Sunday, August 27, 2006

Quick Emmy Awards Wrap-Up - aka (once again), All Hail Conan!

Well, the show is over and it was mostly pretty predictable (see my previous, pre-show post for all my preambling predictions).

I called Kiefer and 24 winning, and I'm glad they did -- the show with the most gravitas clearly won. Howver, super-producer Brian Grazer and his Edward-Scissorhands-esque haircut, standing beside the show's producers as they accepted the award for best drama - well, that did kinda detract from the overall gravitas, just a tad.

Other predictable picks included the obligatory Will and Grace / West Wing farewell awards - suffice to say that both Megan Mulally and Alan Alda are talented and I congratulate them - and I'll even be a team player and say -- go NBC-U! Office for best comedy, Mariska Hargitay best dramatic actress for SVU, and hey, Julia Louis Dreyfuss breaks the Seinfeld curse, reminding us of our glory days in the Must See TV era. But NBC really did do a great job of building up the hype for Heroes, Studio 60, 30 Rock, Kidnapped, 20 Good Years, et al - I think that all this preseason hype may actually lead to some decent ratings spikes for us as well. My personal picks? Studio 60 is a must-watch for fans of good TV, 30 Rock is Tracy Morgan at his best and Alec Baldwin bringing the funny, and 20 Good Years may have lightning in a bottle with the combo of Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow.

Yes, the 'Cock was out in full force tonight, going all-out in promoting our shows. But the star was Conan O'Brien, who was a little wobbly at first but quickly settled into his role as host and pretty much knocked it out of the park, from the hilarious opening montage (COnan encountering House was particularly hilarious, as was Rainn Wilson's reaction to Conan dropping from the ceiling into the set of The Office) to the classic Bob Newhart-in-an-airtight-tube gag, Conan was a great ambassador for NBC and yet still classically self-deprecating and unafraid to mock NBC, going so far as to do an all-out, Simpsons-style song and dance number bemoaning the state of the 'net that would have made Lyle Lanley proud.

Upsets? Well, I predicted lack of award-age for Arrested Development and Malcolm in the Middle, so no big surprises there. I was pretty shocked to see Monk's Tony Shaloub win out over Steve Carell, but, continuing with my unusual amount of NBC cheerleading, it's another one for NBC-UNI! Seriously, Carell did a great job on the Office and I felt he should have won that one.

But just to show I'm not all ra-ra NBC, I give a solid jeer to the Peacock for advertising the new season of the Office as if it were the new season of Melrose Place. Come on, The Office should NOT, of all things, be about soap-opera romance. Advertise the comedy, emphasize the COMEDY, and let the rest of the show follow organically.

Props to all the awards for John Stewart as well, but especially props to Stewart and Colbert for their awesome bit as presenters - their little exchange before the Reality award was simply CLASSIC. Colbert is a True American -- that is all.

Also, as a true TV geek I always look forward to the noms for best variety / talk writing, as the writers always do some hilarious stuff for the intros. As always, my pals (haha not really but I'd like to think so) at LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN kicked ass with their hilarious India-tech-support bit. Those guys are geniouses.

Was surprised, however, that My Name is Earl took home the prize for Best Comedy Writing. I mean, come on ... Earl is kinda funny but Arrested Development has some of the smartest EVER comedy-writing on TV, on a level inhabited by the likes of Seinfeld and The Simpsons. The Office can be up there as well, so I'm surprised both lost out in favor of Earl.

And the Sopranos' writing award only emphasizes the fact that at some point I really need to catch up on that show. Alas, I've been HBO-less for all of my life, and have only seen a few meager episodes of the show.

One more upset in that both Itzin and Smart came up short for their supporting roles on 24. Well, seeing President Palmer up on stage made me realize - if Dennis Haysbert never got a trophy for his kickass role on 24, can anyone? And notice CURTIS taking center stage as the 24 Best Drama award was accepted by cast and crew ... could this indicate that CTU's designated ass-kicker is ready, willing, and able to step up this coming season and walk into an Almeda-like role? Hmm ... still, long live Tony!

Whoah, Gillian Anderson sighting! Oh Scully, where art though (in some obscure TV miniseries, apparently - but I guess it was really good?)? I guess the Emmy nom got the too-good-for network-TV thespian to descend from her flat in London. Now make the second X-Files movie already!

Man, on a serious note, that Dick Clark tribute was almost unbearable to watch - there was something just amazingly sad about seeing a guy who is known for always looking so young get on stage, suddenly looking every bit the part of a guy who had just been through major health complications. It really was jarring to think about how it must feel to go through something like that when your entire career is made on being telegenic. I hope the best for Dick Clark - as was shown in the tribute video he truly has been a remarkably influential force in television.

Similarly moving tribute to Aaron Spelling, and it was a kick to see the original Charlie's Angels on stage, even if it is always odd to see aging starlets looking so plasticy and gaudy (well two out of three at least, right? am i right?) rather than taking a cue from the likes of a Hellen Mirren and acting and looking their age.

All of it was a reminder that showbiz is an inustry filled with odd, eccentric, and exceedingly crazy people. We pay tribute to the greats, but at the same time, seeing the Spelling family, knowing all of the tabloid drama and scandal they've been through, it just kind of shatters the whole delicate illusion of "stardust," as was mentioned in the tribute. We WANT so much to cheer for people like Spelling, and Dick Clark, and even people like Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen, and yet all you read about is their scandal and depravity. It's just kind of sad and depressing that an industry where people are so admired by the public is filled with so many people unworthy of that admiration.

But anyways, let's talk about some of the good, smart, awesome people in entertainment. Conan, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Greg Daniels, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, the cast of The Office, and all of us little people who are out there trying to live the dream.

Overall, good show - great job and lots of quality comedy from Conan, although in a show like this you can't help but have your share of lame banter (aka all of it not written by the performers like Tina Fey and John Stewart), nutty acceptance speeches (Blythe, anyone?), tons of awards for PBS miniseries and random TV movies that no one really cares about, and odd production errors (Conan getting cut off as he introduced the Sheens).

