Weekend Wrapup

Movies instead of TV this time. While I’m not in love with the Oscar nominations this year, my inner geek generally drives me to see most of them. And, you know, some other crap along the way. Was going to do these in “60 words per” style, but figure movies are twice as long, so the reviews can be, too:

It’s 2027 and the world has gone to hell because all women are infertile. A miracle mother appears on the scene, and who does it fall to to protect her? Clive Owen, in disaffected shaggy former hero mode.

While this is pretty bleak and British stuff, it’s absolutely fantastic. Expect a little more exposition than you’d like at the beginning, but pretty quick it’s off and running. The vision of the future is chillingly realistic, as is the way it’s shot. Most of the movie is rough and handheld, culminating with an uninterrupted sequence that might make Scorsese jealous. After reinvigorating the Harry Potter series (with Prisoner of Azkaban) Alfonso Cuaron really comes into his own with this masterpiece.

Ben Stiller’s a divorced dad in need of a job, so signs up to be a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. Which is more surprising, that the exhibits come to life at night or that the events of the movie rekindle the relationship with his son?

That said, good(ish) special effects, a handful of laughs, and a nice “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it message” make for mildly amusing and harmless fun. Stiller cranks out his standard humor, Owen Wilson does his schtick, Carla Gugino is lovely as always, and of particular note – Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney are, in fact, alive.

Jennifer Garner’s wedding becomes a wake when her fiancĂ© dies unexpectedly. Even more surprising is the fact that it turns out he fathered a child with a New Age massage therapist from LA. As you might guess, complications (romantic and otherwise) ensue.

C & R is a messy movie about a messy situation, and while it’s not terrifically successful, its heart is in the right place. Garner’s great – good to see she can handle a movie without handling a gun. Timothy Olyphant’s solid as the unlikely love interest. Kevin Smith steps out from behind the camera to play almost a parody of himself, and while it’s pretty broad, it’s also pretty funny. Not high art, but not bad either.

The global diamond-mining crisis, complete with warring clans and chopped off hands, gets boiled down into sort of a buddy movie. Kind of like if you crossed Lethal Weapon 2 with Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.”

Despite the fact that it feels a bit pat, Blood Diamond’s really quite good. Leo rocks a Rhodesian accent (at least I assume so, having never heard one before), Djimon Hounsou’s terrific in everything he’s in, and Jennifer Connelly, while not terribly compelling as a hard-as-nails journalist, is pretty enough to get a pass. Edward Zwick directed, and this feels a lot like his recent Last Samurai, where the overarching backdrop is secondary to two men bonding. Liked it, didn’t love it.


Can We Get to Hollywood Already? Dawg?

Here's the thing – I've come to grips with the fact that I love American Idol. And not ironically. It's sort of like the Olympics. I used to think that I only watched for the goofy sports like Biathlon (skiing with guns!) and to laugh knowingly at the personal interest stories, all the while thinking that I was far better than this.

Turns out I'm not.

When the first season of Idol became a phenomenon, I tuned in toward the end of it just to see the spectacle. Or so I thought. Because when a Dunkleman-free Season 2 rolled around, I was with it start to finish. Sure, I'll fast-forward thru a results show here and there, but otherwise I've lost my illusions of calling it a guilty pleasure. I now watch guilt-free.

But I'm tired of the auditions. What started as an interesting assembly of fresh faces sparked by the occasional oddball has turned into a two-hour parade of freaks. That's two hours a night, twice a week. America's fascination with the William Hungs of the world seems to have finally faded – can we please focus on the search for the next Katharine McPhee? (Don't start with Taylor Hicks, I'm no fan of The Soul Patrol.)

There's a week to go before we hit Hollywood to separate the hopefuls from the has-beens. Only four more hours, and then w
e can get to the real meat of the show – Randy Jackson saying "Dawg," Paula Abdul choking back tears and Simon Cowell crushing the misguided dreams of marginally talented people. I say bring it.


