Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Stuff I Watched February Edition

February is a couple of days shorter, so maybe there will be less stuff.  Maybe.

10 Items or Less:  Somewhat amusing series from the mid-2000s about a small grocery store.  Really could have used some better acting talent to elevate it to the level of workplace comedies like The Office or Parks and Recreation. (2/5)  (Fun Fact: Star Trek Enterprise's Jolene Blalock plays herself when the store hosts a Star Trok convention.)
10 Things I Hate About You:  Late 90s update of Taming of the Shrew where a bitchy girl (Julia Stiles) refuses to date boys but her sister can't go out with anyone unless she is so a couple of boys who like the sister bribe Heath Ledger to go out with her.  It's basically Clueless-lite.  Stiles, Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt all went on to do better things. (2.5/5)
AI Artificial Intelligence:  Stephen Spielberg's creepy sci-fi take on Pinocchio.  (1/5)
All the King's Men:  With an all-star cast featuring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, and Anthony Hopkins, this 2005 movie set in the 50s tells the story of a politician who wanted to help the little people but was blocked by his legislature.  Sort of a mix of Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.  There's too much focus on Jude Law's muckraker character and not enough on Penn's politician. (2.5/5)  (Fun Fact:  The way the end goes, you can imagine Rorshach killing the Hulk.  Now there's an awesome movie:  Watchmen v Avengers!)
The Art of More:  This Crackle series should be called The Art of Snore.  Dueling art auction houses try to make money and move smuggled goods.  I think Amazon friend Ethan Cooper would like it more. (1/5)
The Battered Bastards of Baseball:  A Netflix documentary on a sort of real-life Major League-type team made of misfits and cast-offs.  Perhaps most surprising is that the team was founded by Kurt Russell's father Bing; Kurt Russell actually played for the team and worked on the marketing.  When this indie team became too good and too popular, the major league establishment brought in ringers and then forced the team out of Portland with a legal loophole. (4/5)
Battle Creek:  This aired sometime last year on CBS but now it's on Netflix.  I was mildly interested because it takes place in Michigan and it's from the creator of Breaking Bad.  It's surprising then how conventional this cop show is.  It mostly follows the buddy cop formula, though the cops aren't exactly buddies.  One is a goody-goody FBI agent exiled to Battle Creek and the other is a cynical local detective.  It reminded me of Due South, another show that aired on CBS back in the mid-90s, only this doesn't have a deaf wolf sidekick or tasting mud to track criminals.  Anyway, it's the kind of show where all the cases are wrapped up in 45 minutes after a couple of red herrings. (2.5/5)  (Fun Facts:  In one episode there's a breakfast celebration.  On the table are Post cereals; Battle Creek is the home of Kellogg's.  One of the lead actors of Due South appears as a bad guy in one episode.)
Breaking In:  The first six episodes of this 2011 Fox comedy were really good.  It combined a workplace comedy with heist movies as it involves a company that gets paid to test security systems.  There are a number of quirky personalities dominated by the enigmatic Oz (Christian Slater) and the mandatory office romance.  It felt a lot like a live-action Archer with a dose of Community with all the geek references.  Unfortunately in season 2 they decided to retool the show.  They pretty much eliminated the capers and replaced two characters with new office drones, including an annoying new boss played by Megan Mulally.  They picked the wrong part of the show to focus on IMO.  So (4/5) for the first season and (1/5) for the second season.
Cleaner:  Samuel L Jackson is a former cop who cleans up crime scenes and gets involved in a conspiracy.  Usually I complain movies drag but this felt too simple, like they had truncated it.  Still an OK thriller with A-level talent. (2.5/5)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid:  A 1992 movie that probably would work better with today's technology.  Basically Steve Martin plays a noir detective and Carl Reiner splices in these bits from other movies like The Big Sleep, White Heat, Notorious, and so forth with stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, James Cagney, Veronica Lake, etc.  A lot of things feel forced then to make these clips work.  With today's technology it would be far easier to pull it off.  The rest of the gags in the movie were kind of lame too. (1/5)
Devil's Due:  Lame "found footage" movie about a woman hosting a demon baby. (1/5)
Don't Say a Word:  Generic 2000 thriller where Michael Douglas is a shrink whose daughter is kidnapped and he has to get some information from a patient or else.  And then mayhem ensues. (2/5)
