Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Invaders from Mars: VERONICA Kicks Ass, SLIDERS now on ITUNES, and MORE

Okay, so first thing on the agenda today is to put this little piece of self-promoting but also very cool news out into the internet ether:

SLIDERS and TREMORS on iTunes:

As of RIGHT NOW, one of the biggest cult sci-fi TV hits of the 90's is BACK, baby. Yes - Jerry O' Connell, Sabrina Lloyd, John Rhyss-Davies - in one of the coolest and most fun shows ever made -- SLIDERS.

Yes, SLIDERS is available NOW on Apple iTunes - Seasons 1 and 2 - as either a la carte episodes or as full seasons. This is your ONLY chance to get individual eps or even Seasons 1 and 2 as individual seasons (the DVD combines them into one package). I say this both as a guy who helped to get this up on iTunes and as a unabashed Sliders fanboy - go download this NOW - if you do, it may convince the powers that be that there is real interest in the show and will instigate more iTunes and DVD content becoming available. SLIDERS - right now - on iTunes!

And, for those of you whose tastes lean more towards small quirky towns beset by giant, carnivorous worms, well, TREMORS - the cult fave TV series - is also NOW AVAILABLE on iTunes.

- Okay, with that plug out of the way, my other big topic of discussion is:

VERONICA MARS - "Fall Finale"

HOLY CRAP, last night's VERONICA MARS was ridiculously amazing! I know it's been a while since I extolled the virtues of this show, and yes, sadly it's been a while since my usual level of VM-centered hyperbole could be justified. But as of last night, the Veronica Mars of old is BACK, baby. I mean, wow - what an episode!

First though, I want to briefly address last week's ep, which was unceremoniously given a grade of "D" by Entertainment Weekly. While it wasn't the best ep ever or anything, no way did it deserve a D. Maybe, MAYBE if you judge on some crazy sliding scale only in relation to other Veronica Mars eps, but I'd give it a solid B at least. Sure, the ep was one giant Big Lebowski tribute / rip, but if you have to pay homage you might as well do it to the best, right? But anyways, my point is - VM hasn't been hitting the same A-leage level as Season 1 and 2 thus far in s3, that much is clear. But it's still been high quality, top-notch stuff ...

Until last night that is - last night VM swung back at its critics with a vengeance, delivering one of the most intense, smart, funny, and riveting eps of TV thus far in the 06/07 season. Sure, it was only a "fall finale" as is so vogue these days, but it felt like a HUGE ep - as all the plotthreads that had been building up brilliantly came together ...


Unlike previous mystery-solved eps, the reveal here was not particularly shocking, but it didn't need to be. Mercer was already one unlikable guy, and revealing him as the Hearst rapist just served to elevate him from obnoxious thorn in side to true threat. The sense of danger and tension was palpable as Veronica ran for her life after being drugged - bringing to mind the brilliant s1 finale - that same sense of danger and dread was again brought to the forefront. But really, this ep wasn't so much about the big reveal but about the character moments that it brought about. I mean - how GREAT was the return of psycho-Logan as he smashes a police car, gets thrown in jail, primed and ready to bring the pain to Mercer and his partner in crime? How classic was Keith Mars' but on Mercer and friend? How fun was it to see Veronica leading her gang of friends at the party, Neil Diamond cover band and all? And man, it's sad to see Ed Begley as Dean O'Dell bite the big one - Begley was simply excellent all season so far as the Dean, and last night he had his best performance yet, to the point where he really won me over as a character who deserved a permanent place in Mars cannon. Of course, that wasn't to be the case, but his deat BRILLIANTLY sets up a new murder mystery, one in which nearly every lead and supporting character could be a suspect. Okay, we can probably rule out Keith and Wallace and Mac and Piz (all such great characters by the way - Piz earned his stipes last night with his crazy dancing at the frat party), but aside from them, so many potential murderers. Let's see, off the top of my head we have the criminology professor, the Dean's wife, Veronica's T.A., Weevil, the Fitzpatricks, the frat-alum we saw in this ep, one of the girls from Lillith House, Sherriff Lamb, and probably about 5 or 6 others ... Anyone who likes a good mystery HAS to watch this show.

In any case, as a VM fan and vocal supporter, it was just great to see such an overwhelmingly great return to form last night. Some shows I watch (cough*Heroes*cough) and constantly (maybe misguidedly) think to myself: "I could do better." With VM, when it is on its game like it was last night, I just watch in awe at the combination of brilliant mystery-writing, vivid characters, and crackling dialogue, wondering all the while "How do they do that? These guys are GOOD."

My Grade: A

- I also really enjoyed much of last night's Gilmore Girls. I especially loved pretty much everything with Luke and April, and I know, some fans of this show might object. But to me as a male fan of the show, Luke is the real heart of GG, and seeing him bottle up and then let loose his emotions about losing his newly-discovered daughter was genuinely moving. Otherwise, as always, I laughed out loud at the antics of scene-stealing Paris and her nerdy boyfriend Doyle (their dance-floor hip hop moves were hilarious), and got a kick out of all the quirky residents of Stars Hollow. Still, I feel like the whole central storyline of Lorelai-Christopher is a little forced, and almost artificially dragged out when we all see that their relationship is being set up for the fall (at least I hope). Good stuff, again, but they still need to tone things down a bit and let the dialoge flow a bit more naturally - especially those Lorelai-Suki exchanges - geez!

My Grade: B+

- And yeah, I've got to talk about Monday's PRISON BREAK, which was badass to the core. I mean, man, talk about intense - THAT is how you do good action-drama - balls to the wall. Sure, it's over-the-top, absurd, and comic-bookish, but man - how could you not be on the edge of your seat as W. Fichtner mutters "take the keys, take the keys" as Lincoln and Michael contemplate escape from the caravan escorting them back to prison. And the final standoff between the brothers, Fichtner, and Kellering was just awesome, with the final twist creating a nice means for the brothers to avoid capture and form a new uneasy alliance with Kellering, who is just brilliantly sleazy and fun to hate. Speaking of sleazy, you knew, the whoooole episode, that former prison-guard Bellick was headed for some hard time, so to speak, but that still didn't make his final fate, sharing a cell with the posterboy for "don't drop the soap", any less laugh-out-loud funny. I was dying of laughter on that one ... And how about T-Bag, brutal as ever - I mean, what other show makes you, in a weird way, root for a psychotic but oddly endearing serial killer? What a messed-up, crazy, glorious show is Prison Break.

My Grade: A


- Is there no dignity left in this world? What's with all these grossly revealing photos of celebs, well, of Britney Spears, popping up on the 'net? Wear some underwear, for the love of God! And stop hanging out with Paris Hilton - how low can one go? It shows how it's true - the trailer park and the penthouse are not that far removed ...

- Superman Returns, aka the biggest let-down of the year, is out on DVD this week. While I am curious to see Bryan Singer's deleted scenes set on Krypton, I have little desire to revisit this crapfest of a movie. My question is - now that the initial hype has died down (or just died), are there any big supporters of this movie still left out there? Anyone who's chomping at the bit for Singer and co.'s big sequel? Hmmm ... I hear Peter Jackson is free these days ...

- Oh yeah, I have to mention some excellent reading that had me riveted for hours and hours over Thanksgiving. Basically, I want to give my highest reccomendation to THE WALKING DEAD, a comic / series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. Basically, this is the premise of Night of the Living Dead meets the serialized character drama of a Lost or Sopranos. The world is completely overrun, decimated, by the undead, and the series follows a small band of survivors who have banded together and set out on the road in search of food and shelter. They are all basically average, normal people, but the extreme circumstances of their plight tests their limits. Kirkman writes this thing brilliantly - once you start reading you can't put it down - I seriously plowed through Books 2 and 3 in a single sitting. The genius of it is that it completely focuses on characters first, so when the big moments of zombified danger DO come, the danger feels real as you feel like you know each character through and through. Check out the Walking Dead - one of the best things I've read in a while.

- And speaking of best things I've read, just heard today that HBO is apparently doing a series that will adapt PREACHER. To me, Preacher is one of the greatest things I've ever read - disturbing, extreme, violent, but completely thought-provoking and intelligent, full of great character moments and sweeping themes of religion, love, morality, and the American Dream. Very curious to see how this turns out - if it is as good as it could be, I may just have to get HBO.

- Also, I'd like to express my condolences about the passing of the legendary Dave Cockrum. Dave was one of the all-time great comic artists, who along with writer Len Wein was responsible for the late 1970's / early 1980's rebirth of the X-Men. Prior to Wein and Cockrum's take, the characters had long languished in obscurity. But then these two came along and co-created a few little characters named Storm, Mystique, Nightcrawler, and Collossus, and helped make Marvel's mutants into the pop-culture force they are today. Cockrum was one of the great illustrators, but his death is made all the more tragic by the fact that he never saw a dime for any of the movie royalties that the X-Men films made. Hopefully Cockrum's situation - a lack of funding to treat his ongoing battle with diabetes - will help to create a better model so that creators can financially benefit from their creations. As much as we associate people like Bryan Singer and Hallie Barry with these characters, it's important to remember the brilliant and imaginitive minds from which they orginated ...

