Monday, May 20, 2013

The TV Elite

I recently watched Doctor Who's "Blink" because, while I can't get into the series, I had heard too many great things about the episode not to watch it.  Sure enough, there is a little of the cheesiness that turns me off to the Doctor and his companions, but, for the most part, the episode is a strong psychological thriller with Carey Mulligan going insane as she is told by a strange man in a number of DVD easter eggs that she is being stalked by a monster.  It didn't get me interested in watching other Doctor Who episodes, but it did get me thinking about my favorite single TV episodes.  I'm talking drama here, so we'll leave comedy (Seinfeld's "The Contest"; Curb Your Enthusiasm's "The Survivor"; The Cosby Show's "A Shirt Story"; and so on) for later.  This is mostly off the top of my head and it's just a beginning.  I guess I'd consider these the essential episodes of the series in question, though certain ones require context for true enjoyment beyond the artistic qualities.  So, in no particular order and admittedly ignoring anything before 2000 (and feel free to add on):

  • Breaking Bad:
    • "Hermanos" (S4E8) -- The shocking backstory of the mysterious Gus Fring.  One of the rare TV episodes I've ever left on the DVR so I could watch it again the next day.
  • Mad Men:
    • "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." (S3E13) -- Sterling Cooper goes Oceans Eleven.  "Very good.  Happy Christmas!"
    • "The Suitcase" (S4E7) -- This may be the only other episode I've watched again the next day.  Just Don and Peggy, the great dueling personalities, stuck overnight at work, fighting and mourning.
  • C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation:
    • "Grave Danger" (S5E24 and 25) -- Tarantino directs a terrifying, edge-of-your-seat two-parter as one of the CSI team is buried alive and slowly dying.
  • Lost:
    • "The Constant" (S4E5) -- Desmond and Penny, the quintessential love affair of 2000s network TV.
  • The Wire:
    • "Old Cases" (S1E4) -- It's a fine episode, like all of them, but it's all about "that scene" as McNulty and Bunk survey the crime scene and keep saying the same word over and over.
    • "Final Grades" (S4E13) -- The heartbreaking finale to the inarguably most heartbreaking season in TV history.
  • The Sopranos:
    • "College" (S1E5) -- Tony takes Meadow to look at a college and discovers someone from his past.  Carmela asks Father Phil over for the sexiest communion ever.
    • "Employee of the Month" (S3E4) -- Dr. Melfi is sexually assaulted.  Hilarity ensues.
    • "University" (S3E6) -- Ralphie is not a good guy.
  • Grey's Anatomy:
    • "Sanctuary" and "Lockdown" (S6E23 and 24) -- Yes, indeed.  "Sanctuary" is the more gripping one, though they have to go together.  The disgruntled husband of a deceased patient walks into Seattle Grace and starts killing doctors.  As shocking an episode of TV as I can remember.
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer:
    • "Hush" (S4E10) -- Not a great season, but this is daring artistically.
  • Dexter:
    • "The Getaway" (S4E12) -- The finale of the Trinity Killer season.  Oh, that ending...
  • The Americans:
    • "The Colonel" (S1E13) -- As finely plotted as you get, along with the next one.
  • Sherlock:
    • "The Great Game" (S1E3) -- Sherlock is sent around London solving seemingly disconnected puzzles that all come together around one man.
  • Friday Night Lights:
    • "Pilot" (S1E1) -- This may be my favorite episode of TV, ever.
    • "The Son" (S4E5) -- Saracen's father comes home.
    • "Always" (S5E13) -- The series finale, as Vince Howard leads East Dillon into the State Championship game and Mrs. Coach weighs her job options.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I had taken a long respite from blogging -- about 17 months -- but I'm coming out of retirement.  It's partly because, with my brief tryst with fame over, I've been looking for something to do and partly because I saw something last night that so confounded me that my love for bad movies was rekindled and I had to spew about it somewhere.  Blame my wife for being out of town.

