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THIS WEEK IN DVD [May. 1st, 2007|03:30 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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THIS WEEK IN DVD

It's a slooooow week, so I'll be in and out with just a few thoughts:

Little Children: By far the best recent theatrical release to arrive today. It's an arresting mix of comedy, drama, morals, and political commentary, and while I'm not sure every decision in this movie works, you have to give Todd Field credit for his ambition. This may really improve on DVD once you get used to some of the narrative techniques, such as the odd narration. A second viewing would also be useful in reminding viewers that, oh, yeah, Jennifer Connelly was in this one. It's a fine, provocative film, but sadly, there are virtually no extras. So if you want any insight into how Field adapted the novel, too bad. It's a disappointingly spare video release for such an acclaimed movie.

Dreamgirls: If you liked this movie more than I did, you may want to own it, but let me warn you: I don't care how many discs this is, how many bonuses it boasts, what kind of "special edition" name is attached to it--this one is bound to get a Super Super Deluxe Edition later. If you think it's so nice you'll buy it twice, go ahead. You know, maybe you should, though, because I have a feeling that the fine people who put this movie together, disappointed as they may have been to not get more Academy Awards recognition, would rather see this DVD on your shelf than a little gold man on their shelf.'

Except Eddie Murphy. You better believe he sure as &*%$ wanted that mother&*#@&^% Oscar.

Turistas: Young people. Vacation. Torture. Death. Yawn.

Alpha Dog: Justin Timberlake's attempt to be all tough and "street" pretty much obscured any serious attention this relatively small film got. Maybe it's worth a shot on DVD.
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HALF-ASSED GOURMET: Ginger Pasta Stir Fry [Apr. 30th, 2007|03:11 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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HALF-ASSED GOURMET: Ginger Pasta Stir Fry

A few weeks ago, an inexplicable urge to cook something without use of a microwave hit me, and I dove into a cookbook. Specifically, it was a Better Homes and Gardens 5 Ingredient recipe book. 5 ingredients equals easy, and easy equals me having a fighting chance of pulling it off without creating an inferno.

I was drawn to a recipe for ginger pasta stir fry that seemed ridiculously easy. Combine vegetables, ginger sauce, pasta, cooking oil, and cashews. Cook. Eat. Nice!

Now, there were a few more steps than that. For example, I cooked the pasta before combining it with the veggies. But still, it was very easy and quite tasty. I never would have thought to combine cheese-filled tortellini with stir fry vegetables like broccoli and water chestnuts, let alone throw a ginger-flavored sauce in there, but damn if it didn't work out just fine. I was really proud of myself.

But then it hit me. What I did wasn't really an accomplishment, and not just because the recipe was so basic. The recipe itself isn't that brilliant, either. You know why?

I have a new Theory of Cooking that explains why: You can combine virtually any kind of ingredients, as long as they taste good individually, throw in a decent sauce, cook it in a big skillet, and the result will always taste good.

If I may paraphrase Joey Tribbiani when he tried Rachel's horrible English Trifle dessert, what's not to like? Pasta? Good. Vegetables? Good. Ginger stir fry sauce? GOOD.

I haven't tested this much, and sure there are some ridiculous combinations out there you could "get" me with, like peanut butter and swiss cheese and chicken (although as I type that, it looks not entirely undeserving of a go). But I think my basic premise will hold up. I have a few other combinations I look forward to testing soon, and I will do so with confidence. You just can't screw up this basic formula.
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A REALLY COOL THING ABOUT THE LOOKOUT (WITH AN ASTERISK) [Apr. 27th, 2007|07:27 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
A REALLY COOL THING ABOUT THE LOOKOUT (WITH AN ASTERISK)

I'm going to share with you what is perhaps the single coolest thing about The Lookout. This one aspect I'll discuss is an X factor that amused me throughout much of the movie, enhancing the on-screen activity without ever overwhelming it. Were it not for one tiny problem, I'd go so far as to call it the best reason to see The Lookout.

