Saturday, March 18, 2006

DVD: Stephen King's Riding the Bullet

Genre: Horror
Director: Mick Garris
DVD released: April 19, 2005
Cast: Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, Barbara Hershey
Verdict: 1/2

Don't be fooled by the hype on the DVD box and the blurb from Stephen King – Riding the Bullet is one of the truly awful adaptations of his work. Based on King's first "e-book" (Weren't those supposed to make traditional books obsolete about five years ago?), it's also a rare King adaptation for which I have not read the source material. Any true King fan knows the best of his books (think Thinner and Pet Sematary) can become quite dreadful movies because the supernatural elements so often just don't translate well to the screen, and a movie lacks the inner dialogue that King does so well. So, I may still read the story, despite this abomination. The tale finds a young man, Alan (Jonathan Jackson), hitchhiking to get to his ailing mother and encountering demons of various sorts, such as David Arquette, along the way. It's set in the usual Maine and relies on what, to me, is one of the most boring King devices – nostalgia-laden flashbacks to childhood circa the 1960s. The ghosts that appear along the way just look like the devices of cheap, stupid horror films. The climax presents Alan with a choice affecting his and his mother's mortality, but the bigger plot surprise would be if any viewers care or are still watching that far into the film. // DVD notes // Don't know about the extras because I couldn't get it back to Movie Gallery fast enough.

DVD: The Weather Man

Director: Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine
DVD released: Feb. 21, 2006
Verdict: &&&

In weatherman David Spritz's (Nicolas Cage) world, it's always cold, whether it's the temperature, his relationship with his ex-wife or his interactions with the public. This fairly engaging mood and character piece takes place largely in a snow-blanketed Chicago, where Spritz's life is shattering like an icicle falling to the dirty sidewalk. He feels the disapproval of his father (Michael Caine, in a moving, understated performance) and sets about trying in vain to reconnect with his son and daughter, who have their own issues, and his ex-wife, who is seeing someone else. He also wrestles with his semi-celebrity status, as people tend to throw Wendy's Frosties, McDonald's apple pies and Big Gulps at him on the street. "Why?" his father, a successful novelist, asks him, reminding Spritz that he's not actually a meteorologist. "You just read the weather." Meanwhile, his father is diagnosed with lymphoma, and Spritz makes his bid for the big leagues by auditioning for the weather gig on Bryant Gumbel's national morning show. Verbinski mixes in beautiful imagery of ice floating on the water in the bay, reinforcing the sense of a coldhearted world to which spring will never come. // DVD notes // More featurettes than needed and no deleted scenes. Heed the R-rating for mixed-company viewing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

TV: The New Adventures of Old Christine

Genre: Sitcom
Logistics: CBS, 8:30 p.m. (Central) Monday
Verdict: &&&

GET OUT! (Insert image of Elaine shoving Jerry on Seinfeld here.) Julia Louis-Dreyfus is back in The New Adventures of Old Elaine – oops, I mean The New Adventures of Old Christine, the latest attempt by CBS to find a successful complement to its sitcom hit Two and a Half Men and the second attempt by Louis-Dreyfus to go it alone post-Seinfeld. The good news here is that she now seems comfortable letting the hilarious Elaine-ness shine through, whereas her previous NBC effort, Watching Ellie, seemed to be a conscious effort to distance herself from that persona. Monday's two shows weren't as funny as the promos, but Louis-Dreyfus appeared comfortable and confident in her role as a newly single mom with a cute tyke around whom much of the show revolves. Lots of mileage will obviously come from the relationship with her ex, who has hooked up with a younger woman named … Christine. The initial plots involved her son, Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon), settling into a new private school and Christine deciding it's time to seek out a guy who's, you know, sponge-worthy – something this show might be, as well, with a little stronger writing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

TV: Memoriam • Peter Tomarken

Sometimes the news is just too depressing. I was terribly saddened last night to learn of the death of one of the great '80s game show hosts, Peter Tomarken. As if his untimely passing alone is not enough, it happened on a volunteer flight to provide transport for a needy medical patient, and his wife also perished in the plane crash. Tomarken's claim to fame was the 1983-1986 game show Press Your Luck, one of the defining games of the genre in the 1980s. In its heyday, it rubbed shoulders with The $25,000 Pyramid and The Price is Right on CBS' morning lineup. Currently airing at 11:30 a.m. daily (Central) on GSN (note to GSN: The show was on three years. Please get some different episodes.), which will air a Press Your Luck marathon this Sunday, the show was best known for its animated whammies and contestants shouting "Big bucks! No whammies!" at the big board. With its shuffling cash ($5,000 and a spin!) and prizes and randomly jumping lit square, the big board was fascinating to me as a 10-year-old. Tomarken was a perfect fit for the show, bringing humor and a genuine likeability to his role while deftly managing those great seesaw passed spin battles. Many pleasant summer vacation mornings were spent with Tomarken and the whammies. This passing hits me in that tender part of the heart reserved for nostalgia and fond memories of happy times. Like a contestant having the unlikely bad luck to hit four whammies in a row (an automatic lose), Tomarken's death while in the act of a good deed for another just seems like one of life's most senseless and cruel twists.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Electronics: Tivoli Audio PAL radio

