Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snow Angels - B-

Before Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green directed rough family drams like George Washington and Undertow. Gordon’s other 2008 release, Snow Angels has about as much in common with Pineapple Express as Obama and McCain – or better yet, Alan Keyes and Ralph Nader. In a small Pennsylvania town, a divorced couple (Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell) fight over their daughter. Meanwhile Beckinsale is having an affair with her best friend’s husband (Nicky Katt). Bekinsale works at a restaurant with highschooler Arthur who’s discovering first love with Lila. Arthur’s parents have just separated. The film is relentlessly grim and depressing with most adults (except Arthur’s mom and the best friend) acting like selfish children, consistently making poor choices . . .

The film is interesting in showing the stages of amorous relationships from the discovery phase with the teens Arthur and Lila to the irreconcilable end-game of Beckinsale-Rockwell. The cold wintry landscapes perfectly capture the ubiquitous barren souls but it’s a tough one to sit through. The adults are so selfish, they completely lose track of their children. Beckinsale struggles with her role, but everyone else does an admirable job, especially Rockwell, who has never shown this kind of depth. Tom Noonan pops up, deadpan hilarious, in an early scene as a marching band director. As for Green, he keeps a consistetly bleak and joyless tone throughout. The best scenes involve the two teenagers and Arthur's mom. It’s almost a B, except that it makes the only (recently converted) Christian a gun-loving nutjob. B-

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Don't Vote

Interesting "Get out the Vote" video directed by Steven Spielberg featuring Leo, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johanson, Justin Timberlake, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, Snoop Dogg, Borat, Ryan Reynolds, Benicio Del Toro, Neil Patrick Harris, Cameron Diaz and others.

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DVD and CD Releases - October 28th

Recent DVD Releases:

Death Defying Acts
Hell Ride
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Sold Out: A Threevening with Kevin Smith
Zombie Strippers

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

The 4400: Complete Series
Brotherhood: Season Two
The Flintstones: Complete Series
Good Times: Complete Series
The Little Rascals: Complete Collection
NewsRadio: Complete Series
Sanford and Son: Complete Series

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Abbott & Costello: Complete Universal Pictures Collection
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
Hank and Mike
Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition
National Lampoon's Animal House
The Polar Express Presented in 3-D
Run for Your Life
Tinker Bell

New CD Releases:

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology
Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and The Amorphous Strums -Dark Developments
Coolio -Steal Hear
The Cure -Dream 4.13
Cynic -Traced On Air
Deerhunter -Microcastle
DJ Babu -Duck Season 3
Dragonette -Galore
Emery -While Broken Hearts Prevail EP
Tom Gabel -Against Me! singer Heart Burns EP
Kaiser Chiefs -Off With Their Heads
Toby Keith -That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy
JOhn Legend -Evolver
Lovedrug -The Sucker Punch Show
Pink -Funhouse
Queen + Paul Rodgers -The Cosmos Rocks
Snow Patrol -A Hundred Million Suns
Lucinda Williams -Lu in 08

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

For all you Ryan Adams Fans

Here's a "Playlist" article from today's NY Times wherein he talks about his latest album (out Tuesday) and what he's been listening to on his tour bus, complete with a comparison of Jay-Z to E.E. Cummings.

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SNL - Jon Hamm/Coldplay - 10/25

The most obscure SNL host in recent memory turned out to be a pretty good one . . .

My favorite skit was probably the Vincent Price thing. Anyone who’s seen Sunset Boulevard will admit how great Kristen Wiig was as Gloria Swanson. Jon Hamm was a pretty great James Mason, too. Bill Hader is always a great Vincent Price – I may start using “Cheesy greasy” on a regular basis. Jon Hamm was also good playing up his Mad Men persona here and here. The Jon Hamm’s John Ham had a terrific visual with sliced ham coming off a toilet roll dispenser. He was also hilarious here:

The opening which parodied recent crazy comments by Joe Biden and John Murtha was OK but a little too long. The Obama variety show was just OK, mostly notable for the return of Ms. Paul Thomas Anderson. Seth Myers seems better off at the Weekend Update desk without Amy Poehler, who was in labor. The Will Forte sex offender skit was uncomfortable but definitely worked, but Forte’s Robocall was a little much. On the Baby Mama DVD commentary, Tina Fey says it’s easy to forget how handsome Forte is because he’s “f@cking nuts”. I couldn’t agree more.

Coldplay is better heard than seen. Chris Martin needs to not hop around so much and all of their clothes are out of some kind of winter gay pride parade. At least they played “Yellow”. Hopefully, they’ll ditch the tympani for the next album. The only thing worse than the tympani is Andy Samberg as a Rastafarian. But, for my money, the best show so far this season. B+

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Rachel Getting Married - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 116 minutes. Trailer.

"You may be through with the past, but the past is not through with you." This Magnolia quote is never spoken in Rachel Getting Married, but its message is felt throughout. Anne Hathaway is Kim, the junkie sister of the bride. After an expectedly warm reception from her relatives following a 9 month stint in rehab, her sister's wedding weekend turns into a visceral reckoning with the family demons that are the source of her addiction. Click below on what Margot at the Wedding could have been:

The tension with her sister Rachel starts first after she learns she is not the maid of honor. It slowly builds as we learn about the tragedy in their family (caused by Kim) and how they have all dealt with it. Director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) shoots the film with handheld cameras, giving it the feel of a documentary and inundating the audience with intimate moments. There are several masterful sequences that end up being ruined by an inadvertent or accidental reference to the tragedy. Initially, we blame it all on Kim, but as her parents' neuroses (especially her distant mother, Abby (Debra Winger)) become clearer we begin to shift the blame and the film becomes a parable on the realities of life after a tragedy. Kim talks sadly about wanting to believe in a God that can forgive her, but not wanting there to be a god that would. This film exposes lots of the raging sea of emotions underlying most family gatherings in a real and authentic way.

There are no easy answers or forgiveness for Kim or her family. She can't move on and neither can they...Lumet and Demme seem to be saying they never will. The script (by Jenny Lumet - Sidney's daughter) unpeels like an onion. Symbols, conversations, looks and comments deepen and change in their meaning as the story unfolds. They aren't 'spoilers' in the traditional sense, but it enhances the enjoyment and meaning of the film enough to warrant their omission in this review. This is a very likely Best Original Screenplay nominee, and the authenticity and intelligence of most of the dialogue was a main component of my enjoyment.

The cast here is excellent. Hathaway is all but guaranteed a Best Actress nod for a great performance (and a rough year that will likely attract the Academy's sympathy). Role players Debra Winger, Mather Zickel and Bill Irwin are all excellent as they participate in and bear witness to the turmoil. Demme's direction is first-rate, with several musical interludes (1 too many for me) and long scenes with a meaty payoff. The film features an alarmingly diverse wedding (mixed-race couple, multiple religion wedding with Hawaiian themes?!) and lots of music.

My favorite scenes were anything with Debra Winger and the dishes scene.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

R.E.M. Concert - October 24, 2008

At Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie.

