Friday, September 28, 2007

A 25 Year Old's Opinion On: SMALLVILLE, THE OFFICE, EARL, LIFE - Reviewed!

Yeah, yeah, I'm 25 now. Who cares? On to TV Reviews ...


The great thing about Smallville is that it's always been pretty reliable in a certain respect, in that, even when the show is slumping, it typically manages to pull a pretty great episode out of nowhere for its big season premieres and finales. Well, with this season premiere, that streak of consistently awesome season premieres may be over, and that's really a shame. Smallville is one of those shows that you reall want to root for too, because for all its faults, its heart is usually in the right place. There are certain little moments - bits of characterization, the dichotomy of Superman and Clark Kent, the evolution of Lex Luthor as played with flashes of brilliance by Michael Rosenbaum - that make it impossible for me to just dismiss the show outright. I want to like it, I like most of the cast - I mean, I'll take Erica Durance as Lois Lane over Kate Bosworth any day - and I think the show deserves a lot of credit for proving that superheroes could be viable on TV - Heroes et al owe this show a huge debt of gratitude.

But why, oh why, must this show be so cheesy and lame of late? While the first two or three seasons of the show expertly balanced a sense of fun and adventure with some legitimately smart and interesting human drama, the last few years of Smallville have often felt like a great big joke. I think Lana becoming possessed by the spirit of a witch may have been the true jump-the-shark moment, but really, it's just been that the whole series has gone from striking a great balance between epic and cheesy to becoming one big bucket of cheese.

This season premiere had a lot of action and drama compared to a typical Smallville ep, but it just felt so uneven, and was definitely a victim to the many tired cliches that have dragged down this show over the years. How many times is an alternate version of Clark going to act oddly around his friends, without them realizing that this isn't actually their old pal (witness last night: Bizarro Clark cartoonishly putting the moves on Lois, her simply brushing it off as his reaction to hearing about Lana's death --- whaaaaaaaat ...?). And it was a necessary evil of the show's premise at first, but ENOUGH ALREADY with people (last night, it was Lex, again) on this show being knocked out cold JUST IN TIME for clark to come on to the scene and use his powers. Geez, I don't think Silver Age comic books were this consistently goofy. And how about the fight scenes? I mean, I recognize this is a fantasy show, but can it least apply a LITTLE logic? I mean, Clark is getting beaten silly by Bizarro, who is pumped up on kryptonite power. They have a decent fight going, and then ... it's all over when ... Clark simply PUNCHES BIZARRO INTO THE SUN. Ummmm, what? Lame, lame, lame.

Now, there was some cool stuff here, don't get me wrong. Erica Durance was a lot of fun as usual as Lois, and she and Tom Welling have a pretty fun chemistry even when they are put into jsut about the stupidest situations ever. I actually like the angle of Lana faking her death and going on the run, so that as cool. Rosenbaum was really good as always, though I hope they keep Lex more towards the dark side and don't revert him back to being more on the side of good. It's high time for Smallville to embrace EVIL BASTARD LEX in all his villainous glory. Alex Mack as Chloe has long been, in many ways, the heart and soul of the show, and she was in good form in the premiere, with her shock at being dead and then suddenly resurrected handled pretty well. Where was Jimmy though? I'm also intrigued with Lionel's mysterious capture - who, I wonder, has hauled off the senior Luthor? Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El, had a decent enough introduction, and it seems like they may try to borrow from the comics' Lex-Supergirl romance from the comics, which could make for some cool storylines down the road. Hopefully, the actress playing Kara is at least decent, hard to tell right now, though she was a little awkward-seeming in this ep.

But this was a very messy episode. For all it's well-handled pieces, there was so much going on that seemed totally random and incoherant. I mean, does Clark now live on the farm by himself? Is he in college? I couldn't even tell you. Has it even been explained yet who or what J'onn J'onnz is? Sure, we comic fans know him as the Martian Manhunter, but you wouldn't know that from watching Smallville. Why does Clark trust him at this point, and when will he do something cool rather than just stand around and dispense cryptic advice? Meanwhile, what could have been an iconic villain showdown was mostly a wasted opportunity - why make Bizarro simply an evil version of Clark? Haven't we seen that 10 million times already on this show? It would have been awesome to see Clark go up against a truly insane, monstrous, and yes - backwards speaking - Bizarro a la in the comics.

This show seems to be coasting a bit, and it's not helping that the writing has been pretty clunky. The Supergirl saga could be a nice running storyarc, but i hope that at the same time, the show can also focus on the further development of Clark and Lex, which is really its core, and what makes the show really click. As it is, this was a decent, pretty enjoyable premiere, but one that was plagued by a number of problems that have hurt this show in recent years.

My Grade: B -


Plain and simple: this show suffers when it's an hour long. The plotlines get stretched out, and the jokes get stretched thin. Last night's Season 4 premiere was a perfect example of this, as things quickly grew a bit tired and the show seemed to really drag a bit. By the midway point, I wasn't sure what was going on, why everyone was participating in a charity run to raise awareness for rabies, and sadly, I kind of lost interest in the whole thing.

This isn't to say that the episode didn't have a number of classic Office moments. The highlight to me was Creed's hilariously random admission that he belongs to a number of cults. Hilarious! Dwight was cracking me up the whole time as well. His facial expressions were simply priceless, especially when he had to deal with Angela going on and on about her cat. The fact that he murdered said cat is absolutely hilarious - I wish they had shown more of Dwight contemplating doing the deed, as that would surely make for some hilarious inner-conflict. The whole Jim and Pam thing was handled really well, I thought. I like the more subtle look at their relationship as opposed to the melodrama that began to creep in last season. To me, The Office does that kind of story best when it happens on the periphery of the workplace hijinks. When the whole "will they or won't they?" thing becomes the show's focus, it loses a lot of what makes it funny and unique.

However, I feel like Michael Scott just kind of lost me in this one. Some of Steve Carell's schtick just seemed really off the mark, and one of his gags, where he went on, and on, and on, thinking of animal combinations that could be worshipped as gods, was more painful to hear than funny. He also seemed more irrational and over the top than usual. Sure, we've seen Michael do a lot of odd things in the name of his own warped sense of logic, but the whole Fun Run was just so nonsensical, I never really "got" what Michael was trying to accomplish with it, even thinking in terms of his skewed worldview.

So, there was some great stuff here, but the ep just seemed a little unfocused and the writing and humor wasn't as sharp or as consistent as I've gotten used to. Looking forward to seeing more of this season though - this is still one of if not THE best comedy on TV.

My Grade: B


- The season premiere of EARL suffered from a similar problem to that of The Office - overly long at one whole hour and therefore feeling too decompressed and drawn out. I found myself tuning out at Earl's attempts to navigate prison-life, and getting back into things when the ep focused on Randy's attempts to adjust to life without Earl. Ethan Suplee is hilarious as always, and makes even a dumb, throwaway line of dialogue stand out and pop. Crabman is another favorite of mine, and he got off some classic lines in this one. Enjoyable, but not tightly written enough to maintain interest over the entire hour.

My Grade: B

LIFE Pilot Review:

I really like a lot about this show. For one thing, Damien Lewis is great as the lead - what could have been a one-note character is given a lot of depth and charisma by Lewis, playing a wrongly-accused cop who gets released from a ten-year prison sentance after new evidence exonerates him. Newly-free and back on the force, Lewis' character now has a quirky, Zen-like perspective, and is prone to firing off random philisophical comments like he was Phil Jackson with a badge.

My frustration here has to do with the limits of network TV. I mean, why exactly is this show a procedural? The weakest part of the pilot, by far, is the obligatory "case of the week" that Lewis and his partner tackle. I know that for me, when you have a show like this one with strong characters and an interesting ongoing mystery, I'd be so much more interested if it just ditched the procedural stuff and focused on multi-part story arcs that could really go in-depth and expand the scope of the storytelling. As is, Life is a very well done procedural with a twist, the twist being that there's a quirky main character and also an ongoing, Prison Break style conspiracy subplot. I just would like to see the show ditch its more formulaic trappings and present stories that really push the limit, because they have a great lead actor and a lot going on that is rife with story potential. But LIFE is a quality show that deserves to be a success - personally, I'm less inclined to watch a police procedural than a lot of other types of shows, but there is enough that's compelling here to get my endorsement.

My Grade: B+

- Alright: I'll be back later with more.

Happy Birthday to Me!

- This weekend: party in downtown Pasadena!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


And as of right now, I am Twenty-Five Years Old ...


I am sitting here, waiting for the little clock on my computer to strike midnight.

It's been an interesting ride so far, let's see where it goes from here ...

From My brother, Matt - this about sums it up:



Better. Stronger. Faster. BIONIC WOMAN - Pilot Review

Soooo ... who else is excited for the return of one of the best live-action comedies on TV tonight in THE OFFICE? If you like to laugh, and you're not watching, you're an idiot.

Haha, okay, that may be a bit harsh. But, look, I was the biggest doubter of them all at first, as the original British version of The Office still stands as one of the all time greatest comedies ever to air, and the first season of the American Office was little more than a pale shadow of the original. But in Seasons 2 and 3, things took a turn for the hilarious, and Season 4 is set to truly be must-see TV if it can continue the momentum of last season. Plus, once paired with the very funny 30 ROCK, Thursday nights are as funny as they've ever been.


- Okay, let me talk about BIONIC WOMAN. For some reason, there is a ton of hate out there for this show, and I cannot fathom why. I mean, not that the vocal detractors are necessarilly in the majority, seeing as how the show debuted last night as the #1 new show of the fall thus far. Now, sure, the pilot has its flaws and rough edges ... but to me this is far and away one of the most exciting new shows of the season, one whose potential to be a kickass action-adventure show far outweighs its weaknesses.

I really enjoyed the pilot episode overall. To me, the biggest weakness of the original version that I saw was the shoehorned-in subplot involving Jamie's (aka the Bionic Woman's) kid sister, who originally was deaf and basically felt like an unnecessary dose of melodrama, who didn't seem to fit into the sci-fi comic book world of the show and in all honesty kind of dragged things down. Luckily, the new version of the pilot recasts the sister and reduces her role, which in my estimation is a good thing. Perhaps later her story can be brought to the forefront, but for now there's way too much going on here to dwell on Jamie's family issues.

