Friday, October 31, 2008

Kevin Smith, the art of raunch, and the problem with PG-13

The saddest news out there today is that after abusing Mike Judge's wryly funny "King of the Hill" for 13 years now, Fox has finally pulled the plug, effective at the end of this season. After the way it's been treated with the often nonexistent post-pro football slot, you could really probably call this a mercy killing. Besides, 13 years is a pretty darn good run.

And Mike Judge will be OK, with a feature film, "Extract," hopefully soon to come out in more than Austin and L.A. before hitting DVD. Starring Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig, Clifton Collins Jr., Mila Kunis and (huzzah!) J.K. Simmons, all I really know about it is that Bateman plays the owner of a flower extract factory. Mr. Judge will also be returning to animated TV comedy with something called "The Goode Family" coming soon to ABC.

But all that's not the order of the day around here. In honor of Kevin Smith, who I still have loads of time for when he's not simply rehashing his own movies, it's all about R-rated comedies in which the R is squarely for raunch. And before you say that's too harsh, look at his last three movies: "Clerks II", "Jersey Girl" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Though both of the sequels-of-sorts were funny enough, he's definitely in need of a new crowd, which he has now with Seth Rogen and the utterly charming Elizabeth Banks (more on her later) for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

It's sad that Smith squandered the opportunity he had such a big hand in creating with the current wave of R-rated comedies that throw in just enough heart to make the crude go down as almost sweet. My brother thinks Kevin Smith is just, using language Mr. Smith would surely appreciate, "a tool", but I'll definitely turn out for his new one this weekend (even if I will probably be shamed enough to ask the inevitably teen clerk simply for a ticket to "Zack and Miri," as unable to bring myself to use the taboo word "Porno" as the network TV ads are.)

My main point in this admittedly rather disjointed diatribe, however, is that the PG-13 rating - a shameful ruse for many reasons - has watered down the art of true raunch to the point that it just becomes silly juvenilia (though I admittedly often have a stomach for that too.) Here's a test in the form of my 10 favorite raunchy movies, in no particular order. Can you pick out the only one that's not rated R?

Animal House
Bad Santa
Super Troopers
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
Blazing Saddles
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

And the answer? I thought for a second it might be "Superbad," but Jonah Hill's tirade about the "Ghostbusters lunchbox dick treasure chest" among many other gems made that one thankfully too rude for PG-13. The answer is "Airplane," which I haven't seen for a while, but I guess must be fairly tame by today's standards.

"Airplane" earned a PG rating four years before the PG-13 rating was created, on July 1, 1984 - a truly dark day in my book.Why? Well, you'll find I'm more than a little conflicted about it, but I think both sides I cling to are right, so bear with me.

My main beef with PG-13 is that it's so arbitrary. It was created, according to Wikipedia, in response to the violence in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins" (really? WTF?!?!) Since then, however, it has clearly become a toilet for really gross "horror" movies and teen "comedies" that test the limits of taste without taking any time to think about such trivialities as much of a plot.

At the same time, however (remember, I said I'm very inconsistent on this), PG-13 movies too often just don't go far enough. I still find that woman in "Clerks" dryly explaining that she "manually masturbates caged animals for artificial insemination" for a living and the perpetually 8-year-old Stan looking for the clitoris in "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" to be extremely funny, and I hope I always will.

I suppose that's just the built-in problem with the middle ground: It may be the best way forward, but it will always leave increasingly both grumpy and old men like me complaining. The bottom line is, even if "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" will probably top the box office yet again, I'm glad Kevin Smith is back with a lot of raunch, a little smarts and a little more heart, and I hope a lot of people turn out for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

And I'll close with a bit more about Elizabeth Banks, easily my favorite comic actress working today (though Anna Faris is rising in the ranks too). She was rather severely underused in "W.", but you're about to see a lot of her: This week in Smith's flick, next week in the extremely silly but hopefully fun (and yes, R-rated) "Role Models" with Paul Rudd, and early next year in the horror movie "The Uninvited" with David Strathairn and Emily Browning (Violet in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I don't turn out for horror movies much any more (the last one I saw and kind of enjoyed was J.A. Bayona's "The Orphanage), but with that cast I'll give this one a chance. Here's the trailer, which does indeed make it look like it might be a cut above the gore-over-suspense fare that passes for most "horror" flicks nowadays. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don Draper's guide to picking up women

I could use a half million-dollar bender right about now.

Not much to say this Monday morning except that the "Mad Men" finale lived up to and surpassed all my expectations. Seeing Pete finally get his proper reward was easily the TV highlight of the year, and the closing shot of Don and Bertie was just priceless.

Less successful was this spoof of Don Draper that apparently aired on Saturday's episode of "Saturday Night Live," hosted by Jon Hamm (I wouldn't know because like most "real Americans" I was watching baseball at the time [and I apologize immediately for that rather nasty Sarah Palin-esque comment].)

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that "SNL" couldn't come up with anything fall-down-funny about the most complicated and entertaining show on TV, but it's still worth wasting 90 seconds of your Monday on. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

To 3D or not to 3D?

For most of the world, the movie question for this weekend was probably about whether to watch the pretty teens of "High School Musical 3" or the bloodfest of "Saw V" (or perhaps in a truly twisted double feature, both), but for me it was whether or not to finally to take the plunge into 3D for a return to the great "Nightmare Before Christmas."

Since it was being applied to a movie I love, I decided to bite on Hollywood's latest gimmick. The movie itself has stood the test of time very well, with Danny Elfman's songs and Henry Selick's stop-motion animation as magical as ever (though not enough to make me forgive Mr. Elfman for those horrendous Oompa-Loompa songs he crafted for Tim Burton's simply awful "Willy Wonka" remake.) As for the technology, however, I think from now I'm gonna have to just say no.

Did it bring anything positive to the movie-viewing experience? My first impulse was to say no, but in fairness that magical moment when it starts to snow over Halloweentown was indeed fairly cool in 3D, with the snow flakes seeming to fall on top of you. That wasn't nearly enough, however, to make up for what it did to the rest of the movie.

The first problem is that those goofy glasses, which I was happy to find fit comfortably over my actual specs, managed to blur the often stark colors of Selick's dreamscape into a rather unpleasant gray. Not very cool at all.

