The Couch Potato Chronicles
By Jim Murray
A Bi-weekly review column that provides eye opening editorials and
honest reviews of movies, video, TV shows and sporting events.
KNOW YOUR SPUDS
TWO XL SPUDS Absolute Must See
TWO SPUDS Definitely Worth Checking Out
1.5 SPUD Worth Checking Out, But Don’t Expect A Ton
ONE SPUD Not Worth It, Except For The Hardcore Fan
NO SPUD 4U Just Plain Sucks
Unless I miss my guess, we are just coming off the last mini-heat wave of the summer. It’s late on Saturday night. Spud Central is just the right temperature. Not too warm, not too cold. Good sleeping weather, or so they say on the Weather Channel. Rain is on the way tomorrow, which will make it tricky for the Wife, as her cousin Greg is supposed to be bringing over a Japanese maple for the Wife’s garden. No fun doing that sort of stuff in the rain. Myself I avoid all but the most superficial aspects of gardening, like watering and admiring, I’m happy to do those things at any time. But I don’t have what you would call a green thumb or anything even remotely resembling one. I’m convinced that the gigantic Hoya in my office is thriving only because I have never made any attempt to take care of him. But that’s another story.
HEART OF GOLD (2 SPUDS)
This is a concert film that was directed by Jonathan Demme, who is almost as good as Martin Scorsese at this sort of thing. The star of the concert was Neil Young. Neil has been in the music business for just about as long as I have been seriously listening to music. He comes from Winnipeg, but lives somewhere in the big sky country on a ranch. He is one of the greatest songwriters and performers in the history of rock and is as controversial as anyone short of Bob Dylan.
This concert takes place at the Rhyman Auditorium in Nashville and for anyone who grew up in the 70s is a very special concert indeed. Because guys like Neil Young are constantly proving just how durable their music is, in this day and age of puff pop, Neil’s music still has amazing punch and purity. His back up band consists of some of the finest players anywhere and the sound they produce is as rich and vibrant as anything you have ever heard. This concert was filmed just a few months after Neil underwent for surgery on a brain aneurism, recovered very quickly and wrote a whole bunch of new songs which became the album Prairie Wind.
Neil is one of those larger than life characters that fill your brain pan. He seems to always be kind of snarling and he writes a lot of stuff that would lead you to believe that he’s quite pissed off about the world. Yet in this concert, his patter in between songs is surprisingly gentle. He’s as much a family man and a rancher as he is a rock and roll icon. And the fact that he’s Canadian gives him a kind of common sense perspective on American life, which is one of the topics that colours a lot of his earlier work especially.
If you are any kind of fan of Neil Young and his work or even if you aren’t, this is a great concert film and one that will really take you back to the roots of Post Beatles rock as we know it. It’s amazing.
BROOKLYN RULES (1.5 SPUDS)
This is one of those movies that feels like a couple dozen or so you have already seen. It’s about 3 guys who grow up in Brooklyn. One is a mook who just wants to get married and work for the post office. The other goes to Columbia and has a pretty girlfriend from Connecticut, the third is a mobster in training. It’s all very well written and even has a poor man’s Goodfellas voice over. But there’s nothing really original going on here. And certainly Freddie Prinze Junior and Scott Caan (James Caan Junior) are no Ray Liotta or Robert DiNiro…not even close.
I have the feeling that this movie got made because it was written by Terrance Winter who was one of the writers who worked on the Sopranos. This is a hell of a lot more lightweight than that. Let’s call it the Falsettos.
This movie was pleasant enough, had some good support from Alec Baldwin and had some interesting things to say about friendship, Yadda Yadda. I didn’t dislike it. I just thought I coulda got more bang for my buck here.
BIG LOVE (ONE SPUD)
This HBO series deals with the trials and tribulations of a polygamist family in Utah. Bill Paxton, who the wife doesn’t like very much, plays this big box store owner who has three wives. They all live next door to each other on this little suburban street and each of the wives has a couple of kids, so there are teenagers, youngsters and babies. One of Bill’s wives is the daughter of Harry Dean Stanton who is the head of the polygamist Mormon clan, who also owns a share of Bill’s business. Bill’s dad, played by the amazing Bruce Dern is being poisoned by his wife. Bill’s second wife is a shopioholic. Bill’s third wife is just barely legal.
Mostly Bill just drives around in his SUV and worries about stuff. Like opening a new store. paying three mortgages, keeping his parents from killing eachother, keeping his father in law from robbing him blind and keeping his wives all sexually satisfied, which, fortunately for him, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of trouble doing.
Life is so chaotic in this weird family that there is hardly any time for living. So you can imagine that, as the fly on the wall that you are when you are watching this show, you are being kept in a state of high anxiety, because it’s well done enough for you to actually be able to empathize with the going’s on. And that’s exactly why I wasn’t crazy about this show. It’s like watching the goings on in some sort of asylum. It’s interesting but it’s not very entertaining.
I like HBO shows and I will continue to try them on for size whenever a new one appears on the horizon. But this one is very much an acquired taste, which I, sadly, did not acquire.
