Monday, March 31, 2008

Whoooo! Smallville, Simpsons, and a final curtain call for The Nature Boy.

Man, somehow it's been a whole week since I last posted here. Well, no worries, as I'm here, I'm back, and ready to roll.

To start off, some TV Stuff. True, there's been a distinct lack of bigtime television programming of late, with Lost off the air, The Office and 30 Rock yet to return from the strike, and Jack Bauer not poised to return to save the world until the fall, and even then only for a one-shot special. However ...

- SMALLVILLE has been on a bit of a streak of late. Okay, the show at its best still can't really touch the likes of a Lost, but considering how much of a rut it's been in for much of this season, I feel like the last two episodes have definitely stepped up the game a bit. Thursday's ep, which featured a pretty intense showdown with James Marsters as Braniac, also showcased some really great performances by Michael Rosenbaum and Jonathan Glover as Luthor Jr. and Sr. respectively. I liked that there was finally a clear status-quo explanation given of Lionel's recent erratic behavior, and I also really like that Lex has pretty much dived headfirst off the deep end. There's no messin around anymore - the guy is evil with a capitol "e." I also enjoyed the fact that for once, the episode had a really nice sense of scope. Similar to the previous week's ep, things just felt "big." Sure, some of the epicness was diminished a bit by the lame, Scooby-Doo dialogue between Clark and Kara ("Gee-whiz, you mean Braniac is pure energy? Then he must have a power-source!") Still, it was a pretty cool scene when Braniac flew Kara up into outer space to some unknown destination, hinting at some unforseen danger yet to be revealed. That's what I want in a Superman tale - vile villains, epic scope, huge stakes, bigtime heroics. Was this a masterpiece of TV drama? No. But was it the second episode in Smallville in a row that really entertained and captivated me from start to finish? Most definitely.

My Grade: A -

- Now, I've read a few decent reviews of last night's SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL episodes. To me, I have to say that both were, if anything, somewhat low points in the season for each show.

As far as KING OF THE HILL goes, I just found the story to be pretty all over the place, and with Kahn as the central character, we got a pretty boring "Kahn tries to prove himself to condescending authority figure" stock storyline that, to its discredit, felt like many other episodes we've seen before, despite introducing an all-new character in the form of Kahn's father-in-low. There were some good one-liners -- Dale's remark about stealing another man's signature kareoke song was particularly funny -- but the main plot, as well as the Bobby-Peggy B-story, never really grabbed me.

My Grade: B -

Similarly, THE SIMPSONS had a few funny quips (Homer: Stop talking, boy. That's the TV's job.), but the plot, about Lisa becoming a ballet dancer, and then in turn struggling to ward off a smoking habit, felt utterly disjointed and was mostly just, again, boring. Toss in a go-nowhere B-plot about Homer's secret beef-jerky making, and you have the makings of a stinker of an episode. Even worse, I smiled at first seeing that the ep was including a parody of Roy Scheider-as-Bob Fosse from All That Jazz. Only problem was -- there was no real parody included. The character didn't have a single memorable joke or clever riff. Sadly, even an ending that saw Bart don a Mexican wrestling mask couldn't save this forgettable episode.

My Grade: C

- Now, I will confess here on the blog that, Sunday, a few friends and I gathered to watch the WWE's annual extravaganza - WRESTLEMANIA. This year's event was mostly notable for a single reason, and no, it was not the fact that boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather would be competing in a cross-promotional bout with the gigantic Big Show. No, for longtime fans, the real draw of this year's WM was that it was all but guaranteed to see the final match in the storied career of "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.

Now, it's no secret that I have been a huge Flair fan for years. How can anyone who calls themeselves a man not admire the self-styled "kiss-stealin', wheelin'-dealin', limousine-ridin', jet-flyin' son of a gun." The man who "styles and profiles." The originator of such classic catch-phrases as "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man," "What's causin' all this?", "Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it's still got the longest line," and of course, "WHOOOOOO!" Flair has always had one of the greatest, larger-than-life personas of anyone in sports or entertainment, and is one of the greatest, most emotional talkers in the history of the wrestling biz. Many of his promos are legendary. His feuds with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and more, are classics. He led one of the most infamous stables of badass tough-guys in the Four Horsemen. And aside from all that, he is one of the all-time great mat wrestlers - a man who few doubted when he said he could carry a broomstick to a great match.

