Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

Rarely has so much potential been squandered on poor writing and poor directing. The premise was solid, an excellent cast was assembled, and said cast gave good performances considering what they were given, yet this Oliver Twist meets Serendipity with a splash of Searching for Bobby Fisher thrown in results in 113 minutes of painful schlock.

Lyla (Keri Russell) who is an accomplished cellist meets Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) the up-and-coming rock star at a party. They have a one-night stand that results in her pregnancy. Unfortunately they are not able to meet up the next day and are incapable of finding each other again for more than eleven years. Don’t ask why. No brains involved in this production, and thus none allowed in the theatre.

Prior to the birth, Lyla gets in an accident and is told by her father (William Sadler) that she lost the baby. Actually the baby did survive, but Grandpa put the kid in an orphanage so as not to interfere with her daughter’s budding career.

So the child grows up in the orphanage, and Lyla and Louis both give up playing music due to the unhealed emotional wounds associated with the loss of their child and love respectively. Nope, no questions allowed here either.

We pick up our story meeting Evan (Freddie Highmore) who is eleven and has grown up in an orphanage. He is not only the odd kid amongst his peers, but believes his parents are alive. He eventually runs away to the big city where he is taken in by the Wizard (Robin Williams), who has the Fagin role in managing a group of parentless street performers. Evan’s musical gifts are discovered, developed, and eventually exploited, by the Wizard who renames Evan “August Rush” for marketing purposes. Luckily Evan/August manages to break free and ends up at Julliard. Yes, Julliard, where he magically becomes enrolled. Try to let it go.

On his deathbed, Lyla’s father confesses, and she sets out to find her son. Not a bad premise so far.

Also in the cast is Terrance Howard, as a social worker, and his performance is fine, as is the rest of the cast. The problems here are writing and directing. The script contains no turns that you won’t see coming, and a ton of turns that should have been taken that remain unexplored. The dialog is one–dimensional and you can see the actors straining to get out of the ties that bind them. The directing also contains too many bad choices. From scene construction, to camera angles, to editing, this film is just one frustration after another.

The music is good, and the film is attractive to look at. That’s pretty much it.

Recommendation: Don’t rush in August or any other month to see this sappy predictable piece of film on DVD or television. Let us hope that the American public has not set its bar so low that it will dive into and embrace this which has no depth.

24: Season Six

Written by Guest Reviewer Mary K. Williams

Whether you loved or hated Season Six, you have to admit there were still plenty of amazing moments: Jack Bauer neatly snipping off the finger of Russian Diplomat Markov with a cigar cutter, Abu Fayed drilling Morris to get him to arm his nuclear devices, Reed Pollock kidnapping Tom Lennox and planning a Presidential assassination in a White House boiler room. Gredenko with his arm. Gredenko without his arm. Kindly James Cromwell (Babe anyone?) suffocating his lovable son Graem in order to keep him mum on family and corporate secrets, and so damn many more. The seven-disc set captures those moments with the full 24 episodes, plus special features that include commentaries by the stars, writers, producers and even the Emmy-winning composer, Sean Callery.

The basic, if implausible, story takes place about 20 months after Day Five. Jack had successfully brought down the corrupt President Logan, but was then straightaway imprisoned by the Chinese in retaliation for his supposed misdeeds at the Chinese Consulate during Day Four. Now, nearly two years later, the U.S. is deteriorating from terrorist attacks. Finally, one Abu Fayed has alerted the American authorities that he will help them end the attacks by giving them the location of Hamri Al-Assad, the supposed mastermind of the recent terrorism.

The catch is that President Wayne Palmer (deceased ex-President David Palmer’s brother) must give up Jack Bauer to Fayed. After much effort, a visibly tattered and tortured Jack is released from China and brought to Los Angeles, only to be prepped for sacrifice to Fayed. While under custody, Fayed informs Jack that Assad is not the true mastermind, but is trying to stop the terrorism that he, Fayed is really responsible for.

The ensuing 20-odd episodes follow Jack’s efforts at finding suitcase nukes in L.A., and President Palmer’s failing health at the White House, along with side plots involving Chloe and Morris’s relationship, Vice President Daniel’s unwise dalliance with his aide, and Jack’s father, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew reappearing in his life in an unpleasant way. There is also a brief but strange resurgence of former President Logan and First Lady Martha Logan.

