Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Heavy Metal: 24 and Terminator - Reviewed!

- Well, 24 is now officially METAL GEAR BAUER. We've got a rapidly deteriorating hero, a standoff against a rogue PMC ... all we need is someone to cry out "Jack? JACK?! JAAAACK!" and the parallel is complete.

That said, last night's episode of TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR was intense as hell and barely let up for a second. We got INFECTED BAUER decommisioned and laying low at FBI HQ, cleared of murder charges only to find out that he's now a dead man walking. We got AARON PIERCE, AGENT OF GRAVITAS re-hired by the President's daughter, taking only a few scant hours to nurse his bullet wounds before returning to active duty. We got TONY ALMEDA behind enemy lines, using the power of the SOUL PATCH to wreak unholy vengeance on Starkwood. Tony was saved from certain death by a rogue Starkwood suit, only to find out that his benefactor had duped him in an effort to buy his boss time. Now, we're left with the U.S. Armed Forces in a stalemate standoff with the PMC mercenaries of Starkwood, Inc., in a showdown that seems poised to break out into one hell of a battle royale.

Great stuff with Jack this week - even though he was mostly sidelined, Kiefer stole the show as he reluctantly dealt with the fact that he was infected with Starkwood's bioweapon and was now a liability in the field.

Only negatives are a continued cheese-factor at the White House, with the Presiden't daughter going from being a nobody to being her mother's right-hand woman in record time. I realize that 24 works on an accellerated timeline, but this is a bit much. Rick Berman for new chief of staff!

Still, hot damn, business picked up this week in the 24-verse. Tons of action, intensity, and yes, gravitas. And Jon Voight continues to do a great job as the resident Big Bad. His snake-like malevolance and casual demeanor make him one of the best baddies 24 has had in a while. Can't wait for next week.

My Grade: A

- I also recently caught up with TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. After a couple of above-average episodes that had some really nice twists and turns, this week's ep was decent, but was surprisingly slow-paced and boring given all that happened. Again, a lot happened, but so little of it had the impact or dramatic weight that you'd expect. Cromartie is seemingly infected with a virus sent by some protoypical version of SkyNet -- and yet, it felt like just another speedbump in the plodding and neverending Cromartie storyline. Where is the payoff already? Similarly, the Charley developments could have been dramatic, but everything just felt out-of-nowhere and anticlimactic. I wasn't even sure why he and John were attacked, or by whom. Plus, the character was never really strong enough for us to really get behind in the first place. With only a few episode left in the season, I can only hope that this show really picks up the pace and begins delivering on the potential that so far has only been hinted at.

My Grade: B-

- Alright, just a short entry for today. Today's entry brought to you by THE POWER OF AWESOME. That is all.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bloggers Vs. Aliens: MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, The Simpsons, Smallville, and MORE!

Argh, Mondays. Do they ever not suck? I always see Facebook status updates about having a case of the Mondays and whatnot, but I think I just live in a perpetual state of crappy Mondays. There's just no way around it - the universe creates equilibrium, and in order to enjoy the glory that is a lazy sunday morning, one must, in turn, suffer through the inglorious pain of waking up on a Monday feeling like you just got hit by a mack truck.

- So ... I just wrote up this huge blog post about the best episodes of THE SIMPSONS in the last 5 years, only to witness a stinker of an episode last night. Last night's ep seemed to throw a ton of stuff against the wall, and yet it didn't give anything time to stick. In the span of 22 minutes, we got Homer and Marge finding out that their wedding was invalid thus, forcing them to re-marry, Marge turning into a "bridezilla," Homer getting kidnapped on his wedding day in a riff on Saw, Sideshow Bob showing up (!) but not being the culprit, and then the reveal of Patty and Selma as the guilty parties. Umm ... what? This ep was *completely* all over the place, and even though it managed to get in a couple of decent jokes, overall it just felt like a mess. I mean, a random, two-minute Sideshow Bob appearance? Isn't it supposed to be a special occasion when he shows up? The saddest part is, I actually feel that there's a lot of untapped potential in the Homer-Patty+Selma relationship, it might have been a cool idea to have an ep where Homer tries to prove himself to Marge's embittered sisters. And yet, here the whole relationship was just one more random aside in a convoluted and overcrowded episode. Not good.

My Grade: C-

- As for FAMILY GUY, even though I had some issues with the episode as a whole, I have to admit: this was probably the funniest episode in a while. Now, that's not necessarily saying a whole lot, given the mediocrity of most of this season, but ... I did absolutely crack up when guest star Patrick Stewart held up two bowling balls to his chest and said "look at me, I've got girl boobs!". Now that's funny. Also, even though Peter Griffin took time to "warn" us that this would be a Meg-centric episode, guess what? I was actually happy that Meg got to do more in this ep than just be the butt of mean-spirited jokes. I mean, don't the writers remember that many of the early and best episodes of FG focused on Meg (and on Chris, for that matter?). The show has really lost something by turning one of its main characters into a complete one-note in-joke, and I think it was a welcome change to involve Meg in the main story, even if we needed a lame "warning." Maybe if FG could concentrate on actually telling funny stories as opposed to recycling the same 5 jokes over and over, we could get some decent episodes. This ep did manage to balance out the usual staleness with some funny guest-voices and a nice change-of-pace Meg plot. The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation had some pretty funny moments, and Adam West was brilliant as always. So - better than usual? Sure. Amazing? Not quite.

My Grade: B

- Got to talk about SMALLVILLE for a minute. As mentioned previously, I was uber-curious to see Thursday's ep, as it featured a special guest appearance from longtime DC Comics staple Zatanna. Easily one of the coolest female heroes in the DC cannon, there was practically infinite potential in pairing the character with Clark Kent and really running wild with a supernatural-themed episode that could have pitted Clark against the mysterious magics that are Zatanna's stock in trade. Of course, this being Smallville, the small-screen version of Z looked the part, but was reduced to a gimmicky, one-note character who for some reason possessed the lame ability to grant someone one wish, based on their secret heart's desire. And, this being Smallville, this meant a hi-larious bout of body-swapping for Chloe, who wakes up in Lois' body. Wow, never seen *that* scenario on Smallville before (note dripping sarcasm ...). In fact, so much of the episode was focused on Chloes' out-of-body experience that we barely even got any interaction between Clark and Z. There were a few decent scenes between her and Oliver, and some nice allusions to Z's dearly departed dad, John Zatara (who made his first appearance alongside Superman in Action Comics #1, to boot!) ... but, it did feel like a lot of potential for a cool adventure was ultimately blown. How great would it have been to have Z take Clark on a mystical odyssey and for the two of them to face off against a classic magic-powered villain like Felix Faust? As it stands, this ep can't hold a candle to the classic Batman: The Animated Series installment featuring Zatanna - which was a truly memorable use of one of comics' all-time great heroes. As for this one, another merely okay episode filled with Smallville's usual dose of cheesiness. At least they did, as I said, nail the look of Zatanna - tophat, fishnets, and all -perhaps the character can return at some point for a more inspired adventure.

My Grade: B-

Alright, time for a movie review:


- Here's a movie that I felt kind of compelled to see, despite having read a number of less-than-stellar reviews. I mean - Monsters Vs. Aliens? That's a kickass combo that has the potential to be up there with peanut butter and chocolate, strawberry and cheesecake, or pirates and ninjas. Monsters vs. Aliens should and could have been an insane, action-packed homage to the sci-fi movies of yesteryear. As it stands, the movie is a lot of fun, but not quite as crazy as I would have liked. In fact, it's suprising just how conventional the movie turns out to be, given the inherent implications of its bombastic title. I mean, on one hand, it is kind of impressive how a movie with this title ends up mostly being about a woman coming into her own and becoming strong and self-reliant. And yet ... this is a movie called MONSTERS VS. ALIENS ... who goes to a movie like that wanting to see a story filled with nice little life lessons and empowerment messages?

There is a lot to like about the movie, though. Visually, the film sports some really impressive animation. The characters all look great, and the gelatinous blob, Bob, is really a sight to behold - the detail and fluidity with which he is animated is really pretty amazing. Also, like Kung-Fu Panda before it, Monsters Vs. Aliens features some genuinely exciting action set-pieces, culminating in a climactic fight aboard the alien mothership. There is a definite videogame-like aesthetic at play here, and the bright colors and retro-future designs reminded me of the likes of Ratchet & Clank and other candy-coated platform games. I did see the movie in 3D as well, and overall the effect was pretty cool. The images and action really pop with the aid of the glasses, although I do still feel like the 3D creates a noticeably duller and hazier image than what you'd get otherwise. I wish we could get the depth of 3D coupled with the sharper and more colorful image of traditional digital projection, but that may still be a few years away.

Visuals aside, the voice cast here is also really good. The number of big-name stars who lent their voices to the film is pretty staggering - Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Rainn Wilson all show up and do an excellent job in bringing the various characters to life. The standout though and likely favorite with the kids is Seth Rogen as Bob - a funny character who is definitely a scene-stealer. My personal favorite though was probably Stephen Colbert as the President - Colbert's delivery is awesome and in my view he gets most of the movie's funniest lines, including a great riff on Close Encounters.

But while a couple of Colbert and Rogen's lines are genuinely funny, too much of the humor in the movie is just, well, kind of lame. There are too many soon-to-be-dated pop culture references of the Shrek mold, and too many quasi-cutesy lines that more often than not fall flat. Aside from that, the biggest problem here may be that, believe it or not, Monsters Vs. Aliens at times feels boring. If  any movie ever deserved to be a nonstop thrill ride, this was it, but again, way too much of the movie is spent on a sappy and generic storyline involving Reese Witherspoon's character. When the movie does ramp up the action it's a lot of fun, and there are some cool shout-outs to the monster movies of old ... but it's hard to believe that so much of the running time is dedicated to the 50 ft Woman (er, make that 49 ft Woman) moping around and feeling sorry for herself. 