Next year, maybe Veronica Mars will get some love.

Or, maybe BARRY MANILOW will simply continue his improbable winning streak. Is there anything the man CAN'T do?

The Emmys - aka, all hail Conan

Okay so this one is a little late, I know.

But even though most of you probably won't read this until after the show, I felt the need to plug this year's Emmy's because:

a.) they are on NBC
b.) they are hosted by my man Conan O'Brien, who I have it on good authority is planning some very funny stuff for the show

and, on a more personal note:

c.) 24, aka the best drama on TV, actually stands to win some awards this year!

Still, though, let's face it - the Emmy nominations pretty much blow. The whole voting process was changed this year, and that change seemed to amount to jack squat. We have actresses nominated for 11-second guest-star spots, yet some of the very best work on TV remains totally ignored. OF all the leading ladies in TV-land, did any completely carry a top-tier show on their backs like Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars or Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls? Veronica Mars, especially, just pisses me off in its lack of recognition. GIlmore Girls, as good as it is, it's best years are probably behind it (still, it's supporting cast is amazing and was as good if not better than ever this past year! Where is the love?). VM is a show that out of the gate two years ago was firing on all cylinders, and this past season everyone upped their game to deliver the best drama on TV not named 24. So: WTF?!?!

A few other obvious snubs: Only Will Arnett of Arrested Development is nominated? No Jason Bateman? Jeffrey Tambor? David Cross? Come on!

What about Rainn Wilson for The Office? Bar none, Dwight was the biggest source of laughter on the show this year, and was the true breakout character.

Those gripes are just a few of my own personal pet peeves, but looking up and down the list this year there's a mixture of been there done that and odd randomness. I mean, so much of these awards are just pure hype. Look at 24 - it's been deserving of this level of recognition for YEARS now - but only now are any of the supporting players actually recognized. Jean Smart and Gregory Itzin were great, yes, but it's just odd to me that they get nominated in Year 5 to the exclusion of all of the great supporting actors who have appeared on the show prior.

And once again, let me add: screw the Lost defenders claiming that that show deserved a Best Drama nom - Season 2 of Lost did not live up to Season 1's promise, and more often than not, the show disappointed rather than delivered this past year. That's not to say that Season 3 won't be great (those mysterious EW ads already have me hyped), and I really hope the show gets back on track ... but Season 2 of Lost was not in 24's league this season.

One other comment -- no, The Simpsons as a whole did not have a good season, and definitely not a great season. But it DID deliver a few gems, including the best episode in YEARS, penned by Ricky Gervais. So I see no problem with perhaps the greatest TV show of all time bringing home an Emmy at the expense of South Park, a show which is 80% hype and only about 20% humor. Yes, it's a blast to tune into South Park and see insta-commentary on the latest celebrity scandal or whatever, but the show rarely has any real intelligence behind it, and the humor is never that sharp from a writing standpoint. In this day and age, plenty of animated shows are praised the crazier and more random they get, but crazy and random doesn't always mean good. So instead of talking baou South Park was robbed just because it had the balls to directly reference easy targets like Tom Cruise, let's talk about how the real best animated show on TV was snubbed once again -- King of the Hill!

And about the Emmy show itself -- I am really hoping that Conan goes all out and makes his mark tonight. I realize the Emmy's are not exactly an ideal showcase for one's comedic talents, but I hope that Conan can go out there and convince the doubters of mainstream America that he is the man when it comes to late night. I know that there are many, especially older people, out there who don't really get Conan per se, but I really believe that Conan's humor has just the right amount of classical comedy and heart to be mainstream, even if he can be really out there, and maybe too intelligent for some weaned on Jay Leno's Middle-American king-of-the-obvious-brand of humor.

So yeah, Conan kicks ass, so watch the Emmys tonight and show some support!

Now, my picks:

NOTE: Honestly I don't care who WILL win, per se, because the Emmys have no real history of honoring who is most deserving. As for what to expect, well, I expect a bunch of recently-ended shows like West Wing and Will and Grace to clean up, though likely personal faves that recently called it quits, like Malcolm in the Middle and Arrested Development, will get snubbed. I DO think that this is finally the year that 24 will clean up, for whatever reason, so Jack Bauer may FINALLY get his due. I don't care about reality TV, as pretty much every reality show is sleazy crap in my opinion, so whatever.

But anyways, here are some picks of nominees who I DO actually care about and would like to see get an award:

Lead Actor in a Comedy:

Steve Carell for the Office.

The only other guy nominated who I'd consider is the always-hilarious Larry David, but Season 2 of The Office was a true break out season of TV. It had it's ups and downs, but The Office put together a streak of classic episodes that was the best comedy on TV for a while there. Carell deserves it, and I think he'll get it, too.
Chance of Winning: Excellent

Lead Acress in a Comedy:

Jane Kaczmarek for Malcolm in the Middle

I'm probably the only person on the planet who doesn't work for the show that is actively rooting for this choice, but any true Malcolm fan knows that Lois is one of the absolute most horrifying, most cringe-inducing, and best TV moms of all time. I think of Malcolm's great series finale, where Lois reveals to Malcolm her "plans" for his future, in a speech that embodied all the cynical humor, blue-collar tragedy, and pure hilarity that Malcolm was about. I know, I know, people ask "That show was still on?" It was, and this past season one of the best comedies of all time in Malcolm ended, and went out on a high note to boot.
Chance of Winning: Terrible

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:

Bryan Cranston for Malcolm in the Middle

Again, like I've said many times on this blog, Cranston was the heart and soul of Malcolm and one of the out and out funniest characters on TV in Hal. I of course am also a HUGE fan of Will Arnett as Gob on Arrested Development, but I'd love to see Cranston get some recognition for his years of hilarity on Malcolm in the Middle.

Chances of Winning: Terrible

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:

None of the great actresses from ARRESTED were nominated? Okay then, don't care.

