Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nuke 'Em: 24, Prison Break, WizardWorld, MORE

Whaaaaaaat's happennin'.

So this weekend the usual crew and I went to WizardWorld in LA, with VIP access thanks to NBC-provided press passes ... as usual, good times. Some highlights:

- I met VERONICA MARS! Yes, though it was kind of embarrassing, since my friends all but pushed me into Emmy-worthy actress Kristen Bell, where I had about the most awkward 30-second conversation of all time with her - the end result was that I got a picture with the star of one of my favorite shows, and probably a restraining order as well. But seriously, it was cool to meet Kristen and express to her how great the show is.

- HEROES panel - we heard Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and others talk about the show in a very interesting Q and A session. Tim Kring comes off as very cool and down to earth, with a lot of perspective on the show and what does and doesn't work for it. The one obnoxious thing was that, when a concerned fan asked about the controversy revolving around the show's sudden removal of a character's implied homosexuality, Jeph Loeb basically denied all knowledge about the subject, despite this being a well-publicized issue. Then, as the crowd sensed Loeb's blatant denial, Tim Kring addressed the topic head on, making Loeb look a little foolish in the process.

- After the panel, I met some NBC.com people who were doing a promotion for the Heroes website, where they were filming fans, asking about their theories about the show. And I got filmed! So I'll keep an eye out on NBC.com and see if my interview made the cut ...

- KISS! To promote their latest comic, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were on hand, and we heard them speak, which is always interesting as they are huge geeks with encyclopedic knowledge of comics. And really badass.

- Random celebrities! I had another ridiculously awkward conversation with Playboy covergirl and TNA wrestler Chisty Hemme, chatted with the Suicide Girls, professed my love of BEASTMASTER to Marc Singer, spotted Bud Bundy, Virgil, that trainer guy from Rocky, The Incredible Hulk, Jerry from Survivor, and walked by Stone Cold Steve Austin.

- Great photo ops! aside from my prized pic with Kristen Bell, I posed with KISS wannabes, guys in robot suits, etc ... Not as many cool costumes as year's past, but there was this one woman dressed as Black Cat ...

- Hey Kids, Comics! We attended the DC panel and heard greats like Marv Wolfman, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and DC EIC Dan Didio speak. I even asked a somewhat biting question to writer Bill Willingham about one of his stories which generated a lot of buzz - no hard feelings, Bill - while I have issues with some of your stories, I still consider Fables one of my all-time faves. On the show floor, I talked to a bunch of creative people who are some of my personal inspirations. Guys like Peter David, Greg Horn, Josh Middleton, Dustin Nguyen, and many more, not to mention the brother of the X-Plosian, who is an accomplished comic book artist in his own right. Plus, I got a ton of trade paperbacks at bargain prices, so I shouldn't be in short supply of reading material anytime soon.

So yeah, good times were had, even if the show seemed a bit quieter and less star-studded than in years past (no Kevin Smith, no Lost, no Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, etc). Still, look forward to doing it again next year.


24! 24! 24!

24 this week was very ... meh. Most of the focus was away from Jack Bauer, and the spark of electricity that the likes of Aaron Pierce, Charles, and Martha Logan brought to the table last week was vanished into the ether. Instead, despite the plot going full speed ahead with the threat of another nuclear bomb detonation, the focus was squarely on the excitement, the intrigue, the drama ... of interoffice politics. Ugh. A nuclear bomb is minutes from going off and we have scene after scene of petty soap opera squabbling? Another mole in CTU? More oval office infighting? How is it possible that Wayne Pa;mer's administration is comprised of people with completely disparate political views? Furthermore, the show's politics are just getting silly - it's "Let's blow up a random country" VP vs. "I'm a shrill, spineless liberal" Karen Hayes. Both liberals and conservatives had to have been groaning at how cartoonishly each side is being portrayed. And you're seriously telling me that Karen Hayes is going to risk killing Wayne Palmer so he can wake up for 30 seconds and magically override an executive order? Laaaaaame. Also, yet again, seemingly no government agencies exist in the world of 24 other than the consistently understaffed, security-compromised, ineffectual CTU Los Angeles, whose ability to stop a nuclear strike comes down to ... Jack Bauer playing a 1980's vector flight sim, complete with PC joystick circa 1991? Not only can Jack fight terrorists with the best of 'em, he is also a videogame wiz. Who knew? Finally, this new guy Doyle is completely sucky. Please tell me HE's the mole so Jack can whup his metrosexual, poser ass.

Otherwise, this ep had some cool action scenes and some good tension surrounding whether or not the bomb would actually go off. The revelation that Audrey had died trying to save Jack in China was the most interesting bit of the episode, and Jack's rage, and his vow to find those responsible (his dad?), was the best hope we've been given that, at some point soon, the show will refocus on Jack and get away from all these stupid subplots and side characters. This was kind of subpar for 24 though, and if things don't turn around soon this will go down as the worst season since 3.

