Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Into The Territories

On vacation and not much going on other than nightly Jeopardy viewings (we all laughed out loud when the first question in one of the categories tonight had to do with a Russian classical music piece). Went to see True Grit yesterday and it is as enthralling and beautiful as you would expect. Jeff Bridges is brilliant, as are the writing and cinematography. I know that not everyone who reads this blog liked No Country for Old Men and I still can't understand that, but True Grit may be more to most people's likings. There is plenty of symbolism and there are things to talk about, but it is a more straightforward story.

I'll do my best of the year over the next few days, but tomorrow it's off to Charleston. One hundred and fifty years ago on this date, the Union soldiers stationed in South Carolina had consolidated in a small fort in the middle of Charleston's harbor and they would stay there until April 12, 1861. I'm excited to visit what was the first focal point of the secession to see how the modern residents of Charleston are marking the anniversary. I've already seen some Confederate stuff on cars. Odds are I blow up Twitter tomorrow.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #58, Christmas With The Kranks

I'm now about two-thirds finished with my quest to watch the one hundred worst movies of 2000-09, according to Rotten Tomatoes, so I expect to finished long before this time next year. Therefore, I took the opportunity to watch the third and final (and worst, in my opinion) Christmas movie on the list, Christmas with the Kranks, based on John Grisham's novel, Skipping Christmas. Judging by my main problem with the movie, Grisham should maybe stick to the formulaic lawyer novels.

There is plenty not to like about the movie-making here. Tim Allen seems to sleepwalk through every movie role he has and it has only ever really worked in Galaxy Quest, where his character was supposed to be disinterested. Granted, the writing in Galaxy Quest is also quite strong, whereas this script was a disaster. Joke after joke that miss, both one-liners and slapstick. The camera work is pretty bad, as each conversation turns into a close-up fest that makes it seem that no two actors were ever in a room together. The editing is probably the worst technical thing about the movie as there are three separate plots that do not happen simultaneously, so the eighty-something-minute film feels like it is three hours long. Of course, it's also pretty boring, which doesn't help.

The worst part about the movie, though, is the message. The plot deals with a couple who, when their daughter joins the Peace Corps and will not be home for Christmas for the first time, look at how much money they usually spend and decide to skip Christmas, opting instead for a cruise. They refuse to decorate, buy anything Christmas-y, or participate in any of the neighborhood contests. I am again reminded that very few Christmas movies involve neighborhoods that have any Jews because everyone is aghast at the plans to skip Christmas. The neighbors protest and even the local priest is upset that the couple is not buying anything decorative. When the daughter decides to surprise everyone by coming home, they then rush to put together an appropriate Christmas and learn that they should be neighborly (read: conform). The third plot deals with a robber and Santa Claus. Don't ask.

Anything missing from that Christmas movie plot above? Hint: it starts with a 'J' and ends with an 's'. Yes, even the priest is unhappy that the family is not celebrating Christmas by buying stuff, there is no mention of them ever going to mass. The religious aspect of Christmas is not mentioned once in the movie. Believe me, I was listening pretty hard for it after a while. So, I was ready to scream anti-Semitism because the movie is about people being incredulous that anyone would ever want to skip Christmas, but it turns out to be anti-Christian, too. It sings the praises of materialism and conformity which, granted, are important aspects of Christmas in our society, but they probably shouldn't be. The only mention of Christ in this movie was as the first half of a compound word ending with 'mas'. I hate a preachy religious movie as much as anyone, but "mas Christ" is exactly what this hateful film could have used.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas

Reposting the same video I post every year -- my favorite Christmas one -- while being happy that a Jeopardy champion comments on this blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #78, Deck The Halls

This would be the 2006 Deck The Halls about a small-town rivalry between Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito. I looked at the guide on my cable system at one point last week to see the movie was on Lifetime, so I DVR-ed it to watch it later. Little did I know that Lifetime was actually showing 2005's Deck The Halls, a movie starring Gabrielle Carteris as a widow who finds love and learns the spirit of Christmas from an unlikely stranger. I almost watched that one, because how could you not, but decided instead to find the one I was supposed to watch.

