Monday, February 25, 2008

No Blog For Old Men: Oscar Recap, plus BE KIND, REWIND and VANTAGE POINT - Reviewed!

Ahhhhh ... craziness! Tommorow morning, I'm flying to New York City for a two-day-long meeting of the minds with our East Coast counterparts in NBCU Digital Distribution. It should be a long couple of days, as tommorow I fly to NYC, arrive in NYC at around 7 pm, Wednesday we have an all day meeting from morning to night, and Thursday same thing for half a day. So, today has been pretty busy trying to prepare for our group's presentation at the meeting. And then there's the chill factor - especially as compared to what I'm now used to here in sunny LA, the next few days are going to be freakin' freezing! But, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to catch up with one or two friends while I'm in the city, and at the least have a slice of REAL pizza! The added bonus is that since I'll be mere hours away from the homeland, aka Bloomfield, CT, I'll be spending the weekend there ... hopefully a weekend filled with lots of rest and relaxation, since I'll be needing it after two days of nonstop presentations and powerpoints in NYC. So, I may try to do a blog update or two from the road, but if you don't see me online for a bit, this is why.

In any case, I had a really fun weekend, and I did see a couple of movies which I'll get to in a second.

First of all, though ...


- Overall, this year's Oscars were a pretty strightforward affair. No real "big" moments, little that was all that memorable, and not much material that was really, truly funny. Jon Stewart did an okay job, though his jokes seemed a little toned-down with little of the biting sarcasm or wit that you usually see from him on The Daily Show. In terms of the actual awards though, I don't have many complaints, and the big awards mostly went to very deserving recipients. In my last post, you can see that my predictions / favorites won in a number of big categories. I called No Country winning for writing, directing, and Best Picture, called Diablo Cody for best original screenplay, and Ratatouille for animated feature. I called Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor, Javier Bardem for Supporting Actor, and Tilda Swindon for Supporting Actress. In each case, I predicted the winners, who also happened to be my personal picks, so it was doubly cool to see these deserving winners.

- It's funny to me how there's no some backlash against the Coens though. I mean, this is the Coens! Okay, they aren't the typical "oh god!" screaming, ecstatic Oscar winners, but they're only, arguably, the best American filmmakers of the last fifteen years. Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, and now No Country ... need I say more? It wasn't long ago either that these guys were still very-much under-the-radar and decided underdogs, so I for one am psyched to see them take home an Oscar or three.

- I called that Ellen Page wouldn't win (though I would have loved for her to have), but was incorrect in my guess that the award would go to Julie Christie. However, I was right in my general premise that the award would simply go to a more traditional dramatic movie, and it did, in the form of La Vie En Rose.

- How did The Golden Compass win for best visual f/x?!?! The movie had VERY uneven f/x in my opinion, with certain things, like the polar bears, looking great, but a lot of other stuff very uneven-seeming. So strange ... Oh well, at least Norbit didn't win an award.

- Still haven't seen Once, but was surprised to see it take Best Song, as the odds seemed to be against it. I did enjoy seeing Amy Adams perform a song from Enchanted though - she's great!

- Was surprised to see Bourne win in so many technical categories ... though I did call Atonement for Best Original Score and Sweeney Todd for Art Direction.

- And really, that was about everything of note to me. My predictions were pretty accurate in the big categories, though I definitely faltered a bit in the lesser ones. In any case, 2007 was an awesome year for movies - No Country, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Superbad, Eastern Promises, Sweeney Todd, Michael Clayton, King of Kong, Ratatouille ... and the list goes on and on. So really, screw the Oscars, just enjoy the films.

Now, about those movies I saw ...


- This is one of those strange movies, where it's clear that this is a unique vision, an original thought - it's heart is, clearly, in the right place ... and yet, it just isn't all that great.

Be Kind, Rewind, from director Michael Gondry, is a movie that I really wanted to like. And with a positive message about the goodness inherent in small communities, in tradition - it was a movie that did at times feel uplifiting and just plain happy. The cast, including Danny Glover, Jack Black and Mos Def, is likable, and the movie has a simplistic, almost old-fashioned style that reminded me of any number of "save-the-community" stories that were common in 1980's kids movies. In fact, the movie has a sense of innocence about it that almost makes it feel like a kids movie.

But overall, the tone is just ... weird. When you hear the concept of Jack Black remaking a bunch of old movies, it seems like fertile ground for hilarity to ensue. Only problem is, the low-budget remakes, or "Swedes" as JB calls them ... well, most of them are amusing enough to elicit a smile or two, but ... they're just not that funny, or clever. They're not really parodies, per se, just reenactments of certain ideas from movies like Robocop and Ghostbusters, in theory funny simply because Jack Black and Mos Def use carboard boxes, aluminum foil, and trick camera angles to create their makeshift costumes and special effects. That's basically the joke, and it quickly wears thin.

The other really odd thing about this movie is that its script seems totally removed from reality, and not in a way that's all that charming or fully-fleshed-out. Danny Glover owns a crappy video store that rents VHS tapes, and of course he's losing business to the big chain stores. But we are never really made to understand what, exactly, is so damn charming about Glover's store. It's a craphole, basically, with a moron working there, a lousy selection of movies, and apparently about three regular customers who for some reason are dying to see played-out movies like Ghostbusters. Furthermore, this plot might have felt relevant about ten years ago, when chains like Blockbuster were at the peak of their powers ... but now it just feels pathetically outdated, at a time when DVD's are already beginning to give way to Blu-Ray discs and online downloads, and Blockbuster is going bankrupt trying to compete with Netflix. I'm not saying that a comedy like this needs to be up-to-the-minute current, but you've got to admit, it's strange to tell this particular story here and now in 2008.

