Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dallas (Season 5) DVD

Nominated for 18 Emmys and 15 Golden Globes in its thirteen season run, Dallas is the 1,000-pound gorilla of the prime-time drama/soap opera genre. Premiering in 1978 as a five-part miniseries, the show combines the classic sex and innuendo of boilerplate afternoon soap operas with the freewheeling adventure of Texas wildcats and filthy rich capitalist oil barons. The explosive combination of rampant love affairs and high stakes business dealings scored well with both men and women, prompting CBS to make Dallas the lynchpin of its Friday night lineup (back when people actually watched Friday night television). As a result, Dallas became one of the most successful TV series in history. In fact, the famous ‘Who shot J.R.?” episode (“A House Divided” Air Date: 3-21-1980) still holds its spot as the second most watched television show ever (the season finale of MASH is #1). With arguably the most memorable TV villian ever created, it’s little surprise that Dallas held the #1 or #2 spot in the Nielsen ratings for most of the 1980s decade.

Undoubtedly, the unrivaled success and popularity of Dallas was in large part due to Larry Hagman and his portrayal of J.R. Ewing. Hagman’s real life Texas roots, unique charm, and wholehearted commitment to his craft helped to create one of the most loveable villains in history, and his treachery is on fully display in season five. Although J.R. is a vindictive cutthroat, the audience grows to love his sinister smile in the aftermath of a one-sided business deal and/or a selfish act of calculating revenge. In sharp contrast, J.R.’s brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) brings the Ewing karma back into balance with his all-American smile and impeccable character. Patrick Duffy brings his own style of charm to the small screen, and it makes for an interesting clash of personalities.

The Dallas (Season 5) DVD features some of the best episodes of the series. The initial ones center around Sue Ellen’s attempt to leave J.R. once and for all. With Dusty and Clayton Farlow by her side, Sue Ellen (Linda Grey) begins a new life at the Southern Cross ranch in San Angelo. The ensuing war between the two over baby John Ross makes for some of the most enjoyable prime time drama ever produced. The onscreen chemistry between Hagman and Grey is simply magic. They manage to portray a believable love-hate relationship between a husband and wife, and it’s one of the ongoing conflicts which launched the show to the top of the Nielsen ratings for almost fourteen years (making it the longest running prime time drama in television history).

Below is a list of episodes included on the Dallas (Season 5) DVD:

Episode 78 (Missing Heir) Air Date: 10-09-1981
Episode 79 (Gone, But Not Forgotten) Air Date: 10-16-1981
Episode 80 (Showdown at San Angelo) Air Date: 10-23-1981
Episode 81 (Little Boy Lost) Air Date: 10-30-1981
Episode 82 (The Sweet Smell of Revenge) Air Date: 11-06-1981
Episode 83 (The Big Shut Down) Air Date: 11-13-1981
Episode 84 (Blocked) Air Date: 11-20-1981
Episode 85 (The Split) Air Date: 11-27-1981
Episode 86 (Five Dollars a Barrel) Air Date: 12-04-1981
Episode 87 (Starting Over) Air Date: 12-11-1981
Episode 88 (Waterloo at Southfork) Air Date: 12-18-1981
Episode 89 (Barbecue Two) Air Date: 01-01-1982
Episode 90 (The Search) Air Date: 01-08-1982
Episode 91 (Denial) Air Date: 01-15-1982
Episode 92 (Head of the Family) Air Date: 01-22-1982
Episode 93 (The Phoenix) Air Date: 01-29-1982
Episode 94 (My Father, My Son) Air Date: 02-05-1982
Episode 95 (Anniversary) Air Date: 02-12-1982
Episode 96 (Adoption) Air Date: 02-19-1982
Episode 97 (The Maelstrom) Air Date: 02-26-1982
Episode 98 (The Prodigal) Air Date: 03-05-1982
Episode 99 (Vengeance) Air Date: 03-12-1982
Episode 100 (Blackmail) Air Date: 03-19-1982
Episode 101 (The Investigation) Air Date: 03-26-1982
Episode 102 (Acceptance) Air Date: 04-02-1982
Episode 103 (Goodbye, Cliff Barnes) Air Date: 04-09-1982

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Memoirs Of A Geisha (DVD)

Nominated for six Academy Awards, and winner of three, Memoirs Of A Geisha holds its own as one of the best films of 2005. Veteran Hollywood screenwriter Robin Swicord does a superb job of adapting Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel to the big screen. This film has all the elements of a classic drama – jealousy, politics, intrigue, forbidden love, and an abundance of internal and external conflicts of varying types. Viewers in search of a typical Hollywood blockbuster will be greatly disappointed, but those who appreciate a good character-driven film which takes the time to develop the motivations of its cast and build to a climax will discover a splendid gem which offers a welcome escape from reality.

