Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Alex Toth Tribute

I want to mention the passing away this weekend of Alex Toth. While not that many know his name, countless people are familiar with his work. Anyone who ever turned on the TV during their childhood and watched some of the classic Hannah-Barbera cartoons like Johnny Quest, Space Ghost, Birdman, or the Super Friends know the work of Toth - he was the primary artistic visionary behind many of those classic adventure characters. His designs and his characters were bold, iconic, elegant in their simplicity and brimming with dynamic energy. He was one of the greats in animation as well as comics, and his influence was absolutely huge on multiple generations of artists. I know that I have always been totally fascinated with those old Hannah-Barbera cartoons, loved them as a kid, and still look back at them with a huge fondness today. And a big part of that was the unique, dynamic art style of those shows. Much of the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup is practically a love-letter to Toth, with its humourous spins on Space Ghost, Harvey Bridman, and Sealab all using original Toth character art and designs incorprated into the shows. His work continues to be updated in comics, with new takes on old characters like DC's recent Space Ghost series and upcoming Johnny Quest. Comics, cartoons, and animation all owe a debt to Toth, as do the countless fans whose imaginations he inspired - it's sad to see such a legend go.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

SNIKT! X-Men 3 Review

 X-MEN 3 Review:

Okay so ... what is all the fuss about?

This movie was pretty damn enjoyable. In fact, I probably had a better time with this movie than I did with the first two. I know, I know, saying that it is apparently blasphemy to the hardcore legions of X-geeks out there who are somehow deeming this movie to be crap, but I just don't get it. You had your build-up movies. You had your slowly-paced, character-driven X-Men installments. So why would comic fans, of all people, be disappointed by the first X-Men movie to FINALLY feature the balls-to-the-wall action and truly epic nature, and oh yeah, FUN, of the comic books? I just don't see what the big complaint here is - as far as I could see, this movie rocked.

But let me address some of the common complaints that I've heard, because I honestly don't quite get where some of them are coming from ...

a.) It's not like the comic books -- What?!?! And the first two X-Men movies WERE?!?! If you want to talk about characters, than we've already gotten plenty of characters who didn't match up to their comic book counterparts. For two movies, STORM was a WEAK character - totally useless, spouting bad one-liners, nothing like the regal queen from the comics. FINALLY, here we get a Storm who KICKS ASS and uses her powers in awesome ways. No, Halle Barry is still not the old Storm we know from the comics and cartoons, but finally, here, she was someone you could root for. And that's just one example. X-3 had the best use of Patrick Stewart as Xavier thu far - he actually DID something other than being kidnapped or rendered ineffective the entire movie. And for all the comic geeks - we had friggin' Kelsey Grammar as Beast, and yes, he WAS Beast. This is pretty much as close as you'll get on screen to the Beast we all know and love- you've got to appreciate that. And how about Kitty Pride? I didn't even realize she played such a large role in the movie going in, but wow, they pretty much nailed her in the short screen time we had. While the first two X-Men movies gave us TOTALLY INCONSEQUENTIAL appearances from fan-favorite characters like Kitty and Jubilee, here we finally saw one of the best X-characters ever given life, taking on Juggernaut head-on in one of the most fun action sequences I've seen in a while in ANY movie.

And yes, the deaths.


Why the big fuss? Comic fans of all people should be familiar with the classic (especially in the Marvel Universe) rule that "if there's no body, they ain't dead." So for all we know Scott Summers may still be alive in the X-movie universe. But even if he IS dead, well, in the MOVIE universe, it's not that big a loss. Yes, in the comics Cyclops is the long-time leader of the X-Men and integral to many storylines, etc. But in the movies, in the FIRST TWO movies, Cyclops has not exactly been all that and a bag of chips. These have mostly been Wolverine's movies, and Cyclops has never the main character that he is in the comics. But hey, in his short screen-time in X-3, James Marsden not only gives his best-ever performance in these films to date, but Cyclops is easily the coolest he's ever been in the X-movies. So 1.) he may not even be dead, and 2.) in the context of the movies, I don't think it's that big a deal if he is.

Now, I WAS very upset about Xavier's death, even if he had a cool death sequence (the whole sequence in Jean Grey's childhood home was great). Both in the ocmics and the movies, Professor X IS the X-Men, and specifically in the movies, Patrick Stewart along with Ian McKellan has been the heart and soul, not to mention the bringer of gravitas, to the X-verse. But it is a testament to the characters in these movies that I really was upset by his death, and that in that final post-ending credits scene I was overjoyed to see that Xavier yet lived. And really, that last scene negated my one big problem with the movie's plot, and really did leave me leaving the theater a happy man.

The fact is that the first two movies, for all their acclaim, were in many ways NOT true to their source material. But worse, from my estimation, they took a fantastic, over-the-top, fun as all hell concept in The X-Men and made it boring, bland, plodding. I'm not just dissing those movies. One got the ball rolling and the second stands as one of the overall best comic book movies ever made, but they were, undeniably, missing SOMETHING. And what those movies were missing, X-3 had in spades -- a sense of scope, of fun, of adventure. It felt to me like an X-Men comic, like the over the top, crazy, mile-a-minute rollercoaster that I remembered from the comics and cartoon.

I mean, decompression is only a recent trend in comics, and one that many comic fans meet with disdain. Why do so many modern comic book storylines drag out over six, eight, nine issues when in the old days you had one issue packed to the gills with story, where crazy stuff was going on in each and every panel? So it was actually REFRESHING to me to see a blockbuster movie that was NOT decompressed, that WASN'T filled with larger than life people doing larger than life things like ... standing around and talking for twenty-minute stretches (cough*Da Vinci Code*cough, cough*everything written by Brian Michael Bendis*cough). It was refreshing to see an X-Men movie that was filled with cool geek-out moments that just felt filled to the brim with stuff HAPPENING. In that way, it FELT like a comic book.

b.) It didn't do justice to the Dark Phoenix Saga storyline - On one hand, I can see where X-fans are going with this. They see the Phoenix saga as one of the best comic book storylines ever and wanted to see it represented on screen. But I just don't see how you can quite look at it that way. I mean, yes, the Phoenix saga could have possibly been an epic three-movie trilogy in and of itself. But there was just NO WAY that was ever going to happen in movie form. I don't see where that expectation came from. As a comic book geek I'd love to see the Death and Return of Superman trilogy, or the Batman: Knightfall saga, or Kingdom Come, or Secret Wars, or Crisis on Infinite Earths. But seriously, be real here. Those stories work in COMICS, not MOVIES. They work as serialized stories that take months or even years to tell, with casts of hundreds and storylines that incorporate decades of continuity. Those types of stories are why comics are so great - ONLY comics can tell that kind of story. What we have here is an X-Men movie that is by no means the sweeping, Shakespearian epic that some fans wanted, but for what it IS it is a more than worthy follow up to the storlines that the first two movies presented. Knowing, going into this movie, that it was part three of a trilogy, why was there an expectation that it was going to be freaking part ONE of what would surely have to be a multi-part introduction to a straight-up adaptation of the work of Claremont and Bryne?

