40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sorry for the lack of posts

Sorry gang, school has been keeping me busy and there hasn't been much time to keep up with two blogs. Posting here will probably be sporatic. For (hopefully) more up-to-date postings, you can visit my main site, What's In Scott's Head.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking

Thank You for Smoking is a surprisingly hilarous, biting satire of lobbying — in the form of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Played with perfection by Eckhart, Naylor becomes a character we, the audience, want to see more of — he turns someone who should be unlikeable into a sympathetic character.

Our first introduction to Naylor is on a talk show about smoking and cancer. Naylor shares the stage with a 15-year-old boy who is dying from cancer (and had recently stopped smoking), and Naylor turns the audience's hostility towards him around by saying Big Tobacco wants the boy to live — so he can continue to be a smoker — and it's the anti-smoking bunch that wants him to die. It's a hilarious opening to a great film, directed with unexpected maturity by 29-year-old Jason Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman). Reitman, who also wrote the screenplay (based on the book by Christopher Buckley), deftly conducts the actions on-screen, maintaining a certain tone and not veering the film off the path of satire.

Naylor meets frequently with his friends, fellow lobbyists, known as the "MOD" squad (Merchants of Death): alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and firearms lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner). In their funny scenes, the trio argues over which of their products causes the most deaths.

After his talk show appearance, Naylor becomes something of a celebrity, and a Washington, D.C. journalist, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) wants an interview. Naylor not only grants the interview, but the two begin an affair, with Naylor, well, making a lot of what he thinks are off-the-record comments to Holloway. The comments not only turn out to be on-the-record, but they end up in the article Holloway writes about Naylor. Needless to say, his world is turned upside down.

With everything going on in his world, Nick Naylor is trying to be a good father to his son, Joey. There's a great scene when Nick comes to Joey's school for one of those "what do your parents do for a living" talks. "Please don't ruin my childhood," Joey pleads as his father talks to the kids, eventually cross-examining a little girl who says her mother said smoking is bad for you. "Oh, is your mother a doctor?" Naylor asks the bewildered little girl. "She's hardly a credible expert."

There is a sub-plot involving Naylor's firm trying to get smoking put back into the movies. Naylor meets with movie producer Jeff Megall and the two figure out how to get smoking back into movies: set the film in the future, after cigarettes have been declared safe.

Meanwhile, a powerful senator, Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy), is holding hearings on having a poison label placed on packs of cigarettes. The plot winds its way down to Naylor testifying before the Senator's committee, pointing out that Finistirre's home state, Vermont, produces cheese that clogs arteries...should cheese have warning labels, too? "The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!" Finistirre fumes.

There are many great moments in Thank You for Smoking, and the film as a whole is just teriffic. The satire is biting and skewers all targets equally. Jason Reitman will be a name to look for in the future. He has a great future ahead of him, if Thank You for Smoking is any indication. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

TV Review: Nanny 9/11(3-24-06)

I've previously written about Nanny 9/11 in a general way, focusing on the series as a whole. Today I'm writing about a specific episode (aired on March 24, 2006), which was completely fascinating and a little different than other episodes in the series. This episode provides enough material to continually raise the question, "Why does this family want America to know how horrible the parents are?" Or, when you get right down to it, why would the parents want to know how horrible they are? Is a brief moment of fame worth the public humiliation? I don't understand it at all.

We meet the Longairc family: husband and step-father Adam; wife and mother Michelle; and her three children: son Sean, eight; five-year-old son Adam, a charming child who bites, screams, and likes to drop the F-bomb. It's so cute when children swear, isn't it? And six-year-old daughter Erica, the only child of the three we don't see acting like they had been raised in the wild by a pack of wolves.

Adam is in the unfortunate position of being a step-father. Now, before I get complaints that I'm calling step-parents "unfortunate," I'm only referring to this situation. I know there are plenty of families with step-parents that do not have the issues the Longairc family have, and are thriving. I can relate to Adam as I'm a step-parent. I came into my step-child's life when he was nine, and immediately wanted to jump in with my own style of discipline. Big mistake, since his mother had her own style, and our styles were not the same.