In the end, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS is a fun flick that's worth checking out if only for the imaginative and eye-popping visuals. There is some excellent voice work, some decent humor, and one or two cool action set pieces that will please kids and adults alike. But, this one is definitely a bit of a step down from Kung Fu Panda - whereas that movie embraced its premise wholeheartedly, this one never seems to go as far or to get as crazy as it should.

My Grade: B

Alright party people, catch ya' soon with 24 thoughts and more!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Still A Spring In Springfield? My Take On the Top 10 Episodes of THE SIMPSONS From the Last 5 Years!

Welcome to a very special edition of the blog -- I'll be back soon with the usual news and reviews, but for now I'd like to take a minute to focus on a topic that I first brought up last week - THE SIMPSONS.

More specifically, I've been wanting to write up a response to the recent AV Club article that listed out the Top 10 Simpsons episodes of the last five years. The article, which is a great read by the way, uses the list as a sort of argument against those who claim that there have been no worthwhile Simpsons episodes since Season 10 or 11 or 12, that the show that now airs every Sunday at 8 pm is a mere shadow of its former self and not even worth checking out.

Check it out: http://www.avclub.com/articles/in-a-way-theyre-all-winners-10-simpsons-episodes-f,25487/

At this point though, it's a long and overplayed debate. People have been bashing the state of The Simpsons for so long now that it stands to reason that, by this point, there would be a backlash against the backlash. For several years now, there has been that contingent that has always maintained that "hey, The Simpsons may be past its prime, but it's still better than 90% of everything else on TV." For a while, I was in this camp, but to me this argument held more water in the Season 9 and 10 era, when there were already people dismissing the show as having lost its edge.

That was ten years ago. By the time we got to seasons 13 and 14, it really was undeniable that the show was not what it once was. A few years earlier, there had been a subtle shift in the show's style, in episodes like "Homer's Enemy," in which random, over-the-top, and absurdist humor replaced the earlier season's more down-to-earth sensibilities. Homer in particular became dumber and dumber. The show embraced more outlandish plotlines, and used more random cutaways and breaks in continuity.

But at that point, The Simpsons was still hilarious. And the shift in humor was still gradual enough that it felt like a logical progression. But again, by seasons 13 and 14, there was a much more jarring shift, where you could see the aging Simpsons deliberately trying to mimic the faster-pace, cruder humor, and more free-flowing narratives of competing animated series like Family Guy. The shift was, for the most part, a creative failure, and these latter-era episodes were typically disjointed narratives that would often not even intoduce the A-plot until halfway through the ep. While you could still count on each episode having at least a good joke or two, the episodes lacked the heart or narrative sophistication of the glory days.

That said, in the last couple of years, I wouldn't say we've seen a Simpsons rennaissance or anything, but ... there has been a visible effort to at least return to the more straightforward storytelling style of the old days. In the last couple of years, we've seen a return of sorts to episodes that introduce the A-plot early and stick with it to the end. We've seen a bit more of an attempt to inject some heart into the episodes beyond just having Homer and Marge at odds for the five-millionth time. And yet, we still see a show that does things that the old Simpsons would never have done. Just last week, we saw a cutaway to Marge, Lisa, and Bart appearing as characters in the old Q*Bert arcade game. In the old days, a completely random, Family Guy-style cutaway like that would have had no place on The Simpsons.

So - has The Simpsons been worth watching for the last five years? On the whole, I would say yes, but with reservations. Looking at The AV Club's list of the best recent episodes, I had a few episodes I'd add and a few I'd take away (the recent return of Lurleen Lumpkin, for example, was a pretty poor episode in my view, even if The AV Club thought otherwise ...), but the fact is this: aside from about a dozen or so truly standout episodes, the vast majority of Simpsons eps over the last five years have been either merely decent, substandard, or just plain bad.

But I am a guy who likes to comb through the $5 DVD at Walmart to see if a hidden gem might be buried underneath the rubble of mediocrity. And the same goes for The Simpsons - when a new episode *does* come along that really hits the mark, it's truly a pleasure and a surprise to see it happen. It's like watching a past-his-prime basketball player have a flashback to his younger days and erupt for a huge game. The Simpsons may be running out of steam, but on any given night it's still capable of being the best in the biz. That to me is why I keep watching. Now, is it possible that we'll see one more run of greatness before all is said and done? Unlikely, given the trending, but possible. But -- have we seen some real reminders of what The Simpsons is capable of in the last few years? Sure we have, and if you've missed these episodes you owe it to yourself to track them down.

So here's my picks -


1.) "Homer Simpson ... This Is Your Wife" - Season 17

- This Ricky Gervais-penned ep combined Gervais' unique sense of awkward humor with a great plot and tons of great jokes.

2.) " 'Tis The Fifteenth Season" - Season 15

- This Christmas ep is generally considered one of the best of nu-era Simpsons. Personally, I lost it everytime Home sought guidance from "Mr. McGrew."

3.) "MyPods And Boomsticks" - Season 20

- A recent episode that I really enjoyed, both the A and B plots were great - funny, satirical looks at Arab-American prejudice and the cult of Apple respectively.

4.) "That 90's Show" - Season 19

- A controversial episode in that it retconned a lot of previously-established Simpsons continuity, the fact remains that this was hands down one of the funniest Simpsons episodes in years - a hilarious look at 90's culture.

5.) "Moe 'N' a Lisa" - Season 18

- A very funny episode in which Lisa helps Moe to become a noted poet, this one had a great group of famous authors as guest stars and uses them to great effect. "Cha-bone!" still cracks me up.

6.) "The Regina Monologues" - Season 15

- A lot of the "Simpsons go to a new country" episodes have fallen pretty flat, especially in recent seasons ... but this ep saw the show travel to England to pretty hilarious effect.

7.) "Any Given Sundance" - Season 19

- Like "Moe 'N' a Lisa," this ep uses its group of guest stars, in this case notables from the world of independent film, to great effect, and is overall a funny look at the world of indie filmmaking, and one of the better overall eps in recent years.

8.) "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife, and the Homer" - Season 18

- This ep kicked off season 18 in style, with a funny sendup of mafia movies that really nailed most of its jokes.

9.) "Burns and the Bees" - Season 20

- We haven't gotten a ton of Mr. Burns-centric episodes in recent seasons, but this was a good one, in which Mr. Burns buys a basketball team and meets fellow millionaires like Mark Cuban. Some great jokes and an interesting plot.

10.) "Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore" - Season 17

- A very funny episode that offers some wry social commentary to boot, this one sees Homer shipped off to work in India, where he proceeds to spread hsi Americanized culture of laziness to the hard-working employees of the local power plant.

- And so there you have it -- these are the episodes that give me hope that The Simpsons can still kick ass, these are the kinds of episodes that keep me watching and keep me a fan. The glory years may be gone, but there's still the occasional episode that's less "d'oh!"-worthy and more warranting of a "woo-hoo!".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Natural Born Killers: 24, LOST, and MORE

Wow, what an ending to LOST last night. Scroll down if you dare, but beware you will be entering heavy spoiler territory.

So ... about last night's LOST:

- Very good episode overall, and it was in many ways a continuation of last week's slower, more character-centric arc. The Sayid flashbacks were effective in setting up the final scene, and in some ways, that stunning shocker was really what everything has been building towards over the last few weeks. In the context of this episode, Sayid's decision to shoot Ben certainly was an effective exclamation point with regards to his internal struggle over his own identity issues. In the end, Sayid turned out to be exactly the natural born killer that Ben had pegged him for. But the obvious question is: is Ben actually dead?!

I think the safe bet is "no." For one-thing, if young Ben were actually dead, the ensuing chaos in the ol' space-time continuum would be a can of worms that even the Lost writers probably don't want to touch. To date, Lost, through Faraday's theories, has espoused that the past cannot be changed because ultimately destiny follows a set course. To that end, you have to think that Ben is either not quite dead and will nursed to health by Richard and the Others / Hostiles, or that he will somehow be miraculously healed by Jacob / The Island similarly to Locke's previously-seen miracle recoveries. After all, if Ben was the island's "chosen one" of sorts before Locke, then perhaps one of the fringe benefits of such standing is that the island heals all your major injuries. My point is, Sayid presuming that Ben is dead and leaving him lying in the jungle, only for Ben to fall in with the Others, would serve the narrative quite well.

Ben being dead on the other hand? Whoah boy, that is just a headache-inducing concept. And while it would be crazy-cool to have all of the characters wake up in a white void having just destroyed all of space-time, I'm not sure that even a show as weird as Lost would dare to go there.

Whatever the case may be though, this episode was a nice little character study that ended with one hell of a bang.

My Grade: A-

What's that? I never reviewed TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR? Put down the gun, Jack, I'm getting to it.


- Okay, so my brother claims that Monday's episode was subpar. I beg to differ. Were there some things that were kind of annoying in this ep? Sure. The president's daughter, Olivia, for one, is gettign a bit grating, and her character - the scheming White House uber-beyotch - is probably one we've seen a time or two too many on 24. Everything she was involved with on Monday's ep just felt too forced and too rushed. Ethan is going to resign without even getting confirmation that Jack was a responsible for the murders he was accused of? Olivia is going to nefariously leak info to the press within hours of a crisis in which she and her mother were almost killed by bloodthirtsy terrorists?

On the other hand, the main villains of the last few weeks - Jon Voight and the Starkwood private military corporation, have been all kinds of awesome. Voight has gotten in a classic line or two in each of the last few eps, and this week was no exception - he had a great one about political assassinations being a growth market. Meanwhile, the whole Starkwood plot is surprisingly complex for 24. The merits of Voight's plans can certainly be debated, but at least we get a pretty interesting villainous entity that is a bit different than 24's typical terrorists or mysterious conspiracies.

