Friday, November 30, 2007

My Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot -- Part 2

The first half of the Hall of Fame ballot had some personal favorites, specifically Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven. But things get really sticky in the second half, where you get folks like Mark McGwire, Jack Morris and the ballot's top new addition, Tim Raines.

Thoughts to follow after the bump... And don't worry, I'm seeing "The Savages" tonight and maybe I'll have things to say on tonight's "Friday Night Lights." So I'll be back on the entertainment tip in no time...

Click through...

Don Mattingly: Between 1984 and 1987, Don Mattingly finished in the Top 7 in the AL MVP race four times, winning in 1985. After 1987, he drove in 100 runs in a season once, never hit more than 23 home runs, never scored 100 runs and couldn't get his slugging percentage above .477, which isn't really acceptable for a 1B, though he did hit over .300 a couple times and he won several additional Gold Gloves. Basically, that's just not a long enough Hall of Fame-type career. Want to know why the New York media is screwy? Mattingly was still getting MVP votes right at the end of his career, in years he was hitting .300-ish with middling power for bad Yankees teams.

Mark McGwire: There was some discussion of this over at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago and since I defended McGwire passionately there, I may just need to cut-and-paste what I wrote there. I said, "I'd vote for McGwire. Without any hesitation. I'd have *qualms*. But no hesitation. Major league baseball made its own bed when it comes to McGwire. The sport turned its back on laws and regulations and the players took advantage. Bad players! But without 100% certainty that some people were using steroids and others weren't, I'm going with the assumption that absolutely everybody was doing something they shouldn't have been doing. And in that context, Mark McGwire was the best power hitter of his era. Period. The damage he did to the game's reputation after the fact doesn't COMPARE to the positives he and Sosa did for the game in 1998 in terms of bringing the game back. Also, McGwire hit 450-foot home runs. Every time. I don't accept that that's the result of steroid use. I would absolutely require that his HoF plaque make *some* semantically ambiguous reference to steroid use, but I'd put him in the Hall."

In a later part of the comment thread, I got a bit more statistical and wrote "The goal in baseball as an offensive player is to create the maximum number of runs per at bat. No player, in the history of the game, had a higher at-bat/home run ratio than Mark McGwire. Not Bonds, not Aaron, not Ruth. And it isn't even closer. McGwire is one home run every 10.6 at bats, Ruth is every 11.8 and Bonds, in third place, is every 12.90. McGwire had 1414 RBIs in only 6187 official at bats. I don't have that stat at my disposal, but I have to assume that's one of the highest percentages of RBI/at-bats of any player in baseball history.

Yes, McGwire has a .263 lifetime batting average and only 1626 hits. That stinks. Not gonna argue. The batting average was lowered by several years he was basically crippled. Granted that that probably pushed him into steroids, but you wanted to take that out of the equation.

Despite the minimal number of hits, McGwire has a career OBP of .394 and a career OPS of .982.

And he was the most feared hitter in baseball for a decade. Utterly dominant when healthy. Changed the way other teams planned their games.

We're talking about a 12-time All-Star and, lest we forget about this because of his later years when he was lumbering, a former Gold Glove winner. For at least six or seven years, he was among the best fielding 1Bs in baseball."

Yeah. That says what I want to say. Add whatever fine print you think appropriate, but put McGwire in the Hall. And put Pete Rose in the Hall. He's not on the ballot, but he belongs.

Jack Morris: That 3.90 ERA isn't very good and the 254 wins are solid, but unremarkable. All you can do is judge a player in the context of the time in which he played and Jack Morris was the greatest pitcher of the 1980s. Sepinwall takes exception to my using a random 10-year designation -- i.e. the '80s -- as a principle marker for Morris' relative greatness and he argued that Morris' best years just happened to coincide with the 10 years of the '80s. And yet for me, Morris' defining moments are actually both outside of the '80s. There's that 10-inning Game 7 complete game shutout in the 1991 World Series and then he was useless for the Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series. Although the second one probably isn't a solid point in his Hall of Fame favor, Morris *did* win 21 games for the Blue Jays that season and pitched 240 innings. Because that's what Morris did. He anchored winning rotations and always gave his team a chance to win. At the point Morris stopped playing, they stopped making pitchers like Jack Morris. There was a lot of talk this postseason about whether Curt Schilling had cemented his Cooperstown credentials with his clutch performances. Sorry, but Schilling can't enter until Morris is already enshrined. That's a "Yes."

Dale Murphy: Like everybody else, we had two Superstations growing up, WGN and TBS. So I had the choice of regularly watching Cubs games or regularly watching Braves games. I took the Cubs, because I HATED Dale Murphy. I'm not sure why. Murphy had a longer run of HoF caliber years than Mattingly did, to be sure. While never as good as Mattingly, between 1980 and 1987, Murphy sure looked like he was going to Cooperstown. But when Murphy fell, he didn't fall light. He fell HARD. After hitting 44 home runs in 1987, that was it. His remaining full-season batting averages were .226, .228, .245 and .252, while his power dwindled, his speed vanished and he basically fell off the map. If he'd had a Kirby Puckett career-ender of some sort in 1988, I bet he makes the Hall despite the lack of accumulated career stats, just cuz he was pretty, Christian and people liked him. Instead, those seven All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves and an impressive Iron Man streak are just hallmarks of a solid career.

Robb Nen: Since he retired, Nen has seen Jose Mesa, Troy Percival, Robert Hernandez and Billy Wagner move ahead of him on the all-time save list. None of those guys (barring a late-career charge from Wagner) are Hall-of-Famers. Neither is Nen, particularly if Goose Gossage and Smith are still on the outside.

Dave Parker: If a combination of injury and drug use hadn't pretty well wrecked Parker's career between 1980 and 1984, he would have been a no-hesitation first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. At 27, he was a two-time batting champ, an MVP, a Gold Glover, an All-Star regular and one of the NL's most feared players. Those years he lost -- due self-inflicted and externally inflicted wounds -- would have been his prime and might just possibly have boosted those 2712 hits, 1493 RBIs and 339 home runs into a statistical realm in which the Pittsburgh cocaine scandal wouldn't have been enough to keep him out of Cooperstown.

Tim Raines: Baseball Reference's list of 10 most comparable batters includes four Hall-of-Famers -- Lou Brock, Fred Clarke, Harry Hooper and Enos "Country" Slaughter. He was a seven-time All-Star, a former batting champ and a four-time stolen base champ (if not for Vince Coleman, he'd have had seven or eight stolen base titles, which might have boosted his credentials). He ranks fifth all-time in steals with 808 and his 2605 career hits and 1571 runs are good enough to be in the discussion as well. He had only 3 Top 10 MVP finishes and his was one of those careers that might have seemed more Hall-worthy had he retired five or six years earlier. He was always in Rickey Henderson's shadow in the '80s, but realistically, he may not have even been on the outskirts of his shadow, since Rickey was probably better in every imaginable facet.

Jim Rice: In a period of 12 years, he was in the Top 5 in the AL MVP voting six times, which gives him a longer period of sustained excellence than folks like Mattingly, Parker and Murphy. I have to go back to my baseball card collection, because Rice's 1978 season always astounded me, with the 46 home runs, 139 RBIs and .600 slugging percentage. These days, that number wouldn't be all that significant, but I looked at the backs of lots and lots of baseball cards when I was little and that .600 slugging percentage stood out. Rice is one of the last offensive forces in baseball whose numbers mean what they mean, whose numbers you don't second guess or question. So if he only had 382 home runs and only 1451 RBIs, that pales in comparison to what today's hitters are doing, but Rice's 382 and 1451 mean exactly what they say. He wasn't able to play til he was 40 to pad out his career stats in the ways that voters seem to love, but he'd get my "Yes" vote.

Jose Rijo: There were moments where Jose Rijo was the best pitcher in all of baseball. They weren't prolonged moment, but they often came at important times, like the 1990 World Series against the A's, when he was the MVP. Because Jose Rijo started his career with the Yankees when he was only 19, he's still only 42. I bet he could still pitch out of the bullpen for the Devil Rays.

Lee Smith: First Hall of Fame voters got lucky that Lee Smith blew away Jim Reardon on the career saves list, because Lee Smith feels a bit more like a Hall-of-Famer than Jim Reardon. Now, though, voters are catching a break with Trevor Hoffman blowing away Lee Smith on the career saves list, because Trevor Hoffman feels a bit more like a Hall-of-Famer than Lee Smith. He wasn't dominant like Bruce Sutter or a multi-inning warrior like Goose Gossage, but neither of those guys had anywhere near Smith's longevity as a top-of-the-line closer. I mean, he lead the NL in saves in 1983 and led the AL in saves in 1994 and that's not the kind of thing that people do in a profession where the best often flame out hard. He got a lot of saves on a lot of bad teams and if he'd retired a couple years earlier, he'd still have held the career saves record but his career ERA would have been under 3 and that's the sort of thing that apparently matters to voters. He had a great glare and *looked* like a closer and the fans of the teams he rooted for had faith in his abilities. He just doesn't feel like a Hall-of-Famer.

Todd Stottlemyre: In the early '90s, before I moved to New England and adopted the Sox, I rode my Canadian passport to rooting for the Blue Jays. Stottlemyre was a contributing part of two World Series-winning Blue Jays teams. Thanks, Todd!

