sepia tones that make up a cliched Los Angeles aesthetic. Although Towne's dialogue crackles, the story is a wee bit flat and leading man Colin Farrell follows suit (Salma Hayek is better and both actors get very naked on several occasions, if that kinda thing happens to matter to you). This isn't necessarily a thrilling movie, but I love the way it enters into conversation with other classic "period LA" films, particularly Towne's own "Chinatown," as well as "The Day of the Locust," which shares Donald Sutherland as a co-star. It's conceiveable that this is a better movie than my score indicates and that I just need a bit more time to let it work around in my mind.

For a full review, check Zap2it.com on Friday, March 10.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Moviewatch: "Thank You For Smoking"

"Thank You For Smoking"Director: Jason Reitman
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 57
In a nutshell: Fits neatly in the ever-popular "People On Both Sides Are Hypocrites" genre of political satire in which the filmmakers sit in the corner and giggle because everybody's so darned silly as if that isn't the most obvious political position available. Does for smoking what "Citizen Ruth" did for abortion, but it's a tiny bit glossier, mostly because of the subject matter. It's frequently clever, often funny, but never actually smart. Aaron Eckhart's charm goes a long way and Rob Lowe's appearance as the head of a Hollywood agency is priceless. Oh and remember that story about the Katie Holmes sex scene that vanished from the film before a Sundance screening? It's back, but it's sure not worth seeing the movie for.

For a full review, check Zap2it.com on Friday, March 17.

In the meantime, check out my more recent Zap2it reviews:
"Night Watch" -- 2.5 stars
"Freedomland" -- 2 stars

Casting Confusion: Bond Babe, Lehane Leads

So we finally have a leading lady for the next James Bond film, "Casino Royale." Her name is Eva Green and if you've seen "The Dreamers," you've seen just about every centimeter of her. She's lovely, speaks decent English and proved in "Kingdom of Heaven" that she can avoid being upstaged by purdy cinematography and over-choreographed battle sequences. At 25, though, I think she's probably too young and inexperienced to be put in this position, but the producers did, after all, go after just about every single actress with more experience under the sun. They've suddenly got an awful lot riding on Daniel Craig and Green, two actors who haven't exactly developed the kind of following that gets $100 million movies greenlit. Incidentally, if I were casting the movie and going "young and French," I'd have checked into Ludivine Sagnier. She's only one year older than Green, but yowza. Then again, nobody asks my opinion.

The other part of the Bond news released today is much better. Jeffrey Wright against type as Felix Leiter? LOVE IT! As character actors go, he's as versatile as they get. He's played every kind of part, but he never ever seems miscast. It's a fabulous skill. He should have gotten an Oscar nomination for "Broken Flowers," but he's a bit like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti. One of these years, it'll just be his time. Obviously "Casino Royale" won't be his Oscar movie, but it can't help but raise his profile.

The other piece of casting news, which may be less reliable, given its source (that'd be the Boston Herald), is that Ben Affleck is going to cast brother Casey and Michelle Monaghan as Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro in his directing debut, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's "Gone Baby Gone." I haven't read this particular Kenzie/Gennaro tome, but I've read others and while I'm OK with Monaghan (adored her in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"), Wee Affleck couldn't be more miscast as the Alpha Male Gennaro. It's ridiculous, but if they're going young with the characters, Brother Ben would have been better off playing the part himself.

Oh well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Moviewatch: "Freedomland"

Director: Joe Roth
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 45
In a nutshell: I'm not sure when I last saw an actress give as committed, intense and harrowing performance to no avail as Julianne Moore does here. For every second of her screening in this 112 minute dirge, she's wailing, weeping, or shaking with grief and vulnerability. In one of the weakest years for lead actresses in recent memory, though, it's telling that Sony decided not to give "Freedomland" any kind of Oscar push. Moore's performance is daring and unflinching, but like the movie as a whole, it lacks the necessary dramatic beats to be fully believeable and human. As an 8-hour HBO miniseries, maybe Richard Price could have figured out how to adapt his 500-plus page novel, but his screenplay here doesn't have focus. Like Moore, it just gnashes its teeth, grinding viewers into exhaustion.

For a full review, check Zap2it.com on Friday, Feb. 17.