- Alright, I'm sliding out of here. Yep, check out Sliders on iTunes - download the pilot (2 hours of worl-humping fun for $1.99~!), tell your friends, write your senators.

Monday, November 27, 2006


The blog is back, and ready to rock your socks off with the fury of Ronnie James Dio.

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I had a pretty relaxing few days, got in a lot of chill-out time, movie-watching, sleeping, etc., which was exactly what the doctor ordered after a few nonstop weeks of work and running around. But oh, the wonders of sitting around, takin' it easy ... that is truly what I deem to be a key ingredient of the Finer Things in Life.

My Thanksgiving dinner was interesting, but good. It was spent here in LA with my great-uncle Josh and his wife, at the home of one of their family friends. While there was the awkwardness factor of meeting most of the people at the dinner for the first time, overall it was a nice way to spend Turkey Day, and there is something to be said for sitting around a table eating homecooked food in the comfort of someone's home.

Now it's back to work as the countdown to '07 begins. It's looking like I will put off taking some time off for the holidays until the beginning of January, so it will be a bit of a long stretch from now until then. Oh well, no use in dwelling on that - time to put my head down Clyde Drexler style and drive.


- Who honestly didn't see The Nine's cancellation coming a mile a way? And who, seriously, are these TV critics who have so consistently been praising the show? You can't have a show premise predicated on one ongoing mystery that is not actively being investigated by the lead characters. You just can't, it's bad storytelling. If a show's central conceit is the mystery, then the mystery had better be front and center. It'd be like if Lost's format was 90% the pre-crash lives of the survivors, and 10% flashes to their lives on the mysterious island that they are now on. Why deprive the viewer of the most interesting part of your story? Since The Nine had such a talented cast, I hope to see its actors pop up elsewhere, and I'm sure they will.

- Well, my expectations for last night's SIMPSONS were probably artificially high, as my brother IM'd me from Boston claiming that for some reason he really enjoyed the episode. Since my brother hardly ever watches the show anymore and when he does is generally uninterested, I was both shocked and amazed by this bold endorsement. Turns out, it was yet more evidence of my brother's questionable taste in comedy, as this was for all intents and purposes a clunker of an episode. Nope, even the clever and superbly animated Ali G parody could not save this almost entirely unfunny and unoriginal ep, which shamelessly recycled two of the most overused and played-out premises in recent Simpsons history: a.) Homer gets fired / quits his job and takes on some silly new profession (in this case ice-cream man), and, b.) Homer's bumbling causes a rift between he and Marge, and only some grand display of his love and dependency on her eventually wins her back. I mean, come on! We've seen this like 5 thousand times in the last few seasons alone. Also, as if that wasn't bad enough, this ep featured cringe-worthy crude humor that The Simpsons has NEVER been able to pull of well. I mean there is something that just isn't funny about Homer making erection jokes, leave that for Family Guy. Man, the sad thing is that there was a time when episodes that featured Homer and Marge having marital problems were legitimately moving and emotional at times - now it's just one more retread of the same tired tune.

My Grade: C -

- FAMILY GUY was pretty decent, though still operating on a somewhat lower quality tier than it did back in the early days, when no show made me laugh harder. This ep had a few good gags (Chester Cheetah listening to Rush and snorting orange-colored coke was classic, as was the infomercial for 80's sitcom sounds), but overall still felt a little bit flat. The plot was nothing too special, and I think that as funny as he is, Stewie is in danger of becoming way too played-out.

My Grade: B -

- Looking foward to tonight's "fall finale" of PRISON BREAK --- very curious to see where the show goes from here ...



- You've got to love it whenever a movie comes out that is, well, legit. You know, a movie that wasn't created by commitee, that wasn't written by 15 different writers - a movie that features guys bringing that one great, big idea they've had brewing in their brains for years to big and glorious celluloid life. TENACIOUS D is just such a movie - a movie that is "legit" Jack Black - and even though this is far from a perfect comedy, there is a certain joy in seeing two guys in JB and Kyle Gas simply being on screen, doing what they love, putting their own unique sensibilities out there, bringing an idea to life that is their baby. So while it does drag at times, and falls flat at times, there are those moments of cinematic magic where Tenacious D, the band and the movie, rock ... and rock hard.

First off, the opening of the flick kicks seven kinds of ass. Some kid who may as well be Jack Black's 11-year old clone, seranading hsi whitebread family with expletive-laden rock lyrics, and only to be scolded by his dad, played by MEATLOAF, exiled to his room, and then given a rock n' roll quest by a poster of Ronnie James Dio come to devilish life. I mean, does it get any better than that? Not really, no. Which is a slight problem for the movie, as nothing else until the final act reaches that same glorious high achieved by JB, Meatloaf, and Dio coming together to form some kind of unholy trinity of bombastic rock-opera. Still, there are plenty of laughs yet to be had. From Jack Black's Clockwork Orange-style encounter, to his first meeting with Kyle Gas, the JB's zen-like rock training, I was laughing through most of the movie, with only a few spots where things slowed down.

Also, the cameos throughout the film are great. Ben Stiller puts in a memorable turn as a Guitar Center employee with special knowledge about the fabled Pick of Destiny. Tim Robbins is almost unrecognizable as a strange villain. And man, Dave Grohl KICKS ASS as Satan himself ... the Foo Fighters frontman may have a big movie career ahead of him. But the sight of him, in full Tim Curry-in-Legends style red devil makeup, having a climactic rock n' roll showdown with The D, is truly a sight to behold. Whatever slight feeling of boredem was creeping in as the movie approached its big finale was totally eviscerated by the Tenacious Ones going mano e mano with the Devil. Awesome.

So yeah, this isn't the perfect comedy, but it is a pretty perfect vehicle for the force of Rock that is The D. As for the songs, well, they are a little bit of a mixed bag, but the tunes come through for the most part. As mentioned, the opening and closing numbers are suitably badass and hilarious, while a few others are almost too out-there for their own good, including JB's extremely weird 'shroom-trip sequence that involves a Strawberry River and a giant Sasquatch. Other songs, like the weird techno-ish tune that played while JB and KG go all Mission Impossible, was hilariously random ("Lazer!" "Tetris!" "Marble Madness!"). Some songs were less memorable, but there was plenty of rocking to be had.

Overall, an enjoyable if not somewhat all over the place, slightly hit and miss, but oftentimes hilarious movie (with one of the funniest riffs on "use the force" since Mallrats, by the way) that reaffirmed my faith in the power of rock, and stands proudly in the cannon of movie history as possibly the funniest movie ever featuring two such fat and odd-looking men. ROCK.

My Grade: B+


- For those of us who have been fans of Christopher Guest's movies over the last several years, there is a certain sense of hipster pride in being privy to the very un-mainstream comedy stylings of Mr. Guest and his cast of comedy players. To be aware and knowlegable about the comedic wonders of Waiting For Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind carries with it a certain level of comedy street cred, and so it was with great knowing anticipation that people like me made sure to remind people to forget about Borat for a minute, forget about CGI-animated penguins, and put aside thoughts about the next Will Ferell frat-pack vehicle, because the real comedy that should be on everyone's radar was For Your Consideration. And on paper ... how could you go wrong? You had acclaimed writer/director Christopher Guest again at the helm, all the hilarious members of his ensemble, from Catherine O'Hara to Eugene Levy to Michael McKean et all, back for another round, and you even had a few bonuses to boot - Ricky Gervais making an appearance in a work of the director who helped inspire The Office, for one. So again ... how could you go wrong?

Well, it is with great disappointment and reluctance that I tell you ... something here did go slightly wrong. Not to say this is a bad movie - it has its little moments of brilliance, no doubt. But it is, easily, the weakest of Christopher Guest's movies to date, certainly below par for him and never reaching the comedic heights of Guffman, Show, or Wind. Now sure, those movies are so good that they will be hard to ever top, but For Your Consideration is just missing that extra level of depth that made the others such great movies.

With Guest's previous movies, the director chose obscure and very niche subjects to satirize. Dog shows, community theatre, and folk music are not areas with which the average person has much familiarity, but Guest so lovingly and meticulously spoofed his subjects that even if I knew nothing about folk music going into A Mighty Wind, there was no doubt in my mind that Guest had captured that world and its idiosyncracies with an affectionate sense of mocking self-seriousness. Here, I am somewhat familiar with the world of show-business, as are many of us, via a constant barrage of entertainment news shows, magazines, and scripted TV shows, all dealing with the behind-the-scenes goings-on of Hollywood. For Your Consideration never feels like it really captures that same level of authenticity. The characters are less well-rounded, the fly-on-the wall point of view of Guest's previous films often lacking as we are presented with a satire that never quite rings true.

