Monday, August 31, 2009

Defying Gravity in the Shark Tank

Maybe I'm too obsessed with Shark Tank (and it's not the only show we'll be talking about today, don't worry it's strictly an abbreviated Shark discussion tonight), I know that it's just another dime-a-dozen reality show, but it's fun, and last night I actually had more fun than I had before.  Last night I sat there, paused the show after each entrepreneur was introduced, and bet on whether or not the entrepreneurs were going to get their money.  I don't know if this was a good or bad thing, but I was right every single time (no, my being right has nothing to do with some super-strength, it's doable by anyone paying attention). 

Okay, so I do know, my being right was both good and bad.

We're going to deal with the bad first.  The problem with knowing the outcome is that part of the show ought to be suspense.  And what's worse than that is that if the audience knows almost immediately whether or not the Sharks are going to buy in, the Sharks do too and everything that follows is just show. 

Of course, that's the good part too.  If there's no suspense in whether or not the entrepreneur is going to get cash then your focus can shift to other things.  One of my big complaints with the show has been that some of the Sharks (Kevin O'Leary, I'm looking at you) are rude and/or downright mean to these poor entrepreneurs.  Some of that distress is instantly eliminated if you know that the entrepreneur is going to get any cash.  I mean, look at him – dressed like that with such a incredibly foolish idea – how did he everything that he could get money?  The guy must be off his rocker.  Looking at the show that way makes it more fun, the question is no longer "will the entrepreneur make a deal," it's "how exactly are the Sharks going to dismiss this guy," and that's a far more open-ended question.

It may be that O'Leary comes off as mean as he does because he's not willing to act the part of the not-yet-knowing-what-he's-going-to-do Shark.  I really don't think that is the only reason he comes off as so heartless, I tend to think that it could be that his heart is two sizes too small as well, but it does make him more palatable.

Elsewhere, or more accurately elsewhen as the other show we're talking about is also an ABC show, there was Defying Gravity.  Last week on Screen Time, Erin Medley asked about whether or not the show could possibly continue for an extended period as the past (half the show is flashbacks) has to eventually hit the present.  The show, at this point, isn't structured as Lost initially was, with flashbacks just being snippets at various points in time in the characters lives.  In Defying Gravity, the flashbacks all occur in the period between when the potential astronauts started training and when the spaceship launched.  That time period is far more finite than Lost's, and has to eventually come to an end – and probably not as far in as the magic 100-episode mark.

So, what are they going to do?  The mission the characters are on is scheduled to last years on end, and on the off chance the show does they're going to have to figure out something else to do in place of the flashbacks. 

I, sadly, don't think the show is ever going to have to cross that bridge, but I am terribly curious about what they'll do if they manage to get there.  They could just eliminate the flashback formula, but so much of the show at this point is flashback-based that seems hard.  They could also push the flashbacks back to before the folks entered the program and do it in more of an original Lost one character a week way.  That would seem like a pretty good choice and certainly a far better one than extending the astronaut training portion by an infinite amount.  The characters all certainly have a pre-training backstory, some of them already are clearly fascinating ones, so why not explore that area. 

Either that or just do an entirely alternate reality from Beta's point of view thing.  That choice I can't even speculate on though because at this point we still have virtually no idea what Beta is and the show doesn't seem to want to explore the question all that much.  I just hope they have answer to the question of Beta, I hate it when great stories fizzle because the producers have no idea where to go with them.

I really do hope we get the chance to find out about Beta and what the show will do when the past meets the present – interesting things are happening and they could only get better.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Joining in a State of Play

Anyone who watches the news on even a semi-regular basis sees certainly things highlighted repeatedly – corrupt politicians, corrupt corporations, sex scandals, and the plight of newspaper among these.  Russell Crowe's latest Blu-ray release, State of Play, combines all of these laments into a single conspiracy theory-laden political-social-economic thriller.  The film, directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) and based on a British TV series does its best to be everything to everyone and thereby only succeeds marginally with what could have been a great movie.

The cast is a good one and features not only Crowe, but Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright-Penn, Jason Bateman, and Jeff Daniels too.  Much like having a plot which covers every possible thriller base, the filmmakers seem to have cast the movie to cover every possible demographic (save minorities for some strange reason).  And, much like the plot, due to breadth of the actors, the depth of each character is quite minimal.

Crowe leads the pack s Cal McCaffrey, a long-in-the-tooth old-school journalist.  He's the kind of guy, the audience is repeatedly told, who would rather dig for the truth than simply use Google to find confirmation.  That's a skill that cub internet-based reporter Della Frye (McAdams) lacks.  Not to worry though, she's teamed up with Cal, so from the very first moment the audience meets her, it's clear where her character is headed.

It's also clear where the entire film is headed – to the highest echelons of power within our government.  The movie starts off with a couple of seemingly unconnected murders, but if they were unconnected the audience never would have been shown them both, especially not back-to-back.

As it turns out, the whole thing is connected to increasingly powerful congressman, Stephen Collins (Affleck), who just happens to have been Cal's roommate back in college (there is an 8 year age difference between the two, but we're told that Cal's a hard-living kind of guy, so that might almost be plausible).  The two men have shared much through the years, including Collins' wife, Anne (Wright-Penn).

Representative Collins, of course, hasn't been entirely monogamous either, and one of those killed was not only his "lead researcher" but also his mistress.  Collins tends to believe that the entire thing has something to do with the committee he leads looking into making a deal with PointCorp, a private defense contractor. 

State of Play has a very "ripped from the headlines" feel to it, and no matter how many twists and turns the script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray and based on Paul Abbott's writing of the British series throw out, anyone who has ever seen a conspiracy theory thriller will know exactly where the larger film is headed.  There are a number of sidetracks and deviations thrown in, but it's never entirely clear whether they're there in order to try and shake the audience from the truth or whether they dead end because a single two hour film can't possibly encompass everything the television series did.  It certainly feels as though Mirren's newspaper editor character, Daniels' Congressman, and Bateman's PR executive should be far more present in the film than they are.

State of Play isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it simply cannot hold a candle to a classic newspaper-reporter(s)-searching-for-the-truth film like All The President's Men.  Unfortunately however for State of Play, such a comparison almost has to be made and State of Play will always come up wanting in one.

The quality of the Blu-ray release is pretty standard.  There is a good sharpness to the picture and much detail can be found in it, but blacks do tend to blend together more than they should which makes it difficult to discern what is taking place in some scenes.  The film, while it does have some gunplay, tends to be in the dialogue-heavy thriller vein and the 5.1 channel English DTS-HD Master Audio track handles it acceptably, though some of the more quiet dialogue tends to get lost.

The extras on the release include some picture-in-picture behind the scenes footage and looks at actual D.C. locations as well as deleted scenes and a making-of documentary.  This last piece is most noticeable for the high regard in which the filmmakers hold the British series.  While liking one's source material is important, after watching the featurette, one can't help but wonder why they didn't just watch the British TV show instead of this movie.

It is a little hard to fault State of Play for not being as good as what might be one of the best movies ever made, but there are simply too many similarities between it and All the President's Men for the comparison not to get made.  State of Play certainly explores slightly different terrain than that film, but as State of Play never draws in the audience to its own plot sufficiently the comparison lingers and inevitably leaves one disappointed with this film.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie Gets a Limited Edition DVD Gift Set Release

Not all Winnie the Pooh movies are made for younger viewers.  Not all Winnie the Pooh movies can entrance adults as well as children.  Both of these facts are acceptable and really only might cause a problem if they both prove to be true in a single Pooh movie.  That, plus a few other issues, make Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie a subpar entry into the series.

The movie puts Pooh and the other somewhat more adult Hundred Acre Wood animals into the backseat for the majority of its runtime, instead focusing on Roo and Lumpy the Heffalump.  Lumpy is unaware of the traditions of Halloween and terribly frightened by them, especially the one that Tigger pulls out of thin air, the story of the Gobloon who grants wishes if captured and turns people into jack-o'-lanterns if he captures them. 

Predictably, Lumpy and Roo end up on a quest to capture the Gobloon and thereby save Halloween.  Roo helps Lumpy overcome his fears, thereby giving the moral to younger viewers in the audience that Halloween isn't terribly scary and that they too can overcome their fears.

It's not a bad message to give, if only the "scary" moments of the film weren't actually kind of scary for younger viewers.  There is nothing to actually be scared of, but between the creepy-ish music, angry-ish looking jack-o'-lanterns, quick cuts, and clear terror that Roo and Lumpy feel on occasion, young Pooh fans may find themselves frightened.  Roo and Lumpy however are both characters which seem constructed solely to appeal to younger viewers, so one can't quite tell why the film contains any potentially scary moments whatsoever if it's going to focus on those characters.

Perhaps though all that is forgivable, after all, Roo and Lumpy are wholly absent from the portion of the film that is lifted directly from the Boo to You Too! Winnie-the-Pooh Halloween television special.  The decision to include that though is also an odd one.  Story-wise, that portion of the film is infinitely more compelling and less scary than the newer footage.  Of course, the animation also looks significantly older than the newer portions of the film.  Additionally, the older print has scratches, noise, and other imperfections which are absent from the newer portion.  Even though it is included in the new movie as a flashback (Roo is telling the story of that Halloween to Lumpy), it still feels like an awkward juxtaposition. 

