Friday, May 29, 2009

The Torchwood: Children of Earth Trailer is Here!

As promised yesterday, we have more news from the Whoniverse today -- coming this July to BBC America is the oh-so-long awaited (by me anyway) Torchwood: Children of Earth. The miniseries-esque event will air over the course of five evenings and features the newly slimmed down Torchwood team of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Our heroes will be spending their time in Children of Earth trying to rescue said children from some sort of baddie which has taken control of them… all of them. At least, that's what I can discern from this here trailer:

Between the return of Torchwood and Doctor Who this summer, sci-fi fans, particularly followers of The Doctor, have a lot to look forward to. Both of these series have been building the hype for these new entries for quite a while, hopefully the specials live up to that hype.

Tequila that does the Hibiscus Hula

There is an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where Mickey, Minnie, and company search for the ever-elusive hula hibiscus. The magical flower, it appears, only blooms once in a great while and Minnie desperately wants to take a picture of the hibiscus doing its hula. Technically, the story is inaccurate – flowers in general and the hibiscus in particular don't dance, and they certainly don't hula. Drink enough of Gran Centenario's Rosangel Tequila, which is hibiscus-infused, and you may find yourself dancing though. It is, after all, 80 proof. Gran Centenario claims that this is the "first-ever" hibiscus-infused tequila, and if taste is anything to go by it certainly won't be the last.

The first thing that strikes one though isn't the taste of the tequila, it's the bottle and the almost peach-colored liquid inside of it. The coloring is subtle, neither off-putting nor garish; it is merely a hint that this tequila is something slightly different.

Opening the bottle and wafting the tequila to one's nose, one gets a somewhat sweet odor mixed in with usual tequila smell. Not being someone to speak of gentle hints of rose mixed with coffee, vanilla, and, perhaps, yes, a touch of cinnamon, I won't, and I certainly don't ascribe such a taste to Rosangel. The side of the bottle says something about ripe fruit, floral notes, and dried berries, but I'm not qualified to make such a judgment. No, I can tell you with some confidence that the taste is the same as the smell – mainly, it is sweet, though not for a minute will one forget that they are drinking tequila. The aftertaste is minimal, and it is easy to drink.

The tequila itself is a 100% Agave Reposado one, which has not only been infused with hibiscus, but has been aged in port barrels (a favorite of mine with scotch) for two months. The result, as stated above, is a highly drinkable tequila.

As for the actual drinking of tequila, I highly recommend it on the rocks. Due to its sweetness there's absolutely no need to do shots of Rosangel, even if they're off of someone's stomach. I've also made pretty swell margaritas with it using margarita mix, but the tag on the bottle gives a far more involved recipe which involves orange liqueur, Agave nectar, and not-so-random other things. While it sounds truly fantastic, my above average margarita mix did the trick and required a minimal amount of mixing and measuring and stirring and shaking. My drink ethos has always been that less involved if I'm making it is more, and Rosangel allows me to put together a good margarita under those rules.

It can be drunk straight. It can be mixed. If you drink enough of Rosangel it just may make you do the hibiscus hula, and if you drink too much perhaps, just perhaps, you'll think that you're doing the hibiscus hula with Mickey Mouse. What more could you possibly want?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

David Tennant and Doctor Who Heading to BBC America

Doctor Who fans rejoice!  Well, rejoice if you have BBC America anyway.  Today, BBC America announced that they will be the first network in the U.S. to air five new Doctor Who specials in the United States, including David Tennant's final appearances as the 10th incarnation of the famous Time Lord. 

The first of the specials is less than a month away, as the 2008 Christmas Special, The Next Doctor, will be airing on June 27.  The special originally aired in England last Christmas (hence the "Christmas Special" bit).  It not only features David Tennant, but also the man whom some thought would be assuming the role of the Doctor following Tennant, David Morrissey.  As the image to the left indicates, the Cybermen are bound to make an appearance in the special as well.

The next special, Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, will premiere in July and alongside Tennant features Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman).  The rest of the specials are due to air later in 2009 and early in 2010. 

Those moderately disappointed that they will not be able to watch the shows in HD -- BBC America does not currently have an HD broadcast whereas Doctor Who's old home, SciFi, does – can take a quantum of solace from the fact that Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead will be released on Blu-ray following its BBC America premiere.  This represents Doctor Who's first trip to Blu-ray, with hopefully many more to follow.

Fans of the Whoniverse, be sure to come back tomorrow when, fingers crossed, we should be able to show you a sneak peek trailer (or bits of it) for Torchwood: Children of Earth.

UPDATE 6/2/09: BBC America has announced that they will begin broadcasting an HD feed on July 20 and will be reairing the Christmas Special (as well as the next Who special) on that day.

Roxanne hits Blu-ray... Does Blu-ray hit Back?

What can be said about a movie which takes a famous love story and completely updates it for modern times, creating a new, yet utterly classic tale.  Steve Martin's 1987 classic, Roxanne, which has just been released to Blu-ray, not only makes its influences quite obvious, but manages to create a heartwarming, hysterical, story all its own.

Directed by Fred Schepisi (Mr. Baseball), the film really is Martin's, he not only stars (playing C.D. Bales), he served as executive producer on the film and wrote the screenplay.  Acting opposite Martin is Daryl Hannah in the titular role, and Rick Rossovich as Chris, the attractive lug whom C.D. has to help woo Roxanne.

This update of Cyrano de Bergerac takes place in small Colorado town amidst a lovable group of oddball locals, including Bales' best friend played by Shelley Duvall.  Roxanne finds herself in town for the summer studying astronomy as does Chris (Rossovich), a professional firefighter, helping Bales (the fire chief) put together a workable crew.

The story is a well-known and well-worn one -- Chris uses Bales' words and his own looks in order to woo Roxanne to great effect.  However, by the end of the film -- it is a romantic comedy after all -- everything works itself out and Bales and Roxanne fall forever in love.

From the start of the film through all but the end of the final act, the film is filled with humor of the type only Steve Martin at his best can deliver.  His C.D. Bales is charming and witty and wise and terribly flawed, both with his large nose and the way his shnoz has caused him to approach the world.  It is a cross he has had to bear, an albatross around his neck which he has allowed himself to be weighed down by.  He cannot approach Roxanne for love because he believes that due to his nose no one will ever love him.  It is a pain he deals with by turning to humor and anger both, and sometimes the two together.

Bales' flaws and the way he deals with them are what cause the movie to be such great fun and so enjoyable for the vast majority of its length.  Unfortunately, the end of the piece seems terribly rushed -- gone is the lackadaisical pace of the film, the only remaining desire the piece seems to have at the end is to get Roxanne and Bales together, and it happens without the wit that fills most of the film.  The movie, even 20 years later, is still brilliant and funny and well worth watching, but one gets the sense that it could have been even more.

The Blu-ray release of Roxanne feels like a terribly bare bones affair, it contains no special features at all. It is BD-Live enabled, but there seems to be no content online related directly to Roxanne, just to other Sony offerings.  Additionally, the look and sound of the Blu-ray will do nothing to wow the at-home audience.  The print is a clean one, and the audio levels well balanced, but there is nothing in either the audio or visual track to truly make the film standout.  There is no great clarity or incredible amount of detail to any of the scenes -- and one or two seem noticeably more grainy than they ought to be -- but it's not grossly lacking either, it's a 1980s romantic comedy which in the end would do just as well on a standard definition DVD as on a high definition Blu-ray.

In the final summation, the selling point of Roxanne on Blu-ray isn't the glitz or glamour of high definition, it's the brilliance of Steve Martin and his ability to write and act in the tale.  It is a smart, charming, entirely lovable film, and like Bales himself, the Blu-ray doesn't need to be all gussied up to make it worth having.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seabiscuit Goes for the Blu(-ray)

What can one say about a movie that does almost everything absolutely brilliantly, but fails to deliver where it counts the most?  Should the film be looked at as a success for succeeding almost perfectly or as a failure for falling down at crucial moments?  That is the question which must inevitably be asked of Seabiscuit, which is coming to Blu-ray for the first time this week.

The story is narrated in exquisite fashion by David McCullough.  The film is based on the non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand.  It is the tale of a horse, jockey, trainer, and owner who overcome obstacles and -- the box and all the promotional material are big on telling the viewer -- helped raise the nation's spirit during the Great Depression.  Director George Ross manages to pull the audience's heartstrings in just the right way so as to get the everyone rooting for the undersized horse who could even though the outcome was never in doubt.

