Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thoughts, Ramblings, and Recollections of a Weekend of Adventure in San Diego: Comic-Con, Craziness, and MORE

What a weekend!

I may only have been in San Diego for three days, but it feels like I've just come back from a long, strange trip. And I have - this past weekend was pure craziness from start to finish.

On Friday morning, the G-Man and I boarded his G-Mobile armed with sleeping bags, plenty of tunes for the long ride ahead of us, and a vague idea of what to expect once we reached San Diego, which for one weekend only would be the Mecca of Geekdom, host to the annual Comic-Con which has become not only the world's biggest comic convention, but a madhouse that has all but been overtaken by the likes of Sony, Universal, FOX, and Warner Brothers. But though Comic-Con has incrreasingly become a forum for the big studios and TV networks to build buzz for their latest fanboy-ready projects, Comic-Con is still like nowhere else. Walking around downtown San Diego was like being in another world altogether. The geek had truly inherited the earth. Of course, you get the hundreds of people walking around in all manner of crazy costumes - comic characters, movie characters, anime characters, you name it - the outrageous outfits were everywhere and there were photo-ops aplenty. Check out my Myspace or Facebook page for some scenes from the Con.

But it's not just the novelty of seeing girls walking around dressed like Batgirl or Zatanna that makes the whole scene so unique. If you speak Geek, then you are in a place a veritable Bizarro World where everyone speaks your language. You've come out of the Diaspora and arrived in the Holy Land. On Day 1 of the Comic-Con, I came out of NBC / WB's panel for new fall show CHUCK and was explaining to some of my NBC co-workers why co-star Adam Baldwin got such a geekgasmic reaction when he appeared on-screen. As soon as I mentioned Adam Baldwin, a very enthusiastic girl who happened to be walking by ran up to us and started talking about how much she loved Adam Baldwin, much to my amusement and to the surprise of my less geek-saavy co-workers. But this is how it goes at Comic-Con, and to be honest, it is just an awesome atmosphere. It's like us fanboys feel so repressed not being able to talk comics and whatnot out there in the "real world" that at Comic-Con it's one big lovefest. Everywhere you go, people are as friendly as can be and eager to make conversation. "You see the Marvel panel?" "How great was Iron Man?" "You read the latest Countdown?" "What comics do you read?" Everyone is walking around, comparing notes, sharing their favorite comics, telling their stories. I mean, I was lovin' it. You don't even mind standing in the big lines for the panels too much, because part of the fun is making random conversation with the poeple next to you, and catching up on all the latest buzz from the show floor. I almost hated mentioning to people that I worked for NBCU, because the truth is, I work in entertainment but I couldn't be farther from a Hollywood suit. At Comic-Con there's this great feeling like "we're all in this together." At night, walking down the streets of San Diego's hopping Gaslamp District, most people even left their entry badges hanging around their necks as they visited the bars and restaurants and shops - the badge was a badge of honor, a symbol - if someone had that badge, then they were a-okay.

As for the convention itself, it was pure madness. Crowded as hell, with panels scheduled from early morning to evening with no letups or slowdown. In fact, many of the big, must-see events overlapped, not to mention that most required a long wait in line to ensure entry. So you really ahd to pick and choose a few key panels to attend, because there was just no way to do more than a handful in one day. So what did we see? A quick rundown:

CHUCK Panel: I was very, very eager to see how this upcoming fall NBC show was received by the fanboys at Comic-Con. It's a show that I'm a big fan of, and I've been a big supporter of the pilot at NBC, from as far back when I read the script and immediately e-mailed a bunch of people I know from development and shared my enthusiasm about a show that struck me as Y: The Last Man meets Alias meets The OC. Of course, my enthusiasm wasn't exactly universal - many older and stuffier types didn't get the show and I was worried that it might not even get picked up for the fall slate. Well - how AWESOME was it to see my favorite new show of the fall play before a capacity audience that CLAPPED and APPLAUDED and CHEERED and was on the edge of their seats the whole time?!?! It rocked! The show got a standing ovation, and when the cast and creator Josh Schwartz and director McG came out for the panel following the screening, they were totally blown away by the reaction from the crowd, and it made them visibly giddy with enthusiasm. And so was I. This is one of those shows that, honestly, would never have been on NBC a few years ago and the network certainly considers it a risk, whick is justified, as it is to some degree. But this is a case where the geeks won, baby! And I use the word geek in the best possible way- I mean this is a show for smart people who get irony and layered humor and pop culture and don't want more of the same old crap on TV. So when I met back up with my co-workers outside the panel, I was totally excited and pumped.

KEVIN SMITH Panel: Ever since my friends and I first saw Smith speak at WizardWorld a few years back now, I make a concerted effort to see him speak live whenever he attends one of these things. And this was the maestro on the biggest stage of them all - with a gigantic line and hour + wait to see the director of Clerks and Mallrats do his thing. So we braved the line and sat down in the huuuuuge Hall H which holds thousands and is adorned with hanging video panels for those too far back to see the stage (aka most inside the hall). The first 20 minutes or so of the panel was classic Smith. To me, Smith, love him or hate him, is one of the main people we have to thank for the current renaissance of geek culture. Clerks and Mallrats helped make it cool to be a nerd, and Smith's runs on comics like Daredevil and Green Arrow brought in a new era of big-name Hollywood talent writing comics. So even with no new movie to show off, Smith is a must-see, not only because he's friggin' hilarious to listen to, but because to me he is kind of this Master of Ceremonies at Comic-Con. You want to hear what he has to say about all that is going on in the world of geekdom. So yeah, for 20 minutes or so, Smith did some classic riffs and Q and A. The highlight ( now on YouTube), was undoubtedly when a fan bitingly asked Smith when he would "make a new movie that doesn't rehash old characters yet doesn't completely suck?" Well, Smith got red in the face, and proceeded to verbally WAIL on this dude looking for cheap heat as only a true master of the insult can. Smith's tirade was drop-dead hilarious, topped only by his later random story about his two dogs' lusty affair with each other. The downside of the panel was that instead of it just being a forum for Smith to go off on whatever, it was turned into a quasi-panel for the new CW show REAPER, which Smith directed the pilot of. We saw the entire pilot, which is pretty decent and funny but not GREAT, per se. Kind of Ghost-Busters meets Bill and Ted's Bogus Jouney meets Buffy, with a dash of Clerks. Smith then introduced some of the show's cast and crew for Q and A, but of course the fanboys were more interested in their typical Kevin Smith questions than asking about Reaper. Anyways, a bit of an odd panel for its shoehorning of Reaper into the mix, but worth attending for its classic bits of Kevin Smith hilarity. And it looks like the biggest bit of Smith news actually came at the HEROES panel, where it was announced that he'd be doing an episode of HEROES: ORIGINS. Nice - Bluntman and Chronic in the Heroes-verse? Claire had better watch out ...

Well, Saturday at the Con was a total mob-scene. In the afternoon I met up with Justin of NBC and some of his interns in line for the HEROES panel. We couldn't get in with any special NBC access, and ended up being too far back in line to make it in! So, no Heroes panel for us. Being hungry and exhausted (more on why later), we decided to eat and walk around and then focus on making it into the MARVEL STUDIOS panel later that afternoon. It meant we'd have to miss the Futurama panel, but what could we do ...?

MARVEL STUDIOS Panel: We waited outside in the San Diego sun for this one, also in Hall H, for like an hour and a half. But what we eventually saw was way worth it. The first half of the panel was the cast and crew of Universal's upcoming HULK movie, which means big guns like ED NORTON, LIV TYLER, the guy who directed The Transporter movies, and of course Marvel's Avi Arad and Kevin Feige. Well, so far, things look good for this movie. The odd thing is that I thought the whole point of the franchise reboot was to do a more comic bookish, action-packed Hulk movie than Ang Lee's more contemplative film. But the way Edward Norton describes it, this one will be just as if not more cerebral than Lee's take. Norton is actually co-writing the movie as wll, which is kind of interesting. But man, is that guy intense. He answered every simple question with these slow, intellectual answers and seemed to really ramble on at times, but in a very interesting way - the guy could probably be an English professor if he ever chose to. But, it was cool just seeing him and LIV TYLER in person ...

But then, the IRON MAN portion of the panel was just KICK-ASS. I mean, WOW. Director Jon Favreau came out to join Avi and Kevin, and introduced an freaking all-star lineup of Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrance Howard. Their excitement and comraderie was palpable, and there was a huge, undeniable energy in the big convention hall. The atmosphere was electric, and when they finally showed a 4 minute movie trailer, HOLY LORD, the roof blew right off of Comic-Con.

