Sunday, April 30, 2006

Trailer-Spotting 04/30/06

Because I'd rather watch brand new movie trailers than work:

Trailer: "Lonely Hearts"
Generated Interest Level (Out of 10): 4
Why: I'm going along OK with this trailer. James Gandolfini with hair? Cool. John Travolta glowering and haunted? Sure. Why not. Jared Leto with a moustache? Don't see why not. Spiffy '40s suits and shiny automobiles? I guess so. I'm vaguely intrigued and then I stop and try to think what the trailer's reminding me of. The answer? It's "Mulholland Falls" only without the prospect of getting to a see a voluptuous pre-weight loss Jennifer Connelly get naked. Now I ask you -- do we really want to encourage Hollywood to believe that that's what we want to see? Is that a trade-off I'm prepared to make? Heck no.

Trailer: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Generated Interest Level (Out of 10): 2
Why: With dark hair and a scruffy period beard, Brad Pitt -- playing the titular Jesse James -- looks kinda weird in this one. Perhaps that's why the trailer is almost entirely Casey Affleck. But if you're a studio and you're hoping to make money off of your fall Brad Pitt movie, surely there has to be a better strategy than premiering a teaser trailer that's just Casey Affleck mumbling. I know what the plot of this movie is, but I defy anybody to explain it to me based on this trailer. And I defy anybody to tell me that based on this particular release of clips, they're more excited about this movie than they were before.

Trailer: "Strangers With Candy"
Generated Interest Level (Out of 10): 5
Why: So I guess ThinkFilm has just decided that nobody's possibly going to go see this movie who wasn't already a fan of the cult comedy when it was on television. That's not a big enough audience to become a crossover smash, but I guess it's big enough to break even. There's no attempt to initiate newbies into the premise or comedic logic of the story, just Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) being Jerri Blank. And if that doesn't mean anything to you, neither will the trailer. No mention is made of any of the guest stars, including the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Thus, the part of me that was vaguely interested before is still vaguely interested now, but I dunno why this needs to be seen on the big screen.

Trailer: "All the King's Men"
Generated Interest Level (Out of 10): 7
Why: It's not a great trailer, but it does one important thing: It suggests that even if Sony had to pull this one off the shelf last winter and even if it's being released somewhat too early this fall for effective Oscar consideration, some parts of this movie are likely to be worth watching. For example, if this trailer is an accurate indications, what are the odds of Pawel Edelman's cinematography not getting an Oscar nomination? And Sean Penn? Boy, he sure looks like he's acting up a storm, doesn't he? He's spittin' and speachifyin' and speakin' with a Southern accent. How can he not be nominated for an Oscar? I am, I confess, a bit unsure why I feel like Penn's performance is basically giving his "I Am Sam" character a Louisiana accent. But I'm curious now.

Trailer: "Marie-Antoinette"
Generated Interest Level (Out of 10): 7
Why: You know this one's an international trailer. How? Well, you see Kirsten Dunst's rear for a second. Plus, the trailer reuses the teaser's money shot of the naked Queen hiding behind a fan and throws in a couple more naughty moments. Once again, there's indie rock in the background and once again, some effort is being taken to prevent us from hearing Jason Schwartzman talk. The movie is premiering at Cannes next month and I still don't have any idea of what its tone is going to be or much of anything except that the costumes will be ravishing and the cinematography quite appealing as well. You can already tell that there will be too many sensibilities, accents and styles at work in this movie. But can Sofia Coppola make them work anyway? Well, that's why we see the movies.

Check out the trailers and let me know if I'm missing something to get psyched about.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Moviewatch: "Hoot"

Director: Will Shriner
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 48
In a Nutshell: Kids... They have to learn about civil disobedience somehow, I guess. And they have to learn about Jimmy Buffett somehow, I guess. And they have to learn about the important of protecting owls somehow, I guess. And they have to learn about the blandness of Luke Wilson somehow, I guess. But surely there's a better way that this dull vehicle that strips most of the humor that I'd have thought flowed naturally from Carl Hiaasen's writing. The film's message isn't bad -- corporate interests are destroying our wilderness areas and somebody needs to keep America pristine and beautiful, or at least parts of it. I was still left with a dazzling array of ethical and legal questions at the end, questions mostly raised because of how mechanical the film's plot -- new kid in town (Logan Lerman) fights evil pancake house with the help of two buddies in order to save a clan of burrowing owls -- was. Really, I got distracted and uninterested very easily. During my mind-wandering time, I concentrated mostly on the fact that Lerman, the film's leading man, was obviously going through puberty during production and the director was clueless how to cover that fact. There's a female character (played by Brie Larson) who's supposed to be much taller than our hero. And in some shots, she's obviously six or seven inches taller. And in others, they stand nose to nose. Sometimes their height relationship changes in the course of a single scene. It's hilarious. Equally hilarious is the strong suspicion that Lerman had to rerecord all of his dialogue in post-production because he voice changed. Yup. My mind was wandering.

A full review will be up on on Friday, May 5.

Theatre Watch: "Salome" starring Al Pacino

I don't get out to the theater very often -- too many movies and television shows to watch and too little LA theater that demands my attention -- so I may not actually be posting to review the production of "Salome" that I just caught at the Wodsworth Theatre in Brentwood, a production that purports to be nothing more than a staged reading of Oscar Wilde's play and that's showing to full houses for no reason beyond the presence of Al Pacino -- you may have heard of him -- as Herod.

Coincidentally, as I was preparing to see the show tonight, the Los Angeles Times ran a review of the show by Charles McNulty, which I saw as an archetypal example of everything that I, as a critic, attempt to avoid doing. The opinion of the review is of no import. McNulty hated the production, which is a very valid opinion. It's, um, not particularly good. Beyond Pacino and Jessica Chastain in the title role, the acting is just horrid, even if you know that you're getting actors staring at their script. The music, the only thing embellishing the show, is minimalist to a boring degree. I'm also not sure that the play itself is very good, but that's another issue.

No. McNulty's review is embarrassing because he makes no effort at all to understand the production for what it is and write a lengthy review solely on what it isn't. He's forever referencing how "Salome" is traditionally interpreted and how this version isn't Karita Mattila's 2004 performance at the Met or Sarah Bernhardt's interpretation (which McNulty probably didn't see) and that it isn't even of the level of Pacino's 2003 staged reading. McNulty's problem is that he has a certain interpretation of the show and because this isn't that interpretation, it's wrong and therefore of low quality. As a reviewer, I need to read misguided missives like this whenever I go to see a movie version of a good book or a remake of a classic film so that I can remember that merely saying "'Poseidon' isn't as good as 'The Poseidon Adventure' and therefore it's a bad movie" is bad writing.

Early on in his review, McNulty notes that Pacino's performance -- a broadly comic vision that's Pacino-esque in its theatricality -- is probably a choice, but he just decries it as wrong and doesn't bother to step back and go, "If it's a choice, why is he making it? What does it do to the text that they're approaching it in a way different from ways that I've liked seeing it done before?" Again, this is something that I, and all other reviewers who aim for intelligence and insight, need aspire to.

McNulty makes reference to nervous laughter on the audience's part, as if the laughter is *anything* other than the direct intent of Pacino's performance. I'll grant the writer that "Salome" is a darned strange play to find yourself laughing at. When, however, you find yourself laughing at "Salome," you may want to step back and ask why? There's something in Pacino's take on the character, his vision of this supposed king as a pathetic and easily emasculated man, that makes sense in context. Chastain's Salome, an insolent young girl used to getting what she wants and petulant at being scorned, fits in perfectly. Both characters are forced into a situation where they're powerless in the face of the prophet Jokanaan (a forgettable Kevin Anderson), not because of who he is, but because of what he represents. The comedy of Pacino's vainglorious and inappropriately lustful king for 2/3rds of the performance, actually makes his final action (you may know the story) all the more shocking. The journey the character has to travel is a far greater distance than what you'd see in most versions of the play, simply because of where Pacino has him start.

