Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Open Letter To Veronica Mars

Dear Veronica Mars,

I’m a huge fan. Really, I am. I feel horrible about you and Logan. I totally get why you did it, but for some reason I’m still pulling for the two of you crazy kids to get together.

I am a little worried though about how college life is affecting you and your detective skills. I totally knew who killed Dean O’Dell weeks ago and for you to only figure it out at 9:55 yesterday was quite disturbing. I thought we’d agreed that the TA was sketchy -- what happened there, did you forget? 

Oh, and I’m really sorry about your teacher-mentor guy pleading guilty to manslaughter, that has to just be a kick in gut. 

On the upside, you dad being the acting sheriff is pretty sweet. But, on that note, I’m not really comfortable with you stealing files and stuff from his office. Or, for that matter, you stealing stuff from other places and giving it to him. That’s not going to go well down the line, I can just tell. Surely someone is going to be able to get out of jail time because laws were broken by the sheriff’s daughter in an attempt to obtain evidence. Doesn’t that worry you? I know that you only want good things for Pops, and surely this can negatively impact his career. 

There’s just one other thing that troubles me. You always come up with these fantastic old school references to '80s (and before) pop culture. Surely you’re too young for such stuff? It’s not that I don’t appreciate the references, I really, really do, it just seems odd that you know so many. What did you do, go to pop culture night school in between regular school and moonlighting as a detective? More power to you though. 

I’m told you’re not going to be around for a few weeks, and I’m really going to miss you. I think that everything you’re doing in the name of “Girl Power” is just plain fantastic.

Listen, V, just make me one promise: tell me you’ll be back next year. I’ve heard rumors you’re going away, and that not everyone is a huge fan of yours. Say it ain’t so. 

Say it ain’t so. 

 

Your friend forever,

TV and Film Guy

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Donnellys, Heroes, and Your Mother

Why, I ask you, does Monday night TV have to be so good? Why do there have to be so many good hours of shows on Monday? Can’t we move some of that stuff to Tuesday and Wednesday, where I personally feel that there is a dearth of entertaining television?

Between How I Met Your Mother, 24, Heroes, and now The Black Donnellys. I’ll grant you that Donnellys takes the place of Studio 60, so it’s not like I added a new hour of television viewing, but I now need to get all invested in some other show that I never watched before. It’s stressful, I’m telling you.

In any case, on HIMYM, I’m not sure how I feel about Barney not being able to drive. On the one hand, it makes complete sense. A lot of people who grow up in New York City never learn how to drive. On the other hand, Barney admitting to not being able to drive seems odd. His character admitting any such sort of weakness seems out of place. Maybe that’s not quite right, but there was something there, that while funny, didn’t seem true to me.

Not only that, but what about the fact that they found an empty parking lot during the transit strike for them to practice driving in? As someone who spent an hour to get ten blocks during the transit strike, I can assure you that there were no empty parking lots. Beyond that, no one would ever drive to get Thai food in New York, surely they would’ve just hopped on the subway or in a cab. I love the show, I really, really do, but when they try to do such a NY-centric thing they need to pay more attention to the realities of New York City.

Heroes… best… episode… ever. I don’t want to give too much away, but holy mackerel wasn’t that great? Wasn’t that great? That was great. Just great. Doctor Who used to be a good guy, working for the man… wow. Hero’s father being a part of this whole shebang… wow. The standoff in the Bennett home... wow. There have been some weak episodes in the past, episodes where nothing much happened, but they definitely seem to have turned up the heat in the past couple of weeks. I have an inkling that they’re building to something big, and maybe more than the whole NYC is going to blow up thing, but we’ll have to see about it. And, if you haven’t visited the Primatech Paper website, you should.

I don’t want to spend too much on The Black Donnellys as I've already written a full review, but let’s discuss for just a moment. Can they keep this going? Surely, eventually, the boys figure out what they’re doing, and plots will be harder to come up with, but maybe that’s a season two or three concern and consequently not something I should be focusing on at this moment. I thought the show came out of the box really, really strong. It had a definite POV, attitude, style, and some wit. The Donnelly brothers seem likable despite their illegal doings, which is always a tough line to try and straddle correctly.

I’ll get to 24, probably tonight, maybe tomorrow, but at this moment Heroes is much more appointment viewing for me. No? Am I wrong?

The Black Donnellys Shoot For Number One

Last night, NBC premiered its newest series, The Black Donnellys. The drama, scripted by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco (both of Crash fame, among other places), centers around the four brothers in the Donnelly family: Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin, and Sean. As with most sets of brothers (or siblings in general) the Donnelly boys don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.

Raised in a strictly working class neighborhood, the boys grew up committing small crimes (stealing ice cream bins and the like) and eventually graduated to higher orders of legal problems. Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) is at the center of the show, and is the Donnelly boy that’s trying to go straight. Some of Tommy’s brothers however, most notably Jimmy (Tom Guiry), are not interested in such a life. Jimmy has drug problems and has no compunction about committing various crimes (including stealing a truck full of Hawaiian shirts). Kevin (Billy Lush) is the gambler of the family. Kevin will tag along with Jimmy on the crimes, but feels associated with Tommy as well. Then there’s Sean (Michael Stahl-David); he’s the baby of the family and the one with the good looks.

As the pilot opens, it seems as though Kevin owes thousands of dollars to a bookie. Over the course of the episode, Jimmy and Kevin concoct and execute a plan to kidnap the bookie and hold him for ransom. This bad idea turns out to be an even worse one when it is found out that the bookie’s related to an Italian mob boss. The boss goes after the Donnelly boys, and Sean ends up in the hospital. Jimmy, hothead that he is, shoots the bookie. The local Irish mob sells out Jimmy to the Italian mob, but Tommy is smart enough to recognize the double-cross. By the end of the first episode the Donnellys have taken out the heads of the Irish and Italian mobs in the neighborhood and have become, by default, the new bosses. For better or worse, it looks like Tommy is going to have a hard time staying on the straight and narrow at this point.

The entire episode is narrated as a series of flashbacks by Joey “Ice Cream” (Keith Nobbs) as he sits in jail and is making some sort of deal with the police. The writing is both dark and serious yet somehow funny at the same time. The Donnellys clearly have a lot to learn about running an organized crime family, and a lot of internal dysfunctions to work out as well.

The pilot was shot with great style and was wonderful to watch unfold. At some point all mob stories feel as though they’ve been done before, this one with shades of The Godfather as well as more recent The Sopranos-type stuff thrown in. Even so, the show certainly seems to have enough nuances, ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs, and interesting characters to certainly hold viewer interest for a while.

I’ve certainly thought before that certain shows would be successful that later turned into huge flops, but, if the writing of Donnellys can maintain the level that existed in the pilot, hopefully good things will happen.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Contemplating the Academy Awards Ceremony

I know, you’ve been just dying to find out and so I’m here to tell you.  Yes, I watched the Oscars last night.  I did.  I enjoyed it, particularly when I fell asleep at midnight and the show was still going on (hey, I had to get up and go to work this morning).  But, no, I’m not being tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic, I did enjoy the show.  I thought Ellen was really, really funny and despite the ridiculous number of montages and stuff I didn’t need to exist as a part of the show, Ellen was able to keep me from turning the channel.  I like that Ellen.