Unfortunately, there is that one little problem, and while I didn't let it bother me during the movie, it's significant enough that I feel obligated to let you in on it. But rather than blurt it out right away, I'll add it to the end here as an asterisk. Don't skip down yet. First let me reveal that a great surprise of this fun thriller is a remarkable casting decision. There is a gang of thugs who want to rob a bank, and the most menacing, fearsome one of all, known only as "Bone," is played by...Geddy Lee! That's right, the lead singer of Rush is in The Lookout as a shotgun-wielding, glowering "strong and silent" type!

If you must know now what the asterisk is, then jump to the bottom, check it out, come back, and read the rest of this post. I hope you'll still want to. I hope you can ignore the asterisk and appreciate how cool this is, in much the same way as I ignored it and had a blast while enjoying the coolest thing about this flick.

Anyways, getting back to Geddy Lee, all I can say is: Geddy Lee! Imagine my surprise seeing the man who sang "Fly by night, good-bye, my dear," portray some kind of bad ass on the big screen. Lee brilliantly underplays, too, teasing you with his nasty, sullen demeanor but not speaking for most of his screen time. This is probably a deliberate move designed to keep that distinctive voice in check so we can feel Lee's menacing side. It works. All the while, you're just waiting for him to go Modern-day Warrior on someone. It's a performance as brilliant as anything on Moving Pictures. Sure, at first I was wondering if Neal Peart would show up as a hired goon, but as I settled in and let the sheer audacity of this casting fade somewhat, I had a blast.

Time for the asterisk.



If you waited to the end, I congratulate you, and I reiterate that I sincerely hope reading the asterisk below won't prevent you from seeing The Lookout and celebrating this cool thing.

*The guy that plays him isn't Geddy Lee. In fact, on closer examination, he doesn't even look all that much like the Canadian rock star. More like a cross between an older version of Weed from the comic strip "For Better or For Worse" and a a younger Gene Simmons. No, the guy that plays the mysterious, brooding Bone is named Greg Dunham, and as far as I know, he has never played in Rush, nor even in a tribute band.

But why let that stop us from enjoying The Lookout? After all, to quote a far more famous movie, one that also didn't star Geddy Lee, "Nobody's perfect."
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5Q MOVIE REVIEW: THE LOOKOUT [Apr. 27th, 2007|06:35 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
5Q MOVIE REVIEW: THE LOOKOUT

Q: This relatively small crime pic rapidly vanished from theaters. Why should we make an effort to see it?
A: First, here is why you should WANT TO see it: It's the directorial debut of Scott Frank, writer of fine movies like Out of Sight and A Simple Plan. Here's why you should see it: It's an absorbing thriller with solid performances.

Q: Solid performances? You mean like the kid from Third Rock from the Sun?
A: Yes, I do! In fact, after seeing this and last year's brilliant Brick, I hereby officially declare it's time to quit giving Joseph Gordon-Leavitt for being on that show. Er, that is, if I didn't already do so when I saw Brick. As Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star/BMOC who has everything going for him until he suffers brain damage in a car accident that kills or injuries some of his friends (and is the direct result of his own recklessness), Leavitt is more subdued this time. The nature of this character, who must frequently jot ridiculously basic things down in a little notebook because of his short-term memory issues, means that he can't deliver that showy purple dialogue as in Brick. However, he still registers by revealing both the numbing effect his current lifestyle has on him and the dormant yearning for his old life.

Q: Is this anything more than just a cool crime pic?
A: The actual crime is pretty simple. Some lowlifes led by a guy who knew Chris in school (and pointedly tells him he was several years older then him yet envied him) want to rob the bank where he works as a night janitor. Things go wrong, of course, and while the resolution is exciting, the more fascinating part of the movie is showing how the gang seduces their target into helping them by serving as a lookout for the cop who stops by each night.