Memoirs Of A Geisha is narrated from the viewpoint of a nine year-old Japanese girl named Chiyo (Ziyi Zhang). Born into a poor fishing family, Chiyo and her sister are sold into slavery by their father. Chiyo is soon separated from her sister and finds herself in a geisha house where her new master, Mother (Kaori Momoi), will determine her destiny. Although only nine years of age, Chiyo sparks the ire of the much older Hatsumomo (Li Gong), the most celebrated geisha of the house, who accurately perceives Chiyo as a fitting rival.

Li Gong is excellent in her role as the vindictive, yet human, adversary, and her character manages to have Chiyo removed from geisha school and condemned to the life of a common slave. However, Chiyo’s life takes a turn for the better following a chance encounter with The Chairman (Ken Watanabe). Flanked by two geisha, The Chairman extends his kindness to Chiyo, prompting her to develop a lifelong crush and to dream of one day becoming a geisha herself. Chiyo’s wish comes true when a geisha from another house, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh), offers to personally train her, setting up an inevitable conflict between the two and Hatsumomo and her understudy. Meanwhile, the horrors of war and her lifelong pursuit of The Chairman’s love burden Chiyo with additional hardships.

Although some traditionalists and geisha experts might take issue with the portrayal of geishas in general, the film certainly offers an interesting glimpse into a world and culture most Americans will find intriguing. Despite its two hour and twenty-five minute running time, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a captivating film that seems much shorter in duration. Like most films adapted from a novel, those who enjoyed the book will either love it or hate it depending on how well they perceive the switch to the big screen. But even those who hate it must admit that the costume and set design are exquisite and leave little room for improvement. At times, the cast speaks with heavy accents which can be confusing at moments, but overall, the scenes flow well from one to the next. With the exception of some American actors near the conclusion (Ted Levine of Monk fame plays a US Army Colonel), the majority of the cast is composed of Chinese and Japanese actors/actresses who are relatively unknown to American audiences – although Ken Watanabe might be recognizable given recent roles in The Last Samurai (2003) and Batman Begins (2005). The utilization of this cast helps focus audience attention on the merits of the film itself and not on a cast of stars, and this helps, rather than hinders, the film. As such, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a film most fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (DVD)

One of a handful of films which epitomizes the 1980s decade, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off captured the imagination of high school kids all across America as they dreamt of mimicking the title character’s ability to manipulate the authority figures in his life. Written and directed by John Hughes, the brains behind The Breakfast Club (1985) and numerous other 1980’s cult classics, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off launched Matthew Broderick’s acting career into another dimension. In fact, Broderick garnered a Golden Globe nomination for his outstanding performance. It’s a nomination more than worthy of mention, because it’s the strength of the Ferris Bueller character that made this film such a smash hit.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off follows a day in the life of high school senior Ferris Bueller. Nearing graduation, he’s intent on living his life to the fullest (although preferably outside the confines of school). So Ferris takes a planned day of vacation with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), and after a little coaxing, his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) joins them. Against Cameron’s better judgment, the three drive his father’s prized Ferrari into the windy city of Chicago for a day of fine dining, baseball, museums, and spontaneous fun. Meanwhile, Ferris may have successfully fooled his parents into believing he’s deathly ill, but high school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and Ferris’s jealous sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) are not so easy. Intent on shattering his golden boy image, each one is hot on his trail, anxious to expose his web of deceit once and for all.

With a number of hilarious scenes, such as Cameron’s feeble attempt to reverse the mileage on his father’s Ferrari, the film earns its reputation as an elite classic of the 80’s, on par with hits like Back To The Future (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Weird Science (1985). The film does have its off-the-wall moments, such as when Ferris takes over a parade and starts singing while thousands of spectators engage in synchronized dancing. You wouldn’t see such a sequence in a contemporary film, and like similar scenes from The Blues Brothers, it tends to date the film. But the strength of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not its timeless humor, but the likeability of Ferris Bueller himself. Ferris is a cool guy. He doesn’t put anyone down, but only looks for the best in people. More importantly, he manipulates his parents into thinking he’s the perfect embodiment of innocence while he skips school and goes joyriding! Every child of the 80’s wanted to be Ferris Bueller, and the wide appeal of his life philosophy is timeless, which is why the film continues to enjoy success with each new generation.