Ross is aided by good performances by Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and Tobey Maguire, who play the owner, trainer, and jockey respectively.  Each actor truly inhabits the characters they are portraying in an entirely believable fashion, making three dimensional characters out of a script that does little to aid the actors.  When motivations for any characters exist they are obvious and laid bare, not requiring the viewer to contemplate them in any way; and when they don't exist, that seems to be done to make the characters, particularly Cooper's Tom Smith, mysterious.

The most fun performance though is William H. Macy's.  Macy appears as Tick Tock McGlaughlin, a reporter -- and the film's comic relief -- who follows racing and Seabiscuit.  Tick Tock's Foley artist work is hysterical and a welcome break in an otherwise very straight film.

Where the film falls down is during the race sequences.  In wide shots they are exciting and thrilling - even with the outcomes being a foregone conclusion.  The amount of work that went into organizing those sequences is apparent and very well produced indeed.  The problem exists in the close-ups.  Whatever the truth of the filming may be, every single time there's a close-up on Tobey Maguire's Red Pollard or any of the other jockeys it looks as though they are sitting comfortably on a fake horse and pulling the bridle to make the horse's head bob up and down.  The viewer constantly expects the camera to pull out and reveal the artifice.  The only thing in the foreground of the frame that ever seems to be moving are the horses' heads and the jockeys' arms, and it just doesn't feel truthful.

The sound design during the races is far better, placing the audience squarely in the midst of the thundering hooves and roaring crowds.  The sound doesn't let down during the rest of the feature either, with clear, crisp, sounds and good use of the surrounds and bass.  The picture is equally good, with bright colors and beautiful detail.  I had no idea before watching that the Great Depression was such a beautiful time in our nation's history.

As expected, the Blu-ray comes loaded with special features, some of which previously appeared on the HD DVD release of the film.  There are several different "making of" documentaries, including an HBO First Look episode.  There are also documentaries focusing on the truth behind the story, the best of which is an A&E special. 

Also included is actual footage of the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral and feature commentary with Gary Ross and Steven Soderbergh (who produced Ross's directorial debut, Pleasantville).  Some photos Jeff Bridges took on set are also included on the disc and prove momentarily interesting.  The oddest inclusion of the bonus features is one entitled "The Longshot: A Special Message from Buick," which is essentially just an extended commercial for the car company.

Seabiscuit succeeds at telling a compelling story, pulling the heartstrings of the viewer, and has solid performances from A-list actors.  It looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and the Blu-ray actually delves into the truth between the race horse and those involved with the horse.  If only one could believe any of the close-ups during the racing scenes took place with the actors on horses, and that the horses were moving, then the film would be a crashing success.  As it stands however, those scenes, some of the most important ones in the film, completely destroy the illusion being created by the filmmakers and irreversibly hurt the film.  Is it enough to make this into a bad movie?  No, but it does become a disappointment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection Boldly Goes onto Blu-ray

From the lofty heights of The Wrath of Khan to the abysmal depths of The Final Frontier, Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection spans an entire galaxy of quality, but to only look at the films on that level is to miss something truly special.  The recently released Blu-ray set features all six theatrical adventures of the original crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701 & NCC-1701-A), and provides an incredible look at a fictional universe.

Featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and George Takei, the movies sought to expand the world of Star Trek and helped Paramount capitalize on the renewed interest in science fiction George Lucas created with Star Wars in 1977.  It was an incredibly successful move as the films helped rejuvenate the universe of Star Trek and led to four more TV series and four movies with the cast of The Next Generation.

There are actually two different ways to consider the six films the original crew starred in -- taken separately one can pick apart each film, identify what worked and what didn't, and mourn almost the entire idea that was The Final Frontier; or, one can look at them as a whole, as the continuing adventures of a group of co-workers who became something more over time.  Sure, some of the nefarious plots they foiled were less interesting than others, but perhaps that was the fault of the villain and not the producers.

All foolishness aside, sitting down to watch six Star Trek movies over the course of two or three days gives the semi-casual viewer a very different impression of the series than they would have gotten going to the theater every few years between 1979, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, and 1991, when Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released.  Watched consecutively one can quickly notice when a bit character in one movie appears again in another, thereby adding a greater sense of continuity to the Star Trek universe.

Watching the films in this fashion certainly allows for the glossing over of weaknesses in the series.  For instance, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an inordinate amount of time is spent on incredibly slow, incredibly long tracking shots, first of the Enterprise and then of V'ger.  If one is only watching this first film in the series, there's almost a sense of being cheated out of something more interesting, more spectacular.  However, if one is watching all the films in relatively rapid succession, the amount of time spent on the establishing shots in the first movie is much more acceptable.

There is a noticeable ebb and flow to the series when the films are watched back-to-back.  While the first film establishes the return of the franchise and catches us up on the characters, things really get going with the second, The Wrath of Khan.  By far, Khan is the franchise's high-water mark and really sets the stage for the other four movies that follow. Without Spock dying in the incredible, emotional ending to Khan, there can be no Search for Spock, and without that no court-martial in The Voyage Home and Kirk and the Enterprise wouldn't have been selected to accompany the Klingon delegation in The Undiscovered Country.

Not only is Khan a great movie which builds on the original television series, it has emotional depth and breadth, action, and good for the time effects, it is the axis around which the rest of the series turns.  For me, that makes Khan the best of the films, even if there is a sizable contingent of the Trek community who prefers The Voyage Home.

Another amazing thing one gets a sense of watching the films back-to-back are the incredible actors and name talent (either known then or known later) playing roles in the film.  Everyone knows Ricardo Montalban plays Khan, and that Kirstie Alley appears in the same film as Lt. Saavik (one of the big mistakes in the franchise is not getting her to reprise the role in the next two films, where it was given to Robin Curtis instead). What about Christian Slater and Kurtwood Smith being in The Undiscovered Country (Christopher Plummer and Kim Cattrall are more obvious in it)?   Or Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette being in The Search for Spock?

The new Blu-ray release, as one would expect, features an incredible amount of bonus content, including over 12 hours worth that has appeared elsewhere before.  There is also over two-and-a-half hours worth of new behind-the-scenes and footage and real-life stories relating to the franchise included.  Additionally, each film contain the a "Library Computer" which can play in the film giving the viewer extra facts about the characters, ships, etc.

Those bonus features pale in comparison to what exists on the seventh disc in the set.  The seventh disc features something called "The Captains' Summit" and has, for the first time ever, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes sitting down and chatting with one another and moderator Whoopi Goldberg.  For 70 minutes these Star Trek people tell stories of their time on set, their time after set, what led them to the franchise, and what they think about it all now.

Sometimes the actors get some facts wrong (Shatner initially states that he appeared in six movies, not seven), but that is less important than the incredible stories the actors tell.  Of the numerable fascinating topics covered is the fact that Khan -- and Spock's death -- began filming without any idea that the character would be brought back later.  Unfortunately, "The Captains' Summit" is that is only 70 minutes, watching it unfold one wants it to be at least twice that length.

All of the films have been remastered in high definition for this release, but apparently only Khan has been "fully restored."  However, Khan doesn't look substantially better than any of the other releases, in fact, it is -- not remarkably -- The Undiscovered Country, which was made in 1991, that looks the sharpest visually.  It is only the original film that truly shows its age in areas beyond its special effects, clothing, and hair.

The original film is grainy in ways that seem more a product of its age than the intent of the director, Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951).  Other films also exhibit flecks of dirt or other imperfections from time to time, but none are terribly distracting.  The audio also gets better as the films progress, indicating an improvement in effects more than anything else, but the mix is a good one across the entire series.

Whether or not one is a fan of science fiction in general and of Star Trek in particular, the amount of influence the Trek universe has had on our world is undeniable.  Watching the new Blu-ray release of the films and seeing the incredible amounts of accompanying material, that becomes more than clear.  It is true that taken separately some of the films are disappointing, but taken together they represent a cultural force and a view of the universe to which we can only aspire.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leading the Resistance: The Attempt to Save Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

And so it begins again: this past week the television networks revealed their fall schedules, and what was once merely well-founded speculation -- that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would be cancelled -- became fact. Combine that with the fact that the newest film in the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Salvation, opened this weekend and it was inevitable that whatever "save the show" group existed would find a way to use the film to their advantage.

The folks over at the Save Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles website are currently asking that everyone save their ticket stubs from Terminator: Salvation and mail them in to Peter Roth, President of Warner Brothers Television Production as a show of support for the television series. They're also starting to petition Craig Engler, an SVP at SciFi (soon to be rechristened Syfy) about picking up the show. The website is encouraging everyone start e-mailing SciFi about wanting to see a third season (or even a miniseries) of Sarah Connor.