So yeah, we all got a bit emotional last night, when Flair stepped into the ring with another legend in Shawn Michaels. In the storylines, a loss would force Flair to retire as an active ring competitor. But in reality, we all knew that this was probably it. In a sport where few things are ever really final, this one was probably about as final as one can get. Afterall, the man is pushing 60. It's amazing what he can still do at his age and it's a given that he is endlessly entertaining on sheer charisma alone. But at some point, reality sets in, even in a business built on unreality. The good news is that the match was a classic. Michaels, in his forties, has the the ability at this stage that Flair once had to carry anyone to a classic, to accentuate their strengths and hide their weaknesses. And Michaels worked like crazy, breaking out flipping moonsaults through tables and all manner of bigtime maneuvers, while working with Flair to tell a story in the ring that packed in a ton of emotion, heart, and drama.

The finish of the match was a classic. Throughout the bitter back and forth fight, Michaels had a few opportunities to put Flair away, but hesistated - he couldn't bring himself to once and for all put an end to Flair's legendary career. With each hesitation, a desperate Flair would capitalize, swinging the momentum in his favor. Finally, with each man wobbly, an all out brawl ensued, with Flair hitting a flurry of his trademark knife-edge chops, each one producing a loud "thwack!" that echoed across the arena, each one inciting the capacity crowd to let out enthusiastic cries of "Whooooo!" But with a sudden blur of motion, Michaels stopped Flair cold with a devastating, out-of-nowhere superkick to the chin. Flair went down, as did Michaels, exhausted. But Michaels was soon back up, as Flair slowly crawled to his feet. Michaels was poised and in position for one more superkick, one more dose of "sweet chin music." If Michaels hit that one final kick, there was no doubt - the match was over. With tears in his eyes, Flair rose to face the inevitable. But Michaels, also tearing up, once again hesitated to pull the trigger. "Come on!" yelled Flair, waving his fists defiantly. If nothing else, he wanted Shawn to bring it, to bring his best, his A-game, even if it meant the end of everything. The camera closed-in on the Heartbreak Kid. "I'm sorry," he said. And with that, he unleashed one final blow to Flair, that knocked him out like a light. One, two, three. Hit Michael's music, that was all she wrote. All that was left was for Flair to get back up one last time, to acknowledge the crowd, all standing and applauding, one last time, and make the long, slow walk back to the dressing room.

So yeah, regardless of what else was on the card, it was a memorable night for all of us fans of The Nature Boy. For one last night, he was "The Man."

And with that, I'm out. Whoooooooo!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The blog gets a DOOMSDAY device! Doomsday reviewed, WizardWorld LA recap, and MORE!

Ahhhhhh why is it Monday? I could use another few days of weekend but here I am, pluggin' away and soldiering on. Luckily, I had a really fun weekend that was certainly one for the books. Firstly, good times on Friday celebrating the birthday of fellow former page and current Ellen staffer D. James. Second, this weekend was my FOURTH annual go-around at Wizard World LA. Yes, fourth! Wow - to think that four years ago, four fledgling NBC pages, united by a shared sense of geekiness, ventured down to Long Beach for Wizard World on one of my first true LA adventures ... crazy! Now we're four years older, not much wiser, and still pretty geeky (hopefully endearingly so), so it was fitting that the ol' crew got together for one mo' adventure.

The show this year at the LA Convention Center was a bit scaled-back from years' past. There certainly was a slight lack of big-time panels this year - no Kevin Smith, no big movie trailer premieres, no big TV show presentations with full cast and crew present. However, the upside was that the show this year had a pretty laid-back feel - not too crowded, with a relatively small show floor that could be navigated with relative ease. We went to two panels - the first was okay - it was a presentation by Lucas Films / Lucasarts that I was hoping might have some interesting new footage to show from Indiana Jones or somesuch coolness. The highlight turned out to be appearances by Seth Green and the other co-creator of Robot Chicken, who had some cool stories about their love of Star Wars and whatnot. Otherwise, what we got were rehashed footage and trailers from Indy 4, the new next-gen Star Wars videogame, and the upcoming Adult Swim CGI animated series. The second panel we attended I actually really enjoyed - it was a bunch of film and TV screenwriters who specialize in genre projects - guys behind things like Smallville, Battlestar, and upcoming film adaptations of The Incredible Hulk, Y: The Last Man, Teen Titans, and Sgt. Rock. Very, very interesting stuff, for sure, and a lot of good advice was dispensed throughout the panel.