Alan Trammell: Going back to my Blue Jays fandom again. When I was young, it seemed like the AL East always came down to the Tigers and the Blue Jays and for that reason, I hated Alan Trammell with a passion. He always got on base or got big hits or made big defensive plays. In a different era, both Trammell and Lou Whitaker wouldn't have had any trouble shooting into the Hall. He was a regular All Star, frequently received MVP votes, picked up a pile of Gold Gloves and was the MVP of the 1984 World Series. A little power. A little speed. But his Hall candidacy is mostly about intangibles, since he lacked the flash of Ozzie Smith or Cal Ripken's iconic status. It's a "No" vote, but a close one.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

MovieWatch: "Charlie Wilson's War"

"Charlie Wilson's War"
Director: Mike Nichols
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 72
In a Nutshell: It's rare at this point for a studio to screen a movie so far out and not make mention of embargos, but since the trade papers zipped their reviews for "Charlie Wilson's War" up in a hurry, it's obvious that Universal isn't concerned about such things.

That's because the studio knows that in "Charlie Wilson's War," they have a movie with Old Hollywood sparkle. It's got an Oscar-winning director, an Aaron Sorkin-esque script from Aaron Sorkin and star-wattage performances from Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts (and a rock-solid, iron-clad, guaranteed Oscar-nomination-lock of a performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Unlike most of the movies that will premiere in December, "Charlie Wilson's War" has the feel of quality with minimal weight. It doesn't make you feel guilty for having fun, though a choice was obviously made to emphasize entertainment over emotional heft. In the long run, that may effect the film's legacy, but in the short-run, people will enjoy this movie.

Follow through after the bump for the rest of the review.

Click through...

For an hour, "War" moves along with the blithe confidence and dynamic pacing that carried all of the best episodes of "The West Wing." Characters talk so quickly and so cleverly that most viewers won't notice that most of the dialogue is about a 25-year-old political conflict and most of the action revolves around Congressional appropriations.

Nichols is wise not to mimic the visual stylings that Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme pioneered between "Sports Night" and "West Wing," though there are more than a few straight-forward walk-and-talk scenes. He cunningly alternates between the epic and international scale of the Afghan conflict and scenes on Capital Hill that are laid out like a perfectly blocked stage production. The first meeting between Hanks' Charlie Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Gust, as the CIA spook is shuffled in and out of the Congressman's office is a thing of beauty, a textbook example of the deceptive simplicity of comic timing.

The combination of Nichols' direction and Sorkin's script is clearly an actor's dream. Though both of their Texas accents waver, Hanks and Julia Roberts put on a clinic for tart line readings. Both have always been comic actors at heart and Sorkin's script is so clever that neither star appears to break a sweat.

The acting heavy lifting comes from Hoffman, who sports a hairpiece, moustache, delivers every line from deep in his gut and dominates every scene he's in. Factor in an award-worthy performance in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" and strong buzz for "The Savages" (which I'll probably get to this weekend) and Hoffman appears to have made the most of his 2007 credits. This shouldn't be surprising but, um, he's good.

Also good? Amy Adams. She'll get her Golden Globe win (bet the house) and Oscar nomination (bet a couple bucks) for "Enchanted," but her supporting role here is a reminder that she can operate outside of the realm of the wide-eyed naif. Her Bonnie is just Wilson's trusty assistant (and as Sorkin trusty assistants go, she's no Donna Moss), but Nichols senses almost immediately that being able to cut to an Amy Adams reaction shot is an extraordinarily asset.

Additional strong performances come from folks like Om Puri, Ned Beatty and John Slattery, while Emily Blunt and Shiri Appleby find ways to register as more than just eye-candy.

I've buried the "But..." clause a bit, out of respect for how far out the movie's release is, but it isn't a small "But."

But the movie goes soft in its last 35 minutes. I hear there was a 145-page Sorkin script, so the 97 minute running time suggests a lot of cutting. Granted that more movies than not deserve to be 97 minutes, but the last act of "Charlie Wilson's War" feels gutted.

[Spoilers coming, though only if you don't know your history.]

We know the story is about the little-known US Congressman who helped push the CIA covert operation to aid the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviets. Most moderately aware viewers will also know where the story goes from there, insofar as as it's a story with a happy ending that really isn't a happy ending.

If you know about little things like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and 9/11, the movie has an effective zinger of an ending, but Nichols' emphasis is still on the bright and satirical side of the story, rather than the political ramifications of the depicted events. I'm not 100% sure that Nichols needed to spell everything out at the end. Viewers will either be smart enough to get it or else they probably wouldn't appreciate the enforced history lesson anyway. I am, however, 100% sure that the last act of the movie over-relies on newsreel footage and statistics to push the narrative along and that the bookending device is unnecessary, especially since I wanted to interpret it quite differently from what Nichols seems to have intended.

I'm hoping to get my hands on the earlier version of the script soon, but I suspect that Universal (hopefully with Nichols' blessing) encouraged a peppier version of the film after seeing audience reactions to a number of 9/11 and Middle East-themed flicks in recent months. The decision was made to make a movie that wouldn't be partisan (Wilson was a Democrat, which may astound people who see the movie) and that wouldn't waste too much time on actual drama. I don't doubt that it'll pay off. "Charlie Wilson's War," as it now stands, is a comedy and stands a far better chance of both box office and Golden Globe recognition as a result. At this time of year, that's what the game is all about. That version of "Charlie Wilson's War" that might have gone from entertainment to barbed political classic? It'll have to wait.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot -- Part 1

I don't report on baseball, so of course I don't have an actual vote for Baseball's Hall of Fame. That doesn't mean that I don't enjoy kibitzing.

Since the ballot for this year's class was just announced, I thought I'd go player-by-player, following the standard HoF voting rules of only being able to vote for 10 players. I didn't come close.

This is one of those years when no newly eligible player is likely to be elected, unless Todd Stottlemyre shocks the world. The top returning candidate is Goose Gossage, who fell 21 votes short last year, and Jime Rice, 63 votes short. Voters usually feel bad about not electing anybody, so expect Goose to slip in, along with possibly Rice.

Using only my memories and the basis statistics I understand, I went through the ballot. Since obviously this post will have nothing to do with TV or movies, those who avoid my occasional digressions into baseball can feel free to wait for my next post.

Follow through after the bump for candidates A (for "Anderson") through K (for "Knoblauch"). I'll post candidates M (for "Mattingly") through T (for "Trammell") either tomorrow or the next day....

Click through...

Brady Anderson: Oooh, do we get to put Brady Anderson in the Hall for having the most suspect season in baseball history? That's 16 home runs in 1996 and 18 home runs in 1997 and then 50 in 1996? Nice. That's a .637 slugging percentage in 1996 and no other single season above .477? Nice. It's not like Anderson was a bad player in his other years. He was a good speed guy with a tiny bit of pop for the rest of his career -- a couple 20-20 seasons, a couple years with 10 triples, three additional seasons with 100 runs. He did, however, have killer sideburns just as "Beverly Hills, 90210" was at its most popular.

Harold Baines: Harold Baines became a full-time DH around 1987 and then went on to play until 2001, almost never stepping onto the field for defensive purposes. As a result, stats like his 2866 hits, 1628 RBIs, seven All-Star selections cease to have as much meaning. You know how many players in the history of the game have more RBIs than Baines and aren't in the Hall? Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa. EVER. If not for steroids, those guys would all be in the Hall eventually. You know how many players in the history of the game have more hits than Baines and aren't in the Hall? Pete Rose, Craig Biggio, Rickey Henderson, Bonds. And yet, beyond leading the league in slugging in 1984 (back when .541 would lead the league), he pretty much never led the league in anything. This isn't a hard "No" vote, but Baines going to set a few statistical thresholds for non-induction.

Rod Beck: Died prematurely earlier this year. A fan favorite. A three-time All-Star. Saved 51 games in 1998 for the Cubs. Still not a Hall-of-Famer.

Bert Blyleven: Gets penalized for not having been dominant. I'll let the Sabermetrics go into things like his ERA relative to the league and other stuff like that. You know what I know? If you're a baseball fan, you'll watch the game for the rest of your life -- even if you live another 50 years -- and you'll never see another pitcher retire with 242 complete games or 60 shutouts. Roger Clemens is at 118 and 46. Greg Maddux at 109 and 35. You can penalize Blyleven for his lack of Cy Young votes (three times in the Top 10) his low number of All-Star appearances (two), but he was in the Top 10 in his league in ERA 10 times and in the Top 10 in strikeouts 15 times. So he must have been doing something well relative to his peers. Plus, while his teams usually stunk, he did play on two World Series winners and got wins in both of those World Series. Oh yeah and he had 287 wins and 3701 strike-outs. It's ridiculous he isn't in the Hall already. Look at the mid-level pitchers with half his stats who aren't there. Jeez. YES on Blyleven!

Andre Dawson: Fine, take away his contentious 1987 NL MVP, where he won despite playing for a last place team. I look at Dawson's numbers, and I've got an 8-time All-Star, an 8-time Gold Glove winner, a guy who at various times hit 49 home runs and also stole 39 bases (438 and 314 for his career). Throw in 1591 RBIs and 2774 hits... Really, this shouldn't be hard. Imagine how great Dawson could have been if he'd taken advantage of the magical healing powers of steroids and HGH. He didn't. He was a cripple for the last 10 years of his career. From what I can tell, he's being kept out of the Hall because he had a .323 career OBP, which is, indeed, horribly low. But I didn't used to mimic The Hawk's unique batting stance in the mirror because of how well he took walks.

