Monday, February 26, 2007
Reno 911 is no Wet Hot American Summer. But even if I am no forced to concede that the Reno 911 guys and girls are probably the lesser half of the late-great THE STATE, they still did a good job here of taking an intermittantly funny TV show and making it into a pretty damn hilarious movie. Reno 911 isn't going to make any all-time Best Lists, but it had me laughing from start to finish, and had some of the most blatantly over-the-top humor I've seen since Borat. This one, much to my delight, is not for the easily-offended.
Because Thomas Lennon and crew really take full advantage of having no TV censors, and go for the Hard R here. The humor is lude, crude, profane, and hilariously so. It's going to be hard to watch the TV show now knowing that the actors can't go all-out like they could in the movie. Then again, these are some of the best comedy / improv performers out there. Thomas Lennon has been one of my favorites since I first saw him play a perverted lighthouse keeper on The State. Here, he totally transforms himself into Jim Dangle, one of the funniest characters on TV or film in the last few years. Just the visual gag of Dangle, sporting 70's-era mustache and John Stockton-style short-shorts is pretty consistently funny, but Lennon's deadpan, mock-serious delivery of his lines can just be flat-out hilarious.
Lennon is aided by a great supporting cast. While all of the regular Reno players are pretty good, my favorite has to be Kerri Kenney, who is seriously one of the funniest women I've ever seen. Her character on Reno is just totally insane, and gets some of the movie's biggest laughs.
The movie has a few great cameos as well, the best of which is probably from The Rock, who does a hilarious little bit of self-parody, a must-see for any fan of Dwayne "Rocky" Johnson. Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt are a bit disappointing in their roles here though, unfortunately neither one is as good as they've been in other comedies, and most of their lines fall flat, especially Rudd's Scarface-like character, who is very gimmicky and never really quite works.
However, one of the big treats and disappointments of the movie is that every non-Reno 911 member of The State appears in a cameo role. It was awesome seeing the likes of Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, et al appearing alongside Thomas Lennon et al ... the main problem is that these highly funny and talented guys were given little to do, so while it was cool to see them, they were barely used in the film. Kind of frustrating, as I said. A few other name comedians like Paul Reubens and Danny DeVito show up as well ... but really, no one outside of the principle Reno 911 players (excepting perhaps The Rock) is really used all that well.
Overall, this movie had a few jokes that bombed, no question. In fact, a few characters bombed completely (Patton Oswald, Paul Rudd). But in the end many of the jokes succeeded pretty spectacularly, and a few scenes were among the most hilariously memorable of any comedy I've seen in a while, up there with the best in some of my faves from the last several months like Borat, Tenacious D, Talladega, etc. While the plot is somewhat loosely constructed, it gives the offbeat officers of Reno 911 plenty of chances to shine, and lays the groundwork for plenty of laughs. Fans of the TV show will eat this up, and anyone else will probably at least get a kick out of it.
My Grade: B+
This movie is old-school through and through, with deliberate pacing, no fancy action, and cinematography that's about as straightforward as you can get. But that doesn't take away from a movie that really capitalizes on a tight script, very solid acting, and is a fascinating character study. Bottom line is: while it may not be the ideal Saturday night popcorn movie, Breach is a drama well worth checking out.
Basically, Breach tells the fact-based story of an FBI mole (Chris Cooper) who uses his standing as one of the Bureau's top information-analysts to feed sensitive intelligence to the Russians for years, operating just under the radar of the FBI, who finally catches onto him after years of fruitless efforts to find the mole. The question is - how to expose this guy in a way that is definitive and lawyer-proof? The answer lies in a setup - planting a young agent (Ryan Phillipe) in the mole's office, and having him covertly report on what goes on there, all while himself trying to evade suspicion.
More so than anything else, I found this to be a pretty fascinating character study of a company man gone bad. Chris Cooper does a fantastic job here, alternatively earning our sympathies as an unrecognized, spit-upon genius, and making us resent his bitter, destructive, intrusive personality. Cooper really owns this movie, and every second on screen he pulls you into the movie's admittedly slowly-paced plot just from sheer force of character.
The rest of the cast is decent, but operating on a slightly different plane than Cooper. While Cooper is treading Oscar-worthy territory, the rest of the cast turns in servicable-TV-movie-quality performances. I mean, I love Dennis Haysbert (President Palmer!), but his role is way too thin here to avoid simply thinking of him as That Guy From 24 and The Allstate Commercials. Similarly, it was hard to get over Gary Cole as a condescending buerocrat when he was basically playing a non-comedic version of his famous character from Office Space. Again, a great actor, but without much meat to his role, it was more a case of "look, it's Bill Lumbergh!"
As for Phillipe, he's been up and down with me depending on the movie. I was praying that this one wouldn't be a retread of the godawful Anti-Trust, and thankfully it was much, much better than that Razzie-worthy flick. Truth be told, Philipe was pretty good here. Not good "I wish he got Harvey Dent over Aaron Eckhart good," but he was well-suited for the role, and his slow, deliberate style was a good match for the movie's no-frills execution. Basically, Philipe is a long way away from being compared to young actors like DiCaprio and Damon, but he's pretty good nonetheless.
In sum, this was certainly an interesting movie with some fun dialogue and a very candid, non-glamorized version of the FBI. It actually reminded me a little of The X-Files in that it kept its hallways musty and poorly-lit, the walls bare save for the obligatory portrait of the Commander in Chief, the agents world-weary and lacking in their personal lives due to the rigors of their work (as a bonus for X-Philes, it even featured a small part played by Chris Owens, aka Jeffrey Spender). I liked how real this movie felt. It drew me in thanks to its authenticity. These felt like real people dealing with real issues, never all that larger than life, and that to me was a huge asset to the film and the story it was trying to tell.
So there you have it - it's not a slam-bag spectacular, not hyper-stylized, not particularly flashy. There are no huge twists or jaw-dropping revelations. In a way, it reminded me a bit of the Morgan Freeman movies Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider - that same gritty, old-school feel, nothing to distract from the minutiae of the plot, the characters. Some may get bored at this type of movie, but I enjoyed it. Solid stuff.
My Grade: B+
Friday, February 23, 2007
First of all, this has been the longest four-day work week ever, so thank the lord it's the weekend. Some good movies this weekend - looking forward to Reno 911 - anything that is spawned from the late great THE STATE deserves a look in my book. May also check out a free Universal screening of Breach, which looks to be a decent thriller.
OSCAR PICKS AND PREVIEW:
This weekend though, the big story in entertainment is The Oscars, which, really, did a pretty decent job this year of nominating a worthy crop of movies. I mean, is anyone really THAT upset that Dreamgirls didn't get a nod for Best Picture? I'm not. Okay, I didn't even see the movie, but the reality is that all of the nominated flicks (except maybe save Babel - I've heard very mixed things) are pretty Oscar-worthy. If anything, UNITED 93 should have been put in the Best Picture mix. Honestly, I don't know why it got left out. And after having seen it, finally, I really think that THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was more than worthy of being in the race as well. It was definitely more than just Forest Whitaker - it was expertly directed, well-told, a great movie.
To me, the two biggest omissions were genre flicks THE PRESTIGE and THE FOUNTAIN. Both, I realize, left audiences divided over their merits. But both were amazingly directed, for one thing - where is the love for perenially snubbed Christopher Nolan and, also, for the wunderkind that is Darren Aranofsky? Hugh Jackman did great, great work in both movies and deserved recognition as well. Another big one to me is Hugo Weaving in V FOR VENDETTA. The timing of the film's release was far from ideal for attracting Oscar buzz, but still - that is a performance that will be remembered and praised years from now.
But honestly, to me the two best movies of the year were THE DEPARTED and LITTLE MISSS SUNSHINE, so I'm more than happy to see both receive so much recognition. As for how I feel about the individual categories ...
I'm Rooting For: Either Departed or Little Miss Sunshine. I loved both movies and love to see either win. In a way, I almost want Sunshine to win just to stick it to all the people who backlashed against this movie. Then again, does a beloved indie comedy really need an Oscar to be legitimized? Not really. I still have to see Iwo Jima as well ...
Will Win: This one really could go in a number of ways. But I'll bet on Eastwood and go with LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Scorcese is a lock for director, but I doubt he'll get best picture as well. Babel had too many mixed reviews. And ... a comedy winning Best Picture? Very rare, and I don't know if Sunshine would be the one to break the glass cieling, even if I'd love to see it happen.