I had heard some good reviews of Dredd, the 2012 Rob Schneider-less adaptation of the Judge Dredd comics.  It has 77% on Rotten Tomatoes.  The special effects were supposed to be great.  It stars Karl Urban, everyone's favorite space doctor/ DeForest Kelly impersonator, plus Lena Headey, everyone's favorite incestuous mother of a murderous teenage tyrant/ Linda Hamilton impersonator, and even Wood Harris, everyone's favorite strong-side linebacker/ drug kingpin who says "The game is the game.  Always."

But even if Wood Harris had called in Michael Kenneth Williams and Michael Potts to do his dirty work and save this movie, even the combined awesomeness of Omar and Brother Mouzone couldn't have made anything from this mess.  "Oh, man, it's Omar and Brother Mouzone, awesome!  Wait, why are they walking around in this movie?  Why are we getting them delivering this awful dialogue instead of a season 6 where Carcetti becomes governor and signs in marriage equality and then goes and pops into Treme for a cameo when the Ravens go to New Orleans?"

I suppose the special effects were made to look awesome in 3D, but I doubt that was the case and, besides, it cost $50 million and only grossed $13.4 million, so maybe they should have thought about how it would look on people's TVs.  The visual nature of the film leads me to assume that director Pete Travis has only ever watched Zack Snyder movies and, perhaps, only Sucker Punch.  It is just frames of slow-motion after frozen shots of explosions after uses of light that even Lincoln thought was a bit too much.  He tries to make it creepy and it really just made me very sleepy.

The acting is just fine if you like Karl Urban's chin spitting out monotonous one-liners that got cut from The Expendables.  In fact, the dialogue is so heavy-handed that none of the performances would be good enough to get past it.  It's written by the guy who's writing the screenplay for the Halo movie, so I'm sure I'm being tough on him.  (To be fair, he also wrote 28 Days Later, but that movie happened to be directed by one of the best in the world and it's certainly more memorable visually than it is dialogue-wise.)

Maybe more than anything else, it's just overly violent.  Not in a Grindhouse way -- putting aside Tarantino's use of violence as satire of violence in Django Unchained -- but in a Robocop way.  Which was great when I was a kid, but as we get closer and closer to that OCP future, it gets less and less appealing.  There's just too much blood and too many closeups of blood.  It comes off, in violence and style, as a significantly less clever Sin City.

Dredd is the worst movie I watched in recent memory and, in the last four days, I've watched both American Reunion and Wrath of the Titans.  Do you get that?  I watched Wrath of the Titans and I liked it more than this movie that got 77% on Rotten Tomatoes!

Anyways, I'm back.  I may drool over Girls or Justified or the 30 Rock finale, but my main goal here is to get back in the swing of watching bad movies.  Amour was incredible, but I didn't want to think too long and hard about how it made me feel.  I'm happy to think too long and hard about how Dredd made me feel.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Project Transformers: 13 Going on 30

Please excuse the short hiatus from watching these movies.  I grabbed the first disc of season one of Justified from Netflix and nothing else (besides shows that are airing new episodes right now) graced my TV until I had finished the second season and watched the ending twice.  I'm sure I'll go into more detail about the goings-on in Harlan, KY, later, but now back to my journey through my wife's chick flicks and it continues with the 2004 movie, 13 Going on 30.

A nerdy 13-year-old girl in 1987 hates her life and how she is not friends with the popular crowd, constantly wishing that she could be 30 and glamorous like the people in her favorite magazine.  After the cool kids destroy her party, leaving her to turn on the only friend she has, she has some sort of glitter fall on her and wakes up as a 30-year-old (Jennifer Garner) in Manhattan in 2004.  She learns that she turned into one of the cool people and ditched said only friend when she goes to find him (Mark Ruffalo), also living in Manhattan.  She discovers that the nerdy girl was the best girl to be all along and falls in love with the old nerdy friend, yada yada yada.  It's difficult to pick the plot apart to some extent (even leaving out my astonishment that Garner only had to get used to cell phone rings and her own boobs, with no mention whatsoever of how the world changed internet-wise from 1987 to 2004), because the movie is essentially a fairy tale and one wouldn't really pick apart the plot of a Disney movie.  Having said that (with a nod to Jerry Seinfeld), pick this plot apart is exactly what I'm about to do, because the ending of the movie is BS.