Last Christmas Eve, I watched #91 on this list, Surviving Christmas, starring Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate, and wrote this:
There's a lot of schlock thrown around this time of year. More than half of the kids shows that the networks run are beyond garbage. Most of the music is crap compared to real music. People get sucked up in the season and are willing to put up with what seems like almost anything. You end up with these sentimental family movies. Christmas stuff can only be compared to Christmas stuff, because if you compare Christmas stuff to non-Christmas stuff on an even playing field, Christmas stuff gets its collective holly-decked ass kicked.
I may as well just use that because it fits Deck The Halls to a "T." And that "T" stands for terrible, trivial, trifling, and trite. I have rarely seen a Christmas movie that is such a pure piece of tinsel-covered poop wrapped in a bright, red bow. CBS has their crappy Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, but this one was a major release! Starring Broderick, DeVito, Kristin Davis, and Kristin Chenoweth! The two main characters portray family men and neighbors. Broderick is Steve Finch, a man who loves Christmas but has growing kids who are trying to pull away from family traditions. DeVito plays Buddy Hall (Get it? Deck the Halls?!), a guy deeply in debt who can't hold down a job and has never amounted to anything, even though he has a beautiful family. Looking at what is essentially Google Earth, Hall sees that he can't see his house from space because it's much smaller than his neighbors' homes. Absurd, because that's not how that site works, but whatever. He decides he's going to mortgage his entire life to put up enough lights that his house can be seen from space, but the lights bother Finch, who goes crazy trying to fight back. In one dramatic moment, he even goes so far as to call Hall a "screw-up!" If you guessed that both men get so obsessive in their rivalry that their families move out and they have to win them back in a touching display of Christmas spirit that involves people from all over the town bringing enough lights so that Hall's house can finally be seen from space, well, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

None of the jokes in this movie work. None. The kids have gags, the adults have gags, there is slapstick, there are one-liners, there is more horrible slapstick. Don't miss the scene where they have a wacky speed-skating race with a German-accented Fred Armisen! All falls flat. Then, after the movie has failed and failed and failed, the director wants you to understand that Christmas is a time for love. Even though, the two guys hate each other and have cost each other thousands of dollars and put each other into debt to the point that Hall jokes about never being able to use his credit cards again! But, hey, the two guys made sweet potatoes, so it's cool.

Lucky for the men and all of the rest of the people of their Massachusetts town, their Christmas spirit doesn't have to bogged down by any Jews or any other minorities! There are absolutely none in the town until the female Asian reporter shows up from MTV to see if the house can be lit up enough and throws it to the scientist in charge of the Google Earth-ish site, played by Kal Penn. Even when the townspeople are (or are not, spoiler-wise) bringing lamps and other lights to light up Hall's house, they couldn't have snuck in a token menorah? I guess all the Jews were too busy counting their money to come see the show and Lord knows there are no black people where it's cold! Speaking of the cold, when the house finally can (or cannot) be seen from space, it's snowing. So there would be cloud cover. But I guess the brilliant Indian scientist figured out how to get past that so that the white people could all celebrate their love-filled (read: no annoying people not like them who don't celebrate Christmas) holiday.

Seriously, this is the kind of movie that makes me hate Christmas. I don't mind that there are no minorities in It's A Wonderful Life. Minorities (except for the drunk Italian, Martini) weren't allowed in Bedford Falls in 1946! A sad chapter in upstate New York history, to be sure, but I'm sure that once George kicked old Potter out, a synagogue and an AME church went up within weeks. But in 2006 Massachusetts?! Gabe Kapler and Kevin Youkilis had led the Red Sox to a Series win by then and Troy Brown had led the Pats to a few titles. I can only assume that Deck The Halls (not the one where the woman who played Andrea Zuckerman played a Christian woman, mind you) took place in a KKK enclave. Burning crosses can be seen from space, gentlemen. They can be seen from space by God.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Lost Cause

