Sunday, December 07, 2008

Movies: Oliver Stone's W.

Verdict: &&&1/2

It turns out that George W. Bush and I do have something in common — a taste for Dr. Pepper, that most addictive of beverages (even if I'm now confined to the caffeine-free version). It's one of the rather mundane details that director Oliver Stone makes clear in W., a film in which I believe Stone has fairly pure intentions (this is no Michael Moore-style ambush). I went to the movie seeking a bit of catharsis — a purging of some of the emotional disappointment of the past eight years — as well as perhaps a few insights into how Bush II came to be. Check the expectations at the door, and there's fun to be had here.

Weaving past and present, Stone shows us the young W. as a man who indulged in the privileged fun life while continually struggling to gain the approval of his accomplished father. Fast-forward to the 2000s, and the current W is seen planning the war in Iraq, devising the "axis of evil" rhetoric and puzzling over those elusive WMDs. One of Stone's missteps is focusing almost exclusively on Iraq and ignoring the highly disputed and suspect election outcome in 2000.

A serious challenge for this movie is that it's just about impossible to stop evaluating the cast's approximation of their respective characters and fully give in to Stone's narrative. Josh Brolin, at least, owns his character; the first time he did the Bush laugh, it was so true to life that I wanted to rewind and hear it again. Also precisely on the money is Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld; in a great scene in which the principles are commiserating about the absence of WMDs over lunch, Rumsfeld is singularly focused on the pleasures of a fabulous slice of pecan pie. Toby Jones also rises to the occasion as political weasel Karl Rove, the man who knew how to help Bush push the people's buttons (at least before 2008, anyway). From there, it's a decidedly mixed bag: Thandie Newton, as Condoleezza Rice, turns in a sub-Janet Jackson-on-SNL effort; Jeffrey Wright makes a reasonable stab at Colin Powell's voice of reason; and James Cromwell is impossible to separate from James Cromwell in the role of George H.W. Bush.

Stone comes closest to revelatory in the scenes in which W. consults with his church pastor, seeking to light his inner fire. Someone who went so single-mindedly in the directions Bush did must have felt some divine anointment. Stone aims to tie it all together in a series of fantasy interludes in which Bush stands before a stadium full of roaring baseball fans. It's high-concept and a noble attempt, but it's not the grandiose spiritual revelation audiences crave, particularly when it leaves the movie feeling as if it doesn't have an ending.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The new Keane album for $2.99, omfg

• Some days it's fun to be a consumer.

So I go to do my daily check at Amazon's MP3 store to see what's today's deal, and I did a spit take with my coffee upon seeing Keane's new album, Perfect Symmetry, which hit stores today, on offer for "the unbelievably low price" of $2.99!

It's the kind of release I normally would have pre-ordered, counting on Amazon to get the physical CD to my mailbox on release day or the day after. Glad I didn't go that route this time.

iTunes is playing hard for this one, as well: Apple's music store is offering the deluxe edition, which includes a bonus track, a whole album of demos and some video stuff, for $12.99. But it's saddled with DRM and lesser audio quality -- one of the big reasons iTunes is steadily losing me to Amazon.

This is the first time I've noticed a major new release offered as the MP3 deal of the day. Will we be so lucky next month when the new Killers album drops?

Giving Perfect Symmetry its first spin right now. "Spiralling" is a hot jam, and I love the geometric art design for this release.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

DVD: Shutter

• Joshua Jackson tries bad horror.

Genre: Horror, remake, J-horror
Director: Masayuki Ochiai
Run time: 1 hr 25 mins
DVD released: July 15, 2008
Cast: Joshua Jackson, Rachel Taylor
Verdict: &1/2

This unnecessary J-Horror knockoff (it's actually a remake of a movie from Thailand) answers the question of whether Dawson's Creek's Pacey (Joshua Jackson) can carry a horror movie. Not that there's anything particularly wrong (or right) with his acting (that goes for his role in FOX's mediocre new X-Files wannabe, Fringe, as well), but I kept expecting Dawson or Katie Holmes to come 'round the corner. With its Vengeful Female Spirit and Secrets from the Past, this movie feels as if it were made by someone whose only cinematic references are The Ring and The Grudge and all the lame imitators that followed. The Jackson character and his new wife, played in full I-want-to-be-Naomi-Watts mode by Rachel Taylor, begin to find ghostly images in their photographs — both casual snapshots and in the professional work of Jackson's character. And that could be mildly interesting, but the movie can't even nail ghostly photos in a compelling fashion. The one almost-frightening moment involves a boy gazing at a window reflection on a subway train, and the rest you'll anticipate before it even happens. Shutter is one of those tired movies that leaves you wondering why anyone bothered; it's a picture totally out of focus. // DVD NOTES // Nothing like a steaming pile of cinematic dung gussied up with a dozen self-important featurettes, is there? Everything from shooting in Japan to tips for ghost hunting is covered. Alternate and deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, and audio commentaries are also needlessly included.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

DVD: Sex and the City - The Movie

• Can 'Sex' last too long?