Shawon Dunston: I started becoming a baseball fan right around the time Dunston broke into the majors and since WGN was national, he and Ryno and Jody Davis were among my early favorite players. However, having one of the greatest arms of any shortstop of my lifetime (and perhaps, therefore, ever) doesn't put you in the Hall of Fame, does it? But two All-Star games? Good for him.

Chuck Finley: Despite 200 career wins, five All-Star selections, 2610 Ks and at least a decade where he was probably among the 15 top pitchers in the American League, he's best known for having been beaten up by Tawny Kitaen with a stiletto heal. Unless that goes on his Hall of Fame plaque, he doesn't get my vote. He was still a really good, probably underrated pitcher.

Travis Fryman: Travis Fryman started young and he reliably produced a lot of hits, scored a lot of runs and delivered a fair amount of power (223 homers and 1022 RBIs), so I'd set aside his baseball cards just in case he turned out to be a compiler and made it to 3,000 hits and stuff. Instead, despite five All Star appearances and a perfectly decent career, he broke down toward the end. Decent player, but not even close to a Hall-of-Famer.

Rich "Goose" Gossage: With Goose, I have to take a lot on faith. I hear tell of his dominance in the '70s and early '80s, a time I either wasn't born or didn't really watch baseball. The guy I remember stuck around past his prime and was just a middling middle reliever by the end. That being said, I'm capable of looking at stats and seeing that a reliever with 9 All-Star selections must have been doing something right and that those five appearances in the Cy Young Top 6 and five times receiving MVP votes were probably meaningful as well. With Gossage, you run into a problem regarding future closers, because the stats look weird. Yes, he was earning multi-inning saves and they were longer, tougher saves, or so the ol' timers say, but he never had more than 33 in a single season. Anyway, he gets a "Yes" vote from me, but not an inspired one.

Tommy John: The first complete baseball card set I got was 1986 Topps and Tommy John's card amazed me because of how long he'd been playing and therefore how small and hard to read his statistics were. Claudell Washington amazed me for similar reasons (he was traded a lot, which shrunk his stats). The reason why the Tommy John Surgery is famously named after Tommy John isn't just that he was the first one to have it. No. John won 20 games thrice after having the surgery and was, in general, a very good pitcher -- four All-Star selections -- through the '80s. What separates him, I guess, from the Suttons, Niekros and Blylevens, I guess, was that he wasn't a dominating strikeout-type pitcher, so his numbers aren't as flashy overall. Going back to Blyleven's CG/SHO stats, I've gotta add that John's 162 and 46 are mighty impressive. But I put Blyleven in a slightly higher category, leaving John in another field with folks like Jim "Kitty" Kaat, who's finally off the Hall ballot now.

David Justice: If Chuck Finley's Hall plaque would have to say something about Tawny Kitaen, David Justice's would have to mention Halle Berry. Justice looked like a future inductee when he his 28 home runs in only 127 games and won the Rookie of the Year at the age of 24. He played on an unholy number of really good teams (the guy was always in the post-season, though he was a .224 hitter there) and when he stayed healthy, he usually produced. He got on base a lot (.378 OBP), hit for power (.500 slugging), but just didn't last long enough -- 305 home runs, 1017 RBIs and only 1571 hits -- to be in the discussion.

Chuck Knoblauch: Through the age of 30, Knoblauch was on his way to the Hall. He had a Rookie of the Year, five All-Star appearances, oodles of steals, six seasons of 100-plus runs. Heck, the guy won a Gold Glove at second. Of course, as you may have heard, he got the Yips. Stopped being able to throw. The throwing fed into the hitting and that started to go. He was done by the time he was 33. Not a tragedy, but just a little sad. Still a "No" vote.

[So that's "Yes" on Blyleven, Dawson and Gossage. Stay tuned for the rest of my ballot. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Friday. Who knows?]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday 11/26 TV Roundup: NBC Versus the Apple Promos

Several weeks ago, NBC subjected viewers to Green Week, but was Monday (Nov. 26) night the start of Apple Week on NBC?

Though the network has been feuding with Apple's iTunes service, NBC has been more than happy to suckle from Apple's corporate teat.

Of course, everybody on "Bionic Woman" has been using iPhones all season (albeit occasionally incorrectly), but Monday night's onslaught was especially impressive.

First, on "Chuck," we left Sarah choosing between the eponymous hero buzzing her iPhone and Matthew Bomer's not-so-dead Bryce calling on her landline. How could you *not* choose the guy calling on the flashier piece of technology?

Then on "Heroes," Monica's fully loaded iPod made a second appearance, this time teaching her how to break and enter. Yes, if you're an autodidact it's really useful to have that sortta thing at your fingertips. But if it's me and I'm gonna be breaking into a house occasionally populated by armed thugs, I'm gonna wanna watch the video featuring basic hand-to-hand combat first.

Finally, on "Journeyman," Dan found himself in a 1981 hospital emergency room where the doctors were particularly interested in his iPhone.

Anyway, follow through after the bump for my thoughts on last night's dreadful "How I Met Your Mother," plus the actual quality of last night's Apple-sponsored NBC dramas (thumbs up all around) and maybe even a bit on Sunday's rather awesome "Dexter" (but no guarantees)...

Click through...

[I will, of course, be including spoilers here. So be wary, if you care-y.]

"How I Met Your Mother" -- I can tolerate that "HIMYM" whipped out a "Let's join a gym!" plot that felt like leftover "Friends" and that segued horribly into the episode's subplots. I mean really, Josh Radnor's in good shape, Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders are tiny and Jason Segel has lost a lot of weight since last season and looks mighty fit. I can tolerate that the return of Wayne Brady as Barney's gay brother only produced punchlines around the meta-irony that Wayne Brady's character is gay, Neil Patrick Harris' character is straight and in real life those roles are in reverse. I can tolerate that the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show after-party looked like the lamest, brightest, worst designed gala in the history of the world (mostly cuz I have a massive crush on Miranda Kerr). You know what I can't tolerate? That the Barney-rebangs-his-First subplot was recycled 100% from last season's "Rules of Engagement," where David Spade's character got,um, intimate with Julie Walters to try reproving his mojo. I don't care if the plotlines were conceived 100% independently of each other and I don't care if the "HIMYM" execution was a smidge funnier than what happened on "Rules." If you're getting sloppy seconds from "Rules of Engagement," something is very, very, very, very, very wrong.

"Chuck" -- Josh Schwartz loves his holiday-themed episodes and it isn't surprising that the best post-pilot episodes of "Chuck" have been the Halloween-y "Chuck Versus the Sandworm" and Monday's "Chuck Versus the Nemesis." The episode's main business -- Bryce Larkin's returned from the dead and Chuck has to deal with his residual anger and decide if he can trust and protect his former friend -- was well-handled, probably a notch above some of the show's spy-of-the-week hijinx. What worked better, though, were the supporting plots -- Ellie Bartowski's family Thanksgiving dinner and Buy More's Black Friday sale. The dinner continued Julia Ling's transition from the show's secret weapon to a not-so-secret resource as her Anna got to showcase some wonderfully timed jealousy about Morgan's lust for Ellie's side dishes. [If you know what I mean.] The ep's two best lines came at dinner with Chuck's reaction to seeing Sarah and Bryce all a-smooch ("I'm thankful that Bryce Larkin is dead and is not currently in my bedroom making out with my new girlfriend.") and Ellie and Awesome's reaction to the disintegration of the festivities ("Honey, no more family dinners, OK?" "What do you think about a destination Christmas?"). Black Friday at the Buy More gave us the episode's best visual gag -- Big Mike's slo-mo counter vault -- plus several priceless moments of cowering from Lester and Jeff.

What else did I like? I liked that Bryce and Chuck's fluency in Klingon had both a set-up and a payoff. I liked the arsenal that Casey has set up in the Home Theater room at the Buy More. I liked that Bryce pretended he went to Penn. Oh and I like that NBC has picked up "Chuck" and "Life" for full seasons, assuming that anybody's ever allowed to write again.

"Heroes" -- Here's the thing: If you waste five or six episodes at the beginning of the season and then suddenly start a countdown to a payoff, it's hard to make me feel like I'm ready for everything to tie up. "Heroes" tells me that next week will be the moment I've been waiting for, the climax to all of this season's excitement, but I've only been enjoying this season's plot for the past two or three weeks. Nothing they do next week is going to pay off wasting six weeks on Hiro in Feudal Japan. Nothing is going to pay off wasting six weeks on Peter forgetting his memory and hanging out on a bar set masquerading as Ireland. Nothing is going to pay off the slow journey of the Ying-Yang Twins across Mexico or the slow flirtation of Claire with Annoying Flying West. All of those things could have been covered in the season premiere and then we'd have gotten four or five more episodes to unfold the action. Grumble.

My favorite line of the episode was Peter's "The last time I saw my mother was a year from now," which reminded me of the time-twisting "Primer" bon mot, "You got anything to eat? I haven't eaten anything since later this afternoon."

But what I really want at this point is for "Heroes" to become two spin-offs: In one, Kristen Bell and Hayden Panettiere roam the country being short, blonde, perky and superpowered and everybody keeps thinking they're sisters. It'd be like a spunky distaff "Supernatural." In the other, Mohinder, Parkman and Sylar try their hardest to raise Molly while trying to avoid killing each other. It's be like "Three Men and a Little Lady" if Steve Guttenberg were a superpowered sociopath.