About this trailer - it may well be the best superhero movie trailer I've seen, MAYBE second only to the Batman Begins footage I saw at WizardWorld a couple of years back. But man did this thing rule it. Robert Downey Jr. was spot-on as Tony Stark. The look of the film was already amazing. The grey suit was pitch-perfect, and a scene where a soldier tries to sneak up and shoot the grey Iron Man only for the bullet to boune back and hit him was SICK. The cliamctic moment of the footage, with the full red and yellow-suited IRON MAN flying in the blue sky leading a squadron of F-15's into battle, as the guitar riffs of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" grinded in perfect time to the action, was off the chain-awesome. Exactly as I always imagined this movie in my wildest dreams. I. AM. IRON MAN. Indeed. This movie is going to be the bomb.

The kicker though, and one of my personal highlights of the weekend, was when the lights came up from the trailer, and STAN F'N LEE himself came out to praise the cast and crew. When I saw the living legend walk out with that patented gleam in his eye shining through the trademark tinted glasses, I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear. Between the pitch perfect trailer I'd just witnessed and being in the presence of the man who helped conceive these characters in the first place, I was moments away from jumping out of the seat and screaming "Excelsior!" Stan Lee looked over at Favreau and exclaimed "If we'd had writers like you at Marvel back in the 60's, we would have overtaken DC a lot sooner than we did!" Hot damn, you all know I'm a DC guy, but I was ready to jump up and say Make Mine Marvel. I was in fanboy heaven, and rightly so - I was in the presence of greatness.

SMALLVILLE Panel: After the Marvel shindig, we headed over to get in line for the Smallville event, the first the show's had at Comic-Con in a few years. It was a bit underwhelming after Marvel, especially since my enthusiasm for the show has dimmed after a few years of substandard episodes and storylines. But, it was still very cool to relive some of the show's highlights in the form of a nice video montage, which also included some sneak peeks at next season and its impending Supergirl storyline. We were then introduced to a panel that included the show's creators, Erica Durance (aka Lois Lane), and the actors behind Oliver Queen, J'onn J'onzz, and Kara Zor-El. Some funny banter between Erica Durance and Josh H aka the Green Arrow, especially when they were asked about the ins and outs of their on-screen romance. Otherwise, a pretty cool panel but not much newsworthy other than the introduction of the statue-esque blonde who will portray Clark Kent's superpwered Kryptonian cousin next season.

So those were tha main panels we attended. I would have liked to have seen a lot more, and had to miss out on some big ones like Disney/Pixar, Bionic Woman, Simpsons, Family Guy, and DC Comics. But like I said, Comic-Con is a madhouse, and realistically there's only time to do a few big panels per day.

But, we did see plenty of cool stuff and interesting people on the show floor. Of course, there are all the professional show-workers dressed as everyone from Homer Simpson to Bender to Princess Leia roaming aorund the show floor, and then the hundreds of amateurs who dress up as all manner of comic book and sci-fi characters, which like I said makes for plenty of cool photo-ops. I did manage to see lots of other people of note though. Off -hand, there was:

- On Friday, upon entering the Convention Center, me and Brian spotted CHRISTIAN CAGE and SHANE HELMS (with a nasty-looking neck brace) entering the Con, presumably just as interested fans.

- Speaking of professional wrestlers, I got some great pics of the one and only GI Joe commander, SGT. SLAUGHTER himself, manning the fort at the Hasbro booth. TEN-HUT! Sadly, I must've missed RVD and Virgil ...

- If only Aksel had managed to come to the actual Con with us. He would have geeked-out over the woman who played DEANNA TROY on Star Trek:TNG. Personally, I was more excited about seeing one of my childhood heroes, LEVAR BURTON, aka Jordie LaForge, signing autographs on the show floor.

- It's funny, I just caught the cult classic film Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! for the first time a few weeks back. Then, I am randomly wandering the show floor, and look up to see this large, nearly elderly woman at the Fangoria booth, sporting a black catsuit, jet-black hair, and a chest that makes Dolly Parton look like Nicole Richie. Holy crap, it was TURA SATANA, the B-movie icon who starred in Faster Pussycat! Sweet!

- Of course there was the obligatory checking out of the SUICIDE GIRLS booth. No sightings of that one girl from my high school who went to to become an SG, sadly.

- Tons of comic luminaries were in the house. Saw everyone from the legendary JIM LEE doing signings to the aforementioned STAN LEE, to GAIL SIMONE, Nicolla Scott, GREG RUCKA, and many more in attendance at the DC Booth (where we snagged free WATCHMEN movie posters).

- And aside from celebs and comic book legends, there were huge booths aplenty from big media companies and indie comic publishers alike. Sony, Capcom, Square-Enix, LucasArts, Sierra, and Konami all had huge booths showcasing kiosks with playable demos of some of E3's biggest games. I was particurly jazzed to see CONTRA 4, Ratchet and Clank: Future, UNCHARTED, and Heavenly Sword. Capcom had some sweet Street Fighter tournaments goin' on, and there was a huge Donkey-Kong themed booth in honor of the upcoming documentary film, King of the Kong. Of course, I checked in at the NBCU booths, which included a futuristic SCI-FI booth, a ROGUE PICTURES booth, and a mobbed HEROES / NBC booth, which was filled with cheerleaders handing out various trinkets and walls adorned with Tim Sale's original artwork from Heroes. The G-Man was also representing his company, MGM, and it's big franchise of STARGATE. Brian volunteered to participate in a special promotion at the MGM booth, where barbers were shaving hardcore fans' heads with Stargate logos and colors. Brian took one for the team, ever the company man, and emerged balder if not more hardcore for his efforts. Then, I was walking around on Friday when I unexpectedly bump into Jules! My fellow Boston U grad-turned Hollywood bigshot was in the house helping to run the show at the G-4 booth, so we got to hang out with her a bunch at Comic-Con as well, which was very cool.

- Now, as for the rest of our stay in San Diego, we actually had a whole other set of adventures completely apart from the actual Comic-Con. On Friday night, Me, Brian, and Diane The X-Plosian Panosian met up with man / myth Aksel, a native and current resident of San Diego, for a night of food and revelry in the Gaslamp District. It was a crazy night full of hearty food, interesting characters, and many classic Aksel moments (for better or for worse). Then, me and Brian somehow ended up staying the night at a friend of Aksel's. On one hand it was very nice of them to let us stay over, on the other hand, it was not a very fun night. We were cramped and burning up in the small and non air-conditioned apartment, and I think I got about an hour's worth of sleep that night. Not fun at all per se, but it was certainly an adventure the likes of which only occurs when with the man called Aksel. On Saturday, I saw Justin from NBC, briefly met up with Diane, but totally missed Adriana, who came down to meet us Saturday afternoon. At night though, it was abother bigtime BU reunion. Chris Agra himself, my roommate in Boston for many years, had been vacationing in San Diego with his girlfriend Lindsay following his completion of the bar exam last week. Chris and Lindsay met up with us for dinner Saturday night. Many classic stories of the BU days were recounted and tales told, jokes exhanged, and then the four of us proceeded to wreak havoc on downtown San Diego. Finally, and let me thank them again for this publicly, Chris and Lindsay offered me and Brian a chance to crash at their swanky hotel room in the famous Coronado hotel. It was a much better arrangement than the previous night, and the next morning we had a nice brunch in a great area of Coronado Beach / San Diego by the water. Finally, I bid farewell to Mr. Agra (for now), and me and Brian headed back for one last look at Geek Paradise. Sunday, we met back up with Diane, Adriana, and some other friends of the X-Plosian, checked in with Jules back at G-4, but mostly we headed to the back end of the show floor where hundreds of vendors were selling their wares at low, low, everything-must-go prices. Again, the place was a madhouse, and fanboys and girls were swarming around the tables of comics, artwork, posters, toys, and other collectibles for sale. I snagged a few trade paperbacks and a Con-exclusive Alec Ross signed sketchbook, but it was too crazy to purchase too much, and too rough on my wallet as well. Finally, after one last sweep around the show floor, me and Brian exited the building. There was a palpable sense of sadness in the air. People were exchanging numbers with new friends, and old friends were saying tearful goodbyes. Back home, they'd once again be the geek, the outcast, the loner. Here, these costumed masses were among their peers. People with vivid imaginations and big dreams, with open minds and a rare appreciation for the written word, the magic of pencil on paper, and the collective hopes and fears of mankind brought to life on the page, the screen, the dialogue of life. I'm not one who has ever shunned the company of those who don't have the same appreciation for these things that I do, but I couldn't help but share in the growing sense of emptiness. Here I was, in a place where the people sitting next to me aat dinner gladly made small talk with a bunch of strangers about upcoming movies and the awesomeness of the Iron Man trailer, where a guy standing next to me in line eagerly showed me his photos from the show and told me of how he moved to LA from Alaska. Those who find comfort only in the banal and everyday walk into San Diego and see a bunch of weirdos. But those who look for something more than what is considered the status quo walk out of San Diego with a sober realization that they are leaving a place of bright color and vivid imagination and re-entering a world that can be harsh, boring, bland, and close-minded.