As always, we saw a lot of cool celebs: Summer Glau, Seth Green, Milo V of Heroes, hardcore legend Mick Foley, Mr. Monday Night Rob Van Dam, Christy Hemme, the entire cast of Who Wants to Be a Superhero, and a number of others. Particularly cool was that my friend Seth, whose AIM screenname is a reference to Foley's trademark Mr. Socko, got to do a meet and greet with Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy, including a great photo op with the hardcore icon-turned-NY Times bestselling-author.

As usual, we try to cap off the night with an appropriately cool movie. Luckily, Universal just released a new genre action-adventure, Doomsday, and was holding a free employee screening that night. We went into the film not necessarily expecting much, but, well ... read for yourself:


- Sometimes, a movie comes along that isn't going to be a critical favorite, that isn't going to really win over a large portion of the movie-going public, and that isn't going to tear it up at the box-office. But sometimes, there comes a movie that despite all that, well, for a certain segment, a certain demo, it simply pushes the right buttons, and delivers exactly as it should. much to my surprise, Doomsday was just such a movie - one that delivered exactly what the doctor ordered, as a no-holds-barred sci-fi shoot-em-up that pulls no punches and is the kind of absurdly over-the-top free-for-all that they just don't make anymore. To get more specific - it's been a fun several months for those of us raised on 80's action movies. Last year around this time, Tarantino and Rodriguez unleashed Grindhouse - a flawed but fun-as-hell tribute to hardcore action flicks. Only a few months ago, we got a new Rambo movie that reminded what made those simpe-but-efective action movies of days gone by so memorable and beloved. Now, there is Doomsday - a movie that is essentially a loving homage to cinematic days gone by, but in its own right is one of the craziest, over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall action flicks to come along in years.

The quick n' dirty version? I'm going to throw out some references for you - if these things get your cinematic spider-sense tingling, then run, don't walk, to see Doomsday: John Carpenter, Escape From New York, old-school James Cameron, Aliens, Highlander, Paul Verhoeven, Robocop, Mad Max, and The Road Warrior. In short, Doomsday takes the best of these films and creates a rip-roaring post-modern mashup. If you're the kind of person who wonders why action movies have gone the route of safe, paint-by-numbers PG-13, mass-produced Hollywood "blockbusters," then look no further. Doomsday is a return to the glory-days of 1980's-style B-movie hardcore action, right down to the post-apocalyptic gangs of cannibalistic, mohawk-clad punk-rockers.

However, what makes Doomsday work so well is that while on one hand it's a clear tribute to movies like Escape From New York (there's even a character named Carpenter), it's also a very slick reinvention of the post-apocalyptic genre. You know you're in for something different when our female heroine, played with a badass screen presence by Rhona Mitra (think Snake Plissken meets Lara Croft), removes here Plissken-esque eyepatch and inserts a prosthetic, high-tech eyeball that doubles as a surveilance device. The other thing that makes this movie so intense is simply that it has some of the best damn action sequences I've seen in a long, long time. Early on in the film, when Rhona and her team of commandos breaks into quarantined Scotland, in hopes of figuring out how there are still surivors within the city from a thought-to-be 100% deadly virus, the team is attacked by a band of post-apocalyptic punks in one of the most insane action set pieces I've seen in years. Up to that point in the film, I wasn't sure quite what to make of what I had seen. But after I finally exhaled after several minutes of nonstop craziness, I looked up at my friends in the theater to see if they were all as giddy as I was. They were - and rightfully so - from that point on we knew that, thanks to director Neil Marshall and his obvious penchant for high-octane action, we were in for one hell of a ride.

And things never let up. The movie opens with a methodical intro that lovingly pays tribute to Escape From NY, complete with 80's-style vector computer graphics displaying a map of the quarantined areas of Great Britain. We are introduced to Mitra's character - a sullen emo-girl who escaped walled-off Scotland as a girl, and was scarred by the forced separation from her mother. We meet Bob Hoskins, who is great as a gruff government official who knows that when it comes to the impending search-and-rescue mission, Mitra is the only woman for the job. But man, after the aforementioned big action set piece, it's pure adrenaline rush. We get a crazy rock n' roll stage show, a girl-on-girl sword fight (!) that ends in shockingly brutal fashion, and an absolutely insane chase sequence as Mitra and co attempt to escape from the Jonny Rotten-esque leader of the survivor's faction.

And that's just for starters ...