For several years it created strife until I finally decided that I would not continue in a disciplining role, but rather try to be a positive influence and a mentor. And things got better fast. I know, all experiences vary, but I know there are some of you out there who know what I'm talking about. But I digress.

Back to the Longairic family. We watch step-father Adam attempt (unsuccessfully) to bring so discipline into the family. The kids are defiant and mom Michelle is not what you'd call a disciplinarian. So Adam has his hands full as he fruitlessly attempts to bring some order out of chaos. Time to bring in Nanny Stella!

If you've never seen the show, the format is pretty simple. On the first day, the nanny will observe the family and take notes. At the end of the day, she'll discuss her observations with the parents. The next day, the nanny brings in a set of family rules, and the rest of the episode (normally) shows us how, by the end of the week, life is ice cream and puppies for the family as the children magically transform into little angels. Not this time! Nope. That's what made this particular episode so unusual.

Sure, Nanny Stella came up with family rules, but throughout the episode, mother Michelle refuses to follow the rules or enforce them. In fact, she even refuses to acknowledge that her children are...difficult, despite saying so at the beginning of the episode.

Poor Stella gives it her best shot, but nothing. Michelle basically wants Stella to leave due to the fact that Stella has questioned Michelle's parenting skills (or, in her case, lack of parenting skills).

And so it goes in this train wreck of an episode, culminating with five-year-old Adam punching, kicking and spitting in Stella's face, all while his mother sits back and enjoys the show. You know she wants the tyke to assault the woman who dared to question her skills as a mother. It's all very sad, really.

By the end of the week, Nanny Stella hasn't really accomplished anything, which is unusual for this show, and off she goes, with no emotional departure that is the norm of Nanny 9/11. We get a sort-of follow up to find out that step-father Adam is attempting to follow the rules set up by Nanny Stella, and even Michelle acknowledges she's going to try and follow them. Which seems unlikely. I wonder if we'll see this couple on Divorce Court?

All said, the Longairc family episode made for interesting television. Recommended.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Help Scott Get Something for Nothing

I'm trying to get one of those free Xbox 360s. It's actually a legitimate offer. You may have heard about people getting free Ipods. Same company. Basically you sign up for one offer (like a trial subscription to Rhapsody) and get eight referrals, and you get a free Xbox 360. So, I'm asking you, dear reader, to help me in getting my own Xbox 360 (and you can get one, too). Just click this link to get started.

Note: it looks like the easiest offer to get the free Xbox 360 is the Real Arcade trial. It's a 30-day free membership. Sign up, and cancel before the 30 days are up. That's it. Once you've done that, you just need to get eight people to sign up and do the same. Pretty easy. Thanks bunches. Now, on to a television review.

The Sierra Club's documentary series, The Sierra Club Chronicles, continues with the third episode in the series, Dioxin, Duplicity and DuPont (airing March 23 on Link TV, channel 375 on DIRECTV, and channel 9410 on the Dish Network). Did the DuPont plant in DeLisle, Mississippi contribute to people working at and living near the plant developing diseases like cancer and kidney failure, and other illnesses?

Dioxin, Duplicity and DuPont alleges that the pollution emitted from DuPont did indeed contribute to those diseases. However, the show fails to provide any compelling evidence that DuPont was indeed responsible for those diseases. It's for that reason I cannot give Dioxin, Duplicity and DuPont a full recommendation. Without any strong evidence that DuPont's pollution contributed to those illnesses, we're left with anecdotal evidence. The main charge is that the dioxins emitted by the plant have caused the illnesses in the community, with more than 2,000 people filing lawsuits against DuPont for contracting various illnesses.

We meet Myra Marsh, a former DuPont worker, who developed a condition that weakened her legs to the point that she cannot walk; and Glen Strong, an oyster fisherman, who developed cancer in 1998, allegedly due to the pollution the DuPont plant fed into St. Louis Bay. Dr. Ed Clark, a marine biologist, claims DuPont released heavy metal containments and dioxins into St. Louis Bay. Again, we hit a wall in assigning blame to DuPont: no evidence.