Further solidifying the movie’s status as a landmark of its decade is the soundtrack, which is certainly one of the more diverse and interesting of its time. Where else can you find The Beatles, Wayne Newton, the theme to Star Wars, and the 80’s classic ‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello all wrapped up into one movie which moves seamlessly from one scene to the next? Throw in a few future Hollywood stars in Kristy Swanson, Ben Stein, and Charlie Sheen (who stayed awake for over two days so he could achieve the desired drugged out expression for his character), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off transforms into the quintessential cult classic. Even after two decades, this film is just as entertaining as when it first premiered.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Scrubs (DVD)

Nominated for 9 Emmys and 2 Golden Globes, Scrubs premiered in Fall 2001 to moderate fanfare and a respectable Nielsen rating of #34. And although the series has yet to achieve blockbuster ratings, it has managed to build a loyal fan base devoted to its unique brand of humor and quirky characters. Created by Bill Lawrence (creator of Spin City), Scrubs is a spoof on the dearth of hospital dramas that have cropped up since ER popularized the genre. In a sense, it’s what Grey’s Anatomy would be like if Ben Stiller were the lead character.

Filmed in a real life hospital (North Hollywood Medical Center), Scrubs follows the bungling day-to-day experiences of medical intern Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff). Along with his college buddy Dr. Christopher Turk (Donald Faison), the two newcomers must learn the ropes of daily life in an actual hospital setting. But Sacred Heart, their new stomping ground, is the epitome of a dysfunctional work environment. One might easily believe that everyone’s job is to dump on J.D. In getting his feet wet, the young intern butts heads with numerous characters such as fellow intern and potential love interest Dr. Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), cranky Chief of Medicine Dr. Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), the ever-abrasive Dr. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley), pessimistic nurse Carla Espinosa (Judy Reyes), and a sarcastic janitor (Neil Flynn).

Scrubs is a character-driven show that’s exceptionally well-written, and the acting is superb. John C. McGinley is fantastic in the role of Dr. Cox, a performance almost as memorable as his portrayal of consultant Bob Slydell in Office Space. His delivery is almost as perfect as that of Ken Jenkins who often resembles Lloyd Bridges from Airplane with his uncanny ability to deliver ridiculous one-liners with a straight face. Veteran talents Sarah Chalke (Becky from Roseanne) and Donald Faison (Murray from Clueless) round out an excellent supporting cast for Zach Braff who makes his mark with this very likeable character. In the end, Scrubs is a situation comedy built on the strength of biting sarcasm and clever humor. And although it’s already enjoyed a successful five-year run, it’s probably one of the most underappreciated comedies on network TV. If you haven’t yet seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Below is a list of episodes included on the Scrubs (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (My First Day) Air Date: 10-02-2001
Episode 2 (My Mentor) Air Date: 10-04-2001
Episode 3 (My Best Friend’s Mistake) Air Date: 10-09-2001
Episode 4 (My Old Lady) Air Date: 10-16-2001
Episode 5 (My Two Dads) Air Date: 10-23-2001
Episode 6 (My Bad) Air Date: 10-30-2001
Episode 7 (My Super Ego) Air Date: 11-06-2001
Episode 8 (My Fifteen Minutes) Air Date: 11-15-2001
Episode 9 (My Day Off) Air Date: 11-20-2001
Episode 10 (My Nickname) Air Date: 11-27-2001
Episode 11 (My Own Personal Jesus) Air Date: 12-11-2001
Episode 12 (My Blind Date) Air Date: 01-08-2002
Episode 13 (My Balancing Act) Air Date: 01-15-2002
Episode 14 (My Drug Buddy) Air Date: 01-22-2002
Episode 15 (My Bed Banter and Beyond) Air Date: 02-05-2002
Episode 16 (My Heavy Meddle) Air Date: 02-26-2002
Episode 17 (My Student) Air Date: 03-05-2002
Episode 18 (My Tuscaloosa Heart) Air Date: 03-12-2002
Episode 19 (My Old Man) Air Date: 04-09-2002
Episode 20 (My Way or the Highway) Air Date: 04-16-2002
Episode 21 (My Sacrificial Clam) Air Date: 04-30-2002
Episode 22 (My Occurrence) Air Date: 05-07-2002
Episode 23 (My Hero) Air Date: 05-14-2002
Episode 24 (My Last Day) Air Date: 05-21-2002