Nothing else today is as important as remembering that 150 years ago on this date, a state cut itself free from the country because its government felt its right to own other people was threatened. People in South Carolina may lament "Northern Aggression" or talk about states' rights, but any celebration of this time in their history has to be seen for what it is: self-deception. It's not a time to be romanticized or celebrated. On December 20, 1860, the people of South Carolina betrayed their country in order to continue the systemic subjugation of black people.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #7, Strange Wilderness

There is a point at the beginning of Strange Wilderness where Jeff Garlin, playing a TV network executive, watches some video that Steve Zahn, playing the stoner host of an inherited wildlife show, gives to him. The video shows stock footage of random animals and people and Zahn does a voiceover that says wacky things. I snorted. That snort immediately puts the Happy Madison-produced Strange Wilderness out of the class of comedies ranked around it on this list, like 3 Strikes or National Lampoon's Gold Diggers. The fact that I even gave the slightest response means this movie is infinitely funnier and a credit to the writer, who coincidentally also wrote Grown Ups.

No matter that the rest of the movie elicited no such response, that I watched it stone-faced and tried to shut my brain off so I didn't have to work to figure out what semblance of a plot there was. No matter that I yelled at the TV when I realized there was still a half hour left in the movie when I figured an eighty-six minute long movie would fly by. No matter that I now hate Jonah Hill because he is so historically awful in this one. They go in search of Bigfoot and then shoot it with machine guns for no apparent reason? There's a gag that seems endless regarding Zahn getting his genitalia stuck in a turkey's throat? Justin Long's stoner character gets eyes tattooed on his eyelids but then the tattoos are gone in the next scene?

I almost started to laugh once, so none of the rest of the skin-crawlingly bad attempts at what passes for comedy in an Adam Sandler world matter, right?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Facebook? Serious. No, That Doesn't Seem Quite Right.

  • The Monologue:
    • The Jets have begun to lose as Mark Sanchez throws interception after interception. Antonio Cromartie is upset because he's never seen something miss its target this often before.
    • The new inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be Neil Diamond, Darlene Love, and Alice Cooper, or, as they used to be known, The Beach Boys.
    • Mark Zuckerberg was named Time's Person of the Year. Runners-up include DiCaprio's character in Inception and Woody the Cowboy.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • The nearly non-stop hilarity of Monday's How I Met Your Mother only goes to illustrate how often that show misses lately.
    • Maybe the three Survivor contestants on the outs -- and how could they not have known this was the case -- should have forced a tie, since they have almost nothing to lose at this point. Prediction for Sunday: Holly wins easily. She's exactly the type of player that's won lately -- the kind that does nothing all game.
    • I've actually been reading much more than TV lately. Entertainment Weekly had The Hunger Games as its #13 thing in entertainment in 2010 and the book is not only good, but a lightning-quick read because it's for young adults. I've gone through the first and half of the second book in less than a week. It took me months to finally get through The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (which, I have to admit, was actually really good).
  • Random Video:
    • The Beatles released Beatles '65 on this date and it included "I'm A Loser" and "I Feel Fine" but also this cover of a classic Chuck Berry song. The song was featured in a movie that was released in Australia twenty-two years ago this month, Young Einstein. Think about that... There are kids out there who can drink that have never heard of Young Einstein. I mean, if that doesn't make you feel old...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dead Serious

  • The Monologue:
    • What a horrible headline. The story has almost nothing to do with what the title says.
    • Three of the top Twitter trends of 2010 had to do with the World Cup, or "Americans aren't as big a percentage of Twitter users as we think they are."
    • Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Zac Efron, and Vanessa Hudgens, all broke up with their respective other. I'm calling it "Black Tuesday" but only if TMZ is the new black.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Speaking of Hall and Carpenter, their scene with Julia Stiles towards the end of the Dexter season finale on Sunday was quite a good scene. Another strong season, cementing the show's place among the elite.
    • Thor trailer. It looks fine, but I should have faith because the latest Marvel movies have been so good.
    • The team that should have won The Amazing Race won. That's as good as anything else about the season, no matter how lame the last leg was. And the preview for the next season looks great, so long as they don't actually include all of those teams so that Nick and Vicki don't again get rewarded for trying to quit.
    • Jay Cutler gets a lot of press for being a dick, but other than him I can't remember a successful QB with as awful body language as Matt Schaub has. All last night, he just looked like he'd rather be anywhere than on that field.
  • Random Video:
    • The #1 song from Billboard 50 years ago today. This is from a live special eight years later. He had a voice, that's for sure.

