Saturday, December 30, 2006

THE BEST OF 2006 - Part II: The Best MOVIES of the Year, plus: Music, Comics, and Danny's Year in Review!

- And I'm back, for Part II of my year-end round up, this time coming to you live from Bloomfield, CT. Yes, as of Thursday I'm back in the land of grey skies and suburban sprawl, and thus far my primary activity has been sleep, sleep, and more sleep. I think I've been averaging like 12 hours a night or something. But it's been relaxing so far ... Friday night dinner at the Baram household last night, and tonight my brother, my dad and I ventured out to see Rocky Balboa, which was a truly excellent way to cap off the year on an inspiring note - a great performance for Sly in possibly his best overall movie since the original Rocky. Great stuff.

So ... where are we at this moment? I'll stop for a minute and do some catch up here - the year that was, 2006.

2006 for me was another big year. In January I returned to CA after spending some time at home, and finished out my remaining time as an NBC Page. While it was interesting to go from being a naive rookie to an experienced vet, as old faces left the program and a new crop of fresh-faced kids started out, I was pretty immersed in the cut-throat world of Primetime Development, where we were in the final stages of giving the greenlight to shows like Heroes and Friday Night Lights. Now, I don't want to give myself too much credit, but I'd like to think that my initial enthusiasm towards Heroes had a tiny bit of influence over the Powers That Be to give it the go-ahead. Haha, okay, in reality I probably had zero influence, but I just had to point out that maybe, kind of, I did. Anyways, as February rolled around I was beginning to renter the place known as the Freakout Zone - my time as a page had been artificially extended thanks to my assignment, but it was coming to an end. It probably could have gone on even a little bit longer, but, in truth I knew I had to get out of there. My time in development had disillusioned me a bit though ... I saw how strong the personalities could be in the biz and how so much that fell under the aegis of "creative" was in actuality all about the dollars and cents. So while I had looked at development as a great way to learn more about a particular area of the industry, I wasn't sure if years of answering phones and scheduling meetings was where I wanted to be headed. Somehow though, I got very lucky and was able to do a last-minute interview with Lloyd Scott, who was being brought in to lead NBCU's iTunes and electronic sell-through charge. I got the job, said my goodbyes in the page program, got my picture with Leno (came out terrible) and so began my first Real Job. Even though things were, at times, slow, it was a good experience. I was working on the Universal lot and was nearby to many of my ex-Page friends, and even though my office could be quiet I felt like I was where the action was. I had a lot of fun eating lunch at the Universal commisary, or going to the grill and listing to the production people chat while the theme park tram drove by, as the tourists inspected us to see if we might happen to be famous. Still, the weirdest thing about that time was that Lloyd and I were on such a strange floor in the 2160 building - it was huge, sprawling ... and completely empty aside from our little area in the corner - eventually a handful of others moved in, but even with a few of us it was still a very odd, at times depressing place to work. Lloyd was a great guy to work for though, and I learned a lot on the job. Eventually though, Lloyd left NBCU for a post at MGM, and I was left in something of a state of limbo, unsure of what would happen to me. It got pretty weird there for a few weeks in the spring - coming into work in that big empty seventh gloor, me and this one other guy Lorne sitting at our desks under the glare of flourescent lights. Finally, things at NBCU sorted themselves out, and the New Media group was deemed in charge of iTunes and other EST dealings. The funny part was that this was such a new area that by default, I found myself as the only guy left in the company who had worked with Apple, suddenly, only a few months out of the Page Program, I was the iTunes Guy ...

So since the summer that's where I've been - working in New Media, mostly continuing to be the liason between NBCU's various "content stakeholders" and Apple. I moved out of the Universal lot and into the Pinnacle building, right across from NBC in Burbank, and a quick walk away from good ol' Guest Relations and the new crop of NBC pages. Now that I'm part of a bigger business unit, I've really gotten a crash course on business and management, and after having never taken a match class in four years of college, I'm now regularly dealing with budgets, revenue numbers, and headache-inducing Excel spreadsheets. In all this time I've been in the "must prove myself" stage, and I probably will be for a while yet ... But at some point I'll have to put the breakes on and remember why I came out to LA in the first place, because as lucky as I am to have this job, I can't see myself following this tract for much longer. But still - though I've been at NBC this whole time, I've essentially had three jobs this year. Not a bad pace ... but what it's all meant is a real transition from college to the "real world," which is a bit jarring but hopefully doesn't mean the end of the good times. And there were lots of good times this year - from concerts to birthdays to another great Halloween - visits to San Diego, trips back to CT, and despite being a few years removed now from the college days at BU I'm happy and proud that I managed to hang out with the likes of Aksel, Erica, Chris, Stephanie P, Bradd, and others, in addition, of course, to the many good times with all of the great people I've met out in CA. In fact, despite various interpersonal dramas and Real World-esque stuff, I'm happy to say that in the last few weeks alone, I got together with some great groups of people for dinners, concerts, parties, etc - I even rounded up a bunch of the O.G. NBC Page crew for a very nice holiday dinner last Thursday - a dinner that made me very happy to see us all laughing and getting along well over a year after any of us had worked together as pages. So ... I'm still out in CA, which I never thought would happen in the first place, still working in the 'biz, and still pursuing the dream - so as far as I'm concerned, 2006 was a good start, but merely STEP ONE on a path of bright lights and big dreams.

- As far as the bigger-picture year in review, well, there isn't much to talk about. It was yet another year under the Bush administration that saw us continuing our misguided war in Iraq, one that was riddled with problems to the point that Donald Rumsfeld became the sacrificial lamb. Hamas took control of the Palestinian government, and though there has been some measure of reduced violence in Israel, there remains a shadow cast over the nation by the constant threat of a terrorist-led Palestine and a potentially nuclear Iran. But with the US preoccupied in Iraq, everything from Osama's whereabouts to Iran to North Korea to the impending environmental crisis (thanks, Al Gore) have taken a backseat to the constant insurgent-caused violence in Iraq, in which no end is really in sight if we continue to, as Bush loves to say, "stay the course." But the big story of 2006, I think, is that despite it all there is some hope for 2007, and if it ever gets here, 2008. The Dems have taken back Congress - what this means right now is still up in the air, as the party is still, to some extent, a bit of a mess. But hey, as of now I am firmly aboard the Obama bandwagon and my one message, as the 2008 campaign draws near and candidates move into the limelight is: "Do you smell what Barak is cooking?"

- In the world of music, this was a year where I begrudgingly tuned out a lot of the stuff that was being played on the radio. In LA, where stations like KROQ consider themselves trendsetters, the trend of the day was an edless barrage of whiny, quasi-goth emo and/or "screamo" bands that really didn't do anything for me. I felt like the endearingly nerdy aesthetic that made bands like Weezer so enjoyable was replaced by a wannabe theatricality that tried to employ the operatic undertones of Green Day's American Idiot with thrown together tunes that supossedly emulate Queen but instead sound like a bunch of whiny losers singing about stuff that nobody cares about. My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco, 30 Seconds to Mars ... to me, I just don't get it - I mean, I see how these bands' nerd=goth image has some appeal to disaffected youth, but musically, all these bands just kinda seem to suck. The one standout from the pack is AFI, who had a great year where they showed these wannabe kids how it's done. The Killers had a new album with some good singles but nowhere as great overall as their debut. Pearl Jam had their most rocking album in a while, and Tom Petty had a mellow but very solid new record. Fergie was clearly the pop diva of the year, with a few ridiculously catchy tunes, though its not like she had much competition, especially as Gwen Stefani disappointed with her latest oddball hiphop stylings. Of course, Weird Al himself proved again why he is the master, with another brilliant pop-culture send-up, tour de force of an album. And of course, Tenacious D returned to rock yer face off with a new album and a movie that included Dio and Meatloaf vocals in the same song! Gnarls Barkley has a great name and a great single with "Crazy," but I think people are getting a little carried away with the Barkley love (cough*Grammy's*cough). A lot of people are hailing the Chili Peppers' newest as the pinnacle of rock in 2006, but I think that's way too safe of a choice. No, the most rocking of 2006 was done by Jack White's new group, THE RACONTEURS, who had the best rock single of the year in "Steady as She Goes." But man, music just hit a low this year with the release of the Grammy noms, which was just a totally pathetic selection of lame pop crap that just says to me that pop music as we know it is on its last legs. Lucky for me, this year I wasn't overly concerned with pop - because I was lucky enough to see four of my all-time favorite bands EVER, live and in concert! Any year where I was in the presence of Aerosmith~!, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty (w/Stevie Nicks), and Guns N' by-god Roses ... well, that's a damn good year for music, baby. ROCK.

- Comics this year were dominated by a number of huge, cosmic, high-profile event books, but to me the greatest, most timeless stuff occured in the quality, month-in month-out kickass books like Y: The Last Man, Fables, and Ex Machina, not to mention other consistent great ones like Birds of Prey and Jonah Hex. A few specific shout-outs I'd like to give:

- This one is a no-brainer. Vaughn continued to write possibly the two best books on the stand, Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, and wrote a stunning, instant-classic graphic novel in Pride of Baghdad, one of those rare, so good-it's-mainstream works that will be read and talked about for decades to come.
RUNNERS UP: Grant Morrison (7 Soldiers, All-Star Superman), Geoff Johns (Infinite Crisis, Teen Titans, Green Lantern)

- My one issue with this guy is that his knack for insane detail led to many a last-minute fill-in artist on his magnum opus, Infinite Crisis, but the recent collected edition filled in many of those gaps. Jiminez produced countless beautiful panels and amazing action scenes, and gave IC the highest production value of anything else this year.
RUNNERS UP: Ivan Reis (Green Lantern), Dale Eagelsham (Villains United, JSA)

- Runner's Up: Fables, Ex Machina
- Runner's Up: Manhunter, Green Lantern, All-Star Superman
BEST RELAUNCH: Justice Society of America
BEST COMIC BOOK TV SHOW: Justice League Unlimited
MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Ralph Dibney confronts The Spectre (52), Death of Superboy (Infinite Crisis)


Last year I said that I felt it was an underrated year for movies. People complained that the not much excited them, but I argued that a number of amazing dramatic movies made it a memorable year for film fans. This year, the feeling I'm left with as 2007 approaches is twofold:

a.) As I said in Part I of my Year End Best Of - this is a frustrating year because so many of the high-profile, Oscar bait movies are getting very limited, end-of-year releases. This means that I see movies like Letters From Iwo Jima and Children of Men hailed as best of the year by many critics, yet have not yet seen them because they simply aren't playing in more than a handful of theaters nationwide. In response, my Best Of list, more so than usual, feels slightly, at least to me, incomplete. One more related point to make - this was a year that A LOT of worthwhile movies were completely screwed over in terms of getting a wide release. The biggest debacle was undoubtedly Idiocracy, which came out in about five theaters for some unfathomable reason - if more people could see Mike Judge's first movie since Office Space, I'm sure that they would have. But even movies like The Fountain saw limited marketing and limited release ... what's up with that? The studios need to get behind their movies!

b.) This was the year that the Comedy returned. The funny was back, with Borat leading the charge, and I laughed a lot this year at the movies - especially compared to last year with its meager selection of comedies. The two surprise breakout hits of 2006 were both comedies (Borat and Little Miss Sunshine). We got a great Will Ferrell vehicle in Talladega Nights (his funniest since Anchorman). Kevin Smith returned to form with the often hilarious Clerks II, and Mike Judge had a pretty unique satirical flick in Idiocracy. Tenacious D was a very funny flick that finally saw the real Jack Black on-screen, even as we got a kid-friendly albeit hilarious JB in Nacho Libre. Then there was Thank You For Smoking - a sharp, well-acted send-up of Big Tobacco. So yeah, lots of laughs to be had this year.