Timeshifted TV

A quick look back at shows from the last few days, Limerick Critic style.

Grey's Anatomy
So George’s dad had to go
In a tremendously well-written show
And Meredith snores
That part was a bore
But Addison’s got a new beau!

The OC
The OC’s getting beat out by Greys
That show’s a big reason that it lays
In a TV coffin
I wonder how often
Fighting for a tough timeslot pays.

The Office
The returns of Oscar and Dwight
Made this show particularly bright
And normally product
Placement should be chucked
But Staples on this show’s all right.

The teamup of Justice League Junior
Made for the best episode ever
This should be the show
No more fly solo
Smallville has become very clever.

This episode was only ok
Felt a little like it was a stray
About the big plot
It mostly was not
Altho a few good lines saved the day


24 is Da Bomb...

...as the kids say. Bit of a spoiler here, I suppose, but we're a couple days past the bombshell cliffhanger, so what the hell.
24 spent its first few seasons as more of a cult hit/interesting experiment before breaking through with what they call a "non-stop season." Moving the show to midseason meant no reruns, thank Jack. Ratings and Emmys followed, it became a tentpole of the Fox schedule, and a movie is in the works. One of the few cons of the non-stop season is that it's gone for so long one almost forgets how good it is.


Watching 24 is like standing in a wind tunnel filled with marshmallows – good stuff comes at you faster than you can imagine. Some of those marshmallows are burnt, like when favorite characters get killed, but most of them are perfectly toasty. Jack Bauer, fresh from a 20-month torture jag in a Chinese prison, jumps back into action, breaking laws and legs with equal abandon.

Rather than being handcuffed by the real-time premise, 24 has managed to make it the most reliably thrilling hour on television. You've got 5 days before the next episode – take the week off, rent the DVDs and watch the first 5 seasons back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. You may emerge a little tired, but the 5th episode of this season will wake you right back up. It's that good.

Welcome back, Jack.


Rhyme Time

I celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday in the most reverent way possible – catching up on a huge amount of TV. Reviews of 24 and The Golden Globes are forthcoming, but for now... the Limerick Critic.

Grey's Anatomy
I used to skip doctor shows
To ER and House I gave “NOs”
But Grey’s is well-written
I confess I’m smitten
With these docs and their passion throes.

So Lana is marrying Lex
Although she still loves Clark, her ex
Lois loves the Green Arrow
But her sights are too narrow,
Cause Clark proves he’s better at sex.

This show is surprisingly fun
For heroes named after a gun
It ought to do well
They fight demons from hell
And spend most episodes on the run.

Saturday Night Live
Jake Gyllenhaall was fairly funny
His “Dreamgirls” was right on the money.
The show was alright
But Saturday Night
Has an outlook that’s much less than sunny.

Grease: You're the One that I Want
This episode highlighted a couple
Whose relationship was in trouble
He made it as Zuko
I wanted to puke, oh
Man, is this show on the bubble.

The Apprentice: LA
So the teams had to design some swimsuits
To see which one wouldn’t get the boot
This show is a joke
Trump acts like a stroke
I don’t care a bit for these recruits.


Much like The Empire...

...the Limerick Critic strikes back, this time with helpful headings.

Relationships put back together
Although it's still hard to know whether
This great show will last
Sweeps are coming fast
And ratings are light as a feather.

Top Chef
There once was a chef named Marcel
The other cooks all gave him hell.
I don't quite get why,
He's an OK guy
And his plates always turn out well.

The Office
So Dwight finally noticed the camera,
And Michael tried to bring down the hammer.
This ep was a killer,
Not one bit of filler,
And Dwight stalked out on a cliffhanger.

The OC
As this show begins to wind down
More trouble is hitting the town.
Too bad this show died,
It's hitting its stride
Though in this ep Seth seemed like a clown.


The Darn Pig's Got Wings!

