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CHECK OUT of the cave; CHECK IN to the Bates Motel

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BIG RELEASES ON MARCH 22: The Croods, Olympus Has Fallen

BIG PICTURE: When I first heard The Croods was about a small tribe of prehistoric cave dwellers, I assumed it was a documentary about Nickelback. Turns out it's a Dreamworks animated film about a curious young cave girl named Eep (Emma Stone) who leads her family out into the wonderfully wide world. Meanwhile, Olympus Has Fallen is about a significantly less wonderful world outside of a much larger cave: the White House. It's Die Hard meets In the Line of Fire meets Red Dawn. Terrorists take over the White House and hold the president (Aaron Eckhart) hostage. The only guy on the inside: Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a disgraced Secret Service agent with a penchant for two-day beard growth and tough guy one-liners.

FORECAST: Despite being a cartoon with cavemen who speak perfect English, The Croods seems the more plausible film of the two. But just in case Olympus really starts pulling at audiences' credibility strings, Morgan Freeman is on board as a congressman to gravely deliver lines like "We are talking about the safety of the President of the United States!" and "We've just opened the gates of hell!" Note to Obama: This isn't one to see with Sasha and Malia.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Admission (March 22). You had me at Tina Fey. Admit one. Fey plays a Princeton admission officer with a lot of experience reading young people's essays -- but no experience with young people. Paul Rudd plays a cuddly, affable guy worthy of sainthood (Yes. AGAIN.). He unites Fey's character with a dysfunctional child prodigy -- one that just might happen to be the child she gave up for secret adoption. Hilarity -- and romance -- ensues. To be clear, the romance is between Tina and Paul. There is No romance between mother and son. We'll leave that to Norman Bates. Speaking of...


BIG EVENT: Bates Motel (March 18, A&E, 10 p.m.

BIG PICTURE: Check into the Bates motel and find out how a young mamma's boy named Norman becomes the shower-slashing maniac we've all come to "love"... or should I say fear. Freddie Highmore plays the young, Oedipal Norman and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) plays his beautiful, eerie (and ill-fated) mother Norma. Find out why they opened the infamous Bates Motel in a quiet town -- a place that turned out to have a lot of skeletons in its closet (with plenty of more bones to come -- all thanks to the Bates family).

FORECAST: The coming of age story of a young psycho. They could have called it My So Called Sociopathic Life. Bates Motel is the brainchild of Lost's executive producer, Carlton Cuse. But he has promised a show with no time travel, no former Party of Five cast members and absolutely no supernatural shenanigans. It's probably for the best. The Smoke Monster from Lost seems to have found new work. I think I saw him on TV choosing the new Pope.

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Splash, ABC (March 19): According to ABC's website, "Splash marks the first time 10 celebrities will train and compete in regulation platform and springboard diving at dizzying heights in front of a weekly poolside audience." Hey! ABC! Do I need to explain WHY this is "the first time?" Is it because the "concept" (and I use that word loosely) of this show reads like a Saturday Night Live skit - one of those nonsensical, unwatchable bits that airs around 12:45 a.m.? Is it because I fear the very existence of this show and what it says about how low humanity can go (In comparison, The Croods may be proof we are actually de-evolving)? Is it because a small, dark, empty part of me wants to WATCH the likes of comedian Louie Anderson and basketball legend Kareem-Abdul Jabbar debase themselves? Probably. Cannonball!


BIG RELEASE ON MARCH 19: Justin Timberlake (The 20/20 Experience)

BIG PICTURE: They say hindsight is 20/20. I assume that's where JT's album title comes from. Mr. Timberlake has plenty of regrets from which to draw his 20/20 Experience - from dating Britney Spears to spending seven years trying to become an A-list movie star at the expense of what he does best: dance and sing. But Timberlake proves he's the heir to Michael on his new album, which finds him poised to reclaim his pop crown -- with a little help from producer Timbaland (I'm thinking of hiring Timbaland to produce "my life").

FORECAST: 20/20 isn't as polished and cohesive as FutureSex/LoveSounds -- but it has more hits than misses. It offers a Justin Timberlake who seems mature, comfortable and effortlessly cool. (You'd feel that way too if you were married to Jessica Biel). JT continues to demonstrate a path forward for the likes of Justin Bieber and the other teen idols. Life isn't over at 20. But Timberlake's newest chapter definitely begins at 20/20.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Josh Rouse (The Happiness Waltz). The catchy, breezy, ever-prolific singer-songwriter is back with another album -- his tenth in 15 years -- filled with lyrical nostalgia and gentle whimsy. If only Norman Bates could have borrowed a few dance steps from The Happiness Waltz.

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," but these days, a guide through the seemingly endless flurry of pop culture offerings is just what we need. With that in mind, here is what's on the radar screen in TV, music and film for the coming week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2013 ??65525

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