Saturday, December 31, 2005

DANNY'S BEST OF 2005 MEGA-POST - BEST OF MOVIES AND TV -- Plus, MUNICH Review~!

MUNICH Review:

As I was just saying ...

Now THIS is a movie that is going to make an ideological impact. But more importantly, as a movie, all I can say about Munich is ...

Wow.

This movie was quite simply a tour de force. From beginning to end, it had me captivated. LEt's get the basics out of the way first. In terms of direction - this is Spielberg at his best. Scratch that, because I don't think we've ever seen a Spielberg quite like this before. Sure, this LOOKS like a Spielberg movie. But as others have pointed out, it feels more mature, more risky, more raw than other movies that he's made before. There's brutal and shocking violence, mature romance, and dark, morally ambiguous characters. In terms of acting, every single performer knocks it out of the park. Eric Bana is amazing as Avner, the leader of the top secret Mossad squad sent to take out those responsible for the abduction and murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic games. Daniel Craig (cool that the Israelis have The Hulk and James Bond on their side ...) is excellent as the hotshot of the group. And the rest of the cast is superb. Each character feels three dimensional and alive, from the self-doubting senior member of Avner's group to the mysterious Frenchmen who Avner uses as his soure for intel. Finally, this is a movie where you really notice the excellence of the script. Tony Kushner's dialogue is sharp and intelligent. Each word counts for something , and this is a script that is so good, so emotionally and intellectually sopishisticated that it's almost enough to turn one off from typical Hollywood action blockbusters for awhile. Because despite all the moral, political, and emotional issues that this movie gets into (and handles exceptionally well), it is above all a classic caper movie. It takes us to numerous exotic locations - spanning the globe from Israel to New York to Lebanon - from Paris to London and of course to Munich. And each new locale is expertly filmed by Spielberg, coming alive and making you feel like you're on the same world-spanning misison as the protagonists. There's tons of action - hard-hitting action, life-or-death struggles, bomb-planting schemes, stealth missions - it's all here. But its based on true events and done under the umbrella of a story that carries with it great emotional and ideological weight.

Because these men aren't action heroes. Sure, they're a colorful cast of characters. But they must actually DEAL WITH the moral reprecussions of everything that they do. Are they accomplishing something, or just helping to perpetuate a neverending cycle of violence? Is it worth the cost of alienating family and friends and even sanity to serve one's country? And on a political scale - what does it even mean to serve one's country in a world where politics is so malleable that the line between friends and enemies can change on a dime. That is kind of what this movie is about - people. That in the end we're all just people trying to live our lives, yet we get caught up in these ideological wars that soon lose their meaning except for "they got us, now we get them back."

And of course, that's why this movie might be offensive to some. They say it's not pro-Israel enough or too sympathetic to characters who are terrorists, criminals, and murderers. And yet, I can't see many people actually SEEING this movie and then, still, thinking of it as being anything but a stunning statement on just what makes Israel great and worth fighting for. I mean, just look at the fact that this movie was even MADE. Could a movie like this come from somewhere where freedom of expression, where moral doubts and questioning of one's own history - is forbidden? No, this movie is a complete and utter testament to the fact that Judaism is a religion that has always CELEBRATED DEBATE. Kushner and Spielberg do a masterful job of porraying the main characters as people who come from this tradition - people with strong, unflinching Jewish identities but who can't help but agonize over how killing people in the name of one's country fits into the equation. As it should. There's a great scene in the movie where the characters allude to the Passover tradition of taking a monet to mourn for the Egyptians killed in the Hebrews' crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus from Egypt. Even though we rejoice at our moment of freedom, we are sad at the price it came at. And that is a profound thing - what separates us from people who have no such moral qualms about killing in the name of religion. Even Golda Meir herself (excellently portrayed in this movie, by the way) said - to paraphrase - I can forgive them for what they did to my children, but I cannot forgive them for what they made us do to theirs. And this is the basic premise of this movie -- the cost of fighting for one's people. And not just the cost for anyone, but for a people who have always taken the utmost care to attempt to do EVERTHING, even fighting and warring and killing when it's necessary - in the most humane, civil, and moral way possible. Of course, morally acceptable killing, even in desperate times, is a bit of an oxymoron for someone with a concious - and that's exactly this movie's point.

From the opening montage of actual news coverage from the Munich incident to the absolutely haunting and profound closing shot, MUNICH does something that other movies this year have tried but failed to do - it makes an undeniable statement on the world we live in today. This isn't a movie that goes out and sets to make us feel sorry for the terrorists. On the contrary it makes us angry at them for the futitily of their goals and the violence that they cling to as a way of life. And it never, ever questions the dream of a Jewish state or the validity or sheer miracle of Israel's existence. What it does though is offer a sobering reality check on the cost of violence - even when one's cause is just, there is a price to pay. And it shows the strong and undeniable bonds between Israel, America, and all free people's who must fight for that freedom. Munich is a must-see. It will affect you, it will move you, it will entertain you, and it will likely make an impact that's hard to shake.

My grade: A



DANNY'S BEST IN MOVIES AND TV 2005:

MOVIES:

I just don't understand the people who say this was an off year for movies. Sure, the box office was down, but in terms of quality, this was a year to remember. We had serious dramas that pushed the envelope and dared to make relevent political statements. We had blockbusters that rose above past attempts in the genre and could be considered nothing less than serious movies even while being seriously kickass. Comedy was the one genre that was lacking this year, but I guess you can't have everything, right? On the other hand, there were some good ones, and overall, there were a TON of GREAT movies this year - some underrated. We had two great movies from Steven Spielberg, one from his heir apparent Peter Jackson. We had the best Batman movie ever, new films from greats like Sam Mendes and David Cronenberg ... yeah, it was a pretty good year at the movies.

One preface - still haven't seen a couple of possible contenders, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Match Point, and The Squid and the Whale.

So without further ado ...

THE TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2005:

1.) A History of Violence - I was beginning to doubt my love of this movie, as I've met few others who thought as much of it as I did. But then in the last few weeks I saw it listed in a number of Best Of lists, in publications from Rolling Stone to Entertainment Weekly, and my appreciation for David Cronenberg's masterpiece was reaffirmed. Why is this the best movie of the year? One word: simplicity. This movie tells a perfectly shaped story that trims away all the fat and does its job. But wait, the deceptively simple plot works on about 5 different levels, and what at first appears to be just a story of an ordinary man mistaken for a killer becomes a story about human nature, about modern man, about America. This is a classic, iconic, profound movie.

2.) Munich - Like I said in the review above, this movie was, firstly, a character based thriller - as intense of a globe-spanning action suspense movie as you'll find this side of James Bond. But it
still made the most profound, shocking, and heartfelt political and ideological statement of any movie this year, becoming Spielberg's overall best movie in years. Along with A History of Violence, this year saw a double-dose of powerful, intense, and relevent movies that stand as more than the sum of their parts - on one hand as character pieces, on the other as important commentaries on the times in which we live.

3.) Batman Begins - On the other hand, the story of Batman has been a classic for the better part of the last century. Problem is, past adaptations to film and TV have treated Batman like a clown, a farce, a joke - everything but the dark, grim, and deadly serious avenger that Bob Kane and Bill Finger intended, that Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams brought to life, that Frank Miller and Jim Lee made the coolest comic book icon of all time. Finally, someone GOT IT. Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and an amazing all star cast got it right and did the Dark Knight proud, and aside from al lthat made one of the best damn movies of the year, not to mention potentially the best superhero movie of all time.

4.) King Kong - Another blockbuster done right, Peter Jackson continued with his golden touch. Some of the best action scenes ever, great characters, stunning visual f/x, and tons of imagination. This was pure entertainment for three straight hours.

5.) Walk The Line - My appreciation for this movie has grown since I saw it, as the story of The Man in Black continues to resonate in my mind. Revelatory performances by the two leads, great music, and an emotioanlly charged story make for a memorable movie.

6.) Sin City - No movie has ever brought a comic book to life like this one. Not only does Sin City capture the style, the characters, the mood of Frank Miller's dark comic book crime fiction - it IS Frank Miller's vision, fully realized. This film hits hard and takes names, and is completely uncompromising in its artistic sylization. Awesome.

7.) Jarhead - This movie transported you to the deserts of Iraq, put you in the shoes of the soldiers, and made you feel like you were stationed in The Suck. Only that's a good thing, because this was a powerful, amazingly-shot, and skillfully acted movie with a number of great scenes. Finally, a modern movie that spoke to the masses about what our soldiers go through on the other side of the world.

8.) Hustle and Flow - This movie took me by surprise. It dared to take unconventional twists and turns - never really glorifying the too often glorified life of a pimp - instead showing it for the futile and dangerous road that it is. Breakthrough performances by Terrance Howard and Anthony Anderson, great writing, and a powerful ending made this movie great, plus totally infectious rap songs thoughout.

9.) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - Yeah, yeah, I know. To the disciplined movie fan, this is by no means a "great" movie. It has obvious, glaring flaws of dialogue, pacing, continuity. But on the other hand, no movie left me as buzzed leaving the theater this year. No movie made me smile from ear to ear like this one did as Yoda fought the Emperor or John Williams' epic score kicked into high gear as Anakin and Obi Wan fought to the death amidst a fiery backdrop. Visually, this movie was amazing, groundbreaking. It put the first two prequels to shame. And it kicked its fair share of ass, haters be damned.

10.) War of the Worlds - Another one that got a lot of backlash, but I contend that this is yet another blockbuster done right. Best set piece action scenes of any movie this year, great acting (yes, even from the much maligned Tom Cruise), and just a completely involving, edge of your seat thrillride from start to finish. Well, almost to finish. The overly sappy ending kept this from being a classic, but forgetting that last scene, this was a pure adrenaline rush from start to finish.

THE NEXT BEST SEVEN:

11.) Cinderella Man - Sure, it's been done, but not with this much impact and a great cast - Russell Crowe completes his badass trilogy that started with Gladiator and then Master and Commander, and does so with a bang.
12.) Broken Flowers - Bill Murray does it again in this thought-provoking comedy that sucks you in with its deliberate pacing and careful character examination.
13.) Sky High - Yes, you heard me. I swear to God, this movie was one of my absolute favorite movie-going experiences of the year. It featured comedy and action legends doing what they do best - Kurt Russell, Bruce Campell, the Kids in the Hall. This will be a cult classic.
14.) The Chronicles of Narnia - Classic, straight-up fantasy from start to finish, Narnia does the source material justice and is a lot of fun.
15.) March of the Penguins - I was totally swept away into the arctic by this nature doc, which made me really glad I wasn't a penguin.
16.) The 40-Year Old Virgin - Best comedy of the year. Judd Apatow does it again, bringing his Freaks and Geeks sensibilities to the big screen with a great cast and lots of laughs.
17.) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Another one where I don't quite get the critics at all. I loved this movie from start to finish - as a movie, it beats out the original, and joins the ranks of Tim Burton's best films.

