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April 2010 Review Roundup

After a fast start, things tailed off because of some clubbing that needed doing and a bunch of TV shows we caught up on during the weekends. Sorry to not get the Kick-Ass review done. :(

April 1 - Step Up 2 The Streets (3/10)
April 2 - Clash of the Titans (3/10)
April 7 - The Runaways (5/10)
April 12 - The Box (3/10)
April 21 - The Gymnast (6/10)
April 24 - Kick-Ass (8.5/10)
April 26 - Avatar (8/10 - DVD review)

Month's Movies Watched: 7
Previously Unseen: 6
Theatrical: 3
Home: 4
Year-To-Date: 32
YTD First-Timers: 30
YTD Theatrical: 9
YTD Home: 23

"Avatar" DVD Review

In keeping with the (if you think about it) ironic greed of James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, the home video release of Avatar last week was a half-assed affair; a cheap cash grab with a bare-boned, extras-free DVD/Blu-ray release timed to fleece tree-huggers who can't spot the irony of buying high-tech video discs on plastic to save the planet with a tree planted with the proceeds. A proper, extras-laden (and possibly extended) version will be released around the holidays later this year, so I was planning on skipping picking it up until then, but a CVS deal which made the DVD only $5 happened, so I decided to hop on it because my girlfriend had managed to avoid it in theaters and since she can't see 3D (due to eye problems) it didn't make much difference other than the scale of the presentation.

I reviewed the movie before there was a DirkFlix, in the heat of the middle of the night after the midnight showing opening day, when the box office take was less than $10 million, with the idea it would eventually gross another $2.7 BILLION in a couple of months and become the top grossing (spare me the inflation-adjusted stuff; I know) film of all time, surpassing Cameron's Titanic and elevating his rank from King of the World to King of the Universe. I've joked that Avatar has made so much money that Cameron won't even need to use CGI for the sequel because he'll be able to shoot it on location.

But how does a film made with the latest technology for a 3D theatrical experience work on plain old DVD? Not so great. There is simply too much detail in the 2-2/3-hour-long film to have it properly rendered. It looks hella better on Blu-ray, but as The Digital Bits' review points out, even that's not quite enough. (Bill Hunt also shares my view on the DVD, "I STRONGLY discourage anyone from viewing this film in SD.")

Since I've already reviewed it, I want to discuss what is the hands-down worst-written scene in the film. Cameron's has gotten grief for his occasionally on-the-nose and clunky dialog and there's plenty of that, mostly coming from the painted-in-shades-of-black villain Quaritch. But what is truly howlingly terrible is this contender for the Basil Exposition Memorial Hall of Fame:

The only reason these two are saying the things they say is to inform the audience; they already know what they're talking about. Did Grace need to be told about Unobtainium and what its street value is? Did they have to discuss why Jake was sent for the mission? Did they have to explain about the schools and Na'vi outreach program? No, no, and no. While this was stuff the audience needs to know, it could've been more organically conveyed in another way. If Norman, the other new guy, had filled in Jake (who would be a logical audience surrogate in need of the info) with what was going on, it would've told him what had been happening on Pandora (which he would've needed to know) and set up Norman's resentment over Jake's ease at being taken in by the tribe.

As I mentioned in my original review, a handful of minor script tweaks would've greatly mitigated the most grating aspects of the movie. It still would've been a rote, predictable Dances with Thundersmurfs enviro-nitwit story, but it wouldn't have clanged so hard, making it seem worse than it was. Sure, it made a metric megaton of cash, but for all its visual splendor and groundbreaking tech, it wasn't a great example of writing - it's the worst thing James Cameron has done; worse than the end of The Abyss - and with all the time and money spent on the visuals, there's no reason a few hours on smartening-up the script couldn't have been spent.

After a second viewing and some time to ponder, I'm giving Avatar a slightly downgraded Score: 8/10. DO NOT buy it on DVD EVER, and only get the Blu-ray now if you just can't wait until the proper release comes out later this year. As it stands, the only worse way to see Avatar would be watch it on VHS taped off of standard-def TV.

"24 S8.19" Recap – “Sudden Little Bitch Syndrome”