What happens next is jarring, but fairly awesome nonetheless. We learn that while one group of surviving Scots has become a Mad Max-style clan of road warriors, a second faction, under the wizened rule of Malcolm McDowell, has embraced their medieval roots and become a clan of castle-dwelling, aromor-wearing, horse-riding knights! Yes, you heard me! Suddenly, Doomsday becomes a medieval action flick a la Excalibur, as Rhona faces off against a mace-wielding black knight in hand-to-hand combat and gets locked up in a castle dungeon. Finally, to cap things off, as the various factions go to war, we get one of THE craziest car chases I've ever seen in a film.

If all this sounds cool, then you'll really like Doomsday. Like I said, if the idea of an insanely brutal take on 80's sci-fi action flicks, mixed with a modern-day badgirl protagonist and Wachowski-worthy action choreography makes you giddy, then you are likely a soon-to-be-fan of Doomsday, a cult-classic in the making.

Yes, the plot can be all over the place, Rhona Mitra's acting is occasionally spotty, and sometimes the movie may even be TOO absurdly violent for its own good. But the best compliment I can give to Neil Marhsall and to the film is that, when the DVD is released, this is a movie that can sit on a shelf next to the likes of Escape From New York, Aliens, Robocop, and The Road Warrior. With all the talk of remaking movies like Escape From NY and Robocop, in what would surely be watered-down versions of the originals, I hope Hollywood is looking at this one and realizing that this is how it's done. The next-best compliment I can give is that, unlike most movies in this genre ... I would actually welcome a sequel, no questions asked! Appropriately, a phrase used by a man who once called himself a road warrior may be most fitting to describe Doomsday - and it's the reason I'm going, perhaps, against the grain and giving it such a positive review. The phrase? "Ohhh, what a rush."

My Grade: A -

Haha, okay, let's see what kind of response I get to that one (and let's see if I feel the same way a few months from now). But there you have it, folks.

- In any case, that's about all I've got for now. In terms of TV STUFF, I really enjoyed last night's KING OF THE HILL - a funny episode about a family-improvement guru whose advice leads Peggy to change the Hill family for the worse. I also am finally trying to finish up the run of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. This is a show that I'm happy to say really improved as its first season progressed. I still need to watch the S1 finale, but the episodes leading up to it have really been entertaining.

- I'd also encourage everyone to check out Miss/Guided on ABC, which I believe premieres this week. I reviewed it waaay back over the summer and it was up there amongst my favorite pilots that I saw during that period. Judy Greer is a natural comedic talent, and she takes what could have been a cheesy premise, about a high school guidance counsellor trying to overcome her years as a high school geek, and makes it into something very funny and entertaining.

Alright, now I've just got to survive this Monday. To quote Doomsday ... Goin' to be rough? Rough enough.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gettin' LOST. Plus: Smallville, and The Big Lebowski on my blog!

What a long, strange week it's been. I don't know about you, but I am more than ready for the weekend. It should be fun times, with a few birthday celebrations, and, on Saturday, our annual trip to Wizard World LA, a mecca for all things ain't-it-cool. As always, I try to cap off the day's events with an appropriately geek-friendly movie, so this year it's looking like the crew and I will hit up a free screening of Doomsday, which basically looks like Escape From New York with Lara Croft subbed in for Snake Plissken - aka, a potentially old-school style good ol' fashioned B-movie. Hopefully it's at least decent, we shall see.

Speaking of 1980's classics ... rumor today is that there's talk of remaking ROBOCOP. All I can say is: DO NOT REMAKE THIS MOVIE, perhaps the greatest action movie ever made. Unless they somehow found a way to do a true sequel, WITH Peter Weller, there is no point in a remake. I mean, is no classic sacred? Between this and the long-gestating Escape from NY remake ... I for one have had enough. How about some NEW ideas, people. Leave the good stuff well enough alone.

- One shout-out I have to give is to a really great new website that I have been singing the praises of for a long while now. The site is, and everyone should run to check it out. And not only because it was co-founded by NBCU and my department has had a big hand in shaping the site. Seriously though, I was pretty skeptical about Hulu at first, but when I begin using its beta I was totally won over. In short, the site lets you watch free, streaming episodes of TONS of TV shows from NBC, FOX, SciFi, USA, and many more. From current hits like The Office, 30 Rock, Heroes, Prison Break, The Simpsons, 24, and Chuck, to classics like Arrested Development, Buffy, old-school SNL, and more - you can watch FULL episodes of the shows, for free, and then you can even post them to your blog or MySpace page or email them to your friends. I mean, on my MySpace right now, I have a ton of full episodes posted for all to watch. I even have the entire film of THE BIG LEBOWSKI posted right there. And, what the hell, I'll post it here too. My blog can only be that much cooler for posting the funniest movie ever made directly on it, right? Yer darn skippy. So anyways, check out Hulu, catch up on your favorites or discover something new, and post the Natalie Portman SNL rap, the 90's episode of The Simpsons, or, dammit all, the entire Big Lewbowski on YOUR blog, and be cool like me.