OVERRATED: Syriana, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Wedding Crashers
UNDERRATED: Sky High, A History of Violence, Domino, Cinderella Man
OK BUT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Corpse Bride, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bad News Bears, Doom
SUCKED: Fantastic Four, Aeon Flux

NEW:

BEST TV SHOWS OF THE YEAR:

- I really don't think that as a whole, TV has ever been better than it is now. Sure, it takes a little bit of effort to find the good stuff ,what with so many channels and so many good shows buried amongst stiff competition from all the networks, the primetime landscape is impossible to navigate without a TIVO or an old fashioned VCR set to record. Of course, with so much content on TV these days, a lot of what you watch just comes down to personal preference ... and lord knows that a lot of people have terrible taste, to be honest. I mean how else to explain lack of ratings for Arrested Development? Why isn't Veronica Mars in the top 5 shows on TV? Sure sure, network execs will blame it on a variety of reasons - too hard to follow, not enough heart, too dark, etc. But when a show like Arrested Development is making me laugh as much as it is, what the hell do I care about any of those things? Funny is funny. Okay, so most people may not know funny if it smacked them upside the head. So maybe my hope for 2006 isn't that TV gets better (I have enough shows to watch as it is) but just that America gets better taste, dammit all. Then again, this is the same populace that elected George W to a second term, so ... brace yourselves for even more lame sitcoms, depraved reality shows, and more assorted crap. But now is not the time to focus on the bad, let's instead celebrate what was GOOD, nay, GREAT, in 2005. Anyways ...

The Top 10 TV Shows of 2005:

1.) 24 - With Season 5 about to start, it's clear that 24 is on a roll. Season 4 was the most consistently good season since 1, and every week was a nonstop roller coaster ride with cliffhangers that killed, characters that kicked ass, and a counter-terrorism plotline that looked at the current national security situation in a no-holds barrred, uncompromising way. Every week it was on this year, there was no TV more must-see, no hour more exciting, than 24.

2.) Veronica Mars - This show went out with a bang last season, producing a final run of episodes to cap off it's first year that were just incredible to watch. VM proved that it ain't no OC - this is dark noir detective fiction, with a high school as a metaphor for all that is cruel about humanity. The cast is excellent, and the show's momentum has continued into S2, where a new mystery is building that peomises to be as filled with twists and turns as S1. If you aren't watching ,you're missing out.

3.) Arrested Development - The best comedy on TV has been much talked about here, but really, the reason why it's good is easy to pinpoint - IT'S HILARIOUS. Look at crap like The War at Home, Freddie, etc. - these shows suck because the situations are contrived and the jokes are the type that practically beg for laughs despite being old retreads of used-up themes. On Arrested, the humor comes from great charaters and smart writing that weaves funny situation into funny situation and doesn't let up for a minute. Season 3 of Arrested has been comedic gold, and it's just ridiculous that more people aren't watching.

4.) Gilmore Girls - Look, I normally hate sappy stuff. I hate the contived "aww shucks" moments and the eye-rolling melodrama. But Gilmore Girls does drama in such a sincere, funny, and witty way that you can't help but love it. And when the big dramatic moments do come, they mean a lot because the characters have come alive, in a way. This show will make even the most hardened soul smile, laugh, and run through the whole gamut of emotions just because it is so brilliantly written and acted.

5.) Prisonbreak - Following in the footsteps of 24, Prisonbreak mixed over the top comic book sensibilities with sheer dramatic intensity to stand out as the best new show of 2005's fall season. An ensemble of great character actors produced TV's best villainous personalities, like the unforgettable T-Bag, and the charisma of the show's stats carried the show. This was the must-see show of the fall.

6.) Stella - God bless the members of Stella - Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain for continuing to bring their absurdist, surreal, and totally irreverent comic sensibilities to TV. I loved The State, I loved Wet Hot American Summer, and although it only enjoyed a short run on Comedy Central this year, I soon began to love Stella as well. Nobody else is doing crazy comedy like this at the moment, and likely nobody else can do it as well as these guys. Here's hoping Stella returns in 2006, since these guys are just about the funniest thing this side of Ali G.

7.) King of the Hill - The show keeps on ticking, and unlike some of its animated competition, it shows no signs of its age. King of the Hill is, for me, the ultimate comfort show. I watch it, I laugh, I see my favorite characters again, and the episode usually ends with something that just makes you feel good - a lesson learned or a moral taught. But it's never too cheesy, never too contrived - it always comes from the characters first. I love King of the Hill, and wish that this was not it's last season. But man, it's been a good run.

8.) Justice League Unlimited - Man, if you like action-packed, mature animation, then you could not go wrong with Cartoon Network's JLU this year, which absolutely hit its stride in 2005, with a series of ultra-intense, sweeping epics that formed a season-long mini-movie pitting the heroes of DC Comics against the U.S. government! This sure as hell ain't the Superfriends. This was adult, sophisticated, animation jam-packed with action and adventure. Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor - this was a fanboy's dream realized in glorious technicolor.

9.) The Office - The Office got off to a shaky start. It was trying to be the British version but failing, and the humor was just falling flat despite the presence of obviously talented actors. Then, this season, something changed - the writing improved by leaps and bounds, the characters (esp. Dwight), began to really come into their own, and suddenly, The Office was among the best comedies on TV, and was THE watercooler comedy, with every episode producing several memorable quotes and lines of dialogue. I give props to NBC for sticking with it - and it's a good thing, 'cause The Office is your future, Peacock Network. Recognize.

10.) Smallville - Smallville ended Season 4 last summer a complete mess. S4 had been a monumental trainwreck as far as I was concerned, an embarrasment to the franchise. But te producers were smart - very smart - and wiped the salte clean for a fresh start in Season 5. And man, did it work. S5 kicked off with an amazing season premiere, and it's been nonstop coolness from there, with this once-great show doing the impossible and RETURNING to greatness - actually, it's probably better now than EVER, and the sky-high ratings reflect that. Superman Returns indeed, and speaking of which, Bryan Singer and co. are gonna have to pull out all the stops to eclipse Tom Welling and the world of Smallville as the definitive version of Superman in 2006.

OTHER BEST AND WORST OF 2005 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

SHOW WITH THE BEST CAST THAT MIGHT SOON LIVE UP TO IT'S FULL POTENTIAL: My Name Is Earl
BEST GUILTY PLEASURE: Reunion
BIGGEST DROP IN QUALITY FROM LAST YEAR: Lost
STUCK IN A RUT: The OC
BEST SHOW WATCHED ON DVD: Da Ali G Show: Season 2
FUNNIEST CHARACTER EVER: Borat
SHOW WITH SCARIEST FANS: Firefly / Serenity
MOST WANTED TV ON DVD: The State
MOST SURPRISINGLY GOOD REALITY SHOW: Beauty and the Geek
BEST OBSCURE SHOW: G4 TV's Attack of the Show
BEST CABLE NEWS NET: MSNBC
BEST SEASON FINALE: Veronica Mars S1
BEST SEASON PREMIERE: Smallville S5
MOST FRUSTRATING SHOW THAT I KEEP WATCHING: Lost
TORN ABOUT WHETHER THEY SHOULD JUST CANCEL IT ALREADY: The Simpsons
BALLSIEST SHOW ON TV: Family Guy's anti-FCC episode
MOST GRATUITOUS 1980's POP CULTURE REFERENCES: Family Guy
STILL DAMN FUNNY BUT NOBODY WATCHES: Malcolm in the Middle
WORST MARKETING DEPT: FOX (See: Arrested Development)
BEST MARKETING DEPT: NBC (see: My Name is Earl)
WORST NEW TREND: a tidal wave of crappy Lost-esque sci-fi shows
BEST NEW TREND: high concept, quality dramas
SHOW I MOST NEED TO SEE ON DVD: Extras
BEST RAY OF HOPE FOR 2006: Could SNL's "Lazy Sunday" sketch be a sign that the once-great comedy showcase is making a comeback, or was it just an isolated flash of brilliance?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year End Wrap Up Begins: Best in Music, and the Syriana Review!

Ahoy.

Well 2005 is almost over, and so the list-making begins. And since list-making is so fun, I can't help but partake in my SECOND ANNUAL (!) BEST OF list, counting down the best the year had to offer.

First things first though:

@ Work:

Today business picked up. A far cry from the slowness of yesterday, today much of my day was spent Fedexing stuff to various execs across the country. Still had that surreal quality today though, as me and fellow pages Sean and Abby were literally running NBC, from our solitary perches in our respective offices. See, it is the not-so-lowly pages who wield the true power! Next week things get really crazy, as everyone is back in the office and I get pulled to work Ellen, Leno, and even give a tour ... putting on the polyesta' one mo' time, if you weeeel.

SYRIANA REVIEW (yes, finally!):

Okay, so I really wanted this movie to be good, as its subject matter is something I have a great interest in, and is one of my top political issues that troubles me - our dependence as a country on foreign (particularly middle eastern) oil. Like the producers of Syriana, I see a readily apparent connection between the oil business, terrorism, and the plight of the Arab people. And I think that this is an issue that NEEDS to be brought to the limelight, and in a way that really hammers home the ridiculousness of risking national security, going to war, and compromising our national values just because of our refusal to stand up to Big Oil companies and move forward with new and better fuel technologies.

That being said, Syriana tries very hard to draw the lines from pint A to B to C, much like its predecessor, the excellent movie Traffic. But Syriana doesn't quite succeed. The thing is - is that a movie must succeed, first and foremost, AS A MOVIE, if it wants to effectively make a point. Bad movies can't really make good points, ya know? And Syriana never really picks up steam as a movie. As a lecture, sure, it does its job. But as a movie ... well, it's disjointed, overly long, and SLOOOOW. And by focusing so much on INDIVIDUALS and their respective stories, the movie kind of loses sight of the big picture, never really pulling back to allow one to say "ah, I see, it all makes sense now, this is how it's all connected." Instead, the various interwoven plots - the stories of a CIA agent, an Arab family, an entrepeneur, an oil tycoon, and a corporate attorney - they never really come together, and the connections between the characters all feel tangential and artificial and forced.

Still, the movie has many of the qualities of a top tier motion picture. The acting is superb across the board, for one thing. George Clooney is at his best here. Matt Damon is excellent. Chris Cooper is superb. And the lesser known actors are all uniformly great. But while there are scattered scenes that are excellent, scattered dialogue exchanges that are sharp and memorable ... as a whole this is an excercise in unevenness. And that scattered quality means we never REALLY care about any of the characters. In fact we never even know much about any of them - they are all restricted by being in a cinematic version of a short story, with no room for growth or change, no chance for us to really get attached. No, this movie is almost clinical in how it gets from Point A to Point B, and it makes for a pseudo-intellectual but mostly uninvolving experience.

All this, and, it never really seems to get to the real, underlying politics behind the whole oil crisis. Sure, we see flashes of terrorism, flashes of greedy oil companies. But where is the big political picture? Where is the political relevence? I just never felt like this movie made that profound of a statement. I mean, love him or hate him, after seeing a movie like Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, you come away buzzed with political thoughts and provocative ideas. In the case of Syriana however, you'd almost be better served just skipping the movie and going straight to the latest issue of Newsweek. More informative, less confusing, and it won't take over 2 hours just to get to the point. My grade: C+

DANNY'S YEAR IN MUSIC:

Man, I don't know what it says about me, but I just feel like I don't have much to say about music this year. Sure, there was a lot of new stuff that I enjoyed in small doses, but no one rock group that just lept out and hit me this year, unlike last year where Green Day's American Idiot album felt like such a revelation and proved to be an instant classic in its own time.

Still, some interesting things going on in the world of pop-rock. I have to say that probably my favorite new band of the year is none other than THE KAISER CHIEFS. It all started when I saw them play on The Tonight Show, and I had their catchy rock song "Oh My God" stuck in my head for weeks. That song, along with "I Predict a Riot" are definitely two of my favorite new rock songs of the year. They sound like they come straight from the 70's punk-rock heydey of the Sex Pistols, and are just simple, classic, fun tunes. Definitely a band to watch.