24 S8.19 – “Sudden Little Bitch Syndrome”

• Jack lands in Manhattan after eluding some fake CGI choppers. Jack slips into the crowd on the streets of L.A….wait, what? Chloe looks annoyeder.
• Junction Jack tell Prez Chumpy she’s gonna eat it unless she bags the peace deal. She reluctantly agrees…
• …and then goes up the elevator where PELB awaits to push her into having his pals at Blackwater disappear Starbitch and waterboard the intel out of her and keep her and the info under wraps. FAIL!
• Chumpy annoys Chloe with the order to transfer Starbitch.
• Jack buys a stack of cell phones and calls Chloe who doesn’t believe him. Huh?
• Jack then calls Vic Vega for guns and guns and some guns.
• Blackwater lackey D.B. arrives at CTU, but calls Mr. Dominic to suggest wasting Starbitch and gets the wait-and-see.
• Chloe does something to D.B.’s phone, but hands over Starbitch who is suddenly a lot less tough.
• Chloe calls Damp Boi and tells him to set up a sting on Jack. He questions it, but she’s apparently caught the same Sudden Little Bitch Syndrome that got Chumpy – is it an airborne contagion? – and is going with it. LAME!
• Jack gets to Vega’s place and picks up his metric ton of guns. Raspy voice showdown is a tie.
• LAMELAMELAME! Chloe is setting Jack up?!?! WTF?!?!?!? Jack has NEVER been wrong and now she’s punking out?!? FAIL!!!!! SLBS is a killer.
• Chumpy tells JJ that she’s running PELB’s playbook. JJ is disgusted at Chumpy’s bleating about the greater good. JJ tries to talk her in; she ain’t buying. So he quits. Yes!! Someone with integrity for a change.
• Widow Regis and Fajita have a tender moment.
• Jack is at the ambush site (unsafe house?) and manages to bitchslap Damp Boi’s entire squad. He knew Chloe was setting him up? How?!? Who can he trust if he can’t trust Chloe? We’d all trust Chloe!!!
• Jack spells it out for Damp Boi: join him on heroic rogue ops or go down for his association with Starbuckitch. Hmmm…
• JJ tells PELB he’s watching him. Woohoo. PELB is unrattled.
• Starbitch is about to become Starlittlebitch. Boohoo.
• Chumpy bloviates about peace and blah-blah-woof-woof. JJ slinks out while Starlittlebitch gets wet. Widow Regis looks hot in black.

Thoughts: Other than Junction Jack’s speech to Chumpy calling her on losing her way in trying to get one thing good out of her tragic service as Prez, the writing tag team of Braga and Coto rely on SLBS to spread pseudo-motivation for characters acting more and more out of character. Other than JJ and Jack, is there anyone left who isn’t severely to hopelessly compromised? Yeesh.

Hardcores: Jack, Junction Jack.

Little Bitches: Chloe, Prez Chumpy, Starlittlebitch, consistency of characters.

Up Next: Everyone wants Jack out of the way and Star…whatever gets a gun.

Episode Score: 6/10

JBBC: Still 19.

Cyberspace Open 2010 - First Round Entry

Last weekend was the first round of Creative Screenwriting magazine's Cyberspace Open 2010 in which contestants had to write a 2-5 page scene to a given premise. A few people who knew I was doing it wished me luck, but until now, they didn't know what I had to do and what I did. Here was the scene premise I had to write to:
Your protagonist is crushed. His or her plans have been dashed; his objective now appears impossible. And yet if he throws in the towel, bad things will happen. Write a scene in which a mentor, friend, love interest or enemy rallies or provokes your protagonist in an unexpected way. Be sure to give us your best dialogue here as your protagonist comes around and rises – or falls — to the occasion.
Egad. The practice premises from prior contests were all pretty easy, evoking all sorts of wonderful ideas. This, however, was a toughy. Fortunately, I have a story I've been trying to break for what seems like forever and it would have a scene like this, so I imagined the skeleton of plot I had and then wrote this four page scene:

JAKE (26, hipster style, looks fatigued) walks from his car
to an official-looking black SUV. The driver's window rolls
down revealing FBI SPECIAL AGENT HARVEY (late-40s, gruff, no-
nonsense vet). Jake hands Harvey a LAPTOP.

Harvey opens the lid and looks impassively at the image on
the screen. It's GRACE (25, pretty, stylish), her face
contorted in anguish.

Well, this explains your sudden desire
to finally meet in person.

Jake turns and shuffles to the cliff's edge and looks at the
sun setting over the city. Harvey comes up behind him.

How did this get so out of hand?
How did he find her?

The same way they found your roomie
Kyle, trying to get to you.

But why her? She's had nothing to
do with any of this.

You took something from Carmine and
while it served his purposes for a
time, now he wants it back. Since
he can't get to you directly, he's
chewing his way through everyone
around you until you give yourself
up or there's no one left.

Tears well up in Jake's eyes.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.
No one was supposed to get hurt.

Ah, the "victimless crime." Well,
there's always a victim. You know
that now, don't you?

They watch the sunset in silence.

What do I do? I am so screwed.

Yes, you are. This is what's called
a reckoning, Jake. It's last call
and now's the time to pay your tab.

You know, she was always trying to
get me to quit. Even after she'd
moved on from our thing, she'd make
these snarky comments like, "Nice
coat. Who bought that for you without
knowing they did?" That's how she

Sounds like she still cared about
you. Not that it's doing her any
good right now. I'm thinking she's
not a big Jake fan at the moment.

Jake wipes at his eyes and takes a deep breath.

So what can I do?

You can try and make things right.

How? What are my options? I don't
have any, do I?

You've got a few, but they're mostly
unpleasant, at best. Option 1: you
do what Carmine wants; trade yourself
for Grace; probably end up dead, but
not in a quick and painless manner.