Okay, about last night's LOST ...

- For me, this episode had some great stuff, but overall I came away feeling a bit annoyed at the pointlessness of the Jin flashbacks. To me, the timeline teases are a lot of fun ... when the end reveal actually means something. But here, the Jin cutaways, which seem to have been flashbacks but at first passed themselves off as the now-typical flash-forwards, seemed to exist only to tease us, the viewers, and say "Ha-ha, we got you - they can't be flash-forwards because in the future, Jin is D-E-D dead. Suckers." Now, who knows, at some as-of-yet undetermined time there might be some huge payoff to the whole wonky structure of this episode. But I'm sorry - to me that's weak. Yes, Lost is a serialized show that is increasingly consumed in large chunks on DVD or via download ... but the primary format of the show is still weekly, episodic storytelling. Lost is always at its most frustrating when a random mystery is introduced without the promise of a payoff. If you look at the masterfully done Desmond episode from a few weeks back, what worked so well was that we got some intriguing new questions posed to us, but at the same time, the episode had a central storyarc that culminated in a highly satisfying ending. In this episode, there was ... nothing. Just a random collection of disparate elements. Sun is off the island, one of the Oceanic Six. Okay, cool. She's having her baby. Great. And she visits Jin's grave. Okay, interesting, now all of the Jin flashback (?) scenes we've seen have either been rendered a moot point or else are part of some huge time-anomoly plot point that we can't yet even comprehend. But essentially, nothing really happened that drove the story FORWARD. It's all about forward momentum, people.

But okay, I'm painting a pretty bleak picture here when in fact there was a lot I enjoyed in this episode. Namely, the stuff on the ship was pretty much uber-cool. From Zoe Bell wrapping herself in chains and plunging straight to Davy Jones' locker, to Michael revealed as Kevin Johnson (one of my all-time fave basketball players!), these were the kinds of pulpy-cool mysteries I could sink my teeth into, and most importantly, are intrinsically tied-into the PLOT of the show, rather than seeming to just mess with us for the hell of it (i.e. the whole "Jin is alive, no, just kidding, he's dead!" thing). Everything with Desmond, Sayid, and the freighter seems to really be clicking, and moving at a fast pace. We know Whidmore's involved. We know people on the boat are going crazy, and that Ben seems to be the one who engineered the fake crash site that made the outside world believe that everyone on Oceanic 815 was dead. All good stuff, all very cool - if only we could focus more on this stuff, and not the increasingly tedious "Who are the Oceanic Six" thing. Now next week, the Michael-centric episode looks to be pretty badass, and I think that one will be really satisfying - plus, it's written by BK Vaughan to boot, so you know it won't disappoint.

As for this week's - it had some cool moments, particularly with the ship stuff. And don't get me wrong, there was some real emotion in the Jin-Sun drama, particularly the stuff on the island. Jin's talk with Bernard was great, really compelling stuff. And the intrigue between Juliette and Sun, and her outing of Sun's past affair, was pretty intense, no doubt. It made for, all in all, a pretty great episode of television. My main frustration is the fact that in this episode, the flashes were used less as a means to peel back the layers of the onion, and more as a hype-machine that feeds into the whole fan guessing game of "who lives, who dies, who gets off the island." Personally, it means nothing to me just knowing that Jin is apparently dead. I want to know why, how, when. Without the promise that those answers are forthcoming, I was left with something of a bad taste in my mouth, despite the fact that overall this was a pretty strong episode.

My Grade: B

- So it's not even in the same stratosphere as Lost, but I'll give a lot of credit to last night's episode of SMALLVILLE. We got a really nice, entertaining episode that brought back the Pete Ross character, showed off the darker side of Lex and of his father Lionel, and showcased Chloe, reminding us why she is consistently one of the show's most reliably-interesting characters. I thought the conflict with Pete and Clark was handled pretty well, and it was nice for a character to FINALLY call into question why Clark has been so trusting of Lionel of late. In Lionel, we have a character whose motives have never quite been clear, who at one point seemed to have jumped to the side of good but in the end it was never 100% apparent. Suffice to say, I am glad to finally see Lionel hopefully on the path to once again being flat-out EVIL, especially in light of the fact that Michael Rosenbaum is only scheduled to be on a limited number of episodes next season. My biggest complaint is that after eight years, it's about time that clark actually grows a set and stops doing stupid things in the name of protecting people. When he's now driven two women into the arms of Lex due to not trusting them, it's about time he realize what's up.