That's not even delving into why that special (or a significant portion of it) was placed into this movie.  With this movie's runtime being just over an hour, having approximately 20 of those minutes come from a previously aired special is a poor decision and has the distinct feel of simply padding out this movie so that it can be "feature length."

The new "limited edition gift set" DVD release of the film comes with a plush, roughly Beanie Baby sized Pooh dressed in a Tigger outfit, which, while cute and fun, seems as though it ought to have been included with recent release of The Tigger Movie which has all the Hundred Acre Wood characters dressing as Tigger.  Other bonus features include several interactive games, the best of which is "Pass the Pumpkin" which is essentially Hot Potato, but with a pumpkin (or reasonably facsimile thereof, which is not included, although the plush Pooh would work perfectly).  There is also a handy little party planner included so that parents can create their own Pooh-themed Halloween party.  I can certainly promise you that I'll be printing a stencil to create a Hundred Acre Wood jack-o'-lantern this Halloween.

If I seem unduly disappointed with Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie it is only because the lovable characters from the Hundred Acre Wood have appeared in far better fare and assuredly will again.  There is certainly some enjoyment to be had with this movie (and the inclusion of some of the party planning material and the plush Pooh is great), but there should have been more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Robert, Hell's Kitchen, & The Way it Has to Be

I concluded at the end of last week's Hell's Kitchen that Robert, the lovable lug who left last season with pericarditis only to be invited back this season and end up in the hospital again after – horror of horrors – being made to exercise, was not long for the show. Spoilers below, beware.

Robert has never been my favorite chef on the show – either this season or last. He's grown on me as a character, but as a chef he's never really conveyed any sense of authority or, perhaps, confidence. He hasn't been the worst guy the show had either season, far from it, but he really hasn't been the strongest either. I tend to think that he lasted as long as he did last season because Ramsay had referred to him as "Bobby" and that brought up memories of Robert's less than stellar father and Ramsay felt really bad about distressing the guy. Ramsay was then in a position where he couldn't get rid of Robert immediately and then another opportunity never presented itself… until the pericarditis forced Robert from the competition.

Fast forward to this season. Ramsay (or the producers) brought Robert back as kind of a stunt – a way to help out the newbies and bring back someone who could, hypothetically, be a fan favorite. Robert couldn't instantly be fired because it would show that he never should have been brought back in the first place and that he probably shouldn't have lasted as long as he did last season either.

Of course, Ramsay couldn't have Robert win the show just because of Ramsay's mistake last season either, could he? No, Ramsay had to wait for the right moment and jettison the guy for good. It almost happened last week when Robert ended up back in the hospital. It would have been so clean and easy for Ramsay had Robert been not truly sick, but just sick enough to have to leave the competition again. Ramsay could then promise Robert a spot in the contest in the future when/if Robert was healthier and we'd never hear about him again (it's happened before on the show).

Sadly for Ramsay, Robert came back eventually last night, and to clue us into just how certain it was that he'd be eliminated, we got to hear from his entire team how little they wanted him around. It was a sentiment that had cropped up here and there in small doses earlier in the season, but last night it was stated over and over again. Robert, in the eyes of his team, had gone from savior to screw-up. Then he failed to cook some rabbit during dinner service. It was the exact opening his team needed. Robert was nominated and Ramsay, seemingly embarrassed by Robert delivering such severely undercooked food, sent the big guy packing for the last time.

In the end, Robert's problem was not his inability to cook – he was no worse than the other chefs. Robert's problem was that he had been set up from the beginning. Ramsay, I'm convinced, was sure last season that Robert couldn't win and knew that bringing him back this season would be safe, that he still couldn't win. The expectations were simply too high. He came in as the guy who was supposed to cure all the ills the other chefs had – he was the guy who had been there before and knew exactly what to do. If Robert had gotten a black jacket and made it so close to the end last time, the theory went, then surely he not only deserved to go that far but surely he could help the new folks.

It was never going to work out that way. Robert was simply never that good. Like so much on Hell's Kitchen, Robert was there just for show, not because he had a chance. His return was definitely good show, it's just something of a shame that his final exit wasn't quite so dramatic.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Uncovering some Duplicity (2009)

Corporate espionage is not only a big-stakes game, but as the new Blu-ray release Duplicity (2009) points out, it can be great fun too. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), the film stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as a couple of former government espionage agents who have opted to turn private.

Roberts plays Claire Stenwick, a former CIA operative who, several years before the main events in the film, sleeps with Owen's Ray Koval, a British agent, in order to obtain some top secret info. It's a mission that goes perfectly well, right up until... upon their next meeting she falls desperately in love with Ray… or does she?

For his part, Ray spends the time between his first meeting with Claire and his second thinking about her and tracking her down (hence the second meeting). He too falls desperately in love with her… or does he?

Well, no matter, they both claim their love in semi-convincing fashion and hatch a plan to go private and explore a huge corporate espionage score. They proceed without any idea of what exactly they're going to steal or from who, but they figure that they want to live like rich people and will need about 40 million to do it right.

The film plays with time a lot, starting at the first encounter between Claire and Ray, jumping ahead to the present, and then jumping to the past from time to time to slowly fill in the gaps about their plan and how it came about. As the screenplay stands, the film would never work if it were told in a strictly linear fashion; there simply isn't enough that takes place to make that work.
Ultimately, the reason for that is that the film is as much about Claire and Ray's heist – which involves playing two drug companies and their ruthless CEOs, played brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti, against each other – as it is about the question of whether or not Claire and Ray really love each other, if they're even capable of loving another spy. Every time the question seems to get answered in the film, something happens which leaves it all open for debate again.

As for the corporate espionage side of things, Giamatti and Wilkinson spend a lot of time chewing the scenery in an hysterical fashion, but that side of the film never feels quite as well done as the possible-love story. The film only ever sticks to the surface of what is taking place in that arena, perhaps because if it went in-depth it would give the game away, and perhaps because Gilroy never quite worked out the details. Corporate espionage, except for the final heist, ends up coming off just as dull as one would expect it to be in real life.

Rather than being a great movie, Duplicity is only a good one, but it is a good movie filled with enjoyable performances. Roberts, Owens, Wilkinson, and Giamatti are all incredibly charismatic and make even potentially unlikable characters and despicable actions great fun to watch. Boiling it down to the most basic of analogies, Duplicity is a corporate espionage version of the recent Ocean's Eleven, but with a heist that doesn't work nearly as well.

The film does look and sound outstanding on Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is well-balanced and the sounds are all perfectly crisp. The music comes through beautifully, as does the dialogue. The video transfer is almost equally flawless, with differing locales being given different color palettes, and every color being rich and bold. The detail, too, is outstanding.

Far less outstanding are the extras, or, more accurately, extra, included on the disc. The only special feature is an audio commentary track featuring Tony Gilroy and editor/co-producer John Gilroy. One doesn't even get the usual assortment of foolish deleted scenes and/or outtakes, and with the amount of fun that it appears was had on set by the actors, one has to assume that somewhere out there outtakes do exist.

Duplicity is a film which puts characters and their hidden motivations above plot in a not always terribly satisfying manner. The film is only as good as it is because the stars are as great as they are. It is a fun film which feels like it could have been a great film had as much time been spent developing a compelling heist as was spent developing compelling characters.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Shark Tank Redesign

On a regular basis I give my opinion on TV shows. Be that opinion good, bad, or ugly, I provide it secure in the knowledge that I have obtained a graduate degree in the field, worked in TV production for several years, and watch more television than any two other sane people I know combined. That doesn't mean however that I have any illusions that anyone in power cares about what I say. There are, though, some moments when I complain about a television show and turn it on the next week, or two weeks later, and see that the very things I complained about have been altered. I know that the turnaround time on a show is such as to make it virtually impossible – even if someone in power had cared about my complaints – for my complaints to have been acted upon. Even so, it's nice to see.

Two weeks in a row I issued complaints about Shark Tank. I said that the huge desk they were sitting in front of was a bad idea (that the Sharks needed their strength to issue from themselves, not from their furniture), the massive digital shark tanks were ridiculous, and that Kevin O'Leary was simply too evil, that he needed to tone it down. Much of that was corrected in last night's episode.

The desk was gone, and it seems as though the riser the Sharks are placed on was lowered. In place of the desk and office chairs was a more simple set of chairs and coffee tables. The new look was much more in keeping with the British counterpart to Shark Tank, and really did help show that these Sharks had the power and intelligence to make things happen within themselves, that they didn't need to physically look down on others to make themselves feel powerful – they already were powerful. The massive, horrific-looking digital shark tanks were replaced by far smaller ones which, while still a little foolish, were certainly a much better choice than the big ones. It took the Sharks' actual tank from being a James Bond villain's lair to a more corporate, sensible kind of place. And, as for Kevin O'Leary, the show took away the wads of cash he used to waggle at entrepreneurs, which helped tone down the James Bond villain presence he gave to the show.

All in all, it made the show far better, but they still have to do something about those entrepreneurs, don't they? Perhaps last night was worse than the other nights, but it seemed as though everyone we saw was running some homegrown little business that they wanted to make big, even if they had no idea how to go about it. No one there seemed to actually be a businessperson trying to become huge, they were all of the "golly gee, I can make everyone's life better if they would only pay attention to what I do in my home" kind of people.

