Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Office (Season 2) DVD

One of the best new comedies on television, The Office chronicles the inner-workings of the fictional Pennsylvania paper company Dunder-Mifflin. The name itself sort of alludes to a bureaucratic labyrinth administered by dunderheads, and in reality, it is. Unfortunately, what makes The Office so outrageously funny is the frightening ability of its millions of viewers to relate to the onscreen happenings. Dunder-Mifflin is mis-managed by the politically-incorrect, borderline lunatic Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Deploying his twisted logic as the basis of company policy, substituting worn out clichés for real leadership, and offering an endless array of ever ridiculous group activities to “increase morale,” he fosters a white collar environment that makes the comic strip world of Dilbert seem desirable in contrast.

Carell, one of Hollywood’s hottest stars, shines in the role of the crazed and eccentric office manager, and his talents are well complimented by Rainn Wilson in the role of Michael’s butt-kissing, rule-Nazi sycophant, Dwight Schrute. Dwight’s over-the-top antics regularly conflict with the rest of the office, particularly co-worker and desk neighbor Jim Halpert (John Krasinski). An unspoken office crush between Jim and Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer) makes for an interesting and recurring subplot. The two epitomize the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees who convey themselves as logical, well-reasoned, and normal individuals; normal people trapped in a bizarro world where bumbling idiots like Michael and Dwight preside over their work week. Similar in theme to the hilarious feature film Office Space, the show provides viewers with a much more excitable Bill Lumbergh lording over an army of Peter Gibbons-like worker bees. For creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who first experienced success with the concept in the United Kingdom, it’s a surefire recipe for pure, unadulterated laughter.

The Office (Season 2) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “The Dundies” in which the annual staff awards, “The Dundies,” are handed out by Michael. Michael struggles with the event due to some corporate complaints about his past handling of the event, while still managing to offend each and every one of his fellow employees. Following a fight with Roy, Pam gets hammered and the spends the evening joking around with Jim. The two end up kissing before Pam catches a ride home with another coworker… Other episodes include “Christmas Party” in which Michael screws up the office Christmas party with another one of his erratic decisions, and “Conflict Resolution” in which Michael’s efforts to improve relations within the office result in a worse situation.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Office (Season 2) DVD:

Episode 7 (The Dundies) Air Date: 09-20-2005
Episode 8 (Sexual Harassment) Air Date: 09-27-2005
Episode 9 (Office Olympics) Air Date: 10-04-2005
Episode 10 (The Fire) Air Date: 10-11-2005
Episode 11 (Halloween) Air Date: 10-18-2005
Episode 12 (The Fight) Air Date: 11-01-2005
Episode 13 (The Client) Air Date: 11-08-2005
Episode 14 (Performance Review) Air Date: 11-15-2005
Episode 15 (Email Surveillance) Air Date: 11-22-2005
Episode 16 (Christmas Party) Air Date: 12-06-2005
Episode 17 (Booze Cruise) Air Date: 01-05-2006
Episode 18 (The Injury) Air Date: 01-12-2006
Episode 19 (The Secret) Air Date: 01-19-2006
Episode 20 (The Carpet) Air Date: 01-26-2006
Episode 21 (Boys and Girls) Air Date: 02-02-2006
Episode 22 (Valentine’s Day) Air Date: 02-09-2006
Episode 23 (Dwight’s Speech) Air Date: 03-02-2006
Episode 24 (Take Your Daughter to Work Day) Air Date: 03-16-2006
Episode 25 (Michael’s Birthday) Air Date: 03-30-2006
Episode 26 (Drug Testing) Air Date: 04-27-2006
Episode 27 (Conflict Resolution) Air Date: 05-04-2006
Episode 28 (Casino Night) Air Date: 05-11-2006

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Taxi (Season 3) DVD

With its biting humor and eccentric characters, Taxi is widely lauded as one of the top sitcoms in television history. The brainchild of James L. Brooks, whose golden touch played a role in such hits as The Andy Griffith Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Simpsons, Taxi continues to entertain and gather generations of new fans through syndicated reruns. With a superb cast and great writers, the show introduced the world to the comedic talents of Hollywood mainstays like Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, and Andy Kaufman.

Taxi follows the daily operations of the Sunshine Cab Company, a New York City taxi service run by tyrannical dispatcher Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito). De Palma’s self-centered sarcastic remarks are often dispensed from the safety of his pathetically small office in the corner of the body shop, while various employees like Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch), Tony Banta (Danza), and Elaine Nardo (Henner) socialize and plot against their common enemy. Add foreign mechanic Latka Gravas (Kaufman) to the mix and all the ingredients are in place for hours of endless laughter. As the characters deal with problems of varying degree in their personal lives, the audience is treated to some of the best comedy ever produced for the small screen.

The Taxi (Season 3) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Louie’s Rival” in which Louie’s girlfriend Zena dumps him for a bartender at Mario’s. Danny DeVito provides another hilarious performance as the heartless Louie… Other notable episodes include “The Costume Party” in which the gang crashes a luxury yacht party in the hopes of meeting some famous people, and “Bobby and the Critic” in which Bobby happens upon one of the theater critics who recently bashed his performance.