Dance, Dance

If you'll excuse the brevity because of a just-slightly-longer-than-anticipated Ravens victory, here is a great video that you have missed if you don't watch The Soup. A family goes on the Today Show to discuss the father who died in the Armed Services. Hilarity ensues. Hilarity ensues?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forget About The Movement

  • The Monologue:
    • Senate Republicans voted to deny special medical care to firefighters who responded to 9/11. Who can make a joke about that?
    • The Senate voted against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thereby telling homosexuals they should stay in the closet where they belong. It works for half of the religious right, so why not?
    • Where can I buy stock in "The 32-year-old Cliff Lee will sign a seven-year deal, the biggest in baseball history, and get hurt in his second season of the contract?"
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • There may not be a show on TV that is as versatile as Community. They try all different types of themes and formats, including tonight's stop-motion Christmas special, and they nearly always succeed.
    • There were some killer lines on tonight's 30 Rock ("Say what you will, but my son, Spiderman, is doing fine." "Abused women, be quiet! There is a man speaking!"), but the joke that took me by the most surprise was the quick shot of Alan Alda's book that had a cover depicting a family that consisted of Alda, a witch, a women in a burka, and an African-American kid in a wheelchair.
    • Hehe. Yeah, it's coming.
  • Random Video:
    • Maybe we'll wrap this up tomorrow, maybe over the weekend. You're sick of music from 1992? Well, never forget that your anger is a gift.


30th anniversary of John Lennon's death, so here are a few covers of his work:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Word To Your Moms

  • The Monologue:
    • A picture is worth a thousand words so I don't need to write any.
    • It got ridiculous on the Jets' flight home last night when someone asked Mark Sanchez to pass a blanket and a New England player intercepted it.
    • I'm not saying the Jets' defense had trouble with the Patriots' offense last night, but I've seen Montezuma's Revenge slowed down more effectively.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • Not a surprise with its very low ratings, but Terriers was cancelled. I still strongly recommend that people watch it. The season wrapped so well that you could think of it as a miniseries or even a visual novel of sorts. Really amazing show; the next entry in the "brilliant, but cancelled" legacy.
    • The Jimmy V Foundation night on ESPN is for a great cause and it's cool that they show his ESPYs speech every year, but keep it to halftime or between games. I'm trying to watch basketball and they keep talking about how great Jimmy V was. He seemed like a great guy, I get it, but I'm trying to watch a game in progress.
    • For the record, on December 7, Pearl Harbor is a surprisingly close second to Auschwitz for most unsettling place I've ever visited. It is much, much, much, etc., more powerful than I ever imagined it would be.
  • Random Video:
    • We're getting close to the end of this 1992 thing, I promise, by the end of this week. I'm not going to give you the video for the far-and-away biggest single of the year, "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston, but I'll give you this one, which is quite a bit more enjoyable.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Somehow, I suddenly feel better about the Ravens' loss last night.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #81, Extreme Ops; #82, Supercross: The Movie

A double review because these movies are both a) similar and b) useless. Both have very poorly constructed plots with bad acting and horrible dialogue that are there to connect scenes of extreme sports. It's X-Porn.

Extreme Ops deals with a group of extreme daredevils who are shooting a commercial that requires someone to ski in front of an extreme avalanche. This after they had kayaked over an extreme waterfall and rode their snowboards behind an extreme train (as the tracks went from being clear to snow-covered from shot to shot in an extreme continuity error). When they get on the mountain, they discover an extreme Serbian gun-runner (name of Pavlov or Pavle, depending on the point of the movie that they said his name) and his extreme gang. There is much gunfire and extreme action before they escape and blow up a helicopter with no actual weaponry. To be honest, I didn't really follow the plot all that well other than the gunfire and the extreme sports, and only barely followed the sports. This one gets an edge over Supercross: The Movie because the actors are slightly better with big names like Rufus Sewell, Devon Sawa, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras.

