Monday, July 31, 2006

"I Don't Care What You Say Jack ..." - Mel Gibson, Israel, Tom Petty, Comics, and MORE

And I'm back with a whole lot of randomness to throw your way. No big movie reviews or anything today ... I was going to see a free screening of Miami Vice on Saturday but it was sold out, so I'll probably catch a different showing tommorow. Other movies I still need to check out include Monster House, A Scanner Darkly, and Scoop, but most of the movies I'm really excited for are a ways down the line. The Fountain, Borat, Tenacious D, Balls of Fury, Hot Fuzz, Southland Tales, Grind House, TMNT, The Prestige, Spiderman 3, For Your Consideration, 300, and a few others are the ones currently big on my radar. Then there's a few lesser movies coming down the pipeline that I'm curious about - Black Dahlia, Ghost Rider, The Illusionist ... and then there's the stuff even further down the line, many of them dream movies like Watchmen, The Simpsons, Batman 2, and to a lesser extent Iron Man, Pirates 3, Sin City 2, Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer (just to see if/how they do Galactus), and of course Mike Judge's years-in-the-making sci-fi comedy, which is almost as much vaporware as Chinese Democracy by this point.

Anyways ...


- First of all, let me echo the many voices that have risen up to condemn Mel Gibson. This guy has been treading on thin ice for a while now as far as I've been concerned. The entire way that the Passion of the Christ was handled was very questionable, and now, this guy drinks and drives (bad enough in and of itself), and unleashes a torrent of bigoted, chauvenistic, and yes, antisemeitc comments upon his arrest. And it's one thing if this was just your average actor. But this this is a guy who has put himself on a plateau - who took great liberties in presenting an "accurate" depiction of the Jesus' life and death on screen, and did so in the name of a self-perpetuated image that painted Gibson as a man doing God's holy work via his movie. Gibson is a bigoted hypocrite, and Hollywood bigwigs, like super-agent Ari Emanuel, are right to condemn his words and actions. And to Disney studio head Oren Aviv - I think it's the proper thing to do to forgive someone after they've expressed regret for their actions. But to just outright issue a statement of forgiveness, without ever having issued one of condemnation, reeks of a studio head acting to protect his financial interest in Gibson's latest film. And you know, I was actually kind of excited for Apocalypto despite my dislike for Mel, just because I am really fascinated with Aztec culture and ancient civilizations. Now though, I pretty much don't care. Whatever - this guy doesn't deserve any of our money.

Ari Emanuel's condemnation of Mel.

The Anti-Defamation League's Condemnation.

ADL's FAQ regarding The Passion of the Christ.

- With regards to Israel, I think that there needs to be some compromises made both on Israel's part and on the part of the US and other nations who are quick to condemn in light of the tragic bombing in Lebanon that resulted in the loss of many civilian lives. On one hand, Israel needs to be more careful. Not that they dont usually act with the utmost care and regard for civilian life, but the Israeli army knows what kind of foe it's up against - one that hides its weapons installations right next to schools and churches for this very purpose - to deter the miliatry from use of force and to protect its facilities while damaging Israel's PR. But Israel knows this, and needs to come up with alternative means of damaging Hezbollah's infrastructure. But in presenting Israel's conditions for which a cease-fire could occur, Shimon Perez today made an excellent point in a quote filled with simple wisdom:

"In war, you have a lot of mistakes. The greatest mistake is the war itself. Anyone who wants to prevent mistakes must stop the war."

It is for this reason that the US, England, and the UN need to avoid losing sight of the bigger picture here. The bombings in Qana are bad PR for Israel in a war of ideals that has increasingly become a battle of PR, and first and foremost the bombings are a terrible tragedy, and an incentive to bring about peace quickly. But there are stil larger issues at stake here, and it doesn't make sense to act rashly because of a sense of guilt. The US should know - it's not as if the embarrassments of Abu Ghraib made us pull out of Iraq or anything.

- On a different note .... I'm going to see TOM PETTY in concert for the second straight year! Yep, September is going to be a rockin' month - I'm set to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LIVE, in early September, and then as the month winds down (and the big 2-4 approaches! yikes!), it's Tom Petty and The Strokes~! live at the Hollywood Bowl. YES.

- So to prepare for this event, I purchased TOM PETTY's new, just-released album over the weekend and have since given it a few listen-throughs. The tunes are mostly pretty mellow, but they all fit nicely into the album's overall theme - the title of the CD - Highway Companion. Petty's meandering, atmospheric songs often sound Dylan-esque, evoking long dirt roads and lonely nights of traveling. Petty is in full storyteller mode, especially in songs like "Down South," one of my favorites from the new disc. There's not really any songs here that, on their own, have the pure catchiness or classic rock feel of Tom's big hits like "Mary Jane's Last Dance," but as an album this is a moody collection of songs tailor-made to play around a campfire, strum on a guitar, or let simmer in the background as you truck along a long, empty road. My grade: B+

- Finally saw SWINGERS this weekend. Yep, I had never actually seen this modern cult classic before. I found it on sale for like $5 a few weeks ago, picked it up, and had occasion to check it out this weekend. Good movie, but it was pretty hyped up to me beforehand so it couldn't really live up to the lofty expecations I had.

- Also, as a connesseuir (sp?) of the Sunday ads, I couldn't help but notice that Best Buy had a ton of DVD's on sale this weekend at ridiculously low, low prices. I picked up high school classics Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused for a mere $3.99 each, as well as seasons 2 and 3 of Futurama (the to with the highest episode counts) for a pretty low $19.99. Niiice.

- I've been slowly but surely making my way through God of War on the PS2. Damn this game is friggin' awesome - definitely up there with the classics of the action genre. I still have a few games on my backlist that I need to get to. I've had Devil May Cry 3 forever now, but have yet to dive in, and I somehow got away from Psychonauts even though I really enjoyed the little bits I had managed to play through. I just don't have time for these things lately! It doesn't help that every action game lately is seemingly like 50 + hours long. I think I was playing Resident Evil 4 for like 6 months on and off before I finally beat that one. Now I've got the new Nintendo DS Lite with New Super Mario Bros and Castlevania, which is yet another time-waster, but an awesome revival platform of sorts for classic 2-D gameplay. The behemoth that is Final Fantasy 12 is released in October I believe, so I've got to clear the deck for that baby, the first real FF game to be released since I graduated from college, meaning ... I have no freaking idea when or how I will ever have time to play it, let alone complete it.

- But speaking of games ... I was recently reading this whole Wired magazine special issue all about gaming, and it really is amazing -- the generation gap between gamers and non-gamers. I think that those of us who grew up gaming, as this one article reiterated, grow up learning a totally different skill set in terms of visual perception, understanding of rules and parameters, cognitive learning, etc, that those of the older generation don't quite understand. It's why the crusty execs in the entertainment industry still have almost zero understanding of videogames and what makes them so succesful. It's like they see Mario, how succesful those games are, and think it's because the character of this fat Italian plumber is somehow so beloved - as if they were dealing with an animated show. No! Mario could be anything - hell, in the original 8 bit games he was a barely tangible ensemble of square pixels. It's the gameplay, stupid! Everything else is secondary and/or supplemental. And yet most Hollywood types are clueless.

- On to one of my other geeky passions: comics. Here's some quick Hits and Misses of note in terms of recently-released comics:


Jack of Fables: Spinning out of the popular FABLES comic comes Jack of Fables, dealing with one of the more intriguing side-characters from Bill Willingham's Fables universe - Jack of Tales. Jack, now, is an arrogant Hollywood movie mogul - a fast-talking producer who would be right at home on Entourage. But for most of his thousands of years of life, Jack was the Jack of Tales - as in, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and the Giant Killer, etc. As this issue opens, Jack is robbed of his riches and taken away to a mysterious prison for outlaw Fables - a fun, entertaining intro the this new series. I'm always wary of spinoffs, but this one looks to be good. Author Bill Willingham is great when writing his own creations, not so great when his disting stylistic tendencies are transplanted to prexisting characters. But here he is at his best, obviously having fun playing with the Fables world he has created.

Birds of Prey: With the latest issue, Gail Simone once again seems to be hitting her stride. Great characterization, lots of intriguing mysteries (who is the new Batgirl?), and some excellent art makes this one of the most consistent hero books around, and at the absolute top of the heap in terms of well-rounded depictions of strong female heroes.

JLA - NY Times best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer brings the same intelligence and sophistication that permeated Identity Crisis to his relaunch of the Justice League, with an excellent prelude issue in #0. While this one centers on the past, present, and future milestones in the friendship of DC's holy trinity (Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman, for the unitiatiated), I can't wait to see what Meltzer does once he expands the roster in the series' formal beginning, August's #1.

Detective Comics - Paul Dini, the genious behind Batman: The Animated Series takes his first stab at writing Batman full-time, with excellent results, and kickass artwork thanks to JH Williams. Dini's creative vision of classically-told, self-contained stories is just what the doctor ordered. Any Batman fan must check out this sure-to-be great run.

Y: The Last Man - Probably my single favorite comic of the last 5 years, Y shows no signs of slowing down as it heads towards its final issue. The tale of Yorick Brown, the last Man on earth, is hilarious, smart, exciting, and unpredictable, and it's been one hell of a ride thus far. The latest issue, which detailed the tumultuous childhood and adolescence of Yorrick's traveling companion, Dr. Alison Mann, was an amazing issue filled with heart and humor.

Checkmate - Greg Rucka has a unique skill of transplanting the best aspects of TV drama into a slightly more fantastical setting. With Gotham Central, he and Ed Brubaker gave a montly does of hard-boild police drama with all the bite of NYPD Blue or The Shield in the setting of Gotham City. With Checkmate, Rucka delivers the political / espionage thrills of The West Wing or 24 in the larger setting of the DC Universe. The juxtapoisiton of morally grey characters like amanda Waller, rubbing elbows with former members of the Justice Society, in a tempestuous political climate that reflects the real world -- well, it's a lot of fun, and getting progressively better each month. Check it out.


Batman - I was hyped for uber-genious/madman Grant Morrison to take over writing duties on Batman, but Grant's first issue is kind of a mixed bag. There's plenty of potential in the set-up (Batman fights an army of ninja Man-Bats and may or may not have a long-lost son!), but the execution is too quirky and jumpy to really work. Morrison is approaching Batman with the kind of over-the-top, deliberately offbeat and light-hearted tone he's used in All-Star Superman, and the results are a little too weird to be taken seriously. Still, I'm curious to see where this goes ...