But again, it's not really a good show. And most of you aren't in LA and probably aren't going to see it. So that's enough blog space wasted.

Oh, but I was amused to see Gay Talese at the show. I was also amused that I'm able to recognize Gay Talese. Not sure why that is.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Moviewatch: "Poseidon"

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 55
In a Nutshell: The first think you have to know is that I really really like "The Poseidon Adventure." While the fashions and music and special effects are dated, the performances by the all-star cast mostly haven't dated, nor has the effective suspense direction by Ronald Neame. Compared to that 1972 film, which runs 117 minutes, Wolfgang Petersen's not-remake (the characters are almost all different, as are most of the situations) feels like an effects-heavy trifle. Despite a respectable cast, this new "Poseidon" is devoid of characters or personal stakes and it has a sort of weightlessness that comes from having the dialogue trimmed to nearly nothing. Very little of what happens on screen matters because you don't care who it's happening to, which means you're forced to just watch for the set-pieces, which are acceptable, but never inspired. The giant wave is just a cheesy CGI whoosh, no better or worse than what Petersen whipped out six years ago in "The Perfect Storm" and every excessive pillar of fire is compensating for a loss of tension elsewhere. Several of the main characters die, of course, but their demises really don't compare to the showcase deaths in the original. Of the actors, I liked Richard Dreyfuss, whose character is an amusing mixture of the Shelley Winters and Red Buttons characters. I was also appreciative of Josh Lucas in a way that I'm not sure I have been for a while. With virtually no dialogue for the movie's second half, Lucas charts an interesting arc, the kind of thing that was probably in the script at one point, but got cut to make way for the next fireball. Then again, summer movies are all about the fireballs and gigantic waves, so somebody will probably be happy.

Check on Friday, May 12 for my review.

"Idol" Viewers Toss Pickler Into the Brine

Don't look now, but the "Idol" voters have now gotten it right three consecutive weeks. I know. It's weird. But we've now eliminated Bucky, Ace and Kellie Pickler in something resembling the order in which they deserved to be booted. The only change I'd make would have involved moving that trio's demise up a few weeks so that last night could have been Mandisa's night to go. But after seven weeks of Finals voting, the "Idol" process has yielded a Top Five that's probably representative of the five most talented people in this year's competition. It's funny how that happens, but just as each of the first four seasons probably rewarded either the best or second best person in the field, it seems inevitable that the same thing will occur come May.

I'd actually been entirely prepared for Paris to be eliminated and for Kellie to live to fight another day. After all, Kellie propositioned the entire male portion of the "Idol" audience on Tuesday night and while I don't know that I'd have any interest in listening to Kellie sing anymore, I might not mind doing some, um, pottery with her. Then again, I don't vote. There's no mystery or huge explanation for why Kellie finally ran out of steam, no conspiracy or smoking gun. She was the worst person remaining and she'd probably been the worst person for a few weeks. If she'd been great last week or great this week, there's no telling how far she could have gone, coasting on her Trashier Carrie Underwood appearance and her bland, occasionally tone-deaf vocals. All she needed was one good performance to get her fans remobilized. However, much as they like to tout their own value, the VoteForTheWorst gang has only the slightest power, if that much. With 48 million votes being cast, people who loved to hate Kellie were making up only the tiniest portion of her tally, I'd wager.

But who's going to be next to go? Certainly if recent voting is any indication, Paris is hanging on by a thread. She may be the most vocally talented contestant left, but when she sings standards -- and blows them out of the water -- the judges tell her she's being too old-fashion. When she sings newer songs, the judges tell her she's trying to sing too old. She can't do anything right, which is too bad. Of the "Idol" Final Five, I bet Paris is the one Clive Davis could have in the studio fastest. She could turn around an album of subpar R&B tunes in no time. You just know that Clive is sweating bullets about how to handle both Taylor and, to a lesser degree, Chris.

It almost might benefit Chris and Taylor to go out in the next too weeks. That would less Chris surround himself with a decent band and have a chance to record something better than what Bo Bice turned out last year. Poor Bo Bice. And as for Taylor? Well, he's just what he is. He's vocally out of his depth at this point and he's been encouraged by the "Idol" producers to try to look professional, rather than goofy and fun, which is what would happen in a studio as well.

Oh and I hear that Simon apologized to Katharine last night for the negativity of his comments this week. It's rare to hear all three judges as clueless as they were on Tuesday. Katharine wasn't spectacular. She wasn't great. But if you compare the harshness of their critiques of Katharine to the way they let Kellie coast for week after week, it seems out of line.

I have nothing else to say about Katharine (particularly since I somehow missed her wardrobe malfunction on Tuesday), but she looked so beautiful that I wanted to make sure I could fit in another McPhee picture this week.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Moviewatch: "Down in the Valley"

"Down in the Valley"
Director: David Jacobson
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 77
In a Nutshell: Certainly one of the better and more interesting movies I've seen this year, a difficult to categorize drama that is, at heart, a revisionist Western, in similar ways to how "Brick" is a revisionist hard-boiled detective film. The game Jacobson's playing involves displacing icons of Western mythology -- Ed Norton plays Harlan, an "Aw shucks" guy who claims to be an old fashioned cowboy, complete with a snazzy white hat -- and reinterpreting them through the prism of the modern world in which the possibilities of expansion (a common Western trope) have been nearly exhausted. Housing developments and dessicated suburbs take the place of the frontier towns of the traditional Western. Evan Rachel Wood, proving herself far-and-away the best actress of her generation and possibly one of the best currently working of any age, plays Tobe, the young girl who falls for Harlan, with the always reliable David Morse as her predictably disapproving father. The film constantly backs itself into corners with one "Where the heck do they go from here?!?!?!?" moment after another and yet it acquits itself well with some fairly massive tone changes and plot developments. Like "Brick," "Down in the Valley" is likely to throw some viewers who aren't interested in embracing the conventions of a not-so-popular genre. It's really just great to see Ed Norton acting again. If you can just cover your ears and ignore the stories about his ego and his tendency to go into the editing room and rework his films, he's worth having around.

Check on Friday, May 12 for my full review.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"American Idol" 04/25/06 -- Final Six Perform

Is it bad luck or poor planning that the departure of Ace Young has left "American Idol" with a noticeable Pretty Void just in time for Tuesday's (April 25) Love Song Theme? Would the six remaining "Idol"-ites still be able to make viewers swoon?

Song: "I Have Nothing"
My Take: You don't have to have followed "Idol" from the first episode to be aware that few song choices are as inherently stupid as covering Whitney Houston, because when you cover Whitney you just know that nobody's going to go "You sang that one so much better than Whitney-On-Crack." No. People only make comparisons to Clean-and-Sober Whitney, which is just unfair. This is pure speculation, but I'm nearly certain that Katharine sings this one much better than Whitney-on-Crack hypothetically would. In a plunging yellow dress, Katharine looks spectacular (far superior to Whitney-on-Crack). Her voice, a musical theater voice as always, is very different from Whitney's or from any of the other legion of wannabe-divas who have attempted to do Whitney on "Idol" and it takes a while to get used to the idea that she isn't just doing simple karaoke.

Cupid, Erato and Simon Say: The judges, it turns out, wanted karaoke. Randy thinks the song was too big for her and accuses her of trying to copy Whitney, which she wasn't. Paula heard pitch problems and notes, correctly, Katharine's tendency to oversing. Simon also accuses her of not being Whitney and says she went backwards. The judges may need to go back and listen to this one again.