Me and Brian walked up and down the main strip of the Gaslamp one more time, grabbing some food and taking in the sights and sounds. A bunch of Pirate Minstrels on a street corner singing sea chantys. Guys in garish T-shirts and girls in fishnets and combat boots. Finally, not wanting to brave the sure-to-be horrendous traffic back to LA quite yet, there was only one fitting way to end our San Diego adventure - with an early-evening showing of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE in downtown San-Diego, in an audience filled with the True Believers. The fact that the movie, while not *spectacular* per se, was very funny and overall a lot of fun, made for a nice cap to our journey. We then got in the car, and weary, tired, barely concious, made the long trek back to LA, through stop and go traffic and both discs of Rush's greatest hits (only fitting that such a unabashadly geeky bacnd be our soundtrack home). With hastily rolled-up sleeping bags, plastic bags full of schwag, and duffle bags of clothes in tow, we drove home, back to LA, back to reality.

It was a great weekend. It had it's nightmarish moments (that first cramped, sleepless night). But overall it was an adventure well-worth having. The Comic-Con was a great experience, one I'd gladly do again, armed with better knowledge and planning. I got to see Chris for the the first time in about a year, and we had a great time with him, Lindsay, Aksel, and everyone else in the great city of SD. Certainly, to put it one way, it was worthy of a hearty exclamation of "Excelsior!"

NEXT: My long-awaited review of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE~!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Just because a guy reads comics he can't start some $%#&?" - Countdown to San Diego, The Simpsons Movie, and E3 thoughts!!!

Well, what this is is the weekend from nerd heaven. The Simpsons Movie is released. It's Comicon, baby, and I'll be going for the first time ever. This is gonna be crazy! So, in honor of the festivities, I present to you one of my patented super-geeky editions of the blog, because I've got all this stuff on the brain right now.

- Currently, my fingers are sore from a few nights of GUITAR HERO: Rocks the 80's playing. Now, I realize this new iteration is basically just Guitar Hero II with about 30 new tracks and a kind of half-assed 80's-themed makeover, but hey, I love Guitar Hero, I love the 80's, so basically, the chance to play songs like "I Ran," "Heat of the Moment," "Bang Your Head" and "No One Like You" was reason enough for me to snatch up this game the second it was released. Now, the funny thing is that many of these 80's songs are pretty simplistic, guitar-wise, so a few of the songs are not the most interesting to play. But hey, jamming out to "Balls to the Wall" is still pretty kickass.

- I haven't really given my thoughts yet on E3. As a cost-concious gamer, I am nervous at how segregated the world of gaming is getting. In the last generation, I know there are some big Gamecube and X-Box supporters out there, but to me the PS2 was easily the leader of the pack. Whether your game of choice was Metal Gear, God of War, Madden, Final Fantasy, GTA, Jak and Daxter, Guitar Hero, or Resident Evil, you had it on the PS2. Gamecube had Zelda, X-Box had Halo, and unless you HAD to have that one game, EVERYTHING ELSE was on PS2. And even today, I know I am still plugging away on FFXXII, God of War II, Guitar Hero, and a bunch of others on my trusty old Sony machine. There's even been some recent releases I'm curious to try out, like Odin's Sphere and the remake of the original Tomb Raider. Gotta love the PS2.

Now though, the competition for next-gen marketshare is really ramping up. The 360 has heavy-hitter exclusives like Mass Effect, Bioshock, Blue Dragon, and Lost Odyssey coming very soon down the pipeline. When looked at in terms of what will be available in 2007, it can be argued that the 360 is the system to beat, hands down. But, the PS3 is finally beginning to pick things up. Ratchet and Clank: Future looks amazing, Little Big Planet could be the next big thing in innovation, a cult classic in the making, and Naughty Dog will likely deliver the goods with Uncharted, which seems to be a classic adventure in the vein of Tomb Raider - never a bad thing in my book. Heavenly Sword should be top-notch, and there's a few other heavy hitters as well in '07, not to mention the big guns in early '08. Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid anyone? The latest footage of MSG 4 looks off the hook - if there is one game on the horizon that to me is a "must-buy," this is surely it.

Meanwhile, there is the Wii, which is wowing girls and the over-40 crowd everywhere with its ease of use and iPod-like style. The Wii has ushered in a new age of gaming, where casual games are becoming more and more popular, expanding gaming into the mainstream to unprecedented levels. But -- is this a good thing? For those of us who grew up with nintendo and know and love them as the company behind Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, it does kind of pain me to see them degenerate into a company making casual games like Wii Sports and Wii Fitness. To see the Big N showcase Wii Fitness at E3 as opposed to a new Starfox, Kid Icarus, Jet Force Gemini, or any other classic Nintendo gaming goodness was kind of sad. And it's long been a fact of the gaming world that the third party companies who helped make Nintendo - the Capcom's, Konami's, and Tecmo's of the world, have long since abandoned Nintendo's home consoles in favor of Sony and Microsoft. Of course, Nintendo is once again king of the portable market, where the DS has thrived thanks to a solid mix of casual and old-school games. Thanks to the wonders of the DS, I have old-school, 2D Mario, Castelvania, and Contra galore, not to mention the upcoming Zelda game that is supposedly one of the best ever in the series. To me, there is currently one reason and one only to buy a Wii, and that's Mario Galaxy, which promises to be astounding. But one game does not make a console, and I'm sorry, but Wii Tennis is not a killer app in my view.

And that's the weird place that games are in today. The Wii is there for all the people who don't usually like games but get a kick out of swinging a shiny white wiimote around at parties, and for the diehard Nintendo fans who live and breathe Mario and Zelda, and who think Mario Kart is the greatest thing ever. The 360 is for the first-person shooter diehards, the PC users who care about what engine a game is using and who never got the appeal of "quirky" Japanese games, and who get off on online multiplayer sessions of Halo. And now, the PS3 is kind of the gaming geek's console, the place for beloved franchises, many of them Japanese, like Metal Gear and Final Fantasy. It's the place where platform and adventure gaming thrives. The problem is, the PS3 is still prohibitively expensive. By all logic, all of us tens of millions of PS2 users should be flocking to it, but until the games begin to flow and the price drops, it's not going to happen just yet. It will be REALLY interesting to see what happens this fall, that's for sure.

Personally, Sony has been the #1 name in gaming for me since 1995, so my loyalty is definitely to them, and to the franchises I love like Ratchet, MSG, FF, Tekken, etc. I still remember the sheer sense of awe I felt upon first plugging in my PS1 back in September of '95 and the pure gaming bliss that followed in the months ahead, as my mind was blown by the likes of Toshinden, Jumping Flash, Twisted Metal, and Final Fantasy VII. But I'm not yet willing to drop $500 for a console, and games like Blue Dragon and Mass Effect are making a 360 look prety appealing. And the Wii has the everpresent Mario factor, plus the buzz appeal and the fact that girls are mysteriously drawn to its outdated graphics and simplistic games. Hmmm ... one thing is certain, the videogaming marketplace hasn't been this interesting, or confusing, in a long long time.

- THE SIMPSONS MOVIE ... Will it Suck? Or: Best. Movie. Ever?

Man, the buzz is building, some early reviews are trickling in ... I just can't help but wonder what this movie will be like, and most importantly, will it make me laugh in a way that nothing has since the halycon days of Classic-era Simpsons? James L. Brooks and John Schwartzwelder are the primary scribes, which is a great sign as both are two of the classic Simpsons masterminds. But ... the Simpsons has not been at it's peak level in nary a decade. A DECADE. Is there any conceivable hope that this movie will be a blast from the past, the animated equivalent of a Rocky Balboa-esque return to form? I want to believe, I really do. But I remain skeptical. As much as it pains me, I just can't see how this movie will be as amazing as I hope it will be. I mean, the plot, from what we know, involves YET ANOTHER instance of Homer angering Marge to the point where she questions her relationship with him, a plot development we've seen played out ad nauseum over the last several years, and that has only grown more and more wearisome each time it's used. There's also apparently a subplot of Bart seeking out Flanders as a foster dad of sorts. Haven't we seen this many times before? We've seen Bart seek a surrogate Dad. We've seen Flanders try to reform the Simpson kids. I don't know, these are NOT details that sound very buzz-worthy. And let's face it, the trailers have had one or two good jokes, but nothing classic, nothing truly worhty of getting excited about. I mean, Spiderpig? It's the most showcased joke so far and it's glaringly unfunny. Not a good sign.

