Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Boys and girls of every age
Wouldn't you like to see something strange?
Come with us and you will see
This, our town of Halloween
This is Halloween, this is Halloween
Pumpkins scream in the dead of night
This is Halloween, everybody make a scene
Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright
It's our town, everybody scream
In this town of Halloween
I am the one hiding under your bed
Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red
I am the one hiding under yours stairs
Fingers like snakes and spiders in my hair
This is Halloween, this is Halloween
Halloween! Halloween! Halloween! Halloween!

Greetings, o' ghostly guests. May your day be filled with fearsome frights, strange scares, spine-tingling thrills ... and may you have a hauntingly, horrifyingly Happy Halloween!

Yep, I'm now a long way removed from the days of donning a lame costume, five layers of sweatshirts on my parents' behest, and walking around the streets of Bloomfield in search of candy. But even if I now have to buy my own candy, and even if I'm in 75 degree California weather, it's still Halloween, baby.

But like I said yesterday, tonight I trade the dark gloom and eerie glow of Halloween for the bright lights of the big city - because I'm bringin' the SHOWTIME back to Los Angeles, as me and a veritable wolfpack of blodthirsty b-ballaz head to the hallowed ground of the Staples Center to witness NBA Opening Night - Lakers vs. Suns - THIRD ROW, so we can be LIVE and UP-CLOSE as STEVE NASH does the MONSTER MASH and drives a stake on the hardwood through the dastardly Lakers, as a full moon rises in the night sky of Hollyweird. So good ... it's most definitely SCARY.

So look for us on TNT - tonight, 10:30 pm ET / 7:30 pm PT - if things get crazy I may just have to step onto the court myself and show these "pros" how we things get things done, IBA-style.

- As yet another way to get myself in the Halloween spirit ... I've finally started reading the WALKING DEAD series - a critically acclaimed post-apocalytic Zombie epic by writer Robert Kirkman. So far I've finished Volume 1, and can attest that the series lives up to the hype. While the dialogue can be a bit over the top at times, the genius of Kirkman's work is that he puts character first and horror second, so that when the scares do begin, it's all the more terrifying because the characters are so vividly realized. Anyone looking for a bit of graphic fiction that is a little different should definitely, ahem, sink their teeth into The Walking Dead

- Over on IGN they have a pretty sweet article ranking the all-time top 25 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segments. A good read but, um, where is 3-D Homer on there? Has anyone seen that movie Tron? No, no, no, no, yes - I mean - no. Check it out: http://tv.ign.com/articles/742/742680p1.html
Mmmm .... forbidden donut

- When it comes to scary TV, I've always had a soft-spot for classic horror-coms like The Munsters and The Addams Family. There's just something about horror and comedy that goes together like peanut butter and chocolate, says I. Mmmm ... Reeses Pieces .... But, um, anyways ... as is well-known to anyone who reads the blog, I am a huge fan of Chris Carter's X-Files and Millenium, and I am also a huge scifi anthology fan, particularly when it comes to in my view, perhaps the greatest TV show of all time, The Twilight Zone. And who can forget kids' classics like It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, all those classic Looney Tunes Halloween shorts ... And, dammit all, who doesn't love the classic Family Matters episode where Steve Urkel dressed up as Superman, but he and Laura got caught as hostages in a bank robbery, and Carl Winslow had to save the day, and Steve felt bad because he wasn't a real hero like Carl ...? Oh man, now THAT is good TV.

Now, since I do consider myself somewhat of a Twilight Zone afficianado (I wrote a 30 page paper on the show as a reflection of post-war America in college), and since the Twilight Zone isn't always known for horror, but more so straight sci-fi, I present to you:

The 5 SCARIEST ever TWILIGHT ZONE episodes:

(and no, I can't list Nightmare at 20,000 Feet - the William Shatner-meets-Gremlin classic, just doesn't do it for me like these other eps)

5. "Twenty Two" - When a woman is hospitilized for fatigue, she has a recurring dream in which she visits the hospital morgue, and a creepy nurse greets her with the chilling invitation - "Room for one more ...". The dream eventually proves to foreshadow a real-life plane crash. Man, that woman saying "Room for one more" gets me every time. This ep is one of the grandfathers of all "dream becomes reality" type horror

4. "To Serve Man" - If you don't know the secret of this classic episode, let's just say that those 7 ft tall aliens are not exactly as friendly as they seem ... While this ep has a somewhat silly conceit behind its big twist ending, you can't deny how classic that final revelation is. I love it

3. "Night Call" - An elderly woman keeps receiving strange, ghostly phone calls, seemingly from her dead husband. You know, most attempts at making technology seem scary come off as hokey in my book -- but this look at otherworldly phone calls is genuinely creepy. To add to its eerie factor, it was preempted from its original airdate by of all things, the Kennedy assasination
2. "The Invaders" - With this classic bit of opening Rod Serling narration, this truly trippy episode begins:

"This is one of the out-of-the-way places, the unvisited places, bleak, wasted, dying. This is a farmhouse, handmade, crude, a house without electricity or gas, a house untouched by progress. This is the woman who lives in the house, a woman who's been alone for many years, a strong, simple woman whose only problem up until this moment has been that of acquiring enough food to eat, a woman about to face terror which is even now coming at her from the Twilight Zone

This almost wordless, creepy tale has a classic Twilight Zone twist ending, but the real meat of it is how it so elegantly plays on our fears of the small, the insect, the alien, the intruder ... just awesome.

1. "The Howling Man" - I love this episode, and it still creeps me out to this day. A stranded traveler finds his way into a strange monastary, where a group of creepy-looking monks provide him shelter and rest, with one stipulation -- no matter what the man hears, no matter what happens, do NOT free the man who is being kept prisoner by the monks. As the nights go on, the howls and cries of the prisoner haunt the guest, and when the two talk, the prisoner is utterly convincing in his conviction that he has been wrongly imprisoned. Of course, he finally convinces the man that he should be freed, but little does the man know what evil he will unleash -- because, kept in that cell, by those monks in their remote castle, was the Devil himself! Great, great, great stuff


- Last night's PRISON BREAK, again, did a pretty good job of kicking ass. While over the top as usual, the intensity in many of the scenes was great, and the interaction between Scofield and W. Fichtner's character was awesome, even if Michael did look pretty goofy the entire ep in those horn-rimmed glasses. The one weak link here were the Burrows father and son fugitive team, as, man, there was some clunk dialogue between the two of them that was very unintentionally funny. "How long have you known about girls?" Haha, come on, that was just cringe-worthy. Otherwise, good stuff

My Grade: B+

- Didn't watch HEROES yet, and to be honest, even though I liked last week's ep, I still am not really into the show. It's going to have to REALLY kick things into overdrive if it wants to stay on my radar once 24 comes back in a few months

- Will be taping GILMORE and VERONICA MARS tonight - look forward to checking out the Halloween-themed ep of VM


Well, it looks like we've reached the end of the road. Only eat wrapped candy. Don't cavort with transdimensional transsexual vampires. Walk softly and carry a big stake. Load up your squirt gun with holy water or else face the wrath of an undead Kiefer Sutherland. Beware of werewolves, therewolves, and overly large ladies of the night dressed as nauseatingly naughty nurses. Watch out for ghouls, ghosts, and Mark Foley (if you happen to be a 16 year old congressional page). Sayonara, so long, and I bid you .. . farewell

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Zombies Ate My Blog - NBA hype, Good Comedy vs. Bad Comedy, and MORE

- Word to your moms, I came to drop bombs. What up? Back from a fun pre-Halloween weekend and ready for some craziness in the week ahead. Tommorow, me and three big-time ballaz head to Staples for THIRD ROW seats for NBA opening night - Lakers / Suns, baby. G-Money, Kaiser Roll, and Coach Carter will become honorary members of Danny Basketball's Blue Team, IBA-style, as we cruise VIP into the Lakeshow and singlehandedly bring tha' Showtime back to Los Angeles. Watch out, Jack, there's a new Hollywood b-ball fan in town, and this town may not be big enough for the both of us. Kobe. Nash. Amare. Live on TNT, 10:30 pm ET, 7:30 pm West Coast - look for the four of us front and center - tommorow night.

- Halloween weekend was a good time ... Friday some friends and I ordered some pizza and revisited the Tarantino-penned horrorfest known as From Dusk Till Dawn. Saturday I headed down to Manhattan beach to join in with Mr. S Green's Halloween festivities, live from his beachside apartment. At Sean's and in various other local locales, we saw all kinds of crazy costumes, from superheroes to mustachioed Kazhak reporters to all manner of she-devils, cat-women, gold-diggers, and other creatures of the night. Sunday I mostly took it easy, but did get back into the Halloween spirit with a viewing of Sam Rami's classic Evil Dead. Unfortunately I didn't come up with much of a costume, other than re-donning my Clark Kent getup from last Halloween (which, actually, was quite the popular outfit around Manhattan Beach this weekend ...), but hopefully I'll be able to assemble something more original for next week's Pasadena quasi-Page O Ween bash.

- Speaking of Borat, while I can't find fault in anyone choosing to dress as everyone's favorite Eastern-European iconoclast for Halloween, I am getting a liiiiittle bit fatigued with all of the Borat-bandwagoners who are popping out of the woodwork of late. That includes Universal, who recently paid Sascha Baron Cohen something to the tune of $42 million for the rights to make a Bruno movie. I have to wonder if this could be a collossal mistake ... I mean, I think the ADL may have been right to an extent in its criticism of Borat -- the average person just laughs at his accent and funny look - do most people even GET the real satire behind the character? When people look at Borat, they see a lovably goofy eccentric foreigner. When people look at Bruno, they will see ... a flamingly gay Austrian, which may not equal box office gold. But, I guess I shouldn't complain, as a Bruno movie could be pretty hilarious, though I'd rather just see a REAL Ali G movie in the same fiction-meets-reality style of Borat.

