Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Danny disects TWILIGHT! And also ponders PRISON BREAK!

Strap in, loyal readers, as I've got a lot in store for this pre-Thanksgiving post, including thoughts on PRISON BREAK and a review of the $70 million + behemoth known as TWILIGHT.


- Whoah momma, last night's PRISON BREAK was, in fact, a barn-burner. It was a crazy episode, in that it really almost felt like a series final of sorts. And given that I wasn't even quite sure how many episodes of the season were even left (I now hear there's actually about 10 more to go ...), I almost thought that this could, in fact, be all she wrote for Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. For most of the episode, there was that real air of finality. And it was a strange feeling. Because in the world of serialized TV drama, it's rare to see an episode where the good guys actually win - especially in the typically bleak world of Prison Break.

But come on, what Prison Break fan wasn't cheering as Michael Scofield and his blue collar wrecking crew once again stuck it to the Big Bad? You kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but mostly, it never really came. Because, ladies and gentlemen, this episode delivered something that few serialized shows ever do, and it's called PAYOFF. It's a simple concept - that after following our heroes through thick and thin, through all manner of danger and villainy - that at that point we as an audience finally get the satisfaction of resolution, of seeing the good guys win. And Prison Break got to this point in a mere 12 episodes. Nothing was overly dragged out. Last night's ep was only episode 12 of 22, but man, it was a BIG one.

So many great scenes here - the centerpiece of course being Scofield's step-by-step outsmarting of The General and the entire Company, a Batman-like display of planning and forethought. Each time Michael seemed to be cornered, he pulled a fast one on the supposedly all powerful Company, including a great scene at an airport in which Michael and Lincoln brilliantly pulled a variation of the ol'-switcheroo.

I also have really enjoyed what's been done with T-Bag these last couple of episodes. While his role as corporate sales guru Cole Pfeifer was a bit cheesy at first, the new element of pathos these last few weeks has been a lot of fun to watch develop. I legitimately felt bad for T-Bag in this ep, as he lamented the life on the straight and narrow he could have led. It gives a new element of tragedy to his character, and when he eventually does commit his next vile act, it will be all the more dramatic because of the scenes in last night's episodes.

So then, as Michael procured Scylla and we seemed poised for a prematurely happy ending, I think all of us PB fans were beginning to wonder -- "so ... what happens now?" The answer seemed to be in the hints that the General had dropped about Michael's father and his previously unrevealed role as a Company hitman. The General ominously warned that the very men his father had trained would soon be coming for Michael. There was also the dangling thread of Michael's health - would he get the treatment he needs? Would there be further complications? Was there more to his illness than meets the eye?

Instead, when the other shoe finally dropped, it came waaaaaaaay out of left field. The big twist was that Agent Self, who had been portrayed as increasingly likable and trustworthy over the last several weeks, was in fact not so "selfless." He brutally shot the FBI agent who had been posing as T-Bag's secretary, took Scylla for his own, and set in motion a plan to betray his mission and sell the Company's secrets to the highest bidder.

To this I say: WTF? This is one of those twists that really makes little sense from what we know of Agent Self, and seems pretty illogical to boot. Here's a guy who's on the verge of being a national hero, almost singlehandedly exposing a vast global conspiracy, and he's going to throw that away for some cash? It just doesn't seem to fit, and they have also NOT shown any hints that Self was capable of cold-blooded murder. Plus, it's just a pretty annoying twist, as Michael Rappaport was becoming a fun addition to the Prison Break cast and his fidgety awkwardness was a nice counter to Scofield's cool and collected nature. Self as a villain? I'm still hoping that this is some kind of red herring, because it just doesn't seem to make all that much sense.

In any case, this was still an AWESOME episode aside from the final minute or two, so I don't want to harp too much on the final twist until we see how the aftermath is handled. The fact remains that PB is still kicking ass and, if this is in fact the end, it's going out in style.

My Grade:

98% of the Episode: A
2 % of the Episode: C+

- Alright, time to move on to my movie review, of one of this year's biggest and most buzzed-about films ...


- Twilight is kind of a tease. No, not like that. What I mean is, a lot of us guys, and maybe some girls, may go into the movie thinking "hey, sure, it looks like it's sort of a sappy romance, but it's got vampires, so it can't be *all* bad, right?" But the truth is, Twilight pretty much only works as a movie when it's focused on being a teen romance. Truth be told, it actually does a nice job of fleshing out our main character, Bella, and creating an entertaining, sometimes even pretty intense vibe of emo-style teen angst and longing. As a teen drama, the movie holds your attention and gets you invested in its main characters and their star-crossed romance.

But in almost every other way, the movie falls short. The action is pretty pathetic and it's poorly directed and edited to boot. The plot, well, there's not a whole lot going on here. There are some generic villains who seem to have to stepped out of an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, there's some vague hints about clan rivalries between the vampires and a Native American tribe who may or may not be werewolves, and there's a couple of hints that Bella is in some way special in that she is the only human whose thoughts her vampiric BF, Edward, is unable to read. But epic storytelling, this is not. The more plot-heavy elements tend to feel tacked-on and glossed-over. It's clear that director Catherine Hardwicke would much rather skip over all of that stuff and get back to sparkly scenes of Edward and Bella exchanging lusty gazes while on a romantic hike in the woods.

And yeah, despite being about a romance between an ordinary teen girl and a 90 year old vampire, the whole vampire thing seems almost an afterthought. There's not really a lot of mythology here to sink your teeth into (pun intended). The vampires are basically pale-faced goth kids who mostly happen to be stuck in teen bodies despite being in various stages of immortality. They also have super-strength and speed, for some reason, and some have random other X-Men-like powers (Edward can read minds, pixie-ish Alice gets precognitave flashes). The townspeople don't seem to question them much, not realizing they are vampires, just looking at the pale-faced Cullen clan as a bunch of strange, possibly inbred weirdos who are still likable enough. And oh yeah, for some reason, the Cullens really like to play superpowered baseball, especially in montage-form set to trendy rock music. Yes, you heard me.

There are a few fun and foreboding scenes of Bella slowly unraveling the mysteries of vampiric legend - going to creepy old bookshops and performing Google searches by lamplight to find out more about the secrets that Edward won't tell her. But again, we only get a few brief flashes of info that actually give weight to the Twilight mythos. Before we know it, Bella not only is hopelessly in love with Edward despite knowing he's a bloodsucking vamp, but wants to become undead herself so that she can spend all of eternity with the creepy guy she's known for like a week.