Otherwise, this was definitely a year of movies that genuinely surprised me, for good and for bad. Despite early warning signs that it wouldn't be to my liking, I held out hope for Superman Returns, only to be bitterly disappointed in Bryan Singer's emasculated take on the Superman mythos. On the other hand, the previews seemed to indicate that Rocky Balboa would be a total dud, and yet just hours ago I sat in the theater with a constant smile on my face as I watched one of the most goosebump-giving movies I've seen in a long while. Little Miss Sunshine came out of nowhere over the summer and completely won me over, and yet For Your Consideration, on paper a sure thing to be one of the best comedies of the year, mostly fizzled. This has also been a year of sharply divided opinions. Some of my favorite movies of the year received scathing reviews alongside the raves, and the backlash on movies like Pirates 2, Little Miss Sunshine, Miami Vice, and The Fountain was almost as strong as the similarly impassioned praise from many fans and critics. Even the fanboys, usually single-minded in their rulings on what rules versus what sucks, couldn't seem to decide if the big geek movies of the year like Superman and X-Men 3 reeked of awesomeness or sucktitude. Only a few movies like The Departed, Cars, and of all things, Borat, rose above the arguments in the peanut gallery.

- Now, as '07 approaches, there's plenty to look forward to as many of the critical faves from 'o6 will finally get a wide release. Just for the record, some possible contenders for my list that I've yet to see: Stranger Than Fiction, Half-Nelson, The Queen, Curse of the Golden Flower, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Good Shephard, The Good German, Babel, Blood Diamond, The Illusionist, Volver, Venus, Monster House, Edmund, A Scanner Darkly, Dreamgirls, and perhaps most glaringly, Children of Men, which I am really anticipating.

So without further ado ...


1.) The Departed

- I didn't anticipate making this my #1 movie of the year, but when I thought about what movie I really enjoyed most this year, what movie really wowed me both for its quality and its pure ability to entertain, this was it. Scorcese killed with this one, which was just so well-directed from start to finish, with an unexpectedly hilarious black humor that made this more than just a typical gangster flick. This is what happens when an all-star director comes together with an all-star cast and each player does what they do best. Wickedly great performances from Damon, DiCaprio, Nicholson, Wahlberg, and the rest - this is a gangster movie for the ages from a master at the height of his powers.

2.) Little Miss Sunshine

- I don't know if I've ever seen such an ostensibly dark movie that leaves you feeling so genuinely happy. I know this one has some haters, but I don't care, to me it's an amazing blend of mainstream comedy with indie sensibilities, and it simply elicits some of the best and biggest laughs of any movie I've seen. In it's own way, this movie has as much of an all-star cast as The Departed, with great performances from Kinnear, Carell, Arkin, Colette, and Abigail Breslin. An amazing (and yes, I'll say it - life-affirming) type of movie.

3.) United 93

- In terms of sheer ability to inspire awe, this is hands down the most remarkable and well made movie of the year. Never have I watched a movie and felt so immersed in what was going on - watching it was like experienceing a lucid dream where you wake up not when you die but only afterwards, when the lights come on and you find yourself in a cold sweat feeling like you've somehow survived a brush with your own mortality. As much as the movies above were pure entertainment, United 93 was pure intensity, and Paul Greengrass' direction is just amazing. I'm still not sure what, exactly, to take away from watching this film, but I know that it profoundly affected me like few others have.

4.) Cars

- As much as I've enjoyed Pixar's other films, Cars was perhaps my favorite to date. Something about its nostalgia-futurism just reminded me of everything that Walt Disney himself stood for - indeed, watching Cars felt like going on a trip to Disneyworld - along with the amazing imagery and animation lay a profound message of hope, frontierism, and the American Dream. It's amazing that a movie about anthropomorphized cars could carry such dramtic wight, but somehow Pixar pulled it off.

5.) The Fountain

- When I initially reviewed this movie, I said I couldn't be sure what I really thought of it until a few weeks had passed and the whole thing had really had a chance to sink in. Well, it's sunk in, and man, the amazing, surreal imagery of this movie is still burned into the inner sanctums of my brain. Darren Aranofsky created something truly special here, totally different from almost any other movie I've ever seen, with a sense of artistry and asimple, almost poetic narrative and artistic style that has to be seen to be appreciated. And what a year for Hugh Jackman - this, I thought, was his great work of '06, but he was great in Scoop, X-Men 3, and the Prestige as well. Speaking of which ...

6.) The Prestige

- Christopher Nolan did it again with this one. As in Memento, he created a dark, truly twisted logic puzzle that in addition to being one hell of a character drama was one beast of a mind-#$%&. The Prestige was a movie that slowly enveloped me as I watched, to the point where by the end I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, and hanging on each new revelation with the utmost anticipation. And hey, it had Batman, Wolverine, Scarlett Johanson, and friggin' David Bowie in the same movie. What more do you want?

7.) Borat

- My only real disapointment with Borat probably came from the fact that, for a few years now, I've been such a huge fan thanks to the brilliance of Da Ali G Show. So for me, some of the material was old hat. But in the end it's a moot point, because years from now I'll pop in a DVD of Borat and inevitably laugh my ass off, because I won't have been bombarded with interviews and press and memories of Ali G still fresh in my mind. The fact is that Sascha Baron Coen is a comedic force of nature, and even if all he did with Borat was bring an already-great character into the mainstream, that's enough of an accomplishment that I bow before his ability to have the American public embrace a mustachoed, bigoted, and friggin' hilarious Kazakh reporter. Nice! How much?

8.) Rocky Balboa - As I write this, I am dumbstruck by the fact that the surprisingly great final installment of one of the great American film franchises is struggling to overcome the box office might of Ben Stiller and a bunch of CGI woolly mammoths. Sure, Rocky V was a dud, but like the Italian Stallion himself, this is a franchise that took a drubbing but got up and in the end, scored a kayo. A great companion piece to the original movie, this was another classic underdog story that had a real message of inspiration. Stallone does some of his best acting to date here - and the guy writes and directs as well - he's a machine. And is there a better film score out there than Bill Conti's classic Rocky theme? If you have a beating heart and don't get chills as Rocky begins his final training montage, you may need to have your pulse checked.

9.) Pirates of the Carribean 2: Dead Man's Chest

- It's amazing to me how some fans of the original movie turned their noses up at the second - as if a Disney movie featuring needed to be anything other than a visually stunning, rollercoaster ride of an action movie. To me this was the most purely fun movie of the year, the definition of a summer blockbuster done right, with all the madcap action, imagination, and great characters you could hope for. The most crowd-pleasing movie of the year.

10.) V For Vendetta - Early this year, something amazing happened: a work by the great Alan Moore was made into a movie, and lo, it did not suck. In fact, V For Vendetta was a superb movie - one of the best examples yet of a mature graphic novel being put up on to the big screen. But despite a cool, thought-provoking plotline, a striking visual style, and a nice turn from Natalie Portman, the runaway star of the film was Hugo Weaving, whose nuanced, captivating perfromance of V, done entirely under a mask, screams for Oscar gold.


11. Pan's Labrynth - From the genius mind of Guillermo Del Toro comes a hauntingly dark and disturbing fairy tale with some of the most incredible imagery ever put to screen.

12. The Pursuit of Happyness - A classic rags-to-riches tale with a nose-to-the-grindstone approach, this movie carries a great message of hope without ever being too cheesy.

13. Miami Vice - This underrated action flick is classic Michael Mann, oozing style as the director makes every shot look like a digital dream.

14. Thank You For Smoking - A great, biting satire of the business of vice, similar in terms of wit and cleverness to Little Miss Sunshine, with a great (Oscar worthy?) lead perfromance by Aaron Eckhart.

15. Brick - A stylish debut from a first-time director that merges the worlds of high-school drama and film noir to great effect. This is the best movie of the year that nobody saw - I hope it can find a following on video.

16. X-Men 3: The Last Stand - I know this movie garnered a lot of fanboy hate, but I recently rewatched it and was still highly entertained fro mstart to finish. From the great action scenes (conspicuously absent in 1 and 2) to typically great performances from acting titans Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, this was perhaps the year's most underrated movie by critics and certain vocal fans.

17. Clerks II - This movie reminded me why I loved Kevin Smith back in the day. Sure, it retread lots of familiar ground, but like Rocky Balboa, in a weird sort of way, it was a welcome return to familiarity, and one last (I hope, in this case) salute to a classic.

18. Nacho Libre - This movie had a simplicity and innocence that made it offputting to some, but to me it was a funny, goofy, offbeat follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite that had some of the best lines of the year in a comedy. Nachooooooo!

19. Talladega Nights - Another very funny comedy, this one was pretty formulaic but had a lot of laughs and a lot of lines that are going to be repeated for years to come. Will Ferrell's best in a while.

20. Crank - Here's my oddball pick for '06 - a totally ridiculous Jason Statham actioner that is so over the top, so crazy, that it proved one of the most enjoyable movie experiences of the year. There were some other excellent action pics like Casino Royale and MI:3, but this is the cult classic pick of the bunch.

THE BEST COMEDIES (different standards may apply than in the overall list):
1. Borat
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Clerks II
4. Nacho Libre
5. Talladega Nights
6. Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny
7. Idiocracy
8. Scoop
9. For Your Consideration
10. Art School Confidential

The Worst: You, Me, And Dupree; American Dreamz

THE BEST ACTION FLIX (different standards may apply than in the overall list):
1. Pirates 2
2. X-Men 3
3. Miami Vice
4. Crank
5. Casino Royale
6. MI:3


1. Superman Returns - DC and Warner Bros. shot on half of its superhero World's Finest team in the arm with with Batman Begins. Unfortunately, lighting didn't strike twice with Superman - a movie that turned Supes into a deadbeat dad, brought back the used-car salesman version of Lex Luthor that everyone was clamoring for, and featured a big, epic showdown between Superman and ... a giant rock. Nice.