Knuckleball!:  This documentary is about a couple of the last major league pitchers to still use the enigmatic knuckleball pitch. It was OK but I would have liked more history of the pitch and less following Tim Wakefield and RA Dickey around. (2.5/5)  (Fun Fact:  In the 2000s the Tigers had a knuckleball pitcher named Steve Sparks who gets zero mentions in this movie because I guess he didn't play in New York, Boston, or LA.)
The Late Shift:  Remember the first time NBC's late night programming was thrown into disarray because of Jay Leno?  This is ostensibly about the war between Leno and Letterman to get The Tonight Show.  Mostly it's a war between agents and TV executives.  It's an HBO film from the 90s that looks and feels cheap.  Leno and Letterman come off one-dimensional:  Leno is a nice wimp, Letterman is a talented neurotic.  Obviously NBC learned nothing as almost 20 years later they bungled negotiations with their late night lineup again. (2/5)
Parker Lewis Can't Lose:  Cheesy early 90s sitcom that unapologetically compares itself to Ferris Bueller. Probably the best part is all the early 90s references.  Like the video store his parents own selling laser discs, Atari Lynxes, and some old PC games I remember playing like Red Storm Rising.  But you have to give it props for being one of the few comedies from that era not to use a laugh track. (2/5)  (Fun Fact:  the pilot episode is the secret origin of Mila Jovovich, that girl from The Fifth Element and all those lame Resident Evil movies.)
Permanent Midnight:  Ben Stiller stars as a guy in LA who is ostensibly a screenwriter but mostly is just a junkie.  He finally hits rock bottom and tries to clean up.  Some of it's pretty fun, like the creepy Alf-type show he works on for a while.  It just kind of drags as you wait to see whether he'll finally clean up or not. (2.5/5)
Proof of Life:  The movie that destroyed Meg Ryan's career and marriage! (2/5)
Stretch:  A limo driver (Patrick Wilson) is in deep to the tune of $6000 so when he picks up a mysterious rich guy (Chris Pine, uncredited for some reason) he hopes he might get a huge tip to pay off his debt.  But then an Eyes Wide Shut-type party, FBI agents, and a rival limo firm employing a big Russian henchman all stand in the way.  This is from the director of Smokin Aces and it's kind of the same.  A lot of action and humor. (3/5)
Superstore:  Since I watched 10 Items or Less I thought I might as well watch this, which has a similar premise.  It's OK, but not great.  Probably the best store comedy I've experienced is an indie book called Sale Day at C-Mart.  Someone should turn that into a series or movie. (2.5/5)
Switched:  Blake Edwards of Pink Panther fame makes a gender swap movie.  For...reasons, a misogynist is killed by three women and goes to Purgatory.  The Devil convinces Heaven to send the guy back as a woman and if he can find one woman who liked him as a man he won't go to Hell.  A lot less racy than even most of my stories, but I guess this was 1991.  A lot of time is wasted on her wooing some other chick for a business deal and then the last half-hour rushes through a murder trial, pregnancy, and more. (2/5)
True Story:  Since it stars James Franco and Jonah Hill you might think this is a comedy but it's actually a rather dull story of a pathological liar (Franco) who murders his family and then uses the name of a reporter (Hill) who writes down his story only to find he's making most of it up.  Maybe they should have involved Seth Rogen. (2/5)
Two Days in April:  This 2006 documentary follows 4 NFL prospects through the arduous process of preparing for the NFL Draft.  It is a pretty awful process.  There are lots of workouts and then before the "Senior Bowl" everyone has to get measured and weighed in only their shorts while all these scouts watch and make notes.  It seriously looks like a slave auction--except those who get picked actually make millions of dollars.  The heart-wrenching part is when they're all sitting around while the draft is being televised.  It's like political candidates on election night.  They make sure to drag it on and on so you can really feel bad for them.  (Spoiler:  three of the four get drafted in the third round and make $2.3M/4 years while the fourth isn't drafted and doesn't make an NFL team.  None of these guys really become household names.)  Overall it's pretty interesting. (3/5)
The Voices:  Ryan Reynolds takes time off from promoting Deadpool to star as a mentally disturbed guy whose dog and cat talk to him.  Cats being jerks, it tells him to kill people.  Some of it's pretty funny but it gets darker and darker...until the big musical number at the end. (2.5/5)
The Wicker Man:  Lame Nic Cage remake of the 70s horror movie.  The best part is at the end they recruit James Franco to go to the island.  I'd pay money to watch James Franco roasted in a wicker man--for reals. (1/5)