Song: "A Song For You"
My Take: Writer-producer David Foster is a pretty harsh taskmaster for a guy who starred in one of the worst reality shows ("The Princes of Malibu") in FOX history. That has nothing to do with Elliott's performance, which is vocally outstanding. He's sincere and passionate, absolutely radio-quality. Plus, this is the least distracting he's been visually. Perhaps he's figuring out how to avoid the awkward smiles, or perhaps the directors are realizing how to shoot him.
Cupid, Erato and Simon Say: Randy hated the arrangement, which overshadowed the vocals a bit, but still describes him as "da bomb." Paula is bawling, mascara running, blubbering about how Elliott has always moved her. OK. He was good. But he wasn't that good. Simon, unsure how to follow Paula's collapse, describes it as, in part, a "vocal masterclass."

Song: "Unchained Melody"
My Take: Kellie Pickler, evil genius, staved off elimination last week by admitting she stunk and playing the humble card. This week, Kellie Pickler, evil genius, preemptively avoids any chance of elimination by batting her eyes, starring into the camera, pouting and admitting that she doesn't currently have a boyfriend, but she's looking. Noting her song choice, she tells us that she's looking for somebody to "play pottery with." She's looking at all of the males in the audience and saying, "Vote for me and we might have sex with clay." That's just brilliant. How about the performance, though? Well, I've never seen an "Idol" contestant go as completely dead in the face as Kellie does here. If her face was shot up with tainted can of Vichyssoise-worth of botulism, she couldn't be less expressive. She's flat on the low notes and sharp on the high ones and she mumbles the words.
Cupid, Erato and Simon Say: Randy calls it very strange. Paula keeps waiting for Kellie to get better, but she isn't feeling any greatness. Simon wonders why Paula didn't cry tears of pain at that one and dubs it bland and monotonous. The music plays him off.


Won't Somebody *Please* Take Pity on TV's Senior Citizens!

For today's ultimate piece of simpering knee-jerk commentary, check out Linda Stasi's New York Post rant about Sunday night's episode of "The Sopranos" in which, among other things, Michael Imperioli's Christopher Moltisanti mugged Lauren Bacall (as herself) for a swag bag. The beating of a "name-brand senior" seems to have really upset Stasi.

It wasn't a great episode of "The Sopranos." In fact, any episode that concentrates heavily on Artie Bucco -- it's about darned time David Chase dedicated an entire episode to Artie recovering his love for pure Italian cooking -- and on Vinnie from "Doogie Howser" can't possibly be great. But the problem with the episode had absolutely nothing to do with insufficient respect for Bacall.

This episode was absolutely the best thing to happen to Lauren Bacall this year, particularly since the only other 2006 memory I have of her involved the legend's mortifying inability to read the teleprompter at the Academy Awards, a disastrous appearance that prompted speculation of senility (mostly, she just needed glasses and she needed somebody on the Oscars technical staff to help her out). In the "Sopranos" episode, she seemed sharp and funny and she looked super. Fez from "That '70s Show" appeared in the episode and nobody thought he was important enough to mug for his swag. Lauren Bacall? She's worthy of screen time. Plus, if Bacall didn't mind sending up her image a little, she probably could have turned down the cameo. This may have actually amused her.

In addition, Stasi seems to have difficulties distinguishing between behavior endorsed by the show and behavior endorsed by one particularly pathetic character on the show. What better way to show how weak Christopher was than to show the wannabe Wiseguy mugging a little old lady for a basket of freebies? One minute he's snorting coke with a whore, the next minute he's mugging Lauren Bacall. Christopher is heading on another of his downward spirals and we can expect to see a Girl Scout kicking his butt within a couple episodes.

Stasi was also probably concerned with last night's episode of "24," which saw William Devane's Defense Secretary Heller drive his car off a cliff in an attempt to evade surveillance attempts by whatever shady cabal is attempting to take over the Earth on this day. This decision made Heller's daughter very unhappy (she may also have been miserable about the stab wound she acquired at the end of last episode, but forgot within 10 minutes as "24" characters seem to be able to do with any wound that doesn't lead to instant death).

I bet Stasi's very upset that "24" would dare treat 68-year-old semi-legend Devane in such a manner. He's no Lauren Bacall, but surely he warranted a more graphic on-screen death.

But does anybody really figure Sec. Heller's deceased? As I've already noted in the comments on another blog, merely driving off a cliff into a lake isn't enough to kill William Devane. He's like a vampire or a zombie or something. Bullets can't kill William Devane either. I'm thinking he's gonna have to be decapitated on-screen before I believe he's dead.

Oh and speaking of old folks who can't be killed: Everybody should take a couple minutes to go vote on the ultimate clash of the Titans -- Jack Bauer vs. Chuck Norris. So far, the race is pretty close.

It's nearly time for Love Songs night on "American Idol." I really should get drunk first.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Moviewatch: "An American Haunting"

"An American Haunting"
Director: Courtney Solomon
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 30
In a Nutshell: Directed with all of the subtlety you might expect from the man behind 2000's "Dungeons & Dragons," "An American Haunting" is the freakiest movie ever made to depict the potential dangers of usury. It's 1817 and a Tennessee landowner (Donald Sutherland) is disciplined by the church for charging excessive interest on a loan. Next thing you know, his winsome daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is thrashing around her bedroom in a manner sure to be familiar to anybody who's ever seen a movie about demonic possession. The doors creak. Things in the attic thud. Respectable actors -- Sissy Spacek included -- speak with variable bad Southern accents. And every time Solomon wants viewers to be scared, he cues the music to a sharp note, or inserts a deafening sound effect. Somewhere in the background are intimations of sexual molestation, the darker truths behind the historical case of the Bell Witch Haunting. Solomon is willing to hint at those realities, but he knows that the movie's bread-and-butter is in the cheapest of scares and the shoddiest of spookiness. The period setting helps to somewhat set this one apart from the "The Exorcist" or "Amityville" or "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" or countless other similar films, but the obviously low budget lends itself directly to a flatness of the storytelling. Worst of all is the framing device in the present that occasionally interjects and numbs all momentum. The actors, all complete pros, do their best, but they deserve better.

Check Zap2it for my review on Friday, May 5.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What's the *Best* Best Picture Oscar Winner?

Edward Copeland over at the creatively titled blog "Edward Copeland on Film" is conducting an interesting poll: He's asking readers to list the 10 best winners of the Oscar for Best Picture. That sounds like a really easy question, doesn't it? Surely the best picture winners represent the best films ever made? Ha!

A handy list of winners is here. That's assuming you don't have easy access to the alcove at the Hollywood & Highlands mall next to the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are held. The best picture winners are listed on tall pillars, pillars that celebrate the mediocrity celebrated by Hollywood. I was there last night and was pleased to see that "Crash" has already taken its place.

After wading through the "Driving Miss Daisys," "Bravehearts," "Forrest Gumps" and "Gigis" this was the list I came up with of the best. It isn't creative or anything, but it's mine:

1)"The Godfather II"- Here's how I came to this decision: "Chinatown" was nominated for Best Picture that year and lost and I can't feel bitter, since the superior film won. If a champion boxer or racehorse is defined by who he beat to get there, "The Godfather II" beat the best.