It is a long shot, and the group acknowledges as much on their site. Unfortunately for them, as the relatively low box office numbers for Terminator: Salvation start to come in (an estimated 42 million in its opening weekend), the chances of a Sarah Connor pickup by a new network become even more slim. It just may be that people pushing for a return for Sarah Connor need to look to another franchise, because at this point it appears as though resistance is futile.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wayne Allwine, Mickey's Voice for Thirty Years, Passes Away

You may never have heard his name, you may never have seen his face, but you have unquestionably heard his voice.

On May 18th, Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey Mouse for over 30 years, passed away from complications related to diabetes. Born in 1947, he was 62 years of age. Allwine, who first provided the voice for Mickey in The New Mickey Mouse Club, was only the third voice of Mickey Mouse, the first being Walt Disney himself and the second, Jimmy Macdonald.

After his television debut as the Mouse, Allwine provided Mickey's voice on the big screen in Mickey's Christmas Carol. He then went on to voice Mickey in dozens more productions (including the still on-going Mickey Mouse Clubhouse), both on the big screen and the little. And, of course, Allwine voiced Mickey for attractions at Disney parks as well.

Allwine is survived by his wife of 18 years, Russi Taylor. In what may be life imitating art, Taylor provides the voice of Mickey's true love, Minnie Mouse, and has since 1986.

In a statement on Wednesday, current Disney CEO Robert Iger said "Wayne's great talent, deep compassion, kindness, and gentle way, all of which shone brightly through his alter ego, will be greatly missed."

This would-be Mouseketeer certainly agrees.

The CW Abandons Comedy in Their Fall 2009 Schedule

Just as ABC's new Wednesday night lineup indicates that network's belief that the sitcom is alive and well, The CW's new fall lineup indicates the weblet's belief that it is dead, or, at the very least, that they can't launch a successful one. They are however sticking with their basic plan of doing everything in their power to attract teens, including adding to their schedule an updated Melrose Place to go with their updated 90210. The schedule The CW announced today looks as follows:

8:00Gossip Girl90210America's Next
Top Model
The Vampire
9:00One Tree HillMelrose PlaceThe Beautiful
SupernaturalAmerica's Next
Top Model (Encore)

So, there it is, all nicely laid out in black and white: Mondays stay the same, Tuesdays get Melrose to go with 90210, Wednesdays get a scripted show on models to go with the "reality" one, Thursdays get a vampire drama, and Smallville gets punted to Fridays as a "thank you" for its years of loyal service to the network (the rest of the week actually has very compatible programming on every night, so there's more to it than that, even if fans will see it that way). As for Reaper? It's been taken to a better place, as perhaps has sidekick "Sock" (Taylor Labine), who is starring in a new comedy over on FOX.

This fall The CW will also be handing back to the affiliates Sunday nights. Last year's attempt to sell the entire night to MRC fizzled early on in the season, so this new plan does make some sense as it allows The CW to really focus on their five night lineup rather than put out fires on Sunday.

The Beautiful Life, as mentioned above, is a drama which focuses on the beautiful people, is created by Ashton Kutcher, and stars some beautiful people, including Mischa Barton, Sara Paxton, Elle Macpherson, and High School Musical's Corbin Bleu.

The Vampire Diaries is based on a series of books and is certainly going to do everything it can to grab that Twilight fanbase, even if it's based on different books. In this show, two brother vampires (one good, one not so much) both have feelings for the same girl.

The CW also has a couple of shows waiting in the wings for midseason, including Parental Discretion Advised, which is about a teen looking for her biological parents. It stars Britt Robertson, Kristoffer Polaha, and Shiri Appleby

It's hard to imagine The CW airing any ratings blockbusters this fall, but the pairings of shows they have do make sense. I'm not sure where a comedy would fit into the schedule, and The CW hasn't had great success with them, but it does seem odd to not have any airing. We'll all see in a few months whether the plan holds up.

Classic Disney Shorts Come to DVD

There is a certain joy in watching animated shorts, particularly classic ones.  They speak of days gone by and, when done right, reflect and recall a world they may never have existed buy for which we certainly long.  Perhaps no company knows this better than Disney, which now has six volumes in its new Disney Animation Collection.  The first three DVDs were released this past April, and the second wave of three just last week.

Each volume in the collection contains approximately (though it does vary) a half-dozen different shorts and runs for -- again, approximately -- an hour (they are as short as just over 50 minutes and as long as just under 80).  Consequently, the title of each volume indicates merely the lead short and should not be considered the only title included.  Wisely however, the volumes are loosely themed, so Disney Animation Collection Volume 3: The Prince and the Pauper contains not just that tale, but also "The Pied Piper," "Old King Cole," "Ye Olden Days," and "A Knight for a Day."  They're not a perfect match to be sure, but there is a logic to them having been placed together.

The six volumes currently available, in order, are:  Mickey and the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, The Prince and the Pauper, The Tortoise and the Hare, Wind in the Willows, and The Reluctant Dragon.  Together, all six provide an amazing look into a world of animation gone by, and in the case of Wind in the Willows rides at DisneyWorld gone by (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride still exists at Disneyland, but not DisneyWorld).  The tales are not always wholly child accessible, as is the case with "The Goddess of Spring" in volume four, but that doesn't mean that adults won't enjoy it, in fact, it was certainly one of my favorites across all six of the volumes.

Perhaps though the best thing about the collections are their examinations of classic stories, be they novel, folklore, fairy tale, or even vaguely historical.  "Paul Bunyan," "Johnny Appleseed," and "Three Little Pigs" (all from different volumes) all put a positively Disney spin on the tales, but still manage to stay true to the source material (mostly).

On the downside, the volumes are currently available as individual items, not a single boxed set, so fans of certain tales can selectively purchase those which interest them.  Of course, the Disney archives are incredibly deep, and consequently great shorts air across all six volumes (and assuredly more are sitting there ready to be put into future ones). 

The biggest issue however with collection is that, unfortunately, the quality of prints that exist for some of the shorts is distinctly subpar.  While that is to be expected with the pieces being decades old, it is certainly still a disappointment -- it's not the sort of thing that will distress younger viewers (and most of the shorts are of good quality), but as stated above, some of the shorts are not child oriented.

In the final summation, volumes one thru six of the Disney Animation Collection can't help but bring a smile to anyone who remembers the "Silly Symphonies" of olden days – whether they saw them on the big screen or the small.  Seeing the shorts currently on DVD one can't help but wonder what volumes seven thru nine will contain.

The pieces that appear in the Collection are incredibly disparate, the animation may all be done by hand, but the styles are very different, as are the songs in them.  However, everyone will be able to find something in the six volumes to interest them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CBS' 2009 Primetime Schedule: Why Not? After All, Ladies Love Cool James

CBS continued the upfront parade today, announcing their new fall lineup which will include three new dramas, one new to the network, and one new comedy. The network also has two new dramas hanging around for midseason and a couple of reality shows for midseason as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new schedule is the network's decision to pick up the just-dropped NBC program Medium, which CBS will be pairing with Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs on Friday night. CBS has long sought a compatible program to slot between those shows, and the concept behind Medium does make it seem like a perfect fit. Of course, the question is if CBS can attract more viewers to the program than NBC did.

The unveiled CBS 2009 fall lineup looks like this:

Sun MonTueWedThuFriSat
How I Met
Your Mother
NCISNew Adv.
of Old Christine
on Purpose
Two and a
Half Men
Los Angeles
9:30The Big
Bang Theory
CSI: MiamiThe Good
Numb3rs48 Hours

CBS' one new comedy, Accidentally on Purpose, stars Jenna Elfman as Billie, a woman who ends up pregnant after a one-night stand and opts to keep not just the baby, but to live with the guy as well. The show finds itself in the bosom of CBS' Monday night comedy block, which ought to help its initial sampling.

As for the two new dramas, the first is Three Rivers, which stars Alex O'Loughlin of Moonlight. The show takes place in Pittsburgh (hence the name), and follows organ donors, recipients, and surgeons. The one-time vampire finds himself to be a surgeon in this show. NCIS: Los Angeles is a spinoff of the original NCIS which was in turn a spinoff of JAG. LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell star, much as they did in the recent NCIS episode which introduced the new characters. Lastly, there's The Good Wife, which feature Julianna Margulies as a lawyer returning to work as a defense attorney once her husband, a politician, finds himself tossed in jail following a sex/corruption scandal.

CBS, which has been very successful in recent years, finds themselves with a conservative schedule in the fall which aims to solidify a few of the weak spots on the network. Fans will lament the loss of The Unit and Without a Trace, and the network has changed the lineup of just about every night on the schedule, but it's more in the vein of playing around the edges, not rewriting the book.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NBC's 2009-2010 Primetime Lineup - Anyone for some Leno?