Did Ellen make a mistake and say Penelope Cruz was from Mexico?  I’m not sure, it went by too quickly for me to say definitively.  The upside of it was though that Ellen came out to clear up any misunderstanding and Penelope got more screen time, and that’s really all the upside anyone could ever ask for.

And, Ellen in the audience?  Great stuff.  Her with Clint and Scorsese and Spielberg.  Just loved it.  Loved it.

Those weird, weird performers that made the designs with their body, that was pretty cool too.

And that Tom Hanks?  Not funny.  I don’t know why, but he wasn’t funny in his speech, was he?  Especially when Jack Black and Will Ferrell did such good job (as did Seinfeld, what I wouldn’t give to have him back on TV on a regular basis), why did Hanks’s thing come off so badly?

Speaking of bad, what was up with the little introductions they gave?  Jennifer Lopez is a great reason to get a high definition TV?  Michael Arndt used to be Matthew Broderick’s assistant?  And other weird, weird ones.  Was someone a climber?  You just never quite knew what was going to come out of the announcer’s mouth, and it was disturbing.  Sedate as it is, I’d much rather have “This is So-and-So’s thirty-fifth nomination and twenty-second win,” and be done with it, the announcements last night would’ve added “that’s right, So-and-So can set up two bowling alley lanes with the number of Oscars he has and have two to spare.”  It’s just not necessary,  is it? 

So, a big old, “Go You!” from TV and Film Guy to the winners and a slightly more quiet “don’t worry about it, you’ll get’ em next year” to the rest of the nominees (see, look at that, I can be politically correct). 

In closing, I’d just like to reiterate that I like Ellen DeGeneres and really wouldn’t mind seeing her around in the future.  She’s such a natural, she should have her own show.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Solid Friday Night of Television

Now, normally I eschew a weekend article.  While that might allow for a more easy going weekend, it always prevents me from talking about two of my favorite shows:  Las Vegas and Psych.  Sure, Monk is great, but this past season has been something of a let down there are tons of plot inconsistencies and obvious problems with the stories that prevent me from being able to, this season, list it as one of my favorites.  But, Las Vegas and Psych?  Just plain great.

Many people would declare Las Vegas a “guilty pleasure.”  I don’t because I in no way feel guilty at all about watching it.  Is the show terribly intelligent?  No.  Does the show really make you think?  No.  Is it hugely witty or intricate or surprising?  No.  It’s just plain old fun to watch.  The plots are ridiculously over the top, the actors ham it up, and the writing allows for all this outlandishness to take place.  If anyone take Las Vegas seriously they’ll think it’s an awful show.  But, the point of the entire endeavor is that it’s just plain old fun.  You don’t have to think or pay close attention to a tattoo on someone’s arm (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Las Vegas is just there to be seen.

Please don’t tell me that you don’t watch Psych.  You know, the show about the detective that pretends he’s a psychic in order to get cases.  You don’t?  You’re nuts.  In case you’re unfamiliar:  James Roday stars as Shawn Spencer, a kid that’s just a little too lax and laid back for his father (Corbin Bernsen) to appreciate.  Shawn, ecentually realizing he needs a way to make money utilizes his photographic memory and detective skills (both honed by his father, the one-time police officer) along with his penchant for making up stories to convince the police that he’s a psychic and can help them on cases.  Along for the ride is his best friend, Berton Guster (Dulé Hill).  The two of them open a detective agency and solve weird, wacky, and ridiculous crimes in Santa Barbara.

Psych actually makes a perfect pairing with Monk (which, amazingly, it airs right after), which, despite its weaknesses this season is still a pretty enjoyable show.  It’s not that Monk has gone too far with Adrian’s problems, it’s that they gotten too clever with the cases and they simply don’t work anymore; the plot flaws have begun to, on occasion, impair the show’s likability. Even so, if you haven’t seen Monk either, it’s definitely worth an hour of your time. 

Do I watch 3 hours of TV on Friday nights?  Yes, but only because Battlestar Galactica moved to Sundays and I’ve gotten tired of Law & Order.  Think of me what you will, just know this, Friday night television is not the vast wasteland some would have you believe it to be.  There’s good stuff there, you just have to know where to find it. 

Friday, February 23, 2007

Must See TV Still Exists!

It’s Friday, and you’re dying to know this sort of thing, so I’m going to tell you. Last night, I watched two hours of Must See TV. Sure, sure, I’m living back in 1999, but that was such a party I don’t want to give it up. And, despite the fact that the comedies NBC airs from 8 to 10 pm on Thursdays don’t garner the ratings they once did, they’re still awfully, awfully funny (at least for the most part).

Let’s admit it anyway, until Will & Grace appeared in one of those half-hour time slots, you don’t really know what aired at 8:30 or 9:30 on those heady Thursday nights. We both know that you didn’t watch Boston Common, and no matter how many times they tried to shove The Single Guy down our throats it never really worked.

Let’s look at what they put on last night, and you’ll see just how special it truly is.

The first hour consists of My Name is Earl and The Office. Earl has Jason Lee starring as a reprobate trying to fix his life because Carson Daly explained karma to him. The show is funny because it’s just so wrong. There’s always the “I can’t believe he just said that” factor. For instance, when Joy gave birth to an African-American child last night, Earl consulted a doctor as to whether or not he and Joy could have produced such a child. The doctor looks at him calmly and states “Nine months ago your wife cheated on you with a black fella.” That’s it, he makes no bones about it. Okay, that’s just one example, and like much of the show, it has a very “you had to be there” flavor.

The Office? It’s the third funniest comedy on television. Better than it are only Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother. Happily, last night convinced me that I am not Dwight Schrute, which had been a growing concern. Sure, Dwight and I may have some similarities, but I stopped climbing up to roofs and inspecting chimneys during cocktail parties years ago. But I digress. The Office is the only show that in the span of five minutes can have you go from rooting for a couple to succeed (Pam and Roy) and really pulling for them to being thrilled that it didn’t work out. Genius, pure genius.

Scrubs is without a doubt the second funniest comedy on television. It’s one of those shows that people don’t watch, for some unfathomable reason. Scrubs is one of those comedies that has such a strong heart and soul while still being capable of being utterly hysterical. From the absurdness of The Todd (I was sad we didn’t see him last night) to J.D.’s struggles in love and life to just plain everyone there at Sacred Heart, I’m pulling for them to return for another season.

Lastly, 30 Rock. I’ve told you why I like this show before, but there’s more to it than just that. Alec Baldwin, as people have noted what with his award wins and nominations, is a funny guy. Every episode he seems to bring his character’s assininity to whole new level, while never putting himself at such a distance from the audience so as to be completely unlikable. And, while Baldwin was great last night going through the art of negotiation, I really liked Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon (possibly for the first time). Right there at the end of the show, she broke the fourth wall and did a little wink and nod to the audience about patriotism not being incompatible with other ideas and ideals and it was brilliant.