Deals were made on the show, but I got the impression that the entrepreneurs didn't always know what they had agreed to. As an example, there was the "Turbobaster" lady. She gave up 100% of her company for a two percent royalty on all future income. Sure, she may make some cash from the infomercials that are sure to come from her product, but I never got the impression she knew that she had given up ownership of her entire company. I'm not going to suggest that the Sharks were wrong to oust her from the company — after all, she had decided how much she was going to sell her product for without ever figuring out how much it was going to cost to make it — but I got the impression that she was going to have a rude awakening at some point down the line. I could be wrong though, she is credited extensively on the Turbobaster's website.

The intelligent, dedicated, entrepreneur thing is a harder issue to fix than the sets, décor, and props. But, maybe the producers are working on that too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Snuggling up with Kissing Cousins

He's Hitch, but in reverse – rather than putting couples together, he rends them apart.  Such is the job of Amir (Samrat Chakrabarti) in Amyn Kaderali's Kissing Cousins.  He acts as an intermediary for a member of a couple looking to dispose of their significant other, someone who can't deal with the emotional entanglement.  He is also one of the few good characters in a less than satisfying film.

Amir's job – an outgrowth of past emotional turmoil – keeps him from having a real relationship, something he doesn't seem to mind terribly, until his best friend, Charlie (Zack Ward), returns from abroad with a new outlook on life and a fiancée in tow.  Charlie refuses to let Amir be the best man at Charlie's wedding due to his "bad relationship karma," and Amir's stagnating life takes a turn for the worst… without someone to spend Thanksgiving with, he's forced to – horror of horrors – go home and spend it with his family.

From there this low-budget comedy takes a turn for the worse as Amir finds that his family has all but forgotten about him.  He winds up taking his visiting cousin, Zara (Rebecca Hazlewood) back to Los Angeles with him, and, as if the title didn't give it away, the two find themselves quickly becoming couple-esque.  What started as a joke on his friends turns almost semi-real and the blood relatives are disgusted with one another just in time to return to Amir's family for Christmas. 

The film is not well acted, and the appearances of David Alan Grier (Amir's neighbor) and Jaleel White (the soon-to-be father of Amir's sister's baby) in the film is terribly puzzling.  Neither has a large role (nor are they quite cameos), neither character is a stand-out, and neither performs brilliantly. Like so much of the film, one can only assume that there was some sort of great idea behind them being there, and that – like the rest of the film – the idea didn't quite turn into reality.

As it is made quite clear that Amir and Zara are in fact cousins, that relationship is headed nowhere, even if both of them might momentarily be interested in it being more than it is.  Because the relationship can't progress and there's only one other single girl in the entire film, from the first frame the audience knows exactly where Amir is going to be at the end of the film.  The only trick is disposing of Zara so that she's not alone by the time the credits roll, and that trick, like so  much of the film, simply feels false.

It is understandable that a low-budget film wouldn't be able to afford the rights to actual NFL footage (and may not be lit as well as a traditional Hollywood production).  However, claiming that people are watching the NFL when what is on screen is clearly not the NFL and rather appears to be NFL Europe (or NFL Europa or World League depending on when the game took place) footage is a poor use of time and energy, particularly when NFL teams who clearly didn't play in the game are mentioned later.  It too feels false, as does the questionable amount of time the trip from Southern California to Northern California takes toward the end of the movie.

It is all such a disappointment as the core of the idea – finding someone for a "relationship termination specialist" – is such a good one.  The whole fake relationship and girl transforming a guy into someone others would be interested in is certainly a retread, but handled correctly could work.  It is not handled correctly here, mostly because it never actually goes anywhere. 

The DVD itself includes some behind the scenes footage, improv moments, and interviews.  And, while it allows the viewer to select either the 5.1 channel surround sound track or the stereo track, choosing either from the menu seems to lead to the stereo track – if one wants to watch the 5.1 channel track, it has to be selected in-film, not from the menu.

During the entirety of its runtime, I kept rooting for Kissing Cousins to get better – the Hitch in reverse notion is such a potentially funny one.  Unfortunately, it never lived up to its potential.  I would love for Kaderali and company to be given another shot with a reworked script (Kaderali wrote this one himself), but as it stands Kissing Cousins misses the mark.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Learning all About How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

As romantic comedies go, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days may not rank up there with Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally, but it's certainly better than the typical entry into the genre.  Matthew McConaughey may not be the actor or comedian that Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally) and Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle) both are, but he's almost certainly better looking.  As for Kate Hudson, she certainly holds her own against Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally) and… Meg Ryan (Sleepless in Seattle).  All comparisons aside though, both McConaughey and Hudson are enjoyable on screen separately and together, and there's enough amusement taking place in this film to keep the audience entertained.

Directed by Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men), the film follows Andie Anderson (Hudson) and Benjamin Barry (McConaughey) as they each try to manipulate the other in the fake relationship they both established unbeknownst to the other.  The basic plot of the film is that Andie, the "How to" columnist for a women's magazine, is writing an article on how to lose a guy in 10 days, whereas Ben, an advertising executive, is trying to convince his boss (Robert Klein) that he can make anyone fall in love with him in 10 days so that he can work a big account.  The two are put together by some of Ben's coworkers who know what Andie is up to even if Ben doesn't.

The rest of the film follows a series of entirely predictable set of plot points which have Andie feigning ridiculous actions in order to try and get Ben to dump her as Ben does everything in his power to keep the "couple" together.  Of course, by the end of the film they both figure out what the other was up to, get angry, and kiss and make up – it is a romantic comedy after all.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days works as well as it does because McConaughey and Hudson give it their all, fully embracing the insanity of both the plot and the characters.  Both are charming, charismatic, and fun to watch on screen.  That is to say, they have all the necessary factors to make a movie where everyone in the audience knows exactly what is going to take place from the time the opening credits roll until the time the final credits roll, enjoyable.

Additionally, the two main characters are surrounded by a solid cast group of secondary ones.  In addition to Robert Klein, the film features Adam Goldberg, Thomas Lennon, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Michele, and Bebe Neuwirth. 

Petrie is able to keep everything light and lively, moving briskly from one day to the next so that the audience is never quite given enough time to work out how foolish everything taking place actually is.  After all, if one stopped to consider just what Andie and Ben think that they're doing to the other, they would be terribly unlikable characters.  Petrie's direction – along with Hudson and McConaughey's solid performances – make sure that the audience is never allowed to stop and think long enough to work it all out.

The new Blu-ray release contains the typical set of bonus features:  a director's commentary, a featurette on how the film came to be made which is more on the process of getting to filming than it is on the filming itself, a talk with the writers of the original book (Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long), a music video, and deleted scenes.  There is also an odd discussion featurette entitled "Why the Sexes Battle" which attempts to place men and women's roles in a cultural and historical context.  While nominally interesting, it is never quite believable.

The technical side of the release is somewhere around the average for a Blu-ray romantic comedy.  That is to say, that while the Dolby TrueHD mix is a good one – no one will have to play with the remote constantly adjusting the volume between dialogue and music scenes – and that surrounds do come into play when needed, there simply isn't that much for them to do.  McConaughey and Hudson look flawless in the film (Hudson's makeup changing colors once or twice on the same night is due to the makeup people not paying attention, not the post-production folks), and the amount of detail and clarity given to the picture is more than adequate.  What is most disturbing about the release is that while every one-sheet and poster for the film feature Hudson in the yellow (perhaps golden) dress she wears to the big party at the end of the film, for some reason the artwork on the Blu-ray cover has changed her yellow dress to silver.  It is a moderately inexplicable occurrence and wholly foolish.

There is nothing terribly new or startling about How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, it is a film that seems to know exactly where it stands in the pantheon of filmmaking.  It certainly won't change anyone's view of the world or relationships, but it absolutely does provide an evening's worth of entertainment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Looking for Heat in Hell's Kitchen

We didn't discuss it last week, so we're kind of obligated to talk about it this week, aren't we? Hell's Kitchen. That bastion of flames; that over-hyped bologna; and, as much as I may loathe to admit it, that grand old bit of reality TV insanity.

I know, I know, I've complained about this season. I've called this season a weak one and I've suggested that perhaps the show has lost its way forever. It is a weak season, perhaps the show is headed for a long downhill slide, but there's still some fun to be gleaned from it, and it's that fun that I'm here to discuss this week.

Look at tonight's challenge — it was a health challenge and the teams had to come up with a 700 calorie menu. The show has never done anything like that before, and while you can't quite call a 700 calorie meal a really light one, it's assuredly better than almost everything else they've ever cooked on the show. The men weren't terribly good at the challenge – that really was an awful dessert and a terrible-looking entrée they put before Ramsay – but the women's food looked excellent.

What I was more impressed by though last night than the challenge, was the dinner service itself. The chefs this season are clearly not terribly strong, but somehow they've managed to complete more than one dinner service. I've viewed that as Ramsay having gone soft on a group who clearly couldn't handle it. Tonight though, he gave them what for and not in a perfunctory "I'm Gordon Ramsay and this is Hell's Kitchen so I'm forced to yell" sort of way.