And there IS a LOT going on here. Which to me is a good thing. With shows like Lost and Heroes and 24, TV has been cluttered of late with serialized shows that feature long, drawn-out storylines. And usually, there's nothing wrong with that. But there's also got to be a place for shows like Prison Break and now Bionic Woman, that feature a more chaotic, information-packed style of presentation. I love how the Bionic pilot lays so many cards out on the table. In particular, the real gem here is Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Corvus, aka the "original" Bionic Woman.

Katee Sackhoff plain and simply rules it on this show. She has the perfect look to play a psycho-bitch cyborg - she reminds me a bit of Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner - stone-cold crazy in the best possible way for a bigtime action villain. Say what you want about the show perhaps jumping the gun by quickly featuring a dramatic, rooftop fight between Sarah Corvis and Jamie Summers, but I thought this was THE geek-out moment of the Fall TV season thus far. Two bionic women, going toe to toe on a rooftop, in a fast-paced fight scene filled with comic book quips plenty of smack-talk? What's not to like?

As for Michelle Ryan as Jamie, well, I think it's about time that there was a female action lead who was kind of an every-woman. Jamie has a kind of average, down-to-earth, girl-next door feel that makes it all the more cool that she is the bionic woman, and not a Jessica Biel type who seems Amazonian from the get-go. The show offers up its share of larger than life super-women in the form of Sarah Corvis. But I think it's cool that Jamie is kind of a blank slate to start things out. I mean, most girls I know are, why shouldn't this one be?

The main problem here, aside from some clunky dialogue here and there, was the presence of a few plot holes that were probably the result of things being a bit rushed, and also some editing that didn't make things run quite as smoothly as they should. The act breaks seemed very abrupt at times, and also, the quick pacing, while great in terms of getting the plot moving, sometime made for some pretty rushed-seeming character moments - ie a kind of out-of-nowhere sex scene between Jamie and her scientist boyfriend, and Jamie rather quickly coming-to-terms with her new abilities and situation. But this looks to be a plot-driven show, and don't we already have Heroes if we want to watch 22 straight episodes of a character coming to terms with who they really are?

But, there is a lot of potential here, and I like the fact that we have a dark, stylish, over-the-top scifi show on network air that doesn't hide what it is and has a lot of fun with its premise. I don't think that this is a case where the show being "dark" means that it's not fun, by the way. Any show that has Katee Sackhoff deadpanning lines about being the first bionic woman is having some good fun, in my eyes. I said the same about Chuck, that it fully embraces its geekiness, and Bionic does the same. That will make it polarizing to many, but I was very pleasently surprised. this could have been a generic, homogenized show - part of the new trend of high-concept sci-fi that is about everything BUT actually exploring its own premise (see: Jericho). Instead, we got a pretty badass show, and I'm curious and excited to see where it goes from here.

My Grade: A -

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Not a Secret, nor an Agent! Thoughts on CHUCK, JOURNEYMAN, REAPER, THE SIMPSONS, and MORE!

Man, these last few weeks have been pure craziness. I've got to stop over-booking myself so I can just chill a bit and relax. But, last night I attended a very cool program through the LA Jewish Federation's Entertainment Division. It was a small dinner that featured Larry Jacobson, longtime Tonight Show writer, as the guest of honor. Since the event was limited to a dozen or so guests, there was plenty of time for questions from the peanut gallery and for one-on-one questions following his talk. Having worked at the Tonight Show as an NBC Page and having seen Jay Leno perform so many times, it was really insightful to hear the thought-process of one of his top writers. Definitely a cool event, and everyone in attendance was really friendly as well, so the whole thing was pretty refreshing.

Anyways, a ton of TV stuff to talk about ...


So, most of the TV pilots that are running this week and next I saw way back when last spring, but I'll take some time here and review some of the ones that I'm planning to revisit and catch a few more episodes of over the next few weeks. Tonight is huge here at NBC, as BIONIC WOMAN debuts. It should be really interesting to see how it does in the ratings. I'll likely go more in-depth on that one tommorow, as I'm hoping to rewatch it tonight since there've been some changes to the pilot since I last saw it. Also, I hope everyone caught two really cool shows on Monday in CHUCK and Journeyman. I know I have the personal conflict of Chuck and Prison Break airing at the same time on Mondays, but I think everyone should check out Chuck whether you watch it on-air, download it on iTunes (yes it's on iTunes), Amazon Unbox, or just record it.

Before I talk about some new shows though - let me first talk about ...

THE SIMPSONS - Season Premiere Review:

- I mentioned in my Fall Preview that I was really anticipating this season of my all-time favorite comedy, if only to see whether a show that has been slumping for years now could rebound off the momentum from the generally well-received feature film. Unfortunately, this season premiere was pretty much a total dud - reminiscient of some of the weakest episodes from the past few years. The jokes largely fell flat, the premise (Homer making changes in his life to live a lifestyle of the rich and famous) was unevenly presented and brought to mind similar episodes that did the concept a lot better (ie the classic Max Powers ep), and worst of all, a potentially amazing guest voice-actor was totally wasted. Yep, Stephen Colbert appeared and played a completely forgettable character, a life-coach for Homer, in a role that gave one of America's funniest comedians precious little to work with. There were a few scattered moments where a joke worked, mostly in the show's opening featuring Mr. Burns, who was conspicuous by his lack of screentime in the movie. Mr. Burns and Homer had one or two great exchanges (Homer's reaction to Burns' dinner invitation was classic), but, after a pretty amusing opening, it was all downhill from that point forward. Look, there's no better TV comfort food then settling in to watch a new episode of The Simpsons on a Sunday night, and it's pretty remarkable that the show's now entering its 19th year. But please, Simpsons writers, inject some juice into this show - it's would be a true shame for the relative hilarity of the movie to be a mere blip in what has been a long, painful second act for what was once, undisputedly, the best comedy ever.

My Grade: C

- I still have to sit down and watch Sunday's KING OF THE HILL and FAMILY GUY. Stay tuned ...


- Reaper is undoubtedly a cool show. Kevin Smith directed the pilot, and the show brings that Kevin Smith slacker aesthetic, which was probably way ahead of its time back when Clerks first came out, to the TV screen where it's been absent for a long while. I mean, in general, it's just cool to see a show that is so different from your typical genre stuff, with a nice mix of action, adventure, and goofy comedy in the vein of a Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure style movie. Odd then, that Reaper and CHUCK both debuted a day apart, as each feature a pretty similar premise about a geeky slacker who is thust into an extraordinary circumstance that throws them into a world of danger and intrigue. Both Chuck and Reaper's protaganists even both work at analog's of big-box department stores, with Chuck lampooning Best Buy while Reaper has a satirized version of Home Depot. But really, the show's have two very different sense of humor, lending each a pretty unique feel. Fans of The OC will immediately recognize the snappy dialogue and post-ironic sense of humor that creator Josh Schwartz brings to Chuck. On the other hand, Reaper feels a bit more traditional and sitcom-ish, even though it's premise is pretty unique to this kind of comedy.

Part of what really gives Reaper its character and likability is its star, Bret Harrison. Harrison was a standout as a geeky high-schooler on the underrated sitcom Grounded For Life, and was also really good on FOX's The Loop. His character is a lot of fun in Reaper as well, and Harrison brings a funny everyman quality, which is necessary when playing an otherwise average character who happens to be chosen to be Satan's personal bounty hunter. Also good here is Tyler Labine as Harrison's trusty sidekick. Sure, Labine seems to just kind of channelling Jack Black, but he brings a lot of energy and good comedic timing to the mix. The other real standout is Ray Wise as the Devil himself. Wise is great, and really looks and acts the part - while he's funny and charming, you really buy that this guy also happens to be evil incarnate.

My biggest concern with Reaper is this: I'm not sure where it goes as a series. The pilot is played mostly for laughs, which is cool, but the show IS an hour long and does need some kind of ongoing storyarc to keep our attention. While Chuck did a great job of dropping some tantalizing clues about its overarching mythology in the pilot ep, Reaper presents a very one-and-done type of tale, and it's the kind of thing that was entertaining once, but promises to get very old if every episode plays like a comedic version of Smallville's freak-of-the-week formula. Because, here, other than the fact that he looks cool, the fiery pyromanic demon that Brett and his pals fend off is not very interesting, and their means of finding and tracking him down, resulting to the old cliche of searching through public records to determine his next move, was easily the lamest part of the episode. I like the random humor, but I'm concerned that there isn't enough meat here to keep my interest. So, very curious to see where this one goes, and hoping that episodes 2 and 3 present some compelling reasons to keep watching. For now though, this is a solid, funny show with a great cast and unique premise, that is definitely worth checking out.

My Grade: B+


Chuck is one of my favorite, if not my #1 favorite, new show of the season, and I really love a lot about the pilot and where the show seems to be headed.

For one thing, Chuck to me is great simply because it captures just about everything that made The OC such a fun show in its first few seasons. The snappy dialogue, the feeling that it's plugged-in to pop culture, the deft mix of humor and drama, the knack for showcasing fun, likable characters with a potent mix of geeky everymen (Chuck is, essentially Seth Cohen - one of the best TV characters of the last 5 years - transplanted into a new show) with over-the-top archtypes (Adam Baldwin anyone?). But here's the super-cool part: Chuck has all the stuff that made The OC click, but it takes that whole OC sensibility and transplants it into an action-adventure, sci-fi spy show. To me, the combination is like peanut butter and chocolate. If anything, the whole feel of Chuck reminds me a bit of one of my favorite comic books, Y: The Last Man. That book, for those who haven't read it (if not, please go do so at once), casts geeky hero Yorrick Browne as the sole survivor of a plague that killed all men on earth save him, leaving Yorrick to traverse a brave new world dominated by females. Part of the brilliance of Y is that it subverts the expectation that the world's last man would be some kind of Arnold Schwarzenneger-esque alpha male. Chuck follows the same type of formula, putting a geeky guy in the shoes that would ordinarily be filled by James Bond or Jack Bauer. It helps that lead actor Zach Levy is very likable as Chuck. Of course, I almost wish they had just gotten Adam Brody for the part since the character is essentially Seth Cohen, but, oh well, I understand why they didn't go that route.