You don’t believe me still, and that’s okay, you’re entitled to your opinion, but give the new Must See TV lineup a chance. It really is worth it, and if you record it all and eliminate the commercials it’s not going to take up all that much of your time. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Weekly Wednesday Fish Biscuit

What is it about fish biscuits that I just love? You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Jack was there in that cage yesterday and I longed to see a fish biscuit. I couldn’t fathom why they kept bringing him sandwiches when fish biscuits should’ve been plentiful. How will Jack ever work out the wondrous mystery of the fish biscuit machine if The Others keep feeding him? Give a man a sandwich you feed him for a day, teach a man how to get fish biscuits, you feed him for life.

For the last two weeks, my Wednesday nights have been as wonderful as fish biscuits.

Not because there is a plethora of original programming aired that I watch. I don’t watch that American Idol show. I just can’t. Every season I try, but I can’t. So, in terms of original programming there’s very little there that I’m interested in, pretty much right now it’s just Lost on Wednesdays.

Why then, is it wonderful? 

Easy, because I get to catch up on great programming I didn’t get to watch earlier in the week (seriously, do we need so many hours of great stuff on Sunday and Monday nights?). This go around it was a little Jack Bauer and a little Bill Adama in addition to Dr. Jack. It was a solid three hours of drama.

Let’s discuss, shall we?

Jack Bauer. I enjoy the show, I do, but I just don’t buy the Jack’s father thing. I just don’t. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t ring true. It’s still enjoyable as heck, but the way it’s all playing out I have serious doubts that Rocket Romano and James Cromwell were behind last year’s nefariousness with the intention that they were Jack’s immediate family. Nope. Doesn’t work. 

BSG? Love it. I’ve liked Edward James Olmos ever since he was Jaime Escalante (it was only later I realized that Jaime Escalante is also the guy from Blade Runner). So, an Old Man-centric episode is right up my alley. Add in a little side-plot with The Chief and I’m happy. Frankly, I’m tired of the Starbuck and Lee nonsense, so to see them put it by the wayside for a week really did make me quite happy. 

That then was the slightly stale part of last night’s fish biscuit, let’s move on to the stinky part…

I’m a fan of Lost, I am. I really enjoy the show more often than not. Sure, in the fall I was getting a little tired of Sawyer/Kate/Jack week after week after week. But, then came the fall finally and there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Last week’s episode may have been the best episode of Lost ever. Then there was huge, mammoth, ridiculous disappointment this week. No one except the most ardent, hardcore, minutiae loving fan of the show really needs a backstory on how Jack got his tats. Combine that with the fact that Jack and Kate and Sawyer aren’t together any more means that we don’t need the whole episode to focus on them. You want to do a Jack backstory, do a Jack backstory, but give us a little Hurley or Locke or Desmond or Charlie or someone else besides Kate and Sawyer. Or maybe make it a little bit of everyone. I beg you. 

So, much like a fish biscuit my viewing last night was a little stale, a little stinky, left a not so great taste in my mouth, but I’m absolutely going back for more next week. But, I ask you all to remember this: tempting as it may be, man does not live by fish biscuit alone.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just Shut Up & Sing Already!

There’s just something about Dixie Chicks - Shut up & Sing that just makes me mad.  I’m quite sure that’s one of the points of the entire endeavor, but it doesn’t quite make me happy. 

In London in 2003, on the first night of their “Top of the World” tour, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of The Dixie Chicks, unhappy about the U.S.’s plans for war in Iraq stated that she was ashamed the President of the United States was from Texas.  Because the President’s approval rating was sky high at that point and the U.S. was gearing up for war, a group of people felt that the very notion that someone might disagree, publicly, with the Commander-in-Chief was hugely, unforgivably, and ludicrously unpatriotic.  Maines’s comments got skewed and transformed into something far larger and The Dixie Chicks quickly found themselves being boycotted and banned from country radio stations; they had, apparently, alienated their conservative fan base.

This documentary follows The Dixie Chicks from immediately prior to when the comment was made through the summer of 2006, charting their setbacks and leaps forward.  It shows how they remained together as a band, and how certain things have changed in the 3 intervening years, while others remain the same.

The Chicks have never quite gotten back their country fan base, and still find it hard to get played on country radio stations, have had trouble filling venues in the south, but have remained one of the top selling female acts.  Though it occurred after the documentary was released, The Chicks even won 5 Grammy Awards in February 2007. 

My anger, it should be made clear, is in no way directed at the film, filmmakers, The Dixie Chicks, it’s at our nation.  And, if the movie can get someone that riled up at the way people in this country behave, it has accomplished it’s goal and is a success.  I just don’t understand why people can get so bent out of shape because someone says that they disagree with our President.  How is that unpatriotic? 

The answer, as implied by the documentary, is quite simple:  people just don’t get it.  People jumped on the anti-Dixie Chicks bandwagon completely unaware of what Natalie Maines said, and it all only happened because Bush’s approval ratings were so high.  Maines looks into the camera during this documentary as says not once, but twice, to President Bush that he is a “dumb fuck.”  That’s perfectly acceptable today because a majority of our country now believes that the Iraq War was a mistake and disagree with how President Bush has handled it. 

The only possible conclusion to all this is that there are too many people in this country that don’t understand what freedom of speech is or means.  People working at radio stations that refuse to play The Dixie Chicks are able to explain themselves very well in the movie:  their listeners will tune away if The Chicks are played.  People angry at The Chicks are less able to explain their feelings, from associating The Chicks’s statement with Communism to explaining that they shouldn’t voice anti-American sentiment when outside the country. 

The movie, while biased in favor of The Chicks, doesn’t always show them or their management in a good light.  They unquestionably say silly things and add unnecessary fuel to the fire, but that sort of thing is completely overshadowed by stuff like the death threat made against Maines before a show in Texas.

The entire documentary ultimately pushes for greater understanding; The Chicks want people to know what was said and what the response was.  They don’t shy away from what they did, they’re just trying to understand how it all ended up going as far as it did. 

They come off as wholly sympathetic, and their actions as, usually, very understandable.  They are made to appear as down to earth, average people.  Whether or not those parts are true to life, I can’t say, but the documentary does a wonderful job of making it appear to be the case.

The Dixie Chicks - Shut Up and Sing is fun, interesting, and provocative.  Agree or disagree with them, like or dislike the music, go and see the documentary.   

Forget Babel, It's Just Incomprehensible

The tragic, ironic, and, honestly, funny, thing about the movie Babel is that much like the tower of the same name from the biblical story, the entire thing comes crashing down without remorse or pity. While in the biblical story the tower comes crashing down because God decided that people should have limitations, the movie comes crashing down because it takes itself so seriously and puts forth a moderately ridiculous story with only vaguely related, and often completely unbelievable, story lines.

In brief, the story follows the effects on several different families when two boys decide to play with a rifle and happen to shoot an American tourist in Morocco (played by Cate Blanchett, with Brad Pitt as her husband). This creates an international incident and sparks an overly-thorough investigation by the police in an attempt to prevent any thoughts by the Americans that Morocco may be soft on terrorists and terrorism. 

The various stories in play here include: that of the American couple, Susan and Richard; the Moroccan family of the boy that shot Susan; Susan and Richard’s children and nanny (Amelia) back in North America; and a Japanese father (Yasujiro) and daughter (Chieko). 

