Friday, April 27, 2007

Ode to a Computer, and MORE.

Aloha, peeps.

So this is a pretty interesting time at work, namely because NBC is currently holding its pilot screenings - at which many of us get to check out and voice our opinions on the latest crop of wannabe primetime players set to hit the Peacock in the fall. As any reader of my blog knows, I am pretty opinionated when it comes to that stuff, and I love getting the chance to screen all these shows and assert my voice as an 18-34 year old white male. I mean, what I say MUST be right, demographically speaking. Right?

I've had a bunch of out-of-box type stuff I've been meaning to blog about, but haven't had the chance to as of yet. For one thing, I've been meaning to write a tribute to my Dell desktop computer -- the same computer I used for the last SIX + years, since the first day of freshman year of college. I am FINALLY putting it out to pasture, and as of last week am the proud owner of a brand new Dell, complete with fancy new Windows Vista, which I will now use alongside my trusty MacBook laptop. But let me take a trip down memory lane, if I may ...


The year was 2000. A year that once seemed so far away now seems so long ago -- amazing, huh? Well as I prepared to leave small town Connecticut for the bright lights and big city that is Boston, one of the things I needed, as every modern college student does, was a shiny new computer with which to write papers, illegally download music, and, um ... well let's just leave it at that. As my dad wondered if I really needed my own computer, if I couldn't just use ones at the lab, I made the case that I did need a PC to call my own, and managed to convince him to shell out the dough so that I could get all my work done from the comfort of my prison-like, barely-livable dorm room. But seriously, this Dell, purchased from the BU Computer Store, served me long and served me well. The speakers it came with turned out to be surprisingly powerful, able to blast my ever-growing mp3 collection with floor-thumping power. It seemed great, at the time, but man, many times, it really did seem to be on the brink of death.

I remember freshman year - I had set up the computer, but no sound would come out of it. Pete and Josh, our floor's resident tech experts, came in to check it out. Within minutes, the whole PC was opened up, and microchips were splayed across my bed. I was horrified. My dad would have been beside himself if he saw his latest investment taken apart so precariously. That was the first time I thought - this is it, my computer is dead. It would be the first of many.

Over the next few years, that computer traveled with me from my room in Connecticut to West Campus to Shelton Hall to South Campus and back to Connecticut. It was so freakin' big and heavy - my dad and I always dreaded the prospect of lugging it back and forth. And yet lug it we did. We lugged it all the way to New York City in the summer of 2004, to the dorms at Columbia University, where the only way to get up to the residential area was to climb three flights of steep stairs. You see, on the day I moved in to Columbia - where I was staying while interning at NBC for the summer - they had inexplicably closed the freight elevator that usually made for easy transport of one's belongings. Carrying that old Dell up those stairs made for, no kidding, one of the most unpleasant days of my entire life. Several months later, I moved to LA to begin the NBC Page Program. I had no money for a new computer, so the only option was to ship out the old battleship from Bloomfield, Connecticut. When I moved out of my temporary accomodations in Burbank to my new apartment, in late February of 2005, I once again had to find a way to haul that beast of a machine back and forth. By that point, the actual act of setting it up - once this mysterious, daunting task, had become a piece of cake and the least of my worries.

And man, like I said, there were many, many times when I thought - this is it, this thing is toast. It never helped that Dell's tech support seemingly answers any and all questions with "well, it looks like you'll have to do a system reboot." I usually managed to get around that, though at one point in college (or was it two), I actually did have to do a complete wipe. I remember desperately tracking down my friend Christine, who was an early adopter in the mp3-player game, asking to borrow her player so that I could copy my treasured music collection to it before I performed a digital lobotomy. I didn't realize just how big my collection was though, and realized that in order to transfer all my songs, I'd have to delete all of hers! I think Christine is still upset about that one! Haha, oh man. For whatever reason though, whenever my PC was on life support, I was like a man possessed trying to get it back up and running. I guess because, at a huge city school like BU, if you're not connected, you're totally out of the loop. AOL Instant Messenger was like your whole gateway to the outside world. And during that time, the BU network was our source for movies, music ... Luckily, Facebook didn't come around until senior year ...

Honestly, I can't even believe that that PC lasted this long. It really did go to the brink numerous times, only to miraculously brought back, like some crazy old man that just keeps on kicking after taking a licking. Finally, as of a few months ago, it got to the point where whenever more than one program was open at a time (say, Internet Explorer and Word), I'd get a pop-up message saying Insufficient Memory, and I'd be forced to quit the programs or else reboot. With the desktop running slow and being a constant source of annoyance, and some recently received tax break dollars in my grasp, I knew that the time had finally come -- the computer had to go.

When I broke the news to former roommates Chris and Aksel, their reaction, like mine, was one of amusement mixed with sadness. Like me, they had come to grow fond of that old, beat up computer. Many a times did we rock out to music emanating from it's speakers. Many a time did we gather round its bulky monitor to watch a funny video or a missed episode of 24. Many a time did Chris, realizing that I was away at class, sit down at my desk and proceed to use my computer to ... no, won't go into that, this is a family blog. When I told Chris that the ol' box was gettin' the boot, he reacted in the only way he could. 'You can't get rid of it - it's a classic!" In a way, he was right. But at the same time, I had heard the call of progress and decided it was finally time to answer.

So now, the old beast sits in my closet, taking up way too much space with its ridiculous bulk, awaiting the day when it will be plugged in one final time so that the hard drive can get zapped clean. On my desk sits a new model. It's sleeker, smaller, it doesn't hum and vibrate like it's haunted by a poltergeist when I turn it on. The monitor is flat, the keyboard clicks in a satisfying manner when I press the keys, and the mouse doesn't have to be unplugged and plugged back in every 5 minutes in order to work. But in my own way, I have chosen to honor the old guard. I transferred all my documents and songs of course - the songs especially took a while, but my famed digital music collection remainss intact, obscure TV theme songs and all, and ready to rock out to at a moment's notice. And my Winamp skin remains the same, for old time's sake. And yes, while the new Dell is a sleek black and silver, my old tan-grey speakers remain alongside the new system, kickin' out the tunes same as always.

But here's to the old-school computer. It was there through the good times and the bad, in four states and two coasts, two college campuses, several roommates, and endured enough viruses, spam, and error messages to level the Terminator. If nothing else, it was a survivor.


- THE OFFICE - hilarious, once again. I'd say that this ep was up there in terms of being very funny and endlessly quotable, but a few subplots fell a bit flat, mostly the revelation that Andy had somehow been dating a high school girl? Hmmm ... Still, Jim and Andy made for a great comedic duo, and Michael Scott's apology video, capped by the total non-sequitar "You have one day." was classic. Sure, there were rough patches, but overall, another example of why this is, bar none, the best comedy on TV right now ...

My Grade: A -

- 30 ROCK, again, faltered a bit by laying on the soapy subplots at the expense of the random humor that originally made this show so funny. Alec Baldwin's character has been oddly normalized of late. They're trying to make him more of a regular guy, down to earth, relatable - but I think it's backfiring, and in the end just making him boring. I'm all for developing the characters on the show, but this show isn't at its best when its attempting to be a relationship comedy in the vein of Friends. And please ... don't even imply that there is romantic tension between Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey (which they did a lot of last night) - it totally throws off the great dynamic that the show originally had between the two, and feels VERY forced. Otherwise, this was funny stuff - Tracy Morgan and Kenneth the Page consistently crack me up, and the show's writing, when it's on its game, continues to be sharp and funny.

My Grade: B

Alright, I'm out - HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Now with more EYEPATCH: Lost, Heroes - reviewed!

On last night's LOST ...

Okay, LOST last night emplyed its trademark flair for the dramatic with tons of melodrama worthy of an old movie serial. Nearly every act ended with a stunner of a cliffhanger. I mean, within a few minutes, I was already on the edge of my seat and smiling as I witnessed the totally unexpected return of Miechal (sp?), aka, EYE-PATCH GUY!!! Yes, business had just picked up! We got some great, big reveals in this episode, but at the same time, everything else felt like filler that was simply getting us from Point A to Point B. As is often the case, there were a lot of empty declarations of "Tell me what you know!" and "I want answers!" As per usual with Lost, when someone asks for answers, the response is always vague and never actually adressess the issue at hand. To paraphrase: Sun: Why are you helping me? Juliette: Because ... I want to give someone GOOD news again ... (slanty half smile). Par for the course with Lost -- one step forward, two steps back.

Speaking of which, we ended with a great cliffhanger -- the newly-revived mystery girl telling Hurley that everyone on Flight 815 was dead - the plain had crashed and the wreckage had been found. Okay, not bad, not bad. But is this actually going to be addressed, or will it be Four-Toed-Statue Part 2? Look, anyone who's ever watched the Twilight Zone can, off the top of their head, think of about 5 different ways that a plane could appear to have crashed with all of its survivors' bodies recovered and the wreckage retrieved, when in fact it crashed and lampooned numerous survivors on a mysterious island. Time loop / paradox. Dimensional anomaly. Elaborate hoax. Afterlife / purgatory. Reality-altering courtesy of someone with the power to bend the rules of space and time (Jacob?). And so on ... The point is, those old Twilight Zone episodes were so effective because they were simple, one-off stories that captivated with the sheer power of their ideas. Lost is presenting all these cool ideas, but so far, not doing much with them.

Anyways, the one big idea this ep DID present in detail is that the Lostees are living on SPERM ISLAND, where every male is magically a genetic jackhammer. Kind of funny that one of the first scientific explanations of the island's strange effects on people is this particular revelation.

As for all the Sun-Juliette stuff. Well, again, I've mentioned frustration with Juliette's ever-ambiguous alliegances, and here we get another "I will do your evil bidding ... but I HATE you" moment. Alright, we get it with Juliette. But who wants to bet that we're in store for a dozen more "I'm good ... no, wait, I'm evil!" moments before the season finale? The Sun flashbacks were pretty good ... I always enjoy the subtitled Jin-Sun flashbacks - they always do a great job of giving them a great, authentic feel, like a legitimate Asian film that managed to sneak into the trappings of Lost. On the other hand, this was another flashback that didn't really feel essential, especially with so many seemingly urgent events going on in the here and now.

On the whole - this was a really exciting episode of Lost - lots of big, dramatic, holy #$%$ moments, though they were accompanied by the usual dosage of forced ambiguity and dangling questions. But man, when all is said and done, you can't help but admire Lost. Its telling a NEW story, an original story. Compare this to Heroes which feels like its cobbling together bits and pieces of already-familiar stories. Lost is so entertaining AND at times frustrating precisely because it remains so NEW - most of us really don't know where exactly it's going or what to expect. For that alone, I give it props. Plus, I feel like any episode that features a kickass, death-cheating dude sporting an eye-patch deserves at least a B.