Here's something new: me recommending that you watch a country music show. And not only watch, but vote. Yes, I'm talking about Nashville Star, hosted by someone called Cowboy Troy and, for some reason, Jewel.
It's clearly American Idol in chaps, which normally I'd hate like poison. However, this year a friend of a friend is on it – Meg Allison. I've seen her play and she's terrific – one might say a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Or one might not, but regardless, she's worth one's vote.
It premieres tonight on USA, so give it a look and give Meg your vote – we cannot let someone named Rickiejoleen win.


Greased Something

Two more reality shows aired recently, each selling a different twist. Grease: You're the One that I Want is American Idol, except instead of looking for the next Taylor and Katharine, they're casting for Danny and Sandy in the upcoming Broadway production. The Apprentice: LA is, well, The Apprentice, except it's, ah, in LA. What'd I think of the pilots? Opinions ahoy!
Say what you will about American Idol, but it's terrifically well-packaged. This... is not. It's sort of like those people at Christmas who save the wrapping paper and reuse it – G:YTOTIW has Idolesque trappings, but is far less compelling.

First, the hosts – Billy Bush makes Ryan Seacrest look like Edward R. Murrow. He's got a comparable amount of product in his hair, but clearly missing something beneath it. Bush quickly hits a new hosting low when he interrupts the audition process to campaign for a girl who just got booted... only to watch her perform worse in her second chance. Co-hosting is Denise Van Outen, who, um, does less than Brian Dunkleman did before he got kicked to the curb. Her bio touts that she once got turned down for the role of Sandy in Grease, so she's clearly qualified.

Next, the judges – David Ian is touted as "the most powerful man in British theater." The role he's playing here is Simon Cowell, save for the tight black t-shirt. Plucky choreographer Kathleen Marshall plays wacky choreographer Paula Abdul, albeit less unhinged. And Jim Jacobs takes the Randy role – instead of referring to his glory days in the band Journey, he references the fact that he wrote Grease at 26. And seemingly hasn't done anything since.

Finally, the contestants – your standard lineup of has-beens, never-wills and a few maybes. Altho instead of the hundreds of thousands that Idol draws, this is more like hundreds, perhaps a thousand. So I'm not holding out for a double Tony win from this Sandy or Danny – right now the pickings appear pretty slim.

So does it clear The Pilot Hurdle? Well, it's on the dead zone known as Sunday night, so it might eke out another viewing or two before Battlestar Galactica and The Dresden Files premiere on SciFi. But as the judges routinely repeat in the vain attempt to coin a catch phrase, 'You're... not the one that I want."
Gave up on The Apprentice years ago, but figured a change of scenery might make it worth a watch. So far, so... weird. Parts of it still feel like relics: the boardroom bickering, the challenges that are debateably related to business acumen, Trump himself, etc. However, a few of the new spins are bizarrely appealing.

The shift to the West Coast is welcome. I heart NY, but year after year of the contestants hailing cabs and hawking crap in Times Square got old. The much more laid back (and laid out) landscape of LA was apparent in this first ep, when the Project Manager got all excited about making signs at Kinko's. Broke into a run screaming "it's only a few blocks away..." and then apparently ran for miles, huffing and puffing that "this might not have been the best idea." Huh. Y'think?

Also, trusted confidant Carolyn's been fired, replaced by... Trump's daughter, Ivanka. She went to Wharton and has managed developments, but her main talent is to flounce thru the challenges, be sort of pouty-sexy and appear above it all. Odd mix, but so far it works.

And in a strange bit of fusion, the producers grasped at a straw named Survivor – while the challenge winners live in a luxurious mansion, the losers have to sleep outside... in the backyard... in tents. What does this have to do with interviewing for a job? I suppose one could tap-dance up a reason like working under extreme conditions or driving to succeed, but in truth, prolly nothing. Also, it means we'll be treated to more scenes of the contestants dragging their wheelies behind them, a visual I've long felt brought the boardroom scenes to the point of lunacy.

