Wednesday, October 31, 2007

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, Dammit All.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN~!


Hope everyone had a suitably spooky day. Man, today was just so nuts at work that I got home and could barely function. And how lame is it that in the "real world," October 31st marks the day the rent is due ...? Ugh. But again, I can't really complain - it was an awesome few weeks of Halloween havoc - from KNOTT'S SCARY FARM to PAGE-O-WEEN, and everything in between.

Anyways, in honor of the holiday, here are my ...

TOP 10 FAVORITE HALLOWEEN-THEMED TV EPISODES:

10.) Family Matters - "Dog Day Halloween" - As a kid, I used to love this episode of one of my then-fav shows, in which Steve Urkel and Laura get caught up in a bank robbery and taken as hostages. Of course, Karl Winslow saves the day, and Steve, despite being dressed as a superhero, feels useless. But worry not, a classic sitcom pep-talk from Karl and a Tina-Turner-clad Laura help to raise his spirits. This pick is also kind of a general shout-out to all the many great Halloween-themed TGIF episodes from throughout the years. Say what you will about the likes of Family Matters, Step By Step, Full House, and Perfect Strangers, but those shows existed at a time when, dammit all, the networks knew how to do a good holiday-themed episode.

9.) Bugs Bunny's Howl-oween Special - I have very fond memories of watching this over and over as a kid. The short I used to particularly love was the one where Bugs and Daffy are constantly turned into different monstrous creatures by Witch Hazel -- so, so classic. I wish animation could still be this great and timeless.

8.) Curb Your Enthusiasm - "Trick or Treat" - a classic Curb ep in which Larry refuses to give two teens candy on Halloween, and is therefore labeled a "bald asshole," an accusation which Larry deems to be a hate crime -- classic. Only Larry David could so thoroughly disect the meaning of the phrase "trick or treat."

7.) Millenium - "The Curse of Frank Black" - This is a freaking amazing episode of one of my all-time favorite TV dramas, and it's also the rare episode of the series that moves away from the show's typical crime-solving formula and focuses the spotlight squarely on Frank Black, looking at his persona from the perspective of a bunch of kids telling scary stories on Halloween. A creepy yet strangely heartfelt hour of TV. I always try to revisit this one around Halloween if I can, as no show before or since has the same kind of atmosphere or immersiveness that Lance Henrikson and Millenium brought to the small-screen.

6.) The "Thriller" music video -- When I was a kid, as I've mentioned many times in this blog, I was a bit of an MTV fanatic, even though it was kind of this forbidden fruit. But man, whenever the Thriller video came on, I considered it a huge treat, and I remember excitedly calling my brother to come watch it whenever it aired. And MTV, I think, used to always run this hourlong special that included a "making-of" doc which I always found totally fascinating. Sure, Michael Jackson may now be a real-life freak, but at one time, Thriller was the epitomy of cool. And to this day, that AWESOME Vincent Price medley gets me pumped and instantly puts me in the Halloween mood.

5) Freaks and Geeks - "Tricks and Treats" - Such a classic episode of one of the best ever shows on TV. The shwo was all about these teens grappling with adolescence, and what better epitomizes that than Halloween, where there's that everlasting conflict between satiating our childlike impulses and being a real adult? From the geeks' costumes (Bionic Woman!) on down, this is a modern-day classic.

4.) The X-Files - "Post-Modern Prometheus" - Okay so this isn't explicitly a Halloween episode, but The X-Files is of course perhaps THE quintissential spooky show, and this is one of the msot fun eps to break out around Halloween for its awesome mix of creepiness, humor, and homage to old-school horror movies. If you haven't seen it, it's a great take on the whole Frankenstein theme, with a superb guest role by John O'Hurley as a mad scientist who creates a freakish monster that plagues a small town. The ending, set to "Walking in Memphis," is one of the most oddly moving things I've ever seen on TV.

3.) The Twilight Zone - "The Howling Man" - Like the last entry, this one isn't strictly Halloween-themed, but to me it's easily the single spookiest episode of one of TV's all-time eeriest series. The premise is that a traveler stays in a strange monastary where a mysterious prisoner is being kept, a prisoner who begs and pleads to be let free. The traveler eventually gives in, but he doesn't realize that the prisoner is in fact the Devil himself, and hell has just inadvertently been unleashed on the world!

2.) "It's The Great Pumpkin ,Charlie Brown." - I just re-watched this classic last night, and was no matter how old I get I don't think the brilliance of Charles M. Schulz's Halloween classic will ever fail to amaze me. The interactions between the Peanuts gang is simply priceless, and there's this whole existential theme that gives The Great Pumpkin a quiet sophistication rarely seen in television to this day, let alone in kids TV. An inarguable masterpiece, and a great piece of Halloween tradition.

1.) The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror" - Ah, but which one, you ask? Yeah, right. No way I can decide between so many classics, so I'm lumping them all together because The Simpsons is, without a doubt, the king of the Halloween special. From "You shot Zombie Flanders!" to "No beer and no TV make Homer something something ...", there are so many classically quotable lines from these eps over the years that I could write a whole blog entry just recounting favorite bits of Treehouse dialogue. "Has anyone seen that movie Tron?" "Take that you blasted dimension!" "Stupid Smarch weather!" And the lsit goes on and on and on ... Here's to The Simpsons -- without these Treehouse of Horror specials, I doubt I would ever have come to fully attain the twisted and geeky sensibilities I possess today - and there's a darn good reason why an episode or two of Treehouse is a staple of my annual Horror Movie Marathon.

Okay kids. You've entered THE TWILIGHT ZONE, passed THE OUTER LIMITS, and are on a crach course for THE DARK SIDE. See you on the the flipside, and don't fear the Reaper!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A MONSTER of a Blog: Page-O-Ween, TV Roundup, Gone Baby Gone - Reviewed! And Celeb Sightings! SCARY.

Darkness Falls Across The Land
The Midnite Hour Is Close At Hand
Creatures Crawl In Search Of Blood
To Terrorize Y'awl's Neighbourhood
And Whosoever Shall Be Found
Without The Soul For Getting Down
Must Stand And Face The Hounds Of Hell
And Rot Inside A Corpse's Shell
The Foulest Stench Is In The Air
The Funk Of Forty Thousand Years
And Grizzy Ghouls From Every Tomb
Are Closing In To Seal Your Doom

This is HALLOWEEN, baby.

Oh man, for the second straight weekend it was nothin' but scary good times here in Hollyweird. Last weekend I took in NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 3-D at the El Capitan theater and joined up with a veritable Midnight Society to make the annual trek to KNOTT'S SCARY FARM. This weekend though, things again were turned up to eleven.

Firstly, Saturday night saw our third annual PAGE-O-WEEN party! Thanks to the efforts of Carlos M and his crew, it was once again THE party of the year, with Carlos' Pasadena digs swarming with all manner of ghouls and goblins eager to monster mash. This year, I donned the outfit of one of my personal heroes, Mr. JACK f'n BAUER. Yes, dammit all, I saw a Jack Bauer CTU costume kit for sale and could not resist its gravitas-infused allure. So I proudly sported a CTU-branded bullet-proof vest, ID badge, and yes, the JACK SACK of DOOM, and, if I do say so myself, I felt that I did Kiefer proud with my homage to his fabled world-savior. In any case, Page-O-Ween was once again a great mix of friends old and new. The G-Man was there in full-force as Optimus Prime, but many new recruits to the NBC Page cause were also more than meets the eye. NBCU Digital Distribution was well-represented with myself, Chris E as Super Mario, and Genevieve as Strawberry Shortcake. $#$% in a Box of SNL Digital Short fame was big this year, and other costumes of note included a 300 Spartan, Jack In the Box, Criss Angel, Bob Ross, and Princess Peach. It was cool to see so many old-school pages alongside new-to-NBC peeps, and as always it was a memorable night.

Then, the following day was my annual HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE MARATHON~! A small group of hardcore film freaks came out to enjoy an all-star screamfest of carefully-selected titles. I really got a kick out of all of this year's films. Okay, so BLACULA isn't exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but it's a great one to watch with a group and mercilessly mock. The opening, in which an African emmisary travels to distant Transylvania in order to persuade Count Dracula to use his vast influence to help stop the Africa slave trade ... well, let's just say it's CLASSIC. "I curse you with mine own name ... from this point forth you shall be known as ... BLACULA!" Bwahahaha ... awesome. Man, this movie was so Un-PC it's not even funny. Well, actually, it's hilarious. And then ... there was THE MONSTER SQUAD. Man, what a movie! I only wish I had seen it as a kid alongside flicks like The Goonies and 3 Ninjas. This one fits right into the 80's pantheon of kids-versus-the-forces-of-evil flicks, and is just classic geek-out moments from start to finish, courtesy of writer Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame, who penned The Monster Squad as one of his first forays into filmed entertainment. This one is just so much fun to watch - I mean, Dracula drives a black hearse with a skul-shaped hood ornament! Basically, it's all of the classic Universal monsters versus a ragtag group of Goonies-style kids, complete with prerequisite fat kid, known as Fat Kid appropriately enough. Pure 80's movie magic, and a perfect Halloween treat. "Call me ... Horace!" And, oh yeah ... is there any line more classic than "Wolfman's got nards!" ? I think not. Finally, we watched the recent remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, directed by Zack Snyder of 300 fame. Kickass movie, very action-packed, and some great over-the-top performances by the likes of Vhing Rames and a few others. The movie did a pretty good job of fitting in a nicely-constructed new-civilization-in-the-wake-of-Zombie-apocalypse story into the script, and there's some cool action scenes and a great feeling of nonstop foreboding and some good dark humor to boot. The direction by Snyder is spot-on, and it made me all the more curious to see what he does with Watchmen.

So overall it was a great Marathon ... complete with Opening Scare-imonies consisting of the traditional episodes of THE SIMPSONS Treehouse of Horror specials. The WALL OF HORRORS returned for another go-round, and it was a horrifically entertaining evening of blaxploitation vampires, kid monster-hunters, and yes, ZOMBIES. Thanks to G-Man, Seth, Carlos, and Fowzia for coming along for the ride! Now ... it's time to start planning the lineup for next year! Bwahahahaha ...

So, man, with all this Halloween build-up, it's once again almost feeling like the day itself is a bit anti-climactic. Ah, I remember the good old days of freezing my ass off in CT as Halloween approached, never being happy with my costumes, and being made fun of for being forced to wear seven layers of sweat shirts underneath my costume by my overprotective parents! Seriously, it is still pretty weird being in Sunny LA when it should be cold and dank and Halloween-appropriate. Oh well, I guess that's why you have to do other things to get into the right ... spirit ... (pun intended).

Oh, I've also been trying to do a lot of Halloween-themed reading to get into the proper mindset. I have had a copy of Steve Niles' 30 DAYS OF NIGHT lying around forever, so I thought I'd finally check it out before seeing the movie. I thought it was okay, but I wasn't a huge fan of the muddles artwork by Ben Templesmith and the narrative struck me as a bit bare-bones. On the other hand, I am still absolutely LOVING what has become one of my all-time favorite series, that being THE WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman. I mean, with each new graphic novel that is released, I find myself totally engrossed in the adventures of a band of survivors in a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. It's hard to describe to the non-reader, but what makes the series so compelling is the excellently-defined characters - you come to know them and care about them and when they die, which many ineveitably do - it really is heart-wrenching. Kirkman drapes his tale in a feeling of unsettling unease - so even when the action dies down, as it does in this latest volume, there is always a lingering feeling of dread that keeps you turning the pages like mad. I can't emphasize enough that you need to be reading THE WALKING DEAD, even if you're not predisposed to horror, this is one of the best comics going period.