Genre: Comedy, TV/book adaptation
Run time: 2 hrs 25 mins (!)

Director: Michael Patrick King

Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon


The Sex and the City movie explores a most probing question: Can sex last too long? Turns out that, as much as I enjoyed catching SATC for the first time in reruns on TBS, the movie felt about as fun as going to church. All the necessary elements are there, but with a run time befitting heavier fare, the first big screen foray for these NYC ladies seems never-ending and a bit self-indulgent; perhaps it needs that half-hour sitcom structure to keep its comedy and drama sharp and taut. The plot finds Mr. Big doing exactly the kind of dithering you'd expect as his wedding date with Carrie Bradshaw looms, while Miranda gets the real downer subplot as Steve screws up. Samantha, as always, is funniest in her lively sexcapades, such as when she covers her body with sushi, although her relationship will also reach a turning point (get out the tissues, ladies). Ultimately, I just wanted them to get on with it all. The movie feels a good hour too long; the universal appeal of SATC has been neutered into a treacly chick flick. // DVD NOTES // You'd expect some deleted scenes or outtakes, but a director's commentary and trailer are all you get.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Preview, review: The Ex List & Gary Unmarried

The Ex List (Fridays, 9e / 8c, debuts Oct. 3)
The premise of this new Ghost Whisperer neighbor feels more like a movie idea than a network program: Bella Bloom visits a psychic who informs her that she has already met the perfect mate, which sends her mind reeling to all the men who have come and gone before. Each, presumably, will fill an hour-long episode. In the premiere, it's a geeky warbler whom Bloom dumped rather unceremoniously years ago. Now on a mission to find her soul mate, Bloom first looks up that former paramour, only to find that he's transformed into a studly rocker. Will he get over Bloom's cold dis of yore and give love another shot? Their tango proves surprisingly entertaining. As a partner to the mom-friendly (that is, not very good) Ghost Whisperer, the show aspires to a sort of sexy dramedy feel, surrounding Bloom with an assortment of young hotties getting up to silliness like shaving their privates, and it nails both fairly effectively in the first outing. Premiere episode: &&&

Gary Unmarried (Wednesday, 8:30e / 7:30c, debuted tonight)
Former SNLer Jay Mohr anchors Old Christine's timeslot partner in CBS' bid to launch a Wednesday comedy block. He acquits himself well in the premiere of this new sitcom, which is competent if not particularly distinguishing in a first episode that finds the recently divorced Gary (Mohr) sparring with his ex, Allison (Paula Marshall), over issues such as whether teenage son Tom (Ryan Malgarini) is being appropriately supervised while he has a young female visitor in his room. Meanwhile, Ed Begley Jr. is trotted out as the couple's marriage counselor and Allison's inappropriate new love interest. It's pleasant enough in its debut, but it may need more than the lovely Christine's uncertain ratings coattails to hang around. Premiere episode: &&&

Pictured: Gary Unmarried's Mohr and Marshall / CBS

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Preview: CBS' Worst Week isn't the worst premiere of the new season

Worst Week (Monday, Sept. 22, 9:30e / 8:30c)

CBS rather undersold this new Monday night sitcom with those commercials showing Sam Briggs (Kyle Bornheimer) standing on a doorstep in what looks to be a big ol' diaper with a dorkified look on his face. Based on that, I had dismissed it as a likely asinine sitcom and an unworthy successor to the previous occupant of this time slot, the excellent New Adventures of Old Christine, which has been unceremoniously bounced to Wednesday night's new comedy hour. But the premiere episode is really a cleverly crafted exercise in misfortune and misunderstanding endlessly piled one upon another as Briggs tries in vain to impress the parents of his knocked-up girlfriend, Melanie (Erinn Hayes). Clever, even if urine does figure into the episode. Who knows if the show can sustain the momentum of the first episode, but the cast is a hoot, thanks largely to Kurtwood Smith, the stern and disapproving father from That '70s Show, hamming it up as Melanie's — you guessed it — stern and disapproving father. The gentler condescension of My Name Is Earl's Nancy Lenehan as Melanie's mother, Angela, is equally hilarious. Premiere episode: &&&1/2