Jake doesn't look too enthused about that prospect.

Option 2: you do nothing; Carmine
puts Grace's head next to Kyle's on
his trophy wall; you keep running.
Option 3: I take you in and you'll
go down for many, many counts of
fraud and identity theft. You'll
spend your best years in prison,
reflecting on how your "victimless
crime" killed two people unlucky
enough to know you, and Carmine will
have no trouble finding you there.

Jake really doesn't like the sound of that.

Option 4: you work with us; you go
to the meet; we pop Carmine; you
save the girl.
This is the one I'd go with.

If I help the FBI get Carmine, will
you let me go?

(ruefully laughs)
Absolutely not. This isn't some
movie where the cop lets a bad guy
slip away at the end because he helped
bring down the really bad guy. No,
Jake, everyone eventually suffers
the consequences of their actions.

Jake sneaks a glance at his car. Harvey notices.

Relax, I'm not going to take you in
right now. Your friend is in trouble
and you came to me for help.
Carmine's the big fish we want to
catch and maybe the D.A. will cut
you a break if you help us land him.
But, that's not my table, I just
bring 'em in.

Jake stops looking like he's going to bolt.

Do you think it will work? He said
no cops.

They always say "no cops," but he
doesn't really think you'll go to
the authorities. He figures someone
like you is more interested in saving
his own ass than anything else.

Jake turns back to the disappearing sun.

I remember my father used to tell me
when I'd try to talk my way out of
trouble, "Son, sometimes you just
gotta take the hit."

Sounds like a wise man.

He was. When he died my senior year,
Mom lost it and hasn't been the same
since. I just...drifted and avoided
settling down and being responsible.
(long pause)
And here I am now.

Here you are.

The sun has descended behind the skyline. Clouds trace fiery
streaks across the sky above the glittering city lights.
Jake's face shows a new resolve. He turns to Harvey.

Can you guys help me? Help Grace?

We'll do our best, but this is going
to ride on you. You'll have to play
it exactly as we tell you and don't
try to get cute. Just be a man and
it may work out.

(chuckles to himself)
You know, I always thought I was
"The Man" because I'd figured out
how to get everything I wanted without
punching a clock like everyone else.
I'd see them rushing off to work,
day after day, busting their asses
in jobs they hated just to make a
buck. I'd laugh at them. Now I'm
the joke, aren't I?

Harvey looks sympathetic, fatherly.

No one's laughing, Jake.

I'd be, if it was someone else.

Jake takes a last look at the skyline and walks toward his
car. Harvey calls after him.

Where are you going?

I'm following you back. It's time
to take the hit.
100 finalists advance to the next round and I'm guestimating 1500-2000 entrants registered. One thing that makes me feel better about my odds is that the organizers had to send clarification emails out on the night before the Monday morning deadline and add a note to the site indicating they were receiving a lot of questions indicating people didn't bother to read all the info and/or didn't know how to use their formatting software. If they're that bad at reading, can they properly write? (Hope not.)

Perhaps I should change the sub-title of DirkFlix from "Dirk watches movies. Then he writes about them." to something snazzy like "Dirk watches movies. And he also writes them."

"The Gymnast" Review

Take a look at this DVD cover:

I'd picked this up while looting a closing video store because it looked tawdry and likely to appeal to my prurient interests and it was like 83 cents. Hot Asian chick + promises of girl-girl action = sale! (Yes, I'm a pig, but I know it and that makes it OK.) Anyhoo, I popped it in expecting Skinemax-grade dreck, but instead found an uneven and occasionally cliched little film redeemed by solid performances and a soft touch by writer/director Ned Farr when it matters most. (Oh, grow up!)

Dreya Weber (never heard of her either) plays a middle-aged woman who was once a champion gymnast before an injury dashed her career and hopes of Olympic glory two decades ago. Her husband is an uncommunicative jerk whose idea of foreplay is to turn on the erotic movies cable channel before bed. She works as a masseur and hoping to have a baby though the odds are long and the mister not much of a help.

While working out at a gymnastics gym, a woman spots her and recruits her for a project to create a Cirque de Soleil-type aerial act to take to Vegas. There she meets Addie Yungmee, a dancer and aerial neophyte. They quickly get their skills together and an attraction begins to develop, though as you'd expect when one person is a 40-something married gringa and the other a 20-something closeted lesbian Korean adopted by elderly Jewish folks, there's going to be some problems.

As giggle-inducing as the premise may be to some, the execution is handled much more sensitively than you'd expect. There is not much nudity and very little gauzy - hate to use the word again - Skinemax slap-and-tickling, but the looks and hesitations pop some dimensions into the scenario that ring true. The aerial training and performance scenes are impressive as well, showing the incredible strength is necessary to make gravity-defying acts appear effortless. I know a couple of women who do this sort of stuff and never really thought about all it entails. (The extras reveal the actresses met during a Cher tour they performed and choreographed in 2002.)