2)"Lawrence of Arabia"- The dozens of subsequent epics that undeservedly took the Oscar -- your "English Patients" or "Out of Africas" do nothing to tarnish this particular winner.
3)"The Apartment"- This one is high on my list not just because of how much I love the movie, but because of my general amazement that the Academy got it right and honored this pitch-black comedy. On the other hand, once the Academy decided to nominate "The Alamo" that year rather than, say, "Psycho," all bets were off.
4)"The Godfather"- Duh.
5)"Casablanca"- Duh.
6)"Gone with the Wind"- Duh.
7)"Annie Hall"- It's just always amazing to me when the Oscar goes to the best film in a particular year and not to the longest film, the prettiest film or the film that explains that everybody in Los Angeles is racist and that's what makes us human. Then again, "The Turning Point" was nominated for best picture that year -- how does *that* happen?
8)"Bridge on the River Kwai"- It's not really a war movie at all. It's a pure action movie. Action movies don't win Oscars. How did this one? It's almost enough to justify the fact that "The Great Escape" -- perhaps the best action movie ever made -- only received one nomination, for editing. Perhaps it isn't too late to get a retroactive Oscar of some sort for "Die Hard"?
9)"Midnight Cowboy" - Yeah, it's dated, but watching the newly released double-disc DVD a couple weeks ago, I was suprised at how well it held up.
10)"Schindler's List"- Perhaps Spielberg's fifth or sixth best film, but this is the one that won best picture.

Zip over to Edward's blog and vote before April 29 to have your opinion count.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My 'Super Sweet' Guilty Pleasure

Hey. So you wanna know what other nations hate us and why terrorists think that destroying the American Way of Life is a good idea? Tune in to MTV's "My Super Sweet 16" sometime and just revel in the trash.

The premise of the show -- if you've avoided it on well-justified principle -- is that underaged budding harridans cajole their loving, spineless fathers into spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on their 16th birthday parties (or, in the case of the episode I caught this afternoon, a quince or 15th birthday party for a girl shaming her Latina heritage). I've only seen three episodes, but I'm utterly hooked in that particular way that one gets hooked on MTV shows -- I don't know what time new episodes air and I don't much care, but I know that if I ever passed by MTV in the middle of a marathon, I might have to sit through the whole thing.

When this show was first announced, I thought it sounded like an awful idea, but I figured it wouldn't last very long. However, it seems to be successful, which forces me to raise the question: Does everybody watch it like I do, with a disgusted hilarity rooting for everything to fall apart at the end of each episode? I know, of course, that MTV probably wouldn't show a taped episode if the party turned out badly and the poor 16-year-old girl who wanted a pony-themed party was shocked and saddened when one pony pooped on the floor of the expensive club her daddy had rented and then another horse trampled the boy she had a crush on and a third horse ate the leather upholstery on what was supposed to be her brand new black-on-black Infiniti convertible and a fourth horse kicked Usher, who her daddy bribed to perform, in the nads. But I watch just in case, praying for the worst.

But are there people who actually watch "Super Sweet 16" and think that these are the coolest kids ever? Do they envy L.A. Reid's son for his MP3 player invitations and sympathize with his frustration when he thinks Kanye West can't play at the party? Do they understand the motivations of the nubile 15-year-old who performs a striptease at her own party in order to make her recent ex-boyfriend jealous as her classmates and guests whoop in approval? Do they wish they were like the bratty twerp from Arizona whose father -- the owner of three car dealerships -- purchases not one, but two cars for her birthday [The same girl who tells her mother off when the woman has the nerve to suggest that she looks too skanky in one of her birthday skirts]?

It's that same girl who contributes the best moment I've seen yet on the show: She's at an expensive modernist house that her dad's going to rent for the party. The real estate agent, sensing that the father is an easy touch, asks for $50,000 to rent the place for a single night. The father looks the guy in the eye and says, "Yeah. I was thinking more like $25,000." The agent is about to counter-offer when the daughter leans in and says, "Oh, $50,000 dollars is fine, Daddy." Thus, this girl gets a ridiculous party and two cars for her birthday and she also gets to chop off her father's testicles. On television! All in one week!

I don't remember what I did for my 16th birthday. I do know, though, that after four years of making payments, I'm finally on the verge of owning my very first car. Just in time for "My Super Sweet 29th."

Apparently, either viewers love the obnoxious entitlement of the rich, or else television executives think we do. There was that "Celebrity Cattle Drive" thing on E! and that WB show were poor young folks very briefly taught rich young folks how unprepared they were for the real world (before most of the poor kids went back to poverty and every one of the rich kids went back to wealth). But any show that makes you want to pimp-slap a child is doing something right, I guess.

As a depiction of American conspicuous consumption at its most conspicuous and despicable, our enemies need look no further.

Anybody else watching "My Super Sweet 16" or am I all alone?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Moviewatch: "Silent Hill"

"Silent Hill"
Director: Christophe Gans
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 19
In a Nutshell: I thought it was a joke when somebody at the screening commented that they heard "Silent Hill" was over two-hours long. It wasn't. The movie, a rambling dud that attempts to replicate the logic of the popular video game (lots of finding of clues and picking up important tools and wandering from one creepy room to another), runs 127 minutes. How can that be allowed to happen? When studios hide movies from critics -- as this one was -- they're usually little 85 minute horror movies or exploitation comedies, bad movies where the expenditure was so low that they don't really need the publicity that comes from a good or bad review. Even "Aeon Flux" was a really short movie, even if it was probably costly. But somebody decided that Christophe Gans, a director only known for the fitfully amusing, but ultimately incoherent "Brotherhood of the Wolf," was entitled to as long as he wanted to tell his story? What a mistake! There's probably a perfectly acceptable 90 minute cut of this movie that accentuates the moody atmosphere, one or two freaky CGI creatures and Radha Mitchell running in a tight t-shirt. They could have cut Sean Bean's part out of the movie without any narrative loss at all. Oh well. Lots of movies stink. This one's still better than, say, "Ultraviolet."

My review is already up on Zap2it. It's longer than this. And more critical. Check it out.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Notes on Ace, "Survivor," "Snakes on a Plane" and UCLA Basketball

Some musings on a slow Thursday night:

1)[Ace] Young Man, There's No Need To Feel Down -- I've been instructed that I need to say something about the tragic departure of Ace Young on Wednesday night's "Idol." The problem is, there's nothing much I can add. My buddy Alan keeps repeating the mantra that it's better to be awful than so-so on "Idol." And he's probably right. And my buddy Jordan insists that Ace's exit is just an object lesson warning men never to wear their hair in pony-buns. And she's definitely right. Ace was just such an obvious "Idol" favorite on some many levels that people were hesitant to take a step back and say, "Um... Sure he's got a cute smile, but is anything even the least bit distinctive about him?" In my very first "Idol" commentary, I wrote: "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." I pretty much have to stand by that.

At this point, most of the rage on "Idol" boards surrounds Kellie Pickler and her ongoing presence on the show despite a string of excruciating performances. The kneejerk reaction is to give the VoteForTheWorst folks credit. That's an assine assertion. They couldn't keep Kevin Covais on the show more than a few extra weeks (Eraserhead's Baby, while the temporary bane of my existence, had a far shorter "Idol" run than previous demonic spawn like Scotty Savol and John Stevens) and they aren't what's keeping Kellie on the show. I don't pretend to be a genius on these matters but I feel like noting that the people who stalk "Idol" message boards, while not necessarily Rhodes Scholar Brilliant, may actually be in the intellectual upper echelon of "Idol" fans. Kellie may be going far because some people, dumb people, actually think that she seems like a sweet and cool girl and they actually think she can sing. As always in cases like this, it's best to blame Red Staters and, if that fails, WebTV users. You don't think anybody uses WebTV anymore? I swear we still get e-mails on Zap2it from WebTV users, even if they all live in Arkansas. No offense Arkansas, but you may be Mississippi's Mississippi.

2)Why Bruce's Bowels Won't Move -- Has intestinal blockage ever been the focal point of a full episode of a reality show previously? Because tonight's "Survivor" was kinda yucky what with Mr. Miyagi writhing in pain for 60 minutes. It all reminds me of a vaguely racist (well, not-so-vaguely, now that I think about it) joke.

