News Round Up/August 31st

E: Nerd and pop culture worlds collide – Neil Patrick Harris is going to be a guest judge on American Idol.

I don’t know, maybe liking NPH doesn’t make me a nerd, even though what I really like him for are Doctor Horrible and his stint as the Shoe Fairy on Sesame Street. Both of which involve singing, as did his hilarious turn as host of the Tonys. So to this news I say, Huzzah! (I am still rooting for them to have Paula back on the show, though.)

C: I don’t watch Idol, but I’d give anything to see a crossover with How I Met Your Mother that involved Barney singing.

M: So, generally I don’t really care who the guest judges on Idol are. They don’t tend to add much, and I don’t watch the show for the judges (and contrary to his belief, NO ONE watches it for Seacrest). However, NPH will definitely suit up for it, and bring the awesome.

E: Speaking of Neil Patrick Harris, have you heard about Accomplice, a bit of interactive theater he’s helped produce? It’s part mystery, part history tour, part bar hopping, and apparently all awesome.

C: In other words, it’s the “Theater of Life” gag in The Man Who Knew Too Little, done for real instead of as the premise for a hilarious spy spoof. Presumably NPH’s version doesn’t involve actual gangsters.

E: My aforementioned friend A has done Accomplice and had a fantastic time. If they don’t launch the promised version near us, we’re going to have to make a pilgrimage to NYC next summer and try it out.

Speaking of friends, our family friend Sam Moscoso sang at the Memorial Service for the late Senator Kennedy last Friday. Sam sang the first verse of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” in case you’ve already seen it. He’s a stupendous talent, whom we’ve known since, gosh, M, he was in junior high? Or earlier? (C: He and I were campers together in junior high, so you wouldn’t have met him until later, E. M: yep, I first met him through knowing his older sister when she was still in her early high school years, and he totally upstaged the Irish Tenors. woo!) Anyway, it was nice to see a friend during such a sad event. And here’s a photo from the funeral that made me smile – it’s so familiar and odd at the same time. (M: I think he’s sitting alone because everyone else is trying to avoid the bolts of lightening that accompany Jack into any house of God.)

And speaking of sad events, the quibbling siblings are very upset to learn that Chuck isn’t supposed to be returning until March. MARCH?!!! Are they kidding? Quibbling siblings don’t like waiting 9 months for new episodes.

C: It was bad enough when Battlestar Galactica made us, but they at least had the excuse of being on cable. This seriously feels like sabotage; is NBC is trying to kill off Chuck? It must be awful for them, having a show that’s so beloved…

M: I have two takes on this, and neither are that bad. First, with shows like 24 and Lost, and to some extent BSG (though that’s a different story, any show that takes a “mid-season” 13 month hiatus is pushing it with their fans) running only in the spring, I’ve gotten used to this.

Second, is that I feel like Chuck being on in the spring, closer to when network execs make their decisions on the next season, is better. Kind of like a more organic version of the ridiculous crap pulled by films trying to angle for Oscars by “releasing” in two theaters on December 31st, then coming out in theaters for real right about when everyone is set to vote, and thus being fresh in voters minds. The movies that came out the previous March usually get forgotten. Well, in Chuck’s case, at the very least it will be fresh in the viewers minds, so they can pull off another campaign like this year’s to get the show saved if need be (which hopefully it won’t).

C: Here’s a completely unrelated link that brought me joy. We haven’t commented much on the Twilight phenomenon, because none of the siblings are fans. Know who else isn’t a fan? Glamorous actress and icon of awesome Lauren Bacall. She revealed in an interview that her granddaughter sat her down to watch “the greatest vampire film ever.” Says Bacall: “After the ‘film’ was over I wanted to smack her across the head with my shoe.” One more reason to love Ms. Bacall!

E: Hee hee! That’s fantastic. Love Lauren Bacall. Final bit – Final Destination 47 (or whatever) wins the weekend’s box office. Horror movies are another thing the siblings do not love. Let’s hope for better next week.

Movie Review: Funny People

M: I got to see Funny People right around when I saw The Hangover, and they are two vastly different movies.  Going into it I had been warned that despite the title, it wasn’t particularly a funny movie.  That turned out to be wrong…  and yet right.

Funny People is about stand up comics, and specifically about Ira Wright (a slimmed-down Seth Rogan), an aspiring comic who catches a break by getting to write for and be personal assistant to industry legend George Simmons (Adam Sandler).  The movie centers around two things, Ira’s striving to become a successful comic and George’s battle with a rare blood cancer.  Comedy and cancer, a very logical combo for a movie, right? Continue reading

5 Classic Crime Thrillers that Satisfy

C: Since our recent list of 10 Unmissable Film Classics mostly included comedies, I thought it might be nice to supplement with a few smaller posts, covering some of the neglected genres.