And then, the script as a whole just seems very light. There's rarely any real sense of drama or urgency, and frankly, a lot of things just don't really make sense, even in the slightly surreal world of the movie. I mean, at one point we learn that the legendary jazz musician who is the stuff of local legend was in fact just a legend - sure, he existed, but he wasn't really born in the building that houses Danny Glover's video store as everyone believed. So what exactly is Gondry's message here? That truth is what you make it, and we should embrace that? There just seemed to be something a bit off about what this movie was trying to say, and by the time the townspeople rally to make a doumentary about said jazz musician (for what purpose exactly?), I have to say that Gondry had pretty much lost me. Add to that a weird-o turn from Mia Farrow, a random cameo by Sigourney Weaver (she's everywhere lately!) some really flat attempts at humor, and the fact that Mos Def gets really annoying after a while, and you can see how this one devolves into a bit of a mess.

Now, there are a lot of fun moments here. Jack Black carries a lot of the movie on sheer charisma, and makes one or two gags, like one hilarious one involving a ladder, pretty memorable. I also really like newcomer (at least to me) Melanie Diaz as a lowly drycleaner who gets caught up in the homebrew filmmaking. Her character is a lot of fun, though any hints at romance between her and the two leads never really materialize into anything.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh on this one, well, it's not that I didn't enjoy it - it was a pretty light, breezy little film with some funny gags and a decent amount of heart. But ultimately, I'd call it a misfire from Michael Gondry - it's a messy, strange movie that seems to amble about with little to really take away from it. We can tell that it's TRYING to be funny and heartwarming, and give it points for effort, but it rarely feels like it's firing on all cylinders.

My Grade: B -


- Well, anyone who wants a decently fun, campy action movie ... you may find Vantage Point worth checking out. But man, this is another strange one. It has a great, all-star cast, and some real fun moments along with some appropriately intense action. However, the movie is simply killed by its own premise - the gimmick is that we see the same event, an attempted presidential assassination - play out from several different vantage points. If anything though, the movie has that same annoying feeling of "I've seen this scene four times already!" that a certain similarly-gimmicked episode of Lost had last year. Showing the same events over and over has to be done with a hefty amount of cleverness and wit in order to pull it off, and this movie doesn't quite get the job done. I commits the cardinal sin of literally showing us the same exact moments more than a few times - a tactic which drew aggravated boos from the theater at which I saw the film. Overall, what could have been a fun twist on the typical political thriller becomes incredibly bogged down by its own narrative conceit.

That being said, I often found myself simply won over by the likable cast. I mean, when is Dennis Quaid ever NOT fun to watch in this type of movie? He's great here as a traumatized secret service agent - it makes you wish we could just see a straightforward action flick with Quaid's character in the lead. Instead, we are constantly cutting away from him to see events from other, less interesting perspectives. Chief among these is Forrest Whitaker as an out-of-his-element American tourist who happens to be present when the $%#@ hits the fan. Look, Whitaker was AMAZING in Last King of Scotland - he deserved every ounce of his Oscar for that one. But man, in this one he 100% overacts and just seems incredibly out of place. And his cheesy storyline, in which he tries to save a hapless little girl from the ensuing chaos, is like the absolute worst of one of 24's infamous kooky subplots. Okay, not quite Kim stuck in a cougar-trap bad, but not that far off either.

Luckily, Forest is a weak link, but there are a few other fun turns here to cancel out his character's lameness. William f'n Hurt plays the President (referred to here, comically, over and over again, as the POTUS). I repeat: William Hurt as the Prez. Need I say more? Hurt is as awesome as you'd expect him to be, and is one in a long line of movie presidents who are able to kick a little ass on the side when duty calls. I also enjoyed Matthew Fox here. Sure, his character is essentially a total blank slate, but it was fun to see Fox subvert his typical good guy image a little. Sigourney Weaver also shows up (again). Since The TV Set, she can't seem to find any roles other than that of bitchy media executive ... though she does play that role pretty well by this point. Remember her character from The TV Set? Well, that's pretty much who she plays here.

But as you can probably start to see ... the characters here are presented with almost no real background other than the most bare-bones details. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that it renders afew of the movie's big twists a bit ineffectual, since we barely know anyone's motivations in the first place. The movie is so heavily-focused on exploiting its multiple vantage-point gimmick that it largely ignores little things like plot and character. It contents itself with relying on a few big twists ... and some of 'em are a bit obvious, to boot.

Still, if you turn off your brain for a bit and just bask in the badassness of William Hurt and Dennis Quaid, you might come at things from a slightly different vantage point.

My Grade: B -

- One more quick thing: I caught SNL's return episode from this Saturday, and overall it was decent. A funny digital short, a nice random sketch with Kristen Wiig about a hot-air balloon saleswoman, and a fun appearance from Mike Huckabee were the highlights. They NEED someone to do a better Obama though. I mean, yikes!

- Alllllllright, time to pack for NYC. Be back in LA next Monday. EAST COAST, baby.

Friday, February 22, 2008

OSCAR Predictions, LOST, and MORE!

I smell Oscar! Haha, I should do a whole blog in the style of The Onion's Jackie Harvey. Item! In any case, it's all about the Oscar race. And yes, that rhymed, sucka. Man, this blog is off to quite the start ...

Anyways, with the Oscars on Sunday, I thought I should do a little write up, as per tradition. This year though, I am pleasantly able to kind of just sit back and enjoy without getting to opinionated. The reason? Well, 2007, as I've said many times here, was one of the best-ever years, at least that I've lived through, for movies - and certainly the best since I began this blog. It's looking like a no-brainer that movies like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood will be honored, which is great, because they more than deserve it. Sure, there are some categories where I was annoyed with the movies that were omitted, and some movies I would have loved to see get more recognition (Assassination of Jesse James, for one ... King of Kong, for another). But, overall, there are so many great films that ARE nominated, that there are few potential winners that would be a gigantic letdown in the major categories. That being said, of course I have my favorites, so, on with the show ...

- What I'll do here is maybe a little bit different from years past - I'm basically breaking things down the same way, but rather than just the usual "Should Win, Will Win" categories, I'll instead designate who I'm rooting for. Alright, here we go:


- Who I'm rooting for: Daniel Day Lewis all the way - as great as some of the other choices are (Viggo in particular was amazing in Eastern Promises), DDL's performance in There Will Be Blood is one that will be talked about for years and years to come.

