Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday TV: Good Luck, "Chuck"

Monday nights confuse and disturb my DVR.

Poor DVR.

It doesn't understand how it's supposed to record four shows in the 8 p.m. hour, how it's supposed to use its two tuners to get "Chuck" on NBC, "How I Met Your Mother" (and, to a much lesser degree of urgency, "Big Bang Theory) on CBS, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on FOX and "Gossip Girl" on The CW. It doesn't know to appreciate the fact that I only watch "Dancing with the Stars" in the office and only because it provides sometimes appealing lunchtime entertainment. And it doesn't even learn to appreciate that relatively calm, cool and collected 9 p.m. hour in which I'd normally only request NBC's "Heroes," FOX's "Prison Break" and The CW's "One Tree Hill" from it.

The fact is that while there's a logjam on Monday nights, a situation made worse by my decision not to watch "Mad Men" until the show becomes available in HD OnDemand, I don't actually love a lot of those shows.

In fact, in a twist, the Monday show that I've already moved to the top of my DVR priority list (and would, in a critical capacity, recommend highest), is "Chuck." I learned long ago that rooting for my favorite low-rated NBC shows to become hits -- think "Friday Night Lights" or "30 Rock" -- was a lost cause. But "Chuck" is a show so instantly accessible to so many different types of audiences that it ought to have room to grow.

More on Monday night TV and a review-y-thing of this Monday's (Sept. 29) "Chuck" after the bump...

Click through...

R.I.P. Paul Newman, 1925-2008

[This post was, of course, started on Saturday. Then things got busy... Better to post it now, even if somewhat truncated...]

If you go through Paul Newman's credits, there are certainly examples of roles in which he tried out accents. There are examples of him playing parts where he experimented with facial hair. A couple times, one of Hollywood's most lauded and conspicuous philanthropists went wildly against type and played characters who you'd consider to be villains.

When listing the great actors of the past 50 years, Newman's always there, but isn't he somewhat overshadowed by the Pacinos, the Brandos and the De Niros? The tendency is to over-rate the actor who appears to be working the hardest and to sell short the actor whose efforts seem most effort-less.

Paul Newman gets sold short for having been so pretty for so long and never being one of those actors who said, "I have to play ugly to get my Oscar." He gets penalized, I guess, for never making people go, "I can't believe that was Paul Newman in that role!" There's even a tendency to call Paul Newman "Eternally Cool" or "A True Movie Star," which are both sweet sentiments, but they're also both minimizing.

As much as he was adored, Paul Newman was taken for granted, or at least his greatness as an actor was.

A glance at my favorite Newman performances after the bump...

Click through...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Debriefing from the 2008 Emmys

[Yeah, I know. It's already a bit late in the game for Emmy analysis, but Nikki Finke has been promising *her* analysis for around 20 hours and she didn't blog or tweet on every second of the show and also review it last night.]

It's instinctive to want to complain about the Emmys, especially since the telecast is being general acknowledged as one of the worst broadcasts in recent award show history. And the Emmy show was, indeed, uncontestably awful, horribly paced, bloated to the extreme and full of easily mockable moments.

But the awards themselves? Well, if you happen to believe that "Mad Men" was probably last year's best television drama and that "30 Rock" was among the top three TV comedies, how can you possibly complain? Or how much?

I'll give it my shot after the bump...

Click through...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MovieWatch Mini: "The Wrestler"

"The Wrestler"
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): Pending
In a Nutshell: ["The Wrestler" isn't coming out until the end of December and even though I really enjoyed the movie, I dunno how much Fox Searchlight would want me posting a full review, no matter how much I liked it. And I liked it *a lot*. But this really will be just a "nutshell."]

"The Wrestler" will be pushed for heavy Oscar consideration and the buzz is building thanks to festival screenings in Venice and Toronto, but it's really a very small movie and it may not be capable of sustaining an extreme amount of hype, the sort of hype that will almost certainly grow. I'd advise keeping expectations moderate once the hype explodes, but I advised the same thing on "Juno" last year and it mostly held up to the hype, backlash-be-damned.

Assuming Mickey Rourke doesn't do something hugely embarrassing between now and award season (obviously a distinct possibility), he'll be a lock for an Oscar nomination. I'd call the performance Brando-esque in its combination of emotional vulnerability and physical intensity, but not the young Brando. I'm thinking more the "Last Tango in Paris" Brando. The relief of seeing that the young Rourke's Method-y potential wasn't entirely wasted through the Lost '90s is palpable in nearly every scene.