- BTW, for Page-O-Ween and Knotts Scary Farm pics, check me out on MySpace or Facebook, and see me in all my Jack Bauer-ified glory. Dammit all ...

TV STUFF:

Okay ... I'm going to have to keep these short because there's lots to cover. I'll work backwards from last night's new episodes:

HEROES:

- Last night's episode was decently entertaining, but still suffering from the same problems that have plagued the majority of the episodes thus far this season: awkward pacing, jumpy storylines, and character arcs that seem to be progressing at a snail's pace, with little in the way of payoff for antsy viewers. No Kristen Bell this week, but we returned to two of the season's weakest storylines - Claire and Hiro's ongoing adventures. Again, the Claire stuff just comes off as too B-list WB teen soap-ish. Claire at this point seems to have regressed - everyone wants to see her as, well, a hero! I want to see Claire facing down evil-doers, saving the world! Instead here she is dealing with mean cheerleaders and falling for flying emo boy. As for Hiro - he's in feudal Japan, going on all these quests, and yet we're msising all the good stuff! I think last night was the first time we saw any actual swords drawn, and it's been five episodes already. So again, there's some interesting storylines going on - but um, what about the murder mystery and the virus thing? How are those not front and center at this point? Not to mention that the show really loses momentum by, say, totally dropping the Nightmare Man storyline from last week in favor of more Claire high school drama and more scenes of Sylar and the Wonder Twins in which nothing actually happens, as they inch ever closer to Estados Unidos. And I do mean "inch." And then, Peter is STILL moping aorund with lame Irish chick ... I mean, STILL! Get him out of that stupid pub already, for the love of God. And please, have Ms. Bell fry Irish Lass asap. Talk about an annoying character. What am I liking? Well, the stuff with HRG was pretty cool - it's nice to see him veering towards the side of EVIL once agaaain. And the visions of an apocalyptic New York were cool - I just hope there is a rhyme and reason to it. So once again - mildly entertaining and diverting, but give us something to sink our teeth into already!

My Grade: B -

ALIENS IN AMERICA:

- This was a funny, well-done ep, but it may have been the weakest of the series thus far. Part of it was that the humor just felt a little bit less prominent this week, as the show took a bit of a more serious turn. The other thing was that they still need to work on fleshing out the parents. The Dad subplots were very reminiscient of a Hal subplot on Malcolm in the Middle, but Scott Paterson doesn't yet have Bryan Cranston's skill for absurdist comedy, and his character on the show is still a bit of a blank slate. Overall though, I still love the show and the dynamic between Justin and Raja is just awesome, and often hilarious.

My Grade: B+

SMALLVILLE:

- Yes! Now THAT was the Smallville I know and love. Thursday's ep was easily the best so far of the season. It had some real, actual development for Clark on his road to accepting his destiny as Superman. I loved the gift of the cape from the actress he saved, and I loked that they finally seemed to be building momentum and moving Clark forward instead of having him simply tread water. Lex was great here - I loved how they brought back Warrior Angel and referenced Lex's love for the Smallville-verse's premiere comic book series, and how it's black and white morality was somethin that Lex was trying to come to terms with as he increasingly sees his actions in shades of grey. I loved Lois Lane as crusading reporter - Erica Durance really has become one of the highlights of the show, and it's been fun to see her get into the thick of things at The Daily Planet. And, much to the benefit of the show - Lionel Luthor returned, as awesomely villainous as ever. Lionel is always a pleasure to watch and it was cool seeing the great John Glover back on the show, as he really is a kickass actor who infuses Smallville with a hefty dose of GRAVITAS. The plot was actually pretty interesting this week as well, even including a bit of meta-commentary about picky fans who complain when the show deviates from established continuity. Good stuff -- this was, dare I say it, Smallville at its best.

My Grade: A -

30 ROCK:

- 30 Rock was totally classic last week. From the "Page-Off" to Alec Baldwin's instant-classic portrayal of several members of Tracy's family in one continuous bit of hilarity, everything about Thursday's ep was simply awesome, and gut-bustingly hilarious. This was perhaps one of the best-ever episodes. Carrie Fischer was great. Tracy Morgan had me dying with his dog-fighting and "You're not my dad!" flashbacks, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. 30 Rock is kicking ass right now.

My Grade: A

THE OFFICE:

- Lo and behold - The Office goes back to half-an-hour and suddenly, it's awesome again! Finally, we got the tightly-scripted, laugh-a-minute Office of old, with tons of great humor courtesy of Dwight, Andy, and Michael. The Dwight-Andy "Oh, D!" exchange was classic, and Dwight's foray into Second Life was also pretty freaking funny. And how about Andy's futile attempts to remember the Kit-Kat bar "gimme a break" jingle? Lots of comedy gold here - welcome back, half-hour Office!

My Grade: A -

GOSSIP GIRL:

- Another great episode! I loved all of the twists and turns of Wednesday's ep, and man, the show is really starting to grow on me. I hesitate to even call it a guilty pleasure, as the whole thing is very smartly-scripted and really well-acted from top to bottom. Jenny is really starting to become one of the standout characters - she is feisty! Again, I am a bit weary of all of the co-mingling between Dan and Serena's families, but kudos to this show for raising the bar nearly every week.

My Grade: A -

BIONIC WOMAN:

- The show really started to lose me last week, as it felt like the stakes were really lowered and the intensity was really ratcheted down a notch. I quickly lost interest in Jamie's foray into the world of undercover espionage, although it was refreshing to see Michelle Ryan speak in her native British dialect. Otherwise, I am still waiting for this show to up the ante after a promising pilot.

My Grade: C+

PUSHING DAISIES:

- I continue to be a huge fan of this show nearly unconditionally. Last week was another great one, with Kristin Chenoweth getting better by the week, some interesting conflict between Ned and Chuck, and more of the awesome dialogue that makes this show so darn lovable. BTW, I realized what this show reminds me of, aside from Tim Burton movies -- anyone else get a real Tim Schafer vibe from Daisies? If you don't know, Mr. Schafer is the mastermind behind such beloved computer games as Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and Psychonauts. I just get that same vibe from Daisies -- the dark humor, sense of whimsy mixed with imaginative intelligence, the vibrant cast of characters, and of course the great dialogue - it all reminds me of the greatness of games like Grim Fandango. Great stuff.

My Grade: A

And now, on to movies ...

- So this past weekend, I ventured to Universal to take in a free screening of a much-anticipated film, American Gangster. Alas, the screening was totally full, so, intent on seeing a movie, we headed up to Citywalk and caught another one I'd been wanting to see - Gone Baby Gone ...

GONE BABY GONE Review:

- This is one of those movies that is filled with great performances, a number of great scenes, and a great level of intensity. But it's also a film that is so bleak, so depressing in its examination of moral grey areas and hopless urban decay ... it's one of those films where I just wasn't quite sure what to take away from it. Don't get me wrong though - Gone Baby Gone is one hell of an impressive movie in a number of respects.

The first thing that really stands out is just how good Casey Affleck is in this one. Not quite as good as in THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES, where he was, dare I say, Oscar-worthy, but Casey is quickly becoming one of the actors to watch from his generation of up-and-comers. As a young missing-persons investigator, Affleck does a great job of mixing nervous inexperience with street smarts, playing a guy who is a bit in over his head but never shows it as he unravels the mystery of a missing girl. Affleck is backed up by an outstanding supporting cast. Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris are both at their best here - especially Harris, who turns in a totally riveting performance as a morally questionable cop who has certain extreme ideas of justice. Michelle Monahagan also does a really good job as Affleck's world-weary girlfriend / partner.

One of the stars of the movie isn't a person, but a city. Boston is brought to life here, except not in the way you might expect. The way Beantown is portrayed - dirty, gritty, decaying - it's like NYC in many a 70's crime flick. But director Ben Aflleck makes an interesting point here - portraying the hardened, no-nonsense denizens of South Boston and its suburbs as a product of their city. And if you've been to those parts of Massachussets, you know he is making a pretty valid point. Going into this film though, I thought I might recognize a locale or two, but this was a Boston far removed from the beautiful city I knew as a BU student - this is the bad side of town, skid row, the slums - where people are driven to drugs and crime and vice as if the city itself was demanding it of them. Affleck spends a lot of time lingering on the scenery, and it's an effective tactic - painting a picture of a place that perhaps breeds a certain type of human being.

In the end though, while certain scenes were utterly gripping (for example, Affleck's showdown with a crime boss named Cheese in a seedy club), I at times had to wonder: "what is the point of all this?" The script in many ways just left me feeling empty - it reminded me in many ways of something like Million Dollar Baby - where the story seems to be set up to culminate in some kind of victory for the characters, only to take a downward spiral and end in an unpleasant bout of bleakness and hopelessness. It's just one of those things that makes you wonder about the story construction - without some kind of overarching conclusion or take-away, why tell this story? Sure, there are a number of running themes here - how people are the products of their environment, how justice isn't always black and white, how innocence can be corrupted by family - but I felt like this film kind of presented all of these films without necessarily having any real insights into them. Again, it just left me feeling very empty and depressed, and wondering if, without such a collection of superb actors, the movie would still hold up to the extent that it does.

Gone Baby Gone is a great directorial effort from Ben Affleck, and a movie notable for another star-making turn from younger brother Casey. Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are in top form, and a number of scenes are brilliantly intense and impeccably staged. But is it a great movie? To me, it was not, as it just lacked that final punch that tied everything together and served as a way to ensure that the movie isn't just there for the sake of being there, but that it actually made a statement. At the end of the movie, Casey Affleck is left to make a devastating choice regarding the fate of a kidnapped girl, and both of his options are far from ideal. It's an interesting moral dillemna, but at the same time it feels like the movie has virtually no opinion on which choice is the right one. To some, that may be rewardingly complex. To me, it was more frustrating than satisfying. Still, Gone Baby Gone is worth checking out, and I look forward to more from Ben Affleck: director.

My Grade: B


Alllllllllllright boys and ghouls - I'm about out of here.

Before I go, I have to mention what an awesome day today was in terms of celeb sightings at work. In the NBC Commisary today, who did I see but the remaining members of one of the most revolutionary bands of all time. Yes, kids, I was in the presence of JOHNNY ROTTEN and THE SEX PISTOLS~!!!!!!!!!! Man, how friggin' (in the riggin') awesome is that?!?! The Pistols are actually on Leno tonight, performing Anarchy in the UK. Check it out, even if it is pretty weird and surreal to see the OG punk rockers on Leno of all places. Still ... I SAW JOHNNY ROTTEN IN PERSON! God save the Queen indeed.

Then, right here in my office, down the hall, mere feet from my desk, was none other than leader of THE GO-GO's ... Ms. BELINDA CARLISLE!!!! Holy crap! For a moment, heaven was a place on earth. Yep, we got the beat, baby.

Yes, another MONSTER EDITION of the blog ... so good ... it's SCARY.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hulu Beta Test - Watch Natalie Portman Rap on My Blog!

Check it out -- now you can watch FREE TV shows and clips anytime via Hulu.com ... pretty sweet, huh?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

24!!!!! Holy Lord I Need To Change My Pants!!!!!!

OH. SNAP.

Just saw the preview to 24 - Season 7, and I am IN, baby, SO IN.