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pulling 'Teeth'

So I walked into my local Movie Gallery yesterday afternoon all stoked to rent Teeth, the horror movie/cautionary fable about a teen girl with a toothed hooha (seriously). I couldn't find it on the shelf among the new releases, so I asked the clerk. She instantly knew what I was talking about. "Nobody has it," she informed me. "They've pulled it." It's certainly up for sale on Amazon, so I'm wondering if this is a regional thing -- I couldn't find any references on-line to stores pulling the title. Apparently the subject matter is too hot to handle, at least here in the puritanical South, where no one has ever seen, touched or thought about a female's hooha. Better to be thinking about guns and some more ways that we can divide ourselves by race, religion and eye color.

The clerk hit the nail on the head: "It makes me want to see it even more." You go, girl. I'll be placing my order soon.

View the trailer for Mitchell Lichtenstein's Teeth, which received uniformly positive reviews, here: TEETH TRAILER

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Books: The Water's Lovely • Ruth Rendell

Genre: Mystery, psychological suspense
Released: July 17, 2007
Verdict: &&&

Having read about two dozen novels by Ruth Rendell and her alter ego, Barbara Vine, I've never felt I could sense the old master pulling the strings of her hapless characters until The Water's Lovely. At the heart of the plot is a dark family secret — no surprise there — involving the death of a stepfather-to-be of a pair of sisters. It's not giving anything away to say that one of the sisters had a hand in his death, and it casts a shadow over the rest of their lives and drives their mother to madness. Repercussions of that murderous act surface later in life as the two court prospective mates. Meanwhile, Rendell's wicked, deadpan sense of humor is in rare form, and she's having nearly too much fun with a character who is consumed with hypochondria, a young lady who sits with the elderly while plotting to get in their good graces and then kill them for their fortune, and a character who encounters the miseries of dating in late middle age. It's all spun with her usual skill and elegant prose but feels a tad contrived when measured against late-period peaks such as A Sight for Sore Eyes.

Incidental >> Rendell's next novel, Not in the Flesh, an entry in the venerable Wexford series, is due June 10.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Summer of (M.) Night

Remember a couple months back when I waxed optimistic about what’s shaping up to be a great summer at the cineplex? Of course you don’t, but there’s another addition to the list, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. Setting aside the mild disappointment of The Village and the near-apocalyptic disappointment of Lady in the Water, M. Night’s work is still must-see in my book. I’m also setting aside concerns about apparent similarities to Stephen King’s Cell, which has already seen an alleged copycat in The Signal, a movie that hit limited release a few weeks back. Nevertheless, The Happening should have a strong lead in Mark Wahlberg. The somewhat obtuse trailer, complete with some au courant raving about the disappearing bees, can be seen here.

This is our revised essential summer viewing:

Speed RacerMay 9
Sex and the CityMay 30
The HappeningJune 13
The X-Files 2
July 25

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Rolling up the charts

Now that has been tracking my listening habits for a good while, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my rolling three-month chart to see what's been gaining steam in my iTunes of late (I've culled out a couple of Christmas tunes, just because). There's always something in my top charts that surprises me a bit, so here goes:

10 MGMT, "Time to Pretend (Radio Version)"
Probably my second favorite new song of the year thus far, this anthemic stomper quickly gets under the skin, as do its cheeky lyrics.

9 Will to Power, "Fly Bird"
Will to Power came back to mind last year when I drug out the old cassette single (cassingle) collection. I had their first eponymous album on cassette, but I never had the second album, Journey Home, which spawned the top 10 single "I'm Not in Love," a cover of the 10cc tune. The album is plentifully available from Amazon sellers for a penny, so I snagged a copy out of curiosity. It's fairly awful, but "Fly Bird," an empowerment ballad that bears some musical similarities to their big hit, "Baby I Love Your Way / Free Bird Medley (Free Baby)," soars to similar heights and is their one lost, shoulda-been hit.

8 Icehouse, "Crazy"
The opening wash of moody synths and guitar absolutely slays me — it is '80s perfection and a wonderful lean-in to a great pop song.

