Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"IDOL" FALLS! FOOTBALL'S NEW NEILSEN CHAMP! WHAT DOES IT MEAN? WELL, NOT MUCH REALLY.



Well, it's not my most amazing prediction to ever come to fruition, in fact, the writing was pretty much on the wall from the beginning, but it's official now, "American Idol", has finally fallen from #1 on the Neilsen ratings, for the first time in seven years. What beat it, you may be asking? Well, it wasn't "The Big Bang Theory," or "Modern Family," or "30 Rock," or anything really of substance, but it lost to NBC's "Sunday Night Football". Doesn't sound as shocking, surprising or big, but it's had an impact. It's already being reported that the deal that Jessica Sanchez, who finished second to Philllip Phillips this year on "...Idol", (And I still can't believe his parents named him that) won't be getting the same kind of 2nd place prize normally afforded to "American Idol" finishers. In the past, the 2nd place finisher would get way more prize money, plus a record contract of his/her own, that's not going to be given to her Sanchez this time. Not her fault, or "American Idol"'s actually, the show recieved less ratings, so naturally, the prizes which can and are subject to change according to most reality show contracts, are lessened. (The first time I remember seeing/hearing that was when on the first season of "Big Brother", [and the only one I ever tried to force myself to watch] the prize money went from a million to half a million dollars, for the winner! something which I would've been pissed at if I had to spend all that time in a house for money, but the ratings did suck, so....) That's a tough break for Ms. Sanchez, but she's only 17, and 2nd on "...Idol" has proven to not be too shabby. Adam Lambert, for instance just hit #1 on the Billboard charts the other week, becoming the first openly gay artist to have the honor, by the way, congratulations to him for that.

Anyway, back to the Neilsen, and what are we really looking at here? Yeah, "...Idol", falls to 2, not exactly a drastic fall from grace, but for them it might as well be, but it's not like NFL football earning big ratings is shocking or worth noting either, although one note came out of it that was interesting, NBC, because of football, actually jumped from 4th to 3th place, in the network battle for ratings, because of it, so they're officially out of the gutter for the first time since "Friends" went off the air. That's a minor achievement, but hardly an Earth-shattering one. For those who care about scripted TV, "NCIS" took home the #3 spot, the highest rated of the scripted series.  I'm not gonna defend "NCIS," it's a terrible cliched procedural of a TV show, with a popularity that is absolutely befuddling, but..., well are these show actually that popular? You know what, I'll get to that in a second, more importantly, why do we still compare these shows? Anyone else thinks it's odd that the number one Neilsen show has been shared by such divergent shows as "American Idol," NFL football, "Seinfeld," "ER," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The $64,000 Question," and "60 Minutes", to name a few. These shows aren't really comparable. Does the fact that Football beat out "American Idol," mean that less people want to see amatuer singing competitions or that more would rather see football, or has the "...Idol" audience simply decided that now prefer to watch a Cowboys game? All those questions are absurd and ridiculous. They don't compete with each other; they're not in the same genre, and people don't think like that anyway.

Look, anybody can look up the problems with the Neilsen ratings in numerous articles online, but the simple fact is that they are typically inaccurate. Does that mean more people actually watched "American Idol," or "NCIS," instead of football, not necessarily, but I know most of the shows that I watch, and that most of y friends watch, hardly ever correlate with the Neilsen ratings, and there seems to be less and less correlation, than ever before. Let me put this in perspective though, cause there are a few ways that this should be looked at. Number one, although they do keep statistics on cable and the networks have figures on internet downloads, and other alternative viewing methods, but Neilsen's doesn't consider that, and they certainly don't consider cable numbers. Especially pay cable channels like HBO and Showtime, at best, a show like "Boardwalk Empire," probably gets about a million viewers per episode according to Neilsen, and that's considered a hit for HBO. The reason is not because HBO doesn't have that many viewers, they have a lot more than that for most of their original programming, but because they don't have advertisements, which is the real key to the Neilsen ratings. Now, their was HBO, and a limited number of cable channels, in 1983, but most Americans still only had the three major networks, NBC, CBS and ABC at that time. Now, you're asking, why am I comparing this to 1983. Up until two years ago, the highest rated single TV program in American history was the final episode of "M*A*S*H", in 1983, depending on how you want to count, it had at least 105million viewers, and as many as 121million who watched it. The last two Super Bowls however, have both passed that number. The Colts/Saints Super Bowl broke that record. At least, that's how it looks, and if I were to point out that the majority of the highest rated programs in American history, according to viewership were Super Bowls, and other sporting events, you would think that would mean that this country, must really love watching sports, more than anything. It does technically have more viewers, but it only had 47% of the country watching it. Less than half of all televisions being watched at the moment of that Super Bowl, were actually watching the Super Bowl. Compared to the series finale of "M*A*S*H", where, 3 out of every 5 people in the country, 60% of the country, watched it that night, and that's just the whole show, the share of that viewing, is through the roof, over 75% of the country watched it at some point during the broadcast, and only an Oscar telecast has that number beat. (And that Oscars, that had a higher share, had only half the overall viewer ratings as "M*A*S*H".)

There's a couple obvious reasons for this. One, less options on TV; two, "M*A*S*H", like many Super Bowls, was a historic and culturally significant program, people wanted to see it, but third, and the key one, less people in the country back then. Let's do the math, 105million = 60% of America in 1983, = 175million people in America in 83. Now, Super Bowl, 112million < half of America, in 2010, let's guesstimate a bit here, 230million in America right now, and that actually feels light, it should be closer to 300 million, but let's go with 230. so, 21million saw the "Idol" finale this past year, their lowest rating ever, and BTW, no single "American Idol," is anywhere near the top of this list, none in the Top 50, so were looking at, fewer that 1/12 of America watched it, that number averages out over all there broadcasts this past year, so let's figure that, it could be, maybe half of that, watched every episode, so you get that average, realize that football beat it overall, and suddenly, I've turned maybe the two biggest passions in American history, NFL football and "American Idol," into programs with significant core cult following, only. The point being is that, it takes a lot fewer people to make a show a significant Neilsen hit than ever before. In fact, close followers of the networks have been showing less and less overall interest in the Neilsen ratings than ever before. They're still apart of the language of television however, and they're the critical aspect that determines a show's worth in terms of ad-dollars, so they have to continually be considered, as well as, rated. That's honestly, the only real reason that I'm reporting on them now. (Well, demographic analysis by the Neilsen's is also critical in determining a show's worth, that shouldn't be ignored either). Ratings have no effect on my TV viewing habits, but they do effect the program options I have to choose from. They can be read in about a million different ways. For instance, is a show winning it's time slot because it's a good show, or because the rest of the competition it's up against is lackluster and people watch something by default. Quick, what day and time does "NCIS" go on the air every week? Better question, what was it up against? Don't look at me, I have to look it up myself; I don't know it offhand. Considering I don't have the options of cable, I was probably either watching a rerun on a classic TV station like METV or AntennaTV, or not watching television at the time. I do know that "Modern Family," was often up against "American Idol," in their respective Wednesday time slots. It usually beat "Modern Family," but the next-day result show, struggled against "The Big Bang Theory," most weeks, although both beat "Community," which has a lesser, but an arguably more rabid fan base than both those shows, especially with key demographics. Does a good number against "...Idol" keep a show on the air, or does the show also need that cult fanbase, or possibly critical acclaim like Awards to stay on the air? That seems like a ridiculous question, but it's exactly the kinds of considerations that network executive and programmers have to consider, everyday. They don't particularly want to, but they do, so I have to as well. If I want to keep a show on the air, that I really like, I have to watch it, when it first airs, on TV. Until some system gets adapted that makes the Neilsen's system not just obsulete, (It already is obsolute), but also unnecessary, it will remain the main tool with with networks use to program. That really is the main point; if you like it, watch when it's on TV. Not on hulu, not on youtube, not TiVo'd for later, but when it's on TV. For whatever reason, the fans of NFL football, "American Idol," "NCIS," and other shows that top the Neilsen ratings, make it a point to watch their shows, when they're on the air. What that means to the networks, is that, the fans of that show are the most devoted to that show, (Not true), that they're more of the fans of that show, than other shows (That is somewhat true), and that they know, the audience will be there, so that advertisers can advertise during those shows, and they can make a lot of more money from the ads than other shows. (BINGO!)

So, whatever your favorite show's are, and you want to keep them on the air,  ( then, be sure to tune in, whenever it's on, whenever you can and everytime. (Well, if it's a good show. If you're favorite show is a piece of crap, than stop watching it, you're ruining TV for the rest of us. Watch your piece-of-crap shows on hulu.com)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS: #33: "THE IRON LADY", "REAL STEEL" "THUNDER SOUL", "BURNING PALMS", "ELEVATE" "LA SOGA" and MORE!