Secondly, the 3D technology just seemed horribly out of place with the stop-motion style, which is beautiful in its sheer primitiveness. I tend to frown on most ultramodern animation anyway. As much as I loved Gil Kenan's "Monster House," the humans in that one just looked like space aliens (and in none of the best ways), and the effect was even worse with Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie." Call me old-fashioned, but I know what I like.

The trailers offered a peak at what should be my next chance to choose between 3D and traditional animation, and ironically enough it was for another Henry Selick movie (huzzah!). Coming early next year will be "Coraline," directed by Mr. Selick in the stop-motion style from the novella by Neil Gaiman about a young girl who finds all kinds of surprises when she explores the apartment next door.

I kept the funky 3D glasses I paid $2 for, but assuming that "Coraline" will be released in both formats, I'll take the traditional style, as you can with the trailer below. Peace out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"30 Rock" almost a week early? I'll take that!

I admit that I was very slow to get on the "30 Rock" train, but now that I've given in I have no idea why I had any reservations in the first place.

The show will probably never be as funny as it was in the pilot episode when Tina Fey is wooing Tracy Morgan to join "The Girlie Show," but despite more than a few rough patch during the strike-shortened season two, the show has remained almost as consistently funny as the Emmy hype would have you believe.

And it certainly returns as partner "The Office" is hitting its stride. Last night's episode had not only the most heart of any in recent memory, but anyone who doesn't enjoy watching Amy Ryan give a devilish "hell yeah" to the prospect of sex or Dwight pining for his lost love just probably doesn't enjoy good TV anyway.

So, what will we get to see when "30 Rock" finally returns to join it next week? Well, thanks to NBC (and well, me), if you don't mind watching it on a really small screen you can find out today. All I'll tell you for now is that Jack is back, Liz's adoption interview is a hoot, and keep your eyes open for the mention of Colin Firth erotica.

I can't think of any more enjoyable way to kill 20 minutes of a Friday, so enjoy this season three premier, and have a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A free flick from Wayne Wang? Enjoy it while you can

Until this morning, I knew nothing at all about the movie "Twilight" except that it's about young pretty vampires and is intended for many people in the world who aren't me. But now I know that it stars in some capacity Broadway vet Anna Kendrick, who utterly charmed her way through one of my favorite 2007 movies, "Rocket Science." Probably not enough to make me go see it, but it made me smile for a second anyway.

Much better is that with a visit to YouTube (or by simply clicking below) you can view until Thursday a new feature film from director Wayne Wang for free. Who's Wayne Wang? For much of the world, that's a perfectly understandable question.

For years the Hong Kong director has largely trafficked in some pretty schmaltzy crap ("Maid in Manhattan" and "The Heart of Winn Dixie" come to mind), but he also managed to direct easily one of my favorite flicks in "Smoke." If you haven't seen this little movie about the power of storytelling and starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Forest Whitaker, Ashley Judd and Harold Perrineau of "Lost" fame, Netflix it immediately and thank me later.

But the new news about Mr. Wang is that he's recently released two feature films, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" and "Princess Nebraska," the latter of which has been released for free on YouTube. All I know about it for sure is that it's about a Chinese woman who is four months pregnant and going to college in Nebraska. Abortion and San Francisco factor in here somehow, but to find out anymore you'll just have to watch for yourself, as I will very soon.

R.I.P. Dolemite

The most amazing thing about Rudy Ray Moore dying is that he managed to stay alive so long in the first place. The rather rude but usually very funny comedian died Sunday night in Toledo of complications of diabetes at the age of 81.

I can't say his act was ever my favorite thing to watch, but there's no denying he had great influence over hip-hop music, and for that I can only say thanks.

About four or five years ago, Mr. Moore was scheduled to play a show in Macon, and our former entertainment writer Greg Fields was tasked with interviewing him. I laughed for about three minutes straight as Greg tried multiple times to call Mr. Moore, only to be hung up on and swore at because he was mistaken for a bill collector. I still don't know if that was a joke on Mr. Moore's part, but it certainly made my day.

Enjoy this extremely profane (remember, I did warn you) clip of him telling the story of the signifying monkey from "Dolemite." R.I.P. Mr. Moore.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A visit with Oliver Stone's "W."

The biggest strength of Oliver Stone's "W." is that as I was watching it I had no idea just who this movie was intended for, so you can bring into and take from it just about whatever you want to about our current ruler.

The second biggest strength is Josh Brolin's portrayal of George W. Bush himself, but we'll get to much more on that later. First, a breakdown of what you'll see and what you won't in this mostly successful portrait of power.

After a rapid but not particularly mean-spirited run-through of W.'s missing years (you never see, for example, the man snort coke in daddy's White House or anywhere else), Stone moves quickly to his main focus here, W.'s leadership of the Iraq War.

And this is when his flick is at its strongest, giving a real sense of palace intrigue as nearly all his players disappear into their characters to the point that you almost think you're watching a documentarian's portrait (with the sore exception of Thandie Newton, who we'll also be hearing much more about later.) My favorite moment came as the decision was made to go to war - as the big boys are making the final call, our "decider" sinks into the shadows and seats himself beside Toby Jones' Karl Rove, a subtle moment a younger Stone would never have been able to attain.

But in this stretch and elsewhere you also sense what's most noticeably missing - any of the flights of fancy that made his earlier presidential flicks and other movies so much fun. When they do come here, as in W.'s dream sequences on the Texas Ranger's ballfield and a very ill-conceived one near the end involving daddy, they just seem jarring and take away from the otherwise tight story Stone is telling. I read in the New York Times that he once conceived another dream in which W. was flying on a magic carpet and raining bombs over Baghdad. As silly as that would have been, I still would have loved to have seen it make the final cut.

And after setting up a very plausible case that many of W.'s actions regarding the war and other business are motivated in large part by his daddy issues (and Stone gets a huge assist here from a sensational performance from James Cromwell as Bush the elder), he completely omits the biggest gift and burden that "poppy" bequeathed to his son: The presidency itself. I would have gladly given Mr. Stone another half hour or so to see what he had to say about the fact that if daddy's hatchet man - James Baker - hadn't intervened in Florida, W. would probably never have become president at all. That subject is completely brushed over here, but if you want to get a workmanlike but solid taste of it, Netflix HBO's "Recount" (and keep your eyes on Laura Dern, who just nails the dippy Katherine Harris to a tee.)