"Journeyman" -- With Miami and Pittsburgh playing the ugliest Monday Night Football game ever, all of NBC's Monday shows got a ratings boost. Except for "Journeyman." That there's the kiss of death. Too bad. It was another fine episode, though the amateur shrink psychoanalyzing of attempted killer/misunderstood child Aeden Bennett was a bit second rate. The big reveal of Dan's gift/curse to Jack was done so well that I liked Reed Diamond for the first time this season and I got exactly the desired shiver of recognition when it became clear that Paul Schulze's FBI Agent had been investigating time hoppers for a while. That character's fate was left up in the air at the end of the episode, though it's unlikely to matter.

"Dexter" -- At this moment, "Dexter" is the best show on TV. Even if we were subjected, on Sunday, to Keith Carradine's ass.

Monday, November 26, 2007

NetflixWatch: "No End in Sight," "Red Dawn" and "Broken English"

I had a slow blogging period last week. I'm not sure whether to blame Thanksgiving, an uninspiring assortment of TV or my unfortunate introduction to Facebook. As a result, I'm plugging along trying to get out posts three days in a row. I'm dedicated like that.

And speaking of three days in a row, or at least things that come in threes, this was the third straight week I was able to plow through all three of my Netflix DVDs. It turns out that it's easier to inspire myself to watch when I have a pile of relatively new releases than when I have a 3-hour French movie that I should have seen in film school. In case anybody's curious, I've readjusted my queue to frontload 2007 releases to better justify inevitable end-of-the-year listings. I'm conscientious like that.

Of course, sometimes I get weird bees in my bonnet. This week's bee was "Red Dawn," which I had vivid memories of having seen in childhood and then I missed several "Red Dawn" references in comments on a Zap2it blog post. Ready to accept that I'd really only seen promos for "Red Dawn" on HBO as a kid, I moved it up my queue and managed to get the absolutely splendid pairing of Charles Ferguson's "No End In Sight" and John Milius' "Red Dawn." One's a left-skewing documentary about how the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq created an evil and dangerous insurgency and an unwinnable war. The other's a Right Wing screed about a group of plucky insurgents who take down an occupying military force gifted with a better artillery, but cursed by a cocky lack of respect and understanding of the opposition.

Yes, I know. That's the kind of juxtaposition that mostly only amuses me.

Follow through after the bump for capsule-type reviews of those two movies, plus Zoe R. Cassavetes's "Broken English."

Click through...

"No End In Sight"
Director: Charles Ferguson
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 71
In a Nutshell: I hold documentaries of this type to the standard of Errol Morris' "Fog of War," which proves an impossibly high standard. What Ferguson lacks in craft, though, he makes up in cold and simple persuasiveness. While one or two of the talking heads deconstructing the failures of the Iraq War II are mighty passionate (Paul Hughes looks like he wants to cry a few times), the documentary rarely raises its cinematic voice. Evidence is laid out simply and chronologically with easy to digest chapter headings. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are presented as the villains, but not for partisan reasons. Similarly, George Bush Jr. is made to look like an out-of-the-loop buffoon, but not for partisan reasons. Sure, liberals will feel vindicated by the movie, but if anything Ferguson's argument is that if we had to go to war at all, the major failing was a lack of conviction and a lack of assertiveness. Many of the talking heads who are most critical would almost certainly be regular Republican voters. Simply put, Ferguson says that the war and particularly the post-war reconstruction were blundered at the top and, as a result, he's immune to any of the usual Right Wing rants about undermining our troops. No, the troops are -- appropriately -- represented as largely heroic, largely selfless and largely betrayed by their leadership. If anything, the documentary is too safe and obvious in its analysis. The vast majority of viewers at this point will be people who already agree with it, though its analytical trappings will protect it from the sort of hatred that Michael Moore docs generate.

"Red Dawn"
Director: John Milius
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 60
In a Nutshell: That rating is 100% predicated on the idea that "Red Dawn" was conceived of and executed as a comedy and that everybody involved went into the project with the same sense of giddy incredulity. If you try telling me that Milius took anything he was doing in this movie seriously, I may need to lower my rating something closer to a 10, because if it's a drama, "Red Dawn" may be one of the worst, most dated movies ever. And I say that as a fan of "Taps" and "Toy Soldiers." Heck, I even prefer "Masterminds" and that was directed by the guy who did "Battlefield Earth." But if you're drunk and with friends -- or even alone and gifted with a healthy sense of irony -- "Red Dawn" is wicked funny. Given that the performances are uniformly awful, there's some enjoyment in trying to guess how Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and somewhat C. Thomas Howell became stars And Darren Dalton, Brad Savage and Doug Toby haven't been heard from again. Bigger laugh? Superfly Ron O'Neal as a sensitive baddie who only speaks like he just stepped out of a high school Spanish class or Harry Dean Stanton standing at a chainlink fence bellowing "Avenge me! AVENGE me!" It's interesting that "Red Dawn" was a big hit and yet still managed to kill (stall? stagnate?) Milius' career. This is a movie that really needs a straight-forward, post-9/11 remake, perhaps transferring the action to an urban environment beset upon by terrorists? Like "The Siege" only with kids running around yelling "Wolverines!" at random intervals. Even in my remake, I'd still find a way to work in a scene where Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen kill a deer and force C. Thomas Howell to drink its blood. That would go over huge with the kids today.

"Broken English"
Director: Zoe R. Cassavetes
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 48
In a Nutshell: Oh look. It's that low-budget Sundance movie where Parker Posey drinks a lot, smokes a lot and mopes around complaining about how hard it is for her to find a man and then finds love... where she least expects it! Back in the mid-90s, this was a whole genre, being pumped out by Chinese sweatshops at a rate of three or four per year. To Posey's credit, she took several years away from the genre, which might explain why "Broken English" was greeted with anything other than eye-rolling irritation at Sundance this past year (respect for Cassavetes' filmmaking roots probably helped). It's so contrived and awkward and visually and structurally bland that Posey's performance -- she's as good here as she's ever been -- gets lost. I'm also confused by the ending. Was it meant as an magic-free homage to "Before Sunset," or did Cassavetes honestly believe she could rip off one of the best indie romances ever made and nobody would notice? I have to assume the former, but still...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

MovieWatch: "Enchanted"

Director: Kevin Lima
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 58
In a Nutshell: [Favorite Overheard Conversation while sitting in the theater waiting for "Enchanted" to begin: Two college-aged girls sitting behind me lamenting the absence of good romantic comedies. One, obviously the more intelligent, said that the best she'd seen this year was "Once" (I won't get into whether or not that was a comedy). The friend hadn't heard of "Once," but without skipping a beat she declared, "I wanted to see 'Love in the Time of Cholera,' but I really wish they'd given it a different name. It sounds so depressing!" I don't wanna make it sound like I'm mocking that bubble-headed girl. To date, "Love in the Time of Cholera" has made less than $3.5 million domestically and could not possibly have done any worse if it had been retitled "Love in the Time of Cotton Candy and Carnations."]

Anywho... "Enchanted."

I haven't even started my review and I've already knocked points off my overall rating three times.

The message is simple: If "I'm Not There" is a movie that invites you to think about it and mull its thematic and stylistic choices (not necessarily to its advantage), "Enchanted" is a movie where you should bop yourself over the head with a frying pan three times after seeing it. That way you can remember the mush-headed love story and hopefully Amy Adams' performance and avoid anything else. I'm not being completely fair. "Enchanted" is a movie that was made for children and my only quibble is with one or two reviewers causing me to believe it might be fun for all ages.

I understand that my problem here is my lack of whimsy, though I defy anybody who's watched me get misty-eyed watching "Babe" to make such a claim.

Additional grumpy thoughts after the bump.

Click through...

[You're gonna get spoilers here. They're intuitive spoilers -- I mean, Amy Adams' possible love interests are played by James Marsden and McDreamy -- but spoilers none-the-less.]

Anybody wanna feel old? "Pretty Woman" came out more than 17 years ago.

That movie is, of course, about a young woman who begins in the real world -- or as real as any world in which hookers look like Julia Roberts -- and is thrust into a magical world, in which everything she sees fills her with the exact same wide-eyed amazement. In the end, she says "I want the fairy tale!" and that's exactly what she gets.

Since that time, there have been three or four major pop culture references -- most prominently in "She's All That" to to romances as swoony as "Pretty Woman" except for that hooking thing.

I'm not sure if I've seen any critics talking about how "Enchanted" is a reversal of "Pretty Woman," with both working on a similar "Cinderella" structure.

"Enchanted" is about a young woman who begins in a fairly tale world -- or at least some absurd world in which Disney can still make money off of traditional animation -- and is thrust into the gritty real world (or actual Manhattan looking so sterilized that it might as well have been a studio set), in which everything she sees fills her with the exact same wide-eyed amazement.

It's no surprise that if whoredom was something every young girl should be rescued from in "Pretty Woman," imagination, idealism and magic are the things every young girl should be rescued from in "Enchanted." Yes, it's good to maintain a certain amount of romanticism, but not at the expense of the hard and cold facts of life.