7 Goldfrapp, "A&E"
The song of the year thus far for 2008, it's lyrically fascinating. She's in a backless dress on a pastel ward, and I can't get enough of this folky electronica.

6 Goldfrapp, "Number 1"
I never bought Supernature but have gradually been downloading the tracks; this is the latest. The only artist to appear twice in the top 10 — she's my Saturday; she's my number 1.

5 Madonna, "Keep It Together (single remix)"
Following the lead of "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself," here's another single mix that easily one-ups the Like a Prayer album version.

4 Jermaine Stewart, "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off"
I didn't give this song a second thought back in the '80s, but it's really a great jam, even if it seems to owe a large debt in production style to Whitney Houston's "How Will I know." And the lyrics are funny-clever: Not a word from your lips / You just took for granted that I'd want to skinny dip.

3 Bryan Ferry, "New Town"
Ferry's "Kiss and Tell" is a classy pop single that just grazed the top 40 in 1987 when it was featured in the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack and Ferry's Bete Noire album; "New Town" is a hypnotic selection from the latter.

2 Lindsey Buckingham, "Holiday Road"
This one is the result of one of my obsessive quests to obtain a hard-to-find track — in this case, Mavis Staples' "Christmas Vacation," the perfect slice of giddy, holiday pop that is the theme to the movie of the same name (best Christmas movie ever, too). It's extremely difficult to get, and I snagged it on the 10th anniversary Christmas Vacation soundtrack release, of which only 20,000 were pressed and sold only at the Six Flags theme park (don't ask me why). Bunches of them show up on eBay around Christmas. Among the bonuses on that disc are Buckingham's wonderful "Holiday Road" and "Dancin' Across the USA" (two more that aren't out for download) from the 1983 movie National Lampoon's Vacation, whose soundtrack may or may not have ever been released, depending on whom you believe.

1 The Killers, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town"
Sawdust has been a bit overrated in some quarters — it's a really uneven listening experience — but this live take on the Kenny Rogers and the First Edition classic is a real treat. Some of the first albums I listened to were Rogers' The Gambler and one of his hits collections, and this affecting story-song was on the latter. You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair / Oh, Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere? Vocalist Brandon Flowers pulls off a tricky one, and the band does a fine interpretation of the music.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Learning about The Bird and the Bee

Apart from Goldfrapp, my newest crush is The Bird and The Bee. I discovered them courtesy of iTunes, which offered the slightly curios duo's wispy, beautiful rendition of "The Carol of the Bells" as one if its free downloads in the run-up to Christmas. Their breezy, meticulously arranged electronic sound is peppered with retro influences and lifted by Inara George's voice flowing like silk in the breeze. Two EPs, Please Clap Your Hands and One Too Many Hearts, followed their first album, The Bird and The Bee. They are perhaps best known for the provocatively named "F*cking Boyfriend," a song title that belies their breezy, sunny pop disposition. My favorites are "So You Say," an irresistible, '60s-infused pop stomper from Please Clap Your Hands; "Again and Again," one of their most addictive, gentle melodies from The Bird and The Bee; and "Birthday," the danceable opener of One Too Many Hearts. Also fun is their sweet-sounding yet winking take on the Bee Gees ballad "How Deep Is Your Love;" their humor also shines in song titles such as "Polite Dance Song." The four-track EP One Too Many Hearts is officially out March 31, but it is already available for download at iTunes.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Scary: NBC preps 'Fear Itself' horror anthology

Let's hope this turns out better than TNT's Nightmares & Dreamscapes, which started strong and then tanked: NBC and Lions Gate are prepping Fear Itself, a 13-episode horror and suspense anthology to air on the impatient network at a date yet to be slated. The two have just announced the writing, directing and acting talent attached to the project, which was created by Mick Garris.

Among the biggest names are directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Darren Bousman (Saw II, III and IV [torture porn on network TV, anyone?]) and Brad Anderson (The Machinist). If those names leave you unimpressed, the list of actors, drawing heavily from TV shows such as Heroes, Boston Legal and Judging Amy, will have you nodding off. The writers, however, include folks behind worthy entertainments like 30 Days of Night and Wind Chill, among many others.

Here's a sampling of installments:

Eater // A rookie cop must spend her first night in the precinct watching over a serial killer dubbed "The Eater" (Stephen R. Hart, Shoot 'Em Up). When her fellow cops start acting bizarre, she quickly learns that no one is who they seem. Are they ever?

Spooked // While on a stake out in a haunted house, a private eye (Eric Roberts) is made to confront the demons of his past. Aren't they always?