- And just to go off on a tangent for a minute, I really don't get lately what thought-process is going into the formation of the geek-cannon of comic book movies. The first X-Men is considered great even though it totally deviates from the comics and is bland and boring in many ways? That first movie totally changes Rogue from the comics, craps all over Storm, makes Cyclops the lamest character ever, and totally zaps any potential coolness from the Wolverine vs. Sabertooth rivalry. And yet it's considered "great?" And the Donner Superman movies are considered stellar even though they are basically cheesy as all hell and barely even contain coherant plotlines? Let me tell you, I recently re-watched the first two Superman movies and trust me, whatever fond childhood memories you may have of them, they have their moments, but man, they are pretty bad, with pretty much the only saving grace being Christopher Reeve's remarkable performances as Clark Kent / Superman. I think that the nerd backlash against X-3 really is a turning point where people are unable to see the forsest for the trees in some cases. I mean, save your anger for the utter crapfests like Fantastic Four, Batman and Robin, and, potentially, the upcoming Superman Returns (please God don't suck!), but at least acknowledge that X-3 was leagues better than many of the sub-par comic book movies that somehow get a passing grade from the Ain't It Cool crowd.

But back to X-3, it CONTINUED in the first two movie's traditions of presenting recognizable but altered versions of some of the characters. But you know what, complain all you want about Juggernaut not having his proper helmet or being Xavier's step brother or whatever, but he was a lot of fun for what he was in this movie, and come on, who DIDN'T LOVE the pure shout-out to geeks everywhere in "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" And this movie was filled with those little shout-outs that made it fun.

Sure, some of them fell flat. One of the lamest scenes in the movie had to be the Danger Room sequence in which EVERYTHING seemed half-assed. The Wolverine-Colossus fastball special, the UNSEEN Sentinel ... that entire sequence felt rushed and cheap. But the fact is that this movie was done under rushed circumstances, but aside from some lame scenes like that one, it still came together remarkably well.

Some other complaints I had ...

- Like I said, some of the scenes were clearly rushed. The Xavier-Magneto relationship was not quite given the time it needed, and Magneto seemed a little off in his lack of remorse for one of his lifelong friend's apparent death. But due to the great acting of Ian McKellan, the actor provided some subtext through his mere expresisons that added additional layers to the sometimes flimsy script.

- I also felt that the Angel subplot was one of the other main casualties of the movie's somewhat rushed nature, and that some of the scenes with Angel (ie his big "escape" scene) were overly melodramtic to the point of being a little inadvertantly funny. Still, they managed some nice visuals with Angel, and the character served his role in the plot quite well despite being under-used.

- I also was a little underwhelmed by some of the new villains, and Psylocke, one of the coolest visuals ever in the comics, was a little disapoointing as was whoever the weird she-male was suposed to be that followed her around. Most of the visuals in the movie were great and did the job, but the character design on some of those new villains was a little bit weak.

But like I've said, I felt that the film did a really good job of giving all the characters their moments. The new characters like Beast and Kitty Pride were introduced very effectively and instantly won me over. Characters like Storm and Ice Man had more moments to shine than they had before (the Icing-Up headbutt was damn sweet). Wolverine was too jokey at times, yes, but he still kicked ass when called upon, and I thought the final scene between him and Jean was pretty friggin' intense. So what if it wasn't directly adapted from the comics, Logan marching up to Jean as she goes all Akira on everyone, constantly being torn to shreds only to regenerate himself over and over? Badass, if you ask me.

And man, as much as he was pretty much the saving grace of Da Vince, Ian McKellan OWNED it here. That line about never having another needle touch his skin as he flashed the numbers on his arm? Brimming with sheer gravitas. Everything Sir Ian did here was just kickass, and like I said he really did make the script more than the sum of its parts through the power of his acting. This really was McKellan's movie, and I loved just about every minute that he was on screen.

Rebecca Romajin (sp?) was once again great as Mystique - throughout these movies she's always been a scene-stealer, and was once again magnetic here. Forget Pepper Dennis, how about Mystique, the series?

And of course, Patrick Stewart. One of my favorite actors finally takes center stage here, and actually DOES STUFF. I don't see how anyone could be upset about the coolness that Stewart as Xavier brought to his part here.

So yeah, it had it's moments of cheesy one-liners and a few scenes that were definitely not what they potentially could have been with more time and effort. But for the most part this was a remarkably entertaining movie. Brett Ratner did his job here and gave it a sense of Bigness that the first two movies didn't always have. The action was sweeping and exciting (that bridge scene was just epic), and had a lot of fun moments, from Wolverine vs. the multi-armed guy to Kitty vs. Juggernaut to the Iced-up headbutt to Jean Grey exploding people left and right. I had a great time at X-Men 3, and as far as I can see it was a great follow-up to X-1 and X-2, a nice potential lead-in to future sequels, and a great entry into the comic book movie genre. Was it a perfect movie or even a perfect X-Men movie? No, it had its share of issues. But it WAS a movie that had everyone in my theater clapping, applauding, and enjoying the heck out of it for the duration - it was for the most part done right and undeniably a LOT of fun. I think the haters are really missing the mark on this one.

My Grade: A -

Thursday, May 25, 2006

LOST: Season Finale Review, Brother

LOST Season Finale:

Okay, I am definitely still wrapping my head around that. Or trying to. But here's the thing, kind of the process I went through with this finale, similar to what I often go through with this show. As I watched last night's two-hour finale - I was loving it, for the most part. For most of those two hours I was glued to the screen, trying to make heads or tails of what was going on, trying to decipher the show, paying attention to each new clue, and caught up in the drama of it all. But as the show reached its endgame, I began looking at the clock. I noticed there were only thirty minutes left, then twenty, then ten, and so on. Normally, I try to avoid doing this while watching something, and try to just let myself just get absorbed into the story. But with Lost, I've become extra concious of the amount of time left in each episode. Because after last year's similarly nail-biting finale, I end up hoping against hope that things will get a proper wrap-up, because I have learned that while Lost is great at the setup, delivering any kind of satisfying payoff is not exactly its strong suite.