2. The Da Vinci Code - Remember all the hype around this movie? Haha, yeah I barely recall any of it myself - it got drowned out in the utter lameness of this boring movie, with a lifeless Tom Hanks in the lead and pedestrian direction by Ron Howard, which even a valiant effort by Sir Ian McKellan could not save.

3. Snakes on a Plane - Sure, the movie had a number of amusing / ironically funny moments, but there's B-movies done right (Kill Bill, anything by John Carpenter), and there's just plain bad. And this was a bad movie with a funny name that tried after-the-fact to convince us it was in on the joke, but the self-aware inserts proved to be too little, too late. Disapointing, because in the right hands this could have been legitimately badass.

- And that wraps up my Year In Review. It's been fun writing, and I thank you all for reading, as it is often the comments I get, both supportive and critical, that keep me writing. I don't know what 2007 holds, but I'm aiming high and hoping big. Have a happy new year, everybody. I'll see you in '07. - Danny B

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

THE BEST OF 2006 - Part 1 - THE BEST TV SHOWS of 2006

And I'm back, as yet another year comes to a close. I will save my personal retrospective for the next installment, but for now it's time to focus on some of the best that the world of pop-culture had to offer in this landmark year ...


So ... I am being driven crazy by all these top-tier films being released in such extremely limited rollouts in these last few weeks of the year! Look at many critics' 2006 Top 10 lists, and you'll find movies like Children of Men, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Good German, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Pan's Labrynth which are all but impossible to find outside of NYC at this moment (forget about even trying to see an even less-promoted oddity like David Lynch's Inland Empire). And that includes LA -- right now, Children of Men, possibly my most anticipated movie of the winter season, is playing in exactly TWO theaters in all of greater Los Angeles. What the hell? So yesterday, a friend and I go to one of those two theaters (at the Grove), and of course the movie is sold out way in advance - since I assume many others caught onto the fact that this inevitably amazing flick is playing virtually nowhere else in the country. Oh well, at least I saw David Spade and G4's Adam Sessler at the theater ... some consolation ... I want to see Children of Men, dammit - it's one of those movies that I just KNOW will be a huge favorite and surely a candidate for my 2006 Best Of list. So come on Universal, what is going on here - this was supposed to get a WIDE release on the 25th, and it's a long-hyped, critically-acclaimed movie with stars like Clive Owen and Michael Caine. Give me my movie! As for Pan's Labrynth, I was lucky to see it at a special screening, but most won't be able to see it until '07. And anyways, what's with so many movies being crammed into the holiday release schedule? It's no wonder that films like The Good Shephard and even Rocky Balboa (still need to see both of those, too) get lost in the shuffle. Oh, that's right, Oscar doesn't seem to remember you unless you were released in November or December - so yeah, V For Vendetta's chances of being nominated for anything? Remember, Remember ... sorry, can't remember that far back, sez the Acadamy. So yeah, this is just a preamble to my upcoming Best Movies of 2006 post: basically, I am going to try to squeeze in one or two more flicks before I write it, but the fact is that the list will have to be somewhat incomplete, as so many "2006" releases are in fact barely out there for our viewing pleasure, rather they are jammed into release to be eligible for Oscar buzz and critics' Best-Of lists while remaining maddeningly elusive to the average viewer.

Anyways ...


- Well, this is the second year now that I've spent not only watching the ol' tube as a plain old fanboy, but watching it as a card-carrying member of "the industry," as those of us in the biz like to say ... So I feel like now more than ever, I am grateful for the great shows out there that allow me to shut off the analytical part of my brain that is naturally prone to pick apart and critique, and get back into that fanboy zone that has me glued to the screen like a braindead chimp, drooling and muttering phrases from the 50's like "Gee Whiz!" and "Gangbusters!" Okay, so that's not exactly what happens when I watch good TV, but my point is that this was a yeat that had some very hyped-up shows that were kind of, sort of good, but just wouldn't allow that nagging quality-control monitor in my brain to stop its darn beeping. What the bleep am I talking about? Well, the big trend this year was for the nets to roll out pseudo-intense, 24-esque serial thrillers. But man, watching tired, bland shows like Kidnapped (sorry, NBC) just made me re-appreciate how fun and well-made of a show the beast known as 24 really is. Similarly, as much as I've whined and complained about Lost 'round these parts, seeing a show like Heroes give it the ol' college try, but fail to captivate in may of the areas (character, scope, scale) that Lost has always excelled in, well, it kind of rekindled my admiration for what Lost is able to accomplish on a weekly basis, as frustrating a show as it might sometimes be. This was a year that saw the end of some of the classics - the short-lived but legendary-in-its-own-time comedic masterpiece that was Arrested Development, as well as the long-running but sometime underappreciated trend-setter, Malcolm in the Middle. As sad as it was to see those two shows head off into the great land beyond (aka channel 999), the big story of the year for me was probably the emergence of The Office as a true creative force in the world of comedy. I don't think there's ever been a show that had this effect on me - where I was so down on it at first, mildly warmed up to it, and then became a full-blown Dwight Schrute-worshipping fan. Honestly, the first season of The Office wasn't that great - it had moments, but it was really struggling to break away from the UK version and establish its own identity. As the second season progressed though, there was a gradual escalation of quality, until suddenly the show was turning out one classic episode after another. I was lukewarm towards the overly sappy season 2 finale, but so far, Season 3 has been spectacular, with the addition of great supporting actors like Ed Helms, and a level of humor that far surpasses previous seasons in terms of consistency. I'm not sure when or how exactly it happened, but with a huge post-Arrested comedy void to fill, The Office stepped up. The other big news in the comedy world is the utter brilliance that is Stephen Colbert. At first, I felt like the guy was kind of a one-joke gimmick, and doubted that he could support his own show. But somehow, the real Stephen Colbert has made the fictional Stephen Colbert into one of the greatest faux TV personalities out there - not only a constant source of hilarity, but a walking political satire that just hits home mercillessly. The apex of Colbert-mania had to be his address to President Bush, done completely in character, at the White House Correspondents' Dinner - just an unbelievable show of ballsy humor, I have never seen a president so ruthlessly yet brilliantly mocked to his face. While Jon Stewart is kind of the jaded everyman of our pop cultural landscape, Colbert is the harsher, more relevant response to our current political climate.

In the end, was this a good year for TV? I think so, but even as I enjoy the nail-biting intensity of 24 or the subversive wit of Veronica Mars, I get nervous that the days of smart TV are quickly fading. When a totally moronic show like Jericho is pulling in decent numbers, while a brilliant show like Mars continually struggles to stay on the air, it just makes me wonder what's going on here. It's like the networks have decided, to some extent, "well, let's leave the good stuff to HBO, we'll settle for the one where Luke Perry wins the lottery ...". However, I do see hope. This year I've been immersed in the world of iTunes and electronic sell-through, and I see niche shows like Battlestar Galactica, South Park, Veronica Mars, and The Colbert Report competing on a level playing field with the likes of Grey's Anatomy, Lost, and Prison Break. In a world absent of networks and bad / inconvenient scheduling, the best stuff often really does rise to the top. Okay, that's not entirely true, as as of right now, "Rob & Big" is mysteriously a top-seller, but still ... it's very exciting to see these new platforms emerge, not to mention video-sharing sights like YouTube, where CBS and ABC-produced content competes directly with Adult Swim, unaired pilots like Nobody's Watching, and that video of the kid getting a Nintendo 64 for Christmas (hilarious ...). It's no wonder that Time Magazine named "You" the Time Person of the Year, largely due to the user-generated functionality of sites like YouTube. It's a sign that power is going back to the people. Let's just hope this power is used for more than watching clips of some kid singing along to Gunther.

On a final note of precursory preambling, please note that I am but one man, albeit one who watches a lot of TV. Still, I can't watch everything, and don't watch some stuff out of inclination ot just lack of time, and, also, I still don't get HBO, though I do catch up on some of their stuff via DVD.

But anyways, without further ado ...


1.) 24

- 24 once again reigned supreme in '06, with one of its most memorable seasons to date. 24: Season 5 was a pure adrenaline rush from start to finish, aided by a tremendous supporting cast. As much rightful acclaim as Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart got as the first couple, the biggest joy of 24 this season may have been seeing the legendary Peter Weller kick ass like it was 1987 all over again, playing perhaps the best and most vicious nemesis for Jack Bauer yet. My one complaint about the season was the all too abrupt death of fan-favorite character, the soul-patch bearer Tony Almeda, but aside from that one issue Season 5 was a rollercoaster ride that gets me pumped up just thinking about its sheer awesomeness, and yes, GRAVITAS. Bring on 2007 and 24: Season 6!

2.) The Office

- As I said in my intro, The Office slowly grew on me in Season 2 and has just full-on caught fire thus far in Season 3, consistently providing hilarity each week as the cast continues to gel and the writing continues to improve. The show finally found its own unique voice, and found the right balance of offbeat humor and crowd-pleasing romantic tension. I still can't place it in the same "legendary" tier as I do the original British Office, but I am amazed that I am liking this show as much as I do. Dwight Shrute is the funniest character on TV now that the Bluth family is gone, and the great work of all involved on this show, from Rann Wilson to Steve Carell to Ed Helms, has made this underdog show the best comedy on TV.

3.) Veronica Mars

- It's true, I admitted as much - Veronica faltered badly in the first half of its third season. It wasn't that the show was bad, just that it was missing that extra something that made it so very great in seasons 1 and 2. But then that outstanding fall finale aired, and I was totally blown away, and reminded of how good this show can be, reminded of the superlative writing, style, and film-noir mood that carried Season 2 through so many heart-pounding twists and turns. I was reminded of how well this show weaves a mystery, of how great the supporting cast is, how witty the dialogue is, and how Kristen Bell continues to be the most interesting and talented leading lady on television. Can't wait for the rest of s3 in '07, and hope that the show continues into '08.

4.) The Colbert Report

- The on-air persona of Stephen Colbert has to be one of the greatest comic creations in recent memory, and it's been a joy to watch the man gradually refine his character each day and grow increasingly comfortable in the role. Colbert is the perfect antidote to the mass of loudmouth pundits and O'Reilly-esque blowhards who populate cable news - he is a spot-on satire of the conservative media - he is to political egotism and Bush-era chest-puffing what Borat is to social ignorance. In an era when the old standbys of social commentary like SNL tend to be more focused on producing the next big viral video than providing intelligent political satire, Colbert day in and day out fights a one-man culture war, and, oh yeah, is freaking hilarious to boot.