So far, the only major review I've seen is at The Onion, where they gave the movie a B+. Now, that should be a good, if not great sign, as the Onion tends to be pretty harsh on comedies. But with the Simpsons, it's one of those things where it became so cool to hate on that it now seems to have come full circle, and the haters are taking a backseat to the "well it's still better than most other stuff" crowd. Well, I'm sure this movie will be at worst decent, but I want an A plus movie, a classic, something to put alongside the all time best episodes. Will this movie be that return to the glory days we all want, or just a nice visit with old favorite characters and a retread of already way-overused themes?

Ahhhhhhhhh ... well, in the absence of a final verdict (hope to see it this weekend but with Comicon not sure), I leave you with this classic quote:

Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.

- Finally, COMICON is here. I know this sounds nerdy as hell, but it's one of those events I've been reading about since I was a kid, seeing the reports in Wizard Magazine and reading the emails from the guy at Mile High Comics every year ... Like E3, Comicon was always this magical fantasy land that I'd read about but never though I'd actually ever have the chance to to. And now, I'm going! Can't wait to see Kevin Smith in person again, or see the DC Comics guys, or see previews of Iron Man and Hulk, or go to the first ever TWENTY FOUR panel, or see living legends like Stan Lee and Ray Bradbury! Maybe even take a picture with a Supergirl, a Catwoman, a Harley Quinn, or a Zatanna or two ... I don't know how I'm going to fit everything into two days, but this will be one for the books. Expect pictures galore soon.

And with that I'm outta here. Back with a full report on Monday. It's clobberin' time!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos! - Democratic Debate and MORE

As I sit here, I am watching a live feed of Rob Schneider playing Lindsay Lohan on the Tonight Show. God help us all, this may be one of the most awkward things I've ever seen on a talk show. But I am staying tuned, because the second guest is none other than Homer Jay Simpson. I wonder if Leno's writers wrote the dialogue for Homer? If so, that'd be kind of weird ...

What else is going on? Well, I'm gearing up for San Diego this weekend, and am just crossing my fingers that everything comes together. If all goes as planned, it should be an awesome time. Me and the NBCU crew are heading down from LA, meeting up with the living legend that is Aksel, and as a special bonus, Chris A will be there as well enjoying a much needed vacation after having completed the bar exam this week! It's going to be crazy - rarely has one weekend trip mixed business, pleasure, work, networking, old friends, new friends, and the craziness of Comicon all in one finely-rolled burrito wrap of a trip.

- On Lindsay Lohan: on one hand, who cares? On the other hand, what a sad, pathetic person. She should pack up her things, move out of Hollywood, and come back in ten years when she has normalized and gotten away from all of the parasites who are surely taking advantage of her out here.

- I really enjoyed last night's CNN-YouTube debate, featuring the entire lineup of Democratic hopefuls for President. I thought the questions were at times out of left-field, but at least it was something different from the usual stuffy atmosphere of these debates. To me, Hillary Clinton really did a nice job of answering questions with intelligence and poise, though Obama was also very impressive as usual, and did a good job of selling himself as someone who would be a breath of fresh air in the White House. However, the guy who was kind of an underdog standout was Joe Biden, who came on a little strong at first with his "realist" approach to Iraq, but eventually found his groove and really impressed with some intelligent, well-put answers. The moment that really stood out to me was when this really odd video played of some whacko who was asking about gun control, and who held up this gigantic assault weapon and called it his "baby." Instead of trying to humor the guy, I loved that Biden came right out and said what I and probably many others were thinking - that anyone who calls an assault weapon their baby has a serious screw loose. Thank you, Joe Biden! If he doesn't end up as a front-runner I'd love to see him as a VP for wheover does. Honestly though, while I do have reservations about both Hillary and Obama, just hearing the Democratic platform is enough to give me optimism for '08. Anything other than the current administration would be a huge improvement. That is, except for someone like Guliani who is just as bad if not worse than W.

- I'm still not very big on John Edwards. There is just something about him that seems off, kind of vacant. His attempt at humor last night in mockingly insulting Hillary's choice of jacket completely fell flat, I hate when these candidates are so stiff that they can't even improvise a joke when needed, and when they do it's about the most cringe-worthy thing ever. To me, Edwards is someone who may be a good career politician but lacks the charisma, the intelligence, the likability, or the leadership to ever be front and center on the national stage.

- As for Obama, in many ways he's my favorite of the presidential hopefuls, but I am getting the sense lately that there is something slightly disengenuous about him, perhaps stemming from his constant attempts to be all things to all people. However, I like what he has to say about the economy and with regards to foreign policy, still not sure about his positions on the environment - he seems less passionate about the issue than some of the other candidates.

- Whenever I hear questions about candidates sending their kids to public vs private schools I cringe. The fact is, someone like John Edwards has an easy out as his kids are very young, and the main decisions about schools don't come until high school age. Obama had a great point last night - for those with the right means, the simple decision is whether the public schools in one's area are good enough for their kids. If they are are great public schools, the candidates will send their kids there. If not, they'll send 'em to private school. I think that's what it comes down to, so it's not really a relevant question, and candidates may as well be honest in their answers rather than using it as some kind of boastful way of saying "yeah, I'm jsut a regular Joe who sends their kids to public school."

- Man, that Mike Gravel may have been quite the congressman back in the day, but the man is now apparently senile and stone-cold crazy. His ramblings last night had me laughing till I cried, with an extended diatribe about the Vietnam War that would have been befitting of an elderly Walter Solchak. I could just hear The Dude in the background thinking "what the #$#$ does this have to do with Vietnam?" With a guy like Gravel, sure, I respect what he's accomplished, but you have to wonder why is he only NOW running for President when it's clear he might be more fit for a well-deserved retirement.

- I know some write him off as a nutbar, but count me as a fan of Dennis Kucinich. I know he is way too leftist to ever be elected president, and personally I disagree with some of his politics. But I give him a ton of credit - he sticks to his guns and never wavers in an attempt to foster mass appeal. I appreciate a guy like him being in the race because his blunt honesty and consistency on Iraq and other issues is essential to keep the other candidates on their toes. He seems like a great guy and I'm glad he's out there fighting the good fight, even if at times he's a little misguided.

- In the end, what is almost the most alarming thing to me is why more people didn't watch this debate. It's YouTube, it's the Democrats, one of whom will God-willing be our next president. And yet I have this feeling that most of you reading this didn't tune in. And my question is why the hell not? Seriously, if Gen Y is NOT a factor in the '08 election, it is truly a sad state of affairs. If we had come out to vote in bigger numbers in '04, things would have been VERY different, and now, the stakes are even higher. If you don't have a good grasp on the candidates and where they stand so that you can make an intelligent decision come the election, you are literally doing the entire world a disservice, so buck up and pay attention!

- On some other notes: I am both excited and a little unsure about the announcement of a new pair of writers being handed the reigns to a Y: The Last Man movie. To me, Y has been probably the best ongoing comic book series of the last 5 years, and I want to see it done well as a movie (though it'd probably make a better TV show due to the comic's serialized, sprawling nature). It just seems odd that Y mastermind Brian K Vaughn is not writing the script himself, especially now that he's broken into the world of TV and film as a writer on LOST. As for casting, Yorick needs to be played by someone somewhat unassuming, a bit geeky, but with a number of sides to him, maybe a kind of hidden depth. Whoever plays him needs to be a versatile actor capable of humor but definitely not a typical leading man type. I'd love to see someone like James McAvoy take on the role.

- Meanwhile, Jonah Hex has also been announced as being in development. I'll go with the peanut gallery on this one and say that Viggo Mortenson is probably perfect for the role of the scarred confederate cowboy vigilante. This could be an awesome movie, a kind of Western noir with maybe a hint of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. Get Sam Elliot in there somewhere (as narrator?) and ideally a Clint Eastwood cameo and yer' golden.

- Well, I am out of here - so saddle up and mosey on back for more, comin' at ya' soon.

Friday, July 20, 2007

EMMY NOMS and MORE - or, why I am ready for the WEEKEND

Hey there everyone. Thank you lord it's the weekend. This week has been another killer, as I've been battleing a cold since last Friday and still kind of getting back into the swing of things following my trip back east. And work this week has just been killer. I've had a lot that I've been meaning to do after work in terms of errands and other stuff like writing. However, on three separate nights this week, I sat down, fired up my laptop, tried to work on my latest TV spec script, and found that my brain was completely fried from the workday. For someone trying to be creative, realizing that you're temporarily incapable of producing more than a sentance without wanting to collapse is not a particularly good feeling ... I guess this is why most people in the business development areas of entertainment don't also tend to be aspiring writers ...