What keeps Twilight from flat-out sucking is a really great performance from Kristen Stewart as Bella. She makes ever furtive glance from Edward, every conversation with him, crackle with teenaged tension. And she really does sell the idea that this redheaded vampire guy basically owns her soul, and that nothing else matters to her but being with him. Stewart does a great job, even if she gets a little too mumbly at times ... but she does an amazing job in presenting Bella as this girl caught between two worlds - you see her slowly drifting away from her more normal friends as she gets increasingly caught up in the strange world of Edward Cullen.

Speaking of her friends, that's another thing that really kept Twilight entertaining. There's a fun group of high school friends that help ground the film and provide some decent comic relief. Anna Kendrick as Jessica is definitely a stand-out - she's giggly and nervous and awkward and kind of provide's a normal-girl's window into this whole goth world of vampires.

As for Robert Pattinson as Edward - I personally didn't think he brought much to the movie other than an uncanny ability to make girls and women visibly swoon while watching Twilight. He does have a good chemistry with Kristen Stewart - no doubting that. But from a guy's perspective he's not really the kind of lead that you really ever get behind or root for. He's just this kind of creepy dude who's just kind of there and never seems all that interesting or likable.

I thought there was some potential in the various other members of the Cullen clan, but we barely spend any time with them or really dive into them as characters, except in a very two-dimensional manner. We get the sense that there's the jock / frat boy vampire, the bitchy / ice queen vampire, the cool pixie chick, and the tortured emo kid. And then there's the "father" of the clan, who is a doctor and pale, and, um, yeah ... that's about it.

As far as the direction goes, well, I have mixed feelings. I thought Hardwicke actually did a nice job of giving the movie a dark, dank, moody atmosphere - she does a great job of capturing the grey skies and ominous forests of real-life town Forks, WA. There are times when the movie really does have a cool, creepy vibe. But it also tends to lack style - for a movie about vampires, it almost feels *too* grounded. And whenever there's action or f/x, and whenever the ultra-lame group of villainous vampires appears, the movie grinds to a halt and looks and feels like a really bad episode of Smallville. Hardwicke nails the more personal moments and establishes a generally creepy ambiance, but beyond that, there are simply too many ultra-hokey scenes that take you out of the movie or elicit unintentional laughter. It doesn't help that a couple of the actors, from the guy playing Bella's father to the three vampiric antagonists, are unfortunately pretty dreadful.

But I will say this - as many faults as I found with the film, it got me caught up in Bella and Edward's romance to the extent that, yeah, I am at least curious to see where the story goes from here. I can't comment on how the film compares to the novels, but I can see from the film alone how the story does such an effective job of creating a palpable intensity with regards to Bella and Edward's fateful romance. That romance, though, is the one aspect of the narrative that actually feels epic and substantive. And perhaps future sequels will address this - but, at least for now, Twilight lacks the creative vision or narrative imagination to live up to all its enormous hype.

My Grade: B-

- Alright -- stay tuned for more news and reviews soon - have a good one everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

JACK'S BACK: The Return of 24, Plus: Smallville, Office, 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, and MORE

Dammit! I'm back after a GRAVITAS-filled weekend and there's lots to talk about. In honor of that fact, today's blog will be uploaded directly to your PDA in REAL TIME, baby.

Last night, countdown-clock worshippers everywhere had cause to rejoice, as after months and months of conspicuous absence ...

TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR (24~!) Returned ...!

- Yes, after an extended hiatus from the airwaves, Sunday brought not one but two solid Jack Bauer Power Hours, which comprised a special TV movie event known as 24: REDEMPTION. And let's face it: not only did Jack have some redeemin' to do, but 24 had to, to some extent, redeem itself to a fanbase that had been somewhat burnt out by a Season 6 that was not up to typical 24 standards. On the other hand, absence does tend to make the heart grow fonder, and when push comes to shove, 24 still stands as one of the great shows of the last decade. One off season isn't enough to make me substantially less excited for another round of 24-style gravitas. And all indications have pointed to Season 7 being a return to glory - there's a top-notch supporting cast around the always great Kiefer Sutherland (Jon Voight, Kurtwood Smith, the guy who played the Candyman ...), as well as the much-anticipated return of fan-favorite Tony Almeda, whose soul-patched presence instantly gives the show an extra dosage of whup-ass.

So really, last night's Redemption special was there to serve a pretty basic function - to rally the 24 base and get us revved up for an all-new season of real-time mayhem. In that regard, the movie worked like a charm. I'm now super-hyped for the actual season to begin so that we can get back to hour-by-hour installments of twists, turns, and gratuitous cries of "dammit!" The movie reestablished Bauer as the ultimate badass, planted some interesting seeds for Season 7 - establishing both a reinvigorated and pissed-off hero in Jack and a couple of scheming villains for him to square off against.

In the meantime, we got to see an interesting little experiment in playing with the conventions of 24, as we got a chance to break away from the 24-hour / 24-episode format, as well as from the usual LA setting. It was cool seeing a 24 adventure set in Africa, and it was likewise fun to see Jack operate sans all the usual technical wizardry and gadgets of his CTU backers. It was a little strange to see the show still operate in "real-time" despite being a 2-hour movie, but the familiar countdown clock is such an iconic element of 24 that it might have been even stranger if it had been absent.

As a standalone movie, Redemption could be considered pretty choppy and uneven. Whole stretches would shift from Jack's African adventures to focus in on the Washington DC side of the plot, in which President Noah Daniels from last season serves his last day in office even as a new, female prez is inaugurated. There were all kinds of little hints and teases in these DC-centric segments, as we met the new President's son and daughter-in-law, her husband, and a friend of her son's who may be on the verge of uncovering a typical 24-style shadow conspiracy within the ranks of the White House - a villainous group that seems to link Jon Voight's character, Tony Almeda (absent here but whose affiliations were hinted at in the S7 trailers), and the ruthless African rebels that Jack comes up against in Redemption. Still, while the DC stuff will ultimately come back around and tie in with the African segments of Redemption, there was still a pretty big disconnect between Jack's adventures in Africa and the DC parts, which were really more about setting up S7 than anything else. When you only have two hours for a standalone movie, you want as much Bauer-infused action as you can get, you know?

That being said, Redemption delivered plenty of vintage Jack Bauer violence. We saw Jack give an African captor the old head-scissors of doom, single-handedly take out an entire African rebel squadron, and help fend off an urban assault whilst leading a pack of kids through a village towards the US Embassy. You even had a decent turn from Robert Carlisle as an old special forces friend of Jack's, who played the part of sidekick / martyr in the good fight admirablly. Sure, his big scene was strangely similar to a trick Prison Break pulled mere weeks ago, but hey, it worked as well if not better here. My friends and I cheered, clapped, and let out cries of "daaaaaaaaamn!" as we watched Jack Bauer return to his unstoppable killing-machine ways - it was a sure sign that Jack was, in fact, back.