My Grade: B -

- PRISON BREAK was pretty good, but kind of contrived, as the writers stretched all plausibility for the sake of having all of its surviving main players converging in Panama for one final play by Mahone. Hopefully, the show can pick up some momentum for its last two installments, but in this episode you could practically see the invisible hand of the producers descending upon the chess board that is this show, moving the pieces around so everything is alligned just as they see fit. In the process, a lot of plot points seemed to get lost in the shuffle. How did Mahone get access to Michael's website and Sucre's user ID. How exactly did T-Bag end up in Panama? What exactly happened to Sucre's girlfriend, and when?

The show had some interesting drama between Michael and Lincoln, and the C-Note storyarc came to a nice conclusion. William Ficther, as always, was terrific, and his descent into ever-increasing levels of insanity was a lot of fun to watch, especially the scene where he realizes that one of his own men is keeping tabs on him. I do look forward to next week though, as even though it took a lot of forced plot manipulation to get the this point, I do have to admit that the writers have now set up a potentially kickass finale.

My Grade: B

- I am actually liking THE WINNER on FOX. Despite it having a terribly dated laugh track and mostly subpar writing, Rob Cordry just does such a great job with his material that he elevates the show to a much higher level of quality than it should be. Cordry just does the whole overgrown kid thing to perfection, and he makes this show a lot of fun to watch despite its uneven comedy. I really enjoyed Katey Segal's guest appearance on Sunday's episode, and I find it kind of funny how despite being such a suppoesed loser, basically every episode sees Cordry lying on some woman's (or man's) bed, awkwardly trying to figure out what to do about their sexual advances. In any case, it's leagues better than The War at Home or 'Till Death.


- Have you seen the Pirates III trailer? Pretty awesome, especially that one scene of Jack Sparrow and Davey Jones sword-fighting atop a storm-wrecked Pirate ship. Can't wait to see this in May - see for yourself:


Alright - I'm out. Yo-ho!

BTW - for my pics with Kristen Bell, KISS, etc - check me on MySpace or Facebook. Cya.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Greystache! Not Greystache! SIMPSONS Paley Fest, Smallville, October Road, and MORE

So last night Paul L and I ventured down to the Museum of Television and Radio in Hollywood for The Simpsons' Paley Festival event. Overall it was a great time, and the initial coolness of being able to listen to the like of Matt Groening, Al Jean, Nancy Cartwright and others speak in person made for a very exciting evening for all of us lifelong Simpsons fanatics. The event began with Groening and co introducing two recent episodes of the show, both from this season - the one where Bart befriends Nelson and Homer gets into a Harry Potter-esque books series, and the one that is about a documentary filmmaker who's been chroniclling the lives of The Simpsons and other denizens of Springfield. It was cool to see the episodes in front of a live audience, but at the same time I was hoping for some kind of sneak peak, possibly of the upcoming 400th episode, or even a scene from the movie. I had seen both of these episodes already, and both, though decent, are about on par with most episodes of the show in the last few years, meaning not classics. I will say though that I really did enjoy that first Bart-Nelson episode on the second viewing, which is a testament to the fact that many episodes really need to be seen a few times to be fully appreciated. There's one line in there where Martin says something like "Alone we are each but a fragile twig, but together we shall form a mighty fagot!" (with a disclaimer popping up explaining how a fagot means a bundle of sticks) that had me rolling on second viewing, as did Homer's lamentations for fictional wizard Greystache.

Anyways, after the screenings we got a lamely-moderated Q and A session with a guy from TV Guide leading. The questions were sooooo mundane, the type that Simpsons fans and all of the guys on stage had heard countless times: "When did you know the show was a true success?" "What celebs were the most fun to work with?" etc. The been-there, done-that line of questioning led to a rather sedate session, livened up a bit during the audience Q and A, where a little nine year old girl sweetly asked Matt Groening: "If I got your autograph how much could I sell it for on e-bay?" Hilarious. One guy asked an oft-wondered question when he asked Groening what his actual day to day role on The Simpsons is. I've wondered this a lot myself, but Groening kind of dodged the question a bit, settling on an answer of "I'm the guy who stands in the corner and approves or shoots down ideas for jokes." Personally, I've always been very curious about the guy - he is, of course, the public face of The Simpsons, but was he ever really the creative force behind the show after its initial conceptualization? And why, other than Futurama and his ongoing Life in Hell comic strip, has he never really branched out and done anything other than The Simpsons? Has he not been approached? What's his deal? Until I know more, I'll continue, I guess, to assume the man's the genius I like to think he is, because, really, wouldn't it be a shame if he wasn't?