SLEEPER CELL (1.5 SPUDS)
I don’t have a lot to say about this than I haven’t already said about 24 a couple of times.,
This show is a slightly off kilter clone of 24, right down to the kill everybody at the mall by putting anthrax in the HVAC system caper. The only difference is that the hero is an undercover fed, who unlike Jack Bower, who only crosses the line in minor league ways, actually does some pretty serious stuff.
If you like high tension Al Quaeda-in-the-USA type plotting, then this series will be right up your street. The big bonus is that it would appear that you get three or four episodes on each CD, which is cool too. This is actually a 2 Spud series. It just loses half a Spud for cloning the 24 plotline. Tsk. Tsk.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (1.5 SPUDS)
This movie is very good. It was even better when I saw it way back in the day when it was called The Conversation, which starred Gene Hackman as an overzealous government drone conducting a remote surveillance, and getting way too involved in his work. Transplant this to East Germany in the years before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and there you have it.
This movie won the Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language film, and deservedly so. It’s well put together and pulls all the right strings to give you a real good impression of what life must have been like in East Germany, when the government virtually had carte blanche to conduct full scale surveillance on anybody they thought might have been a threat to socialism. ie the state ie. the fat cats who ran things.
This movie is stark and simple and moves along at a fairly brisk pace considering what its about. I enjoyed it, although I have to admit, the more into it I got the more depressing in started to feel. But hey, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was trying to do. And we could debate the merits of that for a long time.
There’s no great big overriding point to this movie. If you’re into foreign films, you should probably see it, if only just to be able to say that you have.
WE ARE MARSHALL (2 SPUDS)
This is an absolutely outstanding film about Marshall University, in West Virginia. In 1970, pretty much their entire NCAA division 2 football team and a whole bunch of other people were killed a horrific plane crash just a few miles from their airport.
This was one of the worst tragedies of its kind, and it sent the entire town of Huntington reeling. Due to overwhelming demand by the students and residents, they immediately began to rebuild their team. The movie takes place during that first rebuilding year.
We Are Marshall was directEd by a cat named McG, whose big claim to save heretofore was the Charlie’s Angel’s movies. Mr McG also executive producer of several TV series including
The OC, Supernatural and the new series called Chuck (which will be reviewed soon). McG is a pretty talented guy and in this film, with the help of Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Ian McShane and David Straithern, does and splendid job of recreating the 1970s, not so much with sets and old cars, but with clothes and hairstyles and attitudes. This is a story that is as much about the kind of courage and hard work it takes to re-build something that has been devastated as it is about dealing with tragedy and honoring the past as it is about football, even though the football is very good.
We Are Marshall is a sad story told in a very upbeat way. You’ve got to be very talented to pull something like that off. And Mr. McG is certainly up for the McTask.
K-VILLE (TWO SPUDS) (MONDAY OR TUESDAY ON FOX)
IN A NUTSHELL: K-Ville is the new nickname for New Orleans, post Katrina. This is a cop show which is set there, with plots that revolve around life after the levees broke. It centres around a black cop who is determined to help rebuild the city and his partner, who is actually a convict who escaped during the hurricane, joined the army and fought in Afghanistan, then came back and faked his way onto the desperate police force there. FEARLESS FORECAST: This show is extremely powerful and intense, and it really looks like there could be a lot of great story lines for it to roll out. It is shot in a very monochrome style, (a la Homicide), which is understandable, since New Orleans in living colour would probably be not very photogenic. K-Ville is a solid show with a number of layers and could very well become the first big hit of the season. However, having said that, it could turn out to be too depressing and guilt generating for a lot of people to want to see every week. Edgy shows like K-Ville always walk that line. I’m hoping it hangs around. POST SCRIPT: Evidently, it’s up against Heros this fall, which is not a good thing in TV land. So if you’re VRC is still blinking 12:00, you now have a pretty good reason to read the manual and learn how to use it. (I wonder how many good shows die each year, because the Neilsen ratings don’t take into account the shows that people videotape and watch later.
GOSSIP GIRL (DUH)
This is where I fall completely out of bed with television. This is a show designed exclusively for people who use the word uber to describe stuff, have more logos in their wardrobe than a NasCar driver, and who think of Paris Hilton as a modern day Mother Theresa. I don’t even know what it is about. All I know is that it appears to be written and produced by the vacuous for the nouveau vacuous. It is chock full of the kinds of commercials that appeal to the fashion and ego obsessed, and is really nothing more than filler in between the commercials. The plot, as far as I could discern, before I felt a big hurl coming on, was famous deb comes back to the Big Apple from wherever she was debbing, gets her picture taken by gossip girl, who then forwards it to all of her gossipy friends, thus making it the talk of the town. If you watch enough MTV, you’ll figure out that most of the stuff being produced for the young and stupid these days is pretty shallow. But then, why waste a lot of money on things like story lines that anyone would actually choose to follow, when that would just be an uber distraction from trying to figure out which designer fashions are being worn and which hot restaurants are being frequented Yadda Yadda. If I sound cynical about all this, you’re damn right I am. Watching this drek was 12 minutes I will never get back. I sure am glad I’m not in my 20’s anymore. Because if this show becomes a hit, I would say that it’s only a matter of time before the world slips off its axis and starts careening wildly toward the sun. And neither of those thoughts are very appealing.
OK That’s it for me. The new flyers are here so I have to make the big grocery list, Plus I have a ton of work to catch up on. See you in a fortnight.