And then there was MATISYAHU, who I guess has actually been around for a bit but really made an impact this year, so much so that he became one of the most played artists on KROQ here in LA! This guy is throwing down reggae beats like he's a Chasidic Bob Marley meets 311, but he's singing about wanting Mashiach Now!, praising God in Hebrew like nobody's business, and kicking some ass while doing it. Who would have ever thought this guy would become such a mainstream phenomena? Whatever the case, "King Without A Crown "has gotta be one of the year's best breakout singles.

What else highlighted (and lowlighted) the year in music? Here's some quick shoutouts:
- Foo Fighters once again delivered with their latest musical output, easily one of rock's most consistently rocking bands.
- The Gorillaz had a great followup to their devut album, and continue to be one of music's most unique, and animated, acts.
- The Darkness' second album, on the other hand, had a few cool songs but overall is a pretty disappointing follow up to their awesome first record.
- With all the Walk The Line hype and promotion, what was old is new again and Johnny Cash reclaimed his place as a bonafide legend and icon. Best musical movie? Definitely Walk The Line. Watching that and then the video to Hurt was this year's must-see musical experience.
- It was sad to see punk-rock princess Gwen Stefani degenerate into a generic pop / hip hop act. Sure, her stuff still rises above most overplayed pop mediocrity, but solo Stefanie, now preoccupied with dance music and all things Harajuku, is no No Doubt, in my humble opinion.
- Pink Floyd came back! So it was for one night only at Live 8, but what an amazing performance. Best musical moment on TV of the year? EASILY, the AMAZING set played by Floyd at Live 8, which by the way was a pretty cool event as a whole.
- Still no sign of the fabled Chinese Democracy.
- Though Velvet Revolver did establish themselves as a solid supergroup, as did Audioslave, whose new album was not too bad.
- Weezer had a pretty darn good new album, and Beverly Hills, thoug annoying after a while, is a pretty fun rock song, as is Perfect Situation.
- And hey, I'll give credit where it's due. In pop, this was the year of Kelly Clarkson. Since You Been Gone is definitely one of the catchiest pop songs to come along in years ... I'll admit it.
- Yep, MTV still sucks.
- Best parody music video: sorry, Weird Al, the winner is SNL's Lazy Sunday, a HILARIOUS rap parody. Surely you've seen it by now.
- Other artist whose new stuff I enjoyed: System of a Down, AFI, The White Stripes (who actually had a damn good year of new music, come to think of it), My Chemical Romance, Queens of the Stoneage, Beck, and oh yeah, can't forget - DEPECHE MODE, whose song "Precious" is maybe their best song ever, and one of the best of the year.

- Some of my musical highlights from working at LENO and ELLEN over the past year, where I was lucky to see a ton of great music live and up close:
BILLY IDOL rocking like it was 1987 - leather jacket and all, AVRIL LAVIGNE belting out "He Wasn't" at an outdoor concert, GWEN STEFANI AND EVE performing "Hollaback Girl" in front of thousands at Ellen's outdoor concert show, meeting GENE SIMMONS and KISS while working CB on Ellen, seeing a legend in action - specifically, LED ZEPELLIN'S ROBERT PLANT outdoors at Leno and actually meeting him, THE FOO FIGHTERS with an awesome Leno performance, THE KILLERS kicking ass at Leno, Americon Idol's CONSTANTINE and the cast of WE WILL ROCK YOU with an amzing rendition of Queen's BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, HILLARY DUFF getting booed at Leno and starting to cry, rounding up screaming teenage girls who came out to see the reuinted BACKSTREET BOYS, seeing one of my middle school idols, ALANIS MORISETTE sing "One Hand In My Pocket" at Ellen, PATTI LABELLE getting a standing ovation after a gut-wrenching, soulful song, MELISSA ETHERIDGE getting one as well for her cancer-beating rock anthem on Leno, being forced to be security for G-Unit's TONY YAYO on Carson Daly, seeing the possibly-evil KENNY G at one of my first days at Leno, AVRIL's double performance on Leno and my earlier backstage encounter with her where she actually SAID HI TO ME, JESSICA SIMPSON WITH WILLIE NELSON and his crazy-ass tour bus!, BIG AND RICH WITH COWBOY TROY, where we were first introduced to the wonders of Tai-Kwan-Flo, VELVET REVOLVER's two performances and my run-in with SCOTT WYLAN, talking with the mom of the lead singer of UNWRITTEN LAW, seeing the KAISER CHIEFS and getting their song stuck in my head forever, as also happened with THE BRAVERY, TOMMY LEE performing the theme from his reality show, CHRISTINA AGUILERA getting soulful on Ellen, as did LISA MARIE PRESLEY and HOPE PARTLOW, though not so much the PUSSYCAT DOLLS, BECK rocked out to E-Pro, and hey, I even endured hordes of crazed country music fans for the now infamous day that KENNY CHESNEY showed me why I should possibly never visit the South - but it all comes back to BILLY IDOL, who showed me what it means to rock the cradle of love

- And of course, aside from what I saw at Leno and Ellen, there was TOM PETTY, who I saw in concert along with the Black Crowes, and who kicked ass classic rock style. He played the hits, and played 'em good. Great concert.

Alright, back later with the best in MOVIE and TV.

Until then ...

ROCK.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

LOST Strikes Back!

Okay - it's late, I gotta go to sleep, and dammit all I had to work at Last Call With Carson Daly today, so I'm not quite right in the head at the moment ...

But, gotta give some quick LOST season premiere thoughts:

- My thoughts are these: THIS should have been the season finale, or at least elements of this episode should have been incorporated into last spring's ridiculously frustrating season-ender. Why? Because this episode was a perfect blend of mystery and resolution - finally, our heroes descend into that freaking hatch and what is inside is actually pretty darn intriguing, if not simply a catalyst for about 1,000 new questions. Still, at least things are MOVING plot-wise, and where we were at POINT A for waaaaaaay too long, we finally seem to be on a path towards that ever elusive POINT B ... know what I mean? Anyways, I gotta say that the opening intro to this episode was simply awesome - totally mysterious yet a perfect setup for what was to come. And the flashbacks worked on multiple levels, in that they told a pretty involving self-contained story about Jack's past, yet also perfectly set up the cliffhanger ending, as new character DESMOND surfaced on the island and made a big, big impact. Gotta love when storylines simply flow together in sync like that. Some intriguing new questions posed as well ... Does Jack also possess some kind of supernatural power (used unconciously to heal Sarah?)? Was Desmond's first encounter with Jack simply chance, or something more? And what exactly was he injecting himself with in the opening montage? Plenty to think about, and at this point I was plenty relieved to have anything to think about regarding Lost other than why are the show's writers and producers a bunch of lame-asses who won't show us what's in the stupid hatch? So yeah, Lost is back. And after seeing a trifecta of totally mediocre pilot episodes for bandwagon-riding new series - the poorly produced Threshold, Surface, and Invasion - Lost returned to show all the imitators how it's done. That's just good TV, baby. My grade: A

- Meanwhile, what about INVASION, the new ABC show following Lost? In a nutshell, it was about the most glacially-paced scifi show I've seen in a while, and one that was barely interesting enough to be able to sustain viewers for one episode, let alone a whole series. Because unlike Lost, which savors all its weirdness and pulpy trappings despite its focus on character, this show seemed to resent the very fact that it's called Invasion and that it is, clearly, supposed to be about aliens ... or something. I mean, of the 44 minutes or so of show that we got here, about 35 of those minutes were about the oh-so moving story of a family struggling to find itself, and about 9 minutes was recycled crap that was either done first and better on The X-Files (see the repeated use of the term E.B.E. like it's so cool and original when clearly that's been done), or simply seems to be a retread of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or about a million other similarly-themed scifi movies. Oh yeah, most of the characters on this show were annoying as hell, especially the kids. And my new pet peeve for high concept shows: you need a REASON for the characters to be involved in the drama. We can only suspend disbelief so much that regular people in extraordinary circumstances wouldn't call the police or whoever, for example - as happened here when the dad and his brother decide to not tell anyone about a dead body because it might, MIGHT, just be part of a government cover-up or whatever. Um, no. The premise should force the action, as on Lost when ordinary people deal with crazy stuff because they have no chice, seeing as how they are STRANDED ON AN ISLAND. So no, Invasion - despite some nice set-pieces and movie-like production values, is by no means a worthy follow-up to LOST, and that's too bad. Well, I guess it's okay since the last thing I needed was another good show to watch. But still, it's a shame. I guess. My grade: C

OTHER QUICK STUFF:

- Glad to see that MY NAME IS EARL did so well in the ratings. Hey, sometimes I gotta root for NBC, seeing as how I work for them and all ... and EARL has soooo much potential, curious to see the next few episodes and how they pan out, and hopefully this will help THE OFFICE out as well.

- On the other hand ... WHY AREN'T YOU WATCHING ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT?!?! It freakin' sucks that the ratings continue to be so low, when this show is the BEST COMEDY ON TV. Maybe it would help if it wa paired with an established show on Mondays ... one that is nearly as funny and at one time had a huge fanbase and lots of critical acclaim ... one whose quirky style paved the way for Arrested to be on in the first place ... say, Malcolm in the Middle? Do you hear me FOX? Do you?!?!?

LAST CALL WITH CARSON DALY:

- hmmm, kinda like working at Dennis Miller, meaning lots of standing around and seeing a lot of weird ppl in the audience who go because they are paid to be there. But oddly, I somehow ran into Jordan, one of my old roommates from my days staying at Columbia U in NYC (while I was interning for Conan) last year, at the show, after not having been in contact for over a year now! How random is that? Anyways, the show itself has an awesome set, and hey, I did get to see iconic MTV VJ Bill Bellamy in person (okay iconic may be a bit strong, I realize ...). And there was a so awful it's kinda funny interview with Molly Simms, who told a story so rambling and hard to follow that nobody had a clue what she was talking about. And the house band, Max and the Attack, was actually pretty rocking, kind of a Reel Big Fish-esque punk / ska band with a bit of a harder, metal edge to them. And I did see a new all-girl rock band called The Like perform, which was some pretty decent stuff even if they were kind of a wannabe female Strokes. But man, Carson has gotta work on his comedic timing a bit, that's all I'm saying. And please, get this man some better material! Some of the lines he is given are just brutal.

Bring back Dennis Miller, dammit all ...

Tommorow: Ellen, once again. And, interview for an assignment! No pressure .....

And finally: I've decided that MYSPACE.COM is a very scary website. A quick browse through people living in my area revealed that there are some MESSED UP people living in Burbank and surrounding cities (and some who I suspect live in my very apartment complex, but that's another story). Anyways, all I know is that there are some women who simply have no shame who really, really, should have a little shame. And by a little, I mean A LOT. Goodnight.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emmy Awards: The Good, The Bad, and Shatner

What up?

Have a good weekend? Hope so, cuz guess what man, it's almost Monday again. Depressing, huh?

So, about those Emmy awards ...