While it’s great to watch the whole season from 6:00 AM on, watching on a DVD format can be overwhelming, as most viewers will watch several episodes at one sitting. Although the continuity is a good thing, the unremitting tension is tough on the nerves. Now’s the time to turn on the special features, because a relentlessly serious show like 24 needs a break, even a little levity. While there is no blooper reel, there are some very funny moments beginning with a never-seen cameo that features Ricky Gervais (creator and star of the original BBC’s The Office and star of HBO’s Extras). Gervais plays a Presidential adviser waiting not so patiently on the sidelines during an Oval Office meeting. How Jayne Atkinson, D.B. Woodside, and Peter MacNicol kept from busting out into laughter is a credit to their acting skills.

But we do get to hear many of the actors cracking wise while they watch the show. Each disc has at least one or two episodes that have running commentaries by pairs of cast members, producers, or writers. Some of the funniest were the observations of Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe) and Joel Surnow (co-creator and exec-producer) as they watched 12:00 AM to 1:00 AM. They poked fun at Powers Booth’s character (Vice President Noah Daniels) calling him Barry White, and made kissy noises while Booth was lip-locked with Kari Matchett (Lisa Miller).

Jean Smart and Gregory Itzin were hilarious while they were covering hour 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Of course, this hour included their big scene at the “spa.” Remember? Martha found a place to store her paring knife? In seeing this scene again after so many months, I was struck (no pun intended) with the absurdity of the whole thing. Of course, Martha was supposed to have been somewhat unbalanced, and Logan’s visit would be just the thing to rile her, but still, it was silly. Smart and Itzin seemed to think so too, but they still had fun reliving the scene. And they both agreed that coming back to do the show for a limited run was like just “eating one potato chip.”

All those involved were genuinely appreciative of each other’s talents. They gave especially high marks to Powers Boothe, Peter MacNicol, Kari Matchett, and composer Sean Callery. Nearly everyone spoke of what a fantastic job he does of creating the right moods with his scoring. Callery himself was able to add his thoughts to the 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM hour, partnered with Adoni Maropis (Fayed).

Some of the other features were more basic overviews of how extras (or background talent) are directed, or how props are categorized and stored. Take it or leave it type stuff. But there is a nice section demonstrating all the set up for the opening hour’s Metro bus explosion and a “Look Inside the Writer’s Room” (pre-WGA strike, of course). And for more giggles, the DVD-ROM has the hidden feature of 24 Minutes: Jack Bauer on The Simpsons.

For those who typically don’t bother with commentary options on a DVD, give these a chance. It’s a real treat to get to know the person behind the character, music and story. They were all clearly were having a lot of fun watching the show, and it was more than refreshing listening to them and others do what I have done every week during while 24 is running. Enjoying the hard work, and getting caught up in the drama and suspense, but giving it the irreverent once-over.

Laverne & Shirley: The Third Season

Written by Senora Bicho

“Schlemiel! Schlemazl! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" I’m gonna do it! I have decided to make my dreams come true by reviewing the Third Season of Laverne & Shirley.

Created by Gary Marshall as a spin-off from the popular sitcom Happy Days, the series originally aired from 1976 to 1983. It is set in the early sixties Milwaukee and follows the adventures of Shotz Brewery bottle-cappers Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall, Gary's sister) & Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams). The show started off extremely strong in the ratings and was the #1-rated show from 1977-1979. Then, the network moved it from its Tuesday night timeslot to Thursdays. It dropped out of the Top 30 completely and even after ABC returned the show to it regular spot, it never regained its popularity and hovered in the Top 20s for the duration of its run.

I was only three when the show first aired, but I discovered it in syndication in the early eighties and learned to love it. I looked up to Laverne and Shirley as role models. They were best friends and roommates who worked, played, and did lots of dating. A lot of shows centered on strong females have come and gone since Laverne & Shirley, but unfortunately it doesn’t hold much of its original charm.