Community // This one's directed by Mary Harron, who did American Psycho, so that's a promising start. When a young married couple finds the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood, their lives seem ... well ... perfect. But as the dark underbelly of their neighborhood creeps to the surface, they soon realize that their neighbors will go to any extreme — even murder — to make sure that they comply with their twisted sense of conformity. Brings to mind that great X-Files where Mulder and Scully pose as the married couple in a too-perfect suburban neighborhood, doesn't it?

Red Snow // When four criminals find themselves stranded in an old, snow-covered fort, they slowly discover both the fort and the seductive trio of sirens who reside there are filled with deadly secrets. Again, aren't they always?

New Year's Day // A young woman wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by horrifying zombies. Really, zombies? Again?

I'm a bit surprised to see NBC dipping into a horror anthology. Of course, if the series turns out to be any good, it will surely suffer the fate of Kidnapped and quarterlife and get yanked after one to four episodes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not in Kansas anymore

Don't you hate those "this is why I haven't posted in forever" blog posts? Well, this is one of those posts, more or less.

It was the week of Super Tuesday that derailed me — a week of high drama on many fronts (and I don't mean the Survivor Fans vs. Favorites premiere). I was dispatched to Oxford, Miss., for the week to cover a double-murder trial that had been moved from a neighboring county — plenty of drama in and of itself, but the week proved to be a whirlwind — literally — of other big news.

No offense to the Oxonians, but my foremost thought whenever I am in the town where I attended "Ole Miss" back in the early to mid-'90s is usually, "When can I leave?" And on Super Tuesday, after a full day on a stiff court bench, I had no intention of venturing out and missing coverage of a presidential race that is perhaps the most interesting I'll see in my lifetime.

But nothing much went as planned that week. As promised, storms were brewing as I arrived back at the luxurious Days Inn, and, as I began pecking out the day's trial news on my laptop, the tornado sirens began to blare. While I never saw more than darkly threatening skies above my picturesque view of a covered swimming pool, an EF-3 tornado was blowing through just north of town, upending some people's lives while I contemplated what I might have for dinner. Other tornados hit Memphis and Jackson in Tennessee, and an EF-1 tornado passed just a few miles west of my home base in Corinth, Miss. (you can see the storm tracks here; look towards the bottom for Oxford and toward the right for Corinth). It was a crazy night of switching back and forth between hysterical Super Tornado and Super Tuesday coverage and a frenzy of phone calls with family and friends.

I left Oxford on Friday with an improbably hung jury (11-1) and a weariness that has only begun to lift in the past week or so. Stepping away from the blog for a few weeks has probably been a good thing, anyway. I don't know where Toto is, but I'm ready to roll again.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Falling for Goldfrapp

I guess I've had my head up my ass, because I've yet to buy a Golfrapp album. I got the feisty "Ooh La La" as a free download ages ago, and I later added "Fly Me Away," which sticks in the brain like a magnet and makes me try to dance (not a good thing). Now comes "A&E," the first single from Seventh Tree, due Feb. 26. The buzz is that this album changes direction, but "A&E" is an instantly lovable tune with a fine video centering on Ms. Golfrapp in a dancing forest. I should just give it up and go place my preorder for the album now …

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TV preview: Welcome to the Captain

• CBS unveils another strong Monday comedy.

Premiere: 8:30/7:30c, Monday, Feb. 4
Verdict through two episodes: &&&1/2

It's hard for any sitcom in the 2000s to shake that sense of laugh-track insincerity and stake out original ground, but it doesn't take long for Welcome to the Captain's charms to do the trick. Aiding the cause is an impressive cast with the likes of Raquel Welch, Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show) and newcomer Fran Kranz, who eases gracefully into his leading role. (There's also Chris Klein [American Pie], who comes across like Jim Carrey Jr. — overly expressive to the point of absurdity). These characters are residents of a storied Hollywood apartment building, El Capitan (known by residents as "The Captain"), where Josh (Kranz) has just moved in and is eyeing another new tenant, Hope (Joanna Garcia). Recurring themes include Uncle Saul (Tambor) and doorman Jesus (pronounced like the Christian figure) busily gossiping over the goings on in The Captain and Saul attempting to woo veteran starlet Charlene (Welch). Josh spends much of the first two episodes trying to endear himself to Hope, an aspiring acupuncturist. The second episode, "Weekend at Saul's," finds Josh hiding out with Saul in his vacation getaway (it's in the upper reaches of the same building), and is the stronger of the first two installments. The ensemble is intriguing, and the pacing doesn't match the predictable ebb and flow of the typical sitcom — the funny is laced with genuine melancholy, as it should be. Cutely quirky (in a good way), Welcome to the Captain feels, right out of the gate, like a show that ought to be around for a while.

