Sunday, November 15, 2009

Capsule Review Cavalcade: What's Up

This installment of capsule reviews is truly a mixed bag, as we cover what's been up in my culture consuming world lately. We'll visit a book I've been reading, a movie I just saw, and two bits of cable TV entertainment.

New Rules (2005); by Bill Maher, 230 pages
On his follow-up to "Politically Incorrect" entitled "Real Time," comedian Bill Maher ends the show with a series of "new rules." Here's an example from the book. "New rule: You can't choose to be a cheap whore at only one specific place and time. If you show your breasts for plastic beads at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then you have to show your breasts for beads at a Houlihan's in Philadelphia."

"New Rules" is merely a collection of those (including the long form ones) arranged alphabetically by topic. Since it's put together in small chunks, it's probably best enjoyed that way. Read chapter after chapter, the similar premises and setups have less impact. And if you don't agree with Bill's politics, or at least tolerate that someone can have a different point of view, then you probably won't let yourself laugh. But, if you're open to diving in, you're bound to enjoy it. **** He even gives Dubya Bush a few breaks in the book - although it's mainly to say "stop making fun of him for X, Y and Z! Reasons A, B and C are enough!"

Hoarders; A&E
Every week for an hour, "Hoarders" brings us into the life of two people who suffer from a mental disorder that causes them to be pack rats. Entire rooms are lost under a sea of junk. Even an entire property can be found filled with washing machines, computer equipment and hollowed-out vehicles. They just won't get rid of this stuff. The show sends in a therapist and a cleaning crew, and usually find themselves facing a deadline. If they can't get the hoarder's act together, an authority figure is waiting around the corner to lay the smackdown. Seeing these hoards is fascinating. My main problem with the show is a lack of conclusion. We only get to see treatment starting to happen, if at all. Even the well-worn post-episode subtitles are absent in some cases, leaving us completely in the dark on whether the hoarder recovered, or found themselves in trouble with the law. ***½ Still worth a look, and maybe if they continue making shows, they can follow up on old ones.

Terminator Salvation (2009); Rated PG-13, 115 minutes
This movie is the fourth installment in the Terminator series, set in the future - 2019. It stars Christian Bale and Sam Worthington. Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered with this one considering my ignorance regarding the Terminator story. But this movie seemed to be more about the explosions and stunt scenes than anything else. I tried to get a grip on what was going on, but when I did, I became too consumed with the implausibilities (how are these people not DEAD yet?) to keep watching. So the fight was to keep my eyes focused, or try to work out the plot in my mind. It didn't really matter. **

Man v. Food; Travel Channel
Imagine "Diners, Drive-Ins & Drives" if the host challenged himself to eat the house specialty. That's more than the gist of "Man v. Food," starring Adam Richman as he travels the country looking for restaurants with a wall of fame. If a place challenges customers to eat its spiciest wing, Adam's there. An almost five-pound burrito? He'll try it.

For me, there are two big issues with this show. One is Adam himself. He can be funny, but his "frat dude" attitude is a bit much at times; namely when he whoops it up with customers during the episode's spotlight challenge. I understand it makes for better TV, but it's a little too over the top. Secondly, the eating challenges themselves pose a problem. You're basically watching to see a big guy shovel in food. It's not pleasant imagery. In any permutation, competitive eating is just not TV-worthy in my book. Either I watch it hungry, and lose my appetite, or I watch it on a fuller stomach, and raise even more question as to why somebody would do this. It's always nice to see what restaurants are tucked away in the corners of America, but as Adam opines after a particularly hard-to-eat dish: was it worth it in the end? **

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