First of all, let's be honest. Who, really, cares about the Emmy awards? As if Hollywood isn't self-congratulatory enough, we need to see a three-hour awards show every year just so that a bunch of out-of-touch industry types can tell us who and what, in their humble opinions, doesn't suck? Please. I mean, let's look at a show like Crossing Jordan. Now I'll be the first to admit, I have never seen an episode of this show in my life, and I don't have any immediate plans to ever watch it. I know of no one who watches it, as a matter of fact. The only confirmation I have that anyone actually ever watches this inexplicably long-running show is the occasional tourist who ventures into NBC and mentions that they like the show. Now the show seems to get decent ratings. And I'm sure it's, well, GOOD. But is it great? Is it REALLY worthy of all these nominations for stuff year after year? Years from now will people be remembering how that one episode of Crossing Jordan changed their lives? Now on the other hand we have a show like Malcolm in the Middle. This show revolutionized comedy on TV. Without it there'd be no Arrested Development or Everybody Hates Chris, and sitcoms would still primarily include laugh tracks. But for Malcolm, no nominations. Look at 24 - it's fresh, exciting, nothing else like it on TV. I mean this show is already a CLASSIC in its own time. It's nominated, sure, but it doesn't win. So really, who gives a crap about the Emmy awards, which seem to always be about 10 steps behind the curve. And who knows, maybe Crossing Jordan wasn't even the best example to use, but you get the point.

That being said ...

I'm sure I've already covered the obvious omissions, but one more time - where in the name of Fox Mulder are the nominations for Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls, and King of the Hill for animated series? And why is Desperate Housewives considered a comedy? Is it funnier than Arrested Development? Um ...

Of the nominations that I actually care about, probably the biggest upset for me was William Shatner pulling out a win over Terry O'Quinn, who had to be hands down the best single performer of this past TV season for his role as Locke on Lost. Also, while I can't say that Lost didn't deserve recognition as a whole, as I greatly enjoyed the show, this should have been 24's year. 24, in it's fourth season, was the best show on TV this year, consistently riveting from starto to finish, unlike Lost which definitely had its ups and downs plot-wise, and finished with a very anticlimactic finale. Not to mention that Kiefer, not the overrated James Spader, should be hailed as best lead dramatic actor. Otherwise, I guess it was obvious that Arrested D's win last year was going to be a fluke, and that this was the year of Raymond - awards shows never fail to be sentimental like that. And at least Housewives didn't win best comedy, and Arrested took home the award for writing. Finally, Jane Kaczmarek is overdue some critical love for her iconic comedic role on Malcolm, and by the way, when will the hilarious Brian Cranston ever get his due for his consistently great performances on that show as Hal? What else? Well, I guess it's almost redundant at this point to honor aging British shows that everyone in the know already knows are great, but it does seem a bit absurd to nominate The Office and Ali G for awards that they didn't seem destined to win. Still, is there is anything out there better than The Office or Ali G? Nope - those are the two funniest shows of the last 5 years.

Anyways, though he was once again overshadowed by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, my man CONAN O'BRIEN provided the comedic highlights of the telecast with his award presentation and with his writing staff's video intro for their Emmy nom. Hilarious stuff, including Conan belting out the themesong from Charles' in Charge~! and totally dissing NBC in a single breath. Classic. Speaking of John Stewart though, he once again got in a nice joke about Jewish writers (at least there is precedent for someone like me making it in the industry ...), and also indirectly bashed Jay Leno by praising Dave Letterman as the Johnny Carson of his generation. That hadda hurt, Jay, but let's face it, while the ratings may not reflect it, Letterman = the late night icon of the last 20 years, whereas Leno = well, I really should NOT be dissing the guy I work for ... Nice tribute to THE man though, Johnny Carson, by Letterman, very eloquent when called upon to be so, as always. Weird that Dave, Jay, Conan, and Craig Ferguson were all in the same room at the same time, but even more exciting was ...

The World's Finest Newscasters - Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, teaming up for perhaps the real highlight of The Emmys - getting a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd. These men are real titans of television, and honestly it is a sad sight to see the ranks of Real Newsmen so depleted following their retirement and the passing of Peter Jennings. While actors and other TV "talent" come and go, these guys are true icons - people who really did help change the world and push the media to new heights. So when people make broad generalizations about how TV is for idiots, all one needs to do is remind them of the class, dignity, and trust that people like Brokaw brought to the news each evening. Great segment.

And our old friend Ellen was host. Hmmm ... she seemed a little off tonight - I guess that comes from having your own talk show that is all about you and your own style and then having to go out into foreign territory and work on someone else's terms. Just glad I'm not one of the unlucky few who has to be at NBC at 4:30 am tommorow morning to work at Ellen's live post-Emmy wrap-up show. Ouch, that is gonna be rough.

Oh, and Kristen Bell shoulda won Emmy Idol, even if it was about the stupidest idea ever.

FOX SUNDAY NIGHT and MORE:

- great to see KING OF THE HILL back tonight in its tenth and possibly final season. As the Simpsons and Family Guy falter, King of the Hill is amazingly, consistently good. And look at tonight's premiere for example - holy lord - one main plotline that goes from the start of the episode to the finish - what a concept! Hank Hill continues to be one of the best characters ever put on television, and it is always a pleasure to watch his adventures unfold. My grade for tonight's episode: A -

- Simpsons, while not great, was at least better than last week's pure Suckfest. Some funny gags and an opening intro featuring a claymation GUMBY make this worthy of a B. Family Guy, meanwhile, was also decently funny, though not as sharp as it could have been. Still, some very funny moments (Gilmore Girls parody was kinda classic, orgy on the island was pretty crazy ...). Another grade of B. Odd though how they were running Family Guy segments on the Emmys while the show itself was on FOX.

- caught the new CBS sci-fi show THRESHOLD, which I am sorry to say completely blew. And oddly, this was hyped up as being the best of the new crop of high concept dramas. It had a pretty good cast, but the two hour pilot was one of the most boring, pointless, poorly-paced pieces of TV I've seen in a while. It was filled with useless techno-babble, terrible visual effects, bland and boring characters (let's see, you have an overworked female lead, Brent Spiner as a scientist, a perverted dwarf, and the guy who played Ethan Rom on Lost playing the exact same character!), and a been-there- done-that premise which took all two hours to unfold into an underwhelming cliffhanger. Don't get excited, fanboys, this is definitely NOT the second coming of The X-Files. Hell, the first season of the friggin' 4400 on USA was about ten times better than this. My grade: D

So yeah, the best new drama of the year, at this early stage, is still, easily, the great PRISONBREAK.

- Speaking of good dramas, all hail the return of Cartoon Network's JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. Yeah, you heard me. For a DC fanboy like myself this show is pure gold, and for everyone else this is the most action-packed, epic, and yes, ADULT adventure show on TV today outside of 24. And it currently stands as the last bastion of the animated Dini-verse, the brilliant series of animated programs featuring the writing of Paul Dini and the art stylings of the great Bruce Timm, which started with Batman: The Animated Series and continues to this day with JLU. As long as the definitive voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy, is on board (and he is), then you can't go wrong. Now why was this amazing show not nominated for an animated Emmy?

THIS WEEK AT WORK:

Finally, a break from last week's Ellen madness. Tommorow I return to work at Leno, and Tuesday is unfortunately another day manning the NBC ticketbox of doom. Wednesday it's my first foray into the unknown and unfunny realm of Last Call With Carson Daly, and Thursday it's back to Ellen for a double dose of dancing discord. And wil lthere be interviews for assignments? Let's hope so. And will those interviews lead to actually GETTING an assignment? Let's really hope so. This is it, make or break time.

AND FINALLY:

Is it just me, or do they put WAY too much cream cheese on bagels when you order a bagel with cream cheese at most local bagel establishments? For this reason, I think it's always a good idea to order cream cheese on the side.

And like Conan at tonight's Emmys, I look back on what I have written on this blog and say to myself: "I have no job ..." But then I realize that they can't touch me since my contract to take over as Tonight Show host in 2009 is signed, sealed, and untouchable. Oh, wait ... dammit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Danny's Summer Movie Wrap-Up: Brothers Grimm and The Wedding Crashers Reviewed!

BROTHERS GRIMM REVIEW:

As much as CGI has enabled some really cool stuff to be done in movies, there is a certain magic to be had in that old-school special effects wizardry. Whenever you tune into some classic 80's fantasy movie, like, say The Neverending Story, everything is just brimming with detail, dimension, and imagination. So I had high hopes going into Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy opus, because the man has imagination coming out of his ears. Look at Time Bandits, Brazil, or 12 Monkeys. Gilliam is a classic, a visionary, an artist. And he has more problems with studio executives while making each of his movies that you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, while The Brother's Grimm is a visual feast - brimming with trademark Gilliam imagination and surreality, it is also a mess. The plot is all over the place. The editing and pacing is jumpy and uneven, and the story gets mired in confusion and pointlessness and lack of much internal logic. Sadly, all the pieces are in place for a great, timeless movie. The cast, for one, is superb. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are surprisingly great as the Brothers Grimm, and who knew that Ledger had the kind of crazy-comic acting chops on display here? The leads are perfect and on the mark, the supporting cast is great as well. The plot and pacing is where the problem lies. The whole movie just seems pointless and nonsensical, as if it were trying to have a big, complex, Hollywood adventure story when all Gilliam really wanted was to flex his visual muscle, and he seems to be saying "to hell with this script, I'm just gonna have some fun with this thing." And so, despite the spotty plot structure, all is forgotten in the movie's several moments of visual genious. The magic of Gilliam's unique style shines through every so often, and these moments alone make the movie at least worth checking out for the curious. Where else do you see a demonic horse trap a child in a web and devour him whole? Or how about a blob-like creature that emerges from a well and proceeds to cause havoc in a town square? Or what about the amazing sequence where Monica Belluci as a cursed princess is turned to mirror-glass and then shattered into a million pieces? Awesome stuff, but there's barely anything there to tie it all together. This movie, visually, will remind you of some long-forgotten 80's fantasy - it has that otherworldly gloss of Time Bandits and Labrynth and other such movies. But its tone is so scattered and incoherant ... with few lines that recall the Monty Python-derived wit that you might think Gilliam would try to infuse this movie with. I'm not sure what the specific story was with the making of this movie, but the reports that there was conflict behind the scenes seems to ring true in the final product, because the movie is very uneven, a far cry from being a fully realized vision. I guess that when compared to other bad entries in the fantasy-adventure genre this is at least something unique and captivating in its own way. But mostly it is something that should be seen, sure - by all means, see this misguided attempt at brilliance and support an amazing director like Gilliam, rather than spending dollars on Deuce Begelow or some other generic Hollywood crap. But ultimately this movie will whet your appetite for something amazing, but it's not one that will leave you wholly satisfied with the finished product. Kind of a tragedy, when there is so much to like about it. Oh well, maybe next time. My grade: C +

THE WEDDING CRASHERS ...