My Grade: B+


- I say this to anyone who enjoyed last night's Heroes: go now, to a bookstore, and purchase Watchmen. Read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's classic work, digest it, and then go back and resume Heroes watching as normal. Why do I suggest this? Well, just the thought of anyone watching Heroes, and THEN reading Watchmen or seeing the future film version, and saying "waitaminute - Watchmen is just a ripoff of Heroes!" well, that thought to me is kinda disturbing. I know that Tim Kring of Heroes fame swears up and down he was never and is not currently a comics guy, but the proof is in the puddin', as they say. Heroes is nothing if not a reworking of ideas from numerous already-established comics, with the conceit of placing these outlandish characters and ideas in an Unbreakable-esque, "real-world" setting. In this week's Heroes, Malcolm McDowell delivered a pretty cool speech to Nathan Petrelli about his motivations for "saving" the world by detonating a nuclear device in New York and killing untold thousands. Yep, it's a slightly tweaked version of Adrian Veidt's climactic reveal in Watchmen. Another example of Heroes' seeming propensity for reworking a number of ideas from other sources. Look, that is all fine and good. EVERY show does this, to some extent. I just feel like there are key moments when Heroes can potentially go in a number of directions, and the direction it often chooses feels ripped from some other story. Contrast this to Lost, which though it can be baffling and frustrating, has created an all-new mythology, and to its credit, never feels derivative.

Now, all that being said, Heroes on Monday was damn good TV. I love how cool actors like Malcolm McDowell and Eric Roberts are giving things a huge boost with their charisma and talent. I love how this show is willing to go to crazy places now, whereas at first it seemed much more tame and much more chained to the "real world." The Heroes of September and October - I could never imagine Heroes as it was then doing an episode set in the future. I love how the plot of Heroes has just been blown up and suddenly there's time travel, epic battles, villains, deaths, real stakes. There's finally that feeling like "oh, crap, I have no idea where this is going." To me, "Company Man" was when things really turned a corner, where the show began to feel legitimately big, epic, mythic. Having Bennett morph from a generic badguy into a three dimensional character has been the best thing this show's done in the bigger picture. It's so satisfying that Heroes is able to really conenct all the dots and say "this is who Linderman is. This is what his plan is. This is what needs to happen for disaster to be averted." All the cards are on the table, which is a great place for a dramatic story to be - a place that Lost, for all its strengths, has yet to reach after three seasons.

This week Heroes had another great episode, no question. The plotting on this show of late has been absolutely top-notch, and I don't think there's a fanboy out there who isn't drooling at the prospect of next week's "5 Years Later" episode. All I ask is that - if you're going to pay homage to other works, be they films, comics, whatever - fine, do so, but do it with a wink and a nod, let the fans know you're in on it. Acknowledge what's come before and go from there. I just don't like the feeling I sometimes get from the show that seems to boast "Watchmen? Rising Stars? Ha! Mighty network TV show needs not admit that we are following in their footsteps." It's funny, too, because the brilliance of something like Watchmen is that it pays tribute to the entire history of superheroes all the while brilliantly deconstructing the entire concept and subverting it for modern times. If Heroes wants to achieve true greatness, it needs to do the same - offer its own original spin, its own update on who these characters are and why they do what they do. Too often, it seems to just be spinning its wheels - I mean, a villain whose motivation is that to save the world, he must first destroy it? Been there, done that - give me a new spin, thanks. And really, I don't mean to pick on Heroes - it's a great show. Mostly, it just needs to keep up the great work.

My Grade: A -

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Can Jack Bauer Cure the Common Cold? No? Dammit!

Well, the seemingly mild case of the common cold I had last week went into overdrive this weekend. From Friday night onwards I was flat-out sick, and on Sunday I was reduced to a quivering mass of sickly protoplasm as I lay in bed shivering, going in and out of some crazy fever dream. The last few days have been one giant pill-poppin' marathon, as I've been downing Advil, Sudafed, and walking through the Halls of medicine every few hours, with ample dosage of chicken soup, gingerale, etc to help cure what ails me. Monday I took a rare sick day, as my high temperature and overall achiness late Sunday night clued me into the fact that I was in no condition to swim with the sharks of Hollywood come Monday morning. As of today, I'm back in action, but by no means operating at 100%. But hopefully I'll get there. Soon! Dammit all ...

I did manage to have a good time on Friday though, as NBC Pages new and old met up after work for some quality dinner followed by some 80's night craziness. It was great to see some old friends and meet some cool new faces as well. And even though it probably didn't help my then-worsening health any, it was a fun night for sure - can't go wrong with the 80's live cover band either. Good (fast?) times. After Friday though, I was down for the count ...

At the least, this was a pretty good weekend to be MIA. The NBA Playoffs were in full swing so I spent a lot of time just watching some quality b-ball whilst sipping on some chicken soup (thank god for the Togos adjacent to my apartment ...). Anyways, it was a great weekend of basketball, as to me there is NO sporting event more exciting, more filled with storied rivalries and colorful personalities, than the NBA playoffs. And man, some very, very interesting results to kick things off. I mean, you had both Denver and Golden State pulling off HUGE upsets. And it was great to see, as both teams have likable stars who are deserving of some spotlight. Especially cool was seeing one of my favorite players, Baron Davis of the Warriors, having a breakout playoff performance on the national stage, as he and his teammates felled the Mavs, all the while looking not just like a scrappy underdog, but like a legit contender. Denver pulled a similar feat in San Antonio, showing that the playoffs are a time for the stars to shine their brightest. AI and Carmello took it right to the Spurs, and suddenly, the Nuggets look like they are a force to be reckoned with in the West. We also had a few series that look like they are really going to come down to the wire. Miami - Chicago is going to be a war, old-school Eastern conference style. Toronto and New Jersey is a tough-to-call matchup, though the experience of NJ can't be underestimated. It's the playoffs, baby. And kudos to the always-great coverage on TNT, which blows away that of ABC / ESPN.

24!24! 24!

- Yeah yeah, there's a lot of hype about some show called "Heroes." But I'm going to have to put that one on hold, otherwise, Jack Bauer may come to my house and pop a cap in my ass. Jack has one superpower only, and it's called GRAVITAS, baby!

Last night's 24 was a big improvement over last week's ep. The focus was again on Jack, along with another key character in Bill Buchanan. This ep was pretty effective in doing the whole "Jack against the world" angle, building up the showdown between Jack and Audrey's captors very well, to the point where I was on the edge of my seat for the final 10 minutes or so. However, in retrospect, wasn't Jack a little too desperate to save Audrey, acting without even thinking of a real way to hav his cake and eat it too? I mean, upon giving the Chinese guy the component, the Chinese guy didn't even take a minute to verify it was the real deal! Jack could have easily, as it turns out, have given them a fake and they'd be none the wiser ...

Still, that was a pretty gripping showdown, and the revelation that Audrey has gone all crazy-like is kinda cool in an eerie sort of way. I mean, it drove the ever-stoic Jack Bauer to utter "My god, what have they done to you?" ... so, if even Jack is shaken by this turn of events, then we as viewers pretty much have to be as well.

I'm hoping though that things now line up in the following way - as I see it, the only fully-satisfying conclusion to the season will be that soon, maybe as soon as next episode, we find that Jack's father has been the mastermind behind all this China stuff, and the full extent of his involvement in all the conspiracy / bluetooth group stuff is revealed. This leaves Jack as the only man left capable of preventing his dad's masterstroke from coming to fruition (something big, say, nuking DC to pave the way for a new world order ...?). And of course that means Jack needs to be exonerated and restored to full-on CTU status ASAP. Who better to do that than new Director of CTU Heller. Shocked at his daughter's state and out for revenge, Heller sends his buddy Jack on a one-man mission that only a Bauer can see to completion, because who better to take down a Bauer ... than Jack f'n Baur?!?!

Now THAT's how they need to end the season!

(By the way, for a season-ending cliffhanger - what if Papa Bauer goes all Darth Vader, messes with Jack's mind to convince him to turn against the US government, and makes him an offer he can't refuse, to join him in the Bluetooth Mafia! Jack accepts, turns to the darkside -- America is now most likely $#&#'d -- BOOM - end of season ...!)

Anyways ... (whew!) ... the rest of the ep was slightly bogged down with ever more heaping helpings of CTU and White House melodrama. Okay, yes, I got a kick out of Powers Boothe as the badass VP who is also a "dirty old man." Who wants to bet that that blonde woman he's bonking is one or two episodes away from turning on poor ol' Powers like a bottle of expired Viagra? But, on the other hand, Karen Hayes is SOOOOOOOOOO annoying. Holy crap, Bill Buchanan needs to dump her ASAP. All she does is whine and threaten to resign. Thousands of people died, and she's surprised someone is going to take a fall? Meanwhile, why is the once-awesome character of Chloe being so wasted on stupid back and forth bickering with Morris? Everyone at CTU is either an inherently lame character (Nadia, Milo, Doyle) or a potentially cool character being wasted on crappy soap opera-y subplots (Chloe, Morris). And why is it that whenever an elder-statesman Director of CTU is forced to resign (or is killed, fired, whatever), the next in line is inevitably thirty years younger, with little to no experience, and someone who only hours earlier had been tortured, maimed, or otherwise accused of being a mole?!?! Heller or whoever can't get to CTU fast enough ... At least, now, in present state as fall-guy to Uncle Sam, Buchanan is actually getting a bit interesting ...

Okay, that's enough of my bitchin'. Overall this was a good episode that reinvested me in Jack Bauer's story and got me excited for the places that the plot can now go.

My Grade: A -

- I hate to do this but I need to - this Sunday, as I mentioned, I was a sick man. I was collapsed on my bed, barely eating, and had but one thing to look forward to to bring a smile to my face - that being the promise of an all-new episode of THE SIMPSONS. Sadly, Sunday's ep was not just mediocre, but just plain bad. It lacked humor, lacked zip, lacked wit. Ugh, just sad. Let's see - Marge becomes addicted to an online computer game? Wasn't funny, didn't even make sense, and had no real insightful humor or commentary to go with it. Lame, lame, lame. An out-of-nowhere B plot about Lisa's newfound passion for soccer? Terrible, half-assed, good for maybe one decent gag at the expense of so-three-years-ago Bend It Like Beckham. The attempt to tie both subplots together into an overarching theme of parent and child bonding? Stop, just make it stop. I could have just watched the episode where Bart really wants that videogame BoneStorm instead. This was really poor.