But what makes Stone's flick mostly work so well is Josh Brolin, who dives so completely into the role of W. that you never for a minute think you're watching anyone but our leader. He nails it so perfectly that you can read his performance just about any way you want to. While many will see Stone and Brolin's largely sympathetic portrait of W. as a strong leader who follows his convictions, many others (me included) will see an arrogant, more than slightly intellectually challenged and ultimate dangerous man. The fact that you can read it so many ways is exactly why you'll be hearing Mr. Brolin's name on Oscar night.

Cromwell is also exceptional as poppy, but another word of praise is in order for my favorite of the supporting players, Stacy Keach. He makes his first appearance about half way in as the preacher W. turns to after he is born again, and Keach gets to deliver the key speech about Christian love that makes (for me, at least) the crux of Stone's ultimate but subtly made point. How much you think W. has followed this teaching will inform your assessment of the man, and Keach just sells it perfectly.

And, finally, it brings me no pleasure at all to state that Thandie Newton turned in the single worst performance I've seen in all of 2008 with her "portrayal" of Condoleezza Rice. I've had a major thing for Ms. Newton ever since "Flirting," a charming little Aussie flick in which her knee socks just drove me (and Noah Taylor) wild (and for another flick that she just smolders her way through, I highly recommend Bernardo Bertolucci's "Besieged.") I think it's this addiction to her sheer physical beauty that has blinded me over the years to the fact that she really just can't act a lick, which is on blatant display here. Her attempt to capture the nature of Ms. Rice is the perfect example of simple imitation rather then interpretation, and it's almost as bad as Frank Caliendo's take on W. (which, because I love baseball almost as much as our president does, I've had to watch what seems like 10,000 times by now.)

As a last challenge, I wonder if there's anyone out there who likes the president more than I do who found that Stone had any kind of axe to grind with the man in this flick. In his public remarks, the director has certainly disparaged W., but his movie portrayal is about as close to fair and balanced as I could have expected, and almost as entertaining too. Peace out.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Rehoboth Film Festival and "the best horror movie of the year"?

The biggest news out there today that isn't all about me is that AMC has just signed on for a third season of "Mad Men," but show creator Matthew Weiner isn't yet quite on board.

Given the run the show is on now deep in season two, I just assumed it was signed up for Weiner's planned five-year run, but I guess that shows you just how little I know about business.

As for the show itself which, if I'm not mistaken, only has two episodes left in this season, last Sunday's installment may have been the best yet. Don's first-season party with the hippies was a hoot, but his adventures in La-La land were just crazy on a whole new level (and my co-worker Karen Ludwig asked a question I have to admit had never really crossed my mind - will he come back to New York?) I have to assume so, but I can't wait for the return of "Dick Wickman" if he shows this week.

But the bad news, of course, is that even though the two sides have apparently exchanged contract offers, Weiner is not yet signed up for the further saga of the men and women of Sterling Cooper. If he were to walk, the show is clearly in good hands by now (including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" vet Marti Noxon and "Gilmore Girls" vet Lesli Linka Glatter, among others), but it would still be a real shame. Stay tuned.

In even better news, though I haven't seen a Broadway show in years, the Great White Way is about to get a serious injection of class.

It seems that "Once," the soundtrack for which still sits on my desk at work and will surely be listened to later today, has been optioned by John N. Hart Jr., Jeffrey Sine and Frederick Zollo to turn the musical into, well, a musical. Luckily, the trio have said they expect stars/composers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova to be involved in the project (as stars? I'd easily pay $100 for that!) Writer/director John Carney may get in on the game too.

Best of all, it will include not only songs from the sensational movie, but also some more Hansard/Irglova tunes that didn't make the cut. In my mind, I'm definitely already there instead of heading to a 10-hour day for my fifth day of work this week!

Rehoboth Film Festival

It's really hard to complain too much, though, because the day after Barack Obama wins the election I'm headed to Rehoboth Beach, Del., for the 11th (amazing!) annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. My brother and I had once fantasized about hitting Toronto - me for the movies and him for the soccer - but I think Rehoboth is about as glamorous as it's gonna get for me, and that's just fine.

This year's festival takes place from Wednesday, Nov. 5 to Sunday, Nov. 9, and features a host of great almost-first-run movies. Here's the schedule of what I'll hopefully be watching (assuming we can get tickets for them all), and if you live anywhere near Rehoboth (or are just curious), you can finally view the schedule in a pdf program here.


"Mirageman": All I really know about this one is that it's about some kind of Chilean superhero, and that's enough to get me intrigued.

"Let the Right One In": This is the "horror" movie I referred to in the title of this post, and though I'm way too old for most horror flicks, this looks right up my alley. It's apparently a Mexican movie about a young man who befriends his next-door neighbor, who just happens to be a vampire. Cool, and the trailer, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes, is below.

"Trouble the Water": I'd have to imagine this doco will be the festival's hottest ticket, so hopefully I can get in. Given the human scale of the tragedy, I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching documentaries about Hurricane Katrina, and this one about a husband and wife who get trapped in their house looks like a real winner.


"The Pope's Toilet": Despite the rather colorful title of this one, I'm fairly certain it won't have any images of Benedict himself doing his private business. Instead, it's a drama about the madness that surrounds a papal visit to Uruguay.

"In a Dream": I never would have guessed, but apparently Philadelphia is just a mecca for outside (and outsider) art. This particular doco looks at the work of mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, and should just be a visual feast.

"Wendy and Lucy": I had never heard of this one, but I really like Michelle Williams, so I'm definitely in. As the titular Wendy, she shows up in Oregon with her dog Lucy to look for work. I like movies about the fringes of American life, and this one should be intriguing.


"Mister Foe": Young Billy Elliott (Jamie Bell) is a little more grown up now and suffering a rather serious oedipal complex. After becoming infatuated with a woman who looks like his mother, he runs off to Glasgow, and surely a lot of nifty indie rock and hopefully good filmmaking will follow.