NBC had already announced much of its programming for this fall heading into today's scheduling announcement, but today the picture did get a little more clear. For instance, rumored to be on the chopping block My Name is Earl did indeed find itself axed, and Law & Order, which was up in the air, found itself placed on the network's Friday night lineup. Also missing from NBC's future lineup is Medium. Additionally, the network announced that people who don't get DirecTV will have to wait until next summer to watch new episodes of Friday Night Lights. The network presented two schedules today, one for fall and one for spring.


7:00Football Pregame
(until 8:20)
HeroesThe Biggest
SNL Wknd
Update Thu.
Law &
8:30Parks and
9:00TraumaLaw & Order:
10:00The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
Law & Order:
SVU (Encore)


8:00The Marriage
ChuckThe Biggest
MercyCommunityLaw &
8:30Parks and
9:00The Celebrity
Day OneLaw & Order:
9:30100 Questions30 Rock
10:00The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
The Jay
Leno Show
Law & Order:
SVU (Encore)

NBC's slotting Jay Leno for five hours of programming a week still feels like a gamble, but it's one which could pay huge dividends to the network which has found itself struggling in recent years. Leno has done well for years on end in his late night slot, but if he can manage to turn that success into primetime success remains to be seen. Should his new show work in primetime, NBC may have created the best possible launching platform for new series that it has ever had. However, that's a best case scenario, and not necessarily what will take place.

Whatever happens with Leno, NBC does stand to do exceedingly well during the next February sweep due to the return of the Winter Olympics.

ABC Brings Back the Funny this Fall

Today ABC announced its new lineup for the fall 2009-2010 season. The network also announced that after two seasons Samantha Who? will not be returning. However, fans of comedy neat not fear, the network is launching a new two-hour Wednesday night comedy block and will even be bringing back Scrubs and Better off Ted midseason. It should be noted though that Scrubs will feature even fewer episodes in the new season with the original cast than it did this past season. Midseason will also feature a new take on the classic 1980s' miniseries V.

The schedule announced today looks like this:

7:00America's Funniest
Home Videos
8:00Extreme Makeover:
Home Edition
Dancing with
the Stars
Shark TankHankFlash
8:30The Middle
Results Show
Modern FamilyGrey's
Ugly Betty
9:30Cougar Town
10:00Brothers &
CastleThe ForgottenEastwickPrivate

The new Wednesday night comedy block features some big names and is anchored at 8pm by the Kelsey Grammer led comedy Hank, which follows a "titan of industry" who finds himself out of work and at home with his family. That's followed by Patricia Heaton's new comedy The Middle about a middle class family in the middle of the country. The series also stars Neil Flynn (the Janitor on Scrubs). Ed O'Neill's new comedy, Modern Family, airs after that and is shot Office-style as a documentary. That is followed by a new Courteney Cox series, Cougar Town, about a recently divorced mother.

It's certainly an ambitious new night for ABC, particularly in recent years when comedies haven't fared well. And the night ends with Eastwick, which is an updated look at The Witches of Eastwick and stars Rebecca Romijn.

As for ABC's other new series, Shark Tank is a Mark Burnett production and is based on a format already successful in other countries featuring start-up companies seeking money from a group of venture capitalists. Flash Forward features a bleak look at the possible future of humanity following a worldwide blackout.

Who Knew A Bug's Life Could be so Spectacular

For anyone who has ever wondered just how great a Blu-ray can look and sound, wonder no more – on May 19 Pixar and Disney are realizing A Bug's Life in the high definition format.  Of course, the film, with its wonderful storyline and fantastic computer animation, was impressive before the current Blu-ray release.

Co-directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, the film features the voice of Dave Foley as Flik, an ant who is not content with his lot in life.  Flik fancies himself something of an inventor, but none of his ideas ever seem to pan out.  It’s a problem that gets him and the rest of his colony in serious trouble when a grain harvester destroys the colony’s food offering to a gang of grasshoppers led by Kevin Spacey’s Hopper.

Despondent, Flik is sent away from the colony by Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her mother, the Queen (Phyllis Diller).  Though Flik believes he is being sent away to find warrior bugs to help the ants – and that is what he leaves to do – the colony simply wants to get rid of him for an extended period.

Flik ends up running into a group of terrible circus bugs voiced by David Hyde Pierce, Dennis Leary, and Madeline Kahn among others.  Believing them to be the warriors he is searching for, Flik hires them to help protect the ants from the grasshoppers.  It is a mistake which is soon cleared up, but which leaves the ants without a plan for stopping the grasshopper attack.  However, with a little bit of faith, a lot of luck, and the help of the smallest princess, Dot (Hayden Panettiere), Flik, the circus bugs, and the colony manage to fend off the grasshoppers and keep their food.

A Bug’s Life was only Pixar’s second full-length feature, and just like their first one, Toy Story, and all the ones that follow it, A Bug’s Life not only tells an interesting story in brilliant fashion, it does so with a wit that is all too often missing from films, be they animated or live action. 

With the film, Pixar brilliantly places the viewer into a miniaturized world, giving everyone a bug’s eye view of life and the problems of being small, and the Blu-ray release only enhances that feeling.  The sound design and its execution is absolutely spectacular.  When a rainstorm strikes the colony at the end of the film, the drops pour down around the audience and the thunder booms as one can’t imagine.  The viewer is shocked, amazed, and will end up thrilled not to be a bug if a simple rainstorm sounds that terrifying.

The visuals are just as compelling as the audio – the detail that exists in every frame is wonderful to behold.  From the actual look of each creature to their surroundings, to the objects with which they interact, everything is rendered to exacting standards.  Droplets of liquid contain funhouse mirror-type reflections and distortions.  The amount of effort that went into originally producing the film and getting it ready for Blu-ray is apparent, and one can only marvel at the dizzying array of color, detail, and sound the disc contains.

Watching the film, one can’t help but remember the old tale of the “Grasshopper and the Ants,” which Disney made into a Silly Symphony many years ago.  A Bug’s Life certainly does seem like an updated version of that classic, which one can clearly see by watching the Silly Symphony as it is included on the Blu-ray as a special feature.

Among the special features included are the short, “Geri’s Game” (which was shown before the film during its theatrical run); director audio commentary; some great fake “bloopers;” a filmmaker’s round table; a truly fascinating look at how the sound effects were created; and, perhaps best of all, an animated “first draft” of the film with voice over by Dave Foley.  This first draft is the story as it may have been, and plays out as a series of roughly drawn frames in which the pictures animate, though not in full Pixar CGI glory.  This draft of the film sports an entirely different central character who fails to make the final version of the film entirely, and the inside look it gives the audience into part of the process of scripting such a film.  The Blu-ray release of A Bug’s Life also comes with a digital copy of the film, so that one can take the film with them (though not in high definition). 

Though technology has progressed greatly since the film’s original theatrical release over a decade ago, A Bug’s Life still looks absolutely outstanding.  That, plus the fact that it combines such a great look and feel with a truly engrossing story for young and old alike make it a must-own for anyone who remotely enjoys animated fare.

Monday, May 18, 2009

FOX Announces New Schedule for the Fall and Beyond

Today FOX announced their new fall and winter lineup. The network can be counted on to tweak things repeatedly as the launch of the fall season gets closer and currently has both Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares (both Gordon Ramsay shows) sitting on the bench waiting to return and other new shows (Mental and More to Love) picked up but not yet on the schedule. Perhaps the biggest thing FOX is doing in their fall lineup, though, is airing a new cycle of So You Think You Can Dance which will cover all of Tuesday night and half of Wednesday.

The fall schedule only has three new shows on it. The first, Brothers, is a half-hour sitcom starring Michael Strahan, Carl Weathers, CCH Pounder, and Darryl "Chill" Mitchell. The second, The Cleveland Show, is a spinoff of Family Guy and was originally announced last year, and the last, Glee, is actually airing a "special preview" this week before launching officially in the fall.

As of this moment, the FOX fall schedule appears like this:

7:00The OT
8:00The SimpsonsHouseSo You Think
You Can Dance
So You Think
You Can Dance
8:30The Cleveland Show'Til DeathCops
9:00Family GuyLie to MeGleeFringeDollhouseAmerica's Most
9:30American Dad

Not surprisingly, the midseason schedule features the return of American Idol and 24. That schedule looks like this:

7:30American Dad
American IdolBonesBrothersCops
8:30Sons of Tucson'Til DeathCops
24Past LifeHuman
Glee (Spring)
9:30The Cleveland

The new spring comedy, Sons of Tucson, stars Tyler Labine as a "dad-for-hire" for a dysfunctional family. It may be an odd fit with FOX's Sunday night animated fare, but Labine's style of humor may prove compatible. FOX's first new drama in the spring, Past Life, focuses on detectives examining whether one's past life is affecting their present crises (presumably they do). The other, Human Target, stars Mark Valley and is based on a DC Comics comic book and graphic novel. Valley plays Christopher Chance and each week his character has to protect a new client who's under some sort of threat and, as the title implies, Chance tends to make himself the target to do his job. As presented by FOX, Human Target certainly looks like a lot of fun, and full of both action and humor.