In any case, I will be first in line this weekend for the Borat movie, baby. Yes, I long ago drank the Borat Kool-Aid, and ... I like!

- In other movie news, it's official - Bryan Singer is back for a Superman Returns sequal. Man, I just don't see how this is a positive. Yes, X-2 was pretty damn good, but a lot of that came from the screenwriting - so let's hope that Warners brings in some fresh writers to add fun, excitement, and action to Singer's Superman universe. PLEASE do a comic villain that has not been seen before in the movies, and, man, I have no idea what to do about that kid ...

- Oh, one more item about basketball. Let me join in the choruses of fans who have paid tribute to the late great Red Aurbach. Red was a true original, and surely one of the great characters in the history of professional sports. The image of Red sitting courtside, chomping on his trademark cigar, never at a loss for a word of wisdom or two, is one that NBA fan will recall with fondness and a smile. His long and illustrious association with the Celtics was one filled not just with championships, but with dynasties. I don't know if any other man has ever been a part of so many winning teams within the framework of a single sports franchise. Without Red, a true part of sports history is missing, and the embodiment of Celtic Pride is no longer with us. One of the all-time greats - that much cannot be denied.

- On the TV Front, just a few quick things to cover:

- So I made sure to record SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE this weekend, as, a.) I had heard that there would be a Borat appearance, and b.) I am a sucker for SNL's annual round of Halloween-themed comedy (I still love the John Travolta-as-gay-vampire bit from way back). So I record SNL, and then on Sunday morning I'm reading a bunch of internet reviews that claim this ep to be one of the best SNL's in a while. Cool, I'm psyched ... until I actually watch the thing. Even if the Borat opener was mostly recycled material, it still made me laugh, so, okay, off to a better-than-usual start. Then, man, alllll down hill from there, until Robert Smigel stopped the bleeding with a hilarious Bush-centric TV Funhouse bit. So, an hour in, and the ONLY remotely funny bits have been provided by people putside of the regular SNL writing staff ... NOT a good sign. The one other saving grace for this lame excuse for comedy was the Will Forte Senator bit on Weekend Update, which I admit was pretty hilarious. So we had funny stuff from Borat and Smigel, one good Will Forte bit on Weekend Update, and ... every actual SKETCH was the suck, despite host Hugh Laurie doing his best to liven things up (though his well-intentioned protest song bit ultimately fell flat). Man, not good, not good at all. The SNL powers-that-be should be thanking the comedy gods that Smigel yet again saved this trainwreck with his reliably awesome brand of subversive humor.

My Grade: C

- But I didn't have to look far to appease my hankering for good comedy. I also had last week's Comedy Central special, Night of Too Many Stars, geared up to watch after being put on the backburner due to lack of time to sit back and take in this benefit comedy show. But man, what a difference the right talent makes. Not only did this special have Borat, in a much fresher bit than he had on SNL, but it had about 20 other comedians showing why they are the best in the biz. I'm talkin' Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carrell, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Martin Short, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Will Ferell, Jack Black, Will Arnett, Triumph, and many more. Damn! It was great to see rarely-seen performers like Myers and Seinfeld tear it up. I mean, Seinfeld started in about cell-phones, and I kind of cringed at the thought of so-five-years-ago cell phone humor, as did, I think, the live audience. But within minutes, Seinfeld began firing on all cylinders to the point where it was hard to imagine anything being funnier than the quirks of cell phone usage. Son of a bitch - amazing. Between the vintage Seinfeld stuff, Borat doing his thing, Mike Myers as an eccentric billionaire, Will Ferrell as Robert Goulet, Gervais making a crack about Carell, Carell meowing like a cat for 5 straight minutes, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog singing a side-splitting ode to washed up celebrity punchlines, and Stewart doing a great job as MC, this was the definition of "bringing the funny." Any comedy fan should catch a replay of this special or download it on I-Tunes or whatever. Awesome stuff.

My Grade: A

- Okay, I'll be back very soon to turn some more Halloween tricks. Until next time ...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bride of FrankenBlog ...

What up?

Well, things are looking a bit up from yesterday. Soon after I posted yesterday's blog, I had a kinf of revelatory lunch at Universal Citywalk. As the day at work was pretty slow and uneventful, I gave myself a little longer for lunch than usual, and drove over to Citywalk just for the heck of it. I walked into the entranceway and for some reason, The good ol' Back to the Future theme just pumped me up. I was like "yeah! I work in entertainment!" And since that point, I've felt much calmer somehow. Didn't hurt that today, via a generous gift at work, I received four FREE third-row seats to Lakers-Suns on NBA opening night, this coming Tuesday! Wow! I mean, not exactly how I was anticipating on spending Halloween, but there's no way I would pass up a chance to go to a game of this magnitude, with seats that should put me somewhere between Jack Nicholson and Charlie Sheen. Plus, I've been a Suns fan since '93 when I became a diehard fan during the Barkley era, so while I will probably tone down my fandom for fear of getting shot or p'wned by Jack, I will have to work my contain my years of Laker hatred and Suns fandom. This is gonna be awesome. This weekend is still kind of up in the air, but that is much easier to swallow now that I have this to look forward to on Tuesday.

Up until now, I've been to one Knicks exhibition game in Hartford, and a handful of Celtics games while at BU - the highlight of which was definitely a first-round Celtics-Pacers playoff game in which I got to see one of my heroes, Reggie Miller, perform up close and personal. But, the Celtics have been so crappy these last few years (okay, more like last 10 years ...), that the building formerly known as the Fleet Center lacked much excitement or buzz when the Celtics came to play. Going into Staples for a Laker game is like walking into enemy territory, but the buzz should be huge for opening night, especially if Kobe (hate him), is able to play.

I've hated the Lakers for years now. I was actually a fan growing up of the latter days of the showtime era, and always was a big Magic fan, and really rooted for him during his mid-90's comeback years. But then things quickly turned sour when the Kobe-Shaq era began. The Lakers time and again helped dash my hopes that Charles Barkley would make it to the finals, with the '99 playoffs being especially bitter - as Shaq, Kobe, and Glen Rice prevented Barkley and the Rockets from advancing to the Finals. Since then, my hatred for the Lakers has just multiplied as they became a dynasty - all the while being a totally unlikable bunch of whiners and egomaniacs, Kove worst of all. I've always hated Kobe and his Jordan-wannabe antics, and he doesn't impress me at all as a human being. The only thrill I've gotten from the Lakers' championship runs was that somehow, vets like Mitch Ritchmond managed to grab a championship ring through those Laker title wins.

But yeah, going to Staples, being there in the bigtime in the front row under the spotlights, on NBA opening night, Suns vs. Lakers ... well, it should be awesome.

Damn, I've got to get around to playing some basketball.

What else?

- I thought last night's SMALLVILLE was the best ep of the season to date. A cool, multi-layered story brought the spotlight on a young Lex Luthor, and I really enjoyed the flashbacks to his and Ollie Queen's time at "Excelsior" prep school (obviously a blend of Exeter and a nod to the Marvelous competition ... don't they know this is a DC show?). This was an especially geek-friendly episode, with nods to Gotham City, much talk about the Phantom Zone, a true team-up between Clark Kent and Oliver Queen, a bucnh of funny Lois-and-Clark moments, and even a character named Duncan Erlenmyer, which I can't confirm, but suspect is a little X-Files tribute on the part of the writing staff ... hmmm, I wonder? Anyways, Rosenbaum and Glover once again tore it up as the Luthors, and I just really enjoyed almost everything about this ep, with the exception of the somewhat underwhelming cliffhanger, which at first seemed to be about to reveal the presence of some bigtime supervillain, but ultimately just hinted at a return of the premiere's antagonist, Mariah, who I thought was pretty lame the first time around. Overall though, I had a blast with this latest ep.

My Grade: A -


- Well, this week saw the much-anticipated release of film director Richard Donner's run s writer of the monthly SUPERMAN comic, along with DC uber-scribe Geoff Johns, and second-generation artist Andy Kubert. So, what did I think? Well, overall, I am intrigued. I thought Johns and Donner nailed the Clark-Lois dynamic, and the brief scenes with Lex Luthor seemed spot-on as well - luckily, this seemed to be the kickass Lex we're used to from the comics and not the much lamer Lex from the movies - but the jury is still out on that one ... However, it was very jarring to see Superman in a crystal fortress talking to a holographic Jor-El as in the films - to this point no such thing has been scene in the mainstream comics, so it makes me wonder how much normal DC continuity will be tossed aside in favor of the movie versions of characters. But, for those of you who don't know ... the main crux of this story is that a young boy crashes to earth in a ship, from Kypton, and Superman adopts the boy and raises him as the Kents did him. Definitely enjoying the intro to this plotline so far, and undoubtedly the comic felt suitably cinematic thanks to the widescreen pencils of Kubert, who was solid, but whose style, overall, felt a bit scratchy and rough for this type of story. A good start that leaves many questions yet to be answered - very curious for the next issue.

My Grade: B+

- Also got my hands on the long, long, loooong-anticipated SEVEN SOLDIERS #1, the concluding chapter to writer Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers mega-event that began waaaay back in March 2005! Back then, I was sure that the opening chapter, Seven Soldiers #0, was one of the best standalone comics I'd read in years - it was moving, exciting, thought-provoking, smart, suitably crazy, and filled with amazing artwork courtesy of JH Williams III. As the months went on, I really enjoyed most of the follow-up Seven Soldiers miniseries, which had their ups and downs, but together wove a complex and intricate tale that promised to build to one hell of a finale. And now, after several months of delays, here it is - a giant-sized epic finale to one of the best and most ambitious comics events ever attempted. But how did this much-anticipated ish turn out? Hmmm ... hard to say -- One thing is clear, Morrison is in full-on CRAZY mode here - there's a ton going on, and you'll be alternatively saying "huh?" and "wow!" as you read -- this is one overloaded, psychedelic, mind-tripping piece of graphic fiction. But wow, JH Williams was on fire here - he employs several art styles, one for each of the 7 soldiers, and his work is simply mind-blowing - some of the work here is just off the charts, and it's amazing how Williams mimics the art from each of the 7 miniseries that preceded the book, yet makes each chapter his own as well. As for the story, like I said, it's craziness and a bit incoherant at times. Enjoyable, but in that unique - hm, that was interesting, but I'm not sure what the hell happened - kind of way. I would have liked a more straightforward conclusion, but still, this is one that simply has to be read to be believed, even if it is perhaps an example of Morrison loosening his grip on reality just a bit too much.