Laverne is the outgoing flirt with embroidered L’s on all of her clothes while Shirley is the demure innocent. There were some trademark aspects of the show that I had long since forgotten but that brought a smile to my face such as Laverne drinking milk and Pepsi and Shirley’s “Boo Boo Kitty” stuffed cat.

In Season Three, the girls find themselves in many wild predicaments such as flying a plane and helping out the FBI. They even go on a very glamorous vacation, a cruise through the great lakes. In addition to the lead actresses, the regularly featured supporting cast provides some chuckles. Laverne and Shirley’s dimwitted but lovable neighbors Leonard "Lenny" Kosnowski (Michael McKean) and Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman (David Lander) are one of the bright spots of the show and probably the most well known for their crazy antics. There is also Laverne’s father Frank De Fazio (Phil Foster) and his girlfriend Edna Babish (Betty Garrett), and Shirley’s on-again, off-again love interest Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa (Eddie Mekka), a former boxer turned dancer. There are also a few noteworthy guest stars this season including Fabian and Harry Shearer as Mr. Shotz.

The show has a sweet and innocent nature but the laughs are a bit lacking with silly storylines and lots of bad one-liners. The friendship of Laverne and Shirley is the heart of the show though and still comes shinning through. The DVD set includes all 24 original episodes with no other added features.

SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis

Written by Pollo Misterioso

If I were an eight-year-old girl that watched cartoons I would turn to Nickelodeon and I would love Spongebob Squarepants because it is so much fun. Now I’m not an eight-year-old girl, graduating from my days with dolls, but I still enjoy Spongebob Squarepants, which says a lot about this children’s show; its ridiculous nature translates to all audiences, making it entertaining for everyone.

In the latest installment to the Spongebob Squarepants DVD collection comes Atlantis SquarePantis, featuring a two-part episode with the same title, along with six other entertaining episodes. In these episodes the much-favored characters of Bikini Bottom travel to new places, meet new friends, and sing many new songs that get themselves into lots of trouble, but not without good intentions.

For those that have never watched Spongebob Squarepants, this cartoon takes place underwater in the town of Bikini Bottom. As the opening credits remark, our main character, who is a sponge that wears square pants, lives in a pineapple next to his best friend Patrick Star, a pink starfish that always tags along, and Squidward, an octopus that despises and often takes advantage of our sponge friend.

The “Atlantis SquarePantis” episode begins on the freeways of Los Angeles, introducing Patchy the Pirate stuck in traffic and trying to get to Encino. When he finally reaches his destination, it no longer exists and it reminds him of “another story about a lost city” and we then enter the animated world that we are so familiar with. Here we find Spongebob blowing bubbles with Patrick. Amidst their bubble blowing they stumble upon the missing half of the amulet of Atlantis—once put together the path to the lost city of Atlantis is revealed. Spongebob and his crew are then transported to the city “where all their dreams come true.”

Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when they arrive at the lost city they are greeted by the Lord Royal Highness, voiced by David Bowie—the parallels to Willy Wonka are unmistakable. As they are escorted through the city, the group gets smaller as they venture off into their desired parts of the city. But all good things come to an end when Spongebob manages to get himself into the worst of situations, shipping them back to Bikini Bottom.

The episode is filled with entertaining songs, experimental animation (not usually seen in their other episodes) and a side plot with Patchy the Pirate that takes place in real time. This episode is a prime example of why this show is so entertaining. Unlike most cartoons, Spongebob relies on ridiculous and absurd situations that never really get to a moral conclusion, but somehow wrap up in an entertaining and playful fashion.

Other episodes on the DVD include “ Money Talks,” “The Krusty Sponge,” “Spongebob vs. the Patty Gadget,” “Sing a Song of Patrick,” “Slimy Dancing” and “Picture Day”—all of which put Spongebob and friends in crazy situations that work out somehow. The entire DVD runs only 93 minutes and contains an interesting special feature that runs through the step-by-step process of the making of an episode that is informative to both kids and adults. Other special features include “Inside the Spongebob Animation Studios” which is a very short look at what the studio does.

This is a great edition to any Spongebob collection, especially for the title episode that was given special care and attention. This little yellow sponge clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously and neither should we, making it fun to trigger our inner eight-year-old.