5.) Arrested Development

- I know, I know, all you Best of the Year purists out there will rag on me since this show barely aired in '06. But guess what, it DID air in '06, and it aired some of the most brilliant episodes of TV comedy ever aired, with its epic, multi-part series finale that contained some of the most hialrious stuff I've seen. Years and years from now, people will still be talking about this show and rediscovering it on DVD or HD-DVD or whatever, and wondering why it wasn't on longer than it was. All I know is, this hilarious show made kissing cousins, the blue-man group, the word "hermano," one-armed men, and magicians funnier than I ever thought they could be, with some of the best writing and one of the best casts we're likely ever to see.

6.) Prison Break

- To me, as good as this show has been, I've always kind of looked at it as 24's slightly hoakier little brother or something. But this year, with the amazingly intense start to Season 2, I suddenly found Prison Break turning into my "must-watch" show of the week. This was the one that I HAD to watch on Mondays at 8pm, that I immediately called my brother about to see if he had seen that night's episode yet. Prison Break is like the pulpy lovechild of Frank Miller and John Carpenter, and it's a pleasure each week to get caught up in its cheesy goodness. The addition of William Fichtner to the cast this season, as a mentally unstable FBI agent in pursuit of the escapees, has been a brilliant bonus. In a world where balls-to-the-wall action entertainment is being confined to the likes of (sigh ...) Spike TV, it's great to have a true, old-school testosterone-fest like Prison Break kick my ass each and every week.

7.) Malcolm in the Middle

- Here's another one where I can already here the comments from the peanut gallery: "It had its day! Get over it!" Well, the amazing thing to me about this show was that it really was consistently great. Despite FOX's usual innane time-slot shuffling, where the show got cast away to the purgatory of Friday night's post-Bernie Mac, this show, to the surprise of many, never actually stopped being a great show. And it's funny, because though I enjoy My Name is Earl, for example, and agree with some of that show's popular and critical praise, I don't think it measures up to the single-camera quality of Malcolm, which for years was one of the most brilliantly-written and flat-out hilarious shows ever made, with a unique point of view that always remained consistent even as the child cast got older. This is another show that will live on in syndication for years, and I think will continue to garner new fans as the years go by. I just think about the great series finale though, and how it reaffirmed for me how great this show had always been, and FOX has yet to replace it with a comedy anywhere near its quality.

8.) Justice League Unlimited

- In a year where many comic book heroes were given less than stellar treatment on the big screen, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the geniuses behind Batman: The Animated Series, capped off a decade and a half of animated excellence with their swan song on JLU, which brought Superman, Batman, and a cast of hundreds to glorious animated life. The stories were action-packed, but unlike say Superman Returns, they mixed nostalgic tributes to the source material with a real sense of poignancy and wonder. Call it kids' stuff if you will, but classic animation like this is the kind of stuff that is magical precisely because it appeals to young and old alike. In a world of animation increasingly dominated by haphhazardly-Americanized Japanese imports, this was a final hurrah to the brand of Dini/Timm classical animation that will always be synonomous with greatness.

9. Gilmore Girls

- I am in partial agreement with the critics that Gilmore has lost some of its bite so far this season, but I disagree that the show has completely gone down the tubes. So far this season, there have been plenty of memorable moments that made for flat-out great TV - just recently, Luke and Chris' Christmas-tree brawl in the Stars Hollow town square was one of the highlights of the fall season to date. In any case, even if this season is still finding its post-Palladino legs to some degree, the tail-end of last season had so many great moments. Lane's wedding was a completely classic episode, for example, the kind of story that exemplifies how an abundance of wit and humor can elevate this show to something far greater than what it seems on the surface to the non-fan. And how about Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop as Richard and Emily Gilmore - two amazing actors who consistently turn in some of my favorite performances on TV. It's almost enough to make one nostalgic for living in small-town Connecticut. Almost ...

10.) Lost

- As Season 2 of Lost finished up last summer, I was really, really beginning to have my doubts about the show. I've talked about some of those issues extensively before, so I won't go into detail now. But like I said in my intro, as much as Lost can frustrate me, the first six episodes of Season 3 proved to me just how good this show can be when it plays to its strengths. True, as I watched Jack, Sawyer, and Kate held captive by the Others, somewhere every logical instinct in my head was dying to finally get some answers about this show's ridiculous and ever-growing list of unsolved mysteries. At the same time, however, the intensity was cranked up so high, the inter-character drama ratcheted up to such an extent, that depite my lingering doubts I was constantly on the edge of my seat during each episode, biting my nails, IM'ing friends, and totally wrapped up in every line of dialogue, every camera shot, every musical cue. There is something to be said for any show that can be that involving, despite so many head-scratching aspects of the plot that at some point need to be addressed lest the collective heads of thousands of fans simultaneously explode.



1.) 24 - Day 5: 6 am - 7 am (season 5 finale)
2.) Veronica Mars - Not Pictured (season 2 finale)
3.) 24 - Day 5: 7 am - 8 am (season 5 premiere)
4.) Gilmore Girls - Friday Night's Alright For Fighting
5.) Lost - The Long Con
6.) 24 - Day 5 - 6 pm - 7 pm (death of Edgar)
7.) Veronica Mars - Spit and Eggs (fall season 3 finale)
8.) Prison Break - The Killing Box (fall season finale)
9.) Gilmore Girls - I Get A Sidekick Out of You (Lane's wedding)
10.) Lost - I Do (fall season finale)

Honorable Mention: Studio 60 - Pilot

THE TOP 10 EPISODES OF 2006 (Comedy):

1.) Arrested Development - Fakin' It / Family Ties / Exit Strategy / Development Arrested (4-part series finale)
2.) The Office - The Merger
3.) The Office - The Convict
4.) The Office - Initiation
5.) The Simpsons - Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife (Ricky Gervais-written ep)
6.) King of the Hill - Church Hopping
7.) King of the Hill - 24 Hour Propane People
8. ) The Office - Dwight's Speech
9.) The Office - The Carpet
10.) Tie: Malcolm in the Middle - Graduation (series finale), Malcolm in the Middle: Stevie in the Hospital


The Shows to Watch Out For in 2007:

1.) Heroes - Heroes has had a slow but steady start thus far, and the unlikely breakout has been Masi Oka as the lovable Hiro. But after a decent but underwhelming pilot, the show has slowly but surely begun to remedy some of its flaws and work around some of the weaknesses in its cast by upping the ante in terms of plot twists and pacing. Adding a few go-to, veteran actors like Christopher Ecclestion can only help things in '07, and the added contributions of talents like Jeph Loeb should hopefully add to the intelligence of the scripts.

2.) 30 Rock - I felt it was too early to add this show to my Best Of list, and truthfully it's not quite at the level of quality of say, The Office yet. But so far, it has been pretty darn funny, and both Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan have been hilarious. With a little more smoothing-out, this could be a real breakout.

3.) Lost - Okay, I have been kind of discouraged reading recent interviews with the likes of Damon Lindeloff and some of his Lost colleagues, in which there seems to be a kind of submissive attitude like "well, we have to do what the network wants when it comes to pacing our stories." So why am I putting this on my watch-list for '07? Two words: Brian K. Vaughn. Perhaps my favorite current fiction writer has joined the writing team of Lost! Sure, there's only so much one man can do in a crowded TV writer's room, but I mean, the writer of Y: The Last Man and Pride of Baghdad writing dialogue for Locke and Sayid? Sounds too good to be true, but it is fo' real.

4.) King of the Hill - FOX dubbed this show finito, but in a rare show of good judgement, the network gave it the nod to come back for one mo' round of down-home hilarity. If this is truly it, I hope the show can go out with a bang, as I think it's truly an underrated gem and one of the most consistently good comedies of the last decade.

5.) Smallville - After a decent season premiere, Smallville has really been struggling to not suck thus far in its latest season. Nevertheless, the "coming in '07" promos for the show look badass, and the promise of Lex going ever darker, while Clark pulls together a protoype Justice League, is enough to keep me watching. But if the show continues to focus on lame villains-of-the-week and the neverending, angsty trust issues of Lana Lang, well then, as the themesong says: "somebody saaaaaaave me!"

What Fizzled in 2006:

1.) Bleak, humorless, serialized crime dramas - Hello, network execs. 24 works because it is fun and over-the-top, and yet here we were in the fall season at a time when America clearly wants ESCAPISM, and we get depressingly angst-filled shows about kidnapping (Kidnapped), hostage trauma (The Nine), skeevy lawyers (Shark, Justice), and unlikable criminals (Smith, Heist). Why is this so hard to figure out? America wants heroes (and Heroes!), not TV that makes stabbing oneself with a pencil look like fun in comparison. A classic film noit murder mystery a la Veronica Mars = good times. A season-long mystery asking us to guess at what unspoken terrors might have occured to nine post-traumatic hostages? Not so good times. But do you really need me to tell you this?

2.) Preachy Politics in Primetime vs. Brainless Trash - Okay, I'm mostly talking about Studio 60, which frankly had one of the best pilots I've seen based off one of the best TV scripts I've read. But the show quickly devolved into a platform for Aaron Sorkin to weave heavy-handed political discussion into a show about SKETCH COMEDY, with every piece of dialogue delivered with the same level of implied gravity as if the characters were standing in the Pentagon rather than in a television studio. The pilot, helped by a great cameo by Judd Hirsch, somehow held all of these threads together and delivered an amazing piece of TV, but it all began to unravel as the show-within-a-show never seemed good or important enough (let alone funny enough) to warrant the weight that Sorkin was giving it. The show has had its moments, with some great performances by Matthew Perry, Ed Asner, Steven Webber, and others - but, overall, it's no big mystery to me why people were tuning out - a show about showbiz that fancies itself to be about politics and the culture wars is a hard sell, especially when the show seems to wear its own smugness and self-importance on its sleeve. Still, Studio 60's failure to live up to the hype is much less disturbing than a show like Jericho, whose premise actually WARRANTS some political meat with the plot, yet basically plays out like The OC gone nuclear. I fear for a new trend where all high-concept shows will simply be soap-operas stitched together with pop-music montages under the loose pretense of being "about" something other than who is hooking up with who. I mean, who cares who nuked America when (gasp!) the prom queen is making out with the president of the chess club!

3.) The CW launch - The CW seemed to have great promise - the best of the WB and UPN, in a new net that would give a boost to under the radar shows like VM and provide a great platform to launch new hits. Well, with a flimsy development slate and an overreliance on aging shows like Smallville and Gilmore (not to mention 7th Heaven), the CW seems to have missed a huge opportunity to make an impact. Sad that it's most buzzed-about show was the never-aired Aquaman pilot, which became an internet hit when it became available for download on iTunes.

