Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Most people would rather eat squirming worms than go back in time and repeat any of their high school years--especially the unpopular kids, for whom those four years seemed like boot camp times two, just something to endure and get beyond. That's because kids can be cruel, and Darwinism is in fullest flower when the participants have pimples. This Disney Channel Original Movie even has a vice principal who refuses to punish the offenders because it's the natural social order: cool and popular kids pick on dorks. That's just the way it is.

But in this "Revenge of the Nerds" fantasy, the dorks actually become heroes, taste popularity, and get to cross "unrequited" off their love list. What's more, they help other nerds avoid those life-defining moments of embarrassment that doom them to dorkhood for the rest of their high school lives.

How does this happen? Well, let's go back in time to see what starts it all in motion. We're introduced to three friends, the good-looking jock Derek (Steven R. McQueen), the equally good-looking cheerleader Stephanie (Chelsea Staub), and the awkward but funny dork-to-be Virgil (Jason Dolley, "Cory in the House"). As a nine-year-old genius who's entered high school early loses control of a rocket car he's built and tears through football and cheerleading practice, struggling quarterback Derek plunks him with his only good toss and the players surround him and start to maul him. Virgil, being the resident good guy, tries to stop them . . . and he's pushed around, forever linked to the dork. Fast forward to senior year and he's still sitting at the dork table, surrounded by the school's uncool while Derek and Stephanie are an item.

Everything changes when Summerton High's pint-sized Einstein, Charlie (Luke Benward, "Because of Winn-Dixie"), enlists Virgil's help in building a time machine. Because they need motorcycle parts for their machine and that requires an expert on cycles, they also recruit brooding-and-scary loner Zeke Thompson (Nicholas Braun, "Sky High"). As different as they are, what these three have in common, of course, is that they're all unpopular, all "dorks."

Surprisingly, it's a little slow going early on in the film. It takes awhile for writer John Killoran to introduce us to the concept and characters. Everyone gets a token intro, and we get the picture (albeit a confusing one) when we see a "dork" inside a vending machine. As Vice Principal Tolkan (J.P. Manoux) tries to get a snack with no change (and doesn't seem phased by the boy in the machine), for four quarters that Virgil tempts him with he decides to reverse his decision and grant the boys full access to "Room 77," which we're to understand hasn't been used since it was an underground bomb shelter in the Fifties. Even my 10-year-old son balked at the idea that three kids and the girl (Kara Crane) who has a crush on Charlie would have exclusive come-and-go access to this room, with not even a custodian passing through.

There also isn't much of an attempt to explain how it is that these guys could have created a black hole because of their frequent time travel, or how fixing the black hole could be both easy and difficult. From a parent's perspective, I'm not sure what kind of message it sends that a kid like Charlie can hack into the NASA main frame and download their stalled plans for a time machine without any repercussions. Then again, who's going to repercuss? As Disney has often disturbingly done in recent years, the adults are just a bunch of addle-brained losers who are even lower on the social ladder than dorks. The scientists from NASA are chip-eating, basement-dwelling losers who can't outcalculate or outthink a 13-year-old genius. And when a crisis looms, they all just stand back and watch while these three in their white ski suits approach the problem like Ghostbusters.
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A century before anybody heard the name Jack Sparrow, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote one of his most famous works, the pirate adventure, Treasure Island. Stevenson is perhaps also best known for the novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The book was a phenomenal success and within a year there were already stage plays of Dr. Jekyll being mounted. There have been countless adaptations since then and numerous films with most considering the 1931 production starring Fredric March to be the best. Mr. Hyde has also joined an elite club in being of the few movie monsters (along with Frankenstein, the Mummy and others) to meet Abbott and Costello. The influence of Stevenson's novella has even stretched into the world of comic books. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby certainly drew inspiration when they created the Incredible Hulk while Alan Moore included the character in his excellent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. We´ll just forget the movie version ever happened. I´d like to forget this version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" happened too.

Dougray Scott plays the lead role in this modernized, low-budget film which originally premiered on cable television. Scott's Henry Jekyll is a Harvard-educated neurologist, well-respected and dedicated to saving the lives of his patients. He is also fascinated by how a seemingly good person can still have evil thoughts. While on a trip to the Amazon, Dr. Jekyll discovers a rare flower with psychotropic properties which the natives use to heal themselves. Jekyll takes samples back to his laboratory in an attempt to rid himself of his inner evil, believing this would be a breakthrough in healing the sick. Instead, Jekyll inadvertently creates a separate personality in Edward Hyde. As the film begins, we jump right into the middle of Hyde´s killing spree as he murders a prostitute in a dark alley.