TONY ALMEDA as a badass hero-gone-bad.

JACK BAUER doing what he does best.

And holy lord, I've said before that if there is ONE actor who I want to see on 24 in full-on badass mode, it is KURTWOOD SMITH, he of Robocop and That 70's Show fame. AND OH MY GOD - HE IS IN SEASON 7~!!!!!!!!!! WOW!

Behold and bask in the glory:

http://stage6.divx.com/user/jcaveman/video/1775941/24-World-Premiere-Day-7-Trailer

Between this and LOST, January is going to sah-weeeeet.

I'm going to go watch that again ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Long Time Ago, We Used To Be Friends ... Kristen Bell on HEROES, PRISON BREAK, and MORE!

Wow, these Southern California fires are just ridiculous ... All I can say is that let's hope these things are contained ASAP. Right now, there's luckily no real fire activity in Burbank or surrounding areas, but even here, the air is smoky and people are coughing more often than usual. I know I myself have been feeling a bit out of it since Saturday. I really just need a day off to rest and recharge, but as we all know NBC-Universal would fall apart without me, so not sure how much of an option that is ...

PS - Just to prove to everyone that I am actively fighting the good fight when it comes to TV shows, check out Amazon.com RIGHT NOW. Click on the Unbox tab on the upper left corner, then scroll down - see that big promo for Kristen Bell on Heroes? That was all me, baby! (And yes, the text includes the obligatory Veronica Mars shout-out).

On last night's HEROES:

- Well, I thought last night's ep was probably the best yet of the second season. It had a grand entrance for Kristen Bell, who certainly made the best of what she was given, and brought her trademark wit and spunk to the precedings. Was she given any lines to say that at all matched the cleverness of the average dialogue exchange on the late, great, VERONICA MARS? No, not really ... but, man, it was nice to see an actress show up who knows how to milk a line for all it's worth, who through a bat of an eyelash or a crooked half-smile can add oh-so-much to a scene. Ah, here I go, it's just making me miss VM that much more ...

So aside from Ms. Bell's debut as Elle, she of lightning powers, casual sadism, and mysterious parentage, I did like a lot of stuff in this ep. Overall, it just felt tighter, more ably directed, more polished than the show has over the last few weeks. I especially liked the whole sequence where Parkman and Nathan Petrelli visit Parkman's dad, aka the Nightmare Man. I liked the actor they got for this part - he did a great job of walking the line between menacing and likable. The nightmare sequence in which Nathan suddenly finds himself in a post-apocalyptic NYC was really well-done and looked great, and the hallucinagenic fight between Parkman and Petrelli was very cool and kinetically-directed. Finally, though I still find the actress playing Micah's cousin to be a bit annoying, she grew on me a bit this week, and if her storyarc is such that she FINALLY gives this show a character who actively kicks ass and fights crime - well, dayum, s'bout time!

At the same time, there was still a feeling of things being overly-cluttered. I barely missed the likes of Claire and her uber-lame high-school romance with fly-boy, and was all too happy not to revisit the Wonder Twins this week ... but instead we got more of the fairly useless Hiro storyarc, which felt completely disjointed this week. I mean, did ANYTHING actually happen? It was amusing to see good ol' Ando reading Hiro's scrolls, and kudos to whoever chose the cool music for those scenes as well. But that Hiro storyline is totally trading water. If they aren't going to SHOW all of his great adventures in feudal Japan, then what's the point?!?! It's the same feeling I got last year when they teased us with that great painting of Hiro fighting a dinosaur - sure, staging that battle might go a bit over-budget, to say the least, but come on, show some imagination here. Meanwhile, the stuff with Nikki and Mohinder at the Company HQ was kind of meh ... Mohinder has long been the worst overall character on the show, and they're not doing him any favors by once again having him in these lame storylines. They REALLY need to refocus on the murder-mystery, as it feels like they are leaving what should be the season's central storyline by the wayside.

So, this ep showed some definite promise, and even a little bit of artistry with some cool direction and cinematography. We got two new characters loaded with potential in Elle and Parkman Sr. But again, the jumpy structure, a structure that lends itself to lame-duck, go-nowhere storylines and painfully slow pacing, is killin' all sense of momentum. Yes, business picked up this week, but here's hoping these were not simply band-aids that can't, on their own, alleviate the larger issue at hand. Oh, and I can't wait for Peter to ditch those Irish pub-folk ... none of them can act (especially that girl), and I blame them for most of my total disinterest in Peter's storyline up until Ms. Bell swooped in this week.

My Grade: B

PRISON BREAK:

- Last night's ep was a good one, but wasreally just a lot of build up for the upcoming, 2-hour "event." Not to say that that's necessarily a bad thing, but the show just didn't keep me on the edge of my seat like it usually does, especially when it veered into sideplots that felt tacked-on, like Sucre's run-in with a bunch of criminals who want him to be their man inside the prison. I also didn't quite see the point of introducing Random New Inmate who gets harrassed by Mahone (btw - wasn't that same dude also on HEROES this week as one of the Irish guys?). Thirdly, Lincoln again seemed stuck in a rather pointless dead-end story, and after all this time they've yet to do much to make Whistler's girlfriend very interesting (same can be said for Whistler himself). However, as always, there were come great moments scattered throughout. The best scene was probably T-Bag concealing Lechero's whore/nun (TM Mike Myers), with a great line about how we are all prostitutes in this world and she is the Queen (thank you Brian for reminding me of that one). Classic. Also, this episode really reminded me just how great Wentworth Miller is as Michael Scofield. He delivers his lines with a ton of badass gravitas worthy of Jack Bauer, and makes watching Scofield plan and scheme his eventual escape the highlight of the show. Anyways, overall this was a decent ep but it seems like things really kick into high gear in the upcoming 2-hour extravaganza.

My Grade: B

Alright, leave me some well-wishes as I am currently coughing and sniffling my way through this day. Until next time, this has been the best blog on the internet telling it like it is. Yeah, I said it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

SHOCKING! HORRIFYING! DOWNRIGHT SCARY! Knott's Scary Farm Wrap-Up, Tons of TV Reviews, Red Sox, and MORE

Let the festivities begin ...

Well, this weekend Halloween 2007 kicked off in earnest with a slew of suitably scary activities. Friday night, I had the distinct pleasure of checking out The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood - an awesome theatrical experience that reminded me just how great of a movie is Tim Burton's stop-motion masterpiece.

Saturday, the usual suspects were rounded up to make our third annual trek to the mecca of Halloween horror that is Knott's Scary Farm. Damn, Knotts was an absolute mob scene this year, but as always we had a great time, and as always, by night's end we were totally wiped out, exhausted, and groaning over our sore feet and backs ... man, I guess that's what happens when you're couped up in an office all day and then spend the hours of 8 pm to 2 am walking through a maze of haunted houses and waiting in long lines. Suffice it to say I was 100% wiped out on Sunday, like, could barely move wiped out. But, Knotts brought it, I have to say. Alongside classic mazes like Lore of the Vampire and 13 Axe Murder Mansion, there was a pretty cool Beowulf (sp?)-themed maze, complete with giant dragons and ogres, the Killer Klown Kollege, marking a return of evil clowns to Knotts, and - The Doll Factory, a downright creepy haunted house featuring all manner of stitched-together spirits. And yes, I jumped back a few feet when suddenly confronted with a Donnie Darko-esque giant evil bunny rabbit lunging towards me ...

So, we came and saw and conquered - Year 3 at Knotts - we braved long lines and everpresent fog machine - clowns with chainsaws and swarms of uber-ghetto teenagers. But all in all I'd call it yet another successful trip to the Scary Farm.

Still, this was only Round 1 of Halloween '07. This coming weekend will see the return of Page-O-Ween (always a good time, and the source of many classic photo ops), and of course the annual Horror Movie-Marathon. I've realized over the years that the Horror-thon is a bit too hardcore for some, so this year I'm not being overly ambitious, just inviting a few fellow film-fanatics, and bringing the goods with a scream-worthy lineup that includes blaxploitation classic "Blacula," 80's kids-vs-monsters cult fav "The Monster Squad," and Zack Snyder's zombie remake gore-fest, "Dawn of the Dead." Niiiiiice.

- Also, got to say congrats to the BOSTON RED SOX, with a great win last night that sees them headed to the World Series. Now, I have a ton of Boston Pride and always root for the Sox to win, but lately I am getting overwhelmed by all the people who follow every game as if the stakes were life and death. My problem is this: when I was at BU, a large part of my enthusiasm for the Sox was due to that aforementioned Beantown pride, the sense of community shared with my fellow New Englanders, and the fact that I was right there across from Fenway and could practically soak in the atmosphere from the stands on a daily basis. Here in LA, my main connection the Sox is a handful of friends who are die-hard fans, and television. Well, as I was getting to, my main problem is that, unless it's a close game in the final innings, baseball to me is boring as $%#$ to watch on TV. The slow build, glacial pacing, and immense length of most games lends itself to exciting finishes when the game is close. But if it isn't ... I just can't bring myself to sit for hours watching a game and waiting forever for each pitch to be thrown. Now, if I'm right there, at the stadium, it's a whole different story. Like I said, half the appeal is soaking in the atmosphere, especially in a stadium that bleeds history like Fenway. But look, I only have time to be interested in so many things, and right now baseball is a passing interest but not at the top of my list.

That being said, with the Sox in the World Series, you can bet that I will start paying a little closer attention ...

BOSTON, baby!!!

TV STUFF:

- Again, I'm going to do some quick lightning-round style reviews this week so I can cover a lot of ground:

SMALLVILLE:

- This was another very entertaining episode, continuing a streak of surprisingly decent episodes following this year's very lackluster season premiere. I thought Dean Cain was a lot of fun as an immortal villain (though it would have been colller had he actually been DC comics mainstay Vandal Savage). Sure, Cain had some lines that were so cheesy they were almost awesome ("Who do you think you are, Jack the Ripper?" "I WAS Jack the Ripper."). Okay, so Cain wasn't exactly doing Emmy-worthy stuff, but it was a lot of fun seeing the old Man of Steel go mano e mano with the new. Also, Kara / Supergirl has, IMO, brought a renewed sense of energy to the show, it's been a lot of fun seeing her interact with Clark, Jimmy, Lana, etc. What's not so good? Well, the Martian Manhunter is still being completely wasted on the show, and has yet to do a single interesting thing. And then ... okay, I thought that the Chloe-Jimmy stuff was MOSTLY handled well, up until the ridiculous closing scene that seemed to go on and on forever, and was about as lamely melodramatic as can be. So, a pretty good ep, but still a bit uneven and cheesy.

My Grade: B

GOSSIP GIRL:

- This was another really good ep. What I loved was how the storylines kind of defied my expectations through some clever writing. On a lesser show, freshman Jenny would have simply been humiliated by Blair and her crew and that would have been that. But I thought it was great how Jenny turned the tables and used her street-smarts to gain the upper hand. I was also sure that yet another obstacle would come between Serena and Dan finally hooking up, but the show's done a great job of making us root for them, so it was cool to see them have their moment. My only concern is that the show is starting to feel kind of, um, incestuous? Anyone else getting that? I mean, how many romances can occur at one time between two families? We've got Dan and Serena as a couple, his sister Jenny and Serena's brother possibly having something going on (I'd say they should avoid that one), and then, hints of a rekindled romance between Dan's dad and Serena's mom ... (they should DEFINITELY avoid going down that route, I think). I'm loving the show, but I hope that they are aware that the romances here are getting a little too insular for comfort. As for this ep though? Great stuff.