This last story line has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It just so happens that Yasujiro is a hunter and at some point in the past went hunting in Morocco and gave the rifle that was used to shoot Susan to his guide, who in turn sold it to the father of the boys. Nothing that happens to Yasujiro and Chieko throughout the story has anything to do with the rifle, except for two police officers visiting the family and Chieko trying to sleep with one of them (a minor point in their tale). The fact that Yasujiro is a hunter is irrelevant, the fact that he went to Morocco is irrelevant, his entire presence in the movie is irrelevant. But what’s worse than that is that the story isn’t even his, it’s his daughter’s. 

Chieko, is a deaf-mute, is depressed due to her mother’s suicide, and desperately wants to lose her virginity. The story entirely revolves around her attempts to sleep with people and find comfort. It has nothing to do with the shooting of Susan and can’t really even be related back to it. Why is this story included? Probably because it makes the entire thing more international. 

Then  there’s the nanny and Richard and Susan’s children’s story line. Whereas the Japanese story line is irrelevant, this one is implausible. The viewer is told that the shooting of Susan has touched off an international incident, and gets to see that it is being widely reported in the press. Amelia, the nanny, despite all this, takes the children across the California-Mexico border in order to attend her son’s wedding. While that is plausible, the notion that there aren’t a ton of reporters staking out Richard and Susan’s house and following their children and nanny’s every move is completely ridiculous. Yet, apparently there are no reporters there, and Amelia, who just happens to be an illegal alien (she does however have a passport and crosses back and forth across border checkpoints with impunity), decides to attend her son’s wedding.

I understand that urge. I get that desire. But, really? Are we to believe that not only are there no reporters following the children, but that the illegal alien nanny decides to take the kids across the border without any sort of documentation stating that she can watch the children? I just can’t accept that.

As for Richard and Susan’s story... nothing happens. They wait for an ambulance, it gets canceled because the U.S. would rather send a helicopter (which is quite delayed), they get to a hospital and are okay. So totally and completely not worth it.

The Moroccan family? Their story line is by far the most interesting. The boys eventually admit what they’ve done, the father tries his best to protect them and make everything right, but the police are unwilling to listen and things quickly go downhill.

The moral of the movie seems to be that everything and everyone is wrong, but America and Americans most of all. That’s fine as morals go, but it’s apparent that that’s the movie’s point five minutes into the proceedings, which go on for another 137 minutes before finally wrapping up.

Babel, and everyone involved in it, seems to take itself so seriously that it becomes a little funny. It is an incredibly shallow, sad look at the world that does nothing to enlighten the viewer. It is a series of loosely interconnected, hugely implausible and impossible stories that shrouds itself in the guise of promoting a worldly agenda of understanding and mutual respect. In reality, it is a movie bucking for awards due to a faux depth and the inclusion of subtitles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alien Shooter: Vengeance Shall Be Mine!

As happens on occasion, it is time for another game review...


Every time I play a shooter, I say to myself that there are simply not enough enemies to mow down - that, and that the plot is always far too involved. I just want to be able to stand there and mow down row after row of mindless enemy combatants - ones with A.I. so wretched that they will keep trying to attack head-on when you’re standing above them shooting and there is no way for them to reach you.

Enter Alien Shooter: Vengeance, the answer to all my prayers.

The plot? It’s a relatively incomprehensible story about a future where terrorism has changed the face of the world and caused a new type of capitalism to emerge, and the perils of science, and some sort of gate that has allowed alien creatures to come through it. You, the player, are something of a mercenary, called in to quell the uprising at M.A.G.M.A. Corporation and get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Following an incredibly slow load time the player is treated to relatively poor, almost pure top-down graphics, very reminiscent of a Diablo, or, if you’re as old as I am, a more accurate analogy would be Syndicate. The graphics are completely unremarkable, though a good deal of time seems to have been spent on how shooting an already dead enemy should lead to an explosion of body and other alien bits and pieces. After the aliens die though, there is a residual, almost radiation-like appearance to the screen. Still though, the blood is everywhere. Actually, one of the more odd moments graphically occurs after the player gets to drive around in an armored car. The game actually traces very well the tire tracks made by the car over the blood and viscera of aliens. It’s quite impressive. Completely silly, but quite impressive.

The game is mission based: go here and turn on the computer; go there and save a scientist; retrieve the critical discs from a database, etc. Successful completion of the missions result in the garnering of money (which can also be found alongside weapons throughout missions in wooden crates), which allows the player to buy ammo, weapons, armor, and various other upgrades. By killing enough creatures throughout the mission, the player can level up and choose various attributes (intelligence, accuracy, speed, etc.) to increase as well.

The number of aliens the game throws at the player is simply ludicrous, numbering on any given mission well into the two and three thousands and higher. This, in part, makes up for the complete lack of A.I. in the game. The aliens only response, ever, is to charge right at the player, making it pretty simple to mow down 50 or 60 at a shot, but moderately more difficult when 600 aliens appear from all different directions at once. Should the aliens only be coming from one or two directions, the best choice is often to simply retreat and continually shoot at them.

Despite the game’s complete lack of intelligence and plot, it is a blazing good time, and if you like shooters it’s definitely up your alley. There’s unquestionably a certain sense of accomplishment to mowing down the full complement of 2,477 aliens on a given level, even if I did just stand on a catwalk they couldn’t reach, while a drone took out the aliens below as I walked away for five minutes to get a cup of coffee. Seriously. I left the computer, went to the kitchen, made coffee, and came back while a computerized drone buddy of mine took out all the aliens (they were still coming when I got back).

In the mood to mindlessly blast away 3,000 aliens on any given level? Alien Shooter: Vengeance is most definitely for you. It’s not terribly difficult, but the levels are long enough, and the number of enemies plentiful enough that it’s more than distracting for a few hours. Good times.

Alien Shooter: Vengeance is rater M by the (ESRB) for Blood, Language, and Violence.

Two stars out of five.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia - Not Like the Trailers at all!

Having read and enjoyed the novel in my youth, and then seeing the trailers for Bridge to Terabithia now, I was concerned that the entire novel had been changed into a Lord of the Rings-type film, completely geared towards the pre-teen set, and that the entire thrust of the novel had been inexplicably and utterly changed.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the film. Not only do they stick closely with the novel, the entire film is treated with love and care. But then, it should be, as David Paterson, the son of the woman that wrote the book, helped write the screenplay. In fact, David’s mom, Katherine Paterson, wrote the book for David when he was young and based the main character and some events on David’s life.

The story follows Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and his budding friendship with the new girl in school, Leslie Burke. Jesse is an outsider, even in his family. He is the only boy and doesn’t get along with his parents or siblings. What he does do is run. He wants to be the fastest kid in school. Unfortunately, the new girl, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) comes along and steals that title from him.

Leslie is also an outsider, who happens to live near Jesse and his family and the two soon become fast friends. One day the two go exploring in the woods and come across a rope swing. Leslie, using her imagination, decides that by crossing the swing they end up in the magical world of Terabithia. It’s a world that they populate entirely within their own minds, a world with evil rodents and giant trolls and a Dark Lord ruling over all.