Chuck is also surrounded by a lot of fun characters. His goofy friend Morgan is genuinely funny and has some scene-stealing moments. He and Chuck have a great scene of physical comedy, in which they actually battle a NINJA, that speaks to the show's geeky sensibilities but also speaks to the great comedic timing that both leads possess. Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood would be proud. Then there's the beautiful-but-deadly Sarah Walker, a special agent who looks to have stepped straight out of the pages of a J. Scott Campbell-drawn comic book, and is not only great to look at but has some interesting chemistry with our hero Chuck. Adam Baldwin is fun as always, doing what he did to perfection on shows like The X-Files - playing a hard-nosed, badass guy in a suit. Finally, how can you not love a side character named Captain Awesome?

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like Josh Schwartz has accomplished something with Chuck that few other shows manage - he's made it feel genuinely cool. It has the kind of sensibility that one doesn't typically find in a network TV show - I mean in the first episode alone we get ninjas, car chases, a dance scene that turns into an all-out catfight, and a reference to Zork. And that's what's so cool about this show - unlike Heroes, which sometimes feels like it wishes it wasn't a show about superheroes, Chuck fully embraces its geekiness with a wink and a smile, and it's clear that Schwartz and co are having a ton of fun placing their unique stamps on the show. Basically, there's a reason why this one got a standing ovation at ComiCon. Really looking forward to seeing more of Chuck.

My Grade: A


Journeyman is a show that to me is exponentially elevated in quality thanks to the presence of its lead actor, Kevin McKidd. As time-lost traveler Dan Vassar, McKidd brings an intensity and charisma to the show that really carries it and makes the whole thing work. And what works best in terms of storytelling on this show is the strong character dynamics between Vassar and his wife, his brother-in-law, and most intriguingly, with his long-deceased old flame, who he encounters on his trips to the past. McKidd really does a great job of bringing an emotional intensity to these relationships, highlighted by a riveting, climactic scene in the pilot, in which McKidd makes a desperate bid to convince his wife that he isn't crazy, that he has, in fact, become unstuck in time.

Undoubtedly, Journeyman excels when it comes to dealing with McKidd and his love triangle with his wife and old girlfriend. Where the show falters a bit is in its plotting. Mainly, the show's whole time travel aspect is really exploited in terms of how it affects Dan and his various relationships, right from the get-go. It's clear that Journeyman is really a relationship-centric show and by no means hard sci-fi or tru action-adventure. But, this is still a show about time-travel, and I found it a bit frustrating that the whys and hows of Dan's journeys through time are barely touched upon at all, at least in the pilot. There are some very vague hints of a greater purpose to everything, but there weren't enough solid clues to really hook me in to any kind of broader mythology. And the truth is, this felt like a show that needed some kind of mythology, or at least SOMETHING to establish the premise. In a show like Quantum Leap, to which Journeyman has frequently been compared, there was a very basic and easily understandable structure to the series - Sam went back in time, inhabited someone's body, and manipulated the course of events to help out someone in need of a change in direction. With Journeyman, I am very curious what the grand cosmic purpose is to Dan's Vassar, but the show never seemed all that concerned with it. On the other hand, I think it's kind of cool that Journeyman, within the span of a single episode, dispatched with the inevitable storyline about how nobody believes Dan's stories about being a time-traveler, most especially his wife. In one dramatic moment, Dan convinces his wife that his time-traveling is legit, and - bam, we no longer need to deal with that conflict as a potentially annoying ongoing subplot. If only a show like Smallville had followed a simialr tactic and not dragged out the Lana-not-knowing-Clark's-real-ID subplot for year after agonizing year.

So, there's a lot to like about Journeyman. It has interesting characters and a dramatic weight and intensity about it that really draws you in. For me, I'm just much more inclined to be interested in the show if there turns out to be more of a hook to keep me coming back week after week. Time travel is a fascinating subject, and I want to see it explored more beyond the cheesy, obligatory "oh my god, he has an iPod, but it's 1985!" type moments that to me will get to be real old, real fast on a show like this. I want twists, turns, heroes, villains, a plot to sink my teeth into. Despite a cool cast and interesting characters that make for an overall excellent pilot episode - this, to me, is what will ultimately elevate this show from "pretty good" to "great."

My Grade: B+

- Alright, back with more later ... until next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HIT ME LIKE A BOMB BABY COME AND GET IT ON: Def Leppard Concert Recap, Plus: HEROES Returns, and PRISON BREAK thoughts

Okay, so a lot to talk about.

First thing, I've yet to provide an update on Sunday's huge mega-concert attended by myself, Olsen Twin, L-Squared, and with a rare, special guest appearance by Kernal Bradd. The four of us convened in scenic Irvine, CA, within the confines of the mythical area known to many simply as The OC. But we were not there to party with Ryan Atwood or gaze at the blonde bombshells of Laguna Beach. No, we were there with a singlular purpose: to ROCK.

So how was the triple-bill of STYX, FOREIGNER, and DEF LEPPARD? Well, all in all it was almost too much rock for a single night - that much rock n' roll packed into one concert should almost be illegal, and may in fact be in some states. This show, for us, had a bit of a different atmosphere than the other big shows I've been to over the last several weeks. We had lawn seats, which meant that we were situated high up in the back of the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater on a very steep incline. It was almost surreal, being high atop this mountainous terrain, gazing down at the vast arena below. In fact, despite being so high up, we had a direct line of sight to the stage and were right dead center, clinging to our beach towels for fear of sliding down the slick, grassy hill into the throngs of rock n' rollers below us. But the atmosphere was suitably epic, and having a panoramic view of the entire, jam-packed arena gave the entire preceedings a bigtime festival feel.

Up first was STYX. Honestly, I need to see a whole concert featuring just Styx, as they played like 5 total songs on Sunday and it just wasn't enough - I gotta have more Styx! The band seemed really in sync, and the hits that they did play sounded great. Alas, they did not play my new favorite Styx song, Queen of Spades (I originally thought it was called Queen of Space, and thus dubbed it the greatest song ever ...), but they did bust out Blue Collar Man, RENEGADE (kickass! "OH MAMMA I CAN'T LIVE ALL MY LIFE ..."), and finally, COME SAIL AWAY, pne of my all-time fav songs, which was, as I had hoped, a transcendantly awesome experience to hear live. The band even did a nice little opening riff where they played the intros to a few classic rock tunes, then stopping and saying stuff like "nope, not our song," or "sorry, we didn't do that one." Then, finally, they played the opening lick to Come Sail Away, and reassured us that this one was, in fact, their song. NICE. My one question: what, no Mr. Roboto?!?!

My only other complaint which comes to mind right now is that the crowd was decidely there for Def Leppard, and especially in our lawn section, didn't seem properly psyched to hear classics like Come Sail Away live. Ah well, our little group was rockin' out.

So then, FOREIGNER took the stage. Okay, I had the preconception that Foreigner was the lesser of the three bands performing, even though I count songs like Jukebox Hero amongst my all-time faves. Well, lo and behold, Foreigner kicked all of our collective asses. Hell, even adult-contemporary staples like "I Want To Know What Love Is" were belted out with so much emotion that I found myself getting totally into a song that, back in the day, I would have begged my parents to change the radio station if it came on Light 100.5, their headache-inducing road-trip radio station of choice. But, luckily, Foreigner mostly stuck to the harder stuff, and rocked our socks with hits like HOT BLOODED (though the vocals on this one seemed slightly off), DOUBLE VISION, COLD AS ICE, URGENT, and HEAD GAMES. Badass. Now, I have to say something about Jukebox Hero. Foreigner played the #$#% out of JUKEBOX HERO, and the experience of being in a gigantic open-air arena for what just may be one of the quintissential arena-rock songs ... well, damn, it was awesome. Seeing the thousands and thousands of fans pumping their fists in time the the thumping bass of the chorus (Juke. Box. He-ro! Stars in his eyes!) was one of the coolest, most rocking concert experiences I've yet had. Kudos to Foreigner on that one, and it was yet another instance where me and Bradd agreed that seeing a full-on Foreigner concert with a full set was suddenly a pretty enticing proposition.

Now, the main event - DEF LEPPARD. I have to admit, I was a little fatigued by the time they came on after having just witnessed two legendary bands in a row. But Def Leppard came out with a bang, blowing the roof (if there had been a roof) off the joint right from the get-go, with a blistering rendition of one of my faves, Rocket (Rock It. YEAH. Say it LOUDER!). They then preceded to run through most of their biggest hits. While there were a few unfamiliar songs, most I knew from the countless times I've popped in their greatest hits CD on many a summer afternoon. We heard Animal (complete with accompanying video package depicting the band members as cartoon animals), Armageddon It, Love Bites, Hysteria, and a friggin' awesome rendition of my fav Def Leppard song, PHOTOGRAPH, that had me jumping around like a frog on crack. They broke out the accoustic guitars for a pair of ballads in Bringin' On the Heartbreak (or is it Heartache?), and Two Steps Behind. Bringin' On the Heartbreak was particularly cool, as they played the majority of the song with accoustic guitars, but then paused just before the big power chords kicked in and broke out the electrics. Niiiiiiice. The set ended with the obligatory Pour Some Sugar On Me, which was great to hear live, and then, a great encore of Rock of Ages - a fitting way to end a night of pure rock n' roll mayhem. Now, if I was a more discerning fan I might point out that the lead singer of Def has clearly gained a pound or two, and his voice was perhaps not as sharp as it once was. But from way up high on the top of the hill, with the sounds of so many classic rock songs thundering in the night sky, all that mattered was that rock n' roll was alive and kicking and flowing through thousands of people gathered together for that one same singular purpose. Styx and Foreigner knew they only had a short amount of time with which to spread their rock gospel, and they did so with energy and style. Def Leppard played a longer set filled with hits, and left us satisfied and on our feet. A great way to complete my recent trifecta of classic rock concerts - POISON, THE SCORPIONS, and now these three great bands. We emerged from the show worn out, weary, and dreading the return to normalcy that Monday would bring ... but for one night, we got rocked.


1.) Jukebox Hero (Foreigner)
2.) Rocket (Def Leppard)
3.) Come Sail Away (Styx)
4.) Renegade (Styx)
5.) Photograph (Def Leppard)
6.) Bringin' On the Heartache (Def Leppard)
7.) I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner)
8.) Rock of Ages (Def Leppard)
9.) Armaggeddon It (Def Leppard)
10.) Animal (Def Leppard)

Honorable Mention: Hysteria (Def Leppard), Urgent (Foreigner), Pour Some Sugar On Me (Def Leppard)


So ..... first off, I've yet to see any of FOX's Sunday night comedies due to the concert, but hope to watch soon.