3)Snakes on a Plane? How About Overkill on a Web? -- If I read one more Old Media story about how "Snakes on a Plane" is the web-based movie phenomenon of the year or one more story quoting Sam Jackson talking about how he demanded producers keep the film's name untouched, I think I'm going to be a little sick. There are no new "Snakes on a Plane" jokes worth making. There are no more "Snake on a Plane" parodies worth posting on the Internet. There are no more "Where Did 'Snakes on a Plane' Come From?" stories worth writing anymore. A ridiculous thing has happened: "Snakes on a Plane" has gone from an inevitably bad movie with a deliriously fun name to an inevitably bad movie that's bound to be disappointing thanks to over-hype in no time at all. And it's still April. The movie isn't scheduled to come out until August. I'm pretty quick on the trigger when it comes to impatience. I get turn from excited to annoyed on a dime. But over the next four months, other people are going to join me. New Line, if you're listening, you have a very limited window to get this movie into theaters and get it into theaters fast. You can either catch the buzz when it's cresting or catch it when it's crashing, but what are the odds of it lasting until August?

4)FUCLA -- I don't necessarily like to broach sports-based topics here, but if Jordan Farmar and Aaron Affalo seriously believe that they're ready for the NBA, somebody needs to give them a good talking to. Farmar's a point guard who can't shoot, has poor passing judgment and isn't necessarily sure when to play defense. Affalo knows exactly when to play defense and he's a good shooter at times, but he needs two more years of coaching and weight room time if he ever thinks he's going to be a pro. If those two coming back, UCLA is an automatic Top 5 team next season. Are those two guys really going to give that up to be bench players in the NBA DL? Oh yeah. That's right. I'm a USC and Penn fan. Go pro, boys... Go pro!

And that's all for me tonight.

Moviewatch: "United 93"

"United 93"
Director: Paul Greengrass
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 71
In a Nutshell: That rating is entirely provisional, because "United 93" is a really difficult movie to fully process instantly, it may be either a good deal better or worse that I'm currently thinking and I may not have any idea until I begin to write my full review next week. It's an undeniably powerful movie that doesn't aim anywhere near the head. It hits viewers in the gut and probably male viewers will feel like they've taken a punch even lower. The movie's language is primal and visceral, which is appropriate given the subject matter. Greengrass works with the same documentary-style realism that made "Bloody Sunday" so traumatic and helped "The Bourne Supremacy" stand out for generic thrillers (and helped that film physically sicken some viewers). The camerawork is all handheld and jittery. The editing is as tight as any movie you'll see this year. But what's the audience for the movie? Who out there is going to rush to relive 9/11? The question isn't whether or not it's too soon for the movie to be APPROPRIATE. The movie isn't exploitative in any way. Paying 10 dollars to see a movie in a theater isn't an involuntary action, or even the casual action of somebody deciding that this is a movie they SHOULD see (like medicine). It's an active process. Interestingly, because the movie doesn't really engage the mind, watching it isn't active. You have to sit back and reexperience, rather than engaging in a thoughtful conversation. Anywho... As you can see... I'm having trouble easily encapsulating my thoughts on this one. One thing I'm sure of: The presence of Mitchum Huntzberger as one of the military officials is just distracting. First he briefly made Rory Gilmore give up on journalism, then he couldn't save the world from giant alien leaches and the filmmakers expect me to believe he's going to protect us on 9/11?

As usual, my full review of "United 93" will be up on on Friday, April 28.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"American Idol" 04/18 -- Final Seven Perform

It's a weird group of finalists on "Idol" this season -- Just weeks ago, the singers butchered an assortment of contemporary hits, but on Tuesday (April 18), the standards found in the American Songbook highlight some talented performers.

Song: "What a Wonderful World"
My Take: Chris' dead-eyed intensity makes this into the most threatening version of "What a Wonderful World" I've ever seen, as if he's just daring the universe to fall anywhere short of wonderful. When I'm looking away from the television, it's easy to appreciate the respect he's dedicating to the tune. His on-stage contributions, though, amount to wandering over to the guest guitarist, swaying in time for a few measures and then making his way back to the middle of the stage. They should have hired a Korean animation workshop to insert little colorful woodland creatures to sit on Chris' shoulder and hum along. It's always valuable to hear the voice behind the mascara
Bewitched, Simon and Bewildered Say: Randy proclaims that Chris' display of his sensitive side was da bomb. So Paula went on Jay Leno last week and did a parody of her current persona, which implies that her current persona wasn't already some form of parody. Tonight, she seems like she's doing a parody of her parody of her parody. Somewhere lost in that sea of post-modern brainlessness is a compliment for Chris. Simon takes credit for Chris' decision to mix it up and calls it a great performance.

Song: "Foolish Things"
My Take: Unless a "Jazz Vocals" night is coming soon, Paris couldn't have asked for a cushier theme, but it's only a solid showing. On a technical level, she's often outrageously good. There's a tone and variety to her voice that is without parallel in this competition. I'm struck by how obviously she looks like she's trying to enunciate and yet the lyrics sometimes come across as mumbled and vague, not nearly as precise and articulated as the individual runs and melodic embellishments. Performance-wise, the fluttered eye-lashes, minor hand gestures and pleading eyes don't add much.
Bewitched, Simon and Bewildered Say: Randy thought it was her greatest night ever and drops his second "da bomb" of the evening. Paula's falling out of her top. Somebody should put a Coke bottle in front of her. Simon is bewildered, but in the best way possible.

Song: "You Send Me"
My Take: The Soul Patrol may lynch me for raising this issue, but did Taylor peak over a month ago? He's coasting on being likeable and charming, but he hasn't shown improvement in either his vocals or his stagecraft. That being said, this was another perfectly amiable Taylor performance. It sent me to my iPod in the commercial break to listen to the Sam Cooke original, which actually made me feel even better about Taylor's rendition, because the guy seems to get the meaning of the song, the rapture and the playfulness. Plus, have I mentioned lately that Taylor once dressed up as the Easter Bunny?
Bewitched, Simon and Bewildered Say: Randy's pleased and somehow takes credit for Taylor. Paula's sure the Soul Patrol will be enthusiastic. "It started and I thought 'OK, lame cabaret' and then... magic," is Simon's comment.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fien Print Neologism: Over-Reducing the Matzah Balls

This is less a neologism, I suspect, than a new and eternally useful euphemism. The fact that it doesn't actually involve matzah balls is secondary to the basic anecdote.

The story -- which takes place on a day very much like yesterday in a location very much like Southern New Hampshire -- and involves a busy journalist -- very much like myself -- who was so absorbed with his work that he let the simmering chicken broth for the Passover matzah ball soup simmer and simmer and simmer until, over the course of an afternoon, it went from proto-soup to burnt sludge. In my defense, the simmering soup smelled delicious until the exact moment that it began to smell burnt.

Thus, 2006 goes down as the year that we had to rush out to the grocery story for canned condensed matzah ball soup for the Seder. Of course, the story couldn't end there. My mother, flustered by the fact that her eldest son came home for Passover and then proceeded to destroy the matzah ball soup, paid no attention to the "condensed" aspect of the two cans of matzah ball soup that we brought home, which led to the serving of three bowls of impossibly salty broth before the addition of water.

So in any case, I'm not sure how you would use the phrase "over-reducing the matzah balls" in a sentence without following it up with a leer and "You know what I mean?" But I wanted to blog something and I want to ignore Bucky's "American Idol" departure for as long as I can.

And now, I'm off to over-reduce the matzah balls, if you know what I mean...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"American Idol" 04/11/06 -- Final Eight Perform Badly

God Save the Queen Songs from 'Idol'

The reputation of England's ruling matriarchs has survived the reigns of Bloody Mary and that funny guy in the kilt who was dating Judi Dench in "Mrs. Brown," but can the legendary rock band Queen survive Bucky Covington? Tuesday (April 11) night's "American Idol" tribute provides some answers...