My Grade: B+

Alright, I'm out. Happy Halloween weekend! CYA.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Night of the Living Blog! A Monster Mash of Rants and Reviews.

As I've said before, the life of the working man isn't far too removed from that of an undead, brain-craving zombie. Know what I mean?

It's been an interesting week thus far. Work has been very busy, as a few very time-consuming projects kept me staring bleary-eyed at my computer screen for hours on end, typing 10-point letters into a 38,000 column Excel spreadsheet. Good times, huh? But, on the other end of the spectrum, yesterday was pretty interesting. I headed over to the Universal tower for a meeting between our department and a few key people at Apple. The interesting thing was that one of the Apple reps in particular, I had been dealing with on the phone since I began this job several months ago, but had never met in person. So, yeah, that kind of meeting is always interesting - to be able to put a face to the people you speak to on a daily basis.

Otherwise, I feel like I'm just kind of cruising along, doing okay but in need of a big breakthrough. I feel like 95% of the forces of the universe are conspiring to keep me going along on the same path I am now, mildly content workin' the 9 to 5. But the 5%, all of which is basically me and my goals, are screaming to hit the brakes and make a change before it's too late. Especially lately, where my job has become more about number-crunching than ever before. That's the grim reality of all this New Media hype - companies talk about sweeping change and digital revolutions and all that, but in the end it's simply all comes back to the almighty dollar.

So yeah, I still have a great interest in I-pods and new media and streaming video and all that. But as much as it interests me my main fascination is with the content itself - not how it's delivered. Good content is good content, whether its on a TV, computer screen, or cell-phone. And what I've wanted to do all along is to be the one creating this content - telling stories, creating characters, putting it all out there. The problem is that 95% of the forces out that don't want to see that happen. I'm talking about the needs for a steady income, a steady job, and health insurance. I'm talking about an industry that would rather keep you out than pull you in. I'm talking about the legions of aspiring writers and creators out there who are blessed with the freedom to live off their trust funds while penning the Great American Screenplay by the poolhouse while sipping a martini. And I'm talking about the general malaise that comes from working in a side of the industry where every TV show is an "intellectual property", where every studio is a "content stakeholder," where crap is routinely praised and the good stuff flies under the radar.

And that's my rant for the day ... thank you for bearing with me.

- Now, I've got a ton of stuff to catch up on, but don't worry I'll keep things to the point ...


- Okay, this week's LOST was a kickass hour of TV, no getting around it. The tension level was off the hook, the actors all turned in great performances, and once again I was on the edge of my seat. But, let's face it ... the cliffhanger of this episode was yet ONE MORE mystery that initially knocks you out of your seat, but ultimately, will we ever get any resolution? I mean, so there's two islands? Wow, cool ... but I have no real reason to care. This isn't one more piece of the puzzle - about 15 different puzzles have been thrown all over the floor and mixed up into some crazy puzzle salad. I pretty much just watch this show for the characters now, much as it pains me to say. But despite that nagging feeling of frustration, again, this was an awesome ep in nearly every way. Josh Halloway is quickly surpassing Terry O'Quinn as the breakout actor on the show. The Snake Plissken-esque injection of doom was a nice plot device, though I'm glad it was a fake-out, as ten episodes of Sawyer beeping every time he looked at Kate would have been kinda annoying. But there was so much to like here - Jack turning the tables on Juliette, planting in her the seeds of doubt, the Others' reluctant emplyment of Jack's medical skills -- all riveting stuff, and I am seriously excited for next week's episode. Is this all going anywhere though? Who knows, and at this point, is it even worth it to speculate?

My Grade: A -

- Speaking of speculation, I totally called NBC's decision to move Scrubs and 30 Rock to Thursdays, for the record. I think that the all-comedy block will really help NBC differentiate itself from the competition, and it just makes sense to pair up a show like 30 Rock with other comedies of similar sensibilities.

- Too bad though that 20 Good Years is likely done for ... not that the show was all that great, but Tambor and Lithgow are each deserving of a quality platform for their talents. I also hate that the execs will look at this and say "see, this proves that a show can't be about people over 35." No, all it proves is that a comedy must be funny.

- This past week's VERONICA MARS was another quality episode that still felt a bit lacking. I miss the first two season's noirish atmosphere, hyper-real setting, and surprisingly dark plotlines. The dialogue is as sharp as ever, but everything just seems toned down a bit. On the other hand, it was pretty crazy seeing Gilmore's Logan meet Veronica's Logan in this ep (okay, the guy from Gilmore wasn't playing Logan, but still), and my interest was definitely piqued by the Aaron Echols-centric storyline. I think that's part of what's missing from this season - that dual dynamic where by day, Veronica is out helping her friends and classmates with their various small-scale mysteries, but by night she's sleuthing on cases that are much bigger, more dangerous, where by all accounts she should be out of her league. Anyways, I enjoyed the ep, just hoping that this show has a chance to be as good on CW as it was on UPN.

My Grade: B

- Speaking of GILMORE, I really enjoyed this week's ep. I thought the entire dinner scene was not only well done but hilarious, with Emily of course thinking that Lorelai's moody silence was just her being unusually pleasant. I also loved Rory's dinner with Logan and his British friends - just great stuff all around and an episode that reaffirmed how good this show can be.

My Grade: A

- If anything, last week's SMALLVILLE was a lot of fun. However, the incosistency in the cast really hampers things, as on one hand we have Johnathan Glover and Michael Rosenbaum turning in typically great performances as the two Luthors, and on the other we have the blonde guy playing Oliver Queen with all the acting skill of the Eifell Tower. It's too bad, too, because Queen / Green Arrow is being written in a pretty fun / enjoyable way. But man, this show sure gets some good milage out of the John Williams Superman theme ...

My Grade: B

- But awwwwww dayum, how awesome was this week's PRISON BREAK? Very awesome, says me. This was a KICKASS return for the show, which delivered a nonstop thrillride from start to finish. From Fichtner's interrogation, to the drowning scenes, to Doctor Tancredi being in all kinds of deadly jeapordy ... this was some good TV watchin'.

My Grade: A

- And holy motha of GRAVITAS, have you SEEN the trailer for the new season of 24?!?! Check it out online if you haven't, I can't wait until the Bauer Hour of Power returns in January.

- Speaking of 9 pm on Mondays ... I thought this week's HEROES was the best overall episode yet, though I am still turned off by a few of the actors and characters. Anyone who knows their superheroes can see some of the twists and turns here coming a mile away, but, I really like how the show seems to be getting more and more fun each week. Dark is good, but in this genre you need moments of awe and wonder or you're just left with a bunch of talking heads. Please NBC, move this show AWAY from 24. Because pwers or not, Jack Bauer would whip all these guys' asses.

My Grade: B

- And how about NBC's other Monday night show? You know, STUDIO 60? Well, this show rides a fine line with me. With the pilot, I was seriously impressed. I think that Judd Hirsch's opening diatribe set a tone for the show that has not been followed through on. In that pilot, things were presented with a surreal, Network-like flair for the melodramatic. Since then, the show has devolved into a cross between a standard, character-based soap and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. And sometimes, it works, but many times, the show is just too preachy, too condescending, and too pretentious for a program that takes place at a sketch comedy show. Take this week's ep, where the writer leads his out-of-it parents around the Studio 60 stage. Every moment of those scenes was so heavy-handed and overdone that I could hear the sound of TV's truning off across America as I watched. As was the almost painful-to-watch sublplot of the old man who wanders into the studio and turns out to be not only a WWII vet, but a oldtime comedy as well. The sheer obnoxiousness of these scenes was hard to contain. In any other setting, some old guy who wandered away from his retirement home would be a non-story. But look! Even though these characters are big-shot TV producers, they can take a minute of their time to talk to an old man! Aren't we impressed! I think the problem is that this show seems to pride itself on representing the pulse of pop culture and politics - but it's written by a guy who clearly doesn't know which way is normal. I mean, look at Matthew Perry's character - Perry does a great job, by the way, I think. But last episode there was some genuine emotion as he pined for his old flame. This week, Bradley Whitford tries to introduce him to a bunch of 18 year old numbskulls as a genuine means of helping his love-sick friend. What? And all the while, we are supposed to mock the dumb girls, while in fact we are thinking "god, these two 40-something guys are kind of pathetic for even talking to them. How can we root for them when they're being so sleazy?" And the whole thing with them hiring the black comedian sight unseen ... what? He made three semi-intelligent, not-very-funny jokes (apparently semi-clever observations are the same as comedy to Sorkin), and he's this young blue-chipper who with a little discipline will be the next, what, the nex Sorkin? As Chandler might say, can the show BE any more heavyhanded? It's too bad, because somewhere buried in this show is a smart, funny, cool look at comedy in America. But it's hard to admire the snappiness of the dialogue when so much of the show is simply so off-putting.

My Grade: C+

- So I've been hearing good things about Season 4 of THE OC ... I am definitely curious to see if Josh Schwartz can recapture some of that first season magic, so I'll check out the premiere in a few weeks.

- What's with all these good reviews for The Nine? EW named it one of their 6 must-see new shows this week, but I just don't see it. I feel like critics often look at a show and see a serious, adult tone, sharp writing, and by default say - oh, we've got a keeper! I mean look, you can have a good cast and nice dialogue, but if the show is about a bunch of people standing around watching paint dry, then count me out. The Nine has a totally uninteresting premise and despite a good cast, gives no real reason to care about the characters. Why would anyone want to commit an hour every week to see the stories of a bunch of people traumatized by a mysterious hostage situation? Give me island castaways, superheroes, spunky private eyes, or troubled southern California teens any day over this depressing mess of a show.

