Monday, May 10, 2010

Legends & Icons: Summer Movies, Smallville, The Simpsons, and RIP Frank Frazetta

- More weekend, please. Well, I'm back for the start of what is sure to be a busy week, and there's a lot to talk about. If you haven't already, check out my review of IRON MAN 2, which I posted Saurday afternoon. The movie made a pile of money over the weekend, and it's going to be really interesting to see how other Summer movies stack up. I think the big one that is going to continue to build buzz in the coming weeks is INCEPTION. The movie was somewhat mysterious for a while there, but it's a new sci-fi flick from Christopher "The Dark Knight" Nolan, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In other words, if there's one single movie that you're not going to want to miss in the next few months, it's this one. It also didn't hurt that the movie's awesome trailer is currently playing before Iron Man. I also think you couldn't help but be excited by the trailer for SUPER 8, the new JJ Abrams movie produced by none other than Steven Spielberg. Abrams and Spielberg, a film about aliens, in a style that hearkens back to classic Spielberg films of the 80's? Yes please.

So what are my most anticipated movies of the summer now that Iron Man 2 has come and gone? Well, there's INCEPTION, for sure. There's ROBIN HOOD, which opens this weekend, and, if nothing else, is a Ridley Scott / Russell Crowe collaboration, meaning, even if it's half as awesome as Gladiator, it could still be pretty awesome. I'm psyched for SCOTT PILGRIM - I'll watch anything directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and the movie, with its 8-bit videogame aesthetics, looks just plain cool as hell. PREDATORS could be fun. A bunch of badasses on an alien planet, in the spirit of the original? Sweet. SPLICE looks really interesting - I'm always up for a thoughtful sci-fi movie, so this could be good, and it got some rave reviews at various film fests. Meanwhile, CENTURIAN seems potentially awesome - a new flick from Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) that looks like some badass Roman soldier, period-piece action. Speaking of badass, THE EXPENDABLES will be nothing if not that. Stallone, Statham, Stone Cold, and yes - Ahnold and Willis in cameo roles. I'm there. If GET HIM TO THE GREEK is as funny as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then it just might be hilarious. Jonah Hill also looks like he could be great in CYRUS, a quirky comedy that was getting a ton of buzz on the festival circuit. Finally, two movies that could go either way, but I have to admit, I'm curious for - one is THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE. Nicholas Cage as a sorcerer, in a movie inspired by the Mickey Mouse short from Fantasia? Sounds crazy. But just crazy enough to work? To be determined. The other is THE LAST AIRBENDER. I want to believe that M. Night still has a great movie left in him, and maybe, just maybe, this is it? Not sold just yet, but, who knows.

One movie that I can't beleive even exists? MARMADUKE. Seriously, Marmaduke. Maybe the worst comic strip of all-time. Who wanted this movie?! Who, I ask you?

- On another note, I was lucky to attend an evening with the Jewish Film Festival on Sunday. At Sinai Temple in West LA, attendees were treated to a series of really well-done short films, followed by a panel discussion with some entertainment industry luminaries, who both happened to be involved in some of the best shows currently on the air - The Office and Justified. Some great short films, a cool panel, and ... I even bumped into my old neighbor - who was starring in one of the shorts. Good times.

- On yet another note, congrats to the CELTICS and the SUNS. The Celtics had a tough loss last week in which they got blown away by the Cavs, but they rebounded nicely on Sunday with an impressive win, tying up the series at 2-2. Huge props to Rajon Rondo for an amazing performance at the point. I'm curious now as to whether Boston can get another win and really take it to LeBron and the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, awesome victory for Steve Nash and the Suns yesterday. Nash played with the heart of a champion - with one eye swollen shut after a stiff hit, he gutted it out and was deadlier than ever on the offensive end, sinking several bigtime shots that were true daggers right into the heart of the San Antonio Spurs. Assuming the Lakers put the Jazz away, it will be very, very interesting to see if Phoenix can contend with the bigger, more powerful Lakers. But I will be rooting for the Suns 100%. Even though few would have predicted it at the start of the season, I feel like this could, finally, be Nash, Amare, and Grant Hill's year.

Anyways, up and onward, with some TV Reviews ...


- You kill me, SMALLVILLE, you really do. After weeks of relative mediocrity, Smallville finally bounced back with an episode that may not have been amazing, but, dammit all, had a couple of genuinely great moments that, to me, symbolized Smallville at its best.

For one thing, it was great to have Annette O'Toole back as Martha Kent. It's been way too long, and her presence was a reminder of the days when Smalliville was filled with fun actors like John Glover, Michael Rosenbaum, and John Schneider. O'Toole's return was a flashback to the days when Smallville was actually about Smallville, when it grounded Clark's adventures with down-home advice and wisdom from his adoptive parents. Even more so than O'Toole though, it was great to, finally, see her real-life husband, Michael McKeen, back as Perry White. McKeen is just the type of actor Smallville needs - quick-witted, funny, but able to infuse his character with some real heart as well. From teaming with Christopher Guest on movies like Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind, to playing Morris Fletcher on The X-Files, McKeen is a consummate pro, and it was awesome to have him back as the iconic future-EIC of the Daily Planet.

I'll tell you this - one of my favorite moments from this episode, and maybe one of my all-time favorite Smallville scenes - was Lois saving Perry White as he dangled precariously from a rooftop ladder. The moment in which Clark contemplates saving Perry with his powers, but then steps back and smiles, upon realizing that Lois has things in hand -- well, that to me is what Smallville, and Superman, are all about.