Now, as I mentioned previously, Mondays are now just ridiculous in terms of TV. On NBC you have Chuck, Journeyman, and Heroes. On FOX there's Prison Break and soon 24, and CW has the very-funny new show, Aliens in America. So suffice it to say, TIVO's everywhere will be working overtime.


- I mentioned in my Fall Preview that Heroes was my #1 most-anticipated returning season premiere. I was very curious to see where they were going this season and felt that, with so many of the origins and character introductions out of the way, we could really focus on plot, and plant the seeds for some truly epic storylines.

So last night, I was kinda dissapointed with what we got. Oh sure, there were moments of coolness, mostly derived from the usual suspects. To preface, I recently rewatched by-far my favorite ep from last season, Company Man. That episode was written by uber-scribe Brian Fuller, who left Heroes to run ABC's Pushing Daisies, and I fear that his loss could be a huge one for Heroes. That episode had a degree of depth and character and sophistication that few episodes of Heroes have so far been able to muster, and that was evident last night, in an ep marred by a simplistic script.

The other big lesson of Company Man was that, really, Noah Bennett, aka HRG, is easily the show's most compelling character when given the chance to shine. He is basically the show's Batman, a non-powered guy trying to compete in a super-powered world, reliant on his willpower and brains to gain the upper hand. HRG is the character with the most longterm potential on Heroes, and I was very disappointed to see him relegated in the season premiere to a small and mostly comedic role, working at a paper company in a thankless job, while on the lam from The Company with Claire. Of course, the episode's one standout moment came when HRG turned the tables on his annoying boss, showing a quick but awesome glimspe of how badass he really can be when pushed. While that one moment was cool, there was an overwhelming feeling that HRG should have started off this season front and center. As it is, it seemed like they were squandering the full potential of the show's best character.

Getting back to the issues with the script, there was little that really jumped out as being particularl gripping stuff. The Claire high school scenes were very generic-seeming, and seemed like they were ripped from some lesser teen soap and inserted into Heroes. With Kristen Bell on her way to Heroes, it's hard not to draw comparisons to the quick-witted teen drama of Veronica Mars. Say, I wonder what some of those writers are doing now - Heroes, and Claire's high school subplots in particular, could sure use an infusion of the kind of zip and crackle that made Veronica Mars such a smartly-written show.

Hiro in feudal Japan was a plotline that seemed to be rife with potential for action, adventure, and comedy. And while we got a little of all three, there was also a lot of standing around and talking, in locations that looked somewhat bland and didn't exactly evoke times past. Much of the show's action came from the new borther-and-sister characters. They seem to have some potential, but we still no so little about them that it's hard to become too attached at this point. Right now, they seem to be in the midst of another generic plotline transplanted on to Heroes - that of the two young immigrants on a run for the border.

Much more intriguing were the hints at some of this season's big plotlines. The fact that a virus is killing off heroes, for example - sure, it's yet another plotline that seems to be ripped right from the pages of X-Men, but at least it has that element of intrigue and unpredictability. The plotline I was most excited to see explored this season was the history of the first generation of heroes, the consortium of individuals that included Hiro's dad, Mrs. Petrelli, and Linderman, among others. We got some cool hints of a killer from among the group picking off his peers one by one, in a very Watchmen-esque turn of events. But it was a lot of fun seeing George Takei react to his ominous note, and the interplay between him and Ando was very enjoyable. It seems like Heroes always tends to up the fun and over-the-top quotient with Hiro and his family, and it pays off in terms of giving the show some much needed "cool-factor" moments, so to speak. I mean, Sulu deciding to stay and fight his would-be assasin, telling loyal Ando only "I will need a sword" ? Now that is badass. A shame then, that Mr. Takei was apparently offed in this episode ... a true loss for the show if one of its most fun characters was indeed done for ... but, let's be realistic, in a show involving time travel, there's no way Hiro is gonna let his dad stay dead for long, not to mention, we still don't know what, if any, special powers are possessed by the man once known as Sulu.

The ending, with a memory-wiped Peter Petrelli turning up in Bourne-esque fashion, was a decent cliffhanger, and it will be interesting to see what happens with Heroes' version of Neo. The story of Molly and her visions of some yet-unseen Big Bad were suitably ominous, and there's another potentially very cool plotline waiting in the wings. So yeah, there was some cool stuff going on here, but it all seemed to kind of plod along, and there was nothing that really screamed "oh damn, business has just picked up." The writing just felt very basic and simplistic for the msot part, and that much-neeeded sense of awe and wonder wasn't quite present. I'm very curious, still, to see where things go, but at this point, Kristin Bell can't arrive soon enough, to hopefully provide this show with a much-needed shot in the arm, after what seemed to be a premiere that was more of a whimper than a bang.

My Grade: B


Last night, business picked up for Season 3 of Prison Break. After an interesting but slightly unsteady premiere, this was a reminder of why I deemed the show one of my absolute favorites of last season. This time around, Prison Break brought it - intensity, humor, action, and some great character moments combined for a thrill-packed episode. So much HAPPENED, which is definitely one of this show's strengths. Even the preview for next week was encouraging - where it seemed like Lincoln might be relegated to a very passive role, it's now clear that even as Michael is breaking out of Sona, Lincoln will be breaking in to the inner sanctum of The Company, carrying out a one-man rescue mission to free Sarah and his son. Badass.

Michael Scofield was in vintage form last night, playing the McGuyver-ish role of resourceful action hero to perfection. I loved how he enacted a plan to blow up Sona prison's pipes and therefore provide free-flowing water to its thirsty inmates. It was in and of itself a coll, self-contained little plan, but the fun of it is that it's merely one piece in Scofield's grand scheme to gain the allegiance of Lechero and gain a valuable ally in his attempts to break out Whistler. Seeing Scofield slowly implement one of his complex plans, in his usual intense yet slightly smug manner, is always a highlight of this show.

I was cool to see Fernando back as well - even if he was kind of shoehorned into the plot, he's a great character that is always welcome. William Fichtner though was just awesome, as usual, as Mahone. Seeing him fend off all of Lechero's goons while making a solo attempt to free Whistler was great. I love the fact that in only the second episode of the season, we've already witneesed an ultra-intense, three-way faceoff between Scofield, Mahone, and Lechero - it's a testament to the characters that there could be so much inherent drama in their conflict after only two hours of the season. Bellick was great as always, and he is perfect as just the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, alternatively pitiable and fun to root for, yet easy to hate. His pleas to Michael for sips of water were hilarious in their patheticness. T-Bag is always a lot of fun, and I love him as Lechero's henchman, since you know it's only a matter of time before T-Bag turns the tables.

Again, the weakest aspect of the show is everything to do with The Company, but this ep did a very nice job of streamlining that subplot and hinting that Lincoln's story is about to get a lot more action-packed. This was, overall though, a great ep that got me back on board the Prison Break bandwagon.

My Grade: A -

Alright, that's it for now - I'll be back soon with thoughts on one of my favorite new shows of the season, CHUCK, as well as NBC's other big Monday premiere, JOURNEYMAN.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

COME SAIL AWAY: Yom Kippur Rant, TV Talk, and Gettin' Ready to ROCK

After a long day of fasting, it was nice to finally eat some food!

Although it's funny, I never feel all that hungry by the end of the day on Yom Kippur, for whatever reason. You THINK you'll be able to eat three consecutive meals by the time you make it to sundown, but usually for me I eat a bagel or two and consider myself full. I guess going all day without eating shrinks your stomach, or something.

This year, I went to J-Connect's high holiday services. Basically, J-Connect is in theory a group for young Jews here in LA, that specializes in social events but also has some more purely religious content, such as high holiday services. However, the servies I attended for Rosh Hashana and today for Yom Kippur were a decidedly mixed bag. On one hand, I really enjoyed the rabbi they had - he had some great mini-sermons and was an excellent speaker. i also enjoyed, mostly, the way that the services were broken up with "breakout sessions" at various points, where anyone who was interested could head over to an adjacent room and spend a half hour or so basically partiipating in a mini-class in which one of the rabbis in attendance would speak about some aspect of the high holidays. These were, mostly, interesting and informative and made the services go by rather quickly and painlessly. A great idea that i'd love to see more services implement - back home in CT, one of my biggest complaints with the traditional Conservative service has long been that everyone just goes through the motions, and rarely does the rabbi stop to just give some basic background behind the various prayers. I hate services where everyone simply goes out of obligation, and you spend the entire time checking to see how many pages are left in the prayer book. I give the J-Connect services a lot of credit - they were really streamlined, yet were seemingly packed with information and had some nice moments where the congregation was really into the prayers and you had that feeling of spiritual uplifting. On the other hand, my biggest complaint about these services is simply that they seemed to be too much of an odd mix of traditions and featured a very eclectic crowd. For one thing, there was a mechitza in the center of the room that divided the men and women, with guys on one side and girls on the other. To me, this is a pretty extreme way to hold a service, and ultimately proves almost comcially distracting, as it feels like everyone is spending their time stealing glances at the other side of the curtain. This was one aspect of why the whole religious makeup of the service was so odd - a total mix of seeming Orthodox Jews with others who likely didn't know Hebrew and were barely even reform. It was definitely a weird vibe - I mean, the service itself was very orthodox-ish, with little English, and yet the Break-Out sessions gave things a loose, progressive feel. I liked that looseness, but I didn't understand why in many ways they kept things feeling like an Orthodox service. Also, one of the big draws of J-Connect, for me, has been that it supposedly caters to a younger crowd. I've been a bit disappointed in going to some of their social events that the crowds tend to be very much over 30. However, at these services it was even worse, as J0Connect was apparently only one of a few organizations to co-sponsor the service. Not sure if that was the reason why this was the case - but the reality was that there seemed to be only a handful of people in attendance under 30, and in fact I felt like I might have been one of if not they youngest there.

This leads me to my big question, one I've been trying to figure out since I moved to LA -- what are all of us 20-something conservative Jews supposed to do with ourselves post-college? It seems like the scenarios are:

a.) You still live close enough to your hometown that you continue to celebrate Jewish holidays with your family, and attend your family synagogue, as you have for your first twenty years.

b.) You basically become a secular Jew, MAYBE fast on Yom Kippur, but otherwise are not really an active part of the Jewish community.

c.) ???