When last night's episode ended, I was once again angry and frustrated with the show. It's not that I was expecting THE ultimate set of answers to all the show's questions or anything, but I at least wanted the plot at hand to wrap up in some kind of sensible way. Instead, the Lost writers once again take cheap ways out of delivering any payoffs by cutting corners dramatically. If they played fair, then I would have no problem with being kept in the dark. But they don't - they littered the episode with gaps in logic that were never addressed, random bits of plot that came out of nowhere at the expense of long-lingering questions, and quite simply, poor storytelling. But it's funny. With a show like this, it's the viewers who are doing much of the work and not the people actually involved in the show. What do I mean? I mean that the questions of Lost's mythology are left SO open that half the fun at this point is just talking to others and tossing around in your own head what directions the show could possibly go in. It's like a writing excercise where you're given a basic setup and asked to run with it - you just let your imagination do the rest. But what about the show itself? It has to do more than just ask US to imagine where the story goes. It has to TELL US the story. And what story, exactly, did last night's episode tell? Was there a beginning, a middle, and an end? Here's putting it a different way -- what is a good mystery? A good mystery is when the pieces are in front of you, the clues are there, the culprit is there, its just a question of putting the pieces together. What does it say about Lost's storytelling ability as a show when the CLIFFHANGER, rather than building on previous plot threads to produce a stunning finale, instead hinges on introducing a TOTALLY NEW element to a story already bursting at the seams with threads that remain unaddressed or left by the wayside?

But here's where the third stae of my Lost viewing comes into play. As I alluded to above, the show leaves you frustrated but somehow pulls you back in because the story is so open-ended that literally ANYTHING could happen. And when you hear other people's ideas about what the answers are or mull it over yourself, you of course come up with the coolest possible situations. Which of course invariably leads to letdowns when anything on the show actually, um, HAPPENS.

Take a look at last night's dramatic buttons-not-being-pushed scene. I mean, preactically all of America was dyin' to know: what the %$@# happens when you don't push those friggin' buttons. The build up was intense - these guys working on Lost know how to build up tension like no other show, that's for sure. So then the buttons aren't pushed - system failure - holy crap - what is gonna happen? Desmond's flashbacks mentioned something about electromagnetism - about how not pushing the button, as many had speculated, caused the plane to crash in the first place. So sirens are going off, silverware and laundry machines are flying all over the place ... on the island outside of the hatch there's a blinding white light, an ear-piercing buzz, what the hell is going on? This is it! This is huge! Did they rip open space/time? Did they alter reality? Did they unleash a disembodied energy force that is gonna kill them all? At the least, did they cause another plane to crash?!?! Damn, for a second there, all of America was on the edge of their seats about to freaking soil themselves in anticipation ...



Unless there's a DAMN GOOD story explanation for this, then this is just emblematic of what's wrong with Lost. It doesn't have the guts, the intelligence, or the creativity to actually follow up on and ADDRESS the big moments of the show. Just like nobody ever cared that an invisible monster was stalking them, or that a mysterious organization was doing something weird on the island, or even wondered who the hell these Others were or why they look like hillbillies and wear fake beards. Just like all that, now we get Charlie coming back from being at the epicenter of the Big Bang itself and not even telling people what just happened. Okay ....

And so meanwhile, you have Michael heading off with his son - okay, that story was handled extremely well and came to a great conclusion. The thing keeping this show together dramatically for the last few weeks has been the very intriguing character stuff surrounding Michael and his willingness to do anything, even murder, to get his son back. But what about Jack, Kate, and Sawyer kidnapped and taken "home." Um, ending with the three of them still tied up and bound with the Others, and Sayid still off somewhere else isn't a cliffhanger, and it's not very dramatic - it's just a lack of anything happening whatsoever. Again, pretty weak.

And finally, the big cliffhanger. The mysterious Ms. Whidmore, of the mysterious Whidmore Industries, receiving a call from some anonymous foreign guys somewhere where it's very, very cold. They have detected the electromagnetic pulse ... finally, they've found it. See, it's another example where I'm torn. When I first saw this, I like many others I'm sure was thinking how random and weird it was. Because the fact is, this scene had ZERO dramatic buildup and really did kind of come out of nowhere in the larger context of this episode. Sure, maybe if you've studied the Lost websites, read Bad Twin, and listened to the Lost podcasts this may have made a little bit of sense, but again, within this episode and within the context of what had happened prior, it was not an impactful way to END the finale. Had it been in the middle of the episode, it would be a different story. But as a cliffhanger, it REALLY leaves you hanging, and NOT in a "oh damn Jack Bauer just got kidnapped by the Chinese - bring on Season 6 of 24"-way.

But here's the thing ... now that I've talked to others and heard about Whidmore Industries and seen the speculation that that one foreign guy looked a lot like Matthew Fox / Jack, I gotta say I am now even more curious than ever what is going on, and all kinds of scenarios are running through my head. Are the Others looking for alternate versions of certain people, maybe trying to find an alternate version of "Him?" Are they trapped in some dimensional waystation, blinking in and out of existence? Is Ms. Whidmore not only looking for Desmond, but for the secret to her father's secret connection to Dharma? I wonder about all these things, but it has to be a two-way street. All these possibilities exist, all thes question are posed ... but will there be a follow through? Will these new mysteries even be addressed? Or will it end up like the Black Rock, the Smoke Monster, Claire's Baby, the Polar Bear, et al and be just another set of random Lost tidbits that are thrown against the proverbial wall and that may or may not stick?

Okay, with all that critiquing out of the way, it should be obvious by now that yes, this episode was one hell of an intense finale, and I give it a lot of credit for that. As always, the acting was top notch and my favorites like Terry O'Quinn as Locke were superb as usual. "I was wrong" was a great moment. The guy who plays Desmond is great at doing the crazy / intense stuff, even if his character is kind of cartoonish (walking around with a vodka bottle and ending every sentance with "brother" -- might his "Bad Twin" be Hulk Hogan, brother?). And man, Michael has just been acted superbly of late - great performance there for sure.

And BTW, Clancy Brown friggin' rules. How great to see such a badass actor back on Lost. And yeah, hope you're watching, Kevin Spacey - that's THE voice of Lex Luthor right there, and you can see why, as Clancy exudes badassness. Now he is the same guy as the one who took in Sayid from the Iraqi army, but who was his "brother," Radinsky or whatever? Yet ANOTHER unaswered question. Come to think of it, as good as Brown is, most of his scenes were totally mystifying ... but more on that later ...

And yeah, there were a TON of random but most definitely intriguing and exciting things going on in this episode ... the four-toed (!) statue, the talking bird (!), the fact that Clancy Brown tells Desmond that he's "saving the world" by pushing the buttons ...

I mean, what the hell is that statue? Four toes? Is it a reality where Homer Simpson is worshipped as a deity?

And who is this Whidmore guy? Caleb Nichols from the OC, yes, but is he part of Dharma, part of Hanso, funding them, not related, what's the deal?

And just the fact that we saw a moment occuring in the present that was NOT on the island, well that's pretty big, in a way. Who are these people that have been monitoring electromagnetic activity?

And why was Libby (or "Elizabeth") in Desmond's flashback? Did she really have a boat to give him or is she some kind of Dharma recruiting agent who goes around manipulating people to get caught up in the manipulaitons / experiments of the group?

And what was even the deal with the boat race anyways? And why was Desmond dishonored?

All intriguing questions, and at the moment you see them for the first time they work as "hmmm, interesting ..." moments. Especially the statue, that was most definitely epic and a "holy $%&*" kind of reveal. But will these questions ever be answered? What about why Kate, Sawyer, and Jack are the three who the Others want? What about the Others? Who are they anyways? And why the fake beards? Geez.