- Who will win: Daniel Day Lewis drinks your milkshake. No contest.


- Who I'm rooting for: Man, this is a tough one because Casey Affleck was awesome in Jesse James, as was Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton, as was Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson and Hal Holbrook in into the wild. But, come on, Javier Bardem kicked all kinds of ass in No Country - he deserves to win if only for being one of the all-time great Coen Bros. characters.

- Who will win: Javier Bardem no doubt, friend-o.


- Who I'm rooting for: Still have yet to see some of the nominated performances, so the favorite for me is surely Ellen Page, who to me was simply killer as Juno. How can anyone not love her?

- Who will win: This is a tough one to predict. It comes down to Ellen Page and Julie Christie, I think, and it's practically a toss-up between them. In the end, I will be rooting for Page, but predict a win for Julie Christie - it's just so rare for someone to win for a semi-comedic performance.


- Who I'm rooting for: Gotta go with Tilda Swindon. She was amazing in Michael Clayton, and she deserves recognition.

- Who will win: I'm picking Tilda Swindon. Michael Clayton will probably not get a lot of love this year, but this win will be it's one big pickup - bet on it.


- Who I'm rooting for: Honestly, I'd be happy if either No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood wins. Both stand as two of the best movies in years, and represent high points for the Coens and Paul Thomas Anderson, respectively. I give No Country the slight edge (see my Best of 2007 list for why), but both films were landmarks. I was also a big fan of Michael Clayton and especially of Juno, but I can't quite place them in the same tier as the aformentioned masterpieces.

- Who will win: Tough to call, again, but I'm going to go with No Country. The Coens are a proven commodity at the Oscars, and the movie is one of their best. when you add up the stellar cast, typically great screenplay, and remarkable direction, No Country wins out.


- Who I'm rooting for: No Country for sure - the Coens are master writers and this is one of their best.

- Who will win: Again, the Coens can't be beat when they're firing on all cylinders - No Country wins it.


- Who I'm rooting for: I've got to get on the Juno bandwagon here. It's a smart, funny script from Diablo Cody, and more than that it's just a totally unique vision and sense of humor.

- Who will win: This is the one category that Juno has a lock on. Sure, some say Diablo is overhyped, but do Oscar voters care? No, they don't.


- Who I'm rooting for: Another category where it's somewhat of a spoil of riches. But ultimately, No Country For Old Men was perhaps the Coens' best and most dynamic directing effort yet - the action scenes (I mean, that dog chase ... come on!) were some of the best and most intense ever put to film.

- Who will win: I think the Academy will agree with what I wrote above. You can't ignore There Will Be Blood, but at the same time, the Coens I feel are going to take it for No Country.


- Who I'm rooting for: I've only seen Ratatouille of the nominated films, but I was a huge fan and called it among the year's overall best movies. I was happy to see it in the screenplay category, but this is where it will win.

- Who Will Win: See above - Ratatouille all the way, unless there is a surprise Persepolis upset ... but I don't see that happening. Respect levels for Pixar are at an all-time high, and anticipation for Wall-E I think will help Brad Bird and co win out.


- ART DIRECTION: Sweeney Todd should win, and I believe it will - this great, great film is going to miss out on a lot of gold this year due to the stiff competition, but I think you have to acknowldge, at the least, the amazing style and look that Tim Burton and co brought to this one.

- CINEMATOGRAPHY: Finally, a nom for Jesse James! The movie could get a token win here, but more likely, cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins will win for his other big movie this year, No Country For Old Men.

- COSTUME DESIGN: Again, Sweeney Todd should and will win. Once again, Tim Burton created a goth fantasyland that was a feast for the eyes, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter never looked creepier ... which is saying a lot!

- DOCUMENTARY: Ugh, how is there no nom for King of Kong?!?! A travesty, I tell you. In any case, looks like the Iraq War doc, No End in Sight, is poised to take this one.

- DOCUMENTARY SHORT: No clue on this one ... I'll pick Sari's Mother as I've heard a little buzz, I think?

- EDITING: Here's one where I've got to go with There Will Be Blood ... as No Country will lose points for its controversial and somewhat jarring ending. On the other hand, there's no doubt that PTA did a masterful job of stitching together the story of Daniel Plainview, in a manner that has elicited comparisons to such luminary films as Citizen Cane. PTA is looking at this Oscar and saying "Why don't I own this?"

- FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Haven't seen any of these, but apparently Mongol is all kinds of awesome, so that's my pick, and it's definitely on my need-to-see list.

- MAKEUP: How the #$%@ does Norbit get a nom here? Especially when movies like Stardust could have been nominated in its place! I mean, are you serious? It had better not win! My pick of the movies tha did get a nod is Pirates 3 - a movie that, no matter what else you thought of it, had absolutely terrific design, makeup, and costume work.

- ORIGINAL SCORE: There Will Be Blood should have been eligible in this category, but since it isn't, I will go with Ratatouille as my personal favorite, though I will predict Atonement to win just because it needs at least one victory, right?

- ORIGINAL SONG: Enchanted pretty much has to win, simply by the law of averages (by the way, how is Amy Adams not in the Best Actress race?). But anyways, who didn't love "That's How You Know" ? It will win, for sure. You can't fight Disney magic.

- SHORT FILM, ANIMATED: No idea about this one, though I've heard some buzz around I Met The Walrus, so that's my prediction to win it.

- SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION - Another one where I am pretty much clueless, but I'll go with The Tonto Woman, no particular reason ...

- SOUND MIXING: I think this is one I'd give to No Country For Old Men. If there's one sound from a movie in 07 that stuck with me, it's Anton Chigurh's air-gun, a sound that made you jump, tremble, and want to shout at the characters on screen to run for their lives. I think No Country will win this one too, because I can't be the only one who felt that way.