Here you’ll find five excellent crime thrillers that the Quibbling Siblings love — some dark but ultimately redeeming (we don’t go in for unmitigated bleakness in our family), some on the lighter side — all worth tracking down.  For the purposes of this list, anything pre-1970 is considered part of the “classic” film era; I’m lifting the ban on color films, mostly because I couldn’t bear to leave out Charade a second time.

bigsleep_posterwideThe Big Sleep (1946) is a noir gem, based on a Raymond Chandler novel about private detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe may be hard-edged, but he’s much more sympathetic than Sam Spade, the detective Bogie plays in The Maltese Falcon. This film finds Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) investigating a case of blackmail against the wealthy Sternwoods, unraveling a complex conspiracy with the eldest daughter (Lauren Bacall) at its center. What makes this film great are the many fantastic dry, snappy exchanges (“You’re not very tall.” “I try to be”). As a side note, Bacall’s costumes are stunners.

keylargo_posterKey Largo (1948) pairs the same romantic leads as above, in a more psychologically taut picture with bang-up cast. Bogart plays Frank McCloud, a WWII vet who goes to visit the widow and father (Bacall and Lionel Barrymore) of a friend from the war, only to find their run-down Florida hotel overrun with a gang of mobsters led by Edward G. Robinson. Tensions rise indoors while a hurricane rages outside. The mounting intensity, the excellent lead and supporting performances, and the arc of Bogart’s character — from world-weary cynic to reluctant hero — make this a movie not to be missed.

rearwindow_posterRear Window (1954) is another one of those totally classic pictures that too few people have actually seen. Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer stuck in his apartment with a broken leg, who whiles away his time in the days before cable TV by watching his neighbors through a zoom lens. The stories he invents about their lives entertain him and girlfriend Grace Kelly (more amazing costumes) until he begins to suspect one neighbor of murder. It’s a concept that has been spoofed and imitated dozens of times, but thanks to Hitchcock’s genius, the original version’s as tense and terrifying as it must have been in 1954 when the story was fresh.

charade_posterCharade (1963) has an edge, but unlike the other four on this list, it’s a barrel of fun as well: a spy caper set in Paris, starring two of history’s most charming actors, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn plays Reggie Lampert, a socialite whose husband has turned up dead and who finds herself menaced by three men who all believe she knows the whereabouts of a fortune stolen by her husband. Grant plays a stranger — or is he? — who comes to her aid, and Walter Matthau is fantastic as a CIA agent trying to keep tabs on impulsive Reggie. It’s all thrills, double-crosses, false identities and sparkling flirtation, all the time.

heatofthenight_posterIn the Heat of the Night (1967) is another tense, psychological picture. An industrialist is murdered in a small Southern town and the police arrest a black man waiting for a train. But the arrested man, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), turns out to be a top police detective from Philadelphia. When his name is cleared, Tibbs stays on to get to the bottom of the crime, much to the discomfort of the racist cops he’s working with. Rod Steiger turns in a memorable performance as the police chief who slowly comes to respect Tibbs, who is a detective of the most satisfyingly kind: 100% cool and competent.

Plus one honorable mention… Continue reading

Fantasy Television and a Game of Thrones

C: For half a century, science fiction has had a significant presence on television.  The number of sci fi shows waxes and wanes, but there’s always a few popular ones on the air.

Fantasy?  Not so much.  There are always TV shows with some fantastical element (the heroine is a witch, the hero receives tomorrow’s newspaper today, the piemaker can raise the dead), but heroic fantasy — sword-and-sorcery — well, how many shows of that type have aired on primetime?  Yet the genres of sci fi and fantasy have a huge overlap in their markets, and are both big sellers in novel form.  Why is fantasy, so popular in bookstores, so little represented on TV?

I can’t answer that, but it may be that this is changing.  This past year, with little fanfare, ABC began airing The Legend of the Seeker, a sword-and-sorcery series based on Terry Goodkind’s bestselling Sword of Truth books, one of those series where each book alone would make an effective doorstop and the author shows no sign of ever wrapping up.

Now HBO has begun production on Game of Thrones, a TV show based on George R. R. Martin’s doorstopper fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. (Yes, with those middle initials, it does seem that Martin’s parents consecrated him to his profession in the cradle.  He can’t sidestep blame for his wizard beard, though.)