It doesn't help that the movie-within-a-movie here is just totally absurd. Sure, the very idea of a movie called Home For Purim garnering Oscar buzz makes me laugh. But when we see the movie itself, it's clear that there is NO WAY it would ever receive critical praise. Contrast this to the folk songs in A Mighty Wind - they're brilliantly satirical, but also, legitimately GREAT songs. The genious of Guest in that movie was that he created a totally believable world of folk music, with iconoclastic figures, catchy songs, and a real sense of history behind it, but subverted things just enough to produce great comedy and satire. Same goes for Guffman and Best in Show - you totally bought into the worlds and characters that Guest created, because the deadpan delivery and mockumentary style really reinforced the idea that the characters were oblivious to the fact that they were part of a comedy. When we see glimpses of Home For Purim in this movie, there are some funny moments, sure, but it serves to remove us from reality - there's no way the actors could see this suposed melodrama, movie-within-a-movie as anything other than a farce. For Your Consideration just doesn't work on the same level (or, multiple levels) as Guest's previous films.

All that would be okay if the movie were hilarious, but it just doesn't have as many memorable lines or exchanges as I'd have liked to have seen. Part of this might be due to the lack of the mockumentary style, which really seemed to allow the actors to have a lot of fun and throw in little moments that really made the dialogue exchanges stand out. I don't want to sound entirely negative -- there are plenty of moments of laugh-out loud hilarity scattered throughout the movie. The great Fred Willard, as always, is a scene-stealer and has a few classic lines. Just the sight of him as a Entertainment Tonight-style TV host, complete with bleached-blonde fro-hawk, is ridiculously funny. He along with his cohost, played by the frequently hilarious Jane Lynch, are great throughout the movie. Ricky Gervais is funny in his brief appearance, but isn't given much to do except to awkwardly hit on Jennifer Coolidge (which is actually pretty funny). Eugene Levy is characteristically brilliant as a Hollywood agent, and gets off a few classic lines. Some of the players seem under-utilized however. Michael McKean and Bob Balaban, so hilarious in A Mighty Wind, aren't given much to do here as the two screenwriters behind Home For Purim. Ed Begley Jr. gets a few laughs as a gay makeup artist, but nothing that tops his turn as Lars Olfen in A Mighty Wind. Also, John Michael Higgins, hilarious in Best in Show, plays an odd and somewhat grating character here who is probably given way more screentime than the character warrants.

As for the main players - that's where the movie really begins to falter. Catherine O'Hara is a huge favorite of mine, and is probably the best of all of Guest's troupe at mixing comedy with real, heartfelt pathos. I feel she was Oscar-worthy in Mighty Wind. Here, she gives it her all as a fading actress, but just has no one to really play off of, and her character just seems aimless and one-note. Harry Shearer is another reliably great comedic actor, but again, his turn as a central character here doesn't quite work. Guest takes a risk here in relegating his usual lead players like Eugene Levy and Bob Balaban to small, supporting roles, and the movie loses something for it, as neither Shearer or O'Hara's characters are particularly believable or fun, though of course, they do have their moments. This isn't as much the fault of the actors - it's just that they don't have as much to work with as in previous films - there's not really one compelling narrative that holds the film together as in Guffman or Wind.

The real star of the show here is Parker Posey, who is so good in this that she thankfully erased whatever bad aftertaste I still had lingering from her terribly-conceived role in Superman Returns. Posey has always surprised me with how great she is in all of Guest's movies, and here she really steps up and steals the movie, capping the film with a closing scene that is also its funniest and most memorable - a bitter, disenfranchised Posey doing a one-woman stand-up show that is both hilarious and disturbing.

So again, this movie has a number of funny moments that remind you why Guest is typically so good at what he does, but, overall, it never quite comes together in the brilliant way that his previous films did so effortlessly. As a satire of Hollywood, it never really rings true, and most of the characters just don't feel as real as we have come to expect from this supremely talented group of actors. I'd still recommend that fans of Guest check this out - this is still smarter and funnier than many comedies out there. Hoever, For Your Consideration is frustrating in its obvious amount of talent that is never fully utilized, and in its potential for hilarity that never quite materializes. That potential on occasion translates to flashes of brilliance - just don't expect another start-to-finish classic on the level of Guest's previous comedies. Keep in mind that, unavoidably, my grade reflects that level of high expectations and high standards that Christopher Guest and company have set for themselves, never quite lived up to here.

My Grade: B -

So there's two comedies that come from very distinct voices ... and here's a movie from a similarly singular vision - the latest from Darren Aronofsky ...


- Wow. I say that because The Fountain is definitely a "wow" kind of movie. It's one of those movies that leaves you scratching your head in a stumped daze, simultaneously awed and frustrated with what you have just seen. The Fountain is a movie that you really have to buy into to appreciate, and whether or not you buy into it may just be a matter of mood and timing. But while I wasn't sure what I thought about the movie at first, as it went on I felt myself becoming more and more absorbed into its surreal world, until by the end I was totally lost in its time-spanning trippiness, to the point where by its climactic finale, director Darren Aronofsy had me right in the palm of his hand. I was hanging on every note of the pulsing score, glued to every movement and shift of the camera, fixated on the hallucinatory visuals. By the end of the movie, I had cast aside most of my doubts and was firmly in "whoah, this is pretty friggin' awesome" territory. My friends and I talked about our various theories on the twisting narrative for a good while afterwards, always a good sign. And then I thought about the movie even more. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Because while The Fountain is a very flawed work of art, it really felt, more than any other movie I've seen in recent memory, like, well, a work of art.

To that end, aesthetically, the film is just mesmerizing to behold. The movie spans three different eras - medieval Spain, the present day, and the far future. It is the latter setting that holds the movie's most memorable visuals, with a pale, bald, alien-looking Hugh Jackman floating through deep space in a transluscent bubble. At first, the imagery here is so out-there, so strange, that the first reaction is almost to giggle at its initial absurdity. But slowly it wins you over, and you just become entranced with how striking it all is. The artistry here is really amazing - in so many movies we see elaborate CGI f/x - but how many movies make you stop and just gaze at what's on screen as you would a painting in a gallery? The Fountain, amazingly, achieves this kind of effect. And it's not just in the new-agey future setting that Aronofsky achieves visual splendor. The historical scenes have a cold, icy beauty to them, and the action here is as good and exciting as most full-on action movies. Even the present-day scenes are shot in an amazing-to-look-at, painterly style, and all kinds of recurring visual motifs - shapes, faces, repeated actions - tie things together visually in a way that most movies don't take the time or care to worry about. If nothing else, The Fountain is a treat to look at - with some of the most memorable visuals this side of 2001.

Speaking of 2001, Kubrick's classic is one of the few movies that I can really think of to draw comparisons to with regards to The Fountain. Like A Space Odyssey, The Fountain is a fairly epic, multi-tiered tale that spans multiple eras, featuring extended scenes of trippy, cosmic abstraction, with each narrative having strong thematic ties but only vaguely connected in the strictest sense of plot and story. With The Fountain, Aranofsky leaves things open for multiple interpretations. The story in each era deals with similarly named, star-crossed lovers, played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, searching desperately for the secret of immortality so that they may remain united for all eternity. I've heard some say that only the narrative in the present is real, while the past is merely part of a story written by Rachel Weisz's character and the future is merely an imagined one born out of Jackman's characters' desperation to find a way to keep his dying love alive. On the other hand, half the fun, to me, of the movie, was going back over the very ambiguous narrative structure and trying to wrap my head around how it all fit together. Again, the means to describe this movie are tough to come by - think 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Romeo And Juliet and other Shakespearian tragedies, by way of a Pink Floyd laser light show and The Twilight Zone, with a bit of the craziest Japanese anime you've ever seen thrown in for good measure.

This movie is really all about the two leads, and both do a remarkable job with some very complex material that could have been totally butchered if placed in the wrong hands. Hugh Jackman is really, really impressing me lately. From the X-Men movies, I thought he was a decent actor who seemed a little too clean-cut to be a believable Wolverine. Lackluster genre flicks like Van Helsing didn't do much to enhance his rep as an actor. But with his outstanding recent work in The Prestige and now here, I am sold on Jackman's talent - this guy is the real deal. Interestingly, this role was originally to be played by Bradd Pitt, but at this point it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling off what Jackman does here - playing three inter-linked but separate characters in three different time periods, filling each one with a haunting sense of loss and desperation and intensity. Rachel Weisz is also outstanding, wide-eyed and zen-like as the modern-day Izzy, condemned to die of a worsening tumor, and regal and otherworldly as Isabella - queen of Spain, in the historical sequences. As Aronofsky has said in interviews, each character is painted in broad strokes, each a cipher, a fairy-tale character ... and somehow, it works.