- Alright, I'm sure I'll get in another word or two before Halloween. Until then, keep things scary.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It's A Kind of (Strange) Magic: The Prestige, Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D, and MORE

What's up, party people? Back again on another oh-so-delightful Monday afternoon, ready to share with you the latest news and views from here in the middle of Hollywood.

I'll do this one Memento-style, and take you backwards through my last few days like my name was John G.

To start with, last night I saw The Prestige, and I have a lot of thoughts ...

... unfortunately most of my thoughts are actually questions, and most of those questions have to do with the specifics of the story, and if I were to get into said specifics it may in fact spoil the movie for any who haven't seen it. And since my ultimate thoughts on this movie include a plea for any and all of you to run out and see it if you haven't already, I don't really want to spoil it for you. Got it?


- Let's face it, The Prestige is a walking geekgasm of a movie. Batman, Wolverine, David Bowie, Scarlet Johansson. The director of Memento and Batman Begins. A Victorian London setting. Nikola Tesla. Magic. What's not to like? But those going into this movie expecting some kind of comic-bookish, Joel Schumacher-esque cluster#$%* are going to instead be presented with something much different. Something dark and twisted and haunting, that reminds you of something that Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman might have conjured up whilst in a particularly sinister mood. If anything, this movie will remind you of Christopher Nolan's own Memento - because, like that masterpiece, The Prestige is a winding, labrynthine movie - shifting timeframes and perspectives, building intensity as the movie methodically but powerfully leads you to its shocking final act. This isn't Harry Potter, people. The Prestige is one dark, messed-up, mind-$#$& of a movie.

To sum up without giving away too much, The Prestige centers around two stage magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, each apprenticed by the same mentor - a saavy veteran illusionist played by Michael Caine. While Bale is the one with the innate talent for magic, Jackman is the natural showman. While training for their own acts, Bale and Jackman act as audience plants for another magician, whose apprentice is Jackman's wife. During one performance, a water-tank trick goes awry, and Jackman's wife is killed. Jackman blames Bale, and a rivalry forms between the two magicians that spirals deeper and becomes increasingly more vicious. Things really reach a head when Jackman witnesses Bale perform a confounding trick known as the Transporting Man, which even to his trained eye seems impossible to pull off. Desperate to know the secret of Bale's trick, Jackman is led to the eccentric American inventor, Nikola Tesla - played by David Bowie.

What happens from there - well, that would be revealing too much ...

Suffice to say, a LOT happens. And you can't help but be enthralled as Nolan weaves yet another Memento-esque yarn, with each turn of the screw leaving your jaw hanging on the floor. This is an ambitious movie - from the way the narrative is framed to the spiralling structure to the scope and lofty implications of the plot - this is a movie that leaves you with profound moral and social questions flitting through your head as you leave the theater. But is it trying for too much? Does it drown under the weight of its own ambition? Honestly, it's very, very ahrd to say after only one viewing. I don't think there is any kind of consensus yet, as only repeat viewings will allow for the kind of scrutiny that this movie's plot demands.

To be honest, if you asked me right now what, exactly, happened in this movie, I'm not sure if I could tell you the correct answer. Already I've heard differing theories, contradictory interpretations of the various plot points. It's just too early to say if this movie is, in fact, an amazingly put-together mind-trip that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, or simply an only sem-decipherable riddle that doesn't lend itself to one particular narrative conclusion. I think that one of the big complaints about this movie will be that, while it started as a grounded character study of two magicians, it soon takes a sharp left turn into twilight-zone territory that never quite gels with the tone of the rest of the film. I think that criticism is valid. Unlike Memento, there seems to be a lot of extraneous stuff in this movie that ISN'T a part of the larger narrative puzzle. Some of the pieces don't "click" in the end. Unlike Memento, where the final scene is a grand "aha!" moment - The Prestige left me similarly breathless but also pretty confused. And it might be that this is a movie that can only be judged after multiple viewings - already I've re-examined certain scenes in my head and realized how they in some way fit into the larger picture. But some things still don't gel, like the relative ambiguity of Michael Caine's character, for example - whose side was he on - what was his motivation?

Anyways, forgetting the twists and turns of the plot for a moment - this film was pure enjoyment to watch in many ways thanks to the greatness that Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman brought to the precedings. Like the duo of Damon and DiCaprio in The Departed, there is something so natural yet exciting about seeing these two face off against one another. Bale in particular brings a Batman-like intensity to his role, and seeing him here brought my level of anticipation for The Dark Knight to a new level. I think Jackman is only slightly less interesting, maybe simply because he (and Johansson) have just been in SO many movies lately. In fact, The Prestige is an odd melding of the casts of Batman Begins and Woody Allen's Scoop - in any case, there's a lot of familiar faces here. But hey, if there's any role that Scarlett Johansson might have been born to play, it's that of a seductive, corset-clad magician's assistant - so, um, yeah, you won't hear me complaining about that one. And of course - Michael Caine - basically gravitas in a bottle, is great as always. Like I said, his character is tough to get a read on, but there's no denying what Caine brings to the performance.

Then, there is David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. I have to admit, I've always been fascinated not only with Victorian times, but with Tesla in particular. I remember I used to get these catalogs in the mail - you know, probably from subscribing to Nintendo Power or something. They had all kinds of stuff that thrills the imagination of a young boy - magician's kits, practical jokes, remote control cars, and books. I remember seeing in those catalogs these ads for books on Tesla - "Read the true story of the man who, over 100 years ago, discovered the secrets of teleportation, anti-gravity, and even time-travel!" Who was this guy, I remember thinking. Anyways, Tesla is a key figure in The Prestige, and played by David Bowie no less, sporting an oddball German accent looking appropriately creepy. I will say, there was something a bit jarring about Bowie's performance here - he definitely stood out amidst a cast and story that up until Tesla's introduction, was grounded in grim Victorian reality. Bowie as Tesla is really kind of an oddity in this movie, seemingly out of place, but in many ways I guess that's the point.

After reading all this, you're probably wondering what I actually thought of this movie. Well, as of now, there's no doubt in my mind that this is a must-see, a spectacular journey into the unknown. This movie is grim, disturbing - don't expect Jackman or Bale to be playing typically heroic characters - both magicians are driven, vicious, downright twisted people by the movie's end. But that's part of what is so captivating about The Prestige - it goes places that no other movie has gone, carrying out its plot to the absolute extremes - examining the grotesque implications of its characters actions in a manner both captivating and highly distrubing. I got the feeling that the people in my theater wanted to clap out of appreciation when the film ended, but were so stunned into meditative silence by the film's wrenching third act that most of us were just sitting there, trying to wrap our heads around what we had just seen. But is this movie a classic, or just an extremely ambitious but flawed attempt at creating a magical epic in the twisiting narrative style of Memento? Again, I can't say, not yet at least. Like I said, I'm still digesting what I saw, and still wondering how it will hold up to repeat viewings. For now, I would just say to go see it, because even if my grade doesn't reflect it (instead reflecting my latest train of thought, in which I almost love the movie but question certain aspects of its plot), this is one that, as the years go by, may indeed become a movie to revisit over and over again.

My Grade: A -

Now, continuing my backwards voyage through time, I take you back to last Thursday, when I got to attend the opening night of The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D at the El Capitan in Hollywood, thanks to a bunch of tickets made available on the cheap via Boston University. The scene was crazy, with hardcore Burton fans lined up dressed as their favorite characters from the film, and all manner of Disney-provided street performers walking and dancing around, as skeletons and other creatures of the night roamed in front of the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. Inside, as smiling pumpkins and other Halloween-themed decorations filled the halls and main auditorium, we were treated to a Q and A with a number of the personnel involved with the film, including the voice of Oogie Boogie, Ken Page, who did a live rendition of his featured song from the movie. Pretty cool ...


First of all, the 3-D technology used for this movie is amazing - definitely the best 3-D I've seen, in terms of the sheer clarity and sharpness of the images on screen. The screen at the El Capitan is fairly small compared to that of a big multiplex, but as the movie started I was amazed at how the 3-D effect seemed to make the entire screen pop out at you, giving the illusion that you were looking at a much bigger image than you actually were. Aside from the opening logos and intro, there weren't really any traditional "stuff popping out at you" style 3-D scenes, but the overall effect was incredible. The stop-motion animated puppets felt completely vibrant and real, and everything just took on a seamless, larger-than-life, totally immersive quality thanks to the depth of the 3-D visuals.

As for the movie itself - well, it's Nighmare Before Christmas - in my estimation one of the true modern classics in terms of family entertainment, and Tim Burton at the height of his mad-genious-like creative powers. The story is simple and immediately intriguing. The characters are instantly lovable and captivating and funny and just plain cool to look at. The songs mix the whimsical catchiness of classic Walt Disney with the breadth and pathos of the best broadway musicals. Finally, the movie, visually, is simply an unmatched work of art - the entire production bleeds with gothic style and drips with carefully-constructed atmosphere. The character design is perfect, timeless. Just from looking at this movie, the care, and heart, and precision and detail that went into every painfully and delicately arranged shot is just remarkable. Even after all these years - Nightmare looks and feels like nothing else that has come before or since.

If you live anywhere near a theater playing The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D, I can't think of any better way to usher in Halloween than by revisiting this newly-improved classic.

My Grade: A


- Man, so much stuff to catch up on. I still have to watch last week's Smallville and I've been meaning to watch my recorded Night of Too Many Stars that Comedy Central aired last week. All I've seen so far is the Borat segment, which is, predictably, gut-bustingly funny.