"The Grocer's Son": My parents recommended this one, which for me makes it a must-see. It's a French flick about a city man who returns to southern France to help in his father's grocery store after the elder man suffers a stroke. Doesn't sound like exactly my cup of tea, but I love being proven wrong.

"Love Comes Lately": It looks I'm not terribly likely to get the job I applied for on a lark to be the "Film Festival Coordinator" for the DC Jewish Community Center, but I won't hold that against Isaac Bashevis Singer. This flick based on a collection of the great writer's short stories is about love, faith and - inevitably - cheating in New York City.


"Under the Bombs": Shot in 10 days as bombs were actually raining down on Lebanon in 2006, this drama uses non-actors to look for some answers in all that madness. Good look with that, but I'll give it a chance anyway.

"Man on a Wire": I'll hopefully close the fest with this doco about Philippe Petit's bold and crazy attempt to walk between the Twin Towers on a wire in 1974. The flick is apparently also about all the loony people who conspired with him to make this all happen, which should make for the most interesting part.

So, there you have it. Please feel free to browse through the rather impressive program and make any recommendations of flicks you may have seen but I have omitted from this list (which is not yet set in stone.)

And I'll leave with you the first 10 minutes of "Sex Drive," which I'll probably go see Sunday for a healthy dose of juvenalia after Oliver Stone's "W." on Saturday. I haven't watched it all yet, but I'm sure you'll want to wear headphones if you're watching this at work. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Billy Ray's back, so scandal is the order of the day

Just a few quick notes today, because in a moment truly right out of "Office Space," we have to go through 18 hours of training starting today to learn a new program that changes the way we do .. well .. just about everything.

Even if it goes smoothly, a newspaper changing its operating system about three weeks before the election is just as crazy as it seems. But, since that's not really my concern, I'd much rather traffic in the more pleasant realm of movie trivialty.

Billy Ray, who makes his living primarily as a screenwriter, has also managed to direct two of my favorite movies, and now he's back with something that sounds right up his alley.

The two movies that Ray has managed to direct, "Shattered Glass" and "Breach" (easily one of my favorite flicks of 2007), are psychological dramas of the first order that paint very claustrophobic portraits of very troubled people. If you haven't seen the former, starring Hayden Christensen as journalistic fraud Stephen Glass and a stellar Peter SarsGaard as his "New Republic" editor, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Now, Mr. Ray is set to write and direct "How to Rig an Election," based on the memoir of the same name by disgraced G.O.P. political operative Allen Raymond (see a pattern here)? His plot: To jam phone lines at Democratic Party headquarters in an effort to swing a 2002 Senate election in New Hampshire.

"This is the story of Raymond’s rise to power alongside his friend in the party, Jim Tobin, and how their lives intersect in a way that forces Allen to choose between his ambition and his integrity," Ray said. "He makes the wrong choice at first, and by the time he makes the right one, his wife and kids are affected and his life is going up in flames."

Mr. Ray, who specializes in the motivations of petty schemers, should just have a blast with that.

Murderous muppets? I'm there

The big news in Muppet world, of course, is that Jason Segel and writing partner Nicholas Stoller are developing a new - and hopefully very old-fashioned - Muppet movie (though I can't find anything about it on either of their IMDB profiles.)

At the house of Henson, however, they're also now more actively involved in something made just for me: A puppet show for adults.

The Jim Henson Co. has launched development of the feature "Happytime Murders," a puppet comedy in the film noir detective genre (yes, I did make a little geek squeak the first time I read that.) Jim Henson offspring Brian and Lisa Henson will produce the flick, which will mix humans and puppets and center on a puppet detective forced to solve a string of murders around the Happytime Gang, the cast of a popular children's show.

In my mind, I'm already there. Like I said, short report today, since I have to do my actual job along with a half-week's worth of training (though it does mean a lot of overtime, so I really shouldn't complain.) Peace out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Express": A goal line fumble

I knew Gary Fleder's flick about Ernie "The Express" Davis wasn't going to win the box-office weekend, but can anyone tell me how in the world it ended up finishing sixth with a seriously paltry take of $4.7 million (with those talking rat dogs on top for a second week in a row.)

Being such a solidly entertaining flick about college football, it certainly deserved a much better than fate than that. I've given up even wishing that movies can have a second-week rebound given our atrociously short attention spans, but if any movie deserves it this one certainly does.

As is the case when I'm watching movies, my mind always drifts to the ones already stored there, no matter how good the flick unfurling in front of me happens to be. In this case, Gary Fleder's "The Express" inevitably made me think of the basketball flick "Glory Road," and I can state definitively that Fleder's flick is superior to that crapfest in every way imaginable.

The main virtue of "The Express" is that it treats the huge role that race played in the story of Davis, the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy, with earnestness, but never lets that get in the way of telling a rousing tale.

Though Rob Brown gives it his all as Mr. Davis, he's playing a character so nice by design that he gets overshadowed by the many great supporting performances turned in for this one. Baltimore's own Charles S. "Roc" Dutton is perfect as Davis' grandfather "Pops," and in smaller roles Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette on the seriously satisfying "True Blood") shines as Davis' brother Will and Omar Benson Miller - who is having a banner year with this role and his work as the "chocolate giant" in Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" - makes the most of all his screen time as big Syracuse lineman Jack Buckley.

Fleder's flick is at its best when the two primary forces of race and football collide on the actual gridiron, as they do at their most combustible in Morgantown, W. Va., and Dallas, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl. And it's in this volatile cauldron that the character of Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder, played with spirit by Dennis Quaid, comes to the fore.

Fleder resists any impulse to make Schwartzwalder into anything approaching a saint, never forgetting that he was a very practical man much more interested in winning than advancing any kind of cause when he brought first Jim Brown and then Davis into the Syracuse program. How he uses these players is an insightful window into the factory nature of college football that clearly still persists and thrives today.

Which, with all that good mojo going for it, makes the final act of Fleder's flick such a horrendous disappointment. Now, just in case you're among the many, many people who haven't seen this one yet, I don't want to tell you exactly how Davis' story comes to an end, but let's just say it's easily one of the great personal tragedies in all of sport.