My Grade: A -

PUSHING DAISIES:

- Oh man, I was dyin' to write about this one last week, but just didn't have time. I LOVED last Wednesday's episode, which is kind of amazing, as I've been super high on all three eps to date. When a show comes out of the gate like this with three consecutive A-level episodes, that automatically to me puts it in a very special category, a category that instantly elevates it to an exclusive category occupied by the likes of similar fast-starters like Lost and 24 and The X-Files. Is PUSHING DAISIES as good as those shows? Obviously, way too early to say. But so far it's just felt like a classic in the making at every step of the way. This past week, we got another extremely fun story that worked as a standalone, but also tied back into the pilot in terms of reminding us as an audience of the price that Ned exacts whenever he keeps someone like Chuck alive past their alotted 60 seconds. However, the whimsical dialogue was once again the star of the show. This echange, to me, is an instant-classic:

Wilfred Woodruff: You should know that I was thrice named ultimate sword master at the Southern Area Regional Volunteer Infantry Reenactment Regiment!

Ned: I wanted to be a Jedi!

In fact, the whole final act of this episode was pure magic, from Ned accidentally donning a red cape and appearing as Prince Charming to Chuck, to the classical swordfight that broke out in which the aforementioned exchange took place. I loved the blend of action, humor, and mystery. Pushing Daisies so far has been a total trip.

My Grade: A

BIONIC WOMAN:

- I thought last week's ep was likely the best to date, though there were stil lcertainl some kinks to be worked out. I thought that one area where things really improved was the relationship between Jamie and her sister - this week it felt a lot more organic to the story and less cheesy. Still though, you'd think that the Bionic Woman's secret government employers would at least help her to concoct a decent cover story for her missions - I mean, haven't they watched La Femme Nikita? On the other hand, Katie Sackhoff continued to be really really good here and chew up the scenery with pulpy style. She really is stealing the show, so it will be interesting to see how everyone copes once her character is out of the picture. In any case, there was some good action here, some good character moments, but still a feeling of being disjointed.

My Grade: B

THE OFFICE:

- This one once again had some funny moments, but was still weighed down by the hour-long length - again - it all felt a bit too decompressed, with the humor spread too thin. Honestly, this episode had too many long, lingering moments that bordered on being downright depressing. Now, I can alredy hear people saying "wait - wasn't the British Office so acclaimed for that exact reason - because it blended humor with a rather dark, sometimes depressing look at the drudgery of office life?" Yes, that's true, but this is NOT the British Office. That show had a subtle, fly-on-the-wall humor style that allowed it to be hilarious even if the "jokes" were sometimes sparse. The American Office has evolved into an altogether different beast - the humor is more cartoonish and gag-oriented, and the humor not as purely organic to the characters as it was in the original. The point is - when The Office, the American Office, has long stretches without jokes or gags, it really suffers. Part of it is that the characters have not always been 100% consistent (ie the ebbs and flows of Michael Scott). But whatever the case, I liked the ep, but am anticipating a return to the half-hour format.

My Grade: B

30 ROCK:

- This was a hilarious ep of 30 ROCK, likely the best of the season so far. Guest star Steve Buscemi (he's really making the rounds lately) was spot-on as a PI hired to uncover any dirty secrets in Jack's past.The interplay between Jenna and Kenneth was hilarious, as was Tracy's handling of his overly-involved wife. Great stuff - very funny- please watch.

My Grade: A

MY NAME IS EARL:

- Earl had one of its best episodes to date last week, with a great premise in which we got to peer into the imaginations of Earl, Randy, Joy, Crabman, and Catalina. I thought the humor at times didn't quite live up to the promise of the premise, but sometimes, as with Randy's delightfully random dream sequence, what we got was downright hilarious.

My Grade: A -

- Allllright, I'm outta here for now. Back later with more. Go SOX, and Happy pre-Halloween week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Watch It Or Drop It? Also: Aliens In America = Awesome

And it's Wednesday - one day closer to the weekend and overall a pretty good day so far. So I watched Larry Craig interviewed on NBC last night ... it was one of those weird interviews where you're kind of half-listening to him speak but mostly going all Larry David and giving him the squinty-eyed "so, did you do it or not?" look. The fact is that Craig came off very well in the interview, which was a stark contrast to most of his TV appearances where he comes off like a passive-aggressive idiot. However, aided by Matt Lauer's fairly soft-ball line of questioning, Craig and his wife were the perfect picture of down-home elderly gentility, and their "oh, gee golly I was oh so surprised by that mean old policeman!" strategy certainly seemed to pay off - the two came off as befuddled grandparents rather than as devious liars (which may very well be what Senator Craig is ...). The fact is that the truth will eventually come out one way or the other, especially in this day and age, so if Craig is temporarily getting away with deceiving the public, I doubt it will last for long.

TV STUFF:

So, it's about that time where I realize that I am but one man, and I can only watch so much TV on a regular basis without going insane. Therefore, it's time to start dropping shows, which is at times a painful process and at times fairly liberating. I mean, there's shows like Journeyman that I really WANT to like, but after a few episodes I just realize that, while it may be a well-done show, it's simply not for me. Same goes for Life - I really like the acting and the main character, but I am just not a fan of most procedural shows in terms of format, and find it hard to commit to watching them on a weekly basis. So of the new Fall shows - here's where they currently stand with me:

DEFINITELY WATCHING (for now, at least ...):

- Pushing Daisies: An amazing show that is like nothing else on TV, I've loved the first two episodes and can't wait to see where it goes from here.

- Chuck: A fun, funny show that really appeals to my particular sensibilities, even if it seems to be quickly falling out of favor with the hipster crowd (see the slew of negative comments on The Onion). I really like the style of Chuck though, and feel like it's the best of this year's crop of slacker / geek comedies.

- Gossip Girl: This one really surprised me as I wasn't expecting to like it this much. Now, I don't know how long it will hold my interest, but for now, count me in as being hooked. A great enemble cast and particularly smart writing doesn't hurt.

- Aliens In America: The best sitcom of the season, Aliens is growing on me more and more with each episode. It has a great point of view and is legitimately very funny - I hope more people watch!

ON THE BUBBLE:

- Bionic Woman: This one is more in the "will keep watching" category, but I need some reassurance that this one has some direction and promise. After a few creative shakeups, I'm hoping things stabilize enough to pick up some positive momentum. But the concept is cool enough to keep me watching for now as I wait to see if the show can find its legs.

- Reaper: I really, really want to like this show, and hearing how enthusiastic some others are about it makes me want to keep giving it a shot. I just feel like it's already so predictable and formulaic after only four episodes. With Chuck, I get a lot of enjoyment out of Chuck's spy missions being played out. With Reaper, I enjoy the smaller, in-between moments, but the actual monster-of-the-week plotlines leave me very disinterested. This one is closer to the "dropping it" category for me.

- Dirty Sexy Money: Here's one that I really like in all respects - great cast, smart writing, fun characters, and an intriguing overarching mystery. The problem? I'm just not sure if I have time to keep watching it, and despite all of its stengths, the show is not SO good that it has that "must see this now!" feel. Part of it may simply be that as good as this is, the subject matter is simply not all that interesting to me in and of itself. I'll have to wait and see on this one.

AND I'M DONE:

- Back To You: At first, I was pretty high on this show and saw it as a rare gem in TV land - an old-school sitcom that was actually funny. However, turns out I was wrong on the funny part. Actors like Kelsey Grammar and Fred Willard are all very much capable of being hilarious, but the fact is - watch this and the ultra-lame Till Death back to back, and you realize the only real difference between the two is the pedigree of the former's cast. Considering that this is on opposite the stellar Pushing Daisies, I won't be coming back to Back to You.

- Journeyman: Like I said, Kevin McKidd is great, and I am predisposed to like any show about time-travel. Except, turns out this show is not about time-travel, it's a procedural / soap opera that happens to use time-travel as a plot device. That isn't to say that this is not a very well-done show, just not necessarily for me.

- Life: Again, it's simply a matter of not having time to watch and not being a big fan of procedural shows in general. I would encourage anyone to give this show a try - it's well-acted, has a great lead character, and is a nice twist on the procedural cop drama. But it is still a procedural cop drama ... which just isn't my cup of tea (I don't like tea, but you get the point).

- The Big Bang Theory: I thought this show had some potential, but I quickly grew to really dislike its cartoonish characters and ham-fisted humor. Sure, I used to love Steve Urkel back in the day, but Big Bang is no Family Matters.

And that's where I stand as of now ...

But about Monday's ALIENS IN AMERICA ...

- I loved this episode. I thought it was hilarious, and featured the most well-rounded portrayal of the characters yet, with the parents starting to feel a bit more likable and Justin having some of his best moments yet. I thought the main plotline was pretty smart and very hilarious - Justin has long been part of his school Rocket Club, the only catch is, there is no Rocket Club, it was just an excuse for he and his friends to sneak into R-rated movies and such without having to worry about what to say to their parents. So when Raja joins the club, the innocent Pakistani finds himself unable to lie about what's going on, thus blowing the kids' cover, and forcing them to start a real Rocket Club as penance. So when Raja goes to buy parts for his model rocket, he is of course suspected of some kind of terrorist plot, and an investigation begins, meaning that his computer is confiscated. Justin jumps to Raja's defense, and launches a campaign to stop the computer from being examined. However, the real reason for this is that Justin has been using Raja's un-password-protected computer to look at porn, and he's nervous he'll be exposed. Okay, that is semi-brilliant right there, and what we got was a tightly-constructed, hilarious story that brought to mind the likes of Malcolm in the Middle or Arrested Development - absurd, over-the-top, yet with a genuine quality that made all the characters come off as very real despite the random circumstances they're thrown into. Great stuff, watch ALIENS!

My Grade: A

- Alright, I'm out for now. PEACE.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Heroes - aka - Woohoo, One More Week until Kristen Bell shows up! Plus: Chuck!

Oh man -- Tuesdays. Does anyone actually LIKE Tuesdays? Unless Tuesday has some particular signifigance to you, it is mostly known as being Garbage Day, a day that falls ridiculously early in the week - thus reminding you just how far away the weekend is, and as a day in which you're still tired and cranky from the only day worse than Tuesday -- Monday.

But anyways, I digress - and while I have a few moments I wanted to offer up some thoughts on ...

TV STUFF:

HEROES:

Heroes last night took some baby steps in the right direction, but still felt kind of held back by the crazy structure that has shaped this season so far. I mean, no matter how many good scenes are in an episode, it's just hard to tie it all together into an entertaining hour when you have to quickly cut from one unrelated storyline to the next every few minutes. It may be a tried and true formula, but there's a reason why most shows stick to an A plot and a B plot, with maybe a C plot thrown in for good measure. Some shows, like 24, manage to juggle a ton of subplots together by having them all tied into one larger, overarching plot. Others, like Lost, tend to push lingering subplots into the background while each episode puts the spotlight on a particular story arc or character. But the rigid, over-loaded and decompressed storytelling style we've seen so far this season with Heroes is simply not ideal, and tends to make each plotline seem to move along at a snail's pace, with little payoff in a given episode. In fact, it almost feels like the creatives behind Heroes are "writing for DVD" rather than a weekly episodic format, which can be a huge drag for the majority of us who are watching on a weekly basis.