So my question is - there's got to be an Option C, but what is it? I'm still trying to figure that out. Joining a full-fledged synagogue as a single 20-something is both prohibitively expensive and awkward in that, for obvious reasons, most synagogues cater to married couples and people who can afford to pay hefty annual fees and buy high=priced high holiday tickets. Last year I managed to get a free ticket for high holiday services to a large conservative synagogue in Valley Village - it was a great synagogue - if you're a young married couple with kids. For myself, I attended, listened to the service, but felt totally awkward and out of place, and felt like everyone was looking at me wondering what I was doing there. Now, part of the problem is LA itself. In Boston, the services at BU really were ideal. They had large, boisterous crowds and were totally welcoming to anyone, whether you were a BU student or just walking in off the street. The crowd was a great mix of students, alumni, and just residents of Beantown, young and old, who enjoyed attending those particular services in BU's Marsh Chapel. As far as I know, there is not really the equivalent at UCLA or USC, where it's just a big, open, Conservative service that anyone can and does attend. now, LA does have a lot of random, fairly low=cost services, from J-Connect to Aish to the Chai Center- but these are a.) all progressive to some extent but also very Orthodox-leaning, and b.) typically attended by Jews well past 30. It speaks to the makeup of LA Jew-ry, which to me seems either very religious or totally secular. Working in Entertainment, I know a decent amount of Jews from work, the Page Program, etc - virtually ALL of them are totally secular and do zilch for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. And the few I know who have been interested in participating in Jewish activities, well, like me, they've been increasingly turned off by the various events put on by groups like J-Connect.

So here are my two follow-up questions:

1.) All of these big synagogues - don't they realize that there all all these Gen Y'ers out there who, once they move away from their families and hometowns, become totally displaced from the Jewish community, because the synagogues do so little to bring them in? I mean, why isn't there some widespread movement among conservative Judaism to provide attractive, low-cost options so that Twenty-Somethings can actually remain actively Jewish in their post-collegiate years?

2.) Why does the conservative movement have no group that serves as the next phase after USY and then Hillel? For all of its faults, Hillel is an amazing organization that keeps countless college students involved Jewishly throughout their university years. So after those years are over and done with ... well, then what?!?! I know that that's precisely what I'm wondering. Because here I am in LA, a city filled with young Jews, and yet with no central organization for young conservative Jews, no place that says - come pray and celebrate with us on the high holidays for a low cost, amongst your peers. Why doesn't such a thing exist?

Now again, part of this problem may have to do with the slightly weird makeup of LA. But really, this is a much larger problem. I ask any of my Jewish friends who've graduated, who no longer live with their parents - what do you do for the Jewish holidays? If you live within a short drive of your family, you likely celebrate with them. If you live in a college town like Boston, your'e probably still attending services via Hillel - and why not, those end to be a great experience. But if neither of those two scenarios apply to you - what do you do? I'm curious to know, because my suspicion is that this is a larger problem at play.



On a totally different subject, tommorow is going to be CRAZY. Me and a few rockstars-in-arms are headed to Irvine to see a triple-bill of DEF LEPPARD, FOREIGNER, and STYX. Now that's a lot of rock n' roll, and I couldn't be more psyched. This will be my third concert in the last several weeks, and oddly, all have been shows featuring 80's hair-metal bands. Both POISON and SCORPIONS put on great shows, and i'm hoping Def Leppard will be no different. I'm not sure quite what to expect, but it should be a day to remember in the OC. Expect a full report soon.


1.) PHOTOGRAPH - Has there ever been a better song to blast from your car while driving around on a hot summer day?
2.) POUR SOME SUGAR On ME - One of the all time great sing-along songs, this one's a quintissential party-starter.
3.) ROCKET - Rock It. Yeah-eah. SAY It LOUDERRRR ...!
4.) ARMAGEDDON IT - Ooh gimme all of your lovin'! Oh gimme all of your love!
5.) LOVE BITES - ... classic power ballad Deff Leppard-style
6.) FOOLIN' - IS there anybody out there ...? Is there ANYONE WHO CARRRRES?
7.) LET'S GET ROCKED - I'm your average ordinary everyday kid - happy to do nothin', and that's just what I did!
8.) ANIMAL - And i want! And i need! An-im-al!
9.) ROCK OF AGES - how many songs can one band have with ROCK in the title? Apparently, a lot!
10.) BRINGIN ON THE HEARTBREak - yeaaaaaaaaah, yeah!

Oh, cheesy 80's rock n' roll - is there anything better?


- Man, I can't believe how quickly the new TV Season is approaching. HOPEFULLY, you've already gone over to Amazon unbOX and downloaded the free pilots for NBC's latest shows - CHUCK, JOURNEYMAN, LIFE, and BIONIC WOMAN. In any case, Monday is NBC's big premiere night, with Chuck at 8 pm, HEROES at 9, and Journeyman at 10. Chuck in particular is a must-watch ... man, Mondays are way too crammed with good TV now. Last year it was bad enought that Heroes and 24 were on at the same time beginning in January. Now, the NBC vs FOX battle for the young male demo is even more intense, as CHUCK battles PRISONBREAK at 8 pm on Mondays! Aaah, so much TV. Plus, the CW's excellent new comedy, ALIENS in AMERICA, is also, I believe, on Mondays as well (@ 8:30?). Too much TV.

- And then, tommorow (Sunday), is the return of FOX's Sunday Night Lineup! I mentioned how I was looking forward to tHe SIMPSOns to se if it could capitalize on the momentum from the movie. Much to m dismay, early reviews of the SEason 19 premiere have bee laess than stellar, though supposedly the quality improves with some of the subsequent eps. But thank the animation gods, KING OF THE HILL is BAAAAAACK! For some reason I had mistakenly assumed, when I wrote my Returning TV Fall PReview, that KOTH wasn't back until mid-season. So really psyched for that one, as the show has only gotten better with age, and it contains some of my favorite characters of all time in terms of television comedy. Plus, tommorow is FAMILY GUY's big Star-Wars-themed premiere, so that should be cool.

- In the past, I've spoken highly of two of last week's big fall premieres - FOX's BACK TO YOU and CW's GOSSIP GIRL. I rewatched both of the pilots and here are some very quick second thoughts:

BACK TO YOU - On second viewing, this one just did not hold up for me. i think I was originally just very pleasantly surprised to see a traditionally-done sitcom that had a bit of old-school charm and didn't completely suck. But on second viewing, I just didn't find Back To You all that funny - the jokes felt forced and the emotional moments obvious and ham-fisted. If anyone can pull off this type of show it's Kelsey Grammar, who is surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast. But this show reminds me a little of 20 Good Years, the failed Nbc sitcom which had two talented actors in Jon Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor - without dead-on writing, even the talent on hand couldn't make the thing feel fresh and must-see. Back To you has some real potential though, but the humor needs to be a lot sharper for it to stand out against cutting edge comedies like The Office and 30 Rock.

My Grade: B -

GOSSIP GIRL - Here's another one where on first viewing I was really impressed - relative to a lot of the other soap-ish pilots I saw, this was easily the best. But watching it on TV, where I was deciding whether to commit to watching it on my own time on a regular basis, my enthusiam was still high but not quite as clear as it once was. I think the biggest problem is that Gossp Girl takes itself very seriously, which is a bit jarring in this post-OC age of self-aware, post-ironic teen soaps. This is itself ironic, since GG comes from OC maestro Josh Schwartz. But it looks like JS reserved all his humor for NBc's Chuck, his other fall show. GG plays out more like a teen Melrose Place - it's ultra-juicy and heavy on the Cruel Intentions-esque snobby teen melodrama. The actors here area ll surprisingly excellent as well, and the characters are generally a lot of fun, and in possession of a surprising amount of depth for this type of show. This is one I may give a few episodes to win me over, but I feel like it's hard for me to take this inherently silly show as seriously as I'm supposed to.

My Grade: B

- Allllllllright ... I'm gonna turn in soon so as to be primed and ready to ROCK tommorow. So pour some sugar, cuz i'm a jukebox hero who's tellin ya' to come sail away, come sail away, come sail away withhh meeeeeeeee!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PRISON BREAK Returns ...

Ahhhhhh ... after a few months of near-freedom from network television schedules, things are nearly back in full swing in TV land. Last night, FOX unofficially kicked things off with the debut of its new Monday night lineup, consisting of Prison Break and K-Ville. K-Ville was actually one of the few pilots I never saw over the summer, and for some reason it just doesn't interest me. Well, I guess I know the reason - I just don't really like cop shows, or lawyer shows, or medical shows. But, I was tres excited about the return of PRISON BREAK ... for two years now, it's been a weekly slice of pulpy goodness that features some of the craziest characters I've ever seen on a TV show, especially when it comes to the show's great rogues gallery of colorful villains. So, how was last night's Season 3 Premiere?


- So, Prison Break kind of painted itself into a corner with last year's season finale, as we left off with intrepid action-hero Michael Scofield locked up in a brutal Panamanian prison, along with dogged FBI agent / psycho murderer Mahone, thuggish former prison-guard Bellick, and serial killer T-Bag. This time around, Lincoln was on the outside looking in, desperately trying to find a way to free his brother. So ... would we simply get a repeat of Season 1, with Scofield plotting a breakout, except this time with his brother as his man on the outside? Well, after last year's on-the-run plot, it looks like this year we are very much back to Prison Break actually being about a prison break, which is cool with me. The nice thing about this show is that it tends to be pretty unpredictable, so while this premiere set up another prison escape, in three or four episode's time, who knows if that will still be what the show is focused on.

Already, we've gotten a number of swerves that, sure, were a bit predictable, but also kind of fun. The main thing the episode needed to do was establish a reason for Michael to stay in Sona prison and feel the need to escape rather than just wait out his sentance or get let off following his brother's exoneration. So now we have a somewhat intriguing setup where Michael is being blackmailed into using his skills as an escapist to free a particular prisoner from Sona, likely at the behest of the mysterious Company, Prison Break's very own Big Evil Conspiracy.

There were some very quick allusions in this ep to the bizarro scifi-ish stuff that was hinted at last season - that Michael is some kind of genetic test-subject or something? I'm kind of curious to see just how out-there this show would go with that whole subplot, though the results could be pretty disasterous.