Below is a list of episodes included on the Taxi (Season 3) DVD:

Episode 47 (Louie’s Rival) Air Date: 11-19-1980
Episode 48 (Tony’s Sister and Jim) Air Date: 11-26-1980
Episode 49 (Fathers of the Bride) Air Date: 12-03-1980
Episode 50 (Elaine’s Strange Triangle) Air Date: 12-10-1980
Episode 51 (Going Home) Air Date: 12-17-1980
Episode 52 (The Ten Percent Solution) Air Date: 01-07-1981
Episode 53 (The Call of the Mild) Air Date: 01-21-1981
Episode 54 (Latka’s Cookies) Air Date: 02-05-1981
Episode 55 (Thy Boss’s Wife) Air Date: 02-12-1981
Episode 56 (The Costume Party) Air Date: 02-19-1981
Episode 57 (Elaine’s Old Friend) Air Date: 02-26-1981
Episode 58 (Out of Commission) Air Date: 03-12-1981
Episode 59 (Zen and the Art of Cab Driving) Air Date: 03-19-1981
Episode 60 (Louie’s Mother) Air Date: 03-26-1981
Episode 61 (Bobby’s Roommate) Air Date: 04-09-1981
Episode 62 (Louie Bumps Into an Old Lady) Air Date: 04-16-1981
Episode 63 (Bobby and the Critic) Air Date: 04-30-1981
Episode 64 (On the Job: Part 1) Air Date: 05-07-1981
Episode 65 (On the Job: Part 2) Air Date: 05-14-1981
Episode 66 (Latka the Playboy) Air Date: 05-21-1981

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Simpsons (Season 8) DVD

One of the best TV shows of the modern era, or for that matter any era, The Simpsons rekindled the popularity of the prime time animation genre. A blockbuster series filled with a diverse cast of characters from the fictional town Springfield, the series aided the upstart FOX network in its rise from second-rate TV channel to the elite status of a major network like CBS, NBC, or ABC. This overwhelming success opened the door for a number of similar animated series such as Futurama (1999), The Family Guy (1999), and King Of The Hill (1997). With arguably of the best collection of writing talent in the TV industry, The Simpsons has managed to maintain consistency as one of the funniest shows on television – quite an accomplishment given the length of its run.

The Simpsons (Season 8) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Treehouse of Horror VII,” one of the best of the annual Simpson Halloween episodes. The three stories covered include the discovery of Bart’s evil twin in the attic, Lisa’s creation of an alternative universe, and an alien invasion propagated by Bob Dole and Bill Clinton look-alikes. Other notable episodes from Season 8 include “A Milhouse Divided” in which Milhouse’s parents decide to get a divorce, prompting Homer and Marge to take sides in the separation, and “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” in which Homer becomes the voiceover for the highly anticipated arrival of Poochie, a new character on the Itchy & Scratchy Show. But things take a turn for the worst when reviews of Poochie are unanimously derogatory.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Simpsons (Season 8) DVD:

Episode 154 (Treehouse of Horror VII) Air Date: 10-27-1996
Episode 155 (You Only Move Twice) Air Date: 11-03-1996
Episode 156 (The Homer They Fall) Air Date: 11-10-1996
Episode 157 (Burns Baby Burns) Air Date: 11-17-1996
Episode 158 (Bart After Dark) Air Date: 11-24-1996
Episode 159 (A Milhouse Divided) Air Date: 12-01-1996
Episode 160 (Lisa’s Date with Density) Air Date: 12-15-1996
Episode 161 (Hurricane Neddy) Air Date: 12-29-1996
Episode 162 (The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer) Air Date: 01-05-1997
Episode 163 (The Springfield Files) Air Date: 01-12-1997
Episode 164 (The Twisted World of Marge Simpson) Air Date: 01-19-1997
Episode 165 (Fountain of Madness) Air Date: 02-02-1997
Episode 166 (Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious) Air Date: 02-07-1997
Episode 167 (The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show) Air Date: 02-09-1997
Episode 168 (Homer’s Phobia) Air Date: 02-16-1997
Episode 169 (Brother from Another Series) Air Date: 02-23-1997
Episode 170 (My Sister, My Sitter) Air Date: 03-02-1997
Episode 171 (Homer vs. The 18th Amendment) Air Date: 03-16-1997
Episode 172 (Grade School Confidential) Air Date: 04-06-1997
Episode 173 (The Canine Mutiny) Air Date: 04-13-1997
Episode 174 (The Old Man and the Lisa) Air Date: 04-20-1997
Episode 175 (In Marge We Trust) Air Date: 04-27-1997
Episode 176 (Homer’s Enemy) Air Date: 05-04-1997
Episode 177 (Simpson Spin-Off Showcase) Air Date: 05-11-1997
Episode 178 (The Secret War of Lisa Simpson) Air Date: 05-18-1997

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Simpsons (Season 7) DVD

One of the best television shows of its time, or any time for that matter, The Simpsons has resurrected the prime time animation genre. A blockbuster series populated with eccentric characters from the town Springfield, it helped launch the upstart FOX network from second-tier network to a major player alongside CBS, NBC, and ABC. This success opened the door for a plethora of animated series, such as The Family Guy (1999), Futurama (1999), and King Of The Hill (1997). With some of the best and most consistent writers in television, The Simpsons has spent an unprecedented length of time as one of the funniest shows on TV. That’s quite an accomplishment given the level of excellence it takes to manufacture so many episodes over such a long period of time.

The Simpsons (Season 7) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Springfield’s Most Wanted” in which John Walsh, host of the FOX series America’s Most Wanted, summarizes various theories as to who shot Springfield tycoon Montgomery Burns. This show originally aired prior to the season seven premiere that wraps up this plot twist, but it appears on The Simpsons (Season 6) DVD. Other notable episodes from Season 7 include “King-Size” in which Homer’s dream of working from home leads him to pursue a high-octane regimen of unhealthy binge eating (in order to get fat enough to qualify for company disability), and “A Fish Called Selma” in which Troy McClure seduces, and eventually marries, Marge’s sister Selma in enough to resuscitate his fledgling Hollywood career.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Simpsons (Season 7) DVD:

Episode 128 (Springfield’s Most Wanted) Air Date: 09-17-1995
Episode 129 (Who Shot Mr. Burns?) Air Date: 09-17-1995
Episode 130 (Radioactive Man) Air Date: 09-24-1995
Episode 131 (Home Sweet Home-Dum Diddly Doodly) Air Date: 10-01-1995
Episode 132 (Bart Sells His Soul) Air Date: 10-08-1995
Episode 133 (Lisa the Vegetarian) Air Date: 10-15-1995
Episode 134 (Treehouse of Horror VI) Air Date: 10-29-1995
Episode 135 (King-Size Homer) Air Date: 11-05-1995
Episode 136 (Mother Simpson) Air Date: 11-19-1995
Episode 137 (Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming) Air Date: 11-26-1995
Episode 138 (The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular) Air Date: 12-03-1995
Episode 139 (Marge Be Not Proud) Air Date: 12-17-1995
Episode 140 (Team Homer) Air Date: 01-07-1996
Episode 141 (Two Bad Neighbors) Air Date: 01-14-1996
Episode 142 (Scenes from a Class Struggle in Springfield) Air Date: 02-04-1996
Episode 143 (Bart the Fink) Air Date: 02-11-1996
Episode 144 (Lisa the Iconoclast) Air Date: 02-18-1996
Episode 145 (Homer the Smithers) Air Date: 02-25-1996
Episode 146 (The Day the Violence Died) Air Date: 03-17-1996
Episode 147 (A Fish Called Selma) Air Date: 03-24-1996
Episode 148 (Bart on the Road) Air Date: 03-31-1996
Episode 149 (22 Short Films About Springfield) Air Date: 04-14-1996
Episode 150 (Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”) Air Date: 04-28-1996
Episode 151 (Much Apu About Nothing) Air Date: 05-05-1996
Episode 152 (Homerpalooza) Air Date: 05-19-1996
Episode 153 (Summer of 4’2”) Air Date: 05-19-1996

Monday, August 14, 2006

On Golden Pond (DVD)

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and eventual winner of 3 Oscars, On Golden Pond is an unconventional Hollywood blockbuster. Based on the play of the same name by Ernest Thompson, the film offers a character driven storyline that explores numerous themes such as aging, abandonment, and family relationships of various types. Veteran film and TV director Mark Rydell packs the big screen with a star-studded cast for this 1981 release. Because of its well developed characters and realistic portrayal of human interactions, it’s a film that’s almost certain to make you laugh, cry, and/or smile. In fact, if you don’t find Norman to be one of the most hilarious and eccentric characters ever created, then you must not be watching the same film.

On Golden Pond follows the lives of a retired New England couple on their annual summer vacation to Golden Pond. Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) is an aging, long-retired college professor. Sarcastic and crotchety, he manages to distance himself from just about everyone but his wife Ethel (Katharine Hepburn). In fact, his biting demeanor nearly destroys he and his daughter’s relationship, Chelsea (Jane Fonda). When Chelsea brings her new boyfriend Bill (Dabney Coleman) to visit, it isn’t long before Norman stirs things up once again. But Norman and Ethel get an unexpected summer guest when Bill and Chelsea take a prolonged European vacation and leave Bill’s 13-year-old son Billy in their care. It makes for an odd threesome, but as the three learn to live with each other’s quirks, they also learn from each other. But the true test for the new family comes when Chelsea and Bill return from Europe. Can she learn to accept her father’s vices? And can Norman finally be proud of his daughter for who she is?

Hollywood veterans Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda turn in two of the best performances of their respective careers. Fonda is absolutely brilliant as the doddering and cranky Norman. One can’t help but laugh at his antics, although it helps that he has the best written lines in the entire movie. Dabney Coleman, although brief in his appearance, makes an immediate impression when he engages in a classic dialogue with Henry Fonda over the evening’s sleeping arrangements. However, in the end, On Golden Pond works because of the chemistry between the three characters who encompass the majority of the story – Ethel, Norman, and Billy. They bind together to create an epic drama rife with conflict, conquest, and chaos without all the usual Hollywood blood and gore. It’s truly rare to have a film of this nature capture audiences without boring them, and On Golden Pond pulls it off.

Complimenting this strong cast and screenplay is a simple, yet memorable instrumental soundtrack composed by Dave Grusin, veteran TV and film composer known for such works as Tootsie (1982) and The Goonies (1985). Filmed on location on and around the Squam Lakes in New Hampshire, the beauty and majesty of this untainted landscape blends perfectly with its tailor-made soundtrack to create a theme of endless peace and tranquility. Overall, it makes for a rather enjoyable movie experience. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch On Golden Pond. Then, see if you can say “Ethel Thayer” really fast without a lisp!

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 fiancé 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.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Crash (DVD)

Nominated for six Academy Awards, and winner of Best Picture, Crash is more than deserving of the critical acclaim surrounding its release. Probing the deepest recesses of racism, prejudice, and discrimination in modern day America, the film forces viewers to examine their own tendencies to create and foster stereotypes. More importantly, it does so in a way that doesn’t accuse, blame, or pursue a political agenda. In fact, Crash even touches on the shortcomings of political correctness and how some people have allowed outside perceptions to affect personal judgment, often to their own detriment. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, author of the Million Dollar Baby screenplay, Crash is a thoughtful piece of social commentary wrapped in a storyline ripe with conflict and suspense.

Crash follows numerous characters living in and around Los Angeles as they deal with racial perceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes in their daily lives. Jean Cabot (Sandra Bullock) struggles with her inability to trust her own instincts following a car-jacking which leaves her teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, police officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) harasses African-Americans as a result of the prejudices he developed following his father’s bankruptcy years ago. Lucien (Dato Bakhtadze) and his wife Elizabeth (Karina Arroyave) find their own biases and self-perceptions erupting to the surface of their marriage following a traumatic encounter with Officer Ryan. The consequences of Ryan’s hatred have a rippling effect, a theme which is repeated in countless other social exchanges between store owners, locksmiths, detectives, and hockey enthusiasts. In short, Crash sets out to jar its audience into recognition of the enormous consequences of racial prejudice, no matter how “minor” we may believe those attitudes may be.

The cast of Crash is superb. Don Cheadle completes his graduation from the front desk of The Golden Girls spin-off Golden Palace by turning in a second blockbuster performance within a matter of months (Hotel Rwanda would be the other). Like other characters from the film, Cheadle’s Graham is unable to fully develop due to time constraints, yet he manages to come across as a sympathetic and flawed character. The same can be said of Matt Dillon’s portrayal of Officer John Ryan. He isn’t a mere hatemonger skinhead, but rather a caring individual who developed detrimental prejudice based on past events from his childhood. In the end, like many of the film’s characters, the audience gets a glimpse of his good side.