That being said, it was nice to finally see some of the storylines begin to converge and there were also a few nice twists here and there. However, the downside is that a lot of these new turns seemingly came out of nowhere. I mean, Sylar joining up with our Black Oil Teenaged Runaways was a nice little shot in the arm for that formerly-boring-as-hell storyline, and yet, them literally running into his beat-up body on the side of the road was one hell of a coincidence, even for a show where everyone is supposedly connected. Meanwhile, it was pretty cool, in a way, to have the big bad "Nightmare Man" be revealed as Parkman's father. If only we had heard mention of his father before - the twist may have had a bit more impact. Still, it makes Parkman a lot more interesting now that he has a potentially interesting backstory waiting in the wings - I just think it's a bit on the lazy side to introduce a major character like this with no previous allusions or hints. Speaking of which -- this whole Nightmare Man thing seems a lot like Randall Flagg of Stephen King's The Stand. Might Heroes be adding The Stand to its inspirations alongside such cannonical works as Watchmen? Hmm ...

About Micah's newly-featured cousin, Monica. I have to say her scenes were uber-cheesy, walking the fine line between just plain lame and so-cheesy-they're kinda cool. I mean, the girl's power is that she instantly learns by watching. So after watching a WWE match, she suddenly develops the ability to perform a 619 a la Rey Mysterio, and promptly uses said lucha libre maneuver to diapatch a would-be criminal? Wow - that was both semi-awesome and semi-retarded all at once. I can't wait to see her break out the Stone Cold Stunner or the Big Leg Drop.

Honestly though, the dialogue in Monica's scenes was often pretty clunky - she went to college yet works in a fast food joint? She's planning to move her family into a new home on her fast-food salary? I'm sure I make more than her and can barely afford my own apartment, let alone a new home for my whole family. Similarly clunky were Claire's scenes. Her new BF is annoying as hell, and there is just this blandness about Claire's current storyline that makes it flip-the-channel material. Claire is the big action-hero of the show - she should be out there kicking ass and taking names in a cheerleader uniform, not lying to her dad about going on a date. I realize it's kind of a slow build, but it's been four episodes already and we're still stuck in this endless loop of Claire being stuck in a really bad WB teen soap. Make it stoooooooop. I will say though, nice cinematography on the flying scene.

So, I'm intrigued with the big, epic storyline stuff. I want to know more about Parkman's dad and his nightmare man persona. I want to know who is killing the old Heroes, and what's up with The Company and this weird virus. But there is sooooo much filler in between all this stuff. Get on with it already! And it can't be a good sign that despite how over-stuffed this ep was, I barely missed Hiro, Peter, or Nikki being MIA.

But you know what? None of that really matters, because next week KRISTEN F'N BELL is on HEROES. I mean, holy crap, she already kicked the ass of nearly every other actor on the show from her brief appearance in the preview clips alone! Kristen Bell freakin' rules it, and, even if she is given lame dialogue to say or little to do, I am pretty confident she will make the most of what she is given. I mean, we're talking about Veronica Mars here - the girl can do no wrong.

As for this episode ... some nice twists, a few nifty plot points to keep me barely hangin' on after a few solid eps of uneven uneventfulness. But man, as others have said, they are tres lucky that Kristen Bell's super-power is making us hurtin' Heroes fans feel compelled to watch next week, lest we miss Ms. Bell's big debut. Talk about a savior for a sagging show!

My Grade: B -

CHUCK:

Chuck, meanwhile, continued to impress with its fourth ep. I felt this one wasn't quite as hilarious or tightly-scripted as the last two weeks', but I still found it very enjoyable. I mean, I'm not sure that placing so much emphasis on a budding romance between Chuck and Sarah is the right hting to do at this early juncture. It seems too early and too forced. But man, that Josh Schwartz - if anyone can make you buy into unlikely star-crossed romances, it's him (Seth and Summer, anyone?). On the plus side though, Adam Baldwin continues to be great, if a bit ineffectual as a super-spy this week. Good stuff - watch Chuck.

My Grade: B+

ALRRRRRRRRRRRIGHT, gotta run. Later.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Blog For All Seasons: SMALLVILLE, SIMPSONS, OFFICE, MORE!

And I'm back.

It was a busy weekend this week, with a few birthdays and many good times. My travels brought me to the hard-rockin' Mexican joint Pink Taco in Century City, to the swanky One Sunset in West Hollywood, and to the Grove in LA, where I had my first ever sampling of the LA-area phenomenan known as Pinkberry (it's basically a redux of early-90's yogurt chain TCBY, except more yogurt-y and more about decking your very vanilla yogurt with fruit than with Reeses Peanut Butter Cups).

Also, I will give a blog shout-out to my co-worker Justin D, a fellow future-ruler-of-Hollywood-and-possible-CEO-of-NBC Universal. Happy birthday, and good times on Friday.

TV STUFF:

So I think I'm going ot try to stick with the shorter format for these TV Reviews, with the exception being shows that require a little more analysis like a Heroes, 24, or Lost. Anyways, since the G-Man and I were "Bound For Glory" last night, I didn't get a chance to catch all of FOX's Sunday night lineup ... so I haven't seen KOTH or Family Guy yet (though I heard FG was a rerun?!), but I did manage to catch THE SIMPSONS ...

THE SIMPSONS:

- This was an episode that felt like a real anomaly, because unlike most recent Simpsons eps, which are light on plot but heavy on random humor, this one actually had a pretty developed storyline and had much more subtle humor than is typically featured of late. Personally - I enjoyed it. Even if it was light on laugh out loud moments, there were a number of really good lines, and this is the first time in a while where it felt like guest voice talent (in this case, the great Steve Buscemi) was actually used really well, and was perfect as Dwight, a criminal who forms a strange bond with Marge after she is a hostage in one of his bank-robbery attempts. As I mentioned, this ep had some really great, clever dialogue that reminded me of old-school Simpsons - the kind of stuff that will be repeated by Simpsons nerds for years to come. Kent Brockman, Homer, and Skinner all had some classics. The ep did falter a bit towards the end, and Homer seemed to weave in and out of the story a bit randomly, but all in all this was a really refreshing, extremely solid episode of The Simpsons.

My Grade: B+

SMALLVILLE:

- This episode of Smallville had some really, really great character moments that reinforced the idea that, even though it tends to have silly moments and lame plot lines, there are certain little things that this show does right that makes it, in its own way, worthy of the Superman legacy. This ep had some great, Rockwellian imagery of Clark in his farm that I really liked - reminded me of Alex Ross circa Kingdom Come. I also was a big fan of the training scenes with Clark helping cousin Kara to control her abilities. I think this is where the show is at its best - when it tones down the sex appeal and focuses on the fun and innocence of the Superman / Clark Kent mythology. Of course, this ep had to have its cake and eat it too. In addition to gratuitous bikini shots of Kara, we were treated to an ulta-lame group of models-turned-supervillains, each with a pretty bland elemental power (as if this type of villain wasn't done to death on this show by now, and also now with Reaper and its similar freak-of-the-week formula). It's always such a letdown to me when Smallville features such boring, uninspired villains. I mean on a show like The X-Files, fans can recount with wild enthusiasm all their favorite monsters-of-the-week, from Fluke Man to El Chubacabra to the Jersey Devil. But honestly, how many of Smallville's random meteor-rock monsters have been memorable in the least? It's just a shame that with so many great DC Universe characters at their disposal, the writers come back to these same types of generic villains over and over again. Anyways, I do think they're doing a very nice job of establishing Kara, and her character has already pretty much won me over, and makes a nice addition to Smallville alongside Chloe, Lana, and Lois. Of course, Lex was great as always, and I can't see his storyline with Kara kick into high gear. So, all the peripheral stuff here was really well done - it's just that the episode was very much dragged down by an uninspired A-plot.

My Grade: B

THE OFFICE:

- Yes! After two slightly below-par episodes so far this season ... this week, The Office of old was back! Okay, well, that isn't 100% true. The fact is, the 1-hour format is killin' this show, and the show is simply not doing a good job of adjusting to the longer running times. However, with this third ep of Season 4, I felt that the first half-hour was, in and of itself, a near-perfect and downright HILARIOUS episode that had me dyin' of laughter. I mean, Jim and Pam's prank on Dwight, in which they made Mr. Schrute believe that the company website had gone Tron on him and become a sentient being ... seriously one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Comedy gold. That first half of the ep was chock full of other good stuff too - so much so that it would have been worthy of a flat-out A in my book ... But then, we go the second half-hour, which saw a huge loss in storytelling momentum from Part 1. Michael Scott essentially kidnapping the pizza delivery guy continued the show's streak of featuring drawn-out and too-out-there Michael plotlines that tend to drag down the episode, and portray Michael as so much of an idiot that you fail to even understand his own internal logic. Dont' get me wrong - the second half of the episode had some great moments, particularly from the under-utilized Andy, as played to perfection by Ed Helms. Andy's character is a bit ambiguous right now, so it was good to see him get a bit of the spotlight, and his taking a fancy to Angela, much to the chagrin of Dwight, has unlimited comedic potential. So yeah, this WOULD have been an all-time classic at 30 minutes. At 60 minutes, it was merely very, very good.

My Grade: A -

30 ROCK:

Two Words - WEREWOLF BAR-MITZVAH! That little slice of Tracy-Morgan-infused random hilarity was sheer awesomeness. I mean -- WEREWOLF BAR-MITZVAH~! Need I say more? Okay, I'll say more. Actually, all in all this was a pretty damn good ep of 30 Rock, but a bit of a letdown if only because, with Will Arnett back as a guest star, I was expecting huge, great, wonderful things, but I don't know if many moments lived up to Arnett's original turn last season as a rival exec to Alec Baldwin. In this one, Arnett was great as per usual, but only got a few scenes in which to reprise his lusty longings for Kenneth the Page. I guess my complaint, overall, is that Alec Baldwin's character has just become a bit too toned-down and sympathetic. I say keep Tina Fey as the down to earth center of gravity, and keep Baldwin as the slightly insane, clueless exec. It makes his verbal sparring with Will Arnett that much funnier! But still - Werewolf Bar Mitzvah = genius.

My Grade: B+

GOSSIP GIRL:

- Well, if last week's ep of GG completely won me over, this week's lost me a bit. Not to say I didn't really enjoy it, but it just seemed like the premise of the show has quickly become totally flipped. I mean, we started out with Serena and Blair as bitter ex-friends turned rivals, and Dan as the outsider pining over Serena. Now all of a sudden, Dan is seeming to-cool-for-school, and is already weighing the pros and cons of putting up with Serena's drama. I mean, if he was 30 or even 25 it'd be understandable, but the kid is supposed to be in high school - why all the angst? He basically has already got the girl in the palm of his hand - he should be jumping for joy. However, there is a lot of fun character stuff going on and I look forward to seeing where it all leads. Behind Pushing Daisies and maybe Chuck, this is certainly up there as one of my fav shows of the new season.

My Grade: B+

And by the way, EVERYONE: Tonight, there's no Prison Break on due to baseball on FOX. So if you don't happen to be a big baseball fan, there's no better time to watch CHUCK on NBC. The show is fun, funny, and aciton-packed. Ch-Ch-Chuck it outttt ...