As it is, the show is awesomely over-the-top. The new villain, a Duke of New York-esque self-appointed king of Sona prison is an instant classic, delivering all of his lines with foreign-accent flair and sprinkling plenty of "how you say ..."'s into his speech for just the right amount of comic-book flair. T-Bag was also in fine form, proving to be, as ever, a true snake in the grass. "Call me ... Friend." Hahahaha ... I also love Bellick - he is the classic down-on-his luck B-list badguy. While he started as just a peripheral character, Bellick was one of the highlights of last night's ep. His expression as his fellow inmate attempted escape, only to get mercillessly shot down by the guards, was priceless.

William Fichtner has also been awesome on this show as Mahone, and it's cool to see him stripped of his FBI and Company allegiances and potentially forming an uneasy alliance with Michael. The scene where he comes to Michael's aid during Scofield's to-the-death street fight was a classic. "No weapons. That's the rule." = daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

The main thing that dragged this ep down was Lincoln on the outside trying to navigate the Company's attempts at extorting he and Michael. LJ kidnapped yet AGAIN? An unseen Sarah Tancridi in mortal danger (shades of FOX Mulder on Season 9 of X-Files when David Duchovny was oft-mentioned but never seen). Lincoln is a character who works best when he's kicking ass and taking names, so hopefully we get more of that soon and less of him being jerked around by mysterious members of a black-ops consortium. The conspiracy plotline on this show has been cool at times but more often than not it's felt like retreads of stuff we've already seen on shows like The X-Files and 24. If the whole Company thing is going to be a major plot point this season, they've got to do somehting to really make it pop, because having 22 episodes of lame text messages from LJ crying for his dad, and assuring us that Sarah (just off-screen of course) is also there and in trouble, is going to quickly become a bit of a drag.

But overall this ep was a lot of fun. Seeing Scofield square off with the savage inmates at Sona was pretty cool, and seeing familar faces like Mahone, T-Bag, and Bellick adapt to their new, dog-eat-dog environment was interesting. Count me as excited to see where things go from here. This is a show that, even though it looks to be getting back to its more serious roots a bit, is best taken with a grain of salt and just enjoyed for what it is - a serialized B-movie that wears its cheesiness with a badge of honor.

My Grade: B+

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Blog gets ROCKED LIKE A HURRICANE! The SCORPIONS in Concert, EASTERN PROMISES - Reviewed, and Emmy Awards Thoughts

Okay, it's been way too long since I updated, and that's mostly been to craziness at work. Actually, the last time I posted, last Tuesday, I had a whole rant ready to go about all things political, mostly centered about Larry "Wide Stance" Craig and the hypocricy of all thes right-wing social conservatives who are, in fact, the last thing from morally-sound themselves. In fact, Jonathan Alter wrote a great editorial for Newsweek documenting the history of Republican leaders who have not exactly practiced what they preached when it comes to morality. Check it out:

Basically, there's such a long history of these right-wingers being exposed as morally-questionable hypocrites, that for anyone at this point to call themselves a Republican in the name of Family values is themselves being fairly hypocritical. As for Larry Craig, he needs to stay away from political office, and likely deserves all the embarrassment that he has coming.

- Anyways, I want to take a moment and say "Shana Tovah" to all of my fellow members of the Jew Crew. May everyone have a happy and healthy new year.

- As for my Rosh Hashana, I had a decent time participating in J-Connect's services. The crowd, as per usual with these things, was a bit of a motley crew, with an eclectic mix of very religious Jews with many who were much more secular. It's funny how us middle-of-the-road conservatives (Jewish-ly speaking, not politically) seem to be few and far between here in LA, where everyone is apparently either a beard-sporting super-Jew or else one of those people who asks "wait, which one is Yom Kippur again?" Thursday night I had a nice time with my great-uncle Josh and aunt Liana, at their friend Hannah's home for a Rosh Hashana dinner. It was exhausting though, driving from Burbank to West LA through terrible traffic, then back to Burbank, then back to Beverly Hills for dinner. But it was a nice way to break up the week, and a good way to get re-focused. I love that us Jews have a time of the year where we basically are forced to evaluate our own behavior and think about how we can better ourselves in the new year. Especially here in LA, all of us need a little self-reflection now and then.

- Okay, on to the EMMY AWARDS.

Basically, I thought the awards this year were decent, with most of the nominees consisting of the usual suspects, with a few left-field choices thrown into the mix. Of course, shows like VERONICA MARS and GILMORE GIRLS were shafted as usual in the nominations, and surprisingly, LOST was left out of the Best Drama category in favor of Heroes, which had a good first year but is not necessarilly one of TV's five best dramas. The Emmy show itself was okay, nothing spectacular. Ryan Seacrest had a few decent jokes and was suprisingly servicable as host. the Family Guy opening was pretty funny, and I enjoyed the tribute to Roots. Other than that, Stewart and Colbert were hilarious as always, but noting else really stood out except for Sally Field's trainwreck of an acceptance speech. UGH. Why do all these Hollywood stars feel the need to use a crappy awards show podium as their personal pulpit? It's one thing if the star in question is coherant and concise. But it's emotional crazies like Field who give liberals a bad name. Doesn't she realize that her rambling mess of a political statement does nothing but SET BACK whatever anti-war cause she's trying to advocate? GET OFF THE STAGE, says I.

In terms of who won, the main things that stood out to me are these:

- First off, a huge congrats to LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, whose writing staff won a well-deserved Emmy that was a looooooooong time coming. I can personally attest that Conan and his writing team are all bonafide comedic geniuses, and they've had some of the best comedy-writing on TV for years and years now. I think the tendency is simply to give the award to a Stewart or Colbert, since their shows have a perception of prestige and highbrow humor. But nobody does random, Mad Magazine-esque Ivy League lowbrow like Conan and his crew, and it's 'bout time they got some recognition!

- I personally was really happy to see Ricky Gervais win Best Actor in a Comedy. His work on Extras was simply phenomenal, and Gervais has the rare ability to portray a character who is both hilarious and sad - like The Office, EXTRAS is a miniature comedic epic that is amazing in the scope of its storytelling.

- I was also really happy to see 30 ROCK win Best Comedy. I quickly became a huge fan of the show last season, and really wish more people would watch. Midway through last year, 30 ROCK began to hit its stride and really began to strike that perfect balance between having a likable, well-rounded cast and being packed to the brim with crazy, random humor. Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin are freaking hilarious, and Tina Fey is the perfect straight-woman. Personally, I'd give the edge to The Office in terms of being the better overall comedy this past season, but 30 Rock is gaining a lot of creative momentum, and hopefully the ratings can catch up as well.

- Finally - Terry O'Quinn gets an Emmy! O'Quinn is an amazing actor who brings a depth to his characters that is simply remarkable. He's helped to elevate LOST to another level with portrayal of John Locke, and even if his character's arc has had its ups and downs, O'Quinn is undoubtedly Emmy-worthy for his overall body of work on the show, including the instant-classic "Walkabout" from Season 1, perhaps one of the best episodes of a dramatic program ever aired. The award couldn't go to a cooler actor.

- Also congrats to Jamie Pressley for her Emmy for Earl. What an unlikely success story. Before Earl, Jamie was probably best known for less-than-respectable roles in movies like Poison Ivy 2. Just last week, the DVD of DOA dropped, featuring Pressley in the B-movie videogame adaptation. And yet, she has proven on EARL that she's a talented comedienne who plays one of the breakout characters on a show filled with great actors like Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee.

And really, those are the awards that stood out to me. I've yet to see much of THE SOPRANOS, but I'm sure it's deserving of the recognition it got. But plenty of people will tell you that it's a crying shame that shows like THE WIRE, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA got little to no recognition. As I've said before on the blog, the nominations process for the Emmys really has little merit. It's a bunch of industry insiders who likely DON'T WATCH many of the best programming on TV. I know for a fact that people I've talked to who had Emmy ballots have barely heard of Veronica Mars, and sure as hell aren't about to put it on an Emmy ballot. I mean, half of the people in Entertainment only watch whatever shows their husbands or wives TIVO for them - hence all of the love for things like Ugly Betty, Grey's, etc. It's a miracle that someone like Ricky Gervais made it onto any ballots in the first place, let me tell you.

- So ... totally shifting gears here, let me talk about this weekend. Good times yesterday at El Guapo in celebration of Jule's big b-day, and man, myth, legend - Aksel - was in town as well. But, the big highlight was that me and the Axe-Man saw legendary rock band, THE SCORPIONS, live and in concert!


So, the Scorps have long been a favorite band of mine. Many people only think of them as an 80's one-hit-wonder, but in fact, The Scorpions have had a lot of hits over their long career and are really a pretty accomplished band with a great sound and a huge catalog of cool rock songs. And they are still kickin', with a new album set to hit soon and a band that, if Saturday was any indication, is only barely showing any signs of age. Because this weekend at Gibson Ampitheater, the Scorpions unleashed hell and rocked like a hurricane!

I really wasn't sure what I was going to get from The Scorpions. I mean, as far as I know they haven't toured in years, and prior to a few months ago I didn't even necessarily realize that they were still together as a band and making new music. But lo and behold, what I got on Saturday was a couple of hours of straight-up rock n' roll - not many bells and whistles - just classic tunes from start to finish. The band itself was in great form. Clean vocals and shredding guitars, sick drums, and plenty of energy. These guys were running and jumping around like it was 1986 ... I mean, a few weeks back I talked about Poison seeming well-preserved, but they had nothing on the Scorps, who pranced and jumped around the stage like middle-aged men-possesed. Their drummer in particular was INSANE, looking like a 1980's-era Ozzy and playing some ridiculous solos. The banter was kept to a minimum, and when the band did talk it was often unintelligible thanks to the German accents. That's what was so impressive - they played for hours with barely a pause for breath.