There is something else in The Lookout that I find compelling. There's a strong thread throughout the film of people underestimating the main character. Because he has suffered the head injury, almost everyone treats him with pity or condescension, including his own family. Even the characters that have honorable intentions can't picture him capable of much (one notable exception is a case worker, Carla Gugino, who disappears for some reason after her one early scene and is missed). This, more than a noirish sense of fatalism, drives the plot, as our protagonist is swayed by people who appeal to him by indicating he has potential. There is a conflict between destiny and people's expectations on one hand, and free will and self-reliance on the other. Plus it is intriguing that instead of "looking out" for someone they see as handicapped, many in this film look past him, not clearly seeing him as an individual.

Ultimately, the gimmick behind the main character, the fact that he can't remember anything without writing it down, doesn't hold up so well. The plot becomes increasingly contrived as we wonder how Chris can do some things and retain some info but not others. I think some of the elements Frank is trying to blend don't quite come together to turn this into more than an entertaining heist flick.

Q: Is The Lookout as dark as you're making it sound?
A: No, it's quite amusing in some spots. And as Chris' blind roommate, Jeff Daniels provides a wonderful performance and lightens up the film. His odd-sounding dream for the future and his corny humor provide a stark contrast to the troubled Leavitt and create an effectively weird tension/chemistry between the two.

Q: Hey, that tall, lean dark-haired gunman with the dark glasses--is that...?
A: Sorry to leave you hanging, but see my next post!
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BACKSTAGE ASS: DVR woes, Fuse Network, Pearl Jam [Apr. 27th, 2007|06:33 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
Backstage Ass: DVR woes, Fuse Network, Pearl Jam

*Isn't technology great? I especially love that DVR device that lets me store hours of programming on one cable box's hard drive without having to go through the hassle of using VHS tapes. Well, a few weeks ago, my DVR suddenly went on the fritz and, in order of events, started playing back my recorded programs sluggishly and crashing, stopped recording altogether, and then denied access to the programs that were already on there. I lost about 40 hours of movies and TV shows I had recorded.

Kind of makes me glad I kept my VCR.

*For a while I thought Fuse had aborted its attempt to clone MTV with ill-fated "original programming" efforts like crappy cartoon Empire Square. Not that I ever watched Fuse, mind you, but it was safe to annoy it and not be too upset about how it seemed so desperate to abandon its original mission of concentrating on music.

In the words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."

A few weeks ago I noticed Fuse was showing something called "Daddy's Little Girl," an apparent ripoff of MTV's My Sweet 16. Last week, I discovered Fuse was running Felicity reruns. Felicity! I scanned the rest of the week's schedule and verified that, yes, Fuse is still showing horror movies weeknights, too.

Check out this show that popped up on the network recently: "Rad Girls." Here is the program description: Three crazy California girls say and do anything to shock and entertain in hilarious challenges and outrageous situations. Hmm. Remind you of anything?

So much for that alternative to MTV for music fans. Someone should pull the plug on this pathetic waste of channel capacity.

*As a Pearl Jam fan, I have to say their new cover of "Love Reign O'er Me" sounds pretty damn good. As a fan of the original version by The Who, I have to ask, was it really necessary? Not so much. But it's harmless, and if it raises awareness of The Who for a younger generation (though Pearl Jam aren't exactly young and cutting edge in 2007), I'm sure Eddie Vedder and co. would be delighted.
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THIS MONTH IN DVD PART 2: TV ON DVD [Apr. 27th, 2007|06:30 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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THIS MONTH IN DVD PART 2: TV ON DVD

The Odd Couple Season One: Lost in the WKRP tumult this week (see next entry) is the fact that a true comedy classic is in stores this week. Die-hard fans already got this set (a few minor changes have been made for this version) from Time-Life, so maybe that's why there isn't more buzz. But if you waited to see it in a store, stop waiting. Go out and buy it now because even though signs are we'll get all 5 seasons from Paramount, you never know. Get those sales numbers up.

WKRP Season One: Baby, if you ever wondered, wondered whatever became of the music in this show...