- Alright ... so the next few weeks are going to be packed with Halloween fun. Knott's Scary Farm III this weekend, Page-O-Ween next weekend, and of course the annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon! I picked up a few key DVD's this weekend in the form of 80's cult classic THE MONSTER SQUAD and legendary blaxploitation flick BLACKULA. Any suggestions for the additional movie (clearly something more straight-up horror would be appropriate given the campiness of the other two ...). So, any ideas? I've still yet to see Zach Snyder's recent remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, but own a copy I snagged from work, so was considering that one ... Thoughts?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PUSHING DAISIES = Magically Delicious, plus: BIONIC WOMAN goes commando

Just want to say ...

- PUSHING DAISIES has an AMAZING second episode last night. As much as I loved the pilot, I may have enjoyed this one even more ... everything just felt 100% spot-on, and man, this show is just so well-done, so well-written, so unlike most everything else on the air ... I can't say enough good things about this ep. The whole cast was pitch-perfect, the fanciful plot about the Dandy-Lion cars that run on dandelions ... well, how great is it to see this type of IMAGINATION on TV ... it's like almost contradictory lately to do anything original in primetime television, so it's just so, so great to see something that is so wholly original. The dialogue is a pure pleasure to listen to, this ep alone had about 7 or 8 instant-classic quotes (loved the exchange about skeletons in the closet). And hey, bonus, Patrick Fabian, who I thought was awesome last year on VERONICA MARS, showed up as the guest star / villain. Sweet! Pushing Daisies is basically must-watch, genre-redefining stuff, and hey, has there been a primetime show that manages to be this overwhelmingly feel-good yet still go down like a hot fudge sundae? I am still kind of shocked that this show is pulling in the ratings that it is, though it's all relative in this new world where a show getting a 6 rating is considered enough to deem it a hit. But hey, if America embraces this show and drives Cavemen into early extinction, then there just might be hope for us all.

MY GRADE: A

- BIONIC WOMAN, I thought, had another episode that had plenty of entertaining moments but still felt exceedingly jumpy and all-over-the-place. There remains a lot that feels off here - from Jamie Summer's slightly cold, bratty demeanor that makes her disturbingly difficult to root for, to her grating, teen-stereotype younger sister, to training montage sequences that felt recycled from last week ... there was a lot here that gave me reason for concern. On the other hand, there was some cool action, and an increasingly intriguing plot developing focusing on OG Bionic Woman Sarah Corvus. Right now, Katee Sackhoff and her character arc is basically carrying Bionic Woman on her bionic back, and you get the feeling that it's all well and good for right now, but that the stakes need to be raised soon, or else as soon as Katee leaves the picture, things could get ugly. Let's see Jamie act more heroic and less dumbed-down - maybe some humor that is actually snappy and not cloying would do the trick as well? And plot-wise, business needs to pick up in terms of episode-by-episode scenarios. I mean, I get that Jamie is still in training, but babysitting a bratty heiress doesn't seem to be a task befitting of a high-concept sci-fi action show. We need big stakes, high action, and a little bit more ... gravitas. Still, I'm on board with this show for now and you can practically feel its overabundance of potential scraping to get out. This is, potentially, an awesome show in the making, and its that feeling of infinite possibility that is keeping me intrigued. Let's hope the writers and ever-changing production staff can up the ante.

MY GRADE: B

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

TV REVIEWS - Lightning Round - PRISON BREAK, HEROES, SIMPSONS, REAPER, SMALLVILLE, CHUCK, and MORE!

Alllllright, so, I've been getting totally bogged down in all these TV reviews of late, as I try to catch up with the new Fall season. Just too much to write about and not enough time, and ... since it's been nearly a week since I wrote up any TV reviews, I present to you: The TV Review Lighting Round! Quick thoughts on a veritable cornucopia of TV Stuff, with reviews, hopefully, limited to a mere few sentances each. Bite-sized yet packed with chewy goodness. Enjoy:

FOX SUNDAY NIGHT:

KING OF THE HILL - Every so often this show does a really, really weird episode. This was one of them, but not one of the better "weird" eps the show has had - it was all about usually-conservative Hank rallying to keep around a high school football tradition where the girls play a football game while the guys dress in drag and play the part of cheerleaders. Hank seemed a bit out of character here, and while there were some fun moments, this ep left me a bit puzzled and wasn't as solid as the great Season Premiere or second ep. Hopefully next week will be a return to form.

MY GRADE: C+

THE SIMPSONS - Plot-wise, Sunday's ep, in which Homer becomes a tow-truck driver, was about on par with the last few episodes of the season - aka, not that great. But, luckily, the jokes really hit the mark this week, making for some exceptionally funny moments. My favorite was Homer amusing a bunch of truck drivers with "made-up" stories ripped from movie plots, and Homer's version of "Shrek" was particularly classic. Not a great ep, but pretty funny.

MY GRADE: B

FAMILY GUY - After last week's ep, in which the show went old-school and signifigantly toned-down the random cutaways and obligatory appearances by various 80's TV stars, this one did a complete 180 and was one of the most cutaway-packed eps ever. It felt self-concious too, as this ep had a ton of self-referential jokes including a few self-depracting lines mocking the fact that the ep had so many random cutaways. I'm not sure why this was the case, but I much preferred the more solid storytelling and character-driven humor from last week's ep. On the other hand, this ep threw so much against the wall that inevitably some of it worked, so there were a few good jokes here and there. But thanks to all the cutaways, the main plot of Joe getting the use of his legs back felt rushed and saddled with some way-too-random elements to quickly advance the story.

MY GRADE: B -

FROM LAST THURSDAY:

MY NAME IS EARL - Last week featured a pretty crazy plotline about two gang leaders at Camden County prison who turned out to secretly be gay and in love. The plot alternated between funny and being a bit over the top, and I stil lwish the writing on this show was a bit tighter and smarter. Randy and Crab Man still crack me up though.

MY GRADE: B

THE OFFICE - I got some huge laughs in this ep, namely from Creed, who was passing himself off as young and hip to avoid the returning Ryan's rumored firing of anyone considered old and obsolete. Ryan himself was pretty funny as a blackberry-toting corporate star, though I wish he had been featured more and not kept as a peripheral character. Instead, much of this too-long hour was devoted yet again to the increasingly unhinged Michael Scott, who is getting dangerously close to becoming annoying rather than funny. Part of it is that they need to tighten the reigns on Steve Carell - stop letting him babble on for so long all the time! And part of it is that they need to refocus Michael Scott and let him be more the insecure, kind of creepy guy from Season 2 and not so much the Homer Simpson he is becoming thus far in Season 4.

MY GRADE: B

30 ROCK - I welcomed the return of last season's breakout comedy with open arms, and it was great seeing Jerry Seinfeld return to TV (his interaction with star-struck Kenneth the Page was hilarious!). Overall though, this ep felt a bit off in terms of the jokes, and though there were some funny ideas (MILF Island, anyone?), the execution felt a little bit flat. Still, there was a lot to like here, the cast is great, Baldwin's delivery is always spot-on, and I'm hoping that the show is just getting warmed up - next week's return of Will Arnett is a very, very good sign.

MY GRADE: B+

SMALLVILLE - A marked improvement over the season premiere, this was a fun ep that put the spotlight on Clark's newfound cousin Kara. This pe had some cool moments between Clark and Kara, Lois and Chloe, and an interesting Lana-Lex confrontation. There was still some of the typical Smallville lameness (as long as he's been a part of the show, I HATE Jor-El as a plot-device - what is the point of having Clark's dead father as some kind of all-knowing and slightly sinister disembodied voice?), but I am liking the beginnings of what could be a really cool Lex - Kara storyline.

My Grade: B+

FROM LAST WEDNESDAY:

GOSSIP GIRL - Okay, wow, this show is getting GOOD. I didn't think I'd be all that into this one from the pilot, but episode 2 was excellent and now episode 3 comes along and totally sucks me in. I give the show a lot of credit -the writing is great, with plenty of nice character moments (all the characters are becoming surprisingly three-dimensional) and some great one-liners ("Princeton doesn't offer a major in 'slut!'"), and has a pretty freaking talented young cast. There is also the prefect blend of over-the-top soapy antics (field-hockey catfight!), and genuinely interesting plot-twists. This ep in particular was really well-constructed, and I'm really liking where things are going, and can't wait for tonight's ep. When all is said and done, this may shape up to be the Best New Show of the season.

MY GRADE: A

BACK TO YOU - I'll be honest, I'm starting to sour on this show and am not sure if I'll be watching again. I found this third episode to be flat, predictable, and just not funny or clever enough to keep me interested. I kept wanting to laugh at Fred Willard's goofiness, for example, but he just wasn't given any decent jokes to take advantage of his hilarious delivery. The back and forth between Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton is already getting way old, and the other supporting characters just seem very cliched (Chris Farley-esque fat guy, typical token sexpot female, etc).

MY GRADE: C

FROM MONDAY:

PRISON BREAK - So last week I was telling everyone that Sarah was clearly dead, Seven-style, and no one seemed to believe me. After this ep, I think it's pretty obvious that I was a-head of the curve, so to speak (sorry, bad joke). Now obviously, having the Michael-Sarah romance cut off so abruptly (again, so to speak ...) is not the ideal, but given the circumstance where the actress playing Sarah has up and bolted the show, I think the writers did a nice job of raising the stakes and setting the stage for Michael to eventually have a breakdown and become completely unhinged, which should be interesting given how cool and collected he usually is. Meanwhile, Mahone was once again awesome, thanks to the brilliant work of William Fichtner, and, T-Bag is finally making his power-play, which is going to be a lot of fun to watch play out. Again, I love how unpredictable this show can be, and how it is willing and able to have as much fun and be as over the top as it wants, embracing its B-movie nature so as to be one of the most purely badass hours of TV on the air. PS - loved Bellick getting owned by Lechero and his crew at episode's end, and, equally cool beans was Scofield's escape plan entering Phase 1 - business has just picked up. My one 0ther complaint: this Whistler guy is still kind of a cipher, annoyingly - what's his deal already?

My Grade: A -

HEROES - I agree with the critics who say that Heroes seems stuck in "rinse, wash, repeat" mode. I mean, in the case of our Runaway Immigrant Teens, how many times can we see them go through the exact same ordeal week after week? Part of the problem, is, again, the structure of these eps. With 5 minutes spent on one plotline, then 5 minutes on the next, none receive a satisfying degree of focus or advancement. And, many of the scenarios our characters find themselves in are just flat-out boring. I mean, of all the things they could have done with Peter - having him mixed-up with an Irish street gang? That's what they went with? Claire's high school storyline is sappy and cliche, and and a lot of the writing just seems lazy (ie, she points out that she feels pain, yet actually cuts off her own toe as an experiment?). Hiro in Japan has been a snooze-fest and seems to be following the most predictable path possible. And the two most promising storylines - the Legacy Virus thing and the Watchmen murder mystery (see, the show's best stories all come from comic books!), were very much pushed aside in this ep. Sylar's return was not all that dramatic, and I don't think Nikki and Micah actually did anything? That being said, the ep nearly redeemed itself with a pretty badass ending sequence, which accomplished two very necessary things: it reminded us that HRG is a somewhat evil bastard and not just a doting family man, and also, more generally speaking, brought Mr. Bennet back into the spotlight, where he should be. So, my main question is ... how many more weeks until KRISTIN BY-GOD BELL does her part to get me interested in this show again?