I'm Rooting For: Scorcese or Paul Greengrass. United 93 was an AMAZING directorial achievement. Gotta love Marty as well, and he deserves it with the Departed more so than he did for Gangs of New York or The Aviator.
Will Win: This is Scorcese's year, no doubt. Anything else would be a huge upset.
I'm Rooting For: Forest. He was a tour de force in Last King of Scotland.
Will Win: It's gotta be Forest. He was too good not to win.
I'm Rooting For: Don't really care. I enjoyed Judi Dench in Scandal but its not like she's an underdog or anything. I haven't seen any of the other nominated actress' movies.
Will Win: Come on, this is Helen Mirren's year, barring a huge upset.
I'm Rooting For: Alan Arkin. He was hilarious in Little Miss Sunshine and in many ways was the heart and soul of that movie. Wahlberg was great in Departed but basically one-note comedy relief. The others I haven't seen.
Will Win: I'm going to go out on a limb with this one and say Alan Arkin. The ensemble cast of Little Miss Sunshine was too good not to honor in any way, and this will be where the movie gets its due. Of course, Eddie Murphy is the favorite but I have one word for you: Norbit.
I'm Rooting For: Abigail Breslin. Yep, she's just a little kid. But she totally owned her part in LMS. She was simply great. On the other hand, it is kind of annoying to think of a nine year old kid winning an Oscar ... but she's just so darned lovable. Also, I gotta kind of root for Jennifer Hudson even though I've yet to see Dreamgirls. After all, she's from BLOOMFIELD, CT! My home town, baby!
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson will be Dreamgirls' big victory of the night. Bet on it.
I'm Rooting For: Little Miss Sunshine. Forced quirkiness? Maybe. But this was a movie that just brilliantly walked the line between moving and funny. This is some great writing.
Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine. I think. Was Babel really that well-written? I think LMS is the most writer-centric movie of the noms, and therefore should and will win.
I'm Rooting For: The Departed. This was a damn good adaptation and a crackling, badass script. Children of Men's weakest aspect was its script. Borat should win SOMETHING for being so brillaintly hilarious, but not best screenplay.
Will Win: The Departed. Great writing, classic crime drama mixed with a wicked sense of humor.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
I'm Rooting For: Pan's Labrynth. Guillermo Del Toro is a true creative visionary, and this was a movie worthy of rcognition.
Will Win: Pan's Labrynth.
Should Win: Cars
Will Win: Cars
Should Win: Pan's Labrynth (THE FOUNTAIN! should win!)
Will Win: Pan's Labrynth
Should Win: Don't Care.
Will Win: Somehting from Dreamgirls. I'll go with "Listen."
Should Win: Pan's Labrynth
Will Win: Pan's Labrynth
Should Win: Children of Men
Will Win: Children of Men
Should Win: Curse of the Golden Flower
Will Win: Dreamgirls
Should Win / Will Win: Pan's Labrynth
Should / Will Win: An Inconvenient Truth
Should Win: Don't Care.
Will Win: Dream Girls
Will Win: Letters From Iwo Jima
Should Win: Pirates II
Will Win: Pirates II
Should Win: The Departed
Will Win: The Departed
Check out my last two posts for my many thoughts on the end of THE OC. One thing to add: the line that I loved on last night's episode was towards the end, when Seth told Ryan that he had done some research on Ryan's new college roommate, and that he may be in for some trouble since the guy listed "The Da Vinci code as both his favorite book and movie." Classic.
- The OFFICE last night was very solid. Not as riotous as last week's episode, but a lot of fun stuff between Michael and Jan - finally giving some odd but palatable logic to their seemingly mismatched relationship. Dwight as always had me cracking up. And the Pam stuff was pretty bleak but well-done. Also - Creed is becoming increasingly more hilarious by the week. I'd still like to see the relationship drama take place more in the background though, and keep the comedy at the forefront.
My Grade: B+
- MY NAME IS EARL was once again pretty entertaining. Nothing mind-blowing, but solid comedy that is very watchable and goes down easy. I enjoyed the flashback story and Jason Lee continues to kick ass. If only he had sharper writing to work with.
My Grade: B
- Have yet to see this week's 30 Rock. And of course, I still need to catch up on VERONICA MARS.
- RIP to Dennis Johnson, one of the true greats of Celtic basketball and an NBA legend. DJ was one of the quintissential pointguards of 1980's-era professional basketball, and in many ways he was the glue that held the Celtics dynasty of that period together. Sad to see a great go so young.
And while I'm on the subject - RIP to Mike Awesome, one of the most extreme athletes I've ever seen. Tuning into one of his famed ECW hardcore fights was just what the doctor ordered back in the day. I mean, what's more therapeutic than watching Mike Awesome Awesome-bomb Masato Tanaka through two wooden tables? Some of the sickest matches I've ever seen. Goodbye to a true hardcore legend.
Alright, TIME FOR THE WEEKEND. Have a good one.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
THE OC - THE FINAL EPISODE:
I'll be honest with you - for the first 40 minutes or so of this ep, I was skeptical. Sure, I laughed at the classic self-referential humor (The Valley, of course, was renewed for 5 more years!). I got caught up in the Six Months Later time-jump from the end of last week's episode, curious to see what had become of the old status quo. But at the same time, the episode seemed to suffer from many of the same problems that have plagued the entirety of this season. Things felt light - there was little real drama or gravity to anything - the show has always excelled at humor, but it's been at its best when the humor is slipped in in the quiet moments to break up the melodrama. To make matters worse, many of the characters have been so watered down from their original incarnations - they just don't have the same appeal. Ryan went from street punk kid to a veritable Newport preppy, albeit one with an affinity for punching things. Seth went from a nerd who was picked on and an outcast to whiny comedy relief despite dating the girl of his dreams and creating his own comic book. Julie Cooper went from uber-bitch villain to watered-down quirky friend of the Cohen family. The OC of old would have had Julie in full-scale evil mode plotting some crazy scheme for her wedding night. At this point, Kirsten Cohen has forgiven her for so much treachery that Julie may as well burn down the Cohen's new house - she'll go back to being good ol' Julie Cooper in a matter of days. Even the newer characters on the show seem to suffer from schizofrenia. Every episode it seems the writers change their minds about whether we're supposed to root for Bullet or Hercules to win over Julie's affections, despite both alternatively being portrayed as sleazy, villainous, and downright unlikable (tonight, it seems, they finally arrived at the conclusion that NEITHER was to end up with her - a decision I applaud). Basically, the writers kind of painted themselves into a corner. They rushed into a status quo where everything was as it should be. Seth and Summer were together. Kirsten and Sandy were happy and healthy. Ryan and Taylor had their thing going. So for a while now, the show has just been in a weird limbo where the ending seemed a forgone conclusion, and all the little plot twists that were introduced flt more like harmless distractions than legitimately dramatic turns in the story. Taylor's old French husband comes to Newport? Meh. Summer is torn over whether to go to Rhode Island with Seth? Whatever ... So that's what we were left with going into tonight's episode -- much ado about nothing - as the status quo has been written on the wall for a long, long time now. Seth and Summer would go their separate ways but still be destined for each other. Ryan and Taylor's future was uncertain, but the important thing was that they helped each other through their various issues. Sandy and Kirsten would get out of Newport and get a new lease on life. Julie would strike out on her own and give up on finding happiness through hasty marriages. And so it goes. Sure, there were little forced moments of drama ("The baby is coming now!" - I mean, come on ....), but overall things felt like they were just meandering towards a foregone conclusion.
But finally, as the episode wound down, something happened. Suddenly, the ep shifted gears and managed to, in a few wonderful minutes, recapture what made this show great in the first place. Finally, the focus was where it belonged - The OC as a story about two adoptive brothers who got each other out of their respective ruts, who developed an unlikely friendship. The OC as a story about one kid from the wrong side of the tracks, who somehow beat the system and came out on top despite all the odds being against him - I know, it sounds cheesy, but The OC as a modern day rags to riches story, Horatio Alger for the Nintendo generation. Okay, so The OC went out as everyone knew it would - with cheesy montage after cheesy montage, schmaltzy flashbacks to the pilot set to whiny pop songs, as the camera panned across sprawling beaches and scenic ocean-side panoramas, complete with the obligatory flash to Marissa Cooper - embodied by Mischa Barton in all her waifish glory, the classic girl next door as could only exist in an upscale beach community in TV fantasy land. But dammit all, The OC went out in style. Dammit all, I'll admit it, it made me misty eyed. Dammit all, I'll admit it, it made me sad to see THE OC go, but at the same time, I appreciated how it all went full circle, with Ryan Atwood the prodigal son coming into his own - and I realized that clearly the show had told the story it set out to tell, which in the world of serialized network TV, is a rare occurance indeed. Seeing Sandy Cohen teaching law at Berkley, Seth dawning a yarmulke as he wed Summer, Caitlin Cooper sporting a Team Julie T-shirt as her mom graduated college, and seeing Ryan managing a construction site, asking a kid much like himself if he needed any help - well, it made me smile. Plain and simple, this was a great ending for the show.