Monday, July 17, 2006

Titanic (DVD)

Nominated for 14 Academy Awards and winner of 11 including Best Picture, Titanic became a worldwide phenomenon upon its release in 1997. Written and directed by James Cameron, the producer behind such hits as Terminator 2 and True Lies, the film chronicles the tragic 1912 sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage while interweaving a classic love story. At 194 minutes, it’s probably the longest commercial blockbuster in recent memory. Apparently, the sinking of the ship mirrors the real life timeline of the original sinking of the Titanic and that’s the reason for the three-hour plus running time (or at least, that’s what I’ve heard). Nevertheless, unless you’re absolutely disgusted by overly idealistic love stories, it’s a film well worth watching.

Titanic centers around the life of Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a young woman onboard the celebrated launch of Titanic, the world’s largest luxury ship and a vessel believed to be indestructible. Accompanied by her social-climbing mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her arrogantly wealthy fiancĂ© Caledon Hockley (Billy Zane), Rose is bound for the beauty and sophistication of Continental Europe. But her trip, and her life, take an unexpected turn when she encounters Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), a vagabond artist with no money, zero social status, and a zest for life. Against the wishes of Ruth, Rose and Jack fall in love, incurring the wrathful vengeance of Caledon. But, in the end, only a disaster of epic proportions can break the couple apart.

With a number of standout performances by a star-studding cast, including previous Academy Award winner Kathy Bates in the role of “new money” heiress Molly Brown, Titanic is a truly memorable film. The scope and opulence of the fabled ship is simply breathtaking, and the costumes and props form a brilliant kaleidoscope of images from the past. Although an overblown and idealistic teenage love story was the true focus of the film, Titanic created enough action and suspense during the sinking to keep viewers who aren’t interested in such plots interested. Inevitably, most viewers will envision themselves in the midst of such circumstances, wondering how they would react. Parts of the film are narrated from the perspective of a present day speaker, and the flashback sequences are combined to good effect. Overall, it makes for an outstanding film.

James Horner composed the musical score for Titanic, and his efforts are one reason the film experienced such widespread success. With a number of brilliant and original scores already to his credit – Field Of Dreams (1989), Legends Of The Fall (1994), and Braveheart (1995) all come to mind – Horner expands upon his unique voice by creating a soundtrack that combines the lazy breeze of an Iowa cornfield with the majestic plains of Scotland. In addition, Celine Dion provides the breakout performance of her career with the hit single “My Heart Will Go On,” which in the movie is paired with the most famous scene from the film in which Jack and Rose stand on the bow of the Titanic and pretend to fly. Not surprisingly, I’ve learned that in the years since, many tourists have lost their lives trying to mimic them. So I don’t recommend you try that! But I do advise watching Titanic. If you can sit through the sappy, melodramatic love scenes and the accompanying dialogue, you’ll be blown away by the special effects, the costumes, the set, and the soundtrack.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Seinfeld (Season 7) DVD

The show that literally redefined the sitcom genre, Seinfeld evolved from an idea of “a show about nothing” into a sacred pop culture icon. The show follows the life and times of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his best friends, George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards), and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Living lives of complete selfishness (which is why most of us relate so well to the show), they’re joined by an extensive cast of eccentric supporting characters such as Newman, Uncle Leo, J. Peterman, the Soup Nazi, Frank and Estelle Costanza, and countless others.

The Seinfeld (Season 7) DVD features some of most hilarious episodes in the series including the season premiere “The Engagement” in which Jerry and George agree that their lives are utterly pathetic, prompting them to make a pact to settle down. Reinvigorated by life, George proposes to his ex-girlfriend Susan, but is soon enraged when he discovers Jerry has broken up with his latest girlfriend. As a result, George spends the remainder of Season 7 trying to concoct the perfect scheme for breaking up with Susan.

Another notable episode is “The Soup Nazi,” an episode based on a real life soup counter in New York City. One of most quoted Seinfeld shows in history, the Soup Nazi character and his “No soup for you!” tagline instantly became part of the American vernacular. “The Rye,” where George and Jerry make a feeble attempt to replace a marble rye stolen by George’s parents actually spawned an Internet video game, and “The Cadillac” features Morty Seinfeld and arch-nemesis Jack Klompus at their very best. Throw in Newman and Kramer’s Michigan recycling plan and a season finale cliffhanger that ranks among the best in series history, and Season 7 of Seinfeld is guaranteed to entertain anyone who loves comedy!

