Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Unbroken"

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Louis Zamperini started life as a rebellious, short-tempered boy, the frequent target of bullying and discrimination due to his Italian heritage. His older brother Pete saw that Louie had a natural talent for running and encouraged him to join the high school track team. He advised him, "If you can take it, you can make it." Louie was soon shattering records. His lightning-fast feet carried him all the way to the Berlin Olympics. Little did Louie know how true his brother's words would be.

When World War II began, Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was trained as a bombardier and assigned to a B-24 Liberator. The movie opens with a harrowing plane crash sequence. The Liberator, nicknamed Superman, is totaled; several of the crew members are dead. Louie and his pilot friend Phil are sent off on another mission, this time in a Liberator called the Green Hornet that barely passed its last inspection. The Green Hornet is shot down by Japanese fighter pilots; the three survivors Louie, Mac, and Phil are left adrift on an inflatable raft.

The trouble begins almost immediately. Louie finds out that Mac ate all the chocolate bars, the only food aboard the raft. Water is extremely limited. The three men spend 47 hellish days lost at sea, but the ordeal has only just started. A Japanese ship happens upon the raft; Louie and Phil are taken prisoner. Throughout the movie, Louie is sent to three different P.O.W. camps. He suffers extreme mental and physical abuse, yet Louie refuses to give in to his captors or betray his country.

The cinematography and special effects are some of the best I've ever seen. You feel as if you're in the cockpit experiencing the Green Hornet's death roll. Jack O'Connell's performance as Louie must be seen to be believed; he goes from a healthy young athlete with the world on a string to a malnourished captive barely clinging to hope. You wince for every blow and indignity he suffers. Takamasa Ishihara is equally good as the sadistic P.O.W. camp guard nicknamed "the Bird," who wages psychological and physical warfare on Louie at every opportunity. I will be truly astonished if no Oscars for acting result from this movie.

I am surprised that the reception for such a powerful true story has been so lukewarm; the New York Times review contains the particularly scathing line: "the [Olympic] race is so excessive that it competes with, rather than complements, the war scenes and ends up being another clip in what increasingly will feel like one man’s extended highlight reel." Adapting Willenbrand's book of the same title, which clocks in at 406 pages, cannot have been an easy task; Jolie and her writing team should get a pass for that. The Times review also goes on to say "[Jolie's] good with the actors, even when platitudes gush from their mouths along with the blood." That's insulting enough to say about a regular movie, let alone one based on things American servicemen suffered through, many of whom died in the camps. Rotten Tomatoes gives Unbroken 2.5 stars out of a possible 5; IMDB ranks it about the same.

Before this movie was announced, I had never heard the name Louie Zamperini. Having read watched his story, I can't believe that I hadn't learned about him in school. He was a remarkable person and a true American hero. Everyone in America should see this film; the biography it is based on should be required reading for high school and/or college students. His story will make you gain a greater appreciation for simple things in life: food, shelter, clean water, and freedom.

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Rest in peace                    Image source

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"I'll Be Home For Christmas"

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I saw this movie during its original theatrical run in 1998. Even as a an 8-year-old who loved Disney and absolutely everything about Christmas, I didn't really enjoy it. I decided to revisit it through Netflix Instant and what a difference 16 years makes!

The movie centers around Jake, played by young Simba himself: Johnathan Taylor Thomas. Originally from upstate New York, he's now a college freshman in Southern California. He has no intentions of a white Christmas, largely because he doesn't like his new stepmother. Jake cashes in his plane ticket up north in favor of tickets to Cabo San Lucas for himself and his girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel). Allie also hails from back east and has already promised her parents that she'll be spending Christmas with them. Jake considers going to Mexico by himself until he gets phone call from his dad, who promises that if Jake is home by 6 PM on Christmas Eve, he'll give Jake the keys to Dad's pride and joy: a red 1957 Porsche convertible. Jake agrees and lets Allie know that he'll be able to drive her home after all.

The couple goes to an end-of-semester party. Some jocks are unhappy with Jake because the beepers he gave them to cheat didn't work, causing them to fail a final that they were gonna fail anyway. Jake also sold them some fake IDs that were instantly spotted by the bouncer at the famous Viper Room. They slip something in Jake's eggnog and he wakes up in the desert dressed up like Santa Claus. Allie waits for Jake, but he doesn't show up at the promised time; she gets a ride from another classmate, Eddie (Adam LaVorgna), who has a not-so-secret crush on her.

Jake manages to find his way to a road and hitches a ride with a car full of little old ladies going to a Tom Jones concert. This sets off a National Lampoon's Vacation style cross-country road trip, during which Jake cons and charms his way out of any and all trouble he gets himself into. He also (slowly) begins to realize that there are things in life that are more important than classic luxury cars. In the meantime, Allie is stuck on the road with Eddie and fending off his advances.

Johnathan Taylor Thomas's character Jake is, quite simply, a spoiled brat. It would be easy to take that and go completely over-the-top with it. Fortunately, JTT was smart enough not to play him that way. There's no question that Jake is more than a little selfish and immature, but in a very realistic 18-year-old kid way. Parents introducing this movie to their kids and childless young adults watching it for nostalgia reasons will be able to connect with what Jake is going through and that's what makes it work. Jessica Biel is good as the feisty girlfriend who wants nothing to do with the other guy and you can almost feel the slime coming off Adam LaVorgna's Eddie.

I'll Be Home For Christmas is somewhat edgy for a 1990's Disney family comedy. For example, one member of the Tom Jones fan club apparently tries grope Jake; they end up unceremoniously booting Jake out of their car because the hungover student vomits into one woman's purse. At a Bavarian village tourist trap, Allie remarks to Eddie, "Look, the clock man is sexually harassing the clock lady." There's also the interesting song that a minor character sings to win back his estranged wife. Don't worry if your kids are under 10 years old or so; all that stuff went way over my head when I was 8. In fact, not getting the jokes is why I thought it was stupid.

I'd recommend this for a family gathering because everyone loves Disney and also, this is basically a grade-schooler-appropriate version of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. However, shut it off before you get too far into the end credits or you will never get NSYNC's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" out of your head. For added fun, see if you can spot Disney's clever nod to JTT's voice work as Simba.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Christmas Mail"

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A good Christmas movie should make you laugh, believe in magic, appeal to your inner child, and maybe shed some tears of joy. The operative word in this scenario is "good." This direct-to-TV romantic comedy offers none of the above.

The central character is Matt (A.J. Buckley), a mailman who is unsatisfied with his life and lacking Christmas spirit. Once a talented guitarist with dreams of being a rock star, fate made him an instant parent when his sister and brother-in-law died in an unspecified accident. His sister's will named him guardian of his 8-year-old niece Emily. Weeks before Christmas, there's a new coworker at Matt's post office, an irritatingly bubbly blond woman named Kristi North. She's there on a special assignment: answering letters that children write to Santa Claus. She takes her job very seriously, decorating every surface in her office with Christmas knickknacks.

Emily's letter to Santa crosses Kristi's desk. The little girl's only wish is for her uncle to be happy and not lonely anymore; she wants him to have "a special friend to kiss and stuff." Kristi suggests Emily help her uncle find his own happiness, which the girl takes to heart. Matt comes home from work one day to find his niece has set him up for a romantic dinner with their elderly neighbor. Days later while picking up Emily from a friend's house, Matt stumbles into a support group meeting for single parents. Of course, everyone else present is a single mother. The group leader invites Matt to join them and proceeds to ask about his sex life.