Yes, he did some of that, but he also booted Tennille from the kitchen and then rather than just kicking her from the competition, he went, followed her out, and continued to yell. That does happen on occasion, but it's been less the norm as of late. Lately when he's booted someone from the kitchen they've either packed their bags directly or he's gone to talk to them and not blown up more. He's actually acted semi-rational with them in the back and that's not what he did tonight.

If you watched you know it's true that Tennille kept talking back to him outside of the kitchen which is why Ramsay ratcheted up his temper, but he still stuck with the fight and with her. At any moment had he not wanted to play anymore he could have dismissed Tennille from the competition rather than trying to deal with her. Ramsay couldn't even have blamed had he done that, after all, Tennille had called him "crap" and dropped an f-bomb or two in Ramsay's direction. But, as I said, he didn't dismiss her outright, he went toe-to-toe with her and pulled Tennille back into line. Ramsay showed that he still has heart, that he too still has the desire to be there, and that I loved.

I also loved the fact that the men's team wanted to nominate Robert for elimination because Robert is out of shape and upon being made to exercise had to be brought to the hospital. That was cold. Robert wasn't there for dinner service and had to drop out of the competition last season due to his health issues. Obviously Robert shouldn't be there this season either, the men's team wasn't wrong about that, but to try to force the issue on Ramsay like they did was just plain cold. Of course, it was also a pretty brilliant strategy. Yes, it was cruel, but this is a competition, it being cruel didn't make it dishonest, didn't make them wrong, and didn't mean it was out of line.

I do think the chefs are weak this season, and I do think that weak chefs hurt Hell's Kitchen, but there's still definitely some fun to be had. If only they weren't having so many issues with the quality of video they're getting. Did they not realize that a lot of their cameras were giving horrible footage all the time? That is disappointing and not something I can easily find an excuse for. Maybe I'll be able to come up with one by next week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Going Back in Time with Top Gear

Kind of a big television weekend, wasn't it? I mean, what with the return of a much talked about and ballyhooed television program and all. Were you there watching it? No, not Mad Men... sure, that's a great show, but let's not be foolish about it, Top Gear people. Sure, maybe it was Monday and technically not a part of the weekend, but as it was Top Gear, I'm declaring – retroactively – Monday a holiday and therefore a part of the weekend. Are you listening to what I'm saying? Top Gear came back last night with a brand new episode! Sort of.

You see, there I was watching the episode, and I couldn't help but notice that the opening credits looked more like the old credits than the new ones. "Okay," I thought to myself, "perhaps they've gone retro this season." I can't say that I noted the same thing for Hammond, Clarkson, and May, and, because I'm not a gear head, I can't say that I noted that the cars they were discussing as new were several years old, but apparently they were too.

BBC America aired the season seven premiere episode last night, and last season here in the States was season 12. As the season seven hasn't yet aired in this country, it was, by some logic, a new episode, it just wasn't a fresh one. Or something like that.

Don't mistake what I'm saying. I'm in no way distressed that the episode wasn't quite as fresh, and certainly never-before-seen in the States Top Gear is better than no Top Gear or seen before Top Gear. I'm just hankering for well and truly new Top Gear. Of course, if we got that I could just rant about how my cable provider doesn't give me a BBC America HD feed, which I'm convinced would make Top Gear better even if Top Gear isn't filmed in HD.

Top Gear at Isle of ManBut, that last bit isn't the point. No, the point, if you were paying attention, is that Top Gear returned last night. As the empty spots in my Top Gear knowledge start to fill in, what I notice about the show is that outside of the credits, it seems to make very little difference to a non-gear head that the episodes aren't quite as fresh as they might be. Frankly, all the supercars they test are so far out of my price range that I'm not even legally allowed to dream about owning them. Consequently, I tune in not just to see the cars (which are awesome even if they're a few years old), but the antics as well. Prior to last night's episode, I didn't even know who Trevor Eve was, but I found myself laughing hysterically during his conversation with Clarkson.

I'm not going to go out and say that the humor in the show is timeless — only time can say that — but what I am going to say is that at this point watching an episode is like going home again… if my home were full of funny people, really expensive cars, beautifully shot, and really well produced.

One of the cars they tested last night was a Porsche 911, and as soon as I saw it I knew that Clarkson was going to hate it. The man hates Porsches, just despises them. I've heard his reasons for that, but at this point, the complaints sound more like his arguing for the sake of arguing than true complaints. But, it's those complaints that make the show wonderful. Clarkson doesn't come out and change his mind willy-nilly; he's formed opinions over his lifetime and no scriptwriter is going to change them from one episode to the next simply to serve a plot point. He's a real guy (as are Hammond and May), and it's their being real people that make the show so much fun.

So, while I'm looking forward to a truly new season of Top Gear, I'm perfectly happy to sit there and watch a season I haven't seen yet. If only it were in HD.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shark Tank II - The Revenge

After much deliberation – or at the very least a second episode – I think I've figured out the biggest problem with Shark Tank. I know that last week I discussed the changes between the British version and the American version and where one succeeded and the other failed, and there were really some unsatisfying things on either side.  However, I don't think that anything I said last week – besides the quality of entrepreneur – is where the U.S. version finds its biggest obstacle.  Actually, I think the problem is pretty simple, it's "Shark" Kevin O'Leary.

Perhaps he's just a bad human being, perhaps he's just an overly-hard businessman, perhaps he's been told by a producer to be the "bad guy," whatever the case might be, he's almost enough to make me want to turn off the show and never watch it again.

Now, the biggest problem with the show's biggest problem?  It's that I know exactly what he'd say in response to my last paragraph – "there's no emotion here, this is about moneKevin O'Learyy.  I want to make money, that's all I want to do.  Do you want to make money?"  Not only is the statement predictable, it's obnoxious.  Plus, he may be rich, but he's absolutely blind if he can't see that there's a human aspect to business.

And there he goes again, "there's no emotion here, this is about money.  I want to make money, that's all I want to do.  Do you want to make money?"  Do you see how annoying he is, here I am writing this and he insists on throwing his two cents in over and over again.  No, that's not a direct quote from the show, but after watching last night's episode I can hear the man in my brain saying those words.  I think he should apologize, it's not very nice of him.  You do know what he'd say to that though, don't you?

Am I beginning to get my point across?  I thought last night's episode was far better than the previous week's, I still have some issues with the set, and the digital shark tanks (seriously, are those necessary?), but the entrepreneurs were far stronger last night and the Sharks seemed more into the whole game.

Watching the British and American versions of the show, I've often found myself wondering whether the show lives or dies based on the entrepreneurs or the sharks, and I think that – if I'm honest – it's both.  The show can't be a success with entrepreneurs who don't have good ideas and with Sharks who aren't willing to negotiate a little and have some fun.

Last night, everyone seemed to be having fun on the Shark's side, and they even came up with some good entrepreneurs on the other side too.  The show being successful (in terms of quality, which in an ideal world would bring ratings) hinges on the Sharks investing, and they're not going to do that if they don't have someone and something to invest in – entrepreneurs being reticent (as we saw) to divest themselves from their company and the Sharks (wisely) not wanting to get into bed with a less than intelligent entrepreneur.

So, based on that, who would ever want to work with Kevin O'Leary?  I assume corporations and big businesses wouldn't have a huge problem, but as a single-person company or an entrepreneur looking for cash, I can't see myself wanting to work with the guy, at least not without other Sharks as a part of the deal.

And that, I think is what O'Leary hasn't yet worked out with Shark Tank.  If, as he says, it's all about making money and that's all that matters, perhaps its not the entrepreneur who has sunk all their hopes and dreams (not to mention cash) into the product or company they're looking for help with who has to change, perhaps it's O'Leary.  Perhaps if he put on a smile and acted like a decent human being he could make a lot more of the cash he so desperately loves.

Just a thought.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh to be 17 Again

Zac Efron is a teen heartthrob.  If one was unaware of Efron's status and the entire High School Musical phenomenon, simply watching the recently released to Blu-ray 17 Again would be enough to bring someone up to speed.  Everything about the movie, from its opening shots to its closing credits, seems deliberately and coolly calculated so as to elicit the maximum number of squeals from teenage girls and to convince those girls' mothers that there is indeed something undeniably "dreamy" about Zac (it's okay, he's 21). 

The film, directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), opens with a shirtless six-packed Efron all sweaty and shooting hoops and soon after that he gets to dance.  As the film progresses he gets a haircut, cleans himself up, puts on really tight jeans (a fact noted by one of the characters in the film), has girlMatthe Perrys falling all over him, and he even swoons over and hits on a middle-aged woman.

Don't worry about that last bit, it's not disgusting (except that it is), the woman, Scarlett O'Donnell (Leslie Mann), is his soon-to-be ex-wife.  17 Again is a classic body-switch film, with Efron playing teenage Mike O'Donnell to Matthew Perry's adult version. 

Mike was once a teen basketball sensation, destined to get a free ride at college for playing hoops.  It all changed though after he got his girlfriend pregnant and opted to stay with her, foregoing college and his dreams, in order to be with the love of his life and raise his child.  Twenty years later, adult Mike O'Donnell grew to regret that decision so much that his "spirit guide" found him and made him young again.

