I think Patrick Jane is just the greatest, so flippant and smart and capable of saying the most outrageous things at any moment.
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Most modern fantasy adventures are distinguished, if that's the right word, by shot after shot of actors gaping at amazements — beanstalks busting out of the ground, for example, or flaming trees being flung as weapons at the king's castle — along with actors running away yelling "Look out!" or "Aaaggghhhhh!!!" while being pursued, say, by a digitally animated giant with two heads. The movies have been into such trickery across the medium's entire life span, back to Georges Melies. It's simply a matter of the method.
Lately, though, with the onslaught of and over-reliance on digital sleight of hand, the average fantasy presents every possible sight imaginable, which doesn't guarantee interesting results. Too often the effects crowd and smother the very movie they're meant to amplify.
Such is the case of "Jack the Giant Slayer," a new version of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer" fairy tales, directed by Bryan Singer. The film is ruled by sound and fury signifying an attempt to launch a new franchise. (The ending leaves the thatched-roof cottage door wide open for sequels, should the box office indicate further interest in magic beans.)
Singer, director of the better "X-Men" pictures and the densely plotted "Usual Suspects," boasts an extravagant imagination and a welcome touch of seriousness when traffic-managing a complex physical production. Here, though, the seriousness turns heavy-spirited. Despite the light touch of Nicholas Hoult in the leading role, the movie isn't much fun. By the time the giants have descended the beanstalk and laid siege to the king's castle, and the boiling oil comes out with the flaming arrows and the flying flaming trees, it's like: Enough already.
Once upon a time there was a boy, Jack, who traded his farm horse for beans and from those beans, up and up and up, five miles up, grew a massive, threatening, viny green stalk, connecting the human world to the land of the giants, "between heaven and earth ... a perilous place," so the legend goes. The princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), betrothed to the sniveling weasel Roderick (Stanley Tucci), needed rescuing even though the screenwriters Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney took pains to write her the line "I'm not some fragile, helpless creature." She delivered this line to her father, the king, played by Ian McShane, who brought a royal bearing plus a bit of a wink to his chores in the story.
"Jack the Giant Slayer" divides its characters into two camps: Homo sapiens and Gollum-y. In the former there's Ewan McGregor, strangely neutered in the role of a loyal knight. In the Gollum-y category (the giants are all motion-captured animation jobs, a la Andy Serkis in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit"), Bill Nighy glowers as the leader of the giant army, aka the thing with two heads.
Singer knows how to build an action sequence: At one point, for instance, McGregor finds himself rolled in giant dough alongside a couple of other pigs (real pigs, that is) in a blanket, ready for baking. How he gets out of the fix involves derring-do and giant-slaying on Jack's behalf, cleverly staged. But the movie, which was shot in 3-D and can be seen in 3-D or 2-D, never rests. Only the offhand charm of Tomlinson and Hoult reminds us that in a world of giant, straining blockbusters it's best to simply keep one's head down and do the work and try to make all that gaping and gawking and running for one's life as authentically fake as possible.
'Jack the Giant Slayer' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language)
Running time: 1:54
I think Lane Kiffin is capable of greatness, too, while also having it in him to say or do the most outrageous thing and negate any chance of really being great.
I also think Grace Van Pelt is just the greatest, but that's leering for another time.
We're talking Lane Kiffin here, and while he probably considers himself just as pretty, you have to admit he looks better now than you thought he would after hearing of his controversial stay in Tennessee.
There's a statue of John McKay standing a few feet from where Kiffin and I are sitting. Paul Hackett's likeness, I presume, is on the other side of the building.
McKay, at 38, was 8-11-1 after two years as coach at USC before finding his stride.
Kiffin is 37, in his third year at USC and 22-8 under NCAA sanctions, which is akin in college football to being harassed by Red John.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you don't watch "The Mentalist" or you are probably a UCLA football fan and your team doesn't cheat. It just loses with regularity.
Now while most folks aren't quite sure what to make of USC this season, a few things have happened the last few weeks that bode well for Kiffin's run at greatness.
His team lost to Stanford, and while not highly recommended for achieving greatness, I think it's just generally understood that USC loses to Stanford every year.
"I did not do a good job with Stanford when things were not going well,'' says Kiffin, and it's not like anyone is going to argue with him, but he pauses anyway.
"I did not do a good job in giving better answers to the quarterback when there were problems. And I said to myself after the Stanford game I will improve there and will have the answers the next time things go wrong.''
And they did — against California and then again against Utah, but Kiffin graduated from offensive coordinator to become the team's head coach.
"That's why we came out and ran the ball in the second half against Cal,'' he explains. "I took a look at the big picture and understood what we could do on defense.
"And instead of burying my head into my play sheet, I knew I had to exude confidence to these players. That's where I screwed up against Stanford.
"I was an offensive coordinator at halftime against Stanford, looking for some way to find first downs or points. I was an offensive coordinator and head coach at halftime against Cal and Utah. And I think what happened against Utah was great for the growth of this team.''
It probably helps the Bruins, too. Utah's expectations were raised with the Trojans' early mistakes and UCLA is probably going to get the letdown Utes this Saturday.
As solid as Kiffin already is, he's always going to be the good recruiter and have one of the best offensive brains in the land. And USC is going to give him everything he needs to be consistently successful.
The only one who can take him down is Lane Kiffin, the guy who still has an occasional hankering to court distractions.
It's nothing major so far, a needless lie about a USA Today poll, a media spat over injuries, a quick walk off stage when irritated with a question.
"I'm always willing to look at my actions, and do them better,'' Kiffin says. "I make mistakes, and sometimes in split seconds. Then seconds later I know how wrong I was.''
But it's the hint of paranoia thrown in there at times, everyone seemingly intent on tearing him and USC down as Kiffin sees it, which seems so unnecessary.
"I deal with these 75 scholarship and walk-on players and control things really well here in this building. As well as how they think and what their performances really mean,'' Kiffin says. "In general, I do not feel the media is very positive toward game performances unless the players play perfectly."
And yet he says, "I feel the media has the same standards I do. That's what I expect from the players — perfection. But the problem is that's what everyone around them reads and hears and then it starts to get to them and suddenly it's, 'You guys really aren't very good,' and, 'Why aren't you scoring 55 points?' "
By the way, why isn't USC scoring 55 points? We're talking greatness here. Why haven't the Trojans been more impressive against some of the soft touches on their schedule? Is he already expecting a parade?
"We know how hard it is," Kiffin says. "We have less scholarship players than the other team, and while these kids know they are still going to win, it's like they don't win by enough with the media.
"You'll see it in the headlines. You read them and it's like you don't even know we won. You almost think we lost.''
For the most part, Kiffin is doing extraordinary work. But for now maybe impending greatness should be just seen and not heard whining.
Because as Jane put it so well in Season 4, Episode 14: "To whom much is given, much is expected.''
So for starters, how about 55 points?
JEFF, A UCLA fan, has a terrific idea. He emailed to say he's upset he cannot get the Pac-12 Networks on his TV, therefore missing UCLA's game with Cal.
"Perhaps we should have Coach [Jim] Mora yelling at the TV cable operators,'' writes Jeff, "instead of our sports information directors.''