Matt's boss from hell at the post office, Mr. Fuller, somehow gets the idea in his head that Kristi is trying to sabotage the mail system and asks for Matt's help in digging up dirt on what she's up to. Kristi's behavior is very odd, crossing the line to mentally unbalanced at times. Although in her 30s, Kristi does not own a car, have a driver's license, date, or have a permanent address. She spends a couple of months every year in a different place answering Santa letters; nobody seems to know what she does the other 10 months. She only seems to have ties to her large sheepdog Rudy and wears sweater sets better suited to the 1950's or a much older woman. Kristi speaks various languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin, and can talk to animals.

Despite the fact that she apparently hails from Crazy Town, grumpy Matt is smitten with her. Matt's fellow mail carrier Sally sees this and tries to get them together. Almost instantly, there's a romantic comedy cliche: Matt's former bandmate Heather comes to visit him and Emily; Kristi sees them together and assumes Heather is Matt's wife. They smooth things out and Matt invites Kristi over to meet Emily.

She, Emily, Heather, and Matt have a grand old time baking Christmas cookies and having a food fight with the colored decorating sugar. Kristi spots Emily's doll-size table and tea set and gushes that it "reminds her of home." They wind up eating dinner at said tiny table. Afterward, Kristi is treated to a truly horrible rendition of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" by Heather and Emily, Matt accompanying them on his guitar. Matt even offers to let Kristi move in!

Happiness, of course, can't last. Mr. Fuller gets Matt and Kristi in the same room to reveal his scheme. He makes the classic bad guy move of implying that Matt doesn't love Kristi. Matt is to get promoted to Mr. Fuller's job if he finds something on crazy Kristi that Mr. Fuller can use to fire her. Matt tells his boss that Kristi is special and that he loves her. He rejects the promotion to go back to being a mailman. Kristi is dismissed. At this point, my mom, a former UPS employee, commented, "You can't fire federal workers like that. There's a union."

Several extremely unlikely things happen in the next several minutes. The postmaster general in Washington DC gets wind of what evil Mr. Fuller has done, demotes him, and offers Matt a promotion. Matt turns down the promotion because his band has announced that they're going on tour starting Christmas Day. He decides to uproot his fragile young niece and pull her out of school to go on the road. Equally wacky Heather has offered to be the little girl's personal tutor. Following his dreams apparently takes a backseat to his new responsibilities.

Kristi has realized that Matt is her One True Love and must catch up to him before he leaves town. Without a driver's license, she relies on the kindness of Sally. They hit the streets in a mail truck, searching for Matt's car. But how will they find him when they don't know where he's gone? "Follow Rudolph!" Kristi says breathlessly, pointing to a decoration on a nearby lawn. The couple ends up together and going on tour despite knowing each other all of 2 months. Heather stays on as a third wheel. Oh, and spoiler alert, the mysterious Kristi turns out to be the daughter of Santa Claus himself.

The plot could have been cute if Kristi hadn't seemed mentally ill from the beginning. Ashley Scott played her about as subtly as Clark Griswold decorated his house. The child actress cast as Emily was not cute and hopefully some time and lessons will turn her into a better actress. A.J. Buckley is wasted in this movie and I know he can do so much better. His OCD lab tech character Adam Ross was one of my favorite parts of CSI: NY. He made me laugh in his guest appearances as Ed Zeddmore, head of the Ghostfacers, on Supernatural. A.J. expanded his range last year with a recurring role on Justified as scruffy, ill-tempered, dog-loving criminal Danny Crowe.

If you really want to watch a Christmas rom-com, I have no real suggestions for you other than to stay away from this movie.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Top 10 Quotes: "The War At Home"

This 1996 drama directed by Emilio Estevez tells the heartbreaking story of a Vietnam veteran's first Thanksgiving with his family since returning to Texas.

1. Karen: The final battle of Vietnam was fought along an unrecognized front, far from the shellings and the smell of napalm and the sound of planes and guns. It was a battle my brother Jeremy fought when he came back.

2. Bob: (says this repeatedly before showing people pictures of a young Jeremy) Did I ever tell you I was friends with a famous cowboy?

3. Maurine: I wish they would make Thanksgiving on a Sunday, then everyone could go to a service before they eat with their families. It'd be more religious, like it was with the Pilgrims.
Jeremy: What about the Indians?
Maurine: Oh, there were no Indians at the first Thanksgiving.

4. Bob: (to his nephew) 299. Don't tell me you don't know what that means, David. I think your old man knows what it means, don't you, Howe? That's your goddamn birthday, David, for when they pulled the numbers out for the draft card lottery. 299, that's the number that saved your ass from having to go and fight in Vietnam. Would you like to know what Jeremy's number was? It was 8! 8! 8!

5. Maurine: (about Jeremy) I just don't understand what went wrong. His whole life, he was so
grown-up, so polite.
Karen: War changes people.
Maurine: War doesn't make you rude to your parents.

6. Jeremy: Look, if you're gonna talk to me about car wrecks, you can stop right now.
Bob: What? What are you talking about?
Jeremy: You told me more people die in car wrecks each year than died in Vietnam.
Bob: I may have said that--
Jeremy: Not "may have." Did.

7. Melissa: They were scary, your letters.
Jeremy: They were scary 'cause I was scared.

8. Karen: (about Maurine) She's gonna have a nervous breakdown.
Jeremy: I know she wants one. I know she ain't gonna be happy 'til she has one.

9. Jeremy: I don't cheer when I just woke up.

10. Maurine: (about the Indians at the first Thanksgiving) I'm sure they were all Christians by then.
Jeremy: Oh no, they weren't.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Longmire Rides On

As I blogged about before, fans of TV's Longmire were quite upset when the drama was axed, mostly due to perception that the audience was "too old." Not content to have the show fade off into the sunset, fans called for people to boycott the show's former network A&E. The creators immediately began shopping the Western around to other networks.

Months passed with no word on a possible new home. The fanbase, aptly named the Longmire Posse, never gave up hope. Each Monday, there were "stampedes" on Twitter to lobby for a network to save the show. I participated in as many stampedes as I could, studies permitting. Stars of the show including Adam Bartley (The Ferg) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear) joined in; Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire) posted YouTube videos, making cryptic comments such as "keep doin' what you're doin'" and alluding to things going on behind the scenes.

I picked up an issue of Globe earlier this week after reading that the magazine had done an exclusive interview with Adam Bartley. He echoed Robert Taylor's sentiments and expressed his gratitude for the loyalty of the show's fanbase. Less than a day after reading the interview, I saw a headline on Entertainment Weekly's website announcing that Netflix will be picking up Longmire for 10 episodes. Filming is scheduled to resume in New Mexico. Season 4 is set to premiere sometime next year. I can't wait to see what's next for Absaroka County's finest! :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top 10 Quotes: "Shaun of the Dead"

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the zombie horror/comedy starring the dynamic British duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.


  1. Shaun: As Mr. Sloan always says, "There is no 'I' in 'team,' but there is an 'I' in 'pie.' And there's an 'I' in 'meat pie.' Anagram of meat is team...." I don't know what he's talking about.
  2. Ed: Who died and made you fucking king of the zombies?
  3. Phillip: You've got red on you.
  4. Pete (explaining who mugged him): Some crackheads or something. One of them bit me.
    Ed: Why'd they bite you?
    Pete: I don't know! I didn't stop to ask!
  5. Shaun: If you get cornered, bash 'em in the head. That seems to work.
  6. Liz: You hang out with my friends? Sorry, a failed actress and a twat.
    Shaun: Well, that's a bit harsh.
    Liz: Your words!
    Shaun: I did not call Dianne a failed actress!
  7. Ed: You didn't tell me Barbara had a Jag. I've always wanted to drive one of those.
    Shaun: Yeah, well, it's Phillip's, okay? He won't let anybody near it. Honestly, I put half a Mars Bar in the glovebox once and he chased me around the garden with a bit of wood.
  8. Shaun: As Bertrand Russell once said, "The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation." I think we can all appreciate the relevance of that now.
    Liz: Was that on a beer mat?
  9. Pete (after Ed and Shaun wake him up by blasting music): It's fucking Sunday! I've got to go to fucking work in 4 fucking hours 'cause every other fucker in my fucking department is fucking ill! Now can you see why I'm so fucking angry?
  10. Ed (explaining why he thinks John the pub owner is in the Mafia): Think about it: gruff demeanor, handy with a blade, Bernie the trophy wife. He's connected. Why d'you think there's a rifle over the bar?
    Shaun: 'Cause the pub's called the Winchester.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amazing 9-Year-Old Sings "Lean On Me"

This little British girl wanted to do something special to honor the hospital workers who have helped saved her life. I think she accomplished her goal! :)


Monday, September 1, 2014

Top 10 Quotes: "Dirty Dancing"

1. Baby: Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am. But most of all, I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling for the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you.