Not that I'm condoning any environmental impact that may have been caused by DuPont, but the show failed to provide any evidence at all to support the claim that DuPont's pollution contributed to the various diseases contracted by workers at the plant and members of the community. Did the Sierra Club conduct its own independent research into how much pollution was being pumped into St. Louis Bay? We, the viewers, do not know.

Did the Sierra Club conduct research into the levels of air pollution? Again, we, the viewers, do not know, or at least are not told. As it turns out, the Sierra Club did, in fact, conduct research (from this item in the Mississippi Press). This data should have been included in this episode, but for reasons unknown, was not. The show jumps to Glen Strong in court, suing DuPont for the cancer he developed in 1998. The jury concluded that DuPont had polluted and caused Strong's cancer, awarding him $14 million dollars.

The Sierra Club Chronicles is produced in part by Brave New Films (Outfoxed; Uncovered: The War on Iraq), who usually do a good job in their documentaries, but at least in this one case, fail to provide any compelling evidence that DuPont was responsible for the illnesses contracted in DeLisle, Mississippi. Perhaps an hour-long format would have allowed for the introduction of evidence by the Sierra Club of the plant's pollution levels. With only a half-hour, there's a limited amount of information that can be presented.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hooked on House

My new favorite TV show is Fox's House. I'd been seeing commercials for it for weeks but had never watched an episode. I finally did, and must say I was impressed.

First, Hugh Laurie is great as Dr. Greg House, a doctor who is a great diagnostician but hates patients (he thinks they all lie). Each week he and his group of young doctors tackle a different medical mystery. The episodes follow a particular formula, which can seem repetitious at times, but then House will do something crazy in order to cure the disease/ailment/whatever the patient is suffering from.

Hugh Laurie is a British actor. If he looks a little familiar to you, well, if you're a fan of Rowan Atkinson's BBC series Blackadder, that's where you've seen Laurie before. Maybe this will jog your memory:

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That's Laurie on the left.

I'm enjoying the season one episodes on DVD, courtesy of Netflix...what would I do without Netflix?

On the opposite end of good is the new film, The Hills Have Eyes. I endured it over the weekend, and here's the review:

At what point did all of the creative people in the world stop producing material? Did all of the screenwriters just run out of material? Who can explain Hollywood's obsession with pointlessly remaking old movies for a "new" generation?

Writer/Director Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes is a loose remake of Wes Craven's 1977 cult favorite of the same name. The plot is pretty simple and can be summed up thusly: crazed cannibal mutants terrorize the Brady family. Okay, it's not the Brady family, but do you remember the Grand Canyon episode of The Brady Bunch, in which they get trapped in a ghost town? The Hills Have Eyes has a similar setting, only instead of a crazed Jim Backus, you have assorted crazed mutant cannibals who are in the mood for some human flesh.

Why mutants? Well, it turns out that the mutants are kin to miners who wouldn't leave their New Mexico desert homes while nuclear testing was being conducted, and as a result you've got a bunch of blood-thirsty mutants just waiting to try out some human flesh tikka masala. (Mmmm...tikka masala....)

We open at a deserted gas station. It's one of those creepy gas stations in horror movies where no one seems to actually be there and you know that the proprietor will have a crazed look in his eyes but will seem nice and will give folks directions to their destination — or, rather, directions to a short-cut that will take folks to the blood-thirsty mutant cannibals. Why couldn't they call the movie that? Blood Thirsty Mutant Cannibals. I like it.

We meet the Carter family, making the trek across the New Mexico desert on their way to California. In need of gas and directions, the family stops at the aforementioned gas station. The crazy gas station owner fills up the family's SUV and tells them about a short-cut through the desert that will shave two hours off of their trip. Everyone thinks accepting directions for a crazy man is a good idea and they speed off.