Ugh! First, let me start out by saying, extremely sorry for the delays this week. I mentioned before that my family is currently in the middle of moving into a house, and we're almost finished with that, thank God, but that has taken up much of the time that I'd rather use writing my reviews and thoughtful opinions here on the blog, an for that I have to apologize. As to this week's long-delayed movie reviews, I'm just gonna warn you all now, I'm still watching movies as you'll read, but this week sucked! It was depressing to watch movies this week. I don't think I've written this many negative reviews yet, and it was painful. Believe me, I could've used a good film or two this week, and frankly I didn't get enough of it in the movies that were released in theatres this week. It just depressed me, and I struggled through this set of reviews. So, before you guys read them, I'm gonna tell you what I have been watching that was quite good and worth your time to search for instead. I've been diving into some HBO programs on DVD recently, I'm finally catching up on "Boardwalk Empire," for instance, and that is a great show, and their TV, as it almost always is, is of the highest quality around, but they also do some wonderful films, and recently I watched a couple of them. One, is the Todd Haynes miniseries of "Mildred Pierce", many of you know the classic film, which won Joan Crawford an Oscar many years ago, Kate Winslet is in the role here of the great James M. Cain heroine, here; it's a five-part miniseries but it is so worth so your time. It's rich, and fulfilling and it's just so refreshing to see such incredible actors, Winslet I already named, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, to name a few, just work and with such incredible material and characters. After watching some of these films this week, you can't imagine how life-affirming something like "Mildred Pierce," can really be. Todd Haynes, wonderful director, the man behind this project, he made "Far From Heaven," years ago, that great reimagining of Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows", and he's reinventing another great, classic Hollywood film, it is just superb. As good as "Mildred Pierce" is though, I also want to showcase "Thurgood". It's a taping HBO did of the one-man play that Lawrence Fishburne starred in on Broadway, where he plays Thurgood Marshall, the legendary American litigator for the NAACP, he won the Brown vs. Board of Education battle that eliminated Jim Crow Laws, and he eventually became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. There's nothing complicated here, they didn't add anything, they just shot the play as it was being performed; if you love theatre, you'll love watching "Thurgood", and you know, Laurence Fishburne is one of those actors who we just tend to forget how great an actor he really is. He's been in a lot of movies of course, recently he was on "CSI" for the last couple years, he just left that show, you don't really get to see, just how great he is most of the time, he won a Tony Award for this performance, you really get an appreciation of the craft of acting, watching him, in front of an audience, an hour and, forty-some-odd minutes, engulfed in this performance, it is just spectacular. Go watch one of these things on HBO some day, you're just gonna really feel the different level that their programming, even way more than Hollywood produces, It great craft meeting great projects, and you don't just get enough of it some days, and believe me, I was very happy I sat through these amazing pieces of art this week.



Now, after I've said my peace, unfortunately, it's now time for this week's Random Weekly Movie Reviews! Atleast they're well-written, which is more than I can say for most of the films!

THE IRON LADY (2011) Director: Phyllida Lloyd

1 1/2 STARS

I'm not gonna pretend that I like Margaret Thatcher. Actually I can't stand her, for most of the reasons people who can't stand her, can't stand her, which are also ironically many of reasons that other people love her. But of all the ways to make a movie about her, why in the hell would you focus on her today. She's rarely seen in public anymore, old age has gotten ahold of her, and is in 24-hour care, but occasionally Ms. Thatcher (Meryl Streep in an Oscar-winning role) sneaks out to go buy a pint of milk, and complain about it to her loyal husband Denis (Jim Broadbent), who is long dead. Not that I particularly care about what Margaret Thatcher would think of a portrayal of herself, but this can't possibly be where she would imagine, or where anybody would imagine focusing on in a portrayal of her. She's one of the most strong-willed leaders of the 20th Century. Her nickname of "The Iron Lady," is accurate. She was not afraid of unpopular decisions, in fact, I think she often thrived on it. She won an unprecedented three terms as Prime Minister, yet she was soon overthrown by her own party before the third term was up, many of whom despised her non-negotiating positions. We see a few of these scenes, which really are mainly glorified career highlights without any real common thread tying them together. What exactly brought about her decision to cost several thousand lives to keep the Falkland Islands? She's determined in her thoughts, and those who oppose seem extremely weak. (Although I don't find it that hard to believe that people would buckle under her presence)She writes letters to the parents of the fallen soldiers, reminded them that she is also a mother. She doesn't seem like much of one. Her son is in South Africa, about as far from her as he could be, and is never seen outside of a single home movie. Her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) occasionally comes to visit, but that's it. I can't remember a biopic of a parent with such little emphasis on the kids. There's one moment where Thatcher, during a doctor's physical, complains about how the world is run by feelings, instead of ideas. That, is maybe the one great line that does conceivably describe Margaret Thatcher, and her view of the world. That's it though. There's way more bad dialogue, especially for Alexandra Roach, who portrays a young Thatcher, fresh out of Oxford, determined to win a seat in Parliament. Streep won an Oscar for her performance, her third, making her and Jack Nicholson the only living 3-time Oscar-winning actors, and only Katharine Hepburn, with 4, has her beat. It's not a bad performance at all, but it's in a movie that fails it miserably. It's director Phyllida Lloyd's 2nd feature after the musical "Mamma Mia!" which is one of the worst musicals I've ever seen. I watched that movie and felt sorry for ABBA. (I mean, how would you like someone to take your life's work as inspiration, and come up with something as thin and weightless a film or a piece of art like that?) I don't know how when or where or who was involved when the conversation took place that made someone think, "Maybe the "Mamma Mia" director, should make the Margaret Thatcher film," and I don't wanna know. Meryl Streep was one of the few highpoints of "Mamma Mia!", maybe it was getting her that brought Streep to the project, or vice-versa. Either way, the end, result, and I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth, made me feel sorry for Margaret Thatcher, that they couldn't make a movie that'd do her justice. Little pieces and snippets of "The Iron Lady," are somewhat entertaining, but almost of none of it is good.

REAL STEEL (2011) Director: Shawn Levy

2 STARS

I had the worse time trying to take "Real Steel" even remotely seriously. Apparently, this film was based on a short story by Richard Matheson, who sci-fi ideas also included "I Am Legend". For some reason, I think they took some liberties with the original story. As I watched it, I had about a dozen one-liners describing the absurdity of "Real Steel," but now, the only one I can remember is, "'Real Steel,' is 'Rocky,' as portrayed by Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots. I know, I had better ones than that, but it's accurate enough. In the near future, boxing will become virtually non-existant, not because of the growing popularity of the UFC, but because the rise of robot boxing, which technology now offers more extreme and explosive violence without the disadvantage of actual humans getting hurt, I guess. I've watched some of those robot fighting competition before on TV, Battle Bots, and stuff like that, they're never as entertaining to me as they sound like, but than again, they haven't evolved to ones like this. Despite that however, former boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is broke, on a helluva losing streak, and keeps pouring money into any robot he can, and putting him up at any fight he can find, including one time, having to fight a bull at a rodeo. It's around this time, when he finds out his ex-wife has died. Reluctantly, he takes in his long-estranged son Max (Dakota Goya), who's got a childlike fascination with the robot fighters. One of them saves his life at one point, an early prototype model that was used originally only as a sparring bot, but the kid thinks he might have the makings of a champion. With a few adjustments and montages, he starts to win a few underground fights, getting the attention of the world champion Zeus, well, his people anyway. (Do robot boxers call their people, "Posse"?) The special effects earned "Real Steel," a surprising Oscar nomination last year, and I can why. They used a lot of different combinations of CGI, animatronic puppets, and motion capture to create them. Yet, "Real Steel," ultimately is a couple recycle plots brought together by special effects and bright flashy colors, and not much else. And I have a particular bone to pick with two casting choices that were practically pointless. The aunt and uncle of Max, are a well-off couple played by Hope Davis and James Rebhorn, and I have to ask, why in the hell, are these two amazing actors casted in these roles. They're not bad in them, but them in these roles, in this movie, is one of the biggest waste of acting chops I can remember. They're- they're barely characters. They basically have two functions, one of them is to show up and cheer in the crowd scenes at the final big match, which is of course, a shockingly close match with Zeus, the World Champion, and to be some kind of obstacle for Charlie to get to be with his son, and they don't even get that part. There's a scene in this movie, where Charlie knocks on the couple's door to try and convince them, and Max, to help him out for one last fight. I swear to God, they must've cut Hope Davis out of the scene. Max opens the door, there's some awkwardness, Ms. Davis's character shows up, sees what's going on,... and says nothing. Now this father hasn't seen his son, for literally his whole life, except for the last couple months, where he took their nephew to numerous underground boxing matches that looked like the stadium scene from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence", and even after her sister's died, he doesn't put up a fight to even try to have custody of his son, and this woman has nothing to say to him when he knocks on her door? Are you kidding me?! There's about 30 types of conflict that could occur in this scene, and we get none of it. These characters have the personality of doormats, and as bad as that is, why then, would you cast two of the best character actor alive for these roles. These parts were the ones that should've been played by robots, if they were gonna do that. Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, I hope you guys got a really big check for this film, 'cause these people have no idea how to use you two, and you should be compensated for putting yourselves through that. This film was directed by Shawn Levy, who, while he occasionally can be competent enough to let great actors do their thing like he did with Steve Carell and Tina Fey in "Date Night", he's basically been a hack go-to director whose biggest career triumph are the inexplicably popular "Night at the Museum" movies, his early work came from Children's television shows like "The Famous Jett Jackson," and "The Secret World of Alex Mac," (Although I was a fan of the latter.) the way he used those actors just screams of incompetence of him, or by somebody, the writer, the editor, or the script supervisor at least, and the fact he didn't see it, scares me. If he did, something, with those characters, potentially I might have given "Real Steel," an average review, something corny and cheesy but just bright and fun enough to keep you 5-year old's attention span without wanting to throw the DVD player out of the window, but now, instead of this strange, outlandish, ridiculous film, we don't even get a strange, outlandish, ridiculous film, that's made well. Oh, I forgot, Evangeline Lilly's in the film too.