- VISUAL EFFECTS - I think that Transformers will win this one, but for me the movie was essentially a dud, and I'd much rather see the much more artistically-inclined Pirates 3 take away the award. To me, the character f/x were simply stunning in this, as in the previous Pirates movies. But people tend to go for giant robots ... but, in my opinion, it's not good when your supposedly cutting-edge designs look less cool than those from a 20-year-old cartoon series.

And there are my picks. I've had a pretty good track record in the past, so we'll see how I do this time. But man, what a year for movies - I'm glad to see The Oscars going on the air post-Strike, if only to see instant classics like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood get their much-deserved kudos in a national spotlight.

- Okay - have to about ...


- Alright, I'll make this quick ... last night's ep was another riveting ride. But to me it wasn't at that same grade-A level of the rest of Season 4's episodes to date, despite overall being entertaining and intense. The main sticking point for me was that there was a little something lacking in the plot structure. Basically, the flash forwards here toed the line between intriguing and annoyingly confusing. To this point, Season 4 of Lost has done an awesome job of achieving balance in its mysteries -- we've been posed a number of questions, but there's been that feeling that the truth behind the larger puzzle was slowly coming together, with all the pieces beginning to slowly but surely fall into place. Last night, to put it plainly, there were simply too many new mysteries introduced without enough reward for the viewer. I found myself wondering who Kate's son was (Claire's?), how he came to be, why Kate wouldn't allow Jack to testify, and why Jack didn't want to see Kate's son. And that's just for starters. I was intrigued, yes, but it was all just a little much to take in at once without any real payoff moments. Otherwise, this was another fun episode with some great character moments and the usual intense pacing. But it reminded me of some of the show's weaker episodes in that it felt like you were being led around aimlessly with no real endpoint in sight. On the plus side though, next week's episode looks awesome.

My grade: B+

- Some other quick TV opinions:

- Sunday's KING OF THE HILL was a classic episode. It almost felt like all of the various Dale and Bill plots that had been building for years and years finally came to a head, and yet at the end everything essentially stayed the same - a masterful trick. The tale of Bill meeting a seemingly great woman, who had a son fathered years ago by John Redcorn, who Dale is still oblivious about his role in fathering HIS son ... was just a hilarious, sad, superbly-written slice of animated sitcom greatness.

My Grade: A

- THE SIMPSONS, on the other hand, had one if the dreaded "three fantasy-stories" episodes, this time with a unifying theme of classic love stories, with members of The Simpsons clan subbed in for the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, Lady and the tramp, and Sid and Nancy. I will say, the Sid and Nancy segment saved it for me - Nelson as Sid Vicious was pretty hilarious, and using chocolate addiction as a substitute for drugs was surprisingly funny - I was actually surprised at what they got away with here. The rest of the segments were pretty bland, though it was amusing to see the Simpsons characters as canines in the Lady and the Tramp parody. Overall, not great, but could have been a lot worse ... and I still find these anthology episodes on average to be subpar.

My Grade: B

Alllright -------- I'm outta here as it's almost time for the weekend! Whoo, this should be a good one. Tuesday I'm off to NYC, but I should be back with an update or two before then. Rock on.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Sorry, dude." LOST & SMALLVILLE - Reviewed!

What's up - hello again everyone and Happy Friday. One thing I need to say off the bat: I need more comments! I know there have to be those of you out there who share my enthusiasm for the Indy IV trailer, disagree with me in my support for Obama, or just have some theories you'd like to share about last night's episode of Lost. So, don't playa hate and don't hesitate - leave one!

So about last night's LOST ...

- Overall, this was another pretty riveting episode, continuing Season 4's streak of keeping me totally enthralled and on the edge of my seat. It's just amazing, watching Lost, how well-produced the show is. From the spot-on music cues to the wonderful acting across the board to the cinematic camera-work, Lost is simply heads and tails above and beyond most other TV dramas. I especially took not of this last night, where the Sayid-centric flash forwards really felt like scenes out of a big budget crime thriller. But about those flash-forwards, they told a pretty good story, set up an intriguing scenario of a post-island Sayid as a hitman-for-hire, and then delivered one hell of a twist, revealing that Sayid's employer was in fact ... (SPOILERS) ...

... Ben Linus ...

Damn, okay, didn't see that coming. I assumed it'd be one of the new big-bad characters or else Charles Widmore or someone. Very interesting indeed. As for the goings-on on the island in this ep, there was some good drama with Sayid vs. Locke and his crew. The Hurley red herring was especially surprising. However, I still feel a bit in the dark about why, exactly, some of these people would opt to follow Locke into the proverbial heart of darkness. Why not take your chances with Jack, and at least see for oneself if the rescuers harbored some secret ill-intent. I mean, strength in numbers, right? And I don't know, it still seems kind of hard to swallow that someone like Sawyer legitimately does NOT want to get off the island. Don't get me wrong, the current storylines are pretty gripping, but they are starting to feel just slightly manufactured. Hopefully, the next week or two will reveal that Sawyer, Claire, Hurley, and some of the others had a bit more to their decision to join Team Locke than meets the eye.

Some stuff I loved this ep: the interaction between Jack and the pilot guy - the line about the Red Sox was classic. Loved everything with Jeremy Davies performing his little experiments - I'm still amazed at how each of the four new characters is already proving to be pretty fascinating. This ep just crackled with great dialogue - Jack and Kate's little exchange about staying behind, the asshole-ish Miles and his indifference to anyone or anything, and Hurley's response to him "oh great, another Sawyer." Overall, Sayid's flash-forwards were pretty fascinating -- who are the people he's killing off, who do they work for, and why did he agree to work with Ben? And then the other big question - what is going on with the island with regards to its existence in space/time? Crazy stuff, dude.

So yeah, I still object to the sometimes iffy characterization, but in the end, LOST is simply on a roll right now.