TV: The Moment of Truth

• This 'truth' isn't pretty as FOX lowers the bar.

Airs 9/8c Wednesdays on FOX
Verdict: &

Even setting aside the dubiousness of awarding cash for answers based on responses given during a lie detector test, The Moment of Truth is a vile concept for a television program in which contestants answer a series of increasingly uncomfortable questions. Sometimes the query might be a tad funny — a football player is forced to admit that he sneaked a peek while in the shower — but that does not excuse the more volatile questions whose answers could literally change people's lives. The same contestant is later asked if he has put off having children because he is not sure that his wife will be his lifelong partner. With said wife sitting onstage to provide reactions (and, if she chooses, force a question to be tossed out), he answers "yes," and the uncomfortable conversations that will occur later between this couple can be felt hanging in the air. It's like watching a horrific traffic accident staged for the purpose of entertainment, and just because it is there does not mean anyone should partake. It's a shame to see talented host Mark L. Walberg, who should have been tapped to helm the syndicated game show Temptation, involved with this atrocity, which features another of those boring pseudo-Millionaire sets and tired pseudo-Millionaire money trees. The fact that this format is being produced in 23 other countries, as FOX touts on its website, only proves that pandering for ratings is universal.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

This week: New Stephen King, Burnout

• Notable entertainment product in stores Jan. 22 and a movie in theaters Jan. 25.

Stephen King • Duma Key // What's the last really good King you read? Insomnia? An early Dark Tower selection? The Shining? The last couple novels — Cell and Lisey's Story — have given me some hope that the mid'90s to '00s slump of books like Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon might be waning. Like Lisey's Story, Duma Key appears to be another of his Serious Writer efforts, and that's OK if it's as rich as Lisey's Story, which has its dead weight but is a step in the right direction.

MGMT • Oracular Spectacular // If the album is half as good as the first track, "Time to Pretend," which opens like a bad Erasure track but quickly redeems itself, this will be a must. "Time to Pretend" has been a free download at iTunes.

Natasha Bedingfield • Pocketful of Sunshine // Will she forever be remembered as Daniel Bedingfield's sister and the chick who churned out one great pop single, "Unwritten"? Herein may reside the answer.

Untraceable // The trailer seems to reveal 90 percent of what happens in the movie, a torture porn twist in which Diane Lane tries to stop a killer who broadcasts his unthinkable handiwork on the Internet, making everyone who looks an accomplice.

In a quiet week on the DVD front, I'm a tad ashamed to say I would watch The Simple Life: Goes to Camp (10 episodes), and proud to say I wouldn't watch Saw IV (how many more?).

Burnout Paradise (Playstation 3, Xbox 360) // The first incentive I've seen to actually buy a PS3: a title billed as a reinvention of the amazing Burnout series, a racing game focused on crashing and destruction that is a singularly brilliant catharsis.

TV preview: The New Adventures of Old Christine

• Finally, Christine returns.

Premiere: 9:30/8:30c, Monday, Feb. 4, on CBS
Verdict, episodes 1 and 2: &&&

One of this series' burning questions — will Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) ever hook up with Mr. Harris (Blair Underwood) — is answered in the new season's first episode, in which Christine frets over whether she's good in bed and Matthew (Hamish Linklater) decides to quit medical school after an old neighbor shows up in class as a cadaver. Don't get too cozy with the idea of Christine dating Mr. Harris, because she's dating a college boy, albeit unintentionally, by the second episode. The familiar elements of Christine are in place — the pair of snooty school mommies and the very talented Trevor Gagnon as Ritchie, Christine's bright-eyed, inept son. It's disappointing this highlight in the currently bleak comedy landscape and CBS' Monday comedy block didn't get a full-season order from the network, but its return is comfort for those of us longing for some new adventures of old Elaine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

DVD: Joshua

• This lost 2007 thriller is one to relish.