So yeah, on one hand I am now, to an extent, totally caught up in the mystery. So if the goal of the Lost producers was to create a maddening puzzle that might even compel me to look at websites, check out what careers the Hanso Foundation is offering, or, god forbid, read that book "Bad Twin," well, yeah, they have created one hell of a sideshow around their little nonsensical TV Show. But as for the TV Show itself -- it's riding the VERY fine line between adding up to something meaty and satisfying and just being a complete and utter mess. With all the logic gaps and lack of direction in the show however, I am leaning more towards it being a mess ...

You have Eko believing that not pushing the button will kill everyone on the island because ... why? You have Eko igniting dynamite in an enclosed hatch against a nuke-proof door because ... why? You have Desmond doing ... what now? ... to apparently save everyone on the island. There's the electromagnetic pulse strong enough to bring down a plane and crush metal in the hatch but does nothing to the people on the island? You have Clancy Brown who works for Dharma but is trying to escape on Desmond's boat but who lied about the disease but who was truthfu labout the button ...?!?!

When you really think about it, this show is potentially a complete cluster unless there are some damn good answers or overarching mythology waiting in the wings. And it's too bad because the great moments (awesome scene as Kate, Jack, etc were taken down from afar by the Others) and the great performances (Henry Gale, Locke, Sayid, etc) are overshadowed by the all-encompassing feeling of "WTF!?!?!" that permeates this show. Don't get me wrong -- mysterious and creepy and ambiguous is GOOD. But internal logic holes, cutting dramatic corners, and biting off way more than one overstetched show can chew is NOT.

So like others I leave scratching my head and theorizing and half-sick of this stupid show and half-totally caught up in it. As a drama that sucks you in and keeps you glued to the TV, Lost is still top-notch, and proved it again with last night's finale. But as something more? As a modern day epic story that inspires wonder and awe? As a gripping (let alone COHERANT) sci-fi drama for the ages? As a show that has real depth and substance once you peel away the outer layers of cool characters and random ideas? Maybe in the long-run, but to quote Gladiator: "Not yet ... not yet."

My Grade: B

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code and Art-School Confidential - Reviewed


Like many critics have already stated, this was one movie that seemed like a no-brainer. You've got THE fiction book of the decade, popularity-wise, a usually reliable director in Ron Howard, and an A-list cast, with Tom Hanks in the lead surrounded by pretty much the best in the biz: Audrey Tatou, the amazing French talent from Amelie, Ian McKellan, able to bring the gravitas to any role, Jean Reno, a great actor as well, Alfred Molina, another accomplished thespian, and Paul Bettany, who is usually great and makes the most of any role he is given. So yeah, what could go wrong?

Apparently, a lot. I mean look, this is definitely not a BAD movie. It has many moments of fun, of intriguing plot turns, and of inspired acting (mostly from McKellan). But it never comes together as a film for a variety of reasons. Let's run them down:

- Waaay too much exposition: It feels like half of this movie is people telling us the backstory of the grail, the knights templar, the opus dei, etc, in long, boring stretches of narration overlayed with odd-looking flashback scenes that look like outtakes from some early 90's CD-ROM computer game. Ian McKellan's voice is such that he makes much of this exposition more interesting than it would be otherwise, but for the most part the pacing of this movie is way off.

- Tom Hanks is sleepwalking: Well that, or else he was just really miscast. I kept wishing that Jack Bauer or Fox Mulder was on the case and not this guy, who seemed to just be along for the ride. The professor had little to no defining characteristics, except for the left-field and random point that he is claustrophobic. In a novel this may work as a nice little character trait, but in a movie, what's the point? It's not like Indiana Jones being afraid of snakes or Marty McFly hating to be called "yellow," which are key to the story arcs of those movies. I mean, Tom Hanks is just useless in this whole movie. He never does what David Duchovny did as Mulder and totally draw you into his particular obsessions. He's not an action hero, or even particularly charismatic, like say Sam Neill as the lead in Jurassic Park - another expert in his field. And there never even seems a real reason for Langdon to be involved in the case -- what exactly is compelling him to get caught up in this life or death situation when he could easily get out of it if he wanted to? Hanks is probably miscast here, as his usual everyman vibe just comes off as blandness in this case, but the blame also goes to the script for never giving him an active or interesting role in the story, even though he's the lead character.

- Akiva Goldsman: Three words: He wrote BATMAN AND ROBIN. And BATMAN FOREVER. And LOST IN SPACE. Oh, and I, ROBOT. Yikes. Sure, his collaberations with Ron Howard are usually solid. A Beautiful Mind was excellent as was Cinderella Man. But clearly, this guy can be hit and miss. And as I alluded to when talking about how exposition-heavy the movie is, this script is not hit out of the ballpark by any means. It rides a fine line between overly serious to a fault, unintentionally campy, and just plain ludicrous at times. Many lines got unintentional laughs, and some of the flashbacks were just plain confusing (why was Paul Bettany's albino monk shown killing Alfred Molina in some kind of random flashback?). Seemingly major characters got sudden sendoffs (Bettany and Molina's quick and pointless deaths). And the "twists" were often foreshadowed to death and way too heavyhanded.

- Poor Pacing: Again, the pacing was just off. Long stretches of boring exposition, climactic action in the middle, not the end, of the movie. Car chases that never popped. Showdowns that had no drama, no pulse. Characters introduced but never given their dramatic due. And no real sense of closure. Basically this movie seems to be about throwing all these "shocking" ideas at us and succeeding on that alone. But despite the supposed controversy that this movie has caused i nsome circles, these ideas are not all that shocking. We've seen movies where dinosaurs live again, where men can fly, where aliens walk among us - what is so startling about telling us that Jesus had a family? The movie can't work on its ideas alone, yet that's what it tries to do.

- No Intelligence: This movie tries to be a smart, serious, intelligent look at some high-concept ideas. The seriousness with which it takes itself and the pedigree of actors suggests that this is an "adult" movie. And yet the movie consistently insults the audience with the aforementioned lame twists and moments of pure campiness, and scenes like the opening where Tom Hanks teaches a class (and in turn, us, the audience) a rudimentary lesson on symbiology. Gee, thanks for informing us that a three-pronged rod can be BOTH the devil's pitchfork AND the trident of Poseidon. Anyone who's ever seen the Little Mermaid knows as much, yet hear it's treated like a shocking revelation. Give the audience some credit - we can watch a movie like Lord of the Rings, with all its arcane mythology, and follow along just fine, we don't need a relatively simple plot spelled out like its, well, the bible.

Okay, so that pretty much sums up why this movie isn't all it's cracked up to be. But still, it has its moments. As I said, Ian McKellan gives a sprited performance that pretty much SAVES this movie, literally, it comes alive when he enters the picture after about the first third of the film. And most of the performances are good, what you'd expect of these actors. Paul Bettany LOOKS and ACTS like a great villain - he just has nothing very interesting to do. And Tatou is talented, no doubt, but her lack of English proficiency and somewhat boring character here hurts her performance.

