An ode to Boston Legal

If ABC’s promos are anything to go by, you’d think the only shows on that network are Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Lost. But tucked away on Tuesday night is a wonderful show that has been toiling in relative obscurity for three seasons – Boston Legal.

Well perhaps obscurity is a bit strong. The show has been nominated for and won many industry awards (Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Series, baby!), and was recently renewed for a fourth season. Still, it has never been a ratings blockbuster, and even suffered the ignominy of having almost half of the first season postponed until the second season when the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy took over its time slot.

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Spider-Man 3 swings, baby!

This summer’s movie season promises to be good enough to lure me to the theaters at least a few times more than I typically go in a year. Between the next Harry Potter movie, the final installment in the Bourne trilogy, and even the upcoming Halloween remake, I’m set for the year. But up first is perhaps the biggest of them all – Spider-Man 3.

I’ll get right to the point – there is a reason this movie made an estimated $148 million in its first weekend. It builds on the strengths of the first two, and has the powerful climactic impact George Lucas wishes Revenge of the Sith would’ve had. Even at a beefy 140 minutes, SM3 never seems drawn out or bloated. I’ve read some reviews that complained about the overly long and extended ending, but those are obviously written by half-wits. An epic conclusion to this storyline deserves exactly the ending Sam Raimi delivered.

I won’t delve into the story here, because it’s frankly not all that complex. What really carries this movie (besides the absolutely top-notch FX) are Raimi’s nimble direction, and some fine acting performances by Tobey Maguire (who at this point has to have silenced the masses who cried murder when he was cast), Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman, and Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom. Church in particular was a revelation, breathing real life into what is really one of the more one-dimensional villains in the Spider-Man comic canon.

Raimi kept things moving along so well I never noticed that for perhaps the first time ever, a superhero movie successfully fit three major villains into the same movie. Sure, as a longtime Venom fan I would’ve liked to see more of him, but what I did get was satisfying.

In what has been a hallmark of the Spider-series (as in all good superhero flicks), there are a ton of subtleties added that made it extra-sweet for (reformed) comic book geeks like myself. Of course there was the Stan Lee cameo, complete with him uttering his trademark phrase. Nice to see he gets something to do, given how Marvel has consistently screwed him over the years. I also loved the nod to the old Spider-Man cartoon theme played by a marching band.  I’m sure there are many I missed, to be revealed upon subsequent viewings.

There are inconsistencies with the original comic storylines, but that’s to be expected (biggest of all being the late introduction of Gwen Stacy’s character). Enough of the original story elements (especially concerning Venom’s origin) were retained to satisfy all but the geekiest comic fanboy. What was taken away wasn’t really missed, and the new twists were welcome – particularly a scene involving a newly confident Peter Parker cavorting in a jazz club a la Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask.

Complaints? Not many. I have never really cared for Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and she did little to change that opinion in this movie. There were also a few hokey moments involving dialog and the way certain scenes were shot, but not enough to detract from the proceedings.

If you didn’t like the first two SM movies, you won’t like this one. But if that’s the case, what the hell are you reading this review for? If you thought this movie would be worth all the hype, you were right. I can’t really rate its importance in the superhero genre after just one viewing, but I think this easily ranks near the top.

I have a dream – An American Dream

They're smiling because they've gone 13 hours without a beatdown.

They're smiling because they've gone 13 hours without a beatdown.

Everyone has a list of movies that they are compelled to watch when they happen across them on TV – no matter how late it is, and no matter how much of it has already been shown. At or near the top of my own list is the immortal 1992 musical biopic, The Jacksons: An American Dream.

I don’t even care about the Jackson 5 all that much. I downloaded one of their greatest hits collections to my iPod, but that’s about it. So I’m at a loss to explain why I love this movie (originally a two-parter broadcast on ABC) so much. Maybe it’s the voyeur in me who loves getting a peek at the secret dysfunction of one of the most successful groups of the 1970s.

Sure, Tito and Jermaine Jackson may have had scores of prepubescent girls fawning over them, but when Joseph (brilliantly portrayed by Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington) told them to cut a switch, boy howdy they had to do it lickety-split!

There’s just so much classic stuff here – the Jacksons’ routine of hauling cinder blocks across the lawn for character-building (seems they didn’t haul enough); Billy Dee Williams’ great role as the super-suave, pseudo father figure, Berry Calriss…err, Berry Gordy; and of course the sure but steady erosion of Michael Jackson’s emotional stability – capped off by the infamous Pepsi Jheri Curl Conflagration of 1984.