Not as good - in fact it's downright terrible - is the portrayal of Dreya's husband. The guy is an ass for the first 2/3rds and when his come-around moment happens, it rings false and plastic and it then veers into another direction. Also, the disappearance of the choreographer who puts this pair together from the story early on is odd. A weird set of convoluted plot twists happen at the end and this has got to one of the stranger end credits sequences I've seen, only seeming to be included to show off Dreya's gymnastics skills by her real-life director husband. However, there are some neat bits of staging and even a scene where they traipse about Dreya's divorcee pal's mansion dressed in corset outfits that appear to have escaped from the "Lady Marmalade" video holds together.

A failing a lot of gay-themed films have is the filmmakers - usually gay themselves - frequently wander away from the general themes of the story into overemphasis on the strictly gay angles. (The Opposite of Sex was particularly egregious.) But Farr gets the points across without pandering or preaching and the duo's relationship is more textured than the surface "girl meets girl; life totally changes" packaging would suggest, like the cover Amazon's page sells:

Alrightee then!

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

"24 S8.18" Recap – “Sellout, With Me Tonight! Sellout, With Me, Oh Yeah!”

24 S8.18 – “Sellout, With Me Tonight! Sellout, With Me, Oh Yeah!”

• Jack is sad over Red’s demising. It’s tough being the only one who can come back from the dead. Repeatedly.
• Chloe has to keep Jack on the leash now that she’s temporary boss. How annoying.
• Junction Jack is dressed and ready to work after being nearly dead a couple of hours ago. Remember when Wayne Palmer tried this? That worked, didn’t it?
• President Evil Little Bitch (PELB) meets with Ivan who looks like he wants to say, ”I’m eating here.”
• PELB tells Ivan he’s gonna blackmail him, but I sense that he’s actually offering himself up for bid. Weasel! Weasel! Weasel!
• Jack shows up at Das Boot’s arraignment. Lucky that the courthouse is downstairs from the hospital. Or he can teleport.
• Jack threatens to kill all of Das Boot’s family unless he tells who whacked Red. DB says it’s Moscow and that Starbitch was who controlled him.
• Once again, the epic fail of the Lifestime Starbuck plotline rears its ugly empty head as we’re supposed to believe the quivering mass of estrogen-flavored Jell-O from the first half of the season is this major player. Just unbelievable.
• Ivan agrees to sign deal. PELB is fist-pumping. Junction Jack doesn’t buy it.
• Jack’s heading back to CTU and gets into a cab and…wait, what? He’s not gonna beam there?
• Chloe wants Damp Boi to make sure Jack doesn’t get too crazy with Starbitch’s talking to.
• PELB wants his Secret Service guy dumped. Petty. Mr. Dominic knows what Jack is up to and Starbitch’s connection to the Ruskies. He must stop Jack.
• WHOOMPF!!! Jack slams Starbitches head on the table and slaps her around. Damp Boi gets the line of the night: ”Let ‘em play.”
• PELB tries to get Prez Cherry to chain up Jack, but she knew Red and ain’t buying it. Whoops.
• PELB spills the beans and JJ and Cherry are aghast. PELB shows why he’s the poster boy for Moral Compromise and tries to sell her a time share in Equivocation City. JJ is really against it. She’s gonna go talk to Jack at CTU.
• Prez arrives at CTU and gives a rah-rah speech for the troops. They’re like, ”Huh?
• Oh, crap. Prez Cherry becomes Prez Chumpy as she decides to stroke her peace spot and sell out Jack for her legacy, doing the deal with a bunch of untrustworthy people. Idiot. She locks down Jack. Bitch.
• Chumpy yells at Chloe. She’s not buying it either. Is everyone gonna go rogue?
• Jack jacks the choppa (Ahnuld pronunciation) - anyone surprised? – and takes off. Chloe calls in the FAA to force him down. Darn it!

Thoughts: I really, REALLY want to find the writers and punch them in the junk for the utter hash they’ve made of the 24 legacy with the utterly slipshod writing this year. It all boils down to poor Katee Sackoff’s character. They hire her and then saddle her with the worst character and plotlines in 24 history. (Yes, even worse than the Kim in the bear trap with the mountain lion/captured by Johnny Drama double-play.)

As I’ve groused about for three months now, they made her a hair-pulling (our hair) simp only to turn around and make her not only a badass, but now the key conduit for a massive international government-sponsored terrorist plot! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!? You have one of the few actresses which you can watch Jack Bauer smash her head into a table and punch her repeatedly in the face without wanting to call NOW on him, and you waste her like this?!? ARGH!!!!

And speaking of terribly-written women, let’s talk about Prez Chumpy. After last season, she sent her daughter to prison and sacrificed her marriage. Now, after some “greater good” specifying from PELB, she’s selling out all sympathy for the tough spot she’s in by throwing Jack and the truth under the bus. Who now isn’t rooting for this to blow up in her face?

Hardcores: Jack, Chloe.

