Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Forget TV Guide, it's Danny's FALL TV PREVIEW

What's up?

So I realize my last few blog entries have sucked. And I sincerely apologize. I think it's a mix of lack of eventfull stuff to talk about and increasing anxiety that too many people out there are now reading the blog, be they at work, at home, whatever. For example, one thing I've been wanting to do for a long while is a Fall TV Preview. I've seen virtually every new pilot, and of course, have strong opinions on which shows are going to be worth checking out. Now, I decided that I am just going to go ahead and do this thing. The lucky thing for me is that, honestly, I don't have anything too negative to say about NBC's Fall lineup. In fact, I am legitimately psyched for our shows and feel that all four of our new fall dramas are really good and among some of the best on TV. Not only that, but as you'll soon see, CHUCK is probably my favorite overall new show of the fall. So without further ado:


Part 1: The MUST-SEE shows of Fall.

- To me, the best thing about this fall in terms of TV is that the nets seem to be willing, to a degree, to try something DIFFERENT. Sure, we still have cops, teens, detectives, doctors, and desperate suburbanites, but we also have ideas that in the past would only be looked at as suitable for feature films making their way to television. To me, HEROES was a big game-changer in that respect. For years, the common thought process was: "well, superheroes work on the big screen, but not on TV." Heroes is one of the first TV shows in a long while that brought the pop-culture zeitgeist to TV and made a hit out of it. Sure, the success of Heroes owes a lot to shows like Lost and Smallville for helping to pave the way, but with Heroes, I think you are now seeing high-concept ideas being brought to TV in a way that they wouldn't have before. I mean, a perfect example is FOX's The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Before Heroes, I don't know if the Terminator franchise would have been considered as a viable TV series - now it is. But even a show like ABC's Pushing Daisies, I love that it is so far removed from what we've come to expect from a TV show. When's the last time a TV series was this stylized, this artful? Sure, TV has had stylish noir-fiction like Twin Peaks and X-Files, but Pushing Daisies - a Tim Burton-esque fantasy? That's new.

The other big thing is TV shows that appeal to Gen Y. The biggest example of this, to me, is Chuck. Show Chuck to someone over 35 and the reaction may be a confused "huh?" But Chuck is one of the first shows I've seen that has characters who look and speak and act like typical twenty-something geeks. Josh Schwartz takes his knack for dialogue and humor as seen on The OC and perfectly transitions it to this adventure-comedy. I think that, the cool thing about shows that appeal to the younger generation is that we have a totally different set of expectations. We don't care if a show is animated, if it has a laugh track, if it mixes drama and humor, or if it's about superheroes, zombies, or whatever. The one problem? We don't watch as much TV as our parents did, and so a show like Family Guy, that saw so much of its success come from DVD views and whatnot, ultimately gets shortchanged in the ratings and by the network. But that is changing. Shows like The Office are getting a boost thanks to new Nielson methods that capture DVR time-shifting. DVD sales are becoming a more important factor in looking at a show's viability. And online streaming and downloading is becoming a new means for measuring a show's buzz-factor. I am very curious to see how a show like Chuck ends up doing. If it proves successful, I think it will really make networks rethink how they program their lineups. And not to toot my own horn, but I have personally been a huge supporter of Chuck since I first read the script. Again, it will be really, really interesting to see if the general audience responds to it with the same enthusiastic reception that it received at Comic-Con, where it got a standing ovation following the screening of its pilot.

And so, the Top Shows to look out for in the Fall:

1.) CHUCK (NBC) - Chuck isn't necessarily my favorite pilot of the fall, but overall it is the series that I am most excited to follow and see where it goes. I love that this show takes the geek / hipster Seth Cohen humor from The OC and transplants it into an action-spy thriller. The mix is like peanut butter and chocolate, and helps create a show that plays like The OC meets Alias. In the first episode alone, we get a reference to Zork, blonde-bombshell superspies, ninjas!, and a a hero whose vehicle of choice is one of those Best Buy Geek Squad cars.

2.) PUSHING DAISIES (ABC) - This is my favorite pilot of the fall. Now, I don't know exactly how this will work as a series, BUT, the pilot is simply great. The tone reminded me of Big Fish, whimsical and with that certain twisted fairy-tale sensibility. But the thing that clicks is the chemistry between the main actor and actress, who have a pitch perfect forbidden romance that is just the right amounts of sweet and crazy. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen. Basically, the story is about a guy who has a magical gift to bring people back from the dead by touching them, but once he does, if he touches them again, they are gone forever. If it wasn't done so well, there is surely the potential for disaster there. But Pushing Daisies' tone is spot-on, and it's one of the coolest, most artfully made shows I've seen.

3.) ALIENS IN AMERICA (CW) - I had pretty much no expectations for this show, but I was really, pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It reminded me of vintage Malcolm in the Middle, with a really smart, unique perspective on high school life. Now, this show has a lot of humor centered on one of its main characters, a transfer student from Pakistan. In less capable hands, that could spell disaster. But lo and behold, the jokes usually hit the mark, and we actually get a pretty spot-on satire of American xenophobia in the post-9/11 age. I am really curious about the recasting of the dad, now played by Luke from Gilmore Girls. I really liked the dad in the original version of the pilot, so I'm wondering how the casting change will affect things. But right now, I'm really looking forward to seeing more of this show.

4.) JOURNEYMAN (NBC) - While Bionic Woman is getting a lot of NBC's hype, Journeyman to me may have even more potential. The key here is the lead actor, Kevin McKidd, of HBO's Rome. McKidd plain and simply elevates this show, and I think he'll be as crucial to Journeyman as Kiefer Sutherland is to 24. Journeyman is kind of a more serious-minded version of Quantum Leap, with a heavy empahasis on romance as well. But fear not, guys, McKidd brings the badassery to his role as a time-traveler, with ample dosage of gravitas. Wait until you see the climactic ending of the pilot ep. This is def one to watch.

5.) BIONIC WOMAN (NBC) - The biggest geekasm moment of the new falls season is in the pilot of the Bionic Woman. As rain pours down in the night sky, the fledgling Bionic Woman meets a deadly assassin, precariously posed on a rooftop. Our hero flings a steel pipe at her attacker, only for it to be deflected with a loud, bionic "clang.""Who are you?" the newly-christened Bionic Woman asks of the blonde femme fatale, who fans will recognize as Katie Sakhoff of Battlestar fame. "I'm the original Bionic Woman," says the Amazonian villain in full-on bad-ass mode. And with that, a potential new cult hit is born. Sure, there are a few issues with plotting and some young actors who will need to prove themselves over the course of the first season, but there is a huge spark of potential here.

6.) MISS/GUIDED (ABC) - Here's another one that COULD have been a pretty generic sitcom, but is instead vastly better than most comedies out there thanks to its supremely talented leading lady, the hilarious Judy Greer. Greer, who had a small but awesome role on Arrested Development ("Girls With Low Self Esteem!") brings just the right amount of quirkiness to the role of a high school wallflower who returns to her old stomping grounds to become a guidance counsellor. Sounds like a standard sitcom premise, but Greer makes it work, with a Ricky Gervais-like mix of awkwardness, self-loathing, and ego-boosting. Too bad this one isn't coming until mid-season ...

7.) GOSSIP GIRL (CW) - I have never been into the WB / CW crop of teen soaps - the One Tree Hills, the Seventh Heavens, or the Everwoods. But Gossip Girl is different. It's a teen soap that will draw in even the most cynical anti-soap snob. Why? Well, it boasts a great cast. One of those casts where just about every player has "future star" written all over them. Not to mention, the characters are all instantly interesting. Sure, a few fall into typical teen soap cliches, but most are actually three dimensional and multi-faceted. But man, is this show juicy. I know, it sounds lame, but this is soapy at its best, in a way that may even rival The OC's first season. Trust me, watch the pilot about these over-priveleged Manahattan teens, and prepare to be sucked in.

8.) SAMANTHA WHO? (ABC) - Christina Applegate is always great, and she's once again really good here as a woman who wakes up from a coma and realizes that she can't remember anything about who she is. I stil ldon't get quite how she wakes up with a totally different personality than when she drifted into coma-land, but I guess you just have to run with it. But, anyways, Applegate is really good with the offbeat humor, and the show is pretty clever and a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how it holds up after a few episodes.

9.) REAPER (CW) - This is another one of those shows, that, like Chuck, would probably not have made it onto the air a few years ago. Full of geeky / slacker humor mixed with zany scifi (think Bill and Ted by way of Kevin Smith), Reaper is an entertaining show that is anchored by the always-funny Brett Harrison (Grounded For Life, The Loop), as a guy who finds out that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and in exchange he must serve as Satan's personal jail-keeper, hunting down hell's escaped souls and return them to the underworld. The pilot, directed by Kevin Smith, is a lot of fun, especially when Ray Wise shows up as the wise-cracking Satan. It has a bit of a Kevin Smith-lite feel though, a little watered down, a little less witty than it should be. However, it's still a fun show with a cool sensibility to it, so I am curious to see how it develops.

10.) BACK TO YOU (FOX) - The traditional sitcom may be on its deathbed, but Back To You is perhaps its last gasp. It plays like an all-star reunion tour of sitcoms past, with Kelsey Grammar, Patricia Heaton, and Fred Willard all starring. These guys know how to do old-school sitcoms, and so its no surprise that they actually pull this off with a lot of over the top humor and laughs that will make you have flashbacks to the days of Cheers and Taxi. Not to put this show on that level, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how tightly written it was, and it was fun to see Grammar be his usual over the top self, in a vehicle that plays to his strengths. It's funny that this show is on FOX, since it feels like a classic NBC sitcom to a large degree. But whatever, it's one that is worth checking out as a reminder of the good ol' days.


11.) THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES (FOX) - This one isn't until midseason either, but it actually has a decent amount of potential. It's pretty difficult to tell from the pilot how well this will work as an ongoing series, but the pilot is filled with action, and has a star-making turn from Summer Glau as a teenaged terminator whose petite exterior belies the fact that she is capable of going toe to toe with T-1000. Glau is pretty great, with a subtle hint of emotion and pathos shading her robotic persona. Meanwhile, Lena Heady is good as Sarah Conner, but it will be hard for her to step into the combat boots of Linda Hamilton. Still, I was pretty impressed with how seamlessly this fit into the Terminator mythology / timeline, and this could end up being a pretty damn good series if the momentum of the pilot is maintained and the ante upped, a la Prison Break.