Never mind that all of this takes place over five long hours – every minute is golden. And I can’t be the only one who feels that way, since multiple stations have aired the movie many times over the last 15 years. One day my dream will be realized, and the JAD (Jacksons American Dream) Network will be launched. Then it’ll be 24/7 melodramatic, soulful bliss. Shamon!

Sandler’s reign (hardy-har-har)

OK, so I’m a week late to review this movie – what can I say, I’m a busy man. Anyway, Mrs. Suit and I headed down to the local nickelodeon today to check out Reign Over Me, Adam Sandler‘s latest attempt to prove himself as a serious actor. For the most part, he acquits himself nicely – I’m not ready to crown him the next Robin Williams (in terms of comedic actors showing real chops), but he’s no slouch either.

Interestingly, he’s not even in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film – that time goes to the superb Don Cheadle, who turns in another great performance (although his character development felt a bit forced). Sandler was quite good – he is definitely at his best when displaying more primal emotions like rage (which he does a few times in the film). His performance here almost makes up for huge, steaming piles like The Waterboy.

While the 9/11 attacks serve as the underpinning of the film, it’s not exploited for tears like it would be in any big Hollywood movie (I’m looking at you, Oliver Stone). Sandler’s family could just have easily died in a car crash, and the emotional impact would be the same. His journey to acceptance seems perfectly plausible, mainly because by the end he’s taken only small steps on that journey.

A nice bonus was the superlative supporting cast — among them Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon (Ralphie’s mom from A Christmas Story) as Sandler’s grieving parents-in law; Liv Tyler as a psychologist who tries to help Sandler; Donald Sutherland as a no-nonsense judge; and some entertaining cameos from B.J. Novak (Ryan from The Office) and a bloated John de Lancie (Star Trek’s “Q,” looking more like XXL these days).

So to sum up – good story, excellent cast, great performances, and a decent but totally unnecessary Pearl Jam cover of The Who’s “Reign O’er Me.” Worth seeing for sure.

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I love a good movie meme

I even love bad ones. But this one is pretty good (lifted from Culture kills). Of course I’m the special kid in school so I’m probably the last one to do this, but that’s about par for the course. I just got rid of my last pair of Z Cavaricci pants like 5 years ago.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

I can name more than one – Flash Gordon, Weird Science, Caddyshack, and Nightmare on Elm Street for starters.

2. Name a movie that you’ve seen multiple times in the theater.

The Empire Strikes Back and Private Parts come to mind, although I know there’s more.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

Edward Norton, hands down. Or hands up.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy. Two great talents who have completely turned to crap. I died a little inside when I saw the trailer for RV.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

Well of course there’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but that’s like the geek equivalent of getting your G.E.D. Everyone quotes from that. So other than that, Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

No surprise hereChicago.

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.

See above.

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

The Hustler.

9. Name a movie that you own.

Well that’s a large list, but for the sake of brevity – I recently acquired the first Friday the 13th on DVD.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

O.J. Simpson. And I don’t mean his stint in the Naked Gun movies either…

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

I try to catch one when I visit Cape Cod with the missus. Last year it was X-Men: The Last Stand.

12. Ever made out in a movie?

No, but Iron Chef used to be quite the mood-setter.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it.

The last Lord of the Rings movie.

14. Ever walked out of a movie?

No, but I came damn close during City Hall and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

I can’t remember any specific ones, but once in awhile I’ll get caught off guard by a chick flick. The devil take my sensitive side!

16. Popcorn?

Almost always, but hold the semi-congealed, yellow, butter-esque goo please.

17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

Much to my wife’s chagrin, not often anymore. Simply too many mouth-breathing idiots out there with eardrum-piercing ringtones and a lack of anything approaching a sense of etiquette. And that’s just the ushers!

18. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?

I think it was Borat.

19. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?


20. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

The Empire Strikes Back. I’m pretty certain the film broke about halfway through.  No such luck with The Phantom Menace.

21. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

The entire Star Wars “prequel” trilogy, with the possible exception of Part III.

22. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

Hmmm, does A Clockwork Orange count?

23. What is the scariest movie you’ve seen?

I don’t scare easy. I’ve been spooked, unnerved, and even a little unsettled. But I don’t remember being scared watching a movie.