Helpless as Hyde hijacks his body to commit terrible crimes, Jekyll turns to his best friend, Gabe Utterson (Tom Skerritt), the husband of a terminally-ill patient he once treated. Utterson points Jekyll in the direction of a young lawyer named Claire Wheaton (Krista Bridges). Jekyll just wants to be locked up, confessing his crimes to Claire and wishing to plead guilty. Initially disbelieving, Claire digs deeper into the lives of Jekyll and Hyde just as the police step up their investigation. Once Jekyll is arrested, Claire vows to defend him in court, feeling Jekyll should not be held responsible for Hyde´s crimes. Rounding out the main cast is Jekyll's housekeeper, Mrs. Poole (Danette Mackay), who suffers silently during her boss's affliction.
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Mama's Boy

Diane Keaton ("The Godfather," "Annie Hall") and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite," "Blades of Glory") have made some good movies over the years. This is not one of them.

"Mama's Boy" (2007), written by Hank Nelken ("Saving Silverman," "Are We Done Yet?") and directed by Tim Hamilton ("Shrink," "Truth in Advertising"), is allegedly a comedy, but I cannot for the life of me figure out where the filmmakers intended the humor to come. Maybe I should have seen it in a theater and picked up my clues to laugh from the rest of the audience. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. released the film in a limited run, and it never got to my community. Not that I probably would have paid money to see it, in any case.

As you might infer from the title, the movie is about a mother-son relationship. Keaton plays a widowed mom, Jan Mannus, and Heder plays her son, Jeffrey. Jan is an attractive, middle-aged lady who hasn't dated since her husband died in an automobile accident many years earlier. Her big chance for happiness comes in the person of Merton J. Rosenbloom, a motivational speaker (or "success coach," as he likes people to call him), whom she begins to date.

Jeffrey is a twenty-nine-year-old slacker who's still living at home. He's a klutzy, nerdy, selfish, immature, hypochondriacal, overly protected, and overly protective man-child who refuses to share his mother with anybody. He's worked as a clerk in the same bookstore for thirteen years and tells people he's living at home "until he makes his first astronomical discovery." We see a telescope in his bedroom, but we never see him use it. He pursues fantasy games and hangs out at video arcades while "I Don't Want to Grow Up" plays in the background. So much for subtlety.

The movie is about Jeffrey's crusade to ensure that Mert doesn't get to first base with his mom. Mert, who is almost terrifyingly upbeat most of the time, initially does his best to befriend Jeffrey, but it doesn't work. They war with one another in various childish ways for most of the movie's ninety-three-minute running time in the apparent hope that either one of them will win or the audience will give up and go home.

The movie's biggest problem is that it concentrates on Jeffrey, and Jeffrey is a jerk. When Mert moves in with Jeffrey's mom, Jeffrey goes nuts. He loves his mother so much, he is willing to ruin her life for his own self-centered ends. I wonder why the filmmakers thought such a character would be funny? Or even the subject of comedy? There are no redeeming qualities to his personality. He meets a really sweet girl, Nora Flannigan (Anna Faris), who works in a coffee house across from his bookstore, and she sort of falls for him. But he rebuffs her advances at every turn. Why an attractive, smart, imaginative person like Nora would see anything in a loser like Jeffrey is anybody's guess.

The only person in the movie who brings any joy to a scene is ninety-odd-year-old Eli Wallach, who plays Jeffrey's boss. His crotchety old-timer at least has some life in him.
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Boston Red Sox: The Essential Games of Fenway Park (Steelbook)

You know the Boston Red Sox. They're the team that's constantly winning the World Series. The rest of the league is simply Cursed to stand by and watch them bask in glory.

The BoSox have also become a favorite on DVD. MLB has already released the 2004 and 2007 World Series/playoff boxed sets, and now we have another collection of six "essential" Red Sox games.

There are two real vintage treats in the collection.