Nightwing - Until now, I thought Bruce Jones was an okay writer. Now, I am close to believing that he is just terrible. In one fell swoop Jones has all but ruined Nightwing, making him a male model (wtf?), creating a rivalry with a motive-less Jason Todd, introduced a lame supporting cast, and totally derivative villains (The Pierce Brothers = terrible!). Most assumed that this year would be when Nightwing was finally given his due as a top tier character - instead it's seen Dick Grayson, the original Robin, be put through possibly his worst modern storyline ever. Even DC seems to realize how crap this book has become - they will soon be hitting the rest button, canning Jones, and bringing in 'Wing's creator, Marv Wolfman, to set the former Boy Wonder on the right path. Can't happen soon enough.

- I love the articles on THE ONION's AV club. Check out this fascinating interview with Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman:

- And, just since I love the Onion so much, here's a hilarious fake op-ed:

- Alright, that's about all I've got for today. Until next time I'm pushing through the pop-culture barriers as always, blazing trails and taking names.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Wasn't Even Supposed to BE Here Today ... Clerks II review and MORE

Alright peoples, I'm back with EVEN MORE blogtastic goodness for ya'. Yep, it's a double-dose of blogtitude today, because I wanted to finish up my Super-Sequel ideas this morning but still have a lot left to cover. Hope you all enjoyed my previous few posts - again, they are merely very sketchy, broad ideas for new Superman movies, but I wanted to get across where I was coming from in terms of what I'd like to see from this franchise. Over the weekend, Bryan Singer announced that he is not signed yet for anything, but was planning to direct a second Superman film, and promised that it would have some "crazy, sci fi" stuff. Given Singer's fondness for revisiting the older movies, does this mean a return of Zod (I hear Terence Stamp is available ...) ? Or does it mean something else like Braniac, Doomsday, or Darkseid? Singer has yet to do a truly epic movie - even his X-Men have a small-scale feel to them, and Superman Returns was, thematically, epic, but plotwise stayed relatively grounded. I'd love to see a future movie just cut loose and introduce a ton of whacked-out concepts, which in the comics go hand in hand with the Superman mythos. Just look at what Grant Morrison is doing with All-Star Superman - each issue thus far is practically a jam-packed tribute to all the crazy, far-out Superman stories that have been told over the years, and each story wears its inherent weirdness as a badge of honor.

(Sidenote: got my copy of the just-released first Grant Morrison-penned issue of Batman today - can't wait to crack that one open and see what Morrison has in store - all I know is the first arc is titled "Batman and Son." Hmmm ...)

But yeah, as you can see in my previous postings, my modest proposal for a duo of Superman movies would feature huge, epic battles with the likes of Doomsday and Darkseid, take us to far away worlds like Apokolips and New Genesis, return Lex Luthor to villainous greatness, and mend the broken Clark Kent-Lois Lane relationship. Along the way there'd be Bizarros, Kryptonite cannons, and Parademon invasions. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Anyways ...

Last night, I finally saw Clerks II. What did I think ...? Read on ...


When I first heard about Clerks II (initially dubbed "The Passion of the Clerks"), I was kind of annoyed. I mean, at one time Kevin Smith was the great white hope for a new generation of filmmakers. As I've said in previous posts - the breath of fresh air that was Clerks and to a slightly lesser extent Mallrats seemed to be the coming out party for the next great writer/director. Here was a guy in Smith who, with limited money and resources, made movies that felt more real, more authentic, than anything else coming out at the time. Smith captured his voice in his characters - he fed lines to Dante and Randall and Jay and Brodie that not only reflected his own personality, but seemed to capture, please excuse the cliche, the voice of a generation - of outcasts, geeks, burnouts, and everymen. Soon, Kevin Smith had created his own fictional meta-verse, where the mundane suburbs of New Jersey met with over the top characters like Jay and Silent Bob. But after movies like Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back disappointed many, the question became - "what's next?" Smith had a few acclaimed runs as a comic book writer - on Daredevil and Green Arrow, notably, and the strength of that writing seemed to prove that Smith was moving past the View Askewniverse - he was set for his Big Movie - his epic. It was clear that he could write more than just dudes talking about sex and comics. So Kevin Smith seemed to take the next step - he was hired by Warner Bros to write big screen superheroes - not just any mind you - they hired him to write the Superman movie - the holy grail of big-budget movies. Despite generally positive feedback, Smith's take on Superman never moved past the script stage. Next up for him was a gig writing and directing Green Hornet - an adaptation of the cult classic TV show. It could have been Smith's move from Woody Allen style, talky indie auteurism into Tarantino-ish action / adventure. But Smith was overwhelmed by the project and called it off.

Then came Jersey Girl - a return to a smaller-scale, but a new low for Smith in terms of critical reception. Sure, it suffered from the whole Bennifer thing, but still, it had none of the brashness, the humor, the authenticity of, say, Clerks.

So with Clerks II, Kevin Smith basically said "screw it," and revisited his one movie that was both criticially acclaimed and beloved by fandom. So yeah, I was annoyed. I wanted to see Kevin Smith's unique sensibilities transplanted to an action movie, or science fiction, or anything other than another Jay and Silent Bob movie.

But after a while, I realized what Smith himself probably realized - this is what he does. Sure, he may write the occasional comic book, and he may yet branch out into new thematic territory, but with Clerks II he went back and made a legit Kevin Smith movie. And just like I'm not clamoring for Christopher Guest to make an action film or John Woo to do a comedy, I can accept that maybe this is Kevin Smith's little niche and this is what he'll do. Because when Smith is on his game, like he is here, he creates some of the funniest comedies around.

The fact is that Clerks II is excellent. Right now I'd call it my third favorite Kevin Smith movie behind Clerks and Mallrats, though that could change. But this one is a real achievement for Smith, because it's probably his first movie to effectively be both hilarious and yet also sentimental. I say effectively because Smith has done annoyingly sentimental in Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl, and underwhelmingly funny in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. This movie had me laughing out loud but also had me legitimately into the emotions of the main characters - characters, mind you, who spend most of the movie talking about things like the relative virtues of ass-to-mouth contact.

And a sidenote - seriously, what is wrong with Joel Siegal? I'm sure the guy has seen a lot of movies in his time. Since he's a professional film critic, he's probably seen the works of John Waters. He's seen raunchy comedies like American Pie and the like. So some crass humor about "interspecies erotica" is so offensive to him that he makes Clerks II the first movie he walks out of in 30 years, loudly dissing them movie as he exits the theater?!?! Okay ...

But make no mistake about it, Clerks II pushes the limit - I'm almost surprised it got away with a mere R-rating. While the overarching plot of the film is essentially about two best friends at a crossroads in life, and is actually very sentimental, the meat of the film is classic Kevin Smith - humor so crude that even the most impossible to phase fan will be legit shocked at some of the stuff going on. I know I was. But I was also laughing my ass off - this film is very funny, and mixes the witty banter of Clerks with the visual and slapstick humor of Mallrats to great comedic effect. You've got guys getting their groove on with donkeys, impromptu dance scenes, Jay baring all, and more - enough vulgar humor to satisfy anyone's inner 13 year old. With Clerks 2, I'd have to say Smith sets a new standard for comedic vulgarity - but it's not so much in a "I'm here to shock you" kind of way, just in a "I'm gonna let you in to my sick, depraved world of adolescent humor" kind of way. You know how with your best friends you feel free to joke about things you wouldn't with most? Well here, the entire audience is Smith's best friend - he's as unfiltered with us as he might be with his old college roommate.

Then you've got the classic geek convos. The defining moment of Clerks that forever made Smith a geek icon was probably Dante and Randall's classic Star Wars-centric debates. Here Smith once again simultaneously pays homage to and mocks the fanboy mentality as his characters debate the merits of Transformers, weigh in on Lord of the Rings, and wonder when conventional jail cells will be replaced with carbonite freezing chambers. I have to say that I was a little surprised by the character of Elias - who basically is a caricature of a huge nerd / repressed Catholic. I was surprised that Kevin Smith, who has in the past glorified the geek, creating two of the coolest nerds ever on film in Clerks' Randall and Mallrats' Brodie, would create a character basically existing to be mocked. But hey, Elias was a.) hilarious, and b.) served a purpose of giving Randall someone to ruthlessly mock and reflect on the messed-up state of kids these days, as if to say that Randall's brand of old school, badass / smart-mouthed geekdom trumps Elias' repressed, new-school brand of web-wired nerdiness. Whatever the case, Elias made me laugh, so whatever his "point" is in the movie, it is overshadowed by the hilarity of seeing Elias drunk and way too into a performance of "interspecies erotica."

And again, Smith trots out an amusing parade of cameos - lost souls who wander into Mooby's fast food restaurant and inevitably stir up trouble. You've got View Askew royalty, Jason Lee, making a great cameo. Wanda Sykes, always funny in brief appearances, inciting a hilarious debate over the usage of various racial slurs. Jason Lee's My Name Is Earl partner in crime, Ethan Suplee, is always welcome in any movie as far as I'm concerned, and even Ben Affleck, Smith's good pal, makes a nice little cameo. Sure, it would have been cool to see Jason Lee as Brodie appear, but hey, Smith packs in enough nods to previous films to satiate any View Askew fanboy. Milkmaids, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and "I'm not even supposed to be here today" all get referenced.

And as far as the main characters - man, I love these guys. Just the way everything Randall says is dripping with a smartass sarcasm and bitterness barely concealing his own feelings of patheticness. The way Dante has this Charlie Brown like sincerity that causes him to wax emotively on his fears about getting married and his opposition to ass-to-mouth contact with equal amounts of sincerity. Are these guys good actors? Who knows. As far as this movie goes, they ARE Dante and Randall. They have double chins, bad skin, are balding, and in the case of Dante, the guy is just plain ugly. By the end of the movie, they don't feel like actors, even if their acting skills aren't going to compared to Olivier anytime soon.

And that, however, is almost the one fatal flaw of this movie. Dante Hicks, ten years after the first Clerks, is such a pathetic, weird-looking dude that him wooing two women at once, one of which is Rosario Dawson, strains credibility to the absolute extremes. Smith's direction doesn't flatter his actors either - he presents them in harsh lighting and awkward angles. The guys look every bit of the washed up thirty-somethings that their characters are supposed to be. At least in the original Clerks, the women Dante had to choose between were pretty average looking as well, neither one a real winner in looks or in personality. But here, Rosario Dawson is basically a geek goddess - sure, she's a mere manager at Mooby's, but in every other way she is playing a dream girl. And of all people she likes a fat, rapidly aging, ugly bastard like Dante Hicks? A guy who is ALREADY engaged to marry a lean blond? This one stretch of credibility was almost a deal-breaker, but you know what ... after a while I just kind of accepted it. Kevin Smith eased things by at least having the script, via Randall, acknowledge the fact that Dante's situation was pretty improbable. So whatever, in the end it turned out not to be that big of a deal. Because when confronted with a Rosario Dawson, all of us semi-geeky guys would probably feel a bit like Dante Hicks looks, ya know?