Really though, I liked Monday's ep simply because Jack and Tony kicked major ass throughout. Some reat action and intensity, and it was a nice moment to see Jack return to his "hero" roots and go out of his way to save a somewhat innocent civilian as opposed to being all "ends justify the means." Having played too many videogames, I couldn't help but question from my couch Jack and Tony's choice of tactics in taking on the group of Starkwood goons at the port, but I quickly forgot about my gripes when I saw the sheer intensity on Kiefer's face as he sped a giant truck carrying a deadly bio-weapon and a boatload of gravitas.

I also thought Cherry Jones did a remarkable acting job in this ep. You could really feel the emotion and stress on her face as she simultaneously dealt with Ethan's resignation, the murder of Sen. Mayer, etc. I also liked the FBI interaction with Moss and Renee. It was nice to see Walker actually act like an FBI agent and examine evidence rather than continuing to jump to conclusions about Jack's guilt in the murder of Mayer.

Overall, a fun and action-packed episode. The ending, in which Jack was exposed to the bio-weapon, was suitably intense. Again, we've been down this road before in the 24-verse, back when Xander Berkley was still head of CTU, etc. But still, I'll wait and see how this whole thing plays out - if they can pull it off in a surprising and unconventional way, then cool, bring it on.

Despite a few nagging issues though, there's no denying that the last several episodes of 24 have brought it. Monday's ep was a light step down, but still packed enough action and excitement and cool moments to satisfy this seasoned fan.

My Grade: B+


- A couple of sweet DVD releases this week. One in particular I've got to mention is the complete series of ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE, finally made available after years of being one of the big "why isn't this out yet?" no-shows. This is one of the many great FOX shows of the last ten years or so that went through scheduling hell and ultimately succumbed to premature cancellation. But rest assured - even if Andy Richter never got the rabid cult following of, say, Arrested Development, the showstands as one of the funniest things you'll ever watch, and is a clear precursor to the more absurdist / surreal comedy of later shows like AD and 30 Rock. Also, fans of Conan O'Brien's style of humor will also feel right at home - in fact, Conan even guest stars on one episode in what has to be one of the single funniest half-hours in the history of TV. Check this one out ASAP!

- Okay, now, come on MTV, release THE STATE already!

- Also out this week is WATCHMEN: TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER. I have a copy that I've yet to watch, but I'm ultra-curious about this one. I always loved the EC-style story-within-a-story in the Watchmen comic book, and after seeing 300 I was convinced that Gerard Butler would be perfect to play the part of the story's dread pirate. And lo and behold, Butler provides the voice for the DVD's animated tale - sweet! The disc also contains Under the Hood, a documentary that looks to replicate a lot of the supplemental material from Alan Moore's prose sections of Watchmen - also potentially very cool. So, yeah, extremely eager to give this one a look.

- Finally, let me give a plug before I go to KINGS, NBC's newest epic drama. Featuring smart writing and a great cast, Kings aired its second episode this past Sunday, with Episode 3 coming up this weekend. If you haven't yet tuned in, don't worry - you can still download the 2-hour pilot episode for FREE and in glorious HD until Sunday, via iTunes, Amazon.com, Playstation Network, XBOX Live, or Zune. So you have no excuse - check out this cool new show ASAP.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Love You, Blog: I LOVE YOU MAN Review, Plus: FOX Sunday Night and MORE!

What's up? Back with your regularly-scheduled blogging, and wanted to take a minute to catch up on some things. For one, despite going into the weekend on a down note, I managed to have a fun / relaxing couple of days that included stopping by Howl at the Moon to celebrate Kyle O's birthday, having lunch at The Grove / Farmer's Market with my old BU roommate Dan L., who was in from Australia, and seeing I Love You, Man with Lauren S.. I even found some time to watch Brazil on DVD, which I had been meaning to do for months now, and got in some reading and writing as well.

- I also never got a chance to talk about a cool event that I got to attend last Wednesday - an OFFICE panel held at the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences that featured an interesting Q&A with the entire cast and crew of the show. Yep, everyone from Steve Carell to Rainn Wilson to Jenna Fischer to Greg Daniels was there. And, randomly, the panel was moderated by none other than Andy Richter. Andy seemed a bit awkward / uncomfortable in the role, but despite that it was a pretty cool event to be a part of, and I got a sneak peak at the ep that would air later that week to boot. Now, the crappy part was that due to an overwhelming crowd looking to get into the first-come, first-serve event, I was part of the group that made it into the building but not into the main auditorium ... so I was actually stuck watching the whole panel via a closed-circuit TV in a room just outside from where the panel was taking place. So close ... and yet so far. Again, a pretty cool event though - any chance to get some insight into the behind-the-scenes stories of a great show like THE OFFICE is always a valuable experience.

- I also want to take a second and follow up on Obama's appearance on Leno last week. In retrospect, I think the it was a bad move on Obama's part to participate. Thinking back, Obama's strong suite has never really been talk show appearances - and off-the-cuff humor has never been Obama's forte. Leno's tendencies as an interviewer don't really help things either - Leno can be so awkward with his dumb questions that he practically begs you to reply with appropriately dumb answers. Suffice it to say, I was already cringing throughout much of the interview, but as soon as Obama made his now-infamous "special olympics" comment I knew he was in trouble. As much as the interview should probably have never even been steered in that direction in the first place, Obama still screwed up, bigtime. I am honestly shocked that he would let a comment like that slip out, and in a way I think the media and the public has actually let him off pretty easy, all things considered. It really is the kind of thing I would have expected from George W. Bush, not Obama. It pains me to say it after having just written up a whole blog post in praise of Obama the other day, but the fact is: this is a step down for our President on the ol' dignity meter. Is it the biggest deal in the grand scheme of things? No, definitely not. But is it disappointing? You betcha'.


- Very interesting article on The AV Club today talking about the Top 10 Simpsons episodes of the last 5 years. Basically, the article looks to point out that there have been some real gems even in this latter-period of the once-great show. I agree, and always try to go out of my way on the blog to highligh a new episode that I felt showed signs of channelling that old-school comedic magic. Still, I don't 100% agree with the article's selections in terms of Top 10 episodes ... Stay tuned, folks, for I may have to dedicate an entire blog post to this subject in the very near future.

- As for last night's SIMPSONS ... umm, definitely not a Top 10 episode of this or any era. There were some moments of humor as The Simpsons travelled to Ireland so that Grandpa could visit his favorite Irish pub one last time, but overall things felt rushed, and many of the jokes fell flat. Best joke may have been on Abe's bucket-list, where one of his life goals was to see the destruction of NBC ... bwahaha ... give it a few more years, Gramps. Otherwise, despite some decent gags here and there, nothing really jumped out as being all that funny or memorable. And the thing that really got me about this ep was that it had waaay too many gags that are far more Family Guy than Simpsons. The Simpsons has always embraced the absurd ... but this ep's Q*Bert cutaway was way out of the Simpsons' typical range. Same goes for the Irish judge randomly being Mr. Potatohead. Um ... what?! Since when is that a Simpsons joke?

My Grade: B-

- Speaking of FAMILY GUY, last night's ep continued the string of sub-par episodes that we've seen from FG of late. It's really getting depressing, to the point where I wonder if FG is simply slumping or if it is permanently in the proverbial crapper. I guess the nature of these animated shows is such that the quality can really be up and down from episode to episode, especially with FG where so many jokes and gags are thrown up against the wall. Even a mediocre episode might still have one or two classic jokes that prevent me from feeling like I just wasted half an hour of my life. But last night's ep was just boring, repetitive, and seemed to be grasping at straws to make some kind of political / social point before degenerating into typical FG randomness. Having Fred Savage be revealed as the mastermind actor who actually is both Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh ... well, it could have maybe been funny if it wasn't basically a throwaway gag. But Family Guy of late has had basically two kinds of jokes -- ones like this that are so random that they are just kind of there, or ones that are just riffs on old gags - ie that Stewie is gay, or the one where someone falls and hurts their knee. I mean, man, when they first had Peter fall and say "aaaah ... my knee! aahhh ... my knee!", I kid you not, it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. Has it been funny any of the times they've tried to repeat it since? NO. Hot damn, Family Guy, give us something new!

My Grade: C-

- Meanwhile, as I often think to myself after sitting through FOX's Sunday Night lineup these days ... thank god for KING OF THE HILL. While last night's ep was not anything spectacular, it at least provided some solid laughs and told a nice little character-based story. I do think that we've seen better and less jumpy Nancy-based stories before, but I've always thought that the whole Nancy-Dale relationship is one of the show's most interesting facets, so I was happy to see it in the spotlight once again. The actual plot - Nancy moving up the ladder and finding short-lived success - was something that's ben done, but again, all in a all a fun episode that had some great Dale moments. I loved, for example, Bill's impressed reaction to Dale's hare-brained scheme of turning is house into a veritable igloo in preparation for the apocalyptic ice-age to come. Classic.

My Grade: B+

- I also never got a chance to talk about last Wednesday's episode of LOST. Last week was one of those episodes that all of those big on the show's more relationship-y aspects inevitably got a big kick out of, because the focus was so heavily on Sawyer and his reaction to being reunited with his old castaway friends, including his long-lost love, Kate. Personally, I wasn't blown away by the ep but found it to be a nice little character piece before, hopefully, things ramp up once again. I did really like the stuff with Ben and Sun though, and I loved Sun's brutal double-cross. I thought it was a bit contrived that Lapidus just ended up ditching the crew of his plane to tagalong with Sun, but the subsequent Christian Shephard scene was pretty creepy and badass. Who exactly is Christian? That is one of Lost's many mysteries that I'm eager to see addressed.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, time to talk about the movies. So here we go, baby:


-  Here we have one of those movies that, at the end of the day, I really enjoyed. I laughed a lot, enjoyed typically-hilarious performances from a cast of talented actors, and got a kick out of a lot of the little references and jokes in the script. And yet ... even though there's not a lot of glaring faults with I Love You, Man, it's still a movie that ultimately left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. Perhaps it was simply that my expectations were too high - after all, Paul Rudd and Jason Seagal did star in two of my absolute favorite comedies of last year - Role Models and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In fact, the two actors have participated in some of my all-time favorite comedies  - from Freaks & Geeks to Wet Hot American Summer. So I couldn't help but feel slightly let down by the fact that I Love You, Man feels like a slight step below what I've come to expect from these two. It's also really the first time that I've seen either actor seeing to play to type. It felt strange seeing two actors known for playing quirky and unique characters now big enough stars where you have Paul Rudd basically playing Paul Rudd, and Jason Segel playing Jason Segel. 