The Sep 30, 1967 Red Sox-Twins is reportedly the oldest surviving complete telecast of a regular season game, though I have heard that honor bestowed on a few different telecasts over the last several years. In any case, you might be surprised to know that MLB never saw fit to store the tapes of any broadcast (sometimes recording over old tapes to save money) until the 1970s when they started to think about how "important" the game really was.

I was not around in 1967, so it was a pleasure for me to get to see several all-time greats play in this game: Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and a Twins' rookie second baseman by the name of Rod Carew (he batted 6th). And of course there's the unforgettable former AL MVP Zoilo Versalles. This was a pivotal game in one of the tightest pennant races of all-time with the Twins, Red Sox, and Tigers all within a game of each other and the White Sox still in the race.

The Red Sox were an amazingly young team that year. Yaz was, by far, the oldest of the regulars at age 27. Several rookies and sophomores played crucial roles on the team: George "Boomer" Scott, Reggie Smith, and Mike Andrews. Just a month before this game, the young star Tony Conigliaro had just been horribly injured in a beaning from which he would never really recover. Somehow, the young ragtag bunch made it all the way to the Series. This was the penultimate game of the season, and features a crucial Yaz home run which helped him sew up the Triple Crown. TRIVIA QUESTION: Yaz actually tied for the home run lead with another player: who was it?

The other gem is Game 6 of the 1975 World Series featuring Carlton Fisk's famous home run, perhaps the most recognized footage in baseball history. It's interesting to watch the broadcast; they showed several different angles of the home run before latching onto the iconic image of Fisk waving the ball fair. (NOTE: The screen cap on the left is NOT taken from the DVD.) As for what happened in Game 7, well heck, Game 6 was great for Sox fans. TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the pitcher?

The rest of the games are more recent. The Apr 29, 1986 game shows Roger Clemens back when he still had his fastball and his reputation intact; Rocket set a record with 20 strikeouts against the hapless Mariners that day.

The 1999 All Star game at Fenway is also included, though it is incorrectly identified on the DVD case "the final midsummer Classic of the 20th century." The game is most memorable for Ted Williams´ pre-game appearance.
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New York Mets: The Essential Games of Shea Stadium (Steelbox)

Beat the Mets.
Beat the Mets.
Step right up
And beat the Mets.

I'm pretty sure that's how the song goes, at least after 2007's nearly impossible, but most welcome, collapse. In late September of '07, the Mets stood a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus. They didn´t. Hooray .2%!

When I was a kid, I hated the Mets, and as an adult I hate the Mets. It's pretty much required when you're a Philadelphia sports fan. Nonetheless, I am forced to admit that they fielded some great teams in the 80s, and the fact that half of the Mets of that era are currently serving or have recently served hard time shouldn´t take away too much from that.

However, that's really not relevant to this review. If you're a Mets' fan, this six-game collection will likely be of interest to you, though some of the games have appeared in previous collections.

There is only one older game included on the set, Game 4 of the 1969 World Series when the Miracle Mets, just seven years into their expansion existence, somehow won the World Series. It's still hard to figure out how they did it. Was it the immortal infield of Jerry Grote, Ed Kranepool, Ken Boswell, Wayne Garret, and Bud Harrelson? Or the equally immortal outfield of Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, Art Shamsky, and the mighty Ron Swoboda? OK, so it probably had something to do with the young pitching staff featuring a 24 year old ace named Tom Seaver, a still young Jerry Koosman and a couple of kids in the pen: Tug McGraw and a wild, flame-throwing 22 year old named… you tell me (TRIVIA QUESTION #1.) Game 4 is a great pitcher´s duel between Seaver and Mike Cuellar which is a reminder of old times as Tom Seaver went all 10 innings for the victory.

The set also features two games from the Mets' 1986 post-season: Game 3 of the NLCS which is capped off by a 9th-inning home run from Lenny "Nails" Dykstra, one of the greatest post-season performers of all-time; and Game 6 of the 1986 World Series which we all know and love except in the Bill Buckner household.

I had completely forgotten about Game 5 of the NLCS which went 15 innings, and ended with a come-from-behind rally in the 15th. Unlike the 1969, this team was a real murderer's row anchored by two sure-fire future Hall-of-Famers in Ricky Henderson and the recently retired Mike Piazza as well as great-in-their prime guys like Robin Ventura, John Olerud, and Edgardo Alfonzo. Their shortstop, however, was somewhat less than great-in-his-prime. Can you name him? (TRIVIA QUESTION #2)
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