So all hail to THE OC. Through the good times and the bad, it cannot be argued the influence it had. It made it fun to end declarative sentances with an emphatic intonation of "Bitch!" It made cool geeks like myself liken ourselves to Seth Cohen and dare to believe that our comic book reading, videogame playing ways were in fact the epitomy of pop cool (and they are). It brought Jewish humor back to a post-Seinfeld prime-time, and made us wonder if cross-bred winter holidays with funny names were a viable option for the cultural melting pot of the 00's. Sure, a lot of the time the show sucked. But sometimes it didn't. Sometimes, it singlehandedly proved that a teen drama could be as smart and well-written as any "adult" primetime program. And I give the show credit ... it had me worried there for a while, right up until the end. But somehow, Josh Schwartz and co cowboyed up and came through in the clutch. Maybe Im just being sentimental, but I'm a sucker for a good ending.
My Grade: A -
What a week. I am currently drowning in work, going crazy - basically, no time to be blogging. Thses last few days have been insane. Tuesday the transaction of 10% of my soul to General Electric was complete, as I spent a whole day at Universal for new staff orientation, which included a multi-hour tour of the Universal lot and exhaustive lectures on conduct, benefits, company history, etc. My head is stil lrecovering from the information overload. Tuesday night, some friends and I got to roll VIP-style to the Clippers vs Suns game at Staples. The game was a blowout but a great time nonetheless - I'm a big SUNS fan from way back and Nash, Marion, and Amare are some of my favorite players to watch on the court. Plus, we even saw Frankie Muniz - sitting courtside right in front of us and sporting a punk-rock mohawk! Check it out - the kid standing up in the bottom-center:
Also, the game was great as I've been on a big NBA kick of late, thanks to ALL STAR WEEKEND. Awesome stuff on All-Star Saturday Night, as Barkley vs. Bavetta in their EPIC race was one of the most hilarious things I've seen in a while. Barkley reaffirmed why he is my all-time favorite sports figure - in a matter of minutes he rattled off several instant-classic quotables before and after his race with 67 year old Bavetta. My favorite: "Dick is old. But I got nothing against old people - I hope to be one someday." Classic. The dunk contest was solid, and it was cool to see a Celtic win it in Gerald Green, who had some sick dunks. The Celtics needed some kind of victory, as their team this year is pathetic. As Barkley says, Dennis Johnson is rolling over in his grave! Trade Paul Pierce already! One thing though - Michael Jordan was way too harsh a judge, and he and some of the others totally robbed Dwight Howard as his put-a-sticker-on-the-top-of-the-backboard dunk was just plain sick. That one will be remembered for a while to come. Still, congrats to Green, who had some freakishly awesome jams as well. The 3 point contest was great as well, though the actual game on Sunday was kind of a letdown as the East got clobbered.
Otherwise, I had a fun, packed 3-day weekend that took me from Burbank to celebrate new jobs, to West LA to hang with some fellow Jews via J-Connect, to Pasadena to celebrate birthdays, to Universal to see the crapfest that was Ghost Rider. Good times.
Some TV STUFF:
24 - Decent episode on Monday. Decent by 24 standards still = fairly kickass, but the somewhat haphazard plotting around the reveal that Jack's dad is the Big Bad of the season has brought things down a notch. For example -- why is Jack seemingly so accepting of the fact that his hitherto estranged-but-non-evil Dad is in fact a stone cold conspirator and killer? And what, exactly, is Papa Bauer's motivation in all this? Still - the first half of Monday's ep was 24 at its best - nonstop adrenaline-soaked action. And Morris, as I've mentioned, is becoming the breakout supporting character of the season. Good stuff from him. But one other thought -- I was surprised at how unexcited I was about former President Logan's return. While he was a great character last season, his storyarc really kind of ran its course, and the way he was introduced it felt like he was being shoehorned in to an already convoluted plotline. I will be much more excited to see the return of AARON PIERCE, or even MIKE NOVAK. Still, it remains to be seen just how well Logan will be used in the coming episodes.
My Grade: B+
PRISON BREAK - Another pretty fun episode though a slight letdown from the sheer amazingness that was the ep from 2 weeks ago. Some of the Mahone vs. The Escapees stuff is starting to get a little routine. And the T-Bag flashbacks were a little odd. But still, this show is now one of my weekly faves. Good stuff.
My Grade: B+
HEROES - Claire vs. her father is now, easily, the best plotline on this show. Hiro's stuff has gotten a bit pointless, Claude's role as Obi Wan to Peter's Luke is kind of odd (why is he training him in hand to hand combat ...?), and Mohinder still pretty much sucks. Most of this show's plotlines feel meandering and directionless - I mean, what is the actual PLOT of this show? - but Claire's confrontation with her outed Dad is compelling and dramatic. And yes, that Stan Lee cameo was awesome - just seeing him appear in a show that basically owes its existence to him was kind of chill-inducing. but then again I'm a nerd like that.
My Grade: B
GILMORE GIRLS - A great episode that, again, really did a great job of moving things forward and setting up the show's big picture. Great cameos from everyone from Kirk to Ms. Patty to the ever-quotable Paris. Great handling of Lorelai and her interactions with her mother - they are really handling both the heart attack and Chris breakup storylines well right now. I can't wait for next week's Lane-centric ep.
My Grade: A -
LOST - Okay, I've defended this show of late but last night's ep was admittedly pretty weak. Weren't 3 of the show's biggest mysteries supposed to be explained? This show told us virtually nothing about anything, except that (gasp!) The Others don't actually live on that island. At this point, who really cares? Also, we were bombarded with one random, mysterious scene after another. Jack being watched as if he were an animal in a zoo. The ENTIRE flashback sequence which left me scratching my head in total condusion - who was Bai Ling? Is she the smoke monster? Why did the islanders beat up Jack? Whaaaaaaat the hell was going on there? Meanwhile, Kate and Sawyer are traveling with an Other, and yet ask him NOTHING about his people save for where they live? Wow, who cares if they have backyards? That's what was so frustrating about this ep - it placed Jack, Kate, and Sawyer in PERFECT position to find out more about their situations on the island, as well as who The Others are and what they're doing on the island ... but the writers took cheap shortcuts, manipulating the dialogue so that everyone talked in riddles. This whole ep just felt like meaningless filler. Jack's flashback was apparently pointless except maybe to set up some dangling plot thread that will be returned to in like four years. Juliette's apparent loyalties have switched back and forth about 5,000 times now - I get they're trying to make her an enigma but the whole thing is just getting annoying. And damn, I hate when the show ignores ALL the urgency of the immediate plot to focus on relationships. I mean, Jack is on a mysterious island, caged, imprisoned, alone -- who cares if he has a crush on Julliette? That is fine as a subplot to be weaved organically into the A plot, but how can the writers put their characters in these crazy, mysterious, mind-bending circumstances then expect us to forget about all that, and just concentrate on the sexual tension between Jack and Juliette? It's kind of absurd. They have Jack bring up the fact that The Others have kidnapped children, taken prisoners, murdered people, etc - and then never follow up on that? How is he not demanding an explanation? This was, basically, a pretty weak, very frustrating episode that was totally emblematic of recent viewer complaints. Up until now, I thought this season had done a good job of tightening the focus of the plot and therefore justifying the emphasis on characters over mystery-solving. But this ep simultaneously tried to pull back the curtain on the plot and yet keep all of the cards hidden.
My Grade: C+
Now, I would like to take a minute to bid farewell to THE OC.