So it was a decent movie, but a lot worse than it could have been if it had a tighter script, more interesting direction, and more inspired casting in some cases. Not worth much hype though, either as a movie or as a political statement. My grade: C+


For anyone looking for an interesting, quirky, and funny summer film - here it is. The fans who have been looking forward to this probably already know the history and have already seen it, but for the uninitiated, the short version is ...

This is the new Terry Zwigoff film. Zwigoff got acclaim for his documentary Crumb and his offbeat comedy Bad Santa. But Art School is really the spiritual followup to GHOST WORLD, Zwigoff's previous collaberation with underground cartoonist Daniel Clowes, whose work inspired Ghost World and Art School. Ghost World showcased the unique, quirky visions of Clowes and Zwigoff, and had breakout performances from Thora Birch and a young Scarlett Johanson, as well as a great turn from Steve Buscemi. Art School is another tale of outsiders trying to navigate through the beginnings of adulthood, and while its not a direct Clowes adaptation like Ghost World was, the same unique sensibilities are at play.

There is a great cast here, and lots of funny performances from My Name Is Earl's Ethan Suplee, John Malkovich as a self-centered art teacher, and Anjelica Houston, also playing a strange teacher at the art academy attended by the lead character, Jerome. Sophia Myles stands out as Jerome's nude-model love interest, and overall the cast is great.

This is a really interesting movie in that it starts out as an almost too-typical college comedy, with lots of hilarious parodies of college life. There's the pretentious professors, the ass-kissing students, the overprotective parents, and the crazy roommates. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly dark, and veers away from strict comedy into psychological thriller / mind-trip territory. while Ghost World had one distinctive tone that rode the edge between comedy and serious character study, Art School definitely becomes a totally different movie in its second half, which is pretty jarring.

But in the end, this is a movie well worth seeing. If you've ever been around artists of any kind, or are one yourself, this is a must-see for its dead-on satire of the art-student scene. Otherwise, anyone who was a fan of Ghost World, or is just looking for something different, should really check out the latest from Zwigoff and Clowes. It's not a perfect movie, but will make you laugh and get you thinking, and I look forward to a hopeful third effort from these two unique creative voices.

My Grade: B+

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Life and Death on Mars: VM and GG finale thoughts

Okay, some quick thoughts tonight as I sit here, still reeling from an INSANE Veronica Mars finale. A quick note that for whatever reason, I've been a writing machine lately, so make sure to catch up on all my previous posts from the last few days before reading here, if you haven't already. Scroll down for in-depth reviews of MI:3 andUnited 93, early pre-E3 thoughts, NBA playoff commentary, my usual post-24 rants, and a whole host of other goodness. But now, I've got some more writing to do, and you've got some more reading, so read on ...

VERONICA MARS Season Finale:

Wow, just wow. A standing ovation is deserved, because this is an example of a truly rare breed - 5-star TV. They just don't make 'em like this very often. For the second straight year, Veronica Mars delivered one hell of a season finale. And really, this finale was just a triumph of good storytelling. Because on paper, it looked like the only way to wrap up all the labrythine plotlines of the show's season-spanning mysteris was to all but draw a roadmap. But despite it all, this finale was less about unraveling mysteries for the sake of the big reveal, and more about what is really most important - character, character, character. Oh, don't get me wrong, the big reveals were there --


-- I mean, sure, I and others figured out that Cassidey "Beaver" Casablancas had a bigger part in everythign than meets the eye. We surmised he was on the little league team coached by Neptune's fugitive mayor, and that he'd had some unpleasant encounters with his dishonorable Woody goodman. We even deduced that he had been the one who raped Veronica. But wow - turns out he was the one behind the bus crash as well. Damn. Wow. Holy crap. And that rooftop scene - sonofa, I really thought Keith Mars was dead as a doornail. Unlike 24, they actually did it, they actually BLEW UP THE FRIGGIN' PLANE.

And it's a credit to how amazing the characters are on this show that I got chills at the thought of Keith Mars having been killed. That I cheered when Logan made it up to the roof on time. That I practically applauded when I found out that Mr. Mars was in fact alive and well.

Just amazing plotting overall. All the characters, all the storylines, had their moment to shine. Aaron Echols' chilling encounter with Veronica - talk about trapped in an elevator. Wallace's desperation to go after his girlfriend. The heartbreaking scene of Weevil being arrested mere seconds before he was set to graduate. Kendall Casablanca's cliffhanger proposition to Kieth - what was in the briefcase - what did she want from him, and why did he accept the offer? (Please let their be a third season so we find out). And how about the cameo by Duncan Kane, ordering the murder of the man who killed his sister, as Aaron Echols finally got his just desserts. And how about that little in-joke as Duncan checked in on the situation -- "All set, CW?" "Yeah." You had to feel for Mac as Veronica finds her shivering in the hotel room -- "he took everything from me" - wow, just chilling. Gotta love Vinnie Van Lowe bartering with Kieth from his jail cell - The State lives on! And who made Steve Gutenberg a star? This show did - consider a career reinvigorated.

Awesome dream sequence to open the ep - re-emphasizing the show's central theme of high school as a kind of purgatory not all that different from the bleak, inescapable cityscapes of the old film noirs, with Veronica as a fallen angel of sorts, who ironically is a much better person for her hardships. "A long time ago, we used to be friends" indeed.

And man, Kristen Bell just elevated her game for this ep. Give her an Emmy - she has made Veronica Mars one of the single best characters on TV, maybe ever.

Like I said, this is a rare breed of TV show. Smart, funny (how about the Saved By The Bell reference as Veronica accepted her diploma - "stay cool, Mr. C"), clever. Dark, stylish, well-acted, brilliantly-written, tightly-plotted, rewarding, and in no way pandering to the audience. No wonder nobody watches.

If this is the end, Veronica Mars joins the ranks of the brilliant but cancelled - the Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life's et al - but really, in two seasons, this is plainly and simply one of the best shows to ever air. Hopefully it lives on at the CW, and gets a good timeslot and great marketing and builds a bigger audience. But man, what a run it's had already, and what an episode this was.

My Grade: A+

One more quick review before I'm out ...

GILMORE GIRLS Season Finale:

Well, like Veronica Mars, this episode, likely the last to be made with the involvement of show creator Amy Sherman Paladino and her husband Dan, was well-written, well-acted, and full of emotion. But did I LIKE it? No, I didn't. It was hard to stomach. It was depressing and sad and almost difficult to watch, because while, as always I loved the style, the wit, the humor, the sharpness of the show, I HATED where this episode left us. I hated that Lorelia ended up sleeping with Chris, and how bitchy and overly emotional she acted throughout the entire episode. I hated how Logan left for London with Rory pining for him as if he was her one true love. As I said in my last Gilmore-related installment, any fan of this show knows where the characters are SUPPOSED to end up. But this episode just threw a huge dagger in that master plan, with no assurances that they will be steered in the right direction next season without the guidance and singular vision of the show's creator.