Anyways ... the movie worked for me. In the end, even the walking-the-line-of cheesy ending won me over, and I got caught up in the fun and nostalgia of having the picture revert to grainy black and white as Soul Asylum's "Misery" played, channelling the spirit of the early 90's days of grunge and angst and Clerks 1 to great effect. By the end of the film, I was ready to revisit more of the View Askewniverse, eager to check back in with the adventures of Dante and Randall every few years and see what those guys were up to, just like you might check in with your old buddy from high school who used to make you laugh, just like faux Onion columnist Jim Anchower reappears every few months and begins his latest tale of slacker woe with "Well, it's been a long time since I rapped at ya ..."

It had been a long time since we last checked in with the guys from Clerks, and it really was like hanging out with old friends - so on that level Kevin Smith really accomplished something here. Plus, he made a damn funny movie, and reminded me why I ever liked Kevin Smith or Clerks or Jay and Silent Bob in the first place. At its core this is just a movie about a few geeks talking about vulgar or nerdy stuff. But there's also a lot of heart here, a real sense of time passing - of it really having been ten years since Clerks - since it really HAS been that long. It's a flawed movie, a simplistic movie in some ways, and yeah, it's basically just rehashing many of the same old themes from Clerks, without the same sense of newness or importance or cultural relevance that that movie had - that one was a real product of the 90's - and so is this one, to an extent - a revisitation of what was once great but is now merely very good. But it does recapture that old grittiness, that old bite. It made me want to go home, write down some snappy dialogue, and make a movie. And it made me care, in a way I haven't in a long time, about what's next from Kevin Smith.

My Grade: A -

Alright, that's about all for now. One quick thought before I'm out -- esp. after having just seen Clerks 2, the prospect of the long-rumored Fletch movie by Kevin Smith, with Jason Lee as Irwin R. Fletcher, would have excited me. But today's news that Bill Lawrence of Scrubs would write and direct ... well, that seemed promising. But Zach Braff as Fletch? Not too sure about that one, doesn't seem right at all. Picture Braff delivering a classic, smug Chevy Chase as Fletch line like "it's all ballbearings nowadays ...". Seems off, doesn't it? Well, as long as they keep the theme song.

Finally Blogged Again: My Superman Sequels - Part 2 of 2.

Okay, so reading over my last entry, it had some logic gaps, misspellings, lack of clarity, etc - keep in mind that it wasn't written under ideal circumstances, and likely, this post won't be either. Also, remember that these are just very broad strokes here - I'm not going into much detail except where it really counts, and of course some of the ideas are fluid and not 100 % hammered out. But anyways, time to continue with how I would do the Superman sequels - and create a two-part Superman epic that would be worthy of the comic, the character, and the legacy of Superman.

Where we left off:

In Superman 2:

The citizens of earth believe Superman is dead. In his greatest battle to date, Superman fought the mysterious monster known as Doomsday in a battle that spanned from Smallville to Metropolis. Making his last stand in Metropolis, with Lois, Jimmy, and the world looking on, Superman used the last of his strength to defeat Doomsday, saving his adopted home. The sacrifice was made all the more tragic because just before his last stand, Superman revealed his true identity to Lois Lane, proposing to her knowing that he may never again have a chance to tell her how he feels. Lois had been growing closer to Clark Kent since the unresolved murder of her fiance Richard White, and accepted the proposal, finally putting the pieces together.

What had happened to Richard? At a press event held by the enigmatic Lex Luthor II, Richard stumbled upon a mysterious lab at Lexcorp HQ. Subdued by Lexcorp security, Richard is murdered point blank by the previously benevelont-seeming Luthor the 2nd, who had emerged following the disappearance of Lex Luthor, claiming to be the long lost son of the notorious criminal who sought atonement for his father's sins.

What Superman later discovered was that Lex Luthor had made a deal with the devil - Darkseid! Marooned on an island and near death following the events of Superman Returns, Luthor made a pact with the alien ruler of the planet Apokolips - Darkseid brought Luthor to his hellish planet and cloned him a new body and gave him access to alien tech, in exchange for Luthor's knowledge of Superman's son. Darkseid had conquered many worlds, but he long sought something more - the Anti-Life Equation. Darkseid believed that long ago, the Kryptonians had discovered this secret, and its arcane code was hidden, embedded in the very DNA of the Kryptonians. Aeons ago, the Kryptonians had experimented with Anti-Life to create monster Doomsday, who nearly destroys the planet. Darkseid alone imprisoned Doomsday deep within the earth - where one day he would unleash him and conquer the planet. But now his plan had changed. Darkseid saw Superman, the last Kryptonian, as his one obstacle in conquering Earth. But Doomsday was the perfect weapon - programmed to destroy any and all Kryptonian life. Darkseid views Lex as his pawn, but Lex clearly hasn't told the dark god eveything he knows.

In the course of Superman's epic battle with Doomsday, Lex Luthor II reveals to the world a plan to stop the monster - a weapon made of synthesized kryptonite. Lex uses the weapon, which weakens Doomsday, but also Superman! Superman confronts Lex 2, realizing that he is in fact the original Lex Luthor. Superman disposes of Lex, and the battle continues.

Meanwhile, Darkseid's minions have found Superman's son and abducted him - bringing him to the infamous child prisons of Armagetto, on the dreaded planet Apokolips.

As the world mourns Superman following his battle with Doomsday, the body of Superman disappears. Not fully dead, Superman has been transported to the planet New Genesis, the Eden-like neighbor of Apokolips inhabited by a race of super-beings - a once idyllic world that has been all but destroyed by Darkseid's armies. Superman is revived and healed by the strange tech of New Genesis, and told of Darkseid and his plans to invade earth, as well as the fate of his son. Superman gathers his strength and travels to Apokolips, equipped with a Motherbox device that conceals his appearance.

On earth, the world is driven to despair by their hero's apparent death. Lex Luthor II sees his plans come to fruition - he uses the resources of Lexcorp to repair and protect Metropolis in the wake of Doomsday, and begs the people to look to humanity for anwers, not an alien savior. He warns that Doomsday could only be the first of many more extraterrestrial threats to come.

In the ghettos of Apokolips, the lowlies toil hopelessly under the iron rule of Darkseid. But unbeknownst to them, a symbol of strength and hope is in their midst -- Superman!


Which brings us to ...


- On Apokolips, Superman poses as a lowly. He is whipped and beaten by his taskmasters as he toils in the Fire Pits, but bides his time before revealing himself, listening for any word about his son's location.

- In Smallville, Lois Lane meets Ma Kent - the two share memories of Clark and mourn the man sho they still believe to have died at the hands of Doomsday, as well as Lois' son, who has now been missing for a month. But their grief is interrupted by a strange visit - a party of emmissaries arrive from New Genesis - informing Lois that Kal-El still lives. They tell her of her son's capture and imprisonment in Apokolips. They say things are grim, but that hope remains.

- On Apokolips, Superman sees prisoners abused by the Task Masters, and can stomach their oppression no longer. He incites a riot, revealing himself as Superman, and sparking a gleam of hope for the first time in centuries in the lowlies of Aopklips. But Superman is eventually overwhelmed and captured by Darkseid's forces, and brought to the palace of Darkseid himself.

- On earth, the New Genesis emmisaries, led by Highfather, approach Washington DC and try to warn the President of the impending Apokoliptian invasion. The people are terrified, wishing that Superman was still around to protect them. Highfather tries to explain that Superman yet lives, but Lex Luthor II is skeptical. He says the humanity must decide it's own fate, and offers his services to aid the military in its operations.

- In a grand gesture, Lex Luthor II unveils his master stroke -- an army of cloned Superman, each completely and utterly dedicated to their cause - to serve and protect the interests of America. These LexCorp-created super-soldiers will be the key to earth's chances against an invading force.

- Brought before Darkseid, Superman is made to kneel before the dark god of Apokolips. Superman tries to fight back, but stripped of his motherbox and faced with Darkseid's near-omnipotent Omega Effect, Clark is beaten. Darkseid admires Superman's valor, and tells him of a part of Kryptonian history that he didn't know - of the Kryptonians' discovery of Anti-Life and their creation of Doomsday. We see Doomsday wreaking havoc across Krypton and other planets - each sending their champion to defeat the reature but failing. Only two men have ever defeated the creature -- Superman, and Darkseid. We see Darkseid condront the monster on Apokolips in flashback. Broken and near death, Darkseid uses his Omega Effect to imprison Doomsday. Darkseid explains how the secrets of Anti-Life are embedded in Kryptonian DNA hidden for centuries. He believes that conversely, the secret of Positive Life are inherent in human beings. Thus a half-human, half Kryptonian could become a being of unmeasurable power - that is why he has kidnapped Superman's son - he will be the catalyst for Darkseid to achieve complete and utter omnipotence!

- Superman vows to rescue his son and stop Darkseid - but Darkseid reveals that the invasion of earth has already begun. Using his Boom Tube technology, his forces can instantly travel the galaxies and attack Earth wheresoever he chooses.

- On earth, the first wave of attacks begin. The militaries of the world go into combat against the Parademons of Apokolips. Lex II unleashes his army of Supermen - they handily defeat the Parademons bt something odd begins to happen - an inevitable effect of attempting to maniupulate Kryptonian DNA ... the clones begin to rapidly decompose on a cellular level - their skins whiten, their complexions change, their features become grotesque -- they are Bizarros! The army of Bizarros now perceive everything backwards - they believe their mission is to destroy rather than to protect.

- On earth, The New Genesians sense the danger that Superman is in - realizing that freeing his son is the key to saving Earth, they decide to infiltrate Apokolips and rescue the boy. Meanwhile, cub reporter Jimmy Olsen has been following this strange beings, and stows away in their boom-tube trip to Apokolips!

- Jimmy Olsen and the New Genesians stage a rescue operation on Apoklips - they break into Armagetto and grab the boy, and then are met by Superman, who is overjoyed to be freed and see his son. Highfather warns him of the invasion of Earth - and Superman knows he must return and help his adopted planet - but he vows to one day return to Apokolips and help its oppressed people. But as he leaves, he sees that all around him the tides are changing, and for the first time, inspired by this strange alien known as Superman, the lowlies of Apokolips have been given hope.