My Grade: B -

CHUCK - I remain a huge fan of the goodness that is Chuck. So far, each episode has given me some big laughs, some cool spy stuff, some excellent geek shout-outs, and even a well-choreographed, over-the-top action scene or two. I thought Monday's episode built on all this cool stuff, and continued to spotlight the supporting cast, particularly the Buy More crew. But the real star here may just be Adam Baldwin, who is getting better each week as a more comedic version of Jack Bauer. Baldwin is second to none (okay, maybe Bruce Campbell) when it comes to delivering an acerbic one-liner, and he had a few great ones here. And I like the introduction of what looks to be a recurring villain in La Ciudad - on a series like this, you can't have too many femme fatales. Also, how can you not love Captain Awesome teaching Chuck how to Tango? My main complaints in a general sense are: a.) there's something kind of annoying about Chuck's sister- maybe throw her into some danger to make her a bit more likable? and b.) the bit of romantic tension between Chuck and Sarah is already seeming slightly forced - I say give Chuck a new love interest, or else a real reason to bond with Sarah other than the obvious.

My Grade: B+

JOURNEYMAN - There's a lot to like about Journeyman, but I'm finding the episodes to be a bit boring in spight of some solid writing and an pretty good cast. I honestly just get turned off by the fact that such a cool story device as time travel has been used thus far as a means to futher the love triangle between Dan, his wife, and Livia, and as a way to facilitate weekly human-interest stories that, so far, have been deathly serious and slightly bland. Where's the fun, the fantasy, the adventure, the action? I love Kevin McKidd in his role as time-traveling Dan Vassar, but even in this week's ep, where he travels to the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the episode seemed to be so straightforward, so without a real sense of drama and excitement, that I found myself tuning out as time went on, hoping for some great twist or plot thread to sneak along and hook me in. I guess I wish this show was a bit more Sliders and a little less Early Edition.

My Grade: B-

ALIENS IN AMERICA - With its second ep, Aliens in America continued to show why it is one of the best new comedies of the season. The main character is one of the best high school kids to be on TV in a while, in terms of being realistic and relatable and yet very funny - it's almost enough to warrant comparisons to the late, great Freaks and Geeks. The little dynamics of high school are captured exceedingly well here - even if you didn't have a Pakistani exchange student as a best friend - who can't relate to the situation of having a geeky high school buddy who you're not sure if you should dump or hold on to, lest you risk your spot on the social ladder? My only comment that can be construed as a bit negative is that I'm still not 100% sold on the parents here - the mom is a bit TOO cold and snobby - she needs a small injection of humanity so as not to be totally unlikable ... and man, it's still jsut weird seeing Luke from Gilmore Girls as the dad so soon after that show ended its lengthy run. But man, this is a great show that deserves all the attention and viewers it can get.

My Grade: A -

TUESDAY SHOWS:

REAPER - Man, I really want to like this show, but its really starting to lose me. It's just been to forumlaic week in and week out since the pilot. Granted, this was only the third episode, but already the show has fallen into an overly familar pattern. Worse, it's a formula that tends to throw generic monsters-of-the-week at the characters, placing less emphasis on the action and drama in favor of the ongoing relationships stuff, which is fairly bland and predictable and not overly interesting. Meanwhile, Ray Wise is great, but, um, isn't he the devil? He's acting way too nice, and I wish there were some hints that he had some huge, evil scheme going on in the background, or something. I feel like this show just feels like a softer, less substantial, and less sharply-written or acted version of CHUCK. I need something to keep me coming back, and while the show can be funny and amusing, it needs something more to justify me spending an hour with it each week.

MY GRADE: C+

Whew, that was a lot of reviews. Excited for BIONIC and PUSHING DAISIES tonight ... and I have a lot more to talk about that isn't neessarily movie or TV - related, but for now, this is what I've got, so enjoy it. PEACE.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More Human Than Human: BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES - Reviewed!

- Sooo, so much to cover today. I think I'm going to have to scale back my TV reviewing soon though, because it's just way too much to write about in the limited time that I can devote to the ol' blog. This past weekend though, I saw some movies that I definitely need to write about. So, submitted for your approval:

BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT Review

- In 1982, director Ridley Scott unleashed a film that did what few others have ever done - it completely changed the film landscape and created a visual style that was like nothing that had ever been seen, serving as the influence for countless films that would follow. The film was Blade Runner, and if ever there was a classic film that begged to be seen not at home but in a theater, on the big screen, this is it. So this weekend, I had one of those true geek-out moments that reminded me why living in LA certainly has its perks for those of us who love movies. You see, in honor of Blade runner's 25th Anniversery, Ridley Scott is releasing an all-new DVD of the film, with a number of tweaks and small changes, and an all new digital refurbishing that ensures that the movie looks and sounds as good as it possibly can. However, the powers that be at Warners also decided to give the new cut of the film a very, very limited theatrical run. And by limited, I mean to say that it's playing, right now, in exactly TWO theaters in the entire country. Why they are giving it such a small release, I don't know, as everyone who considers themselves a fan of film should have the chance to see this. But luckily for me, one of the two theaters with the new cut is here in LA, at the Landmark over on Pico Blvd. So on Friday, the G-Man and I ventured down to the West Side for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the greatest movies of all time fully restored and on the big screen. And man, am I glad we went, because I was blown away by the brilliance that is BLADE RUNNER all over again.

I remember my first exposure to the movie - I had heard it mentioned in magazines and whatnot in hushed, reverant tones, but one day my uncle handed me a stack of old comics, and one of them was a comic book adaptation of Blade Runner. Excited and curious about this particular issue, I quickly read through it and proceeded to have my mind blown by Replicants, dystopian urban futures, and neo-noir sci-fi. As time went on, I would catch the movie periodically on TNT or SciFi, and then, finally, on DVD. It was one of those films that you coudl watch over and over, because half the fun wasn't even the film itself, but simply the ATMOSPHERE that it created, the world that it brought to life. It was a dark cityscape of monolithic buildings, flying cars, and neon lights - it was a place that was like nothing I had seen, and a place that you couldn't help but want to visit.

But seeing Blade Runner on the big screen, I couldn't help but reevaluate just how brilliant of a visual creation this movie is. It practically explodes off the screen with the sheer force of its ideas. Even now, 25 years later, the power of IMAGINATION that runs through this film makes most of today's f/x-heavy blockbusters pale in comparison. When I saw the opening shots of Blade Runner on the big-screen, polished-up and smoothed-over, but still a relic of the pre-CGI age, my eyes lit up. There, larger than life, was a sweeping shot of The Future - shining black structures lit by towering, fire-emitting silos, flying vehicles soaring through the air, a hellish night sky lit up by neon lights and the flames shooting from below. Wow - this was VISION, this was art, and 25 years later it was still pretty freaking breathtaking.

For the rest of the movie, the feeling of seeing art in motion rarely let up. The way the colors of a futuristic film-noir Los Angeles melded together in a clash of blacks and neons. The way each scene looked like it had come out of an art book, framed to perfection, with the camera lingering just long enough to draw you in, to immerse you in this brave new world. And yet, when the action kicks in, things are kinetic, visceral - you can't take your eyes away.

And then, the visual style mixes with an iconic cast to produce filmic perfection. This is Harrison Ford at his best - ruffled, world-weary, the classic noir detective transplanted into a future where his quarry isn't run of the mill criminals, but Replicants - robotic creations who look much like humans, but whose lifespans are tragically short - a fact that begins to weigh more and more on a particularly advanced group of Replicants who stage a revolt on an off-world mining colony, and then return to earth in search of their creator. Rutger Hauer simply rules it in this movie - Blade Runner is his shining moment that will live on forever - Hauer as the ultimate sympathetic villain, the leader of the Replicant rebels, an artifical being who becomes "more human than human," so to speak. Hauer is freaky as #$%& in this movie. The last act, that sees him in hot pursuit of Harrison Ford's Deckard, like some kind of blood-lusting werewolf, is can't-turn-your-eyes-away cinema at its best. The rest of Blade Runner's cast is, at this point, the stuff of movie legend. Sean Young as a Replicant who learns that all of her memories are artificial, and who finds a fellow lost soul in Deckard. Darryl Hannah as the harlequinn-esque Priis is simply character creation at its finest - a sci-fi icon with racoon eyes. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that you watch a movie like Blade Runner, and at nearly any point in the film, you feel like you could press "pause," hit print, and have yourself a great movie poster. The images and moments in the film are simply that good and that memorable.

I think what makes the film so iconic too is that it is really about the simplest of ideas - what is it to be human? - but that idea is never really pushed at you, per se, instead it lingers and lingersand hangs over the whole movie. A lot of people look at the film and disect its plot and look at instances where things don't feel logical or necessarily make for a cohesive plot. But this is a movie about ideas, told fairly abstractly. We never know Deckard's backstory or his lineage or his origins - this is a movie that simlpy drops us into a particular moment and runs with it, and that's part of the reason why it works as well as it does. Seeing it on the big screen, Blade Runner is also as much of a tour de force as ever - a movie whose visual style influenced countless stories and ideas about what the future may hold. I won't go into exhaustive detail about how this cut of the film differs from the original or the 90's Director's Cut. Suffice to say it still lacks Deckard's opening narration from the original cut, and keeps the more abrupt, bleaker ending of the Director's Cut, as well as the much-analyzed unicorn dream sequence, which serves to subtley impy that Deckard is not exactly what he seems. The only change I really took note of from the Director's Cut was a key line of dialogue from Rutger Hauer, in which his language is toned down - when he meets his creator, Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation. The original line didn't exactly make sense, but was cool as hell, so it was jarring to see it taken out. But the scene probably makes more sense now.

In any case, if you live in NYC or LA, this is something you need to see. Blade Runner on the Big Screen. A masterpiece of a movie, one of if not THE greatest scifi films ever made, a landmark that now looks better than ever.

My Grade: A+

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD Review

- You've got to love the current Western revival occuring in Hollywood. A few weeks ago, we got a great action-Western in 3:10 to Yuma, and now we've got JESSE JAMES, a sort of Western biopic told with an artful eye and a stylistic flair. This film is slow, deliberately-paced, and lengthy, but to me these qualities helped rather than hurt - because JESSE JAMES turned out to be one of the most absorbing, character-intensive, and thought-provoking movies so far this year.

There's two main things to note in this movie - one is the great cast, the other is the spectacular cinematography. To start with the latter, this movie has a quietly-absorbing yet ultra-intense pacing that, if you are in the right mindset for it, will completely suck you in. The cinematography is wonderful in terms of evoking the last days of the Old West - picturesque and sephia-tones, JESSE JAMES has a number of long, lingering shots that draw you into the moment, that paint a picture of a time when the frontier dream lived on, but the myth of the West was slowly dying as were its greatest legends.

And that's what we have here - a look at the last days of a legend, an outlaw who was on one hand a cold-blooded killer but on the other a sort of folk hero who was immortalized in his own time in dime novels and songs and in the dreams of young boys. Bradd Pitt is perfect in his role as Jesse James, and the role suits him as Pitt is usually at his best when he can tap into that slightly insane side, the unhinged, unpredictable persona that gets to shine in many of his best movies, like Fight Club or 12 Monkeys. Pitt brings that slightly crazed side of himself into play here - his Jesse James is a man wel laware of his own legend, to the point that his own myth is almost too much for the man to handle. The movie shows us a Jesse James whose glory days have passed - most of the original James Gang members have been arrested or killed, and so the great outlaw is forced to work with a second-rate collection of hangers-on and wannabes, and rather than great robberies or ambitious schemes, much of James' time is occupied by simply tracking down those who are plotting against him, taking out would-be backstabbers before they have a chance to enact their betrayals.