It did strike me though, that most of the old-school Simpsons guys did have a kind of weary demeanor - inevitable after 18 years working on one show, I guess, but you do get the sense that these guys' glory days have come and gone and they're now kind of coasting on the good will they initially earned and the energy brought in by the younger writers. I don't know, it's hard to describe, but I guess it IS kind of odd that guys like Groening and Al Jean are content to just coast along doing merely decent Simpsons episodes instead of moving on to the next great comedic endeavor. I mean, these guys have a Simpsons MOVIE coming out, and yet no one was really jumping out of their seats, chomping at the bit to crow about how awesome and hilarious it was going to be. The one person who was absolutely GREAT was Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart, Nelson, and Ralph, among others. She was just a pleasure to listen to, bursting with enthusiasm about the show, and not a bit jaded by it all. She is just very cool. This isn't to say that everyone else wasn't very interesting, funny, and smart ... just that, like I said, there was that hint of weariness in the eyes of many of the veteran creators.

In any case, it was a great event and through the Q and A discussions I was reminded of a ton of great Simpsons memories. It really is amazing to see the breadth of people who are fans, from 50 year old men to 10 year old girls - it's just unbelievable that a show can be so smart and funny yet have such wide appeal and work on so many levels. I can't wait for the movie, and am crossing my fingers that it delivers.

- By the way, just had lunch today with one of my good friends from BU, Christine T, now Christine W after her recent marriage (!!!). Man, I don't think I've seen her in almost three years so it was great to catch up and meet her husband Michael, younger brother, and his girlfriend. It's a shame we didn't have more time to hang out, but as always it's great to meet up with real New Englanders!


- SMALLVILLE last night delivered a very solid episode that was easily one of the better installments of what has been, so far, a pretty lackluster season. The wedding of Lana and Lex delivered some of the best performances we've seen from the regular cast in a while, and was very artfully shot, structured, and scored. In fact, the music in this episode was mostly awesome - and sound and image came together to create a few classic scenes. The one with Lex going medieval on Lana's physician in the church crypt was just kickass, and yet another fine showing from Michael Rosenbaum as the young Luthor. Lionel was also excellent here, and after a long stretch of him being played as a relative do-gooder, it was nice to see him return to his old villainous form (even if, plot-wise, it makes little sense ... oh well). Anyways, there was some good drama here, and I was legitimately unsure of whether Lana would end up going through with the ceremony. My one big complaint was in the episode's structure ... I liked, in theory, how it jumped around in time, but why did they make us watch whole conversations over and over again? That got kind of annoying. And of course there were the usual inexplicable Smallville moments - Clark showing up wherever and whenever he pleases, Lana's continual moping, etc ... Otherwise, one of the better episodes in a while. And next week's looks to have some much needed action, courtesy of the WWE's Kane. Nice!

My Grade: B+

- I watched ABC's OCTOBER ROAD last night. I read the script for this last year, and while I found it kind of an oddity, I respected the fact that it was going for something different and trying to be a little bit more artfully-minded than your average coming-of-age TV show. Of course, it was riding a fine line between being a script with a lot of quirky, almost literary touches and a pretentious crapfest. I was hoping it'd come off well, and it did okay, but mostly, the show is just kind of annoying. The characters all feel like every young adult stereotype you've ever seen - the prodigal son, the girl next door, the stern dad, the doting younger brother, the goofy friend, etc. And yet, the show asks us to not only take all of these characters at face value, but asks us to buy into their mopey, one-dimensional angst as if we were watching the latest Zach Braff movie. Unfortunately, the quality of October Road makes Garden State look like The Catcher in the Rye by comparison. This isn't to say that October Road is totally unwatchable as some critics have suggested. It has a lot of appeallingly familiar faces who give energy to otherwise thankless roles - people like Bill Bellamy, Laura Prepon, and Tom Berringer are all very likable even if they are suffocated with lame dialogue and contrived personalities. The constant musical flourishes are often annoying, but once in a while endearing, like in the opening when our hero drives off to the big city to Boston's "Don't Look Back." However, EVERY scene seems to be burdened with the weight of THE most cheesy, mopey pop songs imaginable. When I heard Collective Soul's "World I Know" immediately followed by the Gin Blossoms, I knew we were in trouble. Similarly, the main character here just can't pull off his role as some kind of modern day JD Salinger. There isn't much going on behind his eyes. He's plenty believable as a NYC scenester, but not as a best-selling author. Then again, in a world where Pamela Anderson is a best-selling novelist, who's to say? Actually, the idea of Pam Anderson as a novelist kind of sums up how I feel about October Road -- interesting to check out and nice to look at, but all the while making me wonder how I'm supposed to take it seriously.