Living happily ever after is all well and good for a fairy tale, but how we get to the "happily ever after" in 13 Going on 30 is so flawed that I've seen Saturday Night Live sketches with more thought put into how they're going to close.  Bear with me as I explain, but I refuse to "spoiler alert" a movie from 2004.  Ruffalo is getting married to a woman who, by all accounts, is just fine but just not Jennifer Garner.  So Garner, having saved her magazine (presumably only to go out of business in five years or so when the internet makes most magazines obsolete) with Ruffalo's help, goes to find him at his wedding (which, frankly, seemed to just pop out of the blue as a plot device, making it the only matrimony ex machina I can ever remember).  She expresses her love to him and he is broken up about it because he has always loved her, but he's about to marry this not-so-bad woman. (Aside: the potential for him to leave this perfectly not-so-bad woman to marry the girl of his dreams made me think longingly of Michael Showalter's The Baxter.)  He then goes to his closet and takes out the "dream house" that he made for her when they were kids -- from which the magic glitter fell on her in 1987 -- and the glitter falls on her again, upon which she wakes up back in 1987 but just moments before the original glitter fell on her, just in time for her to express her love for Kid Ruffalo and then they are shown living happily ever after.  Let's go through the problems with the ending:

  • Problem #1: She gets back to 1987 right before the original glitter falls on her.  By kissing Kid Ruffalo, she averts the glitter from ever falling in the first place.  How did she then learn she should kiss him?
  • Problem #2: In the timeline of the movie, she became popular in high school by befriending the cool kids and then ended up with a great life, lots of money, and a dream job.  She worked at the job with the leader of the cool kids, played by Judy Greer (Fun Fact: she was also in 27 Dresses! Yay for Judy Greer's career!).  If Kid Garner fell in love with Kid Ruffalo, then presumably she did not sell out to become one of the cool kids.  The "happily ever after" part of the movie doesn't say what she does for a living, but I'm guessing she still had the great magazine job.  So how did she end up looking exactly the same and happy in the same way, even though her entire high school experience and the entire track of her life changed?
Again, it's a fairy tale, but I'm uncomfortable with this idea that she changed something in her life, but it still continued down the same track for everything but her love life.  There's another paradox as well.  Where did 30-year-old Jennifer Garner's conscious mind go when 13-year-old Jennifer Garner's mind was in the 30-year-old body?  Was it a Quantum Leap situation, where it was hanging out in some room somewhere.  Did it jump into the 13-year-old's body, where it was extremely bored because there was no internet in 1987?  The only way these paradoxes don't matter is if the whole movie is a dream, but that can't be true because of "Problem #1" above.  Like I said, BS. 

I should also note here that another release in 2004 was one of the best high school movies ever, Mean Girls.  That movie talks about nerds versus cool kids and how, in the end, people just sort of outgrow it.  13 Going on 30 does not subscribe to that theory and that bothered me.

The prime fun in this movie comes from the references to '80s music, keyed by the big "Thriller" dance scene, but even there I found a little annoyance as the edit they used of "Thriller" was not the actual song and, at one point, a character turns on "Ice, Ice, Baby" and the song starts at the beginning of the third verse.  Over all the movie is fairly fun, especially because it's impossible to hate Mark Ruffalo, even if he's playing a guy who runs over a kid or a way-too-hippy-ish winery owner who inexplicably attracts a married lesbian.  Garner does not do a very good acting job in this movie, but I like her okay too, from her time on Alias or in Juno.  So, yes, my anger at the ending aside, I enjoyed this much more than 27 Dresses and generally did not hate it.  Even if there's no way in the world that that many people know the "Thriller" dance by heart.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


There is no argument that TV is stronger right now than it has ever been.  The four best dramas of all time aired in the last ten years.  After hitting a major lull after Seinfeld, sitcoms are back and networks, especially NBC, are airing shows that are not purely broad comedy.  Most of this quality comes from the rise of original programming on premium cable, which then spread to basic cable, so shows did not have to be as popular to survive because the networks were getting some revenue beyond just advertising and the usual standards and practices of prime time network television did not have to apply.  So it's no surprise that the best networks for original programming are on cable, namely HBO, AMC, and FX.  HBO had the first two of those aforementioned four greatest dramas of all time, The Sopranos and The Wire.