Ever since I have liked music, I've liked REM. After tragically missing their 1997 tour with Radiohead, I saw them in 2003 and then again last night. We missed all of opener Old 97's due to an unruly wait time at our restaurant, but settled into our soundbooth-side seats in dead center. The band took the stage around 9:20 and launched into an aggressive set. Michael Stipe has a great voice (as I've documented elsewhere), and Peter Buck and Mike Mills have been able to craft some classic songs through the last 2.5 decades. Click below for more of REM:

They played several songs off of their recently released (to much acclaim) album Supernatural Superserious, which bent the overall feel of the concert too far to the 'rock' side. I prefer a showcase for Stipe's voice with Nightswimming, Country Feedback and E-Bow the Letter (none of which were played) to the endless drubbing of punk-ish songs that squander the textures and sounds the band is capable of. Make no mistake, their quality middle of the road songs (Man on the Moon, Orange Crush, Its the End of The World, Losing My Religion, Drive, etc) were all played to great effect, especially Orange Crush. The arrangement of the song and the harmonies combined with the crowd's enthusiasm made it the best of the night.

Stipe spent a lot of time talking about the 5 years he lived in Texas growing up (he mentioned Killeen, FT. Hood, Copperas Cove and Coryell County). He also praised the dawning of the Obama era (with about 70% cheers and 30% boos), but didn't get too heavy on the politics. Overall it was a good, but not great, show. I'd prefer a haunting unplugged performance, but I'll take whatever I can get. #remdallas

P.S. The Dallas Morning News ran a great feature chronicling all of their Dallas shows over the years. Their review.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - A-

On DVD (Finally)(2007). Rated R, 114 minutes. Trailer.

Rarely has such a fuss been made over a film's omission from the Best Foreign Film nominations as was made over just 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (winner of the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year). The Romanian abortion drama (I know, those 3 little words = fun!) was loved by critics but apparently not by the elderly foreign film selection committee. In any event the film is excellent, if challenging and bleak. It tells the story of the day in 1987 when a Romanian college student (Gabita) gets an abortion. The film is shot and the story is told through the perspective of the best friend (Otilia) and roommate of the girl getting the abortion. Click below on a dense and interesting film:

Writer/director Cristian Mungiu tells the story in a straighforward, mechanical fashion showcasing the impact of a communist state on the lives of its citizens. The lights flicker, certain brands of cigarettes are only sold on the black market, and the government determines where you go after university. The film begins in the dorm room of Gabita and Otilia as they prepare for what seems like a trip, with Otilia immediately taking charge and Otilia acting absentmindedly. The hand-held camera and angles chosen by Mungiu give the film a voyeuristic feel. We know what the girls are up to, but its not clear what the plan is until it unfolds.

After an afternoon of money borrowing, packing and hotel reservations, Otilia meets up with the abortionist, Adi, in an anonymous parking spot and rides with him to the hotel. The film is uncompromising in its presentation of the implications of abortion as a crime. Everything feels like and is arranged like a drug deal or a 'hit'. The participation in an illegal act renders the two women completely vulnerable to the brutal and exploitative Adi. Once in the hotel room, he belittles and threatens to leave until Otilia performs the ultimate act of friendship in order to keep him there to abort Gabita's baby.

Mungiu shows the abortion from the side, tastefully (if that's possible), and it is not graphic. As the recipient of the procedure, Gabita is a miniscule part of the film as Mungiu focuses on the impact of the situation on Otilia. This is masterfully done as she leaves Gabita to go to her boyfriend's house to for his mother's birthday dinner. The light, airy atmosphere in the home and the sniping, yuppy drivel spoken at the table juxtaposed with her day and what she is in process with is powerful stuff. The dinner scene is an extended shot of about 10 minutes, an unbelievable feat with great acting from Otilia. Her journey to the apartment and then back to Gabita is again beautifully, tragically shot. Once she returns and finds the fetus laying (visibly) on the bathroom floor of the hotel room, she helps Gabita and then leaves with the baby in her purse to dispose of it. Those are, of course wrenching 'nobody is a winner here' scenes. The film ends anti-climacticly with the two friends sharing dinner.

Whew. This film is not for everyone, that much should be obvious. It is hard to watch, unrelenting and depressing for the whole running time. The story, script, direction and acting are all intelligent and dense, leaving an indelible mark on me for the 3 days since I have seen it. As a film, its a clear A, but for me it is an A- because of how difficult it was. Mungiu explores lots of meaty themes like class warfare, women in society, abortion (duh), totalitarianism, education, consequences and sex. I am pro-life, and I did not find the film to be offensive or pushy on its agenda. Mungiu shades the dialogue with tinges of the irresponsibility that resulted in the pregnancy, and the fact that it is 1987 Romania obviously allows the viewer to place several distinguishing marks between it and a modern day Western country. Still, though, the implications of criminalized abortion are in plain view. There can be no denying it can make vulnerable women more so and empower the wrong kinds of people to take advantage of such situations.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last 5 Downloads

I’ve been digging the old stuff of late. These five have been in my cranium iPod for years.

Me and Bobby McGee- Janis Joplin. Written by Kris Kristofferson, a Willie Nelson concert staple, and sung by everybody in the 60’s, it’s Joplin’s scratchy vocals with gospel piano, swirling Hammond, and building electric guitar that transports me. Line: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.” Listen here
And here is the rest of it. Listen here.

I will Follow
- U2. Yeah, I don’t own Boy. One of the few times U2 actually sounds much like the punk the claim, this one’s a classic. The Edge’s guitar is more like a rhythm section than a melody or harmony and Bono’s voice is perfect. I love the weird bridge that sounds like a slice of Achtung dropped in. Listen here.

Galveston- Glen Campbell. I love classic Glen, but none seem more dated by over-orchestration than this one. Still, this Vietnam-era song of a soldier remembering that last golden summer while cleaning his gun brings a lump to my throat. When you’re wanting to channel the late-60’s, this is the perfect companion to Me and Bobby McGee. Line: “Galveston, Oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying.” Listen here.

Most of the Time (Alternate Version- The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8)- Bob Dylan. Like a one-man-band, the harmonica-and-guitar crash over each other and Dylan’s voice I my favorite version of this song that’s really all about the rest of the time. Line: I don't cheat on myself. I don't run and hide. Hide from the feelings that are buried inside. I don't compromise and I don't pretend. I don't even care if I ever see her again. Most of the time." Listen here (not the alternate version).

These Days (Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1)- Jackson Browne. Too easily forgotten, Jackson Browne’s 70’s and early 80’s stuff are ignored at your own peril. Tapping the desperation and fear that lies just below the surface, this one covers similar ground as The Pretender, but, to my way of thinking, holds up better.
Line: “I’ve had a lover, It’s so hard to risk another these days.” “Don’t confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them.” Listen here.