In the hands of Fleder, however, it's amazingly sort of swept under the rug, just brought up casually in the last 15 minutes or so and dismissed without any change in tone or approach. It's as if Fleder looked at his watch (as I would have been if I ever wore a watch, with the Georgia-Tennessee kickoff quickly approaching) and just said to himself "OK, this has already gone for about two hours, so let's just wrap it up." Which is in itself a minor tragedy.

That said, for the first nearly two hours Fleder's flick delivers a solidly entertaining tale, which is a sight more than you can say about a lot of the other movies out there this year. And, not having seen the latter, I still have to be fairly certain that it has to be better than that talking rat dog flick, so just see it already.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Required reading: "Little Miss Juno Dynamite"

When I go read the Washington Post online, which I can confidently say I do every single day, I usually go straight for politics, which the newspaper does better than any other publication I've come across except maybe The Economist (and Chris Cillizza's blog The Fix is simply as infectious as it is informative.)

On the weekend, however, when the politics often comes to a halt, I turn to the arts writing, which is often just as good, as it certainly was this morning with an entertaining and insightful essay from movie critic Ann Hornaday.

Her premise, that the word "indie" has lost all meaning as such flicks have entered the mainstream and all started to look alike, is a familiar one, but she attacks it with vigor and makes her case with style (even if she's more than a little too harsh on "Napoleon Dynamite," which I stand by as close to a modern classic.)

Whether you agree with her diagnosis of the problem and prescribed cure for it or not, her essay is still required reading for anyone who loves going to the movies. You can read it here and come to your own conclusions.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Express" aisle: My top 10 favorite sports flicks

Coincidentally enough, a look at the credits for last night's premiere of "Life on Mars" revealed it was directed by Gary Fleder, who also directed this week's "The Express," the inspiration for this list. I haven't bothered to tune in for any cop shows in the last 10 years or so except for "The Wire," but I think this one just might be a winner, based on both the rather remarkable cast (Harvey Keitel, Gretchen Mol and Michael Imperioli, among others) and fairly innovative story about a cop who does the time warp back to 1973.

And I'm fairly certain I've done a list of at least my favorite baseball movies before, which could certainly also go to more than 10. For this list encompassing all sports (and two flicks that arguably aren't about sports at all), I found I had to leave off a full four boxing movies that just missed the cut ("Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Someone Up There Likes Me" [in honor of Paul Newman], "The Hurricane" and "Raging Bull.") Given that caveat, here are my 10 favorite sports movies, and as always, please feel free to add any of your favorites among the many, many flicks I have snubbed.

"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg"
Even more than boxing movies, I just love flicks about baseball, and this doco was directed with clear love for a great man by Aviva Kempner. Without taking away AT ALL from what Jackie Robinson accomplished, it will really open your eyes when you see what hammerin' Hank had to go through as the first great Jewish player to slug for the Detroit Tigers.

"Hoop Dreams"
I can still remember watching Roger Ebert just go gaga for this flick when it first came out, and it's almost as good as his orgasmic review made it sound. Spike Lee's fictionalized version "He Got Game" is pretty good too, but it just can't pack as much punch as this true story of two Chicago kids who dream of playing in the NBA.

"Bend it Like Beckham"
Silly? Sure, but also just a heck of a lot of fun. I had to check the IMDB to see what in the world ever happened to director Gurinder Chadha after she made this flick about two girls (Keira Knightley back when she used to eat and Parminder Nagra of "ER" fame) who just want to play soccer and the extremely fun "Bride and Prejudice." It turns out she did indeed manage to direct a feature film in 2008, called "Angus, Thongs and Snogging," which will be added to my Netflix queue at the first opportunity.

"Vision Quest"
Like Matthew Modine, I had visions of becoming a wrestler in high school, but I never took it nearly as serious as he did or got to have Linda Fiorentino hanging around to inspire me. Sure, this one might be an adolescent fantasy, but it's also just a very entertaining flick.

"Eight Men Out"
Granted, "Field of Dreams" (which was on this list before I cut it back to 10 titles) is a much sweeter take on the story of Joe Jackson, but the real story is also very compelling as told by director Jon Sayles with help from John Cusack, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, DB Sweeney (as shoeless Joe himself, David Strathairn and even Michael Rooker and Gordon Clapp of "NYPD Blue" (the only cop show I regularly tuned in for between "Homicide" and "The Wire.")

"The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings"
Ben "Cooter" Jones (yes, that Cooter) stopped by our office about two weeks ago to promote his new book about his time on Capitol Hill as a Democratic representative from the great state of Georgia. When he got to me and someone told him I write about movies, he very proudly said he had a small part in this odd little flick about a colorful crew of ballplayers including Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams who barnstorm across the Midwest (even though most of the flick was filmed right here in Macon.) I love this one almost as much as Cooter does.

"Breaking Away"
Having sat beside Renee Martinez, who is both a serious cyclist and rather fanatical fan of the Tour de France, at work for the past five years or so means I've been exposed to more cycling than any nonfan should ever have to sit through. Even though I still protest otherwise, I have come to both respect and enjoy the sport of cycling, but not as much as I do this silly little movie about an Indiana "cutter" who just wants to ride with the Italians.

"When We Were Kings"
This is the only boxing movie that made the final cut because it's about a whole lot more than boxing. This Leon Gast doco about the 1974 heavyweight "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire is also about the crazy concert featuring James Brown, B.B. King and others that Mobutu Sese Suko put on to go with it. Add it all up and you've got a whale of a tale well told.

"Searching for Bobby Fischer"
OK, these last two aren't about real "sports" per se, but I defy you to find a better movie about the nature of raw competition than this 1993 flick about a young boy thrust into in the world of competitive chess. Interestingly, this one is one of three flicks directed by Steven Zaillian ("A Civil Action" and "All the King's Men" are the others), who would go on to pen "American Gangster" and soon "I Heard You Paint Houses" for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.

"Bring It On"
If you can actually look me in the eye and claim you don't enjoy this one as at least a guilty pleasure, I have to say you, sir or madam, are a liar. Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku as high school cheerleaders? I'm there, and I usually am for at least a few minutes every time this inevitably shows up on TBS' afternoon movie slate.

