New Fall TV Review: The Playboy Club

There are a LOT of new shows premeiring this fall, and it’s hard to decide what to give a chance to, and what should be avoided at all costs. Throughout this fall, we’ll be giving short reviews of most of the new pilots, and letting you know what deserves your precious time.
It’s inevitable that The Playboy Club will be compared ad nauseum to Mad Men. NBC’s agressive marketing forthe show has made sure of that. And it definitely has many of the same elements: men in suits in the 60’s ogling women while smoking and drinking heavily. But while Mad Men manages to pull off this aesthetic in a show with sharp writing, amazing performances, and all-around polish, The Playboy Club just comes off as the community theater adaptation of the much better show. Many of the show’s problems stem from its 2 leads, Eddie Cibrian and Amber Heard. Cibrian is painfully obvious in trying to do his best Jon Hamm impersonation, and his best is certainly not good enough. Heard’s character might be the epitome of TV/movie cliches: “I’m the new girl in town who has big dreams in the big city! I wanna be a star!” She comes off as incredibly one-dimensional.

There’s a bigger problem with The Playboy Club: its treatment of the titular club. The show is based on the premise of the club being an empowering, magical place for women in the 60’s to work. But it’s pretty obvious from the very beginning of the series that it’s essentially a mostly-clothed strip club. Trying to treat it like some kind of women’s-lib thing is just sort of insulting, even to me as a guy. The show also features a pretty awful, near-death sounding voiceover from Hugh Hefner, and the brief appearance of Hefner as a character in the show is absolutely killed by the dreadful impersonator doing his voice.

Basically, The Playboy Club is competing against the worst possible show to take aim at. The pilot may be worth a watch in a dumb, schlocky way, but don’t expect much resembing quality.

2 melting DVRs out of 5

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J. Edgar Anticipation!

(Editor’s note: welcome to our second contributing writer, Martyn Fox.)

With the release of the first trailer for Clint Eastwood’s new film J. Edgar, Oscar buzz is already in the air in hopes Leonardo DiCaprio will receive his first golden statue. Why hasn’t Leo won before, you might ask? Well, he HAS been nominated three times previously: What’s Eating Glibert Grape (1993, Best Supporting Actor), The Aviator (2004, Best Actor), and Blood Diamond (2006, Best Actor). These categories of course were instead won by Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), Jamie Foxx (Ray), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) respectively. Now, whether or not you think Leo’s performances to be more Oscar worthy than the men who actually retrieved them is up to you. Before we go on, I need to say that I believe both him AND Kate Winslet should have been nominated for 2008’s drama, Revolutionary Road. Alas, Kate ended up winning that year anyway for her brilliant role in The Reader. Okay, this post is not about how much I love Kate Winslet…

Clint Eastwood has been steadily directing films since the 70’s, winning 4 Best Director Oscars in that time period. Also, this is screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s second feature film. His first – Milk, in which he won an Academy Award.  If J. Edgar does not bring Leo his first award, might it possibly bring Clint his 5th and Dustin his 2nd? Take a look for yourself at the trailer below:

Some schizophrenic points that come to my mind after watching this –

  • What is his accent right now? I mean, it sounds pretty good for whatever it is, but wasn’t J. Edgar Hoover born in Washington DC? (Leo loves his accents. Think Shutter Island, the Departed, Blood Diamond…)
  • Foreshadowing of a “more than co-workers” relationship with Armie Hammer. COME TO ME.
  • Damn, old person makeup! This is literally Leo in another 40 years.
  • Jeffrey Donovan as Bobby Kennedy? Hmmm…
  • Also, I GET that Judi Dench is in this movie. Why don’t trailers showcase snips of all the actors, making people want to see it more when they go – “Ohhhh, he’s in it?!” (trailer did not include Lea Thompason, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Stephen Root, etc.)
  • Towards the end I’m getting an Aviator type of “going crazy” vibe.
  • Constant grey and black tones could dull down the films direction and possibly bore or depress the audience. It’s clearly a directorial choice, but not sure how well it will work..

Despite how mildly underwhelming the trailer was in my opinion, I will still be going to see this opening weekend, rooting for Leo! (and his romance scene with Armie…)

In theaters everywhere November 9, 2011.

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New Fall TV Review: 2 Broke Girls

There are a LOT of new shows premeiring this fall, and it’s hard to decide what to give a chance to, and what should be avoided at all costs. Throughout this fall, we’ll be giving short reviews of most of the new pilots, and letting you know what deserves your precious time.