Unfortunately, the ep was bogged down by this season's very tired storylines revolving around Zod, the Book of Rao, and Checkmate. There were definitely some intriguing hints of the coming "apocalypse", but, mostly, it just felt like more posturing that allowed for these plotlines to be dragged out for yet another week. Martha Kent as the Red Queen? Okay, I'll take it, but certainly not the most exciting revelation. And the ep's attempts at misdirection were pretty half-hearted as well, with a character simply telling us that Tess was the RQ only for us to later find out that that was a lie. Personally, I can't wait to move beyond this Zod storyline. And I hope it's a lesson to Smallville - no more season-long storyarcs! 22 episodes of one plotline is just too much, especially when 3/4 of the story beats involve characters standing around brooding.

The ep was also bogged down by more Clark and Lois relationship drama. At this point in the show, there is zero reason for Clark not to reveal his secret ID to Lois, so I hope they just get it over with already in this week's finale.

All that said, this was a really fun episode of Smallville that had a couple of those genuine "Superman moments" that can, on occasion, make this feel like a truly special TV series. Perry White's return was a long time coming, and while this ep didn't match the quality of his classic first appearance in Smallville's early years, this was, still, one of the better episodes of the season to date. I really hope that Smallville can pull it all together and deliver a rocking season finale - we've had weeks and weeks of buildup, and now it's time for the payoff.

My Grade: B+


- THE SIMPSONS once again had a suprisingly strong outing, and a serious contender for best episode of the season so far. Last week had the solid premise, this week had that plus a lot of jokes that really hit the mark. In this ep, we got a unique story structure that saw Moe narrating a tale of trouble-in-paradise. Specifically, three of Springfield's most well-known married couples seemed to be having some issues. Homer, Apu, and Reverand Lovejoy, after each having had some marital spats, are even further distressed when they find a note from Moe claiming that he's just run off with one of their wives. Whose wife, we don't know - and so we join the three semi-happilly-married men as they think back to past incidents that might have led their significant others to do the unthinkale and run off with Moe - aka The Simpson universe's least-eligible bachelor. While this show contained a couple of elements that we've seen way too many times on the show (namely, yet another instance of trouble between Homer and Marge), there was also a pretty fresh feel thanks to the unique structure. There were also a number of great quotables and funny jokes in this one ("The stationary's legit. It's got the Moe watermark." , "I moved here because on a calculator, the ZIP Code spells 'Boobs.'"). Overall, a pretty darn good effort from The Simpsons.

My Grade: A-

- THE CLEVELAND SHOW had a pretty enjoyable episode, with a storyline that looked at race relations among Cleveland and his friends. Rollo and Cleveland Jr. once again stole the show, and there were some pretty great gags (Jr.'s complete unawareness of homesexuality, Rollo's call to rise up against the white man, followed by an abrupt cutaway to a FOX logo with a bunch of old FOX TV characters who just so happened to be African American ...). The ep began to drag a bit as it went on, but overall, another decently entertaining outing.

My Grade: B

- After an abysmal, experimental anniversary episode last week, this week's FAMILY GUY mercifully returned to the show's usual style, and in some respects, this was probably one of the better episodes in a while. Sure, the plot, in which Quagmire's dad turns out to be a transsexual, felt pretty similar to a great King of the Hill episode involving Dale's dad, there were still some pretty good jokes in this one. Ultimately though, FG gave up on any sort of subtlety and resorted to just being crass - another sign that the show has lost track of how to do comedy without simply being hateful in its humor. I got some good chuckles from this one, especially toward the beginning, but ultimately found myself semi-tuned-out. Despite some fun / funny moments, this was definitely a missed opportunity.

My Grade: C+

- I also, once again, have to give a big shout-out to JUSTIFIED, and a hearty congrats on being picked up by FX for a second season. Last week's episode was another barn-burner, with Raylen trying to negotiate a tense hostage situation within the halls of US Marshall's office, as a prisoner set for transport to a supermax prison causes chaos for Raylen and co. I love the psychological component of Justified. The show continually presents us with complex villains who play off of Raylen's no-BS attitude pitch-perfectly. In a way, Raylen reminds me of Fox Mulder, in that he typically ends up empathizing with the badguys moreso than his colleagues, and is able to establish that rapport in order to ultimately put them away. That complexity, mixed with good old-fashioned badassery, makes Justified one of the more consistently enjoyable and worthwhile series on TV.

- Finally, I dedicate this blog to the great FRANK FRAZETTA, who passed away today at the age of 82. Frazetta was one of THE greatest artists of the modern age, a titan of artistic prowess who influenced countless others after him and inspired the imaginations of countless more. No question, Frazetta was the definitive fantasy artist of his era. His depictions of icons like Conan the Barbarian, along with other fantastic figures of his own creation - on paperback book covers, movie posters, album covers, and hundreds of other paintings defined the look and feel of epic fantasy that still resonates to this day. No doubt, as a geeky kid trying to draw all sorts of Frazetta-esque characters and scenes in my notebooks, I spent many hours trying to emulate his work. But Frazetta was a master - his bold, iconic figures, his fearsome creatures, his musclebound, sword-wielding men, and their shapely, female companions were often imitated but never quite replicated. With Frazetta gone, we have lost a true artistic icon.

- Okay -- geared up for 24 tonight? Check back soon for my GRAVITAS-filled review!

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