Overall, Crash is an excellent film that lives up to the notoriety and hype. For the typical viewer, it will evoke myriad emotions – hatred of racism, loathing of man’s inhumanity to man, empathy, self-reflection, and an awareness of how one’s own prejudices may affect others. Paul Haggis brilliantly illustrates the consequences of widespread attitudes harboring racist, prejudicial, discriminatory, and stereotypical overtones. He does so without pointing fingers or assigning blame. Everyone is guilty; no race, gender, class, or ideology is spared. Crash also probes the depths of American prejudice by addressing the unintended consequences of both affirmative action and political-correctness. It’s this reluctance to strictly adhere to an ideological agenda that empowers Crash with its universal appeal. By not being preachy, the film is better able to relate its themes to viewers from every type of background and perspective. It’s an entertaining film. Hopefully, it also makes each us think twice about the way in which we relate to our fellow man. If so, then Crash is more than just a film; it’s a world-changing experience.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Office (DVD)

One of the most refreshing new comedy series on TV, The Office catalogues the inner-workings of a fictional Pennsylvania paper company called Dunder-Mifflin. The name itself alludes to some sort of bureaucratic labyrinth administered by dunderheads, and in reality, it is. Unfortunately, what makes The Office so hilarious is the ability of viewers to relate to the onscreen office culture. The branch office of Dunder-Mifflin viewers are privy to is managed by the politically-incorrect, borderline lunatic Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Using twisted logic to set company policy, worn out clichés as a substitute for leadership, and an endless array of corny group activities to lift employee morale, he creates an office atmosphere that makes the career of Dilbert seem desirable in contrast.

Carell, star of the recent box office hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, shines in the role of the nutty and eccentric office manager, and his talents are well complimented by Rainn Wilson who plays the part of Michael’s butt-kiss, rule-Nazi lackey, Dwight Schrute. Dwight’s over-the-top antics conflict with the rest of the office, particularly co-worker Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) whom Dwight would like to fire. A charming unspoken office crush between Jim and Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer) makes for an interesting and recurring subplot. Both Jim and Pam epitomize the remainder of the cast of Dunder-Mifflin employees who come across as logical, well-reasoned, and normal individuals. Normal people stuck in a bizarre world where idiots like Michael and Dwight preside over their working hours. Similar in theme to the equally funny feature film Office Space, The Office provides us with a much more excitable Bill Lumbergh lording over an army of Peter Gibbons-like worker bees. For creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who first experienced success with the concept in the UK, it’s a recipe for pure, unadulterated laughter.

The Office (Season 1) DVD features six hilarious episodes including the season premiere in which a camera crew arrives at Dunder-Mifflin in order to film a documentary. Naturally, Michael tries to portray himself as a brilliant steward of office productivity, while office enemies Jim and Dwight engage in a series of desk battles. Viewers also get a glimpse of the regular flirtations between Jim and Pam. Other notable episodes include “Diversity Day” in which Michael engages in a feeble and half-hearted attempt to shed light on office diversity, while alienating most of his employees in the process, and “Health Care” in which Michael, afraid of bearing bad news, delegates his authority to Dwight who creates an utter fiasco of the company health care plan.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Office (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 03-24-2005
Episode 2 (Diversity Day) Air Date: 03-29-2005
Episode 3 (Health Care) Air Date: 04-05-2005
Episode 4 (The Alliance) Air Date: 04-12-2005
Episode 5 (Basketball) Air Date: 04-19-2005
Episode 6 (Hot Girl) Air Date: 04-26-2005

Sunday, May 28, 2006

My Name Is Earl (DVD)

One of the best new shows of the past several years, My Name Is Earl follows the life of Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), a man who discovers karma while lying in a hospital bed. Celebrating a $100,000 scratch-off lottery ticket, Earl gets hit by a car and knocked unconscious. His lottery ticket escapes in the wind, and Earl is hurried to the hospital where a revelation from Carson Daly hits him like a ton of bricks. Convinced that his bad luck is the result of bad karma, Earl compiles a list of everything he’s done wrong from grade school to the present, and he’s intent on fixing every bullet point on his list… Nominated for two Golden Globes in its first season, My Name Is Earl won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Television Comedy. Created by Gregory Thomas Garcia, creator of the popular Yes, Dear, the series is certain to be a favorite for years to come with its eccentric characters, brilliant writing, and infinite episode possibilities (no doubt the list will grow as Earl tackles each thing on it)…

Joining Earl on his quest are his dim, yet innocent brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), friend and illegal alien hotel maid Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), Earl’s trailer trash ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly), and Joy’s new husband Darnell “Crabman” Turner (Eddie Staples). Also along for the ride is $100,000 in lottery winnings. Even though Earl lost the lottery ticket when he got hit by the car, his newfound dedication to the principles of karma pays immediate dividends when a gust of wind places the missing ticket right in front of his feet. With the money at their disposal, Earl and Randy dedicate themselves full-time to the task of crossing things off Earl’s list. It’s a quest that makes for some of the most interesting and comedic moments in television history…

The My Name Is Earl DVD features twenty-four hilarious episodes including the season premiere in which Earl sets out to help a former grade school classmate he used to pick on relentlessly, Kenny James (Gregg Binkley). Learning that Kenny is gay and lonely, Earl works overtime to find Kenny a partner… Other notable episodes from season one include “Stole Beer From A Golfer” in which Earl and Randy must pay back a golfer (Johnny Galecki) who they cheated out of free beer (a difficult task once they realize their actions have ruined his life), and the season finale, “Number One,” in which Earl sets out to rectify the number one thing on his list: “stole ten dollars from a guy in the convenience store”. But #1 becomes the most difficult item on Earl’s list when he realizes the guy he stole the ten dollars from would have used it to buy the $100,000 lottery ticket. In order to placate karma, Earl must not only give back the $10, but the entire $100,000…

