Since its inception in 1994, millions of viewers have watched the 24-hour, Game Show Network, which reruns all-time classics, from "Password" and "Match Game" to the Steve Harvey "Family Feud" episodes, and everything in between. But in the last few years, GSN has stepped-up their efforts in producing original programming, and grabbed two of the six nominations in the Outstanding Game Show category at this year's Daytime Emmys. The number of original GSN shows has been adding up quickly, and we all have our favorites:
Early Success - In 2002, GSN re-launched a not-so-well-known game from the 80s that quickly became a big hit. "Lingo", hosted by Chuck Woolery ("Love Connection") ran for six years and nearly 350 episodes - an all-time high for the network. Woolery's "2 in 2" catchphrase found a new home, and the game helped many, including yours truly, learn how to spell five-letter words. That same year, GSN aired "Russian Roulette", which was hosted by Mark L. Walberg years before he joined the "Antiques Roadshow", the addicting "Friend or Foe?", and the entertaining "Whammy! The All-New 'Press Your Luck'" hosted by Emmy-winner Todd Newton.
Lots of Reboots - GSN loves reboots. The network has updated versions of many classic and beloved game shows. Most have not been well-received, including the short-lived "I've Got a Secret", "Three's a Crowd", "1 vs. 100" with "Dancing with the Stars"' Carrie Ann Inaba, "Minute to Win It" hosted by speed skating champ Apolo Anton Ohno, and even a re-hash of the network's own "Lingo" with host Bill Engvall in 2011. New versions of both "Chain Reaction" and "The Pyramid" were fairly well done. "The Newlywed Game" (currently hosted by Sherri Shepherd) has proved to be a success, though it's a tough watch.
Gone or Should Be - Remember the disastrous "Bingo America", very brief run of "Starface" hosted by Danny Bonaduce, the not-so "Whose Line?" "Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza", "20 Q" starring "So You Think You Can Dance?"'s Cat Deeley, Jerry Springer's complete mess "Baggage" and the equally dumpy "Love Triangle" with Wendy Williams? Unfortunately a few of these can still be found on the network. And I couldn't leave out that midnight madness "High Stakes Poker".
GSN's current lineup includes "Idiotest", a "not as clever as it thinks it is" game with rookie host Ben Gleib, as well as "Skin Wars" (which isn't really a game show but a reality competition) and the hour-long dating adventure "It Takes a Church". However, the network does have two shows that are making people finally take notice of the 20-year-old channel: "The American Bible Challenge", the hour-long biblical Q&A showdown hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, which just finished its third season, has set ratings records for GSN and has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to deserving charities. And one of TV's best guilty pleasures, "The Chase", pits trivia titan Mark Labbett (aka "The Beast") against top contestants in a pressure-packed, high-stakes battle of brains.
Game shows have been an important part of television since the beginning on television. Hopefully GSN can come-up with more quality and exciting original games, while avoiding the reboots and reality programs.
At one point in "The Giver", Meryl Streep tells fellow Oscar winner Jeff Bridges: "When people have the freedom to choose - they choose wrong." This seems to apply perfectly to the decision that Bob & Harvey Weinstein made to finance this big-screen adaptation of one of the most popular tween books of the last 25 years. I had several opportunities to read The Giver in grade school, but after hearing things about the story, I decided the premise was a little too "out there" for my taste. The same can be said for the film version.
The first thing readers of the novel will notice is that Bridges doesn't have the beard and long white hair of The Giver on the cover of the book. The filmmakers decided to "giver" the hair extension to Streep instead. She portrays the Chief Elder, who rules over a large, futuristic colony where the people have no emotions, don't experience pain, have no authentic feelings, don't know color or the meaning of love.
On Graduation Day, 18-year-old Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites - Prince Philip in "Maleficent") is assigned to his life-long job - a special one where he gets to work with The Giver himself as the new Receiver of Memories. But when Jonas begins to learn how life used to be, and how everyone in the community is being deceived, he decides he needs to do something about it.
The overriding problem with "The Giver", is that the narrative is simply too tame. There are some potentially interesting concepts here, but the elementary school-level script never goes deep enough to explore them. Since it's based on a tween novel I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but the film is PG-13 and needed much more depth.
Bridges and Streep attempt to elevate "The Giver" with their performances, but director Phillip Noyce ("Salt") is too restrained with them as well. Many scenes come-off as hokey, including several sledding rides, practically every scene involving Jonas' zombie-like parents (played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) and his naive girlfriend Fiona (Odeya Rush), and a hologram cameo performance by singer Taylor Swift, who plays the piano while trying to act alongside the veteran Bridges. And on top of all of this is a "sing-songy" score that won't get out of your head for weeks.
"The Giver" is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action/violence, disturbing images and a whole lot of peril for one brave little baby. If the serious themes had been developed at all, "The Giver" may have been worth recommending. But as is, "The Giver" takes (time and $$) much more than it gives.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Giver" receives a D+.
"The Expendables 3" boasts the most star-studded cast of any film this year - from Hollywood heavyweights to an actual welterweight, a sitcom star, a vampire heartthrob, the Governator, and an ex-con who, both in real life and in this backstory, served time for tax evasion. And at the center of it all, once again, is Sylvester Stallone, who has crafted a third successful movie franchise (following the combined 10 "Rocky" and "Rambo" films) with a little help from his friends, who also happen to be some of the most iconic action figures of all-time.
