Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TV preview: Rules of Engagement

• I'm saying "I do" to CBS' new comedy.

Genre: Sitcom
Premiere: 8:30 p.m. (Central) Monday, Feb. 5, CBS
Cast: Patrick Warburton, David Spade, Oliver Hudson, Bianca Kajlich, Megyn Price
First three episodes verdict: &&&&

From its first scenes, CBS' midseason sitcom Rules of Engagement is hilarious and pleasantly familiar, as if you've been tuning in for several seasons already. A relationship show with five principal characters — a single guy (David Spade), an engaged couple (Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich) and an "old married couple" (Patrick Warburton and Megyn Price) — it's aided tremendously by the presence of two old pros, Spade of SNL and Just Shoot Me, and Warburton, the great Puddy character from Seinfeld (and it's directed by Seinfeld vet Andy Ackerman, to boot). It's racy yet sweet as the single, engaged and long-hitched play off each other in situations that expose the selfish expectations of the young couple and the tired habits of the veterans. "Want to do it again?" she of the elder couple asks her husband after sex. Both break out in laughter. "Again. Remember 'again'?" he says. Another great line from Jeff, Warburton's character: "We've basically wrapped up the sex portion of our marriage. It's been replaced by Letterman." There's lots of the ribald stuff in the first three episodes, actually, but it's never crass, which is the only language some shows speak these days, and often relatable. Spade is the lecherous comic foil — not a big stretch, but effective, and Warburton is comfortingly Puddy-esque. Rules of Engagement is perfectly paced and smartly written, and that's rare praise in today's comedy landscape.

// See a preview here //

// Monday-night shuffle //

CBS says it's keeping fresh episodes in play with schedule shifts in its Monday comedy block:

Effective Feb. 5:
7 p.m. How I Met Your Mother
7:30 p.m. The Class
8 p.m. Two and a Half Men
8:30 p.m. Rules of Engagement

Effective March 12: The New Adventures of Old Christine supplants The Class (hope it's gone for good) at 7:30.

Effective April 9: The King of Queens enters the 8:30 slot to (mercifully) complete its run, bumping Rules of Engagement, which better come back.

All times Central.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Reliving Starcade

• My inner video game geek wants to play.

About my 12th birthday party took place at the local arcade, with me and my buddies feeding tokens into Galaga, Gyruss, Ms. Pac Man and other addictive quarter-guzzlers. I actually didn't spend as much time in the arcade as one might thing, although I've made up for lost time by purchasing just about every retro game compilation for the PS2 that I can get my hands on. For a boy growing up in the '80s, what was more exciting than video games? (On second thought, don't answer that.) I remember a time when I'd get up ridiculously early — something like 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning — to catch Starcade, the arcade game show in which two contestants went head to head on several machines for a chance to win their very own arcade game. Running from 1982-84, first on WTBS and then in syndication, the game featured all the old favorites and some obscurities — Pooyan or Holey Moley, anyone? The official Starcade website brings it all back, offering 10 episodes for streaming online. I'd forgotten how genial host Geoff Edwards (Jackpot, Treasure Hunt) would offer tips to the contestants, such as "stay to the left" on Congo Bongo and "go for the fruit" on Donkey Kong Jr. You're sure to spy some fun games you'd forgotten, such as Pengo, Gorf or the great Elevator Action. The awesome theme music reminds me of "Blinded by the Light" by way of the Wheel of Fortune theme circa 1979. Even more awesome, behold some of the geeky prizes, such as electronic chess, metal detectors and primitive home computers. The website also offers clips (check out Alex Trebek hosting one of the several pilots), contestant bios and updates, desktop wallpapers and the opportunity to buy episodes on DVD. There's also an exhaustive section covering every game played on the show, with promotional flyers and video clips of each game's intro as it appeared on Starcade. In a word, it's nirvana for '80s geeks.

Recent iTunes downloads

• Armed with a gift card and bloating the digital library some more.

Here (In Your Arms) • Hellogoodbye // This is apparently "climbing the charts," but the charts haven't made sense to me in about 10 years, so I wouldn't know. It's a pleasant single that sounds like one of the little punk bands accidentally remade Cher's "Believe." Is vocoder so old now that it's "in" again?

Le Disko (Radio Edit) • Shiny Toy Guns // The bridge is really the only good part of this, isn't it?

Axel F • Harold Faltermeyer // I'd forgotten how much I loved this little slice of synth, a rare instrumental chart-topper which has been tragically covered in recent times by the criminal abomination called Crazy Frog.

Falling in Love (Uh Oh) • Miami Sound Machine // I know, you're doubled over laughing, but there's something about this early MSM ballad that grabs me and won't let go. The moody chords, the strings, the chirpy background vocals … it's calculated pop perfection.

Say It Right • Nelly Furtado // I don't disagree with the "sellout" accusations being hurled at the talented Furtado, but I don't entirely blame her, either. Given a choice of fading into obscurity with all of her artistic integrity intact or sexing it up and hitting it big, many would follow in her Loose footsteps. And it's worth suffering through several embarrassments like "Promiscuous" to get to one single as good as "Say It Right."

Electrobix (Radio) • Scissor Sisters // In some parallel universe, this must have been as huge as "YMCA."