... And to be honest, I am getting kinda sick of the whole "Frat Pack." I like people like Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson when they stick to crazy, out-there, interesting material. Ferell to me was at his best in Anchorman, for example, not in Old School. I am a big fan of Owen Wilson's work in quirky comedies like The Life Aquatic. Vince Vaughn, well, I can't say I'm a superfan of his or anything. I appreciate his obvious talent for comedy but I just don't find him particularly funny, at least more so than a bunch of other comedians who are probably more deserving of all the attention that Vaughn has garnered recently (example: see the underrated cast of 40 Year Old Virgin like Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd, who seem to me much more likable and comedically gifted than Vaughn, even if they don't have his "look at me I'm a cool 40 year old fratboy" image). Anyways, I won't lie - I laughed my ass off during a large portion of this movie. But I also cringed and yawned alternatively through the LAME "romantic comedy" portions, which were pretty ludicrous even within the strained limits of credibility that the genre enjoys. Unlike the 40 Year Old Virgin, where I really liked the main romance between Steve Carell and Catherine Keener, this movie tried to be way too sappy with its totally annoying and ridiculous romance between Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. So ... they like each other because why? Oh yeah, it's a movie, we don't need to develop a relationship, just tell us to accept that after one day and one thirty second speech at her sister's wedding, the two are madly in love despite about a million reasons why McAdams should completely hate Wilson's character. So yeah, wasn't crazy about that. But the supporting cast was great, McAdams is gonna be a huge star, it had friggin' Christopher Walken, and, yeah, overall, it was an enjoyable movie with a decent number of big-laugh getting scenes. If I watched it a second time would it be nearly as amusing? No. Is this in any way deserving of all the hype surrounding it? Gotta say no. But, darn it all, how can I resist the flavor of the month actors like Vaughn who are suddenly comedic geniouses in the eyes of so many critics? Let's not get carried away here. Decent comedy, by no means a classic. My grade: B -

So, it's official then - the end of the summer movie season. Like I've said before, it was a pretty damn good few months for movies, despite what the naysayers naysay. So here ya go, my own Top 11 Movies of the Summer:

1.) Batman Begins - possibly best comic book based movie ever - saw it twice, friggin' awesome
2.) Hustle and Flow - sleeper hit of the year, Terrance Howard was great - whoop that trick!
3.) Star Wars: Episode III - Ian McDiarmid owns this movie and it's the last ever Star Wars - and actually good! Gotta love the riveting last 45 minutes
4.) War of the Worlds - has its detractors, I know, but come on, THIS is how you do action scenes 5.) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton at his quirky best - amazing visually and a great ensemble of talented actors
6.) March of the Penguins - a unique look at this summer's unlikeliest of heroes - penguins
7.) Cinderella Man - Why did nobody see this? Another great performance from Russell Crowe
8.) 40 Year Old Virgin - Best comedy of the summer, great cast, funny stuff
9.) Broken Flowers - Bill Murray again delivers in this subtle but thought-provoking comedy
10.) Sky High - Don't laugh, this movie was great! Come on, it has Bruce Campell in it ...

Biggest Disappointments of the Summer: The Island, Fantastic Four, Brothers Grimm ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Whoop That Trick: Hustle and Flow Review and MORE

Yo yo yo let me speak on this.

So good thing that I waited to see Hustle and Flow until now. Why? Because it was playing for free at NBC today, that's why, fool.

So let's get on with it.

HUSTLE AND FLOW REVIEW:

Wow - great movie. That about sums it up. It took me a little while to get into it, but as this story of a pimp who dreams of getting into the music biz began to unfold, I was hooked. First off, Terrance Howard, as the lead characer, D-Jay, is absolutely phenomenal in this film. He is captivating and charismatic - he makes you really sympathize with and relate to a character who is essentially a lowlife piece of scum. But Howard injects D-Jay with and incredible level of humanity, and even though this world of pimps and turning tricks is (hopefully) remote and alien to most of you, there are numerous instances where you completely relate to the emotions that D-Jay is experiencing. All across the board, the acting in the movie is great. Anthony Anderson puts in probably the best performance of his career as D-Jay's white collar music producer friend, and DJ Qualls adds some humor to the movie as well. The female leads are all outstanding as well, and unfortunately I am not really familiar with any of their previous work, suffice to say that the ensemble cast in this film really is universally amazing, and even Isaac Hayes puts in an appearance in a small supporting role. But Howard steals the show, and though he is surrounded by a great supporting cast, this is, ultimately, his movie.

The musical scenes in the movie really stand out. You can almost feel the sparks of creativity crackling in the makeshift recording studios as D-Jay tries to come up with lyrics and beats for his songs. And the music is actually great in this movie, and if you have any appreciation for rap or hip hop whatsoever you'll probably leave this movie with its catchy songs and verses in your head for a long while.

Hustle and Flow really is a great movie - one of the best of the summer and a real sleeper hit. It's filled with emotion and resonance, and some of the twists and turns of the plot towards the end were pretty crazy - this movie definitely takes you on - and sorry to use such a cliche - an emotional rollercoaster. A hip-hop epic on par with the best movies of the year. Great cast, great script, great direction, and a rocking soundtrack to boot. So yeah, ch ch ch ch check it out, son. My grade: A

- So ... to once again reitirate how many good movies have actually been out this summer, let's take a look at what we've been treated to, in what has been, in fact, a GREAT summer for movies. Here are a bunch of movies that were all at the least pretty darn good, and at the best friggin' awesome (plus keep in mind that I still haven't seen Wedding Crashers, and we still have Brothers Grimm and 40 Year Old Virgin coming out in the next few weeks):


- Batman Begins
- Star Wars: Episode III
- War of the Worlds
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- March of the Penguins
- Bad News Bears
- Sky High
- Cinderella Man
- Hustle and Flow
- Broken Flowers

Not bad if you ask me.

What else?

AT WORK:

Yesterday the Tonight Show saw one of its best lead guests in a while. Yup, you guessed it - Frank Stallone. No, just kidding, it was only the Best. Weekend Update Anchor. Ever. - Norm freakin' McDonald, who reaffirmed that he is one hilarious bastard. Norm had me rolling in laughter, which is not something that usually happens to me while watching the Tonight Show. Not too much else of not to report from the hallowed halls at NBC, except that, OF COURSE, the page program finally gets it's $%#& together and plans a great networking event, where former pages will come and talk with us about their current jobs, and schedules it THE ONE DAY THAT I WILL BE AWAY!!! Nice going, you idiots! (um, if any of you "idiots" are reading this, I meant that in the nicest way possible ...).

ON TV:

Speaking of NBC, the peacock network that can't do anything right finally aired something good last night - and of all things it was a reality show, which I usually don't like. Yes, I am here to tell you that TOMMY LEE GOES TO COLLEGE is downright hilarious and highly entertaining. And it actually gets you rooting for the guy to succeed, get good grades, and make the marching band. Good going, NBC. And lo and behold, I watched NBC once again tonight - I tuned into the Office marathon tonight to do some, er "resaearch" for the spec script that I am in theory supposed to be working on so I'll actually have something current to show people should the opportunity arise. Still can't say I'm a huge fan of the American version of the show, but the premise is so open ended that there is pretty much limitless potential for scripts, and the cast is very good. It's just that most of the episodes so far are very shallow and one-note compared to the geniously-conceived British version which is both hilarious and richly textured and multi-layered.

VERONICA MARS Stuff -- congrats to LAST YEAR'S BEST NEW SHOW for it's success in the ratings that its reruns on CBS over the last few weeks have garnered. There is hope after all. And, if you unconverted need yet another reason to tune into UPN this fall to watch season 2, KEVIN SMITH has agreed to appear on at least one episode of the show, as a store clerk no less!

In addition to the entertaining Tommy Lee Goes to College, last night also saw a guilty pleasure episode of Real World that was easily one of the most entertaining installments I've seen in a while. The sheer hilarity of Wes blatantly getting his freak on with some completely random girl just to make one of his roommates jealous was definitely worthy of the episode being counted among classic Real World hook-up moments.

Also, once again, I have to give a shout out and a PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW mention to a supremely hilarious little program on Comedy Central called STELLA. Last night's ep was funny as hell, and guest star Janeane Garofolo, love her or hate her, was in her best Wet Hot American Summer-esque comedic form. If you like crazy, absurd comedy, watch STELLA - Tuesdays, 10:30 pm, Comedy Central.

Upcoming NEW FALL SHOWS I'm Interested In: I am psyched for PRISON BREAK on FOX, looks sweet, in the vein of 24. INVASION on ABC could go either way, but I am definitely ready for a new alien-conspiracy show after watching my X-Files DVD's lately. Speaking of which, I've heard mixed reviews, but due to it's premise and its talent involved, namely Frank Spotnitz (big contributer to X-Files and Millenium), I will probably give the rmake of KOLCHACK: THE NIGHTSTALKER a shot. MY NAME IS EARL with Jason Lee is the one NBC show I am genuinely excited for, even if I've yet to see the pilot, though I have seen the pilot for ABC'S NBC-produced SONS AND DAUGHTERS, a midseason comedy that is hilarious. Oh yeah, that new Chris Rock-produced show on UPN, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, could be a potentially good comedy, but really, who the hell knows.

WHAT ELSE?

- Went to the ol' Burbank courthouse today and registered for traffic school, aka I forked over more money to Big Brother for, you guessed it, NOT FULLY STOPPING AT A STOP SIGN, WHILE MAKING A RIGHT TURN ... RIGHT OUTSIDE OF MY APARTMENT!

- For those of you have been breathlessly following the saga of me being unable to do my laundry, I finally did my laundry, despite stupid laundry card-point-refill machine still being broken, by purchasing a new card from the office. Exciting, right?

- Saw Minnie Driver (you know, from Goodwill Hunting?) all around NBC today and saw her rehearsal for Leno during one of my tours. Yep, that's right, she sings.

-Hilarious skit on Conan last night with someone i nthe audience wanting "the kosher talk show" and getting it - as Jackie Mason sat in for Conan and rambled on about gefilte fish, his grandson's bar-mitzvah, and his sidekick, some rabbi dude. Oy, now that's funny!

TOMMOROW:

Pamela Anderson and friends, live, in person, on the Tonight Show!


... And that's all for now. More serious political discussion next time on DANNYBARAM.BLOGSPOT.COM. Ya' feel me?

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Broken Flowers Review

BROKEN FLOWERS REVIEW:

Wow, that one really made ya think.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed Broken Flowers. It was a slow movie, that is for sure. But although it took me a while to really get into it, after about half an hour I was totally absorbed into the spellbinding flow of Jim Jarmusch's reflective look at a former Don Juan's journey through the fragmented pieces of his own history. The movie follows a simple premise - Bill Murray plays Don Johnston ("with a T") - an aging ladies' man who discovers that he may have a 20-year old son, and visits a number of his former lady-friends in order to solve this mystery - a puzzle which he may or may not actually have any real interest in solving.

Performance-wise, Bill Murray was fantastic in this film, though he is so naturalistic that he almost makes you wonder how much of his role is acting and how much is simply an extension of the now-familiar, dour and world-weary persona he's developed and honed in recent movies like Lost in Translation, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic. What you get here from Murray is covering pretty familiar territory, but it's still an engrossing, nuanced performance that is worthy of lots of praise. Likewise, the female leads in the movie seem to mimic Murray's naturalism. Formerly glamorous stars like Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange are deglamorized here, and surprisingly fit right into the movie's stark, sad world where the "reality" of wrinkles, aging, and other blemishes usually hidden by the camera are instead fully revealed and exposed.

Basically, this is one of those movies, like a Lost in Translation or About Schmidt, that is really more of a meditation on various themes - on characters, on small details and nuance, on life - that it does not necessarily follow a traditional story structure or present a real sense of character development, let alone closure to the main character's journey. And that can at times be frustrating, but mostly it's just very refreshing - Jarmusch leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and he provides plenty of small scenes, patterns, and images that really resonate during and after you see this film. While the pacing was often almost excruciatingly slow, you have to admire the artful manner in which Broken Flowers is shot. Seeing this movie's unique style definitely piqued my interest in seeing other Jarmusch films, as this was the first one I've yet gotten a chance to check out.

Anyways, I definitely recommend this film for a HUGE change of pace from most of this summer's rapid-fire blockbusters. This movie is slow, deliberate, and sparse, and can be hit and miss with some of its dialogue and character moments. But it's also brilliantly shot and acted, funny, and one of the most thought-provoking movies that I've seen in a while.