- On earth, Lois writes a story on the Bizarro phenomena, and talks with top scientists who propose that their rampage could be stopped through a chemical weapon that would affect only clones. The weapon is developed and unleashed, and the Bizarros are vanquished. All but one that is - Bizarro #1, who somehow escapes the weapon's effects and dons the mantle of the still-presumed-dead Superman, believing that in his absence, the earth needs a hero.

- As Lois worries about Clark and her son, the two return from New Genesis. Superman announces his return to the world, and warns of a second wave of Apokoliptian forces. Superman volunteers to lead the world's armies in the assault. Most cheer his return, but some, led by Luthor, warn that superman, an alien, may just be a herald of the invading forces.

- Even so, Luthor's credibility is harmed as he begins to become sickly - affected by the same anti-clone weapon used to defeat the Bizarros. Lois investigates and uncovers a trail of lies and deceit - Lex Luthor II is simply a clone of the original! Threatening to publish the story - Lois is confronted by Lex. He tells her not to publish the story, because if she does, something will happen to her son. What? Lex reveals that he's been working with Kryptonian DNA for many years, seeking to doscover its secrets. He made a pact with Darkseid to help create the ultimate super-being. Lois' son is not the product of her and Superman's - it is a clone, artificially created with Superman's DNA and Lex's! He has built in failsafes in the genetic programming - when he wants to be, he is in full control of the boy!

- Despite Lex's voice of opposition, Superman leads the earth's armies as the second wave of attacks begin. Superman must battle the highest ranking lieutenants of Darkseid, and rallies the armies and the people of earth with his leadership and bravery in battle.

- Of course, this is all a prelude to the main event - Darkseid himself arrives on Earth and vows to destroy Superman once and for all. Darkseid destroys the armies, Bizarro, and leads the elite forced of Apokolips on a path of destruction. When things look bleakest though, Superman is joined by the remaining forces of New Genesis - they defeat the Apokoliptians and it's down to Superman vs. Darkseid. With all the world watching the two duke it out. But Lex sees this as his opportuniy to stkie. He activates the contol mechanism in Lois's son's DNA - and triggers the anti-life / life equation. Transformed, this new Superboy jumps into the fray with Darkseid, and uses his newfound power to imprison Darkseid in the great Source Wall - the ancient barrier that houses the Old Gods doomed to eternally inhabit its rocky heights.

- Superman is victorious, but in his final ploy, Lex compels this new Superboy to turn against Superman. As Lois looks on, Superman refuses to fight back, even if it kills him. Lex watches in joy as his enemy is crushed. But the boy's conciousness fights back - he realizes that he has become something more than human, and, accompanied by the New Genesians, bids Superman farewell as he flies off into space on a quest of discovery and knowledge.

- With no more leverage against Superman or Lois, Lex is exposed as the fraud that he is. He had tasted credibility, legitimacy, but now he was once again a prisoner. Lex makes one last bid to attack Superman with another synth kryptonite weapon, but after all he has endured, Superman will have none of it. "Not this time, Lex. This time I fight back. I'll always fight back."

- With Lex defeated, Clark and Lois ponder the fate of their not-quite-son, but realize that he had become something more - they were never meant to raise him. But at least the two are now together, finally. In Smallville, the two are married, and nearly everyone thinks that it is merely the wedding of two colleagues who fell in love. Little do they realize that they are witness the consummation of one of the great epic romances, between Superman and Lois Lane. But finally, after death and torture, heartbreak and loss - with little fanfare and a small crowd (even if the likes of Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are in attendance ...), Superman gets his happy ending.

So - there it is, the broadstrokes at least. What do you think? Get James Cameron or Sam Raimi to direct and we're in business.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finally Blogged: How I Would do the SUPERMAN SEQUELS ...! Part 1 of 2.

Okay, so I've been meaning to write this down for a while, but haven't really had an opportunity. But now that the hype, and subsequent backlash has dimmed into a relative state of apathy towards Superman Returns, I thought I'd chime in address how I'd do the sequels. Since it will be a few more years yet until I'm a writer with the clout to approach WB and make it happen (give me 4 or 5 years ... ), I will say only this: Warners - feel free to steal my ideas ... god knows you need 'em.

Now, Bryan Singer and his writing team have painted themselves into a number of corners with the job they did with Superman Returns. Going into sequels, these are going to be some really tough narrative obstacles to overcome. What are these obstacles, you ask:

1.) Superman has a kid.

2.) Lois Lane is still engaged to Richard White, essentially making the returning Superman a homewrecker.

3.) Clark Kent is still a bumbling idiot, and Lois has no idea that he's Superman.

4.) Lex Luthor, potentially a key supporting character and / or villain in future sequels, is a dim-witted used-car salesman and inept villain.

5.) Casting problems - Superman is still too effeminate, Lois is too cold, not to mention young, and Spacey is simply Hackman-lite as Luthor rather than the character reinvention we had hoped for.

Okay, so in going forward with these sequels we'll have to address these problems - but I am not a fan of all of breaking with established series continuity, so I wouldn't be in favor of simply forgetting about the kid for example in the name of having a clean slate. As long as the franchise is going to continue in it's current form, they will have to address some of the original movie's problems while continuing to reinvent the series organically.

My two sequels would be a total change in direction - an epic two-part adventure that would send Superman across time and space, see Superman and Lois finally reunited, make Superman's son into his greatest threat, reestablish Lex Luthor as the great villain that he should be, and pit Superman in epic battles against Doomsday, Darkseid, Bizarro, and the armies of Apokolips!

So, on with it - here is my plan for SUPERMAN 2:

- Following the events of Superman Returns, Lex Luthor is missing and presumed dead. In his place emerges Lex Luthor II, apparent long-lost son of Lex Luthor. He vows to make good on his father's name and atone for the sins of his father. He begins Lexcorp, a corporation dedicated to advanced scientific research.

- Richard White covers the story of Lex II's emergence. Taking a press-tour of the new state of the art Lexcorp facilities, he stumbles upon some information he shouldn't have though, and bang! - he's a goner at Luthor II's hand.

- Lois is torn up at Richard's death -- she turns to Clark for comfort, realizing there's more to him than she thought. But as they begin to get closer ...

- In Smallville, Kansas, deep underground near the spot where Superman's rocket landed years ago, a monster emerges from it's prison - DOOMSDAY.

- Doomsday reeks havoc on Smallville - Ma Kent, Lana Lang, and Pete Ross run for their lives - until Superman swoops in to save the day.

- The majority of the movie is Superman vs. Doomsday in a knockdown, drag-out brawl. For some reason, Doomsday is compelled to cause a path of destruction that leads him on a road directly to Metropolis. After seemingly defeating Doomsday in Smallville, the monster breaks away from his military captors and appears to grow exponentially stonger. The world is in a literal panic over this unstoppable creature, who has fought off every weapon known to man as he forges ahead towards Metropolis, seemingly drawn towards the one thing he's after -- Superman.

- Meanwhile, Lex II uses his newfound clout to arrange a deal with the military. He claims to have unique insight into the monster known as Doomsday and will develop a weapon to stop him.

- As Doomsday approaches Metropolis, Clark begins to become fearful. He realizes he's never faced a threat like this - a creature his equal in strength and speed. He might not win. He might die. He realizes he can't go into this fight without telling Lois how he feels. He tells her he's Superman. He proposes to her. When he gets out of this fight, if he gets out, they'll be engaged.

- To add to the heartbreak, Perry White wants Lois and Jimmy on the ground to cover the battle. Lois protests, but Perry insists that she knows Superman better than anyone.

- Meanwhile, Lois' son is pulled away by a strange light. He finds himself taken away across time and space to a far away place - a prison, but not on our own world. Surrounded by lowly children, he is eventually singled out and taken away - he is the special one.

- Lois, covering the Doomsday story, does not know that her son has been mysteriously abducted.

- Superman makes his last stand - it's on - Superman vs. Doomsday - the final battle!

- The two go at it like two prize fighters, the earth shaking with every strike. Superman is losing! He's dying! Perched safely in Lexcorp tower, Luthor II can't help but smirk at Superman's pain, betraying his own malevolence. But he knows he must act according to his scheme - he unleashes his weapon - a beam of synthesized, concentrated Kryptonite! It's working, but not only is is killing Doomsday, it's killing Superman! Superman flees, confronts Lex 2 - what is he doing? Lex smiles at Superman - and Superman knows - it's Lex Luthor I. Lex betrays his plan - the city will be destroyed - and he will rebuild it. Superman will be dead - and Lex will be the people's new savior. In a rage, Superman destroys the krytonite weapon and heads back into battle.

- The endgame - Superman vs. Doomsday. Each blow is like a trainwreck. Both are wavering. In a final punch, Superman uses the last of his strength to defeat Doomsday - but Superman, alas, is DEAD.

- Lois is a wreck, all of America, all of earth, is in mourning. But at Superman's funeral, something odd happens - the body disappears. Is it some divine ressurection? A miracle? As the world wonders if Superman is in fact dead, we cut to Superman, opening his eyes, in a virtual garden of eden. He is on the planet of New Genesis - surrounded by brightly colored super-beings. Their leader, Highfather, explains that they have summoned him to New Genesis to heal him and to warn him. Doomsday was only a preemptive strike. We pan out to see that New Genesis is in ruins - it has been invaded and all but destroyed by the forces of its neighboring planet ... Apokolips, and its ruler, the great Darkseid. Darkseid unleashed Doomsday as an envoy to destroy Superman - his one obstacle to conquering Earth! In addition, Highfather informs Clark that his son has been kidnapped and brought to the prisons of Armagetto - the foulest region of Apokolips, where Darkseid believes that the boy is somehow the key to the anti-life equation - a formula that the Kryptonians had embedded in their DNA long ago, that had bene thought lost in time. Hearing this, Superman vows to find his son and stop Darkseid, no matter the cost. Highfather bids Superman good luck, and gives him a Motherbox - New Genesis tech that can open a boom tube to Apokolips, and conceal his appearance. BOOM! Superman warps to Apokolips, determined to save his son.

- On earth, Lex 2 explains to the press that Doomsday was Kryptonian in origin - a misguided creation of Kryptonian science. He believes that Superman's presence attracted the beast to our world - that now is the time to embrace humanity - and its science and achievements, not super-beings. He vows to rebuild Metropolis, and to create a special police force to keep it safe from all threats.

