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Phineas and Ferb, The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension

It’s wildly inappropriate to sing the praises of a Disney Channel show by saying that it pisses genius, but “Phineas and Ferb” does just that, deftly blending dry relationship humor with high-concept science and one of the best pop soundtracks you’ll find outside of “South Park” (back when they wrote songs, anyway). Having wrapped their 39-episode (!) second season last fall, their first all-new show of 2011 is the wildly ambitious full-length movie “Across the 2nd Dimension,” and to the surprise of no one, it’s pretty awesome. Phineas and Ferb invent a portal to another dimension, and they discover a world where the nefarious Dr. Doofenshmirtz is a much more successful evil genius than the one in our world, and he plans to use the boys’ portal to take over our tri-state area as well. The producers have a great time playing against type (the other Candace is an ass-kicking resistance fighter, while the boys are timid and never leave the house), but the overall tone of the film is quite dark, which may not sit well with younger kiddos. Thankfully, the movie’s mini-tunes are the ringing pop gems fans have come to expect, to the point where one of the movie’s best songs wound up on the cutting room floor.

The DVD of “Across the 2nd Dimenson” uses the alternate world in a cheeky manner by splitting the bonus features between two title screens (poke around the main screen, and you’ll figure it out). The deleted scenes are quite good, but the two musical numbers, a longer version of “Robot Riot” and Candace’s great “Mysterious Force” (arguably the best song Ashley Tisdale has sung in years) are the winners. They also included the episode “Attack of the 50 Foot Sister,” which each universe in the DVD sporting its own audio commentary, one of which is the voice actors behind Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Major Monogram in character. This should satisfy fans of the show while the producers are hard at work on the show’s third season.

Click to buy Phineas and Ferb, The Movie from Amazon

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Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert

I’ve never seen “Les Miserables,” so watching this celebration of the enormously long-running Anglo-French pop opera recorded at London’s enormous O2 arena was like being introduced to “Star Trek” at a convention full of rowdy Trekkies. In this semi-staged version, Alfred Boe sings and acts the role of Victor Hugo’s impossibly good ex-convict, Jean Valjean. Valjean, of course, stole a loaf of bread to save his infant nephew, only to break parole and be hunted by the fanatical and pitiless Inspector Javert (Norm Lewis, superbly intense). He does this while becoming a wealthy bourgeois and experiencing guilt over his treatment of the tragic Fantine (Lea Salonga of “Miss Saigon” and “Aladdin”).

Later, Valjean tries to help Fantine’s daughter, Cossette (Katie Hall), who in turn must endure the perils of pre-revolutionary France while finding love with the heroic young Marius (Nick Jonas, yes, that Nick Jonas). Along the way, we bump into a pair of nasty and putatively comical brothel owners, the Thénardiers (Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway). Lucas, his teeth blacked out, performs the damnably annoying earworm and George Costanza favorite, “Master of the House,” as the audience goes bananas. The geek-out goes into overdrive as the show proper ends and several casts are brought on stage. Encore highlights includes “the Four Valjeans.” Fans of “Les Miserables” will eat this stuff up. The rest of us should just either shell out for an ordinary production or wait for the movie. It might not be all that great, but it’ll beat being an outsider at a fanfest.

Click to buy “Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Edition”

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Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts

Well, this isn’t going to help Denis Leary’s reputation when it comes to stealing other people’s jokes.

Here’s a little back story: According to the biography American Scream, Leary used to do chunks of the routines of the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was aware of this, but since Leary played parts of the country that Hicks seldom visited, he let it go. Then Leary made No Cure for Cancer in 1992, where he committed the unpardonable sin of recording Hicks’ material, and taking credit for it. Louis C.K. later claimed that Leary’s song “Asshole” was based on a bit that he used to do. Leary has denied stealing from anyone because, well, what else is he supposed to do? Fortunately, we were able to ask Leary about Hicks directly, to which he gives a lengthy, thoughtful reply. (You can read it here.)

Now comes “Douchebags and Donuts,” a comedy show Leary organized with a few friends as a fundraiser for his charity. It’s a great cause, and it’s great that the show was a success. But the first word in that title has already invoked the ire of one Jay Louis, editor in chief of the sublimely funny site Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Louis went on a long and unusually pointed rant about Leary’s thievery, and how he’s been championing the mock of the douchebag for five years, building a mini-empire out of it. And that’s fine, but it’s not as if Louis created these goofy-haired halfwits – he was just the first to dedicate a site to mocking them, and in fact should be honored that his efforts have created such a groundswell that the phrase is slowly working its way into the pop lexicon with his definition as the #1 description. Before Jay, calling someone a douchebag just meant they were a jerk; now, it defines a very specific kind of jerk. Well done.