Song: "Fat Bottomed Girls
My Take: It's tough to sing like Freddie Mercury, but Bucky at least has the sense to try one of Queen's least challenging songs. In fact, for the verses, it's pretty much the same note repeated over and over again, at least the way Bucky does it. He has a decent amount of control, trusting his hips in a lewd manner that probably would have amused Mercury. But why can't Bucky sing the notes on the chorus? It's the only time the melody changes and yet he misses every note flat. Bucky looks like he washed his hair this week. That's bound to be good for a few votes.
Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Queen of Scots and Simon Say: Randy applauds the energy and is totally OK with the absence of notes. Paula's impressed he made the song country-rock, which it kinda always was. Simon suggests that the song was bigger than Bucky and calls it "mediocre."

Song: "We Will Rock You"
My Take: Borrowing a shirt from "America's Next Top Model" judge Nigel Barker's striped shirt collection, Ace is attempting to "rock out." Everybody's third or fourth favorite piece of anthem rock has been given a typically bland Ace spin. Like Bucky, he mostly chooses to shout the verses without any tonal variation and then he lets the background singers do the chorus before going into his falsetto squeal at the end. What, exactly, did Ace contribute as a performance here? He basically did what thousands of fans do at sporting arenas whenever this song comes on -- he yelled along.
Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Queen of Scots and Simon Say: Randy gives it a five or a six and admits he didn't get it. Paula works really really really really hard to find something nice to say about it. I don't know what she concludes. Simon dubs it a "complete, utter mess." "It was 'We Will Rock You Gently,'" Simon says. Ace responds, "I think I rocked."

Song: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
My Take: How sad and embarrassed do the surviving Queen members look? Is this their revenge on Mercury in the afterlife? I'm a bit scared by Zombie Goth Kellie, with her tight leather jacket, dark eye shadow and blown-out hair. She's decided to make the song angry and violent rather than operatic and cheesy. Does Kellie really think she can be Lita Ford or Debbie Harry? Because if she thinks that she's wrong. It's more like at the end of "Grease" when Olivia Newton-John suddenly becomes a bad girl and everybody in the audience is like, "Yeah, she's hot, but seriously?" The rendition is particularly disappointing giving the rehearsal footage where it looked like Kellie had a sultry and flirty take on the material, making the song into a cute come-on.
Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Queen of Scots and Simon Say: Randy likes the jacket and raves that she worked it out. Paula invokes the memory of Constantine, before saying that she showed the rocker chick she is. Simon tries explaining the meaning of the phrase "on paper" to Kellie, but gives up and praises her. Sigh.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Moviewatch: "The Sentinel"

"The Sentinel"
Director: Clark Johnson
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 42
In a Nutshell: Despite that fact that anybody with an iota of common sense knows that we've reached the point where the best television shows are probably better than all but the very best movies, folks in the film industry still treat TV with contempt. Case in point: "The Sentinel." How can you cast Kiefer Sutherland in a thriller about random Russian operatives attempting to assassinate the President of the United States? The only way you can do it is if you just assume that simply by virtue of being shown on the big screen, "The Sentinel" will naturally be better than "24." Nope. After a decent first 45 minutes, I realized that for all of the film's twisty Macguffin of a plot, the things that were taking poor Michael Douglas whole days to figure out, Jack Bauer and Chloe O'Brien would dispatch in 10 minutes and with substantially more brio. A 100 minute film cannot possibly provide the complexity or character depth of a show like "24," nor can a film like this provide the same tension and urgency of any single hour of "24." The producers of this movie were moronic enough to think this was a competition they could win, but I think the phrase, "I'd rather watch '24' for free" will be uttered by more than a few disappointed ticketholders. Want further evidence of that contempt? check out Eva Longoria, showing none of the wit and sex appeal here that she shows on "Desperate Housewives" every week. Sigh.

On An Entirely Unrelated Note: I look at my Entertainment Weekly this week and I see that Brandon Routh is on the cover. Again. I know Warner Bros. is vaguely nervous about their massive expenditure on "Superman Returns" and I know that Entertainment Weekly is a kowtowing part of the Time-Warner empire, but Brandon Routh has never been seen in a movie before and the movie he's starring in won't be out for around 10 weeks and this is already his third cover in roughly a year. That's really cheesy. Maybe they'll mix it up on put Kevin Spacey on the cover in June sometime.

Anatomy of Killing a Show: "Heist"

At this point, I don't know that there are all that many people still wondering how NBC has managed to find itself well back in fourth place in the key adult 18-49 demographic, but an interesting study in network ineptitude might be seen in the near-instant cancellation of "Heist." How many ways did NBC blunder this show? Let's just say "oodles."


1)It was rushed to the air. NBC decided it wanted the pilot script in October, was still casting the show in November and in late December, the network decided it wanted the show on the air by the late spring or summer. Soon that timetable became mid-spring, post-Olympics. In a messageboard posting over at TVSquad, "Heist" co-creator Mark Cullen says that at the time of the cancellation, the show was just beginning to find its creative legs. Well, OF COURSE he'd say that. But he may be right. The "Heist" pilot, while frequently fun and diverting, was obviously half-baked, offering barely a hint of the machinations of the show's central robbery. The first hint at their big plan in the following episode was hugely disappointing. While a show like "24" can get away with flipping and flopping its plot three or four times in a season (or in an episode), a new show like "Heist" can't. If NBC had given the Cullen brothers a chance to actually develop the early scripts before going to series, perhaps they could have masterminded something special.

2)Almost an offshoot of the first one, but "Heist" is one of the best examples I could ever provide of how a single piece of botched casting can kill a show. Or at least cripple it. Dougray Scott, Steve Harris, and Seymour Cassel are strong actors. Marika Dominczyk is a stunning woman and a surprisingly acceptable actress. Billy Gardell and Reno Wilson were a good comic pairing. But every time Michele Hicks came on screen as the love-lorn klepto cop, it stopped the drama and clipped the comedy. Surely that's the kind of thing that should have been noticed in testing? If NBC had held onto the pilot and waited for a better or more appropriate actress to become available, the entire dynamic of the show would have changed.

3)Scheduling is everything. In sports, we talk about trades that help both teams, where everybody gets what they need and both sides come out ahead. This winter, NBC made a sweeping scheduling change that messed up its entire schedule in true NBC-style. When I first saw the pilot in January my instant reaction was, "Well, it's not a great show, but if you paired it with 'Las Vegas,' it might make for a really fun block." The next day, at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, NBC announced that "Las Vegas" was moving to Friday at 9, which should have opened things up perfectly. Instead, NBC moved "Law & Order" up to 9 on Wednesday, put "Heist" at 10 and gave the post-"Las Vegas" show to "Convinction." Putting aside the fact that no show featuring Eric Balfour is ever going to succeed, "Conviction" has a dark look and somber tone that actually clashes with "Las Vegas" in the same way that the tried-and-true procedural style of "Law & Order" was never going to mesh with "Heist." So "Conviction" has mostly tanked on Fridays (Bet NBC wishes it hadn't cancelled "Law & Order: Trial by Jury") and "Las Vegas" is struggling. "Heist" failed for two weeks, left "Law & Order" to get crushed by "Lost" and finally forced the network to reverse the two shows and finally just kill "Heist." It's a perfect example of a trade that hurt all of the teams involved.

4)The Olympics aren't a platform for anything. Just as "Hawaii" (Eric Balfour again!), "LAX" and "Joey" didn't benefit from relentless promotion during the 2004 Summer Olympics, "Heist" may have been hurt by repetitive teasers during the 2006 Winter Games.