In that respect, I'm not sure if "Enchanted" is more of a chick flick aimed at 11-year-old girls, or a cautionary tale aimed at 30-year-old women. Given the nefarious way that Disney flicks so often work, it could be both. Embrace the fairy tale! Give up the fairy tale! Your prince is out there! Sometimes your prince might be a bitter lawyer with a kid! Mixed messages, baby.

If Bill Kelly's gentle, inoffensive script is all over the place thematically, Kevin Lima's direction keeps the movie grounded in all the wrong ways. It's one thing to attempt to draw a contrast between the pastel-y land of Andalasia and the realities of post- Giuliani New York (scary, but in a commercially viable sort of way, rather than the way it used to be), but Disney is too invested in New York City for it to be depicted as truly threatening. So it's neither magical nor ultra-real. It's just flat. Lima directed the underrated animated "Tarzan" and came out of animation, but nothing on his live action resume -- including "102 Dalmatians" and two "Eloise" telefilms -- suggests he understands the pacing or composition of reality, much less bring an animated sensibility to the table.

In the real world, "Enchanted" too often strolls along, like it's in a tight corset, or an unwieldy hoop skirt. The pacing perks up only in several musical numbers, a very funny cleaning song with roaches and rats and a somewhat less entertaining romantic ballad in Central Park.

Amy Adams is remarkable, but it isn't at all difficult to think of performances that are similar. Beyond Roberts in "Pretty Woman," you could look to Tom Hanks in "Big" or Daryl Hannah in "Splash" or even Jennifer Garner in "13 Going on 30." "Enchanted" is a better movie than "13 Going on 30," but it's worse than "Big" or "Splash."

Actually, let's give her even more credit. "Enchanted" is her movie completely. She sings (perfectly), dances (convincingly) and she cooks and cleans. Playing everything at a heightened level, she conveys both broad comedy and true sadness. Some people will know that this is just an extension of her Oscar nominated "Junebug" performance, but not many.

Of course, "Enchanted" was a script that couldn't have been made without Adams and part of the reason for that is that certainly no A-list male star would take on either of the two main characters. As Prince Charming, James Marsden gets to have fun, at least. His character is the same as Adams' in the beginning, only he doesn't get to go through any transformation. Patrick Dempsey's character, though, is just a miserable pill and nothing in either the writing or Dempsey's interpretation gives any justification for why it might be a good thing to make this man happy.

I dislike any romantic comedy which forces me to root for the leading lady to ditch both of her hunky options and run off with a chipmunk.

That feels like a good place to stop, especially since I have to recap "The Amazing Race" for Zap2it, plus watch the latest Patriots demolition. However, I have one last question, but it's a little more spoilery, so don't bother reading if you haven't seen the movie.

[You've been warned... One thing that annoyed me more than anything about the film's mixed message was the near-climactic shopping spree/montage. Adams' Giselle has established herself as a woman table of turning any available fabric into a gown that, as the very end of the movie tells us, puts most designers to shame. Why, then, in order to become a REAL WORLD princess, must she pile up thousands in credit card debt for a makeover that turned her into a lovely, but much less unique, beauty? I understand that in "Pretty Woman," Julia Roberts had to go out shopping on Richard Gere's dime to replace her whore clothes, but that was because she couldn't sew or talk to vermin.]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

MovieWatch: "I'm Not There"

"I'm Not There"
Director: Todd Haynes
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 58
In a Nutshell: Requisite background: Unlike "Control," which I went into knowing scarcely anything about Joy Division or the necessary musical background, I went into "I'm Not There" as a Bob Dylan fan.

Of course, there are Bob Dylan fans and there are Dylan-ologists and I'm in that latter group. Between tapes, CDs and my iPod, I have at least 15 Dylan albums. I've seen him in concert (but only once) and when we had to do an AP English essay on the poet of our choosing, I picked Dylan, because I was that kind of obnoxious kid.

"I'm Not There," isn't a film for Dylan fans. It's a film for Dylan-ologists and this Dylan fan left the theater after this one unmoved.

For more, follow through after the bump.

Click through...

The line between Dylan fandom and Dylan obsession is like the difference between fans of "Lost" and obsessives. The fan of "Lost" watches every new episode and chats about the show with friends. He or she may own the seasons on DVD and may even occasionally read a recap or message board on a site like TV Without Pity or Zap2it. The obsessive fan watches every episode two or three times, reads every available message board or blog, particularly the ones with screenshots. The obsessive fan has tallied up every clue and they think they have a hunch about each and every mystery of The Island, even if smart money suggests that none of the people directly involved with the show have any idea about all of the mysteries. The obsessive fan believes that Damon Lindelof and Charlton Cuse deliver every interview in complicated acrostics and numerological patters and that even the interviews that appear to say nothing, actually say EVERYTHING, if you just run them through Babelfish into Greek and then take the first letter of every word.

The obsessive Dylan was was like the obsessive "Lost" fan only 40 years earlier. They know every bootleg, every still photograph and they certainly know that no matter how cryptic Dylan has always been in interviews, his words are revelatory if you know how to read they. They know what each song *literally* refers to and then they know a half dozen potential metaphorical meanings proving that Dylan was like Nostradamus with a harmonica. Just as "Lost" obsessives find endless merit even in the sluggish second season, Dylan obsessives find deep meaning in his Christian period, even when he was just singing about how God gave names to all the animals, in the beginning.

"I'm Not There" is Todd Haynes' second straight movie that seems designed for an elaborate DVD that includes an annotated bibliography and perhaps even a "Pop Up Fact" commentary. It's less a movie than an accumulation of information delivered with intellectual rigor and cinematic precision. As I watched, I was never engaged with the movie, because all I could do was keep thinking... "Oooh, that frame looks like the cover of that album." "Oooh, that was a quote Dylan told Rolling Stone." "Oooh, that composite character is obviously based on that person." "Oooh, that image is supposed to remind me of the lyric from that song." "Oooh, that character became that person from that song." Haynes delivers an entire movie that's like a tongue-in-cheek code. Every shot and every line screams, "If you get the reference, you'll think this is brilliant and if you don't, you probably shouldn't be watching the movie anyway."

My problem with "Control," as readers will remember, was that it was too traditional a biopic, that it went through the same rise and fall narrative tropes as an ever proliferating number of musical movies. Dylan's first 15 years in the public eye have the drug use, infidelity and action too, so I guess I should salute Haynes for not kowtowing to the overall cinematic trend.

"I'm Not There" is a thesis statement from Haynes. Bob Dylan was an enigma, such an unknowable man and multi-faceted man that he can't be played by just one actor. So the thesis statement says that the only way to capture the man is to have him played by Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett and Marcus Carl Franklin. The movie, though, just lets the thesis statement stand in for actual insight. Seeing the movie does nothing more than being told the premise and casting for the movie.

The first three actors listed above undermine Haynes whole thesis, because they don't accentuate different sides of Dylan so much as they're vaguely similar actors playing characters based on different periods of Dylan's life. The characters aren't interchangeable, but the actors playing them really could be. Does anybody honestly believe that Whishaw, Ledger and Bale couldn't have just played each other's parts? They variably affect similar aspects of Dylan's mannerisms and his speech patterns and if Bale's version is more mumbly and Ledger's version is more obnoxious and ego-driven, that's just because of the writing. In a normal biopic, the same actor would have played both sides of the character as his life progressed and it wouldn't have been any more or less illuminating.

Because Blanchett, Franklin and Gere aren't lanky, young, angular white men with poorly covered accents, they at least provide the jarring contrast that Haynes hopes for. Franklin's plucky liar and appropriator, Blanchett's self-destructive prankster and Gere's prematurely abdicated prophet stand out because they aren't just more of the same. Having Blanchett playing the Dylan from D.A. Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back" causes a different assessment of the man himself. Having Dylan suddenly become a woman, suddenly become a figure with comedic potential, suddenly have a new frailty and body language is instructive in a way that going from Bale to Ledger just can't be. Franklin deserves more credit for being the only one of the Dylan proxies to actually sing on the soundtrack. Gere's segment, an even more post-modern take that requires knowledge not only of Dylan, but of Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid," is the least fully realized part of the movie and the part most likely to flummox the semi-enlightened.

The movie is so full of intellectual pretensions that I could almost talk endlessly about it without talking about its cinematic merits like Ed Lachman's beautifully varied cinematography and a soundtrack that delivers a phenomenal sampling of Dylan classics. Just because the storytelling often failed to involve me doesn't mean I wasn't enjoying just sitting there and humming along.

But if you reduce Bob Dylan to some unknowable puzzle whose mystery began in 1959 and ended in 1973 (or 1978 or whatever), you're ignoring something about Bob Dylan. You're reducing his musical genius to a serious of period footnotes, footnotes that have nothing to do with the fact that Dylan's last three albums have been among the best of his career. The reasons I love Dylan have nothing to do with the semiotic conundrum Haynes poses -- and the myriad recognizable actors donning funny beards and wild hair to play him -- and everything to do with "Time Out of Mind" and "Love and Theft" being every bit as beautifully written (and far more musically complex) as anything he wrote before he "plugged in." I don't feel the desire to crack the riddle of Bob Dylan and since Haynes film comes to the eventual conclusion that even after 135 minutes, Bob Dylan isn't really understandable at all, I wasn't sure the game was worth the candle.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NetflixWatch: "Civic Duty," "Severance" "1408"

Whenever I used to play Tecmo Super Bowl, I'd always play the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, Bo Jackson or Lawrence Taylor or Christian Okoye used to be better individual players, but there was an incredible simplicity to dropping back with Joe Montana and going to Jerry Rice and John Taylor. They were always open and you could score every single time down the field. I never figured out how to play defense, because it was never necessary.