Well, Fox didn't feel it was worthwhile to clear it, so this rock music-heavy series has been stripped of virtually all music or had it replaced for this Season One release. There is a huge debate about this online, but it remains to be seen if Joe Public really cares or notices. Fox used syndicated cuts for these episodes, too, and deleted whole scenes and bits of dialogue where the music couldn't be avoided. So this is really a butcher job. It's a catch-22 for fans, though, as poor sales would make Fox even less inclined to give a damn about subsequent seasons. It seems unlikely that WKRP will get another shot in national syndication anytime soon. So poor enthusiasts of this series will have to reward a crappy effort or torpedo the whole DVD project. What a great option.

Ric Flair and the 4 Horsemen: I haven't done due diligence on this one yet, but I can tell you this: We could quibble about match listings, the quality of the actual documentary, or whatever, but anybody that grew up watching wrestling in the 80s has to agree that the very existence of a DVD called Ric Flair and the 4 Horsemen is a fantastic thing. I might also add, "Whoo!"

The Untouchables and The Streets of San Francisco: Good news is that Paramount is even releasing these. Bad news is that they split 'em up so that instead of the whole season one being available now, we get "Part One" of Season One and we'll have to buy two sets to get one full season. Ah, well, at least from all accounts these are uncut episodes with great-looking transfers (if no extras). I remember seeing Untouchables reruns when I was younger, but I don't ever think I got into Streets of San Fran. Still, I applaud these releases.

One Day at a Time Season One: It's been a looong time since I watched this regularly in reruns, but I suspect that to today's eye, it's gonna be one of those series that you just think, "How did it last nine freakin' years?" Despite that long run, and despite its Norman Lear pedigree, this has been out of the public eye for quite some time, save for a nice little reuinon special CBS presented a couple years ago. Oh, people know Valerie Bertenelli, and they know Mackenzie Phillips' troubles, but they don't seem to actually know the show anymore. Except Schneider. Everyone knows that One Day at a Time featured a lecherous super who was always attacking Ms. Romano and her teenage daughters. Well, the legend of Schneider has grown somewhat over the years. Check out these 15 first-season episodes and judge for yourself: Was Schneider a perv, a teddy bear, or somewhere in between? And are the Romano women interesting enough to carry the show without him?

Ironside Season One: He's big, he's bad, and he's in a wheelchair! Raymond Burr IS Ironside! I could easily lump this in with Untouchables and Streets of San Fran as shows I haven't seen much but would like to check out, but I want to highlight a few things: One, this is available in season one--the whole thing--for people that don't go for that split season jazz. More importantly, this is another example (along with the recent McHale's Navy release) of Universal licensing shows out to Shout Factory and getting its TV library out there. So it deserves attention, and maybe success will lure other studios into trying a similar approach.
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: DVD DILEMMA [Apr. 27th, 2007|03:08 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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YOU MAKE THE CALL: DVD DILEMMA

Last week, Sony released a DVD set that should make any TV lover happy: the first set of Larry Sanders episodes since the studio released an overpriced, subpar season one set years ago. More installments of this classic show are long past due. Plus star Garry Shandling has put together hours and hours of in-depth extras to make this a definitive take on his creation.

Only thing is, this set doesn't make everyone happy. It's not definitive. Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show has a few dozen episodes, but they're scattered across the series' run. It's not that second season release fans have been waiting for.

I absolutely loved the show on HBO and would gladly buy the whole series if it were available. Unfortunately, word has it Shandling himself was only interested in a Best Of (I know there are rumors that music clearances were blocking season sets, but those don't seem credible). He has put together a fine set. But fans want more. I want more.

Should I buy this set? Only a few episodes are duplicated from my season one collection, but that's still double-dipping. Much worse is the prospect of Sony turning around next year and releasing season sets, forcing me to once again buy episodes I have in order to get the ones I need. On the other hand, some is better than none right now, perhaps. Plus it's not like anyone is showing these on TV these days, and besides, watching this often-profane sitcom in hacked-up form on Bravo or local syndication is a painful experience.