So yeah, as a whole, Redemption was decent when looked at as a big, super, awesome standalone 24 movie event. But when looked at as a sort of Episode 0 for 24 Season 7, well, like I said, it got the job done and then some. Because I can really only be objective on this one to a certain degree. This was TV's greatest action hero, Jack f'n Bauer, back in our living rooms kicking ass and taking names. And really, it feels like this was just the proverbial warm-up for what is to come, a prelim match leading up to the main event. After last night, all I can say is BRING. IT. ON.

My Grade: B+

- Speaking of 24's little cousin, PRISON BREAK, tonight's ep promises to be a barn-burner. But I have to say, all the talk of this being the end for PB made me wonder if we will get to see one more run for the now-legendary Monday Night Gravitas combo of Scofield and Bauer. With Terminator moving to Fridays in January, will the two most intense shows on TV partner up for one last go at sensory-overload?

- I also need to make mention of the really sad news that emerged late last week - that being that one of TV's best and most imaginative series, the great PUSHING DAISIES, is more than likely about as dead as its title implies. I can only hope that the show receives the Piemaker's patented magic touch of rejuvination, but in this new world of cutthroat, budget-constrained TV, it's not looking particularly good. If the show is in fact done for, I do hope that it at least gets a bit of narrative resolution. Especially with this season ramping up the ongoing storyarcs, it would be truly tragic if Ned and Chuck don't get the ending they deserve. I've already gone on about the merits of Pushing Daisies at length here, and I'll reserve a final tribute for when the last episode has aired. But suffice it to say, it's a scary world in which Dancing With the Stars and three CSI spinoffs can thrive while a wholly original, magical, and intelligent series is unable to find the audience it needs.

- On last week's SMALLVILLE -- well, this one came with a ton of hype and expectations. Fanboys everywhere were salivating at the prospect of an epic Clark vs. Doomsday smackdown, in what promised to be the kind of legendary hero vs. villain battle that Superman fans have demanded to see in live-action form for years and years now. And unfortunately, in this regard Smallville kind of dropped the ball. Sure, it was probably unfair to expect Smallville and its newly-slashed budget to be able to deliver a giant-sized fight straight out of the comics, but, the expecation wa there nonetheless. And what happened instead was, well, we got minimal action, more build-up than release, and what was in many respects simply a fairly typical episode of Smallville, with the focus squarely on the young adult romance and angst rather than superheroics. That said, this was actually a pretty good episode of Smallville. The build up to Chloe and Jimmy's long-awaited wedding was well done. The tension between Lois and Clark got cranked up a notch, and Erica Durance as Lois was great as always. In fact, she's been so good and developed Lois into such a fun, likable character that Lana's big return in this ep was pretty "meh." Lana has long been such a broken character that she is almost a walking punchline at this point. But, it's emblematic of this season's sharper writing that, in her appearance in this episode, Lana was probably the best-written and most likable she's been in years. The one thing I could have done without was the lame, Cloverfield-aping camcorder sequences, which just reeked of sucktitude and "hey look, we're cool and edgy just like that monster movie that the kids were talking about!" desperation.

I mean, look, the Davis Bloome / Doomsday buildup has been handled better than anyone expected, and this season overall has been a pleasant surprise - with sharper writing, better character development, and more cohesive plotting than Smallville fans have been accostumed to. But with this episode, I think we were all hoping for the show to step it up a notch and transcend the usual limitations of what Smallville has been and can be. If ever there was a time for the show to just say "screw it" and go all out to deliver a comic book style epic, this was it. And who knows, maybe that's what they are building up to, and the show is just biding its time until the season (series?) finale. But the fact remains, this wasn't really much in the way of wish-fulfillment for us longtime Smallville fans who have been waiting for the show to really kick into a new gear.

My Grade: B

- I'll just briefly mention that I thought both THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK were hilarious last week. The Office had one of my favorite episodes so far this season. I love the Toby-Michael relationship, and to me that weird dynamic has made for many of the flat-out funniest moments in the show's history. Michael's irrational hatred of Toby is one of the weirdest yet most hilarious quirks of his personality, and seeing it manifest in oddball acts of jackassery is always entertaining. As for 30 ROCK, it was great seeing Steve Martin back doing, you know, comedy. And Tracy Morgan's subplot, in which he was convinced that his little-seen children were out to kill him ("Stop patriciding me!") was gut-bustingly hilarious. While a lot may be going wrong for the Peacock, Thursday was undoubtedly an awesome night of comedy for good ol' NBC.

My Grades:

The Office: A-, 30 Rock: A-

- Anyways, I have a lot to more to talk about. I had a really fun weekend, for one. And I'd like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my adopted home here in CA, Burbank. While it at times gets a bad rap, I've always maintained that Burbank is a city on the up and up. For those of us who work in one of the nearby studios, it's a completely convenient place to live and has a number of shops, resturants, and parks nearby. Now, Burbank has never really had much in the way of nightlife, but the big B did take one small step towards coolness this weekend with the opening of its very own Barney's Beanery. I had the pleasure of visiting the new Barneys on Friday, and I have to say it's pretty darn impressive. Flat-screen TV's at every booth, a mini-arena-style setup centered around a giant-sized TV screen, etc. Sure, a pristine, new, deluxe Barneys will never have the same sleazy Sunset Strip authenticity of the original in Hollywood, but the fact that Burbank has one more cool spot to hit up after a movie is pretty sweet.

- I also had a fun night hanging out with a bunch of NBC and Paramount people on Saturday, coincidentally also in Burbank (aka the place to be in LA). It was cool to meet some of the new crop of NBC Pages and impart my great wisdom and personal success story to them. If they work hard, perhaps they too can have their own all-new, all-awesome adventures.