Early "Top Model" Handicapping

If "Survivor" and "American Idol" are the Mercedes and Bentley of reality television franchises, "America's Next Top Model" has to be the Miata or something. It's small, it's sleek and if you like it too much, somebody's bound to question your sexuality, which is just plain ridiculous. For my money, two of the happiest days of the year come when UPN unveils the new set of "Top Model" contestants, which is like the dummy ads they set up at places like Match.com to lure you in before you discover that the sexy singles on the inside, don't necessarily match the sexy singles on the outside.

Looking at the models for Season Six of "Top Model," it's evident that the theme this installment is bone-structure. Check out the jaws and cheekbones on Brooke and Kathy and Mollie Sue and Joanie. To be fair, I like Mollie Sue, because she says that her favorite movie is "Last Tango in Paris." And I'm OK with Joanie, because she endorse "The Goonies."

However, just as good taste in cinema can always win my heart, bad taste can turn me just as cold. Thus, I must part ways with Wendy because nobody is allowed to call "The Wedding Planner" their favorite movie. Similarly, while Kari may have that "Hottest 18-Year-Old At The Mall" vibe, she says that her favorite movie is "What Dreams May Come." Seriously? In case you've forgotten, that's the one where Robin Williams goes to Heaven, gets annoyed by the combination of digital effects and Cuba Gooding Jr. and does his best to escape. Poor Kari.

My favorites? Well, I like 6'1" Amazon Sara. I also appreciate that Nnenna and Furonda give me the chance to say "Nnenna" and "Furonda" at random intervals.

Until they start getting drunk, crying about eating disorders and squealing at Tyra, though... The jury's still out.

Kevin Smith "Uncovers" Gay X-Men Subtext

It appears to be nearly the one-year anniversary of my last blog post. Perhaps it's time to try again?

Anyway, I was in San Francisco this past weekend for WonderCon, an event that managed to amuse me and bemuse me at the same time. I like things that do that.

Without a question, the weekend's highlight was the 90-minute Q&A from Kevin Smith, a man who does this sort of hilariously semi-off-the-cuff stuff for a living. Anyway, the talk kicked into gear almost immediately with Smith's riff on Bryan Singer's "X-Men" movies and their gay subtext. The quotes are a bit too blue for my employer, but what better use of a blog? Exactly.

Just keep in mind that Smith's comments are here because they amuse me and not because I agree with them or his choice of language.
Kevin Smith on Singer and His Films:

"I was f***ing ecstatic to see his third entry in that franchise. I love those 'X-Men' movies. I was so pissed. I thought they were some of the best comic book movies ever made. 'X-Men 2' I thought was genius. Maybe it's the best comic book movie every made, juggle all those f***ing character at once and s*** like that. It was really well done.

But what I really dug about those movies? Gayer than hell.

I'm sure I'm not outing the brother, I'm sure most people know that Bryan's gay and whatnot and those movies are just complete allegories for being gay, which I appreciate. I have a gay brother. He's married to a dude and that's as gay as it possibly gets. I'm in the gay family. I'm one cock and a mouth shy of being gay myself.

If you can do that while making a mainstream popcorn entertainment I think that's incredible. I'd never be able to do it. My gay jokes are very unsubtle and they are about acceptance, but at the same time.

Bryan's able to whip out a little 'Hey, hug a gay man' kind of message without making it upfront. It's underneath. You walk out of the movie, you're walking home going 'That was pretty pimp. Wait a second. I think I like gay people.'

Little kids walk out of the movie they're all like, 'That Wolverine! Snikt! Snikt!' I'd go 'Come here, little kid. Do you like Wolverine? That means you love cock. Nevermind Snikt, Snikt. Dick. Dick.'

For the third one, I'd imagine that Bryan would just rip away the f***ing top layer of story and just make it all f***ing dick. Like 'Brokeback Mutant.'

This is the town to whip out the gay comic book material."

Kevin Smith on Singer's Upcoming "Superman Returns" (a film he wrote a draft for way back in the day):

"It's like 10 years ago at this point and I'm just happy to see any 'Superman' movie. I don't give a f*** who makes it. Now that Bryan's making it, though, I'm f***ing even more eager, because you know it's gonna have gay content.

My 'Superman'... I wouldn't have done any gay content. Bryan's 'Superman' is gonna be just cockalicious.

I'm just gonna go into that movie looking for gay content. I won't be paying attention to plot. I'm just looking for long furtive glances between men. F*** Lois and Clark. I'm looking at Clark and Jimmy."