Can't really grade this, because I can't take away from the sheer talent evident in the making of this show. Because I realize that when I write these reviews it sounds, to the unitiated, like I'm talking about the biggest chick show ever, just another lame soap. But thanks to the creative people behind Gilmore, the show is much more - it's a nuanced character study, a hilarious comedy of absurdity, and a virtual crash course in intelligent, loaded, and brilliantly-written dialogue.

It's just too bad it had to end an era with such depressing and kind of revolting twists in the lives of the main characters. I mean, when both main characters are left crying and in tears and miserable with themselves and their lives as we cut to commercial and fade out into an uncertain future for the show - well, come on, that is just depressing and terrible.

- Anyways, funny how both of these shows are poised to join each other on the CW next season. One that is kind of being extended past its ideal lifespan, and another that fans are praying for it to return because it seems like it's only just getting started.

- And I'm out - PEACE.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Normal People Read No Further - All-Fanboy-Rant Edition (Almost): LOST, Infinite Crisis, and MORE

Alright alright, no point in delaying it, let's talk about last night's shocking episode of LOST:


Okay, I was as shocked and as surprised as anyone when I saw the closing 30 seconds or so of last night's Lost. And I think you pretty much HAD to be shocked, as ...


... Michael killing Ana-Lucia and Libby in cold blood was totally random and out-of-nowhere. Certainly, it was not something that was built up in any way shape or form. And sure, I knew somewhere deep in the back of my mind that Michelle Rodriguez, with her various legal problems and apparent issues on the set had basically forced the producers' hands and put her character on the chopping block. And I also had heard that Cynthia Waitrose had some similar issues and had already signed up to be in an upcoming fall TV pilot. But nothing in this episode led me to believe that THIS is where they'd bite it, and of course nothing really foreshadowed HOW it would go down.

Now, the question is whether the writers will provide a satisfactory motive for Michael to have gone postal, or will the explanation be as random and confusing as the mursers seemed last night? It appears that Michael shot HIMSELF in the shoulder at the episode's end, and the likely inference is that he is going to frame Henry Gale for the murders and claim he was also attacked. But to what end? The obvious answer is that Michael's hand is being forced, and that he is somehow doing what is necessary to save his son. But still, why kill Ana? Okay, so maybe she was considered a danger to the Others since she had killed one already. And then, was the shooting of Libby an accident? Must have been. But then why frame Henry rather than free him or something? Well, I guess he is kind of the sacrificial lamb at this point to the others, no point in keeping him alive when he's already said too much, right? See, this show just writes itself.

Anyways ... aside from the CRAZY ending, I was pretty bored with this episode. Sure, the bried Ana Lucia - Sawyer, finally-giving-in-to-animalistic-lust-hookup piqued my interest for a minute, but man, those flashbacks were just so useless, other than to continue the seemingly pointless "look, see, they're ALL CONNECTED" theme that has permeated many of the flashbacks as of late. The other subplots or whatever just kind of dragged, with the exception of the always-interesting Locke and his interaction with Henry Gale, which seemed to actually shed some light on some of the show's mythology, with Locke being called "one of the good ones." Could this be code for "one of the ones with some kind of crazy, semi-latent meta-ability?" If so, my theory I presented a while back was so money - check it out:


Yes, I am the man. But I digress ... So yeah, decent if not totally decompressed and slowly-paced episode, with a few interesting tidbits of new info, somewhat saved by what is, admittedly, one of the most shocking, if not totally random, cliffhangers in a while. Sure, those of us who are fans of 24 and Veronica Mars are accustomed to awesome cliffhangers, but hey, I guess the Lost fanboy deserve a cool ending every so often as well. Okay, okay, it was a friggin' cool ending, one of the craziest I've seen - I give credit where it's due. Now next week, well, it had better be DAMN good.

My grade: B+


- Saw a bunch of new NBC Pilots yesterday. Won't go into detailed reviews, but instead I'll throw out a few bits of tantalizing info that focuses on the good of what I saw:

1.) Aaron Sorkin fans saddened by the departure of West Wing, don't get too upset, you have A LOT to look forward to.

2.) Arrested Development fans still in mourning - Jeffrey Tambor is back, paired up with another comedic veteran, and while their new show is traditional, it's also pretty hilarious.

- So long Commander in Chief. Didn't watch it, but I must root for Geena Davis, one of my favorite BU alums.

- Speaking of ABC, awesome how you can now watch the newest eps of shows like Lost on their website, for free no less. Hope that NBC follows suit.


- Great game last night between the Wiz and the Cavs. LeBron and Gilbert each had spectacular offensive games, but in the end the Wizards total lack of D killed 'em in OT. You let Lebron beat you with a baseline LAYUP at the buzzer, after waiting to get a shot off with 3 seconds left to play? What? Bad strategic decisions and loose defense killed the Wizards last night. Looking forward to Game 6 though.

- Speaking of which, it's gonna be a slobberknocker tonight between the Lakers and Suns - can't wait. Go Suns!

- RIP Michael Redd and the Bucks - put up a decent fight but no real match for the Pistons, who are firing on all cylinders and are going to be tough to beat.


- So yeterday, the biggest comic book event in years reached its conclusion. I'm talking ...

INFINITE CRISIS -- final wrap-up review:

- I can liken Infinite Crisis, especially in its last few issues, and MOST especially in its final issue, #7, to a kid getting the keys to the toystore and pretty much having no idea what to do with himself. All he knows is that he wants to play with every toy at his disposal. That is pretty much my thought on this final issue in the seven-part series. It's like "oh look, there's Bane breaking someone's back!" (but didn't he forsake villainy and retire to the Himalayas?). "Oh, check it out, there's Nightwing getting nearly-killed by Alex Luthor!" (But he's healed up and fine a few pages later ...). "Hey, let's have TWO different Supermen fight Doomsday! Wouldn't that be sweet?" (I guess, except they utterly decimate him in one page - and wasn't he controlled by the conspicuously absent Dr. Psycho in Villains United, which leads directly into this issue?).

Geoff Johns' superhero epic is just all over the place by this point, and any pretension of a coherant story is pretty much thrown out the window. This series was supposed to be about "the worst day in the history of the DCU." But instead of making us believe that it really was the worst day ever organically from the magnitude of the story, we are simply told, over and over, how bad things are. The story NEVER reached a point where there was an "aha" moment and everything came together in a logical way. Sure, we knew that Alex Luthor was the mastermind behind the Society, the Omacs, etc - but what his motivation was, who this character was and why he was no longer a benevelant hero but a would-be evil conquerer was never satisfactorilly explained in a clear manner. Neither was the conversion of Superboy Prime from an innocent hero in the original Crisis to an utterly deranged, all-powerful killing machine. And the Superman of Earth 2 - essentially THE hero, the prototype that all others would follow -- WHY would he ever have fallen in league with those two, it just wasn't justified well enough.