Full disclosure: the only reason I actually even watched 2 Broke Girls in the first place was because I thought it would be terrible. The previews for the show were absolutely dire, making it look like a parody of other bad CBS sitcoms. And my distaste for those other sitcoms (Two and A Half Men, Shit My Dad Says, etc.) almost made me overlook it. The plot setup even sounds generic as hell: a street-wise waitress becomes friends with a spoiled trust-funder, and wacky hijinks ensue! But I ended up pleasantly surprised by 2 Broke Girls. Maybe it’s my pre-existing bias for liking Kat Dennings, but her chemistry with Beth Behrs actually kind of works. And Behrs herself isn’t nearly the stereotype you expect her to be, actually proving to be much smarter than she initially looks. There are cringe-inducing moments here and there, notably an early scene featuring Dennings berating some customers that comes off a bit forced. And some of the supporting characters tend to be broad stereotypes, with the vaguely racist Asian boss, and Garret Morris playing the Wise, Witty Black Man. But overall, it mostly hits it’s marks. And thank god, because this had the potential to be the worst sitcom of the new season. As it stands, I’m giving 2 Broke Girls a chance.

3 melting DVRs out of 5

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Album Review: The Drums – Portamento (2011)

(Editor’s note: please welcome our first contributing writer, Jeff Nelson.)

The Drums certainly aren’t one of the most innovative recent bands out there, drawingPortamento noticeable influences from Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Beach Boys, but their brand of catchy, depressing-yet-somehow-still-upbeat surfer rock is still undoubtedly worth your time. Portamento follows the group’s 2010 eponymous debut, and brings with it a number of noticeable improvements from that album. Most appreciated is the improvement in Jonathan Pierce’s singing. Not to take anything away from his singing in the past, which was great, but his voice just seems to have a lot more emotion and variety to it this time around. Portamento is also noticeably less upbeat and poppy than last year’s album, in the way caffeine is a less upbeat drug than cocaine; Portamento is still a really happy sounding album, and most of the songs are guaranteed to get stuck in your head and have you whistling them days later. There are songs on this album that will occasionally use synths to create a darker, more forboding atmosphere, but Portamento does a good job scattering them among the poppy songs on album so as to not bring the mood of the entire album down. The songs on this album do a good job of creating distinct personalities for themselves; one of my biggest complaints about The Drums was that the jangly, surfer-pop guitars used song after song eventually made some of the songs blur together. I had no such problem with this album, as I think the group really made an effort to branch out and diversify their sound, and it shows. Don’t get me wrong, this is still indie surfer rock at its finest, but with a few surprises thrown in to keep things from getting stale. My only complaint with the album comes from a few songs that I didn’t think were up to par with the rest of the album; a few songs dragged on and never really went anywhere interesting like the rest of the album did for me. Still, this doesn’t stop Portamento from being one of my favorite releases of the year so far.

4.5/5

Have a listen to their single off the album, Money.

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New Releases for 9/20/2011

Every Tuesday, we’ll do a roundup of all the new DVD, video game, and music new releases for the week. Hopefully this can serve as a handy shopping guide for you, and a new way for me to praise/complain about stuff, too! If you see anything missing, let me know at entertainmentfixation@gmail.com

Video Games

  • Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360) – I will not be able to get this for a week or two. This greatly saddens me. That is all.
  • Resident Evil 4 HD (Xbox Games on Demand, PSN) – I’m pretty sure I’ve beaten RE4 at least 6 times now between all the different platforms it’s been on, but I’m totally ready to do it again. Kind of more interested to see how the Code Veronica remake next week turns out, though.
  • Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP)
  • Kirby Mass Attack (DS) – It’s weird seeing DS games still being released, but hey, Kirby games are usually good.
  • Burnout Crash (XBLA, PSN)
  • Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns (DS)
  • Tropico 4 (Xbox 360)
  • F1 2011 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
  • Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 (DS)
  • Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (PC)
  • Supremacy MMA (Xbox 360, PS3)
  • Outdoors Unlimited (360, PS3, Wii) – So I only included this because the only description for it I can find is that it “combines fishing, hunting, and camping with RPG elements.” YES PLEASE.
  • Frogger 3D (3DS)
  • Cubixx HD (PSN)