30 for 30 Documentaries:
Netflix acquired ESPN's 30 for 30 series of documentaries, which by now I wonder if it has to be more than 30.  I mean they've been doing these since 2009.  I thought I'd separate them since I watched a number of them, especially on Super Bowl Sunday because it was a better alternative than 12 hours of pregame.

Bad Boys:  For people not from Michigan in the late 80s this is probably not that interesting.  I wasn't really a big basketball fan, but still I knew of the "Bad Boys" Pistons teams of 1988-1990.  They were the anti-heroes of the NBA who went up against powerhouses in Boston and LA and probably forged the Michael Jordan dynasty.  For the most part I enjoyed it but really couldn't they have found a better narrator than Kid Rock?  I mean, seriously.  Also it would have been nice if they'd mentioned what happened to the players after the Bad Boys era.  I think most people know about Dennis Rodman, but it would have been nice to mention that Joe Dumars won another Pistons title as the GM in 2004 or Isaiah Thomas destroyed the Continental Basketball Association and the New York Knicks or Bill Laimbeer won coaching the WNBA, which seems kind of ironic since he was such a tough guy.  It would have been nice to know what happened to some of the lesser players too.  I'm just saying. (3.5/5)
The Band That Wouldn't Die:  In 1984 the Baltimore Colts snuck out of town to Indianapolis under cover of darkness.  They left behind the Baltimore Colts marching band.  As a quirk of fate would have it, the band's uniforms were at the cleaners that day; the cleaner then gave the uniforms to the band, who temporarily hid them in a mausoleum.  Eventually the band started playing local events, NFL games, and for a brief time was the official band of the CFL Baltimore Colts.  (Canadian football in the US?  It happened.)  Ironically the band finally got another NFL gig when Cleveland's team moved to Baltimore.  Ethically they probably should have refused since they knew what it was like for a team to move and break the hearts of its fans.  Anyway, this was directed by Barry Levinson, so the production values and such are better than some of these.  It was decent, though not exactly essential viewing. (3/5) 
Big Shot:  The story of how a Texas businessman duped the NHL to buy the New York Islanders in 1996.  It involved a lot of fake documents and financial sleight-of-hand.  He actually got to the point of owning the team in name even though he never had the money to pay for it.  An entertaining story even for how horrible it was.  The only nitpick is that Kevin Connolly of Entourage fame who directed the movie doesn't really have the gravitas for a narrator. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  The doofus NHL commissioner who approved this sale is still running the league into the ground and recently got an extension to stick around.  Nice work if you can get it.)
The Day the Series Stopped:  As Game 3 of the 1989 World Series in San Francisco started, there was an earthquake that devastated the Bay Area.  This documentary talks with those who lived through it. (2.5/5) 