So there's one problem - characters' motivations never made clear or coherant. Here's another: the scattershot nature of the plot made each story beat get totally lost in the fray, for the most part. All the big moments - Superboy's death last issue, E-2 Superman's death here, the final fates of Superboy Prime and Alex Luthor - did not make the impact they should have. Why? Because there was not the proper build up for these events to make a real EMOTIONAL impact on the reader. I mean, in the Villains United special, writer Gail Simone did a great job of building up the battle in Metropolis as being pretty huge. A ragtag band of second-string heroes, regular cops, and other assorted B-listers, was going to have to face hundreds of the most vile villains ever, including all the big guns of the Society - Dr. Psycho, Sinestro, Deathstroke, and the beast that once killed Superman - Doomsday. And yet in IC 7, the battle is just a bunch of random punches and kicks. Where are the great moments of heroism, the brave sacrifices, the fighting by cops and D-listers against impossible odds? The whole fight takes mere pages to complete. The aforementioned Doomsday fight is limited to one page. Batman, Robin, and Nightwing taking on Deathstroke occurs OFF-PANEL. There is just too much packed into this issue, and it means that everything feels very rushed, and also that the plot never quite comes together into a clear, coherant, overarching story. To this end, many of the series' subplots just come off as being random and useless. What real purpose did Donna Troy and her space-faring team really serve to the story? What was the point of GL Kyle Rayner changing into Ion, again?

Because of all that is happening, the art also suffers. While DC has been pretty good up until now about having great artists do the necessary fill-in work for regular penciller Phil Jiminez, issue 7 definitely has the series' most jarring artistic transitions to date, with a number of key scenes sporting very noticable shifts in art. For the first time in the series, a numberof pages just looked sloppy, noticeably the last big splash page that served as a preview of the "new" DCU, which looked very rushed and not up to the usual standards of Jiminez, Ordway, Perez, Reiss, and co. Of course, the majority of the artwork was dynamite as usual. The pages the Jiminez DID actually pencil were simply beautiful as always, and Ordway and Perez's work, and the covers by Jim Lee and George Perez, were top-tier as usual.

I also have to question the random bits of changed continuity that are expositionally explained here in a pretty awkward manner. Alex Luthor explains that in this new earth, things are different. Superman was now Superboy again in his early career. Wonder Woman was now a founding member of the JLA. Batman knew who killed his parents ala Batman Begins. What?!?! Okay, the necessity of these changes is questionable, as they negate a number of excellent stories like John Bryne's Man of Steel and Mark Waid's JLA: Year One. But also, why shoehorn this exposition into the story like this? Ugh, just awkward storytelling there. One other big example of crowded exposition - the return of Bart Allen as The Flash. While a nice tribute to the original Crisis, with Kid Flash inheriting his mentor's mantle, this was SO random and confusing. Bart comes back, is aged ten years, tells Jay Garrick that the old-timer is now the fastest man alive, and that Wally, Linda, and their twins are in some other dimension? Whaaat?Oh yeah, Bart and Jay play no other part in the story, so their appearance serves no real purpose. I'm curious to see what's going on with the Flash's, but, this was just a bit much.

And speaking of awkward storytelling - I don't know, I mean the overarching theme of this series was supposed to be the nature of heroism - can heroes be flawed or is it preferable to go back to the infallible heroes of the Golden Age. But was this them ever really organically woven into the story, from issue to issue? To a degree, yes, and Issue 1, when the Big 3 had their summit and Batman delivered his insta-classic line to Superman ("The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead.") was a promising start to the exploration of this theme, kicked off by Wonder Woman's murder of Maxwell Lord in the Sacrifice storyline.

But where did it really go from there? Nowhere really - just a bunch of vague exclamations from Superboy Prime about how this world's heroes were corrupted and impure, with a bunch of events taken out of context to emphasize the fallibilty of the heroes onthe post-Crisis earth. And then there was the coda in Issue 7, which was just kind of out there. Batman, who of all heroes refuses to kill under any circumstance, holds a gun to the head of Alex Luthor? What?!?! The same Batman who refuses to kill The Joker time after time is going to murder, in cold blood, another in a long line of would-be world conquerers who he has thrown down with? No way. So then WW comes along, looking menacing, but smashes her sword in a symbolic way of saying that she ain't a killer no mo'. Not bad, but the Batman thing was pretty out of character - Alex was already beaten, why would Batman of all people consider killing him?

So yeah, a lot of cool moments this issue, but also a lot of stuff that felt rushed, random, or just off. Numerous continuity errors have popped up in this series as well, even discontinuity between this and other IC-tie in issues, which is pretty annoying. Also, people who SHOULD have been major players given the story and characters involved, ie Lex Luthor, were mostly absent. Sure, the Joker-Lex Luthor (they always seem to team-up at times of crisis ...) scene at the end of the issue was sweet, but also pretty random and a somewhat anti-climactic end for the big-bad Alex Luthor.

What DID I like in Issue 7? Lots of stuff. The aforementioned Joker-Luthor scene was fanboy goodness. Guy Gardner vs. Superboy. Robin's angst at seeing Nightwing then Batman getting beaten before his eyes. The final scene between the Big 3, especially the happier, old-school depiction of Bruce Wayne. Superboy Prime and his bloody S-shield. All the random characters popping out of nowhere - I mean, Wild Dog? The New Blood? Cool! The assembly of the Green Lantern Corps and the wall of sheer green willpower. Mogo, the planet GL, playing an unexpected role - and he socializes! Nice little character moments from Guy, Hal Jordan, Booster Gold, and others. The red sun idea was pretty cool. As always, Johns packed in the little "cool" moments, and the fanboy geek-out scenes were in no short supply.

But as a series, that was pretty much what Infinite Crisis turned out to be -- a 100 mph, bursting at the seams collection of cool moments. Those were plentiful, even when a coherant plot and impactful, emotional ressonance were not. And the excitement and promise of Issue 1 definitely lessened as the series failed to live up to its full potential to be a modern classic with each passing issue. And in the end, I can't say it was any better than less hyped event comics from throughout the last decade, like Final Night, for one. Was it a good read? Yes. Was it a page-turner? Definitely. Was it filled with great art, numerous geek-out moments, and big changes to the status quo? Yes, without question. But was this all it way hyped up to be, the comic book epic to end all comic book epics? Not really - it just never quite came together.