- Really liked both My Name Is Earl and The Office last week. The Office in aprticular had some simply hilarious sequences with Dwight's initiation for hapless former-temp Ryan. Dwight demanding that Ryan metaphorically wrestle his fears by fighting Dwight's cousing mose, decked out in a "Fear" t-shirt, had me dying of laughter. "Get in the coffin!" Bwahahaha .... hilarious. The Office is on a total roll with me lately ... I can't understand why more people aren't watching! Hey, at least it's the number 1 show on I-Tunes! In ya face, broadcast TV, I-Tunes users clearly have better taste than the typical TV-watching tube-zombie.

- I'm very curious to see what kind of episode Heroes comes up with tonight. I think the sheer cool-factor of last week's ending made many (me included), willing to ignore the fact that the rest of the episode was not exactly A-level material. So Heroes has raised its own bar a little, which is a good thing. But I hope it can build off of that momentum and not disappoint. We'll see. A random internet review I read said it best - it's like Hiro is the star of his own much cooler, much better show that somehow got downsized to simply being a subplot within the tapestry of Heroes. Let's hope the rest of the show catches up.

- Also curious about tonight's Studio 60. I thought last week's ep built a lot of positive momentum that looks to continue into tonight's installment, and the inclusion of Lauren Graham as a guest star can't hurt things. NBC needs to get this show to a different timeslot, pronto.

- I also never got a chance to write about last week's Locke-centric episode of LOST. To sum up, the episode totally captivated me for the first ten minutes or so. Locke's hallucinatory dream sequence was tres cool and was a definite TIVO moment, but it was all downhill from there. The flashbacks seemed to add an unnecessary additional layer to Locke's character, and didn't seem to tie organically into anything else about Locke's past that has been revealed to this point. Also, i think this show far too often falls back on meaningless conversations about faith and destiny in place of actual insight into characters or plot points. The entire search for Mr. Eko and the crazed polar bear was just so random and in many ways lame, as were the various explanations for what happened to the castaways caught in the hatch "implosion." Charlie was fine and acting like nothing had happened. Eko was randomly near death in a bear cave. Locke inexplicably couldn't speak for all of ten minutes. And Desmond was randomly wandering around naked on the island, raving like a lunatic (moreso than usual) and apparently gained the ablity to forsee the future? Whaaaa?!?! This ep exemplified many of the key recurring problems with Lost by just throwing about a dozen different concepts against the wall, seeing if they stick, and asking us to just throw all logic out the window and go along for the ride. Part of my disappointment with the ep probably stemmed from how much I've enjoyed previous Locke eps, but this was also undeniably an uneven and ultimately frustrating installment of Lost, a definite come-down after the relative high quality of the last few weeks.

- I am continuing to like 30 ROCK, and Tracy Morgan continues to make me laugh more than anyone on network TV not named Dwight Schrute. While the sitcom as a whole is still not completely gelling, as much of the cast seems to be lost in the shuffle, the humor has been spot-on. I mean, the NBC Page, in full uniform, smiling like a dope while being grinded on by an overeager female intern? Comedy gold. Yep, NBC Pages are inherently funny. As for 20 GOOD YEARS, I did get a few hearty chuckles from last week's ep, as the situational comedy veered into only-in-sitcomland-style craziness, with Lithgow and Tambor contemplating sharing a mutual love interest, going so far as to almsot have a threesome. You can imagine the zaniness that ensues ... EW this week had a funny little Love Him or Hate Him piece about Lithgow. Personally I'm a fan but can see how he can be annoying. But in the case of 20 Good Years, I think Lithgow's sheer enthusiasm and energy is what saves the sometimes uninspired comedy at play.

- Alright, that's all I've got for now. If you've seen The Prestige, hit me up and let me know what you make of the ending, it's one of those movies I'm chomping at the bit to discuss in detail. And with that, I say Abracadabra, and goodnight.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Quick Reviews: Veronica and Gilmore

Just some quick reviews for you here:


Overall, this was probably my favorite episode of the season to date. It was great to see Weevil back (even if he's apparently been hitting the donuts while in jail ...), and his presence made the episode feel a little more like classic Veronica Mars. Also, Ed Begley Jr. is always welcome on anything as far as I'm concerned, and he is a great addition to the cast as the Dean of Veronica's college and a great new foil for our main character. I agree with the fans who have complained about the changes to the show's formatting / editing style though - I miss the old format of having an extra-long cold open that drew you into the story before the old (good) theme song began to play and get you pumped up for the episode ahead. The newly remixed themesong is just so drab ... But, anyways, the dialogue here was just crackling, and there was a lot of good character interaction as well. Weevil had some great scenes with Keith Mars - it's too bad they didn't have more of a build up to his losing it and going ballistic on the crooks he was tailing - that would have been a cool scene if we had actually seen it after some build up, perhaps over a span of a few episodes. Well, I guess one thing you can't accuse this show of is Lost-style decompression. Also, I know that some people are critical of Logan acting like a jerk in this ep, which is supposedly out of character for him. I am fine with it though, as Logan has, mostly, been characterized as a jerk, and his recent star-crossed romance with Veronica has been an exception to his usually erratic behavior. Logan even said it in this ep - Veronica has a problem in falling for bad boys, so I think it's only natural for the real Logan to come out after theh oneymoon period of their relationship is over. So yeah - good episode, nice little mini mystery here as well as some good stuff that planted more seeds for plot threads to come. And hey, any show that repeats the "Larry, is this your homework?" scene from The Big Lebowski verbatim, yet does so totally in the context of the story, has attained a level of storytelling genious that you've gotta recognize. This still isn't hitting on the level of Season 1 or 2, but it's getting there.

My Grade: A -


Yes, this WAS easily the best episode's of Gilmore's season to date. After spending last weekend watching Edward Herrmann play a vampire mastermind in Lost Boys, I have a newfound respect for his acting range - but there's no denying that he completely owns as Grandpa Gilmore, and tonight he delivered yet another great performance. Kelly Bishop stole the show though as Emily Gilmore -- both her and Herrmann are so overdue for Emmy Awards it's not even funny. Overall, this ep felt by far the most natural of any ep since the move to the CW - the dialogue all felt on target, and the excahnges were practically overflowing with quotable lines. Paris was hilarious as always, and she even went on an extended rant about the Hartford Courant! Nice ... Also, I am probably in the very small minority of people who has grown to love Luke's daughter April. The young actress playing her is great, and I got a real kick out of her interactions with her hapless dad in last night's ep. Rory's encounter with the two artsy girls was pretty amusing as well ("genious!"). Excellent ep - good to see Gilmore getting back on track.

My Grade: A

Monday, October 9, 2006

You Talkin' To Me? THE DEPARTED Review and Much MORE

Back from the weekend, and not quite ready for another Monday. I'm telling you, the world is a scary place right now. North Korea testing nuke - yeah, I mean everyone on earth not named George W. saw this one coming, but the prospect of Kim Jong having the power to level a major city is not exactly pleasant. My already paranoid mind went into overdrive last night, as I fell asleep after staying up too late watching CNN and MSNBC, and had all these crazy dreams involving nuclear warfare. One in particular was really strange ...


I was at some special screening of the Borat movie, that for some reason was held at this huge high school somewhere. Before the movie, everyone was mingling on the football field having a good time. I saw Sascha Baron Cohen emerge in full Borat getup, and went over and started talking with him, joking about Kazakhistan and whatnot. Suddenly, Cohen breaks character and in his normal voice starts yelling expletives, and I was like what is going on? I look up and there's like 25 giant missles coming right towards us. I started running for shelter than woke up, moments before I was to be vaporized. Crazy huh?


So yeah, it's just a messed-up world sometimes. The entire concept of a nuclear arms-race is just totally absurd when you think about it (if you're not convinced, watch Dr. Strangeglove ...), and the fact that we've been in a prolonged war with Iraq while allowing an insane dictator to openly test a nuke is, similarly, fairly mind-boggling. And meanwhile, conservative Republicans are writing scandalous emails to 16 year old Congressional pages while preaching about family values. Lesson: don't mess with pages!

But while I'm moping about the seemingly impending nuclear apocalypse (hey, wonder if JERICHO will get bumped up in the ratings now?), a movie came out this weekend that was the perfect catharthic experience for those feeling nihilistic. Yep, I'm talkin' 'bout ...


Now this, my friends, is a movie. A movie with texture, with layers. A movie that it's okay to find flaw in, because it works on so many levels that it invites the kind of analytical criticism that a great novel or play warrants. Was this scene the best way to emphasize that theme? Was this character used as effectively as possible? Whatever the case, Scorcese is back, and he's darn sure given us something meaty to think about with his latest, The Departed.

So far, The Departed is up there with my best of the year to date. It's Scorcese's return to the dark, gritty, violent, world of organized crime, and any fan of movies knows that that means that one of the best director's of the last thirty years is making a return to the genre he does best - in other words, this is a cause for celebration.

Of course, we as filmgoers are lucky, because Scorsece has assembled an amazing cast here. Aside from the quality of the performances, which I'll get to in a minute, it is unspeakably exciting to see young actors like Damon, DiCaprio, and Wahlberg mix it up with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen. This movie has a real "passing of the torch" feel to it that gives it an added layer of weight and depth that is exciting to watch as a fan of these actors. It's like the film equivalent of watching an aging but still-kicking Jordan match up with a hungry rookie named Kobe.

But yeah, DiCaprio and Damon each turn in career-best performances here. While Damon will probably be a bit overlooked, as his character was written in a lightly more over the top manner, DiCaprio brought an emotional depth and scrappiness to his role that made it a very memorable, perhaps Oscar-worthy performance. But watching Damon and DiCaprio play off of one another, despite scants amount of actual screentime together, made for a classic cat and mouse game. The tension between their characters was palpable even when not in the same scene, up to and including a climactic moment where they each have the other on the phone, too cautious to say anything and each waiting for the other to make the first movie. Classic.