Comedy Series:

Arrested Development

As good as The Office was at times this year, Arrested was just awesome - years from now it will be looked back on as one of the funniest, most underrated shows ever made. The last 4 eps of Arrested were plain and simple some of the best television I've ever seen. While the Office got mired in soapy romance plotlines as the season progressed, becoming more and more sitcom-y, Arrested stayed true to itself and became even more obscure, witty, and offbeat as it went on. Long live ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

Chances of Winning: Medium - has a shot but I think The Office will take it.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series:

Kiefer Sutherland for 24

Do I really need an explanation here? Kiefer has made Jack Bauer the most fun character to watch on TV over the last 5 years. He has created a true action hero for the ages. Give him his freakin' due already.

Chances of Winning: Excellent, though you never know, as the West Wing sympathy vote may come into play.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series:

No Kristen Bell? No Lauren Graham? Screw you, Emmys. I guess I'll root for Geena Davis or something.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:

Gregory Itzin for 24

You know, too bad nobody from the pretty kickass Prisonbreak was nominated for this category - where's the love for Abruzi and T-Bag? But of the choices we've got, Itzin was one of the great 24 villains this season, and did some damn fine acting as the Nixon-esque Prez on 24.

Chances of Winning: Pretty darn good, though again I feel like I shouldn't count out the West Wing.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:

Jean Smart for 24:

While Smart did an excellent job as the first lady on 24, I have to say - she is getting a little bit overhyped by the press, and in fact I would probably count her as one of the weaker elements, overall, of this season. Still, I could care less about the other nominees, and there's no question Smart had some ultra-intense scenes on 24 that render her worthy of recognition.

Chances of Winning: Excellent

Best Drama Series:


What more can I say? I'm no bandwagoner - I've been a 24 fan since Day 1 (literally), and this has been my absolute favorite show on television since the X-Files went off the air. 24 is a thrill-ride every week that is more intense, more satisfying, and yes, more packed with gravitas than just about any other feature film in the same genre. This show should have won Best Drama in SEASON ONE, which is still the best, but hey, Season 5 was a consistently amazing seaon as well that deserves its props. Sure, many of my other fav shows were snubbed, but it will be nice to see 24 finally get its moment in the sun.

Chances of Winning: Count on it ... and screw the West Wing if it wins.

Reality Series:

No Beauty and the Geek? Don't care. Since it's our big seller on I-Tunes I'll root for Project Runway.

Okay, that's it for now - be back soon with reactions, and a lot more.

If nothing else, watch for Conan.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"I was born of the Hebrew persuasion, but I converted to narcissism." SCOOP Review, Prison Break, and MORE

Okay, okay - a lot to talk about. So strap in and get comfortable.

First of all, some TV Stuff:


- Very good season premiere, but as of now nothing spectacular. Monday's episode was very cool, but felt a little too much like a direct continuation of last season's season-ending escape. But, I think a lot of promising plotlines were set up for the season, most of all the introduction of the always-excellent William Fichtner as an FBI Agent who looks to be an intellectual match for Michael Scofield. T-Bag as always was awesomely over the top, and was a real scene stealer in every segment he appeared in ("I AIN'T nobody!" = DAAAAAAAAMN!), and, I can't wait to see what happens when he finally catches up with the other escapees.


I actually like that they offed Veronica, as her character was getting stale, and it reinforces the notion that the inmates are truly on their own, with no one to help them on the outside. But it also begs the question - where do they go from here? On one hand it's exciting that I literally have no clue where this season is headed. On the other hand, it worries me that things still seem very directionless. Are they still going to focus on the warden and the other jail personnel even though the inmates have fled the coop? Is the whole season going to be about the search for Curly's Gold? And are they actually going to keep all of these guys together, even though by all logic they should split up and go their separate ways? Hmmm ...

I'm very curious to see what happens next, but I've yet to be convinced that this season will live up to season 1. Here's hoping the intensity gets turned up a notch in the weeks to come.

My Grade: B+


I just have to quickly point out that this show needs to be commended. It seems to be completely staged, is totally cheesy, and just downright absurd, but it has won me over with its sheer earnestness and fun. Last night I caught the previous week's ep on SciFi, and man, when a guy who's seen it all like Stan Lee gets choked up over having to off the latest contestant, well, it truly puts a tear in yer eye. There seriously is something wonderful about seeing a reality show - normally the domain of sleaze, excess, and vulgarity - governed by the old-school, superheroic rules of Stan The Man, where such basic misdeeds as littering, jay-walking, and all forms of duplicity are frowned upon and grounds for dismissal. Imagine - a reality show that encourages people to be BETTER human beings! As wacky as this show is, I highly respect it on this premise alone. Count me as a True Believer.


Finally, I've got to comment on this amazing season of comedy television recently made available on DVD. For me, this represents the best ever comedy on television. While other previous seasons of The Simpsons are often highlighted by others as the best ever, this one was for me when I really began to notice the writing, the craft, the genious that went into the creation of these episodes. This season originally aired in 1996-97, my freshman year of high school. Not exactly the best year of my life, but those dreary Mondays were always highlighted by the question on the lips of every geeky guy in school: did you see the Simpsons last night? In the halls of high school, the dining hall, the classrooms - that week's episode was reviewed, analyzed, and quoted to death. And right at this time when kids begin to identify with certain things as a form of self-expression, well, the Simpsons was IT. Every Sunday I sat down to watch the coolest, most amazing, most ingenious thing there was. And I think if it wasn't for those Simpsons episodes, the idea that I myself wanted to work in TV never would have materialized. Now, watching these episodes, it's clear that Season 8 was a turning point - the show was getting crazier, more random, more experimental - a style that would inspire shows like Family Guy's sensibilities, and lead to the current house style that the Simpsons still employs. But while newer seasons are often hurt by their realiance on randomness and abusurdity to drive the humor, Season 8 of the show thrived by pushing the stylistic envelope. Mr. Sparkle, Frank Grimes, The Lovematic Grandpa, Sherry Bobbins, Hank Scorpio - all absolutely classic moments from the season. So if you haven't checked it out, or need a primer on The Simpsons and how it influenced current television and a generation of comedy afficianados, get Season 8 now - it may be the funniest TV ever made.