THUNDER SOUL (2011) Director: Mark Landsmen

3 STARS

"Thunder Soul," is a mildly interesting documentary to those like me who come into it, without knowledge of what or who the legendary Kashmir High School Stage Band is. It might be of more interest and fascination to those who may have heard of them however, and it seems like a lot of people did. Back in the day, Kashmir High School produced a stage band, that rearranged some of those old big band standards, and wrote some of there own music, to create a funk band that could discussed as being as good as band as many professional bands. They won every award against schools, and against professional competition, would travel with their music as far away as Europe, and even before this movie came out, years after they had stopped performing and playing together, one of their live albums reached #3 on Amazon.com. Perhaps, this one is my bad; I think I should've heard of them before this film. Produced by Jamie Foxx, "Thunder Soul," not only documents the success of the Kashmir band, but it also shows the band today, as they try to wipe the dust off their old horns, and come together for a special concert for their leader and teacher, Conrad "Prof." Johnson. Prof, because he was their professor. Now, sickly at age 92, and clearly on his last legs, he's hanging around just to see this performance. The band reuniting, has a few interesting moments, especially when it becomes clear that they have a lot of practice to get back to their old performing ability. Some of the old footage of the band and of Prof. is more interesting. What really works for the movie is the music. Their's a lot of it, and their damn well should be, but more importantly, it really is top quality jazz funk soul music. It's amazing that teenagers can produce such amazing music. They singlehandedly revolutionize what a high school stage band could be. Many of the members have now started touring as the Kashmir Alumni Stage Band, a little older, but, man they sound great. As a documentary, I don't know, it's somewhat lackluster to me, despite getting a Independent Spirit Award nomination last year, but the music sells it for me, so it'a recommendation, although I think I'd prefer to either have a live album, or see them perform live than see the movie again, for since I don't have much opportunity for that, I'll take the film.

BURNING PALMS (2011) Director: Christopher Landon

1 STAR

How come people think that if they can't write anything more that caricaturish characters, that you can get away with it by saying, "They're L.A. people"? I've seen a few movies try this, but "Burning Palms" by far, is the worst offender so far. It's a so-called "comedy", anthology, where we get five separate short tales, each taking place in a specific area of Los Angeles, and yes, they are as cliched as humanly possible. The stereotypes of the people you think of when you ponder who lives in South Central or West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, are exactly the kind of people who are in this story. Writer/director Christopher Landon, thinks he's writing a sharp satire, and that it's okay to resort to absurd cliche stereotypes, if he's making fun of them. It's not. At certain points in "Burning Palms," is downright offensive, and worse yet, it's not funny. The third scene was the one that really pushed it over the line. It involves the most stereotypical flamboyant gay couple I've ever seen in a movie, Tom and Gerry (Anson Mount and Peter Macdissi) who are adopting a child, mostly because they seem to think of her as the latest gay chic accessory. The young African girl, who doesn't speak but they named Mahogany (Tiara McKinney), keeps escaping from them to hide in a tree. It turns out, that she's from a place so deep in Africa, that she's basically lived a Tarzan-like existance until now. This scene alone demonstrates that Mr. Landon knows nothing about homosexuals, adoption, and Africa apparently. I seriously considered shutting the damn Netflix stream right after this scene, and I probably should've 'cause the last two scenes are a complete blur to me. They could've been the missing footage of "The Magnificient Ambersons," and I wouldn't have noticed. Up until that short, I had some hope that like most anthology films, that "Burning Palms," would at least be just a typical inconsistent hodgepodge of stories. The first one was somewhat interesting, although not great. The second one was actually quite good. It involved a young couple couple Ginny (Jamie Chung) and Chad (Robert Hoffman). They're good together, and in love. Chad wants Ginny to finger his asshole during sex.  (I thought about using a euphemism there, but this film isn't worth it.) She eventually does, reluctantly. However, she continues to come to believe that the fingers keeps smelling like shit. She makes numerous attempts at washing the finger, and many other extremes, but it's no use, she keeps smelling the shit on her finger. There's a few references of her being asian, but the core of the comedy in it is that it's universality. We all know what it's like to do something you might not have wanted to do, and to feel the shame and/or discomfort with the act, sexual and otherwise. It's taken to an excessive extreme, where she ends up in a psychiatric hospital, and goes to Hitchcockian measures to rid herself of the shit-smell of her finger, but it works because we're already on board with the situation. It's not even a L.A. situation, that scene could've happened anywhere. It's a great little comedy short. It's a tragedy that it's tucked in the middle of this some other shorts that aren't as insightful or thoughtful on the human condition.

ELEVATE (2011) Director: Anne Buford

2 STARS

"Elevate" has incredible potential to be a great documentary, but it feels a little too much like, the first part of a story, that really could last a lot longer. It doesn't help that "Elevate" not only tackles the sports documentary, but it's also about youths trying to make a career in basketball, so no matter how innovate a take on the subject, it's gonna get compared to "Hoop Dreams". That's unfortunate, but the reason "Elevate," is getting a negative review is because it doesn't do enough. "Elevate" follows the story of some very talented Senagalese youths, many of them, very tall, maybe over seven feet, as they train at this prestigious basketball academy and how some of them are able to go to America in high school for some prestigious prep schools, and hopefully get a college scholarship. They all would like to make the NBA, but they're refreshingly ideal for their realization of how difficult that could be. They have an idol in a former Senagalese ballplayer who's a major scout in the Dallas Mavericks organizations. Many of them are quite smart, but still have some troubles when they go to a U.S. High School, where they're supposed to both perform on the court and in school. One of the kids is pressured to keep his grades up to go to Princeton by his coach. Yes, they have a prestigious basketball program, but I can't think of a McDonald's All-American who's even listed an Ivy League school on his wish list. They have some trouble, but it's actually interesting how little obstacles they have. Not entertaining per se, but interesting. I would've like to have seen a little more actually. What do these predominantly Muslim kids think about America, other than the difficulty of avoiding pork in the cafeteria line. One of them ends up playing for the National Senegal team, and gets to run into some of his old bunkmates, who are playing in America. They all go off to colleges. One of them ended up in Idaho, where he sees an America he never knew existed. "I always think of New York City, and this...." The movie's only 82 minutes, and it was stretching. There's a good subject matter hear, but not enough of it to make an interesting movie.

LA SOGA (2010) Director: Josh Cook

1 1/2 STARS

I've spent the last twenty minutes trying to remember what the hell happened in "La Soga". I watched it over two days on Netflix, and I can't remember much about it. I couldn't explain to you what the hell was happening in it. I watched it, I payed attention, or tried to, but all I can remember is gunfights and violences separated by occasional scenes of dialogue involving, all of the reasons why all this violence and gunfights should and can be stopped by more gunfights and violence, or something like that, their might have been a woman involved, maybe a kid even. I wish I knew which; I wish I cared, but ever 5-10 minutes or so, there was more violence and gunfights and murdering of people and occasionally animals, that was all I could tell happened in "La Soga", a Dominican Republican film written by Manny Perez, who also plays the main character. He's a cop who works against his country's corrupt government to find justice on a case. At least that's the description on the imdb.com website for "La Soga," That might have been my guess, but I couldn't explain which one was even the good guy after watching this. It might have been but everytime I calmed myself to try and catch up with what I was watching, there was more killing and violence. This movie was, mush. It really was. This movie was in one ear and out the other, I forgot it as soon as I watched it, it was boring on top of that. (Frustrated scoff) You know what, next movie, next movie.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2004) Director: Peter Jackson

2 1/2 STARS

Well, as I promised in an earlier blog, I have finally completed "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and I've come to a few conclusions. One, "The Return of the King," is the best of the three, because it has the best continouos driving action, on, most of the fronts, not all of them though, and I am convinced that a good movie, and maybe a series of movies can be made based on "The Lord of the Rings". Saying that, the movie is just like the book, everytime I think I'm getting a hold on the world of Middle Earth, suddenly, the movie completely undermines what I thought I knew. Why is Gandolf (Ian MacKellan) asking about Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin)? Can't he just go and look, he's a friggin' wizard? You know, I think I've figured out why this attempt of Tolkien's myth creation doesn't work. The first thing, is obvious, Tolkien never created a science in the world of Middle Earth and isn't interesting in keeping any consistencies, but to tell a larger metaphorical story. (A story which I don't think works) He was creating mythology, I get it. I know it's fantasy, I get that. But look at the mythology that does work. Think of the Greek Gods, looking over Odysseus on a similar epic story. They clearly know the eventual outcome, and there's something devilish about forcing these humans to go through some grand predestined tortures and journeys. There isn't a character like that in "LOTR", and so, we have to look to the characters, the elfs, hobbits et. al. to help us understand this world, and they're all confused and experience this as it goes on, and I find frustrating. It seems like some know certain rules, and not others, and maybe they do even. nObody ever seems to know, and it's frustrating. Still, I don't blame Tolkien anymore for this series. I blame Jackson. He had been muddling over this for years, why was he so stingent on re-telling Tolkien's vision as much as possible. If there was ever a tale that might have been better told by starting in the middle, this might have been it. Sam and Frodo, traveling epic terrain long distances, and I'd tihnk, "What the hell is this?", and now I'm intrigued, and then learn the backstory that was "The Fellowship of the Ring", which is easily the worse and least interesting of the three films. I just think Jackson could've and should've done better. The movie is beautiful, but it's also for simply diehard fantasy fans, who are going to like the genre no matter how poorly constructed or overblown it is. That's okay, I guess for them, but ultimately, it's just confusing and frustrating to me. I'm nine hours in, and I don't know why there is so much power in a king returning to this throne, do you? If you do, that's great, but you had to be paying attention for that. Yet, I payed close attention, and found nothing but more bafflement and confusion, so maybe I shouldn't pay such close attention. I find the cinamatic aspects of "The Return of the King," better and more interesting than the first two, but not enough for me to be convinced that this was the best and/or correct way to tell this story.

CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE  (2007) Director: Adrian Caetano

4 1/2 STARS

I mentioned in a review of another powerful Argentian film awhile ago about how I need to learn more about recent Argentina history, especially during the reign of this dictatorship, and unfortunately I have to pathetically say that again, here. "Chronicle of an Escape," details the story of Claudino Tamburini (Rodtigo de la Surna) who suddenly went from being a local pick-up soccer goalie, to being detained for months on end under suspicion of consorting with revolutionaries, and attemtpting to overthrow the government, and other such made-up crimes. They're left handcuffed and naked, while they're tortured, and they remain locked in a house called the mansion, even long after it's become clear he doesn't know anything or anyone. It's an intense film. Without proper context, I'm probably missing a lot, but I got the message. At it's core, we get a great escape film. Not a heroic one, but an escape of essentialness and desperation. It takes time, to figure out how inept their captures are, and some of the people who put Claudio's name up as an aggresor to the government, are right there with him. They'd thought by naming names, they'd get released. The mansion was burned down after their escape, and the remaining survivors, the ones they could fine, testifies years later to the tortures they recieved to the International court. This was a terrible week for me watching movies, but "Chronicle of an Escape," or "Cronica de una Fuga," was the one highlight. It was hard to watch at times, but as they amazing films about this vicious regime keep coming out, I have a feeling we're only gonna get a lot more great ones in time to come, as these stories are just now getting told. "Chronicle of an Escape," made me imagine more viscerally what it would be like to be trapped and tortured for a prolongued period of time, better than any movie I've seen up until now. The fact that this movie ends happily is a creation of skill and luck, but also a reminder that this is just a tale of the survivors. The ones who didn't, they may never get told.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "ROCKY"

ROCKY (1976)

Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone



Not that long ago, I showed my younger cousins “Rocky,” for the first time. They hadn’t seen it (Although for some strange reason, they had seen the latest sequel “Rocky Balboa”), and I wondered whether or not this film would have the same effect on them as it did for me and most everybody else who saw it when we were younger. I didn’t know why or what, I was so afraid of. I don’t think I ever saw those two watch something so intently and quietly ever before or since. Part cliché, part fantasy, yet it remains one of the most popular movie and movie franchises ever produced. I used to like to think that “Rocky,” was about the city of Philadelphia. It was ingrained in me as part of the legacy of the city of my family’s birth that for a while, I thought they were one in the same. (They still debate nowadays where exactly they should put that Rocky statue that was built for the third film) The city is a great backdrop, but Stallone was smarter than that actually. The movie is based loosely on Chuck Webner, a New Jersey fighter who got a match with Muhammad Ali back in the mid-70s and lasted until he was knocked out in the 15th round. He was the one that first started training in a meat locker. The movie however, is about Rocky Balboa, a man. Stallone, then an unknown actor who once did a very cheesy porn film, fought to play the part himself, and according to legends, the script was shopped around for years until they finally agreed to his terms. I think most reports said that many Hollywood producers wanted to cast Burt Reynolds or Robert Redford. Thank God Stallone held his ground. Are there better actors? Of course, but not for this part. Beat up and beaten down, a thirty-year-old club fighter who worked for a local loan shark, he stumbles through jokes in an attempt to woo the painfully shy pet shop girl, Adrian (Oscar-nominee Talia Shire). There are other typical local characters in Rocky’s world, which become very untypical characters as the story goes on. Burgess Meredith played dozens of roles on film and television (Including the Penguin in the “Batman,” tv series) before and after “Rocky,” but his face is so aged and beat up that it’s almost impossible to think of him as anybody other than Rocky’s trainer, Mickey. Burt Young as Adrian’s brother, Paulie has now been similarly typecasted. As Rocky continues on his sad life, wishing his fish would sing-and-dance, unbeknownst to Rocky, he’s being talked about as a last-second replacement to fight for the world title against Apollo Creed (Former NFL football player Carl Weathers, obviously channeling Muhammad Ali). In the scene where Rocky gets informed he’s being offered the shot, he almost seems reluctant to even take it, as though he doesn’t fully understand what’s being offered. That’s the correct reaction. Come to think about, there really isn’t a moment where he stands back and realizes the gravity and luck of what’s happening to him. There is a scene where reality hits him, but instead of an moment of rising up, determine to overcome all obstacles, it’s a semi-realization that he might be in over his head. “I can’t do it.” He tells Adrian, “I can’t beat him”.  I once described the movie “The Wrestler,” as a movie about a man who we suddenly realize that we seem to care deeply about. That’s the same secret behind “Rocky”. The fight, the outcome, the training, all of that means nothing if we don’t first, care about Rocky. It’s about a man who he thinks that nobody cares about him, and at one point, he might have been right. By the end of the movie, he’s dead wrong, because we all care. Christ, we care enough to sit through all the sequels. Even the fourth one. Well, obsessive-compulsive hero-worshipping aside, the first movie really is a masterpiece.

Monday, May 21, 2012

HOW MODERN TV SITCOMS, IN THE TRADITION OF NORMAN LEAR, STILL COMBAT THE POLITICAL AND CULTURAL ISSUES OF MODERN SOCIETY!

One of the blogs I like to follow is Ken Levine's. He's currently a baseball announcer working for the Seattle Mariners, but before to that, he was a writer, producer and showrunner for shows like "M*A*S*H", "Cheers," "Frasier," "Wings," to name a few. Recently, he discussed in his blog about how the material sitcoms are based around has changed drastically. The link to the blog is below, you guys should chekc it out:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-you-can-and-cant-say-on-television.html

The main thing he pointed out was how drastically television's taboo subject matters have changed, but the idea originated when he showed a group of film students a scene from "All in the Family," which shocked a film school crowd, because they were amazed that such language and controversial subject matter could be said in a sitcom. (The episode, the famous one where Sammy Davis Jr. was a guest star, and involved a character saying the word, nigger) While, I'm personally distraught that there's an entire film school full of students in the United States, who apparently haven't seen "All in the Family", he makes a few comparisons with modern television shows, and how, while they don't talk about subjects like race anymore, Mr. Levine noted that they seem to be allowed to talk more freely about things like sex, and he noted a scene from "2 Broke Girls," in which the word "vagina" was used five time in less than a minute. "2 Broke Girls," broke ground earlier this year by becoming the first network sitcom to make a joke about anal sex. I personally wrote a blog a couple weeks ago, where I outlined a trend in network sitcoms where I talked about how too many shows have characters constantly talking about smoking marijuana. If marijuana was ever discussed on a sitcom back in the '70s, or even as late as the '90s, it always surely involved some kind of two-part, special message episode. Anyway, to a certain extent, Mr. Levine makes a very good point, most sitcoms will just not touch controversial subject matters the way they used to. Saying that, what are the controversial subject matters of today? Shows like "All in the Family," took place and/or were made in the '70s, where things like Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy's assassinations and Woodstock and Women's rights and Vietnam were at the forefront of our mind, and were on the TV news everyday. (People forget that, but Vietnam was pretty much televised back then, a mistake the U.S. Government has gone to painstaking detail not to make again, even and especially with Afghanistan and Iraq.) With all due respect, and I mean no belittling to those who it effects, but considering we live in a world where a major civil rights victory is a President endorsing gay marriage, I'd say our world has vastly improved since then. (An African-American President, no less) I think we've progressed from those issues, which TV was shockingly bold enough to tackle in the '70s, and while it is disappointing that sitcoms don't discuss things like, rape, eh-gaybashing, race, abortion even..., (and the ones that do, are animated series like "South Park," and "Family Guy" which seems unusually immune to controversy) they are tackling subject matters that are current and prevalent to our world today. Mainly sex, actually. Yes, we have President's endorsing gay marriage, but the reason that's a seminal moment is because the opposition, which so drastically fought against it and other such issues, which instead of civil rights, they've rebranded "family values", like pro-2-parent household, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti-condoms, anti-stem cell, anti-science, anti-anything remotely sexual in nature, they seem to fight it, anti-homosexual included, but it is more, anti-sex. We are a country founded by Puritans unfortunately, and it's taken us a little longer to evolve on this than, say, everywhere else in the world, but we are getting there and television reflects that and tackles that issue, and they've been fighting it since the beginning, even before a so-called 'moral majority' existed. I'm posting a clip below from youtube.com, it's a scene from a TV show called "Soap". It's one of my all-time favorite shows, it ran in the Late '70s. (this would've been, after the episode of "All in the Family," keep that in mind for comparison) Now the scene you're about to see is a seminal moment in modern sitcoms; something occurs in this scene that previously, had never happened on TV before. I'll tell you what it is in a few moments, but if you can, I'd like you all to watch it and see if you figure out what it is exactly that's just occurred, that makes it a historic television moment.



That's a funny scene, even out of context, isn't it? Did you figure it out though? I don't blame you if you didn't, especially younger readers, but here it is: This was the first time on television, where someone said the word, "horny"! That sounds strange actually, but that's a fact. Well, look how TV's evolved since then. "Cheers," wouldn't have happened without this scene. "The Golden Girls," "Friends," "Sex and the City," yes that's HBO, but now every show on basic has borrowed from it. Hell, the basic TV sitcom plot, is that two characters, have to overcome numerous obstacles in order to eventually, have sex with each other. Almost every show now has at least one character who constantly has multiple sex partners, and not like how Fonzi use to, they dwell on all the little nuances and issues regarding sex, sometimes in pretty extensive detail, and most shows have multiple ones, male and female, and gay and straight. ("Soap" was also the first show to have an openly-gay regular character.) If there are those of you who wonder about the cultural mindset of America, this is the way to look at it; we were okay hearing the word "nigger" on television, before we were okay with "horny". Right there. We first, evolved to Nigger, than to Horny, and now, Vagina is okay.

In that sense, and taking a look at sitcoms and modern society today, I think a good argument can be made that television actually still tackles the hot-button issues of the day. No, we're never gonna get another "All in the Family," or a character like Archie Bunker today, but why would you want one? I'm serious, it wouldn't be believable today, certainly not in a sitcom; even if it is on HBO, nobody would buy it. The closest we have is Eric Cartman on "South Park," and you'd have to be an immature animated 8-year old to have those points of view in today's society. Archie Bunker was of his time, the same way that TV shows are of their time now, and they're still taking on the most critical cultural issues of are time. Yes, I mentioned I complained about the numerous marijuana jokes on TV, but guess what, never in the history of this country have more people been in favor of legalization, and that includes me. Once upon a time, a woman would be a game show contestant, and be asked by the host, what her husband did for a living; and the sad part is that a lot of the people fighting these social changes of today, wish that was still the case. The main culture war today is over sex, in every aspect of the word. TV reflects that, and takes a stand. Gay married couples, gay parents, sexually-active teenagers, step-parents, mixed-race relationships, old man-younger woman relationships, and that's just on "Modern Family". It's strange to consider it, but in it's own way, TV sitcoms still reflect and examine the hot-button political issues of the day, and they continue to do so. Sure, it's not the way Norman Lear would've imagined it, but, that film school class aside, we've seen Archie Bunker already, we don't need to see him again. We're still political but, I think his time has gone, and maybe what we really need are shows about adults having to share apartments with strangers as they struggle to pay rent, and tell vagina jokes to get through the day. That might seem like a step backwards for television, and content-wise, maybe it is, but look closely and you'll realized that it means we live in a society, that's moving forward. As far as I'm concerned, tell as many vagina jokes as you want.