Jack Nicholson is pretty great here as well, but what do you expect. Given the "rockstar" nature of his character, Jack is given creative license to be over the top, and he does so with the charismatic blend of scariness and zaniness that has made him one of cinema's most enduring stars. Sure, there are one or two moments where he probably oculd have toned it down a notch, but mostly, his schtick fits, because The Departed isn't so much a dead-serious film like Casino, but more so a black comedy a la Resevoir Dogs (Actually the two have much in common). So Nicholson's antics are fitting, hilarious, scary, fun, and don't overshadow everything else, because his theatricality works within this film's overall tone.

Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are total scene-stealers in this movie. Baldwin does a slightly more self-mocking version of his "brass balls" character from Glengary Glenross, and proves yet again that nobody does self-important comedic deadpan like he does. The man can do it all - from drama to black comedy to sitcom humor (hello, 30 Rock). Wahlberg really surprised me in this movie. At first glance, his character is a typical ball-busting asshole cop. By the end of the movie, he is the surprise breakout character of the film, thanks to impeccable comedic timing and snappy line-delivery by Wahlberg. Baldwin and Wahlberg have some absolutely hilarious exhanges and individual lines that had the audience I saw the movie with applauding out of sheer appreciation.

The rest of the supporting cast is similarly great. Martin Sheen lends some added class to an already classy-production, but he centers the movie as one of the concious and father-figure to his two-faced colleagues in the police force. All of the other smaller roles are well-filled as well.

Also, relative newcomer Vera Farmiga does a very nice job as the woman caught between Damon and DiCaprio. Her storyarc is probably the toughest to swallow in the film, as it rings as being a bit too convenient .... but Farmiga is extremely solid and it's great to see a lead actress in such a star-filled cast who is legitimately talented, multi-layered, and believable, and not simply another star shoehorned in to complete an all-star lineup of name-actors. That being said, she has some great scenes with the two male leads, and does play a key part in completing the almost Shakespearian plot of the film.

Yes, I said Shakespearean. From its dark humor to its theatricality to its sometimes over-the-top plot twists, and especially with its classic Shakespeare-style ending (you almost wait for the characters to yell "I hath been smote!" as they systematically drop dead towards the end in increasingly sudden fashion), this really does feel like Scorcese's attempt at crime drama-as-Shakespearean tragi-comedy. But it all works. The narrative flows effortlessly, and the crisp directorial style heightens the mood and intensity but never overshadows the characters. This movie pulls off the tricky feat of gritty crime drama mixed with flashy humor with ease and grace.

Also, as a New Englander and BU grad, I love the way in which the film captures the feel of Boston. From the accents to the music (Dropkick Murphys!), to the bleak scenes of the T's rustic orange line to the local pubs to the overarching mentality of Irish scrappiness - this was a real film of and about Boston as much as some of Scorcese's other movies are films of and about New York.

Finally, as much as this was a classic Hollywood tale of cat and mouse games and guys caught on the wrong side of the law and betrayals and gunplay and snappy dialogue, it was also for me a movie that really came together thematically. A movie about the high price of lies and deception, about the inevitabilty of death and the self-destructiveness of criminals and those who hunt them. This, in the end, in spite of one's individual critiques or issues with it, was undeniably damn good movie-watching in the classic sense. They don't much make 'em like this anymore, so go to the theater, enjoy, and discuss.

My Grade: A

... So yeah, good movie watching this weekend. Also saw The 300 trailer on the big screen ("Tonight, WE DINE IN HELL!") and a few other solid-looking previews for The Black Diamond and a few others.

- Also, I finally, finally saw Network. I know, I'm about 30-odd years late in jumping on this bandwagon, but see this movie if you haven't already. Especially those of you who work in TV. Amazingly, it is as fresh a satire today as it must have been then, and it's scary how many of its visions of an entertainment and ratings-obsessed television industry have come to pass. So yeah, see it. A classic - a masterwork of superb acting and the potent combination of Sidney Lumet's directing and Paddy Chayefsky's words. And, also, an obvious precursor to Studio 60.


- No new FOX stuff to report on, as most shows are on hiatus for the baseball playoffs.

- Like I said, I was all ready to dump Jericho but I have to admit, I am now almost more morbidly curious about what if any parallels exist between the show's fictional nuclear attack (hinted to be caused by North Korea) and our current real life political mess. If only the show were actually halfway decent. As it stands, it is atrocious. What a shame.

- You know, I'll go on record as predicting big things for 30 Rock and Twenty Good Years. On Friday, I saw the Departed in a fully packed theater, and the entire audience snickered and smiled when Alec Baldwin first appeared on camera -- it was clear that his hilarious character from 30 Rock was on everyone's brain. Those commercials have been doing a great job of promoting the show, and are just really funny. Everyone is pronouncing the sitcom dead but NBC, I am proud to say, has two pretty good ones coming up this Wednesday.


- A quick update on some good stuff I've been reading lately. Still have Brian K. Vaughn's "Pride of Baghdad" sitting on my coffee table. I'm waiting for a open weekend day where I can really sink into it, as I've been reading nothing but superlative reviews thus far. But anyways, here's some stuff I've been digging lately:

- PAUL DINI on DETECTIVE COMICS - Dini, you may know, was the mastermind, along with artistic collaborator Bruce Timm on the seminal Batman: The Animated Series. So to any Bat-fans out there, having Dini write Batman comics on a monthly basis as the new regular author of Detective Comics, is a dream come true. While Dini started off a little slowly, somwhat hampered by inconsistent art teams, with this month's ish Dini is firing on all cylinders. Clever dialogue, guest appearances galore, and gorgeous artwork thanks to Don Kramer. If Dini can keep this up, this is, no doubt, quintissential Batman.

- Y: THE LAST MAN - If you've read my blog consistently you know how much I've loved Y for the last few years. Simply put, this is epic, funny, exciting storytelling. This past week saw the release of the landmark issue # 50, and it was, as usual, a great read, filled with simple, clean, but amazingly emotive artwork from Pia Guerra. Set to end at issue 66, this issue was a reminder to savor the last year and hald of Y, possibly the best ongoing comic of the last 5 years.

MARV WOLFMAN on NIGHTWING - Marv Wolfman is a legend of comics. In the 1980's, he turned a poor-selling book called Teen Titans into the No. 1 comic on the charts, and did so by including unprecedented realism, maturity, and by taking beloved characters like Wally West and Dick Grayson (the original Robin), and actually having them do the impossible in the realm of comics -- grow up. Wolfman took Robin the Boy Wonder and turned him into Nightwing - a new incarnation of the hero who instantly became a fan favorite. Of late, Nightwing has had some rough times, not from any particularly dastardly supervillain, but from the menace of hack writing and lack of respect from DC editorial. So it was a huge relief to see Wolfman, who knows Nightwing better than anyone, come in to replace writer Bruce Jones, who in only several issues churned out some of the worst and most off-putting Nightwing tales ever told. Wolfman's writing is decidedly old-school, with some stilted narration and familiar plotting, and the art by Dan Jurgens is a bit inconsistent and not Jurgen's best. But man, after the atrocity that was Jones, the first Wolfman-penned ish felt was a very welcome return to familiarity. Even with its lack of new-school style and polish, the voice, the tone, the attitude felt right.

52 - What started as an experiment in weekly storytelling has quickly become a must-read for comic fans. As the story expands beyond the initial cast of primary characters, it really has begun to feel like a weekly glance into the fantastical world of the DCU rather than a conventional serial story. Half the fun is the spotlight on lesser-know supporting characters, including this past week's emphasis on Dr. Will Magnus, the pipe-smoking, plad suit-wearing ingenue and creator of the Metal Men. While this series has had its ups and downs, it's always the first thing I read every week, as it really does feel like a series where anything can happen.


- Whoah, Google bought YouTube for an insane amount of cash. I don't know about this one ... YouTube's grand social video-sharing experiment has yet to amount to much more than a bunch of clips of old TV shows and of girls dancing to Aqua songs. Similarly, Google's video offerings have thus far been weak. Can two wrongs make a right ...?

- Leave it to the local LA News to cover car chases and celeb scandal when the North Koreans are poised to blow us to kingdom come. Unbelievable.

- And yeah, I haven't mentioned it yet, but you may have noticed that the blog has surpassed the 15,000 hit count! Not too shabby, I dare say.

- Alright, thanks as always for reading. Keep reading, and I'll keep fighting the good fight.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Hey Kid, Get LOST - Lost Season 3 Premiere - Reviewed! Plus: Jericho and The Nine, and that 300 Trailer!

So last night was the Season 3 premiere of Lost, hyped by one TV Guide reviewer as being the best single episode since the pilot (meaning it topped such gems as "Walkabout" and "The Long Con"). Was it, in fact, a five-star episode, as Ain't It Cool News boldly declared? Was it, thanks to the pensmanship of JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff, a modern TV classic?

Well, all in all it was typical LOST. 50% killer, 50% filler.

I mean, that opening - wow. For 5 minutes, they totally had me. The Others in suburbia, debating the merits of Stephen King (just as King, via EW, debates the merits of LOST ... cool!), as everything goes to hell as the plane carrying our heroes fatefully crashes on Fantasy Island. Friggin' sweet.

Oh, who am I kidding here. For just about all of this episode, I was totally sucked in, on the edge of my seat, hanging on every word spoken by Jack, Sawyer, Henry Gale, and new character Juliette. Hell, Evangeline Lilly didn't even have to say anything and she had me at hello. And seeing Lost again after all this time made me appreciate a number of things about this show all over again, in the wake of so many wannabe shows that just don't get what makes Lost so special in the TV drama landscape.

First of all, this cast is ridiculously good. The three actors featured in this episode, and their characters of Jack, Sawyer, and Kate, are, by themselves, better than any other trio on any other TV drama. Compelling characters, great actors brimming with charisma ... classic. Nevermind the fact that some of the show's best and hardest-hitting actors, Terry O'Quinn as Locke and Naveen Andrews as Sayid, for example, didnt even appear. After seeing shows like Heroes, Jericho, etc struggle with the transition from the page to the screen, with characters that fail to pop and actors that fail to captivate - Lost came back and completely schooled them on what it is that makes great television characters and how said characters should be cast.