12.) LIFE (NBC) - At first, I wasn't thrilled about yet another cop / detective procedural show. But Life is just quirky enough to stand out from the pack. The show has two twists that I really like. The first is that the main character is a total lunatic, which makes the show a lot more fun than it initially appears to be. As a cop who resumes his old job after being exonerated from a lengthy jail sentance, Life's hero is a zen-spouting new-agey philosopher who is grows pretty darn likable by the pilot's end. The other cool thing is that the show features a Prison Break-esque ongoing mystery regarding a conspiracy that was responsible for the title character's unjust imprisonment. The serialized subplot adds a nice layer of intrigue to the typical procedural goings-on.

And now, The Misses:

- VIVA LAUGHLIN (CBS) - The show is just all over the place, and misses the mark on almost all counts. It's a musical, but the songs are completely awkward and don't feel organic at all in the context of the show. For some reason, the actors sing the songs OVER the actual recorded versions of the music, which play in the background. So as Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" plays, some actor is singing on top of it. Talk about awkward and lame. On top of that, the characters are uninteresting, the plot is hard to follow and not especially exciting, and basically, this one is a mess. This is my prediction for first casualty of the fall season.

- MOONLIGHT (CBS) - This might have been a cool show on FOX, but Moonlight feels like a CBS-style show about Vampires. Yawwwwwwn. The show is slow, boring, and trots out every vampire-detective cliche in the book, with zero sense of fun or excitement or atmosphere. Here's another one primed and ready for the chopping block.

- NEW AMSTERDAM (FOX) - Arrgh, what's with all these boring shows about immortal detectives this year? New Amsterdam is like Highlander stripped of everything that made Highlander cool and superimposed on a really bad detective show. This show is not destined for immortality, that's for sure.

- CAVEMEN (ABC) - Okay, I can't give a full review since the show is being reworked from the pilot I saw. But what I saw was not only bad, but almost offensive in the ham-fisted way in which it tried to use the cavemen as a means through which to channel racial humor. Just as bad though was how shockingly unfunny the show was. In making the cavemen essentially just really hairy people, otherwise no different from the average Joe, the show removed all humor from the concept. I mean, the genius of Phil Hartman and his unfrozen caveman lawyer sketches was right there, waiting to be co-opted. And yet, Cavemen manages to be one of those terrible shows that seems to signal the downfall of Western Civilization as we know it. We'l lsee if the revamped pilot is any better, but don't count me as optimistic.

- BIG SHOTS (ABC) - Even if you have only seen the ads for this show, you probably hate it already. I mean, I cringe every time I see that one guy say the show's vomit-inducing tagline "It's like, men are the new women!" Ugggggh, kill me now. And let me assure you, the show is as bad as you'd feared. It's Sex in the City, but about men and not funny or well-written, every one of whom is a gigantic, self-absorbed, pampered douchebag. So, remind me again who likes to watch a show that glorifies such characters? Women will not like it. Men will sure as hell not like it. In fact, men who watch this will be praying for Jack Bauer to swoop down and castrate these losers.

Allriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, I am outta here. Still to Come: My RETURNING SHOWS Preview, and my TOP MOVIES of the SUMMER.

Monday, August 27, 2007


And ...... I'm back.

So, another week of work lies ahead. But, this promises to be a pretty good week. Work should be fairly laid back, as many in my office our away and traveling this week. On Thursday, I am doing something I've wanted to do for awhile now - taking part in a Young Alumni panel for BU. I'm really excited about this, because I feel like when I was a student in college, a lot of the advice I received about moving to LA and trying to make it in entertainment was a little bit out-there and unrealistic. People always seemed to be in one of two extremes - it was either they came out here and seemed to magically have great jobs, a great apartment, etc, OR, they came out here, were unemployed after two years, and lived in their car. I am very eager to provide a more realistic scenario and to give more practical advice. I mean, I remember getting all this crazy advice when I attended one of these panels as a student. "You have to have an LA cell phone number!" "You have to get a temp job to break in!" " and all these other random bits of sage wisdom that basically proved pretty pointless. So this Thursday, I will be the one dispensing the sage wisdom! And so the circle is complete ...

What else? Well, I had a pretty good weekend, finally some R&R time after getting back from the East Coast. Went to a Shabbat dinner / party Friday night through J-Connect, which was a pretty interesting experience. Otherwise, mostly just chilled and rested my still-swollen sprained ankle.


- This weekend marked the final episode of ABC's MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. I was
pretty high on this show after it's great first episode. Week 2 was also really enjoyable thanks to Terry O'Quinn and William B. Davis. However, there was a noticeable slide with Week 3, and Week 4 was pretty much a misfire from the start. I had been semi-excited for this ep, at it was penned by the legendary Harlan Ellison. But what we got here was an odd freaks-in-space tale that never quite came together. The plot was predictable, the characters only half-realized, and honestly, the grotesque makeup used was a little hard to look at. Anyways, MASTERS has some great potential, but only really lived up to it in half of its episodes. Would love to see the show return, perhaps more focused on adapting other classic short stories.


Anyways, there is some loud construction going on right now, so I think I'm going to wrap up for now. As always, check back later for more.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"So, Like, Once Upon A Time" - The Danny Baram Cut

Check it out:

This is my long-awaited short film that was created for the 48 Hour Film Fest Los Angeles this summer. I went back and re-edited the music as an excuse to finally play around with iMovie.

Co-written by me, it was def a learning experience -- thoughts?

undefined So, Like, Once Upon A Time: The DB Cut

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Anarchy in the UK?

Judo chop, baby.

You know, as much as I love the Judd Apatow-style comedies, I hope that they don't replace every other kind of comedy. I still love character-based comedies like Wayne's World and Austin Powers, and just recently I found THE TEN to be hilarious, with its absurdist brand of humor which the members of The State do so well. Just a random thought.

So anyways, it's FRIDAY. Thank god. Between craziness at work and hobbling around on my ankle all week, I am more than ready for some R&R.

Meanwhile, tommorow my brother is off to JOLLY OLD ENGLAND for a semester abroad via BU's London Internship program. For me, the spring of 2003, where I participated in the same program, was an amazing experience. I got to experience London, from Kensington to Camden Town and everywhere in between, traveled to Italy and Scotland, and had an awesome experience. Okay, well the food kind of sucks (excpet for Prett a Manger), but that's only a minor quibble. So anyways, I am excited for my brother to experience London and hopefully come back with a slightly better British accent. I've already briefed him on the usage of such words as "dodgy," "biscuits," and most importantly "loo."

Ah, England - home of punk rock, stiff upper lips, and the Plowman's Lunch.

And so, because I don't have much else to talk about publicly right now (since apparently everyone and their mums is now reading this blog), I bid you good day. I know, this was a pretty crappy blog entry, but it'll get better soon, I promise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Blog Gets SUPERBAD and Inhales Some STARDUST! And MORE

Sooooo ...

A quick update: Basically, my flight from CT to Burbank was long but pretty uneventful. I continued in reading The Stand, finished three weeks' worth of Newsweeks, and tried to rest my ankle, which had, over the last few days, seen the swelling go down but the bottom part of my right foot turn a deep shade of purple. Luckily, I was seated next to two little kids for the first part of the ride, who were watching DVD's and well behaved, giving me a lot of legroom. Of couse, that only lasted until Chicago's Midway airport, where we made our first stop. I had a lot less room from Chicago to Vegas, but it wasn't anything too unbearable. The final leg of the trip, from Vegas to Burbank, was short and sweet. I have to say though, it was pretty jarring to get on that last flight out of Vegas, in a way. The airplane up to that point had been filled with tourists, visitors, and basically regular Joes. When I got in line in the Vegas airport however, I was surrounded by a freakshow of bleached-blonde hair, plastic surgery, way too many people with iPhones, and a general feeling like "you know you're on a flight from Vegas to LA when ...". It's like, on one hand, I appreciate that LA is filled with all kinds of people, many of whom share my passions for film and pop culture, etc. On the other hand, it's sad and depressing when you realize just how few real, down to earth, "normal" people there are here in Hollyweird. At least, sometimes it seems that way.

Anyways, I got back to LA Sunday night, and am now back in the grind of work and the daily routine. My ankle is still pretty sore, but hopefully I'll have more of a chance to just stay off of it and ice it up in the next few days. I'm trying to figure out what combination of wraps / socks / braces to wear to work on a regular basis, since some of the bigger / bulkier ones do not fit comfortably underneat socks and slacks.

Now, I am excited to have a little stretch of weeks that are basically wide open - no business trips, no big plans, etc. I have a few concerts I'm going to coming up though, and it just hit me that my birthday - the big 2-5 - is scarily only a few weeks away. No idea what my plan is to celebrate, but hopefully I will think of something good. In October, it's Halloween season, which for the last few years here in LA has always meant many good times, so that's exciting. And in November, it looks like my family and I may take a trip to London, to visit my brother during his semester abroad.

BTW - I have to figure out what I'm doing for the High Holidays in September -- anyone have any suggestions?

Anyways, in more ways than one I feel like these next few weeks are the beginning of a new chapter, or at least, I hope so. Stay tuned.


- After two weeks of classic-style goodness, I was psyched to kick back Sunday night and check out my recorded episode of MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. With this week's quirky ep, I found myself enjoying it, but to me it didn't quite match up to the fun I had with the previous two installments. What we got this week was a somewhat oddball journey into a utopian future of sorts, where advances in genetic engineering have allowed for the creation of "Joes" - subhuman humanoids who basically do all the work that people don't want to. The Joes, essentially organic robots, hunt the desert for landmines, serve cocktails at fancy clubs, and serve as glorified butlers to the rich. While Joes are engineered from human DNA, they have no rights, no freedom, and are disposed of like tin cans when they cease to be useful. That is, until a rich society woman, played by Anne Heche, takes a liking to a Joe she called Jerry. Heche's character makes Joe rights her pet cause, and suddenly she's at the center of a trial to determine if Joes are, in fact, human and thus deserving of basic human rights. Meanwhile, she comes into conflict with a bioengineer played by Malcolm McDowell, who is great as always as a Dr. Frankenstein both weary of the frivolous nature of his work and of the claim that his creations are human.

Basically, this episode was kind of all over the place. It set up an interesting look at the future but didn't really give much context in terms of how the average person viewed the Joes or how they came to be so prominent in society. The tone was mostly quirky and light, but it seemed like a premise that demanded a bit more gravity to it. Anne Hech and Malcolm McDowell were great, but it was a bit hard to get a handle on their characters. I just kind of felt like the whole "are they or aren't they human" idea had been done many times before and often to great effect, whereas here we got a fun but kind of bland take. Still, really looking forward to next week's finale, penned by Harlan Ellison, and still annoyed that this series isn't getting any more attention or promotion.

