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.