So, there you have it. Like I said, please feel free to add any of your favorite sports flicks, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wherefore art thou, David Cronenberg?

When his movies are so uniformly entertaining, I guess you really can't begrudge David Cronenberg the right to make flicks at his own pace, but I can certainly selfishly say the world would be a much better place if he indeed chose to work more often than every two or three years or so.

Since the 2007 thriller "Eastern Promises," which was made by a seriously chilling performance from Viggo Mortensen, I think he's been toying with making an opera of "The Fly." I can't even picture what that might look like!

Thankfully for the rest of us who don't live in Canada and get to see this madness, he's also now ready to get back into movies in a rather big way. Word comes today that he's managed to recruit no less than Denzel Washington (heard of him?) to star in a political thriller from "Bourne" author Robert Ludlum.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold war, "The Matarese Circle" revolves around two men — one American, one Soviet — who must cooperate in order to foil a sinister plot to topple the world’s governments. Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who crafted the mostly satisfying "3:10 to Yuma" remake, are writing the adaptation.

Oscar alert for Forest Whitaker

I guess maybe this is Forest Whitaker's way to make up for missing out on the role of Notorious B.I.G. (which in all seriousness, of course, I doubt he was ever up for). Getting back on track in his quest to play every heavyset, famous black man on the big screen, he's next set his eyes on directing and starring in "What a Wonderful World."

All kidding aside, this should be a lot of fun, and perhaps more importantly it's actually being filmed in New Orleans for the French company - Legende - behind "La Vie en Rose."

The flick will kick off during Louis Armstrong’s impoverished early years in New Orleans and primarily chronicle his career as a trumpet virtuoso and improvisational singer. Since Mr. Whitaker's last directing effort was with Katie Cruise in "First Daughter," which I admittedly haven't seen, I'll still confidently bet this will have to be much, much better.

Julie Taymor creating a "Tempest"

I really should have given Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" a chance when it finally came here for one week last year, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Thankfully, the Macon Film Guild is gonna screen it sometime in the next couple of months, so I'll certainly make up for that oversight when it comes again.

And Ms. Taymor is now back at it to create another oddity, this time with Dame Helen Mirren in tow. She's assembling a rather stellar cast for "The Tempest," and has already flipped the gender roles to make Prospero a Prospera for Mirren to play.

All I can really remember about "The Tempest" is that the sorcerer Prospero (Prospera), the former Duke of Milan, has been stranded on an island with a lot of his books and his 3-year-old daughter Miranda. From there I'm sure it will get very dreamy in Taymor's hands with help from a cast that will include Jeremy Irons, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Ben Wishaw, Felicity Jones and Geoffrey Rush.

Watch Kevin Smith make a porno

From what little I've seen of Kevin Smith's next flick, opening hopefully everywhere on Halloween, I think it's gonna be a real winner. To build the hype for the movie starring Seth Rogen and the fabulously funny Elizabeth Banks, Smith and Co. have starting posting brief "webisodes" at his Quickstop Entertainment site.

The first one, which is up now, features Messrs. Smith and Rogen in a fairly funny discussion about how Rogen should bring more "Affleck-tion" to the set. You can watch it here, and I think it's well worth wasting three minutes or so of your work day. Peace out.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Enter the weird, wonderful world of Oscar Wao

When it comes to recommending books rather than movies, I feel more than a little like Nixon, especially since I only manage to read six or so a year nowadays. Having just completed "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," however, I'm confident in giving it my full endorsement.

The debut novel by MIT professor Junot Diaz was actually a long time in the making, coming 11 years after his 1996 volume of short stories, "Drown" (which I'll be reading very soon to satiate my hunger for more).

In a tale fitting of its long gestation period, Diaz here not only takes on the story of the titular Dominican "ghetto nerd" Oscar, but also three generation of the Cabral/De Leon women and the modern history of the Dominican Republic to boot. Like many Caribbean nations in the 20th century, the DR was ruled a strongman, Rafael Trujillo, who along with ravaging his homeland also managed to bestow upon the Cabral clan a "fuku," or curse.

Diaz's tale of how this "fuku" inflicts itself on the family is often heartbreaking (in case you can't tell from the title, Oscar is pretty much doomed from the very start) but also written with a style that has it crackling with energy. Oscar, despite being an enormously fat individual possessing none of the Dominican male's innate skills to be a mack, still insists on walking up to women he's never met before and displaying his best version of "game," with pretty much uniformly disastrous results. And I guarantee you'll laugh out loud when you hear how poor Oscar earned his titular nickname (his real name is Oscar De Leon).

But while Oscar is nominally the hero of this story, Diaz's novel is at its strongest when it tells the tales of the De Leon/Cabral women, Oscar's rebellious sister Lola and long-suffering mother Belicia. In short, it's a well-told tale that's at once both intimate and epic in scope, and I would go so far as to compare Diaz's writing style to John Irving, which from me is a compliment of the highest order.

A word of warning: Diaz has a tendency to lapse way into geek speak ("Lord of the Rings," "Akira" and "Watchmen" being his principal inspiration) or write entire passages in Spanish, but if you stick with it I guarantee it will be well worth your time.

So, how in the world did I find this book after much of the world already had? Through movies, of course. Specifically, Rebecca Hall, in an interview about the simply enchanting "Vicky Christina Barcelona," mentioned that she had just finished one of my favorite books, Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" (which the Coens should really make into a movie), and was currently reading Diaz's book. With a recommendation like that, I had to bite.

And speaking of movies, I'll close with the trailer for "Sunshine Cleaning," a flick about a woman (Amy Adams) who is forced by her situation to get into the cheerful business of cleaning up crime scenes. I'm not sure when or if this one will ever hit theaters, but enjoy the trailer anyway, because what day isn't at least a little better with a dose of Amy Adams? Peace out.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Nick and Norah" make sweet music

If there's a formula for making movies that I will like a whole lot, Peter Sollett has certainly found it with his two features, "Raising Victor Vargas" and now "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist."

So, what are the ingredients? Just make it a celebration of good music, New York City and sappy love, and you've got me hooked. Seems easy enough, but it rarely happens as well as it does here.