Secondly, Lost looks amazing. This episode was directed with theatrical flair, which meant epic shots, atmospheric lighting, and bold closeups. Each scene looked different, from the bright, serene beaches of the island to the rustic camp where Sawyer was imprisoned to the dank, grimy hatch where Jack found himself, this is how a show of this nature should look. If only a show like Heroes could recognize that there's a power in the bright, the bold, the fantastic when appropriate to the subject matter.

Finally, the dialogue in this episode crackled with energy. Despite all my criticisms about the plotting and, occasionally, about the characterization, no one can say that Lost has not had some pretty snappy dialogue over its two year run. And give credit to Josh Halloway, for instance, who has created a great character in Sawyer, who delivers each line with flair.

But as much as this was a cool episode, as much as it had me on the edge of my seat, it kind of came unglued for me at the end, when once again the show seemed to inch forward only to take two steps back into yet another mess of ambiguity and pointless lack of logic.

Take the exchange between Jack and Juliette - Jack finally, at one point, seems to blurt out the questions we've all been wondering. Who are the Others? Are they connected to Dharma? And most poignantly - What the hell is going on here?

Finally! A character had come to his or her senses and asked the most obvious question of all! But just as the show itself poses these questions, it fails to ever follow up. So I have to wonder - why pose them at all? Be vague, be mysterious - whatever. But you can't have it both ways. You can't continually set up the expectation that something will be addressed only to not address it. The writers and producers COULD have decided that, hey, it's all just one giant head trip and we'll never answer anything and just really mess with everyone's heads (think David Lynch). Fine, that could work. But the show can't seem to decide if it wants to reveal anything or not. I don't know if I'm supposed to be breathlessly waiting for some answer as to what the smoke monster was, why Locke can walk, who the Others are, why there was a Polar Bear, why there was a giant four-toed statue, et al, or just address each new mystery by saying something to the effect of "Oh, a giant four-toed statue - interesting. Next!"

That inconsistency in tone reared its head yet again in this episode. One minute Jack seems to have a breakthrough, finally daring to ask the Big Question of what the hell is going on. Moments later, when presented with the proposition that Julliette and The Others are somehow all-knowing (of course, how they are all-knowing is yet another mystery!), Jack forgets his previous curiuosity and merely asks the extremely subjective question, with regards to his ex-wife: is she happy?

Is she happy? IS she HAPPY? Whaaat?!?! Now, obviously in the context of this episode, where we were shown a number of flashbacks about Jack's falling out with his wife, it makes contextual sense that Jack would ask about his wife. But unless there's some metaphysical craziness going on that we don't know about, it's not as if these characters are actually RELIVING the episodes they flash back to! Sure, WE as viewers are given these flashbacks because they thematically relate to the story at hand and flesh out the main characters. But let's look at Jack at this moment in time, at this point in his narrative:

He's been imprisoned against his will by a seemingly malevolent group of Others, on a strange island that is home to Polar Bears, smoke monsters, and four-toed statues. His friends are also captured, the other survivors may be in danger. He's looking for something, any reason to trust his captor, or any validation of his instinct that she is NOT to be trusted. At this point in time, his main thoughts are of escape, of his safety, of his friends, and also, a creeping, horrible realization that his whole situation is really, really messed up. Remember, only we as viewers have relived Jack's past - he has been locked up in a strange prison, left to contemplate, as he himself wondered - what the hell is going on.

So of all the things to ask, of all the things to wonder about - it's is his ex-wife happy? Thematically, I see how it makes some kind of sense. Logically, narratively, it is totally ridiculous.

UGH. That one moment took me out of the show. I was expecting a grand revelation about the identity of Jack's wife's new man that would tie everything together, some shocking statement from Henry Gale that would lend credence to his claims that the captives were about to experience a prolonged period of pain. Maybe even a return to the captivating intro scene - some new insight into how or why the Others anticipated the plane crash or what, exactly, they intended to do about it.

So there you have it. One step forward, two steps back. In almost every way, Lost is head and shoulders above most everything else on TV. Amazing cast, top-notch production, and an uncanny ability to create tension and prolonged instensity that keeps even us critics continually coming back for more. It's just that, when it comes to plotting and advancing the story and mystery in a way that makes sense, this show can be absolutely maddening. But yeah, I'll be there next week. At this point I'm hooked.

My grade: B+

- But anyways, who cares how last night's Lost was - the real story here is that on ABC on Wednesday nights - the legacy of Party of Five lives on! Matthew Fox at 9, Scott Wolf at 10. Now get Neve Campell and Lachey Chabert in a 24-meets-Charlie's Angels-style spy thriller at 8 and we'll really be in business. Do you hear me ABC? Do you?!?!

- But yeah, what about THE NINE ...

Well, damn, the NINE has the most unintentionally funny premise ever, which for a show that takes itself deadly seriously, can't be a good thing. It's too bad, too, because the cast on this show is superb. Sorry not to name names, but basically, we've got the pricipal from Boston Public, the funny guy from Out of Time and Enterprise, the Voice of Superman, and Audrey from 24. Niiiice. But I don't get this show. Why am I supposed to care about any of these characters? And how does keeping the supposedly horrible events that took place while they were hostages a mystery make this show any more compelling? As it stands, the fact that we are left to imagine the atrocities that went on during the nine's time as hostages leaves, well, A LOT to the imagination. And so every time a character whispers, in hushed tones, about how they'll never be the same after the events of those two days, about how they still can't get over what THEY made HER do to HIM and what HE did to HER when no one was looking, and so on, well those of us with active imaginations can only think of some pretty absurd stuff. I mean why leave this to the imagination, so that I am now led to picture the bankrobbers forcing everyone to strip, dress in clown uniforms, and hop on one foot for three hours while singing Michael Bolton songs for seven hours straight? I mean, what could possibly have gone on in that room that is a.) not sick, perverted, or just gross and b.) interesting enought that I should care. I mean, the whole thing is stupid.

Just a way overqualified cast stuck with a terrible idea for a show that gives you zero incentive to tune in past the pilot.

My Grade: C -

Oh, and yeah, I watched one more episode of JERICHO, likely my last since next week 30 Rock and 20 Good Years premiere in this timeslot. But wow, Jericho takes the word trainwreck to whole new levels. This show is just mediocre on every level. The sad part is I love the premise and it has moments, however small, that give us a glimpse of the potential power of the premise. Take this episode. It had ONE cool moment - when everyone is gathered around the TV and a seemingly Korean broadcast comes on, an interesting development that has all kinds of intriguing implications. But sadly, the small problem of NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST and AMERICAN INVASION BY A HOSTILE NATION is quickly forgotten, in place of the pressing issues of teen crushes, awkward tension between Skeet and his ex, and an overzealous citizen who rubs the mayor the wrong way. And oh yeah, let's not forget the SHOCKING CLIFFHANGER, where our outcast teen hero amazingly discovers a giant food supply truck, since, you know, after ONE DAY of isolation, the people of Jericho are all starving to death and ultimate salvation takes the form of a truck full of canned goods. As amusing as this show can be in a so-bad-it's-watchable kind of way, enough is enough. Please, stop watching it. It's not worth it, even to satisfy morbid curiousity about just how many cities were blown up and who did it. Right? Please tell me I'm right.

My Grade: D+

- Tonight - The Office, Earl, and Green Arrow comes to Smallville.


- Great Zeus! The trailer for 300 is KICKASS. Bring on March 'o7, this is now at the top of my most anticipated movie list. Check it out ASAP and commence drooling:


- Bring on the Halloween season! The next few weeks promise trips to Knotts Scary Farm, the annual Horror Movie-thon, and more.

- And I have more to say, but I've got to jet. Until next time ...

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Review-O-Rama: Veronica Mars, Smallville, Heroes, and MORE

Alright, so the Fall Season in TV Land is heating up and it's time to weigh in ...

First up:


- Last night's Season 3 premiere was, again, a huge breath of fresh air amidst a glut of network dramas that try to pass themselves off as intelligent and adult, when in fact they feel produced by-committee and fresh off the development assembly line. Finally, a show that continually blows me away with the originality of its voice and its stubborn refusal to fall neatly into any single genre. Finally, I found myself watching a show that felt smarter than me - a show where, as an aspiring writer, I found myself watching and admiring the cleverness of the dialogue, the richness of the characters, and the intricacies of the plot and its many unraveling mysteries. Finally, Veronica Mars was back!

As a whole, VM was as slick, intelligent, and fun as always. However, the premiere did have an unusally lightweight feel to it compared to the past two season openers. There was no real sweeping, epic mystery unfolding - everything was on a much smaller scale, and overall things felt more, well, laid-back than usual. Even Veronica looked less rebellious and both figuratively and literally she seemed to let her hair down. But hey, that opening scene where Veronica out-sleuths everyone else in her Criminology class was classic Mars. I have to say though, I was kind of clueless about what Keith Mars was up to with Ms. Casablancas. Maybe I missed something, but I felt very in the dark about what was going on with his subplot. Hopefully it will be clarified sooner rather than later. Ultimately though, this was an excellent ep that just happened to feel more like a midseason episode than the huge, earth-shattering season premiere I was sort of expecting. It set up Veronica's new life at college very well, introduced some great new characters (you have to believe that that Criminology prof. is going to play a large role), had the usual sharp dialogue, and had Vinnie Van Lowe to boot.

But wait - one HUGE complaint. CW, WHAT THE #$%& were you thinking when you changed the opening theme song?!?! The new intro is okay, but that remixed, slowed-down version of The Dandy Warhol's We Used To Be Friends SUCKS. Bring back the old version ASAP, ya' hear?

Otherwise, good stuff, and I'm sure it will only get more interesting from here. Keep in mind, this was a great ep, but I hold VM to a high standard than many shows as it so regularly churns out A-level episodes.