Stay with Blogcritics as the 2009 Network TV Upfront continues, we'll cover it all. Until then, check out the Human Target promo:

How I Met Your Mother Delivers in Tonight's Season Finale

For four seasons How I Met Your Mother has, ostensibly, been telling the story of how one Ted Mosby met the future mother of his children to said future children. But you know all that by know, or at the very least you should, HIMYM (as us in the know call it) is one of the funniest comedies on television and will (or at least should) earn Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Ted's "best friend" Barney, a supporting actor Emmy. Tonight, the show will air its season finale, a finale which will, just maybe, bring us even closer to the reveal of said mother.

Having watched the episode I am happy to report to you, dear reader, that it is funny and smart and delivers everything you've come to expect from the series over the past four years, including Alyson Hannigan's Lily, who has been noticeably absent the past few episodes. Hannigan's absence has been related to her pregnancy and completely expected, in fact, the show filmed tonight's finale several months ago so as to ensure Hannigan's availability for it.

I don't want to give away too much of tonight's episode, but fans of the series would quickly point out to those slightly less obsessed that Ted ought to be coming face-to-face with a goat in the episode. The goat, which has been mentioned since the show's first season, is just one of the long-running jokes the series has become known for. Though the specifics of Ted's encounter with the goat have changed over the course of the show's run (the vicissitudes of memory), the last time it was mentioned the audience was informed that the goat was present at Ted's 31st birthday party. Conveniently -- and as with so many other sitcom characters -- Ted's birthday just happens to air near a ratings sweep, in Ted's case, he was born at the end of April, and Ted just happens to be turning 31 this year (hence the goat anticipation).

Other main issues that have appeared over the course of the season are also further explored tonight, including Ted's fledgling architecture firm, Mosbius Designs, and the ongoing off-again, on-again, potential romance between Robin and Barney. Nothing on How I Met Your Mother is ever quite resolved (and those that are somehow always come back anyway), but the finale does at least takes up these plotlines.

As for the mother, the ever-elusive, never completely seen, often referenced, once went to the same party Ted was at which is where Ted ended up getting her yellow umbrella from mother, she's… mentioned at the very least (come on, I'm not going to give that kind of thing away). Which, again, you could pretty much expect from the show.

In general, watching How I Met Your Mother one can see that the sitcom is not yet dead. The series, while perhaps the most ignored on CBS' Monday night comedy lineup, is, for my money, the strongest. It is both funny in single episodes for those who do not watch on a regular basis and yet has fantastic -- and fantastically subtle -- payoffs for those who do. The show consistently plays with time and memory – and uses those two elements to alter stories midway through -- as one might expect from a show told in flashback form, but it never does so in a way that makes the show feel false or untruthful. Old Ted may alter his story in the midst of telling it, as do the other characters, but watchers of the show have come to expect such changes.

My grandfather would refer to How I Met Your Mother as a "shaggy dog" story -- a story that gets longer and wilder with every telling. The simple tale Old Ted has embarked on has now spanned a full four seasons of television with hopefully many more to come, and while Ted's life has intersected with the mother's, the two have still not actually met. It may be an unreasonable fear for a show that has created such great humor and wonderful characters, but the only fear I currently have for the series is that the actual meeting can't match the buildup. But then again, the goat does and the whole journey thus far has been great, so maybe I should just enjoy the trip and not worry so much about the destination.

Friday, May 15, 2009

An Endangered Species but a Good Movie: Three Days of the Condor

Watching Three Days of the Condor one – nearly without fail – will say “they just don’t make them like they used to anymore” or a similar sentiment. The film, which stars Robert Redford and was directed Sydney Pollack, is a political thriller which hits almost all the right notes – the action never overpowers the plot, the tension is palpable, and the story never feels dumbed down so as to satisfy the texting-while-watching lowest common denominator of viewer (it may be glossed over at times, but its never dumbed down).

The film finds Redford as Joseph Turner, aka Condor, a bookworm CIA agent. Turner, never a stickler for the rules of the spy business, manages to avoid getting killed along with the rest of his section by using a backdoor when he heads out for lunch. Unsure where to turn and panicked, Redford tries to turn to his CIA bosses for help, only to quickly become unsure of whom to trust.

Turner finds himself fumbling his way through the rest of picture, quickly realizing that he knows more tradecraft than he once thought and repeatedly escaping serious trouble. The viewer gets to go with Turner on this journey and becomes just as paranoid as him.

It is in his attempt to remain safe and hidden away that Turner finds Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), whom he just happens to kidnap. The dynamic between the two is a fascinating one – Turner isn’t actually a bad guy but has done a terrible thing in order to ensure his safety, Hale has to decide whether Turner is a good guy and therefore trustworthy or if he his the evil kidnapper he initially appears to be.

The film focuses on shades of gray in our world – shades of gray in relationships and shades of gray (and darker than that) in our politics. As Turner continues on his journey and learns exactly why his section was killed he comes face-to-face with unpleasant truths and an unpleasant gun-for-hire, Joubert (Max von Sydow). Joubert is the modern assassin – he works without any ideological bent, his sole motivation is cash in his pocket.

It is more than just a two-sided contest, it isn’t just the ideological versus the non-ideological. More than one ideology exists, and Turner not only must fight for his life, but he must learn who lies on his ideological side an who merely appears to.

Though a fantastic taut thriller that keeps the viewer enthralled from the opening credits through the finale, the film does fall down a little with the specific reasons for the events being set in motion. Though an explanation is provided, it isn’t a terribly satisfying one nor is it really ever fully explored – the film is more interested in the moral issues and the notion of the big-bad government than it is in the specifics.

However, Pollack, Redford, and the rest of the cast are able to make this glossing over acceptable – the specifics are, as Hitchcock would have said, the MacGuffin, and the film is very much in the Hitchcock mold. Turner is the classic Hitchcockian average guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances who must rise to the occasion. Though Hitchcock’s style is often imitated with poor effect, Pollack – a more than accomplished director in his on right – does a brilliant job here.

The biggest disappointment with the Blu-ray release is the dearth of special features included in the set. In fact, only one exists – the theatrical trailer. As for the technical side of the release, some slight amounts of dirt are noticeable early on in the film, and a few scratches exist here and there, but the transfer is still a very good one for a film that is more than 30 years old. There is a grain to the video that works beautifully with the 1970s’ New York that the film depicts. The colors, while muted, are intended to be so and convey the late-fall/early-winter season beautifully. The audio mix – 5.1 Dolby TrueHD – is also a good one, with clear tones and it squarely places one in the streets of New York alongside Redford as the world whizzes past him.

Three Days of the Condor is a classic political thriller with a great cast and questions about our society and politics which remain relevant even today. It doesn’t hit all the right notes, but it manages to get enough of them in to make the piece intriguing and enjoyable more than three decades after its initial release.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paul Blart: Mauled Comedy

It’s like Live Free or Die Hard… but in a building.

Wait, that’s not quite right, but it’s not too far off either. It would be more accurate to describe Paul Blart: Mall Cop as Die Hard, but played for laughs.

The film, directed by Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care), was the first 2009 release to cross the 100 million dollar mark and stars Kevin James as Blart, a security guard at the local mall. Though Blart has ambitions to be a New Jersey State Trooper, they are constantly foiled for one reason or another – most recently due to his hypoglycemia. Blart is forced to content himself with his dead-end, no respect position. However, when Blart’s mall Blartcomes under attack by a bunch of X-Games-type thieves (some of the actors apparently did participate in said games), it falls to the Segway-driving, down on his luck, guard to save the day.

Oh yes, there’s also a girl – Amy (Jayma Mays). If Amy didn’t work at the fake hair weave kiosk called Unbeweavable at the mall she would be completely out of Blart’s league and probably is anyway. However, that doesn’t stop Blart from pursuing her in his own haphazard way, and because it’s a movie, it doesn’t stop her from being interested. Also, because it’s a movie, she ends up as one of the hostages when the bad guys start their heist.

If the plot sounds uninspired you should hear the jokes.

Yes, they fall just as flat as that one. And, just like that one they all have an outside shot at making you smile, but an equally good shot at making you wince.