I didn't love the pilot, but I don't know why "Heist" couldn't have worked. It had "Ocean's Eleven" style and attitude, a decent cast and a good creative team in the Cullens and producer/director Doug Liman. All it is now is another glorious example of the NBC Touch.

At least NBC seems unlikely to ever air "Thick & Thin."

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Writers Guild's Top 101 Screenplays

On Thursday, the Writers Guild of America unveiled its list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays.

For those too lazy to click through immediately, the Top 10 is tough to argue with:
1. "Casablanca"
2. "The Godfather"
3. "Chinatown"
4. "Citizen Kane"
5. "All About Eve"
6. "Annie Hall"
7. "Sunset Boulevard"
8. "Network"
9. "Some Like It Hot"
10. "The Godfather II"

I've already written a commentary on Zap2it noting certain obvious flaws in the list -- the paucity of foreign language offerings, family films and certain obvious missing writers.

The think I find interesting is how the WGA is embracing the idea that Writers Films are at least somewhat different from Directors Films. If you polled the DGA in a similar fashion for the 101 Greatest Directing jobs ever, I would guess that probably five of the Top 10 films would remain the same, but there'd be an awful lot of shuffling. You'd see the Spielberg and Scorsese films move up. You'd see the Wilder films move down. Some Robert Altman films would probably appear, as would Oliver Stone. I'd also imagine that a greater number of foreign language films would suddenly appear. Clearly Writers Guild members are intimidated by projects in languages they don't speak, while the Directors Guild would just recognize that visual language is universal. That would probably only mean, say, five or six foreign films out of 101, but you'd totally get a little Kurosawa or something.

For the Writers Guild membership: If "Yojimbo" and "Seven Samurai" aren't two of the greatest scripts ever written WHY DO YOU KEEP RIPPING THEM OFF? Just curious.

The problem is that the Writers Guild leadership has never actually figured out how to make average people understand what it is that writers do. One minute they're saying, "Oh, writing is more than just witty dialogue." The next minute they're putting up billboards around Los Angeles reminding drivers which scribes wrote their favorite lines of dialogue. Thus, a writer goes, "You know, I don't remember a single clever thing that the characters in "Yojimbo" said." So he fills out his Top 10 with banalities like "The Six Sense" and "Forrest Gump" and then goes back to his cool new crime spec in which a stranger comes into town and pits two opposing crime lords against each other.

In my commentary, I only mentioned a couple films I'd have liked to see on the list, but since I'm sitting at my desk looking over my own DVD collection, here are some of the movies I own because I love their scripts. Obviously, there wouldn't be room for all of them, but maybe one or two?

"Jackie Brown," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Chasing Amy," "Almost Famous," "Rushmore," "Something Wild," "Bringing Up Baby," "Alien," "Election," "Spinal Tap," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "The Truman Show."

That's just what I can see from my chair.

Anybody reading is encouraged to contribute their own missing favorites...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How Did 'The O.C.' Become O.K. Again?

I'm a little confused. I just got done watching tonight's new episode of "The O.C." and I was amazed that I actually laughed a little felt a tiny bit of emotion for some characters I thought I'd stopped caring about nearly a season ago.

Nobody's really watching the show these days and the only buzz "The O.C." has had in the past few months has involved rumors that Mischa Barton wants out and a really bizarre AP story that tried convincing us that somebody named "Sandy Cohen" was interviewing creator Josh Schwartz. Heck, even I've been DVRing episodes and skipping through whole subplots -- Sandy's real estate ethical quandaries? Bye. Anything involving Johnny? Bye. -- to mostly see what was happening with Seth and Summer. But I watched tonight's episode and enjoyed it.

What Did I Like?

1)The strange alternate dimension they all live in where college acceptance letters arrive on a set schedule on a set day, allowing a high school to have a bonfire where everybody can wear the sweatshirt of their college of choice within a day of their acceptance. No choosing, no wait listing, nothing. That's decisive.

2)Taylor Townsend as comic relief. They thought about making the character evil and nefarious and they may go in that direction again, but the correct choice was making her into the OC's version of Paris Gellar. She's able to pop up for two or three absurd lines of dialogue and then she can go away. The plot doesn't need to revolve around her, but if she shows up to explain the Kama Sutra or just to pick up delivery, that's just fine.

3)The realization that the main characters don't know anybody else at their high school. In the first season, there was this illusion that Summer and Marissa were popular. We've eliminated that. The characters can go to a bonfire and look around and see only strangers. The shot of Ryan going up to talk to some random guy in a UCLA sweatshirt was hilarious. I wanted him to look and Ryan and go, "You're the guy who punches people. Have we met?"

4)Marissa's insane. You've just gotta enjoy the ride. In the last shot of last week's episode, Marissa was snorting coke for the very first time. By the end of this week's episode, she's back to being the good girl en route to Berkeley. OK. Fine. I've been fast-forwarding through Marissa's downward spiral plot for weeks, but maybe I can watch again?

5)Some of these guys are really good actors. OK. Mostly Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson are really good and Ben McKenzie isn't bad. But the scenes this week between Seth and Summer were on the verge of heartbreaking. Not quite heartbreaking, but close.

6)Nobody tried to convince me that the President was an evil mastermind after dedicating halves of two seasons to trying to convince me that he was a waffling moron. Sorry "24." That may go down as one of the lamest twists ever. Seriously, is this season going to end with Jack shooting the President of the United States in the head? Because that'd be ballsy. Otherwise, it's just another "Where do we go from here?" twist.

7)I was happy with this exchange:
SUMMER: Remember when the boys made us watch that movie about the gay guys on the mountain?
MARISSA: Lord of the Rings.
SUMMER: Yeah. And you remember that Gollum guy, how he got evil and more evil the closer he got to that fire-y thing? That's kinda how Seth is about Brown.

8)Bye Nikki Reed. I actually liked her character except that she didn't really have a character. She was there to be a viable and understanding woman to facilitate the Ryan/Marissa breakup. But the roller-coaster ride with Sadie and Ryan in this particular episode was just as bad as any Ryan/Marissa roller-coaster.


Of Mice and Mandisa

I've asked this before and I'm sure I'll ask it again: Why does "American Idol" hate me? I've done nothing but love it and nurture it and care for it and yet it turns against me.

As you may have heard, Mandisa was eliminated last night on "American Idol."

Actually, I'm neither surprised, nor spectacularly upset with that. It was just inevitable. An LA DJ last week tried raising a non-controversy about the double standard that may or may not exist in society's treatment of overweight African-Americans versus overweight honkies. His point was that if Mandisa were a white girl (But still weight 300 pounds), she would have been told to lose weight and she wouldn't have even made it onto the show. Yawn. In this particularly tiny limited example, the DJ may have been right, but we don't need to institute affirmative action for fat honkies any time soon. There will always be room for overweight white comics to play sitcom foils to beautiful blonds and overweight white actresses will always be able to get work as the snarky best friends of beautiful skinnier actresses. So it's all good, eh? Exactly.

Yes, Mandisa was able to make it this far in the competition without being the most svelte of contestants, but she was always on a tightrope. Her support was based on the fact that -- heaven forbid -- she was better than almost all of the other contestants. Week in and week out, her experience and talent kept her going, even if she wasn't the most obviously marketable of the Finalists. However, she had to know that the second she gave a mediocre or a bad performance, she'd be out. And this week, Country Week, she gave a bad performance. Poof. So that supposed double standard may exist, but it isn't forgiving. Mandisa should probably sue the stylists who put her in ill-fitting jeans and sleeveless shirts the past couple weeks. She is a big and beautiful woman, but the last couple weeks, the costumers accentuated the "big" and not the "beautiful."