Silent Night • Sarah McLachlan // My interest in McLachlan has been on the wane, but she outdid herself with this haunting, masterful treatment of a classic.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Random tracks

• Five upcoming flicks & some other stuff.

The Hitcher (Jan. 19) • Expectations can only be low for this retread of the mildly interesting 1986 highway horror film starring C. Thomas Howell and directed this time by a no-name, Dave Meyers.

The Invisible (Jan. 26) • David S. Goyer (Blade: Trinity — I know we all saw that one) remakes a Swedish thriller about a young man trying to solve his own murder from the other side.

The Messengers (Feb. 2) • Something about some creepiness on a rundown sunflower farm
— that's a bit different, at least. Scary enough is the co-director's name: Oxide Pang.

Hannibal Rising (Feb. 9) • The Hannibal Lecter prequel hits theaters just weeks after the novel, which is getting a dubious reception. The trailer is effectively creepy, though, even if it's going to be tough for this Anthony Hopkins-less effort to bring anything truly interesting or shocking to the table. It is only the second directorial credit for Peter Webber.

Reno 911: Miami (Feb. 23) • Some humor to cleanse the palate after that string of likely bad horror films. The Comedy Central show, which consists largely of a string of Cops-like vignettes taken to the absurd extreme, is arguably the funniest comedy on television (which isn't saying much at the moment) thanks to the quirky characters, such as Lt. Dangle in his short shorts. This big-screen adaptation could be the breakout moment for Dangle and the Reno crew, who visit Miami for a convention and are called into action following an attack of some sort.

Temptation • If this is done properly, I may finally shut up about the lack of quality formats in the new wave of game shows. TV Week reports that this title — the current incarnation of $ale of the Century in Australia — is a go for fall syndication.

Lisey's Story • With the holidays over, I'm trying to get back into the stack of books waiting to be read. Though a bit daunting in length at more than 500 pages (things have changed since I happily slogged through 1,000+ pages of The Stand Complete and Uncut back in the day), this Stephen King novel is off to an intriguing start and has the potential air of Something Special.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

TV preview: Armed & Famous

• Ponch is back on the beat in … Muncie.

Genres: Reality, celebs
Logistics: Premieres Wednesday, 7 p.m. Central, CBS, with another episode airing Thursday
Cast: Erik Estrada, La Toya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Jason "Wee Man" Acuña, Trish Stratus
Premiere verdict: &&1/2

It may be a classic reality television moment when La Toya Jackson candidly allows that she has always wanted to do two things — work at McDonald's and be a cop. And you know unequivocally that she can accomplish one of those two things. On Armed & Famous, a series that can only prompt a reaction of "Why?", she and four other quasi-celebs are hustled through police training and onto the street as officers in Muncie, Ind. The others: Estrada, "Ponch" from CHiPs; Acuña, a professional skateboarder and Jackass; Osbourne, a former drug addict who is apparently aspiring to a reality TV career; and Stratus, a "former WWE champion wrestler," says CBS. I wouldn't know. As train-wreck reality TV goes, it's actually well-produced, and you can imagine the potential for some fun Cops-like scenarios. It seemed a wee ironic to see the Jackass star patting down a man after a traffic stop and lining up his drug paraphernalia on the back of the car. When Estrada passes gas during physical training, the viewer is reminded how much reality TV can stink on every level, but it may be worth enduring that golden moment in the premiere to see the lot of them get tasered.

Photo: Erik Estrada / CBS

Monday, January 01, 2007

DVD: The Descent

• 'British Girls in a Cave' is effective but overrated.

Genres: Horror, thriller, British
DVD released: Dec. 26, 2006
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, Myanna Buring
Verdict: &&&

Half a dozen young English women, including one who's "been through a lot," descend into a cave in Appalachia (are they lost?) for a little extreme getaway, a scenario that rightly sounds unlikely and downright foolish, particularly when the ringleader admits a good ways in that she has taken them into an uncharted cave. It's a groaner of a moment, the kind of bad horror film judgment that is all too common and convenient. Fortunately, it's also generally atypical of The Descent, which doesn't play by Hollywood conventions. It's not giving away too much to say that this North Carolina cave is alive with predators reminiscent of the sewer-dwelling fluke man from The X-Files and who make that clicking throat sound from The Grudge. The girls must find their way out while avoiding being eaten alive and coming completely unhinged. Obviously, there's some of the latter going on, combined with a descent into pure survival instinct. A gritty, visceral quality throughout and some shots through night-vision equipment yield a sort of Blair Witch Project quality, and the blind creatures bring to mind Pitch Black. The Descent contains unflinching action that often tweaks the viewer's expectations while making him squirm as he feels the claustrophobia or slimy cave walls encountered by the characters. It also has a couple of psychological jolts that ensure none of the audience is in danger of nodding off. Still, the viewer never really has a reason to care about these girls, though some may find the smart action reason enough to make the journey. I also lacked enthusiasm for the ending, which, in this unrated DVD cut, is the slightly extended European version that is darker and leaves some interpretation to the viewer. // DVD notes // Includes a Dolby Digital EX soundtrack and an entertaining blooper reel. I didn't care enough to watch the several deleted and extended scenes. There's also a featurette, commentaries and an interview with the director.