My Grade: B

- Yes, yes, I know, you can stop sending me your emails and IM's. KRISTEN BELL is now on HEROES. So, what do I think of the fact that the former Veronica Mars is now part of the Heroes-verse? Well, I mean, it's very cool, no question. It's just a bit of an odd combo to me at first glance. On VM, Kristin Bell specialized in fast-paced verbal sparring and dry humor, not really things that Heroes is known for. To me, VM was the perfect marriage of actress and material, so to be honest any Bell appearance outside of Veronica is bound to feel a little bit off, at least at first. But really, this is great for Heroes. Bell can act, and could bring a great sense of wit and cool-factor to the show. I'm definitely curious to see where this goes.

- Okay, now it's time for some long-awaited movie reviews:


- Knocked Up was great. 40 Year Old Virgin as well. But Superbad is better, and here's why: As funny as it is to watch the comedic exploits of a slacker twenty-something or a forty-year old loser, nothing beats a good teen comedy. When you're talking teenagers, the motivations are simple and easily boiled-down - Superbad is two high school dudes looking to get some action before they graduate. The motivation is clear, the desperation tangible, and the laughs mile-a-minute.

However, like Virgin and Knocked Up, Superbad benefits immensely from the casual, naturalistic, coversational humor that has become producer Judd Apatow's bread and butter. In this age of cell phones, IM's, and blogs, the art of conversation is probably the biggest source of humor for many of us in our daily lives. We've all had inside jokes, random asides, and pseudo-deep thoughts that were just oddball enough to be hilarious, and Apatow's movies have a way of capturing those little snippets of conversation for maximum laugh-factor. What he also does is cast his movies not with big-name stars, but with people who he simply knows to be funny. The combination of the right material with the right actors is a potent comedic formula. Witness the classic conversation between Superbad stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, as they discuss their personal preferences when it comes to internet porn. Cera laments the lack of production value when it comes to amatuer video, to which Hill fires back "what, do you want your porn to be directed by the Coen Brothers?" Classic.

Give writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg a ton of credit for a screenplay that holds nothing back. The humor is full of dick jokes, but at the same time there is an honesty to the dialogue that few other teen comedies have ever had. There is a realism to it that makes it feel authentic - this is how over-informed teens in the age of MySpace and Wikipedia SHOULD sound - these guys are geeks at heart, but they know enough to be well-versed on the ins and outs of bagging babes (speaking of which, watching this movie shows you how far we've come, for better or worse, since Anthony Michael Hall admitted that he's "never bagged a babe" in Sixteen Candles). But Rogen and Goldberg do a great job of capturing the humor that has rarely been captured in movies - the humor that comes out when a few funny guys are just sitting around and talking, the humor that is the stuff of late night dorm-room chats and rambling IM conversations. Whether it's Cera talking about how he wished he lived in a world where men could flaunt their, um, excitement freely, or Hill telling his friend that his adopted nom de plume, "McLovin," sounded like the name for an Irish R&B singer, Superbad has hilarious, real-sounding dialogue in spades.

The humor of geeky conversation and random guy-talk tangents hasn't been captured this well since "Clerks."

Again, the actors here are spot-on. I'm not exaggerrating when I say that Michael Cera is probably one of the funniest people on the planet right now. He was brilliant on Arrested Development as the anxious, cousin'-lovin' George Michael, and he brings that same ultra-dry wit and understated delivery to Superbad. When he bursts into song to appease a bunch of cracked-out party-goers, it results in one of the funniest scenes in a movie you'll see this year. And not only is Cera funny, but both he and Jonah Hill lend a realism to this movie because they're NOT playing cliches, they are playing real teens, basically. They have their cool qualities, they have their geeky qualities. They aren't at the top of the food chain but they're not quite at the bottom. They remind you of yourself or guys you knew. It's fun and refreshing to see, and it's one of the best aspects of all of Apatow's work from Freaks and Geeks to Knocked Up - Apatow's primary characters are always endearing, often outcasts, but never two-dimensional.

Hill is great as well, and has that kind of frantic "we've gotta get that beer NOW" delivery that is like so many guys in high school or college who can't see the forest for the trees. He and Cera are an instant-classic comedy duo, and again, their timing and delivery and naturalism, combined with the script, is a recipe for comedic gold.

Then there's the rest of the cast. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is classic as McLovin, just McLovin. He has that kind of nerdy enthusiasm mixed with awkwardness that makes it hard not to love the little guy. I'm sure his squinty face is already plastered on many a Hot Topic T-Shirt, but deservedly so, I'd say. Seth Rogen and SNL's Bill Hader are also really funny as two cops who get caught up in the plotline and become pals with McLovin, and the three of them have many hilarious scenes that threaten to steal the movie away from the two leads.

So to me, Superbad is an absolute must-see, and overall one of the funniest movies to come along in a while, even in a summer loaded with great comedy of all kinds, from Knocked Up to Eagle Vs. Shark to The Ten. Only a few minor points keep me from giving it a flat-out A:

a.) Too much screentime for McLovin and the Cops. While the trio is often hilarious, the heart of the movie is the banter and hetrosexual-lifemate relationship between Hill and Cera. Towards the end of the movie especially, when it feels like the focus should be on the leads, the movie gets a little too caught up in McLovin, Rogen, and Hader.

b.) A little too much randomness. Apatow and co have atendency to throw very broad humor into movies that are mostly played very natural and realistic. Sometimes the random humor wins me over, like the psychedelic ending to 40 Year Old Virgin. But in Superbad, I felt myself wondering if some of the tangents, like Hill having a childhood problem with phallic doodles, wouldn't have been better on the cutting room floor.

c.) Mainly though, my biggest issue was with the ending (SPOILERS). It just didn't work for me. I get the idea that these teens were so focused on sex that they overlook the idea of just trying to date and get to know the girls who they are crushing on, but, there was barely any build-up to make the ending realistic. Jonah Hill had basically made an asso of himself over the course of the movie's final few scenes, and then suddenly this cute girl who he accidentally headbutted wants to hang out with him at the mall? It just seemed off to me. Especially after the movie seemed to have wrapped up with an "aww shucks, Jonah and Michael have each other so it's okay that they didn't get the girls" ending. Then, they do kind of get the girls? Hmm ...

So in the end, again, this was a hilarious, must-see movie. A near-classic that had me laughing nonstop from start to finish. This is a teen movie to be put in the cannon with Breakfast Club, Fast Times, Porkys, and American Pie, and another feather in the hat for Apatow and co, who have now succesfully brought their particular brand of humor to 40 year olds, 25 year olds, and 18 year olds. Basically, this movie deserves your McLovin.

My Grade: A -


It's really a shame about Stardust. What we have here is a movie that isn't perfect, a bit rough around the edges, but in the end is a shining example of a fantasy movie with its heart in the right place - a sprawling adventure with fun characters, imaginative ideas, and a whimsical sense of humor that hearkens back to the days of The Princess Bride, Time Bandits, The Dark Crystal, and other such fairy tale fantasy-films that have become a rare breed since their 1980's heyday. So why is it a shame, you ask? It's a shame because few people saw this, because it had a fairly lackluster marketing campaign and was dropped into a crowded late-summer slot. Most of all though, it's a shame because as much love as people have for classics like The Wizard of Oz, fantasy still remains one of the hardest sells out there for the movie-going public. And you wouldn't think so, not with the runaway success that is Harry Potter. But it kind of furthers my theory that Potter is like the Everybody Loves Raymond of fantasy. Sure, it might be well put-together and smartly done, but it is a kind of homogenized, goes-down-easy slice of pop culture, filled with all-too familiar tropes and themes. This isn't a knock on Harry Potter, it's just that, especially speaking about the movie versions, there is a certain plasticy polish there that makes you wonder what someone with a little bit of an insane streak, like a Terry Gilliam or even a Peter Jackson, could do if they got their hands on the material.

And that brings me to Stardust, which won me over in part because it is a little bit wild, a little bit crazy, like say a Time Bandits. It is, like I said, rough around the edges, both to its benefit and detriment. But as a kid, that's what I absolutely loved about these fairy tale stories - that mix of dark and light, of the nonthreatening with the horrific and gruesome. It's why I loved those Jim Henson Storyteller programs so long ago (and now have the complete set on DVD) - they told stories that were, on the surface, harmless and kid-friendly, but there was that edge, that darkness to them. With Stardust, director Matthew Vaughn brings that same quality. We have a light-hearted fantasy on the surface, but there are unexpected moments of scandal, sexiness, and horror. The stuff of all the great fairy stories.

And that, that is exactly the quality that has defined author Neil Gaiman's most famous works. His Sandman series was a modern adult fairy story, the sacred bible for goth kids everywhere, and aside from all else a great piece of literature that helped legitimize the comic book / graphic novel format in the 80's and 90's. Stardust, adapted from Neil's illustrated novel of the same name, has that same Gaiman touch, and Vaughn does a nice job of maintaining that balance of dark and light, that distinctly British tone, and the boundless imagination inherent in the works of Neil Gaiman.

Basically, Stardust tells of a quiet English village called Wall, named for the wall that borders it, said to be the gateway to a magical land, though few if any dare to cross it and find out. Years ago, a young man crossed into the magical realm and met a woman - unbeknownst to him a princess. The two had a quick roll in the hay, and nine months later, when the man had long ago gone back to Wall, a baby was dropped at his doorstep. Fast forward twenty years or so, and the baby is all grown up, soon to stumble into his own adventure beyond the wall. What starts out as a search for the boy's mother soon becomes a quest for a Falling Star, taken human form by Claire Danes. At the same time, a dying king says that whichsoever of his sons finds the amulet worn by the Star will become the new King. And, three witches seek the Star for its youth-giving magic. And there are also sky-pirates. Cross-dressing sky pirates, more specifically.