But at the same time, it's a credit to how naturally funny these guys are that they can take what in lesser hands might be an unappealingly generic comedy and turn it into a pretty hilarious movie. Because this movie is funny, and a lot of the humor is simply from Rudd and Segel riffing with each other - from Segel's Andre the Giant impression to Rudd's many awkward attempts to come up with manly catchphrases, these two are really just fun to watch. In addition, they are surrounded by a totally top-notch supporting cast. Rashida Jones is clearly in her comfort zone, as a similarly hip and well-meaning girlfriend / fiance to Rudd. Jon Favreau and Jamie Presley are hilarious as a constantly-arguing couple. JK Simmons, well, he's pretty much the man, and is awesome here as always. Andy Samberg gets in some good lines as Rudd's younger brother, and there's even a mini THE STATE reunion as both Joe Lo Truglia and Thomas Lennon show up for pretty funny bit parts. 

That's some good stuff right there. And sometimes, the material is strong enough to match the great cast. There are certain aspects of Rudd's quest to find a best friend that really do ring true. Obviously, I loved Rudd and Segel bonding over what is probably the ultimate "guy band," RUSH. I thought Segel's "man-cave" was hilarious. I thought everything with Rudd and Favreau (again, hilarious as a beer-swilling asshole) was spot-on and really well-done. 

Still, a couple things bothered me about the movie. One was that it just felt formulaic and sappy at times. As funny as the film was, sometimes the various story beats felt ripped right out of some crappy comedy like YOU, ME, AND DUPREE. What I'm getting at is - Rudd's quest to find a male friend is funny and unique - but once the story shifts into the whole, overdone "overbearing and creepy friend is driving me insane" thing, you can't help but roll your eyes a bit. Because that's when things go from novel to "we will now hit you over the head with every Hollywood comedy cliche known to man, including but not limited to a last-minute make-up scene that takes place just as our leading man is about to take his wedding vows." Um, didn't I just see that in STEP BROTHERS?

I guess the only other thing that annoyed me about the movie is that parts of it struck me as having a kind of semi-obnoxious, yuppie vibe. Something about Rudd's well-to-do, sweater-vest-wearing character began to grate on me a bit after a while ... Sure, the character is *supposed* to be misguided when it comes to hangin' with the bro's, but the fact that half of his "man-dates" consist of going to fancy restaurants in trendy areas of LA just seemed off, especially in these tough economic times. I don't know, maybe that's just me.

But again, the great cast here, especially Rudd and Segel, elevate the film and bring the funny. The movie is worth the price of admission alone just to see the two leads jam it out to various Rush tunes (in what I can only deem a new Rush renaissance - the band and their prog-rockin' songs have played a major role in the TV show Chuck, in the movie Fanboys, and now here in the span of mere months!). So, the final verdict: Not up to par with the last couple of Apatow-produced movies, but still well worth checking out.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, time to go watch Jack Bauer open a can of whup-ass. PEACE.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trust the Institutions You've Sworn To Protect! 24 and Lots More!

Alright, I finally got my Watchmen review / rant out of the way, so now I'm free to talk about other stuff. And I'm sure you've all been breathlessly awaiting my typical takes on any number of topics.

First of all, let me talk a bit about ...


- It's been a sad couple of weeks in the 24-verse. First, last week, a legend of 24 commited the ultimate sacrifice, as Bill Buchanan made a suicide run that enabled Jack and the FBI to take down General Juma and his band of terrorists, who had occupied the White House and held the President and dozens of others hostage. Oh Bill Buchanan - when first we met you, you were but a simple CTU figurehead, barking orders to Jack Bauer that were doomed to be disobeyed. But this year you went from CTU company man to rogue underground freedom fighter, and you dazzled us with your determination to expose a conspiracy within our very government. Rest in peace, Sir, for Bill Buchanan, we hardly knew ye.

And then, even as Bill's untimely if heroic demise was still sinking in, this week we lost a character who was on his way to going from adversary to staunch ally in the war on evil. And oh, just as 24 teased us with the prospect of a potentially unstoppable Kiefer Sutherland-Kurtwood Smith team-up, Kurtwood's Senator Mayer was shockingly gunned down by The Mighty Quinn in his dogged pursuit of Jack by-god Bauer. But before he was taken from us, Mayer was able to espouse some valuable advice to Jack, asking Bauer to put some trust in the very institutions that he has sworn to defend. A line that could very well be one of the most signifigant things ever uttered on the series, you have to wonder if it's a line that drew a line in the sand for Jack - will he learn to play by the rules? Or will he finally become so disillusioned with the country he has saved time and again that he will mirror Tony at the season's open and seek to bring down the whole shebang as only Jack Bauer could? A terrifying thought, indeed. But back to Kurtwood for a sec, it speaks to the badassness of Bauer that he's made an enemy of Robocop and an ally of Clarence Boddiker. Thank you 24 for making the cast of Robocop kick ass once again, and thank you Kurtwood, for adding that extra dose of gravitas to what has been a gravitas-heavy season.

All that plus: Chole! Morris!!! Jack dispatching of Quinn using a front-loader in an intense bout of vehicular carnage!

So, yeah, the last two weeks of 24 have pretty much kicked all sorts of ass. And I think it's official - ever since the 2-hour special a couple weeks back, 24 is back on top as the king of the TV mountain. And next week looks to continue the trend, with Jack and Tony Vs. The World (the world being the bio-weapon-sportin' Blackwater-esque PMC, led by Jon Voight). Business has picked up.

My Grade:

Last Week: A
This week: A-

- Some quick thoughts on TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES: Well, a little while ago I all but declared this show DOA, but I have to say that I'm glad I speed-watched my way through some of the ultra-lame episodes of the last month or so and caught myself up, so that I could watch the last two weeks' worth of eps. I say that because there's definitely been a huge improvement recently, as the story has focused in much more on probably the show's most intriguing aspect - John's relationship with Cameron and the issue of whether or not she can be trusted. Plus, the final fate of Reilly was dramatic and pretty shocking, and gave the show a much-needed creative shake-up. I still wish there wasn't so much standing around and brooding on the show, but at the same time I'm now back on board, at least for now. Plus, Summer Glau really is great as Cameron.

- I'm really looking forward to tonight's LOST. I know I never got a chance to review the episode from the week before last - suffice it to say I thought it was a great ep and I enjoyed the focus on Sawyer. I think I am a member of Team Sawyer-Juliette, it just seems like a much more natural relationship than a lot of the others that either of the two have been involved with, and within minutes of the reveal there was an instant chemistry and connection there. I was also just really intrigued by the time-lost characters stuck seemingly in the 70's and all of the plot potential that that new twist might contain. In any case, am psyched for tonight's ep.

- Just a note that this past Sunday's episodes of THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY were both pretty mediocre, although, man, does The Simpsons ever look good now that it's in full HD. But I do have to once again praise good ol' KING OF THE HILL, which offered up a pretty entertaining ep - just another reminder that KOTH remains one of TV's best yet most underrated series.

- So, what happened to GOSSIP GIRL? The show returned from a long hiatus on Monday only to turn in one of the series' weakest overall episodes to date. They need to get Chuck away from this meandering secret society storyline and get him back to his old, evil ways ASAP. Let's see if next week's ep can turn things around.

- Finally, I have to say I've been really pleasantly surprised so far from what I've seen of KINGS. The two-hour pilot could be a bit methodically paced at times, but it was really elevated by an outstanding cast, particularly the great Ian McShane. McShane brought an epic gravitas to the role of King Silas, and really helped to sell the intriguing premise of an alternate world in which medieval-style monarchies still exist and thrive across the globe. The series, which is also, in a way, a modern-day retelling of the biblical David and Goliath story, kept me interested in its pilot with a couple of pretty nice plot twists that indicate the show could have a pretty fun, soapy vibe to compliment the epic drama and political intrigue. Still, the premise is a bit ambiguous at this point, and I would have liked to see a bit more action and intensity to really kick things off with a bang. We'll see how things shape up, but I give Kings a lot of credit for daring to be a bir different, and it's 100% worth checking out.

My Grade: B+

- Alright - that's all I've got for now. Man, it's only Wednesday, but I am ready for the weekend! I will end with two quick plugs:

a.) If you missed the pilot of NBC's latest epic drama, KINGS, you can download it right now, for FREE and in HD, on iTunes, Amazon, Zune, XBOX Live and on the Playstation Store!

b.) Speaking of which, NBC Universal is now up and running on the Playstation Store. So now, whether y our next-gen system of choices is an XBOX 360 or a PS3, you can download episodes of The Office, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and many more right to your TV in glorious HD.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

From Baram's Journal: The Definitive WATCHMEN Review and RANT OF DOOM

Well, it's been a while since I've written here on the blog, and there's been a couple of reasons for that. But I think what it partly boils down to is that it's been a really busy week, and in addition, I knew that the post I've been waiting a week to write would require a lot of time, effort, and deliberation.

And yes, I'm talking about my review of WATCHMEN.

In the week since I've seen the movie, the public reaction and criticism from the press has only snowballed, and it's gotten to the point where, in addition to a mere review of the movie, I feel that a full-fledged rant is now warranted. Because, man, regardless of what you liked or disliked about Watchmen, you have to admit that the feeding-frenzy that's been surrounding the movie's box office prospects has been nothing short of ridiculous. It's enough to make one empathize with Alan Moore's position that he wants nothing to do with the film adaptations of his work irrespective of the quality of the movies.