- We then see Lex approached by a hulking, monstrous figure -- Darkseid! Darkseid says that Lex did his part in guiding him to the son of Kal-El - the probably key to the anti-life equation, the discovery of which consumes Darkseid's existence. In turn, Darkseid created for Lex a new body, a new life, given him access to alien technology, and handed him Metropolis on a silver platter. The final step is near - Lex will use his technology to aid in Darkseid's impending conquest of Earth! Darkseid boom-tubes away, as Lex smirks - Darkseid has underestimated his cunning, he thinks.

- Coda: On Apokolips - the lowly peasants toil in the great shadow of Darkseid, with no hope, no spirit, no savior in sight. But in the midst of the lowlies, a stranger appears, unnoticed by the servants of Darkseid but drawing curiousity from the lowlies. Cloaked in black, the stranger defiantly approaches a monolithic statue of Darkseid. Sinking his fist into the black steel, he carves out a familiar S-shield. Stunned, the lowlies approach and warn him not to do any more to incite Darkseid's wrath. What is it, they ask? What is the carving? A symbol, replies, the stranger, removing his hood - now revealed as Superman - a symbol of Hope ...


So, what do ya think ...?!?!

NEXT: The saga continues!

Monday, July 24, 2006

"We're A Happy Family, We're A Happy Family, We're a Happy Family, Me Mom and Dad ..."

Well the week of craziness is just about over, and as I quote The Ramones in my blogs' title, I'm here to reflect on the week that was. My parents are set to fly back to CT tonight, so let me try to run down the highlights thus far:

Tuesday night: The parents' flight from CT gets delayed due to a large scale power outtage that affected all radar systems in Southern California airports. Planes heading to LAX, Burbank, etc were almost univerally grounded or diverted, including my parents' in-theory direct flight from Bradley in Hartford to LAX, which got diverted to Salt Lake City late Tuesday night, and didn't take off for until hours later, meaning that my mom and dad didn't arrive until almost 1 am PT (aka 4 am ET). Yikes!

Wednesday: I took the day off from work, had lunch with m parents, met up with my visiting brother at Universal Studios' theme park, then the two of us met my parents for a family-style Italian dinner at Bucca di Beppo.

Thursday and Friday: Went to work as usual, then again met up with my parents each night for some dinner / obligatory nagging.

Saturday: Dayum - it was literally 110 degrees in the Valley! Not realizing until after the fact just how hot it was, we headed down to Old Town, Pasadena for some food / shopping. The heat was so unbearable though that you could seriously barely walk outside. So after a lunch in which about ten glasses of lemonade were consumed by each of us, we headed out, relaxed, and met up later for dinner.

Sunday: Slightly cooler but still scorchingly hot, we went to Brentwood for lunch with two relatives of mine who for various reasons I have never actually met. For the first time in my life, I met my grandmother's brother Josh and his wife. Everyone was a little nervous about the meeting, but it turned out to be a great experience to meet and connect with this part of the family that until now I had only heard of but never met for myself. I now know that I have a pretty closely-related great uncle and aunt who live less than half an hour away - so yeah that was quite an interesting afternoon. Sunday night we grabbed some quality retro diner food at Mel's in Hollywood, then went to a showing of Pirates 2 at the El Capitan theater, which is owned by Disney and was all decked out in pirate-themed props and artwork and decorations. Basicall, the theater is more like a play-house than a typical movie theater, but it does make everything pretty dramatic, when you're watching in such an elaborately themed environment. Anyways, Pirates was jsut as entertaining on the second go-round for me, and my parents both enjoyed it as they had not yet seen it. Of course, Pirates is a damn entertaining movie, but it's also a long-ass movie, meaning that once we got out of the theater, got to our car, and spent over half an hour getting out of the Hollywood and Highland underground parking garage, and got back to my apartment, it was pretty late. Which brings me to today ...

So yeah, it's been an eventful week. That meeting on Sunday though ... I mean, every family has their infighting, sure, but to see a guy who has been all but totally cut off from the rest of my family for more than two decades, that is pretty crazy. I'm just glad that that relationship is kind of getting normalized a bit and it may be a decade or two overdue, but it looks like things are getting on the right track, which of course is nice to see.

- What else is going on ...?

Of course the big thing this weekend was the San Diego Comicon. I've yet to actually go (maybe next year), but a number of my friends went either on their own or through work. As cool as it would be to go, the heatwave combined with reports of overcrowding almost made me want to steer clear. And as cool as it is that so many film and TV studios have hopped on the Comicon bandwagon, it sounds like it is almost becoming a little overwhelming in terms of how much they dominate the show floor. Still, it is all kind of a roundabout way of validation - the Geeks won! Comics are pop culture! Superheroes are big business! But in all this sales of comics themselves are still relatively stagnant and insular, even though they still remain a source of captivating stories, astounding artwork, and unbridled imagination and creative voice.

So here's an interesting announcement from San Diego, for those looking for a reason to make the jump to comics. Richard Donner will be writing Superman comics! Yep, Richard Donner, director of the original Superman movie, will be writing Action Comics along with currently hot comics scribe and former Donner assistant - Geoff Johns.

But is this even a good thing?

Anything that draws publicity to the comics can't be all bad - but Donner - he isn't even a writer by trade, and for good or ill his name means nothing to most people under thirty-five. That's not a knock on Donner, just a statement that Donner's name mostly holds appeal for the guys already reading comics every month - older dudes nostalgic for their youth. If Donner can come in and along with Johns do a kickass story, then great. But I wouldn't put any great hopes in Donner's name selling comics to a mainstream audience that wouldn't normally buy - certainly not more than a Hollywood-turned-comics writer guy who's a big name NOW, like Joss Whedon or Kevin Smith for example. So what Hollywood people WOULD I love to see do comics, who I think would give instant name value and mainstream attention to the medium. I was about to write down some names like Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson, but ultimately it's not the name of the writer, but the distribution, marketing, and price of comics that are really keeping them out of the mainstream (a place that Japanese manga quickly penetrated). My point is, I guess, that rather than coasting on the licensing revenue they make from movies and TV, it's time that Marvel and DC and the rest seriously reexamine why the comics themselves are not selling on par with the latest bestseller novels despite the popularity of the characters.


- Still have to see Clerks II this week, and soon Monster House and Lady in the Water (that one more for the curiosity factor ...).

- I am now psyched for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. That trailer brought me back to the days of sitting at home, playing the TMNT videogame, chomping on pizza, and yelling things like "Cowabunga!" and "Totally Tubular!" Oh wait, that was yesterday ...

- Also, reading some early reviews of Jack Black's Tenacious D movie has me looking forward to it possibly more so than any other film on the horizon. It sounds hilarious - and features the likes of Meatloaf and Ronnie James Dio! Rarely do most comedies make me think that they will be an instant classic from advance buzz alone, but this fall there will be two likely contenders for Funniest Movie Ever -- Tenacious D AND Borat! It's a-nice.

- One more trailer opinion - The Fountain, by Darren Aranofsky, looks sweet! That one's gonna be epic.

And I'm out - tonight = one more night of dinner with da folks, then collapsing in exhaustion as the heat causes me to up and go stir crazy. Back soon with more.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Feel Summer Creepin' In ...

And the week of craziness has begun.

Tuesday night my parents arrived in LA, though much later than expected, as they were victims of the shitdown of the electrical systems that control the LA-area airport's radar. So after a long stopover in Salt Lake City, mom and dad didn't arrive at LAX until close to 1 am PT. Anyways, yesterday was fun, as, after the obligatory apartment / car inspection (I'm telling you, I scrubbed and cleaned my apt so well that even my dad couldn't muster up much criticism), I headed out to lunch with the parents, then met up with my brother at Universal Studios where we hit up The Mummy, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park, etc. Good times, followed by the first all-Baram family dinner in many months. Of course it wouldn't be a Baram family outing if it wasn't capped by getting momentarily lost and arguing about directions ... but man, I was wiped out for today - I got home last night from dinner and could barely move. But fun fun fun - yesterday was only DAY ONE of the week-long adventures in family-sitting that only got kickstarted yesterday, even though it feels like my parents have already been here for a week or something. What is on tap for the rest of the week / weekend? Honestly, I have no idea - always an adventure.

Of course, my brother Matt is, as of tonight, on a bus out of LA to the great wide American south, as he makes the second leg of his USY on Wheels bus trip. So it's just me and the parents from today until Monday -- yikes!


EUREKA - Was looking forward to this new SciFi show, which had a two hour premiere on Tuesday - as I mentioned in my last post, the concept, about a secluded town of geniuses where all kinds of crazy stuff goes on, was really appealling to me. But man, the execution was just pretty boring and run of the mill. The pilot seemed to drag on forever, and nothing really interesting happened. The actors were mostly bland, and the pace was completely plodding. I was expecting the show to weave an interesting backstory around its premise, but instead the focus rested on the soap opera dynamics of the town's characters, most of whom were as stock and uninteresting as you can get (the tough female cop, the seductress, the know it all scientist, the rebellious teenage daughter, etc.). This show got a huge rating for SciFi with its pilot, but I predict a steep dropoff when people see no real compelling reason to stick around for more.

My Grade: C

- Oh man, check out Rainn Wilson on Leno tonight, sporting full Miami Vice-inspired white suit with pink shirt. Hilarious. Plus, Tom Petty is on. Yeaaaah, boyeee.

And I'm out - my exhaustion today has left me creatively bereft. Sorry, I'll have a better blog entry later, I guarantee.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Back Off, Fanboy: Dupree Review and a LOT more, BELIEVE IT

Well let's see, what do I have to talk about today?

This week is about to get crazy - the parents arrive on a plane from CT tonight, and are here until Sunday. My brother's USY on Wheels trip rolls into LA tonight as well. Most likely, I won't see any of 'em until tommorow though, as both the brother and parents are gtting in pretty late tonight. Tommorow I take off from work to spend some quality time with the fam', and then who knows what Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will bring.

- Also, gotta say Happy Birthday today to the G-Man himself, Brian, who is a true supporter of the blog and an all around good man. As a fellow member of the Jewish persuasion, a fellow member of the NBC Page class of January '05, a fellow believer in the sacred tenets of Hulkamania, and as a good friend - have a good one, Brian!

- This past weekend was a good time, as Saturday a bunch of us partied like rock stars in celebration of Scott's b-day (okay, rock stars is pushing it, but I've been looking for an excuse to say that for a while ...). Sunday a few friends and I gathered to take in a Kevin Smith View Askewniverse double feature of Clerks and Mallrats, the two bonafide K. Smith comedy classics, in my humble humble opinion.