And finally ... will this show STOP using the device in which people blatantly walk into other people's high-security homes, offices, or other dwelling places as if they were hopping over to the local McDonalds?!?! I mean can you imagine the conversations at the front gate of the Luthor mansion? "Hey I'm here to see Lex. He's tried to kill me and banned me, but I don't think he'd mind if I storm up to his office and demand to know the secrets behind his latest schemes." "Um, go ahead, Sir."

The show has a ton of inherent flaws in its retarded logic and conventions, but as far as latter-day episodes of Smallville go, last night's had some good stuff, some good momentum leading into next week's, which looks to be a big one, and some cool twists on the whole Clark / Lex / Lionel dynamic.

My grade: B

Alright, almost time for the weekend, so I'm outta here for now. Back next week for some political discussion, movie news and reviews, and more.

Monday, March 10, 2008

10,000 BC - Mammoths! Tigers! Aliens! Oh my.

Hey everyone - surviving another Monday? Had a fun if not very random weekend, but what I'll share with you now is a review of the latest big-time blockbuster hype-fest, 10,000 BC. Enjoy, fanboys.

10,000 B.C. - Review

- The fun thing about the movies of Roland Emmerich is that, you've got to give the guy credit, he always shoots for the moon. Unlike some other directors who are all about being cool, hip, and edgy, seemingly every movie that Roland makes seems to earnestly be trying to be a big, old-fashioned, Greatest Movie Ever Made. The problem is that the director's grand ambitions are often matched up with fairly awful scripts, and when that happens, the result is something like 10,000 B.C. - a movie that, visually, is huge and sweeping, but is, ultimately, as Harry on Ain't It Cool put it - "blissfully retarded."

Maybe that's why these movies are perhaps best enjoyed when one is twelve. I often tell people that when, as a preteen, I first saw Independence Day on one sunny summer afternoon, I was totally enthralled, and quickly deemed it the greatest movie ever. Would I say that now? No, definitely not, even if I still have an ID4 T-shirt that was once my most prized piece of clothing in seventh grade or so ... But still, there is a certain cheesy magic to Independence Day that has been missing from most of Emmerich's subsequent films. For all it's corniness, that movie had fun, had humor, had memorable characters, all wrapped around exciting drama and an uber-threat of aliens hellbent on the destruction of the human race. As a movie to satiate the action-movie fantasies of your actual or inner twelve year old self, you really couldn't ask for much more.

Now, 10,000 BC comes along and it has, on the surface, that same type of over-the-top premise that is the kind of stuff that blockbuster movie fans can't get enough of: ancient civilizations, mythical beasts, and cavewomen. What more can one ask for?

Well - a plot and characters, for one thing. Every character in this movie is as cookie-cutter as can be. Honestly, The Smurfs had more well-defined characters than this movie, and about the same male-to-female ratio. It's almost understandable why our hero would traverse many lands to find his lost love - she is, apparently, the only female under 75 in their entire tribe. What a catch. It's pretty absurd - for all the expectations one might have about this movie having some epic plot, the whole thing is remarkably simplistic -- it makes the plot of Conan The Barbarian look like Ulysses. Basically, an evil tribe somewhat akin to the ancient Egyptions, who may or may not be aliens (really), and who are called "4-legged demons" because (sooo exciting) they ride horses, storm our little village of dreadlocked cavepeople, kill a bunch of dudes, and kidnap a bunch of others, including the one girl who our hero is really into. So the one caveman then goes with his older mentor (who you know from Scene 1 will die melodramatically sometime before the final act), recruits a bunch of people from other tribes (they find kinship despite being different races! Awwww ...), and leads an assault on the evil alien-Egyptians, who are up to really bad stuff, such as building giant pyramids and ... stuff. Can you tell that this is all pretty Shakespearian?