This third chapter in "The Expendables" series is funnier than the previous two, largely due to brilliant new cast members. Wesley Snipes cracks several great one-liners, as does Mr. "Air Force One" himself, Harrison Ford, whose character admits at the end of the film - "This is the most fun I've had in a long time" - and you can tell that Ford is talking about himself. Antonio Banderas, whose Galgo desperately wants to join the team and talks non-stop, provides most of the comic relief. But it's the only character who doesn't fire a gun or kill anyone who steals the show: Kelsey Grammer's Bonaparte, who in a series of scenes, takes Stallone's Barney on a search for some new, younger crew members, gets most of the best lines and delivers them in that classic, Grammer style.
Unfortunately, it's when these rookie recruits take center-stage, that the energy level and excitement of "The Expendables 3" takes a major hit. Kellan Lutz ("Twilight"), MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (who's got a lot of training to do in the acting department), boxer Victor Ortiz, and up-and-coming actor Glen Powell can't bring nearly the same energy or command of the screen as the likes of Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lungdren, Jet Li, Terry Crews and yes, Arnold. And who wants to see 20-somethings fighting bad guys in an "Expendables" movie?
This time around the plot centers on the hunt for just one man: ex-Expendables member Conrad Stonebanks, who has gone to the dark side. And believe it or not, Mel Gibson is excellent in the role. He actually creates one of the best movie villains we've seen in some time. This guy doesn't just talk tough - he means business (no telephone necessary).
"The Expendables 3" is rated PG-13 for loads of action/violence and some obligatory language. The action scenes are as wild and outrageous as you'd expect, and new director Patrick Hughes is able to handle all the frantic staging and gunplay with ease. There are a few "wow" moments, but much of visual look is rather cheesy, because the majority of the budget probably went to paying all the stars. And it's the performances and not the explosions and death toll, that make this threequel work as pure summer entertainment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Expendables 3", like its two predecessors, gets a very solid B. It'll be interesting to see if Stallone decides to continue onward or pull an Arnold by bidding "Hasta La Vista, baby" to the franchise.
"Let's Be Cops" has one of the most basic, yet original, premises of the year: Two 30-year-old roommates, unsatisfied with their lives and careers, dress-up as cops for a costume party. But the outfits are so authentic-looking (complete with real hand-guns and badges) that everyone thinks they're actually LAPD. They enjoy the power and attention that comes with "being" police officers, so Ryan, an unemployed former college football star and Justin, a low-level video game developer (played by "New Girl" stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr.) decide to keep their new identities and pretend to be cops in the real world. And, obviously, it doesn't take long for them to get in over their heads.
This film had the potential to quickly turn into a typical over-the-top buddy-cop farce. While there are some outrageous moments (there have to be with a plot like this), co-writer/director Luke Greenfield ("Something Borrowed") is able to take a clever idea, insert a lot of funny dialogue and wacky situations, and avoid over-doing it with cliches. The result is one of the summer's standout comedies.
Of course not all of the material works, but Johnson and Wayans, Jr., who are in nearly every scene, keep the laughs coming. Their familiarity with each other shows, much like what we saw with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in this summer's other "bromantic cop comedy", ""22 Jump Street". The sarcastic wise cracks flow freely. Rob Riggle, who also co-starred in "22 Jump Street", plays a real LAPD officer here. His reliable mix of straight-man persona with perfectly-timed humor works yet again. The supporting cast also includes Nina Dobrev ("The Vampire Diaries") as Justin's love interest and "Key and Peele"'s Keegan-Michael Key, who doesn't venture too far outside familiar territory in his role. Even Andy Garcia shows-up halfway through as a crime boss.
"Let's Be Cops" is rated R for plenty of adult language and references, plus drug use, brief nudity and violence. It's appropriate for mid-teens and up. The script is rather predictable and there aren't nearly as many funny moments in the more dramatic second half. But at the tail end of a summer that's been filled with action sequels and blockbuster busts, a traditional comedy with more hits than misses is a welcome addition.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Let's Be Cops" gets a B-.
"The Hundred-Foot Journey" is a smart, sweet and surprisingly delectable end-of-summer romantic dramedy. Executive Producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey clearly understood the vision of director Lasse Hallstrom (whose impressive credits include "The Cider House Rules", "Chocolat" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") and screenwriter Steven Knight (who's having a fantastic year with indie gem "Locke" and now this winner). Based on the 2010 novel by Richard C. Moranis, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is nearly a 4-star experience, with excellent characters, genuine performances, and, with every great dish, a whole lot of love.
Oscar winner Helen Mirren stars as Madame Mallory, the longtime owner of a renowned restaurant in a small town outside of Paris, who has very high standards for her cuisine. So when a not-so-wealthy family from Mumbai decides to move into a vacant building directly across the street (exactly 100 feet away) and open their own, Indian-themed restaurant, Mallory's temperature immediately rises. Competition erupts amongst the Madame and the Kadam family, including patriarch Papa (Om Puri is delightful) and his aspiring-chef son Hassan (played by Manish Dayal).
But just when you start thinking that you know what's on this menu, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" evolves from the predictable "restaurant vs. restaurant" set-up into something much more. Relationships form, unexpected opportunities arise, and the script explores some serious subject matter, including the importance of careers, ambition and success. Going in I expected the "young love" relationship between Hassan and a rival chef to take prominence over the Madame Mallory storyline, but Hallstrom does a nice job in balancing each portion with the right amount of care and attention. And unlike with "Julie & Julia", "Chef" and other recent food-based films, the dishes featured aren't a major focus in this recipe.
At two hours "The Hundred-Foot Journey" does drag briefly in spots, but otherwise it's packed with delightful moments. You can't judge a cookbook by its cover, or a meal simply by its presentation. Experiencing "The Hundred-Foot Journey" is like enjoying a rare, exemplary dish: memorable and completely satisfying.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Hundred-Foot Journey" gets a B+.