Elliott Yamin has been in nearly an identical situation. He doesn't look like he belongs in this competition. Put him next to Ace Young and it's clear who won't fit on a magazine cover. Key different? Ace is hammy and vocally weak, while Elliott is sincere and vocally solid. But Elliott can only stay in as long as he's good. He has no cushion and his margin-for-error keeps shrinking. He's at the point where he has to be one of the two or three best performers each week or else he'll be gone in a second.

Seriously, besides Katharine and Chris, can you imagine any of these people actually winning and deserving to win? I can't.

But anyway... Going back to "American Idol" hating me... Next week's theme? The Music of Queen.

I don't like Queen, but that isn't even my problem. As much as those songs annoyed me, Freddy Mercury had a fantastic voice and those songs are darned tough to sing. Look at the freakshow that was Constantine's "Bohemian Rhapsody" last season. Oye. That means more of Ace's nasal falsetto. What's Bucky going to do? Heck, what's Taylor going to do? The only contestants who seem likely to deliver are Katharine and Chris. Again.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

To-Do List for 04/05/06: Buy Comic Book, Celebrate Escalator Day

"ArchEnemies," in comic stores today from Dark Horse, is the best new comic I've read this decade. It may be the best new comic I've read in the past 20 years. Heck, it may be the best new comic I've ever read.

Am I so full of enthusiasm about this colorful little book because I spent two-and-a-half years in college rooming with "ArchEnemies" writer Andrew "Drew" Melbourne? Perhaps. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the last time I read a new comic book (I prefer anthologies) it featured the ThunderCats? Again, perhaps. However, those mitigating factors aside, how much do I like "ArchEnemies" for real? Well, I already have a copy in a rough stage, but I'm still gonna rush out and spend my hard-earned money to get a real copy and put it in mylar for safe-keeping. Just not today. Sunday looks good, I think. But you, anonymous reader? Get thee to a comic store. Now!

After all, what else were you gonna do on your Escalator Day? May your 04/05/06 be at least as good as 03/04/05 and far better than that dismal 02/03/04. Really, we're all just waiting it out until 12/13/14. Now that Escalator Day's gonna truly RAWK!

Incidentally, other possible names for Escalator Day include the more amusing, but also more obscure, Ziggurat Day. "Progressive Number Day" was just much too lame.

Now I'm off to ask my boss why Escalator Day isn't an official holiday.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"American Idol" 04/04/06 -- Final Nine Perform

Thomas Paine once observed, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country." He was referring to Tuesday's (April 4) Country Night on "American Idol." He continued, "But he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." He was referring to this recapper.

Expecting neither love nor thanks, let the shrieking begin:

Song: "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
My Take: Always listen to The Gambler, Taylor. In the pre-performance clip, we hear Kenny "Not the Mercurial Tigers Ace" Rogers warning the Grey Goose that if he doesn't hook listeners with the first few notes, he's lost. Uh-oh. Taylor starts off rough, perhaps distracted by a rogue fiddler. He finds the melody, at least, but when he gets to the chorus, his voice is lost in the accompaniment and the harmony. He comes across as mild and slightly uncomfortable.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy, wearing a blood-red vest and matching specs, liked the song choice, but wasn't excited by the vocals. Paula falls back on her stock comment for the season, which is something along the lines of, "You know I love you, but tonight I have a headache." She's going to have to start taking in the producers' laundry to earn that expensive new multi-year deal she just signed. "I thought it was safe, boring, lazy," Simon says.

Song: "Any Man of Mine"
My Take: I think that Mandisa has a better voice than Shania Twain. You wouldn't know it tonight. The song is too low for her. More problematic is the fact that the song's surplus of verbiage leaves her breathless. This is the second week in a row that I've felt the limits of her performance style -- she's all about standing in the middle of the stage and projecting. Moving isn't her thing.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy thought the last four bars were good. Even Paula calls him on the inanity of the comment. Then she goes into, "You can sing the phone book, but tonight you decided to sing 'Gravity's Rainbow'" mode. FOX is paying Paula so much she may need to begin torturing prisoners with Jack Bauer to earn her keep. Simon calls the song "horrible."

Song: "If Tomorrow Never Comes"
My Take: Somebody's keeping Elliott up at night. He's got Louis Vuitton bags under his eyes and Visine sparkle in his stare. He's also starting a bit too low. As the song gets higher, he gets better. And as I turn away from my TV, his blinking bothers me much less. As the Fried Chicken King warned, Elliott oversings a bit, but he still sounds really strong to me, particularly compared to the first two.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy is eager to throw out some props. Paula's all "You're a breath of fresh air and tonight I'm huffing pure oxygen." FOX's going to sneak Paula into the "Unan1mous" house and force her to distribute some of her money. Simon thought Elliott was safe and a bit hesitant, but the best so far.

Song: "How Do I Live"
My Take: I like Paris' "chill" hairstyle. Previous weeks have seen her coiffure emulating a strung-out poodle and Alexis Arquette, so this is a better choice. She has no faith in the song and she's trying to bellow every note, bleating, vibratoing and throwing in superfluous runs. She's another singer whose voice doesn't go as low as the song she's supposed to be singing.
Athos, Porthos and Simon Say: Randy can tell it's a tough song for her. Paula's back to her familiar construction with something like, "You have a powerhouse voice, but tonight there was a bit of an outage." Anxious to stay in play at the network, expect Paula to show up on "House" next week experiencing mysterious seizures -- is it lupus, cancer or an obscure parasite from Guam? Only Dr. House and Simon know for sure. Simon disagrees and says Paris was very good and compares her to Dionne Warwick.



Dream Log: 04/04/06

So I had a dream last night (more appropriately, "early this morning") that I was covering the Oscars. That's not unexpected. I did, after all, cover the Oscars last month. What was odder than that? I was nominated for an Oscar. What was odder than that? I was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Now, I knew I wasn't going to win and I knew that it was plenty absurd for me to be nominated. But who won the Oscar I was nominated for? That would be legendary Cowboys receiver and "Best Damn Sports Show Period" contributor Michael Irvin.

There was a period back when I was much much younger that I used to believe (or fear) that my dreams could predict the future.

Strangely, I don't feel that way anymore.

Just thought I'd share.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Moviewatch: "Scary Movie 4" and "Keane"

"Scary Movie 4"
Director: David Zucker
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 37
In a Nutshell: I think my problem here is that I skipped "Scary Movie 3" and thus I was missing important narrative information that would have made "Scary Movie 4" into a much more entertaining production. As has always been the case with this franchise, Anna Faris and Regina Hall are the best things it has going, two sharp comic actresses who could probably stand to get much much better material to spoof. Some of the targets here are just stale ("Fahrenheit 9/11"), some are lame (a "Million Dollar Baby" extended gag isn't worth the effort, despite Mike Tyson in drag) or both stale and lame ("The Village" was awful two years ago and it hasn't suddenly become a trendy fan favorite). It's the "Village" parody arc, a major part of the plot, that got me wondering how an 83 minute movie can seem over-long and draggy. That's not good for this kind of movie. "Scary Movie 4," thanks to a rushed shooting and editing schedule, will become the first movie to do a "Brokeback Mountain" parody. I can't help but feel it won't be the last.


Director: Lodge Kerrigan
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 86
In a Nutshell: I didn't catch this one in theaters because, well, it was barely in theaters. But if you have the chance to see it on DVD, I recommend it highly, if you can stand it. It's the story of a man (Damian Lewis) who's shattered by the abduction of his young daughter. Or something like that. Thanks to Lewis' spectacular performance, it's a bracing study of a man pushed over the edge by grief and loneliness. In 94 minutes, the film is rarely off Lewis' face, but it can't quite get into his mind, which left me nearly breathless in anticipation and, more often, in utter dread. So many movies aspire to tension and suspense and think that the secret is in fast cutting. Those failed filmmakers should check out "Keane." This is a movie that's truly terrifying.