Friday, May 18, 2012

THE MINOR DIFFERENCES: "THE VOICE," AND WHAT REALLY SEPARATES IT FROM IT'S COMPETITION



Since the second season of "The Voice,"  ended, I started watching the UK version of the show, "The Voice UK", on youtube.com. Why, have I started doing this? Curiousity, is of course a major reason, but the real reasons is that, it was available on youtube, and I wanted more of "The Voice"! I hadn't had enough. Sure, I'd prefer if Juliet Simms had beaten Jermaine Paul in the finals, but I voted for both of them, and Chris Mann in the final; they each gave three great performances the night before and they were all incredibly deserving. (I liked Tony Lucca too, but didn't vote for him because I thought his version of "99 Problems," was not one of his strongest performances, and oddly it had nothing to do with any of the Christina vs. Adam rumors/controversy) I told this to somebody the other day, who laughed at me, since, even after seeing "The Voice," he believes the show to be another copy of "American Idol" and "The X-Factor, " which he hates. As many loyal readers will note, I also don't like "American Idol," and I absolute hated "The X-Factor", and in one of my earlier "Good On TV?" blogs, I outline all the major distinctions between the three franchises, and I stick by that article. To me, saying that "The Voice," is just like those other shows is like saying that "The Bob Newhart Show," and "In Treatment," are exactly the same, because both shows involve a main character that's a psychiatrist.

Now, I grant you, that I am the person who analyzes and looks at those slight differences more than most people. Some people just see a reality show or a reality show concept like a singing competition, and immediately will look away, or they'll look towards it, and the same really goes with every genre and subgenre, and that's across all literary mediums, but especially with television, you're able to see firsthand the major differences every week. Personally, I think it pains me more when I see that a lot of people are watching (or in many cases, critics ravings about) a TV show, that's not very good, even more than when people like a movie or a book that's really bad. Especially when their are so many shows on TV, that essentially seem to be copying each other. You know, somebody did the math at one point, and I might off on the numbers by a bit, but I remember hearing a statistic that said that since the '50s, there has been an average of 18-19 hours a week of TV programming in primetime, devoted to crime solving shows, police shows. You can take a look at the Network TV landscape now, and every channel, has their own police procedural or five or six, and yet, the differences are minor, but they're important. They're small, but they're the reason why "Law & Order: SVU," is worth watching every week, and why "NCIS," is pretty boring every week. I've lost count of the amount of TV sitcoms I've seen now with six leads, 3 young males, and 3 young females, since "Friends" went on the air. Most of them suck though. Occasionally there's a "Happy Endings," that, doesn't suck as much, and on rare occasions, you'll see the British version of "Coupling," which I think blew "Friends," right out of the water. (The American version of "Coupling," we don't ever need to discuss) I'm a little amazed that their hasn't been some pieces out there discussing the similarities and differences between "2 Broke Girls," and "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23" yet, cause those two shows have basically the same plotpoints and storylines, and yet, the differences between them are night and day. (Hold on. [Talks into tape recorder] Ideas for a future blogpost....)

So, what's the small distinction that keeps making me come back to "The Voice," in multiple forms even, while I can't even give "The X-Factor," a look without frantically searching for the remote. "American Idol," and "The X-Factor," (Well, the latter tries to anyway) and most of the other similarly structured reality shows are about who wins. They're about the contestants.What song are they gonna sing, who has the best story, did they pick the right song, were they unable to pick the song they wanted..., their focus has always been on the contestants themselves, so much so that, it's as much about their image, as it is about their singing ability. It's not, what are they thinking, it's more about, what we think of them, and the one that's the more people like, wins. Yes, there's that part of "The Voice," but it's not as prevalent, and frankly, comparatively the audience has very little say into anything that goes on. This is a key difference, cause "The Voice," isn't so much about the contestants as it is the judges, and more specifically the thinking process of the judges. On the other shows, essentially, the judges are like me, a critic. I see something, and then I write about how I perceived it, in their case, they say it. Some judges, for-lack-of-a-better-term, hold back, while others, let their true feelings be heard. I do that too sometimes in my reviews. I try not to, but it happens sometimes. On "The Voice," first-of-all they're coaches, not judges, and there's a big difference, second, the talent level on the show, and I can't stress this enough, is so high. I mean, the Finalists on "...Idol," right now, would barely break the Top 20, maybe on "The Voice," in any country, so for one thing, there's no need for anything antagonistic to be said, at least not to the contestants, but we get something more interesting, we get glimpses into these judges' thinking process. Take for example, the blind auditions. They're all good singers, but which ones do you turn around and take? It's not easy, they only have a limited number, and if they pick one, who is even, remotely 2nd tier to the other contestants, what's that say about them. Their credibility is on the line. Your looking for certain things, other things. The almost-pressing of the button, says as much about what they're looking for as when they do, and also, when they press it, is of critical importance. Early in the song, late in the song? on a note? Is this guy a one-song wonder, or is this guy even a guy? I already have two soul singers, should I let this one go, or do I hit my button to make sure Blake doesn't get him. These are just some of the questions that must go through their minds as those blind auditions go on. There's no psychological chess like this going on "...Idol," it's sing, and if you're good, we'll let you on, and if we let you on, and we hate you, the audience might like you anyway. It's a tough job narrowing your team to ten or whatever, and then, you have to pair them up and battle. What if you pair two great singers together, one of them is out, or two lousy singers and you have to keep one of them? Who wants to make that choice? I don't. What song do you give them? What if, the person you know is a better singer, and has a better chance to win, has a lousy battle round, against somebody who I don't like? All these little nuances and differences, have found a rare forum where the most famous people in the world at their one personal musical genre, essentially have their thoughts processes on display. You know the real intrigue in Howard Stern's joining of one of these reality shows as a judge, isn't so much that somebody as outlandish as Howard Stern is doing it, but instead, the real intrigue is that, we're going to get a rare glimpse into the real, off-air, Howard Stern, that we've only heard about and rarely seen elsewise. We know the character he plays, but the real interest is the person we don't see, the real Howard Stern, the one that's off the air, has a wife, goes to a shrink, watches reality TV, the one that needs to star in his own biopic. He's a major public figure, the self-proclaimed "King of All Media", and 98% of what we know about him is the act he performs, and now suddenly, we get another aspect of him, by just him suddenly doing "America's Got Talent". On "The Voice" we get to see four superstars of that level, their personal selves, every week on "The Voice", whether it's how they work/don't work with their contestants, judging talent themselves, or in their attempt to organize their talent, and how they help/guide them, and who they help/guide the best. These dynamics are unpredictable really (and since these professionals have reputations to protect, very dangerous to some extent), but every little choice and action they do, gives us new insights into people we previously, only thought we knew. No other show gives us that. That's one thing reality-competition shows don't give us enough of that, and they very easily could.

Let's face it, anybody can put a sign that says "Singing Competition," and people will sign up for it. You can put up a sign that says "Biggest Hemorrhoid Contest" and people will sign up for it. Maybe I'm the only one, but I expect more than that out of primetime television, even in these reality-competition series. You don't believe me, or don't want to bother with the genre, go ahead, and I understand. Believe me, I can get turned off very easily at overexposure to a lot of crap. Lots of reality TV, lots of reality singing competition, and most of them are crap. I've only compared two, there's been more on cable, (and that "Duets," that ABC's advertising, that looks, maybe worse than all of them.) but "The Voice," is a perfect example, of how even, what seems like the slightest distinctions of the formula, really can make such a huge difference.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #32: "WAR HORSE", "GRIFF THE INVISIBLE", "BURLESQUE," "BLUEBEARD" and MORE!

Some of you may have sensed that the blog hasn't been of the standard of quality that it usually has been lately. Blog postings have been slightly more belated than normal, the quality has been a little down lately, the Twitter account has been somewhat lazy recently, and in this case, the Random Weekly Movie Reviews, are about half the size as normal. Well, if you didn't notice, thanks, and good for you, although my visitor count being lower than normal would indicate otherwise, but I did, and I was all too aware of it more than anybody. So if you indulge me for a second, I must confess that in the recent week or two, I have been more distracted than normal. Currently, we're in the process of moving. For those know me personally, don't worry, we're not moving far, just a couple streets awat in fact. It's a good thing, we're moving from an apartment that nobody ever liked to a house, and all month, we've been unusually busy with that. (We, for those who are curious, are my mother and my brother, who I watch most of the day. He's autistic, and needs 24-hour watchover, one of the reasons I begun writing a blog about movies as oppose to going out and make movies in fact.) We're excited, but this has also forced us to take on some extra debt than normal. I even cutback on my Netflix order, to one disc at a time + streaming, and as bad as that is, I haven't really had much time to watch as much as normal. I'm doing my best, but, for the time being, more of these blogs which I try to update every 2-3 days, are going to be closer to the 3 days than the two. These reviews I've written here for instance, were already delayed so much, that I chose to post my weekly Canon of Film entry yesterday, as oppose to after the reviews. I greatly appreciate all the support and continue readership. I normally go out of my way to keep my personal life/issues out of this blog, but I must admit that recently, it has effected it, and I can't say that it won't effect it in immediate future; things are just a little too chaotic at the moment for me to make such a guarantee. However, I will continue posting on my usual regular basis, and if that might change in the future, I'll let you know. I do apologize if some of the quality of the work has been lacking recently. I can assure that I'll do my best to keep my focus on my blog, as I'm working on it.