2. Johnny: The steps aren't enough; feel the music.

3. Baby: We're supposed to do the show in two days. You still won't show me the lifts. I'm not sure of the turns. I'm doing all this to save your ass! What I really wanna do is drop you on it.

4. (Lisa is complaining about not bringing enough shoes on the trip)
Jake Houseman: This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine or police dogs used in Birmingham.

5. Penny: Come on, ladies! God wouldn't have given you maracas if he didn't want ya to shake 'em!

6. Billy: (at the staff party) Can you imagine dancing like this on the main floor, home of the family foxtrot?

7. Baby: (opening voiceover) That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before The Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I'd never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman's.

8. Robbie: I didn't blow a summer hauling toasted bagels to bail out some little chick who probably balled every guy in the place...Some people count, some people don't. (takes a copy of The Fountainhead out of his jacket) Read it. I think it's a book you'll enjoy. But make sure you return it; I have notes in the margin.
Baby: You make me sick. Stay away from me, stay away from my sister, or I'll have you fired.

9. Penny: Remember, he's the boss on the dance floor, if nowhere else.

10. Johnny: Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Long Live Longmire: Boss Without a Badge

After I wrote my initial post, a couple of commenters pointed out that I missed a fan favorite supporting character and I'm rectifying that here. When a detective from Denver wanted to make an appointment to talk to the sheriff, Walt's response was simple: "Talk to Ruby. She runs my life." Ruby (Louanne Stephens) doesn't only run Walt's life; she's the dispatcher/receptionist that keeps the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department in order.

Ruby is a kind soul, everyone's favorite surrogate aunt. Her strongest appearance is the Season One episode "An Incredibly Beautiful Thing." Local gas station owner Ellis is found murdered in his store after calling Ruby for help. Ruby is distraught by her friend's death and takes it upon herself to write his obituary since he has no family to do so. Ruby also possesses a dry wit and humor of her own. Hoping Ruby and the rest find a new home soon!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Long Live Longmire!

Does the world really need any more so-called "reality" shows? The heads of A&E clearly think so, as they've chosen to cancel its highly rated scripted drama Longmire after the cliffhanger Season 3 finale. Shows such as Duck Dynasty and various incarnations of Storage Wars, however, are safe. As a longtime member of the show's fanbase (known as the Longmire Posse), I am seriously disappointed.

The modern-day Western is based on Craig Johnson's book series Walt Longmire Mysteries. (If you haven't read them, I highly recommend picking up the first book The Cold Dish). Set in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, the books and show follow Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) who is solving crimes and trying to keep his life together after the death of his wife. The small-town police force consists of three deputies: local rich boy and nephew of the former sheriff Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), sassy Philadelphia transplant Victoria "Vic" Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), and baby-faced, kind-hearted Ferguson (Adam Bartley). Lou Diamond Phillips rounds out the regular cast as Walt's best friend since grade school and Red Pony Bar owner Henry Standing Bear.

Longmire features more than just Walt and company solving the crime of the week; each season had one or more overreaching characters arcs. In Season One, Walt learns that not only is Deputy Branch Connally running against him for Sheriff, Branch is dating his daughter Cady. Cady also learns that her mother Martha did not die of cancer; she was stabbed to death in Denver while she was in the city getting chemo treatment. Hints are dropped that Walt may have taken a trip to Colorado to avenge his wife's death. Season Two sees Vic dealing with a stalker, Cady being critically injured in a hit-and-run car accident on election day, and the outcome of the sheriff's race. I won't be spoiling Season Three in case you haven't seen it; let's just say things get interesting.

Besides the great storylines, Longmire has solid characters; the writing left me with strong biases, both positive and negative. Walt is a tough, old-school sheriff and a basically good man, though not above the temptation of taking the law into his own hands (and possibly even taking it too far). I admire Vic's Yankee spunk and empathize with her struggle to adjust to rural Wyoming life. I openly loathed Branch from the first episode; there was just something slimy about him and his entitled attitude didn't help matters.

Lou Diamond Phillips is pitch-perfect as Henry: a protective, strong, proud Cheyenne who'll stop at nothing to help those he cares about. Henry also has a terrific dry sense of humor (when Cady describes a physically attractive male bar patron, he responds "I am not a good judge of hotness"). Henry is also deeply spiritual when it comes to his culture and a valuable assistant whenever Walt's sheriff business takes him onto the local reservation. This show has really given Lou Diamond Phillips the best chance to shine that he's had in years; he deserves much more respect as an actor than he generally gets.

My favorite deputy has always been Ferguson, known in the office simply as "the Ferg." The words that best describe Ferg's personality include "awkward" and "shy"; but rather than being portrayed as the department's resident weak link or sad sack, he's competent in his own right as a fly-fisherman and outdoorsman. He wants to please his boss and sometimes worries that he's not good enough at his job. (Think McGee during his early seasons on NCIS). Ferg never had as much screen time as I would have liked, which is a pity because rookie actor Adam Bartley showed a lot of promise. For proof, Netflix the Season One episode "A Damn Shame" and watch what happens when Ferg tries to turn in his badge. Ferg really came into his own this season, finally standing up to Walt about being overworked and under-appreciated: "I know you haven't noticed, but ever since Branch started going crazy, I really stepped it up around here. And that's not easy with you two shutting doors in my face, treating me like I'm not even a part of this department. I do everything you ask and I do a good job, but if you want me to keep doing it, you can't just throw me in the corner at this little kid's desk and ignore me."

However, all hope for the show may not be lost. Its production company Warner Horizon Television is currently pitching the show to other networks. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Walt, Henry, Vic, and of course the Ferg will find a new home. It just makes good business sense to pick up a successful drama that has a six-million strong Posse behind it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Broadway Tribute to Robin Williams

Fans the world over are mourning the tragic loss of comedian/actor Robin Williams. Arguably, his most famous role was voicing the Genie in Disney's Aladdin and its direct-to-video sequel Aladdin and the King of Thieves. The cast of the Broadway musical based on the movie ended last night's performance on a special note: by leading the audience in a sing-along of "Friend Like Me." Video here

Monday, July 21, 2014

LDP on "The King & I" and Charlie Sheen

Since seeing Young Guns, I have been an unapologetic Lou Diamond Phillips fan. I'm pretty sure I've seen every movie he's starred in during his career, from successful (La Bamba), to cheesy fun (Lone Hero), to questionable (Fingerprints), to "why the hell is he in this crap" (The Trail to Hope Rose, Bats, Route 666). Thankfully, he's found his stride the last couple of years on the TV series Longmire as Henry Standing Bear. (Anyone who's read the Craig Johnson novels on which the series is based can tell you that casting him was pitch-perfect). Lou is a huge supporter of the military and seems like an all-around nice guy. This recent Australian TV interview demonstrates that he's also pretty funny.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Jersey Boys"

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When it comes to musical tastes, I've always been what my grandmother called an "old soul." By the age of 4, I knew all the words to "Peppermint Twist." My first dance recital piece was an interpretative dance I choreographed to Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto." One of my favorite middle school memories is seeing Elton John and Billy Joel in concert. Though not necessarily a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, I was still intrigued by the idea of this movie, which is based on the Broadway show of the same title.