My grade: A -

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

RAY GUNS! Sky High! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

SKY HIGH REVIEW:

Now I admit, Sky High looked pretty sketch from the early commercials and previews ... but I realized something fro mreading Harry Knowles Ain't It Cool review a week or so back - this film had potential to be awesome. I mean look at the cast of adults. You've got SNAKE PLISKEN and ASH together! You've got WONDER WOMAN! You've got two of the KIDS IN THE HALL! Now that - THAT is how you cast a FUN superhero movie. But anyways, Harry's review conveyed something that came through even amidst his usual over-enthusiastic ravings. Something shone through that any geek could read and spot - a true, true passion for this movie. So I was psyched to see it, and yet had something gnawing at me telling me that the doubters were correct - the movie would be cheesy, derivative crap. But that was far from the case. I loved the movie, and not only that I think it will become a kids' classic. Because as much as I could enjoy and appreciate this movie now, if I saw this at age 10 or 12, whoah boy, this would have been IT. Why? Let me try to explain:

- The movie is really a perfect blend of John Hughes-esque high school comedy with all things superhero. In fact it's exactly what you'd expect that kind of mash-up to be. But it's done so well - every beat is hit to such perfection, that even the predictable twists and turns of the plot are great, because so much thought and care and imagination is put into each CHARACTER that you are dying for the boy to get the girl, for the underdog to have his moment in the sun, for the bad guys to get their due. Now in this age of endless formulaic movies and remakes and rehashed ideas, it might seem like this is just another one of those. But as far as I'm concerned the story of the high school underdog is one that can and needs to be eternally retold, and as long as it's done well, then hey, go for it. There will always be a new generation of misfits, outcasts, and geeks who need this kind of movie - happy ending and all. And let's give some credit - this is a DISNEY movie through and through. And I don't mean crappy nu-Disney. I mean the Disney that made Mary Poppins and Flight of the Navigator - the one you could count on for wonder, imagination, and yes, a happy ending that makes you smile. Now in terms of high school movies / TV shows I am very picky. I usually hate cliched high school settings when no thought or character is put into the script. But even though this is a cartoony, kid-appropriate world, there are little bits and pieces that have those pangs of realism and angst you usually only see in the best high school pieces - Freaks and Geeks, My So Called Life, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc. And even though the high school melodrama character moments are there ...

- This movie is filled with fun and imagination. None of this "realistic" superhero stuff here. No leather costumes, no psychological profiling. Sky High worships at the altar of 1950's scifi, of comic books, REAL comic books (not "graphic novels") from the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and the present. From Hannah-Barbara animation, from Jack Kirby, from Stan Lee, from Julie Schwartz. This movie is just plain FUN AS HELL. Crazy costumes, cool superpowers, villains that look like they are from new acid-tripped version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I love it. And there is ACTION. DIRECTOR OF FANTASTIC FOUR TAKE NOTE: This isn't "ooh look at me use my powers for five seconds as I stand here and pose and say some lame one-liner." This is kinetic, fun, well-edited yet easy to follow action that makes for some truly cool set pieces. Sure, the f/x are cartoony and not exactly Lucas or WETA quality CGI, but that's the whole fun. So much crazy stuff is going on that it works awesomely, especially since ...

- The cast rocks! Kurt Russell is classic Kurt Russell here. He says his every line as Commander Stronghold with such a sense of fun that he puts a smile on your face whenever he appears. This is classic pulp hero Escape From NY and Big Trouble in Little China wink-wink nudge nudge but I still can kick some ass acting here - it doesn't get any better. Bruce Campell is Bruce Campell - B movie icon and classic character actor, The Chin delivers the goods as a demoralizing gym teacher in a standout role. Hail to the King, baby. And then comedy lovers everywhere rejoice - Kids in the Hall reunion! Dave Foley is pitch perfect as a former sidekick turned teacher (Mr. Boy - hilarious!) and Kevin McDonald often steals the whole show as a super-braniac who is embittered for never getting his rightful due thanks to his brains over brawn powers. Lynda Carter is wondrous as the school's principal. Even minor characters like Ron Wilson: Bus Driver get there little moments to shine and so much attention is paid to those character moments that nothing ever feels left out or inconsistent ... and then there's the kids. In short, they are great. Sure they are playing variations on familiar high school stereotypes, but they do a damn good job of making you love / hate them to the point where you'll probably have a favorite by the end of the movie. As good as the casts of kids were in Bad News Bears and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this one was better and more memorable.

So yeah, this is a great movie - for kids, for kids at heart, and for those looking for an underhyped summer adventure that won't make you question humanity. Honestly, in many ways I enjoyed this more than The Incredibles, which was an animated wonder, but plot-wise was more derivative than inventive in some respects. This movie was laugh out loud funny in many spots, had a lot of good action scenes, endearing characters, and oh yeah I must mention the kickass 1980's soundtrack, which completely rocked. Clearly, the basic premise or plot stucture is nothing new. But everything is done right, which is rare for this genre. Sometimes a crappy movie comes out and people defend it by saying "oh don't bash it it's a fun movie." Well this movie may be formulaic, but who cares - it's hella fun, but also smart, imaginative, energetic, and entertaining to boot - with a wonderful cast and sharp writing and direction. So bring the whole family. Who wouldda thunk it? SKY HIGH is one of the summer's best movies.

My grade: A -


CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY REVIEW:

- Another thing that gets on my nerves: people whining and complaining about remakes of movies in cases where the original movie was NOT EVEN AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT. Sure, remakes in general are getting to be a problem, and originality in general is getting increasingly harder to come by. But come on, Batman Begins is NOT a remake of Batman - the character existed LONG BEFORE Michale Keaton donned the cape and cowl. War of the Worlds is NOT a remake of the earlier movie - HG Wells wrote the book first. And CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is NOT, I repeat NOT a remake of the Gene Wilder version. Why? BECAUSE DECADES EARLIER ROHL DAHL WROTE THE BOOK! Now Dahl was a genious, one of the greatest, most imaginative writers ever, and deserves credit for coming up with the idea in the first place. So if anything, we should be questioning the Gene Wilder version for straying from the original novel, not faulting the Tim Burton movie for straying from the earlier film. Now it so happens that I really like the Wilder version. I love Wilder as an actor, for one thing, and he is classic in that movie. The movie is a psychedellic, trippy, creepy, creative cult classic that many kids fondly remember from their youth. But is it a great movie? Gotta say no. Close, but no. It has great performances, great moments, but as a whole it is more of a novelty than something truly great. Now is the new version great? Hard to say so early in, but overall, it is a BETTER MOVIE than the first, and is more in keeping with the scope, breadth, and spirit of Dahl, which is to its credit. Now I didn't expect to really love this movie, but I came away from it very, very, impressed.

Burton was on his game here. This movie had his trippy visuals, his eccentric style in spades. But it had the cohesion and internal logic of his best movies like Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Big Fish - and none of the messy, painful flaws of duds like Planet of the Apes. Sure, Burton was handicapped here - some of the scenes and characters can only be changed so much, and bare a striking similarity to the Wilder movie. But Burton infuses this movie with so much that is new and different - a subversive, mad-genious mentality pervades it - and it turns out to be plenty original and interesting. I won't dwell on the details, but basically in this movie it is, in fact, all in the details. Wonka's glances and expressions, the set design, the seamless, spell-binding f/x, the costumes, the inflection that the characters speak in. The movie has a timeless feel. You lose a sense of geography and history - you only know that Charlie, and Wonka and Veruca Salt and the rest are these classic storybook concoctions that work in any era. The movie works in plenty of humor. The child actors are great (Augustus Gloop is hilarious, Charlie is spot-on). The music and songs by Danny Elfman are just great, and the upadated take on the Oompa-Loompa /s is pretty funny and highly entertaining. Most of all this feels, unlike the earlier film, like a complete movie. The main characters grow and change. The storyarcs evolve and progress and end with satisfying conclusions. This is Tim Burton at his best - as a storyteller. He's telling you a familiar story but adding new bits and pieces. He's drawing out a world and vision uniquely his own even if the story itself is old hat. But Burton, Depp, and the rest are the ones you want telling you the story, because they are the ones with the vision to bring that antastical world to life and reimagine it one more time.

My grade: A-

Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of The Worlds review

Holy crap, War of The Worlds was amazing.


SPOILERS AHEAD:

This is going to be one of those movies, I can already tell, where you either get it or you don't. I'm not sure exactly why some people don't seem to be getting it. Maybe it's because it mixes somewhat antiquated, literay Wells-ian imagery with a very modern setting. Maybe because it strays from every typical action movie convention that we associate with alien invasion movies like Independence Day. Maybe because people are too wrapped up in Tom Cruise's public craziness to get fully immersed in the movie. But for every Harry Knowles who raves about this movie's awesomeness, there seems to be a Roger Ebert who looks at it with a more cynical eye and states the mantra of which many films are desrving of - overhyped - but, no, not this one. This one surpasses the hype. Still, there will be those who hate on it. I've already heard 'em.

Whatever.

This movie rocked, and rocked hard.

Visually, this is simply one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. Every action sequence, every set piece, every visceral, kinetic motion is triggered by one thing - fight or flight, live or die, survival of the fittest, RUN! Never before in a movie has it been so apparent that, even though every rule of movie convention states that these characters will live, to us, at any given moment, it is clear that they are SCREWED. Sure, the Hollywood way is for a bunch of action heroes to ride up in humvees and start shooting flamethrowers or some crap at the aliens, showing them that their otherworly technology is no match for good ol' American know-how. We expect to see Will Smith punch out ET and crack wise, to see Sigourney Weaver take it to those alien bastards, to see Jeff Goldblum plant a friggin' computer virus in the alien's sytem. Now don't get me wrong, I love Independence Day for what it is. It's a brilliantly fun, pulpy look at Us vs. Them, all-out war. Despite it's title this film is not about war. It's about what happens when you know you're gonna die. When you're a regular guy and there's no superhero to save you from the Big Bad. And that feeling pervades every moment of this film, thanks to Spielberg's literally awe-inspiring direction.

The alien tripods in this movie are amazing looking. They sound like the digital trumpets of the armies of hell. They are the sadistic cousins of the aliens in Close Encounters. We don't know what their deal is, and that's a good thing, because in that way they are truly alien. These creatures don't have some elaborate plan to take over earth. Okay, well it's kind of elaborate. But basically, all we really know is that they want us dead. And they will use huge-ass tripod war machines and instant-vaporizer rays to do it. The fear that Orson Welles must have projected into the hearts of listeners during his War of the World's broadcast? This is that fear, personified, brought to awesome life. Spielberg has always excelled at putting storybook-like images on screen, at capturing moments as if ripped from paintings and children's illustrations and putting them in motion on screen, yet retaining that timeless quality that burns specific still moments into the inner facets of your brain. Consider my brain burned. This is old 1950's scifi pulp novel covers brought to life and made real. This is Spielberg's Norman Rockwell Americana destroyed and crushed. This is every fear of terrorism, genocide, helplessness, destruction - combined with every fantasy of aliens, death-rays, and intergalactic invasion. It looks amazing. It sounds amazing.

I don't care if Tom Cruise has lost it in real life. He's great in this movie. Sure it's not a complex part, but the main thing here is that his portrayal of a man who is numb with fear is spot on. I don't think most of us know how we'd react when faced with certain death and the end of the world as we know it - but Cruise does a great job of making us believe that this is how we'd feel and act if faced with these extraordinary circumstances.

Dakota Fanning is seriously an amazing actress for her age, and in general. She is completely convincing in this movie and like Cruise, her fear and shock and utter trauma is totally absorbing and believable and shocking - we are shocked along with her, and traumatized along with her. To have an audience's emotions channeled through the wide eyes of an eleven year old girl is pretty incredible.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well, but again it's the set pieces - the dazzling imagery, iconic sounds, and feeling of being right there, in the moment of danger and certain death, that makes this movie great. Some might compare it to SIGNS, but please, don't. War of the Worlds OWNS that movie and is leagues better, no comparison.