My Grade: C

- I can't take the drama surrounding VERONICA MARS' fate! First I read in horror that the show was being cancelled, and I was all ready to write a rant of doom about what's wrong with America when a show this brilliant can't find an audience. Then, I hear that rumors of VM's death were greatly exaggerated. Now, I'm hearing the plan is for the show to possibly go forward with a reduced budget, contingent on the show being revamped with Veronica now a young FBI intern. Sounds cool, though I hope that wouldn't mean the loss of too many supporting characters, as one of the show's greatest assets is its colorful array of Neptune, CA residents. So ... I don't know for sure if it will be back, but I'll reserve my ranting for now.

- Alright, I'm about done for the week. Tommorow it's off to WizardWorld LA, and then I will need Sunday to recover from the last 10 days! PEACE.

And by the way ... I wanted to throw up when I read confirmaiton of the Gerard Butler remake of Escape From New York today, and listneing to this audio clip only made the original that much cooler and the idea of a remake that much more lame:


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Then We Will Fight In The Shade ... 300 Review, 24, MORE

So it's back to work after a crazy, extended weekend of family fun. And yes, I truly am in need of a vacation from this vacation, as it's been a fun but exhausting few days. Friday my parents and brother flew in, and we met for some dinner before my brother and I went to see the much-anticipated 300. On Saturday, we did some shopping at The Grove and Farmer's Market then met my great uncle Josh for some dinner in Brentwood - the first time that he and his wife Lianna had ever met my brother. Sunday, we headed down to Long Beach for some scenic ocean views and a visit to the highly-regarded aquarium there. Good times - Long Beach has a great board walk and is a place worth checking out. Yesterday, we headed to Anaheim for a day at Disneyland, which was a lot of fun, though of course kind of exhausting. Anyways, my parents are still here until tommorow afternoon, though now they are in "get down to business" mode, which means microanalyzing my apartment's cleanliness, my wardrobe, my finances, and everything in between. Fuuuuuuuun ...

24! 24! 24!

Last night, Prison Break and Heroes were MIA, so it was up to Jack Bauer and co to carry the night and bring the gravitas. Luckily, the gravitas was sufficiently BROUGHT, as we got a tense, nail-biter of an episode that saw the welcome return of Martha Logan and AARON PIERCE to the world of 24. Seeing Jean Smart and Greogroy Itzin together again was an instant reminder of what made last season a breakout one in terms of great character performances. Martha and Charles Logan had some great scenes together, and even though it was telegraphed, Martha's deadly stabbing of her ex-husband still suprised me and had me gasping. Damn, First Lady gone crazy! While Aaron Pierce could have used a little bit more to do, it was still great seeing one of the true heroes of the 24-verse back in action. Now get him suited up and in as a field-ops agent at CTU - this new guy Doyle seemed okay but was a bit too metro to carry much gravitas. We need some badasses at CTU in the tradition of Jack, Curtis, Tony, Castle, etc, dammit all. Once again though, Powers Boothe as the VP did a great job of bringing the awesome, and he is already making a very interesting fil-in prez. My only hope is that they make him less a right-wing idealogue and more just a guy who is a hardliner. I mean, let's be realistic here - in the real-time world of 24, this is the DAY of a nuclear attack on US Soil - people are going to be pissed. In any case, this was a really fun episode of 24 that had some of the better character moments of the season. Unfortunately, much of the coolness came from old favorites brought back on a special basis, so, long-term, this show still needs to find its footing for this season.

My Grade: A -

300 Review:

TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL! Going into 300, the great marketing campaign had me pumped for a movie that would be filled with nonstop action the likes of which had not been seen outside of the latest next-gen videogames. Coming out of 300, this was exactly what I had just gotten: two hours of elegantly staged action, with all the trappings that make this type of movie fun: badass heroes, twisted monsters, grand battle cries, and a hyper-stylized artistic vision. More so that almost any movie to date, 300 replicated the experience of playing a good videogame, to the point where the violence became so immersive that each new adversary seemed like a new challenge that we the viewers must overcome. Director Zach Snyder makes strong stylistic choices with this movie, expanding upon the green screen technology that made Sky Captain and then Sin City able to exist as live-action / animation hybrids that brought to life unique worlds with hyper-stylized flair. Like Sin City, 300 takes the comic book stories of Frank Miller and quite literally brings them to life. Frankly, I love it. I mean, realism is great at times, but what's wrong with a little hyper-reality every now and then? 300 earns my respect by having a very specific artistic vision and going all out to see it realized.