My Infinite Crisis Issue # 7 Grade: B -

My Infinite Crisis Series Grade: B


- It wouldn't be a geek edition of my blog without a comment on the announcment of the new Star Wars DVD sets that will finally feature the ORIGINAL, old-school theatrical versions of the oriinal trilogy, without the CGI enhancements or added scenes from the 1990's re-releases. Personally, I don't have that much sentimental attachment to the original versions as opposed to the newer ones, and I don't mind most of the enhancements. My biggest complaint with the new ones is that Greedo now shoots first, and we all know that Han shooting first is waaay cooler and more befitting of his character. So kudos to Lucas and co for finally releasing these unaltered versions, but finger of shame for not justp utting these on the original DVD release and making fans shell out a ton of extra $$$, just to get the original cuts. In any case, fanboys everywhere can now cease their complaining about not being able to buy these, and can focus on complaing about how Superman and X-Men 3 will suck.

- On that note, it's time for some lunch and I'm outta here. Until next time, may the Schwartz be with you.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Jack Bauer on a Plane: 24, Prisonbreak, and more!


Well 24 was back once again this week with another edge of your seat installment. Let's get right down to it ...

- Awesome stuff with Jack on the plane, him going NINJA on the air marshall sitting next to him was an insta-classic nugget of Jack-attack.

- Chloe with the DOUBLE TAZER-SHOT OF DOOM in the hotel bar. What looked to be another groan-inducing 24 subplot was quickly turned into a brief but hilarious moment of comic relief.

- If anyone brought the GRAVITAS this week, it was Bill Buchanan, sporting the UNDERSHIRT.

- Don't those pilots know what happens when you piss off Jack? He SHAKES YOUR PLANE AROUND.

- You've gotta love the sheer political incorrectness of having Jack HIJACK A PLANE, ward off rebellious passengers, and force an emergency landing, oh yeah - AND prompt the President to order the plane to be SHOT DOWN in the interest of protecting his own agenda --all in the SAME WEEK that United 93 is released in theaters.

- When is Novick finally just going to up and give Prez. Logan the ol' what-for?

- Speaking of which, unintentially hilarious moment when Mrs. Logan asks Mike something like "Is there anything else ...?" and Mike kind of looks at her semi-lustfully, gulps, and says "Yes ...".

- No further insight into the SECRET CABAL OF BLUETOOTH-SPORTING PREPPIES this week ... hmm are they being set up as the Big Bads of Season 6?

- Overall, an excellent episode this week as we've come to expect from this always-intense show. Sorry, haters, but 24 at this point is more than just a TV show -- it's an experience. Nay, a way of life even.

My grade: A


Damn -- AWESOME EP this week! The sheer over-the-top intensity as the inmates prepared for their escape was mind-boggling, and every character got their moment to shine. But the character moments, and even the closing montage never seemed annoying or forced - instead everything reached its logical climactic moment of truth after months and months of build-up. Ya just gotta love Scofield entering the Warden's office in the closing minutes, trademark smirk intact, demanding for his aid in the impending prison break. Just awesome stuff here - I think I even enjoyed Prisonbreak more than 24 this week, it was that intense. My grade: A


- Finally caught last week's SMALLVILLE, and it was, in fact, one of the better episodes of the season. Clark, for once, was pitted against a rather cool villain, and got to play hero rather than chump. The Lex-Lana-Clark stuff was actually handled well, and Lois was great and Erica Durance has really, um, come to embody that character (in more way than one, fellas). Let's just say the ante is upped a bit for big-screen Lois, Kate Bosworth, come June. Good stuff here, glad to see this show on the rebound after a few weeks of disappointing installments. My grade: A -

- On last week's THE OFFICE. Finally, a new episode. I have to say though, this show, which was enjoying a creative peak earlier in the season, is now becoming a tale of two shows. We have the hilarious, random bits of oddball humor from Dwight and Michael, and we have the increasingly cheesy, out-of-place flirtations between Jim and Pam. Now of course, many of my female friends just love the doomed not-quite-tomance between the two office-mates, but that's almost the problem. The whole thing seems like its been played up to satisfy some market research or somethign rather than being a natural part of the show. Any fan of the superlative British Office knows that the poignancy of Tim and Dawn was ALL in the SUBTLE moments - the little glances, the awkward hellos, etc. Jim and Pam is anything but subtle lately, and it's really annoying in my book and is really throwing this show off its game. Still, as long as we get classic bits of dialogue each week from Dwight, and as long as we get Steve Carell bringing the funny, this is one of TV's only current must-see comedies. The whole drug-testing plotline this week was just side-splittingly hilarious. That's why I watch the show. So focus on the humor, and evolve the subplots subtlely and naturally. But yeah "My father's name was Dwright Schrute. His father's name was Dwight Schrute. HIS father's name was Dwighd Schrude. Amish." = hilarious. My grade: B+

- Huge props to STEPHEN COLBERT. I've always been a fan, but I have a newfound appreciation for the man after he delivered a biting keynote speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner this past weekend (check out YouTube if you've not yet seen it!). With Bush sitting mere feet away, Colbert stuck to his cocky, far-right wing character, which is of course one giant satire of the whole conservative talk show host thing. So basically, Colbert proceeds to ruthlessly mock the president, the press, and everyone in between with all of them right there up close and personal. Sure, some of his jokes bomberd and he appeared to be, justifiably, a bit nervous, but Colbert stuck to his guns and showed a lot of balls in mocking prez not really known for his sense of self-deprecating humor, especially when it comes to his policies. Sure, those Correspondents' dinners are always basically a roast to the president, but this was a pretty unique meeting of pop culture's number one conservative satirist with or ocuntry's number one conservative figurehead. Pretty interesting, and once again, props to Colbert.

- JOEY STYLES! Best RAW promo in a long while delivered last night by the voice of ECW, as the geeky voice of the E-C-Dub purist told it like it was. Too bad it was the one bright spot in a consistently lackluster program of late. But still, hardcore, extreme, and worthy of one of Joey's trademark "OH MY GOD!'s."

- Watch Veronica Mars tonight, dammit all!


- Congrats to the Clippers, moving to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in 30 years! Their team is looking pretty stacked lately, and if the hated Lakers DO manage to make it an LA-LA series, I will eagerly anticipate the Clips delivering a humility-inducing beat-down to the second best team in LA. But, until that series is confirmed: GO SUNS!

- Forgot to mention that this weekend, at the Improv, one of the openers was none other than former SINGLED-OUT host Chris Hardwick. So THAT's what he's been up to all this time ...

- Some new SUPERMAN footage is up on the net, part of an international soft drink ad. Oddly, this is the best footage from the movie I've yet seen ,with some sweet but brief footage of Supes flying around and saving a plane. Hmm, the jury's still out on this one ...

- They are making a new Red Sonjia movie? Hmm, the original kicks ass though!

- I understand why United 93 didn't tear up the box office, but losing to RV?!?! Wow that says something right there. What it say I'm not sure, but it can't be good. Seriously though, I think good word of mouth will give 93 some longevity at the box office - it's not exactly one where people are rushing out to see it opening weekend.

- Okay, may Jack be with you. And remember, if you ever need to disarm an air marshall on a small, crowded plane without being seen - a quick elbow-strike to the back of the head should do just fine. See, you learn something new from 24 every week. Amazing, innit?.