Look, I get that movies are a business. And I get that it's a national fixation to track every big movie's box office take. And yes, I realize that a studio like Warner Bros. has invested millions in a movie like Watchmen and is eagerly looking to see whether they will recoup that cost.

But what kills me is when the critics and snarky web-pundits attack a movie just to spite the fanboys. They are looking at Watchmen and all the talk of how Zack Snyder stayed faithful to the graphic novel and saying "Look, see what happens when you stay faithful to a comic book? You don't get a mainstream blockbuster!"

I mean, do they realize the source material they are dealing with? Did all of these critics really expect an R-rated, postmodern deconstruction of the superhero mythos to be the next Titanic? Sure, Warner Brothers justifiably tried to market their movie to those who enjoyed the darker take on Batman in The Dark Knight, and tried to drum up a lot of hype and excitement around Watchmen. And to a certain demo, the hype was very much justified - I mean, read my previous post. For someone like me, who regards Watchmen as potentially the best and most influential work I've ever read, well, of course I'm going to be hyped, or at the least extremely curious, about this movie. And I'm going to blog about it and tell friends about it and spread the good word. And you know what? Even though I had a lot of trepidation about Watchmen even being made into a movie, I remained excited simply for the reason that this was the moment where a very niche thing that a lot of us in the know have loved for a long time would be put out there to the mainstream. Somewhere around 1995 or 1996, I knew approximately zero other people with whom I could analyze the finer points of Watchmen. Now it's everywhere, the characters are part of mainstream pop culture, and best of all, the hype around the movie inspired several people I know to check out the source material. That in and of itself is pretty cool.

But that said, I hate the whole story around how Watchmen got made in the first place. The fact that Warner was dead-set on making the movie regardless of who wrote it, directed it, or acted in it. I hate that a venerable work like Watchmen was reduced to being some undated line on a corporate accounting sheet. I am in fact happy that a fan and a talent like Zack Snyder decided to take on the challenge of adapting Watchmen, but I still don't like the circumstances that brought the film into being. It's like there's now some unwritten law out there that every cool comic book that was ever made just has to be a movie. And it goes both ways. The hardcore geeks will bitch and moan dissecting every genre movie that gets made, and yet it's like a given work can't be considered as truly legit until the Hollywood fatcats have by-God deemed it worthy of being made into a movie.

Because, geez, would anyone have really cared if there had never been a Watchmen movie? Sure, it's cool that such a landmark work is deemed worthy of adaptation. But would it kill Hollywood to make a couple of movies that are actually created AS MOVIES, with that particular medium in mind from the get-go? Would that be so hard? The irony is, of course, that Watchmen was created very, very specifically to be a comic book. Its characters, its formatting, its plotline - they are all very much a commentary, satire, and examination of the history and future of the comic book medium. So even though it makes fanboys all tingly when there's a Watchmen movie out there, does it really make any sense on a logical level to make this story into a movie, a story that is of, about, and forever associated with the history of an entirely different medium?

But putting the question of whether this movie should have even been made aside, how about the question of why it was made. When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created the comic book series, do you think they thought they were creating a blockbuster multimedia franchise? Do you think they were thinking about trying to make Watchmen cool? About making it appeal to a mainstream, all-encompassing demographic? Of course not - Alan Moore was doing exactly what he always does - writing whatever the hell he felt like writing, for the sake of creating something new and exciting and thought-provoking. I mean holy #$%#, what a concept! CREATING SOMETHING for the sake of art!

And you know what, Watchmen, the comic book, became WATCHMEN, the "greatest comic book of all time," not because of some crazy marketing hype. Nope, it became legendary simply because it was that damn good. Sure, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons already had a bit of starpower when they wrote the book in the 80's. Sure, DC Comics pushed the comic and obviously has done a gret job in the years since its release of keeping the graphic novel in print and in the hearts and minds of fanboys. But part of the reason you've got to love the world of comics is that it's a place where ideas that are original, experimental, or just plain crazy can live and even thrive.

So this brings me to the letter written by Watchmen screenwriter David Hayter last week, posted all over the web. Hayter pleads with fans to go check out Watchmen a second time, because if it doesn't do big box office in Week 2, the studios will use the movie's underwhelming drawing power as justification for not doing any more big-budget, adult-themed genre movies. Personally, I was surprised that Hayter seemed to buy into all of the Hollywood cynicism that's out there. First of all, he should just be proud that he and Zack Snyder made a pretty damn good movie. When all is said and done, it's not like he or Snyder or anyone else in the movie is going to lose their shirts. We're still talking about a movie that will eventually make over $100 million, especially when you think about the monstrous DVD and Blu-Ray sales that are yet to come. Secondly, why play right into the hands of all the naysayers who put Watchmen on this pedastal only to gleefully try to knock it down?

I mean, come on! Were critics declaring the end of the comic book movie after the likes of Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four 2? How about we go all the way back to (shudder) League of Extraordinary Gentleman? That movie a.) sucked, b.) was a disgrace to its Alan Moore-penned source material, and c.) performed unimpressively at the box-office. I guess that one spelled the end of the comic book movie, huh? By the current logic of David Hayter, Watchmen should never have been made into a movie, because League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta underpeformed at the box office.

My hope is simply this: that a Preacher movie or a Y: The Last Man movie will get made because some director or writer out there was a huge fan of the comic and has a kickass vision for how they'd bring it to the big screen. Not because some studio has it pencilled in on their schedule for 2012. Yes, I know this is a somewhat naive way to look at things, but I think its fair to call out Hollywood and all of its critics, pundits, and defamers out there on their seeming inability to focus on anything other than the almighty dollar. I mean, never before have I read so many reviews of a movie that discussed everything BUT it's plot and themes.

Just yesterday, I was eating dinner with some friends, and someone who had recently seen Watchmen asked me a question that really surprised me. He asked me what I thought about the ending - about whether Rorshach's determination to spread the truth about Ozymandius was morally justifiable. I mean, this is the same question that fanboys have been debating for years, and yet in the wake of the movie, people only want to talk about whether the film was too confusing for the mainstream or whether or not it it made enough at the box office. I mean, for the love of god, people are more focused on Dr. Manhattan's nakedness than they are on the question of what it means to be an omnipotent, god-like being.

I love the movies and always will, but the firestorm around Watchmen embodies a lot of what I've grown to dislike about Hollywood. How Hollywood takes other people's creative works and builds them up and then tears them down if they don't translate into instant blockbusters. How so often, box office performance is magically linked to creative success. Speed Racer flopped? It must really suck! Watchmen is underperforming? Well then hot damn, all those drooling geeks must have been wrong! If Watchmen is really the greatest comic book story ever told, then how on earth could it make less bank than 300? Never mind the fact that Watchmen will likely live on as an enduring cash cow for Warner Bros. for years if not decades to come ... if it got beat in its second week by Witch Mountain, it clearly spells the end for R-rated superheroes - right? The worst part is that now there is this whole league of snarky reviewers who blame "the geeks" for not coming out to support "their" movie. Again -- who the hell cares who did or did not come to see the movie? The only people that should be upset are WB marketers who apparently placed a whole lot of stock in the idea that one of the weirdest, darkest, and most impenetrable stories ever told could somehow be the next Dark Knight in terms of box office. And no, the movie's box office does not suddenly give some internet columnist the right to call into question the underlying greatness of the comic book or the validity of the medium as a whole. I mean, come on - the same people who follow Britney Spears' every move and pant in anticipation of the next Jennifer Aniston movie are going to call into question the works of Alan freaking Moore? Like I said, it's almost enough to make you kind of start to get where Moore is coming from with his whole "screw / ignore Hollywood" mindset.

Now, for those of you wondering if this movie is actually any good ...


- Okay, wow, so there's a Watchmen movie. And man, is it hard to actually think about clearly and cohesively, because it's almost impossible to review it without essentially writing a comparison to the comic book. Also, it's hard not to write a review that is simply a critique of other reviews - because as I tried to articulate above, the critics have been incredibly all over the place with this one. It's frustrating, because superhero movies have, of late, been so propped up as All-American, mainstream pop entertainement that some people seem genuinely surprised and angry when a movie about superheroes comes along that essentially deconstructs the whole mythology. Watchmen as a story is darkly satirical, nihilistic, violent, and essentially operates on the premise that, if you really think about it, becoming a superhero would require one to be a freak, a pervert, a megalomaniac, or just plain wrong in the head. That goes against everything that the mainstream loves about heroes - that sure, they have their flaws, but ultimately, their moral code is such that things ultimately boil down to black vs. white morality plays in which the good guy will ultimately come out on top.

Watchmen turns that entire concept on its head. You have Rorshach, whose moral code is SO rigid that he takes Batman-style vigilantism to new depths. You have Dr. Manhattan, whose Superman omnipotence essentially makes him amoral. And you have Ozymandius, whose drive to become an Alexander-like conquerer / uniter convinces him that any means justifies his vision of a utopian endgame.

So before I even dissect Watchmen, the movie almost needs a couple of disclaimers:

a.) Watchmen is a complex deconstruction of superhero archtypes, and also of the history and conventions of superhero comic books since their inception just prior to World War II.

b.) Watchmen presents a fascinating story and characters, but it also was originally written for an audience that grew up steeped in superhero and comic book mythology. An interest in or curiosity about this genre and its history / mythology is not required, but is certainly beneficial, in getting the full enjoyment possible from Watchmen.

I point these things out not to be a giant nerd, but to forewarn that Watchmen is a story that is almost impossible to tell as an easily-digestible, mainstream blockbuster movie. It's a story that's best discovered as a coming of age rite of passage, as a gateway into a world beyond children's stories into something darker and more sinister. It's not a story for jaded critics or close-minded cynics. And it's for that reason that generations of budding fanboys have, after childhoods filled reading brightly-colored, PG-rated superhero comics, graduated on to Watchmen at some point in early adolescence and subsequently had their minds blown. I mean, superheroes cursing, having sex, being flawed and even morally corrupt? Sign me up!