- Man, those movies are so great - why is it that they still feel more cool and modern than just about any Hollywood comedies today, despite being more than ten years old? Maybe because they were written and directed by a guy who was never far removed from his subject matter. Kevin Smith was a young, slacker-ish, geeky fanboy stoner, writing about people just like him or people he knew. Hell, Jason Mewes is basically just playing himself to the nth degree as Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame. It's just such a different vibe watching those movies compared to the latest processed Hollywood movie about teens or twenty-somethings written by a committee of fifty year olds. What they lack in polish, they more than make up in gritty authenticity - the overly-analytical diatribes of a new Lost Generation - smart, witty, self-concious - but stuck working behind the counter of the Quick Stop. Anyone who's been through the NBC Page Program should easily be able to relate.

Suffice to say, can't wait for Clerks II, which despite retreading all-too familiar ground, should still be a welcome return to form for Kevin Smith, and a return to the unique kind of humor that only a guy truly writing about what he knows (vulgar humor, fanboy geek debates, crappy jobs, and life and love) can deliver. Bring it on.

- On another note regarding influential voices in pop culture, RIP to one of the great writers of hard-boiled pulp fiction, Mickey Spillane. Spillane created the longtime detective favorite, Mike Hammer, a character who appeared in numerous movies and TV series over the years, played by a variety of actors in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's. Spillane wrote with that unique pulp style of terse language and violent imagery that made him the definitive writer for guys who liked to read about tough guys doing badass things. In college I was first exposed to the writing of Spillane, which was a pretty damn refreshing change from all of the "classic" literature I was reading for my English courses. I also first saw the best (if most divergant) adaptation of Mike Hammer - the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly - a weird but highly entertaining mix of film noir and 1950's nuclear paranoia. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

- I also saw You, Me, and Dupree this weekend at a free Universal Studios screening. Not one I probably would have paid to see, but at the low, low price of FREE it was hard to pass up ...


- The disappointing thing with this movie is that it has one of those premises that we've seen before, but pretty much always has good potential for comedy despite how many times the same exact setup has been used. It's simple - three is a crowd, and therefore hilarity ensues. In this case, the Third Man is Owen Wilson, basically just doing a lot of Owen Wilson-y schtick. Funny in theory, but this is not really the quirky Owen Wilson character that was so funny in Meet the Parents or The Life Aquatic. What made Wilson so funny in many of his other movies is that you can't quite pinpoint where he's coming from. He looks like a stoned surfer dude, but he has this kind of cockiness as well, a real blue-blood type snobbery, almost. Usually, Owen Wilson plays some of the more complex comedic characters out there, which is why I've become a big fan of his over the years - I mean, I legitimately was a big fan of Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, for crying out loud. How many people can say THAT? But, unfortunately, what we get here is total, cookie-cutter Owen Wilson as Hollywood's idea of Funny Man. Take one part of Owen's trademark stoned mock-sincerity as was so popular in the overrated Wedding Crashers, one dash of standard, Hollywood WACKINESS (TM Jim Carrey, TM Will Ferell), mix together and let the hijinks ensue. So yeah, You, Me, and Dupree never amounts to a movie where the actor's uniqueness shapes the movie into something great and hilarious, like, say, the similarly-themed What About Bob. Instead, this is a case of the actor struggling to retain his integrity and uniqueness while doing a pretty paint by numbers movie (think Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty).

There are moments that are definitely funny. The entire climactic sequence with Owen as Dupree "blowing seven kinds of smoke" in order to create a distraction for his pal Matt Dillon is pretty hilarious. And there's a few other random moments that definitely bring the funny. But overall, we have an uneven mix of Owen Wilson shennanigans coupled with a totally bland couple of Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson, and an embarrasingly lame performance by Michael Douglass. Douglass tries his best to channel the inspired serious-guy-does-comedy stylings of Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents, but let's face it, Michael Douglass is no DeNiro, in drama or comedy. His character here is just straining for laughs, and we, like him, become very uncomfortable whenever he's on screen.

But back to Dillon and Hudson as our main newlywedded couple. Yikes, talk about unlikable. Dillon for some reason plays his character here like he's the freaking Punisher or something, practically growling out his lines and looking at all times like he's about to pop a cap in somebody. In one scene he just unironically calls Owen Wilson a "homo." Okay ...

Hudson also is pretty stiff in this movie, partly because it's how her character is written. But she is just a typical stereotype here - the stern, good head on her shoulders wife who still has a soft spot for her husbands' goofy friend. So yeah, basically she is playing Wilma Flintstone. Nice.

Even Seth Rogen, so good in Freaks and Geeks, 40 Year Old Virgin, etc, is reduced to a lame role that is a combo of a few different sitcom characters we've all seen about 5 billion times. Like everything else in the movie, very paint-by-numbers.

Like I said, it's funny at times, but the two or three memorable lines get drowned out by the other two hours or so of derivative blandness. This movie never really takes things far enough, never pushes the envelope. Owen Wilson's character never does anything THAT bad, except burn down the house, but hey I saw Steve Urkel do that on Family Matters like 15 years ago. Give me something new here. Anything.

And, P.S. - those radio commercials really were annoying.

My Grade: C

- As far as the rest of the summer goes, what have we got in terms of movies? Clerks and Lady in the Water both hit this weekend, though Lady, man, I have a feeling this is going to be a real cluster of a movie, though possibly a highly entertaining cluster. Otherwise, there's Snakes on a Plane, of course, and then before you know it it's fall. Ahhh!

- As far as TV stuff goes, I am definitely curious about tonight's debut of EUREKA on Sci-Fi - love the concept, about a quirky, secluded town founded in the 50's by Truman and Einstein, filled with all kinds of weirdness, but we'll see how the execution is.

- One other thing -- thanks to all those who have pointed out to me over the last few days that Avril Lavigne is now a married woman (to some punk from Sum 41 no less). Still, two rock stars, married young .. gotta figure the chances of divorce are pretty high. Seriously, congrats Avril, from that guy who you once said "hi" to in the backstage hallway of the Tonight Show.

- And on a final note, let's all hope for the best for Israel as it continues to be bombarded with Hezbollah-fired rockets, in highly populated cities like Haifa. We need to give Israel our support as individuals and as a country. Funny, how Bush's expletive-inclusive talk with Tony Blair ("See, the irony is what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit." - re: the Middle East and the UN) may have been the most to-the-point and lucid thing that we've heard him say in a while. Let's hope that Bush can return from this summit and get some things done with regards to the Middle East situation, and that the UN can silence its more outspoken anti-Israel contingents and lend its support to the cause that all free nations should endorse: fighting terror and dismantling groups like Hezbollah. I think Bush should just roll with all this though and start cursin' up a storm - out with the H-Bomb, in with the F-bomb.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Stay Cool, Mr. B."

Okay so yesterday I took a turn for the political in this blog, but I did and still do feel very strongly about this situation in Israel. In college I wrote a number of columns for Boston University's Daily Free Press about the Middle-East tensions going on at the time, and back then it was really amazing how those columns ignited such fierce debate on campus. It was a very interesting time, as it was exciting to see how many people responded in one way or another to my writing, but also shocking to see how many letters came in to the Free Press that were anti-Israel, anti-semetic, or just plain hateful. But because I realized how knowledgable and passionate many people were about the Middle East, I made sure that my follow-up article was heavily researched, something I never usually did for my mostly humor-oriented columns. Yesterday's blog was more just an insta-reaction to the day's news than a real editorial or anything, but hey that's the beauty of blogging ... still, check it out below or HERE and let me know what you think ...

- Otherwise, I am currently BEAT after a late night last night. Some friends and I went to see a show at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood, where it was "Hollywood Assistant Night." Oddly though, Thursdays are also usually college nights at the Laugh Factory. So you had a mostly entry-level assistant crowd, weary from a long day and dreading waking up early the next morning, at a long, drawn-out comedy show that didn't even begin until after 10:30 pm, and went until almost 1 am. Man, around Hollywood there's going to be a lot of bleary eyes and sluggishness today. The show itself was a mixed bag. It was free, for one thing, though that is kinda offset by the two drink minimum. I mean, who really wants two drinks at a comedy show on a Thursday? Especially a free one where a large part of the appeal is the lack of money being spent on the show. Stupid money-grubbing comedy clubs. Anyways ...

The comedians themselves were decent. The highlight, overall, was probably Jim Gaffigan, of Broken Lizard / Super Troppers fame, who did a kind of Will Ferrell-lite act where he talked to himself throughout the act, responding to his own jokes with a running inner monologue. Pretty funny. A few younger comedians that performed were a mix of promising new talent with a few kind of lame, poser-ish types. Randomly, we also got the old Indian guy from 40 Year Old Virgin, who was so odd in his thickly-accented delivery that I found him friggin' hilarious, even if his jokes sounded like he was reading them out of a "Truly Tasteless" joke book or something. This one other comedian, Robert (?) Rodriguez I believe (not the director of the same name) was hit and miss, and then this other guy from Last Comic Standing had a kind of New Jersey macho asshole type of humor that was kind of grating after a while. Otherwise, the surprise of the night was a special guest cameo appearance by Dennis Haskens, aka Mr. Belding himself! I've actually run into the guy a few times since he is a common visitor at NBC in Burbank for whatever reason, but still - Mr. F'N Belding! He got on stage, gave us a little SBTB humor, and promted the whole audience to sing the Saved By The Bell themesong! Daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!

Overall a fun night of comedy - but sooo long! I'm totally drained now and will likely spend my Friday evening in various states of sleep / immobility, unless I can somehow get home early and get in a nap!

PS - the traffic / parking in Hollywood freaking sucks! I've been there twice this week now, and both times it was a nightmare to find parking. Every day some new road is closed or blocked off, and almost every side road has permit parking only. Seriously, where the hell are you supposed to park when you got to someplace like the Laugh Factory? WHERE, I ask you? My friends and I ended up in a giant, maze-like underground garage (par for the course in LA, I guess) in a shopping complex down the street, which cost me $12 since I didn't get my parking validated. Dayum!

And it's been a while, but ...


I've barely watched any TV over the summer except occasional cable news and small doses of the Colbert Report or whatnot. Instead I've been catching up on my collection of unfinished PS2 games, reading, and getting out a lot more during the week, which is great. But one summer program really caught my attention, as I love sci-fi anthology type shows when they are done well, and of course The Twilight Zone is one of my all time faves. So I was very curious for Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes on TNT - a 4 week horror anthology event that seemed to be just what the TV doctor ordered.