The characters really come alive thanks to the impressive ensemble at work here. Usually, big-name actors and fantasy are not a good mix, because the recognizabilty of the actor can hurt the suspension of disbelief in the story and world of the film. But one of the movie's biggest names is easily the show-stealer here - Michelle Pfeifer does a fantastic job as a wicked witch. It's a transformative, ego-less role, with Pfeifer aging and de-aging throughout the movie due to the effects of her magic. Honestly, I can barely even remember seeing Pfeifer in anything since she wowed everyone as Catwoman so long ago. But man, I am glad she's back - she is just awesomely villainous here, looks great, and may be one of the year's most fun movie badguys. Just a great role as a classic fantasy villain. Wicked Witch indeed. On the other end of the spectrum is the great Robert DeNiro. At first glance, DeNiro, with his tough-guy Italian looks and and Brooklyn accent, are an odd fit for a British fantasy. And there is certainly a bit of awkwardness when his character - a tough-talking Sky Pirate - is first introduced. But ultimately, Deniro really won me over. What could have been an embarrisngly bad part turns out to be a lot of fun, with the twist being that (SPOILERS), DeNiro's menacing exterior is a total facade, he is in fact, a ballroom dancing, cross-dressing, John Waters-level flamboyant pirate of a different sort altogether.

As for the leads, they do a really nice job. Again, they take a bit of time to win you over, but the great chemistry between them ultimately makes the central romance a lot of fun. Charlie Cox does a nice job as our hero, Tristan. He is a bit of an annoying, lunk-headed guy at first, but that's part of the point. He actually does evolve pretty dramatically by movie's end, although I admit even at that point he is somewhat unlikable. Overall though, he does a good job as the naive, in-over-his-head farmboy-who-becomes hero type. And he also has some great interactions with Claire Daines, as Yvaine, literally a fallen star. The two gradually enjoy a classic fairy tale romance, and you really root for them by the end. I'll always be a huge Claire Danes fan simply from her work on the great My So-Called Life, but she surprised me here by really pulling off a fantasy role like this one. She is just quirky and unconventional enough to pull it off.

There are some nice supporting turns here as well. It was great to see Ricky Gervais pop up and get off a few of his patented awkward dialogue exchanges. It must have been a real thrill for him to finally work with DeNiro as well (said having just watched the achingly awkard Extras episode featuring DeNiro). Rupert Everett has a nice role as one of the seven brothers willing to do anything to overtake the others and succeed their father as King. The idea that each brother is one-by-one killed by the others, with each one manifesting as a ghost in the same shape they were when they died (ie one with an axe in the head, one with no clothes on) is pretty funny and makes for some amusing scenes. And, lending the movie that little extra bit of Shakespearian gravitas is Ian McKellan, who provides narration to great effect.

Now, we have a great cast, a classically-told fairy story ... what's not to like? Well, the main weakness here is the overall direction, which is a bit uneven. Vaughn aims high but sometimes misses the mark. He has a lot of trouble (and perhaps limited budget) with establishing his loactions and giving the film a real sense of place and scope. After movies like Lord of the Rings, I was looking for sweeping shots of the Witches' stronghold, for example, but we never really got a sense of just what their evil lair lookedl ike from the outside. Stardust's magical kingdom has bits and pieces of visuals that give it shape, like shots of the towering peak that serves as the King's throne-room, but mostly, it lacks a distinct look and feel. On one hand, this hearkens back to movie's like Princess Bride that left much to the imagination in terms of setting and place. On the other hand, it can be a bit unfulfilling at times to see the movie's fantasy world be so loosely sketched out.

That being said, there are some innovative, really well-done visuals here. My favorite was a climactic fight scene where Pfeifer's witch reanimated one of the Princes' lifeless bodies for a wild duel with Tristan. Very, very cool and one of the better sword fights captured on film in a while. Michelle Pfeifer's ever-changing age made for some subtle and well-done visual f/x, and I thought that Claire Dane's star-halo, which glows whenever she feels love, was an old-school but effective little visual gimmick that added to the fun of her character.

Stardust is a movie that is a little messy, a little uneven. It's bursting with so many characters and ideas that there's never a dull moment, but also not much breathing room, and some of the plot points can feel a bit hurried and glossed over (for example, the whole backstory of Tristan's father and his aborted romance with Tristan's princess mother). But to me, Stardust had that element of magic and adventure that made it amount to much more than the mere sum of its parts. As I've alluded to many times already, the movie plain and simply won me over, and I've rarely felt more ready to nod and smile and applaud as the words "Happily Ever After" brought things to a close.

My Grade: A -

- Alright, that's all I've got for now. Until next time ...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

From a Bad Ankle In Bloomfield, CT ...

Man, what a couple a' days it has been ...

So much has happened since Wednesday morning I barely know where to begin. And it's late, and I need to pack, because tommorow my short stay here on the East Coast comes to an abrupt end and it's back to the grind of life in the LA fastlane. But as is tradition, I wanted to do a quick blog entry from here in Bloomfield. As always, I like the idea of my blog posts having some diversity in terms of geographical origin. So here goes nothing ...

To preface, I saw two great movies this week in STARDUST - a rough-around-the-edges but well-worth-seeing fantasy fairy tale, and SUPERBAD - a hilarious teen comedy that will go down in the same cannon as The Breakfast Club and Fast Times, and which my brother and I actually just got back from a few hours ago. I'll sit on the reviews of those for now though. Check back soon for my more detailed thoughts.

But anyways ...

As I was saying, what a couple of crazy days it's been. The first thing you should know is that on Wednesday morning, right as I was about to board a plane headed from Burbank to New York City, I injured my ankle pretty badly. I mean, this was just the worst timing and it's one of those "could only happen to me" type events. I was having a pretty restless night on Tuesday. I was up late packing for my trip, anxious about my all-day set of meetings, workshops, etc that I'd be having on Thursday, and wondering if I'd have a chance to see any of my friends in NYC who I haven't seen in way too long. So at about 6:30 am on Wednesday, I'm fast asleep when all of a sudden my phone rings. In my half-asleep, brain-addled state, I leap out of bed towards the coffee table where my phone was charging. As I reach for my cell, I somehow stumble and trip, and fall hard. I hear this loud "CRACK," coming from my ankle, and suddenly I have the most intense pain ever shooting up and down my right leg. I was still so tired and foggy that I could barely comprehend what was going on. I hopped back onto my bed, trying to tell myself that it was just a bruise and I should go back to sleep and everything was fine. But man, when after a few minutes I was WIDE AWAKE at 6:30 am, I knew there was something really wrong here. My ankle has suddenlt swelled up to balloon size and it was freaking killing me. As far as I could tell, it might have been broken, fractured, something. But I was supposed to be on route to the Burbank airport in a few mere hours. I started freaking out. If I couldn't even stand upright, let alone walk, how could I even go on this trip? They had already booked my flights, my hotel ... how could I NOT go? And yet, all I could think about was the pain coming from my ankle. This was bad.

I called my parents, who were on vacation in Ogunquet (sp?), Maine. I needed some kind of advice, because I could barely think. Did I have time to go to the hospital? Should I? At my dad's urging I got out of bed and got dressed. By the time I managed to do that, I clearly didn't have time to go to the hospital without risking being late for the flight. So I decided to make my way over to CVS instead. In a daze, I drove down the street, hobbled into CVS, and basically cleaned out their medical supplies aisle. I spent way too much money on all manner of ace bandages and ankle wraps, but I couldn't risk not having some kind of item that would alleviate some of my pain and at least allow me to walk into the airport.

Luckily, the combination of my newly-purchased heated ankle sock thing and my determination not to miss my flight, got me to through those next few hours. By the time I got to the airport I could at least limp around and walk without too much pain.

I met up with my colleague Mike A and we boarded our Jet Blue flight to NYC. Luckily, it was a very easy flight. I'd never flown Jet Blue before, but I was a big fan of the leather seats and extra leg room, which helped alleviate the crappiness of being stuck in a middle seat. Plus, it was, I believe, my first ever direct flight between LA and the East Coast, so while I was used to these never-ending, nine hour epic journeys, this was an easy six hours, during which I made a nice dent in The Stand, which I hadn't read much of since my last flight back from CT. I'm now officially on Book 2 - very exciting.

So we got into JFK airport around 9 pm east coast time. We met up with my boss, Michael B, and took a company car to our hotel in Times Square. Pretty swanky, and I think this is one of the only times I've ever had a whole hotel room all to myself, ever. Not bad. But man, for me it was only 7 pm by the time we got settled, and the combination of pain in my ankle, anxiety about the next day, and excitement about being in NYC left me feeling pretty wired. I had called a bunch of my friends over the last week, but none were able to met up so late on a Wednesday night, so I somehow ended up just kind of wandering around midtown for a while, grabbing some pizza, and stumbling back to my hotel and watching Conan O'Brien while I wrapped my ankle in a special gel wrap I picked up. All well and good, I guess - the problem was that my colleagues and I were set to meet up at 7:45 am Thursday morning. SEVEN FORTY FIVE. That's 4:45 am West Coast time, which clearly I was still very much on. I fell asleep sometime around 4 am ET and rolled around in a not-so-peaceful slumber. So basically, when my cell phone alarm went off around 6:45, I wanted to die. I've had some unpleasant wake-up call times before, but this was one of the worst ever. My eyes were burning, I could barely see, my ankle hurt, my other leg was sore from overcompensating, and I was about to go into an all-day meeting with my bosses and THEIR bosses. Fun fun fun (kill me now). Often, I have gone into situations set to be difficulte with the mindset "if I can just make it through this, I'll be alright." Never have I had to repeat that to myself as many times as did early this Thursday morning.

Luckily, after a few hours passes and I got some caffiene and food into me things got better. The day was long and exhausting but it went pretty smoothly, and I got a chance to make what I think was a pretty good impression on many of the bigwigs. The first half of our day was spent on a personality-assesment workshop, interesting to say the least, even if it's basically a bunch of hokey corporate pop-psychology. On the other hand, how often is one presented with a 25 page booklet, complete with bar graphs and pie charts, that claims to pinpoint your personality type? Pretty much nonsense, but interesting. The second half of the day was basically a long summit in which each unit within our larger group gave a state of the union report. I got a pretty good chance to talk and ask questions so that was cool. And for lunch we even got some excellent New Yawk pizza (even if we were actually in Engelwood Cliffs, NJ, at the CNBC building).

Finally, we all headed over to this rooftop bar / lounge in the trendy Meatpacking district in NYC. Oddly, it was the exact same bar that my cousin Marcus had taken me to a few years back when I met up with him in NYC. Another odd coincidence: when I first arrived at the meeting that morning, I realized that one of the new hires for our East Coast branch was actually one of my old Columbia roommates from my time as an intern in the summer of 2004. Pretty random. Then, this other girl from NBC in NYC was telling me how one of her best friends is the sister of one of my good friends from elementary and high school. It is a small world after all ...