- Craziness! On Sunday me and the G-Man hit up the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Hollywood to take in an improv comedy show which featured Meghan B. amongst its troupe of performers. It turns out that the UCB theater is right across the street from the Scientology celebrity center, and it turns out that at the same moments that we were enjoying improv comedy inside, across the street some maniac wielding a SWORD charged the Scientology compound, where he was subsequently SHOT to death by a perhaps-overzealous security guard. I mean, WTF, mate? Only in LA, only in LA. Check out the link below for more:

- Actually though, Sunday turned out to be quite the funday. After the comedy show, we grabbed lunch at Mel's Diner, and I had a stupendous belgian waffle that really and truly hit the spot. We then went back to my place where we fired up my newest PS3 purchase, MORTAL KOMBAT vs. DC UNIVERSE, and proceeded to mash buttons for a couple of hours straight until we had played through the enitre epic story mode and led a band of DC Comic's greatest heroes and vilest villains on a cross-universe battle and saved the universe. I'll admit, at first I thought the game looked pretty lame - lacking the polish or sophistication of a Soul Caliber or Street Fighter. But after several rounds joy-buzzing suckers as The Joker of reigning down holy lightning as Captain Marvel, I was a believer in the simple joys of MK vs. DC. It may not be game-of-the-year material, but it sure was a fun way to waste a couple of hours.

- And of course, the weekend was capped off by a trip to Seth E's for pizza, drinks, and a solid two hours of TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR.

And, oh yeah, somewhere in between all of that, I met up with Abby W. and took in the pop-cult sensation that all the teen girls are talkin' about, Twilight.

Now, this has been a pretty long blog post and I don't want to overload it. So stay tuned soon to see what a 26 year old dude thinks of the goth-emo-mumblecore-vampire-romance known as Twilight.

Until then, I'm out. Here's to short weeks and Jack Bauer, dammit all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Facts Are These: Keeping Up With PUSHING DAISIES, CHUCK, and FRINGE. Plus: Chinese Democracy Hype.

- If any of you rock n' rollers have yet to check it out, I definitely recommend giving Chuck Klosterman's review of Chinese Democracy, posted on the always-great Onion AV Club, a read. Funny and insightful, the article has actually gotten me pretty excited for the looong-awaited new album from Guns N' Roses.


Appetite for Destruction is one of my most-played albums of all-time - I bought the cassette tape as a kid after becoming obsessed with the GnR videos played on MTV, and it was kind of this forbidden fruit - with four grim-looking skulls on the album cover and a parenta advisory sticker, Appetite was dangerous, to be sure. But it was also just about the most rocking music I had ever heard. And from that point on, I was a GnR fan for life. I've seen them twice in concert over the last couple of years, each time with a different line-up, neither time with the original band intact. But even without Slash and co., both times I saw Axl Rose live, I went in expecting the worse and coming away, well, blown away. The sheer awesomeness of the GnR catalogue was enough to put the concerts over the top of the awesome meter, and it was clear that there was still a spark of life left in Axl and GnR - even the new material had a lot of promise. So, next week, CHINESE DEMOCRACY finally drops. Chuck Klosterman liked it. I'm cautiously optimistic. But at the least, it's great that people are once again excited about genuine, old-school rock n' roll music. AC/DC was recently a chart-topper, GnR is poised to be big once again, and kids everywhere are learning the classics via the magic of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. And hey, our new President is a fan of Dylan and The Stones. Might this be a new age of ROCK?!


- Dayum, I'm actually pretty excited / curious to see tonight's SMALLVILLE. As I said last week, Clark Kent vs. Doomsday doesn't have quite the same ring to it as does *Superman* vs. Doomsday, but tonight's much-hyped Smallville ep will be a real test for the long-running show, which has sometimes struggled to introduce truly epic villains aside from Lex Luthor. And it's rare that the show has delivered a legitimately Superman-worthy super-powered slugfest. We'll see if tonight's main event delivers the goods, but if tonight's ep is a smash, and next week's Geoff Johns-penned Legion of Superheroes-themed episode is as good as promised, then Smallville could be in the midst of one of its best-ever streaks of quality episodes.

- I also really want to point out how fun and entertaining last night's episode of PUSHING DAISIES was - I'd go so far as to say it was, potentially, this season's best installment yet. Again, it's crazy that a show that can deliver this kind of quality week in and week out is on the chopping block. It's hard to imagine many people tuning in to last night's ep and not liking what they saw, because what we got was a fantastical episode of magic, betrayal, and mystery that was a clear reminder of what makes this show work as well as it does. And man, the guest stars last night were absolutely perfect for the episode and the series in general. You had the great Fred Willard playing The Great Hermann, a stage magician who had served as a surrogate father of sorts to Ned's twin half-brothers. You had the great Kerri Kenney (of The State and Reno 911 fame) as Hermann's assistant. And you had typically-great performances from Lee Pace, Chi McBride, Kristen Chenoweth, and Anna Friel. Not to mention Stephen Root, who has been awesome in his recent guest appearances as an old and slighty-sinister friend of Chuck and Ned's respective fathers. This ep really had a great balance between the ongoing familial dramas of Ned and Chuck and a fun adventure / mystery of the week. In this case, the central mystery tied in perfectly with the ongoing storyarcs, so it really felt like a big episode that was jam-packed with plot and new revelations. Visually, the world of magic was a perfect fit for Daisies, and the sets, costumes, etc. were all top-notch. The visual creativity of this show is just unparallelled on TV, and this ep was further proof. So watch PUSHING DAISIES, tell your friends, tell your parents, grandparents, etc. Because the facts are these: this show deserves to thrive.

My Grade: A

- After a couple of weeks of Captain Awesome-level awesomeness, CHUCK got a bit formulaic this week, although a nice reveal at episode's end set up some potentially great plotlines for future episodes. I do think Jordana Brewster has been a fun addition to the cast these last couple of weeks. I do think the show sometimes overdoes it on the emo-ness (Josh Schwartz's THE OC suffered from the same problem), and the mopeyness of Sarah in this ep did get a little grating at times, as did Chuck's constant focus on his re-girlfriend, Jill even in the midst of all kinds of spy shenanigans. But on the other hand - Tony Hale (of Arrested Development fame) is flat-out hilarious, and was great in this ep. His interactions with Morgan were very funny, and I actually almost always enjoy Morgan's scenes and think he's gotten even funnier this season. Speaking of funny, Adam Baldwin letting out a choir-boy high-C note scream was friggin' classic. Likewise, the ending twist actually makes a ton of sense in the broader context of the show's mythology - I just think it was arrived at a little hamfistedly. Still, I have to bump up my grade a little if only for this episode's several shout-outs to Y: The Last Man (which from the get-go has seemed to be one of its creative influences). From mention of the Culper Ring to a big Y poster hanging over Chuck's bed, this ep was definitely feeling the Last Man love. And let's face it, the Chuck-Sarah relationship is very similar to that of Yorick-355. Now Chuck just needs a helper monkey and all will be right with the world.