Little Bitches: PELB, Prez Chumpy, common sense.

Up Next: Jack is an enemy of the state. He should just call Mrs. Regis and blow up the whole deal.

Episode Score: 8/10

JBBC: Since Jack didn’t kill common sense, his death toll remains at 19.

"The Box" Review

Richard Kelly's filmmaking career needs to end and with the commercial failure of The Box it just may, deservedly so. This guy has been coasting on a cloud of overhype and emo adulation since his debut Donnie Darko and despite the catastrophic crash-and-burn of his follow-up, Southland Tales - a film so terrible that stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson barely stayed at the Cannes premiere party long enough to gather sympathy - another studio gave him money to indulge his worst urges. Hope you enjoyed the ride, Ricky, cuz the party's over.

The concept itself isn't bad: A financially overextended couple - Cameron Diaz and James Marsden (Cyclops from X-Men) - are presented a finely-crafted wooden box by a horrifically disfigured Frank Langella with a simple offer of $1 million in exchange for pressing the button. (Shouldn't the movie have been called The Button then?) Oh yeah, when they do press it, someone they don't know in the world will die. Hmmm, moral ambiguity worthy of a Twilight Zone episode.

Which is exactly what this is, an extended and Kellyfied version of the 1970 Richard Matheson (who also wrote the novel I Am Legend) short story Button, Button which was also made into a 1986 episode of the Twilight Zone. However, as the Wikipedia synopsis details, Kelly quickly dispenses with the bones of Matheson's morality tale and drags it into The Kelly Zone with all sorts of crap about Martians, mind control, teleportation, and cheat of a last act which tosses in a Hobson's Choice twist that causes more annoyance than horror.

It's Kelly's self-indulgence that attracts a small, but frighteningly loyal, cult of followers who are willing to play his silly games and read the accompanying graphic novels, pseudo-science texts, and web sites in an attempt to claim chin-stroking rights as someone who "gets" his malarkey. Whatever. It's codswallop and the fact that no grownups at the studio have been willing to call out the fact that he's not wearing clothes is on them; I'm sure their shareholders would be happy to push the button on them.

Score: 3/10. Watch it on someone else's cable while drinking beer and yelling, "Where's the wabbit?!?"

"24 S8.17" Recap – “No Time For Love, Dr. Jack.”

24 S8.17 – “No Time For Love, Dr. Jack.”

• Jack is emo over Regis’ death. Why? He gave himself up. Jack should be yelling at the body, ”I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THIS!!! DAMMIT!!!!”
• Who is this ambulance guy conveniently there to kill Dante? Hmmm, Red knows him. Ruskie?
• Jack hands the operation over to Damp Boi. Well, that’s gonna work out, based on prior performance.
• Ivan moves in and talks to Kreplochistan’s delegate, Ben Gazarra.
• EMT calls Ivan. So we’re back to Russians as the baddies? He remembers Red.
• Ben suggests that Mrs. Regis take over the throne. Her husband just died 20 minutes ago, so why does she look hotter than ever?
• Bubba gets the sack and Chloe gets to run CTU?!? That should lead to some uncomfortable motivational speeches.
• Jack and Red arrive at Chez Jack and she lets her hair down – wow, she’s less severe-looking this way – and Jack move to get his jack on. Hey! No time for love, Dr. Jones!
• No kidding. Some anonymous Hebrew gets shived by the EMT and he’s got a scope out for Jack and Red who already humping like Skinemax characters.
• Wait…EMT follows them to his building and he is able to find the appropriate apartment in a building across the street with a view of Jack’s open windows from which to snipe them? In about five minutes?!?
• Ivan doesn’t like the idea of letting Mrs. Regis step him. Bad bear!! BAD!!!
• Junction Jack has a suggestion for Prez Cheery to get the Ruskies back: President Evil Little Bitch (PELB) who apparently has been aware all along what’s going in. Bad PELB! BAD!!!
• Bubba says goodbye – victim of the writers Starbuck dumbness.
• Dante croaks, annoying Chloe very much. ”Find out why he died! I’ll be in Bubba's, er, my office hanging up my ‘Hang in there, baby’ kitty poster.”
• Fajita is upset that Mrs. R plans on taking over.
• Prez Cherry meets with PELB and his aide de camp Mr. Dominic (from Dollhouse).
• PELB shows why he has been El Grande Weasel of 24 all these years. He’s got something up his sleeve, but Cherry’s so desperate, she’s got to let him in to do his thing. Everyone’s gonna regret it, aren’t they?
• After a half hour of straight Jacking, it’s frosty beverage time. Jeez, all those bandages didn’t come undone?
• Uh-oh, Chloe’s calls Red and Red needs to take the phone out to Jack and you guessed it. Pew! Pew! Pew!
• Jack carries her down 15 flights of stairs and gets her to the hospital in about 3 minutes.
• Is anyone surprised and/or shocked that Red didn’t make it? Really? Silent clock out for the 2nd week in a row

Thoughts: OK, this was a transitional episode as new villains – both Russian and PELB – are moved onto the board and what little shred of happiness Jack can eke out of this life is snatched away. After the way all his prior relationships have ended, you’d think by now that Jack would be telling prospective liaisons, ”You’re really pretty and I like you a lot, but in all likelihood you’re gonna end up killed by an ex-girlfriend, tortured and brainwashed by Chinese, or picked off by a sniper who you know always got the giant stuffed gorilla at the carnival, so perhaps you should just mosey along.” I hope this leads to Jack killing everyone real hard.