Now, on to movies ...

SCOOP Review:

Well, this was certainly a fascinating movie to watch.

First, there's the movie itself - like some old 1950's farce unearthed and infused with some vintage Woody Allen schtick, this movie is decidedly old-school. Scoop is plenty entertaining, but a lot of things about it just seem off. Unlike, say, Anything Else, where Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci fit in fairly seamlessly with Woody's somewhat antiquated worldview, Scarlett Johanson and Hugh Jackman stick out like sore thumbs in what might as well be a period piece, despite being set in modern London. Well, more so Scarlett. Hugh Jackman is a natural at playing an upper-crust British playboy who may or may not be a murderer, but Scarlett Johanson in this movie ... all I can say is: odd.

Sure, eventually we warm up to Scarlett as Sandra - a stammering Brooklyn girl and ambitious journalism student on vacation in London. But wow, let's step back for a minute here and take a look at this:

This has to be a first for Woody - here, Woody Allen essentially plays his usual Woody Allen role, though adjusted to the fact that Woody is now in senior citizen territory, he plays a surrogate father / mentor figure here to Scarlett ... who plays --- a hopelessly attractive, female version of Woody Allen! Okay ... for a director who often deals with the theme of psychoanalysis, this setup is just begging to be psychoanalyzed. And for this reason, while the movie itself is pretty good, the movie, when looked at as direct line into the psyche of Woody Allen, is just fascinating.

And on a sidenote, that's what's great about a movie like this that is the sole vision of a single creative mind - unlike a big studio film, this really is a look, in it's own weird way, at the man behind the camera (and on it, in this case).

But back to Scarlett ... I mean, is there any woman in the world who looks like Scarlett Johanson yet is a nebbishy Jewish girl who speaks in a Woody-Allen-esque stammer? I mean, I guess it's like when that one James Bond movie asked us to buy Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist or something, but still ...

I guess though, that part of the joke of this movie's premise is that behind this stammering, innocent girl lies a promiscuous sexpot in disguse -- is this Woody's commentary on women - that all the rich pretty-boys a la Jackman in this movie (who are, in reality, murderers!) are able to turn these outwardly nice Jewish girls into swooning sex objects? Like I said, fascinating. This movie can be read all kinds of ways. We see Woody Allen as a guy probably lusting after Scarlett (which he apparently is in real life), but due to his age he's reduced to playing a father-figure role even as he meets an impossibly beautiful young woman, who inexplicably shares his exact personality and mannerisms! The woman of course falls for the rich playboy who is secretly a murderer - the very guy she set out to expose to the world as a murderer (the classic girl falling for the badboys they condemn thing). And, finally, and quite humorously, Woody Allen's character is -- SPOILERS -- killed~! as he tries to make a heroic attempt to save Scarlett from her would-be killer.

So yeah, while the plot, essentially revisiting the same basic premise of Match Point, is oddly dated-seeming and quirky, with its random supernatural elements (the ghost of Ian McShane as a slain journalist is the one who tips off Scarlett to the case), Scoop is most interesting just as a meta-character study of Woody Allen at this advanced stage of his career.

But as for that - the whole complaint of been there, done that, when it comes to Allen's movies, I don't see what the big problem is. I still got plenty of laughs from the classic Woody-isms - the Jewish humor, the fish-out-of-water jokes, the high-art meets Borscht-Belt comedy. The man may not be as fresh and sharp a humorist as he once was, but he still carries a certain intelligence and culturally-educated slant in his writing that you don't see from many other filmmakers.

To be sure, this is an odd movie. The sheer spectacle of seeing the same Scarlett Johanson who played an action hero in The Island and a sullen, rebel teen in Ghost World, in full-on, young-female-version-of-Woody Allen-mode is simultaneously jarring, perplexing, entertaining, and hard to take your eyes off of. The supernatural / whimsical elements of the film are both strange and yet very amusing at times. And the vintage Woody Allen humor can be both tedious and refreshing, depending on the joke.

Overall though, I would definitely recommend checking out Scoop. It's an immensely interesting movie to watch, even if some of its flaws and oddities are glaringly obvious. But compared to what else is out there, Scoop is a refreshing dose of something different, even if different in this case is comfortingly familiar.

My Grade: B+

Alright - more later. Leave a comment and check back soon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Snakes! Snakes? Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakessss!" Snakes on a Plane Review and MORE

Alright, I'm back from the all-too-brief respite of the weekend and ready to lay it down for ya.

I'll start by tackling the subject on the lips of everyone in showbiz right now - Snakes on a Plane -- why did it bomb?

I think there has got to be a realization that a movie primarily fueled by internet buzz is good for about 8 to 16 million at the box office - at this point, no more. See exhibit A: Clerks II. See exhibit B: Snakes on a Plane.

The thing with these movies is that they appeal to a relatively small audience, albeit one that happens to be very vocal. Also, sadly in some cases, I think the blame lies partly on us - Generation Y. Sadly, I don't know if we are where the money is, at least not yet. We are the generation most dripping with ironic appreciation of bad movies - I don't know if anyone over the age of 35 not named Quentin Tarantino quite gets why the whole Snakes on a Plane thing was ever that funny in the first place - and yet as of now we are a generation that is low on time, strapped for cash, and more apt to go on the internet and JOKE about Snakes on a Plane than actually pay 10 bucks to see it in a theater.

Can Gen Y be a moneymaker for a major movie studio? Honestly, I don't know. Remember, we are the generation that went to college with broadband internet right in the prime of the Napster boom. I remember many a college night huddled around someone's desktop watching a bootlegged copy of Boondock Saints or whatever that someone ripped off of the intra-college network. Most of us are in crappy entry level jobs with no real opportunity yet to put our unprecedentedly expensive college educations to use. We were the ones who grew up with an ironic appreciation for the awesomely bad movies of Jean Claude Van Damme, Hulk Hogan, and the like, and then watched as guys like Quentin Tarantino took the B-movie genre and turned it into blissfully self-aware pop art. We were the ones who went to see Snakes on a Plane on Friday and Saturday night ... and sadly, we're not good for that much in the way of bank, at least not yet.