And maybe in the years since 1985, that once-revolutionary concept has been dimmed a bit if only because Watchmen helped to usher in a new era of grim n' gritty comics. But what I like about WATCHMEN, the movie, is that it doesn't cheaply try to pretend that Watchmen is something that it's not. The movie transports you back to 1985, and presents the work as is. There's some new flash, some new polish, but that's about it. It doesn't retool Watchmen into an allegory for 9/11 (even though the entire premise can't help but evoke that tragedy). It doesn't change the setting, the tone, the language, the sex, or the violence. If anything, the movie amps it all up. There's been a lot of debate about whether Zack Snyder stuck *too* close to the graphic novel. Well, I don't think anyone can argue that Snyder made the right choice in keeping the essentials. This IS the world of Watchmen brought to life, and that in and of itself is pretty awesome.

But by the same token, there are some basic storytelling questions you have to look at here. The fact is, Watchmen was originally told in 12 dense, information-packed volumes. How can one possibly fit all that into a single feature film?

Snyder and co make a valiant effort, but there are some inherent limitations. For most of the movie, you won't really miss the street-level characters that populate the graphic novel - the old newsie and the kid who frequents his stand, for example. But at the movie's climactic ending moments, you really do miss these characters, because the movie never really gives us a "man on the street" perspective of its world. What that means is that certain events lack the emotional impact that they should have. We're watching the gods from atop Mt. Olympus - in the comic, the camera is pulled back and we see that thee are millions of everyday people affected by the actions of the Watchmen.

But despite having to condense a lot of material into a short timespan, Snyder still makes his biggest mistake in not allowing the intensity to properly build, in not lingering on key moments small and large. Snyder films too much of this movie as if he's making another 300. But Watchmen's story is both dense and yet also reliant on big moments of emotional and dramatic impact. Snyder dazzles us with amazing imagery and f/x, but sometimes, he fails to do justice to at least a couple of the money shots.

I'm thinking of Ozymandius' big endgame speech. I'm thinking of the reveal of Ozymadias as the mask-killer in the first place. I'm thinking of the destruction of New York and the emotional impact thereafter.

Some of this is due to some key actors (Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, for one) not quite delivering the kind of iconic, dramatic performance that was needed from them. But part of it is, again, Snyder simply not pacing the narrative for maximum dramatic pop. Watchmen is a huge, bombastic story that should leave an audience shaking from its impact. Some parts of the film accomplished that, but others seemed too glossed over, too rushed.

That said, the care and detail that went into the movie is staggering. The art direction is phenomenal, the costumes (mostly) dead-on. There are scenes featuring Rorshach that are just overwhelmingly, jaw-droppingly cool, and that's from a visual standpoint alone. The opening of the movie plain and simply gave me chills, and is perhaps Watchmen's best overall sequence - it's an intro that artfully takes much of the comic's elaborate backstory and condenses it into a rollercoaster ride of an alternate history lesson. This scene is Snyder at his best - providing his own take on the material while staying 100% true to its spirit. I mean, come on, the scenes of the 1940's-era mystery men in outlandish costumes that look straight out of 1940's superhero fiction? Amazingly kickass. The scenes of said heroes present at various historical moments and eras - from Vietnam to the birth of glam rock? Again, kickass.

Now, that opening is a scene is an example of where the movie's iconic rock soundtrack works to perfection. Dylan's "The Times, They Are a-Changin'" plays as we span decades in minutes, and it's a perfect synchronicity of sound and image and idea. But at the same time, I go back and forth on what I think of so many of the film's crucial scenes being paired with iconic rock tunes. Was it cool to see Night Owl and Rorschach flying through the arctic to the tune of "All Along the Watchtower" - ? You bet it was. But ... would the movie as a whole have worked better if it let its awesome, 80's-style synth soundtrack provide the ambiance as opposed to sometimes-distracting and not-exactly-subtle pop songs? Well, you could make the argument. Regardless, I do think that even if certain songs worked in the context of certain scenes, the overall effect was overkill. As much as I like 99 Luft Balloons, was it really needed here, for example? And yeah, though I didn't find it quite as cringe-worthy as some others did, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during the in-flight sex-scene was probably, again, a bit much.

Now, I've talked about one or two performances that were lacking, but what really helps make Watchmen explode off the screen are a couple of key acting turns that really bring these iconic characters to life.

Jackie Earl Haley, for one, rules it as Rorschach. No arguments can be made about this - Haley is everything one could want from an on-screen Rorschach. The gravelly voice, the tortured soul, the emotionally-scarred face, even the spikey red hair from the comics - it's all here. Haley delivers a shockingly powerful, iconic performance that captures everything that has made Rorshach one of fiction's most popular cult-fave characters. The dark and tortured heart and soul of Watchmen, Haley deserves immense props for delivering the performance of a lifetime here.

I also really liked Patrick Wilson as Night Owl -- visually, the guy really does capture the essence of the comic character. Emotionally, Wilson is also spot-on. Sad, lonely, removed from the exxentric yet thrilling lifestyle that had once given him purpose, Wilson as Night Owl is in many ways the "hero" of the story, even if his character in the film seems a bit softened from his comic book counterpart. And yeah, it's unfortunate that they had to give him that final, cheesy "NOOOOOOO!" towards the end of the movie, but otherwise, I thought Wilson's performance was pretty darn good.

The two other real standouts are Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. Morgan is particularly great as the grizzled antihero whose death kicks off the movie's central mystery. Crudup is very good as Dr. Manhattan, but there wasn't *quite* the level of iconic impact I would have liked to have seen. Some of this may be due to the fact that many of his scenes were with Malin Ackermann. Visually, Ackermann looks exactly like the image of Silk Spectre II from the comic. Otherwise though, Ackermann's delivery at times is a bit flat. Still, I didn't think she was that bad. Those who are flat-out panning her performance are going a bit overboard. Across the board, the rest of the cast is good to excellent. But again, as a fan of the source material it's hard to tell how the very compressed plot and characteracter arcs ame across to the newcomer. I mean, to me, Carla Gugino seemed quite good as Silk Spectre I, but by the same token, the movie didn't quite give her enough time to really shine or grab the spotlight. As a whole, it did kind of sadden me that we didn't get to see more of the golden-age heroes The Minutemen, as their story and the whole legacy aspect of Watchmen is one of the most interesting aspects of the comic. While it's true that some of the supplemental materials (such as the DVD doc "Under the Hood") will delve more into this aspect of the story, it would have been cool to see more of Hollis Mason, of Hooded Justice, and of that whole era. But I will reiterate, as someone who really geeks out for WWII-era heroes, all those scenes of The Minutemen were cool as hell.

In that respect, something that Snyder really does nail is that oddball juxtaposition of the real with the surreal that to me is so much a part of Watchmen. I mean, part of what worked so well with Dave Gibbons' original artwork was that it painted the Watchmen not as cartoonish comic heroes, but as normally-proportioned, exceedingly unremarkable people. Night Owl had paunch. The Comedian was old and flabby. Even Dr. Manhattan just looked like a blue bald guy with an atom symbol on his forehead. Dave Gibbons' artistic vision is in this way really captured to a T here, with one exception ...

... and that is that Snyder can't resist the urge to up the ante and make these characters "super." I do think that the superhuman-seeming fighting skills, agility, etc. of the non-super characters could have been slightly toned-down for the sake of keeping a gritty / realistic tone. The violence in the comic is actually fairly subtle and elegant - only gratuitous in certain select scenes. In the movie there's a lot of videogame-style brutality that doesn't always jive with the spirit of the comic. Same goes for the sex - whereas in the comic it was much more subtle and off-camera, in the movie it is anything but.

But back to the acting for one second -- the main person I need to take an additional few sentances to talk about is Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt. He presents an interesting twist on the character, making Ozymandias into a somewhat slimy schemer from the get-go. To me, what made the character such a great villain in the book is that Ozymandius is square-jawed, statuesque, and the embodiment of the heroic ideal. He's basically Batman without all the emotional problems ... or so it seems. The reveal of Ozymandias as the villain of Watchmen is one of the great twists I've ever read. As a kid I was genuinely shocked to discover that Veidt was in fact the dreaded mask-killer. In the movie, I think this reveal was too telegraphed and not dramatic enough. And again, part of this is that I'm not sure if Goode was the right choice for this role. The lines he has to work with - many of them tried and true classics lifted directly from the comic - are just not delivered with the gravitas they should be.

As for the details of the much-debated changed ending, I did miss the "squid" from the comics but realistically I realize that there is no possible way Snyder could have stuck to this ending in the confines of a 2.5 hour movie. The substitution of Dr. Mahattan as the big bad mostly worked for me, and really, to me the key scene is not the squid, but the aftermath - the confrontation between Dr. Manhattan and Rorshach, and the epilogue, in which Rorshach's journal is found, hinting that even the best-laid plans of mice and men can come crashing down at any moment. Snyder really nailed both of these scenes, as far as I'm concerned. Jackie Earl Haley's performance was spine-tingling as he screamed at Dr. Manahattan to put him out of his misery. Similarly, the discovery of the journal by the lowly gopher at the New Frontier rag was spot-on, pitch-perfect.

So ... if it sounds like I am going back and forth on Watchmen - I am. But that's inherently what happens when a superlative work in one medium becomes a merely very good one in another. Watchmen is one hell of a movie. Densely packed with plot and character, riveting from start to finish, and visually stunning. As a movie fan, I would put it right up there with some of the best darker, harder-edged comic adaptations - V For Vendetta, Sin City, 300, etc. Is Watchmen as good of a movie as it is a graphic novel? Not even close. But as a movie, it is a pretty remarkable achievement - it is Watchmen brought to life in a way that most never thought would be possible or plausible. Knowing the history of this production, knowing all of the cringe-worthy treatments that were out there, and knowing what might have been, at the end of the day, I have almost nothing but praise for what Snyder and team accomplished here. The movie version of Watchmen is the perfect primer for the classic comic, hopefully something that will inspire a new generation to discover Alan Moore and his writing and all of the greats that came after. By the same token though, Watchmen is in its own right a highly entertaining and visually amazing film - despite some of my complaints and comparisons, I wasn't bored for a second, and I know it's a movie that I'll want to revisit, and analyze, and discuss. Maybe one day we'll get that 12-part HBO series or whatever it is that fans have been calling for. But for now, I do feel lucky that we got a movie, given the limitations and pressures of the medium, that is this reverent to and worthy of its source material.

My Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blogging the WATCHMEN. Gettin' Hyped for the Movie That Was Never Supposed to Exist.

For a certain segment of the population, this weekend is all about one thing - WATCHMEN. It's the movie we all thought would never happen, the movie that director after director has tried but failed to make. It's a story that was deemed unadaptable, a story that holds a scared place in the comic book cannon. Ask most fanboys what they consider the greatest comic book story ever told, and 9 times out of 10, you'll get a singular, definitive answer: Watchmen.

That's why it's so strange and almost surreal to see WATCHMEN become the next big thing in pop culture. Only a year or so ago, it was still kind of under the mainstream radar - in certain circles, Watchmen was akin to the holy grail, but to your average Joe, it was not something that registered. Sure, the legend of the reclusive Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, has penetrated the mainstream in recent years, in the wake of film adaptations of his work like V for Vendetta, From Hell, Constantine, and (shudder) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It's been well-documented that Moore shuns the filmed versions of his works and prefers to simply write his stories and leave well enough alone. I'm sure there is some pent-up bitterness over how poorly-adapted some of these movies have been, but still, fans are always left to wonder aloud what, exactly, Moore thinks of all of these movies. In the case of Watchmen, director Zack Snyder has repeatedly said that he practically used the graphic novel as a bible while crafting his adaptation. And yet, Moore, as is his custom, will probably never watch the movie nor give it any sort of seal of approval.

And that's why it's so, well, weird, to walk into a Barnes and Noble and see Watchmen merchandise everywhere. Watchmen was always that sacred cow that stood completely alone. There was no Watchmen merchandise, no T-shirts, no videogames, no posters. It would have been like trying to turn "Hamlet" into a pop-culture phenomenon, and it's been that way since 1985. Now, all of the above suddenly exist. There's a Watchmen soundtrack that's alreadya best-seller on iTunes. A Watchmen videogame that hits consoles this week. Tie-in DVD's that include a motion-comic and an animated adaptation of the comic book's Black Freighter backup stories that tie-in thematically to the main action. There are T-shirts at Hot Topic, books about the making-of-the-movie, viral marketing (and really well-done viral marketing at that) up the wazoo, and more trailers, TV ads, and more online ad-buys than you can shake a stick at.

How did this happen?

Well, it really did seem that all the stars alligned. Zack Snyder is probably the only director who could have done this, as he was coming off the success of 300, an R-rated comic book adaptation that performed pretty spectacularly at the box-office, even without any huge starpower or preexisting brand recognition. So now we do have what appears to be a pretty faithful, definitely R-rated Watchmen movie. Holy crap. I really did not think I'd ever see this happen.

But let me talk for a minute about WATCHMEN, the "graphic novel", or the comic book, if you will (Like many, I get kind of annoyed that "graphic novel" is now used as a more pretentious way of saying comic book - in actuality it refers to a work that was conceived and printed as a singular volume. Since Watchmen was published as 12 standalone issues in 1985, and only later repackaged as a single volume, it isn't really a graphic novel ...).

Forgetting about the movie for a second, I've long considered Watchmen to be the single greatest work of fiction I've ever read. And I say that as an English student who has read everything from Stephen King to Shakespeare. Sure, there are other works that are more difficult to wade through, more "literary" in a traditional sense, but no other work I've ever read has blown me away in the manner that Watchmen did when I read it for the first time as a preteen.

I think for many kids, Watchmen was our first real gateway into "adult" fiction. The first thing we read that took all of the concepts of heroes and villains that we grew up with and completely subverted and deconstructed these ideas down to their very core. To see heroes that were less than heroic, morally ambiguous, and at times downright villainous was, to say the least, game-changing. The characters were memorable and haunting, the level of depth and subtext was unprecedented and warranted multiple readings, and it all culminated in a classic ending that, without giving anything away, took every comic book cliche and completely turned them on their heads.

That's one of the things that is so remarkable about Watchmen - it is so incredibly rich and dense, that you can read it hundreds of times, study it even, and always find something new. A lot of this can be credited to the amazing art of Dave Gibbons, who produced unbelievably clean and crisp art that breaks the complex story into a remarkably patterned tapestry of interconnected images. The level at which images and themes repeat themselves and parallel each other is fascinating and certainly without peer in graphic storytelling. You can actually study the panel-structure of Watchmen and see how the beginning and ending of the tale are matching bookends to a story that flows via an uncanny structural and thematic pattern. And then there's all of the supplemental material - the news articles, the interviews, the prose pieces that serve to add even more color and richness to the world of Watchmen. Finally, there is the Black Freighter storyline, meant to pay homage to the pulpy EC Comics of the 1950's, that is interspersed throughout the comic. In and of itself, it's a remarkable piece of work, and it's so compelling in its own right that it gave me and probably a lot of other readers our first real taste of EC-style pulp storytelling and made us lifelong fans of the genre.

You can see why Watchmen has long been deemed unfilmable. Its format, its story, its artwork, and its characters are so rooted in the history and lore of the comic book medium that it almost doesn't make sense to translate it into a new one. The characters themselves are slightly-altered versions of the old Charlton comics characters that DC acquired the rights to in the early '80's (Night Owl = Blue Beetle, Rorshach = The Question, etc.). The entire story is in many ways a deconstruction, critique, and celebration of the history of comic books. I guess in that respect, now is finally the time when the movie-going public is familiar enough with the tropes and cliches of the superhero genre to understand a deconstruction of the those conventions. But at the same time, people are still being trained that comic books, excuse me, "graphic novels", can be serious business. Still, I think Watchmen could only have been released post-Dark Knight. Without that intermediary film, I think people would have approached this movie with a lot more inherent confusion, and likely taken it a lot less seriously, both as a story and as a potential blockbuster. It's only fitting though, because Watchmen was released concurrently with Frank Miller's Batman work, which was of course the jolt of lightning-in-a-bottle that brought in a new age of grim n' gritty comics and turned Batman from Caped Crusader into Dark Knight.

As far as comparable comics go, Watchmen instantly made me a giant fan of Alan Moore and I quickly rushed to read his other major works. I snatched up his more mainstream superhero stuff - Batman: The Killing Joke (one of the main inspirations for The Dark Knight), and Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? I read every volume of his acclaimed run on Swamp Thing, which remains one of my all-time favorite stories - a mind-bending, thought-provoking look at the magical and mystical corners of the world. I read League of Extraordinary Gentleman (an amazing work - MUCH better than the movie), V For Vendetta, and more. In general, Watchmen got me hooked on more "adult" comics, many of which will soon be hot properties, I'm sure, in the wake of Watchmen. For those seeking that next big epic to check out after reading Alan Moore's masterwork, try some of the following series, available in graphic novel format:

- Preacher
- The Walking Dead
- Camelot 3000
- Y: The Last Man
- Fables
- Swamp Thing
- 100 Bullets
- The Sandman
- League of Extraordinary Gentleman
- Animal Man
- The Golden Age
- Planetary
- Ex Machina
- Kingdom Come

- In any case, I am excited to see WATCHMEN this weekend. It's pretty cool that this cult-favorite work that I and many others have long held up as a masterpiece of fiction is now going to be enjoyed by millions more people. It's cool that this movie is going to let the mainstream in on fandom's little secret (even if it was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century ...). But no matter how badass the movie is, no matter how faithful an adaptation, I know that it will never match the feeling of awe I had as a kid, huddled up in my bedroom eagerly turning page after page as I sat down to read this story that I knew was a sort of rite of passage for any budding young fanboy. As I read Rorshach's brutal origin, read the nonlinear chapter told from Dr. Manhattan's omnipotent perspective, studied the mysterious history of Hooded Justice, and as my jaw dropped upon discovering the truth behind Adrian Veidt's shocking plans, as I read all that ... I knew that this was it. That WATCHMEN had raised the bar for me, that it would be tough for anything else to ever top it.

So I am going into Watchmen this weekend hoping to be blown away ... but really, I think the movie will just reaffirm how damn good the comic was and still is. Regardless ... I am still just kind of in disbelief that there's a Watchmen movie and that Watchmen is now this mainstream, blockbuster franchise. Who woulda' thunk it?

Monday, March 2, 2009



I know, I know ... tonight's two-hour 24 spectacular had plot-holes galore, gaping logic holes, random acts of stupidity by the bucketfull, and came with a side-order of over-the-top implausibility with a heaping helping of "yeah, right ...".

But holy $%&#, folks, those episodes FREAKING KICKED MY ASS and all I can say is "thank you, Sir, may I have another?"

I mean, come on, what other TV show would have the gonads to stage a military assault on the White House with this level of intensity and, dare I say it, gravitas? These two hours were SHEER INTENSITY from start to finish, and the overabundance of awesomeness on display in that final half-hour or so was almost too much for a man to take. At this point, I can barely even focus on the details. All I can do is think back to those final few minutes ... the President, giving herself up to the invading terrorists in the vain hope of sparing her daughter's life ... only to get SMACKED by the Candyman. All looks lost for our heroes, except for the fact that NEVER BEFORE has such a collection of badassery been part of a single group of hostages. I mean, in what other hostage situation would you actually feel that the badguys are $%#%'d despite all objective evidence pointing to the reverse? Well, when your hostages include the likes of Bill Buchanan, AARON PIERCE: AGENT OF AWESOME, Kurtwood "Guns! Guns! Guns!" Smith, and oh yeah, Jack by-God Bauer ... well, that's a ticking time-bomb, baby. Not to mention that The Be-Soul-Patch-ed one lurks somewhere outside the White House perimeter, presumably waiting for his chance to sneak in an unleash zombified hell on Juma and his crew.