It's here that I share this YouTube clip of Okoye, just for fun:

I bring that up because I'm watching the Patriots and the Bills and I have to believe that being their offensive coordinator at this point is like playing Tecmo with the 1990 San Francisco 49ers.

Random digression aside, I didn't make it out to the movies this weekend. Karma conspired to keep me away from both "Beowulf" and "Southland Tales," my two cinematic targets of choice. Either film probably would have given me a headache anyway.

For the second consecutive week, though, I managed to plow through a trio of Netflix movies. Huzzah.

Following the format I set last week, follow through after the bump for truncated capsule reviews of "Civil Duty," "Severance" and "1408."

Click through...

"Civic Duty"
Director: Jeff Renfroe
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 49
In a Nutshell: If "Civic Duty" had been made in 2002, it still would have felt like a less slick (and also less compelling) knock-off of "Arlington Road," but at least its "Racial profiling is dumb" message would have been a bit edgier. As it is, director Jeff Renfroe and writer Andrew Joiner aren't going out on any limbs, though they get good performances from a cast seemingly culled from Aaron Sorkin's Traveling Players (Peter Krause, Richard Schiff and Peter Krause). As a naturally and instinctively idle person, I can't understand the new cinematic phenomenon of the shut-in who goes crazy after a day or two of minor confinement and instantly begins suspecting his neighbors of being killers, terrorists or porn stars. With "Disturbia," at least it was intended as a kiddie version of "Rear Window," not necessarily filled with humor, but something short of self-serious. "Civic Duty" is well crafted, but takes itself so obnoxiously seriously that it becomes unwatchable relatively early on. I kept waiting for one last twist where the filmmakers would remember that they were making a thriller, not an Important Social Drama, but no dice. I've written three different twist endings that would make the movie much more engaging and I'll share them after the writers strike is over. I'm not a scab.

Director: Christopher Smith
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 61
In a Nutshell: This one never really got released in the States, but I saw a trailer and was intrigued by the premise -- "The Office" [the British version] means "The Hills Have Eyes" -- and by a cast that features Laura Harris in the lead. Fluidly combining awkward British humor with the trappings of gory torture porn, "Severance" is an absolute hoot for nearly an hour before it just becomes a cut-rate version of "Hostel" complete with an anti-military/industrial complex message that it intellectually can't support. Harris, whose comic gifts are mostly going untapped on "Women's Murder Club," is fetching and capable of being both humorous and a fine scream queen. Also strong are familiar British faces including Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Tim McInnerny, Andy Nyman and Danny Dyer. Director Christopher Smith comes close to getting the sort of parody/emulation thing that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg achieved on "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" and I'll be interested to see what he does next. Doesn't quite live up to the premise, but there's fun to be had.

"1408" (the "Director's Cut," if anybody cares)
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 38
In a Nutshell: Like "Severance," "1408" does its set-up better than the follow-through. For 25 minutes, director Mikael Hafstrom (far better here than with "Derailed," his English language debut) establishes his main character (John Cusask, giving the film far more than it deserves) and the main premise (Don't Go Into Room 1408!!!). Then the main character goes into Room 1408. Once in the room, Cusack's character makes a comment about the banality of evil, a truism that Hafstrom instantly forgets. When Room 1408 is scary because of the sound effects, camera angles and a ghostly turn-down service, the movie shows potential. Then everything goes haywire. It snows! There's a flood! There are flickering ghosts! And the more Hafstrom shows, the less scary the movie is and the less ambiguity Cusack's performance has to convey. I wonder if there wasn't some way for the production to make better use of Samuel L. Jackson (and for the marketing department to resist putting SamJack's face on the poster for what's really a cameo). I understand that the theatrical cut has what appears to be a happier ending. From what I can tell, it sounds like *both* endings stink.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stripping players, but no football on 'Friday Night Lights'

Oh us pesky critics and our "Friday Night Lights" nit-picking! We get all frustrating and up-in-arms about Landry killing an unarmed man, dumping the body and then incinerating evidence with his police officer father. And then we get an episode without any meaningful time wasted on Killer Landry and his Unfortunate Killing Ways and we're about to complain about that, too! Those poor "Friday Night Lights" producers! How are they supposed to deal with the mixed signals?


What I do know is that stumbling through six episodes of Killer Landry drama was a problem, but spending an episode trying to ignore Killer Landry entirely and concentrating on poorly unified other things just felt like an example of ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room.

Last season, when "FNL" was perhaps the finest show on network TV, the producers told anybody who would listen that the show wasn't about football. That was a lie, because the ebb and flow of the football season was tied directly to the emotional journey that all of the characters were going through. What happened on the football field drove what happened in their lives and what happened in their lives drove what happened on the football field. Even in the episodes that didn't feature a second of game action, the dramatic tension came from the community and its expectations for the Dillon Panthers. It was unifying and the football made the non-football stuff better and vice versa.

This season, indeed, "Friday Night Lights" really isn't about football, but watching on Friday (Nov. 16), I'm not quite sure what it is about.

More discussion, with spoilers, after the bump. It's just the usual ranting and raving, albeit episode-specific.

Click through...

This week's episode didn't leave me cringing in the way that "Bad Ideas" and "Are You Ready for Friday Night" did. But it also didn't leave me with the sense of optimism I got from "Let's Get It On" and parts of "How Did I Get Here." I just felt like a lot of balls were thrown in the air and I don't know which I care about. One thing I do know: None of them have anything to do with how the Dillon Panthers football season is progressing.


  • I get it. The Smash has to look out for Smash. How many times, though, did he need to say the exact same thing in this episode? This was an example of the writers throwing Gaius Charles a bone to make up for his marginalization up to this point and I won't quibble with anything that gives me more of Liz Mikel's Mamma Smash. This is the third or fourth or fifth different episode in which Smash has given the exact same speech about how he views both high school and colleges as a means to an end, how he's going to go all the way to the NFL to help his family. He's why he took steroids and why he hogged the balled and why he did several other things. Mamma Smash knows this, so why did she seem so shocked and betrayed this episode that Smash won't consider going to a historically black college with a 2-9 football team? Meanwhile, I've seen highlights from the way Smash has been playing so far this season and I'm not so sure if he'd still be getting this kind of recruiting heat.

  • What's the deal with Santiago? The only on-field attention we've seen Coach Taylor pay to his football team since his return has been to a former delinquent with raw speed and no experience. I understand why Buddy was willing to do anything last year to get Voodoo on the team, but I don't get why Buddy's going to far to help Santiago. Is this all just a subplot that's playing out because Buddy's lonely and he needs somebody to nurture? And what position is Santiago playing these days anyway? I didn't blog on it last week, but it seemed weird to me that after Killer Landry became a school hero last week, as a tight end with no football experience, they'd be so eager to replace him with an equally inexperienced new kid. It's just a lot of work to go to to introduce a new character.

  • Speaking of new characters, aren't we pleased to see that John From Cincinnati is capable of reading dialogue without sounding like an autistic prophet? I'm sure some people had doubts that we'd ever see Austin Nichols again, but here he is playing a character beamed directly from "Beverly Hills, 90210" to "Friday Night Lights." His Noah Barnett, the hip young English teacher and newspaper advisor, is the unholy spawn of Michael St. Gerard's Chris Suiter, failed actor and student predator, and Mark Kiely's Gil Meyers, advisor on the West Beverly Blaze and alleged student predator. We're supposed to be uncomfortable that Julie -- having recently discovered a character trait that attracts her to inappropriate men -- is spending so much time with him, right?

  • And speaking of dynamics that make us uncomfortable, how old is Sexy Nurse Carlotta supposed to be? The show's message when it comes to age-problematic relationships is simple: Icky Stoner The Swede or Pretentious Teacher going after Julie? Baaaaaad. Riggins going after the MILF Next Door or Matt flirting with Sexy Nurse Carlotta? Intriguing. Except that I'm not. Intrigued, I mean. And I won't even begin to get into the racial dynamics of uber-honky Matt turning to sexy Latina Carlotta to give his stripping the necessary spice. But I guess Carlotta's better than Matt's new car obsessed girlfriend, who only makes out with him when Julie's about to walk over. Oh and they brought Brooke Langton back this week? For that?!?!? Get a "Life."

  • After cycling Tyra and Lyla through a roller-coaster that left them seemingly bonded by the first season finale, the producers forgot how to bring the two characters back together. So this week, they were reunited (As Ned on "Pushing Daisies" would have said, "It's a random proximity thing") and suddenly the character didn't have any sort of dynamic anymore. I didn't need Tyra and Lyla to do the kind of catty sparring that they did last season, but there had to be a dramatic payoff to making those two specific characters work together on Pantherama, there had to be a dramatic payoff to having those two characters instigating a football team strip-off. The only payoff was, after several emotionally trying weeks for both characters, to return them to a place of levity. I don't mind that, but it could have been better. The entire Pantherama subplot kept reminding me of the Powder-puff game last season, a true highlight.

    But sure, I liked having sexy, flirty Tyra back. And Adrianne Palicki plays that side of Tyra very well. I also liked the extra time with Tyra's stripper sister and learning that her trademark song is "Devil Went Down to Georgia."