Basically, this is a movie about one giant battle. We are quickly introduced the warlike Spartans, their prideful king Leonidas, and their struggle to overcome the invading armies of the conquering Persian empire. The subplots, character backstories, and so on are only important in so far as they drive the action forward, and in that regard they are quite servicable. I mean, think of the cut-scenes in an action video game -- they give a little context to the gameplay but ultimately its the fluidity and immersiveness of the action that counts. What counts here, as in say God of War, are the character designs, the artistic direction, and the energy of the action. 300 may appear as an oddity to those expecting a classic action movie epic in the vein of Gladiator, but for Generation Y, well-versed in the methodology of action, the trappings of the movie will feel familiar and welcome in a medium that is still trying to catch up to its digital cousins. Basically, 300 feels like a series of videogame levels, each with its own variety of enemies, bosses, and stylized combat. What this does is imbue the movie with an immersive quality of progression, to the point where, whenever the action slows, there is a feeling of anticipation for the next outbreak of violence. Does this make for a movie with the depth of character, emotion, or resonnance as, say, Gladiator? No, but 300 is the equivalent of an AC/DC song on film - this is rock n' roll in movie form, clad in loincloths, armed with swords, ready to rock.

The cast here does a good job, though as I said, the characters are presented in broad strokes of hero and villain - we get to know them in the same way we get to know the players on a sports team when tuning in for a big game. We have the team captain, Leonidas, played with charismatic grandiosity by Gerard Butler. Looking like a roided-up rabbi, Butler nods his head, furrows his brows, and yells things like "Nice Thrust!" with a great sense of campy gravitas. I mean, as I said, this is a VERY stylized movie, and I admit, some of the stylistic choices here are a little weird - it's one thing for the 300 Spartans to be a hard-nosed, badass bunch of warriors. But Snyder gives each one an eight-pack of abs made of stone with musculature looking like it was drawn by Jim Lee. Possibly overdoing it a little ... But as I was saying, Butler makes the most of his role and is a lot of fun to watch here - his Leonidas overcomes the potential to come off as unintentionally funny and instead is a hero worth rooting for (and worth quoting / imitating ad nauseum after seeing the film). The other standout is David Wenham, familiar from Lord of the Rings, who narrates the movie with steely aplomb, and whose character is one of the most fun in film, framing the story as a kind of rallying cry for his troops. Rodrigo Santoro is completely over the top as the androgynous god-king Xerxes, and while some dismissed him, I thought he was the perfect counterpart to Leonidas' alpha-male hero. Finally, Lena Heady is great as Queen Gorgo of the Spartans, exuding a calm, powerful vibe as an amazonian queen who can hold her own with the men of Sparta. While her political subplot does kind of drag, Lena does a great job with what she's given and has a few great moments. Otherwise, the rest of the cast is admittedly just window-dressing, and we never get to ecplore them as more than just "that one Old dude," "hunchbacked-freak," or "that guy who says 'Then We Shall Fight in the Shade ...'" But like I said, this is a movie that is painted in broad strokes ... Would it have been nice to see some of the other Spartans fleshed out a bit more? Yes. But would it have really added to the film as a whole? Probably not ...

And that's the thing -- while on one hand I sound like I'm advocating the virtues of a totally action-centric movie like 300, it remains hard to place it in the same category of greatness as a film that places as much of a premium on character, plot, and dialogue as it does on action and visual artistry. But man, this movie manages to kick ass in style, and for that I respect it. Rarely has a movie made each sword-swing, each battle, each leap and parry and clang of metal so vivid. I enjoyed watching it from start to finish, and left suitably hyper and ready to take on the Persian empire. Like I said, this is heavy metal and Frank Miller comic books and videogames in movie for, enough to amek everyone's inner twelve year old boy jump up and down in a gleeful state of testosterone-feuled bloodlust. Sorry if that sounds crude, but it's why the movie rocks.

My Grade: A -

- Okay, more to come, but for now I've gotta jet. A reminder to myself: be sure to tell of ghetto movie audiences, the glories of Tango and Cash, Space Mountain, Pirates, and Snake ...

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Jack Bauer Saves U S and A: 24, Prison Break, Scooter Libby, MORE

Alright, well, my relative lack of enthusiasm about 24 has been pretty visible the last few weeks, but last night I got back with Jack and I'm down with the real-time countdown. No, this wasn't an A-level episode, not quite yet, but it was a marked improvement over the last few weeks.

24 (TWENTY FOUR) 24!

This week's 24 was made by the presence of a character who up until now, honestly, I could have cared less about. But the great thing about 24 is that it's structure allows for certain background players to, on occasion, step into the limelight and steal the show. Tony Almeda, Michelle Dessler, Curtis Manning - all began as bit players and then slowly but surely became fan favorites.