I guess the biggest sin of this movie, as many have pointed out, is that, surprisingly, pretty boring. Many of Emmerich's movies have that same "blissfully retarded" thing going for them, but at the least they've had some semi-spectacular action. This one has tons of talking, and the dialogue is mostly ver, very painful. In an attempt to sound gravitas-infused, the narration by Omar Sharif says things like "and the white rain fell across the mountaintops" in an attempt to sound profound. Um, it's snow, dude. Just say it. But yeah, this movie has a ton of talking. Conan the Barbarian had little talking, and that helped make for a great, atmospheric film. This one is all about talking, and all about walking. And yet, unlike, say, Lord of the Rings, all of the walking and traversing in this movie never alludes to any real sense of scale or scope. Seemingly, our band of revolutionaries goes from frozen tundras to arid deserts to dense jungles in the span of a few hours, with little sense that these guys are on a glove-trotting journey. Another big weakness is the total lack of cool villains. In 300, Xerxes was one hateable, effeminate bastard. Who wasn't eagerly awaiting for Leonidas to strike down that pompous jerk? 10,000 BC's villain is mostly unseen - an 8-ft tall maybe-alien guy who basically does nothing and gets unceremoniously struck down by a single spear to the chest (huge spoilers, I know - sorry!).

There's also some random stuff about a magical sabretooth tiger, an old witchdoctor woman named Old Mother, who the movie cuts to like every 5 seconds for no good reason, and oh yeah, these giant ostrich creatures who look EXACTLY like the raptors in Jurassic Park except slightly bird-ier. It really is like Emmerich took his plot and visual inspiration from a bunch of movies like Conan, Jurassic Park, and 300, and just mashed everything together into one giant mess of a movie. You'll get a few cool f/x shots, one or two fun moments ... but this movie is just so all over the place and weirdly paced. Plot elements come and go, the art design is completely sporadic, and the world it creates - a confounding mix of history and legend, has no real consistency and never immerses you the way it should. I'm still interested enough in Emmerich as a filmmaker that I'd love to see his epic visual stle paired with a truly great script ... but until that happens, he seems to only be descending ever deeper into his own unique style of sometimes-amusing but ultimately headache-inducing brand of mediocrity.

My Grade: C

- Alright - I'll leave you to chew on that for now. Now, what the heck is 2012?

Friday, March 7, 2008

"Rabbit again?" LOST - Reviewed!

On last night's LOST ...

So like I said yesterday, it was pretty inevitable that last night's LOST would feel like a bit of a comedown after last week's *ridiculously amazing* episode. In addition to the mere difficulty in following up that creative triumph, this one had a few things potentially going against it from the outset ...

The first problem is Juliette. At first, she quickly became one of my favorite characters on the show - she was skillfully portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell, mysterious, intriguing, and that first flashback episode of hers helped to give her a really interesting backstory to boot. But over time, she went from intriguing to annoying. That constant smirk, the constant switching of allegiances, the never knowing what side she was on to the point where the character became a total cypher, the forced tension between her and the other castaways, and the half-hearted romance with Jack that never quite felt right. It all added up to turn Juliette into a bit of a mess.

Then there is the whole problem of The Others. Let's face it - Lost has often been at its most absurd when it tries to delve into the dysfunctional society of those mysterious island-dwellers who for some reason refer to themselves as The Others. I mean, the whole concept to me has always been one of the show's lamest. And after all this time, it's still a bit confusing who these guys even are. When we first saw them, they seemed to be a kind of tribal group that was overtly evil. Then they were just these yuppie intellectuals living in suburban-style houses and having book club meetings. Then there are one or two of them who seem to have some kind of supernatural bent - Ethan Rom's superhuman-seeming abilities, and that other guy who apparently doesn't age. Curiouser and curiouser. Now, the Others appear to be a strange mix of intellectuals, scientists, James Bond-style villains (hello, Patchy), and hired muscle. Then further complicating things, we had that one Ben flashback ep where we saw the Others in conflict with a second group of island inhabitants - The Hostiles. Suffice to say, the whole Others myth-arc has been one of the show's strangest and most confusing so far - so while some of the individual characters are cool, it's all a bit headache-inducing.

That said, last night's ep was a solid look at Juliette's first few days amongst The Others, one that further painted her as kind of enigmatic and manipulative. Within days of arriving, she's already sleeping with the one married guy on the island, and already doing the whole vulnerable / don't mess with me passive-aggressive thing. The one big takeaway from all this is the new insight into Ben's relationship with Juliette - we see that he is scarily obsessed with her, and we are offered more proof that no matter what his status as "good guy" or bad guy", Ben is undeniably one creepy, manipulative, and at least somewhat evil dude.