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Short Cuts

Deception D
On DVD, Rated R, 107 Minutes
Talk about slumming, Michelle Williams, Hugh Jackman, and Ewan McGregor all three scrape the bottom of the barrel in this 2008 release. Theoretically a “suspense/thriller,” it’s really a convoluted mess of hackneyed plot pieces stolen from better fare. McGregor, in his most cloying, sweet, innocent mode, is a shy traveling CPA, checking the books for the business big wigs. Enter Hugh Jackman, a Princeton-trained ladies man who befriends McGregor and introduces him to a sex club where McGregor meets and falls for (in two days, mind you) Michelle Williams. Williams gets nabbed by Jackman and McGregor has to steal some serious cash to get her back. We were taking bets before the abduction as to whether Williams was in on the set-up and if she’d play the “but it wasn’t all acting” card (yes, and yes). What we didn’t see coming was how little we’d care. The director’s name is Marcel Langeneggar’s and this is his debut. Remember the name. Stay away from his movies. D

In Bruges A
On DVD, Rated R, 107 Minutes
The other two have already raved about this, but I’m a bit slow on the uptake. I loved everything about this film, from Colin Farrell’s self-loathing hitman Ray to Ralph Fiennes ruthless kingpin with an oddly concrete personal morality, but it’s Brendan Gleeson’s Ken, a journeymen killer who sees something worth dying for in Farrell, that held me spellbound. The images of Bruges are perfect, with the deep shadows of a town still beautiful hundreds of years past its prime just matching the dark, foreboding beauty of the emerging relationships between Ray and himself, Gleeson, and Clemence Poesy’s Chloe. The supporting cast is perfect and the dialogue is crisp and to the point. This is writer director Martin McDonagh’s second film (first, 2004’s Six Shooter). Remember his name as well. A

Forgetting Sarah Marshall A-

On DVD, Rated R, 112 Minutes
Already reviewed by the other two as well, this one really worked for me. Not as crude as the other offerings from Team Apatow (not counting guy parts), this is also my favorite. Jason Segel stars and also wrote this rom-com for guys. Still, it’s Mila Kunis that owns the movie, stealing every scene she’s in (no mean feat with Segel and British comedian Russell Brand in many of them). Kristen Bell also holds up nicely, as do Bill Hader (SNL), Jack McBrayer (still playing Kenny from 30 Rock), Paul Rudd (Clueless), and Jonah Hill (Superbad). Little known fact: the vampire puppet musical at the closing is real and written by Segel. A-

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Don't Mess with the Zohan - C+


Adam Sandler is Zohan, an Israeli counter-terrorist who dreams of working in a hair salon in America. He fakes his death early in the movie during a fight with his rival Phantom (John Turturro) so he can move to New York. Of course his past will follow him there, even as he tries to start a relationship with Emmanuelle Chriqui. The film is unlike any other “Sandler” movie with the use of CGI and wire-fu action scenes. Zohan does impossible stunts – even more ridiculous than Will Smith’s Hancock – and while occasionally amusing, it’s been done many times before and better. What hasn’t been done is making the action hero the ultimate metrosexual. Zohan is equally obsessed with looks and Mariah Carey . . .

Sandler uses many former SNL alumni: Kevin Nealon, Robert Smigel, Rob Schneider, and Chris Rock - to middling success. The presence of Turturro is unsettling since the title is taken from one his famous Big Lebowski lines. He was Oscar-caliber in that Coen classic, but quite embarrassing here. The cameos range from familiar (John McEnroe) to not bad (Mariah Carey) to hilarious (George Takei). But Sandler is the real draw. It’s nice seeing him playing an actual character, rather than himself. Zohan is a unique and interesting guy, but I’m worried about Sandler’s ego. He feels the need to make himself the best killing-machine alive and also the best woman-pleaser. After Zohan cuts a lady’s hair (no matter the age or weight), he’ll take her to the back for the ol’ in ‘n’ out.

This is a big step up from the last “Sandler” movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which had a tacky premise that went nowhere. The hook here is that Chriqui is Palestinian and a union with the Israeli Zohan would seriously upset the families and communities. It’s nice that Sandler is using his substantial bank account to explore such matters, but this is the most simplistic and ludicrous “political” movie since Rocky IV. You can predict that Arabs and Jews will work together in the end toward defeating common enemies: right-wing hicks and real estate developers. C+

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30 Rock on

The 30 Rock season premiere will be available on tomorrow 10/23, a week before it airs on NBC.

Source: here. Thanks to the doctor's lawyer brother for the heads up.

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Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? - C

It takes some kind of hubris to think you’re the one guy on earth who can find Osama Bin Laden. Morgan Spurlock had a modest success in 2004 with Super Size Me, where he put on dozens of pounds in just a few weeks eating McDonald’s fast food for every meal. But this is quite a leap, like thinking you can rid America of guns, or affect a Presidential election with a movie, or get universal health care passed in America by saying how great Fidel Castro and Cuba are. For his follow up, Spurlock decided to make the world a better place for his pregnant wife and future offspring by finding the FBI’s most wanted man . . .

He travels all over the Middle East, talking to lots of people about America’s foreign policy, Islam, and their own governments. But he really doesn’t want to find Bin Laden – it’s just a stunt to promote his movie. A trip to the Gaza Strip shows he’s more interested spouting his own leftist politics to the camera than actually accomplishing anything. Near the end, he chickens out entering Pakistan (the last known whereabouts of Bin Laden) when he sees a sign forbidding foreigners to enter. He rips off Michael Moore with his narration, his use of cartoons, and his winks to the camera. But he doesn’t have the budget to imitate Moore’s terrific use of songs. He’s not quite as good at self-promoting as Moore is either, but he’s likable enough. It is true that the average Muslim in the Middle East wants the same thing as the average American, but Spurlock doesn’t have, offer, or suggest any real solutions. C

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - October 21st

Recent DVD Releases:

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
The Incredible Hulk
Mondays in the Sun
The Strangers

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Ben 10 Alien Force: Season One, V1
Birds of America
Family Guy: Volume Six
The Incredible Hulk: Complete Series
Knight Rider: Complete Series
Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Complete Series

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Anaconda 3: Offspring
Casino Royale: 40th Anniversary Edition
Casino Royale: Collector's Edition
The Lazarus Project

New CD Releases:

AC/DC -Black Ice (Wal-Mart exclusive)
Bohren & der Club of Gore -Dolores
Brett Dennen -Hope for the Hopeless
Electric Six -Flashy
Hospital Ships -Oh, Ramona
Ludacris -Theater of the Mind
Matisyahu -Shattered EP
Of Montreal -Skeletal Lamping
pH10 -Well Connected
Matt Sims -Happily Ever After
Social Code -He Said, She Said EP
Super XX Man -Volume XII: There'll Be Diamonds
Various Artists -All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash
Lee Ann Womack -Call Me Crazy

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Monday, October 20, 2008

88 Minutes - C


Al Pacino is an FBI forensic psychologist who also teaches at a Seattle university. A serial killer that he helped put away years earlier is to be executed in a few hours when Pacino receives a phone call that he has 88 minutes to live. A copycat killer is on the loose killing associates of Pacino. The deliberately confusing plot and numerous characters are mostly frustrating, only there to trick the audience. The plot contrivances are overwhelming. Pacino is led around town by the killer who can somehow predict how he will respond to every circumstance and also how long it will take him to get around. He does absolutely ridiculous things: breaking into apartments, commandeering a taxicab, throwing cell phones . . .