Genres: Horror, psychological thriller
DVD released: Jan. 8, 2008
Director: George Ratliff
Cast: Jacob Kogan, Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Shianne Kolb
Verdict: &&&&1/2

Joshua may owe a debt to movies like The Omen and The Good Son, but it is smarter than either and a welcome, witty addition to the bad seed subgenre. If it is to be called a horror film, it is because its thrills are grounded in the horror of reality — that of screaming children, sibling rivalry and the quicksand of familial despair. Young Joshua (brilliantly portrayed by Jacob Kogan) seems the perfect child for perfect young couple Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby Cairn (Vera Farmiga), who have just experienced the birth of their second child, Lily. A bright piano prodigy, Joshua exhibits a quiet aversion to the new arrival, although his emotions become more apparent (at least to the audience, if not the parents): During a family gathering as relatives preen over the infant, Joshua projectile vomits. Soon, sweet Lily begins to cry incessantly, prompting Abby to take the child to the doctor and to gradually come unhinged as Joshua exhibits increasingly bizarre behavior — performing an Egyptian ritual on a stuffed animal and playing a whacked-out rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the piano at a school recital are a couple of mild examples. Brad, who is struggling with sinking fortunes at work, eventually becomes wise to the nefarious doings of his son (the revalatory moment, involving a videotape and a whispered, "No one will ever love you," may be the movie's creepy peak), and some finely tuned cat-and-mouse ensues. Adding layers of richness is the movie's endless wit; moments of tension are perfectly balanced with the darkest of humor, and supporting players Celia Weston and Dallas Roberts mine this territory with diabolically good results. The movie got bumped around the 2007 release schedule and never made it to wide release, but that's no surprise — the abruptly provocative ending would incense Friday night popcorn audiences. But, for viewers who appreciates a cerebral thriller, Joshua will be a topic of lively post-viewing discussion and debate on several levels (Hey! You never actually see him do anything bad!), a sure sign that a flick is well worth your time.

// DVD NOTES // Surprisingly, the disc offers a dts soundtrack. A few deleted scenes are mildly interesting but not illuminating, and the same is largely true of the interview material. The theatrical poster, shown here, is so much better than the DVD cover.

// ABOUT THE RATING // The cumulative effect of bad horror movies has taken its toll: Joshua, Stephen King's The Mist and 30 Days of Night have all been rated 4.5 here, but they would have been 4's back in the blog's early days, before all the bad ones made me feel a little more generous toward the really good ones.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cassingle rewind: Toni Childs • Don't Walk Away

Label: A&M Records
Hot 100 peak: 72 in 1988

"What was I thinking?" index: 0 (none)

Tracks: "Don't Walk Away," "Hush"

// A SIDE // Not to be confused with the nose-chain-wearing Jane Child of "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" fame, Toni Childs is a would-be pop starlet whose excellent debut single was not in the right place at the right time. She was fleetingly a member of Berlin ("Take My Breath Away") before that group produced its first album, so she twice dodged hitting the big-time. "Don't Walk Away," from the album Union, is certainly one of the most obscure selections in my cassingle collection; the song stalled in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 and was her only appearance on that chart, although she did resurface with a dance chart hit in 1994. I only heard "Don't Walk Away" a few times on VH1 while watching for the school bus in the morning (so the cable network was good for something besides I love the 80s), and Childs' commanding delivery of the title lyric, combined with a synthy and brassy, driving pop-rock melody immediately seized the attention of a young pop fan. Listening to the song now for the first time in probably 17 years, I'm reminded of how striking it is, thanks in large part to Childs' big, distinctive voice; with the proper nudge, this well-honed tune surely would have scaled into the top 40. It's essentially a song about love and longing: "Time passes slowly, time passes on / Waiting for my man to call / When there's no man at all /Do I stand here waiting / For the earth to turn to dust," etc.

// B SIDE // The extra track, "Hush," has more of a world music feel; it's not a stretch to imagine Peter Gabriel singing it. "Hush" shares the same knack for melody as "Don't Walk Away" and sounds like something that might show up in the soundtrack to a female-oriented TV drama. This one isn't a B-side exclusive — it also appears on the Union album. For whatever reason, the extra track isn't named on the single's sleeve.

// C SIDE // A couple of other albums and compilations followed Union, and Childs is well represented at the major download sites. After playing the cassingle again (the wheels still turn, and it still sounds good!), I couldn't resist downloading "Don't Walk Away" — how much more broke would the music industry be if we didn't buy the same music in different formats?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More X-Files for the X-philes

• Finally, Mulder and Scully get a second movie.

Setting aside most or all of season 9, I can't get enough of The X-Files, so the recent news of a second movie finally moving ahead is as exciting as a new season following a devastating cliffhanger at the end of the last.