Hardcores: Chloe.

Little Bitches: Agent Red (RIP), Jack’s heart.

Up Next: PELB shens and Jack attacks.

Episode Score: 8/10

JBBC: Unless you want to count Red against him, holding at 19.

"The Runaways" Review

Influential 1970s jailbait rocker girls The Runaways get the biopic treatment in this film fronted by Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and a rapidly growing up Dakota Fanning as singer Cherie Currie. The all-female band - who also launched "Kiss Me Deadly" artist Lita Ford - is lesser known then their poppier Eighties sistren The Go-Gos and The Bangles, but for some female rockers even more seminal.

However, if you don't come into the movie with an operational knowledge of the band, you're likely to be confused or unimpressed by The Runaways as writer-director Floria Sigismondi (working from Currie's autobiography Neon Angel) makes the same mistake many rock movies make in focusing more on the surface style than underlying musical substance. (Velvet Goldmine was another example which seemed to believe the most important thing about glam-rock music was being gay.) The look of the film is spot on with Oscar-nomination worthy costumes and period correct cinematography, but despite a strong trio of performances from Stewart, Fanning and an awesome Michael Shannon as impresario Kim Fowley, it plays as more a series of impressionistic scenes of drugs and debauchery.

We never really get much of a feeling for the lives of anyone else in the band - even Joan beyond an early scene where a guitar teacher tells her girls don't play electric guitar - and tertiary characters like the unnamed guy who seems to be Curie's boyfriend when she's not canoodling with Jett are mere props. Forget about learning anything about how the music was created and like many movies in this genre, they never tell us what year we're in and how much time has passed from one stage of their rise (and fall) to the next.

Other reviewers have seemed skeeved out about Fanning's, um, budding nubility and it's interesting to consider that they're freaking out about the 15-year-old Fanning all sexed-up in a corset and fishnets when the real Currie was a 15-year-old girl all sexed-up in a corset and fishnets singing about how she's a "cherry bomb." When Fanning was announced for the role, I was thinking she was too bright-eyed and round-faced for the role - she's extremely talented, mind you, and I've referred to her as "the Jodie Fosterbot 2.0" in a review before - but promo photos and the trailer showed she'd nailed the look and the final film delivers a very good performance. Last year's superhero flick Push showed she was growing up and she is very hot here in a way that Chris Hansen could use as a Rorschach test. (Namely, if a guy looks at her and doesn't say something like, "Hey, she's really hot...oh, wait, she's just a kid still. Jeez, I'm a bad person.", then they'll need to have a seat.)

Since I'm not a 15-year-old girl, I haven't seen Stewart in those sparkly unicorn vampire movies and frankly I still think of her as Jodie Foster's son in Panic Room (I know, but I've met people who didn't know she was a girl) and even though I like her type of girls (i.e. slightly tomboyish girls like Starbuck and Boomer on Battlestar Galactica), she didn't do anything for me in the lame Adventureland last year. However, here she absolutely nails the look and attitude of Joan Jett and is thus thermonuclear H-A-W-T. (As I told my girlfriend after the screening, "You know how I know she captured Joan Jett? Because for the first time ever, I really want to f*ck her.") Even though she's the most famous ex-Runaway, Jett is a supporting character here and thus as underwritten as the rest. But Stewart manages to give us a fleshed-out portrayal when she could've easily coasted with a shag haircut, a sneer, and a lame Leather Tuscadero impression.

As I watched the film, I tried to imagine what someone knowing even less than I did about the Runaways - I'm more of a Go-Gos fan - would learn from The Runaways and it's not much other than these girls did a lot of drugs, a couple of them seemed to have a semi-titillating lesbian affair, and, oh yeah, they played some music in between the family drama and ennui. As a biopic or rock music expose, it fails to deliver; as an impressionistic take on the era, it works, but it's mostly surface; stuff you could look at old magazines and videos to see. Since it's mostly about Currie, a more honest (if less marketable title) would've been Neon Angel.

Score: 5/10. Rent the DVD.

After the screening, Cherie Currie came out and did a brief Q&A which you could tell she'd heard most of the questions a zillion times before. Now 50, she looks great and the heavily femme crowd loved her and reacted noisily to the news that she'll be touring with Joan Jett this summer, though there is little hope for a full Runaways reunion, especially since drumer Sandy West died a few years ago of cancer.

For those in the Detroit area, she'll be doing a book signing for the new edition of Neon Angel at the Birmingham Borders Books on Thurs. April 8 at 7 pm.