And Marisa Tomei is every bit as worthy of awards attention, plus I think you can guarantee that she'll win her second consecutive annual commendation for Mr. Skin for cinematic nudity. Let's just say she isn't one of those stupid Natalie Portman-esque movie strippers who practically wear a parka on the poll. It baffles me that people still mention Tomei on lists of odd or undeserving Oscar winners. She's more than proven her worth as an actress and she's more than proven that her gifts go far beyond one-note comedy. She keeps getting better.

Since I've only really enjoyed one Aronofsky movie without reservations ("Requiem for a Dream"), I was impressed at how restrained and smart his direction is here. Robert D. Siegel's script is mostly strong and understated, but when it stumbles into more conventional Movie Moment territory, Aronofsky's touch is uncharacteristically humane and gentle.

I'll have more to say come December, but I just wanted to whet a few appetites. This one will most likely be heading for my yearly Top 10.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On second thought: "Fringe," "Privileged" and "90210"

You often hear people discuss the advantages of high definition television to the overall viewership. Heck, I do it all the time. But outside of porn, you rarely hear people complain about the parts of viewership that it absolutely destroys

I started thinking about this last week when the shoddy makeup work on "One Tree Hill" made me get far more chuckles out of the sight of an abused woman than I normally would. It came up again during Tuesday (Sept. 16) night's "90210," when I fell into a giggle-loop watching Dixon and Silver drive through some of the worst-matched green screen shots of Beverly Hills I've ever seen. I was six when I saw "Return of the Jedi" and I remember the poorly lit outline around the Sarlacc, effects work so bad that it even confused Young Dan. That was still better than Dixon and Silver sitting in a stunt car. I'm not saying I wouldn't have noticed in low-def, but it might have hurt me less...

Follow through after the bump for some thoughts on the second episodes of "Fringe" and "Privileged," plus the third episode of "9021-Ohmigod Eat a Sandwich."

Click through...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MovieWatch: "Burn After Reading"

"Burn After Reading"
Director: The Brothers Coen
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 68
In a Nutshell: Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of "Blood Simple." The Brothers Coen will have been making movies for 25 years. They didn't used to be prolific, but they're started turning out movies with increasing speed. Two movies in the '80s. Five movies in the '90s. They're already at six (plus a segment of "Paris, je t'aime") this decade.

But it's interesting. I have no idea what Joel and Ethan Coen think about ANYTHING. I don't know their politics. I don't know much of their spiritual ideology. Oh, I know what intrigues them and what makes them laugh. I know their cinematic influences and their formal amusements. But I wonder how many filmmakers of their stature have worked for so long and managed to give up so little of themselves.

Well, the general critical consensus has been to criticize "Burn After Reading" for being a trifle, a substance-free follow-up to what may be The Brothers' finest film, last year's "No Country For Old Men." That's a big odd to me, because I can launch a fairly coherent argument stating that "Burn After Reading" is the Coens' most political and dogmatic film to date. I have more trouble making an argument that it's as funny as they seem to think it is.

That argument follows after the bump.

Click through...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Decent Options: "Privileged" and "Fringe" premiere

Thanks to last night's FOX Eco-Casino party, which now has my apartment well-stocked with enviro-friendly lightbulbs, and my "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" set visit today, I'm behind on my TV viewing for the week. I haven't watched "Mad Men," "Weeds," "Skinz," "One Tree Hill," "Weeds" or "Prison Break." I'm so far behind on "Big Brother" that I've quit entirely and started deleting the episodes piling up on my DVR, a decision that became a lot easier when I tried to think if I would possibly be rooting for anybody to win and came to the conclusion that I'm not.

Fortunately, I saw FOX's "Fringe" a while back. I was more enthusiastic after my first viewing during the summer, perhaps because I enjoy seeing things early, or maybe because seeing TV on the big screen -- a screening room on the FOX lot -- is ideal. Dunno. It's also possible that after reading the script and watching the pilot twice, I've burnt out a bit. My bottom line, as discussed in my Zap2it review, is that expectations are a problem after FOX's Summer of Unceasing Promotion. "Fringe" isn't "Lost" or "Alias" or "The X-Files." But that doesn't make it bad.

The night's other new show is The CW's "Privileged," a dramedy that I don't love, but that I feel a certain amount of warmth towards. A full review is after the bump.

Click through...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

HBO's "True Blood" and "Entourage" Revel in Childish Things

I'm not prone to beginning blog posts with quotes from the New Testament, but in reflecting on HBO's Sunday night lineup, I kept coming back to...