Jersey Boys begins in Belleville, New Jersey during the 1950's. Located just outside of Newark, it's a tough town. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) explains via narration the three ways out of the neighborhood: "You join the Army and maybe get killed; you get mobbed up, maybe get killed that way. Or you get famous. For us, it was 2 outta the 3." Tommy and 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) are errand boys for local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Tommy also performs with his brother Nick in a group called the Variety Trio.

Tommy and Gyp both know that Frankie has musical talent. He manages to move the underworld boss to tears with his version of "In My Mother's Eyes." Frankie joins The Variety Trio and Tommy changes the name to The Four Lovers. Nick DeVito leaves the band (the movie is vague on when and why). The new group consists of Tommy, Frankie, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Gyp helps The Four Lovers get nightclub gigs, even though Frankie is underage. Frankie soon changes his last name to Valli and falls in love with Mary Delgado (Renee Marino) and marries her.

The band undergoes several other name changes and doesn't manage to find success. They're eventually introduced to singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who becomes the fourth member of the group. They sign with producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), but only as backup singers for others bands; he says they're too derivative to make it on their own and the constant name changes would confuse people. After failing to secure a gig at the Four Seasons bowling alley, the band comes up with their new, permanent name. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons soon top the charts, thanks to Bob writing their hits "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like a Man." The rest of the movie follows the band through the rigors of touring, the personal problems and in-fighting that lead to their break-up, and their eventual reunion.

There are no A-listers among the cast (with the exception of Christopher Walken), just stage actors. John Lloyd Young reprises his role from the Broadway version of Jersey Boys. I can't imagine them casting anyone else as Frankie Valli. Not only is John handsome and charismatic, he also manages to replicate Frankie's signature falsetto. Using veteran Broadway performers insured that the musical numbers were close to perfection. My judgment of what makes a good musical is admittedly very subjective: Does listening to the songs give me chills? Every time the movie's Four Seasons performed, I got goosebumps and the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

If I had to pick out one thing I really didn't like about the movie, it would be the narration. The majority of movies use voiceover to fill the audience in on the details. Jersey Boys handles it differently. The actors speak directly to the camera during various scenes; this is jarring and disturbs the flow of the movie.

I highly recommend this to music buffs and anyone else who enjoys a good biopic, even if you weren't alive when Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons topped the charts. I was the youngest person by far in the theater and enjoyed myself immensely. In the words of a fellow theater-goer, "If you come out singing, you know it was good."

P.S. Keep an sharp eye out for a cameo by director Clint Eastwood.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Top 10 Quotes: "21 Jump Street"

Posting this in honor of the sequel's release. NSFW language ahead. As always, let me know if I missed any in the comments.

1. Captain Dickson: Hey, hey! Stop fuckin' wit' Korean Jesus! He ain't got time for yo' problems! He's busy...with Korean shit.

2. Jenko: I really thought this job would have more explosions and car chases and less homeless people doo-dooing everywhere.

3. Schmidt (as a bearded, long-haired One-Percenter jumps up and down on their car): It's ZZ Top! It's ZZ Top!

4. Tom Hanson: Do you have any idea how hard it is to infiltrate a gang like this? You see this nose? This is a fake nose. You wanna wear a fake nose on your fuckin' head for months on end? Glue and shit?
Schmidt: There are worse things in the world.
Tom Hanson: We had to get fuckin' tattoos on our dicks, man!
Doug Penhall: Actually, I just said that to mess with you.

5. Jenko: Forget those identities, they're bullshit. It says I was held back a year.
Schmidt: You were. You were held back 2 years.
Jenko: Just because it's a fake backstory doesn't mean it doesn't hurt my feelings.

6. Schmidt: Do you still not know the Miranda Rights? Dude, you're a cop.
Jenko: Come on, man. You know they always cut away on TV before they finish 'em.

7. Principal Dadier: Guys, I'm gonna relate to you, okay? A kid died the other day from drugs and nobody, including me, is doing anything about it. That's weird, guys. And then you two show up with 30 days left causing trouble in my school. I am one more gay black kid getting punched in the face away from a nervous breakdown.

8. (The nerds are trying to bug Eric's phone at the party and are also drunk for the first time)
Zack: Can we get some bitches up in here? 'Cause it's just boys right now.
Jenko (stunned/confused): No, you can't get any bitches up here!

9. Jenko: Chemistry's the one with the shapes and shit, right?

10. Schmidt (after Jenko gets shot): You took a bullet for me, man.
Jenko: Yeah, I'm feelin' a little ambivalent about that right now.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Crimes Against Music: "Wanted Dead Or Alive" Cover

I will come right out and say that in general, I loathe country music. The nasal twang, repetitive topics (trucks, beer, having sex in the woods, acting like an ignorant hillbilly), and moronic lyrics grate on my last nerve. This has made growing up in the South difficult at best (to say nothing of dating).

There are a few select artists and songs in the genre that don't make me want to jab the mute button. Zac Brown Band was on their way to becoming acceptable to me thanks to their recent hits "Sweet Annie" and "Knee Deep." Then this happened...

On the surface, Zac Brown teaming up with ex-Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora seems like a failsafe idea. Zac Brown almost immediately messes up one word of the lyrics. On its own, that would be forgivable. Richie Sambora (who of all people should know how to perform this song) screws up the tempo when he sings the second verse. He's one of the best guitarists in the business, but singing, well, he should leave that to someone else. As for Zac Brown, this song for whatever reason is ill-suited to his voice and musical style.

I have to question whether the crowd cheering so wildly is: a) completely drunk, b) tone-deaf, c) have somehow never heard the original, or d) all of the above.

Covering a song from another genre is something that generally never goes right for country artists, though it can work well in reverse (example: All-4-One covering John Michael Montgomery's ballad "I Swear"). I must (grudgingly) give props to Taylor Swift for her cover of "When Love And Hate Collide"; lyrically, it's in her wheelhouse and she brought the Southern lilt to it without mutilating the original. 

21 Jump Street: "How Much Is That Body in the Window?"

In honor of the upcoming release of 22 Jump Street, I'm posting a recap of an episode of the original series starring Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise. More '80s high-jinks can be found on my sister blog (jumpstreetchapel.blogspot.com).

Open at a high school gym where a gymnastics meet is going on. A girl in a turquoise and black leotard is doing a floor routine to light, bouncy synth-pop. Her teammate in a black leotard with multicolored stripes on it is doing a front split to stretch. She looks daggers at the girl who's performing and says under her breath, "That's my music, Jordan. I heard it first." One of Black Leotard's ankles is heavily taped. She stands up.

The coach comes over to ask how she's feeling. Black Leotard (Jody) says her ankle hurts. Coach tells her to stop sneering at her teammates and support them. She presses a tissue to the girl's suddenly bleeding nose and firmly instructs her, "Sign yourself out and get off that foot." Jody snottily tells the coach that she's practiced in more pain.

Turquoise Leotard finishes her routine to cheers and applause, then leaves the mat. "Nice music," Jody says as she passes. The rest of the gymnastics team hugs the other girl. Jody walks to the mat and waits for her music to begin. Turquoise Leotard becomes a distraction by collapsing onto the gym floor. People on the bleachers stand up to see what's going on.

Jody approaches. One of the assistant coaches says to the head coach, "Get an ambulance here" and starts doing CPR on the fallen gymnast. Jody puts a hand up to her own face and slowly pulls it back. Close-up of the blood on her fingertips.