"24 S8.15-16" Recaps - “You’re Not A Martyr When You Volunteer For It”/“24 Pickup”

24 S8.15 – “You’re Not A Martyr When You Volunteer For It”

• General Mayhem is refusing to let Weasel get help for Junction Jack, then lies to Prez Cherry.
• Regis gets all noble and jacks Jack, handing himself over to the bud guys. He’s hair’s looking mussy. Perhaps he hopes the jihadis have some product?
• Dante gives Zaboo the stop order with 7 seconds left. Good thing he wasn’t calling on an iPhone otherwise NYC would be the setting of Fallout 4.
• Jack punches thru reinforced glass with his elbow in several blows. He could’ve bashed it down with one swing of his dick if he wasn’t in the presence of ladies.
• Jack sends Renee with the women to the AFB. Let the skirts – well, pantsuits – do the grunt jobs, caveman.
• Jack tells Prez Cherry that her lackeys suck (again) and he’s trying to get Regis back, heisting a sweet ride from the one guy who apparently never heard that leaving your car running in Manhattan is not very advisable.
• Zaboo swaps the dirty bomb for Regis.
• Prez Cherry busts all the traitors and bitchslaps Weasel who’s pretty smug about his treason.
• Bubba orders Chloe and Starbitch to coordinate with Jack, so SB takes this as a good time to reroute the servers, which is code for “call Dante.” Chloe looks a little more annoyed, but doesn’t seem to be catching on.
• Damp Boi comes back to CTU and reminds me that I despise him for making Sarah Michelle Gellar quit Buffy to spend time and spawn with him. ATTICA!!!
• Zaboo tells Regis that he hates him so hard and Regis tears up. Hair’s getting real messy.
• Junction Jack is carted off and the ladies have arrived at the base.
• What’s up with Cherry and Red? Something about the reason Red got cashiered?
• That’s a Hyundai? Snazzy.
• Starbitch sneaks into the server room to feed intel but, whoops, Drone Boy is in there and suspicious. He manages to avoid getting strangled and SB tips off Zaboo, but at what point does someone snag her? I thought she was gonna open a door and find some guns pointed at her at the break.
• Zaboo hides out in the parking garage and then takes a header off the roof, landing on Regis’ side. Ouch! Problem is that because of last week’s preview, we know Regis isn’t killed. Way to spoil, sports. Who’s the fake blonde?
• Jack has Zaboo’s phone meaning he can backtrace Starbitch. They’re gonna set up a secure uplink, but why couldn’t Jack tell Chloe that he’s gonna call the last number and to have whoever at CTU’s phone rings taken into custody?

24 S8.16 – “24 Pickup”

• Starbitch tries to sneak out but the Red Shirt actually does his job. The way they played it was deliberately meant to make loyal viewers scream in disbelief, wasn’t it? Who thought she was gonna get let out? Me, too.
• Prez Cherry is told Regis is with the terrorists and now the Ruskies are sniffing around. WTF is this about?
• Red tells Chloe about the phone.
• Starbitch needs to work on Bubba’s workstation to fix her card. Bubba gets called by Chloe. The noose is tightening.
• They decrypt the phone and discover it’s her. She hands her card over to the Red Shirt but she’s already been flagged. WHOA!!!! She whips out a gat and caps a pair of Red Shirts.
• Damp Boi is all confused by what’s happening. Bubba wants to know what he knew. He honestly answers, ”Nothing.” Der, Sherlock!
• Big gunfight with the predictable finish of Damp Boi stopping her.
• She tells Bubba she wants to talk only to Jack. May I again mention that this is the same woman who 12 hours ago was such a quivering heap of failness that she was getting bossed around by a pair of rednecks?
• Bubba wants some answers from DB. He knows he’s screwed. Eat it, punk.
• Jack interrogates Starbitch, slamming her up against the wall after she makes her standard-issue (for 24) demand of full immunity, a clean record, 18 pounds of cheddar cheese and the continent of Australia! She doesn’t even flinch. Boy, if she wasn’t evil, she’d be the perfect wingman for the Continuing Adventures of Jack.
• Regis tries to reason with Dante who appears to be interested for about one second before slapping him and ordering his torture.
• Prez Cherry and Junction Jack mull options if Regis eats it.
• Bubba gives Damp Boi his gun back and tells him Starbitch is briefing the team. They bump into each other in the hall and a longing look of…who am I kidding? Wedding’s off, kids; and you ain’t getting the deposits back.
• Regis is getting stun-gunned and still resisting. Doesn’t Dante know that all he has to do is threaten his hair?
• The JihadToobe broadcast starts with Dante reading his list of grievances – ”He has sold out our country to the infidels; he drinks milk out of the carton; and he hogs up the mirror doing his hair for an hour before the posse goes to the Roxbury.” - and Chloe is able to deduce where Regis most likely is.
• Jack gives the assault orders to the Red Shirts and tells Red he wants her behind him. Why? So he can be her human shield?
• POW! POW! Lookouts down.
• Jack said get down, so he put you down, Bub!
• They pinpoint the apartment the broadcast is coming from and Jack lockpicks his way in. Boy, he’s got some mad petty criminal skillz what with heisting the Hyundai and the locksmithing.
• Red watches the lady of the house and spots the wig, winning the quick draw contest with Jihadi Jenna.
• Powpowpow!!! Jack whacks the guys around the laptop and…OH, CRAP!!! THEY’RE TOO LATE!!!