With HBO’s money, it’s no surprise that they would be able to pull in a good cast, but the group they’ve announced thus far is nothing short of fantastic.  Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings‘ Boromir) will be taking a lead role, with Jennifer Ehle (who starred opposite Colin Firth in the famous Pride & Prejudice miniseries) playing his wife.  Also cast are Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral, Elf), Harry Lloyd (Robin Hood‘s Will Scarlet), Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors; also Georgiana Darcy in the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice), and Iain Glen (Mr. Preston in the excellent and highly-recommended Wives & Daughters miniseries). Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom M discussed in the post on Virtuality, will also be taking yet another chance at not getting his show canceled.

This cast is good enough to get me to watch almost anything.  And I like fantasy.  I’m glad to see it given a chance in a high-budget, high-class format.  Maybe it’ll convince people that the sword-and-sorcery genre has a place on television beyond Xena: Warrior Princess reruns.  But I’m still not sure I’ll be a regular viewer of Game of Thrones, and not just because I don’t get HBO.

See, there’s a problem. Continue reading

Run Run Run Runway

E: Last night we had not one, not two, but three and half hours of Project Runway – perhaps in an attempt to make up for the fact that the show should have aired when, this time LAST year? Long enough ago that Heidi Klum is hugely pregnant in the All-Star edition and super slim in the ‘current’ season. Long enough ago, anyway, to leave their core audience (like moi!) practically panting for more.

And More is what we got. An All Star Challenge, the original show, and a half hour spin off about the models. More character, more wackiness, more weeping, more frenetic sewing and more swanky settings – but, on the other hand, less innovation in the challenges. You heard it here first; spoilers under the jump. Continue reading

Top Chef Masters Finale Review

M: Well, Top Chef Masters sure finished with a flourish! The final three contestants, Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless and Michael Chiarello, were taken to the Getty Villa (the former home of Getty gas magnate J. Paul Getty, which is now a gorgeous museum that I have been fortunate enough to visit), where they are given the details of what the final challenge will be. Host Kelly Choi let them know that they would be cooking for her, the three usual critics for the show (Gael Greene, Jay Rayner and James Oseland), the host and judges for the regular Top Chef (Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons) as well as all of the previous winners of Top Chef (Harold Dieterle, Ilan Hall, Hung Huyhn, Stephanie Izard and Hosea Rosenberg). What they would cook for them, to me, is a good a challenge as they have ever done.

They were to cook a 4 course meal, and what each course was was pure genius. (E: BEST FINALE CHALLENGE EVER.) The first course was their first food memory. The second, the meal that made them want to become a chef. The third, the meal that signifies them opening their first restaurant. The last course is their “next” meal, representing where they are headed with their culinary skill. Taking in those four meals pretty much encapsulates the essence of a chef. The only other things I could think that they could even potentially add would be their signature/favorite dish, which they already did, and maybe the dish that was the biggest hit of their career.

And unlike what often happens in the finale of Top Chef, no one botched it. Each of the chefs hit on at least three of their four dishes, and all got really high marks. They also took us through their histories along the way, describing each meal and why they chose it, with the show throwing in pictures of them in their younger days to accent the stories. Continue reading

Top Chef Masters Finale Preview

M: Last time we chatted about Top Chef Masters they had secured 5 of the 6 chefs that would be competing in the Masters round. In the sixth episode, Oprah’s former personal chef, and new restaurateur Art Smith topped a strong field of four to become the last master to the champions round.

The champions round itself is much more reminiscent of Top Chef, reverting to the traditional format of the same competitors staying and one being eliminated each episode. From the looks of it, they are filming each episode in one day, an this week’s finale is the final three, so they were able to pull off taking only about a week’s worth of time from the chefs lasting the longest. Couple that with the exposure they are getting, and the competitive nature they are all showing, and this looks like a very repeatable concept for Bravo.

The six champions, Hubert Keller, Suzanne Tracht, Anita Lo, Rick Bayless, Michael Chiarello and the aforementioned Art Smith, immediately split into teams to take on the quickfire challenge where they have to shuck oysters, dice onions, butcher chickens and then whip eggs until they can stay in a bowl upside-down for 5 seconds. The team of Keller, Lo and Bayless took the challenge, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised, as I felt that based on what we had seen so far they were the three strongest/best chefs in the entire competition. Still, if you saw the same quickfire in Season 3, then you saw eventual winner Hung Hyunh butcher chickens faster than Superman or The Flash could have. None of the masters came up with anything resembling that mind-blowing performance, which was kind of neat, and kind of disappointing at the same time. Continue reading