My Grade: B+

- On FRINGE ... Fringe has yet to have that single, *great* episode that makes you stand up and say "well I'll be damned, this show is the real deal." But with this week's episode, I'll admit, they came pretty darn close. I think Fringe is both benefitting and hurting from the fact that John Noble is absolutely, positively ruling it this far as Dr. Walter Bishop. And this week was Noble's best performance yet on the show - bar none. While Walter had at times been relegated to comic relief in recent weeks, this time Walter was funny, scary, sad, mysterious, and tragic all in the span of an hour. To me, this ep locked-in John Noble as an Emmy favorite, because I've yet to see a better supporting actor performance on TV this season. I loved the scenes of Walter having to return to the institution where he had been confined, and try to prove his sanity to the warden and to his son and to his colleagues. His internal struggle here was absolutely riveting. And, plot-wise, the show just presented its most intriguing mystery yet. It was easy to suspect from the beginning that there was much more to Bishop than meets the eye, but this ep posited that there could in fact be *two* Walter Bishops running around. Was this a clone, a dimensional alternate, a figment of Walter's fractured psyche? Whatever the case, I'm intrigued. I also thought the central mystery here was pretty fascinating - I'm a sucker for the whole concept of some uber-equation that contains the mysteries of time and space within.

But, where this show has faltered is that it can't seem to keep its focus. I wish this ep could have stuck to the main idea of the equation and the villains' pursuit of it. Instead, that plotline was mixed in with a cool-but-random concept concerning hypnotic colored lights, the idea that people were being brainwashed into believing their dead relatives were alive (the villains' preferred method of information-extraction), etc. The show just gets too cluttered sometime with criss-crossing ideas and concepts.

Otherwise, Fringe is kicking ass when it comes to Walter Bishop, but the other two leads stil lfeel underdeveloped and lacking personality. This ep went a long way in developing Walter's relationship with his son though, I will give them that. Still, Ana Torv's character needs some kind of hook other than what's already been presented. Lance Reddick is kind of filling the Fox Mulder role of driving the action forward, but they need to make sure he isn't simply an exposition machine.

That being said, all the Walter Bishop stuff in this ep was awesome, and helped provide a sense that some of the show's lingering mysteries are about to really blow up. Greatness is definitely within reach.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, that's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow with more news and views, so cya then.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Agent Double-O-Blog - QUANTUM OF SOLACE Review, Prison Break, and MORE!

The name's Baram, Danny Baram. And I like my blogs shaken, not stirred. Yes, loyal readers, I'm back from a little place called the weekend and I'm here to share epic thoughts and gravitas-filled reviews.

What can I say, I'm a tad bit excited that, in less than a week, Jack Bauer is back. Normally Jack's out of time, but it's ABOUT FLIPPIN' TIME that Jack returned to show these new kids how it's done. But I'm not going to spend too much time speculating on what is to come, because I've got plenty of reviews to throw your way.

- First of all ... PRISON BREAK ...! Last night's ep was simply off the chain. PB has always managed to kick into high gear in the episodes where a heist or breakout is actually pulled off after weeks of build-up, and last night was no exception. After a season's worth of prelims, last night we finally saw Michael and co. break into the Company's inner sanctum which held Scylla - the holy grail of computer chips that contains all of the Company's most important secrets. The actual break-in operation was in and of itself thrilling. I loved that the show had the guts to present some of these intense scenes in virtual silence - the lack of background noise or chatter made ratcheted up the intensity factor to ridiculous levels. But even as the break-in itself was exciting, the whole episode was loaded with drama thanks to the convergence of several key plot points. For one, Scofield's sickness had reached deadly levels. Deciding at the last minute to postpone hospital treatment, Michael risked his life by participating in the break-in, as any mental or physical stress spikes could be enough to trigger a deadly siezure. Luckily for him, Scofield is one cool cat under pressure. But of course, his health is not all Michael has to contend with, as Gretchen and T-Bag put their own long-simmering plan to double-cross Michael and co into effect. Setting up Agent Self, Gretchen puts him in the line of fire of the Chinese (shades of 24!). And, oh yeah, just as Scylla is finally in his grasp, Scofield sets off an alarm, alerting the Company to his presence. At episode's end, Self is surrounded, T-Bag is waiting on Scofield with murderous intent, and Michael and his crew are seemingly at the mercy of The Company. Talk about a cliffhanger. All I know is, I don't know if, since I got a DVR, have ever fast-forwarded through commercials as frantically as I did during last night's Prison Break. Last night's ep kicked my ass.

My Grade: A

- Well, people say the characters of GOSSIP GIRL are cold, callous, and self-centered, and maybe they are. But I'll be darned if last night's episode didn't come down with a big case of the warm and fuzzys. Sure, Chuck Bass was still Chuck Bass, Bart was revealed as keeping secret files on all of his extended family members, and Serena's poseur artist boyfriend continued to be annoying and sleazy ... but ... if there's one thing Josh Schwartz knows how to do, it's how to make an ensemble of outlandish character oddly endearing, and last night he did just that. I mean, it's a testament to the show that I actually found Blair Waldorff's Thanksgiving dinner to be a heartwarming affair. Good stuff.

My Grade: A -

Up next: a look at last night's ANIMATION DOMINATION lineup on FOX ...

- I thought THE SIMPSONS had a pretty fun episode overall that had a nice father-daughter story at its core. But, a couple of critical flaws kept this from being an overly memorable episode. One was that the story was just too all over the place. It felt like a regression back to the nu-Simpsons trend of taking forever to introduce the main storyline, leaving little time for it to be resolved in a satisfactory manner. After a couple of episodes that did a solid job of introducing the main plot early on in the episode, the more Family Guy-style structure of this ep was disappointing. Secondly, I just didn't think the humor worked that well here. There were two or three pretty funny jokes (Moe taking Lisa's name, Homer's back and forth with the bartender / bookie), but there were loooong stretches in this one without much if any real humor. It's too bad, because I liked the cleverness of the crossword-puzzle theme, and thought there was some good potential there. But what could have been a great episode turned out to be pretty flat.

My Grade: B

- I thought that KING OF THE HILL came back strong this week with an episode that offered up the kind of down-home social commentary that this show has always excelled at. I loved the premise of Peggy, Dale, and Mingh following hapless Bill around as part of their plan to make it big in the stock market, eyeing his every purchasing decsion after they decide that Bill's consumer habits represent those of an ordinary Joe Sixpack. Bill of course loves all the attention, but eventually cracks under the pressure of having his every move scrutinized. This one had a lot of sharp satire mixed in with a sizable dose of KOTH's usual pathos and strong characterization. Good stuff.