HBO still has some greatness in Game of Thrones and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Treme, but in pure quality of shows, it may actually be third right now.  AMC has great schlock in The Walking Dead and great acting in The Killing.  FX has the awesome Sons of Anarchy and Justified (I mean, really awesome) and almost unbelievably great comedies in Archer, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Wilfred.  But, more importantly, these two networks have the three best shows on TV.  Two are obviously the other two of the four best dramas of all time, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  The third is FX's Louie.  Of the three, Louie may be the only honest-to-god perfect one of the bunch.

The broadcast networks don't really have any great dramas -- I don't watch The Good Wife, but Grey's Anatomy is sometimes very good and House used to be sometimes very good.  They do have some great comedies -- Parks and Recreation and Community, especially.  It's possible even that those two shows are the second and third best comedies on the air, but neither is close to Louie.  In fact, the continuum of TVcomedies right now goes something like this:
<Louie-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Parks & Rec-Curb-Community------Everything else->

You can take it from esteemed writers like Chuck Klosterman or Alan Sepinwall, but you really just need to watch it.  Louie is sometimes funny and sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes both and sometimes you're just not sure, but it always leaves me shaking my head at how brilliant it is.  It's probably the closest I've ever seen to the epitome of "I can't describe greatness, but I know it when I see it."  Even more, I know what perfection is every time I watch Louie.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Project Transformers: 27 Dresses

Once again, an explanation of "Project Transformers" here.

2008's 27 Dresses stars Katherine Heigl as, wait for it, always a bridemaid, never a bride.  She has been in twenty-seven wedding parties with twenty-seven dresses to show for it.  She loves weddings, but has not yet met the man who can give her her own perfect day.  She thinks her boss (Edward Burns) is that man, but he falls in love with her younger sister (Malin Akerman).  She resents that and, at the same time, is also being hounded by a wedding writer (James Marsden) who has a thing for her.  Will she end up with her dream guy?  Will it turn out that the wedding writer is really Mr. Right all along?  Do I even have to spoil it for you?

I have to admit that the movie had two strikes against it before I even pressed play.  One strike, the more minor of the two, was that there was a grammatical error on the DVD case, where it said that she had been a bridesmaid "no less than twenty-seven times."  Fewer.  The second, more major, strike was Katherine Heigl.  I am not a fan.  She wasn't horrible in her first big movie, Knocked Up, but she starred in the despicable The Ugly Truth (the awfulness of that was not all her fault) and, frankly, Izzy Stevens was always my least favorite Seattle Grace doctor (next to, of course, Meredith Grey, whom everyone hates).  In her leaving Grey's, Heigl came off as annoying in her remarks to the press and was involved in the worst story arc in a good recent TV drama that did not include members of the Bauer family.  The other castmembers are fine.  Burns showed up in a few too many of the "Worst of the Worst" movies for my liking, but Akerman can be funny and Marsden wasn't just good in X-Men and X2 but was also fantastic in Hairspray.  Judy Greer plays Heigl's best friend, but she seems to take too many roles to only be as awesome as she was in Arrested Development or is in Archer.

The plot is entirely cliched, but there are still a number of confusing moments in the film.  For one thing, Heigl works for a company that puts out catalogs, she's being pursued by a writer for a newspaper with a really popular wedding section, and her father has a family-owned hardware store.  The movie came out in 2008, but the script was written in 1952?  The scene where Burns proposes to Akerman involves a huge sign being unfurled that reads, "Will you marry me?" but she asks what is going on and seems surprised when he gets down on one knee.  My favorite is that the end credits begin over the newspaper story of her wedding and there are two weird errors.  One, more lazy, is that it refers to Heigl's character as the daughter of "Hal Nichols and Mrs. Nichols" which sounds dumb, especially when you consider her mother died when she was very young and would never be referred to in that way.  Second, more funny, is that the article next to the wedding story is written by Marsden's friend (played by an underused Maulik Pauncholy), who is never given a last name in the film and so the story has a by-line of just "Trent."