The OC, when it launched, was such a show that embraced my generation's post-ironic sense of humor, mixing classic teen drama with a smart sense of self-awareness that made it an instant hit and then a bonafide pop phenomena. What did I love about The OC? For me, as I suspect for many, the whole appeal of the show as really in the Seth Cohen - Ryan Atwood relationship. The two had an offbeat friendship that really rang true. Seth Cohen was unlike any TV character I had seen -- a videogame playing, comic book reading nice Jewish boy nerd who was somehow cool enough that girls liked him and guys wanted to be like him (aka - kinda like me!). But seriously, this show always managed to walk the fine line between being over the top, being self-aware of said over-the-topness, and yet still ringing very true. In its best moments, the Cohen family captured a certain zeitgeist of the 00's - a potent mixture of emo and rock n' roll - embodied by Death Cab-lovin' Seth and Journey-listenin' Ryan. It was the classic kid from the wrong side of the tracks meets the new-school post-Columbine, post-9/11, post Kevin Smith and Adult Swim troubled teen. Earstwhile dad Sandy Cohen was the classic Nice Jewish crusading liberal dad, and furrowed mom Kirsten was 40-is-the-new-30 shiksa-appeal mom. From The OC we learned of Chrismakkah - a concept I never liked but whose relevance I couldn't deny. "Welcome to the OC, bitch!" became a catchphrase for the ages. And yet, how appropriate that THE pop-cultural phenomenon of the 00's faded faster than the latest bit of YouTube ephemeria. By Season 3, the show's trademark zip had fizzled. It's breakneck pacing had exhausted every conceivable hookup, betrayal, breakup, and plot twist after only a few dozen episodes. By 2007, Seth Cohen had already become SOOOO 2004. A commentary on our times? Perhaps. And let's face it, this show has been a shadow of its Season 1 self for a while now. But for a brief, magical moment, this show was IT. Emo music, self-mocking humor, rapid-fire pacing, references to everything from Brian Michael Bendis to 80's retro to Shaun of the Dead, to schmearing bagels to Chrismukkah, "Ew," and that so-annoying-it's-awesome themesong. California, there I went. So long OC - you survived Oliver, Johnny, Gordon Bullit - incest, infidelity, and alcholholism - more Seth-Summer, Ryan-Marissa will they won't they moments than I can count - Marissa-goes-Lesbian, Marissa-goes druggie, and Marissa-goes-roadkill. May you go out with a brawl, a backstabbing, a cheesy montage, and a self-referential zinger or two.
Alright - I'll be back tommorow with OSCAR PREDICTIONS.
CALIFORNIA HERE I COME, BITCH!
Monday, February 19, 2007
Ghost Rider is inherently cool as all hell. I mean he's basically the embodiment of every adolescent rock n' roll fantasy. He rides a badass bike, he's got a black leather jacket, he's a SKELETON, and his head is ON FIRE. Ghost Rider is one of those comic book creations that you look at, and you may not know his backstory, you may not be familiar with his allies or enemies ... but you look at this flaming-skulled creation and can't help but thinking "COOL."
So at first, I was curious to see this most rock n' roll of superheroes transferred to the big screen. I wasn't expecting the next Batman Begins or anything, but just the thought of seeing the Ghost Rider fully realized on screen was cause for excitement. Sure, this one had the potential to be a creative disaster - director Mark Steven Johnson had already botched Daredevil, and star Nicholas Cage tends to be very hit or miss - and lately much more miss. But, somehow, none of that could disuade my hopes that this would be a good movie - at the least, good clean over-the-top fun.
Reading the first reviews, the reality became increasingly clear that this would be a disaster of Fantastic Four proportions. But then again, the comic geeks have been a fickle bunch lately. They universally panned X-Men 3 even though it was essentially on par with the first two flicks, even as crapfests like Superman returns received blind praise. So maybe Ghost Rider was actually ... good? When I read this morning that it racked up 45 million this weekend, I knew that even if it WAS a trainwreck, it was a trainwreck I had to see for myself ...
And damn, what a trainwreck this was.
A total, spectacular disaster of epic proportions. Laughably horrendous dialogue. A self-mocking sense of "humor" that elicits ZERO laughs and only serves to remind the audience that they are watching a movie with an absurd premise. No, the only laughs this movie gets are totally unintentional. Terrible, bland f/x. Stomach-churning "acting." It's a testament to the inherent coolness of the Ghost Rider character that this manages to be watchable at all.
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. There were, afterall, SOME things I liked in this movie. Two, to be precise.
1.) Sam Elliot. I mean, this guy is ALWAYS awesome. He's the ONLY actor in the movie that 100% sells the material. Every time he's onscreen, you're lulled intothat magical state of suspension of disbelief. Of course, every other actor immediately reminds you that you're watching a crappy movie. But for those few magical moments that Sam Elliot has the spotlight, the movie actually works. Damn, he's good.
2.) The metal cover of Johnny Cash's "Ghostriders in the Sky." Most of the music in this movie is godawful, cheeseball crap. But damn, this Johnny Cash cover is friggin' sweet. Too bad it's mostly just featured in the ending credits.
Yup, those are just about the only two things I liked in this whole movie. Oh, there was one shot where Ghost Rider was dropping from the top of a skyscraper that looked kinda cool, but that was probably just because the rest of the movie had the most bland, uninspired cinematography you could imagine. I mean, Mark Steven Johnson really, really dropped the ball here. Much like Fantastic Four - there's just NO energy, no kineticism, no wow factor in the direction AT ALL. Which is really too bad for a movie about a MOTORCYCLE-RIDING DEMONIC VIGILANTE. No artistic vision whatsoever. No sense of style, no atmosphere - just about as bland and uninspired looking as is possible given the subect matter. I mean, before the movie started I saw trailers for Grindhouse and Spiderman 3 - both exuded more style, coolness, and vision in their two and a half minutes than Ghost Rider did in 150. This movie should have modeled itself after moody goth fare like The Crow and Dark City, or even Marvel's own Blade franchise. Instead it felt like Spiderman directed by The Wayan's Brothers.
Now, Nicholas Cage has long wanted to play a superhero. Thank god he never got his hands on Superman as was once planned. But I guess, if any character is appropriate for Cage to play, it's Johnny Blaze. He DOES, afterall, have that Skeletor-ish look going for him. There's just one problem ... the man is freakin' INSANE. He plays the lead in this movie with all the nuance of a mack truck. And his character has enough quirk to fill three movies. He downs glasses of jellybeans, is obsessed with monkeys, and repeatedly talks to himself in the mirror. I kid you not. Nicholas Cage in this movie should have been going for badass. Instead he's bat$%&@ crazy. And he just looks retarded riding around on his motorcycle when not in full Ghost Rider flame-on mode. Sorry, but Nicholas Cage is too old, too goofy-looking, and plain and simple too weird to play a convincing badass superhero.
It also doesn't help that the dialogue in this movie is just cringe-inducingly horrible. As in, some of the worst I've ever heard. Whoever "wrote" this movie needs to find a new line of work. I mean, look, Peter Fonda has talent. Donal Logue has talent. Eva Mendes has looks, ample cleavage, and she may or may not have talent. But all three are made to look like complete tools in this movie as they are fed some of the worst lines I've ever seen - lines that make Halle Barry's infamous X-Men 1 dialogue look like Shakespeare in comparison.
Even worse, the movie is just inexcusably boring. For some reason, it follows the major plot beats of Spiderman to a T, which means that yes, ladies and gentlemen, some idiot decided that, REALLY, Ghost Rider is a LOVE STORY. Yep, like I am really going to a Ghost Rider movie to see a teenage Johnny Blaze and his teenage sweetheart sitting under a technicolor tree carving the couple's initials in the bark as sappy love music plays in the background. Yeah, that's really the essence of Ghost Rider right there. Good job on that one.
Now, I'm not saying that I was expecting this movie to have a plot that would blow me away. But the plot of this movie is just totally nonsensical and idiotic. So many scenes are just either out of place or else totally devoid of all logic. Even the action scenes have no zip, no dynamism, no creativity WHATSOEVER. I mean, this is Ghost Rider. How does this movie look as crappy as it does? They couldnt even get Ghost Rider's HEAD right! It looks like a poorly-textured Sega Saturn graphic cut and pasted onto Nicholas Cage's body. Okay, Cage's initial transformation into Ghostrider is cool for about one second, but after the underwhelming final appearance of ol' flamehead, I honestly just didn't care anymore. It was clear this movie had not more tricks up its sleeve. The villains were hardly worth mentioning - and I've rarely seen the Devil or his minions look so derivative and un-menacing. No imagination. No vision. Just Nicholas Cage pointing and gesticulating and constantly pointing out to the audience how stupid the movie they were watching was. I mean, look at Grindhouse. Just from the trailers, you see what kind of a movie it is - one that instantly makes you accept its crazy, over the top world at face value - hence the fun of the film. Ghostrider is filled with characters saying things like "You're Never Going to Believe This," "I Know This Sounds Crazy," etc. Well, now that ou mention it ...
