While people debate whether John From Cincinnati is worth the effort or Entourage still has its mojo or Flight of the Conchords is the best new thing including the iPhone, I have to point out that the top first-run HBO show on right now remains Big Love.
Want a show that challenges you (without forcing you to scratch your head half the time)? Big Love does. Want a show with compelling, three-dimensional characters? Big Love has 'em - even a few of the quirky kind if that suits you. Want great performances? Big Love is overrun with them to the point where the four leads are challenged every episode for acting supremacy by knockout supporting players like Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Mary Kay Place and, it seems at times, half the supporting cast of Veronica Mars. And the stories in Big Love are filled with drama while being surprisingly spare of melodrama.
I hear more people warming up to JFC. There's definitely a there there, I have no doubt. There's an intriguing mystery, and there are occasional winning moments most evidenced in Sunday's episode by the warmth between Butch and Kai. But JFC remains tremendously uneven: long sequences pass that are dull, and the majority of the characters still have little going for them.
I found myself thinking about JFC the other night and realizing that if someone randomly killed off this character or that character, I wouldn't care. I might be shocked about the death, but I'd shrug at the absence. Mitch and Cissy seem to have no other dimension other than to whine or sulk. The motel gang, while ably filling the Shakespearean role of fools and sidekicks, have minor arcs at best and are plain expendable. Bill and John spout off in their own ways, all of which fuels the mystery but none of which fuels any interest. And so on.
By the end of Sunday's episode, I had decided that I would no longer make an effort for JFC, not because I was hating it, but just because I felt I could find myself with better things to do over its remaining hours. That doesn't mean I won't watch it again; I just don't feel the payoff is going to be worth the intermittent ennui. Those of you who are hooked can carry the torch without me - I got too many other things to watch to wait for this Godot.
In any case, I think someone needs to speak up for Big Love, because however many positives JFC offers, Big Love dwarfs them. On back-to-back nights this summer, HBO explores the meaning of faith, the meaning of love and the meaning of life, and there should be no doubt that the network does a more enthralling job of it on Mondays.
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Ratatouille was fine in the end but overall a disappointment, especially after hearing friends and colleagues give it strong praise.
The opening act had me eyeing the exits. In particular, there's a long scene in the opening that has to be the most atrocious thing Pixar has ever produced. Forget for a moment that it was violent in an unmitigated way that I thought we had decided was completely unsuited for children in this day and age. It was more punishing in how unoriginal and unfunny it was. I grew up watching Warner Bros. cartoon characters getting their faces blown off and I survived, but I certainly wouldn't endorse doing this in today's gun-laden culture without the material at least being clever. It was a hateful scene, and I can't believe it came out of Brad Bird or that people have been tolerating it.
Things got better as Ratatouille progressed, but the other problem with the film is that the proratonist is a humdrum character who basically conveys two unnuanced emotions: frustration and happiness. Remy (Patton Oswalt) is not deep, that's for sure. He would redeem himself, but he got on my nerves more than once.
The best characters in Ratatouille are Linguini (Lou Romano) and Colette (Janeane Garofalo). They were the most human and the most humorous, and they carried the movie when they were allowed to. I rooted for Remy mainly because his success was tied into Linguini's success.
The film is shot beautifully, with particularly extraordinary sequences taking place involving water and later large groups of rodents. And the film has its laughs (though not as many as the Pixar short that preceded it, Lifted), and the climactic moment has a surprisingly huge payoff, given what had preceded it. Overall, I left feeling Ratatouille was a mediocre work and particularly disappointing for a Pixar pic.