Not to say that this movie doesn't have flaws. It is so ambitious (just read up on its years-in-the-making production, in which the movie was started, stopped, and scrapped many times over) that it often threatens to topple under its own weight. Aronofsky seems to be grasping to figure out how to take his high-concept, big-budget epic and condense it into a smaller, artier character drama, and some of his resulting choices are a little confusing. At some points, things really start to drag, despite a relatively quick running time, as the same points are driven home over and over again. While Aronofsky's slow, deliberate style works wonders in the visually engaging future sequences for example, the present-day scenes at times tend to really drag and feel labored rather than arresting. Like I said above, this is a movie that really takes a while to buy into. Its constant jumping between time periods, and non-linear narrative, are a lot to grasp at first, and for much of the movie there is just no way to understand what it is that's going on. Only towards the end do things finally come together enough so that the bigger picture takes shape, but again, when things come together, they REALLY come together. As it geras up for its finale, the movie churns out one jaw-dropping "wow" moment after another, as it builds to a somewhat jarring but (in retrospect) appropriate conclusion.

Even with its flaws - its sometimes frustratingly messy narrative and unabashedly melodramatic, fairy-tale-like tone, this is a movie that I couldn't help but admire. It really is unlike almost anything else I've ever seen, and its hugely, almost absurdly epic, cosmic ponderings about life, death, and love reached a level of artistic grandeur rarely seen in conventional movies. For all it's love-story / sci-fi trappings, this was, really, an art film - visually unique and thematically thought-provoking. After all, how many movies do you see that feature, a bald-headed, wide-eyed, heavily-tattooed Hugh Jackman, doing Tai-Chi inside the confines of a space-drifting bubble, within which may or may not be the mythical Tree of Life, seeking immortality while headed on a crash course for the end of the universe?

My Grade: A -

Alright - I'm about out. I see that none of the three movies I just reviewed did particularly well at the box office, which is too bad as all three deserve a wider audience. None were particularly well marketed either. I mean, Tenacious D had some of the worst-cut trailers I've ever seen, previews that made it look like a third-rate Bill and Ted knockoff and barely gave any idea what The D is all about for the uninitiated. It's too bad it bombed because I'd love to see more adventures of JB and KG on the big screen, Cheech and Chong style. Oh well, if that one dude from Van Wilder can get a spinoff sequel, anything is possible, I guess. Christopher Guest's movies have almsot never been marketed well, and For Your Consideration was no exception. In any case, it's probably not the best primer as to the genius of Guest and co, anyways, but still ... And come on - The Fountain - years in the making, one of the most up and coming directors in the biz, one big star and one on the rise actress? Where was the hype? If anything, I'd urge people to check out The Fountain just for something different - certainly, at the least, it's a movie that will get you talking and thinking even if it's not quite on your wavelength. For me, it's up there with my favorites of the year thus far. Anyways, that's all for now ... may Dio be with you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

HAPPY THANKSGIVING and also, Check out iTunes!!!

Hey everyone,

Just want to extend a Happy Thanksgiving ... while I know many of us have just an extra one or two days off, you still can't beat that feeling of freedom that comes with a short week or a half day.

I can't wait to catch up on sleep, veg out, do some reading, see a movie or two ... just for that chance to kick back, I am more than thankful.

And before I go - a quick plug: As of RIGHT NOW, the new SciFi and Fantasy Classics page is UP AND RUNNING on iTunes. The first two shows being offered, available now, are HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. This is something I've worked really hard on and am very proud to be a part of, as obviously those of you who know me know that I am passionate about all this geek stuff. So download one or two episodes -- I mean, who doesn't love Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless? And ... you DID know that these shows came from the mind of Sam Raimi, you know, the guy who directed a little movie called Spiderman, right ...? So check it out, and even if you're not a fan, spread the word to that one really big Xena fan you know ... (come one we all know at least one, right?).

In the coming weeks we'll have Tons of cool shows launching -- Sliders, Tremors, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, the orginal Battlestar Galactica, old-school Incredible Hulk, and more. So log onto iTunes, go to the SciFi Channel Page, and click on the SciFi and Fantasy Classics button. Come on, what better holiday gift than Season 1 of Sliders on one's iPod?

Okay, plug over ...

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and may your pie be humble and your stuffing be well-stuffed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Save the Cheerleader, Save the Blog: HEROES, Prison Break, Altman, Richards, and MORE

Hey there everyone.

I'd like to start out this entry with a small tribute to Robert Altman, who passed away today at the age of 81. While Altman surely lived a long and illustrious life, there is something particularly sad about him passing away, because not only was he a great filmmaker of decade's past, but well into his 70's and 80's he was STILL one of the best directors out there, by any measure. Altman was one of the greats who made movies that both struck a chord with the masses but also felt like the true product of a singular creative vision. All of his movies are in their own way pieces of art, never feeling like the work of a studio, always feeling like the work of a man with something to say. I can't say that I'm an Altman afficianado, but he's a director whose acclaimed body of work I sincerely look forward to discovering and taking in. I know that as a kid, his version of Popeye always stood out as a kids' favorite - a news strip come to glorious, colorful life. I know that in college, seeing The Long Goodbye changed how I looked at movies, with its sharp wit and humor mixed with all the classic trappings of film noir. I know that Gosford Park wowed me with its carefully chosen dialogue and sweeping cast of characters. And I know that Altman, aside from being one of the greats, always seemed a class act, someone who just enjoyed making movies and exploring characters and driving at real, poignant truths about life and art through his stories. His movies seem to brilliantly thrust you into some new world and totally immerse you with the vividness of the characters and setting - whether its the desolate army bunkers of MASH, the smoky neo-noir world of the Long Goodbye, or the upstairs-downstairs class dichotmoy of Gosford Park. So I guess that's why even though I've yet to see many of his classic films, and even though it's only been in recent years that I've really come to know his place in film cannon, that I am deeply saddened that this great figure in film is no longer with us.

- On another note ... man, I don't know what to think after Michael Richard's awkward segment last night on Letterman. While Richards' words the other night were totally inexcusable, he probably should have taken a few days before going on air and let the storm die down a bit. Also, Letterman hardly seemed the right venue for this apology, and the crowd clearly didn't know how to react to Richards. Which is understandable, as he rambled awkwardly and further embarrassed himself by using questionable terminology like "afro-American" repeatedly, which didn't help things any. Still, I kind of feel bad for the guy. His whole persona is built on this kind of spastic, spontaneous comedy and I can almost see how a guy like him can work himself into a frenzied state of mind where he doesn't quite realize what it is he's saying. Of course, what he said was just horribly offensive and inappropriate, but the whole thing just seems like a shame to me, and it's just sad to see a guy who is so beloved take a fall like this. I remember one of my first days as an NBC page, working at Leno, Richards was a surprise guest and came out on stage to sign Jay's charity bike. At that point, the whole concept of seeing stars in person who I had grown up watching on TV was just completely novel and surreal, and I was cheering as Richards walked onstage, just floored to be seeing Kramer in person, you know? So it just saddens me that this guy is falling from grace like this, but I hope it will eventually blow over. Unlike say Mel Gibson, whose tirade kind of reinforced long-held suspicions of him having an antisemetic, inherently hypocritical agenda, I think this is more just a case of a guy who is kind of mixed-up and off the wall.


- Okay, so last night's HEROES was the big "save the cheerleader, save the world" hype-fest. Did it get 'er done? Well, I agree with some other reviews I've seen that this ep, an ep that really HAD to deliver on its dramatic and emotional potential, kind of ended up illustrating so much of what is lacking on the show. Namely, a lack of real dramatic or emotional punch. I mean, the stakes that had been set up here were IMMENSE - a lead character's prophesied doom, a crazed super-powered serial killer with an affection for brain tissue, and a looming threat of nuclear apocalypse. Why was it then, that as we got the big scene of Claire reacing up the steps at her high school homecoming, with Peter Petrelli standing between her and blood-lusting Sylar -- why did that scene feel so, well, small? So much could have happened here, so much emotion could have been infused into the plotline, so many twists and turns were potentially awaiting ... But, partially due to uninspired acting, partially due to uninspired writing, that legitimate sense of epic-ness never really surfaced. This was no 24 "Right here, right now, you will face justice!" gravitas-infused moment as it should have been. Still, the show is doing a good job at chugging along, having fun with introducing new characters and new powers, throwing in nice little twists and mysteries like "what happened to Hiro?" But the whole thing just feels a bt dumbed down ... like remember how over the past few weeks Claire's adoptive father was touted in the opening recaps as "the face of evil?" Clearly, the writers are TRYING to make him a much more complex character than that, but the show seems to be waging an internal struggle over whether to spell everything out for the viewer (see the continually laaame Mohinder-spoken narration) or to mix things up and bring in more shades of gray, more compelxity, more depth. Right now, it just seems a weird mix of heavy-handed plot twists (yes, we GET that Peter can mimic people's powers ...) and the odd scene of almost gratuitous uber-violence (man, that Sylar psychic lobotomy was just gruesome, I think it inspired some weird nightmares last night to boot ...). Anyways, I am liking the show overall, and it has certainly made some great strides of late to flesh out its characters and expand its mythology ... But it has yet to really put me on the edge of my seat - with a show about metahuman heroes saving the world, you'd think it would be better at that.