Plus, I've been trying to plan for next week's invasion (by me and friends) of the San Diego Comic-Con. Coordinating this has been way more difficult than I originally anticipated, and has caused me a number of headaches in the last few weeks. All of my carefully-laid plans, from passes to accomodations, seem to unravel on a daily basis.

- Emmy Nomination Thoughts:

The Emmy noms this year were, to me, a very mixed bag. The comedy category seemed pretty decently represented by The Office and 30 Rock, and it was cool to see some nods for Extras as well. I'm just now watching Season 2 of Extras and it is predictably brilliant. It's so odd to me that it got Emmy noms for writing, etc, but not for Best Comedy Series, whereas 2 1/2 Men WAS nominated?!?! Umm ... okay. It is really nice to see so many deserving (and NBC!) actors nominated for Comedy though -- personally I feel like Rainn Wilson has GOT to be honored for his hilarious portrayal of Dwight on The Office. And now that I've been watching Extras ... Ricky Gervais is just amazing on that, as good as he was on The Office if not a lot more understated. Extras may not be widely known in the USA but it is leagues above something like 2 1/2 Men, that's for sure.

The same can be said for LOST. Lost may have been the best drama on the air this season, and yet no nomination? On the flipside, Heroes was a great new series but took a long time to find it's footing, and then delivered a fairly disapoointing finale. On the other hand, Lost built up more and more momentum as the season went on and ended with a finale that will go down as an all-time classic. Something here is off.

Meanwhile, all of the usual suspects continue to get snubbed. Gilmore Girls is of course nowhere to be seen on this list. As usual, no love for the late, great Veronica Mars. And I'll tell you something. People look at these noms and and wonder how these shows are continually snubbed. Well, it's not hard to see why - the voters here are no experts in good TV - they are just regular entertainment industry folks who watch all the same crap as everyone else. They watch whatever is trendy, cool, and on the mainstream's radar. They bailed on Gilmore long ago, stopped watching Lost when it stopped being the "it" show, jumped on the Heroes bandwagon when it was the cool thing to do, and never took the time to seek out cult hits like Veronica Mars. And yeah, there is no way these voters are going to ever think outside the box and look at the excellence of a show like King of the Hill or Prison Break. If a show isn't appealing to the 30 - 50 year old, upscale demo, which most of these voters fall into, they are not going to help nudge it into Emmy consideration. It sucks, but it's the truth - these voters are mostly NOT a group of cutting-edge TV afficianados, and the vanilla nature of the Emmy noms reflect that.

In any case, I expect The Sopranos to clean up ...

- Some quick comics talk:

- Thank you to Gail Simone for a memorable run as writer of BIRDS OF PREY, which wrapped up this week with an excellent finale to the current storyarc. I loved this final Gail-penned issue, which saw cameos by nearly every ancillary Bird from throughout the title's history, as Barbara Gordon had a climactic confrontation with her rival, the Spy Smasher. The highlight was easily an absolutely amazing 4-page spread drawn beautifully by artist Nicola Scott - a poster-ready piece if ever there was one. Over her run, Simone has brought action, adventure, and above all great characterization to the title, continuing to make Oracle, aka Babs Gordon, one of the most interesting characters in fiction, and elevating Black Canary and Huntress to true A-listers.

- Meanwhile though, DC is really faltering of late in some respects. COUNTDOWN has been very slow to pick up steam, and too many of its lead characters are really lacking in appeal. I can't bring myself to care about such a lame character as Karate Kid, and I am already sick to death of the Legion of Superheroes, who are now seemingly obligated to appear in nearly every DC title despite being very dated and confusing characters. Jason Todd is totally useless at this point and was better off dead, and Jimmy Olsen has really done nothing since Countdown began. DDC really needs to do something to kick this thing into overdrive before they have a total dud on their hands. On the other hand, Countdown almost looks like Watchmen compared to the crapfest that is AMAZONS ATTACK. I don't know what happened here, but it is a total trainwreck of an "event." I usually like Will Pfeifer's work but the plotting here is atrocious, with the latest ish, #4, having at least 4 or 5 moments that made no sense, numerous out-of-character moments, and a seeming disconnect from the rest of the DCU. This is just bad.

- Alright, I am outta here. Have a great weekend. Hopefully, next week I can pull it together and overcome my current weariness, as that brain-fry I alluded to earlier seems to be kicking in again, right about ... now.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart? I doooooooo ... HARRY POTTER and RATATOUILLE - Reviewed! Plus much MORE!

What up people.

So this weekend I had the awesome experience of going to a real, live, Kwik-E-Mart. How awesome is that? And it was a mere five minutes from me in Burbank. Now, many people here in LA diss Burbank, and to some extent I understand their disdain. But right now, I take great pride in the fact that my adopted city here in California is home to a honest-to-goodness Kwik-E-Mart. So choke on that, Santa Monica. For pics of me slurping Squishees and chomping on Forbidden Donuts, see me on Facebook or MySpace.

Seriously though, brilliant marketing move by FOX and 7-11. The lines to get into this 7-11-turned-Kwik-e-Mart have been wrapping around the block all week, and kids, tourists, and Simpsons fans alike have all been flocking to it and downing Squishees by the bucketfull. And I admit, this hype is making me strangely excited for the Simpsons movie. I'm still anxious and skeptical about whether it will actually be good, but walking into a Kwik-E-Mart and seeing a Buzz Cola machine got me into a Simpsons state of mind. Please lord let this movie be good ...

- I was just reading this great article on The Onion AV Club about cable TV networks and how so many of the classic nets have gone so downhill in recent years. Sure, nets like MTV are a given on any such list of cable outlets that have taken a nosedive, but the article got me thinking about some of the other channels that I used to love that are now far removed from their glory days. Some cable channels that I agree have gone to crap:

Nickelodeon - Okay, everyone knows that the 80's and 90's were a golden age for kids TV, and Nick was right at the forefront. But the question is, will today's crop of shows be regarded as classics by the younger generation in the same way Gen Y reveres Salute Your shorts or Pete and Pete? I'm gonna go with a big fat NEGATIVE on that one. Nothing on Nick right now is anywhere near the subversive comedy of a Ren and Stimpy or the timeless appeal of Hey Dude.

Nick at Nite - Wow, where did this one go wrong? Nick at Nite should have always been about classic TV from the 50's and 60's, and some 70's, period. Every time I turn it on and see Rosanne or (shudder) Home Improvement I feel sick. I used to spend hours watching Dennis the Menace, Dick Van Dyke, Bewitched, etc. Please fix this.

Cartoon Network - I used to watch a ton of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim as recently as a few years back. I still like the Futurama reruns and stuff like Harvey Birdman, but a.) all the non Adult Swim programming is terrible - give me Dexter's Labratory or Looney Tunes reruns any day over the random anime crap they have now, and, b.) a lot of the newer Adult Swim stuff is just lame.

VH1 - Man, has this net gone downhill in a short period. To me, the VH1 heyday was the Pop-Up Video era, where there always seemed to be something cool to watch that was actually MUSIC-RELATED. I used to watch so many random Top 100 lists, Behind the Music's, etc. Now, surprise surprise, it's all lame reality shows ... with the notable exception of Best Week Ever, which is still pretty good

TNT - I realize TNT has tried to class itself up, but man do I miss the old, sleazier TNT. Movies for Guys Who Like Movies - now that was a programming block. How many times did I turn on TNT late at night and settle in to watch Robocop, Escape From New York, or Beastmaster. Man, those were the days.

Well, that's just a sampling. To read The Onion's take, click here: http://www.avclub.com/content/node/63865

- Saw two movies this weekend, so without further ado here are some reviews:


To me, the Harry Potter movies have always been entertaining, but nothing to write home about. I was firmly off the Harry Potter bandwagon for a long while, and had gone a long time without ever seeing any of the movies or reading any of the books. Finally, before the fourth movie came out, my brother sat me down one week while I was home in CT and made me watch the first three. I enjoyed them, but there was this lingering sense that they were kind of cobbled together from the books, trying almost as much to fit in beloved characters and scenes and subplots as they were to tell a complete and self-contained story. As a non-reader of the books, these movies to me have always seemed sidtant and incomplete. As I approached the release of Order of the Phoenix, I could recall the basic outline of the Harry Potter mythology, but would have been at a loss to conjure up any of the details of the plots or characters. Up until now, Harry Potter has just not been something that really stuck with me. And I think part of that is that these movies have all had moments of visual splendor, but have really not had much in the way of plot. As a Potter movie watcher and not a book reader, the plotline seems to me oh-so-basic - Harry is essentially the Chosen One, a wizard-in-training marked by a mysterious scar, whose destiny is to combat the evil Voldemort, some kind of evil being whose return is constantly foreshadowed. Now again, I can already hear all the book readers crying out for me to read the books to get the whole picture. Well, I'm reviewing the movie, not the book. And to me, the movies have been uneventful and umemorable to the point where I know that I kind of like the characters, but really have no concept of what actually HAPPENS in any of the individual movies.