My Grade: A-

- As fo FAMILY GUY ... hmm ... this episode was kind of a mess, and really all over the place in terms of humor. There were one or two gags that really cracked me up - the joke where Peter accidentally burns down a hospital had me rolling (as wrong as that sounds out of context ...) - and yet, a lot of the episode seemed to fall flat. As soon as the ep became Billy Madison-lite, the episode, to me, lost a ton of momentum. I mean, look, just because you have a self-awareness or metatextual thing going where you acknowledge that a premise is absurd - that doesn't automatically make it funny. Sometimes Family Guy tries to say "hey guys, we KNOW this is stupid, and that's why it's funny!" But sometimes, there's no substitute for great joke-writing and clever set-ups. Between Peter re-doing the third grade and Brian and Frank Sinatra Jr buying their own big band club (only to have Stewie turn it into a trendy hangout), a lot of this ep felt like it was there just so the writers could dish out a couple of key jokes. Yes, the Andy Dick appearance at Stewie's club wa funny, but ultimately these stories were just kind of there, without any real arc or payoff. I'm not asking for Family Guy to be Shakespeare, but I wish it would get back to having episodes with a memorable and coherant premise, lots of great jokes, and an overall polish that was lacking in this throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks installment.

My Grade: B-

Alright, time for my review of the latest 007 extravaganza ...


- Quantum of Solace is a fun action movie, but I'm not sure what argument there is to make in favor of it being great or even very good. Sure, I understand that there is a vocal minority of Ian Fleming purists out there who are happy to see a darker, grittier James Bond franchise that more closely emulates the tone of the original novels. But, aside from the faithfulness to the source material, I just don't get the appeal of a 007 movie that strips away everything that made Bond a cinematic icon. Because now, what you're left with, is a movie that's somewhat entertaining, but to me mostly feels like a wannabe Bourne movie, or just a Bond movie that's trying too hard to crib from the back-to-basics formula of Christopher Nolan's Batman films or other such franchise reboots.

Aside from all of that big-picture stuff though, a few key problems really hamper the movie's pacing and execution. One problem is the issue of continuity with the last Bond film, Casino Royale. 007 movies are not particularly known for their narrative continuity, so I don't know how many went into Quantum expecting to have needed Cliff's Notes. But so much of this movie is a direct continuation of the earlier film that it really begins to become a frustrating excercise. I could barely remember, for example who Vesper (Eva Green's character in Casino) was, how she was killed, etc, and the movie is not edited or written in such a way so as to be particularly helpful in this regard. Vesper is mentioned dozens of times here, but we don't get a single flashback or bit of exposition to help jog our memories. I'm not coming out in favor of clunky, overly-expository storytelling or anything, but if you're going to tell a serialized story, you have to consider your audience, and you have to construct a narrative that both flows organically from the established plotlines, AND also stands alone as a self-contained narrative. I don't think Quantum really stands alone as a 100% cohesive film, and that to me is to its detriment.

Other than the plotting and narrative, the overall pacing of the movie suffers from choppy editing. In the big action scenes, this means that drama and excitement is sometimes sacrificed for Bourne-style rapid-fire cutting. It means that sometimes it's hard to tell who's chasing who, who has the upper hand, etc. At the same time, the movie's choppy cuts snip out a lot of the quieter moments that made Casino Royale stand out from earlier Bond films. There are not really a lot of memorable character moments to be found here amidst the action set-pieces. Even some scenes that would seem vital to the narrative don't make the cut - I found it pretty jarring, for example, when the movie cuts right from a climactic fight scene and time-jumps right past what could have been an important story point. We hear Bond reference that the big bad has spilled some of the secrets of global conspiracy Quantum to 007, but we don't see or hear it. Odd, to be sure.

I know I've been negative thus far, but with all that being said, I think I actually enjoyed Quantum slightly more than Casino Royale. The reason being that Daniel Craig definitely seems to come into his own here as a legit action star. Even if I didn't always know quite what was going on, it was just fun watching him engage in car chases, boat chases, foot races, and aerial maneuvering. Even though some key scenes were hampered by overly-quick cuts (particularly the final battle), many others worked pretty well and had me on the edge of my seat. Plus, amidst al the chaos there were a couple of genuinely badass sequences. My favorite was a cool scene set in a high-class opera house in which Bond exposes a secret meeting of the Quantum group. The main villain, while lacking in any over-the-top, Dr. Evil-style gimmickry, is still suitably slimy and villainous. But the supporting cast, other than Judi Dench, is really pretty bland and none too memorable. I realize that the lesson of Die Another Day was to not have a supporting character who tries to overshadow 007, but still, would it kill this franchise to craft a couple of memorable, recurring side characters? They've dispensed with Q and Money-Penny, so who's there to pick up the slack?

There's no doubt - Daniel Craig has what it takes to be a great action hero - he's a talented actor and a believable badass. Still, I just can't get too excited about such a pared-down version of an icon like James Bond, who now seems to have far less personality than the Bond of old or even the Jack Bauers of the world. As it stands, Quantum of Solace is just one more action flick in an overcrowded market.

My Grade: B

- Alright, and I'm out of here. Back soon with more, Agent Baram out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday TV Roundup: SMALLVILLE Hits Back, Plus: 30 Rock and Office Reviews

Not to sound like a huge geek or anything, but man, last night was a pretty epic night of quality television.

Where to begin?