Episode 1 - Battleground:


That was pretty damn cool. William Hurt against an army of living army men toys in a trippy, weird, funny, horrific, sadistic short-form horror story with ZERO spoken dialogue for the entire episode, directed by none other than BRIAN HENSON himself. Hurt freakin' ruled in this episode. I have been a huge fan of his from movies like Body Heat, Dark City, and recently, A History of Violence, and his acting here was totally captivating even without the benefit of any dialogue whatsoever. I also loved the f/x - the toys coming to life looked seamless, but also had this kind of exaggerated, creepy look that reminded me of something Jim Henson himself might have conjured up. I'm not sure what Brian Henson's been up to other than the occasional Muppet-related movie, but I'd LOVE to see him tackle something darker and bigger budget, as clearly, the man has a lot of his father's talent and imagination. This was definitely a lot of fun and a really great hour of TV.

My Grade: A

Episode 2 - Crouch End:

Talk about a tale of two episodes ... this one was awful! Somewhat interesting premise, even if it seemed almost like the backstory of the Rocky Horror Picture Show played straight or something ... but, man, the acting was just terrible. Look, I'll always have a softspot for Claire Forlani from Mallrats (hey I even briefly met her one time at NBC and she seemed great!), but I don't know, her acting can just be, um, well, questionable at times. Here she was just totally grating and over the top, as was the male lead, who was just terrible. I'll admit that I actually turned this one off a little over halfway through - I just couldn't tolerate the annoying characters.

My grade: D

Despite, the up and down nature of the Nightmares and Dreamscapes debut night, the first ep alone was enough to make me curious about future installments, esp. with some great character actors like William H Macy on deck. Should be interesting.

- Also caught the debut of PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE on Adult Swim. Man, what a weird, trippy show. It really is even more odd watching it now as opposed to when I was little. It's so funny though - there is like some trace memory from that show that made me feel depressed. I think that when I watched it as a kid it was like the last show on Saturday mronings before it was time to get up and get dressed and stop watching TV or something ... but during Pee Wee's end-redits bicycle ride I had this weird "no, I don't wanna go to school!" feeling come over me. Any explanations from the peanut gallery? But yeah, the show is so random - that genie, man, scary looking dude - Mecha Lecha Hai indeed. Funny though, it def holds up and doesn't seem to dated, except for the oddity of Seeing Lawrence Fishbourne play a smiling cowboy. Yeah, weird ...


- Happy Birthday to the LJSurfer, aka Scott C. 23 - you've finally reached the big leagues. This weekend should be a fun time celebrating Scott's b-day, but next week, next week is going to be intense ...

- My parents are coming! Ahhhhh ... one whole week of family fun, Tuesday to Sunday. Matt will also be here Tuesday and Wednesday as his USY on Wheels bus rolls in. So, yeah, CRAZINESS. Oh god, I have some apt cleaning to do ... wake me up when it's next Sunday ...

- Free screening of You, Me, and Dupree at Universal this weekend. It looks pretty bad in my opinion, and those commercials are annoying as all hell, with the Movie Voice Guy stressing every syllable of "YOU ... ME! ... and .... DuPREE~!" Damn how annoying is that? Plus Owen Wilson is great when he does more quirky movies, but in standard buddy pictures (except Shanghai Noon and Knights, of course) he can be really annoying. But, hey, it's free.

- I love the fact that there was so much bad backlash to Lisa Schwartzbaum's EW review of Pirates 2, where she gave it a D+, that had a whole article about it! The article tries to paint critics as having his big divide from popular opinion. Not really the point - it's more an issue of Lisa's review being downright terrible - no real reasoning for her negativity, as if she is just bashing the entire genre of blockbuster adventure movies and not even paying attention to the film at hand. I mean, the Onion gave Pirates a mediocre review, but their critiques were well-worded and actually made sense. Lisa's review was just a joke, and I think that the backlash is very justified.

- Still have more to say, but that's it for now. Keep reading, have a good weekend ...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

On Israel -- Why it needs our Support!

By popular demand I'm back. Okay, I'd be back anyways even if it wasn't for popular demand, but the people have spoken: more blogs! And since I am "The People's Blogger," who am I to deny the people what they cry out for.

Okay, seriously, I want to talk very briefly about Israel. Anyone reading this should be outraged at some of the negativity currently being directed towards Israel by some of America's allies. And yet again, this current conflict in the Middle East is an example where, in the name of political correctness, everyone wants to place Israel and Lebanon on equal footing. All it takes is a quick listen to some of the representatives of the Lebanese government as they make the rounds on the cable news shows to know -- this government is not necessarily the target of Israel's military actions - Hezbollah is - but, I don't think there's any pretense that the Lebanese government has ever done anything to actively put brakes on Hezbollah or other terror groups. Every time there is a conflict like this, the Arab nations get up in arms and blame Israel for instigating conflict, and a whole laundry list of grievances spanning 60 years is brought up ad nauseum. And YET, the Lebanese government in this case gets up in arms, and talks about everything EXCEPT the issue at hand - the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. These kidnappings were unprovoked and blatant acts of hostility. Israel had EVERY RIGHT to respond as they did - lord knows the US would do AT LEAST the same.

Now - let's look at the escalation of events - tell me if Israel and Lebanon are on equal footing.

1.) Israeli soldiers are kidnapped.
2.) Israel, in response, conducts air raids that take out key targets valuable to Hezbollah, with casualties in the SINGLE DIGITS despite how extensive these bombings were. Because, as always, Israel conducts all military operations with the utmost respect for civilian life and efficiency, NOT high death tolls, as their top priority.
3.) Northern Israel, highly populated and NOT accustomed to attacks, is hit with Hezbollah rockets that because of their cowardice, no group or government takes responsibility for, allowing Lebanon and Hezbollah to keep plausible deniability even though they are practically declaring war on Israel, enabling them to act shocked when they are then counterattacked.

On one hand, I feel like this conflict is almost inevitable and events are just following their logical course. On the other, of course, I hate to see any kind of conflict or to see the Israeli people, or any people for that matter, put in danger.

But Israel's hand has been forced, and it finds itself in a ridiculous position where they are painted as the bad guys by many nations, even though Israel operates on a totally different moral plateau as compared to its neighboring countries which each harbor numerous terrorist groups and each make it clear that they'd like nothing more than the destruction of Israel. I find it funny that the Lebanese government is playing the Israel-as-Palestinian-Oppressor card when Palestine is in total chaos right now due to the inability of its OWN GOVERNMENT to lead -a governement where the ruling political party is also an acknowledged terrorist organization in Hamas.

Israel is DROPPING FLYERS telling civilians to clear out of certain areas. Do you think Hezbollah gives a crap how many Israelis they kill? Only so far as it affects their ongoing, ridiculous PR battle to try to be seen as the sympathetic underdogs in this conflict. But the media, even the American media, is just so frustrating in terms of what compromises they make in the name of being PC. Every time I read an article about the conflict in the Middle East, the writer takes the time to point out ANY casualty caused by the Israeli military, even if indirectly, as if to say that the Israeli's are not necessarily on any moral high ground, because they too have caused casualties.

Now - Bush has gotta get off his ass and step up and act as a leader here. As much as Israel has a right to defend itself, these are delicate times politically, and even if Israel in the right, America has to make sure that they tread carefully, yet still fully support Israel in principle. Bush has done precious little to deal with the Hamas-controlled Palestinan government, and now he finds himself with an Arab world that is about to come unglued. On a larger scale, the whole thing kind of exposes the hypocracy of both the US and these Arab countries. We are hypocrites because we go to war in Iraq, not necessarily an immediate threat, but shy away from dealing with the larger issues that plague the Arab world when they don't fit our diplomatic interests. Remember the Axis of Evil? Didn't that include all terrorist organizations like Hezbollah? These guys are firing rockets into Haifa - as far as Americans should be concerned this is simply one step removed from attacking an American city. Not the same as an attack on America, to be sure, but a serious red flag. Of course we have to be diplomatic and not seek out conflict for the sake of conflict, but we have to take a stand at some point. Hezbollah is not very far removed ideologically from Al-Queda - it's all the same form of radical Islamic terror. These are our enemies.

And then, the thing is that so many look at this as an extension of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In reality, Palestine has always been more a tool of radical fundamentalists - a rallying point for the Hezbollahs and the Al-Quedas to drive their dogma of hate. But we can't separate one from the other. Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Al-Queda, Hammas - all nearly the same entity, working to manipulate the world into an anti-Israel stance, working to eliminate Israel, the one beacon of democracy and freedom, from a middle east that they would have be one giant Radical-Islam-controlled power. That is scary stuff - so what the hell are Russian and France doing CONDEMNING ISRAEL?!?! Honestly, those countries need to grow some balls and take stances baed on more than sheer greed.

Obviously, with the war in Iraq being such a draw-out mess, nobody wants the US to enter into another large-scale conflict. But through leadership and support of Israel, we have to point fingers and hold these nations accountable for supporting terrorism. Bush has a way of saying th wrong thing at the wrong time - "Bring 'em on." comes to mind ... But right now may indeed be the time for some strong language and unshakeable stances to be taken.

This is our fight too, that much is clear.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Yo, Ho'. Pirates 2: The Review, and More

Ahoy matees! (how many blog entries across the 'net have started with some kind of lame, Pirate-y greeting over the last few days, I wonder ... A lot, I'd bet, but hey, gotta love it.).

I'm back from an eventful weekend, and am back at work, back to reality. Erica, who I've shared many adventures with in Boston and elsewhere, was in town this weekend, so from Thursday night to Saturday night much craziness ensued. Thursday we hit up Citywalk for dinner and other randomness, Friday we met up with Brian and Scott for a sold-out showing of Pirates of the Carribean 2, and Saturday saw us partake in an evening of late-night craziness in the middle of Hollywood proper. It was a good time all around, and always good to see my BU friends and relive the old days and catch up on all that is new in our worlds. With Erica staying in Santa Monica though and with her being car-less, I did a ton of driving this weekend, leaving me pretty exhausted. Sunday I was supposed to meet up with my brother's friend Aidan, who is spending the summer interning at Paramount, but I was totally wiped out and instead slept late, did a few errands, and played God of War for a few hours on Sunday (great game, btw). But yeah, lots of craziness this weekend and I hope I can recover for the week ahead, unlike last week where each of the three days between the holiday weekend and the next weekend seemed to absolutely crawl. Oh well, at least no court dates on the books for this week. At least not yet ...