DVDs

  • Bridesmaids – I’ll be checking this one out later in the week, so expect a review sometime soon. I’ve only heard good things, so here’s hoping!
  • Modern Family: Season 2 -Watch Modern Family. Seriously.
  • Castle: Season 3 – My love for Nathan Fillion got me on board with Castle early on, but I kind of fell off in Season 3 after it just became too generic of a cop show. But maybe I’ll give it another shot.
  • Dumbo (Blu-Ray) – For some reason, Disney’s re-releases of its old classics on Blu-Ray just don’t interest me. They don’t seem like they’d benefit much from an HD presentation.
  • The Kennedys
  • Hawaii Five-O: Season 1
  • Set Up – This is a direct-to-DVD movie starring 50-Cent and Bruce Willis. You’re welcome.
  • Raising Hope: Season 1
  • Mike & Molly: Season 1
  • Happy Endings: Season 1 – Happy Endings was probably actually my surprise show of last season. On the surface it looks like a bad Friends rip-off, but it actually delivers some witty dialogue and a great cast that meshes well together.
  • Law & Order LA: The Complete Series

Music

  • Pearl Jam – 20
  • Patton Oswalt – Finest Hour
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Backlog Adventures 1: The Journey Begins

So I have a problem. It’s probably the world’s most first-world problem, and many would say that it’s a good thing. The problem in question: I have too many video games. I began collecting games as a hobby a couple years back, and I kind of have no self-restraint when it comes to buying them. This would explain the large number of Atari 2600 games I’ve never even put in the system, or the embarrassing number of Steam games I’m pretty sure I can’t even run on this computer. I’ve gone to painstaking lengths to catalog this collection, and a couple of years ago, a friend linked me to The Backloggery, a site to help people with my particular problem. It allows you to enter your whole collection and track what games you’ve finished, beaten 100%, or in most cases for me, never touched. So I’m going to solve my problem. I’m going to force myself to play through these games, using this feature as an excuse/motivation.
So here’s how this is going to work. Here’s a link to my Backloggery profile, where you can see what I’m working with. A great feature of the site is a tool called the Fortune Cookie. It wil randomly choose a game for you to play out of your 900+ collection. I will place my future in the hands of The Cookie, and play whatever it gives me. The only exceptions: Android games that just wouldn’t make good reading material (I think everyone knows Angry Birds is good at this point), and any Steam game I find out won’t run on this 3-year old laptop.The first game the cookie has chosen? The original Saints Row for the Xbox 360. Seems like good timing, considering the 3rd game in the series comes out this November. So I’ll be writing up a weekly summary of my experiences playing it, until I finish the game. Unto the breach!
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Movie Review: Red State

If there’s one thing you can say about Kevin Smith, it’s that you can always tell when you’re watching a Kevin Smith movie. Vulgar humor, pop culture references galore, and most even take place in the same universe. Indeed, the shared characters and similar tones are much of what make Smith’s movies so enjoyable (with the exception of Jersey Girl, of course). Which is why when the filmmaker announced Red State, I was intrigued. On one hand, I was sad to see him move away from the crass comedies I had come to mostly enjoy. On the other, I was excited to see what Smith could do with what seemed to be a horror movie.Perhaps true to the horror genre, what Red State ended up being is a Frankenstein monster, made up of 2 distinct movies.
The film is rather blatantly inspired by the actions of the real-life Westboro Baptist Church, the Calvinist/Baptist sect made famous by its protests of military funerals and radically anti-homosexual stance. Red State’s version is the Five Points Trinity Church, led by imposing patriarch Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Cooper’s church consists entirely of family members, including his daughter Sara (Melissa Leo) and her seemingly mute husband Caleb (played with surprising creepiness by Ralph Garman). The church believes in pretty direct divine retribution, and lures 3 teenage victims to the compound with the promise of a threesome with Sara. Needless to say, anything but this happens, and without spoiling anything, the situation at Five Points escalates quickly, eventually involving an ATF agent played by John Goodman.
Herein lies the problem with Red State. The first half of the movie is an excellently acted horror movie, fueled by the madness and cruelty of Abin Cooper. Parks is given ample room to chew scenery, with a nearly 20 minute sermon, and he delivers. His and Leo’s performances in particular are excellent, possibly worthy of some Oscar nods. The setup to the eventual climax of the movie is masterfully done, introducing us to the Cooper family without much outright exposition, and creating some moments of real terror. Suddenly, however, Red State decides to be an action movie, and it falls flat on its face. Goodman’s ATF agent is introduced far too quickly, and we’re thrust into a firefight with no real stakes to care about. Even the gun battle itself is disappointing, as it ends up pretty much just being a reason to kill a glut of characters. Ultimately however, the film’s most disappointing aspect is its unwillingness to make up its own mind. Smith isn’t sure whether to outright condemn Cooper’s actions, throwing in a weak subtext about the government’s treatment of radical groups.

In the end, Smith’s screenplay and Parks’ performance make for a compelling first half, only marred by a slight second half. While Red State may not be a perfect film, it is definitely worth giving it a shot.

3/5

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