Mike opts to go back to his old high school – where his two kids are now enrolled – and try to make things better for them.  In the process, he makes things better for himself, realizing that he truly does love Scarlett and that he wants to be with her for the rest of his life.  It's only a little creepy that it's Zac Efron playing a 17-year-old who realizes that he wants to be married to this significantly older woman (even if neither Zac nor his character are actually 17).

Creepiness side, the film is full of excellent supporting roleThomas Lennons including Thomas Lennon as adult Mike's fantasy-obsessed best friend; Melora Hardin as the school principal; Michelle Trachtenberg as Mike's teen daughter, Maggie; and Sterling Knight as Mike's son, Alex.  The standout among these is Lennon, whose Ned Gold is both terribly funny and a little sad in his pursuit of Hardin's principal Masterson.

Body switch films represent an entire sub-genre of comedy, and this one is better than most.  While it never loses its sense of humor, the film, at its core, remains a serious one, and Efron is up to the task of keeping it level.  Efron plays a thirty-something year-old in the body of a 17-year-old perfectly, with great discussions about how serious a thing it is to have sex and an utter amazement at just how in-shape teens are compared to the adults they will turn into.

All is not perfect in the film however, and anyone who has ever seen any of the High School Musical series will instantly get the sense that this film is, in part, trading on the memory of that one.  Efron's character here is a basketball star as his character, Troy Bolton, was in HSM, and breaks out into dance here as he did in HSM.  While the latter makes some sense – if you have someone who can dance that well why would you not have them daZac Efronnce – the former simply feels like the sport was chosen to remind everyone that they loved Efron in that series.  It's an unnecessary tactic as, despite the fact that the film treads no new ground, it is incredibly likable and certainly amusing enough without the allusions.

What doesn't work nearly as well as the film is the menu Warner Bros. chose to put on this Blu-ray release, which also includes a DVD and a digital copy.  All the special features are on the front page of the menu (except for the BD Live special features and alternate audio tracks which are not available from the main menu), and the option to play the actual film only appears in average-sized type down at the very bottom.  The majority of the menu is a list of all the special features, including each and every deleted scene.  Outside of said deleted scenes, the disc contains a brief outtake real and several short featurettes.  They delve into the making of the film, the making of a deleted dance scene, and cast and crew recollections of their own lives at 17.

As for the technical side of the disc, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio soundtrack is certainly above average.  It is well-mixed and special effect sounds all play out in crisp, clear fashion.  When the surrounds are engaged – be it during songs, Mike's plunge off a bridge, or any other moment – their use places the audience squarely into the moment rather than taking them out via over-the-top or unnecessary additions.  The video is equally good, with lots of detail, good blacks, and some very nice looking changes in color/lighting on a couple of occasions mid-scene.

17 Again is by no stretch of the imagination a brilliant film, and the romantic side of teen Mike and adult Scarlett's relationship is more than a little uncomfortable, but the movie overcomes these deficits and proves itself an enjoyable experience.  As body switch comedies go, 17 Again, with its ability to mix comedy and drama better than some other films, works well.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sneak Peeking the Fall: NCIS: Los Angeles

The fall – and the "traditional" television season – is rapidly approaching.  So, like any good TV reviewer, I've been watching pilots.  Now, anything that I say about a pilot is not a review, it's a series of thoughts, of ruminations, of contemplations based on what may be, what might be, what could be should these shadows remain unchanged.  That's right, think of it like A Christmas Carol – Scrooge saw his own death, but that was his death if he didn't change, anything I say about a television show whose pilot I've seen is the same sort of thing – it's what could be if they remain unchanged.  Tiny Tim did not die, and none of these shows have to either (nor need they live).

That being said, what we're talking about today isn't a traditional pilot – it's a back-door pilot.  Thus, it's still mostly filmed in the style of the show it's based off of and has aired, making it possible to review the original show, but not so much what the new one will be like, except to say whether they characters (which may change) are stultifyingly dull or have potential.  In the case of the stars of NCIS: Los Angeles (which is being spun-off of NCIS which was spun-off of JAG), they show potential.

I've never actually watched an episode of NCIS prior to watching the two-parter "Legend," in which the Los Angeles team (a team which has since been tweaked) is introduced, but I actually liked the original NCIS enough where I've since TiVoed and watched more episodes (I always find it weird when I like a CBS procedural, what with my not being even close to 40 yet).  But, Mark Harmon isn't going to be appearing on the new show on a regular basis, and he was a big part of why I liked "Legend."  Instead, NCIS: LA is going to star LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell.

The team – mainly O'Donnell's Special Agent Callen – specialize in going undercover and smoking out the baddies that way.  LL, who plays ex-Navy SEAL Sam Hanna, was mainly in charge – at least in "Legend" – of staying back at headquarters and playing with all the expensive toys that the Los Angeles branch outfits their office with (they are, after all, the Office of Special Projects).  He did find himself in the field during the two-parter, and I'm sure that he'll continue to on a weekly basis however.  The show isn't going to exist without shoot-outs and backup being called in and stings going badly, that kind of thing.  In other words – it's your standard procedural.

So, without seeing the new team as it will truly exist in the final version of the show (one case change includes the addition of Linda Hunt) in action and the look of the show, am I just wasting your time and mine discussing it?  I don't think so.  CBS is pushing the series and have already announced crossovers between the papa and child, plus they've given the new series the slot right after the original.  They obviously believe in it and think it's going places, plus, depending on how you count, CBS might be the highest rated network on television. 

I do have to say though, "Legend" relied a little too much on the high-tech end of things with fancy touch-screen computers and "throwing" things from one screen to another.  It was like they saw last season's revamped Knight Rider and thought it was pretty cool when they did it there.  It wasn't, it was foolish and ridiculous.  NCIS: Los Angeles needs to have good storytelling to go with the fancy-shmancy stuff, otherwise it might find itself going the way of Michael Knight (though the safe money is against that).

As for the ultimate question – will NCIS: Los Angeles find a spot on my fall viewing schedule, I think it might.  It's set to air Tuesdays at 9pm and I certainly won't be watching the dancing shows that air opposite it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Leverage Takes on Cable News

I refuse to talk about Hell's Kitchen this week.  I simply refuse to do it.  The foolishness needs a week off.  Instead, how about a brisk discussion of tonight's Leverage?

As previously noted, though the second season started off a little wonky, it rapidly improved and tonight, in the season's fifth episode (how time flies!), they've really hit a high note.  The episode, "Three Days of the Hunter Job," focuses on the team conning a sleazy cable news host, Monica Hunter (Beth Broderick).  The character, who seems for the most part to be modeled on Nancy Grace, is the epitome of everything the news shouldn't be – a quick and easy way to make a name for one's self by climbing on the back of others and trampling the truth in the name of ratings.

It's over the top, and Leverage likes their broadly drawn bad guys and Monica Hunter is not only broad, but truly a bad guy, and quite funny to boot.  The Leverage gang, led by Gina Bellman's Sophie Devereaux this time around (Hutton's Nathan Ford is throwing her a bone), feed Hunter a fake story which cPhoto by Erik Heinilaonvinces her that the water we all drink is polluted and going to kill us.  Well, not only that, but that the government is aware of the situation and the rich and powerful are going to end up in bunkers safe and sound.

Leverage does over-the-top cons exceedingly well, and this one ranks as more over-the-top than most.  The team hijacks an office in the Pentagon, sneak onto a military base, hack a TV news control room, that sort of thing.  Oh sure, the ways in which they accomplish those things are laughable, but the audience is laughing with Leverage, not at it.

At it's base, the series is about the characters – Sophie, Nathan, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), and Parker (Beth Riesgraf) – and the characters are good ones.  The notion behind the entire setup is that the team needs each person on its disparate talents, and that with those talents come disparate personalities, but what that has allowed for is some truly wonderful interactions between the group.  For instance, despite the fact that Nathan allows Sophie to run the con tonight, and Nathan is ostensibly in charge of the group, everyone on the team has their own little say about Sophie get another shot at leading the team, and it's something that they discuss over and over and over again.

It's in those moments – which I don't want to spoil – where the show really comes alive.  The team is great and fun when it comes to the cons, but their spectacular when it comes to each other. As con artists they clearly know how toPhoto by Erik Heinila read people, and watching them use that ability to poke and prod (lovingly) at one another is something to watch.

Thankfully this episode has that – and a con directed at someone who deserves it – going on, because while Hunter deserves to go down and while Broderick is great at portraying her, making fun of Nancy Grace has been done before… a lot.  She's been parodied on Boston Legal and SNL and made fun of by Jon Stewart, just as a start.  Whether or not she deserves it (and more) is not at issue, I just wish that Leverage had opted to go another way – the did a great job with the route they chose, but it would have been nicer to see the road less traveled.

Leverage's "Three Days of the Hunter Job" airs tonight on TNT at 9pm.  Check out a sneak peek:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grand Slam Tennis - It's Kind of Like a Weak Forehand Shot

EA Sports is the preeminent creator of sports game titles. Their roster of franchises includes, among other things, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Fight Night, NHL, Madden, FIFA Soccer, and NBA Live. Why wouldn't they try to add a tennis game to that roster? And, if they were adding a tennis game, why not make it for the Nintendo Wii? After all, the Wii's motion-sensing controls are a perfect fit for a sport that requires swinging a racquet. The result of this new addition to the EA Sports lineup, Grand Slam Tennis, is a title that could make for the start of a very promising franchise, but that by itself certainly leaves something to be desired.