Last night, Powers Booth as the Vice President stepped up and brought GRAVITAS back to 24. Okay, maybe I was just semi-delusional, realizing that this badass actor had voiced Gorilla Grodd on JLU, but Powers had some real power to his 24 performance last night, to the point where I wasn't sure if I liked or hated his character, but was sure that, in either case, he was pretty badass. After a run of fresh-faced Wayne Palmer as a mostly uninspiring Prez, it was nice to see a take-charge character who could stand toe to toe with such grizzled vets as Jack Bauer and Bill Buchanan.

Speaking of Buchanan though ... one of my biggest complaints about the show of late is that Buchanan is being made to look like a total loser. He apparently has no control over CTU or his agents. He runs an organization that is perpetually short-staffed, and totally reliant on the services of a guy (Jack) who is only working for them on an ad-hoc basis following his release from a Chines prison only hours earlier. The preview for next week seemed to be a step in the right direction with a new head of field ops for CTU ('bout time!), but still ... what 24 needs is to establish a better sense of the CTU hierarchy. It's absurd to think that the LA branch is constantly the nations' sole hope in combatting terrorism, and that Bill Buchanan basically reports to no one save the President, esp considering how spotty his record is.

My other big complain is how Jack has become such a robotic automaton killing machine. As an aside, I agree that the show has completely overused torture as a plot device of late. I think the idea that the torture shown on 24 could have a derogatory affect on our nation's military practices is pretty absurd - I mean let's face it, from a narrative standpoint, whenever someone is tortured on 24, it's usually practically a necessity. It's usually the ONE GUY who knows the location of a nuclear bomb set to go off in 15 minutes or something, and if Jack doesn't get its location from him, MILLIONS WILL DIE ... so yeah, in that case, who's going to object to a little tough love? Not I. But from a purely creative standpoint, it's just old hat by now to see Jack need to extract info from some poor sap by cutting off his fingers, giving him MORE CC'S of liquid pain, etc ... Creatively, the writers have to realize that putting Jack in a situation where he has to go medieval on a terrorist to extract some time-sensitive info has become a huge narrative crutch on the show. Cochran and Surnow should take a lesson from their own La Femme Nikita, where every time those two weird Euro-perv torture team people went to interrogate a hostage, well, you knew that business had just picked up.

But back to my original point, Jack has just become too robotic of late. In Season 1 he was a normal family man prone to dole out James Bond-like bouts of superhuman ass-whupping. Now, we get a Jack who finds out that his dad and brother were at the forefront of a conspiracy that resulted in the assassination of President Palmer ... and Jack doesn't even bother to ask for details? I couldn't believe that Jack was sitting in a limo with Logan and never once asked about the hows or whys of Logan's shady partnership with Jack's brother Graham. Like I said, I love anti-terrorist machine Jack Bauer as much as anyone, but would it kill the writers to have him show a bit of humanity, like, maybe stopping for a moment to flinch at the revelation that his dad and brother are EVIL?

Those complaints aside, this ep of 24 did a good job of steering things back on track, and setting up a great confrontation at the Russian consulate. The most interesting thread is that the VP is himself a right-winger interested in enforcing near martial law. Does this mean that Jack will now be given carte blanche to avert the terrorists by any means necessary? Hmm, it will def be interesting to see if the show follows up on the idea of Jack working with a very conservative Prez. This ep though did a great job of adding some intrigue to the whole conspiracy / Tom Lennox storyline, and Lennox turning the tables on the conpirators was a great twist. Similarly, this ep reminded me why President Logan was so great in the first place, huge improvement over last episode in terms of giving Logan some great dialogue and fun moments.

So yeah, 24 right now still has a few big-picture problems, some of which seem to be on track to be addressed soon (new field ops leader at CTU, Martha Logan and AARON F'N PIERCE return next week), and some of which seem to be expanding by the episode (is this show even in real time anymore? the VP said his plane was landing in a few hours ,then 5 minutes later he was on the ground!). But, in the short-term, we have some new characters stepping up, some old faves returning, and both lead storylines (Jack held captive, conspiracy in the White House) are reaching the boiling point of intensity. Problems and all, thank Jack for the greatness that is 24.

My Grade: B+

- Last night's PRISON BREAK ... okay, for a long time now I've defended this show against those who call it ridiculous by praising it's totally over-the-top, campy sensiblities as being more fun, crazy, and intensely absorbing than any other show out there. But this week, even I did a double take at the show's latest twisted revelation. Now, correct me if I misunderstood this, but did they actually imply that ... (SPOILERS) ...

... The President and her brother had an incestuous sexual relationship?!?!

... if I understood that little plot point correctly, then ... wow, okay, that is a BIT much, even for Prison Break. And this little revelation wasn't exactly revealed with any degree of subtlety or grace either. I don't know, just kind of lame. Meanwhile, I think fatigue with this show's neverending series of near-captures / near escapes is starting to sink in. Every con is alternatively a master escape artist or a complete moron. I don't know ... I mean T-Bag's storyline was pretty interesting and now he's on the run again? Fernando was seriously going to go after T-Bag's money when he had finally found happiness in Mexico?