Anyway, I apologize for the indulgence, and if nobody minds, let's gets started with this week's Movie Reviews!

WAR HORSE (2011) Director: Steven Spielberg

2 1/2 STARS

I'll say this, that Joey is one remarkable horse. After that, I'm not really sure what to make out of "War Horse". Well, let me rephrase, I get what Spielberg is doing, he's trying to make one of those David O. Selznick, David Lean era,  sprawling Hollywood epics, and he's doing it in that style, with some amazing landscapes that, and large-scale battle scenes, and numerous characters and stories coming in and out, and stuff like that, and as a technical achievement, I guess I would have to say that he succeeded. I just had a hard time figuring out why he was making it to begin with. The movie begins in England, where Joey is bought hastily by a drunk old war veteran farmer, Ted (Peter Mullan), much to the dismay of his wife, Rose (Emily Watson). They bought a thorobred horse, they need a powerful horse to plow with. That doesn't stop their son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) from trying though, and pretty soon, Joey and Albert have formed quite a team, and they do manage to begin plowing that rocky field, which apparently is such an amazing achievement, an entire town of villagers seems to materialize just to see the horse doing it. Joey and Albert however, are soon separated again, as they need to sell Joey to the military, as WWI is just underway, and they need to save the farm. Joey will go through many experiences now. He works as an ambulance to collect the bodies, he charges into battle, for both sides, he and another horse become the pets of a precocious but sickly, young French girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens), and then back into the war. There are moments in "War Horse," that are quite remarkable, and there are scenes in the movie, where I honestly can't tell whether they were special effects, or whether they actually filmed a horse. There's a very good shot of the feet of a horse, who's one of the many tugging artillery canons, through the battlefield, and it's damn near killing the horse, and the feet are just, damn collapsing, and, I mean, if that was real, I don't know how they got the horse to do that, a few of the other stunts, including some amazing jumping sequences Joey has late in the film, some of it is technically great achievements. However, despite scenes like that, I have a very hard time, caring about Joey, his owner Albert, or much of this film really. Horses are magnificient creatures, and there have been some very good films about horses lately, "Seabiscuit," "Secretariet," probably the most notable, and films like "The Black Stallion," and "National Velvet," before that, are especially memorable for their horse footage. The story really is just, your basic two characters separated by war until they find each other again story, and I just don't think this sweeping epic is really a great genre. I think it's of a bygone era to begin with, but I was detached and flat to this film; I was seriously trying to figure out what was Spielberg's thinking. I knew long ago that he could make a movie like this, he's Spielberg for Christ's sake, but the why he made it, is kinda confusing me. It was originally a book, but I first heard of "War Horse," as a play, which won numerous Tony Awards last year, and the way they did it, was to use they wonderful, animatronic puppets, that were controlled by humans, but they looked and acted real, and strangely I think, in that theatre setting, where we get this horse, right there, interacting with the actors, we could grasp the human-horse relationship better and overlook some of the story's flaws. Here, in film, you know, real horses aren't always great actors, I guess. "War Horse," got multiple Oscar nominations, mostly in technical categories, which I can't really argue, the Kaminski cinematography for one, is absolutely amazing, but it was also a Best Picture nominee, and after watching it, I'm very surprised by that. Not only compared to most of the other nominees, but compared with Spielberg's best work..., this is almost an aberration to his work. I don't know, I wonder if there are just Academy members, who really just wanted an old-time sprawling epic. Well, I guess they got their wish with "War Horse," but, man I hate doing this, I can't recommend this.

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (2011) Director: Leon Ford

3 STARS

Okay, we first had the film "Special," about a guy who thought he was a superhero, but was delusional, then "Kick-Ass", which was a superhero movie about a real teenager who tries to be a superhero, we had "SUPER", about what might actually happen if a real person tried to be a superhero, and you throw in "Hanna," 'cause it's got a similar origin story to Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass", but now, we got, the real person who thinks he's a superhero, done as a romance, with "Griff the Invisible". I'm not gonna lie, despite the twist, I'm starting to get a little tired of this subgenre. Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a disgruntled office worker by day, with a crappy job where he's constantly bullied and humilated. He has a brother, Tim (Patrick Brammall), who knows the kind of project Griff is at first-hand. Griff spends his nights, as a superhero, or he at least thinks he's one. He gets in trouble for some of his actions, pictures of people who he's injured or peace he's disturbed that show up in police sketch artists posters occasionally. Tim wishes he'd live in the real world, but Tim's happier in this made-up world of his (I know that feeling), and so does Melody (Maeve Dermody) a young scientist, who has a similar weird effect to her, she thinks she can walk through walls, kinda like the girl from "X-Men", and more importantly, while she realizes Tim's fantasies are fantasies, she indulges in them anyway, even participating in them, encouraging them. I think it is a little strange that we're encouraged to rid ourselves of our imagination as we get older, and the line in the movie is to figure out exactly where does harmless role-playing become delusionalment, and whether or not crossing that line, is such a bad thing. I like the romantic aspects of the film, about how these two messed up people actually have a chance at finding love and each other, more than I like the superhero stuff, which I think, even in this format, feels like material that I've just seen too much of already. Still, I'm reluctant, but I am gonna recommend the film, despite the slow pace and some of the cliched aspects to the story. I think I'm more prone to liking the Travis Bickle-type of delusional loner than these kind I've been seeing lately though.

BURLESQUE (2010) Director: Steve Antin

2 STARS

Oh where to begin. You ever check a movie's "goofs" on imdb.com, and find out that the mistakes in the movie are more interesting than the movie. That's basically what happened after I watched "Burlesque". Here's my favorite goof of the movie, under the subheading "spoilers": (Don't worry, I'm not giving anything substantial away; I couldn't if I tried.)

The premise of the plot rests partly on Ali replacing a newly-pregnant dancer, Georgia. The movie's time line takes course over two months (or less), and in that short time, Georgia becomes pregnant, engaged and married (in that order), also returning to perform with Ali at the Burlesque Lounge during the finale (supposedly back from maternity leave, which would be impossible). This contradicts the plot line in which Tess must come up with enough money to save the club in thirty days. (In the same day, she sells the air rights above the Burlesque Lounge and buys out her partner's share, Jack finishes writing his song and Ali performs it, during which a whippet-thin Georgia appears as a dancer despite showing during the wedding a few days earlier).
That description of a mistake is a better description of the story of the film than I could've written. It might say something about me that I didn't notice it at the time, or that the movie, despite some glaring problems, is actually somewhat watchable in a campy sort of way. Somewhat watchable, not totally watchable. It begins with Ali (Christina Aguilera) quitting her waitress job, and heading to the big city to be a star. Will she become star? Well, yes, kinda. She finds a strange basement entrance to an underground club, the underground club in the world that has an upstairs and  for sale air rights, called Burlesque. Okay, I live in Vegas, so I know about burlesque, and even if I didn't, the Burlesque Hall of Fame, is like, three bus trips from me. This movie has about as much to do about burlesque as I do about, well, burlesque. But, the movie's not about burlesque, it's about this young up-and-comer trying to break her way onto the big stage. Actually, it's basically a long Christina Aguilera music video. Everything in this film has been borrowed from other movies, other bad movies, even. The club being in financial trouble, the girl and boy, Jack (Cam Gigandet) falling for each other, despite the fact he has a girlfriend who's out-of-town,  the aforementioned pregnant dancer, Georgia (Julianne Hough) having to quit, temporarily, the mean/jealous dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell), the owner. Tess (Cher, and boy is it good to see her again, even in this it's good to see her again) an ex-performer who's struggling to save the club, her ex-husband Vince, (Peter Gallagher) trying to sell the club, and her gay best friend played by Stanley Tucci, Sean (Tucci can play this role in his sleep, he's done it so often now; I'm just happy he doesn't, even in this). Some of the music is good, a lot of it is lipsynced, probably some of it that isn't lipsynced is lipsynced as well. The film won Diane Warren a Golden Globe for the Cher song "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," and it was a good song, but it's also now become synonomous with a failed joke at the Oscars later that year, when a plan for James Franco to come out in Cher drag and perform the song got scratched when it wasn't nominated, although they for some reason kept the gag of James Franco wearing a dress, without the set-up or punchline. Christina Aguilera doesn't do enough acting to really analyze her work here, and with her musical talents, why should she act? Although, it's actually quite convenient that this backwater Texas girl has the talent to perform like Christina Aguilera when the music player goes off. Other than that, she actually didn't do too bad, given the script. I don't know, maybe somewhere there's a good drinking game in "Burlesque," but I don't want to watch it again sober, to come up with it. Maybe buy the soundtrack.

