Monday, December 1, 2008

Ain't No Turkey: TRANSPORTER 3 Review, Plus: The Simpsons, KOTH, Legend of the Seeker, and MORE!

And I'm back after an extended holiday, fighting off a severe case of the back-from-vacation blues but nonetheless ready to go full-steam ahead for the remainder of '08.

Before I get too deep into the blog though, let me take a minute to express my sadness over this past weekend's tragedy in Mumbai, India. Despite being so far away from us here in the U.S., it's a clear reminder that there is still a huge terrorist threat out there that hates Western values, Judaism, and is hellbent on taking innocent lives to make a point. As much as we need to make peace a priority, we do need to be vigilant and aware that, unfortunately, these crazy people are still out there.

Anyways, a lot to talk about today. First of all, hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and a relaxing long weekend. It's still strange being here in LA where we get temperatures in the high 70's in late November, but I can't really complain. Overall I had a fun weekend, filled with movies, games, get-togethers, and even a birthday brunch (where I had some excellent chocolate-chip pancakes courtesy of the birthday girl, Lauren S.). I got in a little sale-price shopping courtesy of, but other than that mostly avoided the craziness of Black Friday. I definitely got in some quality time with the PS3 (made some progress on Metal Gear Solid 4, delved into LittleBigPlanet, and tested my might online with Super Street Fighter II HD Remix). I finally watched the fourth Dirty Harry movie (Sudden Impact) in my ongoing Dirty Harry-thon, and saw a couple of movies in the theater, one of which disappointed (Transporter 3), one of which was excellent (Milk), and one of which may be at or near the top of my list for Best of '08 to-date (Slumdog Millionaire). I bought and listened to Chinese Democracy and am still not 100% sure what I think of it, and caught up on some TV that I had gotten behind on (I'm now up to speed on Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles). So yeah, nothing too earth-shattering this weekend, but overall a restful and relaxing couple of days. And hey, this week, on Wednesday, I'm gearing up to see THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, live and in concert, and only a few days later it's AC/DC~! It's going to be a rocking week here in LA!

Alright, so how about if I get things started with a little bit of TV STUFF:


- THE SIMPSONS last night had its best episode of the season to date, and certainly one of the overall funniest episodes in years. It's weird, because I checked a couple of sites online to see if anyone else thought the same thing, and was surprised to see a pretty negative review on The Onion and a merely decent one on IGN. Um, what? I'm not sure what episode those guys watched, but to me last night's ep had the most spot-on and sharply-written jokes of any Simpsons ep in a long while. I can't remember another episode in recent memory that felt so jam-packed with funny. Plus, we got a funny A-story AND a B-story that was a pretty spot-on satire in its own right. That is pretty rare, even in the golden age of The Simpsons.

Part of the criticism I've read is that some feel the episode's plot, about Homer learning to accept Bart's new Muslim friend, was not really timely or whatever. Well, rarely has The Simpsons ever been particularly timely, and I think that the whole don't-hate-on-Muslims message is one that is going to be relevant for a longtime to come. I mean, wasn't it only a couple of weeks ago that conservative pundits were trying to somehow denounce Obama by insinuating he was a Muslim (as if that would be the worst thing ever)? To me this episode felt plenty timely, and more importantly, its plot was delivered in a fun and hilarious manner, with a ton of quotable lines and an awesome dream-sequence in which Homer imagines the genie from Aladdin transforming America into a Muslim country (the thing that finally freaks Homer out the most is when all the CD's in a record store are transformed into Cat Stevens albums ... bwahaha ...).

I also got a lot of amusement out of the B-plot, in which Lisa becomes obsessed with all things "mApple" and "myPod" related. As someone who works pretty closely with Apple on a daily basis, it was pretty funny to see them oh-so-gently mocked by The Simpsons. There was a lot of good humor to be found here, and hey, Lisa even had a MyTunes-exclusive episode of Itchy and Scratchy downloaded to her MyPod - awesome!

This was one of those must-watch episodes for lapsed Simpsons fans who haven't been tuning in every week. Check it out on Hulu if you've yet to watch.

My Grade: A-

- As for KING OF THE HILL, I enjoyed last night's ep but found it to be about as by-the-numbers as the show can get. It probably doesn't help that we've had a glut of Hank-vs-liberal-society style episodes of late. But on the other hand, this was a pretty fun episode that showed a slightly different side of Hank, in that normally he is pretty uptight, but here he was the "fun" guy and had to deal with someone who seemed even more repressed than Hank, a guy who introduced a new Boy Scout group to Arlen only to make it the most wussified scout troop ever, much to Hank's horror. Meanwhile, there was a pretty pointless subplot involving Lucky and LuAnne trying to collect on unfulfilled wedding gifts. It seemed strange to bring back the long-absent couple just for an incosequential B-plot, and I hope they stick around and get a bit of the spotlight in coming weeks. That said, I think it's about time that KOTH pulls out one of its patented "weird" episodes to shake things up a little, as the Hank vs. The World type episodes, even if they are KOTH's bread and butter, are getting a bit repetitive of late.