4.) Network Comedies - As funny as The Office is, it isn't enough. With Arrested gone, there is still a huge void in the world of TV comedy. I know, I have friends who rave about shows like How I Met Your Mother and Old Christine, but where is the true innovation in primetime? Where is the next great animated primetime comedy? (American Dad ain't it ... no wonder they're bringing back Futurama ...). Where is the next show to push comedy to its creative limits like Arrested Development did? As of now, these shows are mostly on cable - The Colbert Report, Adult Swim (Metalpocalypse, anyone?), so there is hope if you channel-surf past the single-digits. But when the nets turn out retro-grade lameness like 20 Good Years and 'Till Death, it makes you wonder ...

5.) Network News - While cable news thrives in its own, flag-waving niche, Katie Couric's much-heralded move to CBS did little to innovate, other than some additional leg-shots and those lame "In Their Own Words" segments. When is the news going to really adapt to a new era, and maintain integrity and impartiality without being tired and boring? When will a real newscast for the digital age emerge? Still waiting on that one ...


- Best Season Premiere: 24 Season 5
- Best Season Finale: 24 Season 5
- Best Series Finale: Arrested Development
- Best Lead Character (Drama): Jack Bauer (24)
- Best Supporting Character (Drama): Keith Mars (Veronica Mars)
- Best Lead Character (Comedy): Michael Scott (The Office)
- Best Supporting Character (Comedy): Dwight Schrute (The Office)
- Best New Character (Drama): Hiro (Heroes)
- Best New Character (Comedy): Alec Baldwin as Jack Doneghy (30 Rock)
- Best Villain: Peter Weller as Henderson on 24
- Most Shocking Moment: Michael shoots and kills Ana-Lucia and Libby in the span of 30 seconds on Lost
- Best Dramatic Speech: Jack Bauer to President Logan on 24 ("Right here, right now, you WILL face justice!")
- Best Comedic Speech: Dwight's Stalin-esque speech on The Office
- Best Late Night Guest Appearances: Borat's side-splitting spots on Conan and Leno (w/Martha Stewart!)
- Best Running Late Night gag - Tie: Conan O' Brien's Lord of the Rings: The Musical, and Conan O'Brien's Horny Manatee
- Biggest Plot Twist: Beaver revealed as the mastermind on Veronica Mars
- Best Death Scene: TIE - Edgar suffocates on 24, Jack Bauer shoots Henderson on 24, Abruze meets his maker on Prison Break, Fichtner executes escapee on Prison Break
- Lamest Death Scene - Tony Almeda abruptly bites it on 24 -- whyyyyyyy?!?!
- Fictional RIP: President David Palmer, Edgar Styles, Tony Almeda, Michelle, Alan Henderson (24), Abruze, Veronica, the Governor, that old dude (Prison Break), Mr. Eko, Ana-Lucia, Libby (Lost), Beaver (Veronica Mars), Pa Kent (Smallville), Marissa Cooper (The OC)

- Best Return to Form: Veronica Mars with it's Season 3 fall finale
- Best Guest Writer: Ricky Gervais (The Simpsons, The Office)
- Best Guest Star (Comedy) - Christian Slater, Rosanne Barr, and John Leguizamo on My Name is Earl
- Best Guest Star (Drama) - John Goodman on Studio 60
- Best Show I Watched on DVD: Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Best Animated Guest-Stars: Michael Chabon, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen, Gore Vidal on The Simpsons
- Best Marketing Campaign: Heroes
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Kevin Conroy for brilliantly voicing Batman for over a decade
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Malcolm in the Middle for a brilliant seven-year run as one of TV's most inventive comedies

- Biggest Jump-the-Shark Moment: Ryan Atwood cage-fighting on the season premiere of The OC
- Worst Theme Song Change: Veronica Mars' remixed opener
- It Took Them a Year, But they Did It: SNL finally repeats the success of Lazy Sunday a full year later with the viral sensation "$#%& in a box" digital short.
- Biggest WTF Moment: The four-toed statue on Lost
- Most annoying speech patterns: Desmond's constant use of "brother" on Lost - Hulk Hogan should sue
- Still not out on DVD, dammit all: The State (but it is on iTunes ...)
- Biggest Decline in Quality from a Year Ago: Family Guy, Smallville
- Biggest Sign of the Apocalypse: Dancing with the Stars #1 show in America

Alright, that's it for Part 1 - stay tuned for the rest and Happy Holidays! Tommorow I'm outta herrrrrrrrre and back home to CT, so I'll catch ya' later on the EAST SIDE.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Ho Ho Hoooo: Pursuit of Happyness Review and More

So this blog is my first ever written from my MacBook, so bear with my spelling and typos as I'm still kinda geting used to the keyboard on this thing.

So, i really don't have much to say about Christmas - I'm not one of those Jews wh oever secretly longed to celebrate Christmas, and I definitely don't come from a family that did anything Christmas-y. Personally, I'd rather sit on the sidelines and engage in the classic Jewish traditions of movies and / or Chinese food than partake in a holiday that by its definition I should not be celebrating. Still, I do love a good Christmas-themed movie or TV show, since our pop culture has so homogenized Christmas that its basically a totally non-religious celebration of consumerism and Hallmark-ified ideas of "goodwill towards men" and whatnot. So I can happily watch Batman and Homer Simpson learn lessons about selflessness and holiday spirit without nary a mention of good ol' J.C. - I enjoy all that as much as anyone. I just think the whole thing is kinda absurd - and if I was a Christian I would wonder why my most important religious holiday of the year became so stripped of all religious context. Anyways, I'm just happy for a few days off ...

... especially since I've ben feeling really sick! Ugh! Since Thursday or so I started to feel a little under the weather, but it really escalated Friday night, and over the weekend it's gotten worse ... Nothing TOO serious, luckily, just cold-type stuff, but man, I've just been kind of out of it. But hey, at least I've had time off to rest and recover ... unfortunately before I head home to CT on Thursday, I have to go into work all day Wednesday ... oh well, hopefully not much will be going on.

Anyways, this is turning out to be quite the rambling post so far ... so I'll get down to business.


Well, this is a movie that most anyone should be able to relate to. Okay, for the spoiled rich kids out here in Hollywood, living off their parents' inherited fortunes while working on the great American screenplay, it may stretch the limit of relatability. But for anyone who's ever looked nervously at an ATM receipt, for anyone who has tried to figure out how the were going to afford to make it through the month, for anyone whose parents gave them a giant guilt trip about any and all luxury items ever bought for them (okay, haha that may have just been me ...), this is a movie that will make you think "wow, I'm glad someone is telling this story. But the great thing about Pursuit of Happyness is that it could have very easily been (and, frankly, appeared to be from the trailers) a cookie-cutter aww-shucks Hallmark card of a movie. However, this is in fact a film with a lot of depth and a lot of wit, and yes, plenty of heart to spare as well. My point is, that this could have been a one-note, sappy cheese-fest, but surprisingl, it is a pretty great movie.

Based on a true-life story, this movie poses such a troubling yet interesting question - how does one move up the social ladder? How does one become a white-collar worker when all your life you've been struggling to make end's meet? I think a lot of us struggling in entry-level entertainment jobs out here can relate, even if just a bit ... I mean, I remember in college, talking to young alumni who had made the jump to Hollywood, asking them the same question that my parents kept asking me - "so, how exactly does one DO it?" What I meant was, how was one supposed to afford a move to LA when by all accounts there was no guarantee of a job, and the jobs that you could potentially get didn't even pay enough to pay rent, have a car, etc. And you know what ... I rarely got a straight answer from anyone I asked - it's the same as when you ask a bigshot exec or a well-known producer how they got to where they are today - there's a lot of the usual "right place at right time, kept plugging away, etc" but rarely does the truth come out, which is, inevitably: "I was handed my lot in life on a silver spoon, so there."

The Pursuit of Happyness looks at a man who not only wasn't handed anything, but is prone to bad luck. We see Will Smith as a man who invested what little money he had in buying up medical devices to sell - bone-scanners deemed largely useless by doctors, leaving Smith's character in a daily struggle to use his charm and persistance to get rid of one of the things, and thus be able to pay his rent, feed his son, and do it all over again. As Smith hits rock bottom, he decides to make a radical change in his life and apply for an internship at an investment bank - the problem is, of course, that the internship doesn't even pay. And so begins a rollercoaster ride in which Smith must stretch himself to the limit in order to push through the glass ceiling while at the same time struggling to pay the bills. It's a great story, because it reminds you how so much of corporate America, despite our notions of equal opportunity, is designed to keep outsiders out and to make sure that only a select few ever truly reap the benefits of the system.

But enough about the movie's premise --- the fact is that Will Smith puts in possibly his best performance to date as Chris Gardner. Sure, the charisma is stil l there, but the Will Smith-ness is suitably toned down in favor of the actor going for a deeper, more nuanced performance. Smith does an excellent job of keeping himself in check, so that when the big, emotional moments do come, they resonate rather than feeling lke just another dance in the Will Smith show. Will's real-life son, Jaden, is excellent here as well - easily one of the best and least-annoying on-screen kids I've seen in a while, the best part about him is that he further elevates his dad's performace to give it that extra level of legitimacy. There is a great scene where Will has to face the fact that he and his son are homeless - their only choice for the night is to sleep in an empy subway restroom. But like all fathers who try to hide the sometimes harsh truth from their kids, Will plays on his young son's imagination and makes the entire tragic situation into a game for his son, all the while barely containing his own sadness and sense of futility. A very real, very empathetic scene, played just right by all parties, that embodies why the movie works as well as it does.

In any case, this isn't the greatest movie ever or anything, but it works extremely well and is intelligently crafted, rarely heavy-handed or unnecessarily preachy, but quitely intense and emotional, with plenty of moments of levity and humor to add to the overall entertainment value. In the end, I was glad that this particular story had been told, because it deals with the classic American dream, rags-to-riches saga in a very nose-to-the-ground, honest way, that makes you happy for Chris Gardner's rise to success but also angry at a society that would make it so hard for a smart, well-meaning guy like him to succeed. I would definitely recommend that you check it out this holiday season.

My Grade: A -

Alright, I'm prett tired, which probably explains the rambling nature of thi blog, so forgive my rants and have a happy holiday - I will be back, soon, I promise - for Best of 2006!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

LOADED LIKE A FREIGHT-TRAIN! FLYIN' LIKE AN AERO-PLANE! Guns N' Roses Concert Wrap-Up, Pan's Labrynth Review, and MORE

Okay, so I've been wanting to write for a few days now, but craziness at work and general fatigue (will explain shortly) have kept me from doing so. But let me set the scene ...

So this past weekend was pure insanity. Aksel came down from San Diego and the stage was set for one jam-packed weekend. Between picking up Aksel from LA's Union Station on Saturday and getting lost in the process, and meeting up with Dan K and Aksel's old friend Bob on Saturday night, I wasn't sureh ow much energy I'd have left for the big GnR show on Sunday night. But despite little sleep and some touring around Hollywood in the afternoon, when the time came, I was pumped, primed, and ready for GUNS N ROSES, baby.