I went in not wanting to like the movie, but some of the people are likable enough that it wasn't miserable.  The jokes fell flat, but romantic comedies are generally not my thing, anyway.  It is bad though and I dislike most romantic comedies in that same way that I dislike children movies that studios just spew out with no intention other than making as much money as possible.  There is a point in the movie where Heigl's character has just found out Marsden's character is a wedding writer (who has previously said that he hates weddings, but he secretly likes them, it's just that he once had an awful wedding, because he can't just be a guy who doesn't like weddings, he has to be the sweet but wounded guy that needs the right romantic woman to heal him) and she says to him: "You write the most beautiful things. Do you actually believe in love and marriage and just pretend to be a cynic or are you actually a cynic who knows how to spin romantic crap for girls like me?" Hmm.  Autobiographical?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Light Our Darkest Hour

It's time to announce the next movie project.  The last one came about by chance, more or less.  I happened to have a large chunk of time open up on my weekly schedule with nothing to fill it in the same week that Rotten Tomatoes released their list.  I had only seen three.  If it had been fifteen or fifty, I don't know that I would have taken on the movies, but I hadn't and I did.  I enjoyed having the goal, so with the "Worst of the Worst" finished, I wanted to take on another one.  This one is much, much more stupid.

Which is the best movie based on a cartoon based on an action figure?  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie stunk and the cartoon was originally based on a comic book, anyway.  The recent G.I. Joe movie was awful.  It certainly wasn't Care Bears: The Movie or anything with the Go-Bots.  No, it was the non-KMart version of the Go-Bots (clip from Clerks II not available on-line), the Transformers.  And it wasn't the Michael Bay crapfest, of course.  We're talking about the 1986 cartoon, complete with one curse word and the voice talents of Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, and Robert Stack.  Yes, it was Orson Welles' last movie. I've seen it a dozen times, at least.  I think I saw it multiple times in the theater and they showed it on TV as part of the show and I owned at least one copy of it on VHS.  In 2006, a special edition was released on DVD and I bought it.

And found out my wife had never seen it.

I was perplexed and horrified.  Somehow, she had never seen this seminal movie of my childhood.  I had to set that straight, so I insisted she watch the movie with me, but she refused.  She claimed that I make her watch everything I like and rarely watch stuff she likes (and I type this sentence while the TV is showing True Blood, which I don't get at all).  She told me that the only way she would ever watch the great Transformers: The Movie is if I watched every one of her DVDs that I had not seen.  It's only eleven, not anywhere close to the ninety-seven I watched for the last project, and they're not all bad movies.  So it will take me much less time than the twenty-two months the last list took me -- it also helps that I have all of the DVDs and don't have to rely on sending them back and forth to Netflix -- but I am still not super-excited about watching these.  Eleven movies and I made no promises to my wife that I would not completely savage them, so I expect to do just that.  Hope you enjoy it more than I do, which I won't, probably.

The list:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Worst of the Worst: Post-Mortem

Now that the quest to watch Rotten Tomatoes' worst-reviewed 100 movies of the decade is over, some wrap-up.

Since this was a list of the worst-reviewed movies, as determined by the films' percentage on the Tomatometer, it's not anything that I decided.  There were movies that, after watching them, I didn't think were among the worst movies I had seen recently.  Similarly, there were movies not on the list that I would have included, given the chance.  The two movies that come to mind immediately are Year One (about as funny as any of the Epic Movie-type movies, but after much higher expectations) and The Ugly Truth (just an abominable, stupid film).  I'd listen to arguments on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  The three movies I'd take out are Ben Affleck's Surviving Christmas, the Toby Keith vehicle Broken Bridges, and the slightly-funny Boat Trip.  Surviving Christmas is the best of the three, making it the "best" movie on this list.