Since 2002's "Victor Vargas," Sollett has moved up to a higher class of kids who circulate around NYC, specifically the Jersey tribe who invade each weekend and turn it into their playground. While this crowd may annoy many people (me included when I manage to visit the big city and instantly like to pretend like I live there), Sollett and authors Rachel Cohen and David Levithan, who wrote the novel on which the flick is based, clearly embrace them as a natural byproduct of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg's cleaned-up New York.

And I have to say, though I have my issues with some of what that pair has done, as a vision of New York I'll take Sollett's every time over one like Neil Jordan's simply abysmal "The Brave One," which with its vision of terror at every turn has managed to stick in my mind as the single worst movie of all of 2007. Sollett lets his love of the city play out much like Woody Allen used to (and did again this year in a new locale with the equally entertaining "Vicky Christina Barcelona"), and makes the city just as key a player as the two young lovers at its core.

And in "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," the music also takes center stage as early as the opening credits, when the bands get equal billing with Michael Cera (but not the simply terrific Kat Dennings, what the hell's up with that?) even before the movie title comes up.

The emo (I think that's the word, but I have to admit I'm so old and unhip that I really have no idea what that means) soundtrack gives the night's adventures a natural flow, and I must say it's nice to know that, 20 years or so after I was in their shoes, the wannabe-hip kids still listen to bands that - in varying degrees - just want to sound like the Velvet Underground. It also gives the story its bare semblance of a plot as our kids spend the evening trying to find the hot spot where a mythical band, Where's Fluffy?, will be playing that night (and yes, I'll admit it, I did actually google the name when I got home to see if they were a real band or not.)

But this is, of course, at its core a story of young love, and a fairly familiar one at that (any doubt about the outcome is pretty much already wiped away by the movie poster, after all), so Sollett's flick has to derive its charms (and there are many) from the two leads.

Luckily, he has Cera, who by now is already an old pro at playing the sensitive lead (and will at least two more times in "Youth in Revolt" and "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World"), and he has an equal here in Ms. Dennings, who I had never seen in a movie before. She plays Norah from the beginning as rather snobby (referring to Cera as a "bridge and tunnel" kid when she's clearly of the same breed), but lets the character get more and more vulnerable as the night goes on. The two of them manage to make this familiar tale seem just fresh enough to work (at least for me.)

In the supporting cast, Ari Graynor steals just about every scene she's in as a sort of drunken muse. One very funny scene in particular, when she manages to lock herself in a car, encapsulates the fine line that Sollett is walking here between fun and danger, even in the new New York. And Cera's bandmates are the first gay characters in a teen movie that I can ever remember who manage to generate laughs without being the butt of juvenile jokes (and the use of the name "Lethorio" near the end is just about the hardest I've laughed in a movie theater this year.)

I had planned a little side rant about how A.O. Scott manages to be condescending to movies he clearly likes a lot, as he did by referring to "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" as "Before Sunrise" remade for Nickelodeon (wtf?), but I reckon I've gone on enough already. In the end, this one is as light as air but perfectly sweet, just the way I like it. Which means it's sure to be devoured by those little talking ratdogs, but do yourself a favor and go see this one while you can.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Is there anything worth watching in the year's busiest frame?

The surprising answer is yes, I think there are actually three movies in wide release that I want to see this week. And, well, there's also a movie about talking chihuahuas, but I guess you can't win them all, right?

For as long as my three-day weekend lasts (which may not be much longer, though I did manage to survive my newspaper's latest round of layoff/buyouts fairly intact), I'll probably go see three movies if I can find three I think are worthy of a matinee. Here's a look at what's available in a week that has, rather amazingly, seven new movies opening in wide release, in the order that I want to see them (and not including Bill Maher's "Religulous" for two reasons: It's not playing here and I wouldn't bother to see it anyway because that's simply not my cup of bile.)

1. "Blindness"
I'm willing to make one exception to my new rule that I will no longer watch the world end (yet again!), but only because this comes from the great Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, who created the simply perfect flick "City of God." (By the way, I recently watched the sequel of sorts, "City of Men" [pictured here], on DVD, and while it' a different kind of flick it is - in its own way - a compelling tale of coming of age on the rough streets of Rio.) Reviews have been surprisingly abysmal for this flick starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Diego Luna, but I'll find out for myself anyway, probably Saturday.

2. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
Roger Moore threw down the gauntlet of hyperbole by calling this flick "this generation's 'Say Anything'," but as comparisons go, here's hoping he's accurate. Extremely funny man Michael Cera and Kat Dennings star in a tale of two teens who find love and hopefully a lot of funny high jinks during a wild night in NYC.

3. "Appaloosa"
I'm really glad that 1. someone in Hollywood (in this case Ed Harris) loves old Westerns as much as I do and 2. this movie is actually playing in theaters near me, unlike the sublime "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," for which I had to settle for DVD. Here, Harris and Viggo Mortensen star as hired guns brought in to restore order to a town under the control of strongman Jeremy Irons. Renee Zelweger is unfortunately in here somehow too, but hopefully she won't have too much to do.

4. "Flash of Genius"
As silly and sappy as it is, there are just very few movies I love more than Francis Ford Coppola's "Tucker," so I've always had a soft spot for movies about the little guy and cars. Unfortunately, reviews so far have painted this flick starring Greg Kinnear as intermittent windshield wipers inventor Bob Kearns (and Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham as his wife, huzzah!) as too heavy on the courtroom and too light on inspiration. I'll wait a week, but if you see this one and I'm wrong, please let me know.

5. "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People"
I guess I shouldn't be surprised given the title of this one that Simon Pegg just looks extremely annoying in the trailer. I'll see it eventually, because I like movies about journalists and see just about anything with Jeff Bridges in it, but not this week.

6. "An American Carol"
With Michael Moore reduced to releasing his latest "movie," "Slacker Uprising," on the Internet for free, doesn't this flick just seem like a really mean-spirited case of kicking the man when he's already way down? I guess it's nice that Hollywood's Republicans get to have a little fun, but I'll wait until at least DVD to see this one.

7. "Beverly Hills Chihuahua"
I have to assume that this one will win the weekend, but I really have nothing to say about that.