What: A terrestrial radio that wants to wow you
Verdict: &&&1/2

For further proof that I'm neither hip nor cutting edge, consider my new music toy. It doesn't pick up Howard Stern's Sirius Satellite Radio show or hold my iTunes music collection. It's nothing more than a standard (but pricey) radio, the Tivoli Audio PALBLU Portable Audio Laboratory (PAL) AM / FM, but in an eye-pleasing electric-blue color and sleek modern-meets-retro design. Why go old school? I was interested in satellite radio – particularly the Delphi XM2go with integrated antenna, which, in theory, you can use anywhere – but I read too many horror stories about poor reception. As a resident of a decidedly un-metropolitan area where there is no repeater for XM or Sirius, I knew reception would be nothing but a headache. I was primarily interested in using it at work, a building in which even terrestrial radio reception is dodgy at best, and a stress-driven environment in which a pair of headphones is sometimes the only link to sanity. And, while I have wholeheartedly embraced iTunes, I just don't feel driven to carry around the exact same songs I listen to at home. That left Tivoli portable, which I had admired in catalogs for the last couple of years and features a Henry Kloss-designed tuner. I was intrigued by claims that it will pull in distant stations that you can't get with a lesser receiver. This is where the radio disappoints, though – while reception is good and better than what I get with the cheap radio/CD player I have at the office, it doesn't deliver on the claims of pulling in stations you're surprised to pick up. In every other regard, it's worthy of raves, and its unique look can serve as a conversation-starter. The single mono speaker delivers a surprisingly rich sound, and the headphone jack provides FM stereo that can also be piped to a component receiver. Keep the radio plugged up and the NiMH battery will stay charged for easy portability (it's small enough to stash in my briefcase) or for when the power goes out (handy for our severe storm days in north Mississippi). Now, if only terrestrial radio would shake things up and give the PAL's telescoping antenna something fresh to pull in – man, do I miss the fun days of '80s top 40. I'd happily go the rest of my life without hearing another song by Avril Lavigne or Nickelback. What's worse, our local pop station thinks it's fine to play artists like those back to back with Tim McGraw. That's when I find the PAL sounds best turned off.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Random tracks

I admit it: February was a little slow on the Jeblog.

The month took its toll with "extra work" (that's what we'll politely call it) at the office, and I'm in that closing stretch leading up to a week off that makes me feel like I'm always running up hill and losing ground.

But there hasn't been much going on in my entertainment life, either – no new TV outside of the return of Deal or no Deal (which has fared surprisingly well – care to wager how long NBC takes to kill it with celebrity editions or overuse?), and I haven't been to the theater in ages. My current most anticipated movie, Pulse, another American J-horror remake, was originally set for this weekend but recently got bumped to July 14. I was stoked for Steve Martin's Pink Panther, but I've downgraded it to a rental based on the generally negative reviews.

Despite the stack of new novels I've picked up recently, I haven't gotten more than a few pages into Stephen King's Cell. Not that it's bad – I'm just at a standstill. Sometimes turning the pages feels like taking out the trash, no matter how much I enjoy the writer. It's easier to sit in front of the computer staring blankly at web pages.

March looks to be a more fruitful month. In all likelihood, I will take in next weekend's big horror remake, The Hills Have Eyes, and I'm looking forward to Julia Louis-Dreyfus' new sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine, which looks killer funny in the promos. And I'm within a few episodes of the end of several TV on DVD sets – NewsRadio seasons one and two, The Twilight Zone season one (1980s version); and V: The Complete Series, all of which will be blogged here.

Bottom line: Check back often this month. Bookmark me, leave comments (they're open to everyone), do with me what you will.

Finally, an update: The most read post here by far has been Surface vs. Threshold vs. Invasion. Most folks who cared probably noticed Threshold (CBS) disappeared from the schedule shortly after changing timeslots. There were several unaired episodes, and TVShowsOnDVD.com recently reported that the show will get a DVD release with those unseen episodes. Invasion (ABC, 9 p.m. Wednesday) is chugging through a full season despite precipitous ratings drop-offs from its lead-in, Lost, and Surface (NBC) is apparently done for the season, with Deal or no Deal now filling its Monday slot (plus a Friday night slot, as well).