My Grade: D

- Alright, I'm going to bare down and sneeze and sniff my way through the rest of the day. And I'm outta here ...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Come on, this is the PLAYOFFS: Smallville, NBA, 30 Rock, MORE


- Man, with all the craziness this week I don't think I ever even talked about LAST weekend. So before I proceed I must give a big thanks to the G-Man for arranging for Coach Carter and I to go see the Dodgers play on Saturday. Not only was it a good time, but at one point we exchanged seats with G's cousins who left early and found ourselves in the third row, front and center, right next to first base. Hel-lo!

- This week, my fellow rap-star in training Chris "Easy" E and I decided to get creative and lay down some ryhmes for a comedy rap parody in the grand tradition of Weird Al / Jay Z. Yes, be on the lookout for NICE JEWISH BOYZ, coming soon!


- SMALLVILLE ... was ... good?!?! Yes! Finally! Last night's Smallville was the best ep in a while, with some real plot development, solid acting, and a nice guest turn by Lynda "Wonder Woman" Carter. While the reunion of Chloe with her long-lost mom was well-told, the real star here was Michael Rosenbaum as Lex. Yeah, no big surprise, Rosenbaum has been carrying this show since its inception. But this was a particularly good Lex episode, as it seems like, finally, Lex has shed all pretenses of being a nice guy and gone full-on evil on us. Yes, finally, bring it on. For once, an episode of Smallville didn't end with Clark or Lana moping around and staring off into the distance as some lame pop song plays in the background. No, this week, Smallville delivered a killer ending sequence, with three great scenes that really screamed "yep, business has just picked up." Lex's hardcore threatening of Chloe, Lana's revelation that she was never actually pregnant, and Clark's promise to Chloe that Lex's threats meant the beginning of "war" - well, dayum, THAT's how you end an episode of Smallville. Otherwise, this ep still suffered from some of the same lame contrivances that are by now almost a given on this show. Of course, for the 5 billionth time, we get Lana being knocked unconcious RIGHT as Clark swoops in to use his powers and save the day. Of course, we get yet another instance where a main character (Chloe, in this case) commits criminal acts whilst under mind-control of some type or other, and yes, at some point, someone (in this case Clark), described this crazy behavior with the simple, catch-all phrase "you weren't yourself." Laaaaaaaaaaame. But hey, I'm willing to forgive some of the usual qualms I have with the show's lazy writing, because for the most part, this ep delivered, and presented the most badass Lex Luthor we've yet seen on screen.

My Grade: A -

- 30 ROCK last night delivered another very solid ep. Many have noted though that for better or worse, the show is becoming increasingly serialized, and increasingly focused on relationships. On one hand, this new focus really helps us get invested in the characters. On the other hand, it means that so much energy is devoted to plot, that the jokes seem to suffer for it, with some of the comedy feeling more tacked on now that random humor is taking a backseat to relationship-driven serialized storytelling. This means less of show-stealing side characters like Kenneth, and a much more down to earth Alec Baldwin, as opposed to the totally nutso, over the top character he originally portrayed. I understand what the show is going for, and it still has random humor, mostly from Tracy Morgan (this week's subplot about the "Black Crusaders" was admittedly hilarious). I just don't like seeing this show become typical yuppie relationship-comedy, when the thing that made it originally stand out was how far it was willing to take a joke, how out-there it was willing to make its characters, to hilarious comedic effect. Last night as I said was very solid, with spot-on humor in comparing NYC to Cleveland, and a funny Tracy Jordan subplot. I just worry that the scales may tip too far in the wrong direction.

My Grade: B+

Other stuff:

- Nice article by Stephen King, from, where, in the aftermath of the VA Tech tragedy, he looks at what if anything a person's writing says about them. It somwhat echoes my comments from the other day about how I am reluctant to judge someone's real personality based on whatever escapist or creative endeavors they partake in. At the same time, the trained eye can see certain red flags when looking at writing produced by someone who is truly disturbed. Thanks to Abby for pointing out to me:,,20036014,00.html

- On an altogether different note -- NBA PLAYOFFS commence this weekend!!! Hells yes, you've gotta love the playoffs! This year there are plenty of interesting first round matchups. Utah and Houston square off, for one. Back in the day, when I was a hardcore Rockets fan and my brother, as always, a diehard Jazz maniac, any time these two teams were matched up it was a HUGE event in the Baram household, especially since it meant an epic battle of the power forwards in Barkley vs. Malone. Now, the Rockets are a huge underdog since they've been fairly inconsistent, while the Jazz have quietly put up a very good record and could be a force in the post-season. We also have the Suns vs. the hated Lakers. While I'm not a diehard Suns fan like I used to be circa 1993 in the glory days of Sir Charles, KJ, and Thunder Dan, I still really like the Suns and would love to see them squash Kobe's thug squad hard and fast. I'd love for this to be Nash and the Suns' year to go all the way - they are my pick to win it all in '07! SUNS! Still, the Mavs are huge this year and Dirk is the likely MVP, and everyone always forgets about the Spurs but they are as dangerous (and boring) as ever. In the East, Miami has gotta be the favorite as the defending champs (if healthy), and overall the East is offering up some pretty weak competish. Jersey and the Pistons will likely step up the game, and seeing Vince Carter face a hungry Toronto team is going to be really interesting. Meanwhile, you gotta love the Orlando Magic and the beast of a man that is Dwight Howard. I'm curious to see if they can step up at all. Plus Chicago is right there in the mix as well. I was hoping for the Wizards to have a nice playoff run, but without Gilbert Arenas they should likely fall very quickly in Round One barring miracle. Orlando and Golden State (featuring Baron Davis) should both be a lot of fun to watch though, and who knows, maybe Denver, with AI and Carmello, can even make some noise. Of course, this is a make or break year for LeBron and the Cavs. If they can't get to the second or third round I think it's time to hit the reboot button in Cleveland. My pick though is a Suns vs. Miami final ... Suns vs. Mavs though and either vs. the Spurs will be the finals before the finals though. In summary: SUNS.

- Alright, I'm outta here! Have a good weekend, rock and/or roll.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Well ya' know somethin', Brother. LOST, more on VA Tech, and MORE

- On last night's LOST ... I had really been looking forward to last night's episode since I heard a few days back that it was co-written by one of the best writers out there today, Brian K. Vaughan (sorry, I know I misspell this name everytime I write it ...). Anyways, Brian K is the brilliant writer behind some of the absolute best comics of the last five years, like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina. He has a distinct writing style that mixes great characterization with smart, insightful references to pop culture and current events. And he expertly mixes dry humor with great action and is a master of serialized storytelling, writing some of the best cliffhanger endings around. Anyways, I had some high expectations for Lost last night, and I was more than satisfied with what I saw - a great episode that had Vaughan's fingerprints all over it.

This episode was just totally solid from start to finish. While it wasn't a blockbuster mythology-steeped ep, it was jam-packed with little bits of cleverness that really added to its quality. Everything felt well-crafted, from the spot-on humor (Sawyer's crack about having to play a game of Ping Pong every 108 minutes), to the genuine emotion that was created around Desmond's love for Penelope. The dialogue had Vaughan's trademark wit (and geekiness - gotta love the Superman vs. Flash debate), and even kept up his knack for inserting lots of random trivia into his stories, leaving you with the feeling like you actually learned something afterwords.

Also, Desmond is just cool. Give a ton of credit to Henry Ian Cusick, who does a great job at making Desmond both a likable everyman and a mysterious riddle of a character. While I don't think anyone was clamoring for the secret origin of his use of the word "brother," (he wasn't just a huge Hulk Hogan fan?) the monastary flashbacks were a lot of fun and did a nice job of adding another interesting chapter to his backstory.

In the end, this was a very satisfying episode that had some of the sharpest characterization, tightest plotting, and most dead-on humor we've seen in a while from Lost. Good stuff.

My Grade: A

- Caught up on Tuesday's GILMORE GIRLS, which I really enjoyed. I don't get why some are so down on this season of the show. Sure, it's had some rough patches, but from a writing standpoint this week's ep was basically indistinguishable from past seasons' level of quality. The hay-bail maze was a classic Stars Hollow subplot, and all the character stuff really felt spot on. The dialogue was smart and zippy without being overbearing (loved April's obsession with the word "fabulous", and Kirk as a minotaur was flat-out hilarious), and anyone who's been a soon-to-be college grad could relate to Rory's agonizing over her post-collegiate career plans. I still find Logan to be kind of a hard-to-read character, vut then again the show has always both excelled and frustrated with its difficult to pin-down, three dimensional characters.

My Grade: A -

P.S. - Who would win in a fight - Doyle on 24 or Doyle on Gilmore Girls? I think Paris could probably kick Chloe's ass ...

Some quick movie thoughts:

- So Galactus is nothing but a malevalant cloud in Fantastic Four 2? Yeah, Jack Kirby must be rolling over in his grave on that one. WTF is wrong with the production team behind the FF movies? Get a clue!

- Edward Norton as Bruce Banner in the new Hulk? This is GREAT casting. Kind of weird though since Ang Lee's Hulk had a similarly great casting choice in Eric Bana, who in my view did an excellent job in that movie. I know some (not me) hated Lee's direction in that movie, but I don't think anyone would complain if another director took over but used the same cast. Just odd to totally reboot the franchise like this.

- Looking forward to a free screening of HOT FUZZ this weekend!


- Man, this Alberto Gonzalez stuff is yet another huge black mark on the Bush administration. The sad part is that it will likely be swept under the rug just like the whole Valerie Plame situation. Where is Karl Rove in all this? How come he ALWAYS avoids the hot-seat? It's just unbelievable how these things become such political issues when in fact it's a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Luckily, in this case, it looks like there is a pretty bipartisan outcry. I just hope that it's not yet another instance where there is some initial outrage only for things to fade away after a flurry of denials and "I can't recall's."