Before I review PIRATES, just a few movie-related thoughts:

- First up, damn, Pirates 2 made a ton of money this weekend. No big surprise though, as far as I can see. This is a HUGE franchise that appeals to men, women, young and old. The first movie was a huge sleeper hit, and yet even though Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightly, and of course Johnny Depp's stars have all risen since the first movie, they all came back for rounds 2 and 3, as did the writers and director Gore Verbinski, who as of now has gotta be on any action movie fan's map. Of course, Pirates' success came at the expense of Superman's, which made a pretty flimsy $21 mil this weekend. I am kinda torn about that one - I want the movie to do well because it's friggin' Superman - I love all things Superman (well, except this movie), and want the movie to do well. But I also hope that the poor second weekend gives Warners a kick in the pants and shows them the dissatisfaction that many felt with this movie, which probably led to damaging word of mouth. What is my ideal direction for this franchise? Well, me writing the sequel of course. But aside from that, I wouldn't mind if they kept the core cast and brought in a different writer - director team, going with a sequel that was more action-oriented and really distanced itself from the Donner movies. Of course - what to do about that pesky kid? It's going to take one hell of a writer to work around THAT little plot point. Hmm, what is the team from PIRATES doing? One other guy who'd be perfect for the job - Michael Chabon. Chabon is an amazing novelist who wrote a NY Times best-selling book - The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, that is about two young comic book writers in WWII-era New York, with quite a few similarities to Superman's creators, Siegal and Schuster. But wait, what screenwriting experience does Chabon have, you may ask? Oh, just a little movie called SPIDERMAN 2, which he co-wrote with SMALLVILLE creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Not a bad team for a new Superman movie - wouldn't you agree?

Do you hear me Warners? The perfect team for a new Superman is over at the Marvelous competition doing Spiderman! But as far as I know, these guys are NOT involved in Spiderman 3 -- so come on, get them on Superman ASAP!

- One other PIRATES rant -- what is with some of the insane reviews going around lately? I've never seen a summer season where the big movies are getting such completely mixed reviews. Nacho Libre, Cars, Superman, and now Pirates, for example, are all getting wildly differing reviews. For Nacho and Superman, I kind of understand. Both are love or hate type movies that either grab you or don't, depending on your particular sensibilities. With Superman, everyone I've talked to was either blown away, or else extremely lukewarm, as I was. I think some people just got caught up in the imagery and Superman-as-messiah grandeur and overlooked all of the movie's flaws in plot and tone. But, I can at least SEE how some people loved Superman, even if I have a feeling that in a few years there's going to be VERY FEW people who regard Superman Returns as a classic, as I think that repeated viewings will just expose its flaws more and more.

But, where are the actual people who hated Pirates? I have talked to none. EVERYONE I know at LEAST liked it, and most really, really liked it. So on WHAT BASIS does Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly give this movie a D+ ...? I mean come on, that is absurd. You're telling me that Pirates, a fun, smart, visually amazing movie is worse than 90% of the other movies you've reviewed? I understand that critics operate on a fluid grading scale, but come on. The EW Pirates review just reeks of being attention-bating and possibly part of some kind of Time Warner agenda to derail the movie that would topple its own Superman from the Box Office chart. I hesitate to accuse EW of bias, because they are usually fair (even giving an against-the-grain C - to Through A Scanner Darkly this week as well, which is a WB movie), but something is definitely fishy with their Pirates review. There's just no way that this movie merits a D, no matter what your grading scale is like.

So what did I think of the movie? Well, here it is:


Pirates 2 is like The Empire Strikes Back by way of The Mummy Returns. It's darker and more complex than the first Pirates, but also BIGGER! LOUDER! CRAZIER! - pretty much a non-stop thrill-ride from start to finish. But is all this sound and fury a bad thing? No Lisa Schwartzbaum, it's not. After my last summer blockbuster experience, filled with brooding, angsty heroes (cough*Superman*cough) and more moping than action, it was nice to see a true summer popcorn movie that thoroughly kicked my ass. Sure, the completely over-the-top, madcap antics of the movie prevent it from having the same gravity and weight of other, more serious-minded franchise like say, Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars. But you won't find a more fun or more entertaining movie that Pirates 2.

What makes Pirates rise above the similarly in-ya-face actioners of Steven Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing, etc - which I have always enjoyed as sugary, B-movie guilty pleasures), is a.) a clever, intricate, and surprisingly continuity-heavy script and b.) great, memorable characters played by a universally talented, charismatic cast.

As far as point A goes - the writers and director Gore Verbinski really mine every little detail from the first movie to create the illusion (I doubt they had this all planned from the beginning) that Pirates exists in a cohesive universe as grand and as interconnected as anything from the mind of JRR Tolkien, Stan Lee, or George Lucas. Seemingly inconsequential details from the first movie are painstakingly referenced and woven into the fabric of a sweeping mythology, and EVERY character, big, small, or simian, is along for the ride and gets their chance to shine. And the remarkable thing is that by acknowledging nearly every dangling plot point, no matter how small, from Part 1, the movie now gives instant credibility to Part 3 - we can now have complete faith that any dangling plot threads from THIS movie will eventually be addressed.

And again, speaking to Point B, even though this movie contains virtually nonstop action, it makes time for plenty of telling character bits that continue the main character arcs from the first movie and set things up for an epic conclusion. Some of the directions that the characters were taken in were surprisingly unexpected. Sure, we all knew that Johnny Depp as "Captain" Jack Sparrow was slowly becoming more heroic, but I didn't expect Kiera Knightly's Elizabeth to go to such dark places, or Orlando Bloom's Will Turner, for that matter. Every character is given more depth than they had in the first movie, so anyone who argues this movie skimps on character in favor of action is full of crap. There is a way to cram in character arcs organically in the midst of all hell breaking loose, and this movie does just that. As far as the main characters go - Depp is hilarious and yet strangely menacing and unpredictable as Sparrow, as always - and man, what an entrance the guy makes. Depp deserves his props for making Sparrow a totally original character far beyond, I'm sure, what he was originally intended as. Knightly and Bloom of course do run the danger of being a little bland at times, but overall they are given a lot more to work with here than in the first movie, and I liked the character of Will Turner a lot more given that he had a bit of depth to him this time around. Also, as I mentioned, each and every supporting character is given a moment to shine, and suddenly characters like the quintissential pirate Gibbs and the comedic duo of Pintel and Ragetti (hilariously played by The Office's McKenzie Crook) went from being just amusing in the first movie to beloved crowd favorites in the second. As far as villains go, Davey Jones was pretty awesome - a classic conflicted bad guy, tragic and grotesque like all the great movie monsters.

But speaking of Davey Jones, let's forget about the script for a moment and talk about the amazing visuals. I love the visual f/x and stunning character design of the movie - one of the first examples I can recall where CGI character and design work in a live-action setting truly conveyed a level of seamless imagination and artistry worthy of the likes of Jim Henson's hand-made creature creations. Davey Jones and his crew looked spectacular, and the sheer size and magnitude of the Kraken reminded me of seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid and thinking that the giant squid was the coolest, scariest thing ever. When Davey Jones bellowed to release the Kraken, it reminded me of the coolness in Sky Captain And The World of Tommorow, when Angelina Jolie ordered for her amphibious squadrons to be readied - and I'm like, "yes, please."

Similarly, the action choreography in Pirates 2 is up there with anything from a Jackie Chan movie, using the same style of frenetic, kinetic stunts combined with animated physical comedy. I'm not ready to put Gore Verbinski on a level with Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson yet in terms of ability to direct amazing and impactful set-piece action sequences, but the pure visual spectacle and non-stop energy of the movie's action scenes makes for few dull moments. The thrilling escape scene from the island of Tortuga and the three way sword-fight between Jack, Will, and Norrington (a rather generic villain in Part 1, here an interesting fallen nobleman looking to reclaim his prestige) were each just awesome to watch. And man, that near-final shot of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, in full pirate regalia, staring with sword pointed down the gaping mouth of the Kraken - damn, talk about a quintissential Pirate moment. Intense.

Pirates 2, is, as I said, a throw-it-all against-the-wall type of movie, sometimes to its detriment. The plot is pretty convoluted, and there are a number of McGuffin-y plot devices that don't get fully explained or elaborated upon. Some of the shifts in character are a bit sudden, as are some of the shifts in location. I'd say that most of the confusing details actually hold up upon analysis, but I agree with some of the complaints that certain plot points could have been made easier to follow. The humor is great, but i'd say the movie almost overdoes it with the wackiness-factor, sometimes detracting from the darker direction of the plot by filling up so much of the movie with over the top humor. As I said in my opening paragraph, the movie almost overtly tries to emulate Star Wars, but the tone is too light and joke-y to carry the impact of Lucas' original trilogy. But on a sidenote, the parallels between this movie and Star Wars, especially in terms of how the plot and characters, almost to a T, mirror the Empire Strikes Back is kind of uncanny. But hey, if the formula works ... And as for my final complaint - I think that in getting so wrapped up in the fantastical aspects of the story, the movie does lose a slight bit of its original edge. At this point, the series is really more Fantasy than pure Pirate fiction, and in that genre shift it loses a bit of the grit, the darkness, the atmosphere of a movie solely focused on pirates and not on mystical monsters and magic. But I'm sure we'll get a movie like that down the line -- that's not what this franchise is about - it's big, fun, over-the top, and I can't really fault it for going in that direction.

Dead Man's Chest is a damn good movie in and of itself, yet now suddenly part of a larger tapestry that should make for a kickass trilogy in the final summation. It's a pure adventure story, filled with imagination and action, but also character and wit. Just as people complained about X-3 giving short shrift to character though, I'm sure a vocal minority wishes that their Pirate movies, like their Superhero movies, would be filled with riveting talking heads and edge-of-your-seat soap opera romances and heroes who mostly stare at things longingly and doubt themsleves. Sorry folks, but this is a movie about PIRATES, a movie that took me to exotic locales, presented non-stop action, memorable characters, humor, an applause-generating cliffhanger ending, and all the plank-walking, rum-drinking, pillaging, plundering, high-seas sailing, sword-fighting, wench-fighting, sea-monster-fighting adventure that one could want from such a movie. So drink up me hearties, yo ho. And bring on Part 3.

My Grade: A -

- Alright, that's all I've got time for now. But let me know what you thought of Pirates, and have a good one. Forget corporate America - a Pirate's life for me (except with less sailing and more hygiene, I think).