In the present day - this episode really suffered from some muddles storytelling. After last week's episode, in which Faraday went all-out to help Desmond, it was annoying to have he and Charlotte thrust back into the role of potentially untrustworthy adversaries. Unless I missed something - we never found out why the Tempest station was about to release deadly gas all over the island, how Faraday knew about it, and what it was he did to stop it. Furthermore, given that a bunch of deadly toxin was about to be released, why didn't Daniel and Charlotte just explain what had to be done, rather than sneaking off? Basically, a lot of the conflict in this episode felt pretty forced, and even the basics of what the characters were doing, and why, never felt very clear. I mean - why was Juliette supposed to stop them? Why did she ultimately decide not to? And um ... how did Ben send a spectral version of one of The Others to Juliette to enlist her help - and why did Juliette even consider helping him in the first place at this stage of the game?

There just seemed to be a casualness to this episode that saw it kind of nonchalantly gloss over a lot of plot and character points. I'm hoping future episodes might help to clarify some of what we saw here ... but all in all there were way too many "huh - wtf?" moments.

Still, give huge credit to Michael Emerson as Ben Linus. He was superb in this episode - funny, creepy, and the recipient of all the best lines. He made that final moment of the ep - what could have been a very nothing cliffhanger - into a fairly chilling endnote, with Ben now set free and apparently in some type of alliance with Locke. I was also intrigued by the scene with Whidmore - although I hope he is fleshed out more than simply being the cliched businessman who wants to exploit the island for his own benefit.

In any case, there were some great performances here, and some great scenes. But after last week's intricately-plotted but masterfully-executed episode, it was a shame to see Lost regress a bit back to being too messy for its own good.

My Grade: B

- Alright - here's hoping for a fun weekend - back next week for more, until then - PEACE.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An Unstuck-In-Time Review of Last Week's LOST, Brother!

So I never got to talk about last week's episode of LOST, since, well, I didn't get a chance to actually watch it until last night. Now, I usually hate when an episode of a show gets a ton of hype and I'm forced to go into it with raised expectations rather than simply with a blank slate. But a number of fellow Lost fans yelled at me that I HAD to watch this ep ASAP, that it was one of the best of the season if not ever, etc ... I was getting a little annoyed, but went in optimistic anyways, as the episode had all the ingredients to be a good one: Desmond-centric, some big-reveals, time-travel ...

So bear with me, pretend, say, that I've gotten a bit unstuck in time and that my conciousness is hurtling between this week and last week. Whoah - it's last Thursday - a time when Barack Obama was sitting pretty, Patrick Swayze was just another washed-up actor, and I was actually in New York City freezing my ass off. Hmm, it's suddenly a bit colder, but anyways, about that episode of LOST ...

And ... holy crap -- now that I've seen it, I'm a believer. "The Constant" was an incredible episode of TV. Someone hand Henry Ian Cusick an Emmy ASAP. He's made Desmond Hume into one of the show's true standout characters - his intensity, likability, and pathos as a character has made him a universal fan-favorite. Everyone I talk to says the same thing - they love Desmond, and I can't really argue, brother.

And how about Jeremy Davies as Daniel Faraday? Just awesome.

Really though - this episode had two great things going for it aside from some superb performances. First was the mind-bending unstuck in time storyline - it was masterfully handled, really well-edited, and intricately crafted. We got some really cool insights into the way the island works, it's history (the Black Rock journal), and some new clues as to what role the Whidmores and Hanzos of the world play in this whole crazy scheme. Plot-wise, this one jsut hit all the right notes, taking pieces of Slaughterhouse V, Back to the Future, and much of what makes Lost itself great and combining all of the disparate pieces into one brilliant tapestry.

Secondly, this was far and away the most emotionally-affecting episode of Lost since, well, maybe ever? Certainly, in terms of getting us invested in a romantic relationship, this one was tops. But what really got me was how the emotional punch just kind of snuck up on me thanks to how brilliantly Cusick helped to get us wrapped up in Desmond's story. By the time we got to that climactic scene of him calling Penny from the boat, eight years after he had obtained her new number ... well, let's be honest, who among us wasn't a little choked up? Suffice to say, it's quite a feat for an episode to be jam-packed with geek-friendly time travel and scifi goodness, yet also be a legitimate tearjerker, to be this unabashadly romantic.

So man, this ep is going to be a tough one to follow up tonight. But regardless, the Lost crew can take pride that in "The Constant," they've crafted another bonafide classic, brotha.

My Grade: A