- All of this Virginia Tech stuff is just so disturbing and tragic. See my earlier post for more, but the thing is that since then, we've been exposed to a ton of new information regarding the killer and his past history of mental illness and hints of what he was capable of. A few points I'd like to make:

a.) I've already seen many blowhard talking head pundits looking to use this tragedy as a way to get in shots at the entertainment industry. I can't stand this -- it's one thing if examining the killer's interests and influences leads to new insight into his methods and motives. It's another to place a black mark on movies and games due to the actions of one mentally-ill person whose actions are completely removed from that of a healthy, right-thinking consumer of entertainment.

b.) On the other hand -- what's with people who are totally resistant to looking at any tragedy like this in the context of taking it as an opportunity to reexamine gun-control laws? It's one thing to universally condemn the entertainment industry, which had only a tangential effect on this tragedy, in the case of a person with little ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. It's another matter altogether to look at this tragedy and be outraged that a man like this could purchase WEAPONS DESIGNED FOR NO OTHER PURPOSE THAN TO INFLICT FATAL HARM. The gun lobby in America is absolutely ridiculous in their total unwillingness to impose restrictions on what firearms can be sold and by whom. On Hardball the other day, Chris Matthews had a great point - to get a driver's license, one has to pass a rigorous, multi-part exam and meet a number of physical and mental requirements. How then is the standard by which one applies to drive a car so much stricter than the standard to OWN A GUN? It's really, really absurd when you think about it. Now it's true that when you're talking about a crazy person with a death wish, there's only so much you can do to prevent him from acting out. But for the love of God, how does a person like this get a license to own a gun? It's the equivalent of selling a gun to a nine year old.

c.) Now, I totally agree with people who are upset with the media's often sensationalistic approach to this story. However, I think NBC deserves credit for responding to the package of photos and videos it recieved yesterday in a responsible and respectful manner. I watch the NBC Nightly News yesterday, and Brian Williams and co did a great job of prefacing the footage from the package in delicate terms that helped give context to the disturbing footage, in a way that surely did not serve to glamorize the killer by any means. The press has a responsibilty to share information that helps to shed light on a story, and this footage was a crucial piece of the ongoing news story. NBC should be commended for how it handled this.

d.) It really is fascinating to hear from this guy's roommates and classmates, none of whom really knew what to make of him. I mean - it's unbelievable, listening to one of his suitemates on TV, it was assumed that he was a foreign exchange student since he never spoke, to anyone, ever. Where are his parents in all this? It just seems so odd that a mentally ill kid is living on his own with zero parental involvement when he clearly has major, major issues. When I heard that the killer's English class plays were online, I immediately thought, as a writer, "well, you can't judge someone by their writing." I remembered how my nervous parents read (and still read!) every single thing I write analyzing each word for insights into my mindset at any given moment. I've always hated this, but at the least it showed that someone was paying attention. Reding these plays, with a clear level of personal projection, and an emphasis not on narrative but on violence for violence's sake, I took back my previous hesitancy to judge one on one's writing and thought "yeah, this writing IS indicative of something about it's writer - this guy needed serious, serious help."

All in all, a terrible tragedy. Like many, I've been glued to the TV and internet the last few days just trying to process it all.

- Okay, I'm out for now - I've got more to say but it's back to work. Cya.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"It’s a rare condition, this day and age ..."

Okay, on to some lighter subjects (mostly) ...

First of all ...

24! 24! 24!

- Okay, I don't know if I was just in a weird mood last night or what, but somehow last night's 24 fell kind of flat for me, even though I know some others such as my brother really enjoyed it. I don't know though, I had pretty high expectations after last week's kickass final act, and I went in thinking that this week they'd continue the momentum, with Jack in full-on uber-badass-man-on-a-mission mode. However, what we got was, mostly, an hour of back and forth argument between Jack and CTU, with Jack's fate getting caught up on in the totally tired President vs. Vice President storyline. To me, this whole storyline is something of a mess. Just when Wayne Palmer was starting to be tolerable again, he's out of the picture. Just when VP Daniels' endless scheming had been foiled, thankfully, since he had gotten really tiresome, he's back in power again and immediately making decisions that contradict Palmer's wishes. Then, part of the problem is simply that Daniels is in many ways right in his decision-making. Placing nuclear secrets in the hands of a lone agent for the sake of his personal revenge mission is pretty absurd - we all know it. This is why tying Jack's mission to save Audrey into any larger storyline is just lame - this storyline would be much more interesting as lone-wolf Jack flying solo vs. his girlfriend's captors. Now instead of Jack vs. evil Chinese villains, it's Jack vs. ... the conservative VP's beuraucratic red tape of doom! Bo-riiiing.

In many ways, this episode brought to a head some of the problems with Jack's character this season. In hour one, he was supposedly a broken man, ready to die and betrayed by his country. Yet hours later, he was on the frontlines of CTU, reciting the party line and back to being Super Patriot, going so far as to shoot his friend Curtis in the name of national security, and torturing his own brother to the brink of death. But now, Jack is going to risk starting World War III to save Audrey? Remember, Jack once went toe to toe with Tony Almeda who had to subvert CTU's operations for the sake of saving his wife Michelle. Perhaps part of the problem is simply that the on-air chemistry between Jack and Audrey has never been that great, and her character never completely likable.

One of the best moments ever on 24 was, to me, when Tony, Michelle, and Chloe helped to fake Jack's death in the season 4 finale. That was something we rarely see on the show - people actually helping out Jack - and it's very refreshing as opposed to Jack constantly working against the system as we've seen in EVERY SINGLE SEASON to date at some point or other.

I don't know - I just thought that there were a number of potentially more exciting ways that Jack's latest mission could have been handled as opposed to just seeing him put through the red-tape wringer yet again.

One more point - this episode really shown a spotlight on how little of interest has happened to the supporting characters this season. Milo and Nadia are paper-thin non-characters. Chloe seems to have been relegated to the background, and after all this time her exact relationship with Morris is still unclear. Morris has potential to be a great character, and he had his one moment to shine, but since his time out in the field, he's really done nothing of note.

Overall, this was an entertaining episode with some fun moments (you had to appreciate the sheer over-the-top villainry of Powers Boothe calmly stuffing his letter of resignation back into his jacket pocket upon witnessing Palmer's collapse mid-speech), but it felt like a lot of maneuvering was done just so that next week can be Jack vs. America, Round 37!!!

My Grade: B

- I also caught FOX's new series, DRIVE, both during its Sunday premiere and its continuation on Monday. Overall, I found that I enjoyed many of the actors and the characters they played, but I just couldn't get fully invested in the series' totally out-there premise of a secret cross-country race that for some reason is run by a mysterious, all-powerful cabal. Something like this, in order to work, needs just the right amount of style and comic bookish craziness to work. Unfortunately, Drive mostly just came off like Lost-lite, with a number of characters with mysterious pasts that never really felt all that interesting. The standout is probably a woman who appears to be a naive suburban mom, complete with bulky SUV and wide-eyed innocent look - except that, actually, she's kinda crazy. Otherwise though, I cared about few of the characters, even though some were portrayed by very likable actors. Chief among them is Nathan Fillion in the lead, who immediately showed me why people are such big fans of his from shows like Firefly. The guy is a great actor, very charismatic, and is able to deliver pulpy lines with a healthy dose of gravitas. Unfortunately, his character on Drive is a total bore - typical "quiet suburban guy who is actually a former secret agent / assasin / badass" stock character.

What probably kills this show the most though is that, again, its mythology and premise is neither gleefully over the top or at all plausible. It's just kind of there - some X-Files meets Twisted Metal story that really can not and likely will not ever make any sense. And they do the typical "everyone is in on it" schtick, except there's no rhyme or reason to anything. At one point, schizo suburban mom is told to kill a competing racer as punishment for a last-place finish. Why, exactly? Later, on Monday's ep, Fillion is taken into custody and grilled about his past, only to find that it was all a Prisoner-esque mindgame by the race organization, to, what ... motivate him and have him rediscover his old-self? And that's in their interests because ...? Basically, it was a lot of fifth-grade esque writing all so the scene could end with a cool reveal of Fillion's new ride, presented like some shiny videogame power-up.

Look, I am a big fan of the "a bunch of weird characters all in search of the same thing / all trying to win a race" subgenre of the action movie / TV show, probably dating back to all the hours I wasted watching Wacky Races and Laugh O Lympics as a kid. And I am a huge X-files fan - I love conspiracy stuff and don't even mind when it pops up on shows like Prison Break where it doesn't necessarily fit. But this just seemed like a haphazard attempt at an action TV show that seemed to throw together a lot of "cool" characters, concepts (oooh, a conspiracy! everyone is in on it!), and cars into one mash-up of a TV show. It left me slightly intrigued about where it was all going, but not exactly captivated enough to find out. It's too bad so many cool actors are stuck in this not-as-cool-as-it-wants-to-be and too complicated for it's own good effort from FOX.

My Grade: C+

- Hey, wow! SNL on Saturday was one of the overall best episode I've seen in a long while. I recorded Saturday's ep (yes, I admit, largely because Avril was on), but was pleasantly surprised to find several funny sketches, including a new Digital Short that was flat-out hilarious. If you haven't seen it, look online, it's comedy gold.

- Also hilarious - my old pal Conan O' Brien's latest bit o' comedy gold - Studio 6A - a dead-on parody of Studio 60 that had me rolling from laughter. Man, workin' the 9 to 5 I rarely get to watch Conan anymore but thanks to YouTube I caught this little slice of brilliance. Check it out:

- I also watched the final two episodes of ANDY BARKER this week and really liked what I saw. The brilliance of these eps was made all the more tragic by the fact that this show was basically dead in the water from the beginning, and barring some miraculous comeback this is it for poor Andy. But please, check this out online or on iTunes -- good, good stuff. Quality comedy.

- Finally, I just want to quickly mention my Aunt Sarah, who passed away on Sunday morning in Connecticut. She was a sharp, witty woman who was a huge influence in my mother's life growing up and was a big presence in mine as well. She lived a long life and passed away at 90 years of age, and had been in poor health for several years. Still though, my family is very sad about her passing - even in declining health, Sarah was often the star of the show, turning out witticisms and nuggets of wisdom with a surprising sharpness. She was always opinionated and particular, but that was part of her charm. Most of all though, she loved her family and would always do anything to lend a hand, to remember a birthday or holiday, to express her confidence that my brother and I were headed for big things. She always took the utmost delight in treating us, whether it was taking us out to lunch, having us over to visit, or just sneaking us a piece of candy. Sarah Schwartz, the sister of my grandfather Jerry Wagner, was a wonderful aunt, and it's been very sad to think of her as being gone. But I am hopeful and happy that somewhere and somehow, she will take great delight in watching us all from afar.

Virginia Tech thoughts ...

What a crazy few days it's been.

With so many things going on in the larger news-cycle - war in Iraq, Bush administration scandal, '08 election hype, the Imus controversy - it was sudden and jarring to hear about something so terrible, so tragic, so out of left-field. But the events at Virginia Tech are just so senseless and disturbing that I think that, for most of us, we're unable to think of much else right now.