IF Ghost Rider succeeds on any level, it's basically on a level of "I had zero expectations, and this is just stupid enough to be a good time." But really, it's not even that good. It's just laughably bad. All hail Sam Elliot though, because he's operating on a totally different plane of coolness than everyone else in this movie. But even one highly enjoyable performance can't save this steaming pile. On one hand, I love that the comic book genre is still thriving commercially. On the other hand, if pains me that some studio exec is looking at this success and is already giving MSJ the greenlight to bastardize yet another cool comic property. I mean, this guy, who's now delivered two unabashed comic-based crapfests in a row, is now spearheading PREACHER for HBO. The thought that this guy, who couldnt' even get Ghost Rider right, is now the caretaker of one of the greatest comics stories of all time ... well it makes me nauseous just thinking about it. Because that's the thing - Ghost Rider should have been an easy movie to make. Some cool CGI f/x, a few great action scenes, a dark, stylized world ... and you have a perfectly servicable GR movie. The fact that such a cool, simple concept got so badly crapped on is just pretty pathetic. Johnson, Cage, Sony, and Marvel should all be embarrassed, because Sam Elliot is about the only thing that keeps this movie from being a flat-out "F."
My Grade: D
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
So yeah, the last two weeks or so of 24 have been uneven to say the least. Sure, there were moments of Jack-Bauer infused awesomeness, but just about every other subplot was suffering from an extra dosage of LAME, with things increasingly feeling like retreads of all-too-familiar 24 subplot standbys.
Last night, however, the 24 of old returned. In the first hour especially, I was left with an animalistic urge to raise my head to the heavens and scream "DAAAAAAAAAMN!" Because 24 was back, and it kicked seven kinds of ass.
Let's see, we had:
- Nonstop action? Check.
- Classic Jack disarming (nuclear) bomb scene? Check.
- Great little moments between Jack and Chloe? Check.
- Sufficiently EVIL terorrists barely escaping capture? Check.
- Newer supporting characters like Morris and Milo having their best scenes on the show yet? Check.
- Papa Bauer increasingly showing his Palpatine-esque true colors? Check.
- Stuff Blowin' up real nice-like? Check.
- Gravitas by the boat-full? Check.
What we didn't have:
- NO Regina King as Annoying Palmer Relation #458
- NO internment camp subplot
- NO Karen Hayes angst
- NO "Is there a mole at CTU" subplot
- NO "CTU employee held back due to Arab nationality" subplot
So basically, all of the lame subplots from the last few weeks were practically nonexistent this week. The only holdover was the obligatory "clandestine conspiracy to overthrow / murder the President" angle, but even that got more interesting as the stakes became raised and more cards were layed on the table. It will be interesting to see, for one thing, how or if this Patriot's group ties into the Bluetooth Brigade / Papa Bauer conspiracy. I'm thinking that connection will have to become apparent sometime soon, or else all we have is simply another Right-Wing zealots in the whitehouse subplot which has been done on 24 ad nauseum (anyone remember Walt Cummings?).
In turn, everything with Jack was great - pure action mixed with little chunks of humanity that were much-missed in recent weeks. I loved Jack's little acknowledgment of Chloe and her subsequent smile - a nice nod to the history between the two. Jack and Rena Sofer (she of both HEROES and 24!) have a nice chemistry though it makes me wonder if Audrey Raines will show up at all. And Jack's dad was really vicious as a guy willing to do anything to preserve what he's built- plus, it was cool to see Jack really be in the dark about his dad, for once a step behind. And yes, we've seen Jack disarm a bomb multiple times on the show, but still, the nuke disarming scene was just ridiculously intense - shot and paced to perfection. Also, didn't I call it? Morris stepped up this episode and finally cemented his place in the 24 universe. Great scenes with him held hostage in the car.
Still, a few minor quibbles:
- How the hell did Fayed escape on a helicopter after all air-traffic was blocked?
- How did Morris return to work mere minutes after getting a giant hole power-drilled into his shoulder?
- How is Jack's dad allowed to make unrestricted cell phone calls at CTU? Security there really is atrocious!
- How many times is Jack going to say "I can't do this anymore" and then proceed to kick unholy amounts of ass seconds later?
- I miss ACH-meht!
- Come on, they're really going to kill the prez the day of a nuclear attack?
- Damn, the preview for next week showed a MAJOR scene! Cut that out ...
Overall, this was a highly enjoyable 2 hours of 24 that reminded me why I love this show. Sure, people manage to get from place to place in LA traffic in under 5 minutes, CTU has the worst security ever, terrorists have more escape techniques than David Copperfield, and the President has to stop attempted assasination plots by secret conspiracies every other week ... but dammit all, how can you not love it?
Hour 1 - A
Hour 2 - A -
- Have not yet seen this week's ep (and not sure if I want to ...), but this weekend I came to a realization while watching my recorded STUDIO 60. I pretty much hate the show. I love the show as it was established in the pilot - a biting, scathing, stylized look at showbiz and comedy, with an all-star cast and sharp writing. I hate what the show has become -- a self-important soap-ox for Aaron Sorkin in which he's somehow managed to make EVERY CHARACTER an unlikable, preachy jerk. How is it that the one character I can still tolerate on the show is Stephen Webber's nework chief, whose whole MO is that he's SUPPOSED to be an asshole? Well, I guess that's the point. Stephen Webber makes that character work because he's the one character who is SELF-AWARE that he is an unlikable idiot. Every other character seems to screm "Love me! I'm a witty, interesting person who takes myself very, very seriously!" I mean, the moment that killed me was Timothy Busfield ending his scene going into a commercial break on this big, weighty, dramatic note. The subject of all his melodramatically-delivered dialogue? Animal control in the studio. An attempt at a comedic subplot by Sorkin that became almost unwatchable due to its amazingly self-serious lack of humor. Everyone on this show speaks the same way - jaw jutted out, brow furrowed, poised for an argument about the nature of comedy, same-sex marriage, religious politics, relationships, whatever. It's just so preachy and flat-out off-putting. There's nary a character here who doesn't seem to beg the viewer to jump into their TV screen, punch them in the face, and sentance them to a life of coal-mining or something. I mean I HATED the whole Simon storyline from last week, which COULD have worked had the show not portrayed Simon and his "writing rules" stance as being in the right. A show about narrow-minded, stubborn idiots being right and getting their way might be an accurate reflection of Sorkin's jaded worldview, but good television it does NOT make. Any more episodes of this show that I watch will be purely from a "watching a trainwreck in action" point of view. But even The OC is a fun trainwreck. This is just painful.
- I did see last week's SMALLVILLE, which I thought was probably one of the stronger episode of the season. A lot of the same old angst and silliness, but this one had some real tension and drama to it, and had some of the best acting from its leads I've seen in a while. Also, great music by the legendary Mark Snow that evoked his classic work on The X-Files - its amazing how much drama and intensity a good score can add to a show like this. There is still plenty of room for improvement if the show wants to recapture its Season 2-3 magic, but this was a marked imporvement over the mediocrity of the last few weeks.
My Grade: B+
- FOX's Sunday night lineup was a pretty big disappointment this week, however. The Simpsons was just terrible, with a contrived, absurd plot about Bart dating an older (and pregnant!) girl. Honestly, I don't think I laughed once the entire episode. This was really bad. King of the Hill, the one FOX animated show that can still bring it, was decent but not as good as the previous week's great premiere. The episode had some great character stuff as per usual but the plot felt kind of thin and pointless. Tom Petty as always was great in his all-too-brief cameo as recurrign character Lucky. Family Guy had one or two decent jokes (the old guy next door singing lusftfully with Christopher was kinda hilarious, the Robert Logia gag was also pretty good), but ultimately fell pretty flat - not as good as last week's ep by a long-shot. How many episodes are they going to do about Peter discovering his heritage? Now he's Irish? However, I did find the whole Stewie as sado-masochist storyline pretty hilarious. Not enough to outweigh the rest of the episode's "meh" factor, but funny enough that I still checkle when I think of Baby Stewie having fantasies of his mom spanking him in dominatrix gear.