And it doesn't look good for the future of Snakes, either. Most people realize that the only way to see this movie is to see it in a crowded theater, for optimum reaction and participation from the peanut gallery. If only a handful of Snake devotees turned out on opening weekend - (as I alluded to above, my Friday night showing was mostly filled with irony-saavy Gen Y-ers and a few younger teenagers), then what hope do the stragglers have to get the optimal Snakes experience in a theater this coming weekend or the weekend after?

With all that being said, this isn't exactly Titanic in the budget department, so I'm sure when all is said and done (and the inevitable DVD's are sold by the bucketload), SOAP will emerge as profitable for the studio. But here's a little hint for the future: A low budget cult classic is given its status by the FANS, not by studio-created, prerelease hype.

And on that note, on to the much anticipated ...


And they said irony was dead.

Well, "they" were clearly wrong, as for months now, the internet has been buzzing about how great Snakes on a Plane was going to be, based largely on how entertainingly bad it appeared to be.

But some movies are so "bad" that they are great - campy classics, often ones we took in as kids, that somehow struck a certain chord that made them more than just a bad movie, but a sentimental favorite. This week, for example, The Wizard came out on DVD. By no means a "great" movie, but for many of us, when were seven or eight, it was the Best Thing Ever. Hence, the nostalgia tinged lense we watch it through makes it great in its own weird, Power Glove-sporting way.

And then, there are the "great" B movies. Movies like Army of Darkness and Evil Dead, like some of the blaxploitation and martial arts movies from the 70's. Movies that had low budgets and a large degree of campiness, but in their own way had a huge spark of imagination and a unique sense of style and self-aware humor - an undeniable coolness factor. Even though an uninformed observer might see these movies and dub them bad, those in the know recognized their innate awesomeness.

It is in this tradition that Snakes on a Plane tries to land - a movie that takes all the trappings of the worst late-night TV movies and says "look, we are not pretending to be a polished, big-budget epic when we're not - we're taking the inhernet cheesiness of the concept and running with it - we're f'n Snakes on a Plane."

But here's the thing - a bad movie is a bad movie. And make no mistake - in it's original incarnation, Snakes was clearly one craptacular flick, about on the level of Mansquito. Just because audiences of a certain generation have been cultivated to enjoy a bad movie almost as much as a good movie - by laughing AT it and enjoying it ironically, this doesn't make it good.

I mean, look, I thought the Island was a complete trainwreck, but I had a great time at the theater mocking it's crappiness with my friends. Does that somehow make it a good movie? Hells no.

So now, here's the kicker - the Snakes producers got wind that their endearingly titled C-grade horror movie was becoming an internet sensation, largely due to the sheer audacity of calling it Snakes on a Plane (again, bringing to mind those terrible late-night Sci Fi movies). So due to a fluke of the pre-production title being leaked to the public, the producers were left with a dilmena: a growing internet fanbase was sitting around getting hyped up about a movie that they assumed would be a self-aware horror-comedy - a balls to the wall, crazy-ass flick that pitted Samuel Jackson in full-on badass mode against a plane full of killer Snakes.

But what was the reality here? This was by no means a lovingly-crafted piece of genre-reinventing pop art that the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, or Sam Raimi might have created.

Nope, it was just a really crappy movie, with bad CGI, a phoning-it-in Sam Jackson, and of all things a PG-13 rating. Not good, not good at all.

So, then what happened? The suits got wise to the fact that the fanbase had a much different expectation for this film than what the reality of it actually was. In response, a bunch of reshoots are done, more sex and violence is added, and the whole movie is painted over with a winking gloss that says "yeah, see, we ARE in on the joke, we WANT you to laugh."

So yeah, the whole state of this movie is pretty much summed up by the fact that its best, trademark line was thought up by random internet bloggers rather than the actual writers of the movie. In the ultimate example of internet populism meets corporate America, the few, the outspoken, the irony-lovin', Snakes-cheering, Sam Jackson-worshipping fanboys got the movie that THEY envisioned.

Well, sort of.

That's the crazy thing about this movie -- it is like a crazy mishmash of moments that are genuinely, unintentionally bad with other moments that are genuinely, intentionally bad. And the weird thing is I'm not sure which parts were funnier.

Because in the end, the movie mostly lived up to my expectations - it was a blast to see in a packed theater, full of rowdy fans eager to see Samuel L Jackson lay the smackdown on some snakes.

But had this movie been made, from the START, with a smart, hip, self-aware mindset - had it had someone at the helm like a Sam Raimi who really gets horror-comedy and really could infuse a movie like this with legitimate creativity and vision - well, then it could have really been something - a true B-movie cult classic.

As it stands now, it is a bad movie trying a little too hard to be an enjoyably bad movie. Oh, sure, it was pretty enjoyable, but take away the rowdy crowd and the fun of all the prerelease buzz, and what are you left with? A poorly-shot, badly-written thriller with mostly mediocre performances and a few great one-liners.

And let's set one thing straight - yes, this is a movie that invites audience participation, and in my view you can't beat a great live audience to heighten the fun of, well, just about anything. But come on - if Deep Blue Sea had been called "Super Intelligent Sharks Attack!" and benefitted from the same amount of internet buzz, that movie would have had as good of an audience reaction and been even better, since it actually had some cool action sequences, a fun cast, and some plot creativity - and hey, it even had a badass Samuel L Jackson.

So yeah, I hope that all of you who can't help but smile at the very IDEA of a movie called Snakes on a Plane headed to the biggest multiplex around this weekend with a few friends, kicked back, and cheered everytime Sam Jackson did something badass. I hope you laughed at the sheer awfulness of Keenan Thompson, smiled ironic smiles of mockery at the carboard characters, and had a small spasm of glee as the screen morphed into green-tinged "snake-vision." And I hope you applauded and cheered as Jackson dutifully uttered the movie's now-famous catchphrase, and that that glorious, expletive-filled sentance was all you hoped it would be and more. I know I got a kick out of it, and yeah, I had a great time as the theater watching Snakes on a by-god Plane. Probably most of all, it was because this film invited the audience to be a part of it - to cheer, to boo, to clap, to yell out random obnoxious comments. Unlike most crappy movies, where you have to sit there in silence and take it, this one wore its crappiness like a badge of honor -- a heavily-market-researched, corporately-manufactured badge of honor, but a badge of honor nonetheless. And I respect that. I think. Kind of.