My Grade: B

- Meanwhile, PRISON BREAK continues to make no bones about the fact that what it is is a weekly hour of nonstop, intense action and over the top, B-movie character stuff that would make John Carpenter smile. I love it. This was yet another episode that was ridiculously entertaining in a way that is so over the top that you've got to get a kick out of it. Sarah's daring rooftop escape from Kellering, the death of Michael and Lincoln's dad, the "secret origin" of Michael in which his need to escape is explained as a biproduct of abusive foster parents who kept him locked in a dark room as a child -- now come on, THAT is awesome - a comic book-ish twist worthy of Frank Miller. And what a classic cliffhanger ending - Fichtner finally catches his prey and holds our two fav convict brothers at gunpoint, unarmed and with nowhere to run. Now that is GRAVITAS.

My Grade: A

- I finally got a hold of last week's Veronica Mars, but even though I've been optimistic about the show's creative resurgance based on the quality of the last few eps, I'm now very worried by an EW review of the latest ep that bestowed the magazine's beloved show with a pitiful grade of D. Yikes! A "D" for VM is something that is almost unthinkable up until now, and with a show like this that is perpetually on the cancellation bubble, poor critical reviews are the last thing it needs. Please tell me that this is either a misguided review, or else that this is just one blip on the radar before a kickass second story arc for Season 3, of one of the best by-far dramas of the last few years.


- Finally got my new MacBook yesterday, and so far it's great! The keyboard is a little oddly layed out compared to what I'm used to but it was a snap to set up and I've got AIM, MS Office, Final Draft, and a few other programs up and running. Interesting that it uses only the Safari internet browser with no ability to download IE Explorer ... but man, DVD's look great o nthe ultra-bright screen and that little remote control included is pretty sweet. No I have to figure out how to create a wireless network so I can have the laptop and desktop easily internet-ready in the apartment. Any suggestions on how to do this?

- Alright ... I'm out for some lunch - just one half day to go before Thanksgiving time! Whoohoo! Cya. Read the Blog, SAVE THE WORLD.

Monday, November 20, 2006

License to Blog: CASINO ROYALE Review, Simpsons, Kramer said WHAT? and MORE

Here I go ... on the blog again ... here I go ...

- What's up, humanoids? Luckily for all of us this is a short week, and man do I need it. I cannot wait for the glorious days ahead of lying around, watching movies, sleeping late, playing videogames, etc, etc, etc. Why do kids get so much vacation time? We're the ones who need it? I want Spring Break! I want month-long holiday vacation! I want random Monday holidays and three day weekends, dammit all.

- A good weekend was had this weekend, even if various plans seemed to go awry and things didn't quite work out smooth as silk on a few occasions. But, despite some craziness, I managed to see the new Bond on Friday. Saturday was a farewell party for my former colleague in the Royal Order of the Navy Peacocks (aka the NBC Page Program), Megan. And Sunday a great time was had as a few dozen Boston-ites and other random peeps gathered in West Hollywood for Jason/Amanda/Lisa's pre-Thanksgiving feast ... and what a feast it was.

- Plus, this morning bright and early my Apple MacBook arrived via FedEx! I haven't even had a chance to give it a test drive yet but I am psyched. Such a sleek package - Apple really knows how to do presentation, that's for sure. I can't wait to come home, lie down on my bed, and get some real creativity goin' on with the MacBook's ultra-bright screen, sleek design, and overall coolness factor. Still, I am hoping to upgrade my desktop sometime in early 07, possibly when Windows Vista rolls around.

- Oh man - WHY, COSMO, WHY? I can't believe Michael Richards of all people went on a crazy, rascist tirade at the Laugh Factory. Sure, he has always played off-kilter characters, but Richards always struck me as a really nice guy, the last person I'd expect to go off on a bout of hate-filled insanity like this. Aside from how offensive this outburst was, it totally ruins my ability to fully enjoy Seinfeld reruns and comedy classic UHF, at least for now. Maybe someone should have shut off the man's mic before he lost it like he did? Or maybe, it was time he got ... THE FIREHOSE~! Honestly I kind of just feel bad for Richards, because it does seem like an uncharacteristic moment and it's too bad that his career is going to be so tarnished after this stupid incident.


- Wow, last night,THE SIMPSONS was good! Really good! Definitely best episode of the season last night, as Moe's foray into the world of literature made for a fun, smart, and consistently entertaining ep. Hilarious use of writers like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen as guest stars proved to be the best use of guest voices on the show in quite some time, bringing to mind the all-star jam-session style of eps like the Rock n' Roll Fantasy Camp one and Homerpalooza. This ep was filled with old-school style high-minded humor, classic physical comedy (Homer falling down the steps while simulataneously making fun of Moe), and a good plot that ran the entirety of the episode. Plus lots of good Vermont / New England jokes to boot. And a Haystacks Calhoun reference! Damn, to all the Simpsons haters (like me, frequently) who wonder why keep watching, it's episodes like this one that remind me why it's still worth it to tune in every week - you never know when you might stumble upon a good one. It's like Wizards-era Jordan having one more vintage Air Jordan night, there's been a lot of C-level mediocrity from The Simpsons lately, but finally, here is an ep worthy of an A.

My Grade: A

- FAMILY GUY was also pretty decent last night, which though not great still marks an improvement over the last few weeks of really, really poor quality. At the least, the ep was built around a somewhat funny premise of Meg and her high school friends all taking vows of abstinence, a plotline which led to some good lines from Lois, Peter, and Chris. Many of the jokes still seemed to miss the mark, and the cutaways were mostly forced-seeming, as has been the norm of late. But still, a good amount of funny and prob the best overall ep of the last several weeks.

My Grade: B

- Funny how just as HEROES gets to its hyped-up "Save the Cheerleader" episode, the new and long-delayed new issue of JMS' Squadron Supreme comic finally hits stands. Readers of Squadron Supreme will see characters in a very real-world setting dealing with the horrifying effects of a super-powered serial killer, a government agenda to reign in and control people across the globe with emerging metahuman abilities, and a lead character with mysterious parentage who was raised by adoptive parents privy to the government's shady super-powered plans. Sound familiar? Not to diss on Heroes, it's just jarring to see a hit TV series (admittedly, an increasingly well-made and entertaining one to boot) that shares so many similarities to long running stories in other mediums. But my real point is, if you like Heroes, go to a bookstore and check out Supreme Power and its follow-up, the ongoing comic series Squadron Supreme. Awesome, kickass stuff.



The latest entry in the James Bond franchise, essentially a reboot of the series, kicked off with a bang. The opening teaser, shot in moody black and white, featuring ultra-stylish dialogue and film-noir style snappiness, immediately pumped me up for the movie ahead. And the film's opening big-action-sequence didn't disappoint - as Daniel Craig, the new actor behind 007, engaged in an awesome chase sequence where he pursued a Ugandan terrorist through an industrial cityscape, forced to use the deadly precision that comes with having a License to Kill to hunt and take down his gravity-defying, girder-leaping quarry. Craig was immediately established as a take-no-prisoners, badass take on 007, far removed from the smirking, quipping caricature that Pierce Brosnan had become. From the ultra-cool B&W opening to the thrilling climax of that first big action scene, Casino Royale seemed poised to be an action-espionage thriller to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, it was pretty much downhill from there ... not to say that there wasn't a lot of fun entertainment yet to be had, just that the movie reaches a high point in its opening that it never again matches. The fast pace in the intro is often brought to a crawl in the sequences to come, and the bold simplicity of that first action scene is soon replaced by a number of action sequences that feel completely pointless and nonsensical.

Take the big airport scene. While there was a lot going on - lots of cars screeching and people yelling and alarms going off ... I really couldn't tell you what Bond was trying to accomplish, who exactly he was persuing, or what, exactly, that person planned to do that was so dastardly, or even why, after the sprinkler system went off i nthe airport, did the crowds erupt into chaos as if a bomb had just exploded?