In his recent review for Entertainment Weekly, their Esteemed Expert on Everything Ken Tucker dismissed the need for season sets, writing that "completists" might want them. As if only obsessives have an interest in the entire run of one of the most acclaimed TV shows ever being on DVD. Tucker also ignores the fact that the series had recurring themes and storylines that played out over successive episodes. And of course he doesn't bother to tell us anything about why it's a Best Of, what the chances are of more sets coming, or even basic info like if the transfers are better than the poor quality of that season one edition. Typically uninformative EW review.

You have to get your info on DVD, and by doing so, I discovered that the shows are uncut and the extras are sure to delight any fan. I also read a tantalizing hint by Shandling that Sony might put out more episodes in the future, though he likely wouldn't be as personally involved.

So, should you buy the DVD? YOU MAKE THE CALL for yourself. I can understand not wanting to get burned by getting this one and then seeing a Season Two set. Personally, I think this is a worthwhile purchase if only for the extras. It ain't cheap, and the extras might have limited rewatchability compared to the actual episodes, but there is a lot of value here. Plus there is always the remote chance that Sony will do the right thing and make a Volume 2 with the rest of the series, thereby not making loyal fans rebuy a good portion of the run.

My choices are: Buy, Rent, Not Buy, or maybe a fourth option: Put it on my Wish List and hope someone buys it FOR me for my birthday. That way, I get to enjoy the DVDs without the guilt and annoyance of supporting a Best Of instead of the season sets Larry Sanders so richly deserves. This sounds pretty good to me.

I have made my choice...for now. Check back in with me after my birthday.
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THIS MONTH IN DVD (PART 1: MOVIES) [Apr. 25th, 2007|03:19 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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THIS MONTH IN DVD (PART 1: MOVIES)

OK, so I missed a few weeks of the This Week in DVD feature. Solution: This Month in DVD. Voila! Here are some of the more notable releases of the past few weeks (including this one). I'll split this into two posts so I can yak about plenty o' movies and plenty o' TV sets.

A Night at the Museum: Even today, months after it happened, it's hard to fathom that this unexceptional farce made 200 million bucks. I guess families loved it, and that's fine since this comedy seemed geared to kids. I am no longer a kid, though I do act kind of like a 13-year-old when Salma Hayek guest stars on Ugly Betty, and I found Night at the Museum a real disappointment. As the movie plodded on towards its entirely predictable tidy ending, I somehow got the thought it was one of those kind of movies where the whole cast would wind up dancing over the end credits. I swear I thought this even though it was neither cartoon nor musical nor even romantic comedy. Sure enough...maybe it'll be a fun rental to see the classic combo of The Mickster and The Dickster, that is, Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke, who are far more vivid and entertaining than ballyhooed co-stars like Robin Williams and Owen Wilson.


Bobby: Throughout the history of cinema, auteurs have often strived beyond providing mere entertainment to tell stories of a political nature, stories with meaning and import that, despite a superficial focus on historical events, are relevant and vital to contemporary audiences. Yes, I am talking about filmmakers like Costa-Gavras, Oliver Stone, and Emilio Estevez.

Emilio Estevez?

Sounds kind of wacky to me, but you shouldn't reject this DVD because the lesser of the stars from the Stakeout movies made it. You should reject it because it was pretty much DOA at the box office and one of the more critically reviled efforts of 2006.

However, a seeming cast of thousands shows up in various roles and parades through the film, and watching them might make watching the DVD an entertaining experience as you try to figure out what the heck Emilio did for THEM that made them owe him a favor.

Payback Director's Cut: Director Brian Hegeland gets to present his vision of the not entirely-beloved reworking of Payback. Film enthusiasts and critics the world over get to berate Mel Gibson for pulling rank and "softening" the film for its original release. We get to judge for ourselves. Hey, everybody wins, really. Even Mel Gibson probably gets some sweet residuals.