The directing by Jon Avnet is pretty awful, amateurish even, with ridiculous close-ups and camera moves. The movie lacks tension but is definitely watchable, often unintentionally hilarious. It’s far from the “worst movie of the year” reviews hanging around its neck. Pacino is actually somewhat believable as a boozy poon-hound. He does have a terrible scene when he describes the significance of “88 minutes”, but he is an exciting performer even when spouting ridiculous dialogue. The rest of the cast blends together with no real standout. The revelation at the end intends for you to rewatch the film and examine it, but it’s pretty obvious – even early on – that there’s nothing to be learned or appreciated here, just a writer, a director, and a bunch of actors going through the motions of a typical serial killer movie. C

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday Night Live - Host Josh Brolin -10/18

After a terrific opening and a so-so monologue saved by surprise audience member Oliver Stone, laughs were scarce. Mark Wahlberg poking fun at himself was the only other great moment . . .
SNL continues its ridiculously biased viewpoint comparing Obama to an angel and McCain to a garbage truck. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten old sooner than expected. Alec Baldwin calling the real Governor Palin “Tina” is somewhat amusing, but Mark Wahlberg was the star cameo of the opening. After his humorless rant against Andy Samberg on Jimmy Kimmel, Wahlberg was a really good sport. The best image of the early Fall TV season is the real Wahlberg talking to a donkey who then turns away from him (insert jackass joke here).
Kristen Wiig annoyed as the “Surprises” woman as well as Suzy Orman, although Orman’s phallic joke worked. I’m not sure what the point of the “I’m No Angel” sketch. Do New Yorkers think all Texan men are hairy perverts who like to fornicate with pregnant whores? Though, Amy Poehler is great doing that ridiculous dance – I gave Will Arnett a 50/50 chance to make it through the show without being a father. Poehler and Seth Myers Weekend Update was instantly forgettable. Will Forte is getting stranger and stranger – he must be off his meds. Host Josh Brolin is completely wasted. The uninspired Fartface, Narc School, and Fall Foliage skits ended the disappointing show. C

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

W. - B

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes. Trailer.

When a President serves two terms, any informed American becomes intimately familiar with the narrative of his life. Our 43rd President, George W. Bush, is no exception. From his infamous party days, oil busts, religious awakening and problems with grammar, his is a familiar story to most. In W., Director Oliver Stone has put forth a deceivingly 'accurate' picture of the man who would be President. Click below for more on W., also known as Oliver Stone's Forrest Gump:

The film starts out with W. (an inspired Josh Brolin) pledging at Yale and proceeds non-linearly through his early days and Presidency. The anchor of the film is the lead up to the Iraq War and the Cabinet's discussions about how to sell the war to the American people. Those scenes are juxtaposed with a chronological account of all of the familiar Bush stories. Stone has two main themes, one focusing on W. personally and his family relationships and the other focusing on the failures of the W. administration, as perceived by Stone and writer Stanley Weiser (Wall Street).

I'll start with the second theme first. Most Americans pretty much agree that we wish we had a 'do over' with Iraq, and I am very interested in how the innerworkings of the administration came to recommend and carry out the Iraq War. Based mostly on the books that have come out from Bob Woodward and others, certain scenes seem accurate, while others have to be made up by their very nature, such as private lunches with Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) and W. As President, W. is presented as incapable of the job and crushed under the weight of its responsibilities, while his advisors are presented as megalomaniacal (Cheney and Rove), clueless (Rumsfeld and Rice), sycophantic (Rice, Fleischer and Tenet), and lazy (Tenet). The strongest scenes were the cabinet meetings discussing the war, with each character playing their role prescribed, as prescribed by the Left. Colin Powell is at first made to be the hero, with his caution about Iraq and preference for not taking Baghdad, but he too "trades integrity for access" - one of the strongest (and probably most accurate) lines from the film.

While I don't buy this version of events, it is likely to be somewhere in the same zip code as reality, and Stone essentially lets W. off the hook for Iraq and hangs that albatross around the aforementioned coterie of inept and manipulative advisors.

The family dynamic is centered around the plight of every son with a larger than life father - how to live up to expectations and outrun the oversized shadow. In W.'s case, its even more difficult because of his smarter, more contemplative brother Jeb. In the film W. is presented as a ne'er do well (accurately), while Jeb is Poppy Bush's (James Cromwell) fair haired boy all set to follow in his footsteps while W. is shown being crushed by the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and can never escape the demons of his father.

In all, the film was somewhat interesting to watch, but I couldn't help but feel like it was just an adaptation of the multiple biographies of W. along with some New York Times reporting of the run up to the war. As with any Stone film, there are multiple interesting camera angles and cuts, along with a great surreal soundtrack. Still, I can't help but think this would've been a stronger film if it was farmed out to a semi-fictional character, such as in Primary Colors (B+), which was just a fictional version of Clinton.

The acting in the film is all fine, although Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice was such a caricature I couldn't tell if it was just bad acting or an intentional farce. Brolin may deserve an Oscar nod for his portrayal of a cocky, haunted man miscast as the lead in history.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

TV This Week

The Office: Baby Shower - - hulu it here
Season 5, Episode 3 (Original air date: 10/16)

Michael throws a shower for his ex-girlfriend Jan’s new baby, while members of the office show various stages of disgust and outrage. Jim and Pam are out of sync on cell phone conversations. Dwight tests the durability of Jan’s $1200 stroller. Creed provides the best line of the night (after Jan described delivering her baby in a bathtub with water and the placenta): “Must be like the tide at Omaha Beach.” The rest of the episode was filled with mildly amusing, if not particularly memorable moments. Stanley had a funny moment comparing himself to a pregnant woman. Jim’s reaction to Jan singing “Son of a Preacher Man” is great, but an entire episode built on unnecessary conflict is a tough one to pull off well. But the use of "ass-turd", "golden shower", and "pervert" always helps. B

Next The Office episode: Crime Aid on 10/23
30 Rock (finally) begins 10/30

Click below for SNL, South Park, and McCain on Letterman

South Park: Breast Cancer Show Ever (10/15)

You have to be a familiar with South Park to completely appreciate this episode. After Cartman makes fun of Wendy’s breast cancer presentation, she challenges him to a fight after school. He eventually chickens out of it several times. She is then inspired by the principal to finally kick his ass. You have to like Cartman’s shenanigans to like this episode. The brief There Will Be Blood homage was a nice touch. See it here.
Regular viewers: B
Occasional viewers: C+

Saturday Night Live
Weekend Update Thursday

Disastrous in every way: repetitive, dull, biased, and worst of all – unfunny. The opening skit taking on the 3rd McCain-Obama debate was nothing but an attempt to discredit “Joe the Plumber” as a potential influence on the election. There was not one joke directed toward Obama - I guess the writers think he’s perfect. Hey, writers, Joe Wurzelbacher is a real person (not a figment of McCain’s imagination) and has shown Obama for the socialist that the Illinois Senator is. I’ll agree that Joe W. was mentioned too frequently in the debate but this skit was just not funny. Seth Myers and Amy Poehler were equally unfunny, relentlessly attacking McCain and his supporters. Let’s hope these were the jokes that were discarded for the new SNL tomorrow night (10/18) – with host Josh Brolin. *Governor Palin is rumored (by the real John McCain) to make an appearance on the 10/18 SNL* (see below). I'd make a link or embed a video, but you'd hate me for it. C-