Elway to Marino:  documentary about the 1983 NFL draft, which was really the first draft where it started to become a circus.  The title comes from that John Elway was the first guy picked and Marino the last quarterback, though both had a turbulent draft.  Elway didn't want to play for the Colts and wound up getting traded to Denver while Marino went far lower than he should have.  Not all that insightful but interesting. (2.5/5)  (Fun Fact:  Six quarterbacks were taken in the draft:  three Hall of Famers, two mediocre, and one bust.  And of course the Lions took some mediocre running back, because Lions.)
Fernando Nation:  In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela went from a small town in Mexico to a star for the LA Dodgers.  This documentary notes the irony that he was starring for a team that 30 years earlier had expelled Mexican-Americans from their homes to build Dodger Stadium.  A decent documentary but probably would have been better if it were longer than 51 minutes. (3/5)
Gospel According to Mac:  Dreary account of Bill McCartney, the ultra-religious coach of Colorado's football team who after winning the national championship went on to found the Promise Keepers.  Of course like every ultra-religious preacher man, he had some skeletons in the closet like an affair and a daughter who had a baby out of wedlock with his starting quarterback. (1/5)
House of Steinbrenner:  This documentary was, I'm not really sure.  It's just a hodge-podge of footage and interviews involving George Steinbrenner, the Yankees, the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, and building of the new one.  It never really seem to focus on any particular point.  As a Tigers fan I do have to admire how the Yankees handled their stadium situation.  They didn't let the House that Ruth Built rot away for a decade before tearing it down.  That should be another ESPN documentary. (1/5)
I Hate Christian Laettner:  There are always great athletes people love to hate from Ty Cobb to Cam Newton.  Christian Laettner is probably the best example from college basketball.  Love him or hate him (or just don't give a shit in my case) this is a pretty entertaining documentary. (3/5)
Jordan Rides the Bus:  Remember that year that Michael Jordan played basketball in 1994?  There are plenty of conspiracy theories now thanks to the Internet but the documentary reminds us that a chief influence on Michael Jordan's decision was probably his father's murder in the summer of 93.  Honestly this would have been a lot better if Michael Jordan had actually agreed to be interviewed for the film. (2/5)
June 17, 1994:  Uninspired scrapbook of sports events that happened on the eponymous date.  The OJ car chase was the headline event but also the New York Rangers celebrated their Stanley Cup win, the World Cup started in Chicago, Arnold Palmer played his last hole of golf before joining the senior tour, and the Knicks and Rockets faced off in an NBA finals game.  Plus there was baseball. (2/5)
King's Ransom:  The darkest day in Canadian history was in 1988 when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.  This documentary gives a slight bit more insight into what went down.  Mostly after winning 4 Stanley Cups Gretzky wanted to get paid and Edmonton's owner knew he couldn't pay enough so he opted to trade Gretzky for cash and draft picks rather than keep him for a year and lose him. That's a pretty common enough story in sports.  Only the scale of this was so much larger, though not quite as awkward as when LeBron James jumped ship in Cleveland to go to Miami.  At least they talked to Gretzky for this--on a golf course.  Because I guess that was the only time he was available? (2.5/5)
On Miracles and Men:  Most people know about the "Miracle on Ice" when the US hockey team beat the USSR in the 1980 Olympics.  No one really thinks much about the Soviets.  This documentary focuses on the Soviet team before, during, and after the game.  None of the Soviet players were killed or sent to the gulag after losing, though a couple were forced to retire.  A few like Slava Fetisov were eventually allowed to play in the NHL starting in the early 90s.  It was really interesting and well-done.  The funniest part is they ask the Soviet team captain if he's seen Miracle and he explodes "Why would I watch that?  Why wouldn't I watch a movie where I win!" Touche. (4/5)
Playing for the Mob:  If you watched Goodfellas you might already know this story.  Basically some gangsters coerced a couple of Boston College players to "shave" points, which is to win the game but enough so that it's under the spread the gambling people set for the game.  It's really not that sexy but it's an entertaining enough story of mobsters, money, and sports. (4/5)