The crew and I met up beforehand at Universal Citywalk, where not only would the concert be held, but also, coincidentally, a huge gathering of Jews was taking place in honor of Hanukah, right outside our initial destination of Hard Rock to boot. So we dined in style at the Hard Rock Cafe - the perdect place to prepare for GNR, as classic Guns' tunes were on continuous rotation and all manner of GnR enthusiasts filtered in and out, even a few in full-on Axl Rose regalia. As I ate my cajun chicken sandwich and rocked out to the music videos from Appetite, Use Your Illusion, etc, it was on like donkey kong. After the grub was consumed the band of misfits headed outside to catch the tail-end of the celebratory Hanukah candle-lighting, in a ceremony complete with Chasidic emo-rockers and throngs of Ortho-families dancing and clapping as the band played on. Supposedly, the Sox' Gabe Kaplar was even in attendance, though I didn't see him first-hand. Still, we had to pry ourselves away from the festivities, as the schlock rock was only but a stop on our journey to the Land of Rock. We headed down the Citywalk road, through neon signs and gaudy storefronts did we trek, until we entered the gates of the Universal Ampitheater, where the one known as Axl (not to be confused with Aksel) would soon grace us with his steely pipes and welcome us into his depraved jungle of rock n' roll.

Although, this being Guns N Roses, fronted by a man notorious for starting things fashionably late, GnR was the final act of an epic night of musical spectacle. We entered the arena - which is I have to say, a great venue - not too big, great views of the stage, very comfortable, and perfect for a rockshow. First up was, quite appropriately, a show from none other than the Suicide Girls, for the unintiated, think the Rockettes as conceived by a braintrust of Hugh Hefner and Marylin Manson. We watched as we were introduced to some of Hell's Belles, and when I say introduced I mean introduced. After a rousing show of burlesque rock n' shock, it was time for Helmet to take the stage. The band was familiar to me in name but I didn't recognize any of their Pantera-esque metal tunes. They were very loud, and hardcore to the max, though I wonder if they were really appropriate for a show featuring the much more operatic rock of GnR. I can't say I really enjoyed Helmet much, but I'll give them some respect as a solid band, even if their gutteral screamings reminiscent of Motorhead but less good sort of gave me a headache.

After Helmet (some would say thankfully) left the stage, it was time for SEBASTIAN BACH to do his thing. Being a fan of Skid Row and the man's humorous acting work on Gilmore Girls, as well as his frequent appearances on VH1's I Love the 70's / 80's / 90's, I was mucho psyched to see SEBASTIAN (n. Yohan) kick ass old-school hair-metal style. And dayum, praised be the lords of hairspray, Mr. Bach came out and declared mightily that Rock N' Roll yet lived, and that as of tonight Rock was Back! And lo, he did ROCK. Sure, some of the tunes were better than others, and the only ones that REALLY got me goin' were the classic Skid Row songs like I'll Remember You, but I give the man credit - he was jumping around and banging his head and wailing his trademark falsetto wail like a man possesed, dancing and jumping like a young rocker with something to prove. Okay, for the most part, like I said, many of the newer songs weren't much to scream about. But holy lord ... when the man played 18 AND LIFE I flipped out - I mean when the hell else might I ever see this song, one of my all-time 80's rock faves, performed live? And the man closed out with a thunderous rendition of YOUTH GONE WILD that nearly brought down the house. My mates and I were transported to the faraway land of rock euphoria as we pumped our fists in unison to the anthem of "We Are the Youth Gone Wild!" Awesome. For one night only it was 1988 and rock n' roll lived a-gane.

And finally, after an exhausting preshow of The Suicide Girls, Helmet, and practically an entire concert's worth of material from Sebastian Bach, it was time for the main event, at the ripe early hour of 11:30 pm on a SUNDAY NIGHT. Oh lord, now you're starting to see why I was barely funtioning the next day at work. But yeah, let me see how to put this ...

Despite the fact that this wasn't the original lineup. Despite the fact that yes, Axl Rose's voice is all but shot. Despite the fact that it's 10 years later and we're STILL waiting for Chinese flippin' Democracy ...

Despite all that ...


Yes, screw the naysayers. Even if the man isn't quite the force of nature that he used to be, Axl Rose remains one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time, and he proved his iconic status once again on Sunday. The voice isn't there like it used to be - oftentimes, I admit, Axl's lyrics were only just audible over the crunching guitars and drums, and what was heard was, certainly, a far cry from the piercing, smooth-as-silk, high-pitched cry that became his trademark back in the day, and established him as one of the most distinctive and kickass vocalists in rock history. But, dammit, the songs spoke for themselves. The sheer power of Welcome to the Jungle, the undeniable emotion of November Rain, the lyrical brilliance of songs like Sweet Child O' Mine and Used to Love Her, the pure rockingness of rock classics like Night Train, Mr. Brownstone, and so many more. There was no Slash, true, but Sunday night we witnessed the full power and majesty of one of the greatest bands of all time ... this was a concert for the ages.

Much like when I saw them back in Boston three years ago, Axl and leaned heavily on the catalog of classics from Appetite For Destruction to pad out the show. However, seeing as how Appetite is arguably the greatest rock album of all time, with not a bad song in the bunch, it was awesome to hear so many songs I've listened to over and over again at home live and in ya' face. I mean, almost nothing was left out, even lesser-known songs like Out Ta Get Me, Think About You, and It's So Easy got kickass renditions - and for me it was sweet to hear some of the grittier, balls to the wall songs from the early days rather than an overload of the more overblown ballads from the later years. But of course, we still got the biggest power-ballad classics like November Rain (amazing) and Patience (also amazing), and even both of the famous covers - Live and Let Die (YES~!) and Knockin' On Heaven's Door (OH YES~!). We got a firecracker opening in Welcome to the Jungle that had the crowd jumping out of their seats, and an appropriate closing in Paradise City that saw confetti flying everywhere, people convulsing in rock-propelled spasms of joy, and Axl hopping around and belting out "There's an urchin livin' under the street ..." like only he can. In between, we had the inevitable "ohhhh $%&# moment that was Sweet Child O' Mine, the funky lyrical stylings of Mr. Brownstone, the darkly humorous I Used to Love Her, the teen-angst rage of You Could Be Mine (just as good this time as I remembered it from Boston), and the adrenaline-rush-in-a-box that is Night Train, performed to perfection in a chair-rattling show of awesomeness. What else? Well, for one of my favorites, My Michelle, SEBASTIAN BACH returned to the stage to form an unholy alliance with Axl Rose, with Bach using his high-pitched shriek to channel the ghost of old-school Axl Rose, as he playfully wove a dream duet with new-school, corn-rowed Axl Rose. Plus, OG GnR bandmate Dizzy Reed even contribured to a number of songs, so there was that added air of authenticity. The one big song that was missing was Rocket Queen, which I don't believe was played in Boston either, oddly enough. And, much to Ms. Liggett's dismay there was no performance of Civil War, though I can't say that one ranked on my must-hear list. For my part, I was happy to hear classics like Night Train (shoulda been on my Top 10 list, sorry ...), You Could Be Mine, etc.

As far as the new stuff goes, well ... okay, some of it is a lot of sound and fury symbolizing nothing, if you know what I mean. There's a lot of production values but seemingly not as much staying power as the classics. Still, I don't want to diss things outright. Some of the new songs are not bad at all, I think I just need some time to warm up to them. But there's no doubt that one or two of 'em did have a little bit of the kind of overproduced, over-thought feel that you might expect coming from an album that has been years, and years, and years in the making. But in the end, yeah, I'll be picking up Chinese Democracy - at this point there's no way it could possibly live up to or play down a decade of hype and vaporware infamy, but hey, it's GnR, baby. I'll take it.

So yeah ... I can't diss too much on Axl, the man gave it his all and was way more animated than I expected or remembered from Boston. The man was doing his trademark Axl dance, seemed happy to be there, and genuinely into it all. While at this point he'll continue to have his detractors, all the fans in attendance knew they were witnessing a guy going out there and giving it his all, putting it all on the line for a solid 2+ hours of nonstop rockin'. In between songs, there were a few pauses for guitar solo showcases and whatnot to give Mr. Rose a break, and there were some tight stylings from the band, including some salutes to Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and Hendrix. Overall the band was more than capable of recreating the GnR style, although I'm not sure if anyone in the band brought the same level of guitar prowess and charisma that Buckethead had back in Boston, and surely to this day, the absence of guitar-god-in-a-top-hat Slash is still felt from the band he helped create. But at this point it's time to accept, the GnR of old is no more, but fans can be thankful that this incarnation exists. Because on Sunday, I saw, once again, one of the best frontmen of all time play dozens of the best and most rocking songs ever created. In short, an amazing concert for the ages. Let it be known to the masses what me, Brian, Liz, and Aksel found out on Sunday: Guns N' Roses still kicks ass with the best of 'em, dammit all.

- So yeah, after what was an incredibly awesome but draining night, we were let out past 2 am! On a Sunday! Work the next day was gotten through on pure leftover adrenaline, as, meanwhile, Aksel boarded a train back to San Diego after a crazy weekend in Los Angeles. After feeling ab it recovered by Tuesday though, I got to have another cool experience last night ...

- Via a film series co-sponsored by the Sundance Channel (which is a partial interest of NBC-Universal), I got to, for free, check out a special screening of the much-anticipated 'round these parts new film from Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) -- the fantasy spectacle known as Pan's Labrynth.


- Here in America, we like our pop culture to be very compartamentalized. We have action movies, kid's movies, chick flicks, big-budget blockbusters and artsy independent films. But rarely are we accepting of genre-bending films that are not so easily categorized. We like our fantasy Disneyfied and kid-friendly. We like our war dramas serious and realistic and adults-only. Rarely does one see a movie outside of a Miyazaki anime or the occasional flick from a Terry Gilliam or David Lynch that dares to mix the dark, the disturbing, the adult with the dazzling fantasy imagery and surreality that is usually confined to kid-pics. Here though, Guillermo Del Toro crafts a bold experiment - a movie that mixes some of the most imaginative fantasy imagery ever captured on film with some of the most brutal and real subject matter one could think of. It's almost like he took the premise of a Narnia or Alice in Wonderland and stripped it of all the family-friendly, homogenized pretense, instead looking to the dark and bloody fairy tales by the likes of the Brothers Grimm for inspiration. Because this movie is the most gruesome and violent and legitimately disturbing fairy tale you'll see - and, most disturbingly, the scariest moments don't take place in the fantasy realm, but in the real world.