Late Show with David Letterman
Guest: John McCain

John McCain cancelled an appearance on Letterman in September and Dave has verbally excoriated him every waking minute since. If Obama would have cancelled, it would have been “measured” or “nuanced”. Anyway, McCain decided to walk into the lions’ den last night, admitting he made a mistake by not showing. He also compared Letterman’s grilling to his last interrogation in the Hanoi Hilton. Dave has the amazing ability to keep you relaxed and make you smile as he plunges the dagger into your left ventricle. He basically spouted Obama’s talking points and McCain defended himself well. McCain showed grace under fire and a sense of humor. Dave almost lost that sh!t-eating grin when McCain pledged to take all of Dave’s wealth and give it to the audience members. The biggest revelation of the show was when McCain said the actual Sarah Palin will be on SNL this weekend. You can see the whole interrogation, I mean, interview here. B-

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

George Will on Westerns

And Appaloosa in particular. Here.

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Oliver Stone in Austin - Tonight

The W. premier is the opening film for the Austin Film Festival. Director Oliver Stone will be in attendance, along with James Cromwell. Its playing at the Paramount, a stone's throw away from the Texas Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. Wish I could go. And here is the rest of it.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Burn After Reading - B+

As the local Coen brother apologist, I was somewhat dismayed by priest’s review. How could they jettison everything they did so well in 2007’s No Country for Old Men? Well, the many mixed reviews probably diminished my high expectations so much that I was able to appreciate the moments of greatness . . .

The film opens as a God’s-eye view of Middle America and moves east to Washington, DC before descending on CIA Headquarters. Analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is being demoted by his boss (David Rasche). After being accused of having a drinking problem, Cox quits and decides to write his memoirs. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and her divorce lawyer encourages her to download his financial information. The lawyer’s secretary will eventually lose this disc (and Cox’s memoirs) at Hardbodies gym where it is found by Hardbodies employee Manolo who hands it over to fellow employees Ted (Richard Jenkins), Chad (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Chad and Linda then try to blackmail Cox so she can pay for some cosmetic surgery. Eventually, a CIA superior (J.K. Simmons) will be briefed on all the action.

The actors seem to be having a great time. Clooney’s paranoia is perfect and Malkovich’s profane rants were hilarious. Rasche and Simmons’s deadpan exchanges were funny. Swinton plays ice-cold bitch better than anyone and Jenkins is fine, especially when he tries to express his admiration for McDormand. McDormand doesn’t hold up quite as well as expected, but there is lots of sadness underneath the surface that I look forward to exploring on repeat viewings. But Brad Pitt is the real scene-stealer, a great, unforgettable comedic performance. I loved the way he kept saying, “Osborne Cox”.

The Coen brothers have always been fascinated with idiots and misunderstandings, but they’ve never been this interested in infidelity. They’re attacking modern America’s obsession with the physical appearance as well as the moral bankruptcy of adults who try to fulfill their lives with new lovers. (Witness the pillows Clooney and Swinton lay on.) For those who don’t think the movie is about anything, I’ll direct you to Cox’s confrontation with Ted when he discusses “the Age of Idiocy”. Cox is smart and faithful to his wife – he’s the hero of sorts, but lets his anger get the best of him. I thought the Coens would conflate idiocy with the Bush-era CIA, but that’s not the case. The CIA agents are intelligent, but certainly confused about what is happening. If anything, the Coens see the United States through the eyes of the agents, confused about America’s obsession with celebrity, looks, and stupid movies starring or not starring Dermot Mulroney.
Their technique as directors, while not in top form, is still pretty great. The scene showing Chad’s point of view in the closet is spectacular – his mind is racing on a stationary bike. All of the “paranoia” shots are just as interesting. Their abilities as writers are just as good. Their delayed reveal of agent Olson and Harry’s gift to his wife are interesting structurally, but I will admit that the dialogue isn’t quite as memorable as The Big Lebowski (“You see what happens, Larry?”) or No Country for Old Men (“You keep runnin’ that mouth , I’m gonna take ya in the back and screw ya.”) but many of the characters are.

This is the first Coen movie not shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins since Miller’s Crossing. Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men!) takes over and does a serviceable job, occasionally rising to greatness: the beams of light on Linda after her first romantic encounter, - the light making her loneliness all the more obvious. It certainly looks different that recent Coen films, brighter and with more contrast. I can’t wait to dissect Lubezki’s work on the DVD.

MAJOR SPOILERS: The Coens make the mistake of killing their best character first, but maybe that's another comment on the celebrity obsession. The 2 people that are killed are breaking real laws, not just moral ones, thus showing the Coen’s sense of morality. The last scene is a unique and unusual one. Just before the camera goes back to its satellite orbit and proceeds over the Atlantic Ocean, Rasche and Simmons wrap up the plot very quickly. What happens to major characters is told rather than shown - which is usually a big faux pas, but kind of works here. Linda gets what she thinks she wants. Harry gets a new start, and the “hero” Osborne Cox ends up in a coma, sound asleep, for who knows how long. Probably until this Age of Idiocy is over. B+

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - October 14, 2008

Recent DVD Releases:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything
Standard Operating Procedure
War, Inc.

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Back to You: Season One
CSI: Season Eight
How I Met Your Mother: Season Three
Nash Bridges: Season One
Quark: The Complete Series
The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, V1
The Unit: Season Three

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection
Brotherhood of Blood
Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition
Dance of the Dead
Dark Floors
Holiday Inn: Collector's Set
Indiana Jones: Complete Adventure Collection
The Last House in the Woods
The New World: The Extended Cut
No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker
Room 205
The Substitute

New CD Releases:

Cranes, Cranes
Los Campesinos!, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Ashanti, The Vault
Boo and Boo, Too No Tempo
Nikka Costa, Pebble To A Pearl
Curumin, JapanPopShow
Jo Dee Messina, Unmistakable
Gojira, The Way of All Flesh
Keane, Perfect Symmetry
Kinetic Stereokids, Have A Nice Day EP
Ray Lamontagn,e Gossip In The Grain
Lotus, Hammerstrike
Bill Madden, Child of the Same God
Menahan Street Band, Make the Road By Walking
The Secret Machines, Secret Machines
Sixpence None The Richer, The Dawn of Grace X-Mas album
Lucinda Williams, Little Honey

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Monday, October 13, 2008

10,000 BC - D+

Why do I even bother? Knowing director Roland Emmerich is the ultimate hack and his films have more lapses in logic than any other random 10 films combined, I proceed – and I endure. In this film, after many members of his dreadlocked tribe (including his blue-eyed special lady) are kidnapped by some ruthless warlords, a wooly mammoth hunter leads a hunting party to rescue them. It’s like a watered-down version of the middle third of Apocalypto stretched to 2 hours with none of the excitement or technical skill. Say what you want about Mel Gibson (personally I try to work “sugar-tits” into a conversation at least once a day), but the man knows story structure and how to direct action scenes. . .