Well, lo and behold - to me, this fifth movie was the best one yet. For once, it seemed like everything had a clear purpose and that all of the plot points were leading somewhere definitive. Director David Yates did a wonderful job with this one, he really directed the hell out of it. I finally felt like this was a Harry Potter where the premise was quickly and powerfully laid out, and the stakes really felt high. In addition to Yates, a lot of the credit has to go to the three primary cast members. All three have, amazingly, become great actors. Daniel Radcliffe especially does a great job here - he makes Harry complex, darker than before, and always interesting to watch.

And with Yates' darker, more layered movie, the rest of the outstanding cast really has a chance to shine. In previous movies, I kind of took it for granted that I was watching talent like Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, etc. Here, I remember pausing on several occasions and thinking how great this cast was, and how they were all really getting a chance to shine and show off their acting chops, even if they had smaller roles than before in some cases. Particularly great was series newcomer Imelda Staunton as Isabella Umbridge, who came off as Queen Elizabeth meets The Schoolteacher from Hell who was like a magic, Victorian version of someone out of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Also, I really liked the character of Luna Lovegood, who was a lot of fun and suitably zany. Helena Bonham Carter only made a brief appearance, but she was perfect for her role as a deranged escapee from the magical prison Azkaban.

Overall, I really enjoyed the superb cast, and thought that Harry, Hermione, and Ron were all great thanks to a trio of teen actors who ahve really come into their own. I thought the direction was excellent, even artful at times, with lots of cool visuals used sparingly for maximum effectiveness. And I really liked the sense of foreboding, the feeling that business was picking up for a climactic struggle in the next movie or two. In the end, it was probably my favorite Harry Potter movie yet.

My one complaint is the same one I've had with all of the films. I felt like the plot was incomplete, and I felt like I was getting the broad strokes but missing out on key details. For example, one of the focal points of the movie is how the shady Ministry of Magic has coopted the school and denied all specualtion that Voldemort had returned. Naturally, we are led to assume that the reason for this is that the Ministry is somehow in cahoots with the Big Bad, or something ... instead, we never get any real reason for why the Ministry is so stubborn and antagonistic. If they've always been this way, then why are they only now a factor in the world of Potter? Same goes for the Order of the Phoenix - after all, they do give the movie its title. And yet, I still have no idea why this secret order exists or what its purpose is. I still don't feel like I 100% get who Sirius Black is or why he's important, and I don't understand Malfoy's connection to Voldemort. Again, I get the broad strokes, but I don't think the scripts in these movies have done a great job of being very user-friendly. In fact, leaving out any real motivation for the Ministry or any real purpose for the Order really ends up detracting from the effectiveness of the film. It makes me wonder if creating these films while the books are still being published was the best decision, creatively, that could have been made.

So don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie and am now anticipating the next one much more than I thought I would. But part of that is simply to get some answers to the questions that probably should have already been explained.

My Grade: B+


- Pixar is, simply, amazing. They have yet to make a subpar film. With each new film, they raise the bar in terms of CG animation. And with Pixar you are always getting something new, something timeless, something of the utmost quality. Ratatouille is another stellar achievement for the studio, and yet another example of why, amidst so much clutter in terms of wave after wave of kid-friendly CGI movies being released, Pixar's films stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

The first thing about Ratatouille that I can't say enough about is the visuals. In terms of pure detail and quality, this may have been the greatest example of CGI animation I've yet seen. The characters burst off the screen, with all of the emotion and cartoonish simplicity of classic Disney animation. And yet, the textures are shockingly real. You can practically reach out and touch the food, feel the water. There are scenes where objects like envelopes, pots and pans, and street lamps are so meticulously textured that they look like the real world in stereo. The visual detail is just unprecedented. But then, I can't say enough about Brad Bird. He directs this movie with so much energy and artistry. The action scenes combine the kineticism of classic animation with the photorealism and digital gloss of the most high-tech CGI available. Everything is so artfully, masterfully done - if nothing else, Ratatouille is an joy just to watch. The visuals, direction, and cinematography are completely top-notch.

In terms of the story, well, in the end it really won me over. At times, I thought it was almost too out-there for the type of film that Brad Bird was going for. Most times with a movie like this, there's not too much time spent on "the rules." That is to say, in Cars, we immediately accept that we're in a world of living, breathing automobiles and leave it at that. Here, we have to learn that the rats who are our main characters are, in fact, normal rats living in our own world. However, our main character, Remy (the rat), has somehow learned to understand human-speak, can read books, and even communicate with people via particularly expressive nods of the head or shrugs of his mouse shoulders. Meanwhile, Remy is able to turn our main human character, the hapless Linguini, into a Top Chef, by manipulating his actions like a puppetmaster pulling strings. Remy sits on Linguini's head, and pulls his strands of hair like puppet-strings, and somehow, after some practice, the result is like a kid pressing buttons on a videogame joystick. And also, Remy talks to the advice-giving ghost of a deceased human chef, though it's not REALLY a ghost, just a figment of Remy's imagination. Got all that?

Somehow, Ratatouille makes this all work. But there are times when it almost gets to be too much to take in. Things also get a bit off-track at times whenever Linguini takes center stage. He's presented as a bumbling, not-very-inspiring guy who kind of coasts on Remy's cooking expertise yet somehow gets the girl and has the requisite Disney happy ending. But Linguini to me was a slightly jarring character just because he never really became 100% likable. Even at movie's end, he hasn't really accomplished anything and just seems like an oddball guy who made out good after being in the right place at the right time. It certainly makes for a departure from a typical Disney leading man, that's for sure.

But like I said, the movie may at times be a bit complex for its own good, but mostly, it pulls it off. The writing is sharp, and in the end Bird smartly boils down the film's message into one simple idea: true artistic genius can come from anywhere, even the unlikeliest of places.

It doesn't hurt that the voice cast is universally great. Patton Oswalt does a very nice job as Remy, and gives the rodent a lot of energy but also a necessary undercurrent of weariness and sadness. The highlight though may have been Peter O'Toole as dour food critic Anton Ego, easily one of the movie's standout characters. O'Toole is just awesome here, and is both a sharp parody of shark-like critics and the film's unexpected emotional core.

In the end, I can't stress enough that while film-goers may be weary of so many animated animals in theaters as of late, this is nonetheless a must-see film for anyone regardless of age. This is another Pixar classic, and more proof that Brad Bird may be one of the top creative forces in Hollywood today. The movie is in some ways so ambitious that I did feel like it perhaps bit off a bit more than it could chew, but mostly, I was mesmerized by the visuals and the creativity on display. No lame pop-culture references or cheesy song-and-dance numbers necessary, Ratouille exudes class and timelessness, and is another proud achievement for Pixar and its still-spotless track-record.

My Grade: A -

Alright, I am outta here. Congratulations on surviving another Monday!

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Week in Recap - Danny's FlightMare and a TRANSFORMERS Review!

Man, what a week. Last time I wrote, it was from Bloomfield, CT. At the time, I didn't really have an inkling of the fact that the next day would be comprised of the 15-hour flight from hell ...

On Monday, I left Bradley Airport in CT bound for Vegas on route to Burbank at about 12:30 pm. Things seemed to be going okay, until we stopped in Chicago. It kind of sucked that we even had to stop in Chicago, as who wants to go through three separate take-offs and landings in one trip? Not I. But what happened was - we stopped in Chicago, people got off the plane, new people got on (I stayed in my window seat after a few brief moments of stretching) - and then, nothing. Due to some ambiguous weather issues, our plane was grounded on the runway and was unable to take off. At first, it just seemed like a momentary delay. It was only after a full HOUR had gone by that the pilot finally saw fit to update us on what was going on - only problem was, it wasn't much of an update. He gave no definitive time for take-off. I sat in my seat, cramped, read a bunch of chapters of Stephen King's The Stand, all the while growing increasingly paranoid that I was involved in some apocalypse-virus doomsday-quarantine scenario a la the characters in that book. Luckily, I was sitting next to some cool people, and when the pilot finally let us leave the plane for a half hour, I was both relieved that we were not being mysteriously quarantined and happy to have some good company with which to grab some food. However, the whole time I was worried because my connecting flight to Burbank was obviously not going to be an option to board as scheduled. So if I ever actually got to Vegas, how would I get back to CA? When I got off the plane in Chicago's Midway airport, I found that all flights to Burbank and even LAX from Vegas were full - only standby seats remained. Hmmm, not looking good. We got back on the plane at that point and sat for what seemed like an eternity. But again, thankfully, I was pretty engrossed in The Stand and also had some nice people sitting around me with whom to make conversation. FINALLY, we took off, as it began to rain and pour in Chicago, to much applause and fanfare. I'm still not even sure why we were delayed so long - I heard it had something to do with lightning storms, but who knows ...