My Grade: A -

- SMALLVILLE, last night, was ... really good?!?! Yeah, I'm as surprised as anyone, that, even though its plot was heavily tied-into this season's litany of semi-lame story developments, last night's ep brought them all together into one entertaining package. For once, Smallville had a serious, dramatic, and epic-feeling episode that really packed a punch. It didn't hurt that this one shone the spotlight on the Luthors, and gave both Lex and Lionel a real chance to develop as characters, helped by some great acting as well. I enjoyed Clark in Lex's mind, and his encounters with the young "Alexander" Luthor. I also enjoyed Chloe's role, as the show finally addressed her newfound abilities for the first time in a while. And finally - the flashback structure of the episode, taking a page from LOST, really worked well, a welcome change from the show's typical, uber-straightforward style. Slowly seeing how Lex secretly pursued a relationship with Kara made for some interesting reveals, and I'm actually curious to see where this storyline goes. So, bravo Smallville - keep it up.

My Grade: A -

Alright, the parents are in town this weekend, so I'm about to embark on three days of Baram family fun. Wish me luck ...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bye, Bye Everything: Roy Scheider, Steve Gerber ... Plus: Prison Break and MORE

What's up, loyal readers.

Man, it's been a sad few days for pop-culture fans. Let me say a few quick words on two great artists who recently passed away ...

- STEVE GERBER was one of my favorite writers. And I can say that despite having missed a lot of his work from the 70's and 80's, the era when the writer really rose to prominence as a hilarious, subversive, and intelligent voice in comics. At that time, Gerber had a number of memorable runs on Marvel, DC, and independent comics, and along with names like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, he was certainly one of the creators who truly began to push the medium past its more simplistic roots. Nothing embodied this more than Howard the Duck, a wise-cracking, cigar-chomping, quack-fu-practicin' smartass - an underground spin on classic cartoon animals. But for me, the comic that made me love Gerber was HARD TIME, easily one of my all-time favorite books. It was the story of an outcast teen responsible for a Columbine-esque school shooting, and his subsequent life as one of the youngest inmates in a maximum security prison. This was a comic that pulled no punches, that was gritty, relevant, darkly funny, and just a great read. Few writers could have written a book like this, and few would have been willing to take a chance with such atypical subject matter, but Gerber was always someone who went against the grain. What makes his passing so sad is that Gerber was still writing up until his last few days, but a prolonged illness took him far too early. Over the last few months, I've been thoroughly enjoying his work on DC's Countdown to Mystery, and it's a great example of how character was always paramount with Gerber - his heroes were off-kilter, flawed, written in shades of grey, yet somehow likable in the end. This is a huge loss for anyone who can appreciate those writers who push what's possible, who never settle or conform, and who were memorable because their voice was so loud and unique. This one just left me feeling really sad and depressed - truly one of the greats.

- And then, I have to quickly mention the passing of ROY SCHEIDER. Talk about an icon, this guy did it all, from big blockbusters like Jaws to more personal fare like All That Jazz. whatever the subject matter, he made it all seem effortless. In one of my film classes in college, I remember our professor popped in All That Jazz and, given the subject matter, I don't think I could have been less excited. So I was pretty surprised to find myself utterly blown away by the movie, so much so that I immediately tracked down the DVD first chance I got. Roy Scheider is incredible in it - it's got to rank up there as one of the all-time great singular performances in a film. But man, reading through some of the obituary comments over on Ain't It Cool, I was just struck by how not one person had a bad thing to say about the guy - he was maybe one of the last great movie heroes, a man's man, someone whose career of memorable roles basically speaks for itself.

- Anyways, the show must go on ...

- A lot of interesting news from the world of entertainment lately. The Strike seems to be over, for one thing. Not really up for analyzing the ins and outs of the new deal with the WGA right now, suffice to say as a fan I'm just curious to see if and when some of the big shows come back or, in the case of a LOST, if the season is able to conclude as originally planned.

- By the way, I've been meaning to read The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, but without having read it, the thought of a Coen Bros. adaptation, as announced today, has me practically drooling. There's something about the sensibilities of the Coens and Chabon that seems to be a 100% perfect fit.

- As far as current movies go - man, it's been a bleak few weeks. And the fact that crap like Meet the Spartans and Fool's Gold has done well at the box office is pretty disheartening. Semi-interested in The Spiderwick Chronicles and Semi-Pro looks to be pretty funny. Otherwise ... summer can't get here soon enough at this point, at least as far as films go.

- One random note: I randomly watched the 1980 FLASH GORDON movie the other day ... um, wow. Possibly one of the trippiest movies I've ever seen, in that it is a total camp-fest that's like Star Wars meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with tons of sexual innuendo just beneath the PG surface. Awesome soundtrack by Queen, of course (Flash! Whoah-oh! King of the impossible!), but man, what a strange movie.

- Also, finally catching up on the latest season of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So far, a little bit below the standard set by some of the previous seasons, but still moments of greatness. The third episode, with Larry stealing flowers from the memorial for Funkhowser's mother, was pretty hilarious, so I'm hopeful the episodes continue to get better and better as the season progresses.

Okay, good segway ...


- Last night's PRISON BREAK ...

... was yet another dose of awesomeness. From minute one, I was totally into it, and this was another classic escape episode, in that the intensity level was off the chain, there were some great twists (from the get-go, with Scofield revealing that part of his plan was to let T-Bag, Bellick, and Lechero get captured), and some great character moments as well. T-Bag alone had several classic lines - "No need to re-fry my beans." and "If I knew this was how you boys liked to party, I never would have tried to leave ...", to paraphrase two of the funniest. Loved the interplay between Mahone and Lincoln / Michael as well - the eventual fate of William Fichtner's badass ex-FBI agent is definitely one of the most compelling reasons to tune-in to next week's season finale.

Now, I do have a few complaints. One is that Gretchen, while surely an awesome villain, might be better off if she was toned down just a tad. I didn't really get why, last night, she suddenly decided to scrap all of her plans right as they seemed to finally be coming together, and just go gun-crazy and try to kill Michael and Lincoln. My other complaint is that Whistler has long been a somewhat frustrating character. We still know next to nothing about him, so him bolting at episode's end was more annoying than exciting - I mean what's his deal anyway? I guess it's frustrating that Whistler hasn't developed into a better / more compelling character by this point.