The Simpsons - D
King of the Hill - B-
Family Guy - C+
- I also finally caught last week's HEROES over the weekend. I won't speak too much about it until I've seen this week's ep, suffice to say I'm liking the direction of the show and have seen some noticable improvements in the acting and plotting. Overall, it was probably one of my favorite episodes of Heroes to date, which warrants an A- from me.
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND Review:
I had been meaning to see this one for a long while, and I finally got around to seeing it this weekend at the very cool Laemle theater in West Hollywood, which has a great selection of smaller-release movies, and is currently showing many of the more independent Oscar-nominated movies. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect from this movie other than a great perfromance from Forrest Whitaker, but what I got blew me away. This was a tour de force of a film. Not only is Forrest as good or better than what you've heard - but, as a whole, The Last King of Scotland does an incredible job of immersing you in its world - a 1970's era Uganda that is both brimming with potential as a breakout nation of the African world and the site of indescribable violence and wholesale slaughter. The brilliance of the movie is that it starts out as one thing - a slow, picturesque, often humorous look at a young Scot's journey to Uganda in search of fun and adventure. But by its finale, the movie has morphed into a nail-bitingly intense, balls-to-the-wall action-thriller that will have all but the least squeamish people watching nervously through half-closed eyes. This transition closely mirrors our perceptions of Whitaker as Ugandan President Idi Amin - who walks a tightrope between teddy-bear goofball and sadistic, paranoid, ruthless violent warlord.
To sum up the premise, mostly steeped in actual recent history - the movie follows Nicholas, a young Scottish guy, just out of medical school, who, disturbed by the notion of living a sedentary life of domesticity, heads to the developing African nation of Uganda, where he works in a medical mission. By chance of fate, Nicholas meets the newly-installed President of Uganda, Idi Amin, who takes a liking to the boy and quickly offers him a job as his personal doctor. Caught up in the high-living and power-trip of being Amin's right-hand man, Nicholas enjoys the ride, until he begins to realize just what kind of man Amin is and what kind of government he's actually working for.
The first thing I need to point out here is: yeah, Whitaker really is that good here. He completely transforms himself in this role and becomes Amin, to the point where real footage of Amin shown at the film's end blends in seamlessly with Whitaker's performance. His Amin is at times so friendly and appealing that you want to go fishing with him, at times so violent and erratic that the sheer intensity is almost overwhelming. And Whitaker so fully forms this character that you are never sure what he'll do at any given moment. Every single scene with him as Amin is completely captivating, unnerving, and fascinating.
Meanwhile, James McAvoy is really excellent here - this is undoubtedly his breakthrough performance. McAvoy's character rings 100% true as a young guy completely in over his head, a guy who set out for some adventure and suddenly found himself the unlikely confidant of a man who was quickly becoming one of modern history's most evil political leaders. This is definitely an actor to watch in light of this performance.
There are also a few nice supporting roles here, my favorite of which was Gillian Anderson as a married doctor tempted to the brink of an affair with Nicholas. The woman who mader her mark as Agent Scully has a pretty small, but still crucial role. Mostly though, it was just nice to see one of my favorite actresses again.
Really though, this movie belongs to McAvoy and Whittaker, and the sweeping direction and cinematography which really paints a vivid picture of Uganda as a mix of old-world African tribalism, rampant poverty and sickness, and thriving European modernity and excess. This really was an amazingly-shot movie with a number of montage sequences that really had me marveling at the power of the images on screen. And as I mentioned, the last half hour or so of the film is sheer intensity - a breakneck series of violent and action-packed scenes that had me holding my breath and on the edge of my seat. This is a portrait of a man in Idi Amin, yes, but it's also one heck of a political thriller, with plenty of intrigue surrounding Amin and the various factions that seek to overthrow him.
In the end, I'd recommend this as a must-see movie featuring a performance for the ages from Forest Whitaker. Intense, violent, disturbing, and fascinating - this is not one to be missed.
My Grade: A
- So after a small drought of quality flicks in the last few weeks (Epic Movie and Norbit #1's at the box office? Really?), a ton of much-anticipated material is set for release soon. On my must-list for the next several weeks:
1.) 300 (this could very well be an early Top 10 of 2007 candidate - this will own)
2.) Black Snake Moan (another one that seems poised for instant-classic status)
3.) TMNT (yeah baby, let the late80's / early 90's revival begin!)
4.) Ghost Rider (may suck, but come on, it's Ghost Rider!)
5.) Blades of Glory (figure skating = inherently funny)
6.) Reno 9-11 (anything featuring any members of The State, let alone all of them = I'm there)
7.) Sunshine (a space epic from Danny Boyle? Could be awesome)
8.) Breach (it's Universal so I'm supporting it - good cast, David Palmer, could be sweet)
9.) The Astronaut Farmer (could be pretentious drivel, could be great ... but I'm curious)
10.) Zodiac (new thriller from David Fincher ... heads will roll)
11.) The Wind That Shakes the Barley - okay, this trailor actually looked pretty cool, but the ENTIRE audience burst into laughter when the name was revealed. Sounds like something Ricky Gervais might have come up with for Extras. Say it over and over with an Irish lilt. It's fun.
- Okay, that's about all I have for now ... in general things are good with me - I'm officially GE now - that is, if my drug test results ever get received by HR! But in the last few days I've been swamped in doctor's appointments, HR forms, benefits packages, et all. At least I have some direction and momentum. I'll try to write more about all this stuff later. For now, I'll just quote Jack Bauer and demand MORE CC'S~!
You heard me. MORE. C.C's.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
So what did I think of last night's long-awaited return of LOST? Well, overall, I found a lot to like. The cast, for one, continues to amaze - and the spotlight here on Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliette was very much welcome, as she has been phenomenal on the show this far. Effectively mysterious enough to almost be frustrating, yet always interesting because Mithchell does such a great job of subtley hinting that there is more going on with Juliette than meets the eye.
Also, for much of this episode I was just struck by how fun this show is. Sure, shows like 24 and Prison Break deliver plenty of intense action week in and week out, but Lost is really the only show on TV that manages to have such a sense of real ADVENTURE. All the Star Wars references in this ep were pretty appropriate, because so much of the show had that pulpy, imaginative sense of fun and danger about it that George Lucas brought to the mainstream in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I mean who didn't love Sawyer almost playfully taking a minute to bash that one Other's head into the electric machine-thing a few times for good measure before running off into the jungle? Unlike the *hero-ic* efforts of a certain other primetime serialized show, Lost always seems to know when to have fun and when to get serious.
And most of all, it's the great characters that make the show, brought to life by a great cast. Despite the absence of much of the main cast, last night's ep had a ton of great character moments. Ben asking for a moment alone with Julliette, whispering disturbingly from his hospital bed. Kate and Sawyer cast as Han Solo and Princess Leia, on the run. Jack botching the surgery and then working to repair the damage. Great stuff.
In all these areas, Lost excels above and beyond similar TV fare. Its biggest failing, however, continues to be in the area of plot advancement. Last night we got another "Holy $%&#" type plot-related reveal, as Kate and Sawyer stumble into some tripped-out sensory-deprivation chamber blasting trance music with a guy, Carl (aparently Ben's son ...?) strapped to a chair, wearing odd glasses, and forced to watch some kind of crazy subliminal video wall flashing images and quotes like "God loves you like he loved Jacob." Just like the infamous four-toed statue, this was a classic Lost WTF moment. Also just like the four-toed statue, it's something that will probably not be explained any time soon.
And you know, I've been watching The Prisoner on DVD - the classic 1960's show that was a big inspiration to the tone and theme of Lost. In The Prisoner, you never really know what's going on. You're constantly guessing and a lot, if not EVERYTHING, in terms of details of the plot and in terms of what, exactly, is going on, is left to the imagination. And it works - it works really well. When you see these giant white spheres on The Prisoner that seem to magically roam the island village where the show is set, devouring anyone who tries to escape, half the fun is simply wondering what they are.
So why can't Lost work as a totally mysterious, Prisoner-esque show that thrives on keeping viewers in the dark? Because, perhaps to its fault, Lost has set itself up as a show that IS supposed to give answers. The very nature of the show - with its flashbacks that constantly reveal more and more about the main characters - is designed to create the expectation that, each week, more WILL be revealed. So that's why Lost can be so frustrating. On one hand, we're conditioned to constantly expect layers to be pealed back, for the mystery to be cracked open piece by piece. On the other hand, the show seems to also want us not to focus on the plot and just sit back and enjoy the ride, taking all of the mysteries in stride. Two contradictary messages - one pervasive reaction of frustration on the part of viewers. And it's too bad, because for all of the show's amazing strengths, this flaw continues to create a nagging sense of incompleteness.