Instead, check your multiplexes Saturday night for a possible sneak preview of "The Express," starring Rob Brown as Ernie Davis, the first black dude to win the Heisman trophy. "Glory Road" was just a crapfest of epicly bad proportions, but I have high hopes that this flick will be much better. Peace out.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Can Martin Scorsese save Robert De Niro?

First thing first: Last night's "Pushing Daisies," after a rather disastrously long bit of opening exposition to catch everyone up, was just as funny and whimsical as ever, and will hopefully lead ABC to announce later today that the show has received a full season-two order (so far it just has 13 new episodes coming.)

And, in reference to my headline question, does Robert De Niro really need saving? Well, I'm sure his life in NYC is still a whole lot more fabulous than mine down here in Macon, GA, but if its from mediocre movies I'd say the answer is surely an emphatic yes.

I had to go back to 2006's "The Good Shepherd" to find a De Niro movie I really liked unconditionally and much further back to 2000's "Meet the Parents" to find another one (and the second one gets an asterisk in the "like" column because Mr. De Niro isn't nearly as funny as he seems to think he is nowadays).

So, what could bring this formerly great man back to his glory days, to roles in movies such as "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas," or even in John Frankenheimer's rather severely underrated "Ronin"? Well, either reteaming with Martin Scorses or doing a great movie about the mob would probably do the trick, so throw in both and you'd seem to have just about the perfect project.

Indeed, word comes today that Mr. Scorsese is attached to direct and Mr. De Niro to star in "I Heard You Paint Houses," based on the book about the mob assassin who many believe was involved in the death of Jimmy Hoffa. (And despite my rather heavy diet of mob movies and TV through the years, I had no idea that "paint houses" was mob slang for a contract killing ... yet another rather useless bit of trivia to clutter my brain!)

De Niro will play Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran, who is reputed to have carried out more than 25 mob murders and confessed to "Paint Houses" author Charles Brandt that he also carried out the killing and dismemberment of Hoffa on orders from mob boss Russell Bufalino. On top of my love for mob movies, I also like flicks like "Confession of a Dangerous Mind" in which our "protagonist" makes an outlandish claim that stays in doubt throughout the entire movie, so this should be ideal.

Steven Zaillian, who crafted the crisp script for "American Gangster" but also the rather uneven screenplay for Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" too, will adapt Brandt's book for the big screen.

And Scorsese, I predict, will have one of both the biggest critical and box office successes next year with "Shutter Island," starring Leo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in his take on Dennis Lehane's novel about the mysterious happenings at a mental hospital on the titular remote island.

And now, since I have no other news to report, I have to get ready for the job that still somehow pays my rent. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Can TV's "Daisies" bloom again after such a long layoff?

Is is just me, or does the new TV season just kind of suck? I mean, I guess we knew it would be pretty bad with last year's strike, but so far I've only found one show that has me hooked, and that one not entirely.

I'm still sticking with "Fringe" simply because I'm a sucker for the supernatural, but until last night's pretty good episode that show has seemed nothing but predictable, especially given its drive to be bizarre.

Much better but still improving is FX's "Sons of Anarchy," which has been accurately described as "The Sopranos" on motorcycles. Starring Ron Perlman, Katey Segal (yes, that Katey Segal), Charlie Hunnam of "Undeclared" fame (what there was of it) and Maggie Siff (a k a Don Draper's mistress Rachel Mencken on season one of "Mad Men"), this drama airing tonight at 10 delivers plenty of grit and is still working on the storyline to match it.

But the real news, and what I've been waiting for all fall, is the return of "Pushing Daisies," which has to be the last show to either return or premiere in this entire year. If you haven't tuned in before to this prime-time fairy tale from the mind of Rryan Fuller, I can't urge you strongly enough to start tonight when it returns at 8 on ABC. All you really need to know is its a super-sweet romantic tale about a piemaker (Lee Pace) who just happens to have the ability to bring people back to life for one minute and the return of his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel), whose father he just happened to kill by accident when they were kids.

From there, it usually just gets crazier, and a whole lot of fun. So, what's gonna happen in the new season? Well, tonight Ned, Chuck and Emerson Cod (the extremely funny Chi McBride) are on the case of a murder involving some killer bees (and just as deadly honey marketers). In the next two weeks they'll then visit a circus where the human cannonball has some deadly ideas of his own and then a convent, where Ned and Emerson will play men of the cloth.

That all sounds like a lot of fun, but will it be as whimsical and entertaining as ever? Variety, thankfully, says yes. Here's what they had to say about the opening episodes of season two:

Emerging like a sweetly scented addition to primetime’s musty flower bed, “Pushing Daisies” opens its second season in full creative bloom. Producer Bryan Fuller’s Emmy-nominated dramedy is one of the few programs that dares to deal in whimsy, which is perhaps why audiences drifted away before the writers strike truncated its initial run. Managing expectations is paramount to the show’s longevity -- such an offbeat concept is unlikely to break out in a major way -- but let’s hope ABC’s patience is rewarded with this gentle if somewhat delicate flower.

Beyond its fairy-tale explosion of color and production design, “Daisies” indulges in moments of almost surreal imagination, like having Kristin Chenoweth -- as Ned’s lovelorn assistant Olive -- put her Broadway chops to use reenacting a memorable scene out of “The Sound of Music.” The cast, meanwhile, is uniformly terrific -- down to the 150-some-odd-year-old Golden Retriever (in dog years) that Ned can only scratch with a stick.

In my mind, I'm already there. One of my other favorite TV dramas, "Friday Night Lights," also returns tonight, but since I don't have DirecTV and will be unable to watch it I have nothing else to say about that (yes, I'm a petty man in many, many ways.)

'Now I'm a paraplegic and I know why'

Instead I'll leave you with the video for what I still think is the catchiest cautionary tale of all time (and the only one I can think of that could make the above line about paraplegics very, very funny). I have no idea how it came up, but somehow I got into a discussion the other day with my fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters about the old Afroman song "Because I Got High" and just how infectious it is. MIA's "Paper Planes" has been driven almost as deeply into my skull this year, but that tune isn't nearly as cool as what will probably be Afroman's only hit song ever. Enjoy this video featuring Jay and Silent Bob, but please, if you're watching this at work do so with headphones, because the end gets a little racy. Peace out.