Below is a list of episodes included on the My Name Is Earl (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 09-20-2005
Episode 2 (Quit Smoking) Air Date: 09-27-2005
Episode 3 (Randy’s Touchdown) Air Date: 10-04-2005
Episode 4 (Faked His Own Death) Air Date: 10-11-2005
Episode 5 (Teacher Earl) Air Date: 10-18-2005
Episode 6 (Broke Joy’s Fancy Figurine) Air Date: 11-01-2005
Episode 7 (Stole Beer From A Golfer) Air Date: 11-08-2005
Episode 8 (Joy’s Wedding) Air Date: 11-15-2005
Episode 9 (Cost Dad The Election) Air Date: 11-22-2005
Episode 10 (White Lie Christmas) Air Date: 12-06-2005
Episode 11 (Barn Burner) Air Date: 01-05-2006
Episode 12 (O Karma, Where Art Thou?) Air Date: 01-12-2006
Episode 13 (Stole P’S Hd Cart) Air Date: 01-19-2006
Episode 14 (Monkeys In Space) Air Date: 01-26-2006
Episode 15 (Something To Live For) Air Date: 02-02-2006
Episode 16 (The Professor) Air Date: 02-09-2006
Episode 17 (Didn’t Pay Taxes) Air Date: 03-02-2006
Episode 18 (Dad’s Car) Air Date: 03-16-2006
Episode 19 (Y2K) Air Date: 03-23-2006
Episode 20 (Boogeyman) Air Date: 03-30-2006
Episode 21 (The Bounty Hunter) Air Date: 04-06-2006
Episode 22 (Stole A Badge) Air Date: 04-27-2006
Episode 23 (BB) Air Date: 05-04-2006
Episode 24 (Number One) Air Date: 05-11-2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Just Friends (DVD)

A somewhat hilarious and charming romantic comedy, Just Friends explores the innermost depths of the infamous “friend zone” of male/female relationships. Directed by Roger Kumble, the brains behind the widely lauded film Cruel Intentions (1999), the film has a novel premise, and although not the funniest comedy to hit the big screen in the past few years, it does have some really funny moments. Adam ‘Tex’ Davis makes his debut as a screenwriter after extensive work in cinematography and TV writing, and his efforts are above average, but Just Friends is not in the same league as similar themed contemporaries such as There’s Something About Mary (1998) and Meet The Parents (2000). Nevertheless, it’s a film well worth seeing…

Just Friends follows the life of Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds), a formerly obese New Jersey high school student in love with classmate Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). However, Chris long ago fell into the “friend zone,” and although, he spent much of his adolescence bonding and building memories with Jamie, she never saw him as anything more than a friend. At their 1995 graduation party, Chris vows to reveal his true feelings, but his well-intentioned attempt blows up in his face when a jerk classmate humiliates him in front of his peers. Enraged, Chris vows to leave town and “become somebody”.

Fast forward ten years to 2005, where Chris is a thin, romantically smooth and wealthy record executive living in Los Angeles. He lives in a multi-million dollar house, drives a flashy sports car, and dates a string of beautiful models. Against his wishes, Chris is forced to watch over one of the company’s hottest pop artists, the ditsy and annoying Samantha James (Anna Faris). En route to Paris, their jet becomes grounded in New Jersey, and Chris is left with no alternative but to return home. While there, he’s reminded of his lifelong crush on Jamie. With newfound confidence, Chris sets out to win over Jamie, but in so doing, he doesn’t act like the real Chris, and his actions have the opposite effect. Meanwhile, a rival suitor from high school, a guitar-playing nice guy named Dusty (Chris Klein), enters the picture. His courtship threatens to ruin Chris’s latest pursuit of Jamie, but in the end, the only impediment to Chris’s lifelong dream is himself…

Cut from a formulaic genre, the resolution of Just Friends is rather predictable. But moviegoers don’t watch these types of films for suspense; they only want to laugh. And anyone who enjoyed Ryan Reynolds in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder is going to enjoy his performance in this film as well. Although not as well-written as the aforementioned film, Reynolds helps prop up the script with a well-cast comic persona akin to Owen Wilson and a straight-face delivery that would make Leslie Nielsen jealous. In fact, Just Friends is a good pick for those hoping to just laugh out loud. Two particularly hilarious scenes come to mind, one in which Chris makes an unexpected return to the ice rink after busting his lip, and one in which he receives an unexpected hand-hold while watching The Notebook. The latter is especially hilarious, and Adam Davis deserves extra credit for creating this classic and original scene. In the end, Just Friends will never garner the status of all-time comedy cult classic, but for the present day, it more than fulfills its promise to create laughter…

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In Her Shoes (DVD)

One of the best date films of 2005, In Her Shoes is a dramatic relationship comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the hand behind such films as 8 Mile (2002), LA Confidential (1997), and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992), the film is successful in a genre where so many of its peers have miserably failed. The casting is superb, and the onscreen interaction between the various characters creates a realistic impression of wavering love and conflict. Based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner, it weaves a tale of two sisters with differing lifestyles and a lifetime of personal baggage…

In Her Shoes begins with the latest installment of an ongoing personality clash between sisters Rose (Toni Collette) and Maggie (Cameron Diaz) Feller. When the shy and reserved Rose is approached by the most eligible bachelor in her law firm, the two hit it off quite nicely. But Maggie ruins the affair when she shows up on Rose’s doorstep and steals the man away with her unrelenting flirtations. After constant feuding, Rose kicks Maggie out while contemplating her own future. She takes a leave of absence from her law firm and contemplates dog walking as an alternative career path. Along the way, she encounters another colleague from the firm, Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein). The two strike up a romantic relationship, but Rose’s past threatens to ruin the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Maggie discovers the two have a long-lost grandmother, Ella Hirsch (Shirley MacLaine), who lives in Florida. With no one left to leech off of, Maggie heads straight for Ella’s retirement community. But Ella has no intention of being a human punching bag, and for the first time in her life, Maggie meets someone who won’t put up with her perpetual self-centeredness and grossly inconsiderate behavior. It’s a stand-off certain to change the lives of everyone involved…

Toni Collette is outstanding in the role of the responsible and untrusting sister, Rose. She portrays an overachieving, yet somewhat socially awkward, individual sick of playing the part of parent to her wild and rebellious sister. Her actions are understandable and believable; her reluctance to see Maggie in a new light is well-paced. On an equal note, Cameron Diaz fits the part of the irresponsible, yet likeable, Maggie. Yearning for approval, her arrested development transitions to adulthood in the face of unconditional love.