Establishing shot of the Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters. Fuller enters a conference room with a balding white man in a suit (Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Cullinton). Cullinton explains that the official cause of the gymnast's death was ruled a heart attack. He doubts it given that the girl was "a 15-year-old with the blood pressure of a Wall Street veteran." Doug and Judy are already at the conference table. Fuller makes the introductions.

Cullinton exposits more about the gymnast. She was on "a weird mix of diuretics and synthetic hormones. Had herself down to 6% body fat. Her heart just couldn't take it. Frankly, this is the worst case this office has ever seen." Doug asks, "Worst case of what?" Fuller answers, "Steroid abuse."

The dead gymnast, Laura Jordan, had a laundry list of other issues: bone structure problems and kidney damage, to name two. She was also taking a "brake drug" to stop her growth and give her "a few more years in a sport where 16 is over the hill." Judy looks up from a file to say the drugs aren't controlled substances. Doug says if they find her supplier, they could charge him with involuntary manslaughter. Cullinton is hoping this case will lead to a push to get the drugs reclassified. 

Judy and Doug will be going into her old school Augustana High. Doug will be a jock. Judy will pose as a straight-A student and tutor Jodie the gymnastics team captain. With Jody and Judy being such similar names (a frequent occurrence on this show), Judy will be known for the remainder of this recap as Hoffs.

"Of the real Olympic hopefuls in this country, Augustana had two of 'em," Cullinton goes on. Laura and Jody were going to try out for the next summer's Games. "But with only 6 spots on the Olympic team, they both couldn't go," says Cullinton. That sounds a lot like motive to me.

Fuller reads off signs of steroid use: high self-esteem, a good attitude, "and, of course, a nice physique." Doug says, "I should have such problems." Cullinton advises him to tell that to Laura's parents and leaves. Really, those signs are ridiculous. Only the last one is even close to being true.

Cut to a hallway at Augustana. The gymnastics coach is introducing Hoffs to Jody. She doesn't want to cut Jody, but she will if her grades don't improve.

"Welcome to Jock High," says Jody as they stop in front of a display case crammed with trophies. She brags that she has 22 state titles and 8 national. "[I] Quit counting the guys who went on to play pro ball." she adds. Hoffs looks over the trophies with Jody's name on them. "Don't be impressed," says Jody. "Girls in this town are pathetic. I coulda beat 'em in a wheelchair."

Jody boasts that she's in training for Olympic try-outs. The school gymnastics coach won silver in the '64 Games. Coach pushes hard because that's what's needed to beat the best athletes in the world. Hoffs says she heard a girl died. "That's pretty obnoxious," says Jody. Hoffs apologizes, thinking Laura was Jodie's friend. Jody disabuses her of that notion by saying Laura "abused the sport and she didn't take care of herself."

Elsewhere in the school, a male teacher calls roll, struggling with the pronunciation of Doug's undercover last name (DeJepetti). Doug's standing at the front of the classroom wearing a black and gray varsity jacket and his feather earring. "Don't hurt yourself," he tells the teacher coolly. A male voice from somewhere in the classroom says, "Ogletree, give us a break." We soon see why.

A football player is strutting into the classroom sans shirt, although one is hanging out of his back pocket. He's tan with defined pecs, biceps, and six-pack abs. Classmates whistle and catcall. He high-fives someone.

"No shoes, no shirt, no service," says the teacher. Mike complains that it's hot. The teacher adds, "We've all seen your magnificent torso, but school policy says we have to admire it from behind your shirt." Mike misses the sarcasm entirely. He grins at the girl sitting next to him and asks, "Does my nakedness offend you?" She smiles back and several people giggle. What a tool!

Mike is apparently a hot college prospect. The teacher hopes someone on the football field will "stomp these delusions of grandeur" out of Mike. Doug wants to know what colleges are scouting Mike. "Arizona, UCLA, maybe State," Mike answers. Doug dismisses Pac-10 schools as "sissies and weiners." Mike asks for his idea of a big-time school. "Big 8, big guy," says Doug. (Sidebar: Pac-10 is now Pac-12; Big 8 became Big 12 in '96).

Mike is still sitting in class bare-chested. "What's your bench, big guy?" Mike challenges Doug, the last two words especially mocking. Doug says it's 210 pounds. "With your baby fat?" Mike scoffs, "This I gotta see."

Cut to a gym called Olympic Fitness. Burly men are lifting weights. A trainer is leading Harry and Tom through the place, explaining their program: 12-week cycles at sub-maximum levels and gradually upping reps and intensity. From what little I know about weight training, that sounds legit. Although I admit free weights are not something I like to mess around with, being a 110-pound weakling.

The trainer says the gym isn't the place for people who want "some Tinkerbell to feed ya fulla that Jane Fonda baloney." He asks if Tom is happy with how he looks. (Sidebar: The dude's sweatpants are tight enough to give him camel-toe. Yuck). Tom thinks adding 10 pounds wouldn't hurt. The trainer is thinking 15-20.

"I was hoping to do it kinda quickly," says Tom. The trainer asks what Tom means by that. Tom says he'll do "whatever it takes. Diet, vitamins...whatever. As long as I'm big by Friday. I got a date." The trainer suggests they find another gym.

One of the musclebound men shows them out.  Harry says they still have one more gym to check out. "Do you mind getting thrown out of it alone?" Tom asks. He wants to go to a meeting of some sort. He asks Harry if there's something wrong with going through with whatever he's planning. "I'm just askin', man," says Harry, "I mean, if it works for you, I might try it myself."

Cut to a group of men sitting in what looks like a school multipurpose room. A young brunette woman (Amy) is passing out folders of papers addressing a group of men. She's explaining that the men's fingerprints will be checked through the FBI and they'll need to provide complete personal references to be accepted into the Big Brothers program.

The middle-aged man next to Tom decides to be a comedian. "We can save a lotta paperwork." He nudges Tom. "He can be my Little Brother." Amy seems amused; Tom does not. Amy goes on to say how important it is for boys to "have a man around to talk things over with." She thanks them for coming and asks them to please apply if they're interested.

Tom goes up to her and says he wants to hand back his folder. "What'd I say to make you change your mind so quickly?" asks Amy. Tom doesn't think it's right for him. He says the police department has an unsuccessful annual Big Brothers drive and he was just curious about what the program does. Amy encourages him to read the brochure and pass it along to someone else who'd be a good role model if he's still not interested. They're subtly eyeing each other up the whole time.

Cut to the football coach's office at Augustana. The coach is meeting with a man in a suit. "Mike Ogletree is a natural for State ball, Jerry," says Suit, "A kid his size, he'd make starter his freshman year." Coach Jerry is unmoved and reminds Suit that "3 campus visits is an NCAA recruitment violation." He tells Suit to leave a business card. Suit says he's out of card and tacks a $100 bill to the "Lost" board. 

In the weight room, Doug is doing a bench press while a kid in a Michigan State T-shirt spots him. A crowd has gathered to watch. Doug gets up. "210, my friend," he says, kissing his Saint Michael medal, "and closin' in. Man who would be king, so much for the home-field advantage." Mike says, "School record's 320. I should know; I set it myself." He leans back in his short-shorts to get down to business. As someone who can barely bench a 40-lb bar by itself, I'm impressed.

Jody has come in. She watches Mike add more weight to the bar. Hoffs asks her where she's been; Jody's late for their tutoring session. "I just came by to see what all the action was about," says Jody with a vacant expression. Hoffs dismisses the guys as muscleheads. Jodie says she'd kill for Mike's confidence. 