We landed in Vegas at around 8:40 pm PT, and the last flight to Burbank was at 8:50. I RAN to the terminal and luckily was one of the first from my flight to make it in line to put my name on the standby list. Eventually, about 20 people got in line to be standbys, and only 5 of us actually made it onto the plane - and somehow, I was one of those 5. So I got on the plane, not even caring that I was stuck in a middle seat (I didn't even have time to groan at the fact that after several hours of sitting on a plane, I was now about to spend ANOTHER hour sitting on a plane ...). Luckily, the flight from Vegas to Burbank was quick and painless. Of course, landing was not the end of my journey. Since I had not made it onto my original flight to Burbank, my luggage was lagging behind me. Luckily, the 8:50 pm flight from Vegas, the one I ended up taking, was SUPPOSED to have been the last one, but an earlier flight got delayed, so my luggage was put onto that one (I didn't KNOW this for sure at the time, but the airline people said it was a strong possibility ...). So I'm waiting around at the Burbank airport, thinking that I'd only have to wait until 10 pm for my luggage to arrive. Nope, turns out that last flight out of Vegas got delayed a second time, so I now had to wait until 11 pm. So yeah, I sat down, talked for a while to this random guy who was in the same boat for a while, and read even more of The Stand (good thing I picked a long book, I'm still not even a third of the way through it).

Finally, at 11-something, my bags miraculously arrived (I was half convinced they'd never arrive). I made sure to get my free voucher from Southwest for having to wait for my luggage (another 15 minute wait), and procured a taxi to take me home. I arrived in my apartment tired, exhausted, and in a state of confusion - I felt like I had been in a time warp and had virtually no sense of where I was, what time it was, etc. I didn't bother to unpack. I just collapsed, lay down, and drifted into an uneasy sleep.

And now, a few days later, I still feel caught in that weird state of being. Work has been crazy, as I've had to catch up on a lot and get back into the swing of things. It's been pretty intense around here lately to say the least. Also, there's all the other stuff like laundry and grocery shopping that takes up time. So headed into this weekend, I am wiped out. And that's the story of my return to LA from CT.

- In my last post, I mentioned how my brother and I took time to watch the RAMBO movies over my break. Now, it's interesting - while my generation holds ROCKY near and dear, thanks to endless TV marathons and the like, most people I know have heard of Rambo, but never actually witnessed Stallone's other iconic character in action. Well my friends, Rambo is a must-see. The first movie, First Blood, is actually not at all what one would expect from the popular image of Rambo. Like the first Rocky, it's a very character-driven movie, very insular, and political as well in how it deals with a Vietnam vet who feels aimless and shunned by a country he fought for. The second Rambo, on the other hand, is basically the prototype for almost every action movie since, a pure, balls-to-the wall actioner with some great moments, all the while maintaining a very dark tone. The third one is much more cartoonish, but still pretty well done. And I'm glad that I am now fully prepared for the glory that will be JOHN RAMBO, the upcoming fourth installment, which has one of the most awesome trailers I've ever seen.

- Speaking of which, the other night I watched the cult classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! on TCM. Awesome movie, though extremely weird.

- And now, I guess I should finally review TRANSFORMERS, which I saw a while back but have yet to write much about. So, here we go:


- I don't really like Michael Bay. I just thought I'd put that out there. But what can I say. There is ONE movie of his that I've really enjoyed, that being The Rock. Mostly, however, I can't stand his movies' ADD direction and generally poor scripts. I can't stand Armageddon, and The Island was one of the biggest misfires of a movie rife with potential I've ever seen. But I concede - if there was ever a movie franchise that seemed tailor-made for Bay's sensibilities, it's Transformers.

Now, again, I am not really a Transformers geek either. I think I had one or two of the toys as a kid and never really watched the cartoon. I was more of a He-Man / Thundercats / Voltron / Ninja Turtles kid. But let's face it - Transformers as a concept is basically built on the novelty of the toys - toys that are cars or planes or whatever and then turn into robots. It's a fun concept, but nothing that's really built on cool characters or storylines or any of the kinds of things that actually can translate into a legit good movie. Essentially it's good robots vs bad robots. And that's cool, I don't mind a movie that uses CGI to actually bring awesomely-realized robot-on-robot action to life.

And on that front, Bay does a pretty spectacular job of things here. While watching Transformers, you're confronted with a nonstop visual assault. The CGI f/x here are off the chain, and it really is something new that no one has seen before in live action. Right off the bat, from a purely visual standpoint, the movie is one "holy $#%@" moment after another. The problem is, all of these visuals are quality junkfood for the eyes, but there's really nothing here to sink one's teeth into. Bay's directorial style is so frenetic and random that what should be climactic action scenes are instead hard-to-follow and mean next to nothing in terms of advancing the plot and characters. And this is coming from someone raised on videogames and MTV. I love a good action scene, but I want action that MEANS something, where I'm rooting for characters to overcome the odds and where I can actually FOLLOW the ebb and flow of a set piece. Things happen so fast and furiously in Transformers that one second I'm thinking "whoah, awesome, a helicopter turning into a robot!" but the next second it's completely unclear who this character is or why I should care about them.

Look, I'm not expecting Oscar-worthy characterization from Transformers, but characters seem to come into and out of the picture with wild abandon. The movie begins with a bunch of military types encountering a Transformer, and yet these military guys seem basically useless the entire movie. The same thing happens with a group of world-class hackers - they are introduced, made out to be crucial to the story, and then all but disappear even after we spend scene after scene in the middle of the movie with hacker extraordinaire Anthony Anderson doing fat jokes.

That's another thing - I appreciate the movie trying to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but how many piss jokes do we need in a movie like this? Many scenes in the film would be more at home in one of those American Pie direct-to-video sequels than in what should be an epic action movie. But to the movie's credit, even though some of these hijinks are a little much, Shia LeWhatever is probably the one character here who gets ample moment in the spotlight. Shia pulls off the whole "boy and his car" angle pretty well, and has the right amount of deer caught in headlights / unlikely hero demeanor borrowed from the Jeff Goldblum school of action-movie-acting-for-lovably-neurotic-Jews-as-unlikely-leading-men. Now, Steven Spielberg is listed as an exec producer on this movie, and I believe it was him who wanted the "boy and his car" angle, which is fitting and very Spielbergian. However, while Spielberg specializes in Big moments of awe and wonder, Bay doesn't stop to breath for a second. Everything is bang, bang, bang, giant robots. Similarly, Spielberg is a master of building dramatic tension, and then airing out that tension in magical and intense set action pieces. Near the end of Transformers, Megan Fox's character is driving a truck of some kind, hauling around an injured Bumblebee (the friendly Transformer who moonlights as Shia's car). Every turn of her head, blink of her eye, etc, is given more slow-mo dramatic weight than you'd see in a typical Japanese anime. And yet all the while, you have no real idea where she's driving to, what she's trying to accomplish, etc. Meanwhile, while a bunch of army guys flail away at the evil Decepticons in downtown LA, Shia is inexplicably given a cosmic cube of sorts, told to run to the top of a very tall building, and ... yeah, basically, I had no idea why Shia, a regular teenager, was doing this instead of an army commando, let alone what he was doing in the first place. I'm not asking for Shakespeare here, all I'm asking for is the ability to decipher what's going on on-screen.

Okay, so there are my litany of complaints, most of which are typical of a Michael Bay film, where moments of awesomeness tend to be judiciously interspersed with stuff that's either totally nonsensical or else just plain stupid. But I would like to mention some of the cool things about this movie, things that made me turn to my brother more than once in the course of my viewing and proclaim "Daaaaaaaaaamn!"