Back in the real world, Jesse continues to struggle with his family and his father (Robert Patrick) in particular. He remains the forgotten about child, the one that gets the least attention. His only outlets are his friendship with Leslie and a crush that he has on his music teacher, Ms. Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel). Actually, the crush on Ms. Edmonds is much more another problem than an outlet; it’s puppy love for a teacher.

As the movie progresses, Jesse and Leslie become closer. The two continue to expand their world of Terabithia and start to help each other out in the real world as well. They’re a little young for it to be an out-and-out romantic relationship, but it certainly is a budding one.

There are some moments in the film that might have rung true when the book was initially published 30 years ago. For instance, in one scene, after a disturbance on the school bus, Jesse is kicked off the bus and forced to walk home. A bus driver doing such a thing today just screams “lawsuit,” as does a weekend field trip, that Jesse goes on, to a museum solo with a teacher.

Those moments aside, the movie is a wonderful coming-of-age story. It something that all pre-teens and even early teens can relate to and it’s a movie that the family can go to and experience together. Most certainly it is not without it’s sad and disturbing moments, and there are things that parents would want to talk to children about following viewing, but it’s worth the trip to the theatre.

The director, Gabor Csupo, and everyone involved in the movie seems to have taken great care and given a lot of thought to what they put on screen. If some of the moments in the movie come off as a little overly-hokey or too syrupy-sweet I think it is only because those involved may have been too close to the material.

It is a strong movie, and AnnaSophia Robb gives a wonderful performance as Leslie. The computer effects were done by Weta Digital, and look quite good. It’s just a shame that it is those effects that are highlighted in the trailer when the movie itself is so good.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Four and a Half Hours of Great Television

As I sat there watching 4.5 hours of TV last night (it was a good night), I had an epiphany. An epiphany of enormous proportions. An epiphany to outlast all other epiphanies. An epiphany that makes the sheer notion of other people having epiphanies utterly foolish. Let me tell you about the epiphany I had.

But, before I get there, I thought I’d throw out how very much I enjoy Extras. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are utterly fantastic. It’s comedy, it’s drama, and it’s nice to see that fame didn’t go to Andy Millman’s head. The guest stars that they have on every week are incredibly funny. Whether its Orlando Bloom or Diana Rigg or Ian McKellan, the parts are well-written and played over-the-top enough to be ridiculous and believable at the same time. So, I was behind in watching it this week, but Extras was one of the shows I watched during my epiphany.

I, of course, sat down and watched Lost as well. That’s one of those shows you just don’t play around with, it’s so well written and there are always surprises and you just don’t want to go to the office the next morning and hear people talking about the craziness involving Desmond. I don’t care what anyone says, I know that the numbers for the show are down from what they once were, but I don’t think it’s because of content, I think it’s because of marketing. Last season there were so many repeats and recap episodes it all got very frustrating. But, if you’ve drifted from the show for any reason I highly recommend you give it another shot, they’re going to be doing the rest of the season repeat-free and I think Abrams and Lindelhof and the guys have a definite plan and I want to be there to see it.

See, 24, which I also watched, is how Lost should’ve been handled from the start of season 2 on, as the NYPD Blue promos once said: repeats are for wimps. The numbers for 24 went from marginal to solid once they started going for 24 straight episodes, no repeats or missing weeks. As for the content, it’s been a good show this season, but not great. Happily it hasn’t been as utterly dismal as the bobcat episode of season 2 or season 3 in its entirety. That was a day I wish I hadn’t had to live through with Jack, the boredom and ridiculousness was stultifying.

Then there was Boston Legal (I know, I was behind again, it’s how we roll). That show lives and dies by the absurdities and extra-textual references contained within. This week’s episode was carried entirely by the notion of “Uncle Bill” and Buzz Lightyear. They always try and throw serious stuff in too, but it just doesn’t work as well. The show is really pretty solid at this time, but I’m worried it’s headed the way of Ally McBeal; a show that lives and dies based on the absurdities that it creates tends to run out of steam sooner rather than later.

Lastly, on tap was Battlestar Galactica. Call me a nerd, call me a geek, call me a dweeb, just don’t call me a fanboy. BSG is show that does really well at taking present-day problems and placing them into the future. It definitely does it’s best to funhouse mirror our world, and some of the reflections it shoots back at us are disturbing in their accuracy and clarity.

Oh, the epiphany, eh, it’s not really relevant. Forget it, don’t worry about, let’s just watch some more TV.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

That Steve Martin is a Wild and Crazy Guy

Steve Martin is a funny guy.  Let’s face it, he just is.  Not always, but often, and often enough that when people think of Steve Martin they tend to think “he’s a funny guy.” 

Helping show off Steve Martin’s comedy roots, Universal Studios has just released to DVD Steve Martin:  The Wild and Crazy Comedy Collection.  Included in the pack, on two DVDs are:  The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and The Lonely Guy and precious little in the way of bonus features.  But, as the movies have held up very well 20-plus years later, they provide enough incentive to purchase the set.

The Jerk follows the life of Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin), who is more of a complete and total fool than a jerk persay, because he fails to realize just how not bright he is.  Even so, Johnson manages to invent the “Opti-grab” which helps eyeglasses to not slip off one’s nose (they also have a clever little handle) and becomes fabulously wealthy.  Needless to say he loses it all, (perhaps) learns an important life lesson (perhaps not).

The Jerk may be the out-and-out funniest movie in the set, and though it does make use of numerous stereotypes, it does so with full awareness as to what it’s actually doing.  Navin Johnson may be a idiotic, but the movie itself, as with many of Martin’s films is quite smart. 

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a comedic take on hard-boiled film noir detective stories of the 40s and 50s, with Martin starring as Rigby Reardon.  Reardon is hired to look into the death of a prominent cheese maker that his daughter thinks is murder.  The film, years before Forrest Gump, throws Martin into a large number film-noir pictures, having him interact with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Alan Ladd, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart. 

My favorite in the set is Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.  As a fan both of Martin’s, film noir in general, and Humphrey Bogart in particular, I think the movie is great.  The effects inserting Martin into classic movies don’t look as good as similar things in Forrest Gump and later films, but they are good enough to be both funny and believable. 

The last film in the set, The Lonely Guy, stars Martin as just that, a lonely man, named Larry Hubbard.  He’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and starts to figure out life on his own, without a woman.  He quickly discovers that there are tons of other lonely men out there, all doing the same lonely things.  Hubbard writes a book on how to be a lonely guy and becomes hugely successful, but remains lonely until finally connecting with his true love.

This entry in the set is funny, but a little too one-note for my taste.  The irony that there are so many lonely people at the same place at the same time doing the same thing quickly becomes old, but the various adventures that Hubbard has provide just enough amusement to make the just over 90 minute film enjoyable.

If not one of the films in the set are terribly surprising in terms of their plot, or feel as though they have jokes that have been told before, that may be because an incredible number of films that have come after them have mimicked Martin’s early work. 