BLUEBEARD (2010) Director: Catherine Breillat

4 STARS



This is the 2nd film in Catherine Breillat's fairy tale trilogy; I reviewed "The Sleeping Beauty," awhile back, this is "Bluebeard," but I must admit, I'm coming into it a little behind the 8-ball. I'm a huge Catherine Breillat fan, so I'm always excited by that, however I actually don't know the story of "Bluebeard". I know most of the  famous fairy tales, or at least I thought I did until now. Apparently it's a more common one in France, and while I'm start learning about it, I think I buy that, partly from the film, I can easily presume that this story must transfer better over there, and also, I asked a few friends and family of mine, and most of them never heard of it either, and many of them couldn't tell me the story, and a few of them confused it with Blackbeard, the pirate. So this is essentially my introduction to the fairy tale, and well, I think Catherine Breillat should definitely not be the storyteller to introduce this tale to me, but that's the position I'm in, so it's her twisted version of it I get. Maybe because of that, it forced me to pay more attention, but whatever the case, I actually wound up, enjoying the film, rather immensley. The story of "Bluebeard," is read to us by two young sisters, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) and Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), who play up in an attic, and occasionally interupt and argue their own variations on the tale. The story begins with sisters Anne (Daphne Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Cretin), being kicked out of private school after their father's death. They live up near the infamous, ugly aristocrat, Bluebeard, (Dominique Thomas) who's rich,  but seems to have trouble keeping wives. He's had a few, but they've gone missing, and numerous rumors are abound as to why. Nevertheless Marie agrees to marry Bluebeard, and begins working over the castle a bit, creating her own little niche for herself, something that at first seems to please Bluebeard, so much so, that he even gives her a key at one point to the mysterious basement of his where all the secrets lie, with instructions not to go in. (Like those instructions have ever been followed). I gave a more so-so review to "The Sleeping Beauty," I'm giving a better one to this second of Breillat's trilogy, mainly though, I think the story is much more interesting. I was never the biggest fan of any incarnation of "Sleeping Beauty," even with Breillat's modern-day twist to it at the end, but I think because she sticks in world of fairy tale, and tells the story, a modified version, I imagine, but she sticks to that world and tale for most of the film, that it became more interesting to get caught up in that world, and it provides a good contrast to the real world of the two sisters reading the story, which, and I won't give it away, but there's a twist ending to them as well. So, big recommendation for "Bluebeard," now to go scour for the original story.

HISTOIRES DU CINEMA (1988-1997) Director: Jean-Luc Godard

4 1/2 STARS

Starting in 1988, Jean-Luc Godard began sporadically making half-hour TV specials on the history of film, these have been titled "Histoires du Cinema", they finally been put together as a package, and if you really are interested in learning the history of film, I would not start with Godard. I love him, but Godard films are mainly for the advanced filmgoer to begin with, and "Histoire du Cinema," which seems at times to be mostly a compilation of images from screen history with occasional words, quotes, sound, some shots of Godard typing on a typewriter and doing other studying features, and it won't be understandable to the casual moviegoer. Godard, unlike many of his New Wave contemporaries, Truffaut in particular, continue to become more and more radical in his storytelling approaches over the years, in a search for the true essence of film. His last film "Film: Socialisme," could be used as his quintessential example, if anybody were tolerant enough to sit through the damn thing. It's tricky to sit through "Histoire du Cinema" at first, it took me a couple weeks to see them all, but eventually, what happens is that, you start to emotionally follow the language of film that Godard uses. I would equate it to, taking your first foreign language class, and the teacher, insisting not speaking to you in your native language, in my case English, but in the language he's teaching, and only in the language he's teaching. Does the teacher think he's teaching the advance class? Are you in the right class? What's he saying? Does he know we only speak English? Weird confused, but we follow along and continue, and through the constant talking and listening to him speaking in the other language, we begin to learn certain things, and after a few weeks, he asks the class in English, "So, how much do you guys know?" The more familiar you are with the language, the more you'll understand it, and comprehend. Film is like that, particularly Godard's but everybody's really, and the whole history of film, all film, is how we slice images together to tell a story. Godard, has his own place in the history of cinema, and he knows his. Being a former critic, he was always conscious of his work in that sense. His love of film is one of the aspects of him, and "Histoire du Cinema," is as much about his lifelong journey to fully comprehend film as it is, the history of film itself. If you have some familiarity with Godard's work beforehand, it's worth seeking out, although it can be tricky to find, fair warning. To others, seek it out as well, but I would recommend a few books first, but learning the language as you go might work as well.

BLOODY SUNDAY (2002) Director: Paul Greengrass

5 STARS

Paul Greengrass is one of the greats at filming using handheld cameras. Usually, I'm against it, as most of the filmmakers who insist upon it, end up with a jittery image that can be annoying at minimum, and nausea-inducing at it's worse. When, done well though, they can be spectacular, especially for recreating the reality of events. Similar to a look of a documentary. Greengrass's best film was the unforgettable "United 93", which showed the events of 9/11 from numerous perspectives of those who were actually involved (In many cases, he casted real people to play themselves), and a ficticious account of what might have happen on the doomed plane where the passengers fought back, and landed in that Western Pennsylvania field. You can see a lot of the same technique in "Bloody Sunday," named after the infamous massacre of Civil Rights activists during a peace protest in Northern Ireland on Jan. 30 1972. The incident left 13 dead and 14 injured, and famously inspired the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The incident is shown from multiple perspectives. The protests leader was a member of Parliament, Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), and the main reason I have for mentioning his character is that it's the only one portrayed by an actor that I recognized. Nesbitt's probably most famous for British television programs, my favorite would be "Cold Feet". He wants the protest to occur, but peacefully, and tries to use his power and prestige to make that happen, even as signs around begin showing that things are starting to go wrong. More aggresive troops that typical for this situation are brought in, as well as sharpshooters for fear of involvment from the IRA, causing a ruckus in the crowd, while most of them spent most of the day, trying to simply figure out the best places to set up, just in case they're needed. The police headquarters thinks the over-protection is needed, and is trying to strategize, unaware that they've mistaken some of the routes and information from the protestors about the travels. There's a lot going on, and the film can be chaotic, but it's intentional. Greengrass smartly keeps fading in and out from scene to scene, as what important gets noted and/or revealed. That kind of a bold mood, most people I know advise fade out in the middle of a movie, but here  it brings with them, an eerie sense of inevitability, and one thing after another goes wrong. It's clear the British troops were most in the wrong. No one was ever convicted of any crimes for the incident, in fact, the troops were honored by the Queen. Cooper sees one of his close friend's get his head blown off, and he isn't just a figurehead leader, he's right in the middle of the action, doing everything he can, not the least of which, risking his own life by getting caught in the crossfire. By the end, at a very difficult press conference, he doesn't even have the heart to discourage youths from joining the IRA after tonight. He spent the day train to paint the moment as equal to those of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. A check on wikipedia finds that he moved away from politics after the event, but he was one of the founding members of the Social Democrats, one of the three main political parties in England right now. I admire people like him who aim high, but sometimes, they underestimate just how low their opponents are willing to go.

LOVER'S PRAYER (2001) Director: Reverge Anselmo

1 1/2 STARS

Not given an American theatrical release, "Lover's Prayer," is also known by it's original title, "All Forgotten," which is a good description of just how much thought people who've seen this movie will give it afterwards. I will try my best to recall what I can from this sleepy, slow, boring period piece. It's the kind of movie that has a voiceover, for no reason. I think it has it, because without it, no member of the audience would've had a vested interest in sitting through it awake. Unfortunately, the voice over sucks, and does almost nothing but reiterate what just happened on the screen, so that was beyond useless. The voiceover is Vladimir's (Nick Stahl), a young man in a well-off area of, eh, Russia, I think. Maybe? Who the hell knows. Anyway, he begins to fall for a Russian princess's daughter, who's next door. (And who hasn't had that happen to them?) The Princess Zaseykin (Julie Walters) is nice although somewhat demanding. Her daughter, Zinaida (Kirsten Dunst) is quite beautiful and Ivan has taken to a little mild peeping tomfoolery with her. He's bad at it, and keeps getting caught. Luckily, she seems nice, although she's not willing to fall so in love with him and he does with her, but she enjoys roping him along for awhile. At one point, she even convinces Ivan to fall from a very high tree, nearly breaking his back. Why is he willing to do all this? Well, she does look like Kirsten Dunst, and not the Dunst from "Spider-Man", with the red hair that completely wrong on her, so I can understand that I guess. The numerous warnings he recieves about her from others should've been a clue, but they never are. She's a tease to him, and practically a whore to others, particularly one older gentleman. Maybe if the film was from her point-of-view, we might have gotten an interesting characters at least. (Believe it or not, she's not that interesting here) There's not that much that's interesting here. The director is Reverge Anselmo, who I've never heard of. He's directed three movies including this one, all of which I've never heard, of (Well, I might've heard of "The Outfitters," but I can't remember now). He was a producer on "The Squid and the Whale," that's his best credit as far as I can see. That's also the last thing he's done, and that was seven years ago. It seems like he's faded away from the business since, and after watching "Lover's Prayer," I think it's safe to presume that, that's a good thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "JAWS"

JAWS (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb based on the novel by Peter Benchley



The film became the first ever and it in fact, invented the term “blockbuster,” as it was played in every theatre in every town. (Before than, most films were shown at one theater in a town.) I’ve been lucky enough to see it on the big screen and, “Jaws,” had to be seen by everyone. If you ever get a chance to see it on the big screen, go. It’s as great an action-adventure-horror film you’re ever going to see, and it’s also the first really great example of how good a director Steven Spielberg really is. Yes, there's some legendary aspects to Spielberg, and to "Jaws" in particular, his films are like him, bigger than life, but sometimes it's the small choices he makes that can really separate him from the rest. There’s a shot in the movie, that nobody thinks much about, involving a huge shark that one fisherman’s caught, and everyone thinks it’s the notorious shark that’s been terrorizing the beach. As the camera pans, Spielberg actually uses the shark, as a frame, and he frames Roy Schieder's face with the shark. Would you ever think of a shot like that? Schieder plays Brody, a local sheriff to the beachfront tourist area of Amity, who’s convinced that the shark should be caught, and that the beaches be empty until it is. A marine biologist, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) thinks so as well. This is one of the first action movies where despite every warning imaginable, the guy in charge, in this case, a town mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) continually does the opposite, until it’s too late. Eventually, Hooper head out along with an old sea-farer Quint (Robert Shaw), and hunt for the shark.