My point is this - this movie does a lot right, as I'll elaborate on in a minute - it has the right look, the right feel, the right sensibilities, and the right lead actor to potentially be one kickass reimagining of the James Bond mythos, that is different from what's come before but also true to the spirit of the Ian Fleming novels. But as a standalone movie, it never quite holds up. The plot is messy and all over the place, the action scenes often random and hard to follow, and the twists and turns of the plot at once confusing and yet obvious. The beats of this movie are easy to spot - James Bond meets a woman who isn't easily swayed by his charms, they falls in love, he is betrayed, and so on. But the manner in which these things happen is never all that convincing, and the various betrayals and counter-betrayals end up detracting from the cohesiveness of the plot. Pacing-wise, a LOT of time is spent on the various card games that Bond engages in, which definitely slows things down and kind of lowers the stakes of the movie, so to speak. I mean, winning a card game is impressive, but this is James Bond here - shouldn't he be saving the world in a slightly cooler way than winning a game? As for Bond's villain, a numbers whiz who cries tears of blood, not bad as far as adversaries go, but he never really feels like a Big Bad, and even in the context of the movie he is really just a pawn for larger forces. When this somwhat meek-seeming badguy eventually shows his sadistic side by stripping Bond naked, tying him up, and, um, whipping him in the grapefruits with a knotted rope -- well, the whole scene to me just came off as kind of silly. I mean, sure, the sight of James Bond screaming in pain as a freakish looking villain repeatedly whips him in the nuts is a memorable one - but it's just, I dont know, weird, and almost as torturous for us to watch as it is for 007 to endure. I mean, geez, what happened to being strapped to an operating table while a suspended lazer beam slowly creeps up towards our hero's crotch? Now that's how you dispose of MI:6's finest ...

In the plus category, Daniel Craig is about all you could hope for in creating a kickass Bond. He pulls off the whole tuxedo-wining-and-dining thing, but also has that added element of badassness where he seriously looks like a man not to be messed with, somewhat in the vein of Sean Connery back in the day. Craig delivers his lines with restrained aplomb, and gets off a ton of good one-liners that have plenty of zip but never feel cartoonish or over the top a la the late Brosnan era. Eva Green is also excellent as the latest Bond Girl, a far cry from the grrrl power chicks of the recent flicks (see Michelle Yeaoh and Halle Barry as Jinx), and instead does a good job as the classic serious-minded-stiff-upper-lip-British-career-girl with a hidden thing for the bad boys (a kind of non-parody version of Elizabeth Hurley in Austin Powers). Also, it must be said that, as I mentioned above, the look and feel of the movie is great - it has a modern sleekness mixed with an old-fashioned, filmic style that brings to mind the exotic locales and technicolor sets of the old Bond films. The classic 007 theme is skillfully mixed into the soundtrack as well, and you'll be humming it for hours after seeing the movie.

So in the end, this is a Bond film well worth your time to check out, and judged solely as a restart for the series, it pretty much hits a homerun. Again though, as an action-thriller movie in and of itself, things get muddled by some odd pacing and editing choices, a plot that never quite holds together, and a number of scenes that don't quite gel with what the movie is trying to accomplish. If only the entire film had that same level of awesomeness as the opening teaser - now THAT gave a true glimpse of how cool a Bond movie could be. As it stands, I'd place this 007 somewhere on par with Mission Impossible III and slightly below Miami Vice (a divisive movie, I know, but I really enjoyed it and it covered much of the same ground with more style and clarity). That being said, I can't wait to see what the next adventure will hold for Daniel Craig's exciting and refreshing new take on Bond, James Bond.

My Grade: B

- In other movie news, I just read the notice from Peter Jackson and co that it appears as though New Line and MGM will proceed with making The Hobbit and another LOTR prequel movie sans Peter Jackson and co. If so, this can't be seen as anything but a huge, huge mistake. It sounds like the whole issue is tied up in Jackson's ongoing lawsuit against New Line, and that he took offense to them including directing new LOTR movies as part of terms to settle the suit. I can only hope that New Line makes ever effort to reconcile with Jackson, because I can barely think of any directors who would even approach his passion and grasp of the source material. Jackson lived and breathed Tolkien for years, and his original cast andcre clearly has great admiration and affection for him and his work. If The Hobbit was made with anyone but Ian McKellan as Gandalf at this point, for example, it would just feel wrong. But yeah, Peter Jackson is one of those guys who at this point should have a little pull, not be screwed over by a studio that is potentially killing one of the best movie franchises ever by giving it the Dumb and Dumberer treatment. Please guys, come to your senses. A PJ-directed Hobbit is MONEY IN THE BANK. Anything else short of getting Ridley Scott or Terry Gilliam in the director's chair would be a potential disaster of epic proportions. Not good at all.

- Alright, I am out. As the man with a license to blog, come back next time for the blog that is always shaken, never stirred.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Live From a Hatch on a Deserted Island Brimming With Strange Electromagnetic Properties: LOST, Heroes, and MORE

- So about last night's LOST "fall season finale" ...

Man, I just feel like few others I've talked to are on the same wavelength with me on LOST. Let me summarize: to me, much of Lost's first season was spectacular - the best season of scifi / fantasy drama since the heyday of The X-Files - just totally captivating, fun, and thought-provoking. But the Season 1 finale, where anticipation and intensity was built up to unbearable levels, just killed it for me - with the now infamous "inside the hatch is ... a ladder!" cliffhanger ending, all the momentum the show had built up just burst like an untied balloon. This sense of frustration with the show carried over into much of Season 2. While the second season definitely had its moments, I never took to most of the Tailie characters, and felt that the show was just totaly getting off track and off-focus. Even as pretty much all of Season 1's mysteries were left hanging, an entirely new set of riddles were introduced, and as a weary fan I was becoming less and less invested in the show's mythology, especially since the only really interesting stuff going on had to do with the characters' interactions, not with the overarching plot. That being said, Season 2 had a pretty interesting finale, and I welcomed the character house-cleaning that removed the extremely annoying and one-note Anna-Lucia character from the cast. So that brings us to Season 3, where going in I was really, really on the bubble ... to be honest I wasn't even all that excited about the show, which for me got completely eclipsed last season by the quality of 24, Veronica Mars, and other shows that last year were to me better written and better-plotted than Lost, by far. And going into the first few eps of Season 3, I still felt that sense of frustration ... the flashbacks seemed tacked on and extraneous, the myth-arc seemed to be an unfixable mess of random plot points and unresolved mysteries, and characters like Locke seemed to lose much of their bite and interest-level from the superlative Season 1 episodes. When I read that TV Guide review that declared the Season 3 premiere to be the best ep since the pilot, I was excited, but was in disbelief after having watched it - not only was it not that great of an ep, but this season's premiere was, in many ways, a disappointment - the resolution of the exploding-hatch plotline was terrible, the Others' motives still frustratingly murky, and most of the formerly main characters had all but been rendered irrelevant.

But that was then, this is now. To me, the last three episodes of Lost have been pretty great. And yet, I seem to be the only one who feels this way. Whenever I talk to someone, they are either in the "I've always loved Lost, loved Season 2, and love love love Season 3" camp, or in the "liked Season 1, disliked Season 2, and dislike Season 3 even more, and will probably stop watching any minute" camp. Am I the only one whose dwindling faith in the show has been almost fully restored thanks to the quality of the last few episodes? That's not to say that, in the bigger picture, this show doesn't still have some major, major hurdles to overcome to get back on track. I am really, really hoping that the end of this six-episode arc doesn't mean a return to Season 2 style unevenness. But man, this sort-of self-contained storyarc really allowed the writers to focus on the immediate drama at hand, and create a Jack/Sawyer/Kate-centric story that has been filled with tension, drama, and excitement.

Last night's ep, to me, completed a trifecta of amazing episodes of LOST. While the bigger-picture questions still loom, the last few eps have masterfully tightened the focus from the larger mystery of the island to the interpersonal drama between our three principle characters and the Others, who despite still-enigmatic origins, have become the most hate-able villains in quite some time. This ep was just intense, from start to finish. Even the Kate / Sawyer caged-heat sexytime scene was set up really, really well ... and yeah, let's just say that if Sawyer had to go, he picked the right way to go ... you know? The final operating-table scene was just pure drama, and the final sequence had to have your heart racing and wondering "what happens now?"

In the bigger picture, while there have been some great myth-arc related moments in these last few eps (the smoke monster vs. Eko, the emergence of Eye-Patch Guy, etc.), what makes these eps really notable is the great dramatic buildup that occurred between all of the main characters as they were held captive by the Others and desperate for a way out.

It's yet to be seen if LOST has what it takes to really weave a compelling and fulfilling overarching sci/fi fantasy plotline - the rest of the season will be make or break in that regard. But, no question, this show knows how to deliver top-notch character drama, and this quasi-finale was proof that Lost can still be the best in the biz at delivering a compelling and nail-biting hour of televised drama, a level of acting, character, dramatic pacing, and intensity that is second to none. Anyone else with me?