One of the first things I wondered was what could have possibly been the killer's motivation. Was he just completely, totally insane? Totally removed from reality? As of right now, no one knows.

How was he so proficient of a killer? Why attack these students who didn't even seem to know who he was? Who was killed in the initial dorm shooting and how did that lead to the larger-scale classroom shooting?

How did this guy get ahold of these guns and so much ammunition?

Why would anyone do this?

Nobody knows right now, but to think of the dozens of people killed in a few senseless hours is just overwhelming. An Israeli holocaust survivor and leading researcher, scores of students just starting out in their academic careers, athletes, scholars. I will say though that I've been extremely impressed with the students of Virginia Tech in the wake of this tragedy - the ones that have been interviewed have been courageous and well-spoken. They are a stark contrast to the killer - who I'm sure many people will want to label as representative of a generation. Within moments of the tragedy, the other students at the university defied any such labels.

At the same time though - this kind of thing really hits home to those of us in the age bracket of the students at Virginia Tech - the same general age bracket that saw their peers at Columbine go through a similar tragedy. It's impossible to really put this latest act of violence into context at this early stage, but it's hard not to look at it in relation to Columbine, which at the time certainly hit those of us in high school like a 500 lb wake up call about the violence that was possible in a school setting.

And I think one of the real things that stays with you when something like that happens and you're relatively young, is that for someone like me, who hadn't really traveled much and hadn't met many people outside of my little sphere of suburban Connecticut, it was definitely jarring to look at the images on the news and say "wait a minute, those people, in Colorado, they might as well be from West Hartford, CT." In essence, it was the realization that that same tragedy could have occured anywhere in suburbia. It could have been our town, our school. Now, I'm sure across the country college students are watching TV and saying "man, that could have been our school, our city, that could have been us."

- I'll be back later with some lighter blog fare, for now though, I'll leave it at that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Truth About Imus, LOST, and MORE~!

Happy Friday the 13th ... bwahahahahahaha ....

Yeah, Grindhouse probably should have been released today.

Some random things to start out with:

- Okay, for all of you wondering what to make of Don Imus. I want to say a few quick things on this whole debacle.

Firstly, I don't like the idea of firing him over this one specific incident. What he said in and of itself should not have been enough to get him fired, especially when his whole M.O. is that he is a "shock jock" who for years and years has had a history of making comments that could be construed as rascist, anti-semetic, and just plain bigoted. While I'm not sad to see him fired, per se, I don't like the precedent it sets -- because, while few people are really sad to see this guy get the boot, the inherent hypocracy of the whole thing kind of annoys me. You turn on the TV and you see people like Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan criticizing Imus, despite the fact that men like Jackson have a well-documented history of making offensive, bigoted comments themselves. So why after all this time is Imus suddenly the posterboy for racial insensitivity? Simple - this was an opportunity that everyone jumped on to EXPLOIT THEIR OWN AGENDA. If there wasn't so much money at stake, he wouldn't have been fired. If it had been a more packed news day, this wouldn't have gotten so much attention. And you know what? If Imus was younger, hipper, or funnier - few would have cared. The absurdity is that all of these students and athletes at Rutgers don't even know who this guy is - so basically they are forced to act hurt and distressed at his comments with ZERO context about who the man is or what he said.

I mean, look at a guy like Howard Stern, who is hilarious and well-liked despite being a controversial figure. If he had called someone a "nappy-haired ho' ", would ANYONE bat an eyelash? Nope - and I'm sure that in the context of his particular brand of shock humor, Stern has said many comparable things. Context is everything, and it just happened that Imus made a comment that played poorly with his particular audience, one that was not softened by his trademark bitter delivery. Even funnier is how all of these middle-aged pundits are weighing in on the inappropriateness of "nappy-haired ho'." Here's the thing - the phrase was clearly said with a mean, malicious inflection - so it's justified to call out Imus on his stupidity. But taken out of any particular context, is this phrase, in 2007, even that offensive? Honestly, I have NO idea if most people consider "nappy-haired" to be an insult. I've mostly only heard it used by African-Americans talking baout other African Americans. The word 'ho is a word that you hear a million times a day now in music, comedy, etc. I mean, do the words "pimp" and "ho'" really have the same connotation they used to? When MTV has a teen-oriented show called Pimp My Ride, hasn't much of the bite been taken out of the word "Pimp?" I'd say so. Most of the time, in 2007, the words pimp or ho' are used only in a flip, joking manner, having long ago lost their sting thanks to the proliferation of Jerry Springer and the mainstreaming of ghetto slang.

But yeah, all the talk about semantics in the world doesn't change the fact that a man like Don Imus, calling anyone what he did, comes off as nothing but creepy, bigoted, and just plain wrong. It's like how at a party, there's always that one guy who can seemingly do or say anything and everyone will just smile, laugh, and say "oh, that's just what he does." Whereas, if I tried the same schtick at a party, people would look at me and say "hmm, Danny is acting pretty creepy." Well, Imus was THAT GUY.

Now, is there a larger problem here with offensive and derogatory phrases like "ho" being tossed around so casually in black culture that their use is beginning to have a very real, negative effect on our mainstream sense of decency and respectfulness? Yes! This is a HUGE problem that activists like Bill cosby have talked about for years! But are all rappers just going to revert back to the days of the Sugar Hill Gang and start rhyming about family-friendly subjects again? No, not now, maybe not ever. So what we are left with is a mess of a situation - the average guy now has no clue what is and isn't appropriate. And there's a totally different standard depending on your race, age, and Q-rating. Look, racism is wrong, always has been wrong, and most people don't want to ever be labeled a rascist. At the same time, Quentin Tarantino movies are filled with characters using the N-word in a way where being able to say it with laid-back nonchalance is depicted as the epitomy of post-modern cool. And I'm in no way faulting Tarantino or other movie directors for this - it is what it is. Art reflects society and vice versa. But seriously, who knows what is and isn't appropriate anymore? Again, it's all in the context.

All that being said -- good riddance to Imus. Fact is, he never had enough cred to get away with making any kind of borderline-rascist remarks, and his history of being a bigoted blowhard makes his remarks all the more disturbing and begging for some kind of outcry he got. But there's two things that I hate to see happen - 1.) I hate that all of these critics are coming out of the woodwork to condemn, when they themselves have done plenty that's worthy of condemnation. 2.) I hate that people never look at the bigger picture. All of these corporations that ousted Imus were the same ones that ran his program for YEARS with zero problems, all the while laughing as the money flowed in. Oh what's that? The sponsors have pulled out? That's it - can his ass. From a business perspective it's a no-brainer, but you know what - if we start going through the ranks of the media and the political world and weed out all of those who have made similarly offensive comments, well, let's just say that people have very, very short memories.

It really is amazing though - our culture is so utterly and totally confused. On one hand someone like Sarah Silverman goes out and puts out subversive, racially-charged humor and is lauded as a daring comedian. But man, Imus goes out there - what he says falls flat and touches a nerve with his audience - bam, he's the new poster child for rascists. I'm not saying that someone like Silverman gets a free pass, and I'm not saying Imus was unfairly villified. Like most people who aren't prone to hasty proclamations - I too am pretty confused about the whole thing and what it says about our country. All I know is that this is a complex issue being way oversimplified for the consumption of the masses - something I never approve of.

Okay, shifting gears ...


Wednesday's episode was pretty excellent, but man, it JUST straddled the line between "great twist" and "stop jerking me around already." I mean, Elizabeth Mitchell is great as Juliette, and even though, as I've said, I hate when shows recycle old footage, I actually loved seeing that whole "Downtown" mirror scene again because she's so good in it. That scene alone in my mind makes her very Emmy-worthy. The flashbacks in this episode were pretty intriguing as well, with a lot of interesting backstory given, and a lot of forward momentum, which on a show like this is much-appreciated.

One thing I disliked about this episode - the reuse of one of Lost's biggest cliches - the annoying, schmaltzy montage sequence where everyone on the island rejoices about something except for the one guy who gives an ominous look of dread / anxiety. In this case it was everyone going all spazzy for Jack's return, with slow-motion shots a plenty of him getting hugs and high fives, as all the while Sawyer stands alone and stares at Kate all angsty and mopey-like. Way too cheesy of a tactic for a show that in general is so good.

Now, the twist ending was pretty badass, I admit. But man, this is about IT, this is the breaking point, for how many times they can swerve us by teasing Juliette's alliegances as being for one side or the other. If it turns out that Juliette is, in fact, manipulating Ben and the Others, then this entire twist ending will have been one giant red herring. Sorry, but a twist on a twist is probably one twist too many in this case. As it stands though, Juliette stole the show this week, though Elizabeth Mitchell be warned - you can only get away with doing that ambiguous half-smile thing so long before it becomes annoying. For now though, it's all good.

My Grade: A -

- Last night, THE OFFICE had a really, really good episode. Maybe even a classic. Not only was it very funny, but it was pretty brilliantly plotted as well. Michael Scott's gradual transition from gleefully staging a fake suicide attempt to actually contemplating going through with the real thing was one of the darkest, most bitingly clever, and hilariously disturbing things I've seen on a TV comedy in a long while. This was a memorable episode, one for the books.

My Grade: A

- 30 ROCK last night had another home run. There was some good absurdist humor courtesy of Tracy Morgan and Rip Torn, and at the same time, Liz Lemon began to feel more fleshed-out as a character than she has to date, and ditto for Jack Dauneghy as played to perfection by Alec Baldwin. I hope that in its effort to become a sitcom with more mass appeal, the show manages to retain its left-field craziness and warped sensibilities. At the same time, those random jokes are always funnier when we care about the characters, so I appreciate the shows steps to have that be the case.

My Grade: A -

Some random new / new-ish movies I want to see: any thoughts?

- Year of the Dog
- The TV Set
- The Host
- the Hoax
- Meet the Robinsons

And yes, I forget when it comes out, but The Condmned looks badass!

- Man, one of my fave bands, RUSH, is coming to the Hollywood Bowl in June. And I've never seen them live and have alway wanted to. Only problem is, I know no one else who is a fan! Anyone? Anyone? McFly?

- Alright, I am outta here.

PS - True Romance = kickass movie. One of Tarantino's best scripts ...?

PPS - Is Sam Eagle of the Muppets at all based on Don Imus? I vaguely recall hearing this at some point but it's probably just an urban legend or something due to their aesthetic similarities. If so though, it'd be a darn shame to have a beloved Muppet forever tainted due to his real-life inspiration's shameful scandal.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive ..."