Freedom Writers: Hilary Swank already has two Oscars, so nobody had to worry about pretending this inspirational tale was more than some kind of Dangerous Minds retread.

History Boys: I know this was based on a successful play, acclaimed in some circles, et cetera, but I couldn't get over the fact that the teacher in this one fondled his students. Everything I read indicated this was dealt with in the film as some kind of "tee hee" indiscretion. Say what? I have to confess the old double standard is at work here, though: the idea of Hillary Swank as a teacher who fondles her students: considerably less repulsive.

James Cagney Signature Collection: No, his most famous movies aren't included here, most having been released on previous sets. But so what? Unless you're some kind of dirty rat, you should still check this out, see? It's another fine Warner Brothers set with extras galore.

Smokin' Aces: Special guest commentary from my dad: "I saw the DVD in the store, and I remembered thinking when it came to theaters it might be pretty cool. Then I saw Ben Affleck's name on the cover. Forget it."

Code Name: Cleaner: Someday in the not-too-distant future, Hollywood execs, producers, agents, maybe even Cedric the Entertainer himself will all realize that he's probably better off as a scene-stealing supporting player (like in Barbershop) than as the star of his own vehicle (like, well, this). In the meantime, he's presumably raking in the cash and doing what he can.

The Queen: This is a highly entertaining, lively movie, despite the fact that according to protocol one must wear white gloves whenever handling this DVD and then must curtsy as soon as the menu loads.

Notes on a Scandal: When watching this one, however, feel free to get drunk, discard any articles of clothing that feel constricting, and yell back at the TV.

Deja Vu: Here's where you the reader benefit from this expanded DVD listing. I don't have time to work out some lame joke about seeing the movie again or to print this listing twice. But I reserve the right to do so later if I rent this and feel like writing about it.
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War Books: Flags of Our Fathers and Up Front [Apr. 25th, 2007|03:16 pm]
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ricob
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War Books: Flags of Our Fathers and Up Front

A while back, I read two outstanding World War II books: James Bradley's "Flags of Our Fathers," which Clint Eastwood adapted into the recent motion picture; and Bill Mauldin's "Up Front," which was originally published in 1944 and remains vital today.

If you ever wonder why we have such a collective reverence for the Greatest Generation that saved our bacon in World War II, well, quit wondering, bozo. They won freakin' WWII. But one thing that always strikes me in particular about that era is that people did anything they could to get INTO the war. Contrast that to Vietnam, when people--including many in our current political leadership--did anything to stay OUT. I don't want to demean our soldiers who served in Vietnam. I'm just saying that reading Flags of Our Fathers, I was struck by stories of 16-year-olds lying about their age so they could enlist. Up Front reads like it was written by a grizzled old vet, and it was--but Mauldin was in his early 20s when he authored it.

Flags of Our Fathers is Bradley's story of the men who served in the Battle of Iwo Jima, with an emphasis on those who appeared in Joe Rosenthal's iconic flag-raising photo on that barren Pacific island. One of those flag raisers was the author's father, John "Doc" Bradley, and much of the text concerns the son's attempt to piece together what happened so many years ago, since his unassuming father rarely discussed it.

Bradley (with help from co-writer Ron Powers) tells the personal story of the War and his father while also telling the larger story of Iwo Jima, and in fact, a brief history of the Marine Corps. While Clint Eastwood's film adaptation suffers from a clunky structure that bounces back and forth between "what happened" and "piecing it together," the transitions are much smoother in print. It's a powerful book that combines gripping battle accounts with moving personal histories of the combatants, and it's all connected by Bradley's human touch. The contrast between the mythology that developed surrounding the photo and the reality is a recurring theme as well. In fact, Bradley both elevates and simplifies his subjects by letting them stress what their true goal was: To do right by their buddies who fought alongside them.