My Grade: A

- Also, finally watched Monday's HEROES. I have to say, the show has done a great job recently of giving some of its initially less-interesting characters a much better level of depth and coolness. Ali Larter, for one, has helped make her character better by leaps and bounds over the last one or two eps. I've been down on her acting until now, where she's done a pretty impressive job of playing at Rose & Thorn-esque dual personalities. But the heart of the show is still Hiro, who just makes everything else so much more fun through his presence. Just his expression as he showed the kid the comic that he stars in was priceless. Also, I definitely respect the fact that things are moving forward on this show at full steam. I mean, why not? Why should a show about superheroes be relegated to a Lost-style methodical episode-to-episode pacing? So yeah, I definitely feel that with each episode, HEROES has become increasingly more watchable. But still, it's just lacking that extra something to make it special, to really make it stand out. Even this ep's revelation that that kid can somehow "fix" machines through his mind ... what should have been a huge shocker was just kind of "meh." It just felt arbitrary and again, like an idea that I've seen before, notably in Brian K. Vaughn's Ex Machina. And it's funny, I was reading the EW article about Heroes where Jeph Loeb was joking about how naive Tim Kring was about superhero mythology, to the point where he suggested a hero with magnetic powers, not realizing the character he envisioned was basically the X-Men's Magneto. Kring even admits that he didn't read JMS's Rising Stars series, because he realized how similar it was to Heroes. I mean, okay, so the guy is just "stumbling" on all these pre-used concepts, but even if they're new to him, it just gives Heroes this semi-generic feel to it. I feel that to really get to that next level, Heroes needs to do two things: 1.) get a few really gravitas-filled actors - the equivalent of a Terry O'Quinn on Lost or William B. Davis on the X-Files or Dennis Haysbert, formerly of 24, to help give the show a bit more dramatic cred. The show needs more of that, of the kind of actor who makes you cheer whenever they come on screen, who can deliver even an over the top line with intensity and gusto. 2.) Blow open the main superhero/conspiracy theory main plotline with a storyline that is not only mind-blowing but original - something that even a big scifi fan can look at and say "huh, I've never seen that done before." Obviously there will be SOME aspects that seem familiar, but the show just needs that boost of freshness and originality. As for this ep, like I said, pretty good, and a definite improvement over the earlier eps. But not quite on that level of "great" just yet.

My Grade: B

- Alright, that's it for now --- until we meet again.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

WALK. THIS. WAY. Aerosmith Concert Wrap-Up and MORE

Concert Review below, but first of all, a word on politics.

To Donald Rumsfeld: I hate to be crass, but: "Nah-nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey heyyy, GOODBYE!"

I realize that Rumsfeld's ousting from the Bush administration may not necessarily mean much, but still, it's nice to see Bush actually thinking like a savvy businessman for once and realizing that the man's job performance and results were subpar, and it was high time for him to get the boot. Rumsfeld is simply, in my view, a hardliner from an older era when ideological wars were fought at any price, be it in dollars or American lives. This isn't a period where a good ol' fashioned war is going to solve our problem with terrorism, and old-boy leaders aren't going to solve today's problems with their outdated worldviews. The last I checked, being tough on terrorism means FIGHTING THE TERRORISTS, and for all of Rumsfeld's talk about being tough when it comes to foreign policy, his war on terror, against the axis of evil, against Iraq, whatever ... has yielded few tangible victories in the aftermath of 9/11, unless you count the fact that for years Rumsfeld had much of America believing that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis were somehow equivalent to the ones who attacked us on September 11th.

As for yesterday's elections ... congrats to the American people on helping to give the Dems back control of the House and Senate! Lieberman winning in CT was expected, and I guess I'm happy for him, but I still don't like the precedent he set by switching parties post-primaries simply to ensure a victory in the general election. Here in CA, Schwarzenegger got an easy win, and even though I voted Democrat I have to say that the opposition to the Governator made a pretty weak case for themselves, and made it easy for Ah-nuld to steamroll his competition. Nice to see a Dem finally take the governor's chair in MA though ... If anything, the next few years leading up to the 2008 Presidential election will be pretty interesting ones politically ...

But moving on to the real meat of my post ... last night's AEROSMITH CONCERT~!

- This hasn't been the best year for America's Greatest Rock N' Roll Band ... Bassist Tom Hamilton was diagnosed with cancer, and Steven Tyler has been battling various ailments, including throat surgery, as well. Since their 90's comeback - rejuvenated and drug-free, the Bad Boys from Boston have been nigh indestructable, defying age and shifting musical tastes and enjoying a second career as one of the top acts in rock music. But as the Route of All Evil tour with Motley Crue began, the question lingered -- could Tyler still scream his lyricswith his famous raspy yell? Could Perry still own the guitar like old times? Could the band maintain their sound without Hamilton? Had age, youthful craziness, and fatigue finally caught up to Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and the gang?

Could Aerosmith still go ...?

Well, last night, a few things were immediately clear from the moment that Aerosmith roared onto the stage at the Hollywood Bowl. First, it was clear that a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing -- Tom Hamilton was at home resting, and was not in attendance to contribute on a select few songs as he had been some previous dates of the tour. But, the second thing that soon became clear was this: Aerosmith may have been bruised, but they sure as hell weren't beaten. Maybe the band's various problems of late lit a fire under Tyler and Perry - I don't know - but what I do know is that last night I witnessed two icons of rock n' roll - one of the greatest frontmen of all time in Tyler, and one of the most virtuoso guitar players to ever rock in Perry - perform a blistering set full of so much energy, emotion, and sheer awesomeness that the two were not just musicians, not just rock stars, but primal forces of nature.

Before I get into Aerosmith though, I'll start with the opening act, Motley Crue. Having never seen them live, I wasn't sure what to expect. My verdict is that they were decent. From up close, their stage show was probably pretty impressive - it featured leather-clad strippers, midgets, and oversized Harleys. But the stage was so obscured with smoke and strobe lights that from our vantage point higher up in the Bowl, it was pretty tough to make out what was going on on stage. The set list was a mix of hits and lesser known earlier stuff, but I couldn't help but wish that the Crue be relegated to a shorter stage time so that Aerosmith could have more time to do their thing. The set seemed to drag for much of the middle, until things picked up with the hits like Home Sweet Home, Girls Girls Girls, and the pretty rocking closer - Kickstart My Heart. Part of the problem is prob with the Bowl itself - my idealized vision of a Motley Crue concert is in some dank concert hall that's packed to the brim and surging with craziness. he more sedate fans at the Bowl don't quite bring the insanity that you'd get at a smaller venue or even at a bigger arena that caters less to the casual scenesters. Also, Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee were pretty random - mixing up their set list with little musical interludes - a guitar solo here, a riff of Jimmy Hendrix's Voodoo Chile there, that were occasionally cool but often just felt like time-wasters. And Tommy Lee kept addressing the crowd as "F&%$'ers" and starting weird chants. So yeah, the Crue was okay ... but they really should have been relegated to Opening Act and not been a co-headliner ... Unlike KISS, who practically stole the show when I saw them co-headline with Aerosmith in CT, the Crue rocked, sure, but were strictly midcard material that prepped the crowd for the main event ...

Because holy crap, like I alluded to up top, Aerosmith was simply on fire. Busting out of the gates with Toys in the Attic, it was nonstop insanity for the next 80 minutes or so. Yep, waaaaay too short of a time for the 'Smith - unlike the Crue's set which felt overly long, Aerosmith's stage-time FLEW by, and I was in total disbelief when they took their curtain calls and called it a night. Surely, there had to be one, two, three more songs before the night was over? But what we did get was pretty much kickass from start to finish, with typically amazing production values the whole way through (great light / video fx that took full advantage of the Bowl's layout, and even a really cool animated short that played during the short intermission). After the opener of Toys, we got a song I had actually never even heard called Walk the Dog ... but then, DAMN, a familiar drumbeat started and my wish was granted -- for the first time I was seeing EAT THE RICH performed live, baby! Feeling particularly appropriate on this Republican-ousting election day, I was totally giddy with excitement as the song that rocked me like no other in my middle-school years began to play - the song that seemed to be the ultimate expression of in-your-face rock n' roll at that time still rocked me like it was 1995. Awesome! From there, the hits continued to flow with reckless abandon: Cryin', Sweet Emotion, Dream On, ... and oh yeah, FINALLY, Love in an Elevator, baby! Livin' it up when I'm gooooiiin' down! There was a fantastic, ear-piercing version of Draw the Line, and a chill-inducing rendition of Seasons of Wither, with Tyler and Perry kneeling in the audience and serenading the front row, as snow fell from the rafters. We got one of the better songs from Honkin' on Bobo - Baby, Please Don't Go, and one Joe Perry song as well as one new song, which wasn't bad - presumably it's the one included on the newest Greatest Hits album. An encore of Walk This Way left me pumped up and ready for more. Man, I would have killed for a live version of Angel, Deuces are Wild, Pink, or What it Takes. But on the other hand, I've gotta say, what we got, while woefully quick, was pretty damn intense.