Still, the best part of Thursday came later. Me and some co-workers left our little rooftop shindig after an hour or so, and I headed back to the hotel to recharge - I was totally wiped. But I met with my brother, who had just had his last day at HIS internship at NYC, and I grabbed some food and was finally able to just chill and wind down and not talk work for a bit. We headed for one of my favorite midtown cafes from my intern days as my brother showed me the shwag he picked up on his last day and ran his latest blockbuster movie ideas by me. After that, me and Matt shared a cab down to the East Village. It turns out that one of my favorite people, Daniella G, is now working at a little restaurant right down the street from where my brother was staying in the city, so it worked out perfectly. Me and Daniella got to hang out, catch up, walk around the Village, and even had a hilarious encounter with a local Crazy - this hippie artist dude dressed in like blue pajamas who gave us many a life lesson, all the while trying to sell us his CD and informing us that there was a "party in his pants." (and yes, he said that everyone was, in fact, invited, when I asked!). One of those classic experiences that would only happen when haning out with someone like Daniella, who it was great to see after such a loooong time!

So yeah, it was a greattt feeling knowing that on Friday I had nothing in particular to make me wake up early. I slept late, and man was it good. I finally checked out of The Westin, left my bags for a bit, and made the obligatory journey a flew blocks downtown to NYC's mecca of geekdom, the sprawling Midtown Comics, definitely one of the world's best comic shops. After that I had to lug my suitcase onto the subway, so I could take the crosstown shittle to Grand Central. I got to the station, grabbed some lunch, and got a ticket for the 3:07 train to New Haven. Two hours later, I was back in CT and waiting for my dad to pick me up. An hour after that, I was back at home for a traditional Baram family Shabbat dinner, with my parents, my Grandma and Zayde, uncle Michael and his wife Laura. I had a bunch of stuff I was going to do after that, but the combination of home-cooked food and three days worth of pent-up exhaustion caught up to me. I was out like a light and done done done.

Today, I slept late and relaxed, as my dad headed up to NYC to pick up my brother and his stuff from their Village apartment. My brother is now in CT for a little over a week before he heads to LONDON for a semester abroad (or maybe a few broads ... hehehe - sorry, had to throw that in there). However, after three days of walking around on a busted ankle, I finally went to the hospital today to have it looked at. At this point, my ankle is still very swollen, and a few sections of my right foot are a deep shade of purple. But, I can kind of walk, at least. I guess all that time in NYC toughened it up. Luckily, nothing is broken or fractured, it's just a bad sprain. But it looks terrible and man, that initial bout of pain Wednesday morning was just horrible. Since then, it's been sore and swollen, but surprisingly bearable, at least.

So the family and I had some dinner tonight, discussed plans to visit Matt out in London sometime in November, and then he and I headed to Hartford for some SUPERBAD. And now here it is, late, and with a long flight ahead of me tommorow on Southwest - two stops en route to Burbank. But what a trip it's been. My first ever business trip, all with an injured ankle and little sleep. Some good times though in NYC and back in CT. Sorry to those I got in touch with but wasn't able to meet up with - as usual I was overambitious in what I thought I could fit in in one trip. A good time though, definitely a journey of record, a challenge overcome, friends and family, trains, planes, and automobiles - one for the books.

From 5 Warbler Circle, this is Danny, signing out. See you in Hollywood.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Unskinny Blog Blog Blog - POISON in Concert Wrap-Up, Plus: Masters of SciFi and RIP to Mike Wieringo

"Now she found herself in the fast lane livin day to day
Turned her back on her best friends, yeah
And let her family slip away
Just like a lost soul
Caught up in the Hollywood scene
All the parties and the limousines"

So Saturday night, I saw POISON live and in concert at the Gibson Ampitheater at Universal Studios.

Overall, it was a rocking time. The scene was just awesome at Universal, and that was part of what made the concert itself so much fun. After having now gone to see a few shows at Gibson, I can safely say that the pre-concert stop at the Hard Rock cafe is an essential part of the experience. As fellow hair-metal rocker Liz and I stepped into the Hard Rock, it was like stepping into a party straight outta 1986. Sure, the leather pants were a bit tighter and the feathered hair a bit thinner, but the tunes were as classic as ever. Seeing a bunch of late-30's guys sporting Ratt T-shirts, loudly singing the words to Skid Row's "I'll Remember You" as it blared over the restaurant's sound-system, as the awesomely 80's video played on the monitors overhead -- well, is there any better way to pre-game for a Poison concert? This was the place to be - a mix of aging rockers and new members of The Cause. I saw a surprising number of people my age, some even decked out in over-the-top 80's hairband costume. I saw a mother with two young kids, all three wearing Poison t-shirts. Yes, Poison is now a family affair. It's funny - telling someone like my dad that I am seeing a Poison concert probably sounds kind of dangerous to someone who skipped over the 80's completely. But really, here in 2007, it's a pretty harmless affair other than the copious amounts of cleavage on display and the occasional waft of pot smoke. But during the ballads, there are a heck of a lot more cell-phones being held up nowadays than cigarette lighters.

So anyways ... the concert itself -- like I said, a lot of the fun was just taking in the scene. People in outlandish costumes, Brett Michaels-style faux cowboy hats, vintage concert T's, etc. When we first got to our seats, the opener-opener band, Vains of Jenna was playing, and they were actually pretty rocking. They were a young band but kind of like The Darkness, they were totally modeled after the glam-rock bands of the 80's, and their sound could have been right out of that era. They played really well though, had a lot of energy and charisma, and they even did a kickass cover of Tom Petty's "Refugee." (Poison also covered Petty later in the night with a version of "I Need To Know" - who knew I'd hear two Tom Petty songs at an 80's metal concert!).

Then there was the opener, Ratt. Now to me, not that I'm an expert or anything, and I wasn't really listening to any of these bands in their actual heyday ... but, to me, Ratt is basically a one-hit-wonder band. They're the guys whose one big song, Round and Round, is on all of the Monsters of Rock-esque compilation CD's. But man, little did I realize that apparently, of all the big 80's metal groups, Ratt for some reason has a pretty hardcore fan following. Now why someone would be so into Ratt as opposed to far superior 80's rock like The Scorpions or even Skid Row, I don't know. To me they are on the same level as a Winger or Quiet Riot, maybe even below, since none of their songs have the iconic appeal of a "She's Only Seventeen" or "Metal Health." But a coworker of mine told me that she loves Ratt and was mostly going to the show to see them over Poison. Who knew that such a group of Ratt-heads existed? So Liz and I decided that we'd give Ratt a chance, and see if they lived up to the hype.

My conclusion was this: Ratt is not that great. Now, after reading some reviews of the show, I found out that a.) there have been some lineup changes to Ratt over the years, and I'm not sure if that came into play here (anyone care to fill me in?), b.) Some of the songs they played were newer, 90's-era material that isn't up to the quality of the older stuff, and c.) even the die-hard Ratt fans seem to be acknowledging that this wasn't exactly the band's best performance, and didn't cpare that favorably to their shows from back in the day.

To me, my reaction was a mixture of these complaints. For one thing, the band seemed a little off. The singer's voice was a bit shot, and at times they seemed out of step. Secondly, to me, most of the songs just are not that catchy or memorable, aside from "Round and Round." When they finally played their signature hit to close things out after what seemed like a really long set (they played for a whole hour), they finally managed to get the joint jumpin'. But I (and most of the crowd), was more than ready for the main event.

Now, look, I don't put Poison on the same level as some other, let's call them "classic rock" bands. I'll listen to their greatest hits any day, but beyond that I don't think they have too deep a catalog. And I acknowedge that, behind the long hair and guitars, they are basically a pop band with a slightly harder edge. But man, they do what they do better than most, and luckily for us, they seem to be playing, here in 2007, at pretty much the top of their game. Because, Poison got on stage, unleashed all their hits to the delight of the crowd, did a few excellent covers to boot, brought tons of energy, and basically KICKED MY ASS.

Yes my friends, POISON ROCKED. And they really exceeded my expectations to a degree. I wasn't expecting, for example, a series of intense guitar and drum solos from CC Deville and Rikki Rockett (two names that basically scream "I'm in an 80's hair-metal band!" - either that or "I'm a hairdresser!"). But man, CC took the spotlight at one point and positively wailed on his guitar, showing moves that put the Guitar Hero-lovin' metalheads to shame. I wouldn't have guessed it, but CC is legit. The man can flat-out play, and he's still got it. The same can be said for drummer Rikki R. Seated in a mobile drumset that hovered across the stage before being raised up towards the rafters, Rikki played the drums with Garth Algar-style abandon, bringing down the house with his lighting-quick moves.

As for the songs themeselves ... Brett Michaels, the iconic singer who now stars in his own VH-1 reality show, proved to be more than just a washed up talent looking to reclaim the spotlight. Brett looked anything but washed-up. He was dancing and jumping around the stage, and his voice was in top form, making all the songs sound great. The man can actually sing, and it shows on many of Poison's ballads, but also on the more up-tempo songs, where Michael's clean vocals give the tunes a much more slick, melodious sound than many of his peers.

And from the moment Poison said "go," getting onstage to the sounds of GNR's "Welcome to the Jungle," the hits kept a'rollin'. Unskinny Bop. Every Rose Has It's Thorn. I Won't Forget You. Look What the Cat Dragged In. Somethin' to Believe In. Ride The Wind. Talk Dirty To Me. I Want Action. Energetic and fun covers of That's What I Like About You, Your Mama Don't Dance, and I Need to Know. An encore of Nothing But a Good Time that brought the house down.

My favorite tune by Poison and for me, the highlight of the show, was definitely Fallen Angel. I love that song, to me it is the quintissential Hollywood 1980's Sunset Strip hair-metal song, and man, Poison did not disappoint with that one - in fact they blew it out of the water, and had the crowd whipped into a frenzy, in maybe their best performance of the night. Awesome stuff.

Of course, the ballads were all well done as well. Every Rose was good as was expected, as was Somethin to Believe in, which Michaels took time to dedicate to the troops. Even when, at one point, a generator blew and the lighting rig shut down, Poison went out there and gave it their all, and seemed to be both having a great time and really gelling as a band.

Overall, a great show, highlighted by a crazy scene that took I Love the 80's to a whole other level, and yet, at the same time, it was no mere nostalgia trip, as Poison seemed as energetic and fun as ever.