James is clearly a capable, funny comedian (and has both a producer and writer credit on the movie), but that doesn’t come across here. Much of the comedy is found in Blart’s inadequacies, and in displaying them he becomes all too annoying. The character doesn’t convey the likability that Peter Sellers gave his ultimate blundering detective – Jacques Clouseau. One feels bad for Blart and one feels bad laughing at him, it was always easy to laugh at Clouseau; Blart is just a sad sack of a human being.

It’s not a problem that he is going to save the day – he is, after all, the hero of the film – but it would have been nice to see Blart take on a halfway decent gang. As it stands, the bad guys in the filBaddiesm are in no way developed and one can’t quite imagine why the “brains” behind the operation, Veck Sims (Keir O’Donnell), possibly thought he had a winning scheme or group of people to carry it out with.

On the plus side, Paul Blart: Mall Cop tries, it tries really hard. Kevin James as the star gives it everything he has, fully throwing himself into the role. It’s too bad though that Kevin James the co-writer didn’t construct a better script with better baddies and more funny jokes. If he had, the film would be more than the dime-a-dozen bland comedy that it is. It’s not a film that you’ll want to watch over and over again, but if you’re bored and see it for free you won’t actually believe that you wasted your time either.

The Blu-ray release of the film sports good black levels and decent sound. Like the film itself, there’s really nothing there to wow you in the presentation, but you won’t feel as though youBlart on Segway were cheated either – there’s no need to adjust the color or sit holding the remote to continually play with the audio levels. And the soundtrack, which might be the best (though cheesy) part of the film comes through loud, clear, and beautifully.

As for special features, like the film itself, the release takes the “more is more” approach, giving deleted scenes and a plethora of standard behind-the-scenes featurettes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film so that you can take the mall cop with you everywhere you go – just in case you ever get caught by skateboarding and BMX thieves in a mall on Black Friday. I wouldn’t use the movie for pointers at that time, except if you use it to learn that a Segway probably isn’t your fastest means of transportation.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop will in no way change your life. Like its main character it’s a sedentary affair that just sort of plods along doing the minimum necessary to hold your interest and desperately wanting to be loved. Is that enough for you? If it is, who am I to tell you you’re wrong.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Staying on the Fringe

Yes, we’re discussing a finale again, and you know what that means -- spoilers.

Prior to its premiere this past fall, I was all excited for Fringe.  After the premiere I was a little distressed, and soon grew more so.  Eventually however, I started to really get into it.  I had my quibbles here and there with the series -- like my dislike of Walter Bishop -- but the more I watched, the more I enjoyed.  And now, last night, I think that they aired a pretty great season finale.  Don’t worry, I have quibbles still, but I definitely enjoyed it more than I didn’t.

First up, the good -- over the course of the season, the show created several mysteries that were intriguing, and they actually went and answered a few of them last night.  We learned who William Bell was, we learned where he was, and we actually saw him.  For me, those were some pretty big things -- the show set him up as this interesting, mysterious, character, a character we were never allowed to see but who was -- maybe, possibly -- pulling the strings behind oh-so-many events.  They ended a few other plotlines, including those where we might get to see Mr. Jones, and I thought that was a pretty swell ending to his storyline.

I also loved the Twin Towers thing.  The pull out showing Olivia there in one of the Towers in the alternate world was just the kind of thing that is going to upset people, but is also a pretty great image with which to leave the viewers.  I think there’s a difference between holding the Towers in high regard and remembering the importance of that day and what they represent versus deeming them unrepresentable in all forms, even alternate realities.  So, for me, the image was to show how different things are going to be and definitely for some shock value, both of which the show accomplished.

There was also the great, spectacular, excellent, Peter reveal.  Yes?  Can we at least agree that was awesome?

As for the bad, well, the worst of it was probably the Bell reveal… mostly because they revealed it in the opening credits.  I’ve railed against this sort of thing before, but I had no idea that Leonard Nimoy was going to be in the episode – mostly because I resolutely avoided reading anything about what was to come.  So, not knowing Nimoy was in the show, once I saw his name in the opening credits it was easy enough to say – “oh, hey, they’re going to reveal Bell tonight and it’s going to be Nimoy.”  I then spent the entire episode waiting for Nimoy to appear despite the fact that it was pretty obvious.  Hopefully Bell still gets to be an evilish guy just as it was insinuated all season that he was.

Anyway, despite the early reveal of Bell’s appearance,  I still liked to see Nimoy there, so that wasn’t the worst thing about the episode.  No, the worst thing about the finale was -- and no, I don’t think it’s a cop out to say this -- the way the whole season was aired.  I don’t mind the show disappearing for several weeks (or months) in order to never have to air repeats, but sending it away and then bringing it back and then sending it away and then… well, you get the idea, didn’t work for me.  Every single time I thought the show was putting together a string of really good episodes and I got intrigued, it disappeared for weeks on end.

Still though, summing up the season, there was more good than bad, and I’m looking forward to next season.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Searching Out The Man who Shot Liberty Valance

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

It may be folly to try and write a review of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The film, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, and Lee Marvin, is practically a perfect western. It features a classic tale of good versus evil, law versus order, a lie, and a love triangle for the ages. It is also about to be released in a two-disc set as a part of the Paramount Centennial Collection.

Told by then Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) as flashback, the story follows Stoddard in his younger days, as he arrives in a small western town which he learns is terrified of the outlaw, Liberty Valance (Marvin). Even the law is afraid of Valance. The only man in town who isn’t, the only man Liberty is scared of, is Tom Doniphon (Wayne). Stoddard, a lawyer, quickly ends up on Valance’s bad side, but is convinced that the way of the Old West -- shooting Valance -- isn’t the right way, that Valance ought to be brought to justice within the law. Doniphon, with little effect, tries to convince Stoddard that there’s only one way to deal with the outlaw.

Making matters more difficult is the fact that Stoddard finds himself falling for Hallie, who is unofficially Doniphon’s girl. And Hallie finds herself torn between Doniphon and this newcomer.

The story plays out against the backdrop of the territory the characters live in contemplating statehood, with Valance working for cattlemen against it and Stoddard pushing the townsfolk on the pro side.

Many an academic paper has been written on what to be made of Ford’s film, and many good questions can be asked of it. Does Ford come down for violence as a solution to the problem or against it? Is Stoddard a moral person? Did Hallie make the right choice? Good cases can be made for-- or against-- answers to any of these questions, and it’s exactly for that reason the film has become the classic that it is. Depending upon one’s age, experience, and general point of view, one will see the movie differently.

What is not in doubt is that this new two-disc release is a thing of beauty. The print of the film is not only superb, but it comes with a an audio commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich which also includes archival recordings with Ford and Stewart. Hearing Ford and Stewart reminisce about the making of this true classic is an experience to behold; each is brilliant storyteller. There is also selected scene commentary with Dan Ford and recordings of John Ford, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin. The second disc contains the usual trailers and galleries and a multi-part documentary focusing on the film, the people involved in it, and the time in which it was made.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was one of the last films Ford made; it was made years after Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, and other Ford classic westerns. It is a rumination not just on what was lost when civilization encroached on the “wild west,” but on the other works in Ford’s canon. It not only makes myths, but it deconstructs them, too.

The film is, perhaps, the perfect western -- created by a master working with a wonderful cast. It is more than just a legend, it is legendary.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Did Trump Make the Right Choice - The Celebrity Apprentice Finale

This whole discussion is pretty much a spoiler if you haven't watched the finale - forewarned is forearmed...

Last night, Donald Trump selected Joan Rivers as the second celebrity apprentice. I have spent a lot of time thinking about that. I was rooting for Joan from early on (she and Jesse were my people), but I just didn't see how she was going to take down Annie Duke in the finals.

Essentially, The Celebrity Apprentice is about making money for charity. Thus, it seems to me – as it did to Annie Duke – that the most important criteria is the ability to raise cash. Trump certainly fired at least one candidate this season based on their money-raising ability, so he certainly believed cash had something to do with it.

In the final task, Annie Duke raised over $465,000. That's a sizable chunk of change, and more than triple Joan's haul of about $150,000. There were, however, five different criteria on the final task, and Joan managed to win three of the five. So, there was a slight edge to Joan there, but the money difference was staggering, completely staggering.

Even so, Trump went with Joan as his choice, and while I'm pleased by it, I'm troubled too. What led to that decision? How could it have been possible?

Someone pointed out to me that one of the vice chairs of Joan's charity, God's Love We Deliver, is an individual named Blaine Trump. Blaine is married to Donald's younger brother. The suggestion when I heard that was that Trump was biased in the selection of Joan in order to promote a family-affiliated charity.