But yes, there are complaints.

Spielberg has always been a sentimentalist, but here, as in his last few movies, that sentimentalism takes away from the final product. In a lighter adventure story like Jurassic Park it worked. In a bleak dystopian fairy tale like AI, the Spielbergian ending REALLY detracted from what had been a potentially classic movie. While Catch Me If You Can was great, and Minority Report avoided some of AI's cheesier inclinations, The Terminal was flat out frustrating because of its unrelenting sentimentality and ultimately unconvincing and contrived plotline. Now let's get one thing straight - most of War of the Worlds is dark, unrelenting, and absolutely, gloriously BRUTAL. A few moments though, notably the rushed and impossibly happy ending, are just WTF moments that really took away from what have could been a much more poignantly bleak and thought-provoking conclusion. Most of the movie did exactly what Spielberg wanted - it kept the audience in a hushed, tense, nail-biting "oh my god" mindset. But at the end he asked us all to go "awww, isn't that nice!" when it just wasn't the right time. Does this slightly cornball ending ruin the movie? Hells no! In the end the human drama aspect of the movie has been mostly overshadowed by the spectacle, by the sheer awe of what has happened. So while it is a bit jarring to see the bow-tied, gift-wrapped fate of the main characters, really, it's secondary to everything else. As for the final fate of the aliens themselves, after some thought, I love it. First off, it's true to the book by H.G Wells. Secondly, it makes a damned interesting point - if not for a fluke of nature, humanity would have been completely screwed at the hands of these aliens. Essentially, we as a people, had a bare minimum chance of actually stopping these dudes before they all but wiped us out. Our guns, our tanks, were basically useless (even if Cruise does take down one tripod with a well-placed grenade ...). Hubris and poor intelligence were what ultimately brought down the alien behemoth. Hmmm ... interesting ...

Other complaints? The Tim Robbins scenes drag on a bit. Again, the final few scenes seem rushed and have some weird time gaps that stretch credibility a bit. The scene where, Cruise, Fanning, and Robbins evade an alien probe is too reminiscent of the Raptor hide-n-seek scene from Jurassic Park, and is easily one of the more contrived action scenes in the film, not to mention way too long. The aliens themselves look a bit too familiar and not quite as unique as we'd expect from the crazy cool look of their tripod war machines. But come on, in the wake of the sheer devastation this movie portrays, these are all minor complaints. There is no quickly cutting motion blur here. No unrealistic, cartoony CGI f/x. No action hero one-liners or other lame-ass garbage that you expect from most summer blockbusters. This is an assault on the senses in the best possible way. You are there. You're running for your life and there's an alien tripod stomping its way towards you, incinerating everything in its way with a blast from its cannon, as strange, horrible noises pierce your eardrums and nightmares become reality. This movie is the real deal, classic Spielberg, and despite some clear and obvious flaws, it shows all the pretenders how blockbuster action sci fi dramas should be done. Get it? Good.

My grade: A

Friday, June 17, 2005

Full Batman Begins Review, and: A Whole Lot More

Wow was today one of those days.

For some reason I was sure that I had to be at work at 10:30 today, and yet I overslept, woke up at like 9:55, and realized I had to be there at 10. I threw my page uniform on, hauled it down to NBC, and called to let them know I'd be slightly late, but would still be able to do my 10 am tour. So of course my supervisor is right there in the room when I called, and heard the whole thing, so my plan to quietly slip in at 10:10 and get on with my tour was thrown out the window. So it turned out there were two 10 am tours, I didn't even have to do one, yet I was still chewed out for being late, and awkwardly sat in the ticket office for an hour and a half trying to make myself busy and useful, too out of it to engage in any form of pleasant conversation. But I still had another tour to do, and the Tonight Show. And my tour overlapped with Leno, so I had to run right from one thing to the other without a second to collect myself. And I was Admitter, meaning a lot of counting was involved. I don't like counting.

So tonight I'm taking it easy because I am freakin' exhausted.

Today on the show: Michael Jackson's attorney Tom Mezzero (sp?), some American chopper dudes, and some wannabe Sheryl Crow named Courtney Jay (sorry but her song today was ripped right off of a Crow album or something, which isn't saying much in the first place). I thought Mezzero was very well spoken and seemed pretty convincing in explaining how poor the case against MJ was. His statements combined with Stephen King's EW editorial today about the Jackson trial coverage goes to show how the media really created much of the hype about this case and turned one highly eccentric guy's life into a media circus that blew things way out of proportion and was basically a self-perpetuating feeding frenzy.

Yesterday: Craziness ensued as Lindsay Lohan and the Backstreet Boys came to the show. Some of the other pages had some horror stories about dealing with crazy fans and whatnot, but I didn't really have any bad experiences and most of the fans I dealt with were very nice people and didn't cause any real problems. Sure, seeing people tattooed with pics of the Backstreet Boys and wearing handmade garments emblazoned from head to toe with screened photos of the band was little creepy, but hey, it was an easier bunch to deal with than those wacky Gerard Butler fans (I love you guys but you are totally freakin' nuts!). Barely saw Lohan but she seemed a little less emaciated looking than in recent tabloid photos. Kind of surreal to be standing in front of a girl who is such a huge pop cultural star yet at first glance could easily have been just another one of us NBC pages.

Wednesday: Pre-Batman Begins, the I got up close and personal with Paris and Kathy Hilton who appeared on Leno. Unlike her daughter, Kathy was very articulate, dignified, and possesing that old school upper class snobbery, not that new-school red carpet MTV-ified club girl image of her daughters. But seeing Paris up close is so weird. It's like she is just constantly posing. Like every little adjustment, leg cross, turn of the head, and smile is some carefully timed gesture made as if to accomodate some everpresent fashion photographer or something. Just very weird and Stepford Wives-ish. Unlike say, Jessica Simpson though whose vacant eyes led me to believe she wasn't quite all there in the head, I think Paris may be a little bit smarter than she lets on, and maybe even a lot smarter - I mean look at the success she's had basically from doing nothing ...

Basketball:

What a crappy NBA Finals this has been so far. Every game has been a blowout, first by the Spurs and now by the Pistons. And yet, intriguingly, it's now a tied series at 2 games a piece. They have gotta be due for a close game at this point ...

Movies:

Oh mang, today's EW cover story on Bryan Singer's Superman movie has me more nervous than ever that this movie is going to suck. First of all it, it's going to follow the continuity of the first two Superman movies? What the hell? Take a lesson from Batman Begins - those movies are almost 30 years old - START OVER. While the first two movies are classics, they are by no means the end all be all of Superman movies - they can be done MUCH BETTER in the right hands. Second, Singer's already talking about all this allegorical stuff, like Superman as the messiah, something about the plot being an analogy for Singer's relationship problems over the years ... What the ..?!?! Singer, put down the crack pipe and give us a kickass Superman movie, not this crap! Dammit, if he screws this up ... oh, and Brandon Routh still looks retarded in that lame-ass version of the costume in the pictures they've released so far.

Batman Begins Review:

Well, in Wednesday night's initial Batman reactions I covered the basics: namely, that the movie rocks. But there's a lot more to say than that. Really though, I don't think it takes a lot to explain what's good about Batman Begins. It's dark, takes itself seriously, is mature, dramatic, and focuses on something very important that the other films largely glossed over: the character of Bruce Wayne - who he is and why he became Batman. Because Batman is a unique superhero in that his persona is entirely of his own creation. There was no freak accident, no alien origin - he is a self-made, self-styled hero whose abilities were gained through work and persistence and dedication, and the whys of that transformation are finally and satisfactorilly explained in Batman Begins.

The acting in this movie is almost universally phenomenal. First off, Christian Bale IS Bruce Wayne. He pulls off the tortured nature of Wayne expertly. He adapts to the different personas - the billionaire playboy, the driven student, the emotionally stunted victim - effortlessly and flawlessly. Never before have the many faces and facades of Bruce Wayne been explored so thoroughly in a movie. Bale looks iconic as Wayne, right off of the comic page and onto the big screen. Bale as Batman is almost as good. He does "the voice" well, for the most part, though in a few scenes he over does it a bit and sounds too cartoonish when he takes on that trademark gravelly Batman tone. While Bale is good, it's still Kevin Conroy of the Animated Series who is the definitive Voice of Batman. Now in certain shots, Bale as Batman looks hella freakin' cool. In long shots, in side shots, in sillouette, in shadow, standing atop the Gotham rooftops with the moonlit cityscape framing his flowing cape, this is the best, most iconic looking Batman yet. Closeup though, the costume still looks kind of goofy, and appears too tight and constraining, giving Bale some very awkeard-looking facial expressions while under the cowl. The costume itself is still too detailed and strange and rubbery looking when seen in close up shots. Still, that's more of a nitpick than a big omplaint, but damn I wish they would just drastically change the way the costume looks for the next movie, but I doubt that is gonna happen.

Aside from Bale though, some of the supporting characters really almost steal the show. First off, Morgan Freeman is great as Lucious Fox, a character who is actually pretty two dimensional in the comics but who here has a lot of great, humorous one-liners and is pretty interesting addition to the Batman mythos. As Morgan Freeman so often does, he makes you really get behind Fox as a character and root for him throughout the movie as a kind of sly underdog mentor type. Sure, it's par for the course for Freeman, but I'll take it.

Michael Caine is great as steadfast Butler to the Bat and father figure Alfred Pennyworth, a character who is much more intriguing and well rounded in this movie than in previous efforts (even if the late great Michael Gough did imbue the character with much needed class in the previous films). What can you say, it's frikkin' Michael Caine, the man is a legend. As a longtime Alfred fan from the comics, I have but two small fanboyish complaints that about five other people in the world will care about. One: Alfred is supposed to have a mustache, dammit all! I want to see Alfred with a mustache, he just isn't right without it! Two: He calls Bruce Wayne "Master Bruce" not "Master Wayne." Sorry but I had to get that out.

Now, Katie Holmes could have been a disaster here. She does fine as Rachel Dawes, the idealistic DA, but she is simply outclassed by the great actors around her and just seems miscast in a role that should have probably gone to an older actress with a stronger screen presence. As is though Holmes does okay in the ole and doesn't really detract from the movie. I was happy to see that the romantic subplot was kept in the background, but overall it seemed mostly pointless and was kind of put in there to throw a bone to marketing types who think any Batman movie must have a love interest, even though it doesn't really fit with Batman's intensely driven persona as a loner with no time for love.

Gary Oldman is awesome as James Gordon, and does a great job with the material he's given, and I can't tell you how great it is to finally, finally see the real Jim Gordon on screen - the one with an old school cop 'stache and overly big glasses, the one with a Chicago accent and a heart of gold, the one who is the one good cop in a corrupt city, who is Batman's one ally in his war on crime and his one true friend. But, sadly, Oldman is underused. So much of this movie is based on the great Batman: Year One, that it's just a shame that they couldn't have at least touched on Gordon's backstory which is so prominent and well-written in that Frank Miller-penned tale. Hopefully in the sequel we can see more of Oldman as Gordon, this time played more for drama than comedy, with a bit more of a chance to shine (if they adapt The Killing Joke at all then he may get that chance ...). Still, Oldman as Gordon just made me happy that they finally were starting to get the character right.

Now, as for the villains ...