When it comes to last night's episode, this incompleteness was evident in Julliette's flashbacks, where much of what already seemed apparent was "revealed" to us. Juliette, and presumably the rest of The Others, are standout / rogue scientists brought to the island under false pretenses, perhaps even brought and compelled to stay by force. On one hand, it was interesting stuff, on the other hand, as per usual, it creates about 1,000 more new questions. Even in terms of the strictly character-based stuff, we are left with A LOT to ponder. What was wrong with Julliette's sister? Why did she need Juliette's experimental fertility treatments? Why did Juliette still work for her ex-husband, and why did he stil lseem to have so much control over her decisions? To some extent, these questions are intriguing. On the other hand, the reality is that given the fact that this is the first time we really meet Juliette as a character, we were given woefully little with which to fill in the blanks. But also, as per usual, the character stuff was well-done, and Elizabeth Mitchell, as I said, was great.
So once again, I loved getting caught up in the crazy, psychedellic, adventure-filled world of Lost, brought to life by exceptional production and a great cast of characters. Still, I wish I didn't have that familar, slightly bitter, post-Lost aftertaste.
My Grade: B+
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
- VERONICA MARS last night was another good episode from one of my favorite series. And yet, aside from one or to episodes this season, I still feel like a certain something is missing. Maybe it's partly because until recently, the show has never emphasized its more soap-opera-y aspects, whereas the last few weeks have heavily focused on the on-again off-again Veronica-Logan romance. On one hand, this show handles their relationship better and more realistically than just about any other young-adult oriented show out there. On the other hand, all this romantic angst comes at the expense of the meat of the show - the mysteries. And despite how potentially compelling the Dean's murder mystery can and should be, I'm losing interest simply because it hasn't been focused on enough and there's not a compelling list of possible suspects that have been put under the spotlight. Also, Veronica being perpetually involved in soapy drama does kind of detract from her M.O. as a spunky loner / outcast, which to me was a big part of the show's original appeal. Not to mention that Logan has always been most interesting as a slightly psychotic loose cannon. Seeing him as a mopey and lovesick guy pining for Veronica is a lot less fun. Despite all that though, this show still is able to churn out great standalone mysteries, and of course can always be counted on to have some of the snappiest dialogue and sharpest characterization around. I'm always amazed at the show's ability to weave a mystery that keeps me guessing up until the final reveal, and last night was no exception. The story of a televangelist's pregnant daughter trying to find out the mystery culprit behind her drug-induced miscarriage was interesting, compelling stuff. I just miss the focus on the bigger, more dangerous, more epic mysteries as well as the foreboding film-noir atmosphere of Seasons 1 and 2 that has really been toned down as of late. Still, this is easily one of the best shows on TV, and as much as I appreciate it trying to capture a more mainstream audience, I hope it doesn't lose sight of what got it its hardcore fans in the first place. And P.S. -- where's Wallace?
My Grade: B+
- Meanwhile, GILMORE GIRLS is another show that has lost its way a bit this season, though I maintain its been consistently very good to excellent the last few months despite a few hiccups here and there. But I do admit that the show can sometimes cruise along on the strength of its characters and great cast, who can really hide some of the script weaknesses and give everything consistency. Last night though was one of those eps that I really enjoyed (and yes, it got to me - the whole thing was pretty sad), and yet I did keep thinking as I was watching that the dialogue was way too forced and not as clever as it was trying to be. Emily Gilmore's practicality and shrewishness as her husband lay in a hospital bed, for example, was a bit much even for her. And Lorelai and Rory's fast-paced banter really begged to be toned down given that this was supposed to be a more somber episode focusing on the aftermath of Richard's heart attack. Still, I enjoyed the overall plotline and like where they're headed with Luke vs. Chris, and the characters on this show remain some of my favorites on TV. And special mention to Edward Hermann here, who really anchored the episode with his remarkable acting and sheer likability. And man, you've got to feel bad for / root for Luke here. Damn that uncaring Christopher! Still, this was one of those eps that didn't quite live up to its dramatic potential due to a somewhat overreaching and trying-too-hard script. But the actors nearly made up for it with their great work here.
My Grade: B
- I know many have given up on LOST, and at one point I really was on the brink during the bad old days of Season 2. But man, I've really enjoyed Season 3 thus far. Since the show has really focused on a few core characters and their situation as captives of The Others, I feel like the lack of plot movement has been much easier to swallow since the focus has been narrowed. Tonight's episode is getting good buzz and I am psyched to see any sign of contribution from the great Brian K. Vaugn over the next few weeks. But still, please be giving me a few answers ASAP, or my enthusiasm will not be very long-lived. Still, as of right now, I'm pumped for tonight's ep.
- Alright, that was my quick roundup.
TOMMOROW: Danny gets a drug-test. Better avoid any Alicia Keyes concerts ...
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
MORE CCs!!!! --- TWENTY FOUR simultaneously sucks / rocks? Plus: PRISON BREAK, Smallville, OC, Studio 60, and what is WARNER BROS thinking?
Choke on that, Slappy.
Seriously though, those New England winters, especially in Boston where the windchill infinitely worsens things, are terrible. Trying to walk from place to place at BU when it's negative 10 degrees is just painful, as is trying to block out the cold in frigid dorm rooms. I guess it builds character ...?
MOVIE RANT OF THE DAY:
Note: The following rant may get slightly geeky, so leave now if that scares you.
So Marvel right now seems to be doign a lot of things right. Now that they're an autonomous movie studio, things are looking up for the House of Ideas. Take the Iron Man movie - great casting thus far - Robert Downey Jr should make a great Tony Stark, Gwyneth Paltrow of course is very talented, Terrence Howard is one of THE best actors out there, and now, they've added Jeff Bridges to the cast. Not only is he THE DUDE, but Bridges is one of those rock-solid guys who pretty much always makes any movie he's in better. Who would have thought that Iron Man would have a totally A-list cast like this? Okay, sure, there's still huge question marks over the quality of the upcoming Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four 2, but hey ... the new Marvel Studios seems to be starting things out right with Iron Man, so, things are looking up.
Now, DC / Warner Bros, in the last few days, has made some odd / troubling choices. This is not good, because overall DC's movie track-record is piss-poor. There was one giant blip in the form of Batman Begins, and thankfully the Bat franchise is now in good hands. Also, V for Vendetta marked a great showing for DC/Vertigo, a welcome well-done adaptation in the wake of bombs like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Constantine. But Superman Returns, for me at least, derailed a lot of the momentum that DC had in the movie world. Because come on, what fanboy doesn't want to see DC have great thriving movie franchises running concurrently for their Big Two, Superman and Batman, and maybe even Big Three (add Wonder Woman to the mix)?
So now what happens ...?
a.) David Goyer off the Flash, Night at the Museum guy in: Okay, Goyer off The Flash alone is not a bombshell. While Goyer is a comic guy through and through, I could see that maybe he wasn't the best choice for The Flash, since he is unproven as a director and his writing has mostly been with darker characters. The one ace-in-the-hole for Goyer was that he had the Ryan Reynold's connection, and most agree that Reynolds would make a great Flash. But then the news: Shawn Levy, the director of such quality flicks as Cheaper By the Dozen, Daddy Day Care, and Night at the Museum is doing the Flash. My first reaction to this was: What the hell. My second reaction was: Well, maybe he's not that bad. My third reaction was: What the hell. I'd like to give Levy the benefit of the doubt, I really would. It's just that the last time a second-string comedy director helmed a major comic book franchise, we got Tim Story's Fantastic Four. And yes, like Fantastic Four, a Flash movie should probably be huge, larger than life, evocative of the craziness of the Silver Age. Note though, that those things do not equal crappy movie. Now, why do I even care about The Flash? Well, Flash holds a special place in the hearts of many modern comic fans, as his adventures over the last 20 + years have been some of comics' best-written and most fun, thanks to guys like Mark Waid, Bryan Augustin, Grant Morrison, and Geoff Johns. Please, just make a movie that will do those guys and the character justice.
b.) Joss Whedon off Wonder Woman: I'm not a Whedonite nor am I a mark for Wonder Woman. So why do I care about this? Well, I think this movie could be really cool if done right, and overall getting this franchise right could only be good for DC and comics in general. And even though I'm not into Whedon per se, I know that one thing that the man does well is strong female characters, so he seemed like a natural. This movie is still very much a big fat question mark, but I am very skeptical about its prospects.
c.) Joel Schumaker on Sandman: Okay, luckily, this is only a RUMOR. But this one should be a no-brainer. Thanks to the crapfest that was Batman and Robin (and Batman Forever), Schumaker is universally reviled by comic fans (or just fans of good movies) even if he has on occasion made other, better films. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, on the other hand, is considered by many not only one of the finest sagas ever published in comic form, but plain and simple one of the best pieces of literature of the late 80's, early 90's. Clearly, the names Gaiman and Schumaker should not be in the same sentance. If anything, Sandman begs for someone like Terry Gilliam or Darren Aronofsky or Ridley Scott or Alex Proyas or Peter Jackson to handle an adaptation. Hopefully, this is just a rumor. If not, someone at Warners is on crack.