Roland Emmerich knows neither. The lifeless script and crappy CG creatures (a discerning saber-tooth tiger, rabid ostriches, and graceful wooly mammoths) don’t help. The 2 leads (Steven Strait and Camilla Belle) are as pretty as they are hollow. And someone must have pictures of the usually great Cliff Curtis (Three Kings, Whale Rider) sodomizing a gopher to get him to costar in this. D+

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The Visitor - B-

On DVD. 108 minutes, Rated PG-13. Trailer.

The conventional wisdom in movieville this summer was that The Visitor was the strongest early indie contender for several Academy Awards. Um, no. Richard Jenkins is Professor Walter Vale, a lonely recent widower going through the motions with his job and his life. When he reluctantly goes to Manhattan to present a paper at a scholarly conference, he discovers illegal immigrants living in his long dormant apartment as a result of a misunderstanding. His desperation for human interaction leads him to let them stay, and away we go on every limousine liberal's pipe dream. Click below for more on a movie that allows one of its characters to say (referring to the USA) "its just like Syria":

Of course the illegal immigrants in question are attractive, intelligent, well spoken and talented, especially Tarek. He is a bongo drummer that 'just wants to live his life and play music'. After lots of bonding betweeen Connecticut liberal guy and immigrant guy, Tarek inevitably gets arrested for an extremely marginal offense and then put into the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) lock-up with indefinite rights and information. Vale puts his life on hold to help him get out and falls in love with Tarek's mom in the process. No cliched happy ending here, just a scene with Vale erupting at a clerk after being excessively polite and well mannered for the previous hour and a half.

The film is frustrating because its starts out quietly and intelligently with Vale and his life. By the time the sunny Tarek gets surprised while practicing his bongos in his tightie-whities, the film has been derailed so badly it became a chore to watch. Vale gets to use his money to entertain and help the immigrants and even learns to play the bongos along the way. The writer/director (see below) seems mad at the USA about how illegal immigrants are treated, but doesn't offer any solutions or coherent arguments against it except that it is unfair. A trip to the Statue of Liberty is an obvious reminder about most American's roots, but there is little acknowledgement that Tarek et al are ignoring the immigration laws of the United States, unlike those Ellis Island immigrants.

The subtext of the film is that Vale is moving from classical (specifically piano) music to African music and a new chapter in his life (his wife loved classical piano). It had the Shawshankian feeling of "get busy livin' or get busy dyin', but without any of the associated resonance.

This film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy (role player in Meet the Parents, Syriana etc, direcotr of Station Agent (B+)). The direction is excellent, with lots of subtle close ups and restrained images telling the story. Jenkins is excellent in his performance and will likely get a Best Actor nod. Some have this on the Best Picture shortlist - if it ends up there this will truly be the weakest of all follow-up years to the greatness that was 2007.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Cardinals Concert - October 11, 2008

At Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie.

As the most tenuous of all 'fans' of Ryan Adams, I have gradually started to enjoy his music, mostly after the consistent praise of Priest. His version of Wonderwall is a good song, but my affection for the original has kept it from being in my listening rotation. With "Two", I started to appreciate his voice, musical style and lyrics. So I decided to give him and his band, The Cardinals, a chance in concert. I wasn't disappointed. Click below for best show banter ever and a misplacement of concert Karma:

After buying my tickets early, I lucked into the 4th row of the center section(first misapplication of concert karma - misapplied because I am not a big enough fan to appreciate it). With no opener and a start time of 8:30, the band came out on time to a 2/3 full house (the 3rd deck was not used). Their stage configuration is indicative of Adams' insistence that they be considered as a band, not just Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Their is no clear 'front man', and the band is positioned (and never moves) from a crescent formation. Have no doubt, though, who is in charge. Adams' significant charisma was on display all night through his strong and soulful voice and instrumentation, but mostly through the 20+ minutes of stage and crowd banter. He and the band engaged the audience more as a buddy at dinner than adoring fans, which was refreshing. Genuinely funny and self-aware, he and the band had the crowd (including me) in stitches most of the night.

The second misapplication of concert karma was the length of the set. After starting at 8:35, they played until 11:25 with only a 3 minute break before the first encore. With only a passing familiarity with the group's material, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show, and would be able to pick out about 10 that I would buy (I am still sorting through the setlist (see below)). I didn't care too much for the louder stuff, but love anything showcasing his voice and guitar playing. Bride and I were glad we went and left as fans. More pics below the setlist.

1. Cobwebs
2. Come Pick Me Up (electric w/ harmonica)
3. Everybody Knows
3. Wonderwall
4. Magick
5. Let It Ride
6. Desire
7. Fix It
9. Natural Ghost
10. Sun Also Sets
11. Goodnight Rose
12. Dear John
13. Crossed Out Name
14. Stars Go Blue
15. Sink Ships
16. La Cienega
17. Peaceful Valley
18. Cold Roses
19. Off Broadway
20. Shakedown
21. A Kiss Before I Go
22. The End
23. Bartering Lines
24. Rescue Blues
25. Stop


26. Freeway to the Canyon
27. Evergreen
28. Beautiful Sorta

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Body of Lies B

In theatres. Rated R. 128 Minutes.
After a late summer/early fall dearth of good films, we’re finally hitting some Oscar warm-up fare. Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies appears to be exactly that, although the there’s an unspoken warning when a Ridley Scott film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe isn’t playing with the big boys in November and December. This one wants to be Syriana but ends up closer to Ridley’s brother Tony’s Spy Game.

Here’s the set-up: DiCaprio is a deep cover CIA operative in Iraq taking directives from Crowe, the picture of American excess, who’s directing his every move in bathrobes and gingham shirts from soccer games and satellite smart rooms in the States. After a big score that leaves him pulling his local partner’s bone shards out of his arm, Leo gets promoted to head up the Jordanian office where he impresses the head of Jordanian intelligence and sets up an uneasy alliance based on a trust neither party believes. All the while Crowe is using Leo as a high value pawn in an international game with subtlely changing rules DiCaprio sees on the ground but Crowe is missing.

So far so good, but the introduction of a forced and emotionally extraneous but expedient love interest for Leo forecasts a series of increasingly irrational, out-of-character, and unbelievable plot turns. Happily, as he demonstrated in the near-perfect Black Hawk Down, Scott shoots military action as well as anyone. His use of multiple camera techniques, from hand held to satellite views to traditional crane shots, bring the action into the theatre and distract from his momentary loss of focus.

But what a focus when it’s sharp. Lies dissects the ramifications of the U.S. involvement in torture and the loss of the moral high-ground implicit in that. The American hubris, perfectly personified by the fat, just-over-the-hill Crowe, is even more pointedly torpedoed. Lines like, “It’s the Middle East. No one wants to live there,” betray our own latent feelings while exposing them for the obvious lies they are when uttered against this backdrop.