Grand Slam Tennis can be played with either the new Wii MotionPlus accessory or without it. Before we get into the specific successes and failures of the game, let me make this very clear – if you want to play the game, play it with the Wii MotionPlus (and the nunchuk which allows for better control of where a player is on the court). Playing without the add-on, which enhances the player's precision and provides more immediate feedback when turning the Wii, is a hugely frustrating experience. With the WiiMotionPlus, one gets a good sense of what effect turning the Wii remote has on the racket – it turns on instantly onscreen. But without the add-on, the controls feel incredibly sluggish and the direction of the ball following a stroke is far more random.

As with many sports titles, the game has both a "season" mode and a quick play one. The season mode here, is called "Grand Slam" and consists solely of the four Grand Slam tournaments – The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open. There are some matches played at the various venues prior to the main tournaments themselves, but there are no smaller tournaments or invitationals available in the mode which makes the entire process very repetitive, very quickly.

Traditional gameplay (there are some non-standard games available) unfolds exactly as one would expect from a tennis match, with the human player always appearing at the bottom of the screen even after the in-game players switch sides on the court (a move that makes complete sense). Swinging the Wii remote at various angles and movements causes different types of shots – topspins, flat shots, and slices — while pressing a button as the Wii remote is being swung can allow for the play of drop shots and lobs.

It all sounds easy but the learning curve is terribly steep, and until someone figures out exactly how to hit that perfect cross-court backhand, the game can be very frustrating. After that… well, it can still be very frustrating. Serving never quite approximates a real serve – at least on the human player's side, and in the hardest mode it can be exceedingly tough to return a serve, much less get a service break on the computer. 

To play Grand Slam mode, you first create an avatar using some extremely simple and limited choices. The game's graphics are exceedingly cartoony – perhaps a wise choice as the Wii's graphical capabilities often leave something to be desired when it comes to realism – so your choices in terms of hair and face can result in some pretty amusing results. If you choose to go with a more serious look, don't expect the above average approximation and set of choices Tiger Woods delivers in this area. The choices in terms of outfits and racquets is similarly scant. There are several brands of clothes/gear available, and much of it can be unlocked by winning matches, but after playing Tiger Woods, this feels like a no-frills version of that game's Pro Shop.

Leveling up players is a two step process. First is by winning enough matches that allow you to open (up to three) slots in which to put special abilities.  Then, by winning "Legend Challenges" before a Grand Slam tournament, you get various abilities (better forehands, better serves, increased hustle, etc.) which can be put into the slots.  It's a straightforward system but doesn't include much depth beyond the sheer length of time it takes to increase your star rating and thereby open up more slots.

The cartoony graphics work well and are fun enough when it comes to the main characters, but the background graphics and other secondary visuals are incredibly disappointing. It's okay that the line judges don't move when a ball comes exceedingly close to them – I like that they stand there with no fear. However, most assuredly they ought to not let a ball hit them — or pass through them as they tend to do.  While having ball boys/girls is a nice little addition to the game's realism, they too are examples of a lack of collision detection. They should be solid objects that you can't simply run through (and heck, having them move every once in a while to grab a stray shot wouldn't be bad either).  The spectators are clearly no more than two-dimensional cardboard stand-ins, so why Grand Slam Tennis would choose to have some camera shots pan around and behind the spectators and thereby highlight their two-dimensional nature is perplexing.

The sound, outside of some dull announcing and unimpressive music, is better.  The in-game effects include appropriate ball noises and even grunts from certain players. Additionally, it is in the sound category where the crowd really comes alive, following good rallies enthusiastically. 

Grand Slam Tennis sports a lineup of 23 actual tennis players, 11 "Retired Legends," and 12 "Current Stars" from all over the world.  It sounds like a pretty good number, but once you start playing a little you'll notice that 23 really isn't that many when each match requires you play one of the 23 – they start repeating very quickly.  It is nice to see the likes of Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Andy Roddick, the Williams sisters, and John McEnroe across the court – even if some of their shots make you want to scream "you cannot be serious!"

In fact, players may want to continue with more of that famous McEnroe rant, "That ball was on the line. Chalk flew up!  It was clearly in…" because on more than one occasion the umpires seem as blind as bats in terms of where a ball was and, more frustratingly, whether or not it bounced twice prior to being hit.  There is nothing more frustrating than watching an automatic instant replay in which it is evident that despite the call which cost you the match you hit your shot prior to a second bounce.

In addition to the quick play and Grand Slam modes, the game features some cute little party games and a pretty decent online mode which easily connects you with players of similar skill levels. The game is certainly more fun against a human opponent which won't fall for the same tricks in positioning shots that the AI falls prey to (on service against the computer no fewer than half the points are winnable after one's first shot following the serve). The game can also count the calories the player has burned over the course of a match (and even set calorie-burning goals), and while the game may be more realistic standing, it is certainly easier to play while sitting down.

There is certainly something satisfying about tweaking McEnroe's pride by hitting winner after winner after winner against the afroed tennis legend, no matter what the game's other faults might be. The same can be said for taking down Boris Becker, Andy Murray, and all the other tennis superstars included.  However, the game feels distinctly incomplete – there's not enough depth to the gameplay in terms of number of characters and number of venues/tournaments. While it's easy to pickup a rudimentary knowledge of how to hit certain shots, it is nearly impossible to perfect one's technique to the point where one is never sure if they're simply not competent or if the game has betrayed them.

I hope that EA Sports sticks with Grand Slam Tennis as a franchise, because it should be great to see where they take it in the next few years.


Grand Slam Tennis is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.
Three stars out of five.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tapping the Glass on the Shark Tank

Last night, ABC premiered its first show of the new season.  I'm not entirely sure I'd call it the new season yet with it only being the second week in August, but it sort of is and I'm not terribly interested in quibbling about it.  I'm going to give them this one. 

Anyway, the show, Shark Tank, premiered last night.  It is from a format that is already successful in a number of countries around the world where, more often than not, it is known as Dragons' Den

A Shark, nee Dragon, is a venture capitalist who has decided to fork up their own cash to help would-be entrepreneurs with their businesses.  Entrepreneurs appear on the show and ask for "x" amount of money for "y" percentage of their business and the Sharks – there are five on the show – either shoot them down or offer up a total of "x" amount of cash for something like "2y" percentage of the business (sometimes more than "2y" sometimes less, only "y").

Avid, perhaps obsessive, readers of this column will know that I was initially very high on the show when it began airing on BBC America and that over time my feelings soured.  There was too much cut out of the series.  It's unclear whether it ended up on the floor of a cutting room in England for the original airing or whether it was cut here in the States to better work with the added commercials we have in this country, but it was exceedingly frustrating.  Every time the show was starting to get really good, the show would jump and on a regular basis, the announcer would come on to try to move things along, badly.  The announcer would regularly say something like "So-and-so has heard enough and wants out," and then Dragon So-and-so would say "I've heard enough, I'm out."  It become incredibly repetitive and lost my interest.

Outside of a much more expensive set, there was an instant noticeable difference between the British version of the show and the U.S. version – we got a background story for several of the entrepreneurs here.  They were unnecessary, all the relevant information given in the field pieces on the entrepreneurs/businesses is stuff that came out in front of the Sharks again, the stuff that didn't get repeated was could have been never mentioned to begin with without any loss.

As for the more expensive set, I was not a fan.  Putting the Sharks behind a desk with a terribly fake-looking cityscape behind them didn't work as well as having the Dragons in a dingy-looking loft without a desk to block them off from the entrepreneurs.  Some may think it more intimidating to put the Sharks behind a desk, but it was an artificial sort of intimidating.  Putting the Sharks on a riser behind a desk helped them look down on the entrepreneurs but not through any sense of superiority the Sharks contained within themselves, and that's where their superiority needs to emanate from – within themselves – not from the set their using.

On the upside, the narrator was no longer interrupting things during a pitch.  There was no longer that unnecessary slowing of pace, there was no longer that disjointed, awkwardly strung together, feel.  He spoke from time to time, but never said what was about to happen before it did.  Hopefully that continues down the line.

The jury is definitely still out on some of the crazy entrepreneurs who were on last night and the show's selection of them.  There was one guy who wanted to surgically implant Bluetooth devices into people, devices that would have to be charged via the insertion of a Q-tip sized thing into one's ear every night.  The Sharks laughed it off, recognizing it as the insanity that it was.  Unfortunately, it was obviously a setup, the producers had to have been aware that there was no way any Shark was going to take the pitch seriously.  No, the producers put the poor guy out there in the tank just so they could see the Sharks rip him apart.  It was foolish and shouldn't have been done.