The crowd claps as Mike presses again. "Look, if you don't wanna do this, I got better things to do than tutor some pathetic jock," says Hoffs. I believe the proper term is "jockette." Jody promises they'll start tutoring the next day. "240! All right!" cheers the spotter. Doug gets up from the bench, enthusiastically shouting and high-fiving people. 

Mike is about to add more weight to the bar when Coach Jerry comes in. He asks if Mike is trying to kill himself. "Just showin' the new kid what we're made of at Augustana, Coach," says Mike. Coach Jerry says: "Yeah, well, we're not made of pulled groin muscles." Doug automatically looks down at his crotch.

Coach Jerry sizes Doug up: "6-foot-1, 190-pound junior." He tells Mike to show Doug the right way to turn baby fat into muscle. Boy, if Doug didn't have body-image issues before the case started, I bet he does now. He proves it by rubbing his stomach and asking, "What's with this baby fat?" Mike laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

As they walk into the locker room, Doug gripes to Mike about how he was set to make first-string for football at his last school. But his dad changed jobs so he has to start from the bottom again. He keeps pinching at his side as he talks. He shakes his head and mutters, "Baby fat."

Mike promises to get Doug back into shape and asks what kind of vitamins Doug is doing. "Well, I did Wilma this morning and I'm thinkin' about doin' Fred or Dino tomorrow," Doug replies. It just figures he'd be the one taking Flintstones vitamins.

Mike goes to his locker and takes out a brown bottle of pills. "10 milligrams before and after reps," he says, "You pump once a day? Twice a day?" Doug replies once because he's recovering from a leg pull. Mike hands Doug 2 pills and tells him to "slam some complex carbs" at dinner.

Doug asks if these are vitamins. Mike says, "Sort of." Doug looks over his shoulder toward the sinks. Mike tells him to dry-swallow the pills or give them back. Doug pops the pills in his mouth and tips his head back. "Now you look like a guy with some possibilities," says Mike. He leaves. Doug leans against the lockers, pondering the ramifications of what he's just done.

Cut to the chapel the next day. Harry is on the phone trying to order a 500-count bottle of some sort of supplement. Tom is perched cross-legged on Harry's desk looking at a weight-lifting magazine. "Shortcuts to perfection for today's discreet bodybuilder," he reads.

Blowfish taps one of the pictures and says, "This is what I call a guy with a well-toned body." Tom informs Blowfish that it's a picture of a woman. Blowfish says, "She's still the best-lookin' guy I've ever seen."

Doug is over at Hoffs' desk pouring her some coffee. He seems to be wearing the same shirt he was weightlifting in the day before. Ew. She asks him what his problem is. Doug asks, "Can't a guy be in a good mood?" Tom answers, "Not if he's you. Now cut it out. You're scaring us." 

Doug comes over to Harry's desk with the coffeepot and rapidly shouts, "Cups, cups, cups!" Tom and Blowfish decline, but Harry holds out his mug. Doug almost spills hot coffee on Harry's arm while he's pouring.

Fuller comes over to thank Blowfish for moving his file cabinet. Blowfish didn't; he points to Doug. "Had a little extra time this morning," Doug explains in a perky voice. Fuller immediately knows something's up and says Doug's favorite phrase: "In my office, Penhall." Doug shoves the coffeepot at Blowfish before walking away.

In his office, Fuller demands to know why Doug didn't regurgitate the pills. Doug looks nervous as he replies, "Puke? I can't do that. I never could." Fuller glares at him and snaps back, "You're an undercover cop, Doug. You learn to puke!" Doug nods.

Fuller inquires if Doug is feeling all right. He shrugs. "I'm fine. I got energy to burn." He adds that Mike isn't a typical dealer and he doubts anyone even knows what's going on. Fuller wants the supplier connected to Laura's death and the case closed. "I'm readin' the guy," Doug explains. Fuller shouts: "Read this, Douglas!" He doesn't want his officer's health or the Jump Street program put in jeopardy. Doug is dismissed.

Doug comes out of the office with a scowl on his face. Tom grins and says, "That's my boy." Fuller walks over to shake Tom's hand. The candidate's handshake type is a question on the employer questionnaire for the Big Brother application. 

Tom wonders if applying is a mistake. "It's gotten to the point where I can't even look at a kid without thinking: 'A couple more years and I'll be slammin' him up against his locker, readin' him his rights." Being a Big Brother might give him some perspective. Fuller hands Tom the questionnaire to mail in.

In the Augustana football office, Coach Jerry is meeting with his star player. Mike looks over a scholarship offer and crumples it up. "No car, no deal," he says, picking up a brochure advertising a sports car. He reads off some of the car's features.

Coach Jerry thinks State's offer is worth considering. They have 6 defensive backs graduating. "If we could put another 20 pounds on you over the summer, could mean a lotta game time for you as a freshman," says Coach. Mike considers this. "Do I get an apartment?" he asks.

Coach Jerry thinks they can make that happen with a little subterfuge. Mike reports to State for football camp and early registration. "Only with summer classes still in session, they gotta put ya up in an apartment. You just never move out." Mike grins.

Doug interrupts their chat to ask Coach Jerry if he's "got anything for a shoulder casualty." Coach Jerry hands Mike a brown bottle out of his desk and tells the kid to use it sparingly. In the locker room, Mike rubs liniment into Doug's bare shoulder. Doug feels like he can take on the world. Mike tells him he just can't do it all at once.

Doug pokes his shoulder and says, "Glad this stuff works better than it tastes." Mike says, "DMSO, man. Little dab'll do ya." 

Sidebar: DMSO is good old-fashioned horse liniment. It absorbs quickly into any pore it comes in contact with, so it's great for pain. One of its more interesting properties is that it can then be secreted onto your tongue, leaving a garlicky taste in your mouth. I worked with horses for 2 summers in high school, so I'm intimately familiar with the stuff. And there actually was a book written about it called A Little Dab'll Do Ya.

Anyway, Mike warns Doug to keep his mouth shut. The horse liniment is legal, but not on the school board's approved list. Doug asks if he should talk to Coach Jerry about getting more of the pills from yesterday. "If I were you, I wouldn't say anything to the coach about any of this," says Mike. Doug offers money. Mike displays his wolfish grin yet again. "You move pretty fast for a kid from Oklahoma."

Mike agrees to hook Doug up with more of what were probably uppers. But not after school because he has to work out at the gym. The football boosters got him a membership. "Perks, my friend," he says, tossing Doug a towel. Doug asks if he can watch Mike's workout, but Mike doesn't answer.

Cut to Jody in the gym. She does a backflip off the balance beam. She lands on her feet, but it's hard and awkward. "No, no, no!" says the gymnastics coach, who's watching with a video camera. "You're still leading with your hips; you're all over the place. Where is your concentration?" Jody pouts, "I told you I don't feel good, all right? Do I have to write it down?"

Coach tells Jody to shower so they can go over the videotapes. Jody wants to try the flip again; she just needs a minute to breathe. Coach reminds her that Jody and Laura were different gymnasts. Jody argues that Laura was better and she's wasting Coach's time. Coach disagrees, "Sheer desire can put you on top. I've seen it before." Jody promises she'll get her aggression back.

Enter Hoffs. Coach was told Jody did all her homework. She dismisses Jody from practice, saying, "There's no point in continuing with that attitude." Hoffs tells Jody she wanted get pizza before the movie. Jody turns her down in favor of reviewing her tapes and says this was a bad idea.

Hoffs walks over to Coach, who's packing up the video camera and tripod. "How are you finding life at Augustana?" she asks. Hoffs replies, "A little obsessive, thank you." Coach says Jody doesn't have time to start a friendship; she's been training her whole life for the Olympic trials. Judy thinks that friends should be Jody's decision. Coach tells Hoffs to stick to tutoring.