Pan's Labrynth follows the adventures of a young girl, Ophelia, who is taken away by her pregnant mother to live with the unborn baby's father - an Spanish army commander who is as ruthless and monstrous as they come, who sees his unborn son as merely a legacy to himself, who kills his disobediant lieutenants on a whim, and who thrives in the wartorn, ravaged WWII-era Spain that the movie is set in. As bleak as thing are for Ophelia, her one solace is her disovery, brought to her by a mythical faun, that she is in fact the reincarnated soul of a fairy princess, and that to reclaim her throne in the fairy world she must complete three dangerous tasks. From this point on, the movie goes back and forth between the real-world character drama of The General and his brutality towards the rebel forces trying to lay siege on his base, and the fantasy-world encounters that Ophelia escapes to - the completion of which is her one hope of escaping the miserable reality she lives in.

The premise sounds like that of a children's fairytale, and in some ways this is one in its narrative simplicity. But man, this is a stark, shocking, movie. I can't remember ever seeing a movie where I had to actually close my eyes or look away from the screen so many times because of the gruesomeness of what I was seeing in front of me. And most of these scenes are in the real world - the General is a bloody, scarily violent character, who tortures, kills, and maims his victims with grim delight. As he begins to discover a conspiracy within his ranks to aid the rebel guerilla fighters, his paranoia and anger makes his actions grow all the more sadistic. For this reason, the fantasy scenes in the film, as darkly haunting as they are, almost feel like an escape (for us, as well as for Ophelia) from the violence around her in the real world.

In these fantasy-based sequences however, the level of visual artistry is simply amazing - imagine the best and most detailed of Jim Henson's creations in Labrynth crossed with medieval gothic paintings and Japanese videogame monsters. One scene in particular, where Ophelia encounters a deadly, faceless monster with black claws and eyes on its hands, is one of the most horrifically memorable movie visuals I've seen. This is a fairy-tale, yes, but it's also one sick, twisted movie, make no mistake.

The acting across the board is superb, and despite the Spanish language I really felt like the characters, particularly Ophelia (pretty amazingly acted on the part of the child / preteen actor who played her) and the army Captain (a brilliantly scary performance - one of the great movie villains of recent years). Also of note is the amazing sound in this film. The buzzing of the fairies, the clacking of the monster's nails on the table, the thimping of the faun's hoofs in the cavernous labrynth - I noticed the sound in this film more so that I have any other in a long while.

Once again, visually, huge credit must be given to Del Toro. I've long respected the way he brought the work of Mike Mignola to life in Hellboy, and here he draws on classical paintings, modern horror movies, and the imagery of fairy tales to create an amazing-looking film. Each scene has a distinct look - from the bleak blues of war-torn Spain to the organic reds of the fantasy kingdom.

I will say that in some ways the movie didn't fully click with me. I felt that the fantasy elements became so overshadowed by the real-world elements that at times they felt like an afterthought, even though the handful of full-on fantasy sequences were so visually amazing -- their artistry made you wish that they comprised more of the film. Because really, this is almost a wartime coming of age drama first and a fantasy film second. The mythology is fairly loose and undefined, and it all works more as a metaphor than a fully realized world like Oz or Narnia. What Del Toro does here is put a new spin on the girl coming-of-age subgenre of fantasy - a dark, gritty, violent, and extreme spin on Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Narnia, etc. Surely there are bits of Alice, Dorothy, Wendy, and Lucy in Ophelia - but the difference is that in this movie, the chief monster isn't a Queen or a Witch or a Pirate, but an all-too real army Captain who terrorizes all who cross him. The result of this experiment is a visually arresting film that is doesn't fully succeed at reinventing the fantasy genre, but surely succeeds in that it won't allow itself to be easily compartamentalized. A kid's fairytale this is most definitely not.

My Grade: A -

- After the movie, we were treated to a Q and A with Guillermo Del Toro himself, and man, it was great! The man is a genious and knows his stuff, so much so that I'd gladly attend a lecture by him anytime. Funny, smart, and self-deprecating, it was a true pleasure to hear such an amazing director and artist give insight into the film we had just seen, and I am now very curious to see his earlier films, and more excited than ever for Hellboy 2 and Tarzan.

- Finally, I'd like to say RIP to a true legend, a man who along with his creative partner William Hanna redefined animation and practically raised multiple generations of American kids with his brilliant, funny, and imaginative characters. Yep, I'm talking about JOSEPH BARBERA, a true icon of imagination, who passed away earlier this week. What I love about Hanna-Barbera cartoons is that they were like a gatway into so many worlds and facets of pop culture. The Flinstones and Jetsons were in their own right brilliant sitcoms, yet appreciated by kids and adults alike. Scooby Doo was and is a brilliant blend of horror and comedy, one of the first things to make me and so many others fall in love with vampires, ghouls and ghosts. And then there is the brilliant stable of Hanna-Barbera pulp characters. Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, and so many others were what first planted that spark of imagination into my mind that made me seek out other stories of the fantastic. It just speaks volumes to me that - ask anyone of my generation in their twenties - we were all raised on Hanna-Barbera cartoons - Scooby Doo, The Flinstones, Jetsons, Laugh-a-lympics, Yogi Bear, Johnny Quest, Wacky Races, Space Ghost, Dyno-Mutt, Huckleberry Hound ... and the list goes on and on and on ... and what's so amazing is that nearly all of these cartoons were created years, DECADES, before we were born. I mean, as a kid, I doubt I even realized that the Scooby Doo and Flinstones cartoons I loved were from a bygone era. They still felt fresh, still felt iconic. Johnny Quest is as cool now as ever. Space Ghost has been reinvented as an Adult Swim icon. These characters are timeless, classic. I am just in awe of the creativity that a man like Joseph Barbera must have possessed. To have created a company whose logo to this day inspires awe and wonder and childlike excitement in millions of people, to have overseen a universe of hundreds of characters who will live on forever - simply amazing. There will never be another like Joseph Barbera, but it's slightly comforting to know that the legend of Hanna-Barbera will always be there for generations of kids to discover.

- Alright, I'm out - stay tuned - Best of 2006 blogs are coming soon!

Friday, December 15, 2006


Happy Hannukah!

As we prepare to celebrate on of the great underdog stories of all time (and no, I'm not talking about the new Rocky ...), I am starting to feel the wear and tear of work telling me to just brace myself and hold tight until I get some time off in another week. But, the next eight crazy nights should be just that -- movie screenings, various events, and yes, GUNS N' ROSES on Sunday should provide for an exciting eight days of Hannukah. And yeah, OJ Simpson, thank God ... STILL not a Jew (tm Adam Sandler).

I'm especially dragging today though, as yesterday was a fun but exhausting day of NBC holiday parties. In the afternoon we had a shwanky luncheon at some fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills (blanking on the name), which included a rather intense gift-swap that saw people stealing gifts left and right as per the rules of the game. Initially I snagged a great gift - a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, which would have been great as there's a few things I'd love to pick up there. But some guy swiped it from me! So then I had to pick a different gift ... it turned out that one of the head honchos of our group had ended up with a deluxe 80's retrospect CD collection, which clearly he didn't much care for. So I decided to be a good sport and swipe his gift, announcing myself as an enthusiastic 80's music afficianado. This prompted some laughter and the mostly older crowd wondering if I was even born in the 80's. So I ended up with this huge freakin' shiny pink collector's box of 80's songs that has a few classics (867-5309, etc ...) but also a lot of clunkers. I immediately wished I had swiped another gift certificate instead, but I guess it was good that I was a team player and also good / slightly embarrasing that I made myself known to those who didn't already know me as "That 80's Guy" (n. Mike Awesome). Um ... yeah - anyone want some CD's?

And for the record, I'd just like to say how awesome MY gift contribution was - a 2 disc deluxe edition ("Dread Pirate Edition" to be precise) of The Princess Bride, a movie that pretty much everyone loves. I guess since we all work in entertainment DVD's aren't quite so exciting, but who wouldn't want that Princess Bride set? On the other hand, do you REALLY want that cheesy-looking set of Margarita glasses you ended up with ...?

So yeah, the holiday luncheon overall was not as awkward as I'd feared. I was extremely lucky in that I ended up on a side of the table with some of the more laid back, interesting people from my office who were happy to talk about movies for a few hours rather than any number of more awkward / stressful subjects. But the one low-light of the day was the car-trip to and from this restaurant. I was lucky enough to be in a carppol with my other office-mates, but I ended up in the backseat of a large SUV in stop-and-go traffic on Coldwater Canyon's bumpy and hilly winding roads. And man, due to terrible traffic it was an hour drive each way, and I was just clutching my stomach because I was not feeling too well.

So then, we had another party for all the distribution groups at NBCU held at Howl at the Moon at Citywalk, which was fun since I got to see some of my old page pals and also meet a few of the people I've been dealing with over email, for the first time in person. As is often the case with me, things were slightly awkward for a while until the piano players burst into a spirited rendition of Sweet Child of Mine, which, as always, turned things up a notch. Nothing like some GNR to get one to loosen up. Guns n Roses = nature's drug.

Anyways, I made it home just in time to catch The OC, and then watched The Office which I had made a point to record. So ...


- THE OFFICE last night was an hour long, so naturally it had it's share of funny moments. Michael drawing a number 1 on that one girl's arm had me cracking up, as did Kevin's rendition of "You Oughtta Know," and a number of other comedic gems. Overall though, I thought this was one of the weaker eps of the last few months. Not to say it was bad by most standards, just not quite up to the A-level of quality I've been coming to expect of late. Perhaps it was in part due to the influence of Harold Ramis, who directed this ep? Ramis is one of the comic greats, to be sure ... but his sensibilities are distinctly old-school and tend to be a bit on the saccharine / formulaic side. And I guess this ep just had a little too much of that formulaic feel to it, with many of the characters fallign back on schtick rather than original situations and jokes. We had more of Dwight vs. Andy, more sleazy Michael, more Angela as one-dimensional ice-queen. With that, this episode just lacked some of the depth I'd gotten used to, and characters like Dwight and Angela almost came off as cartoonish villains rather than as likable, multi-faceted characters. The stuff with Michael and Carol was just a little hard to swallow ... as their relationship was becoming harder to buy as Carol was always portrayed as normal yet never really had any normalizing effect on Michael - by all accounts she should have dumped him a long time ago. And then Michael just brings too underage girls to his company party? That's pretty awkward, even for him ... Finally, the Jim-Pam stuff works best for me when it's subtle and understated. Last night, it was pretty obvious and heavy-handed. So yeah, some good jokes to be had, some very funny moments (loved Oscar walking in then immediately leaving ...), just not quite as good as I want the show to be based on how good it's been.