On Kurt Vonnegut:

- I remember at one point in high school, my favorite English teacher, Mr. Dessants, spoke about the next book on our class reading list with a glimmer in his eye. I don't remember much about our class' studying of Cat's Cradle, but I do have this vague memory of Mr. Dessants giving me a look in class (by that point he knew me pretty well), and saying "Danny B, you're going to like this one." What I do remember very clearly though is the sheer feeling of enthusiasm that came over me while reading my first work of Vonnegut. "Finally," I thought, "a guy who really gets it." In high schools across America, this same thing was probably happening to thousands of impressionable and increasingly cynical teens. In fact, the same thing had been happening for decades and decades. Reading Vonnegut for the first time was akin to that first dose of Salinger or Twain - a shock, a revelation. Except Vonnegut is still, even now, 100% relevant, 100% modernist, 100% applicable. Reading Cat's Cradle, I was predisposed to like it because of its science fiction overtones. But as I read it, my whole concept of literature was turned on its head. This was brilliant writing, yet composed of short sentances, quick phrases, and profound statements that cut right to the point. This was smartass scifi, with a deep, dark sense of humor that brutally skewed society. Everyone should read Vonnegut to get a healthy dose of cynicism, a healthy skepticism about the world we live in. Who else but Vonnegut could at once instill a total sense of wonder with the scope of his ideas, yet at the same time make you wonder if every character in his stories wasn't a raving lunatic?

Not to mention, Vonnegut's works are some of the most quotable of all time, as was the man himself.

I don't know if Billy Pilgrim was really unstuck in time or just insane. But I'd like to think that Vonnegut is simply floating around in the ether, reliving the various signifigant moments in his life with a curmudgeonly smile, thinking "Ha! I was right all along!" But unstuck in time or not, America has lost one of its true geniuses, one of its true canonical writers. We can all only aspire to change people with our ideas like Vonnegut has.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, a whole generation - from Jon Stewart on down - has learned a valuable lesson from Vonneget: when the chips are down, when things look bleak, when it seems like humanity has let you down ... well, change may best be perpetuated by staring straight into that void of liars, sinners, and hypocrites and being an unabashed, unrepentant smartass.

So it goes.

"I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in it's entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?" It doesn't take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period.
This is it: "Nothing." "

"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

20,000 hits and counting~!

Hey everyone,

20,000+ hits, baby! Just want to say thanks for reading the blog -- I'll be back with more later, but for now, feel free to leave your suggestions on what you'd like to see in the future. More movies and TV? More random editorials?

I can only do so much, given my job and the assortment of people who read this blog (unlike others I know who write blogs, I do, in fact, have shame).

But still, leave a comment, keep checking back, and thanks again for reading!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Return. Of. GRAVITAS. 24 and MORE.


Now THAT'S what I'm talking about!

(Does this call for an "Anti-Dammit!" ?!?!)

It's been a looooong while since I was this pumped in the aftermath of an episode of 24. For the last few weeks, Jack Bauer has been a mere supporting character in his own show, as we've been force-fed endless waves of white house machinations and CTU soap opera. This week, business picked up. Wayne Palmer's neverending struggle to lead the country finally picked up steam with a few well-placed twists and turns. Wannabe Tony Almeda, Doyle, became a little more interesting. But then, in the episode's final 10 minutes or so, things just went nuts. At first, I was ready to scream when it looked like badass terrorist Fayed had inexplicably escaped from capture. But then, another well-placed twist, as we found out that Fayed's seeming colleagues were in fact planted CTU agents (nice!). Then, when Fayed tried to verify that his new allies were legit by contacting Marwan Habib (wasn't there a previous villain on 24 named Habib Marwan?!?!), Habib slipped him a codeword that indicated he was communicating under duress. This is when all hell breaks loose, Fayed guns down the CTU agents, and hightails it back to his terrorist HQ in a comandeered dumptruck ... and the terrorist lives to see another hour of 24 ... Or so we thought ...

... Because holy crap, JACK BAUER IS UNDERNEATH THE TRUCK, holding tight to its underpinnings like an All-American Ninja of Doom. To add to this amazingness, Jack CALLS CTU TO GIVE AN UPDATE while doing this! Unfortunately, erstwhile CTU chief Bill Buchanan is unable to hear Jack's scrambled words, leaving Jack no choice but to utter his trademark "Dammit!" in gravitas-infused frustration. Sheer intensity!

So Fayed returns to Terroristland, unawares that his truck had a surprise visitor in tow. Waiting for just the right moment, Jack f'n Baur, armed with naught but a small handgun and a single round of bullets, stalks his prey, as the orchestral music swells to operatic levels of intensity. When the time is right, it's one bullet, a hit!, and then ... all hell breaks loose, but by this point, there's only one possible outcome. Wasting no time and no bullets, Jack unleashes hell like we haven't seen in many a moon, wastes all the redshirt terrorists, and its down to Jack vs. Fayed, mano e mano - no guns, no tricks, just old-school hand to hand combat. Yeah!!! The fight is back and forth, but holy hell, it ends with Jack STRINGING UP FAYED WITH A CHAIN and hanging him Saddam-style. Earlier in the episode, Fayed cursed Jack for mercilessly taking out Fayed's brother (also a terrorist). As Jack tightened the chain-link noose, he looked up at Fayed, and with pitch-perfect timing, bellowed the following little bit of classic Bauer-ism: "Say hello to your brother for me ..." And ... SNAP (literally and figuratively).

And just like that, CTU had secured Fayed's missing nukes, taken out the badguys, and the main plotline of this entire season of 24 was over and done with -- and it only took ONE man to get the job done. To add to the moment, Doyle, who fancies himself a Bauer-level badass, arrives at the scene, observes the blood-soaked floors and strewn bodies of felled terrorists, looks up at America's public enemy #1 strung up and finished, and can say nothing but "Damn, Jack." Damn indeed, Doyle. Damn indeed.

Finally, the big question is - so ... now what?!?! This is 24, so it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped. And drop it did - in the ep's closing seconds, Jack gets a call - oh dayum it's former Bauer special lady friend Audrey Raines ... but (gasp!) isn't she dead!?!?! Guess not, but she's not much better off - she's held captive by Sketchy Chinese Government Guy, and if Jack doesn't do what the dude says, SHE DIES.

Beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Yeah, now THAT'S an episode of 24. So forget the last several weeks of 24-lite - like I said - it looks like business has just picked up.

My Grade: A


- I hate to do this, but I am giving a FINGER OF SHAME to NBC for cancelling ANDY BARKER, P.I. so prematurely. The thing is, this show was never given a chance to shine - and wasn't it only recently that we renewed 30 Rock for this same reason, to give it time to grow and find an audience? Well, 30 Rock has ALREADY grown by leaps and bounds in the span of one season. So I mean, really, how can you not even give a show overripe with potential like Andy Barker a chance to shine ... at all? I mean, 6 episodes is nothing. Look at the first 6 episodes of The Office - nowhere near the quality, the ratings, or the acclaim that it later went on to recieve. Andy Barker in its first 6 episodes is already leagues more polished than what The Office was in that same stage of infancy, not to mention the show is damn funny. Even from Episode 1 to episode 6, Barker got funnier with each installment. Yes, there was still plenty of room to make it better - to expand its supporting cast and flesh out its characters. But now it'll never have that chance, and to me that's just a ridiculous shame. Now, I don't mean this as a simple plug - but I'll say this ... Go, now, and check this show out on iTunes. All 6 episodes are available. Try the pilot, try the finale, try 'em all. Help make a statement that this show could have had a solid, devoted fanbase. I guarantee, if you like quirky comedy in the vein of Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Reno 9-11, etc, you'll enjoy this one.

- Again, it's too bad Andy Barker couldn't become a permanent fixture alongside 30 Rock and The Office. I felt like last week's Thurday Night trio of NBC comedies was one of the best overall blocks I've seen in a while. The Office as always was hilarious, and 30 Rock had one of its funniest episodes yet, with Will Arnett in top form as a rival exec to Alec Baldwin's character. Great, hilarious stuff. And Andy Barker, as I mentioned, was getting better and funnier and more well-rounded with each new episode.

- I know it didn't show up on facebook, so make sure to check out yesterday's review of GRINDHOUSE right here on the ol' blog. If any of you guys have seen it, I'm curious to hear what you thought.

- One thing with GRINDHOUSE though - I hope that the Weinstien's don't go ahead with the idea to split it up into two separate movies. That to me just detracts not only from the value of getting two films for the price of one, but also just really takes away from the OVERALL experience of seeing the two films plus the trailers, which to me is the whole novelty and charm and appeal. If anything, it'd simply be a cheap cash-in, which would really be lame in my book.

- Can you feel it? PASSOVER is almost over ... I personally am counting the minutes until I can once again eat glorious, glorious BREAD. If I eat any more matzoh I think I will puke. So congratulations to all my fellow Jews who made it through these eight days of breadlessness - go have a big slice of pizza tonight, you've earned it. And for all those who declined to at least TRY to refrain from bread ... look, I'm not normally one to push my religious beliefs on anyone, but ... come on! Suck it up and take one for the team! It's a character-builder.

Seriously though (though I was being kinda serious) ... hope everyone had a great Passover.

- Alright, I'm out ... I think I'll be able to cruise through the day based on leftover adrenaline reserves from last night's 24 alone ... (although, how great would it be to be like Wayne Palmer and have a doctor at beck and call to shoot you up with adrenaline whenever you were feeling a bit weary? Actually, um, yeah, that's pretty weird ...). Cya all later.

Monday, April 09, 2007

UPDATED: Goin' down to the GRINDHOUSE

- Okay, so I guess in the context of it being Easter weekend and all, it makes sense. People were traveling, spending time with family, with kids, looking for light entertainment that was quick, easy, and unoffensive. And yet, to say that a double feature of Tarantino and Rodriguez lost out to an Ice Cube comedy SEQUEL ... I mean, that is just embarrassing. It was definitely poor timing on the part of the Weinstein co to release this shock-fest on a weekend not exactly suited for "hardcore thrills." And yet, still, where were all the people who saw 300? I mean, a piece of crap movie like Ghost Rider managed a sizable opening weekend, so you'd think that Grindhouse would at least be comparable. Again, a large part of this is surely timing. After Ghost Rider's surprising opening, I read a quote from some exec that was like "lines beget lines," which I 100% agree with. The fact may be that people were simply burned out on action / pulp movies after 300 and the like. And then there's the "huh?" factor. As a movie geek, I barely needed to read anything about Grindhouse to know what Tarantino and Rodriguez were going for. But for those who don't get why Kurt Russell is so cool, who don't get the appeal of bad B-movies, who didn't automatically smile with glee upon seeing a poster of Rose McGowan sporting a machine-gun leg ... well, those people REALLY needed to be sold on this movie, and I don't know if that happened. And for a generation raised on Michael Bay, Saw, Grand Theft Auto, etc - does the exploitation genre lose some its luster, now that exploitation is practically a legitimate genre, now that one can go and basically PLAY any kind of grindhouse movie they please in full 3D interactive glory?