Of course, it's a trap. A few of the crazed mutants lay out some spikes that blow up the tires of the SUV, causing it to crash into a huge boulder, where it is totaled. Patriarch Bob Carter (Ted Levine) decides to go get some help, enlisting the help of his son-in-law, Doug (Aaron Stanford). Just like Mike and Peter did in that episode of The Brady Bunch. Left behind is matriarch Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan) and daughters Lynne (Vinessa Shaw) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) and son Bobby (Dan Byrd).

What eventually follows is a lot of bloodshed, as the hungry mutants blow away various members of the Carter family. It's in these moments when you'll awaken from your stupor to enjoy a few seconds of gore. I'll admit, some of the gore effects are well done. There's a great shotgun blast to the head scene.

The film does have its gross-out moments. Gore hounds might be happy with the various shootings, bludgeonings, and, in one case, impalement by miniature U.S. flag. The Carter family is very patriotic, you see.

And so it goes, moments of complete boredom followed by a few seconds of bloodshed, and all the while you're cursing Wes Craven under your breath for actually taking part in this travesty (he's a producer), as you check the time every ten seconds to see if you're any closer to the film's end.

Come it does, and as I left the theater I realized I had lost 107 minutes of my life, and I was sad. Oh well, maybe that remake of The Omen will be good.

The verdict: zero stars.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

We're Back!

As I've been doing a lot of writing at Blogcritics, I thought the time was right to bring 40 Hours back to life. I'll be posting my movie/music/TV reviews here, as well as my thoughts of the media in general. To get us started, here's my latest review, for the Season One DVD set of the sitcom Grounded for Life. Enjoy!

From the production company that brought America The Cosby Show and Roseanne (Carsey-Werner productions), Grounded for Life debuted on the Fox network in 2001. Starring Donal Logue (Blade, The Tao of Steve) as Sean Finnerty and Megyn Price (Mystery, Alaska) as Claudia Finnerty, Grounded for Life was a very funny show with a unique sensibility. The Finnerty clan included daughter Lilly (Lynsey Bartilson), sons Jimmy (Griffin Frazen) and Henry (Jake Burbage), Sean's brother, Eddie (the hilarious Kevin Corrigan) and Sean's father, Walt (Richard Riehle).

Grounded for Life aired on Fox for two seasons before being cancelled. It was picked up by the WB where it aired for three more seasons.

If you've never seen the show, you're in for a treat. It's genuinely funny and each episode had a unique plot structure, mostly told in flashback form, usually with Sean and Eddie explaining some predicament they've gotten themselves into. The writing is sharp and the cast's timing is excellent.

Grounded for Life: Season One includes all 20 episodes from the show's first season, including the pilot, "Lilly B. Goode." It's a four-DVD set with some excellent extras, starting with the audio commentary from the cast and producers on ten episodes. Disc four contains the other extras, including interviews with cast members Donal Logue, Megyn Price, Lynsey Bartilson, and the show's creators, Mike Schiff and Bill Martin. There is also a blooper reel.

Grounded for Life was shot on film, and the DVD transfer looks pretty good. Like most sitcoms the show is presented in full frame. Colors are sharp, but the transfer suffers from some grain issues. Audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and sounds okay, basically what you'd hear coming out of your own home's stereo system.

Grounded for Life never found the audience it deserved. It's a funny family show with likeable characters, great writing, and a quirky sense of humor. It's certainly better than some of the current sitcoms airing on The WB (Twins, I'm looking at you), or other networks, for that matter. With the Season One DVD set, you'll have the chance to experience a great show, perhaps for the first time. Highly recommended. If you have cable, Grounded for Life is in syndication on the ABC Family Network. Check it out, you'll be glad you did, if you enjoy a light-hearted family comedy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Thanks For Watching

Dear reader,

I have decided to close down 40 Hours of Television. As you've noticed, I haven't been posting here much. Instead I'd like to direct you to Blogcritics, a great web magazine covering a broad range of topics. You can find my Blogcritics archive here. If you're a blogger, and want more exposure for your work, I'd encourage you to sign up at Blogcritics. The site gets anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 visitors a day.

For those of you who have been checking in here regularly, thank you for your support. See you at Blogcritics, or my other web home, What's In Scott's Head.