Three acting performances need to called out as being noteworthy in a negative way.  There was a lot of bad acting, but some of it was either expected (people in the ___ Movie movies or Larry the Cable Guy or Eddie Griffin) or came in movies that nobody will ever know existed (Fascination).  The three I'm pointing out came from known movies or are known actors.  First is Max Beesley as the manager/love interest in Glitter.  It's not nearly as bad a movie overall as I thought it might be, but he stands out with his bad accent and makes all of his scenes awkward.  Second is Chris Klein as the street-wise Interpol agent in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  His overacting needs to be seen to be believed.  I strongly suggest anyone who enjoys funny-bad movies watch this movie just for him.  Third is, of course, John Travolta in Battlefield Earth.  This is a legitimate, talented actor, who puts on a crap performance for the ages.  He is as bad in Battlefield Earth as Colin Firth is good in The King's Speech.

On the flip side, you have actors that outperform their movie.  A lot of big name people embarrassed themselves on this list, from Barry Levinson to Guy Ritchie to Al Pacino to Ben Stiller to Robert De Niro, but there were some bright spots.  I wrote earlier this week about Antonio Banderas in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, who does so by default.  Zoe Saldana is so good in Constellation that she seems like she's overacting because she even gives a damn.  Zooey Deschanel is great (and adorable) in The New Guy because, well, she's perfect.

Very soon, I'll be embarking on the next project and will explain the parameters in this space.  Until then, we'll leave off with the only three lists that really matter.

5 Worst-Made Movies: This has little to do with entertainment value, but with actual quality of the movie -- the concept, the execution.

  • 5. Dirty Love -- I have never seen a more disgusting movie.
  • 4. Fascination -- A perfect storm of bad acting, bad plot, and even bad music.
  • 3. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever -- I have seen more coherent YouTube videos.
  • 2. Battlefield Earth -- With the budget that went into it and the controversy that surrounded it, one must tip their cap to a movie this bad.
  • 1. Merci, Docteur Rey! -- It gives messes a bad name.
5 Most Entertaining Movies: They may be bad, but these are the ones I'd suggest someone watch if they felt like checking these movies out.
  • 5. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever -- I laughed and laughed and laughed.  If someone attempted to film an abstract concept like schadenfreude, it might come out looking like this one.
  • 4. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li -- Yes, Chris Klein is that gloriously bad.  Also, one of the Black Eyed Peas members plays a bad guy, has no lines, and is still somehow bad.
  • 3. House of the Dead -- Uwe Boll intersperses scenes from the original arcade game with the movie, but the original game was 8-Bit or so, so the pixelated frames do not quite match up with the live action.  Some of his choices on making the action artistic are so outrageous that they must be rewound and rewatched multiple times.
  • 2. Battlefield Earth -- There are a lot of parts that are funny, but mostly one just has to see this movie to understand how bad it truly is.
  • 1. Bloodrayne -- I've watched it twice.  I'd watch it again right now.  Michael Madsen's hair by itself would be funny enough to make this a classic, but the gore effects (think the end of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, but not meant to be wacky) are probably the most entertaining thing Boll has ever put on film.
5 Least Entertaining Movies: This is the final and biggest one.  If movies are made to be entertainment then a badly-made movie that is entertaining is at least accidentally successful.  Those movies that are least entertaining are the worst kind of movie I can think of.
  • 5. Dirty Love -- I didn't even feel bad for Jenny McCarthy.  After sitting through this sexist, racist, demeaning movie, I was glad that she had failed at movie-making and would be forced to go on to a career in trying to keep kids from getting medicine.
  • 4. All About Steve -- Sort of an upset because it was so low on the list (#96), but it is uncomfortably bad, especially given the stars (Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church).
  • 3. 3 Strikes -- I still clearly remember how angry I got when I watched this movie, in October of 2009.
  • 2. The Master of Disguise -- I was once with a group of friends and, upon hearing about how bad this movie was, they found the Turtle scene on YouTube and watched it.  I warned them against it.  They watched it and then turned to me with sick looks on their faces.  I warned them.
  • 1. Merci, Docteur Rey! -- I have nothing to say.  I'd prefer to forget I ever watched it.