The strength of In Her Shoes is almost solely attributable to the various performances of the cast and the screenplay itself. This isn’t a plot-driven movie, and the slightest bit of awkwardness between cast members or the least bit of forced dialogue could wreck the whole film. Luckily, the audience experiences neither, and most viewers will walk away satisfied with their experience. Kudos to screenwriter Susannah Grant whose portfolio includes box office hits like Erin Brockovich (2000), Ever After (1998), and Pocahontas (1995). Grant’s vast expertise in manufacturing high quality scripts provided the cast with a firm foundation from which to deliver their lines. Overall, In Her Shoes is not a blockbuster titan of the big screen. It has few memorable one-liners, but from an entertainment standpoint, it works well. It whisks its audience away to another place and time without leaving them empty handed, and that’s what all good movies are supposed to do…

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code (DVD)

The Da Vinci Code as a novel is an international bestselling phenomenon, but The Da Vinci Code as a movie is bound to be long forgotten by year’s end. Directed by Ron Howard, the Hollywood veteran behind such memorable films as A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, this adaptation of Dan Brown’s religious thriller is 149 minutes of monotonous exposition and tedious European spy thriller clichés. What makes Dan Brown’s novels so popular is the narrative background on such subjects as cryptography, secret societies, religious orders, and alternative history. But it’s difficult to translate such ideas to the big screen, and it’s here that The Da Vinci Code fails as a commercial thriller. Entire scenes are composed of lectures on the history of Christianity and the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael Crichton has a similar style of writing that focuses on scientific breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology, but his novels adapt better to the big screen. Whereas Jurassic Park briefly lectured audiences on the inner-workings of DNA, then quickly jumped to two hours of dinosaurs terrorizing people, The Da Vinci Code keeps explaining, hypothesizing, and lecturing only to leave its audience hanging. The ideas are intriguing, but they make for a far better novel than silver screen blockbuster. Minus the interesting conjecture, the film is nothing more than a poorly written 1970s drugstore spy thriller…

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of religious symbology lecturing in Paris. When Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator of the Louvre, is found murdered and strangely positioned in his famous museum, local authorities initially consult Langdon for his expertise. But the professor soon learns from Sauniere’s granddaughter, government cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that he and the prime suspect are one and the same. Creating a diversion for the police, the two discover a hidden trail of clues created by Sauniere in the moments before his death, clues that just might lead them to most elusive treasure in human history – the Holy Grail. With InterPol hot on their trail, and the true murderer still at large, Langdon and Neveu enlist the help of Grail historian Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) to teach them the history of the Grail’s protectors, The Priory of Scion, and to help them uncover the endless clues that promise to unravel a 2,000 year mystery…

Despite the remarks of most critics, Tom Hanks’ performance is not atrocious. Although his character is bland at best, he wasn’t given much with which to work. Robert Langdon’s lack of development is more attributable to poorly written dialogue and poor choices in direction. Ron Howard tries to cover up some of the excessive dialogue with visual images, but narrative is still narrative even with flashback sequences. Audrey Tautou delivers her lines well, but suffers from the same constraints as her Academy Award-winning screen partner. The only shining performance is provided by Ian McKellen as the eccentric and charming Grail expert, Leigh Teabing. Some of his one-liners add a bit of comic relief, but they’re only band-aids on the gushing head wound that is this film. In the end, The Da Vinci Code is a lesson on the distinction between two differing mediums. Movies haven’t replaced books, or vice-versa, for a reason. Sometimes, it’s just better to read the book. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, this is one of those moments...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Coach (DVD)

Nominated for 16 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes, Coach delighted fans of all ages during its celebrated nine-season run. One of the most underrated sitcoms of its era, the series covers the exploits of fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles college football coach Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson), the quintessential male chauvinist pig. But unlike many of his politically-incorrect brethren, Hayden has a heart of gold. It’s this softer side that appeals to successful anchorwoman and girlfriend Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares). In the locker room, Hayden is joined by assistant coaches Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) and Dauber Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke), the perfect compliments to the coach’s oftentimes sketchy logic. Between his estranged daughter Kelly (Clare Carey), her less-than-manly boyfriend Stuart (Kris Kamm), nagging athletic director Howard Burleigh (Kenneth Kimmins), and ladies basketball coach Judy Watkins (Pam Stone), Hayden is always dispensing sarcasm, trading barbs, or being aggravated by someone.

Craig T. Nelson is brilliant in his portrayal of the opinionated and overbearing, yet multidimensional Hayden Fox. His onscreen rapport with co-star Shelley Fabares creates the believable illusion of a true romance. But Coach boasts a cast replete with star power. The series is given a charming comic angle by the underappreciated and long overdue breakout role of Jerry Van Dyke, brother to Dick Van Dyke, who plays the role of Luther Van Dam, the stuttering and kind-hearted bungling best friend of Hayden. Jerry had a few guest appearances in the decades before Coach that were absolute show stoppers (both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show come to mind), but Coach put his talents to use full-time so all the world could see just how funny this man really is. Overall, Coach is a fun and oftentimes brilliant comedy, and the first few seasons are by far the best. So grab yourself a chair and some official Minnesota State Screaming Eagle merchandise and enjoy watching one of the best comedies of its time…!