Cut to Mike Ogletree's dining room. He tells his mom that he's planning to go to State. Doug compliments Mrs. Ogletree on her cooking. Mike's little brother (probably 8 years old or so) is at the table too. Mike says, "Wait 'til I break bad in the NFL. Set you guys up in a real place." His mother chides him. It is a pretty nice house. Mike tells Doug to follow him upstairs.

In Mike's room, Doug admires two huge goldfish swimming in an aquarium. Mike is educating him on the pros and cons of oral steroids. "They're great to break off cycles, but they have to pass through your vitals," he says. Doug asks, "The fish?" Mike snaps, "No, the orals." He ran into complications with them the previous season.

Mike got side pains and passed blood so he laid off them for a month. "Man, did I take a beating," he says, "I sat out 2 games." Oh yeah, that'll really wreck your season. He justifies the steroids by saying there's 1,000 guys out for every NFL contract and they give him an edge.

While saying this, he fills up a syringe and walks it over to Doug. "I thought that was for you," Doug says. Mike explains that he's cycling. Doug gets nervous and stammers that he's "got this thing about needles." He promises to take it tomorrow. Instead, Mike squirts the contents of the syringe into the fish tank. Doug says he'll pay Mike back if he knows where to buy it.

Mike hands Doug two of the same kind of pills he had in his gym locker. Seeing no other option, Doug pops them in his mouth and crunches away. Mike hands over the bottle. Doug asks how much he owes. Mike says they're free. "Now go work out and be aggressive," he tells him.

Just then, Mike's unnamed little brother runs into the room and jumps onto Mike's bed. Mike grins. "Hey, animal, it's sack time for you," he says good-naturedly. He throws the kid over his shoulder and starts to walk out. "You kiss Mom?" he asks.

Doug seizes the opportunity to examine the vial on Mike's dresser. He finds more vials and pill bottles in the underwear drawer. He slips a vial inside his jacket and leaves.

Cut to the Chapel's bathroom. Doug kneels down, shakes his head around a little bit, and sticks a finger down his throat. He starts retching and ducks out of sight. 

Cut to him coming out of the bathroom. He wipes his mouth and slides down the firepole. He joins Tom, who's shooting hoops in the squadroom. Tom gripes, "That was rude. I was right in the middle of telling you something." Doug says, "Official police business." Tom shoots back, "Maybe if you'd stop eating official police evidence."

Harry has taken the vial to Cullinton for analysis. Doug tells Tom that he got a Big Brother questionnaire in the mail the previous day. He thinks the time commitment would interfere with Tom's bowling. "Would you rather teach your patented left-to-right slider to a full-grown woman or some booger-faced kid?" he asks. Tom says Doug is missing the whole point of being a Big Brother.

Doug is impressed by Mike. He's being heavily scouted by colleges and "his greatest thrill in life is puttin' his kid brother to bed." Tom tells Doug not to compare him to a dope dealer; Doug doesn't have to write a recommendation letter if he doesn't want to. Doug thinks they're hassling Mike for no reason. "He's not dealing anything and I don't think he's connected to [Laura's] death."

Tom tells him to find out who it is and rejoin humanity. Doug asks what's wrong with getting to know his suspect. They start arguing and shouting over each other. Harry interrupts to tell them that the vial Doug brought contained synthetic testosterone. It's the same type that's connected to a black-market ring the DEA thought had been stopped. It's also the same drug that was found in Laura Jordan's body.

The next morning in the Chapel, the Jump Street team meets with Cullinton. The pills that Mike gave to Doug came from a pharmaceutical company in Mexico. Fuller asks Doug if he's had his first buy. "He keeps giving 'em to me," Doug says, obviously frustrated. Fuller suggests someone might be giving the drugs to Mike. Not the coaches, though. Harry checked into their backgrounds.

Fuller says, "Maybe it's time we stuck a badge in Ogletree's face." Doug wants to solve the case without ruining Mike's football career. "You ever think maybe he was just as generous to the Jordan girl?" asks Fuller. Doug looks down at the floor. 

Cullinton has files about the Mexican pharmaceutical company on their way to the Chapel, about 300 of them. Fuller assigns Harry and Tom to help Cullinton read through all the files.

Cut to Jody's room. "I just have to laugh at some of these girls," she says, "Music is the only thing that'll make their pathetic little routines stand out and half of 'em still pick the same sound." Hoffs checks out a bulletin board full of medals, ribbons, and newspaper clippings. She wonders why Laura and Jody weren't friends; they placed first and second in every meet. 

"It's hard to be friends with someone who stands in your way," says Jody, "Laura would've gone next summer. She would've made the Olympic team, not me. She cheated."

Hoffs asks how it's possible to cheat in gymnastics. Jody explains that what little weight Laura had was all muscle. She wants to get back to her homework. Hoffs asks if Jody knows Mike. Jody says they used to be friends and tried to date. "I used to get these nosebleeds and he didn't think that was very pretty," Jody explains. She says she doesn't get them anymore, but she still doesn't feel very good sometimes.

Cut to Tom's apartment. He and Amy are sitting on the couch. She apologizes for having to put him through a home visit, but it's required as part of the Big Brother application process. Tom is hoping to get a kid named Greg as his Little Brother. Amy thinks he'd be terrific for him. They kiss. It progresses to making out.

Tom pulls away first. He asks if this is how she found Greg's first terrific Big Brother. They bicker about the kiss for a few minutes. Amy thinks someone else should review his application in light of what happened. "Well, so now you can stay," says Tom. No dice. Amy leaves.

In a conference room, Harry and Tom look over the drug files. Tom says the only problem with being a Big Brother would be dealing with Amy. "You know the type. Stuffy, professional...beautiful eyes." Cullinton comes in with more files. They're looking for deliveries in the area that were made to places that aren't licensed to dispense prescription drugs. 

Cut to Olympic Fitness. Doug and Mike come out the back door. Doug whoops excitedly when he sees Mike's new car. "You only signed your letter of intent yesterday," he says. Mike shrugs, "State wants me bad. What can I say?" He asks if Doug finished the bottle of pills. Doug did and wants more so he can go into business himself.

Dave the trainer comes out to give Mike his gym bag. Mike forgot it in the locker room. He congratulates Mike on going to State. Doug and Mike get in the car. Doug offers him $200 for 10 vials. Mike wipes at his bloody nose as he drives. 

Cut to Mike's house. He and Doug go up the stairs. Mike is going over the finer points of their business plan. "You're not writing any of this down," he says. Doug promises, "I won't forget." Mike grabs Doug by his jacket and shoves him into the wall. "See that you don't," he growls.

Mike wants Doug to save some of the steroids to mail to him once he starts at State. In Mike's room, his brother is standing on a chair looking into the fish tank. Mike snaps at him to get down because he already fed the fish. "I didn't mean to," says Baby Bro. Both of the giant goldfish are dead. Mike starts to chase after his brother. "Ease up, man!" Doug shouts. He gets knocked into a wall.

Mike's mom comes out and sees the two older boys fighting in the hall. Baby Brother protests that he didn't mean to kill the fish. I'm pretty sure the steroids that got squirted in the tank did the job. Mike and Doug lose their balance and roll down the stairs. Once at the bottom, Doug sits on Mike's back and handcuffs him. "I didn't sell you nothin', man!" yells Mike. Doug suddenly remembers that little detail. "Damn," he whispers to himself.

Cut to Amy's office. Tom is pacing with a pink folder in hand. Amy comes in. "You are a very confused woman," he tells her. "Someone rejects you so you reject them?" Amy hands him a letter of personal recommendation that was written about him. "Personally, I'm not rejecting you, but based on that letter, I have to reject your application," says Amy.