Anyways, this ep had the usual awesomeness from William Fichtner, and there were some great scenes with Michael held captive by that one guy. Man, that guy (you know who I mean) is SO freaking evil. The way he constantly smiles every second makes you want to see him get punched out so badly. Great villain who you can't help but love to hate (but I don't know the character's name, just that he is really evil). Otherwise, some of the subplots this ep took a decided turn for the laaaaaaaaaame.

My Grade: B -


- Howsabout this whole Scooter Libby trial? Following its ins and outs is like trying to make our way through James Joyce's Ulysses, but man, if anything, this whole thing just seems to lend credence to the idea that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove went out of their way to pad the case for the War in Iraq, and that Libby is basically the fall guy who is going sown for their wrongdoings. This is one of those cases that may bever be fully demistified, but on the other hand it could unravel and really become a Watergate-like scandal in which people at the highest levels are implicated. It's funny - the whole thing is so complex that I don't think the average person realizes what this case means. It means that Cheney's right-hand man just got indicted for exposing an undercover CIA operative in an effort to falsely verify documents claiming that Iraq had WMD's. This debunks the Bush admin's case for war in Iraq. This implies that Cheney lied and made his case by compromising national security. This validates the idea that the war was started under false pretenses. Again I ask ... is it '08 yet? Seriously though, is it? No, seriously, I hope that this case does get unraveled and anyone who deserves to be is implicated and tried. As Fox Mulder said, "The Truth Is Out There."

- Borat is out on DVD today! I can't wait to see some of the extras, as some of S. Baron Cohen's best moments inevitably come in material left on the cutting room floor (see deleted scenes of Da Ali G Show for evidence of this). I've gotten so much traction out of my Ali G dvd's that Borat is pretty much a must-own for me.

- I'm kind of getting into Arcade Fire lately, and am looking forward to hearing more of their latest album. Anyon e with me on this?

- Man, the NBA is really becoming up for grabs. The West will be interesting with the Suns at full strength and the Spurs and Mavs still gunning, and with D Wade out for Miami, the East SEEMS to belong to Detroit, but it will be interesting to see if a team like Cleveland or Chicago steps up.

- Let us all bow our heads in mourning at the gross TRAGEDY that is the Pussycat Dolls reality show airing tonight in place of Veronica Mars. Ugh. Please for the sake of Western Civilization, do not watch that crap.

- No I have not watched last night's HEROES yet.

- Who's excited for WHEN THE WIND SHAKES THE BARLEY? Most epic movie ever? Bwahahaha....

- Alright that's all I've got for now. Nice! How much?

Monday, March 5, 2007


Let me start with this: this is by no means a perfect movie, and it undoubtedly has its share of flaws. But even so, and even though for that reason I can't give it a flat-out "A," I can still feel confident in calling it one of my personal favorite movies so far of 2007. This is a movie that dares to be different, that doesn't care if it offends or confuses, and for that reason, come next year, it will likely not be on anyone's radar come Oscar Awards 2008. This is one of those movies, however, that will undoubtedly go down in a different sort of Hall of Fame, the one that consists of REAL movies, the kind that make young guys want to go out and make movies, the kind that bred people like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez who have that innate appreciation for the taboo, the bizarre, the provocative. Yep, we have Grindhouse on its way to theaters soon, but for a small taste of downhome and dirty grindhouse cinema, look no further than Black Snake Moan. Some will hate it, many will avoid it, but for that percentage of the movie-going population that appreciates the oddball sensibilities of a movie like this, well, Black Snake Moan is a must-see cult-favorite in the making.

To try to sum up the movie's over-the-top trappings - Black Snake Moan tells the tale of a past-his-prime Bluesman named Lazarus (Jackson), who is left by his wife for his younger brother, and finds himself alone on an isolated farm, going into town only occasionally to sell his crops. Meanwhile, Rae (Ricci) is a girl with issues, finding solace only in her oddball relationship with a naive young guy plagued by panic attacks. When her boyfriend ships out to the army, Rae loses her one touchpoint to sanity, and goes on a wild bender of sex and drugs, falling in with all manner of abusive characters. Finally, one particularly shady guy beats her up and leaves her bloodied body on a deserted road, where she is found by Lazarus. Lazarus takes her in and tries to look after her, but Rae is like a feral animal, clawing, scraping, and repeatedly offering up her body to anyone who falls within earshot. Baffled to his wit's end by this girl, Lazarus see's no other option but to chain her up to his radiator, and through the power of prayer, music, and preaching, force some sense into her. And this begins this lurid story of southern justice ... Black Snake Moan, named for a throbbing, moaning blues song - as blues is the movie and the movie is the blues.