Supercross: The Movie offers only Robert Patrick, Robert Carradine, and three extreme lines from Channing Tatum. The main actors in the film are no-names and for good reason. The dialogue here is considerably worse (one review pointed out that you know you're in for a bad movie when the opening line is, "My name is Trip Carlyle."), but the action shots are considerably better. In fact, the movie was produced by Clear Channel and is effectively an extreme ad for their Motocross coverage. Probably really exciting for someone who gives an extreme darn, but I neither care for extreme sports nor understood a single thing that happened in the races because they never explain the strategy. The plot in Supercross: The Movie was great. Super original. The synopsis said that it's about two brothers who compete in racing while remembering their father who was killed mysteriously. The father is mentioned twice in the entire movie and there is never any hint about how the death happened, much less that it was by nefarious means. Instead, you have two brothers racing, one sells his soul to the bad guys who aren't that badand then redeems himself by winning after his brother makes an extreme sacrifice that leaves him in the hospital. Groundbreaking.

Of the two, Supercross: The Movie is probably better. Its race scenes are more coherent and better shot, while its script is more extreme, by which I mean extremely laugh-out-loud funny. So good for them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Some Of That Funky Stuff

  • The Monologue:
    • The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar instead of the United States. American soccer fans say, "Where?!" You see, neither of them did well in Geography.
    • John McCain is fighting a study that says that homosexuals serving open in the military would not be a big deal. Of course, he's defied conventional wisdom before by picking the Governor of Alaska to be his running mate, so he's a got a great track record with this stuff.
    • I don't even know what to say about this. Caden?
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • The writers of Community sure are not afraid of taking chances. Tonight's episode was very dark and more poignant than funny, but it was still funny all the same.
    • The jokes about Donald's business names on 30 Rock were funny, but for me nothing topped MechaGodzila hitting Godzila (one "l" for copyright reasons) in the groin.
    • I think one of the things that make me laugh the most is a gag where people have some sort of showdown with a small animal. Sunny had one tonight where Frank had a stare-off with a bunny.
  • Random Video:
    • The single was technically released in 1993, but the album just barely snuck in on December 15, 1992. In such a great year, arguably the cream of the crop.

Winners Don't Quit; Quitters Don't Win

  • The Monologue:
    • The NCAA ruled that Cam Newton can in fact play in the SEC title game. In other shocking news, DC traffic was nightmarish when it rained this morning.
    • I think one of the reasons I don't like college football -- besides the lack of competitive balance and the chance for only a handful of predetermined teams to win in any given year -- is that the NCAA turns its back on principle for money as much as the pro leagues do, but speaks platitudes about integrity at the same time. Sure, Calipari and others in college basketball get off easy, but it seems to happen more often with football, probably because there is so much more money.
  • Random Pop Culture:
    • The near-perfect first -- hopefully not only -- season of Terriers wrapped up tonight. It closed so cleanly that, even if it were to not be renewed, people should watch the show because the season is so beautifully self-contained. Really, check it out on Hulu, if it's there, or on iTunes. Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead are very good, but they don't come that close to the brilliant writing and acting of Terriers. A blend of humor and drama that one rarely sees. Best show on TV besides Mad Men and maybe Breaking Bad.
    • It is perhaps fitting that Survivor ended almost exactly as The Amazing Race did this week, but that Survivor dealt with people wrestling with the decision to quit with much more appropriate scorn. Of the two shows, Survivor is the one that treats the game with more respect, whereas The Amazing Race has a bunch of vague rules. Think about the fact that it is entirely possible that Nick and Vicki could win one million dollars after deciding to quit the race. On Survivor, Jane, of whom I have not been a fan all year (though she is clearly the favorite right now), made the best speech of the season with a dead-on monologue about how no matter how tough things seem, you're on a freaking reality show while people around the country are unemployed.
  • Random Video:
    • The look at 1992 music rolls on.