Now, the setlist was pretty good, but I would have liked to have heard more of the classics that I'm familiar with from my well-worn copy of Best of Rockers and Ballads. We got about three or four songs off the new album, Humanity, and while they were unfamiliar, the new stuff was actually pretty good, with the title track being particularly rockin'. On the other hand, there was plenty of time for a number of vintage Scorpions. The band opened with a new song, but quickly broke out two of my all-time favorites, with a kickass rendition of The Zoo followed by an undeniably epic version of Holiday, that drew out the power ballad well past its normal length, with plenty of crowd participation along the way. Some other favorites that got played were Black Out, Still Loving You (perhaps, in my mind, the undisputed King of Power Ballads), No One Like You (a must-play), Big City Nights (one of the all-time best songs to listen to while driving through LA or Boston or wherever at night), Send Me An Angel (Aksel's fav) and of course, Rock You Like a Hurricane, which served as the penultimate closer to what was an epic evening of all-out Rock. The strangest thing though, was that they never played Winds of Change! I was sure that that would close out the night, but it never got played. So odd, and the crowd was dyin' for it. Even without Winds though, there were plenty of great songs, and the concert was an awesome time, with even the newer material sounding pretty much like vintage Scorpions. I would have liked to have heard Winds, and other favs like Rythm of Love, Love Drive, Hey You, and one or two others from the Greatest Hits catalog, but, overall, I didn't have much to complain about. But I came away a believer that The Scorpions were in fact the real deal, and delivered bigtime. I went in looking to be Rocked Like a Hurricane, and Rocked Like a Hurricane I was! Another concert for the record-books.

- As a bonus, here are my all-time Top 10 SCORPIONS songs:

1.) STILL LOVING YOU - to me this is the quintissential 1980's rock n' roll power ballad. Epic, melodramatic, and building from a slow thump to a thundering cresecendo, Still Loving You has gotta be my all-time fav Scorpions song.

2.) ROCK YOU LIKE A HURRICANE - the lyrics of this song are so hilariously kickass ... you can't go wrong with songs about rocking and rocking hard, and you can't rock much harder than a hurricane!

3.) NO ONE LIKE YOU - Similar to Hurricane, this one is power-chord infused arena rock at its finest.

4.) HOLIDAY - The build-up in this power ballad is so over the top it's totally awesome. There's like three minutes of operatic singing, when all of a sudden there's a thunderous power chord as the tempo picks up, "LONGING FOR THE SUN! HERE WE COME!"

5.) WINDS OF CHANGE - Okay, I think the Scorpions are the undisputed masters of the power ballad. Winds is another one that is almost comically over the top but kicks all the more ass for being so.

6.) THE ZOO - Best opening guitar riff ever, followed by an awesome song about ditching yer dayjob and rocking out like an animal!

7.) BIG CITY NIGHTS - Is there anything more rock n' roll than a song about crusing through the city at night? Nope! This is like the Scorps' version of GNR's Night Train, except cheesier and with a chorus that's repeated about 5 million times, growing awesomer each time! Big City! Big City Nights!

8.) HEY YOU - I can never quite tell if there is a woman singing backup in this song or just some dude from the band. But the effect is that of a guy and girl having a back and forth pick-up line session. Great song.

9.) RYTHM OF LOVE - "It's the rythm of love! Keeps me dancing in the night!" Cheesy, classic, sugary goodness.

10.) LOVE DRIVE - Did I say cheesy? "It's a love drive, on wings of fire, a love ride, just one desire!" Yeaaaaaaaaaah. 80's rock at it's over the top best. Scorpions rule!

- Okay, so not only did I see a classic band this weekend that rocked, but I saw the latest film from David Cronenberg which also rocked me like a hurricane! So let's get on with it ...


- I won't come here and pretend to be an expert on the works of David Cronenberg, but I can say that he's a director who I am already an enormous fan of even though I still need to catch up on some of his most revered works. Seeing films like Videodrome, Scanners, Spider, Dead Ringers, and Crash is something I need to do soon. I've always loved The Fly, and I was totally blown away by A History of Violence, which I named the best film of 2005 right here on the blog. So, I was really excited to see EASTERN PROMISES this weekend at a screening held on the Universal lot, in which director Cronenberg reteams with Violence star Viggo Mortenson, and covers similar thematic territory. What I got was pure Cronenberg - dark, brutal, graphic, and more than anything, a thought-provoking character study - a film that is less about plot and more about characters, ideas, and the big questions of human nature and WHY it is that these people behave the way they do. This is no mere crime drama. Eastern Promises is, like A History of Violence, a psychological film that is far removed from the typical genre piece that another director might fashion from this material.

The plot takes many unexpected twists and turns as the movie takes shape, but the basic setup is this: Naomi Watts is Anna, a London-based midwife who delivers the baby of a young, dying prostitute. Watts finds the girl's diary, written in Russian, among her possessions, and becomes obsessed with retracing the girl's steps. As the mystery of the girl is unraveled, it becomes clear that she was hopelessly embroiled in the strange and violent world of London's Russian mob. Anna herself, hoping to discover if the orphaned baby has any relatives in London, becomes wrapped up with Semyon, the godfather of a Russian crime family. Semyon has an unstable son, Kiril, and both the father and son seem to be concerned that the diary that Anna has may implicate them as participants in any number of criminal acts. Enter Viggo Mortenson as Nikolai, a rising star in the criminal underworld who has become Kiril's #1 man and the mob's designated Fixer. Nikolai appears cold and vicious - a killer with no concious. but there is something more to him - he is strangely sympathetic towards Anna and seems to have some kind of hidden motive. And this is where the plot begins to get interesting ...

The supporting cast here is great, but the real star is easily Viggo, with a total knockout of a performance that may even top his great turn in A History of Violence. As in that film, the characters here have a pulpy, almost B-movie quality to them, but the magic is how Cronenberg creates these archtypal, almost stock movie characters (in Viggo's case here, the standard mob-movie cold-blooded killer), and subverts them so that they defy our expectations. Viggo has some scenes in Eastern Promises that are just ridiculously intense. The much talked-about nude fight scene sounds almost funny on paper, but rest assured, it's one of the most brutal, intense, and just plain f'd-up action sequences I've ever seen on film. It takes a brave actor to partake in such a scene, that's for sure. Ultimately, I think Viggo's performance here is so good because it's all about gradually revealing new layers to the character. Like I said, Nikolai initially appears to be just like every badass enforcer-type in any number of crime movies. But the layers peel away, figuratively and literally, and we are left with a complex character who is nothing like the man we initially think we are being presented with. This is a remarkable, Oscar-worthy performance from Viggo Mortenson, and I hope that it gets is due recognition when the time comes, especially after the lack of kudos given to A History of Violence.

As I mentioned, the supporting cast is also great and filled with a number of welcome character-actor-types who bring a lot of color and vibrancy to what is a very dark tale. Naomi Watts is perfect. She always excels at playing seemingly ordinary women who get sucked into a much darker and depraved world than they are used to (see Mulholland Drive for Exhibit A). She is similarly great here, though her character is really pretty basic in that she's our eyes and ears into this dark world of crime and vice. It reminded me a bit of Laura Dern in Blue Velvet.

Some other standouts are definitely Vincent Cassel as the on-edge Russian Mafia Prince, Kiril, who is one of those classic villains who always seems to be on the verge of a breakdown. Armin Mueller-Stahll is really great as Semyon, Kiril's father, and one of those great elderly-types who act kindly but are really old-country-style brutal SOB's. One actor who's always cool to see is this cracy looking dude named Mina E. Mina. I first noticed him on The X-Files back in the day and he is just creepy as hell in general. He's good here as a longtime henchman of Semyon.

The cast really is great, especially considering that it takes a special kind of actor to pull off Cronenberg's unique style of characterization, in which many things are painted in broad strokes and there's a kind of abstract, almost overly-simplistic quality to the dialogue. Like History of Violence, Eastern Promises has an almost Lynchian, surreal quality to it. This isn't a Scorcese-esque street-level crime saga, it's off-kilter, dreamlike, and more about the bigger picture than the details.

This is, in turn, the film's one flaw. Some major twists are introduced as the plot unravels, and it's a credit to Cronenberg that he's not heavy-handed about them, and never talks down to the audience. But he's almost too casual about some of the movie's big revelations. I like a movie that leaves some things to the viewer's imagination, but the last act of this film is simply a bit too abrupt, leaving too many fascinating questions posed by the various twists very much unexplored. This is one that leaves you with A LOT to think about, but you get the feeling that if only one or two more key tidbits of backstory had been dropped, it would feel like a much fuller and more satisfying movie.

Otherwise, this is another must-see from Cronenberg. Cerebral, engrossing, and memorable - this is a film that will burn many of its powerful images into your brain for a long time to come. Eastern Promises is well worth checking out, and a movie filled with ideas and performances that you won't soon forget.

My Grade: A -

- Alright, once again, Shana Tovah, congrats to everyone at Conan on the big Emmy win, and here's to the next rockin' edition of this here blog.

BTW - Tonight, PRISON BREAK Returns~! Oh man, I can't wait! T-Bag liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiives ...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday, September 11th ...

Man, today was such a busy, crazy day. And I wonder how many people even stopped to take note of today's date - Tuesday 9/11 - six years after the 2001 attacks on our country. I know that it was somewhere in the back of my mind, but until now, with the clock about to hit midnight, I haven't really had a chance to just it back and think about it ...

More to come ...

Monday, September 10, 2007

3:10 TO YUMA and SHOOT EM UP - Reviewed! Plus: One Mo' MTV / Britney Rant of Doooooooom

MTV suuuuuuucccccccckkkkkkkkkks.

Man, anyone who watches and enjoys this channel at this point in time is either a twelve year old girl or braindead. Back in the day, hell, even as of a few years ago, the VMA's were a highlight of the awards-show scene. You could count on some edgy humor, some great up-and-coming music acts doing career-making live performances, and usually a nifty surprise or two. Over the years the show has had many highlights and memorable moments, from Madonna in the bridal gown to Pearl Jam and Neil Young to Britney and a python. Last night however, for the first time ever, the show was UNWATCHABLE. Literally, I turned it off after about 30 minutes of (T') pain. Pure, unadulterated craaaaaaaap.

Kurt Loder, if you're smart you would high tail it outta there and never have your name associated with MTV again. Man, it used to be like "hey, good ol' Kurt Loder. He's legit." Now it's "WTF is Kurt Loder still doing on MTV."

John Norris, what a freak. He's like 50 years old and trying to look like a member of My Chemical Romance. How in the blue hell does MTV still trot this guy out for hosting duties? Part of the problem is that they don't play videos anymore, and therefore don't have VJ's who can serve as MC's for events like the VMA's. Hence John freakin' Norris gets dusted off and brought out year after year, along with no-talent "personalities" like Sway. WTF. Someone needs to knock that beanie cap off of Sway's head. Sway makes Pauly Shore look like Johnny Carson. I mean, Sway makes me wish that Jesse Camp was still employed by MTV.