Yes, yes, I'm ranting, I know. And you know what? It feels good. I don't think I've been pumped about an episode of 24 like this since, well ... it's been a while.

And yeah, I talked to my brother about this one, and it appears he has temporarily lost his sense of gravitas-appreciation. Bill Buchanan should have died, he said. The vice president acted like a moron, he said. And yes, at certain points, more, shall we say, rational thoughts such as these ran through my head as well. Why didn't the President panic room have a phone? Why did nobody have a cell? Why did Freckles feel the need to jump on that boat, despite having no chance of doing, well, anything ...?

Yep, all these questions are valid. But, dammit, it's a testament to the unstoppable force of nature that was this episode that I didn't have time or desire to stop and think about any of these things for very long. This one was a showstopper, and a potent reminder that 24 can still bring it like nobody's business. 24 has always been over the top, 24 has always been absurd, and 24 has always walked a fine line between realism and complete and utter ridiculousness. But when 24 can make me jump out of my seat and impulsively call fellow 24 fans in a euphoric state of real-time madness ... well, when that happens, I have no choice but to officially declare that 24 is BACK, Jack.

It's good to have you back. And holy lord, going out with a seething Jack systematically plotting how best to exact unholy vengeance on each and every one of Juma's terrorists. Dayum, B, bring on next week's ep. Talk about must-see TV, this is truly an hour o' power. Not deserving of a "dammit," but possibly warranting a "whoooooo!"

My Grade: A

FRINGE, CHUCK, SMALLVILLE, TERMINATOR: Danny's Mid-Season TV Roundup: Most Improved Or EPIC FAIL?!?!

Ahhh, is it Monday already? Well, it's time to buckle in for another crazy work week. Luckily, I did have a fun weekend, the highlight of which was Dan C.'s off-the-chain pinball party on Saturday night. Dan's place is decked out from head to toe with all sorts of vintage pinball machines, so it was a fun venue at which to hang out with a ton of people from my Birthright trip, including a couple of folks who I had not seen at all since Israel. Plus, to give the party that added extra bit of awesomeness, Dan came through with a cake emblazoned with a photo of our Israeli tour guide, Gill. Not only was Gill's smiling mug displayed across the cake's frosting-covered surface, but beneath the photo, Gill's trademark exclamation of "Beautiful!" was inscribed in frosting. Beautiful, indeed.

Anyways, since all in all my weekend was relatively laid-back, I did take advantage of some R&R time to catch up, finally, on some key TV series. I know, it's been way too long since I've written about the likes of FRINGE, SMALLVILLE, or CHUCK on the ol' blog, so time to play some catch-up.

- And of course, tonight brings us a HUGE, 2-hour episode of 24, in which the White House is sieged by Duma and a crew of African soldiers. Holy Power-Hours, Jack! This could be good ...

- Alright, so, since it's been a while since I've talked about a lot of these shows, I'm going to do something a little unique here and talk about some of the general trends I'm seeing with each series ... because, wow, looking at some of these series as of late, there have been some pretty radical shifts in quality since January. Let's take a look:

FRINGE - Business Has Picked Up

- So I haven't talked about FRINGE in a long time, but, holy crap, why didn't anybody tell me that with its most recent couple of episodes, Fringe has become one of the absolute most-awesome shows on TV? (okay, a bunch of people told me this, but still ...). Look, I've been a Fringe fan since Day 1, but I'd yet to see evidence throughout the first several episodes that the show would rise above being just a really good show and become something truly special. In my weekly episodic reviews, I handed out a lot of B's and B+'s, but not so much flat-out A's. Well, all that has changed. With it's most recent episode from mid-February, Fringe just catapulted itself into the TV stratosphere, blowing open its own mythology with several huge plot twists that rocked the show to its core. I mean, wow, suddenly this show is about multiversal warfare, implanted metagene viruses, parallel-universe dopplegangers, and time-travel. Talk about raising the stakes! I love the ambiguity over whether it's Olivia or Peter, or both, who possess some kind of genetically-unlocked latent psychic ability. I love the revelation that Walter may have actually written the strange manifesto that seems to be the predictor and response to The Pattern. I love the expanding cast of strange villains, and wonder what role Massive Dynamics is set to play as things go forward. Mostly, I just think it's cool what this show has become -- a series that takes some of the craziest sci-fi ideas you can imagine and folds them into a relatively street-level and gritty procedural format. And kudos too to Anna Torv - she really has evolved as an actress in a short time, and while I was iffy about her at first, I now really feel like she's made Olivia Dunham into one of the most compelling leads on TV. And yes, John Noble is as awesome as ever to boot.

My Old Grade: B+
My New Grade: A


- So earlier this season, I was kind of digging this show. It mixed cool action with an intelligent approach to storytelling, and had a couple of nice performances week in and week out from the likes of Lena Heady and Summer Glau. So, um, whaaat happened? I mean, trying to catch up on this show over the weekend, I was just floored by how dull and uneventful the episodes since the move to Fridays have been. Honestly, I could barely even get through the first few episodes since the return from hiatus. Just an endless holding pattern of characters moping around, brooding, and generally being angsty, with little to no real action or plot development. And you can tell that there is a certain intelligence and sophistication to the writing, but I mean, come on, this is a show about killer robots from the future! Where's the action and excitement? I like that the show can be dark and methodically-paced, but as of late it's just put me to sleep. It doesn't help that the show's most intriguing character, Cameron, has barely been featured lately. It also doesn't help that the neverending subplot of Cromartie being trained in the ways of humanity is both interminably slow and mind-numbingly lame. Make it stoooop. I was slightly on the fence about this show before, but now I think I may be done with it. I don't have time to waste on a show that has this kind of drop in quality with no roadmap towards improvement in sight.

My Old Grade: B
My New Grade: C-

CHUCK - Let's Get Serious

- It's funny, I still like Chuck a lot, but I'm sensing that it's experiencing a similar problem to what happened to Josh Schwartz's THE OC in its second season. Back then, The OC went from being a drama with comedic elements to an almost all-out self-aware parody. It's hit character, Seth Cohen, went from a semi-tragic geek to a walking punchline. And in doing so, The OC went from a show with legitimate dramatic chops to a lightweight dramedy. Now, Chuck has always had that comedic bent, but lately the show seems to have just become too goofy for its own good. Where once it seemed like we'd get some legit character development with Chuck and co., the show now seems stuck in a holding pattern. It always disappoints me when Chuck is written as basically the same awkward nerd that he was back in the pilot, even after all he's been through. I get annoyed that Zachary Levi still has Chuck spaz and freak out whenever he has a flash. In general, the show seems to repeat itself far too often. I mean, how many times now have we seen Chuck awkwardly get seduced by some femme fatale as he stammers and bumbles his way into further danger? And how long can the whole Chuck - Sarah not-quite-a-romance go without any sort of real progression? It's funny, because the show seems to be so focused on comedy now that I actually look forward to the Buy More segments more than the spy segments. Because at least the Buy More stuff really is meant to be more lighthearted and jokey. But it's been a while since there was any real dramatic gravitas to the spy stuff, or since there was an episode that really broke with the formula and wowed me like the Missile Command ep did earlier in the season. That's not to say the show hasn't been solid - I enjoyed the last few eps well enough, and there were some great guest appearances as well. But Chuck already has its Captain Awesome, it doesn't need to turn its title character into Captain Emo. It's time that Chuck got a little bit more serious.

My Old Grade: B+
My New Grade: B-

SMALLVILLE - Halted Momentum

- If you're a show like Smallville, and got a huge midseason boost thanks to a superbly-written episode by celebrated comics-scribe Geoff Johns, how do you follow-up on that and keep the momentum going? Well, apparently, you don't. Smallville's last few eps have been decent in and of themselves, but looking at the bigger picture, you can't help but get frustrated that they did a whole arc going back to the Lana-Clark tragic romance angle YET AGAIN for what must be the 500th time in this series' history. I mean, seriously, how many times have those two gotten together only to separate again? For a while, it seemed like Smallville had some real forward momentum - Lana was out of the picture and there were some fun sparks between Clark and Lois. Clark seemed on the brink of finally becoming a full-fledged superhero, and even though it never seemed likely that Smallville would go the route of having Clark be a full-on costumed avenger, the show was starting to take on a more epic, free-wheeling feel that was really breaking from the formula. And the show is still doing a nice job of telling its stories in a fun and non-formulaic manner - I like how the show has rotated in characters like Oliver, Jimmy, and Kara without overexposing them. But Lana's return to the spotlight just served as a reminder of the bad old days. I'm still waiting to see if Smallville can grab that brass ring and be great before all is said and done.

My Old Grade: B+
My New Grade: B


- Some quick reviews of FOX's Sunday night animation slate for ya'. I think mostly, I just wanted to vent about last night's SIMPSONS. I mean, wow, the show looks absolutely amazing now that it's in HD. I must have paused the opening intro scene a dozen times just to take in all of the new details. But sadly, I think the intro and couch gag was the highlight of the episode. Ugh. What a mediocre Simpsons ep. Few if any jokes actually clicked (the one funny gag: Homer repeatedly looking in his glove department and being oblivious to the overdue bill inside ... "waitaminuuute ..."). The plot was unmemorable. Just bad, bad, bad, by any standards.

My Grade: D

- KING OF THE HILL had a decent episode - I liked the setup of Hank and Peggy starting a new date-night tradition, but the episode went south when it became about their overcompensating for Bobby feeling ignored ny spoiling him. Some decent stuff here, but nothing too memorable. Liked the subplot about Dale's half-assed attempts to live "in the wild." Otherwise, just okay.

My Grade: B

-- Anywaaaaaaaays ... time to jet and prep for a GRAVITAS-INFUSED double-shot of 24. Dammit all.