Shark Tank wasn't great, and it will only ever be as good as the entrepreneurs, the ideas, and the level of feistiness the Sharks possess.  Last night showed two very different version of the shows – the one in which the Sharks and entrepreneurs are serious and trying to work things out and the one in which the entrepreneur is a joke and the Sharks laugh them off.  If the series forgoes the latter in favor of the former it could be a lot of fun, but the fact that they put the Bluetooth guy in there is worrisome.  He belonged in a completely different sort of reality show, not what Shark Tank needs to be if it will last.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Monk & Psych Begin New Seasons

Cable networks, USA in particular, have done a great job attracting viewers to summer programming. Year after year, people know that come July or come August some of their favorite shows will be returning. Perhaps two of the most highly anticipated shows of the summer return tonight to USA – Monk and Psych.

Monk, which is entering its eighth and final season, has been around far longer than Psych. Every promo for the show has been quite explicit about this fact, but fans need not worry that the series will be done come Halloween, USA will be – as they always seem to do – splitting the season in two, with the final episodes not actually arriving until the winter.

The show stars Tony Shalhoub (Wings) as the obsessive-compulsive detective, a role for which he has won a Golden Globe (and several more nominations), three Emmys (and several more nominations), and two SAG Awards (and several more nominations). It certainly hasn't been a sad run for the star who, in speaking of the decision to conclude the show stated on a recent conference call: "We certainly don’t want to go too long and haveMonk the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we’re still really… doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high."

Even if that is something of a standard line delivered by actors and producers of long-running shows, it certainly is a true one in the case of Monk. The premiere episode in this final season, "Mr. Monk's Favorite Show," features the character taking on the role of bodyguard to the star of his favorite childhood TV show, and has all the humor tinged with sadness that we've come to expect from the series.

As his success at various award shows indicate, it is Tony Shalhoub who has made this series a standout for the length of its run. He is able to portray this terribly sad, not quite whole, man in a way that not only elicits smiles and laughs from the audience, but incredible amounts of sympathy as well.

Prior to the first season of the show, Mr. Monk lost his wife, Trudy, to a car bomb. The devastation he felt caused Monk to not only lose his job as a detective in the San Francisco Police Department, but pushed his obsessive nature to greater extremes. The crime has been the one case Monk has been unable to solve, something which may change by the series finale. Shalhoub started that the finale, airing in two-parts, "will involve the wrap up of Trudy’s murder… the solving of Trudy’s murder." It certainly has been a long time coming for the detective, and seems like a fitting way for the series to find an end point.

For its part, Psych is only entering its fourth season, and has not been as well received at award shows as Monk, but is certainly an equally good program. The series stars James Roday (Miss Match) and Dulé Hill (The West Wing) as Shawn Spencer and Burton 'Gus' Guster respectively. Shawn is a pretend psychic who uses his Sherlock Holmes-like ability to examine details in order to solve crimes, while Gus, a pharmaceutical sales rep, tags along and does everything he can to keep Shawn on the straight and narrow. It is certainly not an easy task as without Gus, Shawn would go completely off the rails – he tends to meander away from them as it is even with Gus.

While Psych does have some serious moments, it does lack the dramatic underpinning of Monk. Shawn and Gus have had to deal with hardships and upset, but nothing quite on the scale of Adrian Monk's life. PsychIt was last season's finale, and the discovery of a serial killer which proved to be Shawn and Gus's darkest case, but one that doesn't seem to have affected them all that greatly by this season's premiere.

Psych is simply great fun to watch. It's one of those shows where it truly appears as though the cast and crew are having a great time making it. Speaking to that point on a recent conference call, Hill stated, "We have so much fun up there. The cast is great, the crew is even greater, and we just have a lot of fun. No one takes themselves too seriously; we all come to work and we are pretty much getting paid to laugh all day. We sing songs; we have the best singing crew in Vancouver."

The series does film in Vancouver, but takes place in Santa Barbara. However, in a joke true to the sensibilities of the show, the season premiere, which features Cary Elwes as a guest star, has Shawn and Gus travel to Vancouver on vacation. Roday stated, "It was an opportunity to finally not worry about everything that was in the background of all of our shots. We actually could play the locations for the actual locations, and make believe stickers and Canadian flags all those things were good."

As with Monk, Psych makes for an incredibly enjoying hour of television, and while I will be disappointed to see Monk disappear after this season, I sincerely hope that we have many more seasons of Psych to look forward to. Back-to-back, the shows may be the best two-hour original programming block on cable, but Psych should have the ability to succeed without the lead-in support Monk has provided to this point.

Monk and Psych premiere August 7 on USA at 9pm and 10pm respectively.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Listening to The Soloist

Sometimes a movie is just a movie, and that's just fine. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a movie being a simple tale with interesting characters. However, a problem can quickly develop when the movie in question does everything it can to destroy its simple tale by trying to be more – by trying to paint a larger picture, talk about society in general, and to generally "raise awareness" about an issue. When that happens the tale sometimes disappears and all the audience is left with is two hours of unenjoyable preaching. Such is certainly the case with The Soloist, which is coming to Blu-ray this week.

The film, which is based on a true story, tells the tale of a writer for The Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.), and a one-time Juilliard student who, due to mental illness, has found himself on the streets of Los Angeles, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx). Lopez, who writes human interest pieces, takes an interest in Ayers and begins to write column after column after column about the man. As often happens with human interest stories, people are Downey Jr. & Foxxtouched and respond – Ayers is given a cello, the city of Los Angeles magically finds more money to help the homeless, and Lopez manages to raise his own stature.

Over time, the relationship between Lopez and Ayers grows and changes. Lopez learns that whether he wants to have done so or not, he's drastically influenced Ayers' life and that he, Lopez, needs to take responsibility for having done that, which is not always something Lopez is comfortable with.

Whether or not Lopez is a good guy in the film is highly debatable – he is certainly an incredibly flawed character. What is not debatable is that the relationship between the two men proves to be mutually beneficial. Though again, this issue is incredibly thorny – Ayers may get a place to live and a cello because of Lopez's article, but Lopez got a book deal and Hollywood movie made based on the book due to the relationship.

The questions about the motivations and desires of both characters are fascinating ones, but one the film never sees fit to fully explore. Instead, director Joe Wright, working from Susannah Grant's screenplay, opts to shy away from depth in an effort to broaden the story – which isn't necessarily beneficial. The viewDowney Jr. & Foxxer is given tantalizingly few clues as to Lopez's own dark past, and decades of Ayers' life are skipped as well.

What is put in to replace these stories? While laments over the plight of the newspaper industry come into it, there are simply too many overly preachy moments discussing the plight of those without homes in general. Viewers are even treated to the all too common scene in which the police brutalize the homeless and one man – in this case, Lopez – has his eyes opened to the problem.

Quite obviously, homelessness and poverty are serious issues, ones not to be dealt with lightly, and ones which everyone should be aware of. The Soloist could have better served the discussion however by actually devoting itself to the stories of its main characters as opposed to trying to draw the larger picture – the canvas the film uses simply isn't big enough to make anyone's story complete.

The Soloist features good performances by Downey Jr., Foxx, and the supporting cast (which includes Catherine Keener and Stephen Root) – Foxx is particularly good in his role – but there doesn't seem to be quite enough fDowney Jr. & Foxxor either lead character to do. One gets the impression that Downey really wanted to explore Lopez's faults but was never really given the opportunity.

The Blu-ray release of the film features some great clarity and depth to the picture. Viewers will particularly be impressed by the detail and look of the scenes inside and outside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The downside of the brilliant colors and sharp look are that when Downey Jr.'s eyebrows seem to change color from dark brown/black to terribly gray, the change is all too noticeable (it may only be a lighting issue, but it is an issue). As one would hope from a film which focuses itself so heavily on sound, the 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD audio presentation here is quite good and really shines during any music-based moment. The audio is wonderfully clear and helps put the viewer into the mind of Ayers.

The release also features several behind-the-scenes featurettes, from the standard making-of stuff to abbreviated looks at the real Ayers and Lopez. There are also a director's commentary, deleted scenes, a piece on homelessness in Los Angeles, and a brief cartoon highlighting just how easy it is to become homeless.

The Soloist is one of those movies that has an interesting story to tell and actors who have – and utilize – the ability to make the audience believe but which still fails to be completely engrossing. In the case of this movie it's because it never delves deeply enough into the characters the audience is supposed to care about, choosing instead to draw a larger picture which the audience could have worked out all by themselves.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Is Hell's Kitchen's Fire Dimming?

I am disappointed with Hell's Kitchen this season, just all around disappointed. Normally with the show, in a bad season, I'm disappointed with the contestants, but this season goes way, way beyond that, even if the contestants really are more obnoxious than usual.  This season my disappointment extends to the challenges and Ramsay as well.

Normally, I love the loud, boisterous, and sailor-mouthed Gordon Ramsay, but what was up with his attitude during the challenge last night.  The chefs were broken into groups of two within their team and had to make sausages.  What did that result in?  A bunch of sophomoric jokes by the chefs – including Ramsay – about penises.  How old are they?  Shouldn't Ramsay be there yelling at them when they start to head in that direction?  Shouldn't he be the guy who cuts them off at the knees every time they start to make bad jokes?  Why is he joining in?  Has he forgotten his role in the show?

Clearly not, because he spent dinner service yelling at the people as he ought to have.  So, what happened during the challenge?