- Just want to give a quick review to this week's edish of ABC's MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. Last week, I raved about the episode and how it was one of the best things I'd seen on TV in a while. This week, I was particularly excited for Episode 2, because it featured two of the most iconic television actors of scifi - William B. Davis and Terry O'Quinn. And I wasn't let down -- both actors did characteristically superb jobs with the material. I've seen Davis in a handful of things since the X-Files ended its run, but this is probably my favorite thing I've seen him in since then. The former Cigarette-Smoking-Man played the President of the United States with a great mix of arrogance, gravitas, and ultimately weakness. I loved Davis' performance here and it was his character arc that in the end provided the episode's best moments. Similarly, O'Quinn was perfectly cast here as a retired military officer who had specialized in debunking apparent reports of UFO activity. O'Quinn has made a career of playing men whose faith is put to the test, and he did another great job here in that same mold.

Basically, the episode concerned a series of seemingly extraterrestrial beings who seem to fall out of the sky across the globe. The beings, all in a mystrious, comatose-like state, are examined and analyzed, but little can be discerned about them, except that those who stare into their eyes fall into an unexplainable state of induced slumber. Soon, the oddness increases exponentially. People who have come into contact with the beings begin to be the conduits for cryptic messages - "We are Watching," etc. The twist comes when it seems that the beings are not exactly extraterrestrial in origin, but divine. Skeptical, Davis as the Prez takes measures to destroy them, while other nations of the world, believing they are witnessing some kind of message from God, are willing to listen and comply with the otherworldly messages.

At first a little slow to pick up steam, I was once again riveted by episode's end. The scale and scope of the story eventually grew to epic proportions, and some of the imagery on display here was very memorable and iconic. Like last week, this was a very political tale, but I again appreciated the skilled storytelling combined with an interesting commentary on the current state of global politics. Like last week, I was amazed to find how relevent and of-the-moment this story was compared to most of what is on TV, especially in the realm of scifi. Sure, it was a bit heavy-handed at times, but again, this episode comes from the old-school - like The Twilight Zone, the writing and acting is very stage-like, melodramatic, written with a literary flair and not necessarily a realistic one. And I love that. I'm sick of "realistic" dialogue in every show. Sometimes I want to just see talking heads yelling at each other in theatrical fashion. Again, Davis and O'Quinn each did great jobs with the material, and this was certainly an interesting twist on the whole government-reacts-with-unnecessary-hostility-towards-benevolent-aliens subgenre of scifi stories. Good stuff - once again, it's a shame that this series can't get better hype or a real primetime timeslot - it's shaping up to be the best television of the summer by far.

My Grade: A-

- Finally, I'd like to express my sadness over the untimely passing of one of the great comic book artists of the modern era, who shockingly passed away this morning at the young age of 44. MIKE WIERINGO was one of the most influential artists of the last 20 years. He helped bring a hybrid anime style to the American mainstream, and countless artists adopted the unique look that 'Ringo brought to comics like The Flash and Fantastic 4. He was one of the first artists whose name I really began to pay attention to as a young reader in the early 90's, and many times I sat down with a Wieringo-drawn issue at my desk and tried to emulate his clean lines and the graceful sense of motion that was embodied in his figures. The amazing thing about his pencils was that they seemed so simple at first glance - they were the kind of drawings that a kid like me at the time saw and thought, "hmm, I could draw like that." But when I actually put pencil to paper, I realized that there was this great intangible quality to Wieringo's lines - each figure was kinetic, active, alive. You saw this in his work on Superman and Fantastic 4, in his remarkable creation Tellos, perhaps the pinnacle of his artwork, and in his years as penciller on The Flash, on which his run with Mark Waid may be THE definitive run on the character, ever. It is sad that this great artist is now gone, especially when he was so young and likely had many more great works left in him.

- Alright, that's all I've got for today. Viva la 80's and keep on rockin'.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

All Hail THE TEN

THE TEN Review:

Here's why it's so hard to trust critics when it comes to comedy - comedy is largely subjective, except that in a way, it's not. Determining what's funny is a lot like determining what's pornography - there may not be any strict definititions, but you know it when you see it. And that's the thing with a movie like The Ten that makes it so baffling to many critics - like The State and Wet Hot American Summer before it, The Ten is not trying to make a statement, not trying to satirize anything in particular ... it's simply trying to be funny. And it is. This movie doesn't tell a great story, it's not heartwarming, and it doesn't have three dimensional characters. And that's not what' it's about. At all. The Ten has one goal - to make you laugh. And laugh I did - I can say without hesitation that The Ten made me laugh more consistently than any movie I've seen in a theater, probably since Borat. The humor is not for everyone, and many people just don't or won't get it. And that's too bad, because what David Wain and Ken Marino and the rest of the crew from The State do here is its own special kind of twisted genius. It's theater of the absurd. Weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Randomness just because it's funny. If that doesn't appeal to you, then this isn't your movie. But if you like your comedy broad and abstract, if you hold Mike Myers' SNL stuff and Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade and Mr. Show and Stella and The State and Adult Swim in high regard - then The Ten is another little slice of comedy nirvana in the vein of the brilliant Wet Hot American Summer. So please, disregard any review that even mentions the possibility of this movie having some kind of religious message. It doesn't. Disregard any review that says this movie is satirizing anything in particular. It isn't. Trust me on this - I'm an OG fan of The State and I rank Wet Hot as one of the funniest movies ever made. If you are on that same wavelength, then by all means, run out and see The Ten, because while not as good as Wet Hot, it's still flat-out hilarious.

As a kid, I went to a small Jewish day school. By the time I was in middle school, our class size was only about 14 people big, with only 4 girls and the rest guys. So what happened was, when something caught on - a movie, a TV show, a videogame, etc, all of us usually got pretty into it. Around the time of sixth grade or so, THE show to watch was MTV's The State. It was one of those great, experimental shows from MTV's heyday in the mid-90's, alongside classics like The Maxx and Aeon Flux. The State at the time, along with The Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy, was one of the shows that completely shaped my ideas about comedy and what was funny. I couldn't get enough of the absurdist humor, and I had practically committed the dialogue of sketches like "Porcupine Racetrack" to memory. A bunch of friends and I even did a class project, for Bible class no less, called "The Garden." It was a video we made about the Adam and Eve story that had recurring characters from The State, like Louie and Doug, as stand-ins for Adam, Eve, the Serpent, etc. Man, do I wish I had a copy of that one (I wish I had a copy of all of the videos we made for class projects back in the day - making videos was all the rage back then, to the point where our teacher banned them as an option for our "CP's", or Creative Projects). I even had a logo of The State prominently featured on my eighth-grade yearbook page alongside Playstation and The X-Files (yes, I was really cool in eighth grade, as you can see). Suffice to say, I loved The State and was gravely disappointed when it suddenly went off the air. Back then, before Google or Wikipedia, I remember all these rumors about the show going around. There was that one-shot CBS special that barely anyone saw. There was the "Skits and Stickers" VHS collection that is now an out-of-print collector's item. When Thomas Lennon and a few others went on to make Viva Variety, the rumor was that there was a lot of infighting among The State's members and that the group had disbanded. All I know is, I remember eagerly tuning in to Viva, hoping to relive some of that old State magic, and being bitterly disappointed at how decidely unfunny it was, and that was the bginning of a long draught of all things State.

Slowly but surely, over the next few years, I saw members of The State pop up in various things, but it was usually something depressingly lame, like Lennon appearing in all those Jello ads or whatever for a while. Finally, the other shoe dropped. When I was in college, I eagerly read up about a new movie being released called Wet Hot American Summer - written by Michael Showalter, directed by David Wain, and featuring many members of The State. I remember dragging some friends to go see it at the theater in the Copley Mall in Boston, back when it played more independent movies. I don't know if I've ever laughed so hard in a theater - this was it, this was basically like THE comedy movie I had always wanted to see. As soon as I saw the DVD appear at Newbury Comics, I snatched it up - one of the first DVD's I bought, and easily one of my most watched. It became a bit of a litmus test - have you seen Wet Hot American Summer? No? Then let's watch it now! That and The Big Lebowski - those are my two "have you seen this?" movies - both endlessly hilarious and rewatchable.

Since then, there's been the success of Reno 911 - a show I find intermittently funny but I'm not a hardcore fan of per se. There was Stella, which I loved during it's all-too-brief run on Comedy Central. And a few great roles for people like Ken Marino, who had a nice turn as Vinnie Van Lowe on the late great Veronica Mars. But now, with The Ten, we have a second real State movie. At long last!

For the uninitiated - The Ten is a collection of ten short pieces, essentially elongated sketches, each themed after on of the Ten Commandments, and linked together by a series of segments featuring Paul Rudd as MC. It's almost like a State greatest hits album, in a way, but like some weird double-album where the second half is new material, or something ... Hmm, am I comparing this movie to Michael Jackson's HIStory album? Yikes.

Showalter, Wain, and Michael Ian Black all appear only in small cameos, but their distinct Stella brand of humor is still all over this one. Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney add their unique styles to the mix as well - Kenney especially is a scene stealer as the mother of two twins trying to figure out their true parentage. Ken Marino, who wrote the movie, is great as always. And the rest of The State cast each turns up and everyone at least gets ina good line or two. One standout though has to be Joe Lo Truglio, who I don't think I've seen in anything since his hilarious turn in Wet Hot. Seen here, as a hellbent on Keeping Up With the Joneses neighbor to a hilarious Liev Schreiber, he is funny as hell.

And Liev Schreiber is one of many great actors who contribute here with unexpectedly hilarious results. Winona Ryder is particularly awesome, totally game for some of the craziest $#@# you're likely to ever see in a comedy. You will love Winona if you don't already after seeing her in The Ten. Adam Brody of The OC has some great lines in this, and Gretchen Moll is also very good. Phoenix herself, Famke Janson, does a nice job of sparring with Paul Rudd as his ex-wife. And Jessica Alba even pops up for a bit of self-parody as Rudd's ditzy girlfriend. Also great is Rob Cordry, hilarious as Ken Marino's doting friend in prison. Jason Sudeikis from SNL and 30 Rock has some great moments as well.

All of these actors do great work, and it's cool to see so many familiar faces and big-names be so game to subject themselves to The State's oddball sensibilities. I mean, Winona Ryder plays a woman who leaves her boyfriend for another guy after a freak accident, then leaves THAT guy for a ... wooden puppet! And she gets it on with the puppet! Repeatedly!