However, I'm in no way suggesting that's the case. Both charities (Annie's was Refugee International) got a lot of money from the show and a lot of good publicity. I just don't think it was necessary to throw a little bit more money their way by having Joan win. No, I think instead, Joan won because she was a great motivator, a decent human being, and someone who didn't alienate all their co-workers.

Last year, Piers Morgan managed to pull off a victory even though he was closer to Annie in style than Joan. I think that the difference is that Piers actually seemed to earn the respect of many of those he was competing with and against. Annie failed to do that. Everyone on Joan's team – even Clint Black – ended up liking Joan; the same wasn't true for Annie. People hated her by the end of the night; the one person on her team who liked her was Brande Roderick, but she showed such questionable judgment in so many other areas, that her liking Annie has to be discounted as well.

Annie may have had the ability to raise cash initially, but her attitude seemed to make continued donations unsustainable. Joan raised some money, but also put a better foot forward, continually highlighting her charity instead of herself. After watching the show I would rather donate to Joan's charity than Annie's – I'm not saying Joan's does better work, just that her charity seems more appealing in how she discusses it than how Annie discusses hers.

The initial influx of cash Annie was able to get is a hard thing to overlook in selecting Joan as the winner, but I don't think it's impossible. I think that good cases can be made for both candidates, and that in the end, the right one and the nice one won out, and I'm happy with that as the conclusion to the season.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Alan Alda Rocks 30 Rock

Oh 30 Rock, how I love you and your guest stars.  It's like you've gone out and made a show just for me -- you've had Salma Hayek on repeatedly this season, and now, last night, you had Alan Alda on the show… Alan Alda!  I love Alan Alda.  Not in the same way that I love Salma Hayek, but come on, Alan Alda, he's fantastic.

I of course associate Mr. Alda with his fabulous multi-year role on M*A*S*H.  I know, he wasn't the first Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce – that distinction belongs to Donald Sutherland who played Hawkeye in the film – but it is impossible to not associate him the role.  Alda and the producers of the show managed to make Hawkeye a womanizing scoundrel who was still hugely lovable and tragically flawed.  Pierce is, perhaps, the perfect example of just what can be done with a character when given time to fully explore him. 

Alda also appeared in several Woody Alan films, he even got to say one of my favorite Woody Alan lines ever "if it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it's not funny."  Classic Woody Alan.  Classic Alan Alda.  Great movie.

Now, more recently, Alda has appeared on The West Wing as Senator Arnold Vinick, the guy on the Republican side in Presidential race during that show's last two seasons.  He actually managed to make a Republican a sympathetic, likable figure.  That's not an easy task.

Seriously though, that's just a smattering of Alda's career, he's done so much more – Same Time, Next Year; Paper Lion; Jake's Women; Betsy's Wedding (which he also wrote and directed); And the Band Played On; California Suite; The Aviator.  Alda's credits are tremendous, and the most amazing thing is that even when he's playing a terrible human being, he seems like a great guy. 

Every time I sit down and watch Alan Alda I can't help but think to myself that there is a man I would love to sit down and have a scotch and then a steak with.  I don't know why a scotch and a steak, but it's what I imagine.   I guess the scotch, of course, because that's a great pre-dinner drink while waiting for your table at the steak house, and a steak house seems like the right place to eat with him.  I can picture it now, big comfortable leather chairs, understated wood-paneled walls, the smell of perfectly cooked meat and creamed spinach, it just seems so… right.

But, I digress.  Alan Alda is one of the people I stop and watch every time I am flipping through the channels and come across his face.  He has an amazing presence and a way of fully inhabiting all the characters he takes on.  When you stop to watch an Alan Alda television show or film you know you're going to get something special from him even if the program itself isn't the greatest. 

I have never met Alan Alda, and am quite convinced that I never will -- he and I don't travel in the same circles.  However, if I had the opportunity to meet just one star, he might be the guy.  Next time he's on TV just give him the chance, you'll be impressed, I guarantee it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wednesdays at 10pm I'm Usually Enjoying The Unusuals

Why do I do this to myself?  Am I a glutton for punishment?  Is there any possible other reason for me watching a television week after week which I know, I just know won’t do good numbers and which doesn’t have a great shot at coming back next season (but it does have a shot).  I sat there last night watching The Unusuals – as I’ve sat there every week since the show premiered, and every week I like the show more and more.

The show is funny, it's quirky, it has interesting characters and decent storylines – why wouldn't I watch?  Why wouldn't you watch?  Why aren't you watching?

The show airs out of Lost, which has been death for anything ABC has thrown into that slot, even if the shows are seemingly compatible with the trippy mysterious island program.  But, I do think that ABC probably thought they had something with The Unusuals, after all it has a bunch of people you've seen before – Amber Tamblyn (I think of her as the original Emily from GH, but you probably know her as Joan of Arcadia), Adam Goldberg who has been in more shows than I can possibly name, and Harold Perrineau (Michael from Lost) among others.  So, this guy from Lost plus a bunch of other people you've seen around are in a show after Lost, I'd stick around for such a thing.  Yes, even if it means having to TiVo Jack McCoy or try to pull some funky viewing trick whereby I get to watch both shows at the same time.

In any case, I'm watching the show, and as I said above, every week I've found myself getting more and more into it.  Is Leo going to die this year (he firmly believes he will)? Will Eric opt to fight his tumor (it looks like he may)?  Is Casey going to stick with the cop thing (I tend to believe so)?  What about Walsh and Allison, is that going to work (jury's still out there)? 

I want to know more about these characters, I want to see where they're headed and what they're doing.  In short, I'm intrigued.

However, I also find myself enjoying the weekly cases.  Last night Casey and Walsh had to try and prove that a cop didn't kill someone.  They backtracked his night, did the whole thing step-by-step, and (and here's where the show really scores points with me) I didn't immediately recognize it when they met the killer.  No, they had a conversation with the actual killer and they left the scene unaware of whom they were just speaking to, and I didn't pick up on it either.

It's not that the storyline didn't work or that they were trying to trick us into not figuring it all out, the storyline unfolded very naturally.  The writers even gave the audience a reason for depicting the first conversation with the killer, he annoyed Casey in the exact way other cops had earlier in the episode, so the audience was just led to believe that he was there to perpetuate her anger.  The introduction of the killer and the scene with him taking as long as it did was cleverly folded into the story.

Come on now, give the show a chance, I'd love the thing to come back next season and it needs some firmer footing to guarantee that.

Wednesdays at 10pm I

Why do I do this to myself?  Am I a glutton for punishment?  Is there any possible other reason for me watching a television week after week which I know, I just know won’t do good numbers and which doesn’t have a great shot at coming back next season (but it does have a shot).  I sat there last night watching The Unusuals – as I’ve sat there every week since the show premiered, and every week I like the show more and more.

The show is funny, it's quirky, it has interesting characters and decent storylines – why wouldn't I watch?  Why wouldn't you watch?  Why aren't you watching?

The show airs out of Lost, which has been death for anything ABC has thrown into that slot, even if the shows are seemingly compatible with the trippy mysterious island program.  But, I do think that ABC probably thought they had something with The Unusuals, after all it has a bunch of people you've seen before – Amber Tamblyn (I think of her as the original Emily from GH, but you probably know her as Joan of Arcadia), Adam Goldberg who has been in more shows than I can possibly name, and Harold Perrineau (Michael from Lost) among others.  So, this guy from Lost plus a bunch of other people you've seen around are in a show after Lost, I'd stick around for such a thing.  Yes, even if it means having to TiVo Jack McCoy or try to pull some funky viewing trick whereby I get to watch both shows at the same time.

In any case, I'm watching the show, and as I said above, every week I've found myself getting more and more into it.  Is Leo going to die this year (he firmly believes he will)? Will Eric opt to fight his tumor (it looks like he may)?  Is Casey going to stick with the cop thing (I tend to believe so)?  What about Walsh and Allison, is that going to work (jury's still out there)? 

I want to know more about these characters, I want to see where they're headed and what they're doing.  In short, I'm intrigued.

However, I also find myself enjoying the weekly cases.  Last night Casey and Walsh had to try and prove that a cop didn't kill someone.  They backtracked his night, did the whole thing step-by-step, and (and here's where the show really scores points with me) I didn't immediately recognize it when they met the killer.  No, they had a conversation with the actual killer and they left the scene unaware of whom they were just speaking to, and I didn't pick up on it either.

It's not that the storyline didn't work or that they were trying to trick us into not figuring it all out, the storyline unfolded very naturally.  The writers even gave the audience a reason for depicting the first conversation with the killer, he annoyed Casey in the exact way other cops had earlier in the episode, so the audience was just led to believe that he was there to perpetuate her anger.  The introduction of the killer and the scene with him taking as long as it did was cleverly folded into the story.