My Grade: B

- Oh yeah, last night's 30 ROCK was another quality ep. Some of Alec Baldwin's lines were simply classic, and the "Abu Gharib" line in particular was just amazing ... I can't believe they even let him say that. Tracy Morgan continues to crack me up as well with his completely random jokes and comments. Where this show falters is in its lead plotlines, as so far Tina Fey is just not particularly compelling as the lead. She needs to be surrounded by one or two more non-crazy people to ground the show a little bit, as right now the random humor is really working on a purely comedic level, but the characters and sitcom-ish elements are kind of falling flat. But man, "Abu Gharib" was classic.

My Grade: B+

- Last night's OC ... um, wow. That was ... strange. I was excited to see the show would be trying something a little different with its "It's a Wonderful Life" style episode. That, and the Chrismaka eps are always kinda classic. But man, what a random, pointless, and all over the place episode that was. I mean, instead of putting some legitimate thought into how these characters' lives would be if not for Ryan, they just randomly decide to have an alternate reality where Sandy is married to a cheating Julie, Kirsten to Jimmy, and Che is a preppy OC frat boy. Um, what? And for some reason Ryan and Taylor had to reunite Seth and Summer and Kirsten and Sandy? Okay, yeah, that makes sense ... This episode was slightly entertaining and had a few clever / funny lines, but mostly just had me wondering how much longer it would go on, and how Peter Gallagher could keep such a seriously straight face through such an absurd plot.

My Grade: C


And finally ... GUNS N ROSES this Sunday!!! Sweet Child! Jungle! Paradise City! November Rain! My Michelle! Mr. Brownstone! Rocket Queen! Live and Let Die! Knockin' On Heaven's Door! Used to Love Her! You Could Be Mine! Shotgun Blues! Civil War! Patience! Estranged! Don't Cry! Night Train!

MY TOP 10 FAV GnR Songs:

1.) Sweet Child O' Mine - There's just something about that opening lick that prompts you to cry out "Oh %&$#!" and start swaying like Axl Rose. It's a testament to the awesomeness of this song that it's both a great pump-up song and yet a somewhat somber, more laid-back tune relative to other Gnr stuff.

2.) Welcome to the Jungle - Yeah! Do you know where you are? You're in the Jungle Baby! You're gonna dieeeeeeee!" ' Nuff said.

3.) Rocket Queen - I don't quite know what Rocket Queen even means, but it sure sounds pretty cool coming from the rabid wail of Axl Rose. I might be a little young but honey I ain't naive ... This song just defines badass.

4.) November Rain - Part of why I love this song so much is undoubtedly the classic video, but also, it's one of the few songs where I have every guitar note ingrained in my head, to the point where I could sing along to the ENTIRE song, guitar solos and all. One of the all time great power ballads.

5.) Paradise City - Take me down to the Paradise City where the Grass is Green and the Girls are Pretty? Is there any better and more simply-stated rock n' roll credo? It's up there with Rock n Roll All Night as one of the all time great rock mission statements.

6.) My Michelle - I love the lyrics to this song, and the hard-driving guitar intro. "And most of all this story's TRUE, in case ya haven't heard."

7.) Mr. Brownstone - "We've been dancing - with - Mr. Brownstone." I used to take this song literally and wonder who Mr. Brownstone was ... but great lyrics, a great beat, just classic.

8.) You Could Be Mine - I didn't love this song until I heard it live in Boston, at which point I was converted, and realized that the song friggin' rules.

9.) Knockin' On Heaven's Door - I know, this isn't a GnR original, but I love their cover of it. Only Axl Rose could make the "hey, HEY ye ye yeah" between verses sound so freakin' cool.

10.) The Garden - I always liked this underrated cut off of Use Your Illusion, a thumping, dark song filled with weird biblical imagery and Axl Rose belting out "Everybody goooooes ... to the Garden!"

Holy craaaap this is going to rule. From the days when I used to flip to MTV in hopes that I'd get to witness the amazing November Rain video, to listening to Appetite For Destruction over and over again while ebign careful to turn down the volume when Rocket Queen came on, to seeing Axl Rose and his new band play in Boston three years ago, to the countless times that a night out has been kcikstarted when those pulse-pounding opening riffs of Sweet Child of Mine begin to play over the speakers ... I love GnR, new lineup or not! Hold tight for the full report come Monday.




- Okay ... I'm out for the weekend.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Danny Baram's Not-Quite-Final Repose

- First off, I'd like to take a minute to say farewell to a great actor who passed away today - Peter Boyle. Peter Boyle to me is a unique actor, because he was just one of those guys who was so obviously talented that even when, as more often than not was the case, his projects didn't hold much interest for me, I knew that they had at least some measure of respectability thanks merely to Peter Boyle's involvement. And I can say this even despite not having been exposed to the vast majority of Mr. Boyle's work. So what made me such a fan of his?

Four words: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." Simply put, Boyle's Emmy-winning turn on The X-Files, as a psychic insurance salesman who could forsee how people would die - including himself - is one of the single best and most moving performances I have ever seen. Not only did "Clyde Bruckman" cement my burgeoning love for The X-Files in its groundbreaking third season, it was one of those episodes of television that was so clever, so genuinely full of heart and emotion, and so well-acted that it made me think to myself, at the ripe age of fourteen or so: "hmm, I think I might want to write for television." Basically, it's easily in my list of all-time top television episodes. Boyle won an Emmy for that role, though he had great acclaim for film roles (of course - who doesn't love him in Young Frankenstein? And Taxi Driver, and the list goes on ...) and of course there is his latter-day sitcom longevity as lovable dad on Everybody Loves Raymond. But to me, I'll never stop admiring the brilliance that Boyle brought to the role of Clyde Bruckman - one of the great performances for the ages. I saw Boyle in person while working on Ellen last year, and I remember thinking to myself that he didn't look so great. But even the slightest hint of something wrong genuinely worried me at the time, because I was such a fan and admirer. I think I may pop in an X-Files DVD tonight and pay tribute to one of the greats.

- Also, RIP to Martin Nodell, creator of one of the most enduring characters in modern popular fiction - The Green Lantern. Who doesn't love the idea of slipping on a magical ring and suddenly having the ability to fly, have super-strength, and create any object one's heart desires (albeit said object is always green). Alan Scott, the original GL as created by Nodell, is one of the great heroes of The Golden Age of comics, who amazingly is still around and kicking after all these decades (a magical ring does wonders for keeping young). The mythology that Nodell helped create is one that endures to this day, and my guess is it's only a matter of time before we see GL dazzle us on the big screen. Apparently, Nodell was also one of the nicest guys you'll find - so it is again saddening to see a true legend go.


- iTunes plug: Our SciFi and Fantasy Page is now fully loaded and brimming with vintage goodness! As of tonight, you can hit up iTunes, click on the SciFi Channel Page, navigate over to SciFi and Fantasy Classics, and download episodes or seasons of the following:

Sliders, Tremors, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Kolchak: The Nightstalker, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, The Incredible Hulk, and ... the ORIGINAL Battlestar Galactica.

So log on, hit up the page, and download an episode or two. Spread the word.

- Oh yeah, VERONICA MARS is now on iTunes. Hells yes. (not NBC related)

- So last night I tried to play catch-up with Sci-Fi's THE LOST ROOM miniseries, as I'd heard relatively positive things. Overall, I thought it was a somewhat guilty-pleasure show that has some great actors involved, but was hampered by a pretty thin premise and some loose writing. First of all, Peter Krause is a great lead. I'm a fan from his work on Six Feet Under, and he is a solid leading-man presence and definitely makes them ost of the material given to him here. Problem is, the material is pretty generic "single dad desperate to keep his daughter" stuff. Even worse, the characters are written as pretty grounded, regular people, yet the plot is so out-there and surreal that the combination doesn't quite click. It's like someone took the characters from Law and Order and threw them headfirst into a game of Myst. Regular Joe detective / cop characters just don't gel with surrealist, abstract science fiction concepts when the show can't seem to decide if it's reality-based science fiction or just Jose Louis-Borges-esque abstract, high-concept scifi. I mean, the writers basically apply a thin, videogame-y logic to the plot, which feels like the producers played one too many rounds of Zork as teenagers or something. Despite all that, I was compelled to watch all two hours of the opening chapter of The Lost Room, and overall, enjoyed myself. Once I realized to basically throw logic out the window and watch the show as if it was some wacky Choose Your Own Adventure I might have read in fifth grade, it was pretty cool. Curious to see how Part II attempts to build on the momentum.

My Grade: B

- Man, has anyone seen that stupid MTV show, Twenty-Four Seven? Basically it's like a reality show version of entourage, with a bunch of total dumbass losers being filmed as they attempt to "make it" in Hollywood. How these guys got their cushy jobs as club-promoters / professional slackers in the first place is a mystery, although I think one of them dates Hayley Duff so that probably explains it. Anyways, this show basically represents everything I hate about Hollywood - the idea that it's a place for spoiled rich kids too lazy for real jobs to go and try to hit it big while living off of their parents money, allowing these mostly talentless wastes of space to somehow infiltrate the worlds of movies, music, and TV simply because their uncle has a connection or something. Anyways, this show like so many recent MTV "reality" shows is probably about 70% staged, but still, I wanted to punch my TV while watching these guys sleaze their way into a business deal with some promoter by bringing two silicon-sporting girls to their business meeting to basically seduce him into taking business advice from two twenty-something morons. Yikes, if this is "reality," then I don't want any part of it.


- Have yet to make much mention of it here in the blog ... but, this Sunday, I am seeing GUNS N' ROSES, live, in concert! Awwwww yeah, baby, this is gonna rock my face off. Believe it or not, this will actually be my second time having seen GNR in their post-breakup formation, as I saw the Buckethead-led incarnation in Boston in 2004, and despite the naysayers, it was a ridiculously awesome concert. So suffice to say, while I'd kill to see the ORIGINAL GNR lineup in all their Slash-eriffic glory, I am optimistic that this show will nonetheless rule it. Not only will GNR hopefully be in top form, but the opener is none other than Sebastian Bach, he of SKID ROW (and Gilmore Girls!) fame. Can't wait to hear some vintage Skid Row stuff - Youth Gone Wild, 18 and Life, etc. And man, while they may not have the original lineup, is there any band with a catalog of songs that rivals GnR for sheer awesomeness? I think not, baby. Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, Sweet Child O' Mine, Rocket Queen, Mr. Brownstone, November Rain, Civil War, I Used to Love Her, You Could Be Mine ... etc., etc., etc. Also, back when I saw 'em in Beantown, the concert was pure vintage ROCK ... from the riotous crowd to the sheer atmosphere of debauchery and scandal, I felt like it was 1988 all over again and rock was king. So yeah ... this should be freaking awesome.

- Alright, that's about it for now ... stay tuned for some special BEST OF 2006 entries and a few other surprises.