From a Pilot Hurdle standpoint, The Apprentice is a nose above Grease, but still clinging loosely to my TiVo queue. I'll give 'em both a couple weeks – if you simply can't wait 'til next week's Idol premiere, or would like to see a bunch of Type-As brought low by LA, so should you.


60 is so 06

Inspired by my Ode to The OC, I'm kicking around a new gimmick. Instead of Mile-a-Minute Comments, 60 words or so per so, I'm calling it Limerick Critic – lemme know what you think:
So Friday Night Lights moved to Wednesday
If it gets more ratings I'll say "yay."
This ep was heartrending
Especially the ending
'Cause the quarterback maybe can't play.

When Michael forwarded an email
Of him and a nearly nude female
The pictures of Jan
Displaying her tan
End up getting him even more tail

This show has turned out to be fun
My loyalty so far it's won
Tina wants a baby
Alec drives her crazy
Surprisingly I laughed a ton

I watched this episode mourning
Although they did give me fair warning
That soon they'll be gone
And no longer on
The replacement will prolly be boring

So. Comments, please. Love it? Hate it? Would prefer Haiku Reviews instead?


The NO C

Black armbands (or bracelets, wrist cuffs, what have you) today, as they canceled The OC. Not shocking, I suppose, as it's been losing viewers for a while, particularly during an admittedly rough last Season 3. But it's too bad – this year's been terrific, as fresh and funny as it ever was. And worse, what's going to replace it midseason?

I get that TV lives and dies on ad revenue (at least for now, until TiVo pushes product placement even further), but it's hard to imagine that more garbage like 'Til Death or The War at Home is going to attract more profitable ratings.

Ah well. We've got 8 episodes to go before they sail into the California sunset. Until then, I'll continue to have fond memories of the best Life Saver I ever got.


One and Done

Pilot Opinion: Dirt
TV loves antiheroes. The Shield's Vic Mackey. Rescue Me's Tommy Gavin. Tony Soprano – hell, pretty much all of The Sopranos. Characters you'd likely detest in real life, but you like just fine on the screen. Lucy Spiller, the on-the-nose-named antiheroine in FX's new show Dirt, is not one of these.

Michael Chiklis' Mackey walks both sides of the law, but we've long been able to appreciate vigilante justice if we can see our way clear to believing it's for the right reasons. Denis Leary exposes Gavin as he battles his demons – physical, mental and chemical – allowing us to understand and appreciate his struggle. And hey, everyone loves the Mob! The stars of Dirt, however, seem to be notable primarily for being a bitch, cheater, schizo, traitor or whore.

Courteney Cox plays Spiller, who trades in celeb gossip for the titular magazine (altho on the show it's spelled Drrt, as in Riot Grrls, etc. Uh huh.) She crushes reputations with captions, causes divorces with stories and kills careers with pictures. She puts down her staff and picks up strangers on the street. Her sidekick is a deranged shooter for the paparazzi. And we're supposed to root for her because... um... she was Monica on Friends?

Also not helping is the fact that Hollywood clearly doesn't want to participate in a plot that celebrates the paparazzi and friends – LA's known for being fake, but the version in this show is particularly so. Former Laker Rick Fox plays an adulterous basketball player for the "LA Rockers," who also happen to wear purple and gold. The actors playing the actors are vaguely reminiscent of real stars, like Kiera Knightley-ish Julia Mallory, or saddled with soap-worthy names like Holt McClaren. Part of Entourage's success stems from the sense that you're getting a real tour of the town, whereas Dirt feels like a bitter fantasy.

So does it clear The Pilot Hurdle? Nope. Dirt's got the trademark FX grit, with blow job and strap on discussions, lots of near nudity and drug use and abuse, but it's missing Rescue Me's soul or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's irreverence. We're supposed to revel in how deliciously dirty all these characters are, but mostly it feels like you'll want a shower after. Pass.