The first two films in the set, The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid are head-and-shoulders above The Lonely Guy in terms of their humor, though Martin does a wonderful sad-sack character in the latter.  Reasonably priced (listing for $19.98), this set, despite it’s lack of special features (there are a couple, including theatrical trailers), is more than worth it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Nova Seeks out "The Last Great Ape"

Nova’s latest episode, “The Last Great Ape,” has the makings of a wonderful documentary. Check that, it has the makings of two wonderful documentaries. As a single piece, it is fails to hold together or hold the viewer’s interest. And that assessment doesn’t even focus on the misleading title that the producers have given the episode. To say that the bonobo is the “last great ape” implies that there are no other great apes. There are, of course, tons of other great apes. They probably mean that the bonobo is the most recently discovered great ape, or, perhaps, the last great ape discovered. That, however, makes for a far less rousing title.

The episode follows the bonobo apes, their discovery, their attitudes, actions, how they differ from humans, how they’re similar, and their genetic relationship to chimpanzees. It then goes on to talk about the difficulty in studying the bonobos, and worries for the bonobos' survival, due to the political strife that currently exists in Congo, which is the only place the bonobos can be found.

It is possible to create a single cohesive documentary that discusses all these aspects of the bonobos and their lives. Nova, however, did not accomplish that task. Rather, the first half of the documentary discusses the bonobos, and their relationship to humans and chimpanzees. It goes through the bonobo lifestyle, in depth. Actually, the entire thing feels like a classic observational nature documentary, with tons of footage of bonobos in trees, on the ground, fighting amongst themselves, copulating, eating, etc.

The actual pedigree of the bonobos is vaguely interesting. Humans branched off from other hominoids about 7 million years ago, then 2 million years ago chimps and bonobos branched. Thus, as chimps have always been closely associated genetically with humans, bonobos can be seen in that regard as well. Bonobos, unlike chimps, are far less aggressive, and are formed into matriarchal societies. The documentary argues that by observing both chimps and bonobos, people can better understand human society. Human warlike tendencies are reflected in chimpanzee behavior, and peaceful social actions are seen by studying bonobo behavior.

The second half of the documentary takes a look at the political and social strife and upheaval that have taken place in Congo and surrounding nations. Researchers were forced to leave the bend in the river that marks the home of the bonobos and have only been able to come back recently. They were quite concerned as to what they would find, had all the bonobos been destroyed (bonobo meat has been found at markets), would they no longer allow the researchers near them, had they migrated? Dr. Frances White is, happily, able to find them again and the population seems relatively safe.

This second half of the episode is a happy story for the bonobos, but it really doesn’t mesh with the first half. There is, unquestionably, a way that these two pieces of documentary can be fit together into a single whole. Sadly, that does not occur here. There is a definite separation between the two pieces and it makes the entire documentary feel rather jumpy. Neither half really feels as though it goes in-depth enough to satisfy the viewer, leaving many questions unanswered.

There is absolutely a certain level of interest which this documentary can arouse, but, it is not among the best, or most engaging, episodes that Nova has put out this season.

Nova - "The Last Great Ape" airs on PBS Tuesday February 13 at 8PM ET/PT (but, as always, check your local listings).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I am Dwight Schrute

I had a horrific realization last night, something that scared the utter bejesus out of me. I don’t want this to be true, but it is. Last night, watching The Office, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I am Dwight Schrute.   

We’re all trained in a Pavlovian fashion in some way. I don’t salivate for Altoids, but hypothetically I could. When people say things akin to a line from a movie or TV show, I can’t help but start to recite bits of the scene. I think the idea of tossing crashers from a wedding could be fun; not only that, but I absolutely look at people and completely misconstrue what is going on and jump to erroneous conclusions. Dwight knows what the Dharma Project is, or at the very least where the reference comes from. Dwight thinks everyone else should know about Dharma too, as do I.

In more general terms, Dwight is a quintessential outsider. He doesn’t want to be, he may not even realize that he is an outsider, but an outsider he is. Though Dwight sometimes deserves to be the butt of jokes, he gets more than his fair share of practical jokes played on him. Dwight is saddled as being a guy that gets things done, but in the end does more to annoy and to separate himself out and thus doesn’t get the respect that may otherwise be due him.

To be sure, I am in no way as extreme as Dwight in any respect, but the possibilities are all there. Given a slightly, and only slightly, different set of circumstances (and better people writing my life script), I’d be him exactly. 

I’d so much rather be Jim than Dwight. I see some of Jim in myself too, but I’m much more Dwight. I thank God I’m not Michael Scott, but it’s just sad that I’m not Jim. I’m so close, but I’m Dwight. That’s the brilliance of The Office, though. 

The quickly cancelled Hidden Hills had the slogan, “it’s like your life, only funnier.” That ought to be the slogan for The Office. We’re all there, somehow, each and every one of us is there. Even if we’re an amalgam of people. Me, I’m 85% Dwight, 10% Jim, and 5% Ryan. Man, would it be great to be Ryan and not Dwight. Sure, Kelly would totally get on my nerves, but then at least I wouldn’t be Dwight.

Who am I kidding? I’m a Dwight, and I'll probably always be a Dwight.

I have to stop bringing my own water to work. Maybe that would help.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Play With Fire - There's a reason why this is a no-no

Woo-hoo! It's time for another video game review!

Imagine this: a game with poor graphics, a bland concept, less than intuitive controls, and poor camera angles. If you put them all together you may very well end up with a game very close to Manifesto’s Play With Fire.

The player is a little ball of fire that has to destroy various blocks, by setting them on fire and having them crumble, in an attempt to get to a black block and go to the next level. Why does the player have to do this? Who knows. After the first two levels does the player care to go any further? I’d imagine not. 

The player’s little ball of fire has to, on every level, destroy blocks in a certain order in order to reach the goal, which is the level exit block. Some blocks are completely indestructible, others not so much. The ball of fire has to destroy the blocks in a certain order (usually, anyway) so that they disappear in a timely enough way in order to allow the ball to jump on them as they burn or for the indestructible blocks don’t block the exit block. 

The movement options for the player are simple: move left, right, front, back, jump, and crash back to the ground after jumping. It’s a simple enough concept that has worked for numerous platformers and puzzle games in the past, but in Play With Fire it simply leaves the player feeling completely handicapped. Crashing back to the ground after jumping causes a larger blast radius for the little ball of fire’s destructive capabilities, and there are times when this proves useful, but like most other things in the game, it all feels kind of pointless.

If the player does opt to continue playing being the first few levels, they’ll encounter more of the same, over, and over, and over again. While many games are built in this manner, here, every level does is uninspired. From the first level on the game is confusing, it’s incredibly hard to determine where the end-level block is, and a tricky camera that is nearly impossible to control (despite being provided with camera controls) doesn’t make the process any easier. 

As for the graphics, they’re abysmally poor. The little ball of fire pretty much just looks like an orange-yellow ball, doesn’t glow or flicker or do anything remotely fire-like. The blocks change color while burning before they disappear, but they’re really don’t look like they’re burning at all, just that they’re changing color. It’s all terribly disappointing. 

The game includes three different gameplay options: fun, puzzle, and challenge. Really these are just different skill levels, and I would not specifically qualify any of them as being “fun.” 

It is true that there are fleeting moments of joy present in the game, like when after “burning” down an entire structure the exit block magically appears, despite the fact that the player never saw it, now matter how many times and ways the camera was adjusted. There are tons of levels present in the game, but only the truly intrepid, or bored, player would ever really want to see them all.