The Coach (Season 1) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Kelly and the Professor” in which Hayden learns that his daughter Kelly, a student at Minnesota State, recently went out on a date with a professor. The revelation drives Hayden crazy, and he’ll go to any lengths to uncover the identity of the guilty faculty member… Other notable episodes from season one include “I’m in Love with a Boy Named Stuart” in which Hayden is introduced to Kelly’s new boyfriend, Stuart, his future arch-nemesis, and “I’m Sorry I Told You My Wife Was Dead” in which Hayden compromises his integrity in an effort to coerce a widow into handing over the massive donation her dead husband had promised the Minnesota State football program.

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

Episode 1 (Kelly and the Professor) Air Date: 02-28-1989
Episode 2 (Love Me Tender) Air Date: 03-01-1989
Episode 3 (Kelly, Meet Christine) Air Date: 03-08-1989
Episode 4 (I’m in Love with a Boy Named Stuart) Air Date: 03-15-1989
Episode 5 (The Loss Weekend) Air Date: 03-22-1989
Episode 6 (Gambling for Meat) Air Date: 04-05-1989
Episode 7 (19 Candles) Air Date: 04-12-1989
Episode 8 (Parents’ Weekend) Air Date: 04-19-1989
Episode 9 (I’m Sorry I Told You My Wife was Dead) Air Date: 04-26-1989
Episode 10 (Define Romance) Air Date: 05-03-1989
Episode 11 (Whose Team is It, Anyway?) Air Date: 05-17-1989
Episode 12 (Hoot, Hoot Hike) Air Date: 05-31-1989
Episode 13 (Dauber’s Blow-Out) Air Date: 06-07-1989

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Wings (DVD)

Created by David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, all producers of the critically acclaimed Cheers and writers for its hit spin-off Frasier, Wings shares many of the same attributes of the popular bar “where everybody knows your name”. Just as each episode of Cheers mostly took place in the Beacon Street pub, each episode of Wings takes place in Nantucket airport. Cheers maintains a friendly rivalry with Gary’s Old Towne Tavern, while Sandpiper Air has a friendly rivalry with Aeromass owner Roy Biggins. And just like Cheers, the strength of Wings is built upon great writing and eccentric, well-developed characters. From the moment you hear the memorable and soothing Schubert theme song, you’ll want to be transported away to this quiet island of lovable and hilarious characters…

Wings centers around the lives of two brothers, Joe (Tim Daly) and Brian Hackett (Steven Weber), who run a fledgling airline on the northeast vacation island of Nantucket. The two are assisted by sarcastic stewardess Faye Cochran (Rebecca Schull) and oddball mechanic Lowell Mather (Thomas Haden Church). Responsible and dependable, Joe attempts to keep the struggling business afloat in the face of fierce competition from chief rival Aeromass and its seedy owner Roy Biggins (David Schramm). But compounding Joe’s problems is the unreliability of his younger brother Brian who is more of a free spirit and spontaneous adventurer. The terminal lunch counter is owned by the Hackett’s childhood friend Helen Chapel (Crystal Bernard), an aspiring cellist with a quick wit. Superbly written, Wings is at times nutty and absurd, but it’s always funny and the characters will quickly earn a place in your heart. It’s by far one of the best situation comedies of its era…

The Wings (Season 1) DVD features a number of hilarious episodes including the season premiere “Legacy” in which Joe Hackett, owner of a small single-plane airline known as Sandpiper Air receives a letter from his recently deceased father. The letter calls for him to open a package in the presence of his estranged brother Brian. After jumping through a number of hoops, the two brothers realize how important they are to one another, and Brian (a pilot himself) agrees to stay in Nantucket and help Joe run the airline… Other notable episodes from season one include “All For One and Two for Helen” in which Joe grows jealous of what he perceives to be a romantic relationship between Helen and Brian, and “A Terminal Christmas” in which the gang from the Nantucket airport unexpectedly drops into Fay’s house for Christmas, only to find her grieving her dead husband and preparing to spread his ashes…

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

Episode 1 (Legacy) Air Date: 04-19-1990
Episode 2 (Around the World in Eighty Days) Air Date: 04-26-1990
Episode 3 (Return to Nantucket: Part 1) Air Date: 05-03-1990
Episode 4 (Return to Nantucket: Part 2) Air Date: 05-10-1990
Episode 5 (There Once was a Girl from Nantucket) Air Date: 05-17-1990
Episode 6 (All for One and Two for Helen) Air Date: 05-24-1990
Episode 7 (The Puppet Master) Air Date: 09-28-1990
Episode 8 (The Story of Joe) Air Date: 10-05-1990
Episode 9 (A Little Nightmare Music) Air Date: 10-12-1990
Episode 10 (Sports and Leisure) Air Date: 10-19-1990
Episode 11 (A Standup Kind of Guy) Air Date: 10-26-1990
Episode 12 (It’s Not the Thought, It’s the Gift) Air Date: 11-09-1990
Episode 13 (Hell Hath No Fury like a Policewoman Scorned) Air Date: 11-16-1990
Episode 14 (High Anxiety) Air Date: 11-23-1990
Episode 15 (Friends or Lovers?) Air Date: 12-07-1990
Episode 16 (There’s Always Room for Cello) Air Date: 12-14-1990
Episode 17 (A Terminal Christmas) Air Date: 12-21-1990
Episode 18 (Airport ‘90) Air Date: 01-03-1991
Episode 19 (Love Is Like Pulling Teeth) Air Date: 01-10-1991
Episode 20 (The Tennis Bum) Air Date: 01-24-1991
Episode 21 (My Brother’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Trouble) Air Date: 01-31-1991
Episode 22 (Plane Nine from Nantucket) Air Date: 02-07-1991
Episode 23 (Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places) Air Date: 02-14-1991
Episode 24 (Love Means Never Having to Say Geronimo) Air Date: 02-21-1991
Episode 25 (All in the Family) Air Date: 03-07-1991
Episode 26 (Mother Wore Stripes) Air Date: 03-14-1991
Episode 27 (Murder She Roast) Air Date: 03-21-1991
Episode 28 (Duet for Plane and Cello) Air Date: 03-28-1991