But let's not kid ourselves - this was a bad movie that mostly kicked ass because we were so, so ready for it to. As cool as it is to see a movie transform itself mid-production to better represent what the fans wanted, it still makes you wonder -- has it really come to this? Do the fans now have to take it upon themselves to add all the best parts to a movie? Snakes on a Plane, if nothing else, establishes an amazing (though not necessarily succesful, with this weekend's box office-returns) new precedent for Hollywood marketing - just don't get tricked into thinking that this is anything more than what it really is - a movie that's occasionally fun to laugh with, but mostly just fun to laugh at.

Still, you gotta love a python squeezing a guy till he drops, venomous serpents dropping in on a couple aiming to join the mile high club, and a rap star who learns an important lesson about how to keep it real, even in the midst of being trapped in a plane whilst being attacked by an army of rabid snakes. Dammit all, I think my grade just went up one notch.

My Grade: B -

- Alright, what else?

- How about tonight's RETURN of last season's best new TV show: PRISONBREAK.

Like Snakes on a Plane, in a way, Prisonbreak is completely over the top and implausible, but fun as all hell. Great characters, 24-like intensity, and an overall sense of overriding badassness makes tonight's Season 2 premiere a must-watch.

I have to say though, I'm almost kinda sad that the Fall TV Season is beginning ... as much as I am a TV junkie, and work in TV, I hate the amount of time that TV can take up during my week. As comforting as it is to have, say, a new episode of Prisonbreak to look forward to on a Monday night after a long day's work, it is also nice to come home and have the night be an open book, so to speak.

And that's about all I have for now -- stay tuned tommorow for a major blog-related announcement ...

And how about it: Can I get some mother$#%# comments on this mother%$&% blog?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Ask Me About My Weiner!"

Oh man, that line never gets old ...

Saw Accepted last night at a free Universal screening, will get to that review in a minute ... first off though, some other assorted stuff ...

- Ryan Philipe as Harvey Dent in Dark Knight? I don't believe this is 100% confirmed yet, but I have to say I don't know about this one. Philipe is definitely a talented actor, but as far as I know he still has that kind of boyish look and prep-school voice ... not exactly what I picture in Harvey Dent. I gotta side with the internet geeks on this one for now and say that someone like Liev Schrieber or Guy Pierce would have been ideal. Also, I hope they don't overload this movie with too many villains. I don't really see any point when you already have the best villain of all ... the Joker. Harley Quinn in a minor role though ... that I wouldn't object to.

- Speaking of superheroes, I've gotta say that Who Wants to be a Superhero is one heck of a fun show. I've been working with it on I-Tunes, and while the premise is pretty absurd, the show is so earnest and innocent compared to other trashy reality shows that it just has this really addictive, eminently watchable vibe. Stan Lee is perfectly old-school in his role as superhero guru / MC. Take it with a grain of salt, but don't be surprised if it hooks you in.


Okay, so this movie has a number of prety funny moments. But those moments are buried within the unsightly framework of a movie mired in cliched mediocrity. For every line that makes you giggle (yes, including the insta-classic "Ask me about my weiner!" line ...), there is a character, a scene, or a moment that is directly lifted from some other, better movie. And most of all, the premise is totally mishandled - what could have been a funny idea - a bunch of college rejects form their own school and pass it off as a legitimate university - is played way too straight.

This premise begs for an absurdist approach ala Wet Hot American Summer. Instead, we get the obligatory scene where our protaganist stands before a board of accreditidation and gives a big speech where he expounds about the merits of his fake college, inciting his students (all of whom, of course, are in attendance) to give a standing ovation. And guess what - wonder of wonders - his speech is so damn moving that the crusty old board members have a change of heart and allow the school to go on! No big spoilers here folks - this movie is by-the-numbers every step of the way, right down to the preppy fratboy villains, the Dean of a rival school with a stick up his ass, and the girl stuck with the wrong guy who breaks up with said guy after he cheats on her and is then won over by our witty, charming, fast-talking main character.

You've seen this same framework in ... oh, I don't know - The Breakfast Club, Old School, American Pie, Animal House, Feris Bueller, Camp Nowhere, and, um, just about every other teen / college / misfit adolescent movie ever made.

Here, though, even the paint-by-numbers stuff just feels kinda off. For example, the movie has a really strong anti-education message that to me was really off-putting. Sure, it's always funny to see Lewis Black (here as a bitter ex-professor) go off on his usual, quiveringly pissed-off, fight-the-man diatribes. But Black's usual stuff is mixed in with this message of "Hey kids, college sucks. You learn a bunch of useless crap when what you should really be learning about is how to slack off and waste time." It'd be funny if this idea was played solely for laughs, but the movie starts to get really preachy in its own weird way and doesn't let up. The capper has to be the big, aforementioned "big speech scene," where Justin Long, as our hero, B, goes on, and on, and on, about why his fabricated college (South Harmon Institute of Technology -- aka S.H.I.T. -- get it? get it?) is actually deserving of being accredited. Again, it would be pretty funny if the course list, including things like "Rocking Out" and "Math-terbation" was just there to be funny, but we're actually supposed to be agreeing with B and saying "yeah, this guy has a point." It's not even like, say, Billy Madison, where Adam Sandler's climactic speech at the end is a satire of other big movie speeches, or in Not Another Teen movie, which also mocked said big speeches (as well as all the other conventions of teen movies ...). Too many elements of Accepted are not played up as absurd or whatever, instead there are way too many sitcom-y moments that would feel more at home on Saved By the Bell: The College Years, than on a big screen, college-comedy.