TV STUFF / 24 + PRISON BREAK RANTS OF DOOOOOOOM:
- Some of you not in the know have been questioning my championing of PRISON BREAK of late. To which I say: watch the show. For the last few months, it's been completely awesome. And last night's ep was no exception - yet another installment that pretty much ruled it.
I do understand though, this show isn't for everyone. For all of you, go back to watching Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. Prison Break is a show that separates the men from the boys. It's ugly, violent, twisted, over the top, action-packed. Gotta love it.
So anyways, great stuff last night. A few things I loved:
- Kellerman realizing he was being played and that it wasn't really the President he'd been talking to, jsut some woman using voice modulation.
- Sarah Tancredi nearly killing Kellerman.
- Michael and Sarah's near-miss train-ride tryst.
- Mahone asking Bellick if Bellick would be his "dog." Awesome.
- The whole hostage situation in the diner.
- T-Bag playing Brady Bunch with his faux family.
- And, my favorite part of the episode ... Mahone confronting Haywire atop that tower, sadistically prodding him to jump to his death. William Fichtner had one of his best scenes to date on the show ... just so stone-cold and stoic, yet inches away from snapping. Great actor, great character.
And, in two weeks -- Stacy Keach, most badass prison warden ever, returns. Sweeeet.
My Grade: A
- TWENTY (24) FOUR last night was a marked improvement over last week's pretty disappointing episode (by 24 standards). And that's saying something, because this week, the onslaught of incredibly LAME and obvious subplots continued. The whole Karen Hayes thing still makes no sense. The Regina King subplot is preachy and mostly useless. The office politics at CTU are played out. Morris being the computer whiz that the terrorists were seeking out was one of the most obvious "twists" I've ever seen from this show, so much so that I'm almost hoping it was some kind of red herring. And then ... are they seriously going to have YET ANOTHER evil-ish vice president who is out to upstage / unseat the President? Didn't they use up that angle with Logan the last two years?
And yet, amazingly, despite all the dumb subplots, this episode of 24 STILL managed to kick a ridiculous amount of ass. How could that be possible after the litany of complaints I just listed? Simple -- pretty much everything with Jack, his father, and Graem WAS RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME. Sure, Jack's insano passive-agressive torture scenes have been done to death on 24, but the entire time that Jack had Graem strapped to that chair I literally was on the edge of my seat, hanging on every word and muscle twitch. Graem evoking the names of David Palmer (RIP), Michelle Dessler (RIP), and by-God Tony Almeda (RIP?), revealing himself as the mastermind behind their murders, but only after Jack alternatively coddled him like a baby and injected him with multiple CC's of liquid pain, was a classic, CLASSIC moment of 24. Damn that was intense. And while the Morris non-twist I alluded to earlier was pretty anticlimactic, Pappa Bauer coldly offing Graem was a nice finish to the episode. Looks like we have a new big bad. My only qualm is that Graem was a potentially cool character, it's too bad he wasn't more fully explored.
- What are the odds that Jack's newly-widowed sister-in-law is EVIL?
- Even though the Morris twist was dumb, I like that he will now be in the spotlight and out in the field. That actor is great, as all fans of La Femme Nikita know.
- Seriously, the VP being so anti-Palmer is just way played out.
- We need more Jack-Chloe interaction.
- Jack must swear revenge in the name of Almeda!
And yes, as I said before, it is a tribute to the sheer GRAVITAS of Kiefer and company that, despite having many flaws, I was still so thoroughly entertained by this episode overall that I'm going to grade it highly.
My Grade: A -
- I also caught a few shows from thsi past week over the weekend. Some quick thoughts:
- SMALLVILLE has so completely overused the Red K gimmick and other similar plot devices in which a character's mind or personality is magically altered. I hate to see them do it again. Because, mostly, the show is unforgivably lazy about these types of plots, with every one having some kind of "those things you said back there ... did you really mean them?" moment of lameness, and also setting things up so that characters are magically exonerated from all wrongdoing after they've been found to have been affected by kryptonite, mind-altered, or possessed by the spirit of a 17th century witch. Ugh. So here was ANOTHER episode where by all accounts Clark Kent should be arrested, detained, and/or forever besmirched by his actions as a leather-jacket wearing Red K Clark. But somehow everything is mostly back to normal by episode's end. How convenient. How lazy ... I will say, depite the overuse of these types of plots and usual sloppy writing that comes with them, this was still one of the more dramatic and action-packed episodes we've had in a while. To its credit, a lot happened here. But, so much of what happened was thanks to lame plot device #4578. So, Clark and Lois' brief romance doesn't really count. Clark blowing up at Lex doesn't really count. What does count is Lana whining to Clark about honesty and secrets for the 5 billionth time, possibly establishing her as Most Annyoing Character Ever. As always, there are little things to like here - another great performance by Michael Rosenbaum as Lex, Jimmy Olsen being surprisingly entertaining, some good moments between Lois and Clark, for instance - but man, I wish they didn't use lame gimmicks as a replacement for genuine plot and character development.
My Grade: C+
- THE OC looks to finally kick things up a notch next week, when some big fancy EARTHQUAKE, WHO WILL DIE? FINAL STORYARC! begins the end. But wow, this week's ep was just really, really bad. Frustratingly, annoyingly bad. I mean - the show can't even keep its villains straight. For weeks, we've been made to hate Ryan's conniving dad, and for weeks we've been slowly weaned to kinda like the endearing Gordon Bullet and his surprisingly sweet relationship with Caitlin Cooper. Now, all of a sudden, we're meant to ROOT for Bad Dad Atwood as some kind of underdog, and hope against hope that he and uber-bitch Julie Cooper will form some kind of couple from hell? Um ... okay? And ... what, excatly, were the point of all those random Kirsten-Jimmy Cooper flashbacks? There's three episodes left here guys - do we really need some stupid rift to form between Kirsten and Sandy at this stage of the game? Meanwhile, Taylor is more unlikably batty with each episode, and Ryan is just treading water despite being the show's main character. Seth and Summer ... yeah yeah, they're soulmates. Big whoop. The Simpsons from eight years ago called and wants its plotline back. Please tell me this show will go out on a little bit of a higher note, because right now it looks like it needs a mercy killing.
My Grade: D
- Also, watched STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. I'm just so torn on this show, as there's some things I really like and others I cant' stand. I think one problem is that so many of he actors on the show just have that Sorkin-style delivery that tries to infuse EVERY line of dialogue with this self-important weightiness, which really WORKS when a character is supposed to be self-important and weighty - like Stephen Webber - he's easily my favorite part of the show right now. Other things I really liked - the whole seemingly-innocent Juliard student going girls gone wild on Tom Jeter - that had me cracking up. But man, I cannot stand when, in the middle of a conversation about sketch comedy, one of the characters will go on a rant about abstinence. OR this whole Simon Styles subplot, where he's mad at the one writer for nto wanting to write his sketch ideas, because they're too "black." Ugh. Whenever this show devolves into preachiness it is just hard to watch. I mean, what I was saying before, about the actors being too melodramatic even with absurd plotlines? Look at Timothy Busfeld in this ep - he and Sorkin's dialogue are treating this funny little snake-loose-in-the-studio storyline like it's epic melodrama. I don't know, I just find Sorkin's style of ultra-serious comedy to be grating. I want to like the show, but parts of it, I find, can just be hard to watch.
My Grade: B -
- Alright, I'm out. Watch VERONICA MARS tonight, be well, and for those about to rock, I salute you.