Friday, October 27, 2006

"Monster House" review; Justin's TV schedule

Wendy and I had a good time watching "Monster House" this weekend. Don't be fooled by its PG-rating, the "family movie" is quite a bit scarier than most other recent CG movies. It's also a refreshing change from the recent infestation of cheery, goofy, talking-animal comedies. Though occasionally creepy in tone, this adventure/comedy has more in common with "The Goonies" than "Poltergeist." The dialogue is clever and fast, the characters transcend (if only barely) simple caricatures, and the visuals are moody and atmospheric. While the movie takes a somewhat morbid turn in its final third, it is still so clever and engaging that you probably won't mind in the end. It's a perfect movie for Halloween-time if you want to have a mild scare without the nightmares--just think twice before letting your younger kids watch it.... (*** out of four)

In other news, I've really been enjoying the new TV season so far. Most of my shows have come back in top form, and our new DVR has been the best thing to come into our lives since the cell phone. My favorite show, "Lost," has been fast-paced and fascinating, correcting the occasional season 2 error of not moving the story forward. My other vice, "The Amazing Race," has been thrilling and fun, as usual (I'm rooting for the Cho brothers, though I think it will likely be Team Barbie to win...).

I've somewhat reluctantly rejoined "Gilmore Girls," although I've been bothered not only by the Luke-less Lorelei, but by the new showrunner's inability to correctly capture the lightning-fast dialogue that made the show's first six seasons so entertaining. Plus, I can't see what the writers are thinking by putting the otherwise intelligent and strong Lorelei and Rory with such shallow, brainless men. In other words, this show is on my endangered list.

I've also casually watched "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" with Matthew Perry. While I like Perry and most of the rest of the cast, there's something uneven about the drama, which at times feels preachy and condescending, traits that seem completely out of place for a show that details the ins-and-outs of a "SNL"-type sketch hour. There's no doubt that creator/writer Aaron Sorkin has a terrific ability to create interesting discussion (used to great advantage on the early years of "The West Wing"), but I think the show may just be a little too self-important to catch on with mainstream audiences. Plus, the romance between Sarah Polley's and Matthew Perry's characters just feels too forced; they have zero chemistry, and don't even look good together (where's Courtney Cox when you need her?).

Finally, "The Office." I have to admit, there have been some big laughs in the four new episodes that have aired so far this season (the boardroom movie-reciting exercise was classic). But deep down, I really think that Jim's absence in the old office has been a great big disappointment; a shameless ploy by producers to prolong the inevitable. The romantic in me would be happier to see Jim and Pam interact uncomfortably in their old environment than see them move on with life as if they had never been friends. For crying out loud, bring Jim back to Scranton!!!

How have you liked the TV season so far this year? What's on your endangered list?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Random Movie Thoughts

Tonight Wendy and I saw "The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D." They gave us the glasses and everything. It was the first time I had seen the movie, and I thought it was pretty charming. Visually, it was inventive and clever and always interesting. I didn't think the songs were all that catchy, but it was just so much fun to look at that I didn't care much. The 3-D was pretty fun too, although not nearly as showy as some of the movies that are originally made for 3-D (like that Disney classic, "Captain E-O").

A couple of other movies we have caught recently are "Monster-in-Law" (silly and almost offensively predictable), "Under the Tuscan Sun" (not nearly as romantic as it should have been), "Failure to Launch" (failure to laugh), and "Over the Hedge" (forgettable story peppered with a couple funny jokes).

I have to say that I'm not dying to see many of the movies that are coming up, not even James Bond. I am intrigued by "The Prestige" and am hearing good things about it, but other than that, the only other one that appeals much to me is "For Your Consideration," the latest from the "Waiting for Guffman" gang. You can check out the trailer at

Hopefully there's a gem or two out there that's flying under my radar. Are there any movies coming up that I should be excited about?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"The Guardian" review

While reading the reviews for Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher's latest, I noticed frequent comparisons to "Top Gun." I must confess: I don't think I've ever seen "Top Gun" all the way through (before you lynch me, remember that there are one or two "classics" that each of you haven't seen as well...). Even so, I found myself trying to figure out what "The Guardian" had to do with "Top Gun." Anyone that can enlighten me is welcome to do so...