That being said, this one was a nail-biter. From Sucre being unable to come through with the boat, to the reunion of basketball-kid with his father, to the underwater escape, this was good stuff. Can't wait for next week's conclusion.

My Grade: A -

- Also, want to mention the sole new FOX episode on Sunday, which was KING OF THE HILL. A pretty good episode, that saw Hank and the gang at Strickland Propane begin to sell bootlegged fried food, when Arlen instates a ban on trans-fats. This ep def had some classic moments, chief among them Hank's dream in which he meets Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Tom Landry while flying a WWII bomber. Only in the mind of Hank Hill ... Anyways, a fun episode of a perenially entertaining comedy.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, that's about all I've got for now. Back later with more ... rock on.

Friday, February 8, 2008

LOST - Living on Borrowed Time! Plus: A Bird of Prey Swoops Into SMALLVILLE.

- So last night's LOST ... wow! AWESOME episode, maybe one of my overall favorites of the series to date. Eveything about this one was just so ... cool. And I realize that Lost may be turning off some with its increasing focus on plot and unraveling its long-hidden sci-fi infused mysteries, but I for one am totally geeking out on it. It doesn't hurt that last night's script, by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), and the great Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man - see my gushing praise for its final issue a few posts down), was tightly written, funny (loved Jack's wink to Kate and her not getting the hint), smart, and just plain kickass.

I mean, last night's ep, to me, was a total contrast to the beginning of Season 2, where we met the Tailies, characters who were mostly unlikable, not played by particularly strong actors in some cases, and seemed to take away from the show's sense of focus and momentum. This time, we meet four new characters, all of whom are, from the get-go, extremely cool and likable and played by some really great actors to boot. I mean, how great, already, is Jeremy Davies? I loved each of their backstories as well - a ghost-buster, a madman, an archaeologist, and a pilot. Each vignette that introduced them was uber-cool, and there was something about the whole setup and their being recruited to go to the island that seemed comfortably familiar. Oh yeah, I know ... and I wonder if I am the only person on the planet to notice this ... these 4 are the Challengers of the Unknown! Four people with unique skills, three men and one woman, brought together to investigate an island, somehow surviving a crash and living on "borrowed time ...". Come on - surely BKV or Goddard were at least giving a nod to Jack Kirby's pre-Fantastic Four team of adventurers. In any case, all four characters were loads of fun, and there's already a great dynamic between them, and between them and the rest of the castaways. Not to mention - their backstories raise tons of interestign questions. Can the one guy really talk with ghosts? Why did Jeremy Davies feel so strange when he saw the footage of Flight 815? What's up with the pilot who was supposed to have flown the doomed Oceanic jet? And most intriguingly -- what the heck is going in with the fossils of the Polar Bear with the Dharma logo that was found by the archaeologist?!?! Damn! More and more, there is definitely some crazy time travel stuff going on (shades of the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Odyssey Of Flight 33"), and I can't wait to find out more. Namely, we got yet another killer cliffhanger, in that we now know the Challengers are after Ben (why ...?), and that Ben has a mole in their ranks (Minkowsky? Michael? Clancy Brown?!?).

This was just one hell of an episode of Lost, full of stuff to ponder and geek out about. Man oh man, I hope the Strike allows this season to finish out, because right now Lost is kicking ass.

My Grade: A

- Now, about SMALLVILLE. I thought last night's episode was ... okay ... but kind of a wasted opportunity. The main reason to get excited about this one was the appearance of DC Comics staple Black Canary, which in theory would be extra special as Green Arrow is already a regular on the show, and in the comics, the two heroes have a long and storied romantic history together. Well, last night, we got a rather generic, CW-ized version of BC. She had an unappealling crew-cut, a weird, Daryl Hannah-in-Blade Runner-esque painted-on mask, and basically, the only resemblance she had to the beloved character of DC Comics fame was the trdemark fishnets and "canary cry" superpower. Otherwise, BC here was pretty paint by numbers, and I could have sworn we've seen this exact scenario a few times already on the show - wannabe hero with questionable methods / motivation / aliiegances, confronts Clark / Oliver, and then eventually is brought over to the side of good and made a member of Smallville's junior justice league. I guess my point is, while it was cool to see Black Canary on Smallville, this episode definitely did not live up to the inherent potential in pairing Clark Kent with Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance. Not by a longshot.

Still, I found the ep mostly enjoyable. The two Luthors were a lot of fun to watch, as always, and the interplay between Clark / Lana / Lois / Chloe was kind of interesting as well. Clark and Lana as a couple have been totally ruined by this show over the years, and by this point Lana is just completely annoying and mostly useless as a character, especially as Clark's insufferably on-again, off-again girlfriend. The two no longer have any chemistry, and week to week it's all but impossible to tell exactly what their current relationship status is. The show never seems to just settle on one status quo when it comes to the two, and the result is a collective ambivalence about them. At one point, I would have said the show should stick to the comics continuity and keep them together until Clark eventually leaves Smallville. But now ... geez, isn't it time he just hooked up with Chloe or even Lois already? In the context of the show, it's been a long time coming.

Smallville right now is just stuck in a rut of blah-ness. It's not terrible, per se, like it was in the season with Jason, when Lana became a witch (shudder), but it's just not all that great, either, with slow-moving plotlines and characters that seem to evolve at the speed of molasses. It's usually an enjoyable diversion, and does enough every week to placate my inner Superman geek, but man, do I wish this show could finally be as great as I had hoped it could be.

My Grade: B -

Allllllright ... time for the weekend, baby! I drink your milkshake!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Y: The Last Man rides into the sunset, and MORE.

- Well, the Patriots had a hell of a season, but in the end they lost the big one - a story somewhat familiar to fans of New England sports. Though I was sad to see the Pats lose, it was undoubtedly a great game, and the Giants deserved to win with an incredibly gutsy and hard-nosed performance. Plus, what really excites me now is the Celtics. I can't wait to see them in action once the playoffs begin, and it's going to be really exciting to see how this relatively new lineup matches up against the established powerhouses of the NBA. Things also got really interesting with the Lakers making a deal to get all-star Pau Gasol, instantly pushing them up a notch in the Western Conference rankings. Might we see a Celtics-Lakers final? Would be interesting, for sure, but personally I still want to see the Suns make it to the finals one of these years.