For one thing, the movie has great casting, for the most part. I mean, not only did it have Fernando from Prison Break as one of the army dudes, but it had a bit part for AARON F'NG PIERCE of 24 cult-fame. Nice. Meanwhile, Jon Voight was a lot of fun as Secretary of Defense or whatever he was playing. John Turtorro is an amazing freaking actor but he was kind of grating here, though it was just cool seeing "Jesus" in a Transformers movie.

But the best part of the movie by far outside of the f/x was probably Optimus Prime. Like I said, I don't remember having watched the old cartoon much, but there was something inherently awesome about having Peter Cullen, aka the original voice of OP, return to do the honors again here. 80's cartoons had so many iconic voice actors, it was great to hear that kickass, over-the-top voicework style in a big budget live action movie. Cullen made all of Optimus' lines, no matter how cheesy, sound seven kinds of awesome. Basically, he ruled.

Again, this movie in many ways was, and excuse the vernacular here, pretty retarded, in a way where the more I thought about it the more I kind of thought it sucked. There was something about seeing Spielberg's name up there in the credits too that just made the movie's mediocrity that much harder to take. It had that visual coolness, but it could, COULD, have been an amazing action movie if done under more capable hands, if it had a script to match the f/x and direction that actually enhanced the visuals rather than made them hard to follow. Visually this one set the bar. But anyone who thought it was up there with legitimately good action films like 300 or Aliens or whatever is on crack. I mean, even amongst THIS particular subgenre of over-the-top, f/x heavy huge-concept light hearted action movies, Independence Day is still king. As it is, it was a movie which is great to see once on the big screen but prob won't have a very long shelf life - it's pop-cult junk of the highest order. Really, the best thing about Transformers is that it made a boatload of money, meaning that a live-action Thundercats, et al is now an inevitabilty, to which I say "Thundercats, hoooooo!"

My Grade: B -

- Alright, I'm out. Have a good weekend - PEACE.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

From a white house in Bloomfield by-God Connecticut ...

Just wanted to write something quick, mainly because I enjoy the novelty of having the blog originating from different points across the country.

It's been a packed week or so here on the east coast, and it's hard to believe it's already time to pack up my bags and had back to Los Angeles. But for what, to me, seemed like a fleeting moment is, unfortunately in the working world a long, long time. Remember those halycon days of summer vacations that stretched on for months at a time, with more than enough time for idle rest, relaxation, and lots of nothing? Yeah, me neither.

Anyways, a lot has been done since I arrived last Saturday in Bradley airport. My flight from Burbank was long and tiring. The plane stopped in both Phoenix and Chicago, but there was no layover, so I had to stay on the plane the entire time, and go through three separate takeoffs and landings. I did some reading (new Rolling Stone and Stephen King's The Stand - my current book of choice), but mostly drifted in and out of a cramped, uncomfortable sleep, looking out the window and seeing, alternatively, mountainous ranges, crop circles, vast fields, soaring cityscapes, and finally the green forests that symbolize you're in Connecticut country.

For the first few days in CT, I hung out with my brother (in from NYC until Wednesday) playing videogames (hard to reignite our virtual WWE Smackdown feuds now that Chris Benoit is a murderer ... but we did it anyways ... lol), playing basketball (Matt won our sole game, but denied me a rematch due to dubious claims of an injured shoulder ...), and watching DVD's (Matt and I spent two nights watching Rambo parts 1 and 2 - glorious). On Sunday, I saw rising political star Stephanie P., and also Kirsten S., who I hadn't seen in way too long, as she is now a resident Australian, even sporting a bit of a Down-Under accent. The three of us reconnected at a classic staple of New England fine-dining, that haven of family-fare classics and ice cream treats known as Friendlys. Monday night, we had some Chines with my grandparents in Windsor, and then the Baram men all took in a slightly advanced screening of Transformers (more on that later, short version is: overall okay, simultaneously awesome and retarded). Tuesday night, my parents decided to throw a party for all of their family friends, meaning that the day was spent cleaning, and the night was spent trying to explain my job and describe life in LA to many a baby-boomer couple. On Wednesday, aka July 4th, we drove down to the Big Apple to drop off my brother at his slightly sketchy East Village apt, which he and his friend are subletting for the summer, now that my brother has a swanky NBC internship coutesy of yours truly (they say you gotta hook a brotha up, and I did that ... literally ...). Amusingly, the tenants of this apt seem to be pretty big punks / hipsters. This is amusing since it was funny to picture mild-mannered Matt living in a bohemian East Village apt decked out with CBGB posters and stacks and stacks of CD's of bands of whom I have never heard of.

From the NYC apartment of Matt Baram, I went several blocks uptown to see Erica C., as she and her roommates were having an Independence Day party, the highlight of which was the NYC monster-sized fireworks display, easily visible from the roof of their apartment in St. Mark's Square. So that was a good time - watching the fireworks, catching a bunch of episodes of Flight of the Conchords (hilarious), and meeting some of Erica's friends. The next morning, I set out to explore some of NYC. Unfortunately I didn't end up connecting with some of my other BU or CT friends now residing in the city, so I kind of just wandered around aimlessly, revisiting old haunts like 30 Rock and Central Park, eventually ending up at the legendary Midtown Comics. I was pleased that I had enough NYC attitude for the guy at Midtown to ask me for an account number, though I was no longer a regular customer and had not been since the fall of 2004. So Thursday morning was alright, but I was totally exhausted from walking so much and it was ridiculously humid in NYC, also not helped by the fact that I was carrying around a dufflebag as I walked (dont' ask me why) from 42nd street to 60th and back to 40th with a number of detours on the way. Still, NYC is the best place to wander aimlessly, so it's all good. But yeah, I was happy to board a train bound for New Haven at Grand Central and return to Bloomfield to veg out, as I got home, did nothing of much note, and then watched Good Night and Good Luck with my dad (great movie).

Friday I did some shopping (gotta hit up Bob's while in CT, and of course grab a quick slice of Luna's Pizza while in Simsbury - and yes, my brother and I had some Bertucci's earlier in the week). Friday night my family and I had our traditional Shabbat dinner, though this time it was at my uncle Micheal's house in Longmeadow, MA, which I had never visited before since he moved there a while back (now, it turns out, they are moving again). We carpooled with my grandparents so I was somewhat squished on the ride there, but it was nice to see Michael, his wife Laura, her son Michael, and my cousin Abby (now in eigth grade). Friday night I completed the Rambo trilogy with a late-night viewing of Rambo III - once again, glorious (though prob not quite as glorious as parts I and II ...). Saturday, my parents were in NYC again for a Yankees game to celebrate my mom's birthday, so I deemed it a day of Relaxation, during which I slept late, barely left the house, and did nothing but read and watch TV and play Final Fantasy and watch some Curb Your Enthusiam on DVD. Pretty good. Preeeetty, pretty, preeeettty good.

Today, my dad and I drove up to the outskirts of Boston, MA to visit my grandmother in Newton. She was very happy to see us and it had been a long time since I had seen her, seeing as how I was last home in the east coast in December. We didn't really have a chance to go into Boston proper, but the main purpose of our visit was to pay a visit to Grandma Baram, so it's all good. Of course, a visit to Bloomfield wouldn't be complete without sampling whatever new restaurant is the talk of the town at the moment (there's about one every year or so). Last year it was the Ruby Tuesdays, this year it was the IHOP (see, I wasn't lying that I come from a small town!).

A funny story about our dinner tonight at IHOP. The service and food was all pretty bad, and did not even meet the standards of other IHOPs in places like Burbank. Upon paying at the cashier's desk, my dad complained, and I guess another couple heard him. As we left, this guy came up and, seeing me in my polo shirt or whatever (also the fact that we were conspicuously caucasion ...), was like "yeah, they need better waiters here, but don't judge us too harshly, it's only Bloomfield, and we're trying, at least you can come right here and don't have to go ot West Hartford." My mom explained that we were proud Bloomfield natives. We began to walk away, but I felt we needed to further display our Bloomfield street-cred. "Yeah," I said, "that's the former Mayor of Bloomfield there!" "Whoah," said the guy, "they gave bad service to the mayor?!?!" As we pulled out from the IHOP lot, the guy pulled out next to us and gave us a friendly honk of the horn. Only Bloomfield, huh?

So anyways, it's soon back to the grind and back to LA, where it's supposedly hot as hell right now. I've got more to write, as usual, but thought I'd quickly sum up my trip while I had a chance. I saw my parents, brother, grandparents, family friends, college friends like Stephanie, Kirsten, and Erica. Went to NYC and saw fireworks over the East River, ate Friendlys and Bertuccis, watched all three Rambo movies, and caught up on sleep. Not bad, not bad. So while I'm here, it's only fitting that I do this one blog, from here, in Bloomfield.