Up Front expresses a similar belief system in relating the point of view of the often-unsung Army infantry. The fellas that served on the front lines and did the grunt work get their due in this thoroughly entertaining volume.

Mauldin is the legendary wartime cartoonist who contributed most famously to Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper. Up Front collects a bunch of his single-panel cartoons, many featuring iconic soldiers Willie and Joe, along with a sort of running commentary by Maudlin himself.

The text isn't structured in a particular way, and Mauldin's writing is direct and unpretentious. I don't mean that in a condescending way, either; more like Up Front reads like Maudlin is talking conversationally to the reader with no agenda besides telling it like it is. It gives the book a certain immediacy but also makes the topic more accessible. In contrast to Flags of Our Fathers, there is no strong drama here, but this more casual approach works in its own way. The book is a tremendous education about the life of the solider. Mauldin at this time was one of the men, and he expressed their gripes, their hopes, their fears, their foibles, in cartoon form throughout the war.

Many of the cartoons aren't necessarily ha ha funny to a modern reader. The frame of reference is often too specific to be easily grasped today. However, as you look at them more closely and read Maudlin's words (sometimes commenting directly on a particular panel), you understand them. Up Front isn't a riotous cartoon book; rather, it's an enlightening portrayal of infantry life in World War II. That's not to say it's not fun--it's a quick read and hard to put down--but it is as informative as it is amusing.
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5Q MOVIE REVIEW: MEET THE ROBINSONS (DIGITAL 3-D) [Apr. 24th, 2007|05:39 pm]
Cultureshark

ricob
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5Q MOVIE REVIEW: MEET THE ROBINSONS (DIGITAL 3-D)

Q: This one is in 3-D? I didn't even know! Is it worth paying the extra few bucks for glasses?
A: I don't think Disney promoted the 3-D showings as much as it could have. I was fortunate enough to not have to pay extra for the glasses, but the 3-D is outstanding in Meet the Robinsons and well worth the price of admission. The depth of vision really enhances the animation and makes this visually fascinating.

Q: Are there any other surprises we should know about?
A: Yeah! I even saw a vintage 1950s 3-D Donald Duck before the main feature. I was disappointed that it was more a Chip and Dale story than a Donald one, and those irritating chipmunks once again got the best of him, but still, that's a heckuva bonus. I wouldn't have known that was part of the deal if I hadn't seen it mentioned by a moviegoer online.

Q: OK, the 3-D is cool. But would this be a worthwhile movie without it?
A: While it's hard to say definitively, I believe had I seen this in regular old 2-D, I would have been somewhat disappointed. There are some compelling themes here, but they get lost in a story that never comes together. The plot is both too simple and too complex for its own good, and the humor and characterization isn't sharp.

Q: The plotting is both too simple and too complex? What does that mean?
A: Two words: time travel. The story centers on a talented if eccentric kid inventor who badly wants to find the mother who abandoned him just after he was born. When someone from the future travels back to disrupt his science fair appearance, he is recruited by a time traveling kid to go to that future and stop the villain.

Whenever you got time travel, you're gonna get some wacky stuff going on. Things get convoluted enough to make you wonder how things could be happening the way they are, yet the vision of the future isn't dazzling or creative enough to justify the setting. I found myself pondering paradoxes and the ability to change the future, and while I didn't expect a definitive explanation of those issues, it would have been nice to have seen them addressed, even in a light-hearted manner. The story just doesn't add up to much despite the gimmicks and the sometimes frantic editing. The wacky family kind of comedy that seems to be developing gets pushed aside by the time travel plot.

Q: Well, is this a good family movie?
A: I think anyone would enjoy this in 3-D, when it's easier to overlook the weaker aspects of the screenplay. Otherwise, it probably is best geared to families. It seems to me that this one was aimed all along at a younger crowd than, say, the Pixar films, which take a more all-ages approach. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But given this and last year's disappointing Chicken Little, you have to really appreciate that Pixar is around. The other Disney movies are, especially by comparison, too hyper and not inspired enough.
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