- Some decent commercials this year during the 'Bowl. I love anything featuring Charles Barkley, so his T-Mobile spot with Dwayne Waid cracked me up. A lot of really strange / offbeat ads this year though - that one woman's heart flying out of her chest for Career Builders was a bit much, I thought. Also, aside from the Iron Man and Narnia spots, not too much in the way of bigtime movie teasers. Would have been cool to catch a first glimpse of Indiana Jones, for example.

- Anyways, had a pretty fun weekend. Sadly, my pal Dan has decided to leave LA for more sane pastures, but he had a nice little going-away party on Friday that was a good time. On Saturday, I ventured out to Tarzana for the first time ever for Paul L's b-day. I thought Tarzana was really far from me, but it actually wasn't too bad of a drive at all, and I had a lot of fun bowling at Corbin Bowl down there. I hadn't bowled in probably over a year, and it showed, as I only managed to score an 87. Guess I have to practice a bit if I want to bowl a game that would make The Dude proud. Next was Superbowl Sunday, and I had a fun time chilling with Kyle and co and rooting for the Patriots in a mostly pro-Giants crowd.

- So ... what I'm really itching to talk about is Y: THE LAST MAN. The last-ever issue of Y came out last week, and I was both excited and very sad to see this seminal series reach its long-anticipated conclusion. Y, for me, has easily been my overall favorite comic / graphic novel / illustrated fiction / whatever you want to call it of the last several years. The reason I threw out all those different terms though is that people have such built-in preconceptions about what they imply. Y is a comic book, yes, but man, it's also literature. I'd put it up there with anything else in modern fiction, and I think when all is said and done, it will be regarded (and already is, to some extent) in the same breath as things like Watchmen, The Sandman, Preacher, etc. - a modern classic that transcends the usual trappings of the medium, and can be held up as a canonical representation of everything that comics can be. Y was smart, funny, relevant, and I think appealling to anyone interested in good storytelling, whether you're male or female, young or old.

Over the years, writer Brian K. Vaughan created one of modern fiction's most interesting characters in Yorick - a quirky twenty-something who finds himself in the unlikely scenario of being the last man on earth following a plague that wipes out the planet's entire male population in an instant. What made Y brilliant from the get-go was that BKV quickly subverted his story into anything BUT what you'd expect given its premise. For one thing, Yorick was pretty much the oppossite of what you'd expect the world's last man to be. He wasn't some strapping, lantern-jawed hero - instead, Yorick was a bit geeky, very esoteric, somewhat self-absorbed, and clearly not ready to be thrust into the role of the earth's last, best, hope for survival. The second thing that immediately made the book stand out was that, while the premise makes one assume we might be in for some kind of crazy sex-romp, Y was anything but. Not only did it present an amazingly well-thought out view of what might actually happen if all of the world's men were to disappear, but it immediately defied our expectations by having Yorick, despite suddenly finding himself as the world's last man, caring about little save for finding his girlfriend Beth, who had been studying in Australia when the disaster hit. With the world having gone to hell in a handbasket, the last man on earth is just trying to see if he has any future with his first true love - a quest made all the more ironic, and futile, when we later learn that on the day that the plague struck, Beth had been planning to dump Yorick!

Y was about so many things. A thoughtful look at how our society works, and how it might continue in the event of such an incredible disaster. It was about adventure and espionage and politics, with secret agents, international intrigue, and ninja assassins. Anyone who is a fan of the TV show CHUCK need look no further than Y to see where that show surely got some of its inspiration. But Y just took things to a whole other level, to the level of truly memorable art and literature, with characters that I'll remember and think about for the rest of my life. The scientist Dr. Alison Mann, ironically named and ever in pursuit of her own identity. Alter - the driven Israeli general who carried over her old grudges into the brave new world of Y. Hero - Yorick's unstable sister who joins up with a cult of new-age Amazons. Agent 355 - a tough-as-nails Culper Ring agent, a character who always surprised me and who became almost as integral to the story of Y as Yorick himself. Ampersand - Y always had a great sense of quirky humor, and that was evident from the start when we realize that the only other male being to survive the plague wasn't a human, but Yorick's helper monkey, Ampersand. It sounds weird to say it, but man, it speaks to the talent of BKV that he made you care so much about a goofy monkey. And when I say care, I mean Ampersand's final scene in Y's last issue was absolutely, totally heartbreaking. And then there's Yorick - a bundle of pop-culture trivia, random humor, and helplessness, Yorick was a completely unique and yet completely relatable character, and I give tons of credit to BKV for crafting a protagonist who was an amateur escape artist and had a helper monkey, and yet also felt like a guy you might know or be friends with or might you yourself be a lot like.

And also give tons of credit to regular Y artist Pia Guerra. I became a huge fan of her art from the moment I saw it - it was somewhat minimalist, even cartoony, but extremely expressive and masterfully helped tell BKV's stories with clarity and emotion. Thanks to the potent combination of Pia's art and BKV's words, Y became a book that, with each new chapter, consistently produced moments - be they last-page cliffhangers or mid-story revelations - that made your jaw hit the floor in shock, with that rare but exhilerating feeling of "I absolutely need to know what happens next, and I need to know now!"

And now Y has reached an end ...

I remember way back when very much looking forward to the first issue. I had become a fan of BKV's via his work on Swamp Thing (I guess I was one of the few who really got into his take on the character) and on some random but memorable stints on titles like Batman. But Y took things to a whole other level. By the time Issue 1 came out, I had also become a devout reader of DC's Vertigo line of comics - picking up everything from Swamp Thing to 100 Bullets. I loved the imprint's mix of adult comics, from crime fiction to Westerns to war stories to fantasy, and I began to eagerly await anything new from Vertigo even as I delved into their back catalogue with things like Preacher and the Alan Moore run on Swamp Thing. But I think Y: The Last Man is the only truly GREAT, classic ongoing book that I got on board with from Day 1 and read each month until its conclusion. It's been an amazing ride, and it's going to be sad not to have that monthly does of Yorrick, Three-Fifty, and the rest.