My Grade: B

- As mentioned, I caught up with TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES over the weekend. I remain a fan of the show and am definitely glad it avoided going on FOX's chopping block. They really have done a nice job mixing in a few cool sci-fi concepts with some great character work, and it's a show that has effectively created its own little universe of heroes, villains, and supporting characters. For a show about killer robots from the future though, the show can be very methodically-paced, and while its delivered some cool, intelligent stories, the show has yet to truly deliver an edge-of-your-seat, holy-$#%*, A-level episode. Still, despite rarely being a show that I can't wait to watch, I usually come away from each episode satisfied and intrigued. Again though, the show needs to reinforce that it isn't just a placeholder between Terminator movies, and really ratchet up the intensity a bit.

- On my brother's urging, I finally sat down this weekend and watched LEGEND OF THE SEEKER, the new syndicated show from Sam Raimi and the teams behind Hercules and Xena. Since I used to love Hercules back in the day, a fun fantasy show in that vein seemed like just the ticket in this day and age of grim n' gritty TV dramas. But I have to say, despite some cool visuals and a few fun moments, I found Seeker's two-hour pilot a bit hard to sit through. Because while Hercules and Xena presented a brand new twist on Greek myth, mixing humor, comic book action, and vast mythologies to create a potent new style of TV show, to me The Seeker just felt like a watered-down amalgam of every fantasy-movie cliche, without much if anything to distinguish it. It literally felt like Hercules, the Lord of the Rings, and a Final Fantasy videogame had been thrown in a blender to produce a fairly underwhelming result. And that might not be so bad if the show featured the clever writing and humor of the old Sam Raimi shows, but the lead hero here lacks the charisma of a Kevin Sorbo or Lucy Lawless, and just feels like a generic WB-style teen. It's too bad, because I was really jonesing for a great show in this genre that would take me back to those bygone lazy Saturday afternoons watching Hercules. And I'll give the show another look or two to see if it improves at all. But I'm afraid that Legend of the Seeker's pilot serves as a reminder for Sam Raimi and co that sometimes you can't go home again.

My Grade: C

- Okay, I think I'll save the reviews of the two Oscar-worthy movies I saw this weekend for a seperate post. Since I've been writing about FOX and tonight is PRISON BREAK night, I guess it's only appropriate that I take a couple of minutes and review a movie starring one Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell ...


- Look, I don't ask for much from a Transporter movie. I remember sometime in college dragging a friend to see the first flick in the theater. The trailers had promised a rip-roaring action movie with a badass lead and an indie-film edge, and the movie more than delivered - cementing Jason Statham as the defacto action hero for the Red Bull generation. I never got around to seeing Transporter 2, but I had a pretty good feeling about Part 3. Thanks to the awesomeness of the cult-hit CRANK, I was once again anticipating a Statham-led actioner, and hey, the villain in this one was none other than Robert Knepper, who for four years now has positively ruled it on Prison Break, playing TV's most awesomely evil badguy in T-Bag. It seemed a no-brainer then that if nothing else, T3 would be a solid roller-coaster ride in a similar vein to Part 1.

Consider me disappointed. While Statham is fun to watch as always, and Knepper is decent, Transporter 3 simply lacks the fireworks that defined the original. The action scenes here are strictly run-of-the-mill. There's a decent car-chase or two, a no-frills Bruce Lee-style beatdown, and a big finish that takes place in and on top of a moving train. And that's really about it ... Director Olivier Megaton (is that his actual name? if so I guess he was pretty much born to direct action movies?) just lacks the flair for crafting kickass and kinetic action that his predecessor Louis Letterier had.

Oddly, the movie actually focuses less on action than you'd expect, and spends a lot of time on the ins and outs of its fairly boring and nondescript plotline. It's a whole thing involving a do-gooding politician being blackmailed by a nefarious group of industrialists, who kidnap his daughter as leverage to get him to sign an environmentally-harmful but big corporation-friendly bit of legislation. We get a lot of scenes sans Statham that are in fact devoted to this whole oh-so-current political plotline, and they mostly fall pretty flat. In general, the movie, co-written by Luc Besson (who I wish had directed instead), has the feel of a foreign film that happens to mostly be in English. But there is that sense that a lot was lost in translation here.

This is even more apparent in the scenes between Statham and his love interest / cargo, a Ukranian wild-child played by newcomer Natalya Rudakova. I partly blame the writing and partly blame the actress, but, man, Natalya's character, Valentina, has to be one of the most annoying female leads I've ever seen in an action movie. I mean, even Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the temple of Doom had a certain naggy charm about her. Here, you have to wonder why Statham's Frank Martin would ever willingly choose to hang with Valentina. If ever there was a love her and leave her lead in an action movie, this would be it ... but the movie desperately tries to make us believe that these two form some kind of oddball, star-crossed relationship. Suffice it to say, it makes for some VERY painful scenes between the two.

As for Knepper, the T-Bag'd one is cool as always, but without T-Bag's trademark weasily affectations and over-the-top delivery, he comes off less the iconic nemesis and more the generic action movie foil. Knepper does get in a few token T-Bag-isms, but if you're thinking of seeing this one just to see one of the small-screen's best villains cause havoc on a grander scale, save your cash.

That's not to say that this movie is a total wash - there are some fun scenes and overall it has that trademark Transporter pacing and attitude. And Statham is always good, certainly one of the best ass-kickers this side of Jack Bauer. But Letterier's direction is sorely missed, and none of the action scenes really top anything from Part 1. It makes you wonder if Chev Chelios and CRANK is now the top-dog when it comes to Statham franchises, because with Transporter 3, this one seems to have run out of gas.

My Grade: C+

- Alright, check back soon, because I have reviews of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and MILK on tap, and my usual PRISON BREAK recap to boot.

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