Below is a list of episodes included on the Seinfeld (Season 7) DVD:

Episode 111 (The Engagement) Air Date: 09-21-1995
Episode 112 (The Postponement) Air Date: 09-28-1995
Episode 113 (The Maestro) Air Date: 10-05-1995
Episode 114 (The Wink) Air Date: 10-12-1995
Episode 115 (The Hot Tub) Air Date: 10-19-1995
Episode 116 (The Soup Nazi) Air Date: 11-02-1995
Episode 117 (The Secret Code) Air Date: 11-09-1995
Episode 118 (The Pool Guy) Air Date: 11-16-1995
Episode 119 (The Sponge) Air Date: 12-07-1995
Episode 120 (The Gum) Air Date: 12-14-1995
Episode 121 (The Rye) Air Date: 01-04-1996
Episode 122 (The Caddy) Air Date: 01-25-1996
Episode 123 (The Seven) Air Date: 02-01-1996
Episode 124 (The Cadillac: Part 1) Air Date: 02-08-1996
Episode 125 (The Cadillac: Part 2) Air Date: 02-08-1996
Episode 126 (The Shower Head) Air Date: 02-15-1996
Episode 127 (The Doll) Air Date: 02-22-1996
Episode 128 (The Friars Club) Air Date: 03-07-1996
Episode 129 (The Wig Master) Air Date: 04-04-1996
Episode 130 (The Calzone) Air Date: 04-25-1996
Episode 131 (The Bottle Deposit: Part 1) Air Date: 05-02-1996
Episode 132 (The Bottle Deposit: Part 2) Air Date: 05-02-1996
Episode 133 (The Wait Out) Air Date: 05-09-1996
Episode 134 (The Invitations) Air Date: 05-16-1996

Munich (DVD)

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Munich is undoubtedly director Steven Spielberg’s best work since Band of Brothers (2001). At 2 hours and 44 minutes, the film moves along at a surprisingly quick pace. Spielberg makes adequate use of the time, providing added depth to the characters and illustrating the changes each undertakes in the course of his mission.

Writers Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, the latter of whom is best known for Forrest Gump (1994), team well together in producing a splendid screenplay. The characters are well-rounded and the dialogue well-constructed. Instead of aiming for zinging one-liners or melodramatic sound-bites, Kushner and Roth craft the film’s dialogue to mark the pace of the of story, illustrate character motivations, and make subtle but not overblown commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Overall, it makes for an enjoyable and worthwhile movie experience.

Munich chronicles the historical events of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in which a Palestinian terrorist group known as Black September storms the Olympic Village. While the entire world watches, 11 of the terrorists evade capture after murdering 12 Israeli hostages. Torn between calls for peace and vengeance, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) orders Mossad to form a secret unit of assassins to hunt down and eliminate the perpetrators.

Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) is tasked with heading a team of five individuals composed of himself and four others known only as Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciaram Hinds), Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz), and Hans (Hanns Zischler). Each man is chosen for the unique skill set he brings to the table, and the group is left to its own devices when it comes to locating and killing the 11 terrorists who are scattered throughout Continental Europe. Methodically, they carry out the mission. But as they eliminate their enemies one-by-one, each man must grapple with the transformative influence such a job has on his perception of life, family, and country.

Munich is a superb film which performs well in exploring the common theme of black versus white and the gray areas in between. Given the wide range of differing accents, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the characters, but this becomes a strength because it heightens viewer senses and breathes life into the story. Much like The Passion Of The Christ, the use of subtitles and various accents doesn’t detract from the film, but instead helps transform it in a production seemingly more worthy of serious attention than an alternative cartoon-like, James Bond rendition. As such, Munich doesn’t spell things out for the audience like a typical Hollywood blockbuster. No dates or geographical locations appear onscreen, and character dialogue doesn’t insult the viewer by recounting historical events. To better understand what’s happening, it helps to know the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Overall, Munich is a solid film. It does an excellent job of portraying the conflicts between Arab/Israeli and Muslim/Jew without rationalizing or portraying either side as totally good or totally evil. Instead, the two sides are seen as fellow human beings, each longing for essentially the same human desires for peace, love of family, and identity with a homeland. Unfortunately, these desires are attainable only in the context of the other side’s defeat.