Now, on to the review. This Coast Guard drama/adventure is a pretty decent adventure most of the way through. Kevin Costner is likable enough in a role that is exactly what the ads make it look like: a tormented aging Coast Guard hero (Costner) takes a young hot shot (oh, maybe that's like "Top Gun") under his wing. The young hot shot is played by Ashton Kutcher, who really does seem like a cocky showoff and was perfect for the role. The biggest bulk of the movie covers the two actors love/hate relationship with each other, sprinkled with a few semi-thrilling action/rescue sequences. The acting is decent, the special effects are effective and convincing, and the story overall is interesting enough (those Coast Guard folk are pretty tough!).

I have a few minor complaints, however: the subplot detailing Kevin Costner's failing marriage wasn't quite as developed or resolved as it could have been. The movie itself was a bit too long, with several would-be endings that had me checking my watch a few times. And for a movie advertising itself as the next big adventure, it was somewhat lacking in the action department.

Finally, let's talk about the "moral of the story." For a movie that spends so much time building up and praising the efforts and sacrifices of the Coast Guard, I felt like the ending (which I will keep a secret, as should you) was sort of counterproductive. If anything, it reminded me why I never wanted to grow up and become a Coast Guard-er. Sorta like the "Miracle of Life" for the Coast Guard-crowd, because it could potentially convince its viewers they never want to go through with it...I know not everyone got the same message from the movie that I did...what did you all think?

In the end, it was a fun movie to go see on a Saturday night. Mostly clean, with the exception of one random F-bomb and a few other minor bombs here and there. My complaints shouldn't have convinced you not to see this movie, because looking back on it I rather enjoyed it. Nice to see Costner in a tolerable movie again. (*** out of four)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Guest Reviewer: Ammon Chase

My bro-in-law, Ammon Chase, offered an unsolicited and very welcome review of "Proof" with Gwyneth Paltrow. I have to admit that his review intrigued me; my thoughts follow in the "comments" section.

Overall, "Proof" was really engaging and for the most part the time passed quickly. There is a lot of plot structure but not a lot of building, meaning they lay the foundation for about an hour or so and then they start presenting a conflict. The conflict was pretty subtle and I wasn't sure until about 20 minutes before the end that what I thought might be a possible conflict turned out to be the main and only conflict.

The last thing is after laying so much foundation and finally illustrating the conflict, the resolution is only inferred at the end so when you're done you feel like maybe your DVD was corrupted and they accidentally deleted the last 15 minutes. The creator of inferred or imaginary endings is my least favorite director M. Night Shyamalan who in "Unbreakable" did the same thing only one hundred times worse by moving what would have been an exceptional plot like a tugboat moving a continent and then right when it was about to get good he stopped the movie and left all the creative and supernormal adventures Bruce Willis would have had to our imaginations. In short, this movie's ending wasn't nearly as bad as "Unbreakable," mostly because "Unbreakable" had so much more potential, although it was somewhat Shyamalan-esque.

Paltrow did a great job. It was fun trying to determine whether her character was really crazy which I think was one of the main points. Sometime there was no doubt she was, and then other times she was almost normal--so that dynamic was engaging. Spiderman (Jake Gylenhall) was also good, although I couldn't figure out why he was in love with Poultry other than that she is attractive because her character is really spastic. Hannibal Lecter also did a great job.

I give it three stars because it was engaging and if you could simulate a power outage just before the end so instead of actually knowing that the resolution is imaginary, you could just imagine your own ending and think that the movie probably would have ended that way but for the power outage, then I would give it three and a half stars.