Slated for July 25, the movie got a release date after Chris Carter and FOX finally cleared up their lawsuit ugliness. I would wager that dispute doesn't hold a candle to the fracases that go on in this house over merely watching The X-Files, because half of us refuse to watch mythology episodes, preferring instead to watch only the stand-alones, and particularly the "monster" ones. I have considered gifting my co-viewer one of those mythology episode collections out of pure meanness.

At least going to see the movie will be an easy choice, because it is confirmed to be a stand-alone (although I'm rooting for at least a cameo from some of the old mythology favorites — the mysterious Smoking Man, weaselly Alex Krycek or the slinky Marita Covarrubias). But the ongoing dispute has meant I'm getting through The X-Files DVDs at a snail's pace as we bicker over what to watch. While many of the non-conspiracy episodes are among my favorites — the Loch Ness-esque "Quagmire," the forest suspense of "Detour," and that one about the brain-eating boy, "Hungry," for a few examples — nothing compares to the complex wonder this series built in the prime of the conspiracy episodes. (Except maybe the new Battlestar Galactica. Get back to me on that after I've seen seasons three and four.) Doesn't matter that The X-Files didn't reach a wholly satisfying conclusion; the journey was its own reward, and now we have the hope of resolution in a future movie.

With Mulder and Scully on board, it's shaping up to be great fun at the cinema this summer. I can't remember the last time I was looking forward to summer movies this much, thanks to these must-sees:

The X-Files (untitled sequel)July 25
Speed Racer (directed by the Wachowskis)May 9
Sex and the CityMay 30

Friday, January 04, 2008

Eleven things I loved in 2007

A bit belatedly and in something of an order, although several of these could occupy the number one spot, here are the favorites of 2007:

11 iPhone
With no apologies to the haters, it's the best $399 I ever spent. I love having easy access to the Internet in my pocket, not to mention the pure beauty of it.

10 Stranger Than Fiction
Moving and existential, Stranger than Fiction is undoubtedly the cleverest movie that will ever have the "starring Will Ferrell" tag.

9 Music downloads
Buying music on-line is as addictive as ever, thanks to Amazon trying to under-price iTunes and DRM use limitations appearing to be on the verge of full retreat — both developments are wins for consumers. I'm having more fun shopping for music, too, thanks to song samples, free downloads and the broad selection. Kudos to Radiohead (there's something I never expected to say) for stirring debate and mixing it up with its pick-your-price stunt for its release of In Rainbows.

8 Family Guy
I know: I'm a million years behind on this one, but this show finally ensnared me for good. While snarky baby Stewie and the other characters are a hoot, it's the devastating pop culture parody that kills. Prime example: Peter is given a copy of the cursed videotape from The Ring, and it contains the movie Mannequin, which leaves him a face-contorted victim.

7 30 Days of Night
Sometimes the critical mass is wrong, and this stylish, modern take on vampire lore cleverly set in Alaska's month-long darkness is a prime example. It's arguably the best pure horror film of 2007 and one whose reputation will rise with time, even if the sun doesn't.

6 / 5 30 Rock and The New Adventures of Old Christine
With network comedy on the ropes, these feisty female-fronted laughers sharpened beautifully in their second seasons, giving me a reason to watch at least part of NBC Thursday again and sweetening CBS' pretty good Monday block (excepting the stale How I Met Your Mother).

4 "Remind Me" by Royksopp
I haven't saved a bundle on my car insurance, but I am thankful to Geico's marketing for turning me onto this hypnotic 2003 single, which has taken a place among my all-time top 10 played tracks.

3 The Riches
All the good drama is on cable now, isn't it? FX found something funny, moving and original in this tale of a family of thieving gypsies / travellin' folk / con artists who assume the lives of a newly deceased wealthy family. It was particularly rich when delving into the gypsy subculture, and its second season begins in a few months.

2 Fracture
A mainstream thriller this smart and absorbing is a rarity, and it boasts Anthony Hopkins displaying a fascinating, refined Lecter-ish kind of menace we had no real reason to expect to see again.

1 Stephen King's The Mist
Here's something I'll wager no one really expected from this adaptation of a King novella: a smart exploration of the way people divide themselves and the best King adaptation since Misery.

// Previous favorites // 20062005

Pictured: As a bible-beating, aspiring martyr, Marcia Gay Harden enlivens Stephen King's The Mist.