Still, there is plenty to like here. The side characters in particular have a ton of funny little moments, where the true potential of what this movie COULD have been is glimpsed. There is a lot of comedic talent here in the supporting actors, and its too bad that that talent isn't fully embraced.

So all in all, it's a decently funny movie, but one that's built on a dumb premise that isn't taken to the absurd extremes needed to make it work.

My Grade: C

Alright, I'm out. It's been a crazy day, and I. Am. Outta Heeeeeeeeeeere.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Talladega Nights

I really enjoy Will Ferrell ... SOMETIMES, usually when he's doing outrageous characters. When he's acting as an extension of his regular Will Ferrell persona, I can't say I'm that big of a fan. Some of the stuff that other people find hilarious, I don't really get. I always hated the Cheerleaders on SNL, and I couldn't stand the organ-players sketches. I loved Harry Kerry, Robert Goulet, James Lipton, him and Rachel Dratch as the crazy professor "lovers", and of course, Cowbell. But when Old School came out, and everyone was all into Will Ferell, I didn't quite get it. It was an OKAY movie, but not that great. However, I loved Elf, and then Anchorman was pretty hilarious. So I guess what I'm trying to say is: Will doing Anchorman-style deadpan humor = very funny. Will doing over-the-top frat-packish humor = kinda annoying. Luckily, Talladega Nights is, mostly, the GOOD, funny brand of Will Ferell.

Basically, this is just a really fun movie. It reminded me of a cross between the sincerity and affectionate redneck satire of King of the Hill combined with the irreverence and false bravado of Anchorman. It doesn't really rank as a classic comedy, and takes a lot of shortcuts with its plot and characters, but it has enough laughs to easily justify the price of a movie ticket.

I mean, for one thing, the supporting cast is great. Let me do a quick run through:

Gary Cole (Office Space) - very funny as Ricky's deadbeat racing Dad
John C Reilly - pretty much the funniest character in the movie - most actors would make you want to shoot them for saying "Shake n Bake" 5 billion times in one movie - Reilly makes you love it.
Jane Lynch (Best in Show) - one of the best comedic actresses out there, she's great as Ricky's mom
Sacha Baron Cohen - What can you say? We're talking about Ali G here. Cohen is never as funny as the gay, French racecar driver / villain Jean Girard as he is as Ali G, Borat, or Bruno, but he crafts a memorable antagonist who has some of the film's funniest moments.
Amy Adams - shows some legit acting chops and has some scene-stealing moments as Ricky's assistant / love-interest.

And man, the kids in this movie are pretty hilarious as well. The younger one in particular gets off a ton of great lines.

So yeah, this is a funny movie, but structurally it definitely feels a little rushed. There's a ton of characters, and a lot of the character arcs occur really quickly, so that even when they are deliberately absurd (John C Reilly moving into Ricky's house and taking up with his wife hours after Ricky is hospitalized), they still seem a bit off. The humor walks the line between being organic to the plot and left-field absurd, but mostly it works, in the same vein as Anchorman or The 40 Year Old Virgin. But like I said, some of the randomness here feels more the result of poor pacing and structure than purely part of the joke.

As a comedy it's funny - to me it isn't as memorable as Nacho Libre, and not quite as good of a Will Ferell vehicle or as smart of a parody as Anchorman, but still easily among the better comedies to come out this year. Compared to the lame You, Me, and Dupree, it is on another plateau of comedy prowess, and this one's laugh ratio blows Owen Wilson's as Dupree out of the water. This one is very, very solid - probably not one you'll revisit over and over, but at least upon first viewing you'll get plenty of laughs.

My grade: B+

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

And I Ra-a-an: Miami Vice Review, and Other Random 80's Nostalgia

Well, after missing not a one, but two free screenings of Miami Vice, I was frustrated to say the least and itching to just see the freaking movie already. So yesterday, after bolting from work, running to Subway, eating in the car and then heading down to Universal, I get there only to find out the screening is once again completely full. But I would not be deterred. I called up some friends and was off to the AMC Burbank, where I did have to plonk down $9, but at least I was treated to a huge screen and a preview of Borat to boot. Man, that movie looks hilarious. Borat rules. On the other hand, Rocky Balboa has the stupidest premise ever. I wouldn't even mind another Rocky movie if it had some kind of inventive plotline that didn't necessarily involve rocky in a boxing ring. But a fight between a 60 year old Rocky and some young guy, set up because of a virtual battle in a videogame? WHAT? That's like if the new version of NBA Live or whatever determined that Bill Russell would beat Shaq one on one if they bothe went at it in their primes. I don't think you'd see Bill Russell come out of retirement to put that theory to the test - that's why videogames exist - fantasy fullfillment. So yeah, the new Rocky looks very underwhelming. Children of Men though, that one looks really cool, even if it is really similar to Y: The Last Man in premise.

Anyways ...


Here's a movie that I can see many people pretty much dismissing without giving it a shot. Because although I can't say I'm very familiar with the Miami Vice TV show, it is pretty obvious that aside from the names of the characters, this movie is nothing at all like the pastel-tinged, pop-music showcase that was the TV hit. But the movie still has a legitimacy factor, since it is done by the show's original creator, Michael Mann. And here you get the sense that Mann wanted to demolish the campiness of the original show in one fell swoop. This certainly isn't anything like Starsky and Hutch ...

What it is is a plain and simple Michael Mann movie. If you saw Collateral, you know what to expect, to a degree. This movie is all about the look, the style, the ambiance - the glow of neon in the nighttime cityscape, the gleam of water smashed by a speeding boat, the feeling of motion. This is one BADASS looking movie. Every shot is silky smooth, every cut effortless. Every single frame seems to have some visual element that pops. Like Collateral, the digital cinematography gives everything a hyper-real, cold and distant look - perfect for telling stories of guys who are equally cold and distant, immersed in an unforgiving life that allows for little other than the constant need to focus on the task at hand.