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Now obviously this quote from first Corinthians doesn't have a DARNED thing to do with me. I watch TV for a living and at my most mature, I'm fairly infantile.

But what I *do* know is that two subjects that used to excite and entertain me a heck of a lot more than they do now are the glamorous lives of Hollywood stars and the sex lives of vampires.

Follow through after the bump to see how that impacts my initial opinions on the premieres of "True Blood" and "Entourage"...

Click through...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Riding with FX's "Sons of Anarchy"

Last night built up, with growing enthusiasm, to the premiere of The CW's "90210," which ended up -- with an audience of just under 5 million -- either being the most watched scripted program in CW history or the least watched installment over "Beverly Hills, 90210" ever. The CW would like you to concentrate on the former and ignore the fact that despite the endless promotion and pimpage, "90210" failed to outdraw a successful episode of "America's Next Top Model," much less show that The CW is ready to compete with TNT. Fair nuf.

In any case, tonight's options are a bit less exciting. In the interest of equal time, I'll watch Sarah Palin's speech from the RNC, but that's only because I've already seen "Bones" (great use of London and lots of effective comedy) and "ANTM" (almost unwatchably bad this cycle).

And because I've seen FX's "Sons of Anarchy." While there are many reasons to like the FX bike gang drama, I suspect it will probably join the ranks of FX series that I watch in the initial batch of screeners and subsequently am unable to keep track of, either because I forget when they're on or I forget that they're on at all. Actually, USA shows have started to fall into that category as well. I like them well enough. But not well enough to become devoted. It's amazing I can still keep up with "Mad Men," actually.

So anyway, an actual review of "Sons of Anarchy" is after the bump...

Click through...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The CW's "90210" Premieres: Is it a Peach or the Pits?

The summer between my senior year in high school and college, I worked at a pizza place -- Boston's Favorite Pizza, Papa Gino's -- and did mostly night shifts, because that's what my friends were doing. That left me with my days free and since my summer reading was just a Tom Stoppard play, I discovered that FX aired two episodes of "Beverly Hills, 90210" each afternoon. The episodes were from different seasons, but they were at least in sequence, so I caught up on the first six seasons in weird epicycles, watching, say, Season One and Season Four in tandem and filling in blanks in fabulously non-linear ways.

As marvelously and deliciously trashy as it was, it would be wrong to forget that the original "Beverly Hills, 90210" was still over-earnest, ridiculously square, soapy trash. So it'll be interesting to see how rose-tinted critics' glasses are when it comes to "BH90210v.2.0." Will they complain that the acting on the new show doesn't equal the RSC standards set by a young Brian Austin Green and Luke Perry? Will they lament the occasionally preachy tone? Heck, will I fall into those traps?

We'll see after the bump, eh?

Click through...

MovieWatch: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Director: Woody Allen
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 68
In a Nutshell: I may be over-rating "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" a smidge because I subjected myself to "Cassandra's Dream" via Netflix last weekend and just about anything Woody Allen would have done as a follow-up would have been a blessed relief.

But Allen's entire career at this point is being graded on the curve. After "Anything Else" and "Hollywood Ending" and the professional nadir that was "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," Allen got to the point where his name was under-played in the ads for "Melinda and Melinda" and, particularly, "Match Point." But "Match Point" was such a hit that Allen's name was front-and-center in the advertising for "Scoop," which tanked. It was less visible on "Cassandra's Dream" and missing from most promotion for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." This latest film, now, has performed well enough that Allen's name can be resurrected for next year's "Whatever Works." But after three Oscars and dozens of nominations, Allen's commercial status can apparently only be judged on a film-by-film basis these days. I find that a bit sad.

Anyway, a full review of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" after the bump...

Click through...

Television Returns: Breaking down the "Gossip Girl," "Prison Break" and "OTH" Premieres

Yes, I know. I've been a bad blogger. There's only so many times I can apologize. Heck, even my blog posted a comment over the summer complaining about being neglected.

But Monday (Sept. 1) night unofficially started the new television season! Nielsen doesn't think so, but to heck with them and their comically outmoded audience sampling system. If the girls are gossiping, the men are prison breaking and the hills have only a single tree once again, then my TV season has most certainly begun!

As as of the moment of posting, we're only six hours from what The CW tells me will be the most important event of the fall. More important that USC-Ohio State? More important than the Emmys? More important than Yom Kippur? More important than the election? Yes. Apparently. But more on the premiere of "90210" tomorrow, of course, since The CW wants to make me suffer.

Anywho... Thoughts on the premieres of "Prison Break," "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill" after the bump...

Click through...