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Family Stone (DVD)

One of the surprise films of 2005, The Family Stone successfully navigates the often tempestuous waters of big screen family dramas. Quite often these types of family relationship films get lost in a deluge of dialogue, conflict, and argument. And although The Family Stone has plenty of the aforementioned, it hits the audience in manageable doses with well-placed comic relief and an unforgettable cast of eccentric characters. Written and directed by up-and-coming Hollywood talent Thomas Bezucha, the film is a mosaic of fun, laughter, sadness, and family relationships most people will find charming and endearing…

The Family Stone examines the vibrant relationships of the Stone family, a close-knit traditional nuclear family gathering for the holidays. Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton) and her husband Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) host their children for the holidays, but as with most families, conflict is abundant. Sarcasm, backstabbing, blame, and jealousy are evident in almost every encounter, but ironically, so are love and respect. When eldest son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home his current girlfriend Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet the family, her business-like demeanor and uptight mannerisms clash with the rest of the family, particularly Everett’s vindictive sister Amy (Rachel McAdams). Despite Meredith’s best efforts, the only family member she can impress is Everett’s laidback brother Ben (Luke Wilson).

Meredith’s discomfort is compounded when she inadvertently makes a bigoted remark about Everett’s homosexual brother Thad (Tyrone Giordano), garnering the wrath of the entire family. Pushed to her breaking point, Meredith moves from the house to a nearby bed and breakfast, while Everett struggles with the idea of proposing to a woman his family obviously dislikes. Meanwhile, Ben helps Meredith to come out of her shell, and Meredith enlists the support of her younger sister Julie (Claire Danes) to smooth things over with the Stones. But the holidays take an interesting twist when unexpected relationships blossom and an unforeseen event takes its toll on the entire family…

The Family Stone certainly succeeds in creating a number of dynamic multidimensional characters, but it fails in a couple respects. The most obvious is the relationship switch that eventually takes place and is quite evidently in the making from the opening scenes of the film. One brother stealing another’s girlfriend is not in-and-of itself unbelievable, but the continuation of a normal relationship between the two brothers is. No awkwardness there? No jealousy? Plot twists are great, but keep them realistic…

The other aspect of The Family Stone that stands out is a bit more peripheral and makes the film teeter on the precipice of Hollywood cliché. Meredith is portrayed as an uptight homophobic bigot in need of a cure, while the Stone family is free-spirited and in touch with their feelings. In the end, Meredith grows because of her proximity to the Stones, but the Stones don’t learn anything from Meredith. It’s probably not a coincidence that Meredith’s views might be construed as conservative, while the Stones’ views are considered liberal (i.e. conservative evil, liberal good). This same theme was prevalent in Meet The Fockers when Robert De Niro’s character learns the error of his uptight ways and engages in the hippie lifestyle of his daughter’s new in-laws. But, of course, the Fockers never learn anything from De Niro… Not necessarily a movie killer, but a cliché nonetheless. Despite the flaws, The Family Stone is still a decent film. Above par dialogue and outstanding performances by a strong cast make it time well spent. Many moments will make you laugh; others will remind you of your own family…

Friday, May 12, 2006

The New World (DVD)

Directed and written by Terrence Malick, the talented artist behind The Thin Red Line (1998), great anticipation surrounded the release of The New World. The project was bold and ambitious enough to peak one’s interest, but unfortunately, the film could not deliver on its promise. Entire scenes drift by with nothing in particular being achieved to either advance the plot, the theme, or the premise of the film. Unfittingly, the soundtrack featured blaring snippets of concert music reminiscent of Richard Wagner, which would be great if The New World took place in 19th Century Venice instead of 17th Century America. Much more should be expected from James Horner whose brilliant work has enhanced such films as Field of Dreams, Braveheart, Legends of the Fall, and Titanic. The New World soundtrack is disaster almost on par with the latter film.

The rest of film isn’t much better. Although it vividly illustrates the limitless possibility of early Jamestown and the majesty of the unspoiled wilderness surrounding it, the visual images are offset by poor dialogue and what seems to be an overly zealous attempt to manufacture a poetic awe-inspiring masterpiece of a film. Nevertheless, The New World does manage to summon images of the first European settlers and the hardship they must have faced. From this standpoint, one can say it has some reflective value for those who appreciate human history…

The New World begins by following the life of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell). Landing in the New World with a convoy of Englishmen, he happens upon the Native American kingdom of Powhatan (August Schellenberg). Of course, most of the world knows the basic plotline. Smith’s life is spared when his body is covered by Powhatan’s beautiful daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Kilcher certainly displays the requisite physical beauty to portray the princess, but the script gives her little with which to work. Although a subject of controversy among historians, the film plays up the angle of a possible love affair between Smith and Pocahontas, but it accurately records her eventual marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and the couple’s celebrated trip to London. But The New World’s problems don’t stem from historical accuracy, but rather from the fact that the preceding paragraph is a detailed account of everything that happens in a tedious two-hour fifteen-minute snoozer. In short, it’s long and boring.

As much as the film failed to live up to expectations, this much can be said for The New World: it accurately portrays the landscape of southeastern Virginia. That alone makes it immensely superior to Disney’s Pocahontas which featured non-indigenous animals and forests peppered with waterfalls. Unfortunately, an entire generation of children gathered their personal knowledge of local geography from that film. From the perspective of set design, wardrobe, historical underpinnings, and the mere beauty of its images, The New World is a film to behold. However, from the standpoint of dialogue, plot, direction, and performance, The New World is an utter flop. Unless you’re a history buff, and specifically a Jamestown junkie, avoid the film at all costs…