Well, I'll tell you my theory – the contestants this season are a joke and Ramsay has recognized that.  He yelled at them during dinner service, because that's when his name and reputation were on the line in front of the public, but the same wasn't true during the challenge.  Ramsay has decided that during the challenges this season he simply isn't going to kill himself to make these guys (and gals) do something they can't do

The sausage challenge they had last night was an incredibly easy one – make sausage when you already have the casing and the meat and the machine ready to go.  The entire thing gave me the feeling of the producers dumbing the show down to the level of the contestants that they've gotten this season.  It was an incredibly simple set of steps, and yet some of them still had trouble.

Need more evidence of the incompetence this season?  Look at what happened during dinner service – Robert went apoplectic yelling at Andy due to his incompetence on the meat station.  I understand where Robert was coming from, he at least has heart and – based on how long he lasted last season which had some decent contestants in it – some skill.  Robert was wrong to yell (see below), but Andy is clearly in over his head this season.  I'm not basing that solely on what we saw of him messing up last night, no, I'm basing it on sous chef Scott getting in Andy's face about Andy's incompetence.  Scott tends to be a pretty even-keeled guy, has been every season; for him to go off on a contestant really indicates that the guy has a problem.

Now, while I defended Robert a minute ago, I can't defend the man's temper tantrum last night.  No, not the one in the kitchen during service, that was mostly just the aftershock of the real fit during their punishment where he broke a broom and ran around screaming and yelling seemingly trying to fight with anyone who would dare look at him.  He ought to be embarrassed by how he was acting.  I get that he doesn't like to lose – no one does – and I get that he has been made fun of and called weak his whole life.  It doesn't seem to me however that picking a fight is the way an adult shows their strength, but perhaps I missed the memo.

Let's not pretend though that the women aren't without crazy this season either.  At the end of the episode, Suzanne was asked by Ramsay who she would choose to see eliminated.  She said Lovely, and Ramsay agreed.  Suzanne then, in her one-on-one with the camera, suggested that people ought to feel threatened by her because clearly Ramsay respects her opinion.  He asks people that question about who they want to see eliminated all the time. Sometimes he agrees and sometimes he disagrees; it showed absolutely no faith in Suzanne. It only showed that this time around the opinion he'd already formed meshed with hers, nothing else.

Okay, fine, I shouldn't expect more from the show – it's never been full of the sharpest knives in the drawer and this season, from the very first episode, has proven to be full of a group that is duller than most.  It is, however, as I said at the beginning of this column very, very disappointing.  I hope the producers are already working out how to make next season better.

Seriously, tell me that you're not more disappointed in this season than you have been of other seasons.  You can't, can you?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned from Television

As someone who has worked from home watching a young child, I understand the need for forgiveness, the desire to let bygones be bygones, and the need to start each day fresh.  Some days the parent fails and some days the child fails, the key to making the relationship work is to just wake up the day after some sort of difficultly and say "today will be a better day, today I will listen better, play more, and try to be more clear about my expectations."  Oh, it's not easy to do that, but it's important.

Honestly, I think that watching television somewhat obsessively prepared me perfectly for being a work-from-home parent.

You see, every television show delivers a bad episode very now and then, an episode that makes you want to pull your hair out, scream at the TV, and throw things.  Rebecca gave Robin her password?!?  Mike let Julie get away?!?  Trump didn't fire Omarosa?!?  Now, if you're not willing to let those moments go and choose instead to ditch the show entirely you're going to miss out on important things – Sam got the bar back, Leonardo DiCaprio joined the cast, Omarosa did get shown the door eventually.  Good moments – no, great moments – can follow massive disappointments and you never know when those great moments are going to appear. If you're too angry at what occurred yesterday during bath time you're going to miss hearing your child quietly singing "Margaritaville," to themselves which just proves that she does hear what you're saying and take it in from time to time.

Let's not forget that the same logic can actually be used to go the other way too, to make a parent a better TV watcher.  Think about it, you have a baby, they wake up four times a night – maybe five – for the first six months, they poop everywhere and on everything, they scream.  You don't ditch them instantly because of that, do you?  No, you give them time to develop, to learn who they are, you watch them grown and change and mature. 

The exact same thing is true for a TV show.  You don't write a show off after just the series premiere – they're still working things out at that point, the actors are still finding they're footing, the characters aren't fully drawn, and the style isn't necessarily set in stone yet.  The first Seinfeld episode didn't have Elaine, and if you thought Jerry was a bad actor at the end of the series, you should go back and see what he was like at the beginning.

I'm not suggesting that you go out and hug your television or comfort your remote in times of trouble – yes, I do that sort of thing, but I understand that it's not for everyone – I'm just suggesting that everyone and everything could use a little time, love, and tenderness on occasion.  Whether it's a child or a child-like reality show contestant, you have to give them a second chance (and more in the case of actual offspring).

So, the next time your lovable little munchkin disobeys you and ends up drawing on the walls in permanent magic marker just remember this – if NBC had cancelled Cheers after one season we never would have met Woody Boyd.  That's not a world I'd want to be a part of.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Entering a Race to Witch Mountain

One of the true tests of greatness for a movie mainly geared for a younger audience  (as I'm sure I've said before) is its ability to be enjoyed by more than just said audience, for it to find a wider appeal in the marketplace.  Make a kids movie that parents clearly will not enjoy and you'll find that parents opt to not buy tickets.  Make a kids movie which appeals to parents as well and you stand a much better shot at garnering big numbers from the box office.  Of course, the parents might find themselves duped, what appears to have some appeal for them initially may prove to be a disappointment.  Case in point, the newly released to Blu-ray Race to Witch Mountain.

The film, directed by Andy Fickman (The Game Plan), is based on the 1968 novel Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key.  In 1975 Disney already turned the novel into a film and even made a sequel, Return From Witall three main charactersch Mountain, in 1978, but clearly someone thought it was worth another look today.  And that is the appeal for parents of the kids/tweens hat this film is geared towards – nostalgia.  Parents can instantly be hooked into going to see this remake/reimagining out of fond feelings for the original film from their own childhood 30-plus years ago.  Nostalgia is a powerful tool and can make people do things that they will regret, things like watching Race to Witch Mountain.

The film, which follows the adventures of an ex-con cabbie in Las Vegas, Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson, FKA The Rock) and two alien kids, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) will most assuredly delight older children and tweens. It will not, however, win over any adults.

The basic plot – which is full of holes large enough to drive Jack Bruno's cab through – involves Sara and Seth crash landing on Earth so that they can pick up information which will save their planet as well as ours.  They randomly happen upon Jack Bruno's cab and Jack, being the nice, reformed ex-con that he is, opts to drive the kids to the middle of nowhere with government agents chasing them and destroying their cab.  A quick pitstop in Vegas allows them to meet up with a discredited Astrophysicist, Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), and along their way they also run into Cheech Marin and Garry Marshall (not as themselves, but only the adults in the audience will be able to make heads or tails of their appearances anyway)The kids.

As for bad guys, the film seems to find itself divided – there's the evil genetically altered alien assassin, Siphon, and the nefarious government agents led by a man named Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds) and who are determined to do anything in their power to plug their ears, shut their eyes, and generally ignore that which is taking place around them.  One can understand such single-minded focus from an alien assassin created specifically to carry out its task of murdering two kids, but think, even in light of all the various scandals our government undergoes on a regular basis, one expects from these men in black.

It is a high-tech, effects laden, thinly plotted film.  It will, undoubtedly, provide hours of rewatchable enjoyment for a less demanding, younger (though not terribly young what with all the violence and explosions), crowd but will do nothing to enthrall adults.  Another large reason for this is that adults may find it embarrassing that AnnaSophia Robb can act circles around Dwayne Johnson.  The former professional wrestler appears wooden an unbelievable every time he utters any line of dialogue and even often when he's keeping his mouth closed.

Perhaps what adults will most appreciate in this release is the excellent quality of the sound in this transfer.  The picture quality however is less good.  While bright scenes have excellent clarity and depth, dark ones – and much of the movie is dark – can be hard to decipher.  It becomes terribly difficult to tell what is a person, what is a shadow, what is a structure, and what is a geneticalDwayne Johnsonly altered alien assassin (who, conveniently, wears all black).  Additionally, many of the explosions appear clearly computer generated.  The 5.1 channel DTS-HD soundtrack features good use of the surrounds to give that all-encompassing danger feel and great bass to add punch to the aforementioned clearly computer generated explosions.

The extras included in the Blu-ray three pack (Blu-ray, DVD copy, and digital copy) are a mixed bag.  Theirs is the usual set of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel, but unfortunately a portion of the already abbreviated blooper reel is from part of a scene that didn't make the movie (it does appear in the deleted scenes however).  There is also a featurette in which Fickman shows all the little homages to earlier Disney films that were included in this one.  He even goes so far as to start that reveal by expressing his eternal and undying love for the first two Witch Mountain movies, a sentiment which only rings somewhat false after he gets the name of the sequel incorrect (and he should complain to whomever put up the opening title clip of the sequel on screen instantly after he misstates it because they didn't do him any favors).

Race to Witch Mountain will, undoubtedly, amuse and enthrall the audience it is geared towards, but does nothing at all to expand its audience.  I can't tell you whether it's okay for you to show this to your kids without your seeing it either with them or alone first (it's rated PG), but I can say that you won't enjoy your time with it.