Requiem for the Big East:  Kind of a misnomer as there is still a Big East, which now includes Butler University, home of my beloved avatar Butler Blue.  Anyway, in the early 80s a bunch of schools on the east coast formed the Big East and almost immediately found success by winning NCAA tournaments.  Bitter rivalries formed and fueled it to even greater heights.  They got a lot of exposure in the early days by teaming with a little-known cable channel called ESPN, which at the time was basically a trailer out in a cow pasture in rural Connecticut.  But of course money took over and schools like Syracuse bolted for other conferences.  A well-made documentary that is maybe a little too long but still interesting. (3.5/5)
Sole Man:  documentary about Sonny Vaccarro, the guy who really created the sneaker endorsement.  And possibly the sneaker as we know it.  While he started out with good intentions, it has really opened a Pandora's box.  The animation used at times undermines some of the seriousness of the documentary. (2.5/5)
Survive and Advance:  The story of the 1983 North Carolina State basketball team, which had numerous comeback wins on its way to the title.  Their smart-aleck coach later died of cancer and now has a research foundation sponsored by ESPN.  The problem was they kept mixing these two events together, flash-forwarding and flashing back, which seemed unnecessary. (3.5/5)
The U Pt 1:  In the late 70s the University of Miami (FL)'s football team was pretty much in the toilet.  Then they brought in a new coach who over 5 years turned it around and eventually they became "the team of the 80s" with like 3 championships.  Through a quirk of fate they managed to play their championship bowl game at home twice.  But there was a price to all this success...
The U Pt 2:  Miami did win a championship in 2001 but mostly this sequel filmed 5 years later mostly focuses on the program's fall from grace.  There was a lot of players taking "improper benefits" from boosters.  And the university head honchos let a Ponzi schemer have unfettered access to just about everything for a few years.  I really don't think this subject needed two movies each  nearly 2 hours long.  It's just not that interesting unless you're a huge Miami fan. (2.5)  (Fun Fact:  It's funny between the two movies to see how the people they interview in both movies change over 5 years.  The first one it was all Ed Hardy T-shirts and all that, so mostly the changes in the second movie were for the better.)
Winning Time:  Reggie Miller was one of those guys you'd probably hate unless he played for your team.  In 1994-1995 he and the Pacers had an epic rivalry with the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs.  A lot of it centered around Miller and movie director Spike Lee.  An irony is that while it's called "Winning Time" neither the Pacers or Knicks have won an NBA title since 1973.  This documentary is fun, not taking itself really seriously. (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  Reggie Miller's older sister Cheryl was the greatest female basketball player of her era and often beat her brother when they played at home.  But who do you think got way more money and endorsements, eh?)
Without Bias:  Trite documentary on the death of college basketball star Lenny Bias in 1986.  It failed to provide much of anything definitive on his life or death in large part because it just strings together a bunch of interviews and news footage. (1/5)
You Don't Know Bo:  Entertaining documentary about Bo Jackson, who from 1987-1991 played in the NFL and MLB.  Other athletes have played two sports professionally but no one else played them as well.   If nothing else you might remember the famous "Bo Knows" Nike campaign from the late 80s. (4/5)  (Fun Fact:  Bo Jackson could be the real life Green Arrow since apparently he can shoot bull's eyes with his toes.)


  1. That's a cool factoid about Bo Jackson. Must be nice to be so athletically gifted.

  2. I'd like to see The Battered Bastards of Baseball. What a!

  3. The one about the Red Army hockey team was VERY good. So crazy to think about now how much pressure was on those guys and all the crap they went through to get to play hockey.

  4. Proof of Life was bad, but I had no idea it had ruined Meg Ryan's marriage. I saw Don't Say a Word years ago, when it was originally released. You didn't like AI Artificial Intelligence?

    Haven't seen antything else on your list.



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