Play with Fire, downloadable from Manifesto Games, does not have an ESRB rating. It’s theme is vaguely pyromaniacal, but completely devoid of basis within the real world. 

One star out of five.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Flags of our Fathers Comes to DVD

Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers, the first of his two Iwo Jima movies from last year, explores the war and its aftermath from the American side (Letters from Iwo Jima provides the Japanese perspective). Wonderfully conceived and executed, the film takes a look at the battle through the eyes of three of the men who were pictured in the famous flag-raising and subsequently shuttled around the U.S. in an effort to sell war bonds.

The film is structured as a series of flashbacks as the son of one of the men involved talks to his father’s comrades-in-arms in order to learn what happened. Within this frame, the three “war hero” soldiers, John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) have their own series of flashbacks on the 35-day battle while on their trip to raise money for war bonds. If that sounds a little confusing, it actually all works quite well.

The movie explains that the picture of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima helped spawn a newfound confidence in the war and its direction. The government realized that the soldiers in the picture were instant heroes, and after discovering who they were, brought them back to the states in order to send them on a promotional tour. The government however failed to recognize that the soldiers weren’t raising the flag after they won the battle, and this wasn’t even the first flag raised on the island. Even after learning these facts, the three soldiers that were there and still alive went off on the war bonds tour, and were heralded as heroes.

They further had to deal with the mental repercussions of fighting for a cause, which they might support, for a government that didn't care to hear the truth about what took place. All the while, they were not able to properly mourn the death of their comrades. And, to top it all off, some of the incorrect soldiers were credited with raising the flag, but the U.S. government refused to rectify the names because the promotional plans were already in motion.

There are numerous scenes of the battle during the film, and while there is some blood and guts, Eastwood handles these scenes with aplomb; the movie never goes out of its way to show excessive gore, but doesn’t shy away from it either. Not all of it is easy to watch, but it is never gratuitous.

As a whole, the film serves as an example of how many people today can argue that they are entirely for the soldiers the United States currently has serving in the Middle East, but against the war. Eastwood shows his soldiers in an extremely positive light: they are not heroes, but are thrust into that role.

They all end up feeling terrible about selling war bonds when there are so many people still fighting, and about the misunderstanding that their flag was not the original. In short, the soldiers are hugely sympathetic characters, and the audience ends up rooting for them and against the “machine” that has them off promoting war bonds and lying about what actually happened. The government and army are most definitely made out to be the enemy as much the Japanese are. The film is very much pro-soldier and anti-war.

Clint Eastwood, through his directoral career, has made some outstanding emotional, thoughtful, provocative pieces. Flags of our Fathers may not be the best of Eastwood’s work (some would argue it’s not his best directoral feature in 2006), but it does rank very highly. The DVD release of the film does not include any special features, but the movie speaks for itself without the need for further insights.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Taking ER Off Life Support

I made an incredibly hard decision this past weekend. It was one that was a long time coming. It cut me to the quick, but I found that I had no other choice. It was one of the harder decisions I’ve had to make in recent times, but now that the decision over with, the trigger is pulled, I stand by it. Hard though it was, this was the right decision.

After watching every episode for over 12 years, ER has been removed from my TiVo. 

I truly didn’t have an easy time pulling the plug on the show, weak shadow of its former self that it may be, but I just can’t devote 44 minutes of my time 22 weeks a year to it anymore. It gnaws at my insides and just tears me up, but I’ve reached an endpoint.

It’s gone. It’s over. I’m done with it. Is it the rehashing of old storylines? Is it that every person that was there from the beginning has left as have many of their replacements? Is it the fact that the new people simply aren’t that interesting? Is it the substitution of moody, dark, lighting for actual drama? Yes. It’s all that and more.

I know that I’ve been complaining about ER all season long, but I’ve finally had enough, I simply can’t stomach it anymore. The show lost its creative direction years ago, and has been coasting aimlessly ever since. I’ve chosen to get out now, when I can still remember the good old days of Carter and Benton and Greene. The days when Ross was still a lovable loser instead of a savior. A time when Hathaway was still getting over her failed suicide attempt. That was an ER that was innovative; it was new and different, fast-paced and fun. Today’s ER in no way resembles that show that I grew to know and love. 

Today’s ER is entirely driven by the love lives of the doctors and nurses; patients and maladies are a complete afterthought. The number of romantic couplings, and near couplings, have grown to extraordinary proportions. The staff’s own personal foibles and issues at one time influenced the way that they treated patients; now we’re shown them as a substitute for having to have the doctors treat patients at all. 

I’ve been watching this new version of ER for years, and I’ve had enough of it. I can’t watch it anymore. 

Yes, if ER ends in the next two or three years I’ll tune in for the final episode. I’ll come back to the show in order to say goodbye, farewell, and amen. But, at this point, that’s just about it. Maybe if Mark Greene comes back from beyond the grave to explain to everyone at County just what it is that they are doing that is wrong I could still be a part of it, but even that might come off as just too hokey. 

Honestly, it’s my hope and dream that come the final episode of ER, the audience will be treated to a final shot in which Benton’s mom is sitting there in her bed, alive and well, looking at a snow globe with Country General inside it. At this point, that’s just about the only sort of apology that might be acceptable. 

Rules of Engagement: Rule No. 1 - Don't.

David Spade has managed to make a career out of playing the exact same obnoxious character.  There are absolutely still times that I find the character funny, watching CBS’s new comedy Rules of Engagement is not one of them.  Rules of Engagement is not wholly without laughs, but they are certainly few and far between.

The show centers on two couples and one single man.  The first couple, Adam (Oliver Hudson) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich), has only known each other for seven months, and just got engaged.  The second couple, Jeff (Patrick Warburton) and Audrey (Megyn Price), has been married 12 years, and then there’s David Spade as Russell.

Poor Adam, who, let’s face it, jumped into the whole engagement thing rather prematurely, ends up getting advice from two sides:  the man that’s been married forever and the man that refuses to ever head down that path.  In order to try and be funny, both these guys seem to agree that Adam is making a mistake.  While they may not be wrong about it if they’re reacting simply due to the speed at which the relationship has progressed, both Jeff and Russell seem to actually be arguing against marriage as a whole. 

The premise for Rules of Engagement would be good, if it wasn’t something that has been tried and tired-out numerous times before.  A television series doesn’t have to be wholly new and different to be enjoyable (let’s face it, that’s nearly impossible), but in this case it may have helped.  The vast majority of the jokes in the show are not terribly funny, and much like the premise, feel as though they’ve been around the block a few too many times.

Taken from the other point of view, it could be argued that the show is both comforting and familiar.  It will break no boundaries in either the television nor the comedy world, but just about anyone in America will be able to turn on the show, even if they’ve missed a ton of episodes, and understand exactly what is happening and who these people are.   

Hudson, Kajlich, Warburton, and Price are all well suited to their roles, even if Warburton’s Jeff still seems a little too much like David Puddy (Seinfeld).  After watching three episodes I still have trouble imagining exactly what it was about Jeff that caused Audrey to fall in love with him.  While he does have a sweeter, softer side, more often than not he is a stock middle-aged man with nothing good to say about marriage. 