    Do we think Lyla knows that Street has vanished? Nothing that's happened this season feels cumulative.

  • Line of the episode (everybody's gonna pick the same one): "Quote 'Athletic director and Panther football coach Eric Taylor had no comment.' She asked me through the bathroom door. What am I supposed to do? I was busy."

    [I need to issue the usual reminder that there's still no Friday evening show I'd rather watch than "FNL," that it still kicks the qualitative snot out of "Moonlight." Wishing it were better isn't the same as wishing it ill.]
  • Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Wednesday TV Madness: "Pushing Daisies," "Bionic Woman," et al

    Yesterday I celebrated the modest virtues of "Life," a show that I hope manages to survive the potentially industry crushing chaos of the Writers Guild strike.

    Whoops. Sorry. That just slips out sometimes when I'm thinking about the strike.

    In any case, last night's "Life" drew only 6.9 million viewers, but that was actually an improvement over the 6.3 million viewers who tuned in for "Bionic Woman," a show that would absolutely have been put out of its misery if it weren't for the strike. Instead, "Bionic Woman" continues to limp along, just like "Journeyman" and "Cane" and "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers" and "Big Shots" and several other shows that would have been carrion picked over by the online vultures except that network executives are fearful of letting go of one iota of their remaining scripted programming treasure. It isn't too late to burn off "Viva Laughlin," CBS! Half a dozen people would thank you for it!

    Anyway, I'm getting off track. I already talked about last night's "Life." There's plenty of other Wednesday TV I didn't get to, though.

    Follow through after the bump for my thoughts on the shocking turns of events on "Bionic Woman," "Gossip Girl," "Pushing Daisies" and even, yes, "Kid Nation."

    Click through...

    [Oh and this will naturally include oodles of spoilers. Be warned.]

    "Kid Nation" -- ELECTION MADNESS! Sure, we all could have foreseen Greg challenging Anjay for Blue power and DK's gonna thump Guylan in the Red election and even Blaine trying to wrestle control of Yellow from Zach was predictable, but who could have imagined floppy-haired Michael deciding to take down Laurel for Green? Whoa! Wait. What am I saying? You don't care. Or, if you do, head over to Zap2it to check out my more exhaustive recap.

    "Gossip Girl" -- SEX MADNESS! OMG. I like totally can't believe that Chuck and Blair did it! No, not *that* Chuck (Bartowski, from that other Josh Schwartz show)! And no, not *that* Blair (Warner, from "The Facts of Life")! Whatever happened to saving your Special Treasure for Nate?!?!? And in the back of a limo? How very Sean Young and Kevin Costner in "No Way Out," Blair!

    OK. Done with that. I liked this week's episode, but I agree with at least one devoted fan that there's no way Blair would have thrown herself a big birthday bash featuring Guitar Hero and sushi. Seriously, Blair and hand rolls? That's not her kind of party. As inappropriate small screen birthday bashes go, Blair's party was almost (but not quite) as bad as Jason Street spending his 19th birthday in a wheelchair watching Jason Street run for touchdowns on old game film.

    And when it comes to "Gossip Girl" parents, given me more of the guy from "Thinner" (Robert John Burke) and less of the guy from Jason Robards' loins.

    "Bionic Woman" -- ASSASSINATION MADNESS! It was only a couple months ago that Isaiah Washington was talking to the New York Post about how he hoped that if "Bionic Woman" was a major smash, NBC might build a spinoff around his character. That's 0-2 man, you're as bad as A-Rod in the post-season! And Isaiah, why do you think writer-producers get such pleasure out of aiming firearms at you? Just curious.

    In case you didn't watch (and don't care about being spoiled), Washington's Antonio was last seen flatlining in an ambulance after being shot in the gut by some chica he used to date back when he was stationed in Fictional African Nation #3245. It's always possible that he could be brought back to life, but he may still have a tremor in his hand and everybody knows that life isn't worth living if you're a government operative and you have a tremor in your hand. Wait. Was that another series? When we look back at Isaiah Washington's five-episode run on "Bionic Woman" are we going to remember anything other than Steve McPherson calling Ben Silverman a moron for rushing to cast the soiled star so soon? He was never bad on "Bionic Woman," but other than a certain amount of authority, he added little.

    While Zap2it's dedicated "Bionic" blogger Ryan was a big fan of this week's episode, I have to disagree. After several weeks dedicated to lightening the tone -- a process I've referred to as its "Chuck"-fication -- this week's episode was ultra-serious and ultra-boring. With "Bionic Woman," whenever something like this happens, we just assume it means they changed showrunners again and perhaps this episode marked the moment at which Jason Katims left and went back to "Friday Night Lights"? Dunno. In any case, if you downplay the humor and don't let Michelle Ryan speak with a British accent and expect me to care about Isaiah Washington's fate and can't even throw in a Katee Sackhoff appearance? Well, let's just say my attention wanes.

    Also, the show's cold open -- Jamie converses on her iPhone with her new boyfriend, has to drop the romantic talk to collect a suitcase and outrun a Ford Focus and then returns to a conversation with a wrecked car in the background -- was as big a storytelling rip-off from "Buffy" as I can recall. Lame.

    "Pushing Daisies" -- TWEE MADNESS! Coll-A-Dor-Russell-A-Poo ("The perfect hybrid of collie, Labrador retriever, Jack Russell terrier and poodle -- Smart, loyal, athletic and hypo-allergenic"). Do I need to say any more? Perhaps I could mention that thanks to "Life," "Pushing Daisies" only had the evening's second most interesting polygamy subplot.

    This was probably my least favorite "Pushing Daisies" episode of the season. The always dizzying dialogue kept whizzing by, but the episode also contained a slew of visual references (Hitchcock in particular, with "Psycho" and "Spellbound" being the most obvious) and I was just left exhausted by the end. Moreso than usual. Still, a treasure-trove of smart dialogue and quips.

    My favorites:

    Ned (on concealing his kiss with Olive): "The only reason I didn't tell you is because it didn't mean anything. Lots of stuff happens in the course of a day that I don't bother sharing. For instance, yesterday's four-berry pie was actually three-and-a-half because I ran out of cranberries. I didn't tell you that."
    Chuck: "Actually you did. You asked if orange counted as a berry. I said it didn't, but nobody had to know but us."

    Emmerson (on love):"Some women love like gangstas. They be like 'Oooh Baby, you bleedin'. How that happen?' while they hidin' a razor in their weave."

    Chuck: "You're taking money from blind children?"
    Emmerson: "I suppose I could pay my bills with blind kids' smiles, but they money is a lot easier."

    Baby Zebra Wife: "Everybody's been really nice. It's not at all like those prison exploitation films."
    Chuck: "So you don't need cigarettes or alcohol or the right moisturizer to use as currency?"

    Chuck: "I'm going to hug Digby and pretend that he's you." [AWWWWWWWWWW!!!!]

    Chuck: "What do you need to be happy?"
    Ned: "You." [AWWWWWWWW!!!!!! BARF! TOO CUTE! BARF!]

    OK. Fine. Throw in Olive in a Chuck Flesh Suit, Emmerson spitting out the squeaky toy ball-gag, Pret a Poochy and the return of Claymation and I guess there was plenty in the episode to enjoy.

    Now can somebody tell me how I got the theme to "Pan's Labyrinth" stuck in my head today?

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    "Life" as I know it...

    "Chuck" is more fun. "Bionic Woman" has a hotter leading lady. "Journeyman" has gotten far better than I ever would have expected. But of the new NBC shows currently slinking along in the ratings abyss, the one I want to fight to save from the evil clutches of Ben Silverman is "Life."

    [I should note that I'm assuming that even Silverman will see the advantages of keeping "Chuck" around assuming the strike ever ends (and I should add that I've written enough general praise for "Chuck" that my support for the show shouldn't be in doubt) and that "Bionic Woman" and "Journeyman" are both dead regardless of what happens.]

    Through last week, "Life" has been averaging 8.1 million viewers for the season, but that's a bit of a cheat, since those numbers are inflated by a couple airings after "Bionic Woman" back before "Bionic Woman" went into the tank. That's more viewers per week than "Prison Break," a show that's basically running on fumes (plus a few dozen maniacal fans who scare me), and slightly fewer than "Chuck."

    For more thoughts on "Life," follow through after the bump.

    Click through...

    If you still find yourself awake after whichever shows you watch in the uber-crowded 9 p.m. hour (I've got "Bionic" and "Gossip Girl" at home and "Criminal Minds" in the office), I recommend you check out tonight's "Life," titled "Farthingale."

    It's probably the best "Life" episode of the season, a piece of very, very good semi-procedural drama. It's also the episode that best combines the show's attempts to have both serialized and one-off elements. On one hand, you have Damian Lewis' Charlie Crews and Sarah Shahi's Dani Reese investigating a man who was somehow blasted in half, mirroring the fact that he was also supporting two wives. In addition, though, Charlie is under IAD investigation for the death of the officer who put him in prison.

    "Life" hasn't necessarily done a great job at progressing the central mystery of who framed Charlie and wife, though we know it relates to the Bank of Los Angeles shootout, 18 million missing dollars and basically every single member of the LAPD. His Wall of Blame has made for a great metaphorical visual image, but it has never been useful to me in terms of tracing cause and/or effect.