Anyways, who knows why exactly this movie performed below par. I mostly chalk it up to bad timing, intimidating running time (though this is part of its charm - TWO movies for the price of one!), and lack of awareness from people who weren't already predisposed to run out and see this. I admit that I was pretty surprised though, when the AMC near me wasn't sold-out for the Saturday night showing, since it's usually packed for any movie of this type on opening weekend. But, we still had a good crowd ready for some grindhouse-style, hardcore movie-watchin', and I urge anyone who wants to see this to SEE IT IN A THEATER. You won't be able to replicate the experience otherwise!

And PS - the lack of success for GRINDHOUSE leaves me worried about yet another smart, film-geek satire of 70's / 80's movies coming soon in the form of HOT FUZZ (a send-up of police / cop movies from the makers of Shaun of the Dead). This one is a UNIVERSAL / Rogue Pictures movie to boot so I'm hoping it does well ... though who knows, it's rough out there..


- There's a certain joy in movies that are imperfect. Sure, all movies are imperfect in their own way, but you know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the movies that most people list among their favorites, but won't make any AFI Top 100 lists. Movies that made an impact not with their overall quality, per se, but with the sheer power of their ideas, their characters, their stories. Sure, in some movies, you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to those great moments or to see the premsie through to its conclusion, but its usually worth it. Because the greatness of "B" movies that are so bad yet so good is that they are raw, unfiltered, flawed but at the least, showing you something that is pure, unadulterated, uncensored vision. I mean, look at a movie like Buckaroo Banzai - by any quantifiable standards, not a good movie. But I still love it for its instantly iconic, zany characters, for its classic synth soundtrack, for the sheer ridiculousness of its plot - so ambitious that the movie ends with a never-fulfilled promise that we should all stay tuned for the next Buckaroo Banzai film to find out what happens to our hero in his further adventures. Now for people like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, finding the diamonds in the rough in the onslaught of 1970's / 80's grindhouse flicks became a lifelong passion. Finding the great moments in bad cinema, or just the great cinema in a genre filled with garbage, led to a film vocabulary that not many others possess. Tarantino's Citizen Kane came in the form of Sonny Chiba kung-fu, blaxploitation, teenage slasher flicks, hardboiled crime films, and low-budget action. Grindhouse is a love-letter to those films, and it both satirized and praises, celebrates and falls victim to, all the flaws associated with the genre. Like the B-movies of old, the flicks are raw, incomplete, devoid of logic, and filled with actors who aren't exactly Oscar-bait. But at the same time, Grindhouse is, like those same B-movies it pays homage to, a hell of a good time.

For me, Grindhouse works as well is it does not because of the individual films, but because of the whole package as a singular experience. Being in a packed theater, seeing the scratchy film stock, the old-school music, the dated logos, all adds up to the immersion factor. And man, those trailers, to me they might very well be the highlight of the whole Grindhouse experience. These fake movie trailers, each for totally over-the-top B-movies that never were, are just hysterical, laugh out loud, totally kickass pieces of shortform cinema. Before the first feature gets underway, we are treated to Robert Rodriguez's MACHETE, a friggin' hilarious trailer that had me grinning uncontrollably. "You just $#%#'d with the wrong Mexican!" is an instant classic. Then there is Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the Dead) DON'T - one of the funniest horror parodies I've ever seen - in a few short minutes it brilliantly lampoons every trailer for a horror movie you've ever seen. I want to see DON'T right now! Make it into a full-length movie! Rob Zombie's WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S. trailer felt a little bit off for some reason, maybe because Zombie's forte isn't exactly humor ... but, he did manage a crowd-pleasing, totally crazy Nicholas Cage cameo that had everyone rolling. Finally, Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING was classic - of all the trailers, it looked like it legit could have been a late 70's horror movie trailer, except it was over the top the the extreme, with a voiceover guy speaking so low he made usual trailer voiceover guy sound like Mickey Mouse - you had to love it. Man, I probably would have been happy with a whole movie of just these crazy grindhouse trailers -- that's how sweet they were.

But anyways, let me talk about the main features. One thing that definitely threw a lot of people off, I think, is just how different these two movies are. With Planet Terror, Rodriguez is basically doing a full-on satire of grindhouse movies. With nonstop, mile a minute action, he brilliantly parodies zombie flicks, post-apocalypse flicks, girl-as-action hero flicks, and just about every B-movie genre you can think of, all the while putting a modern twist on things, with nods to comics, videogames, modern action/horror movies, and current pop culture. But ultimately, Planet Terror is an action-horror-comedy, and a satire. On the other hand, with Death Proof, Tarantino isn't so much out to lampoon the grindhouse genre. Instead, he seeks to make his own, modern-day grindhouse movie that is both an homage, an update, and a subversion of the genre, all the while being a 100% Tarantino flick. Death Proof has all of Quentin's usual emphasis on random dialogue, obscure, meticulously selected soundtrack selections, and experimentation with narrative structure. It's almost like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN in reverse, with Planet Terror akin to that movie's action-packed, satirical second half, and Death Proof more like DUSK's slow-building, dialogue-heavy first act. These are two VERY different movies, but they add up to one perfectly-complimentary double feature, each showing a different side of what the grindhouse experience is all about.

First off - PLANET TERROR. This is the big, loud, gore-filled, action-packed, over the top satire that people were expecting when they went into Grindhouse. In short, the movie 100% succeeds at being a roller coaster ride, replete with crazy characters, extreme action, and a John Carpenter-esque synth score that is absolutely PERFECT in evoking just the right old-school mood for the film. Not to mention the instant-classic theme song, that is up there with the theme from Kill Bill in terms of sheer atmosphere-setting, adrenaline-pumping potential. There's a million and a half things going on in this movie, which is one of the reasons it's so fun but also perhaps its biggest flaw. In the end, you will NOT be able to recount what, exactly, happened in Planet Terror. What you'll remember are the characters, the great lines of dialogue, and the fun moments of girls, guns, gore, and gross-outs.

The cast of Planet Terror is great, in the way that oly a true B movie can have a great cast. The actors, like their characters, are larger than life, often defined simply by a singular fetish or piece of iconography. There is of course Rose McGowan, a modern-day pinup girl with a heavy metal, goth edge. Planet Terror opens with her doing a strip-tease for the camera that makes Selma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn look tame by comparison. Soon enough we learn that Rose, aka Cherry Darling, is an ex go-go dancer with a pipe dream of being a comedienne, who instead finds that her true calling is to be a zombie-killing warrior sporting a high-powered machine gun in place of a left leg. Rose McGowan has always been an attention-grabbing actress, but until you've seen Grindhouse, you ain't seen nothing yet. Lots of reconizable faces show up throughout the film doing cool, badass, hilarious things. You've got Bruce Willis as an army commando who seemingly walked right out of an X-Box game. Lost's Naveen Andrews as a scientist who has an obsession with, um, balls. However, many of the stars of the film are lesser known or have long been out of the spotlight. Marley Shelton is one of the big, big stars to emerge from Grindhouse, a total scene stealer as the sadistic mom-turned-mad-scientist Dr. Dakota Block. Josh Brolin is similarly creepy as her murderous husband, William. Michael Biehn is great as a cocky sheriff, and then there's Jeff Fahey as JT, who is a total riot as a BBQ cook whose backwoods dive-bar houses a secret stash of anti-Zombie combat vehicles. Tarantino puts in a memorable cameo that features one of the grossest things I've ever seen in a film. Finally, Freddie Rodriguez does a great job as our main hero, the mysterious El Wray, whose ambiguous origin is kept a mystery throughout the movie to hilarious effect. In fact, when Robert Rodriguez jumps from point B to point D in the movie, with Point C taking the form of a "missing reel," it is a brilliant satirical device that asks "look, do you really want to hear the secret origin of El Wray, or should we just skip to Rose McGowan killing zombies with a machine-gun leg? Yeah, that's what I thought ...". There's even a great, totally spot-on "Well, the world is forever changed, so we'll round up the survivors of the apocalypse and start a new utopian society by the ocean" ending to boot.

Again, Planet Terror is basically a piece of pop culture candy. It's a funny send-up of B-movie subgenres, but really, it just takes great pleasure in its calvacade of oddball characters, sexbomb women, and wanton cartoon violence. While you could hold the movie's silliness and illogic and all-over-the-place plot against it, it's best to just sit back and let Rodriguez's enthusiasm take hold. That is, if you've got the stomach for it ...

Now, on to DEATH PROOF. After the gorefest that was Planet Terror, I think people were expecting the same from Tarantino, whose last film, Kill Bill, was his most action packed to date. But like I said, Tarantino set out with a totally different approach than Rodriguez - he wasn't trying to lampoon grindhouse films - he wanted to make his own. Now, a grindhouse movie is not exactly a huge departure for Tarantino. All of his movies have pretty much been rooted in the realm of cult cinema, from Italian crime films to kung-fu flicks to blaxploitation. But the freedom of being a part of Grindhouse seemed to give Tarantino a certain freedom to be even more experimental than usual with his narrative structure. Because there's no doubt that Death Proof has an odd, even frustrating structure that will leave many scratching their heads. To briefly sum up (SPOILER WARNING), Death Proof focuses on a washed up stuntman known (appriately enough) as Stuntman Mike, played to grizzled perfection by Kurt Russell (more on him later). Mike seems like a friendly enough, if somewhat awkward guy, but really, he's a sadistic killer who gets off on using his souped-up stuntcar as an instrument of death, with his victims tending to be young women, the same type of young women who routinely give Mike odd stares, wondering who that creepy older guy is who's looking them over at the bar.