But it's also great to see some of the actors who have become kind of unofficial State members return for The Ten. Janeane Garafolo is in there with one of the movie's funniest scenes to her credit. It's funny, I sometimes can't stand her when she's doing other types of movies or TV, but whenever she's with The State crew, Garafolo is comedic gold. A.D. Miles also pops up to great comedic effect as a nerdy librarian who later reveals a predilication for skipping church to hang out naked around his house on Sunday mornings. And Paul Rudd - well, he is awesome as always - delivering his lines with a pitch-perfect sense of comic timing, and possessing of the uncanny ability to play the Everyman, even in the midst of all kinds of surrealist craziness.

Now, as you can probably tell, the gags and jokes and attempts at oddball humor fly a mile a minute in The Ten. Luckily, most work. But, there are definitely lulls that kind of drag, fall flat, or just leave you scratching your head. Case in point: towards the end of the film, an animated segment involving a confabulation-prone Rhino lost me until its halfway point, when the segment finally started to come together. Some segments drag out too long, feeling like two or three minute sketches that got artifically stretched beyond their ideal length. And I have to admit, I really missed seeing Michael Showalter, David Wain, Michael Ian Black, Thomas Lennon, etc. throughout most of the movie, and it was too bad that in their first movie together in so long, so many of The State's members were relegated to bit parts. I mean, Showalter barely even got off a line of dialogue, which is really a shame since he's rarely been seen in movies or TV since the end of Stella.

But man, when this movie is working, it had me laughing nonstop. There's the Winona-Puppet romance. Liev Schreiber competing with his neighbor to see who can own the most Catscan machines. The raunchy Mexican narrator in Gretchen Mol's segment. Ken Marino's "it was only a goof" defense, and his subsequent quasi-prison-romance with Rob Cordry. Adam Brody as a guy stuck up to his ears in the ground in the middle of a field, who becomes a big celebrity because of and in spite of his freak condition. This one teenager who is pitching his idea for a reality show in the midst of a nuclear meltdown ... There is some classic stuff here, and I think this is a movie that's going to be rewatched and quoted endlessly by comedy afficianados for years to come. Comedy for people who are into comedy. Absurdist, surrealist, subversive, and just plain weird - The Ten isn't a total home run, but it's definitely something to be praised - a return to the crazy sensibilities of The State and one of the funniest movies of the year.

My Grade: A -

Alright, I'm out.

TOMMOROW: POISON, live and in concert!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

BOURNE AGAIN - Bourne Ultimatum and RESCUE DAWN - Reviewed! Plus: Masters of Science Fiction and -- REGGIE MILLER on the Celtics?!?!

Okay, so I was pretty amused that my last entry received a comment from WERNER HERZOG himself ... I mean, I knew my blog had some high-profile readers, but this, this takes things to a whole other level. Mr. Herzog, it was an honor to have your wit and lack of knowledge about professional basketball grace these pages.

- Speaking of which, I've got to give a quick follow-up to yesterday's posting about the CELTICS. Today saw yet another potential blockbuster story coming out of Beantown, and for me personally this could be the kind of thing that dreams are made of. Could it be ...? Could one of my all-time favorite players be coming out of retirement to don the green and white? Could REGGIE MILLER indeed be coming to the Celtics?!?! If this is true, if this happens, I will seriously be completely psyched for the NBA this year. I am already incredibly on board with the Celts this year, but if Reggie Miller were to join the squad, for the first time in a long while I would truly have a player and a team to root for. I've already written extensively about Miller on this blog in year's past, but suffice to say, if Miller Time comes to Boston, then business has REALLY picked up in the NBA.


- I've got some movie reviews for ya', but first I wanted to touch on a little TV Talk. Yes, it's been a long while since I last talked tube, but a show has come along that needs to be talked about. I am referring to ABC's new anthology: MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. Now, this is one that I am really annoyed about how it's been programmed, scheduled, and marketed. It was banished to the TV purgatory that is Saturday nights, and given little hype. And yet, this show boasts stellar casting, adaptations of many classic authors' works, and judging by the first ep, it's of the utmost quality. Why not give this one a push, or at LEAST a decent weeknight time-slot for its limited run, especially considering it's airing in the doldrums of summer? It just makes no sense to me. Especially after seeing the premiere episode. I mean, wow - this was one of the best things I've seen on television in a long time. The episode featured a mystery that slowly unraveled as the hour progressed, at first leaving you slightly confused but slowly and surely flooring you with each new twist. Basically, we opened with Judy Davis as a government psychologist quizzing a seemingly ordinary man, in hopes of jogging his addled mind, which due to a medical condition was incapable of making new memories (a la Memento). For fourteen years, the subject has been in a state of arrested development, believing himself still in the thralls of his old life as a businessman and family man. Eventually, the sinister truth is revealed - this character, played to perfection by Sam Waterson, is no ordinary man, but the acting President of the United States, whose hubris and poor judgement led to nuclear armageddon that resulted in all but a small pocket of the world's population being wiped off the map. Judy Davis, his former counsel, is obsessed with undoing the President's trauma-induced memory loss so that he can be held accountable for what he's done. The build up here is slow and deliberate, the pacing reminiscient of an old Twilight Zone episode, in that it builds and builds to each twist. Like those classics of old, this ep had melodramatic dialogue, stage-like performances, and a keen commentary on our own political reality under the guise of far-fetched science fiction. Simply put, this brought to mind The Twilight Zone and other classic scifi anthologies in all the right ways. Sure, it's style and pacing may have been a bit jarring for those weened on today's quick-cutting attempts at "edgy" TV. But to me, this WAS edgy - a cunningly smart riff on our own present-day politics featuring superlative acting from Sam Waterson and Judy Davis. When Sam finally does break down in the face of his accumulated memories returning, the moment is classic. I was surprised to read some mixed reviews for this. To me it was great, great TV and I can't wait to see future installments with such favorite actors as Terry O'Quinn and William B Davis, not to mention an episode with a Harlan Ellison-scripted screenplay. As someone who loves The Twilight Zone, and as someone who loves anthology television in general, from Ray Bradbury Theater to Night Gallery to Are You Afraid of the Dark, it was awesome to see such quality from Masters of Science Fiction - this is the kind of stuff that made me a scifi geek in the first place. ABC - give this a decent time slot, and more episodes!

My Grade: A

Now, on to some movie stuff:


Okay, Werner. This one is for you.

This is a film that I had been anticipating due to Christian Bale's involvement, but a movie from which I really didn't know quite what to expect. And after seeing it, it's a movie that is pretty difficult to put in a box. On one hand, it's a traditional war / POW / escape movie. But on the other hand, it's a harrowing tale of survival that carries strong themes of man vs. nature, the willpower of the individual, and the merits of being passive vs proactive when faced with overwhelmingly bleak circumstances. Most of all, Rescue Dawn is an incredible movie, one of the best I've yet seen in 2007. It feature all of the intrigue, action, and excitement of a traditional war or adventure movie, but it takes things to another level through the strength of its performances and the depth of its storytelling.

The basic plot here is an intriguing one based on the true story of the comically-named Dieter Dangler, a German born American pilot who has big dreams of flying planes and adventure. However, on his very first mission with the airforce, Dieter's plane is shot down over the jungles of Vietnam. Eventually, our hero is captured and placed with a group of American POW's who have been captive for two years. Dieter is at once a source of new hope and a source of tension - he wants to forge a plan of escape from the camp but he butts heads with Gene, an acid-washed POW who is convinced that the war will soon be aborted and the best plan of action is inaction. Eventually, Dieter does make a run for it, and the second part of the movie is the story of Dieter's odyssey through the jungle, forced to survive on instinct and luck as he searches for a way to escape.

Werner Herzog does a spectacular job with this one. Herzog is a director whose works I really need to become more familiar with, because from what i know of his films he is really someone who should be put up there with the greats of modern filmmaking. Rarely has a director been able to convey the great outdoors with so much mystery, foreboding, and sense of awe. In trying to figure out what separates Rescue Dawn from other war movies, the answer became clear - few movies are so IMMERSIVE as this one. Like Paul Greengraass, whose latest Bourne movie I'll talk about soon, Herzog puts you IN this movie and takes you on a ride. By the end, you feel like you've been with Bale and Steve Zahn as they journey through the Laotian jungles in search of a way home. You've been right there as they nearly tumble over a towering waterfall, when they are drenched by torrential rains, when they hide in makeshift camoflauge in the hopes of eluding the VietCong. This is one INTENSE movie, and I give a huge amount of credit to Herzog for putting us right there in the midst of the action, switching seemlessly from lush, sweeping shots of the panoramic landcapes to claustrophobic POV shots of the dense jungle brush. This is truly accomplished, Oscar-worthy direction.

Now, as far as acting goes, this is yet another unbelievable turn from Christian Bale. Bale is an actor who just amazes me - in seemingly every movie he's in his characters go through sweeping changes from the film's start to it's finish. He always brings depth and charisma to his roles, and this one is no exception. But Bale takes things to a whole other level. When we first meet Dieter, he is healthy, cocky, almost naive in his laughing off of danger and child-like shrugging-off of the seriousness of his mission. By movie's end, Bale has undergone a startling physical transformation - he is skinny, starving, pale, dirty, sickly. His eyes dart back and forth and his speech is slurred. He is a man who has stared death in the face, who has had to revert to his basest survival instincts. Few other actors could pull this off. Few others could even come close. There's still a lot of time left in the year, but if Bale isn't nominated for an Oscar for this role, something is seriously wrong. This is about as great of a performance as you're likely to see.

The supporting cast also does a really excellent job here. Of particular note are Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies as two of Bale's fellow POW's. Steve Zahn has mostly been known as a comic actor, reliable and funny, but not as a real heavy hitter. Not anymore. This has got to be Zahn's best performance to date, far and away. He plays his part with a powderkeg of emotions, he is nervous, embarrased about the loss of dignity that comes with being a POW, but also quietly determined. The bond between he and Bale is great stuff, the kind of friendship that classic war and adventure movies are made of. Meanwhile, Davies is practically on another planet as the Charles Manson-looking Gene, a guy whose faculties have clearly faded after years as a POW, who expounds grand philosophies all the while quietly making enemies with his confrontational personality. Davies in this film is like a time warp into the 1960's. His mannerisms, his gestures, his speech patterns, it's amazing. What a great, memorable, complex performance.