This is the third film in a row between Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe (American Gangster, A Good Year). Thus far it appears that Scott’s getting more out of this partnership than Crowe is. They next partner in 2009’s Nottingham. Let’s hope they both bring their A-game to that one. B

On a side note, the new Guns N' Roses song plays over the final credits. It doesn't suck.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Appaloosa - B-

In theaters. Rated R, 101 minutes. Trailer.

With its sweeping vistas, complicated cowboys and violence, the Western genre has been thoroughly mined by filmmakers. With Appaloosa, director Ed Harris struggles to introduce anything new or compelling to the substantial canon. Harris stars as Virgil Cole, a lawman for hire in 19th century New Mexico; his sidekick is Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen). The two make for an odd couple and Renee Zellweger's Ali doesn't improve the chemistry. A variation on the Wyatt Earp story, this screenplay is based on the Robert B. Parker novel of the same name. Click below for more of Aragorn and Pollock Go West:

As Cole and Hitch ride into Appaloosa, the town is lawless after its town marshall and deputies are murdered by Bragg (Jeremy Irons) in cold blood. The two are hired to enforce the law according to their whims in the town. After a few brief uninspiring and uninteresting run-ins with Braggard and his crew, they finally nail Braggard for the murder of the marshall and the film turns into 3:10 to Yuma for about 25 minutes. Complicating everything is the appearance of Ali and Virgil's immediate love of her. She drops into the town without any backstory and right into Virgil and Everett's life. She is only loyal to Virgil when he's around, but he doesn't mind it so much because "he's only really been with whores and squaws." Everything turns out in the end, except any real point to the movie.

Virgil Cole is a classic cowboy badass - legendary with a gun, stunted emotions, bravery and no formal education. Hitch completes him with his West Point education, soft spoken manner and pragmatism. The two of them have several dry and funny scenes together, but their weird gay partner type relationship never really clicked for me. Irons is wasted as the Northerner Braggard, a role that could have been great if allowed to flourish instead of the boring Ali storyline.

Harris crafts some beautiful shots of the New Mexico terrain, but that's not hard to do. Mostly the film felt like it didn't know what it was. Sometimes it was trying to show the portrait of a tortured soul (he does that well - see Pollock (B+)), while other times its a serial western and then a love story. Not enough shooting in the film and way too much Zellweger. A disappointment.

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TV This Week

The Office: Business Ethics
Season 5, Episode 2 - Airdate 10/9/08

After corporate wants Holly (Amy Ryan) to lead an ethics seminar, many revelations lead to some office turmoil. The biggest bombshell is that Meredith has been getting discounts on office supplies by sleeping with a supplier. Meanwhile, after Dwight insists he’s 100% ethical, Jim decides to record the time he’s not working with a stopwatch. The Jim-Dwight stuff here is as good as it’s ever been. Dwight’s slow burn while Jim intentionally butchers Battlestar Galactica, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. is priceless. Is there any way we can extend Pam’s New York class a few more months? – it’s good for the show. The conflict between Holly and Michael is a welcome development. B+

Next new The Office episode: Baby Shower on 10/16/08.

Click below for SNL Thursday and South Park

Saturday Night Live
Weekend Update Thursday

An impossible title that will be airing 2 more weeks before the election. Fred Armisen’s Obama is still not that funny, but Darrell Hammond nails John McCain’s overuse of the phrase “my friends”. Hammond’s mannerisms are improving and his name calling ("pee-pants") is hilarious. McCain wandering around in front of cameras was funny but kinda unfair if you watched the debate. Chris Parnell’s Tom Brokaw only had one joke – and it wasn’t that funny the first time it was told. As for Weekend Update, Seth Myers and Amy Poehler were solid commenting on the incredibly full week of news. Nothing earth shattering or unforgettable. Hall and Oates was pretty good, but Keenan Thompson’s “Fix It” character wasn’t. Really?!? With Seth and Amy is always welcome. B+
SNL on 10/11 is the season opener Michael Phelps rerun, followed by a new 30 minute Thursday show on 10/16. Josh Brolin will host a new episode of SNL on 10/18, a day after W. is released.

South Park: The China Probrem
Season 12, Episode 8. Original Airdate 10/8/08

While Cartman frets over the impending Chinese world domination, Kyle and Stan try to cope with one of their friends being raped over the summer: Indiana Jones. For those who felt Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a disappointment, Trey Parker and Matt Stone take it to the next level by showing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg literally raping Indiana Jones (3 times!), simultaneously spoofing rape scenes from The Accused and Deliverance. Meanwhile, an undercover Cartman and Butters hold up a Chinese restaurant to find out when the invasion begins. But Butters keeps shooting dudes in the crotch, leading to a rift between the duo.

The Stan/Kyle half works well since it plays the “traumatic experience” straight. Indiana Jones IV didn’t lose me until all that alien crap at the end, but I can see why some had problems with the refrigerator and waterfalls. The Cartman half isn’t as developed as it needs to be, but he’s great profanely chastising Butters for his misplaced bullets. B+
See the full episode here.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Religulous - B

In theaters. Rated R, 101 minutes. Trailer.

Religulous, the pet project of star Bill Maher and Director Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat), is their attempt at disproving and pointing out the inconsistencies and bad consequences of some of the world's religions. My appetite for mocking Scientology and Joseph Smith is appetite for Bill Maher is like a stapled stomach, which resulted in an odd but surprisingly enjoyable film with a lead that I can't stand. From the outset, Maher is clear that he isn't an atheist, but that on the 'big questions' he "just doesn't know." Click below for more on Priest's likely least favorite film of the year:

I know some people will be offended by this film, but let's be clear: this is a snide and cynical look at religion, especially Christianity, Mormonism, Scientology and Islam, so don't go if you can't tolerate skepticism of your religion.

Moving on. Charles has a talent for comedic interludes and knows how to find the insightful/hilarious moments in the myriad interviews Maher conducts. Most of the time, Maher is respectful but forceful as he challenges the core beliefs of good people. He seems most upset with the Christian fascination with a world that is 6000 years old and he never does get a good answer to that question. I'd be interested to see what Priest's take on 'pure' creationism versus intelligent design and evolution. Maher gets too rough on a 'converted gay' man that has a Christian ministry that helps to reform gays, and makes too much fun of the man's life. Christianity gets the most attention, but I didn't feel it was picked on more than the other religions. The funniest moments of the film were with 2 obvious false prophets, one guy seriously claiming to be the second coming of Jesus and another preacher wearing a $3000 suit, etc.

His riffs on Mormonism were well executed and funny, if too short. I love the idea that Joseph Smith kept making up the 'golden tablets' to get himself out of jams, and people bought it. Scientology only gets a little attention, probably because it is so preposterous to begin with. Islam is, thank the Lord, treated extremely harshly for its adherents unwillingness to acknowledge the violent passages and the alarmingly high amount of violence in the Muslim world. He focuses on the Theo Van Gogh killing and Mohammed cartoon debacle in Holland to illustrate his points.

Toward the end of the film Maher takes his most serious shots at Christianity, citing to several pre-Christ belief systems that featured a messiah with a similar story. He then winds the film up with his theory that the Revelation prophecies are essentially self-fulfilling because man created the ability to end itself (nuclear bombs) before it grew enlightened enough to be free of religion. That coda to the main film is such an odd tonal transition it really doesn't fit with the rest of the film.