    Certain parts of what were supposed to be the show's central mythology have been tossed out or pushed aside. After appearing in the pilot, for example, as Crews' main antagonist, Robin Weigert's Lt. Davis has morphed into just another occasionally disapproving boss (though this week's episode includes a reminder that she wanted Dani to inform on Charlie). Brent Sexton is also good as Charlie's former partner, but he's seemed more and more benign with each passing week and therefore a bit less interesting.

    They've also struggled with the integration of Adam Arkin's Ted and Brooke Langton's Constance. Arkin has just been occasional comic relief, though we can just await the episode where Charlie begins to suspect that Ted has embezzled millions of dollars only to discover at the end that he was just reading the signs wrong. And Langton was so marginalized that it looked like she'd been written out as of last week, but she's back in a more constructive context this week.

    What Shahi has done more than anything is not held the show back. That sounds like an insult, right? I swear it isn't. I just had a low regard for her as the season began and was pretty confident that if she were as wooden as I'd often thought her before, the show would suffer. While "Powerless" wasn't one of the show's best hours, it was a showcase for Shahi, who got to do more than just treat Crews with scorn.

    Where the show has succeeded is in juxtaposing Lewis' wildly eccentric Crews with both Shahi's buttoned down (and yet seriously damaged) Dani and the weekly assortment of odd criminals and witnesses. Thankfully, Crews' quirkiness has slightly diminished, tempering my biggest concern after the so-so pilot. He still loves him some fruit and hardly a week goes by where he isn't astounded by the progression of technology and his Zen approach still causes Dani to roll her eyes, but Lewis -- certainly one of the five best actors on TV at this moment (with various HBO, FX and AMC things off the air) -- keeps him human. When the character is best used, he's just a cop with a different way of looking at the world. Nothing wrong with that.

    I've loved Lewis' scenes with a number of guest stars, including the wonderful William Sanderson as a bum with a respect for oral hygiene in "What They Saw."

    Part of why I was able to stick with "Without a Trace" through nearly three seasons (alas, I've lost the plot and could never, ever, ever catch up now, I'm sure) was that the slew of character-actor guest stars was superior, nearly of a "Law & Order" caliber. They got veteran actors to do serious work and it kept the procedural aspects of the show intriguing. Part of why none of the "CSIs" have ever held onto me is their generally bland casting. And part of why I periodically watch "Criminal Minds" is to see which comic actor or former child star (Jamie Kennedy this week!!!) will be stalking and killing women this week!

    I think "Life" has the potential to be that sort of stunt casting vehicle because what actor wouldn't want to go head-to-head with Lewis, whose character uses intellectual processes to solve his crime, rather than straight forward clue-accumulation detective work. If the show were to continue, I would recommend using the season's fifth episode, "The Fallen Woman," as a template for potential adversaries. Even if his Russian accent occasionally vanished, Garrett Dillahunt's performance as Roman, a mobbed up version of Satan, was so instantly and consistently chilling that I've already suggested to Sepinwall that Dillahunt should be brought back every other week as a recurring villain, the show's Big Bad, if you will. If I am looking forward to "The Terminator Presents: Sarah Connor Chronicles" for one reason, it's to watch Summer Glau kick butt without ever changing her expression, but if I'm looking forward to it for a second reason it's that Dillahunt is at least recurring and possibly a regular.

    Speaking of character actors I like seeing, do we prefer Patrick Fabian as a killer or just as a red herring, because he's pretty much settled into a career path where the second he appears on screen, I either assume he's a murderer ("Pushing Daisies"), a distraction from the real murderer (last night's "Bones") or that he's both a distraction and a murderer (wasn't that sortta what happened on "Veronica Mars"?).

    Anyway, enough rambling. Watch "Life." That way you can be disappointed when it's cancelled.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Of Mars and Ned: Monday's "Heroes," "Chuck," "HIMYM" and more...

    I've never watched a single full episode of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" even though FOX is on my Zap2it beat. Does that make me a bad person? That being said, I'm sorely tempted to watch this Thursday's celebrity "5th Grader" with former "American Idol" bubblehead Kellie Pickler [even though I know that Pickler's an evil genius and she would never unveil her vast tracts of... um... "knowledge" just for a FOX game show]. Does that make me a worse person? Yeah. Figured.

    Anyway, Monday night features an insane amount of television, probably more than I plow through on any other night.

    Follow through after the bump as I talk about Rachel Bilson on "Chuck," Kristen Bell on "Heroes," a shocking revelation about Moon Bloodgood on "Journeyman" and probably one or two things involving less attractive women.

    Click through...

    So yeah. Let's take things show-by-show until I get bored. [I should mention that spoilers are coming...]

    "Chuck" -- With "Heroes" stumbling (two good weeks don't equal a good season) and "How I Met Your Mother" proving increasingly erratic (more on that later), "Chuck" is probably the Monday show I'm finding most pleasurable. I've described it as souffle in the past, but that may be selling it short. It's not that you turn your brain off to watch "Chuck," just that you set it to "Chuck" Mode, a very different gear in which you become ultra-vigilant about attempting to catch each and every pop culture reference and you don't worry quite so much about the International Adversary of the Week. Tonight's episode was the second straight to deal heavily in exposition, relying on that ever-popular device of the Truth Serum That Causes People To Expose Their Inner Feelings. But with "Chuck," the "whys" don't matter so much as the "hows," as in "how" well Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin and particularly Sarah Lancaster (her best episode of the season by far) handled their temporary truthiness. But really, give me Kevin Weisman as an ass-kicking rogue gymnast-turned-poisoner and I can be content. Throw in the introduction of Rachel Bilson -- capable of wringing maximum cuteness and tartness out of the simplest of dialogue -- and it was a good week for "Chuck."

    "How I Met Your Mother" -- Finally figured out the problem. Last season, with Ted and Robin in a relationship, the show could just concentrate on the warm embrace of each of its core characters. The dynamic was simple: One long-term couple, one new couple and one Barney -- it was "Rules of Engagement" minus the suck! This season, though, they've had to keep introducing a cavalcade of not-even-vaguely-worthy foils for Ted and the show has suffered as a result, since parading out so many flawed and crazy women has verged on misogyny at times, since it's not like Ted is such a great catch that he should be able to cast aside Mandy Moore, Busy Philips, Lindsay Price, et al. Adding to the tip-toeing around the misogyny is the fact that while Ted has rejected one hottie after another for minor imperfections, Robin has mostly been responsible for sabotaging her own brief flings, all with a much more worthy assortment of men. This isn't optional: I don't care if the show's writers get Ted a wife/future-mother yet, but they NEED for that character to find a potential partner.

    "Heroes" -- There's something quite marvelous about what Kristen Bell is doing here. I spent the first 30 minutes of the episode pondering if her spark-throwing Elle was mentally handicapped, if the show was doing some sort of "Of Mice and Men" thing where she was Lennie and Stephen Tobolowski was George and Milo Ventigmiglia was the bunny. I'd call it "Of Mars and Ned." Then they had to go and explain the character's psychological profile -- that she'd pretty much been locked up since she was 10 and therefore hadn't had the chance to go through any of the normal rites and rituals of puberty and young adulthood. That was less exciting than my theory, but it didn't make Bell's performance any less intriguing.

    The episode had plenty of other good moments, including the origin story for the Ying Yang Twins, in which she laid waste to an entire Dominican wedding. We also didn't spend a single second in Feudal Japan. I was a little disappointed that they didn't give an origin story for Adrian Pasdar's beard (or, for that matter, for his bear). The biggest disappointment, though, was the absence of a tear-filled courtroom scene explaining how Parkman and Mohinder got custody of Molly. I imagine a judge saying, "Yes, I know you're a pair of confirmed bachelors who no clear source of income who only met a week or two ago under shady circumstances, but the court grants you full custody of this little girl with demonstrated emotional problems. Good day!"

    "Journeyman" -- Last week, I'd intended to write about both "Heroes" and "Journeyman" with a concentration on "Journeyman." After all, last week's episode featured some Dan-on-Dan brawling. That was awesome. But I was too lazy for that blog post. Or else too busy. Opportunity missed. After three or four really decent episodes in a row, last night's "Journeyman" was a small step back, owing to some of the cheesiest cinematic depictions of hippies since either "American Dreams" or "The '60s."

    This week had less time-bending "Back to the Future"-style fun, though we finally got a lot of information about Moon Bloodgood's Livia, including the knowledge that really lives in 1948 and then when she got stuck mysteriously in the '80s, she was able to just go to law school without impediments like the LSATs or undergrad transcripts. Then again, as paths to legal practice go, that's no more or less believable than Marshall interviewing for high powered firms after already graduating from law school and taken the bar (those interviews would have happened nearly a year earlier in the real world). And we've now added "quartz" to "tachyons" as magic words the writers are using to hint around the causes for Dan's time travel.

    My biggest disappointment? That Dan has yet to vanish in the middle of sex. Last night would have offered the perfect opportunity and the writers didn't take it. Curses!

    Oh and it may be time for a moratorium on usage of Three Dog Night's "Shambala."

    "Big Bang Theory" -- 22 minutes of Indian (dot, not feather) jokes? Count me in. Not much has been written about the fact that, unlike "The Class" last year, "Big Bang Theory" has begun to consistently improve on its "HIMYM" lead-in and that its demos have basically been improving every week. Jim Parsons still makes me laugh and what else am I going to do with this time period? My DVR will feel rejected if it doesn't record something.