Thoughts: Wow. Didn’t see that ending coming. When did they switch from going live and switch to the tape? This is a bummer ending and gets the silent clock treatment. Now that all is lost for 24, the show has finally caught fire with a consistency and intensity equal to the better “lesser” seasons like Season 7 last year.

The total botching of the Lifetime Starbuck to Starbitch plot arc has been the greatest failing of this season. This single mistake over all pretty much ended the series and I demand an explanation how they totally wasted Katee Sackoff – Hermione call her “Suckoff.” Meowch! – and screwed everything up for 12+ hours only to try and convince us that everything we saw before was a front for the badass we got now. Sure, they managed to pull back the stick in time to keep the plane from smashing into the ground, but it was too little, too late. Argh!

Hardcores: Jack, Red, Starbitch, Zaboo (BIH).

Little Bitches: Red Shirts, Regis (RIP), peace itself.

Up Next: With the rods recaptured and just about all of the bad guys caught or dead, what’s gonna happen for the next 8 hours? A standoff with the Ruskies requiring the assistance of President Evil Little Bitch? Yeesh.

Episodes Score: 1st Hour: 9/10; 2nd Hour: 9.5/10 – the hands-down best hours of the season; no need to grade on a curve.

JBBC: Four for Jack, bringing the count to 19.

"Clash of the Titans (2010)" Video Review

It was faster to shoot and edit this video review than to waste the time writing about this movie. Enjoy.

Score: 3/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

"Step Up 2 The Streets" Review

I have had an inexplicable obsession with this movie for over two years since seeing this trailer:

Especially the shot at 1:17 (after the "STEP UP" title card) with star Briana Evigan (daughter of BJ and the Bear - ask your grandparents, kids - star Greg Evigan) dancing and grabbing herself in the rain. It goes by in a flash - it's only 1-1/4 seconds long - I know because I made an animated GIF of it and it's 30 frames long.

I'm not a fan of the "urban wigga dance flick" genre (e.g. Save The Last Dance et al) and even when breakdancing movies like Beat Street and Breakin' were popular in the Eighties, I didn't bother with them. But for some reason this movie - and that shot - has occupied a too-large spot in my mind. I downloaded a copy of it, but never watched it and a month ago, I took advantage of a sale at Hollywood Video's web site to get a Blu-ray copy for $5.50. If I was gonna watch the darn thing and see what had piqued my curiosity, I may as well see it in the best way possible.

1080p doesn't make a lame movie better.

OK, I wasn't expecting Chicago or even Xanadu from Step Up 2 The Streets, but it is dashed off so haphazardly from the rote story to the underwhelming dancing that it doesn't even reach the bottom rungs of my low expectation ladder.

Evigan is Andie, a spunky street-dancing orphan in Baltimore whose guardian is tired of her antics and threatening to send to relatives in Texas unless she auditions, gets accepted, and does well in the elite Maryland School of the Arts. (Imagine the school from Fame but in Baltimore and a much lousier movie called Semi-Obscurity.) Of course, the snooty audition panel doesn't know what to make of her booty dancing, but it's a'ight cuz the school's headmaster has a brother, Chase (Robert Hoffman), who's a secret street dancer and convinces them to take her in.

Since she's busy staying in school and missing her old street crew practices, she gets tossed out by them, but it's OK because Chase helps her put together a new school crew with all the misfits that somehow slipped into the MSA and they practice with the goal of winning "The Streets", a dance contest that blah-blah-woof-woof...OK, who really gives a crap?

What works? Evigan looks like a huggable Demi Moore who looks cute and curvaceous in some angles and oddly plain in others. (She's got a square head above her round bosom.) She dances alright and brings enough spunk to the cardboard character she plays to make Andie tolerable.

What doesn't work? Just about everything else. The dance scenes are somewhat airless and poorly covered. The angle about the two brothers is junk on top of the fact one bro seems to be from another country, possibly Denmark or England. It's so busy running through the Stock Movie Trope Checklist that it doesn't take time to do any of them effectively. The most unique thing it pulls off is having a trio of minority thugs beat the hell out of the white guy without it seeming like a racially-motivated hate crime. Yay for small victories. Pffft.

Score: 3/10. Catch it on someone else's cable.

In the end, I should've just watched the download and saved the fiver. The irony is that the shot that entranced me in the first place isn't even in the final movie (along with a lot of other trailer moments), with the move performed a few times, but covered with less effective angles.
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