- I'll start with SMALLVILLE. Let me give credit where credit is due - because, holy crap, that was one badass episode of Smallville! At first, it seemed like just another episode of the long-running series, and I winced a few times during the first several minutes, because clearly, whoever wrote the episode was making sure that every line of dialogue was EXTRA SNAPPY to the point of ridiculousness. But, things slowly but surely took a turn for the intense. Soon enough I found myself in the midst of one EPIC episode of Smallville, an episode that truly made me feel like I was watching a classic Superman comic book playing out on screen. First of all, I've talked recently how this season of Smallville has done a really nice job of maintaining continuity week to week, allowing each episode to build and build, creating a pretty cool tapestry of ongoing storyarcs. In fact, I can't remember when Smallville has ever felt this tightly-plotted before, and the newfound focus on the ongoing narrative is really helping to crank up the drama. Like many, I questioned the introduction of the Davis Bloome character, but I have to admit - the build-up to his inevitable villainous transformation has been exceptionally well-done. I also have to give the show credit for its always-great visuals. It's amazing to me that, despite reported budget cuts, Smallville continues to look this good. I loved the f/x present when Chloe was being brain-drained by Braniac, and all of the fortress f/x were also similarly well-done. On the acting front, Alison Mack deserves some credit - Chloe can sometimes be a bit overbearing as a character, but tonight you really had to feel for her and her plight. I also really liked the flashback scene to Clark and Chloe's first meeting - it really hit home how important that relationship has been to the show - in a way, you could argue that Chloe has been Smallville's heart and soul, and that flashback really served as a potent reminder of that fact. But really, the big fanboy moment came near episode's end - because as much as fans complained that Davis Bloome was a poor substitute for the monstrous villain Doomsday of comic book fame, this episode set up the emergence of the vile and horrific creature that we all love to hate. Yes, I had chills when Jor-El ominously explained the grim origins of the Kryptonian beast known as Doomsday to Clark. Now that's what I'm talking about. Now, it was tough to tell much from the preview for next week, but the small snippets hinted at a truly giant-sized nemesis for Clark next week in the form of a straight-from-the-comics Doomsday taking on Clark in an epic smackdown brawl. If next week's ep delivers on the promise of the preview - then, wow, we could be in for quite a treat. I guess the one negative here is that you get the feeling that the new team of showrunners are doing all they can to make Smallville as fun and epic as possible, but it's still clear that they are inherently hampered by the limitations of the show's premise. Having an epic Clark vs. Doomsday showdown, as cool as that is, just doesn't have quite the same awesome-factor as it would if it were *Superman*. Clark's now been talking about the idea of superheroics for so long that every episode where he's still just a plain-old guy becomes increasingly frustrating. Still, I don't want to harp on that too much, because overall this was just a great episode of a show that clearly has some renewed life and sense of purpose. Keep it up, guys.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, got to talk about THE OFFICE, as last night's ep was definitely one of my favorites of the season so far. One reason: Ed Helms. The guy has not had a ton of screentime of late, but every time he's on-camera as hapless Andy, he makes the character all the more interesting. Finally, last night the focus shifted to Andy, and the result was a lot of hilarity and some of the most memorable moments that The Office has had in a while. Everything really clicked in this ep, from Andy's awesome drunk phone call to Angela, to his budding friendship with Oscar, to Michael's excitement and eventual disillusionment with his business trip to Canada. The Jim and Pam stuff I thought was handled much better than last week - more subdued and less melodramatic. I guess my one complaint is I'm not sure if I like the path that Dwight's character has been going on. The problem is that he used to be far and away the show's funniest character - now, he's been made into such an awful person that it's a lot harder to laugh at his antics. Overall though, a really good ep of The Office.

My Grade: A-

- Finally, 30 ROCK had yet another absolutely hilarious episode that had me laughing nonstop. Every plotline seemed to fire on all cylinders. I mean, first of all, I love how this series uses its high-profile guest stars in non-gimmicky ways. Last night's appearance by Jennifer Aniston was case-in-point - she fit organically into the plot and wasn't really playing to or against type - just simply cast in a funny part that gave Alec Baldwin some truly hilarious lines. Seeing the conservative Jack Doneghy unable to resist the crazy-appeal of Aniston's character was a lot of fun. But even more awesome was the subplot involving Tracy, Kenneth, and the cast of Night Court. Yes, Night Court. Upset by the Page Program's new and spiffier uniforms which have supplanted the ol' Blue Polyester theads (gotta love NBC Page humor - awesome!), Kenneth looks to Tracy to cheer him up. Tracy asks Kenneth what would make him happy, and the answer is, of all things, a satisfying conclusion to the long-running sitcom Night Court. Random? Indeed. Hilarious? Without a doubt. Tracy got in a few choice lines of dialogue ("A Court? At night? I'm already laughing!"), and hey, Harry Anderson and Markie Post showed up! (man, Harry was looking pretty old though, I have to say ...). In the end though, this was yet another great episode of 30 Rock. Definitely a great hour of TV between this and The Office.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, bring on the weekend. It may have been a short work week but I am more than ready for some quality R &R. And I'm out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

THE STATE Gone Mainstream? ROLE MODELS Review and MORE!

Man, Subways in LA have the slowest service ever. A good Subway should be a veritable sandwich-making machine, with speedy and efficient employees and patrons who know exactly what they want before they even get in line. But here in LA, each trip to Subway seems to have an incredibly high percentage of people who have apparently never been to a Subway. And the servers, though they tend to be friendly enough, take about five minutes simply to put a couple of turkey slices on a piece of bread. Where's the hustle, Hollywood?

Anyways, I do have a movie to review, but first, a quick rant:

- Has Hollywood lost it's freaking mind lately?! In the last few days alone, a wave of news stories have come out relating to new film developments, each one more cringe-worthy than the last. Will Smith's son as the next Karate Kid? All I can say is "aww HELLS no!" Same sentiment applies to a Will Smith remake of the great movie Oldboy. I have seen Oldboy, and Will Smith is no Oldboy. Steven Spielberg himself is attached to direct ... and this is sad, because Spielberg is too talented to waste his time remaking a movie that came out less than ten years ago. Give us something, oh, I don't know, ORIGINAL? Then there's Brett Ratner directing a new Conan flick? Understand the words coming out of my mouth: please lord, no. And then today ... this can't be true, can it? Ridley Scott, he of Blade Runner and Alien and Gladiator, directing a Monopoly movie? That can't be right, can it? When I saw the headline I was convinced it was an early April Fool's joke, and I'm still waiting for the punchline. If true, all I can say is Why, Ridley, Why?

Hollywood - it's been the fanboy rallying cry for years, but come on already - stop remaking stuff that doesn't need to be remade. The entire point of Oldboy, for example, is that it details a personal nightmare that is incredibly %&#'ed up. Are Spielberg and Will Smith going to preserve that? Even if they somehow did, why does that particular story need to be retold? Why not just come up with something new?

Stop the madness, I say!

- STOP THE PRESSES ...! It has just come to my attention that PRISON BREAK may soon be given the death penalty from the overlords at FOX. Here's what I think: I think that I could accept the fact that TV's most fun action-adventure show may say goodbye after four great seasons, provided that the show goes out with a huge bang and a fitting send-off. IF and only if that is the case, and we get a giant-sized finale that ties up loose ends and provides proper closure for Michael Scofield and co. - well, I could then be content with a great run coming to an end. But ... if FOX messes with storylines and cuts the show short prematurely - I will not be happy. The cast and crew of PB have created iconic characters and larger than life storylines, and they deserve a great wrap-up. I want one final Scofield vs. T-Bag smackdown, one final feat of badassery for Mahone, and an ending that creates a new status quo for our perpetually on-the-run protagonists.