First of all, you have Craig Brewer. With Hustle & Flow, Brewer created a movie that set a new standard for the hip-hop rags to riches genre because the entire movie pulsated with the spirit of the music. Here, Brewer accomplishes a similar feat, creating a movie that is in many ways an ode to The Blues as much as Hustle was an ode to Hip Hop music. From the opening ruminaitons on the nature of The Blues, Brewer creates a hot, sweaty, dirty atmosphere for his film that completely envelops you. This isn't our reality, let's be clear on that - this is the stylized world of Blues, built on tall tales and curses and sad, screwed-up characters. And what characters we have here ...

This is, probably, Samuel L. Jackson's best role since Pulp Fiction. It's the first starring role he's had in a long time where I was completely absorbed in THE CHARACTER, and didn't simply feel like I was watching Sam Jackson playing a version of himself. Sure, there is plenty of the trademark Jackson badassness, and few actors are able to utter a curse word with the same flippant relish of Samuel L, and we get some classic moments of that here. But this isn't a one-dimensional character, this is a far cry from Snakes on a Plane. This is a complex, tortured, bluesman - a guy who you're still trying to figure out as the movie wraps up, who you spend the entire movie trying to decipher and who constantly surprises you. This is Samuel L. Jackson with his working boots on - the polar opposite of his occasional cash-the-check-and-run roles. At the same time, this is him at his badass best. Even the scenes of Jackson playing the blues thunder with an intensity that I wasn't expecting. Great stuff from Jackson - a reminder that he really can be The Man when the role is right.

And man, Christina Ricci. Probably one of the more underrated actresses of the last several years, you have to admire her for sticking to roles that fall under the radar, away from the mainstream, and are always, always provocative. But man, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is Christina Ricci redefining the term "fearless acting." I mean, how many other actresses could pull off playing a crazed, tortured nymphomaniac who writhes like the girl in The Excorcist whenever her anxiety manifests as rabid sexuality? Ricci owns this movie. She goes toe to toe with Jackson to the point where we're actually scared for HIM even though she's the one chained to the radiator. Christina Ricci goes balls to the wall in this movie, somehow creating a character who is a psycho-nympho, a redneck pinup, and a sympathetic tortured soul all rolled into one.

The rest of the supporting cast does a great job as well. Justin Timberlake is good here for what his role is - he is supposed to be a kind of meek, in-over-his-head guy, and he pulls that off well. Everyone else does a good job and adds to Craig Brewer's down-home vision of southern gothic exploitation. The funny thing about this movie, however, is that some may be surprised at how it mixes quasi-exploitation with genuine pathos and emotion. It's like ... you know how the real versions of the Grimm Fairy Tales are in actuality very dark, violent, and disturbing? Well this is like the Grimm version of some "tall tale" you heard as a kid, Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan or whatever. A distinctly American tale, Black Snake Moan reminded me a lot of Garth Ennis' PREACHER in how it mixed the profane and grotesque with a real sentimentality to create a timeless American story. Even the movie's comic-book like poster seems to pay homage to those old, forbidden EC stories that were simultaneously whacked-out exploitation and all-American morality plays.

Now, my one complaint here is that I couldn't help but feel at movie's end that SOMETHING was missing. Something about this movie just feels unexplored, incomplete, and it's hard to put my finger on what, exactly, that something is. I guess that, as far as this movie goes into the realm of lurid and provocative, it seems to stop a bit short of following its strange story to its logical extremities, instead settling for a sanitized version of events that, in the end, doesn't quite add up. I mean, one of the essential conflicts here is with Lazarus - on one hand, he's a chaste presence in the movie, acting as both a foil and a father figure to Christina Ricci's Rae. And yet, here is the guy whose wife has left him, acting as a mentor and father figure, never REALLY succumbing to Rae's come-ons or crazed sexuality ... and YET ... there he is, giving her a full-body naked spongebath. A chaste spongebath, sure, (I think?), but still - despite how clearly screwed-up and complex these characters are, I still didn't quite feel like the movie went all the way in explaining the essential contradiction of Lazarus as both a wild bluesman and a bible-thumping reformer.

Nonetheless, Black Snake Moan is filled with so many great scenes, quotable lines, and evocative imagery that it quickly won me over and never let up. As soon as the title sequence ended on a shot of waifish, devil-may-care Rae walking in traffic down a dirty road, giving the finger to the mac truck honking at her from behind, I knew that this was going to be a movie to remember. This was a movie with a unique artistic vision, an awesome, style, and two great performances from two actors who you can't help but admire. Please, go see this movie, and prove that there is room today for director's like Craig Brewer, actors like Christina Ricci, and movies like Black Snake Moan that dare to give the finger to convention and not hold back.

My Grade: A-