One of the keys to the movie that not everybody picks up on, is the exposition dialogue, most of it, from the Dreyfuss character, who’s strangely right to play this role. He was very young when he got this part, he had just done “American Graffiti,” about two years earlier, and here’s a character who’s basic objective in the role is to explain to us, just how vicious this shark can be. “I pulled out a tooth as big as a shot glass, and it was the tooth of a great white,” for instance, it’s very vivid dialogue that in a bad actor’s hand could be heavily overacted. Dreyfuss looks like he fell off the Volkswagon bus from Berkeley, but he speaks matter-of-factly and urgently, like an expert does. It’s this dialogue, and the way it’s delivered, that set up the movie’s most famous line of dialogue. We remember Brody saying “We’re going to need a bigger boat,” but the line was set up so well, we don’t realize immediately, that he isn’t joking. I had forgotten that he actually insists on getting the bigger boat twice more after that. That’s the only conclusion he honestly can come to.

The shoot was notoriously difficult, way over-budget and overdue time-wise because the Shark would never work. Spielberg’s solution by not showing the Shark for most of the movie actually seems more like an ingenious and elegant solution to that problem. Watching the ending scenes again, except when we see the Shark actually try and eat the boat, it never comes out even slightly comical, but by that point, we’re too invested to even care. It’s one of the great thrillers of all-time, pretty much every poll I’ve seen in the genre the movie gets ranked, somewhere in the Top 5. It’s definitely scary, maybe too much so actually. Spielberg once admitted that he made a mistake by adding an extra scare of the dead body found in the underwater remains of the original boat that went out searching, because it made the audience distrust the movie, and it lessened the impact of the shark, exploding out of the water, later. He might have a point there actually, ‘cause when I first watched it, that was the moment I first gasped, and not the shark’s first appearance.  You know, oddly, Spielberg has actually shied away from making horrors much since “Jaws”, other than “Jurassic Park,” and, maybe you can argue “War of the Worlds”,  he really hasn’t approached a straight-forward film within the genre since. He’s done some thrillers of a different sort with the Indiana Jones films for instance, and also horrors of a different kind with “Schindler’s List,” and “Saving Private Ryan,” which both earned him directing Oscars, and he’s taken some pleasure in combining a couple genres like in the underrated “Minority Report”. His only other horror was his first film, “Duel”, which was a TV movie in America. He didn’t direct any of the “Jaws” sequels which were mostly blockbuster hits themselves, but were not critically-acclaimed. I think he still enjoys working within the genre, but I believe he’s looking for the most grandiose of stories to use for it; a regular horror movie, just won’t do it for him. Ultimately, that’s a good thing, and one of the aspects of Spielberg’s work that rarely gets as notice as it should; he is a man of big ideas and I believe he likes that his films are mostly filled with extravagance, not just in spectacle and special effects either. In many ways, his films rival Stanley Kubrick in sheer audacity. Most people who kill to direct a grand spectacle that’s as great as “Jaws,” for Spielberg, it was his first great spectacle, and four decades of films later, he just keeps on making them. He was 26, when he made "Jaws", and that's scary. (Hmm, hm)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

MAY UPFRONTS, AND I DON'T CARE! MAY UPFRONTS, AND I DON'T CARE... (Ah, don't tell the Bitch in Apt. 23 that I said that, okay? Thanks.)



Pretty much every Hollywood watcher, myself included, has been paying close attention to the latest news that comes from the major networks right now, as it's time for the May Upfronts, where they announce which pilots they'll be picking up, which they'll be renewing next season, and which ones they're cancelling. It's their big announcements for next fall. I've been paying very close attention. I've got multiple cheat sheets and loglines about all the major pilot scripts in production, been reading up on which show might get cancelled, and other stuff like that, and while occasionally I read some good news, like how everybody has resigned on "The Office", despite rumors of an entirely new cast, (exception, Mindy Kaling, who's got a pilot script in FOX that was just picked up.) and some sad news, like the announcement of this upcoming season of "30 Rock" being shortened, and it's last season, and some odd news, like TBS picking up "Cougar Town," despite the fact that it's totally sucked for three years, but despite all this, I finally just looked around and said, "I don't have any idea what to make out of this." In fact, I won't know what to make out of all this for, (May, June, July, August, September) five months! Until then, I got nothing. I can speculate, but... what good would that do? Sure, I can look at logline, see who's casted, look who's producing and making it, look what network picked it up or not, and look and go, "Oh, that's sounds like a good idea, that might be a good show", or "Man, that sounds terrible, why would they pick that up," or "God damn it, why do they keep letting Joss Whedon write?" but until I actually watch these shows, I'm not gonna know if any of the networks did well or not. Sure, there's a little bit of a disgruntled writer in me, saying this, who wishes he had a pilot in production, or at least considered for production, but if I feel like this, than I'm pretty certain that most everybody who isn't paying particular attention to the upfronts must be thinking the same way, if they're thinking at all. They're gonna be waiting for the commercials, promos and trailers to start on the new shows coming in the fall, or at least until the network puts out their annual preview half-hour shows, which showcase what's going to be on the network in primetime this fall, but hardly anybody ever watches those things, on purpose anyway. Basically, we got five months to wait and see if any of this crap the networks are shoving at us is gonna be worth a damn or not, and we all know that most of it, is eventually gonna be, not.

So, what can I do? I can't honestly look at this and make any kind of logical analysis of the upfronts yet, and I don't want to turn into a prognosticator 'cause frankly, I don't know enough, and haven't the seen any of the shows and/or pilots, so basically I'd be a palm reader if I did that. So really, all I can look at is, what decisions did the networks make, in terms of renewing shows, which ones did they renew, which ones were worth it, and so one and so forth, (Sigh) but so will everybody else-

Alright, you know, let me put my state of mind, completely out there. In regards to the upfronts, the only thing that I truly gave a shit about is that ABC renewed "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23", and that was it. Everything else was either a foregone conclusion already, ("Modern Family", renewed, "The Big Bang Theory," renewed, "The Voice," renewed, these weren't exactly hard decisions) something I didn't care about one way or another, ("New Girl," renewed, "GCB" cancelled, "Community," renewed, "Are You There, Chelsea" cancelled, "Whitney," renewed, for some reason.) and a few, why-the-hell-are-they-keeping-that-crap on the air. ("Touch", renewed, and FOX, you've got some explaining to do on that one.) Nothing else really made a damn bit of difference to me, and nothing was so shocking that it caused a ripple effect (and that includes "30 Rock"'s last season, which had been rumored for some time to begin with). "Don't Trust the Bitch...," and from here on in, I'm gonna call it, "Don't Trust the Bitch..." instead of "...B----...", was the only thing that I thought could go either way, and was genuinely excited to find that it got renewed next year. Not shocked per se, the show did recieve good ratings in the coveted, post-"Modern Family," spot, even against "American Idol," and it recieve very high critical praise. I especially have praised it, with multiple notes on my twitter over the past few weeks. It's actually, very quickly become one of my favorite TV shows. It's gleefully chooses to go over-the-top every chance it gets, and frankly, that's refreshing. It's the kind of show where even if the jokes don't work, I think I would've praised the attempt 'cause at least they're trying something (Thankfully, they do work). Let me give you an example, eh, only certain things can ever, reasonably happen on eh, let's use "2 Broke Girls," as an example, which might be an interesting comparison actually since they both involve two young girls who have just moved in together to a New York apartment, and have issues with money. "2 Broke Girls," despite it's flaws, one of the things the show does reasonably well is that it goes out of its way to be faithful to the situation and premise. They're broke, and they're struggling for money. One of them has an idea for a cupcake shop or bakery, or something like that, and they're saving money for it, and doing all the odd jobs to get it. It's really a throwback to a "Laverne & Shirley," Lucy and Ethel-type show, with a few sporadic, oddball supporting characters thrown in. Now, "Don't Trust the Bitch..." takes a similar situation, and other familiar sitcom scenarios, and decides to ask the question, "What's the most absurd thing that can happen right now?" The most recent episode of "Don't Trust the Bitch..." the Dreama Walker, June character is late on her rent, so in order to make some extra money, she has an idea to make homemade jam, and sell it at the coffeeshop she works at. At first, Chloe, (Krysten Ritter), seems okay with the idea, and helps June, pursue this goal. Instead however, Chloe hides all the jars of jam in a neighbor's apartment, and has been secretly videotaping June making the jam, and edited it to create a fetish porn website. Not exactly the support you'd hope for in a roommate, unless you're watching it on TV of course, and it's not you.  The show continues to get more absurd from there actually. The show has a way of taking A+B, and somehow finding Z as the answer. It helps when you create a completely moralless, self-centered character like Chloe though, who's capable of doing just about anything. Also different, is that, while there's been plenty of odd couple shows of contrasting roommates, you rarely get shows where the roommates will really be against each other much of the time. Oscar and Feliz helped each other out, so did Laverne and Shirley, Larry and Balki, Will and Grace, even, they mostly played to the two against the world theory of TV comedy pairings, originated by Carl Reiner with "The Dick Van Dyke Show," (Or 4 against the world in the case of "The Golden Girls" despite the insults they slung at each other.) But, these roommates shows have never had such a self-centered character before as Chloe. She's out for herself, and she's okay if there's collateral damage, including her roommate(s) (She's had past roommates who still float around the show) or even if it's her friends, or friend, really, which is the great part played by James Van Der Beek, as a wonderfully exaggerated version of himself. (In case you're wondering, I never watched "Dawson's Creek," well, never past the theme song. I do like Paula Cole, before she became Christian.) "Don't Trust the Bitch..." is Chloe vs. June, vs. anybody else who happens to get in her way. It's more Darwinian, than any sitcom I've seen in years, and yet the absurd things they do, they're done so freely and insuciently. Showtime's "Weeds," also has a similar style, but not many other shows allow themselves to be so gleefully outlandish, without jumping the shark immediately. Forget jumping the shark, I think Chloe ate the shark. I don't think the show came out in time for Emmy consideration, but I hope they're paying attention for next here, and thanks to ABC, they've correctly chosen to keep it on, next year, and hopefully for about four or five or more after that. Why they're keeping "The Middle", on the air? Ah, well, some mysteries of the universe are never really meant to be explained are they?