Now, if it were up to me, I could certainly see relaunching the show with a new name and new premise. Scofield and Mahone as a pair of special-unit FBI or black-ops government agents? Perhaps tasked with containing a supermax prison break? Perhaps in pursuit of the increasingly dangerous Gretchen and her re-established Company? These characters are so great ... they could certainly live on past Prison Break ...

But I'll wait and see what happens. Certainly, if PB goes, then Monday nights will have a little less gravitas.

... Alright, anyways ...


- As many friends and readers of the blog are well aware, I'm a huge, huge fan of the cult-fave 90's-era sketch comedy show THE STATE. Since the premature death of that modern classic, I've closely followed the careers of many of its alumni, and looked forward to any projects that seemed to represent a revival of the random, crazy, and absurd sense of humor that characterized The State back in the day. So far, the best post-State project from the group, by far, has been Wet Hot American Summer, which was one of those movies that screamed cult comedy classic from the moment it hit theaters in 2001. To me, Wet Hot is plain and simply one of the funniest movies ever made. And yet, it's one of those movies that's pretty difficult for critics to wrap their brains around - because it's strength isn't its plot, characters, or anything that can really be objectively judged. It's just hilarious, and that's why it rocks.

Since Wet Hot, there've been a handful of major comedy projects from State members - Stella on Comedy Central, Reno 9-11, The Baxter, and last year's The Ten are the standouts. But STATE and WET HOT fans can rejoice, because while not apparent from the trailers, ROLE MODELS hits the sweet spot in terms of channelling the same kind of humor that put The State on the map. In fact, directed by David Wain and co-written by Wain and Paul Rudd, Role Models is almost a seamless merging of Wain's random sketch comedy stylings with a traditional Hollywood comedy formula.

Because, like Wet Hot, the premise of Role Models sounds pretty lame on paper. Two immature guys who get in trouble and are forced to atone by mentoring a couple of problem children. Under normal circumstances, this could be a by-the-numbers recipe for disaster. But the actual result is a random, subversive, geeky movie that followes the broad outline of a mainstream comedy, but in the details, is anything but mainstream.

I mean, the movie spends a ton of time on the in's and out's of live-action role playing, staging epic LARP battles as if they were D-Day. There's a running joke about the band KISS that is central to the movie's climax. And the lovable kid in this movie? He's a prematurely pervy, smart-mouthed ten year old who singlehandeldy uses more swear words than The Big Lebowski.

The point is that, sure, some of the movie is devoted to telling a story about immature guys being forced to accept their adulthood by caring for misguided kids, and in doing so realizing what's important in their lives. And you know what? The schmaltzy stuff is up there with the best of Hollywood comedy. As cheesy as it is, the ending makes you want to cheer in appreciation of the geek getting the girl, the underdogs winning out, and our heroes finding their happy ending.

But the second part of my point is that a lot of Role Models is simply devoted to the art of being funny for the sake of being funny. It helps that the cast is so talented. Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott are great as the leads - it's not just them alone though - the real highlight is their interactions with all the crazy characters they encounter. Rudd is great as a burnt-out guy bitter at the world, but he's even funnier when he's interacting with Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin') - a nerdy and awkward but well meaning kid who obsesses over a medieval reenaction / live-action combat game called LAIR. Similarly, Sean William-Scott is funny and likable as usual, but his interaction with Bobb'e J. Thompson is priceless. Thompson is absolutely hilarious as an uber problem-child, and despite being a young kid, his character takes full advantage of the movie's R-rating. This is definitely NOT your typical watered-down kid character. Ronnie as played by Thompson is profane, shocking, and sometimes just plain wrong. And the funniest part is that for most of the movie, Sean William-Scott is perfectly happy to encourage the kid's behavior, to be his Obi-Wan Kenobi of behaving badly. Very funny stuff.

The supporting cast though is just loaded with talent. For one, a ton of State and Wet Hot vets appear, so you know they will bring the funny. The best might be Joe Lo Truglio, who stole the show in THE TEN. Here he plays a hilarious character who is the leader of Mintz-Plasse's LAIR tribe - basically a grown man who gets off on dressing in medieval garb and greeting people with a hearty "good morrow." Like I said, hilarious. Ken Marino and Kerri Kenney show up as McLovin's disapproving parents - I was actually surprised that they were not only funny, but actually pretty effective as semi-dramatic foils for our young here. I guess I should have remembered how well Marino can do sleazy from his stint as Vinny Ban Lowe on the late, great Veronica Mars. David Wain pops up for a small role (no signs of Michael Showalter or Michael Ian Black, however), and Wet Hot's A.D. Miles is great as a Ned Flanders-esque goody two-shoes. And hey, Elizabeth Banks is in the mix too, marking the third theatrical movie I've seen her in a the last month. But if there's one actress who deserves to be overexposed, it may be Banks. She's solid here even if it's a pretty underwritten role.

Two supporting players who really stand out though ... Jane Lynch, for one. Lynch has to be one of the overall funniest people in film today, and she doesn't get enough credit for stealing scenes in every movie she's in, from A Mighty Wind to The 40 Year Old Virgin to Talladega Nights. She's at her best and funniest here, as the former-addict who now runs the Big Brothers, Big Sisters-like organization that's at the center of the film's plot. Lynch's fearless delivery lends itself perfectly to David Wain's absurdist style. Ken Jeong is also pretty awesome in this one. He's been popping up in everything lately it seems, but as the "king" of Lair, drunk on power, he's a riot.

If Role Models has any real fatal flaw, it's just that it still kind of has that feeling of being a movie that started out as a generic paint-by-numbers comedy, that then went on to get a giant makeover from Wain and Rudd. Beneath the surface, you can sometimes see the skeleton of that original, way less cool movie showing through its shiny new paint-job. But it's a testament to the talent involved here that they made the movie wholly their own. When I saw the film at a screening, some of those with less, shall we say, out-there taste in comedy came away from the movie confused and disappointed. They had expected a nice, simple, Hollywood comedy and what they got was an off-the-wall, unabashadly geeky, David Wain style movie. As for me, the fact that beneath the predictable facade of the movie's trailers lay a kickass, subversive comedy was an awesome suprise. That the movie did so well at the box-office was similarly cool - might the cultish comedy of The State finally be going mainstream? As long as these guys get to keep churning out great comedies like this one, I'm game.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, that's all I've got for today. Rock on!