Caught up in these post-glory days is Robert Ford. Ford is kind of the Old West equivalent of the creepy fanboy - a guy who so idolized Jesse James as a kid that to him, the reality of his boyhood hero could be nothing but disappointment. James lived in a time when fiction and reality first began to blur - when the exploits of a criminal and murderer were glamorized in stories that painted him as a pulp hero and adventurer. Ford, played by Casey Affleck, is a total sketchball from the minute we meet him - and yet, the thing of it is, that Robert Ford really is, really should be, the hero of the movie, just as he now doubt envisions himself the hero of his own story. And that's what's so interesting about this film - Robert Ford essentially did the right thing in taking down Jesse James, but we begin to root against Ford simply because he goes about his plans in a less-than-heroic manner. In fact, the way Ford reacts to being wrapped up in James' band of outlaws is exactly how many of us would react - in a kill or be-killed world, is there really any room for heroism? And if not, then how did Jesse James end up as the hero and Ford end up as the villain? It speaks to America as a country that rewards style over substance, myth over fact, legend over truth - and part of why this movie is so effective is that it completely resonates with the issues facing modern society, in which celebrities, politicians, athletes - are put on a pedestal for all the wrong reasons.

And Casey Affleck as Robert Ford - it's been written about a lot already, but this is truly the definition of breakout role. Affleck the younger is just phenomenal here, painting a picture of a somewhat disturbed individual, someone unsure of themselves, someone who wants nothing more than to be a part of the same legends he grew up with even if it means killing them off. Robert Ford is somewhat of a loser, a squirmy guy whose calling may be as a writer or actor, but certainly not as a gunslinger. And Affleck does a great job of making us ponder this character - do we root for him? Hate him? It's all shades of gray thanks to Affleck's nuanced performance.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast is a lot of fun. Sam Shepard as the older James brother, Frank, was my personal favorite, as he brought that kind of over-the-top Wild West thing to this movie, with lots of fun lines said in a suitably badass cowboy drawl. Jeremy Renner and Paul Schneider to a great job as James Gang Members Wood Hyde and Dick Liddel, and Sam Rockwell is great as Robert Ford's older brother Charlie. Some of the female roles here are played by some pretty big names as well - Mary Louise Parker and Zooey Daschenal, and there are also a number of other great actors sprinkled here and there in relatively small roles, drifting in and out of various scenes. The bottom line is that the cast of this movie is outstanding.

This is an accomplished, deep, absorbing movie that was I found to be completely immersive and extremely thought-provoking. It's one of those movies that is an endless conversation-starter, with numerous scenes that will be recalled with enthusiasm and curiosity. The slow build worked for me, because it gave the entire movie one of on-edge intensity. When the movie's tranquil quietude is broken, it explodes with inspired action and conflict and drama. This one has Oscar-worthy direction and cinematography, a breakout turn from Casey Affleck, and one of Bradd Pitt's career-best roles. And, it is a classic tale of America and of the West - of its legends, its myths, and its slow, inglorious death.

My Grade: A

- Alright - a ton of TV stuff to talk about but it will have to wait for now. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

PUSHING DAISIES = Goodness, CHUCK, and why BIONIC WOMAN is actually pretty good.

Alright, time for one more round of TV reviews ...

My big thing right now is all the negativity surrounding BIONIC WOMAN. Honestly, I just don't get where this is coming from. I understand that the show might not be for anyone, and I totally get some of the complaints regarding pacing, dialogue etc. But as far as I can see, the show is still really fun, features a pretty damn good cast loaded with charismatic actors, and has more than enough "cool factor" to rise to near the top of my list of the Fall's best new shows. Yet all I hear is bitching and moaning from the peanut gallery, and it really sucks because there's now this kind of domino effect where people seem to be jumping on the rag-on-Bionic Woman bandwagon just because. But really, for a show of this nature, can you really be that hard on it for some of its shortcomings? I mean, put Bionic's first two episodes side by side with the likes of Heroes, 24, Smallville (hello!), Prison Break, etc - is the dialogue and so forth really that much worse? I'm not trying to blindly defend Bionic - I'm just saying that the show had a pretty intriguing pilot, had a second episode that added some further twists and turns as the groundwork was laid for the season ... I mean, the show is off to an extremely solid start in my eyes, and all it needs is that one truly kickass episode to cross that that line. It needs a moment akin to Future Hiro popping up on Heroes, or Terry O'Quinn acting his ass off in the "Walkabout" episode of Lost. And it may have that soon - but right now the show is just finding its legs, and it's been pretty entertaining in the process.

So, BIONIC WOMAN, Episode #2:

As for last night's ep, I really enjoyed it. I agree that the plot was pretty jumpy and seemed more designed to simply get Jamie from Point A to Point B. But what this episode did and did well was to establish the supporting cast, which I am really liking thus far. I think the show is surrounding Jamie with a really cool group of characters, from her trainer who has a history with the evil, original Bionic Woman, to her hardass field-commander, to Miguel Ferrer as the world-weary head of the mysterious agency. Isaiah Washington did a nice job in this ep as well, and of course, Katee Sackhoff once again stole the show as Sarah Corvus, even with limited screen time.

Now, I do agree that there needs to be some sharpening-up in terms of the writing. The plotline of the town that had been mysteriously gassed seemed very glossed-over, and I don't think it was ever even mentioned who exactly the guilty party, some kind of ambiguously evil militia group, actually was. And we still don't really know what the deal is with the agency that Jamie works for, why they are experimenting in Bionics, who they report to, etc. I also think the timeline of Jamie going from having just received her bionic upgrades, to doing a cool but brief training montage, to going out in the field was a bit hard to follow, and could have been more tightly-edited. I think the producers of this show should definitely check out some DVD's of the excellent and underrated La Femme Nikita to see an example of how to show the progression of a woman from wrong-place-wrong-time recruit to full-on fighting machine.

But, take La Femme Nikita as a great example here, since it has so many similarities to Bionic Woman. That show was over-the-top, comic bookish, but was pure entertainment to watch from start to finish because it had great characters, a unique style, intense action, and a premise that made for a vast array of fun story possibilities. Bionic is in the same boat, potentially - there are some really fun characters, and a lot of threads being sewn that could make for some really cool storylines down the road. So, I'm not sure why, exactly, the first two eps have been utterly nitpicked to death by the legions of blood-sniffing critics out there, who jumped all over this week's ratings decline as a sign that what they saw as an overhyped remake was in fact a sinking ship. Well here's hoping, and this is only as a fan, that the show stay steady and rebounds, as to me it's a nice action-adventure show so far has only scratched the surface of its potential.

My Grade: B+

PUSHING DAISIES:

- Now, I have got to talk about PUSHING DAISIES, which to me just has an awesome, brilliant pilot. I am so happy, again, simply speaking as a fan, that this show did so well in the ratings last night, because like many, I figured it might be too quirky, too different to win mainstream acceptance. But on the other hand, something inside me was more optimistic than usual this year about the chances for more offbeat shows like Chuck, the returning 30 Rock, and this one, Pushing Daisies. The audiences, I think, are getting younger and more open-minded to shows that stray from the beaten path. But the great thing about Pushing Daisies is, it manages to be witty, stylistic, and fresh, but at the same time it has nearly universal appeal - it is, after all, essentially a classic fairy tale.

It's funny, the first time I saw this pilot, I was immediately reminded of a Tim Burton movie. As many have pointed out - the mix of whimsy with black humor, the slightly gothic, surrealistic sensibility, and the stylized visual flourishes, give Daisies the feel of movies like Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. But as I re-watched the show last night, I realized something different. What I now saw was this: in many ways, Pushing Daisies is the new Gilmore Girls. And I mean that in the best possible way. I mean, it's so great to hear dialogue that snaps and pops like it does here, to hear people talk in a way that isn't trying to sound cool or real or authentic, but that instead EMBRACES language, where you can feel the care and imagination that obviously went into crafting each and every sentance. To me that is so utterly refreshing and a total joy to watch, and to listen to.

And to see a TV show that has such a bold, unique, imaginative visual style - again, extremely refreshing. You couldn't ask for a better change-of-pace from generic-looking sitcoms, uniformly washed-out cop shows, or boringly bland-seeming action-adventures. Pushing Daisies looks and feels like a storybook come to life, and there is an almost animation-like artistry to the visuals.

As far as the actors go, the cast here is pretty much perfect. The huge standout to me is Anna Friel is our hero's childhood love who he reanimates from the dead with his magic touch, only to realize that another touch from him would send her back to the grave. With Friel, it's easy to see why Ned, the lead character with the ability to bring back the dead, would fall in love with her all over again from the moment he sees her as an adult. Lee Pace does a nice job as Ned as well - he comes off both as innocent and as kind of dark and issue-laden. Everyone else, from Chi McBride to Kristen Chenowerth is also really great - and they all do a great job handling creator Bryan Fuller's literary dialogue.

And give a ton of credit to Bryan Fuller. He wrote an amazing episode of Heroes last year in "Company Man," and its clear that he is a huge talent with a unique voice and a gift for crafting compelling fantasy worlds. He will surely be sorely missed on Heroes, but I'm glad he has this opportunity to craft such a compelling new creation. If anything, my one reservation is that I wonder how the pilot, which almost felt like a mini-movie, will serve as the basis for an ongoing series that can provide fresh stories week in and week out. And can other writers not named Bryan Fuller, and other directors not named Barry Sonnenfeld, keep up the momentum, or will this be a more extreme example of Gilmore Girls, where the Palladino's vision was so unique and specific that it sometime suffered when others tried to emulate them.

As it is though, this is one of the very best pilots I've seen, and a show that makes me think that network television can, in fact, amount to something that resembles art.

My Grade: A

CHUCK, Episode #2:

So about my other favorite new show of the season ...

Here's another one, where, like Bionic Woman, I'm seeing a lot of negativity towards, and I can't figure out why. I didn't get to see this ep when it aired on Monday, and all I've heard this week was how the 2nd ep of Chuck was a letdown following the pilot. Um, what? This episode was great! I thought it was a great "setting-up-the-status-quo" type of episode, and did a nice job of establishing the type of threat posed to Chuck and his friends by all of the various forces out there trying to extract all of the secrets from his brain.

But more so than that, Adam Baldwin ruled it in this episode. Up until now, I have been a fan of Baldwin but haven't really understood why some people are such fanatical fans of his. But okay, now I'm on the bandwagon. This guy was alternatively badass and hilarious in this episode, and I liked the Ash-in-Evil Dead, "Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart" vibe he had going on while forced to pose as a mild-mannered Buy More store clerk. And Sarah Walker, Chucks' beautiful-yet-deadly CIA partner, working in a Wienerschitzel analog? Brilliant. If only the Wienerschnitzel across from me could have someone like her behind the counter ... let's just say I'd eat a lot more Wienerschnitzel.

Overall, I thought this ep was a fun blend of genuinely funny comedy with over-the-top action. Gotta love Adam Balwin vs. Yvonne Strzechowski in a hardcore fight in a fast-food joint. So, I know that I personally am very conflicted, since Prison Break is probably my favorite show right now and a must-see for me on Mondays at 8. But CHUCK is quickly becoming a must-watch, and I'm onboard. It's a show that's good enough to gou out of your way to watch (or download it on Amazon Unbox!!!).

My Grade: A -

Alright - that's it for now. Make sure to watch The Office tonight, as well as 30 ROCK, which features JERRY SEINFELD. It will be hilarious!