Now, the actual VMA's. Who thought it was cool to take the performances off of a main stage and have them held in hotel rooms? Nobody wants to see a performance done from a freaking hotel room.

And how about featuring some, I don't know, bands? I'm sick of seeing a watered-down Foo Fighters be the token rock band at every awards show. It's a telling sign that most of the big names in music couldn't even be bothered to show up for the VMA's. Not that MTV even wants them, per se, they seem to be content to feature washed-up trainwrecks and the latest one-hit-wonder rappers who nobody will remember in two year's time.

In fact, it is ridiculous that MTV would even have Britney in the first place. Why not promote someone like Gwen Stefani who has actual talent as a musician? I've been hearing a pretty kickass band on K-Roq lately called Flyleaf, with a female singer with some serious pipes. Why not feature a band like that who is hungry for an opportunity and would likely do everything they could to tear the house down? Why not feature some musicians who are actually, you know, COOL? Remember when MTV was about being cool? Last I checked, washed-up trailer trash who spends more time on supermarket tabloids than she does making music? Not very cool.

And as for Ms. Spears ... who are her managers that aren't telling her she looks and sounds terrible? She wanted to make a comeback? How about coming out in sensible clothing and SINGING a SONG?

So MTV got its buzz-worthy moment. But this isn't buzz, really. It's just one of those low moments, one of those oh-god Signs of the Apocalypse. When Justin Timberlake of all people is calling for you to play more music and have less reality shows, it's time for a reality check. MTV, meet Rock Bottom.

My Grade: F

- Anywaaaaaaaaays ... it was a fun, packed-to-the-brim weekend. Friday, former page and fellow NBC colleague Megan P celebrated her b-day at the swanky Falcon in Hollywood, where a wide mix of NBC page alums and other fine folks gathered for some fun. Saturday, I was invited to a prom-themed birthday party at the Hollywood Canteena that was a lot of fun as well. Howeeeever, what I will talk about now is a pair of movies I saw over the weekend, so read on to see what I thought of SHOOT 'EM UP and 3:10 to YUMA.

SHOOT 'EM UP Review:

- For those who like their action movies to play out like hyper-real anime movies on crack, SHOOT EM UP should be right up your alley. This is a nonstop roller-coaster ride that serves as a kind of deadpan sendup of the action genre, from the same kind of school of over-the-top anything-goes film-making that includes flicks like The Transporter, Crank, and most recently Grindhouse. In fact, Shoot Em Up could easily be called a true modern-day Grindhouse flick -- it's dark, lurid, nihilistic, with an acid-tipped sense of humor and a sensibility that revels in its own implausibility and outrageousness.

The story here isn't really important. Clive Owen is a badass dude called Smith who has gotten himself mixed-up in the plans of a brillaint crime lord, played by Paul Giamatti. There's something about a crooked Senator and the gun lobby, but really, all you need to know is this: Clive Owen is pissed off at the world, and he is ready to deliver some double-barelled justice on anyone who gets in his way.

Our two leads are pitch-perfect, and both have just the right amount of theatricality and tongue-in-cheek delivery. Clive Owen basically plays every lone-gun action hero rolled into one over-the-top package. If John McLane, Dirty Harry, and The Punisher were cloned and had their DNA mixed, you might get Smith. Owen delivers each of his obligatory one-liners with a suitable mix of "don't mess with me" attitude and self-aware comedic timing. Meanwhile, Giamatti is awesome as a criminal mastermind who almost seems like a modern twist on one of those old Batman TV villains. He also brings to mind all of the crazy action villains from campy 80's movies like Tango & Cash or any number of Jean Claude Van Damme movies. He says each line with a smirk and a snear, and man, Giamatti just looks to be having a blast with this role, and it shows. The movie has a lot of fun with the fact that his character just won't die, and seems to come back for more hurtin' again and again.

So ... I can't stress enough just how INSANE this movie is. In one memorable scene, Clive Owen is getting it on with Monica Belucci, who plays a hooker with a heart of gold (what else?). In the heat of the moment, so to speak, Smith is assaulted by a battalion of armed thugs. So, Smith flashes his own piece (so to speak) and begins going one-man-army on the goons. But he's kicking ass and taking names, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME ridin' space mountain with Ms. Belluci, even timing his gunshots in a way that ensures her maximum pleasure. So, yeah, that's something I can't say I've seen in a movie before.

In another scene, Smith parachutes from a plane, as dozens of thugs jump out in pursuit. We then get a MIDAIR shootout that spans the horzontal and vertical. Yiiiiiiiikes.

And man, the climactic showdown between Owen and Giammati is one for the ages. I won't spoil what happens, other than to tell you that it's yet another "holy $#@%!" moment in a movie that's chock full of them.

Now, like I said, there's little plot to speak of here, and what plot there is barely makes sense. But this is a movie where the fact that Smith has a love of eating carrots is more important than messy things like plot. This is grindhouse, baby. Barebones and all about the action, about saying "hey, thought THAT was cool? Well check THIS out." Not a "great" movie, not one that will win any awards. But for an action movie that simply grabs ya', hits ya' with a steel chair, and then flings ya' from a moving truck ... well, Shoot 'Em Up gets the job done with style.

My Grade: B+

3:10 TO YUMA Review:

- The Western movie -- for decades it was a staple of the cinema, a mainstay at the box office, and an iconic genre of American filmmaking. But ask many people who are, like me, in their 20's. How many of us have even SEEN a Western, let alone seen one in the theater? For myself, I am not sure, but I'm pretty confident that I was one of the Gen Y masses who somewhere in my subconcious had a fascination with cowboys and six-shooters and the Wild West, but who had rarely experienced such things of young male daydreams on the big screen (and no, I'm not sure that Back to the Future, Part III counts). So I was excited for 3:10 to Yuma. Not only was it a very promising entry in this long-neglected genre, but it was exciting to me simply as a movie fan. It was Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, maybe the two best actors working today, and surely two of the msot badass, going head to head, mano e mano, in an Old West showdown. If any two actors could make me interested in a Western, it was likely these very two. So yeah, I was excited for this one, but not quite sure what to expect.

What I got was a very well-made, action-packed movie that was elevated thanks to the high calber of its cast. While the characterization was a bit jumpy, the movie was a joy to watch simply because of the greatness of Bale, Crowe, and a well-rounded suporting cast that included the likes of Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, and Grethchen Mol.

The plot here is in fact pretty basic, although it is a bit over-complicated in the telling. Essentially, Bale plays Dan Evans, a down-on-his luck rancher in the Old West. Evans has fallen on hard times, and the local railroad company repeatedly threatens his home so that they can use his land to build on, even as his wife (Mol), and oldest son begin to question him as a father, husband, and provider. When Evans stumbles across the outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe), he sees it as a bit of a financial opportunity. Evans volunteers his services to join the party that will bring Wade to justice, knowing that there's a $200 reward waiting for him if he can succesfully bring Wade to the prison train that will send him packing to Yuma prison. Wade, however, is a charismatic villain. He makes men tremble and women swoon, and even inspires Evan's son to look up to him a bit. So Evans' quest becomes not just about the money, but about proving himself to his wife and son.

And this sets up the essential conflict - Evans, a guy who's worked all his life to make an honest living, and struggled all the while (with nothing but a bad leg due to Civil War friendly fire to show for it), versus Wade - a guy who uses fear and intimidation and cunning to live a life of crime and debauchery.

As was expected, both Bale and Crowe are excellent. Bale has just been on an absolute roll lately. I was only weeks ago that he turned in an Oscar-worthy performance in Rescue Dawn. Now he's kicking all sorts of ass again as Dan Evans. It really is amazing - in Dawn, Bale was a happy go lucky guy who is forced to revert to survival mode while in the jungles of Vietnam. Here, Bale is pure bottled-up intensity from the get-go - he's a man who's been beaten down and wearied, one of the few honest men in a land ruled by lawlessness. Bale is great here yet again - give this guy an Oscar already. Crowe is also pretty spectacular. He's an outlaw who knows how good it can be to be bad, but who may just have a shred of decency in him, if only he didn't have a posse of bad apples ready and willing to jump at his every command. Crowe's performance as a leader of men reminded me of his period-piece greatness in Master & Commander, except this time he was less do-gooder and more eeeeeeeeevil. But in any case, Crowe and Bale - both exceptional - and it's a little slice of movie geek heaven to see them squaring off.

However, the supporting cast is also excellent. Ben Foster in particular stands out as Charlie Prince, Crowe's right-hand man who will unleash hell at a moment's notice for his boss / leader / idol. Prince is one nasty SOB, whose loyalty to Wade borders on pathological (or else just a bit of Brokeback-style forbidden longing, as is strongly hinted at). In any event, Foster is great in the role, bristling with intensity and unpredictability - a loose cannon waiting to go off. Meanwhile, Peter Fonda is seven kinds of badass as McElroy, a grizzled old bounty hunter that might even give Jonah Hex a run for his money. Fonda gets many of the movie's best lines, as he takes a bullet like it was a tap on the shoulder, calls outlaw Dan Wade's mother a 'ho, and generally rules it as only a badass old cowboy can. Logan Lerman also does a pretty good job as Crowe's eldest son, and Gretchen Mol is good, but isn't given much to do, as Bale's worn-out wife.

The biggest problems with the movie are in the areas of plotting and characterization. Without revealing anything, things begin to unravel towards the end of the movie, and one of the major characters has a pretty major change of heart that never seemed to receive a proper build-up. Part of the problem may also lie with the direction by James Mangold (Walk The Line). Mangold seems to draw out the movie with a very deliberate pace, and yet skimps a bit on the character-arcs until the final act. The direction is very competent, but could have used a bit more grit and style. There are lots of cool set-ups, whether its an attack by hostile Apaches or a daring escape from a small mining town. But amidst all those cool scenes there are a lack of true iconic shots that really get burned into the brain. It's like the movie stuggles with whether to embrace its pulpy Western roots or to be a sleeker, more modern-feeling period-piece, and comes out as something in the middle that is ultimately a bit pedestrian-feeling at times.

But Crowe, Bale, Foster, and Fonda make the movie special. These commanding presences own the screen with a dramatic intensity that few other actors could have elicited, and help to make 3:10 to Yuma a ride well worth taking. All in all, this is a welcome return for the mainstream Western to the big screen - so saddle up and board the 3:10.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, that's it for now - congrats on surviving Monday!