As for the last issue, well, it blew me away. I had made an effort to stay way from any spoilers, so I was very surprised by what I got to say the least. I was expecting a much more straightforward continuation of the penultimate issue. Instead, Y went out with a time-spanning tale worthy of Lost, fitting as BKV is currently knee deep in that show as one of its best and brightest writers. From the first moment, just as I had been with issue #1, I was shocked as I read - as I was introduced to an 80 year old Yorick, and then transported to some key moments spanning the time between then and now, the pivotal pieces of the puzzle between the time we last saw Yorick as a plucky twenty-something and when we are shockingly reintroduced to the elderly version - a bitter, detached old man, bemused by the world around him and his role in shaping it, quietly planning one last great escape.

I quickly but nervously turned each page, scared and excited for what might occur. And man, what an emotional rollercoaster this one was. Suffice to say, it's been a long while since I've had this many chills while reading. I won't go into heavy spoiler territory, but what a thought-provoking, shocking, hard-hitting finale to one of the all-time great stories. Its one I'm going to have to revisit, because there are so many details, in the words, the images, the symbolism of it all, this is a work that begs reexamination.

So thank you Brian K. Vaughn, thank you Pia Guerra, thank you to all involved with the Y: The Last Man. It's been an amazing ride - sad, funny, horrific, exciting - and it's been awesome being a part of it all these past several years. If you have yet to check it out, I can't urge you enough to head to your local bookstore and give Y a shot.

- Alright, I'm out for now - back tommorow with more. Go out and VOTE!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dharma Initiative Blog: LOST is back, baby.

- So last night, in the bleak wasteland that is the Strike-depleted TV landscape, the best drama of 2007 returned, in what has to be one of the most anticipated TV events in a long while. Yes, after delivering a stunning twist to end last season, with one of the most jaw-dropping cliffhangers ever seen in prime time, last night ...

... LOST returned ...!

- All in all, I have to say that, especially with the current lack of new, good TV, it was damn good to have Lost back. And to preface, a special thanks to Matt McG, who hosted a great LOST party at his new place, complete with Dharma-labeled beverages. Also, Matt had a 50" HDTV. This was the first time I've really sat down and watchd one of my favorite primetime shows in HD, and I have to say, I was blown away. The detail and clarity was simply amazing - I felt like I could reach out and touch the water around the island.

Now, as to the episode itself - it wasn't really a slam-bang, action-packed installment, as one might have expected following the Season 3 finale. However, it was a great reintroduction to the current status quo, and it deepened the mystery of how and when the "Oceanic 6" got off the island to great effect. I think that the chief reason why Lost seems to be 100% clicking of late is simply that, unlike some previous eras of the show, it now feels like the producers and writers HAVE a plan, and it's easy to just let yourself get caught up in the plot without worrying about inconsistincies or dropped plot points. You can now watch Lost and feel the puzzle pieces aligning, sense the curtain slowly but surely being drawn back - and it's great to see, it's how the show always should have been. Having that definitive endpoint marked down has been the best thing to happen to the show. The endgame is there, it's written, the fun now will be getting there.

Some of the highlights of this one ...?

- Everything with Jacob and his myterious cabin. Sure, we still know nothing about Jacob, but man were these scenes well-done - positively creepy. And yeah, like everyone else I'm dying to know Jacob is. Is he the smoke monster? Is he Jack's dad? An alternate version of Locke? Hmmm ...

- Ben. This guy is just a great character, and Michael Emerson is simply awesome in the role. As frustrating as his double-speak can be at times, his interplay with Jack here was priceless. "Can I go with Locke?" Classic.

- The flashforwards are already a great change-up in style, and it's very cool to see how these glimpses of the future fit into the broader Lost timeline. Again, the interconnectiveness of these flash-forwards is, at least so far, working like magic. This is simply tight storytelling, I'm loving it.

- The mystery of the boat. If these people weren't sent by Penny - who are they? Can't wait to see more of Jeremy Davies' character and figure out who this new group of potential adversaries are and what they want.

- A great new character. How badass was Lance Reddick as Matthew Abbadon? I'll tell you: very.

- Charlie's back? Sure, Charlie's appearance to future-Hurley may have just been another Hurley hallucination. But, if it isn't, it opens up a whole new series of questions. Is he time-traveling? A ghost? A version of Charlie from a parallel earth? In any case, this is the one plot point from last night's ep that will have everyone talking.

The one thing that continues to bug me though is Lost's insistence on never allowing its characters to actually ASK QUESTIONS. The biggest example of this was towards the end of the episode, when the survivors begin to split up into two groups, choosing either to stay with Locke on the island or else go with Jack in hopes of being rescued, despite Locke and Charlie's warnings. Everyone just acts as if they have these two choices and nobody dares ask a logical followup, ie "waitaminute, what the hell is going on here?!?!" Why doesn't anybody just ASK Locke , "Hey dude, can you please explain WHY it is that you believe we'll all die if we leave the island?" Instead, the show always tries to do these broad divisions of faith vs. reason, etc. I get it, I see the metaphor and dramatic effect they're going for, but sometimes ,I just want the characters to act at least semi-realistically and actually think and ask questions. I mean, would someone like Claire or Bernard just blindly choose to follow Locke or Jack without at least being a little more inquisitive?

Anyways, I know this is not reality but Lost, so I won't dwell on the above too too much. Overall, it was great to have the show back, and this one was really a home-run in terms of kicking off the fourth season and laying the gorundwork for what looks to be an incredibly compelling season long mystery and story-arc. I can't wait for next week's ep, and to me that's the mark of great serialized storytelling.

My Grade: A -

- Alright everyone, have a great weekend. Next week: a tribute to Y: The Last Man, Super Tuesday, and more.

And by the way ... Go Patriots!