24. What is the funniest movie you’ve seen?I have to go with Borat here. I don’t know how well it will hold up under repeated viewings (probably not well), but I laughed harder than I ever have seeing it in the theater.

Fare thee well, Everwood

EverwoodJust my luck – I start watching a show that’s already been established, get completely involved in it and then it goes away. Such has happened with the superlative WB drama Everwood, which aired its final episode last night. I got sucked into the show last year thanks to my wife, and I am saddened to see it go. Everwood had that rare blend of quality acting, writing and storytelling. It was light when it needed to be, and the moments of drama were indeed powerful.

I was going to go off on a rant about how unfair it is that Everwood didn’t make it to the new “CW” network while crap like One Tree Hill will live on. But that would miss the point, which is to offer a brief testimonial to one of the best TV shows I’ve seen in years.

I can’t offer a comprehensive review of the series, mainly because I only started watching it during the 3rd season (it made it through four). And of course, only the 1st season is available on DVD. I would like to think that some network would see the value in a quality show like Everwood and would be willing to resuscitate it. But I don’t see that happening.

One of the weird things I often do with shows (dramas especially) is wonder if I could see myself living among the characters. This is not my way of judging the quality of a show, mind you. I love Grey’s Anatomy, but I would have to smack most of those characters if I knew them in real life. But I could see living in a town like Everwood, and with people like the Brown and Abbott families. They were flawed, but decent people. When Irv Harper died in a recent episode, I almost felt as if one of my friends or family members had died. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show where I felt like that. I imagine I would have with M*A*S*H, but that was a bit before my time.

So at the risk of sounding too maudlin, I’ll just say thanks. Thanks to the actors, writers and creator of Everwood for giving me a reason to think that television still has something great to offer.

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Whole Lotta Landon!

It’s really easy to be cynical about the world these days. Believe me, I am all the time. And this cynicism is found in abundance in popular entertainment. Everything from music to movies to TV is super-slick and EXTREME! Hell, even most commercials are a lot more cynical than they used to be. Sometimes this bothers me, but I must admit that most of my favorite TV shows are very cynical – Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and Family Guy to name a few. These shows are not only not wholesome, they are Anti-Wholesome.

This can't be right. There are way too many people smiling here.

To me, wholesome was always associated with boring. Wonder Bread is wholesome (and nasty). Leave It To Beaver is wholesome.

Few shows in television history are more wholesome than Little House on the Prairie. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon. I was a bit young to have seen the show during most of its original TV run (1974-1982). And when I did watch it I was not interested at all. But for some reason, I got sucked in over the Labor Day weekend.  TV Land held a Michael Landon marathon, airing episodes of Bonanza, Highway to Heaven and the aforementioned Little House. And what can I say? I got hooked. I must’ve watched a dozen episodes over the weekend.

I can’t say exactly why I got into it so much. Sure, there wasn’t a whole lot else on, but that’s only part of it I think. Maybe part of it is a certain personal longing for a less complicated life. Or maybe it’s nice to see a real community where people don’t avoid eye contact all cost. But most of all, there’s just something about the way the show was written and acted that made me care about the characters. These are people I would like to know and have as friends. I love Seinfeld, but if I had to hang out with George Costanza I would kick him in the groin like I was going for a game-winning field goal.

Sure, the show has its share of cheesiness and sap. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon. And the cheese factor definitely got ramped up in the show’s later years, when it started to stray from the source material and became more formulaic. But the early episodes I saw were great. Great enough, in fact, that I am willing to overlook the sappier moments, the overly dramatic music and occasional flaws and problems of the show. (Just how did Laura’s teeth get so straight? Isn’t it awful mountainous for Minnesota?)

The problem with watching a marathon is that usually the most “important” shows are aired. In the case of Little House, this usually means moments of great tragedy. So in the course of three days I saw Mary go blind, the Ingalls’ farm get destroyed by a tornado, Charles and Caroline’s infant son die, Albert set fire to the school for the blind and Mary’s baby burn to death, and all of Walnut Grove go bankrupt. I think I saw one episode that would qualify as light-hearted. Otherwise, it was one blunt emotional trauma after another.

Still, I’m not deterred. I’m sure the series wasn’t all like that. At least I hope not. TV Land is now airing the show every evening. And while I will still watch all the shows I currently enjoy, it’s nice to know that there’s still a show I can watch where people are decent to each other and don’t take every chance they get to cut someone else down with a clever insult. That would never do at the Little House. I mean, c’mon, it’s Michael Landon.