And the focus, here, is not on the plot. It's simple enough - an undercover drug bust that twists out of control. But unlike your standard action flick, Miami Vice, like many of Mann's other works, has that added edge to it, that existential aspect that really makes you study these guys and wonder what makes them tick. I really appreciate that about this movie - you're never given any extraneous information, never bogged down with plot overload - we are just put right there in the moment. Sure, it's a little jarring at first, but it makes for a different and more immediate movie experience than we are usually given. The movie really works at presenting an overriding theme without ever really putting it right there on the table. Kind of like the best episodes of 24 - we are led to ponder what the sacrifices are that these characters make for their jobs, to wonder how they can live with themselves in a world of such moral ambiguity and personal tragedy, how they can keep on going even though they really have nothing to gain. Mann throws in little snippets of dialogue, little moments that accentuate the tragedy of the film (okay, so some of the extended love scenes are a not exactly the most what you'd call little moments ...) - but the plot's focus is always on the Mission, even though a dark cloud of lingering doubt and hopelessness is there the whole time.

Colin Farell and Jamie Foxx are basically just required to look badass and brood a lot, and they do that pretty well. They turn up the intensity when needed, and they get the job done. Really though, despite the star power here, this is the director's movie, and the actors do a good job of blending in and never overshadowing that fact. I also, mostly, enjoyed the dialogue in the movie, which could be pretty heavily stylized at times but I found to be entertaining and fun to follow along with.

I also thought the music was pretty damn cool. I've heard some complaints about the soundtrack, and I'm sure it was disappointing for some who were expecting some 80's throwbacks and whatnot (though that end-credits cover of Genesis was pretty awesome). But you could tell that a ton of care went into the music of this movie, and a lot of times I found myslef tapping my foot to the pulsating beats that helped accentuate the action.

But the music, like most of the movie, is hard-driving. The action here is brutal, the dialogue laced with slick and sleazy characters trying to out-badass each other. The women here are powerful yet mystrious - Gong Li, I thought, was great in her part. Her broken English kind of accented her character - a bruised woman who has always had to try her hardest to assert herself and stake her claim in a world of tough guys with big guns.

Sure, this isn't a movie that needs to be revisited again and again. It's not one that blows you away with the intricacies of its plot or the nuances of its character. But for two hours it immerses you in a world of crime and violence, of neon-lit hotels and swaying palm trees, of speedboats and nightclubs, of men who exist for their dark missions and the women who at a moment's notice step into the shower with them (happens not once, but twice here ...). It's all over the top and crazy if you really think about it, but Michael Mann is dead serious, and if you let yourself get caught up in the world he creates, his sincerity is contagious.

Go, see this movie on a big screen with good sound, sit back, relax, enjoy. It's gritty, dark, violent, beautifully-shot, and one hell of a badass film.

My Grade: A-

What else is going on?

- Well, not too much. My big problem right now is that I CAN'T FIND MY NBC BADGE. Yes, this seriously sucks. I assumed this morning that I left it at the theater last night, but I called and they can't find it. Damn. Where could it be? This blows.

- And one final thought: Yesterday I blissfully wasted a lot of time watching old 80's cartoon intros on YouTube, and I came to a few conclusions:

1.) Buck O'Hare had one of the best themesongs ever.

2.) Turbo Teen had a legitamately freakish premise.

4.) Seemingly every other cartoon from my childhood involved two warring factions who somehow find themselves displaced in space/time, or else find the landscape of their eternal war changed by someone lost in space/time. See: Transformers, Dinosaucers, Dino Riders, He-Man, Captain N, et al.

5.) The Silverhawks had amazing character design and BADASS costumes. Themesong kicked ass as well.

6.) There sure were a lot of dinosaur-themed cartoons back then, many involving dinosaurs who could either a.) use military-grade weaponry, b.) were outfitted with military-grade weaponry, c.) could talk, or d.) knew how to rock and/or roll.

Oh man, 80's cartoons were amazing. I seriously feel bad for kids these days for missing out.

And on that note:


Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Dark F'N Knight!

Well, WB finally let a few details slip on the sequel to Batman Begins, and, I have to say, I am loving the direction that the new BATMAN flick is going in.

a.) The Title - If you haven't heard, the new flick is going to be called, simply, "The Dark Knight." The term "Dark Knight" defines everything that separates THIS version of Batman from the old. This isn't the Adam West Batman, nor the Superfriends Batman, and sure as hell not the Joel Schumaker Batman. What images does "Dark Knight" conjure? I immediately think of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, of Neal Adams and Jim Aparo, of the Animated Series. Basically, Dark Knight strikes all the right chords. Sweet.

b.) The Writers - I am very curious about the fact that the movie is apparently being written by Christopher Nolan's brother Johnathan, based off a story by Chris Nolan and David Goyer. Goyer of course is a comic guy, but tends sometimes to be too comic-booky for his own good (witness the Blade movies, certain scenes in Batman Begins). But it might be cool to have a different hand guiding the script, especially if said hand is one half of the team responsible for Memento - still one of my all time favorite movies.

c.) Heath Ledger as the Joker - After giving this one some thought, I like it. Sure, I don't KNOW if Heath has what it takes to play perhaps the greatest fictional villain ever created, but I see potential. And, most importantly, I'm happy they didn't go with someone who is "funny," like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler or any of the other cringe-inducing rumors that have occasionally popped up. The Joker needs to be played first and foremost by an ACTOR, who can convince us that he is possibly the most insane, twisted, creepiest mutha there is - the badguy who the OTHER badguys tell stories about when they want to scare each other silly. Ledger seems to have some decent acting chops - I mean, he WAS nominated for an Oscar this past year, and he seems to have the right look - brooding, slightly crazed, slightly mad, to pull it off. Paint the guy's face white, dye his hair green, have him do some messed-up stuff and you have yourself a classic rendition of the Joker. I know, the tendency is to want to jeer this casting choice, but this could be really cool.

Now have Nolan recruit his old Memento running-buddy Guy Pierce to be Harvey Dent, and maybe throw in Brittany Murphy or Niaomi Watts as Harley Quinn, even if it's only a small role (though adopting some elements of "Mad Love" would be cool), add two parts Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and we're in business.

Can't wait.