And that's part of what is so great about this film - it's timeless. It is of course very much about Vietnam, but in terms of the filmmaking this is a real, honest-to-god MOVIE. No crazy cuts, no post-modern editing. This could have been made in 1975, 1985, 1995, or today. And yet it looks spectacular and features amazing acting. You've got to love a film that can say that, that in ten year's time someone can still watch it and say "wow, great movie" with no sense of context that they are watching a film of and about 2007. I think the one drawback to this type of storytelling is that there just isn't enough background given here. We only get glimpses of Dieter's history, which is fine, except that it's sometimes hard to get a read on the man whose transformation we are watching. There are allusions to a girlfriend waiting for him at home, etc, but to some extent we are left to guess in terms of how and why Dieter is at first so cavalier in the face of trauma, and then just how his ordeal had affected him. Overall though, this is a hell of a movie. Intense, dark, psychological - this is a true journey into the Heart of Darkness, and a must-see film of 2007.

My Grade: A -


Well, last weekend I found myself totally immersed in the world of BOURNE. Up until last week, I had never seen any of the movies, and yet there was a free screening of Ultimatum coming up that compelled me to watch the first two as soon as I could, so I'd be all caught up to see my first big-screen Bourne flick. After two very solid movies, I was primed and ready for Part 3, espeically since it featured a return from Superemecy director Paul Greengrass, who has got to be one of the best directors working today. Greengrass absolutely floored me with his work on United 93, a movie that I think will be regarded as a classic in the years to come. What he excels at is immersiveness. Whether it's a plane crash, a fight scene, or a car chase, Greengrass shoots without borders, giving his films an almost reality-TV like vibe that still maintains a level of real artistry. Because for all of the Bourne movies' modern, edgy trappings, the cool thing about them is that, really, they are distinctly old-school. Bourne is essentially a glossier version of McGyver, a nose-to-the-grindstone hero who uses everyday items as his main arsenal, not high-tech gadgets. The Bourne movies have been hugely influential though, which is a testament to how well they've been recieved. The gritty, back-to-basics approach of Bourne has even rubbed off on the latest Bond installment, which really says something.

The Bourne Ultimatum is yet another really fun movie in the franchise that is certainly entertaining from start to finish. Paul Greengrass once again directs the hell out of it, and even throws in a few very clever editing tricks, weaving the ending of the second film seamlessly into the middle of this one, creating a very interesting, non-traditional timeline in which this movie's first half takes place sometime in the midst of Part 2. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen that particular storytelling tactic done in a film trilogy before (at least one not involving time travel ...). In addition, I think that Ultimatum has the best action of any of the Bourne's to date. The fight scenes are, simply, off the chain, with the best, most visceral bare-knuckled brawls this side of Kill Bill. One moment in particular, in which a hardcover book is used as an instrument of pain, is particularly badass. And of course, there are once again car-chases galore, with some of the best high speed encounters since the storied days of Steve McQueen.

The other great thing about these movies is how consistently great the acting is. Matt Damon has evolved into one of the best young actors around, and even though he doesn't necessarily say much as Jason Bourne, he is able to convey that there's something deeper going on with Jason than with your typical action hero. Damon is solid here as always, and he has a cool intensity that always makes Bourne interesting to watch. However, the real story here is once again the background characters, an area where this franchise really seems to shine. In the past, some true greats like Chris Cooper and Brian Cox have lent their talents to relatively small parts, a real bonus to see such accomplished actors steal scenes that could have been far less interesting in lesser hands. This time out, we get David Strathairn in a key role, as a CIA A.D. who is out to reel in Jason Bourne and keep a lid on the whole Treadstone project that created him. Straithairn, who I've recently become a big fan of thanks to Good Night and Good Luck, is awesome here - really the perfect guy to give the movie some real gravitas and in turn an effective foil for Bourne. In addition, Joan Allen is back as a more liberal government official who tends to sympathize with Bourne. Allen is very good once again, particularly in her sparring matches with Straitharn (sorry, unsure how to spell his name), where the two have some cuttingly classic exchanges. Julia Styles is also pretty good here, but a possible romantic past with Jason is hinted at with such ambiguity that it never really becomes much of a factor. I'm fine with some subtlety, but the point is glossed over so that it barely ever comes into play.

And I guess that's the main thing that keeps the Bourne franchise from really being *great* and not just very good. All the movies are slickly made, full of nice action, and populated with overqualified, top-of-the-line actors (also special mention must be made of the kickass soundtrack / score to all 3 movies - mood-setting, catchy, and definitely one of the best of the modern action franchises). But what is especially evident in Ultimatum is that as much polish as Greengrass and his team of actors give to these films, the source material is ultimately somewhat thin. And that's not a knock on the books - I haven't read them and can't speak to how they are adapted here. But my point is - this movie was essentially all about uncovering the secret origin of Jason Bourne, and the entire plot hinged on the big reveal of who he was and how he came to be a CIA experiment plagued by memory loss and dumbfounded at his own superhuman efficiency as a field-agent. But the plot, when you strip away all the cool action, is basically paint by numbers. There's no big twist regarding Jason's real identity, no real mysteries raised about his past, no info given about his life pre-CIA, or any hints about what made him volunteer for this experimental program in the first place. The lack of substance to the mystery behind Bourne really hit me towards the end of Ultimatum, when Jason confronts the Dr. Frankenstein of the Treadstone Project, in what should have been an epic, monster-meets-his-maker moment. And yet, there was no real spark, mainly because we had been given only bare-bones background information about the relationship between the two. It felt like all of the scripts energy was focused on the crackling dialogue between Allen and Straitharn, with little left to devote to the actual backstory of Bourne, which is purportedly what this movie is all about.

So yeah, I would heartily recommend The Bourne Ultimatum - it's a very solid action / espionage flick with some amazing action sequences and riveting performances from Damon, Allen, and Straitharn, rounding out a franchise that has been consistently high-quality. I would hesitate to call this film an "A" however, simply because, while the characters are memorable, there isn't a plot, or, in turn, a reason for the movie to exist, that lives up to the quality apparent in the direction and cast. Still, head and shoulders above the typical summer action movie, and in terms of sheer style - a potent mix of cutting-edge technique and old-school charm, Bourne can't be beat.

My Grade: B+

- Whew, alright, that's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading and check back soon for more.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sleep-Deprived Ramblings, Including CELTICS thoughts

So. Exhausted.

Work so far this week has been absolutely killer. I hate, hate that feeling of getting home and just having no energy to do anything. Especially since I have so many things I'd like to be doing after work. I just feel like some people, in order to succeed in their business of choice, get to this state where they have no outside interests, no goals outside the workplace, etc - and I can't see myself ever being that way. I am still pursuing the dream of becoming a writer, and trying to get as much writing done as I can. I have stacks of books to read, piles of DVD's to watch, year-old videogames I've barely scratched the surface of, and dozens of movies I'd like to catch in theaters. I have friends I'd like to see more. I have so many activities I'd like to take part in that I am ashamed to say I haven't participated in at all due to lack of time and energy. One of my favorite things to do is to play basketball, and I hate the fact that I haven't played in months save for one time when I was home in CT in July. Today I sat at work staring at the computer screen as it got to be 7, then 7:30, while two groups of friends called me about meeting for dinner after work. Even if I had managed to get out in time to meet them, today was so draining and mind-numbing that I could barely conceive of doing anything save getting home and watching an episode or two of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Due to a number of factors, today was just one of those really crappy days that makes you question what the hell you're doing with yourself. Sorry to be depressing but today was a real quarter-life crisis day.

At least there is some awesomeness headed my way this weekend, as L-Squared and I are set to see hair-metal superstars POISON live and in concert. Should be a rocking time, and I can't wait to hear such classics as "Every Rose Has It's Thorn," "Unskinny Bop," and "Talk Dirty To Me" live and in person. Expect a full report on that one next week.

Also many movies I'm very excited about. I still need to see THE TEN, and despite some mixed reviews I can't wait to see the latest comedy from the minds behind one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The State. I'm also extremely excited about STARDUST, which opens this weekend. I love fantasy movies in the vein of The Princess Bride (not that there are many in existence), and am a fan of Neil Gamain, whose graphic novel was the inspiration for the movie. I am not really a hardcore Gaiman fanboy or anything, but I've read several of his Sandman volumes and I think it's really cool to finally see one of his works adapted for the screen. I love the cast of Stardust (Michelle Pfeifer, Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro, Ricky Gervais!) and I can't wait to see it - hopefully it does well and paves the way for more movies of this type. Now, I hate to say this, but I am looking forward to RUSH HOUR 3. Yes, I know this puts me on many people's blacklists, but what can I say - I enjoyed the first two and am a sucker for action-comedies, so sue me. But yeah, an interview that I read today on The Onion AV Club with Brett Ratner and Chris Tucker was simply unbelievable. Check it out and prepare to laugh as a defense mechanism to counter the sheer lunacy of what you're reading. Finally, can't wait for SUPERBAD in two weeks. Will probably end up checking that one out with my brother sometime when I make a quick stop on the East Coast next weekend. Michael Cera to me is now one of my favorite people in comedy.

- Gotta make a quick mention of THE BOSTON CELTICS. Holy lord - honestly, I haven't cared about the Celtics in years. I was too young to really watch most of the Larry Bird years, though I kind of got into them a bit during the Dee Brown era. Then, there were a few years where the Celts were reall hot with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker as an up and coming one-two punch. Since that time, the Celts have just completely stagnated. Paul Pierce has seemed unmotivated and justifiably so - the team around him got progressively worse over the last few years, and he's had no decent big men, few servicable point guards, and few outside shooters to work with.

But now - hot dayum. First, there was the news that CT's own RAY ALLEN was coming to Boston. Now, a few years ago this would have been blockbuster news, but for now it was only moderately exciting to all but the diehard Ray Allen fans. I mean, I am a big fan of the guy - he's one of my favorite players of the last decade or so - but in 2007, was Ray Allen enough to turn around the Celts? No, he wasn't. But ... if you were to combine Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and ... KEVIN GARNETT?!?! Well, now we're talking. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, business has just picked up in Boston. For the first time in a while, I am psyched about the Celtics, and I have a feeling that the stadiums will be a BIT more packed than back when I was at BU, when we could buy cheap tickets and move down to the front of an only half-full stadium. The Celtics are now suddenly the team to beat in the East, and I can't wait to see what they can do with their new Big 3. BOSTON, baby. Give Danny Ainge and the rest of the front office a TOMMY POINT.

- Well, I had intended to include a pair of movie reviews with this entry, but it's getting late and I have yet another long day ahead of me at work tommorow. Hopefully, I can get around to posting some reviews soon, as I saw two great movies this weekend in The Bourne Ultimatum and most especially in RESCUE DAWN. What a kickass film - another amazing performance from Christian Bale and epic direction from Werner Herzog. Check back tommorow for further thoughts. Until then, time to sleep.