First off I have to talk about Liam Neeson, who I am really starting to like as an actor who can pull off those key dramatic yet slightly over the top roles so well. His performance here reminded me slightly of Kingdom of Heaven, where in a short time on screen he stole the show and delivered some of the best lines of the movie with some much needed gravitas (been hearing that word a lot lately ...). Neeson as "Ducard" is great, and his strong performance in the early part of the movie makes his return in the latter half, and the revelation of his true identity, that much sweeter. Neeson is a great, old-school, pulpy villain with a modern twist. He plays a multi-faceted character who still delivers his villainous lines with vigor and relish when the time is right. Like Gordon though, more could have been done. Neeson's motivations are murky throughout the movie, and his backstory is only hinted at in the briefest of ways.

And that's the thing - Ra's Al Ghul is one of Batman's best and coolest villains in the comics, and yet many of the things that make him so great - the immortality-giving Lazarus pits, his demonic appearance, his conflicted daughter Talia - are conspicuously absent here. Sure, the basic essence of Ra's Al Ghul is intact, but there could have at least been some nods to his rich backstory as was so memorably crafted by the likes of Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams.

Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow is friggin' sweet. Again, the character kind of comes out of nowhere and gets lost in the shuffle a bit, but Murphy does an awesome job of portraying a legitimate insane, psychotic Batman villain who is still believable and works in the more realistic context of the movie. The digitally-created hallucinations brought on by the Scarecrow's fear gas are great and provide some spectacular imagery - particularly an amazing shot of Batman as seen by a criminal - as a sick-looking demonic Bat-being that looks way cool. Murphy, like Neeson, delivers his lines like he means 'em, and really invigorates every scene he's in.

Ken Watanabe is barely in the movie, as it turns out, but hey, he looks cool when he's there and as usual kicks some ass when called upon.

Also for the comics fans it was sweet to see Mr. Zsasz, one of the sickest and most twisted Batman rogues from the comics appear in a small role, menacingly played by the lead singer of British band James no less! Rutger Hauer is always good as a badguy and his role here was no exception, and the character of mob boss Carmine Falcone was used to good effect as well.

The action in the movie ranged from great to subpar. The Batmobile car chase scene was brilliant and a lot of fun. But the frustrating part was that the overly quick cuts and shaky camera movement made you want to slow things down to really get a feel for the fight scenes, which are just too quick and confusing to allow the viewer to really get into them and get a sense for what exactly is going on. While this technique works well for some of the early scenes where Batman is portrayed almost as a monster, surprising his prey and attacking stealthily from the shadows, it really detracts from the later scenes, particularly the final battle with Ra's, where the action becomes way too obstructed due to the nonstop cutting and camera shifts.

The music in the film is powerful and moving at times, though it can't hold a candle to Danny Elfman's classic score for the original and his later work on The Animated Series. While I realize they wanted to separate themselves from the previous movies, and justifiably so, I would have loved for them to have retained that classic soundtrack from the original, which really is perfect for any incarnation of Batman.

Visually and aesthetically, the movie looks awesome. Gotham looks realistic yet futuristic and slightly surreal. While I did miss the stylized gothic cityscape of Tim Burton's Batman, this Gotham was still cool in its own right, though they still should have had a gargoyle or two for Batman to stand on ominously in the night sky. Also this is a small nitpick, but the color scheme of the movie in my opinion was too predominantly monochromatic, with everything a kind of sandy tan color. I couldn't help but think back to the classic stories drawn by the likes of Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle, and others - stories that the movie drew much of its material from - and remembered the vivid blues and purples and blacks that his Gotham was colored in. The movie though did a great job of establishing a realistic, gritty, dramatic look and feel early on, with its snow-covered mountainsides, dank prison camps, and sweeping camera shots. Once Batman entered into the picture, they had all the iconic shots done very well - Batman standing on the rooftops, interrogating criminals, crashing through glass skylights, scaling walls, and emerging from the shadows all looked as they should - dark, iconic, and memorable.

As far as plotting goes, I really have to give credit Christopher Nolan and David Goyer for crafting a story with excellent pacing, dramatic weight, and character. The big moments felt big, the beginning - the fall of young Bruce into the batcaves underneath Wayne Manor, was great, just as I pictured it would and should be. The fateful night when young Bruce's parents are shot in cold blood before his eyes was also great - the best version on screen ever of the dark night that birthed the Batman. Additionally, while the climactic action scene felt rushed and overly confusing, the subsequent ending to the movie was, in a word, PERFECT. Right out of Year One, setting up things for future sequels and leaving the audience wanting more, tantalized by the possibilities of what comes next, demanding that Nolan and Goyer get to work and bring it on, cuz we want more Batman and we want it now. Again, where it counted, dramatically, this movie plain and simply got it right - it did justice to Batman and fit everything together to create the ultimate setup for a potential franchise that seems like it can only get better because now that the origin is out of the way it looks like business is really set to pick up.

As a diehard Batman fan, certain details of this movie bugged me. Like Gordon being the cop who consoled Bruce Wayne after his parents are killed - that makes no sense, he'd be like 70 by the time the main action of the movie takes place if that were the case, and anyways Gordon is supposed to be a recent transplant from Chicago, thrust into a hopeless situation with Batman as his best and only ally. That kind of shoehorning of plot elements into the movie's timeline really gets to me. But again, a minor point in the larger scheme of things. I also take issue with the fact that the movie was almost exclusively focused on Batman's training and abilities as a fighter, when so much of his persona is that he is a brilliant scientist, criminologist, and above all, Batman is the WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE. He debuted in Detective Comics and 700-something issues later still stars in it today. Hell, in the comics and Animated Series, Ra's Al Ghul ALWAYS calls Batman "The Detective," so it's ironic that in a movie featuring Ra's, the detective aspect of Batman's character is really nowhere to be seen. Again, not the beiggest deal, and something that can be addressed in the sequels, hopefully, but something conspicuously absent from the movie. The only other real complaint is that, as I said before, the backstories of Gordon and Ra's could really have used an extra scene or two to help flesh out their characters.

Keep in mind though, all my complaints are partly due to me having, in my head somewhere, the ultimate Batman movie planned out, envisioned as I see it from my own ideas of what Batman should be and my own inspirations from the comics and other sources. But as a movie, apart from anythign else and taken on its own, Batman Begins was damn good. It more than holds its own against Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, and any other comic-based movie. As a pure drama, it succeeds. This isn't just a great comic book movie, as many have pointed out, it's a great movie, period. But more importantly for me, it is a great Batman movie, that above all else nails the Bruce Wayne / Batman character and makes him the focus of the film, which is exactly the direction that this franchise desperately needed to go in, and is why most of my criticisms are insignifigant compared to the larger accomplishment that is this movie, taken as a whole. Which is why even though some of those criticisms might ordinarily drastically lower my opinion and grade of the movie - my complaints are simply overwhelmed and overridden by the sheer sense of relief, enjoyment, and hope that this movie provides, because yes - this is the Batman we've been waiting for. This is a benchmark achievement in comic book movies. And it's one of the best overall movies of the year. Finally, the real Batman is back, the Dark Knight has returned, and I have a very good feeling that like the title says, this is only the beginning.
My grade: A

A few other quick Batman notes:

- Over on IGN.com they did a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels that ended up being pretty similar to my own (hmm, maybe some of those IGN'ers are chcking out my blog?). But their list isn't bad either, and does include a few stories that I admit I have yet to actually check out, such as Batman: The Cult. It is amazing though just how many good or great Batman stories have been written though.

Comics' Influence In Batman Begins:
- Nice to see many tributes and nods to some of the great comics that shaped Batman through the years. While Year One is clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie, there are a few other little references to certain stories scattered throughout the film. Here, for the curious, are a few quick notes about stuff in the movie directly lifted from or influenced by the comics ...

- Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli was clearly the biggest comic influence on the movie. The scenes of Bruce Wayne's parents' murder were very reminiscent of Miller's version in Year One (though traditionally the Wayne's are exiting from a showing of The Mask of Zorro). The look of Gordon was from Year One, as was the gritty, starkly colored feel of Gotham itself. The inclusion of crime lord Carmine Falcone is a plot element taken from Year One and expanded upon in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Long Halloween. Interestingly, the ending scene with Batman and Gordon discussing the Batman's effect on crime in Gotham and the emergence of new more dangerous villains like the Joker, is almost a straight adaptation of end of Year One.

- The character of Henri Ducard hasn't appeared in the comics in a while, but ironically was created in the late 80's by writer Sam Hamm, best known as the writer of Tim Burton's original Batman movie. Hamm did a brief stint as a writer of the Batman comic where he introduced Ducard as a French mercenary who trained a young Bruce Wayne in the use of firearms, combat, and other skills. Ducard later popped up as an adversary for Robin, but hasn't been seen or heard from in years. His Sam Hamm-penned appearances are actually collected in the Batman: Blind Justice trade paperback.

- Ra's Al Ghul was created in the 70's by Denny O'Neal and Neals Adams, though the movie discards with the supernatural aspects of the character (though does sort of hint at them) and does not include Talia, Ra's' daughter, who is a key element of the character and a longtime on again off again love interest of Batman, who she calls her "beloved." Ra's has been featured in a number of big event stories over the years. He takes on Batman in Batman: Tales of the Demon, Batman: Legacy, Batman: Birth of the Demon, and Batman: Evolution. He actually died in the recent story Batman: Death And the Maidens, leaving his daughter Talia and her sister Nyssa as the heirs to his secret organiztion, which in the comics is known as the League of Assasins, not the League of Shadows as in the film.

- Bruce Wayne training on snowcapped mountains with secluded sects of warriors is at least visually similar to scenes from Denny O'Neal's "Shaman" storyarc in the Legends of the Dark Knight comic, collected in the Batman: Dark Legends book.

- The bridges to Gotham being raised as citizens attempt to flee is similar to a scene in the "No Man's Land" storyarc with a similar visual. Also, Batman talking to Jim Gordon in his small garden outside his home is an image that occurred often throughout No Man's Land.

- The surreal image of The Scarecrow riding on a black horse with flames surrounding him is similar to a splash page drawing by artist Tim Sale in Batman: The Long Halloween, a story which like Year One seemed to be a big influence on the plot and tone of Batman Begins.

- Arkham Asylum has been a part of the Batman mythos for some time, but it was really fleshed out by writer Alan Grant, who created the serial killer Mr. Zsasz (who plays a small role in the movie) in his Batman: The Last Arkham storyarc from the Shadow of the Bat comic. The idea that the batcave was used by Bruce's ancestors as a means to trasnsport slaves for the Underground Railroad is an idea that was also established in the comics by Alan Grant in the pages of Shadow of the Bat.

- Many aspects of the movie's Joe Chill plot, and Bruce's decision on whether to avenge his parents' murder, were lifted from Batman: Year Two by Mike W. O'Barr, a story which is actually considered out of continuity in the current Batman timeline, as it has since been contradicted by other stories where Batman never actually discovered the identity of his parents' killer.

- The idea of Wayne Manor as Bruce's father's house is a thread lifted from The Long Halloween, but the scene where Bruce decides to rebuild his detroyed mansion "brick by brick" as it was is a scene lifted from the Batman: Cataclysm storyline where Wayne Manor is destroyed by an earthquake. In the story, as in the movie, Bruce contemplates letting the manor stay buried in the rubble, but ultimately decides to rebuild it as a testament ot his family's legacy.

And there you have it.

Alright, that officially concludes Batman Begins week. It's been fun - a lot of writing - but fun.


Have a good weekend everyone, take 'er easy.