Having said that, Louis should have waited to see “Douchebags and Donuts” before criticizing it, since doing so makes him like those Republicans who call out movies they’ve never seen. If he had waited, he would have realized that the ‘douche signifier’ portion of Leary’s routine is pretty small, though it’s hard not to think of either Louis, Jay or C.K., when Leary performs his new song “Douchebag.” The rest of Leary’s routine is pretty tame, though, showing mug shots of Nick Nolte and James Brown and dissecting the side effects to popular medications (side effect for Viagara: Death). It’s no Cure for Cancer, or even Lock and Load, but it definitely looks better compared to the routines of his friends Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrera, who come off like blue-rated Blue Collar guys. The star of the show, without question, is Whitney Cummings, who rips her mostly male audience to shreds while having fun with the idea of women as crazy bitches.

Some might point to the infrequency of comedy routines from Leary as an indictment that he is indeed a thief. That’s faulty reasoning, but Leary isn’t helping his case with “Douchebags and Donuts.” He’s clearly a funny guy, but one gets the sense that he was too busy with his myriad of other projects to work very hard on his own routine for this show.

Click to buy “Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts”

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Caprica: Season 1.5

When “Caprica” first premiered, I wondered (out loud) if anyone was really clamoring for a prequel to the “Battlestar Galactica” story and outlined the obstacles that the series faced at the time:

“Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

The two-hour premiere was solid, but the plodding start (lots of death and mourning) and uneven storyline made it something of a tough watch for many “Battlestar Galactica” fans. In fact, our own Ross Ruediger gave the Season 1.0 DVD set just two stars out of five:

With “Galactica,” we rooted for the characters because they were fighting for survival. With “Caprica,” there is nobody to root for, mostly because the characters are nearly impossible to care about and their struggles are negligible. It was probably too soon to mount another lengthy chapter in the “Galactica” concept. I don’t think creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had enough distance from the original series to be able to see this one clearly. It was also too soon for viewers, who weren’t clamoring for this new story, having been exhausted by the ride that was “Galactica.” The series feels as though it was put together solely to capitalize on a brand name, and not because there was actually a compelling story to tell.

I was willing to forgive the slow start in the hopes that Moore and Eick would be able to pull it together for the long haul. As it turns out, the series was canceled before the final five episodes even aired, so we now have the Season 1.5 DVD set to review. It contains the final nine episodes, along with a plethora of special features, including deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, podcast commentaries and more.

Having finally watched the entire run, I’d only recommend the series to “Battlestar Galactica” (and easily pleased) fans who are interested in finding out how and why the Cylons were created and how they became sentient. Most of those fans have probably already watched the series, so I’m not sure what subsection of sci-fi fans this review really speaks to. There’s no doubt that “Caprica” is a disappointment when compared to its predecessor, but those expectations were probably impossible to meet from the get-go.

For those fans that lost track of the show after the first nine (or thirteen) episodes, it’s worth finishing, because Moore wisely ramped up the action and intensity in the final hours and provided a five-minute “Shape of Things to Come” epilogue that quickly shows what happened to the main characters in the “Caprica” story, answering a few of the lingering questions along the way and providing some closure for those that need it.

Despite excellent acting from its ensemble cast (especially Polly Walker, who is positively loathsome as Clarice Willow) and the trademark Moore production values, “Caprica” was done in by largely unlikable characters and a meandering storyline that took way too long to get moving. The conflict between the humans and Cylons in “BG” was clearly drawn, but over the course of 18 episodes, I never really understood why the two religious factions in “Caprica” (monotheists and polytheists) hated each other so vehemently. Seeing as this was the crux of the plot, it’s understandable why “Caprica” failed to capture an audience as devoted as its predecessor’s.

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Back from Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison

Originally broadcast on Comedy Central in February of this year, this one-hour show features over a dozen comics paying heartfelt tribute to one of the true comedy greats, with footage of Kinison routines both well-known and previously unreleased serving as the anchors to the topics that the comics discuss. There isn’t much here about Kinison’s life that hasn’t been covered before, but it’s still fun to watch guys like Denis Leary, Chris Rock and Ron White talk about Kinison’s influence while opening up about the differences between his on-stage persona and the off-stage teddy bear. The discuss his love of rock music (and even include the promo video and a live performance of “Wild Thing”), and how he brought the rock and comedy communities together, and even include a snippet of a religious sermon Kinison gave when he was still a preacher. The one thing they glossed over – and to be honest, we’re not at all surprised that they did this – was how much the quality of Kinison’s material dropped when the ’80s were over, when he stopped writing jokes and started screaming “Fuck You!” at the top of his lungs. It’s all right to acknowledge an artist’s decline and still love them; John Lennon was a shell of his former songwriting self when he died, but people still love him, and rightly so. It would have been nice to see these comics, and this special, do the same.

Click to buy “A Tribute to Sam Kinison”
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s induction of Kinison into their Comedy Hall of Fame
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s 2009 interview with Sam Kinison’s brother Bill Kinison

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