My Grade: B+


- Another episode that felt slightly off, very ambling in places, but ultimately won me over thanks to some great scenes. Namely, the opening was amazing - Luke punching out Chris was as cathartic for us viewers as it must have been for Mr. Danes. The humor with Kirk opening his own diner was kind of hilarious as well, though I think they did go a little overboard in making Kirk kind of a douchebag rather than merely annoying. The bits with Lane were okay, but the whole sex/pregnancy angle felt forced to me and too soon, as we haven't even seen her take on the role of wife yet, and already she is going to be a mother? The Rory-Lorelei scenes were also kind of long and rambling, but ended in a good payoff with Rory's revulsion at her mother's reunion with Chris. But, I know Lorelai and Rory are more like sisters than mother-daughter, but I was definitely cringing as Rory repeatedly yelled at her mom for sleeping with Chris. Just very awkward to watch. Still, I thought Luke's scenes were handled very well, and a nice little theme was established with him and his semi-dysfuntional family. Some good stuff, but still very hit-and-miss in the post-Palladino era.

My Grade: B

- Sidenote 1: Odd that both CW shows last night, Gilmore and Veronica, both featured very prominent references to Battlestar Galactica. I'll have to get around to checking it out sometime, but even without any knowledge of BSG lore, the inner geek in me loved both Luke's discussion of the space/time continuum and, most of all, Veronica's gleeful use of the word "Frak."


I know, I know, this one is late. But I didn't watch until Friday evening and I somehow forgot to mention it in yesterday's blog. As far as the premiere of Smallville goes though, well, it was disappointing in that it was a decidedly mixed bag. I say disappointing because, while it was a pretty good episode, past season premieres of Smallville (along with season finales), have more often than not been total home-runs, one of the few times when the show could be utterly counted on to knock one out of the park. This wasn't a home run, but it had its merits.

Basically, this show still squarely resides in a yellow-tinged zone of pure cheese. Exhibit A: Clark being trapped in the Phantom Zone = cool. Clark immediately meeting a hot girl also trapped in the Phantom Zone who knew his father before Krypton exploded = pretty lame. Zod wreaking havoc on earth = kickass. Zod doing so via a ridiculous looking mechanism that triggers a computer virus (hello, Independence Day) = lame and cheesy. But man, give some credit to Michael Rosenbaum as Lex / Zod. Under any other actor, Zod inhabiting Lex's body would have been all kinds of ridiculous, but somehow, someway, Rosenbaum made it work, even if this is now the approximately 1 billionth time that someone on Smallville's mind has been taken over by an outside entity. I also thought the intro of Jimmy Olsen was kind of lame ... why take one of the all time classic geeky-cool fictional characters, Superman's pal, he of the signal watch and bowtie, and make him into just another WB-ized pretty boy. This show continues to stick to an endless array of tired, played out, mind-boggling cliches - new characters introduced as slightly modified Type A WB model-actors, people traveling great distances to speak one line in person rather than using a cell phone, characters randomly entering each other's homes at will, mind-control as the uber plot device to end all plot devices, trips to the Smallville medical center more frequent than Robin Williams' trips to rehab .... the list goes on and on.

And yet it continually saved by stellar performances from Rosenbaum and John Glover as Lex and Lionel Luthor, a steady and dependable Tom Welling as Clark Kent, and a feeling that, even though the writing on this show can be aneurism-inducing, that, somehow, its heart is in the right place as far as staying true to the legend of Superman is concerned.

To that end, this ep did some things very right - great action between Zod and Clark (even if the line "Kneel Before Zod" was milked to its absolute limit), great visual f/x in the Phantom Zone that put just about every other scifi show on TV to shame, and an overall sense of scope that really made this episode, for all its weaknesses, feel more Super in many ways than Superman Returns. Yes, it had to be said people.

This remains one of the most up and down shows on TV - at times totally mired in formulaic writing and frustrating logistical gaps, yet continually worth watching for its momentary flashes of greatness that remind us why Superman is one of our most enduring modern mythologies.

My Grade: B

Now, as for that OTHER superhero show on network TV ...


Well, I said this show has potential, and I still feel that way. But the problem with a show like this, where nearly every character and situation feels directly influenced by something else, is that when I think about where it's headed all that comes to mind is: will it be like this comic book, like this TV show, like this movie? Because as much as I want to like this show, I just don't feel like it has anything original to say as of yet. Unlike Lost, which came out of the gate with a spectacular pilot brimming with characters and mysteries that begged for further exploration, Heroes seems to be kind of coasting along, merely connecting dots from Point A to B to C.

So far for me and I suspect most others, Hiro is, BY FAR, the standout character on the show, and his scenes are far and away more interesting than any of the other characters'. Hiro feels original, like a fresh thought, a fresh take on the disaffected Japanese office drone. His situation is interesting - how does someone so immersed in fantasy culture react to becoming a living, breathing embodiment of the comic and scifi heroes he obsesses over? So far, Hiro is fun, interesting, easy to root for -a great character. I wish the same could be said for the others ...

Nearly every other character on Heroes feels ripped from some other work of speculative fiction. Sure, some of these sources are rather obscure, but I think that most people can tell when a character or situation is an original labor of love rather than a variation on a theme. It's why the brilliant creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby survive and thrive to this day - they are iconic, larger than life, yet relatable. And sure, a character like The Hulk is a variation on the Frankenstein myth, which is itself a variation of the Golem legend. But these larger mythological themes are fair game to be adapted to new situations and eras. What doesn't fly is taking the specifics of a character or story - the powers, the personalities - all the minutiae that Heroes borrows from comics and sci fi - but lacking the power of the overarching themes, the iconography, that make superheroes the new mythology of modern America.

My point is - two episodes in and I'm thinking - okay, we've got people with powers, the threat of nuclear disaster, interconencted characters - all elements I've seen before. So, the larger question is --- What the heck is this show ABOUT?

Right now, it just seems like it's throwing all these bits of pop-cultural goo at the viewer. For example:

Claire - the teen cheerleader / reluctant hero reminds me a lot of Courtney Whitmore, aka The Star Spangled Kid, created by Geoff Johns - she even looks similar.

Her powers and possible manipulation by a government agency of some kind, of course, brings to mind the X-Men's Wolverine.

Her videotaping her powers is similar to a storyarc in Will Pfeifer's seminal comic H.E.R.O. (an award-winning comic which also explored the theme of what normal, everyday people would do if suddenly given powers).

Her keeping her powers a secret from her high school classmates, except for from her crushing, geeky friend, and other aspects of her character strongly remind me of the series Bad Girls from a few years back.

Ali Larter's character - her dual / hidden personality brings to mind the DC character Rose and Thorn.

The psychic cop - we've seen variations of this on shows like Pretender, Millenium, and others, and also recently via the DC character Josie Mac, created by Judd Winnick.

The computer that can track people with a metagene of some kind - anyone's who's seen X-Men can spot the similarity to Charle's Xavier's mutant-spotting device Cerebro.

A superpowered serial killer who is knocking off fellow metas - reminiscent of Alan Moore's classic Watchmen murder-mystery (as is the ominous threat of a nuclear disaster that can only be stopped by metahumans), and more recently of J. Michael Strazcynski's Supreme Power - a realistic take on how society and the government would react to a sudden emergence of super-powered beings. The entire concept of Heroes, in fact, is similar to Supreme Power and JMS's Rising Stars.

The two brothers with differing personalities but linked powers calls to mind the comic characters Hawk and Dove, and the one brother who tries to downplay his powers in order not to overhsadow a promising political career is similar to Brian K Vaughn's Ex Machina.

And of course, the interconnected characters, mysterious symbols, and ambiguous themes of purpose and destiny and fate are all, intentionally I'm sure, similar to TV's reigning fantasy hit - Lost.

And so on ...

Of course in this genre of fiction bits and pieces of past works inevitably work their way into new stories. But my point is that Heroes needs its OWN identity, its OWN premise, its OWN characters in order to thrive and live up to its potential. I see that potential in Hiro, and in bits and pieces of the story, but mostly I feel like I'm seeing what amounts to Watchmen-lite, to Supreme Power-lite, to Lost-lite.

That's my main gripe, though the stilted dialogue (esp. from the Indian cab driver - everytime he talks I wanted to flip channels), uneven pacing, and unimpressive f/x (the flying needs work) don't help either. But like I said, so far I'm at least somwhat entertained, still intrigued, and hopeful that things will soon pick up.

My Grade: B -

- Speaking of LOST, I am very excited, once again, for tonight's Season 3 premiere. JJ Abrams is cowriting for the first time since the series' pilot, and early reviews indicate good things. Even if tonight's ep really is all that and a bag of chips, I hope that that only means we can look forward to a new season that recaptures Season 1's brilliance and takes the show to the next level. Adapt or die, I say.

- Will maybe give JERICHO one last shot tonight, it's one of those trainwreck-y shows that, like I've said, is pretty bad but just makes me wonder where the writers will take it next. I wonder if the ratings will be affected by Lost's premiere?

- Speaking of ratings, the CW has just been getting killed thus far. Didn't the WB's top shows like Smallville and Gilmore, in their peaks, score in the 4's or even 5's? I might be wrong on that, but it makes me wonder where Veronica's low-2's rating places it in relative levels of CW-measured success. With only one new show (Runaways, already a bust), and no big in-its-prime returning show other than low-rated Mars, CW is really in a tough place. One little piece of advice - if you want shows like Gilmore and Veronica to grab a broad audience, maybe even attract more male viewers based on positive buzz, don't make me feel like a total tool while waching by running those Aerie Girl vignettes or whatever, with a bunch of teenage girls sitting around and discussing each show during commercial breaks! As if it doesn't already take enough convincing to sell my male friends on the merits of Gilmore and VM, now us guys have to be subjected to this de-masculating filler?

- Alright, I am out for now. Back later, as the countdown to Halloween begins ...