Cut back to Jody's room. She and Hoffs are watching Jody's most recent gymnastics tape. Jody keeps rewinding it to see her mistakes. "I went to the zone meets like that, they'd think I came to sell T-shirts," she says. Jody gets up to put a different tape in the VCR; it was shot 2 months before. There's a noticeable and positive difference in her athleticism when compared to that afternoon.

At the Chapel, Mrs. Ogletree arrives to bail her son out. She says Mike and his brother were just roughhousing. Doug disagrees. Fuller tells her that Mike is taking on steroids. "My son only takes prescription drugs," she says. Doug reminds her that a girl is dead. Mrs. Ogletree wants to leave. What a charming woman.

Doug asks if they can charge Mike with furnishing. No, because the drugs aren't a controlled substance. Fuller praises Doug for protecting Mike's brother. Problem is now Mike's going home. 

Doug tells Mrs. Ogletree that Mike will get drug tested at State and lose his scholarship. "They only test before Bowl games," says Mike, "And for every test, there's 10 ways around it." Fuller lets Mike out of the holding cell.

Harry comes in with a new lead. A local fitness company did $55,000 worth of business with the Mexican drug company even though they don't have a pharmaceutical license. The company's bank records include canceled checks from Laura's father. Fuller tells them to get buy money and a warrant. He addresses Doug and Tom, "And whatever it is between you two, put it on the back burner."

Tom roughly parks his Mustang outside Olympic Fitness. Doug gets out. "She let you read my letter? I thought it was confidential!" he says. Tom yells back, "Don't talk to me." He's regretting not asking Harry to write the letter of recommendation.

Inside the gym, they meet up with Trainer Dave and go to his office. Doug pays for some drugs and gets a receipt. Dave explains that his customers who pay by check need them for their records. Doug's receipt is written out as though he bought a rowing machine. Dave doesn't actually sell any equipment. Tom opens a file cabinet. They reveal that they're cops.

Doug says he's under arrest for involuntary manslaughter. Tom finds a receipt with Laura Jordan's name on it, written for leotards and tights. Dave doesn't sell those either. Doug and Tom perp-walk Dave downstairs. No one in the gym even looks up. Hoffs is there. Tom hands her a receipt he found with Jody's name on it, dated that morning. She looks disappointed.

Cut to the Augustana High School gym. Jody comes down from the balance beam when she sees Hoffs. Hoffs flashes her badge and explains that she knows about the steroid ring. "What you're doing to yourself is crazy!" says Hoffs. Jody says athletes have to make sacrifices. Hoffs tells her steroids cause irreversible damage. Jody isn't moved. "Talk to me next summer," she says. Hoffs tries to appeal to her femininity by pointing out that steroids could make Jody unable to have children. 

Jody realizes Dave must've been arrested. No worries, she'll find another source. Her nose starts to bleed again. "Oh, Jody," Hoffs says sadly. Jody has a real one-track mind; her parting words are "I'm goin' next summer. And I'm gonna win."

What will become of our two athletes? Let's go to the title cards. Jody "made it to the final round of the zone meets, but was disqualified for injecting cortisone acetate into an ankle injury that wouldn't heal." Presumably the same one she was struggling with at the beginning of the episode. Mike "reported to State College. He collapsed on the field during the 4th game of the season. He lost his kidney the next afternoon."

Cut to the Chapel. Doug is trying to call Tom, but gets his answering machine. He slams his phone around a little. "Tom, I know you're there," he says. "Look, we gotta talk about this sooner or later. Don't you think I had a good reason for doin' what I did? Huh?"

Cut to Tom's apartment. He answers the phone. Doug tells Tom that he jumped into Big Brothers without really thinking about it first. Tom argues that it was his mistake to make and threatens to hang up. "And what about the kid?" asks Doug. "What happens to him in 6 weeks when you realize you ain't got enough for him, huh?" Tom says he has to go. Doug apologizes to him. Tom hangs up.

Amy appears. She's wearing nothing but a bathrobe and her hair is wet. She thinks Doug was right. Tom pulls her over the back of the couch saying, "Git ovah heah" in a tough-guy New York accent. They start making out. Amy finds a Coke can between the couch cushions. She isn't grossed out in the slightest and keeps kissing him.

End of episode. 


Friday, April 25, 2014

Sirens: "There's No 'I' in Cream"

A lot has happened in the weeks since I first blogged about the high jinks of Eminent Ambulance Company. Johnny still isn't back together with Theresa (at least not officially), but he has reconnected with his estranged father (played by Rescue Me alum Lenny Clarke). Hank attended the wedding of an ex who cheated on him. Brian has tried unsuccessfully to start up a workplace romance with Voodoo; she claims to be uninterested in him because she's asexual, which is a welcome relief from the lesbian trope. Middle-aged veteran paramedic Cash has hooked up with Hank's mom.

Tonight's episode is one of the strongest I've seen in the series' short first season. It opens in the Eminent Ambulance garage with the whole crew addressing what appears to be a group of EMT students. At one point, Voodoo provides a Tommy Gavin-esque rundown of horrors they may encounter on the job. Their talk to the newbies is intercut with footage of a shift they all recently worked.

That day starts off with Johnny bringing in a dozen Bavarian cream doughnuts to share with everyone. He steps out of the kitchen for a couple of minutes and comes back to find them all gone. Johnny is a little pissed off about spending $40 on the doughnuts and not getting to enjoy them. None of his coworkers own up to eating more than one. I wondered if Johnny would turn investigator like Abby did when her cupcake went missing. 

As usual, Ambulance 14 is staffed by Johnny, Hank, and Brian; Ambulance 1's crew consists of Stats, Voodoo, and the normally-averse to fieldwork Cash. 14 responds to an apartment where an old lady thought she was experiencing a phantom smell, which can be a symptom of a stroke. It turns out that the poor old dear really is smelling toast that she burned and forgot about.

There's all the usual banter like Hank poking the bear by asking Johnny to name his top 3 doughnuts. Suddenly, a call comes over the radio that instantly changes the entire mood of the show: There's been a drive-by gang shooting with multiple bystander injuries. Ambulances 14 and 1 respond and find that there are 11 victims in total. Cash likens the chaos to his days as a medic during the Vietnam War. Hank, Johnny, and Brian whisk away a young boy named Mikey (maybe 8 or 9 years old) who's been shot in the stomach.

Johnny drives while Brian and Hank take care of the little boy in the back. In an effort to keep their young patient calm, Johnny calls over his shoulder to Mikey, asking him to name his top 3 superheroes. Johnny's personal favorite is Batman because "Superman flies around in his underwear." Mikey's top 3, starting from the bottom, are Iron Man (good choice, kid), Batman, and Jay-Z. Why is a rapper a superhero? In Mikey's words, "'Cause he's married to Beyonce." The guys chuckle at this.

At the hospital, the 14 crew runs into Stats, Voodoo, and Cash, who've just finished dropping off their patient. They happily announce that Mikey is expected to live; Ambulance 1 got the same prognosis for the mother they brought in. However, Cash has some bad news too; 4 of the shooting victims were D.O.A. This episode is the first of the series to mix the comedy with an honest-to-God tragedy and it does it well, even in the abbreviated format of a half-hour sitcom.

As a whole, the show itself is still nothing spectacular, but not a bad way to kill time on a Thursday night. Each episode brings a new set of bizarre emergencies; its one-liners are often based around a theme. For example, in last week's episode, they learned that Hank is terrified of spiders and discussed their respective fears. (Johnny is only "afraid of the big things: terrorism, cancer, Ben Affleck being a terrible Batman"). The characters are likable enough, though my personal favorite is still Brian the adorable dumbass rookie with a heart of gold. The show doesn't have much time left to get its legs under it; next week's episode is the season finale. Hoping they can bring in a good closer.