Anyways, Death Proof's first half centers on a group of these young women, who Tarantino slowly introduces us to through his trademark dialogue. But here, the build up is sloooow, the pacing deliberate, as Mike gradually enters the picture and begins to stalk his victims. This story plays out, and then, BOOM, the movie effectively restarts itself, and we're introduced to a WHOLE NEW group of women. Mike is nowhere insight until much, much later, when he finally reappears, only for the tables to be turned ... How? Well that would be saying too much. But this two-part structure is definitely a bit jarring. Why spend so much time building up one group of women only to completely switch gears, only to introduce a completely different set of main characters? Now don't get me wrong - the pacing of this movie seemed off at times, but Tarantino accomplished something great with his strange narrative - he made it one of the most unusual story structures I've ever seen in a movie, and, unlike Planet Terror, which kind of floated in and out of my brain like a round of Playstation, Death Proof has stuck with me. I thought about it and thought about it, turned it around in my head, wondered what it all meant, wondered what, exactly, was Tarantino trying to accomplish as a storyteller. In retrospect, it's almost like a classic campfire ghost story: "The first group of girls met the evil killer, then the second group met him, and theeeen ....".

Now, what Tarantino undeniably accomplishes with Death Proof is that the build is so slow, so deliberate, that the final payoff is a total rush. Suddenly, the movie goes from being a vehicular slasher flick to a women-get-revenge movie, and Tarantino does all this with a kind of casual, happy-go-lucky detachment that makes the whole thing totally surreal. As all of this is happenning, Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike undergoes a total character shift, going from Snake Plissken-esque badass to complete wuss in the span of minutes. In a weird, twisted way it all makes sense, and it's utterly fascinating to see how Tarantino plays around with the audience's expectations to the point where everything you THINK will happen doesn't, and everything that does happen seems to be at odds with what our original expectation was molded to be. This is both a positive and a negative. Positive because it's just plain fascinating, and ultimately, memorable and rewarding. Negative because, as much as I like Tarantino's dialogue, Death Proof is padded with scene after scene of random, meandering conversations. Except, instead of Sam Jackson and Travolta talking about Royales with Cheese, it's a bunch of high-strung women talking about much less exciting things, like how stuntwoman Zoe Bell happened to fall in a ditch yet somehow emerge unscathed. Sure, it's all foreshadowing, but there is just way too much dialogue here, especially in light of the fact that we know, waiting in the wings, is Kurt F'n Russell ready to unleash hell.

As I mentioned, Russell absolutely owns Death Proof, even if his screentime is surprisingly limited. He's altrernatively an eccentric, aging, throwback, a badass killer-on-wheels, and a sadsack crybaby who cracks at a little antagonism thrown his way for once. Before heading out to the Grindhouse, I popped in Escape From NY and was reminded all over again how kickass Kurt can be, and was blown away at how his presence is as iconic as ever here in 2007. Gerard Butler, step aside for the true king of badass.

Now, the women of Death Proof all have a real presence as well. Rose McGowan once again shines here - she should probably be annointed the new Queen of the Grindhouse. But everyone else, from Sydney Poitier as Jungle Julia, to infectiouslly energetic Zoe Bell as herself, does a good job and carries their weight. Zoe Bell to me really stood out because she's unlike any leading lady I've ever seen. You know that girl in your elementary school karate class who could kick all the boys asses with a smirk and a smile? Well that's Zoe Bell for ya'. The downside of these actresses is though, that as good as they are, they aren't great with Tarantino's rapid fire dialogue. This slows the movie, but hey, it does lend it that authentic B-movie feel, with just about everyone but Kurt Russell slightly in over their head.

I still find myself torn about Death Proof. It was in many ways frustrating, but somehow, its flaws almost add to the end product, because half the movie you're wondering "so ... where is all this GOING?" and then, where it actually does go becomes all the more satisfying, and the zip of the ending becomes all the more fun thanks to the relative slowness of the rest of the movie. I don't know - this is one of those movies that will be analyzed and debated for years to come, and I doubt there will ever be a real consensus.

Personally, I'm not 100% sure how I feel about Death Proof as a standalone movie, but it really worked for me in the context of GRINDHOUSE. In that context, I had a certain set of expectations - that this was a forum for two directors who had already pushed the limits to go even further and just be really out there, to really lay their own personal and filmic fetishes bare ( and I really mean that - Tarantino's well-documented foot fetish is on full display in Death Proof). And as a movie fan- how can you not support that? I mean, this is everything it should be - raw, unconstrained, unconventional filmmaking. You've gotta love it. Even if some are hit, and some are miss, I wish that there were more movies out there that dared to be this individualistic. This is a movie that deserves high praise, flaws (intentional and unintentional) and all. The whole package of Grindhouse - two unique, boundary-pushing movies, crazy details from scratches to missing reels, drop-dead hilarious mock trailers ... this is a ride at Disneyland on crack, with images, ideas, characters, that will be burned in your brain, an adrenaline rush that won't let up. An A-level B movie, if such a thing is possible, which it isn't really. But then, that's part of the charm.

My Grade: A -

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Matzoh Madness!!! Prison Break, LOST, More!

Well, I'm struggling today, I won't lie. I'm sleep deprived, bread deprived, and my office smells weird. Yep, this is one of those days where I'm counting down to the finish line.

Yesterday afternoon, this no-good feeling hit me like a ton of bricks, and two late nights of Passover sederin' caught up with me. I was down for the count, feeling feverish, and barely made it through the long day, until I got home, collapsed on my bed, and barely moved until I finally drifted into a restless, oft-interrupted slumber.

Yep, I've got the Passover blues, and I'm not sure what will provide the cure.

At least, yesterday, I finally caught up on a little TV. Namely, the much-anticipated season finale of one of my favorites, PRISON BREAK.

- This week's PRISON BREAK season 2 finale was in many ways a huge success. It had many of the great character moments, tension, drama, and action that I've come to expect from the show, and it also had the added factor of keeping us guessing as to the outcome of the season-long plot, and what this would mean for the upcoming third season.

First of all - I hate when I hear people deride this show for being "unrealistic." The last time I checked, there was plenty of good storytelling that was anything but realistic. Do these same people deride Indiana Jones for beeing too cartoonish? Do they criticize Batman for not having realistic motivations? These are probably the same people who will go to see Grindhouse this coming weekend and claim to just not "get" it. People - a show being over the top, excessive, and having a sense of fun is not an automatic knock against it. I mean, look at shows like Kidnapped, The Black Donnellys, and others that suffered due to being overly serious, self-important, and humorless. On the other hand, shows like 24, Lost, and Prison Break capitalize on their outlandish premises by capturing just the right tone to match the circumstances - fun, melodramatic, at times self-referentially humorous. Prison Break's B-movie esque tone is pitch-perfect for what the show is. And then there is Prison Break's other great strength - it's characters. Is there another hero on TV as cool under pressure as Michael Scofield? Another antagonist as morally complex and badass as Alex Mahone? Another villain as enjoyably vile and sinister as T-Bag? Another supporting character as hilariously pathetic as Bellick? Just seeing all of these characters interact and do their thing is always a good time. And the fact the this show is willing to be so over the top makes for some crazily awesome character moments. I mean, how great is that one Company guy who only talks via writing on note cards?

That being said, the season finale was, as with the last few episodes, almost ridiculously contrived. As I've said, it's like the writers had their endgame in mind and then feverishly scrambled to align all of the pieces so that the plot would quickly come together as desired. One after another, all of our principle players end up in Panama. One after another, they are all set up to be detained in the same Panamanian jail. As if by magic, Lincoln is exonerated of all his crimes (what about all the crimes he committed AFTER escaping from jail?) and within minutes, seemingly, a free man - and yet, just as quickly, he and Michael are fugitives, because they, what, killed an evil Company henchman in self-defense? And suddenly, these nationally-known public figures are reduced to running from a bunch of soldiers through the Panamanian jungle? As much as I admire the show's willingness to play fast and loose with logic, this was a bit much.

And yet still, this episode was a hell of a ride. From Michael's set-up of Mahone to Bellick and T-Bag scheming in prison, to Kellerman's apparent death - a ton of great, memorable moments were contained in this ep. The ending, while predictable, was suitably ominous and creepy, hammering home the idea that Fox River penitentiary was nothin' compared to Panama's anarchic, Sodom-and-Gomorah-esque hellhole of a prison. And what's with all these weird scientists and whatnot talking in hushed tones about Scofield? Is Prison Break about to get all scifi on us or something? In any case, I'm definitely intrigued, and can't wait for next season. This is good stuff, and continues to be one of TV's great, often underrated action-packed hours.

My Grade: A -

- Still haven't had a chance to watch Monday's 24 - I may hold off on that one until next week and treat myself to a Jack Bauer double hour of power ...

- On last night's LOST ...

Well, it was a decent episode, but nowhere near as good as the last few episodes that centered on Jack, Kate, Juliette, Locke, and The Others. This was one of those trademark Lost episodes where the ambiguity was laid on so thick that rather than making things intriguing, it simply left me annoyed and frustrated at the writer's cheap tactics. I mean, at first I was intrigued that Juliette seemed never to have seen or heard of the Smoke Monster. But then it turned out she was lying, and had manipulated Kate all along. But ... why exactly? This was yet another episode where totally obvious questions were ignored in favor of completely forced interpersonal drama. Juliette, for example, tells Kate all the facts and statistics she knows about Jack - isn't Kate curious HOW she knows all these things? Later, Jack insists that Juliette comes to the Tailie's camp despite Kate and Sawyer's suspicions. Doesn't Kate now have EVERY reason to believe that Juliette is simply manipulating them all once again? And yet she says nothing to Jack? And speaking of oddities ... okay, I get that with her sketchy past, Kate may have picked up a bit of fighting skill or whatever ... but suddenly mousy Juliette is a kung-fu master? Ummm ... yeah, okaaaaaay. Overall, the whole Kate - Juliette interaction did nothing but create forced tension between the two over Jack, at a time when a barely-existant love triangle should have been the last things on their minds. I mean, Kate is handcuffed to a bonafide Other and asks nothing except "Did Jack really say that?" I hate when Lost employs this kind of lazy, half-assed writing, much of which seemed little more than an excuse to pit Kate against Juliette in a wet t-shirt pier-six brawl catfight (not that I'm complaining, per se). Meanwhile, we get a totally sappy Sawyer-lite subplot that basically reduces this once-villainous character into a big ol' softie. And of course Sawyer's good deeds led to yet another cringe-worthy island montage wehre we see all the typical shots of Claire cradling her baby, people eating around the campfire, and Sawyer staring introspectively into the night sky. Laaaaaaaaaame. As for the flashacks - not bad, pretty decent, but once again, did we really need them? Another very non-essential backstory that felt needlessly tacked on out of obligation to uphold the usual format. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here in the background, but the writers need to keep the important stuff front and center and let all the character drama happen organically. After a few weeks of insanely high quality, this ep reminded me of why I've gotten so frustrated with this show before.

My Grade: C+

- Alright, I'm out, counting down to the weekend. Back at ya' soon with more.