I enjoyed this film and found it challenged several of my own beliefs and thinking about several religions. Not for the easily offended.

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming

This isn't a travel blog, but my recent trip to Jackson Hole yielded some beautiful pictures due to the changing of the leaves. Click below to see a sampling if you're so inclined.

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An American Carol - D

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 83 minutes. Trailer.

An unfortunate movie timing situation pushed my group into the worst movie I've seen in the theater in a long, long time. An American Carol is a 'right wing comedy' written and directed by David Zucker (Airplane! and Naked Gun) and starring the tiny Hollywood conservative coalition. The film tells the a semi-Dickensian tale of a Michael Moore type director (played by Kevin Farley) that learns that his constant criticism of America is a bad thing and he has to repent to save the country. Out of 83 minutes, only about 5 are enjoyable or funny. Click below for more CAROL:

I'm not a Zucker fan and don't care for non-Python slapstick, so this didn't have much of a chance with me, even as a Conservative. The problem is, there IS a funny movie to be made about liberalism in America, but this is so stupid it gets in its way. For starters, the film focuses too much on Michael Moore - an unworthy target. He's worth a couple of shots, but the constant references to his weath and slovenly ways are dumb and not funny. The movie drags and drags and tries to stick to a terrible story punctuated with few actual jokes, many of which are elementary school funny, but most of which aren't funny at all. The only reason it avoid an F is the 5 or 6 funny jokes (mostly about Islam) and the points I award them for trying to make a movie about conservative values.

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DVD and CD Releases - September 30 and October 7

[Sorry I missed last week - the releases for September 30th are below]
October 7th DVD Releases:

The Happening
Rest Stop: Don't Look Back
The Visitor
You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Click below for more DVD and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

30 Rock: Season Two
The Beverly Hillbillies: Season Two
Martin: Season Five
Mission Impossible: Season Five
The Munsters: Complete Series
The Naked Brothers Band: Season Two
Robot Chicken: Season Three
The Sarah Jane Adventures: Season One
The Simpsons: Season Eleven
The Smurfs: Season One, V2
South Park: The Cult of Cartman
Speed Racer: Complete Series

Special Editions/Other Releases:

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: 50th Anniversary Edition
A Charlie Brown Christmas
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
The Devil's Chair: Unrated Edition
Halloween: 30th Anniversary Box Set
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
Jack Frost: Deluxe Edition
Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Psycho: Special Edition
Rear Window: Special Edition
Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition
Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition
Vertigo: Special Edition
Watership Down: Deluxe Edition
The You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown

New CD Releases:

Annuals - Such Fun
Antony And The Johnsons - Another World
Aqualung - Words & Music
Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
Department Eagles – In Ear Park
Bob Dylan - Bootleg Series Volume 8
Elliott Yamin – My Kind of Holiday
The Clash – Shea Stadium
Crystal Antlers – EP
Japanese Motors - Japanese Motors
Johnny Cash – Christmas Special (DVD)
Jolie Holland - Living and the Dead
Jon McLaughlin - OK Now
Lambchop – Oh(Ohio)
Land of Talk – Some Are Lakes
The Little Ones – Morning Tide
Michelle Williams - Unexpected
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping (Dig)
Pretenders - Break Up the Concrete
Rachael Yamagata - Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart (2 CD)
Rasmus - Black Roses
Rosebud – Life Like
Sarah Mclachlan – Closer: Best of
Streets - Everything Is Borrowed
Wu-Tang – Soundtracks from Shaolin


September 30 DVD Releases:

Bigger Stronger Faster
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Iron Man
Lou Reed's Berlin
Pulse 2: Afterlife

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Beauty and the Beast: Complete Series
My Name Is Earl: Season Three
Numb3rs: Season Four

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Buried Alive
Can't Hardly Wait: 10th Anniversary Edition
Lewis Black's Root of All Evil
Popeye & Friends: Volume Two
Popeye the Sailor: Volume Three
The Rebel
R.L. Stine's Mostly Ghostly

New CD Releases:

Anberlin - New Surrender
Ani Difranco - Red Letter Year
Ben Folds - Way to Normal
Dream Theatre - Chaos In Motion (CD/DVD)
Echo & The Bunnymen - Songs to Learn and Sing
Enigma - Seven Lives Many Faces (2 CDs)
Faith Hill - Joy To The World
Gemma Hayes - The Hollow of Morning
Grateful Dead - Live Egypt 1978 (CD/DVD)
Jack’s Mannequin - The Glass Passenger
James Morrison - Songs for You, Truths for Me
James Taylor - Covers
Jennifer Hudson - Spotlight
Jesus & The Mary Chain - Rarities (4 CD Boxed Set)
Joseph Arthur - Temporary People
Joshua Radin - Simple Times
Kellie Pickler - Kellie Pickler
Laura Fygi - Rendez-Vous
Mary Chapin Carpenter - Come Darkness Come Light: Twelve Songs Christmas
Matt Belsante - White Christmas
Melissa Etheridge - A New Thought For Christmas
Robin Thicke - Something Else
T.I. - Paper Trail
Taj Mahal - Maestro
Tom Morello - The Fabled City
Travis - Ode to J. Smith
U2 - Red Rocks (DVD)

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This skit was briefly taken off the NBC website. Conspiracy theories were rampant since this is the first skit criticizing Democrats this season.
Turns out Herbet and Marion Sandler (played by Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson) are real people and the phrase "People that should be shot" that run under the duo while they were talking presented a potential legal problem. It's no longer there, but you can still hear the laughter when it played.

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Speed Racer - C

On DVD - 135 minutes (!?!)

Most directors mature as they age, taking on more complex and tougher issues in their films. The Wachowski Siblings seem to be regressing – and their films have progressively worsened. After their spectacular debut Bound and sophomore sensation The Matrix, the Wachowskis have largely disappointed with the overly plotted Matrix sequels and the overly political V for Vendetta. But this is their first foray into the sophomoric. It’s basically a kid’s movie, filled with bright colors, shiny lights, fast editing, and a pet chimpanzee. After (deservedly) receiving lots of street cred for Into the Wild, Emile Hirsch cashes a big paycheck but sells his soul by starring as the titular character. I couldn’t help but think of Vincent Chase’s recent option to star in a Benji movie . . .

The rest of the cast is just as miscast. Indie queen Christina Ricci was also misled by her “people” by taking this role. The heat between Hirsch and Ricci is undetectable. As Speed’s parents, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman try to bring substance to the stilted dialogue. But can you really be taken seriously when a chimpanzee is listening to you and lots of unrealistic primary and secondary colors fill the rooms? The rest of the cast is filled with forgettable faces. The races are pretty exciting to watch, unlike anything you’ve seen before. Announcers’ faces move across the screen, describing the action. The roads are more like rollercoasters than anything you’ve seen by Nascar. But it’s fitting the film is based on the 1960s Japanese cartoon, because this film feels as two-dimensional as the Star Wars prequels. C

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