Hudson and Kajlich’s characters seem like they are a good fit as a couple, despite having jumped awfully quickly into an engagement.  Whether or not the relationship can actually last, only time will tell, but the two definitely seem like they could be boyfriend-girlfriend, or, at the very least, a solid starter marriage that ends up going downhill when the couple ages a little and their looks begin to fade. 

So, the couples are vaguely interesting, and David Spade is David Spade.  But, with a thin premise and some stock characters, the writing for such a sitcom would have to be well above average in order for the show as a whole to work.  That level of wit and humor simply doesn’t seem to exist in the first three episodes. 

Many people are calling the traditional sitcom dead and arguing that one-camera comedies like My Name is Earl and The Office are the way things are headed in the future.  I usually don’t agree with such people, but if Rules of Engagement is all that’s left in traditional sitcom development, I may have to. 

Rules of Engagement premieres on CBS Monday February 5th at 9:30PM EST/PST. 

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Nova's "Forgotten Genius"...How Can There Be a Show if He's Forgotten?

For the few who don’t know, February is Black History Month. In celebration of this, the folks at Nova are rolling out a mammoth, two hour episode entitled "Forgotten Genius" that follows the life of scientist Percy Julian. The story of Julian’s life and work is told both through reenactments and narration by Courtney B. Vance.

As an African American born in the south in 1899, Julian faced a huge number of hurdles. After going to elementary school in Birmingham and high school in Montgomery he went on to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana (he was the first of his family to attend college).

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from DePauw he went on to try and pursue a career in chemistry. After a number of years of struggle and setbacks, Julian finally earned an M.A. and eventually a Ph.D.

Despite his stellar academic performances, due to his race Julian found it exceptionally difficult to obtain gainful employment, before eventually landing at Glidden Paints, working on the soybean. At Glidden, Julian proved to be hugely successful, inventing a number of uses for soybean derivatives and eventually branching out beyond that. He went on to help develop methods to help produce cortisone to treat arthritis, a drug to treat glaucoma, and numerous other products and medicines.

Even as a successful scientist, and a pre-eminent professional in his field, when he moved into a white neighborhood he and his family were terrorized, to the point of dynamite being thrown at his home.

Clearly Julian was a great man who overcame a ton of adversity in his professional and personal life due to his race. But, is the documentary any good?

Actually, yes, it’s really something quite special. It has not only reenactments with Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lackawanna Blues) as Julian, it also has narration by Courtney B. Vance, and more scientists and historians touting Julian’s attributes than you can shake a stick at. And, beyond that, it’s incredibly well put together.

It is evident that an incredible amount of effort, energy, and thoughtfulness went into the production of this documentary. While that doesn’t necessarily yield a good outcome, in this case everything clicks.

There are few moments in the two hour runtime of the episode that aren’t compelling. There are times when the science does become a little too daunting, not because it’s too in-depth, but because there are simply so many different things that Julian worked on during his career. While each individual scientific experiment or process is well explained, by the end of the episode they all become somewhat jumbled together.

Although it works well, one of the more unusual choices made in the documentary, is the decision to have Santiago-Hudson provide first person narrative voiceover in addition to Courtney B. Vance’s third person voiceover. It seems like a non-intuitive way to construct the story, although, it does provide for added insight into what Julian may have been thinking and feeling at various moments in his life.

Well constructed, carefully thought out, and truly a touching piece, this episode is truly a testament to what the right person can do, no matter the adversity they face in life.

Nova - "Forgotten Genius" airs Tuesday, February 6 at 8PM on PBS. But, it's always a good idea to check your local listings.

Photographs of Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Percy Julian copyright Lolita Parker Jr. for NOVA/WGBH Boston.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Because I Said So...That's Why!

This Sunday the NFL will hold its forty-first Super Bowl. For many individuals around the country this leads to a weekend-long celebration. It also, annually, causes at least one Hollywood studio to release a romantic comedy, or what many people would term a “chick flick.” 

This year, the honor of releasing said comedy goes to Universal, with its new Diane Keaton/Mandy Moore film, Because I Said So. Directed by Michael Lehmann (whom I like to think of as the man behind the grossly underrated Hudson Hawk), with a script by Karen Leigh Hopkins and Jessie Nelson, the film follows the women of the Wilder family, mainly the mother, Daphne (Keaton), and youngest daughter, Milly (Moore).

Daphne worries that she sees a little too much of herself in Milly -- a lone woman making bad romantic choices and headed down the path to spinsterhood. So, being the overprotective, overbearing mom that she is, she opts to step in and put things right. She places a personal ad for her daughter on an online service and starts interviewing men.

After the standard montage of incredible losers, she chooses the “perfect” guy, Jason (Tom Everett Scott), whom the audience instantly recognizes as a little too perfect; it is clear from the outset that the relationship will not work out. And, in case the audience doesn’t pick up on that fact, the guitar player at the restaurant Daphne is at, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), is quick to inform Daphne and everyone else. It is also immediately clear that, despite her protestations and arguments, it is Johnny that is the perfect guy for Milly. 

Milly, blissfully unaware of her mother’s actions, ends up meeting both men and starts dating both. Daphne, upset that Johnny is still in the picture, continues to push hard for Jason (making it more clear than ever that he is the wrong man). Meanwhile, Johnny’s father, Joe (Stephen Collins), comes over to Milly’s because he’s locked himself out of his apartment (with Johnny’s son, Lionel). As fate would have it, Daphne, sick, is staying with Milly. The two, instantly recognize a mutual attraction and are found, in short order, by Johnny and Milly making out on Milly’s sofa (with Lionel fast asleep next to them). Of course, things take a turn for the worse in Milly’s relationships with Johnny, Jason, and Daphne, but being a romantic comedy it all works out (somehow) in the end.

As with so many romantic comedies, there isn’t any single moment in this movie that can’t be seen coming from a mile away. Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore both do credible jobs in their roles and, between the two of them, carry the movie. Piper Perabo as the middle sister, Mae, and Lauren Graham are both good in their roles, even if there really isn’t much for them to do. With even less of a role is Colin Ferguson (Eureka) as Derek (Maggie’s husband). Ferguson appears in maybe four or five scenes and gets a single line in the entire movie. With a solid cast of supporting players having such small roles, I can’t help but feel that the DVD release of the film will have a substantial number of deleted scenes filled with side plots that got dropped from the final release. 

Odd though that may be, it doesn’t pose a real problem to the film as a whole. Far more distressing are two scenes in the film that have Daphne and all her daughters “sing.” They both appear to have the cast poorly lip-sync the songs, with possibly only Mandy Moore providing her character’s vocal track. The scenes also feel wholly out of place and seem to exist solely to provide Mandy Moore with the opportunity to sing. She’s a perfectly good singer, but the scenes feel incredibly forced.

Slightly better than your typical romantic comedy, but no less obvious, Because I Said So provides just enough amusement, jokes, and overall interest to support itself. The film does, at moments, feel like it cribs too much from Jerry Maguire. Lionel (Ty Panitz) can be seen as a less funny version of Jonathan Lipnicki’s Ray from that movie, and the final reconciliation between Johnny and Milly at the end also recalls that movie.  

Even so, the film is just good enough to make the majority of the audience leave the theater smiling, even if they’ll forget the movie entirely a few months down the line.