Watching Tyler and Perry on stage was simply amazing - the two put more emotion into each song than I've yet seen live, and if age is catching up to these two legends, you'd never know it. At the two previous Aerosmith shows I've seen, I definitely had moments where I was aware I was watching a slightly aging rock band ... but not last night, no freakin' way. Tyler was twirling and kicking and prancing on stage like a man possessed, with all of his trademark rockstar showmanship more than intact. Perry was not only a pure machine on guitar, as usual (proving again that he is up their with the all-time greats), but seemed more intense than usual, at one point throwing down his guitar and whipping it with his shirt like a man who was truly one with the gods of Rock. Watching the two of them share the mic and dance around the stage, in total command of every soul-searing song, was truly to be in the presence of rock greatness, of legends still possessed of an inhuman amount of energy and flair - watching these guys go, it might as well have been 1978. Once again, I was reminded of why, to me, Aerosmith is the very definition of Hard Rock.

So even though it left me wanting more, even though it was a too-short show that should have spotlighted Aerosmith rather than give them equal billing with Motley Crue, this was still one for the ages. Rock n' by-god Roll at its absolute best.

- Alright, rock n' rollers - I'm out, but back with more soon. KICK IT.

"Dream on, dream on
Dream until your dream come true"

Monday, November 6, 2006

HIGH FIVE! BORAT Review, Simpsons Treehouse of Horror, and MORE


Well it's back to the grind for one more week ... a good weekend was had with Friday's viewing of Borat and Saturday's birthday / belated Halloween / Pageoween II bash in Pasadena at la casa del Carlos. I thought my K-Fed getup was pretty sweet, but lo and behold I was like one of five K-Feds in da hizouse. Still, I was the only one with a kickass homemade T-shirt sporting the classic catchphrase of "Popo Zao." Beat that. Well, my friend Erica can beat that, as she actually ATTENDED a K-Fed concert last week. Yes, you heard right. I'm just waiting for Mr. Federline's burgeoning career as a professional wrassler to really take off, so that we can enjoy the first ever Britney-on-a-pole match (within the confines of a 15 foot high steel cage, of course ...). Otherwise, the party was a fun time even if it was weird being the resident old-school former NBC page. I got to meet some of the newer crop of pages though, so at least I'm slightly in the loop as to who is currently donning the blue polyester and giving guided tours of NBC Studios. Funnily enough, I've seen two different people actually dress as NBC Pages for Halloween this year, presumably thanks to the hilarity of the page character on NBC's 30 Rock. Who would have thunk it?

As for Borat ...

BORAT Review

Okay, well, let's see ... how to describe my reaction to BORAT? Well, first of all - yes, this movie is pretty freaking hilarious, no doubt about it. Sascha Baron Cohen is in absolute top form as Borat, and in Borat he has created one of the most inherently hilarious characters we've seen in years.

BUT ...

Going into this movie, based on my love of Da Ali G Show, well, I was honestly expecting a movie that was not only hilarious, but one that would instantly rank as one of the all-time great comedies - a movie that without hesitation I could call one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

The problem with this movie is that, while it is excellent, it isn't as good or as original or as ... pure, I guess ... as the original Borat sketches from Da Ali G Show. Those pieces are pure comedy magic thanks to the combo of Cohen as Borat and his interaction with real, unsuspecting subjects. In the movie, that comedic purity gets watered down by an underwhelming attempt to connect everything via a typical Hollywood narrative, with Borat on a quest to find his object of obssessive affection, Pamela Anderson. On one hand, the narrative sections of the movie do provide some undoubtedly hilarious moments (the opening and closing scenes in Kazhakstan are both great, and that one scene, you know - the man-on-man naked wrestling one - is admittedly gut-bustingly, side-splittingly funny). On the other hand, most of the Borat as man-on-the-street sections of the film feel overly cropped and squished together to accomodate the "Story" of the film. Did we really need a subplot where Borat falls in love with an overweight prostitute, for example? To me, Borat and Cohen are at their best when they are doing their Andy Kauffman-esque, reallife-meets-fiction take on reality TV, interacting with unsuspecting rubes, having Borat interact with regular people to hilarious effect. I wish there was more of that in this movie, as opposed to the scripted portions that were, at times, funny, but ultimately getting away from the real point of the character and of Cohen's act.

The other problem is simply that there's not enough new material in the movie. Many of the gags are recycled from Da Ali G Show, for example - from Borat showing off an increasingly dirty series of family photos, to an awkward attempt at the national anthem, to his attempts at being polite at a southern dinner party -- fans of Borat have seen much of this before. Even many of the new jokes and one-liners from the movie have been repeated ad-nauseum in various in-character interviews and TV appearances. As funny as Borat's schtick is, I wish I hadn't already seen so much of it beforehand.

So those are my grievances ... which basically amount to this movie being very, very funny and comedically daring, just not the ultimate, instant-classic movie comedy that I was hoping it would be. In general, I think Sascha Baron Cohen's Ali G characters represent some of the absolute best comedy of the last several years - even with only a handful of episodes available in the US, I place the show up there with The Simpsons, Arrested Development, Seinfeld, The Office UK, and a few others as my favorite comedic TV shows of all time. I think that Cohen's ability to stay in character, to live, breath and play the part so well that everyone from store owners to southern gentlemen to esteemed politicians all buy into his act, is simply amazing. It's totally fearless comedy that is, also, some of the absolute best social satire around. I think a lot of people probably like Borat for his funny look and accent, but I hope that people are smart enough to realize just how deeply the character is satirizing America. I think they are, but in the back of my mind I am kind of worried that people will start to think it's cool / funny to actually mock Jews a la Borat, when of course, he's actually mocking the ignorance inehrent in antisemitism - to great satiric and comedic effect (nothing in the movie beats his shockingly funny "Throw The Jew Down the Well" bit from Da Ali G Show). So again, Borat the movie is, as expected, ridiculously funny, but it also loses a bit of its bite by getting too many laughs from the Borat character and not enough from the social satire that elevated Ali G from the level of merely "funny" to that of "great."

So please, go see Borat. I can't tell you how happy I am that this movie was #1 at the box office, though again, I do somewhat worry that some people might take Borat at face value, just like the people he interviews in his movie. But more than that, I hope that Cohen's real point will be taken to heart here - that we Americans, as enlightened and sophisticated as we like to believe we are, are not as far removed from a goofily naive and backwards eastern-European dolt as we'd like to think.

To sum up - not QUITE the comedic masterpiece I had envisioned, but as expected to those in the know, it's typically crazy, brave, and hilarious. I like!

My Grade: A -


THE SIMPSONS TREEHOUSE OF HORROR - This whole Simpsons schpiel is getting a little old, but for the uninitiated, I'll repeat: Once, the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror was the most beloved of Halloween TV traditions - a yearly showcase for some of the funniest writers in comedy to brilliantly blend the hilarity of The Simpsons with spot-on tributes to classic horror and sci-fi. For several consecutive years, each new Treehouse of Horror was an annual television highlight. Now, of course, like the show in general, we've seen several years in a row where the once-superlative episode has not lived up to its past greatness. After so many years of subpar Simpsons though, many longtime fans have come to accept that the show is no longer at its creative peak, and gone into each new season with considerably lowered expectations. But still, I know for me, the sheer potential in these annual Simpsons horrorthons is to much to pass up. So I tuned in Sunday with scaled back hopes, and what I got was an episode that was ... predictably average, but, not quite as bad as I'd feared, with a few decent laughs to be found even if none of the segments proved particularly memorable. Despite most of the stories not really going anywhere, there was something inherently funny to me about a golem voiced by Richard Lewis, and there were a few very funny lines scattered throughout the ep ("SKINNER! I wish I had gotten to know you better."). But this was far removed from the old-school Simpsons' spot-on parodies of Dracula, The Twilight Zone, etc ... instead the last few minutes were a ham-fisted critique of the war in Iraq, following an odd mix of War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Keep it simple, guys! By no means classic, and probably not even good per se, but not totally bad either - and much better than the bar-lowering talking dolphin ep from a few years back, that's for sure.

My Grade: C+


- A somewhat funny ep, that once again was pretty hit or miss humor-wise. Sometimes this show just finds the right subject to parody that I just find inherently funny - I mean, finally, a good Choose Your Own Adventure joke! The Brian and Stewie in the army stuff was just okay, but there were nough good jokes to make this an episode worth watching, even if, as a whole, this show is still really struggling to capture it's past level of wit and humor.

My Grade: B -

Alright ... I'm out ...