Come on now, give the show a chance, I'd love the thing to come back next season and it needs some firmer footing to guarantee that.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Apprentice UK - Sir Alan Sugar's Domain

I'm always very curious to see how shows from one country get ported for another country. Last night, BBC America started airing The Apprentice UK, which is pretty much the same show we know and love to hate here, but produced locally (for them anyway, for us it's kind of international). Sure, the show aired on the other side of the Atlantic several years ago, but we're slow in catching up here.

Taking the place of Donald Trump (did you see him on The View yesterday, the man was positively orange), the UK version has Sir Alan Sugar – self-made rich guy who fought his way up, yada yada yada. He's far more gruff than Trump, and after two episodes of the show (BBCA did back-to-back ones last night) his reasoning for firing people seemed far more logical. Trump always seems to want to figure out which way the wind is blowing and to try to calculate the ratings he'll get in future episodes when eliminating a candidate. Sir Alan didn't seem concerned.

As for the rest of the show, it pretty much played out as we've come to expect The Apprentice to play out (save that at the end of the second task the client told Alan which team should lose on air rather than the show cutting away before we heard that bit). The first task was a traditional first task – going out and selling something small on the street (in this case it was flowers), and the second was the design a toy task that we've seen the candidates on this side of the pond do.

This second task was absolutely fascinating – not for the toys designed, but because of the crazy candidates. Over on the women's side a lady named Lindsay was running the show. She desperately wanted her insanely boring toy to be produced – it was a set of mini-flags kids could hold up to send one another messages. Lindsay was so convinced this was the right toy that when she had her team vote on what to produce and the other toy – a robot with fly-away parts – won, she insisted they produce both. Then, when her kid focus group voted for the robot, she insisted that her team still come up with presentations for both.

Finally, she had her team sit down for one last vote. She gave each of the six members 100 points, and asked that they assign a value to much they wanted to present each toy (so someone could be 70-30 in favor of the robot or 80-20 in favor of the flags). The final tally there was 340-260 in favor of the robot.

That's not actually as close as it looks. Let's think about it -- we know that Lindsay felt strongly about the flags. Let's say she voted 70-30 in favor of the flags and pull her score from the total, giving us 310-190 in favor of the robot. That's not all that close (and later in the episode we found out that the presenter had voted 50-50 because she didn't want to bias herself, which is a whole different brand of crazy we won't be talking about). Lindsay, insanely but not surprisingly, went with the flags.

Lindsay's team lost badly, the toy company didn't like the flags, and she was fired. Even then, however, poor Lindsay couldn't admit she'd made the wrong decision and that Sir Alan was right to fire her. She figured that she'd made her mistake and that in a real job she'd never be fired – that it would be a live and learn thing. I guess she'd never seen a reality show before and didn't realize how she wasn't in a real job.

See? Crazy candidates, confronting boss, the same tasks you've already seen, it's just like The Apprentice here, but this UK version not only features great accents, but it's the first season of the show and so people haven't figured out the rules of the game yet. And that makes it much more fun.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Returning to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with a Big Splash

This week, Disney is releasing the fifth title in their Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series.  Entitled Mickey’s Big Splash, the DVD features four episodes of the series, three of which have aired previously on the Disney Channel.   As with the earlier release Mickey’s Storybook Surprises, the disc contains episodes which can be vaguely categorized on a single theme, in this case, summer fun. 

The three previously-aired episodes are “Pluto’s Bubble Bath,” “Mickey Goes Fishing,” and “Pete’s Bleach Blanket Luau.”  The first of these is quite possibly the most fun.  It features Pluto and Mickey each getting caught in soap bubbles as Mickey attempts to clean his friend in preparation for a “tea and biscuits and dog biscuits” party.   The bubbles carry the famous pair around as they sing and avoid various obstacles.  It’s just plain good fun, especially for the two- to five-year-olds the series is geared towards.

The new episode, “Donald’s Ducks” has sailor-suited duck guiding 10 ducklings to a beach.  The rest of the Clubhouse gang appears as well, and though fun, the episode is slightly odd in the it is Goofy who knows the ducklings prior to their arrival at the Clubhouse, but Donald who becomes their leader.  Clearly the show is acknowledging Donald, as a duck, getting to lead younglings from his species, but the reasons then for Goofy having a prior relationship with the ducks are murky.

Okay, that’s putting way too much thought into a series aimed at preschoolers.  The series is a fun one and continually attempts to engage its audience and teach them numbers, shapes, colors, and all manner of basic -- yet important -- things.

All the episodes of the series have the same basic structure -- a problem present itself, Mickey and his friends get Toodles and some Mouskatools to help them solve the problem, the tools are each used over the episode, and by the conclusion all is right with the world and the gang does the “Hot Dog Dance.”  It is simple, but completely watchable by adults and rewatchable (over and over again) by younger audience members.

The biggest quibble one might find with the release would be one only HD television users would notice.  In Mickey Mouse Clubhouse airings on Disney Channel HD, the show is presented in high definition and widescreen.  The DVD releases of the series do not have 16:9 enhanced setting, and consequently any adult watching the series might end up feeling as though the framing is very claustrophobic (the widescreen version seems to simply adds more space on the sides).  It’s something young children will not tend to pick up on, but is very disconcerting for elder audience members.

Mickey’s Big Splash also contains a “Fun in the Sun with Mickey and Gang” interactive game, which is no more enjoyable than any other interactive game ever put on a DVD.  It feels slow and stilted and is nowhere near as engaging as the episodes on the disc.

With songs and dances and images known the world over, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse -- Mickey’s Big Splash provides to young audience members another opportunity to see the iconic characters.  Plus, it’s even enjoyable for adults if they’re willing to give it a chance.  And there’s really not much more you can ask for from a preschool series than that.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Amazing Race Passes by Jennifer and her Bladder

I've said it before and I'll say it again – when on a reality show you really need to consider your actions, you have to believe that the show is going to be edited to heighten the drama, attitude, and emotion at every point possible.  Consequently, reality contestants have to know that if they say or do one stupid thing for one second on the show, that's how they'll be remembered… that is for as long as they're remembered at all.

I think people on reality TV forget this, after all, it's an easy thing to forget.  However, even if you don't forget the rule, it can still be hard to monitor your words and deeds to such a degree every second of the day.  However, I'd like to provide you today with a case in point of why that's necessary.

Look for a moment, if you will, at Jennifer Hoffman, up until last night a contestant on The Amazing Race.  Jennifer didn't have a particularly good season, and won't be remembered very well at all.  Looking back on her trip, there are four moments where her actions will be memorable, and none are flattering.

First, towards the beginning of the race, we learned that Jennifer had neglected to put on underwear.  She was required to run around in her skivvies for that leg though so the producers supplied her with a loaner pair.  I'm pretty sure that she won't be happy to be remembered as "the contestant who went without panties" down the line.

Several weeks later she got into a big fight with Luke, who is deaf.  Now, obviously Luke was partially at fault in that fight, but we as a society tend to reduce things as much as we can to aid in our remembering them.  So, for that incident, Jennifer could be remembered as "the one who picked a fight with a deaf kid."  Again, not the way she'll want to be remembered.

Last week, Jennifer broke down into hysterics when she was required to swim – something she can't do.  The show was very happy to provide her with a life vest and she has to be able to swim a little because she jumped off a diving board without it, but she was still hugely upset about it.  She spent so much time crying that she put her and her sister well behind the other teams, they only didn't get eliminated because the leg was twice as long as usual.  It's not quite as unflattering, but there she's "the one who cried about having to swim."

Then there was last night.  Jennifer and her sister had managed – against all odds – to pull themselves out of last place.  They had completed all the tasks they needed to do and arrived at the leg's Pit Stop, all that remained for them was to step on the mat to be checked-in.  That didn't happen, instead, Jennifer decided that she had to go to the bathroom so badly that it took precedence over finishing the leg of the race.  She knew the other team was right behind them but she didn't care.  She went to the bathroom and then went on to elimination as the other team passed her while she was in the porta-potty.  "The one who lost because she had to pee."

I have no reason to think that Jennifer is anything but a nice, wonderful, caring, decent, fully-clothed human being with an ample sized bladder.  However, that's not how she'll be remembered.  If there's ever another Amazing Race: All-Stars and she's on it, we all know what the other contestants will remember about her, after all, she's "the one who made a pit stop on the way to the Pit Stop and cost herself and her sister a million dollars." 

If you ever go on a reality show, please consider your legacy, otherwise I'm just going to end up having to feel bad for you too.