Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So Long, Suns, and MORE

- Well, last night the Suns really blew it. For a while there, it really seemed possible that, not only might the Suns win the game, but that they could ride some magical wave of momentum and somehow push the mighty Spurs to a Game 7. And if there were to be a Game 7, then who knows what could happen from there.

But man, Steve Nash with key turnovers and minimal production? Boris Diau thinking he was Tim Duncan? Shaq not being able to hit a free throw to save his life, and going up with weaksauce finger rolls when once he would have thrown it down? And don't give me the argument that Shaq makes them when it counts. A free throw counts just as much in the first or second quarter as it does in the fourth. If Shaq had made his free throws in the first half, then the Suns would not have been in the hole they later found themselves in. Every basket counts. The bottom line is that the Suns only stayed competetive with the spurs in spite of themselves. Their team as it existed in this series was a disjointed mess - a strange mashup of the old, run n' gun Suns with a team that resembled last year's Miami Heat. Nash rarely seemed sure what to do with the ball, and it was telling that the team seemed most comfortable with Shaq on the bench. But O'Neil was the big-money player, so I can't begrude Mike D'antoni for sticking with him -- he was essentially obligated to gamble on Shaq, because that's the direction the team decided to go in - live or die with the big man. And in the end, Shaq proved to be as odd a fit as initially speculated. With Amare demanding the ball in the post, Shaq was relegated to the roll of garbage man. And when Shaq is simply a role player, he becomes a liability.

I do agree with Sir Charles though, that coaches are fired too quickly in the NBA. Already today we've seen Avery Johnson get the boot in Dallas. Now, Dallas may very well need a change in direction. But it's amazing to see a guy get fired two days after a losing playoff run. Let's face it though, what Dallas really needs is a tough inside presence and some better D.

By the way, kudos as always to TNT for their endlessly entertaining NBA coverage. Unlike the bland ESPN or ABC, TNT is always worth checking out even if you've missed the game, if only for the sheer entertainment that is the team of Ernie, Charles, and Kenny Smith. If you haven't seen it, check out the parody video they did of a Kobe Bryant shoe commercial. So classic ...

- Okay, moving on ... have I mentioned I'm psyched for IRON MAN? Man, I was pretty optimistic about it already, but now that I've seen the early review heaping unanimous praise on the movie, I am pretty much bursting at the seams with excitement. I. AM. IRON MAN.

- Oh snap. I have been somewhat skeptical about THE INCREDIBLE HULK up to this point, but the newly-released trailer may just have made me into a true believer. Check it out - Hulk Smash!

- Now, when will we get a teaser-trailer for WATCHMEN?

And I'm out, must go smash stuff.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Kung-Fu Is Strong: FORBIDDEN KINGDOM Reviewed - Plus: Simpsons, KOTH, Family Guy, and MORE

Ah, it's good to eat bread.

I have to say though, I was pretty good this passover. I give some credit to the Warner Bros. commisary across from my building, as they have an excellent and well-stocked salad bar, which allowed me to eat chametz-free lunches throughout the work-week that were healthy to boot. And though I got by on crouton-free salads, orange chicken, matzoh-pizza, macaroons, and Crispy-O's ... well, it was nice, as always, to do the traditional post-passover pig-out of real (albeit West Coast) pizza, at post-Pesach staple CPK, with plenty of pieces of pre-meal bread, naturally.

All in all it was nice to have a relaxing weekend after last week's fun but exhausting trip to San Diego. Hung out with some of the NBC Page crew on Saturday in North Hollywood, took in a movie on Sunday, and generally watched a ton of NBA playoff basketball. I was happy to see the Suns live to fight another day and finally hand the Spurs a sound defeat. I was surprised to see the Celtics lose a game to the Hawks, though pretty impressed with Josh Smith and co in Atlanta. And I really enjoyed seeing yet another classic Houston vs. Utah matchup, gotta love watching those two teams go down to the wire yet again.


- THE SIMPSONS last night was a very mixed bag - the premise, of Bart getting overly attached to a cow he befriends as a member of 4H, only to see it sent to the slaughter - wasn't all that original or compelling. But this episode kept getting pulled back from the brink by a regular stream of funny moments or lines of dialogue. It was one of those episode where, just when I was feeling frustrated by the been-there-done-that nature of the plot (Bart gets married - again?!?), a great joke would surface and make me thing "hmm, this episode is actually not bad." (like all of Cletus' kids being named for what they would eventually do). I was also pretty impressed with the episode's stubborn refusal to branch out into random B-plots. Like the classic episodes of days gone by, this one took the whole half hour to tell its story. Maybe that's why, even when the plot felt like a retread or some of the jokes fell flat, this felt like a more substantial, more fully-realized episode than most modern-day eps. Was the plot all-over-the-place? Yep, pretty much, and it recycled the well-worn Bart-loves-a-doomed-animal plot to boot. But considering all that, this one was surprisingly solid.

My Grade: B

-I've talked about this before: sometimes, KING OF THE HILL will forego its solid but at times formulaic ways for an episode that can only be considered *really weird*. Last night was one of those strange episodes, an installment that felt a bit darker and more adult than a typical KOTH episode. The plotline was a bit convoluted, to be sure - After a string of terrible birthdays, Peggy decides that this will be the year where her party is the talk of the town, so she arranges to take part in a murder-mystery train ride - a 70's disco themed murder mystery, to be precise. At the last minute, Luanne is enlisted to replace one of the murder mystery actors, and before the production even begins, she tips off Dale as to the killer' identity. Dale promptly spoils the game, and Peggy's birthday seems to have been ruined yet again. The REAL strangeness begins when Hank tries to comfort a distraught Peggy, and in doing so, Hank does something very out of character, as he engages in ... "relations" with his wife right there in the train's restroom! Kahn notices some steamy footprints in the bathroom, and starts up a new murder mystery, enlisting the train passengers to figure out which of the many couples on board did the deed. Like I said - a very atypical KOTH plotline, and I was surprised how many different twists and turns it took, going from a story about Peggy's cursed birthday parties, to Hank and Peggy's sexual escapades (which I have to say, though odd for Hank, it was kind of hilarious to see his reaction, worrying that he could receive the "propane death penalty" as punishment), to the weirdness of having all the characters decked out in 70's disco apparel. In additon to all that randomness, there was the very strange subplot that saw Bobby, Joseph, and Connie home alone while their parents were away. Despite all three being young teens, they decided to spend their time ... building a fort? Hmmm, okay. So it was a pretty disjointed episode, with a somewhat adult A plot contrasting sharply with an oddly innocent B plot. Still, there were a ton of dialogue gems throughout. From Hank's approval of the train conductor ("fun in a controlled atmosphere!") to Lucky's expertise on solving mysetires via years of watching detective-show reruns. A strange, random episode - but definitely a memorable one.

My Grade: B

- Now, while both Simpsons and KOTH had enough going for them to make me forget some of my plot-oriented criticisms, FAMILY GUY last night had a few laughs but mostly just grated on me. I agree with some comments I've read on The Onion and elsewhere that Brian is usually most effective either when paired with Stewie or Peter. When Brian is meant to carry a story, especially as in last night's ep where it was alongside a one-shot character, you often get a flat-feeling episode. Overall, I tend to sour on FG when it feels more mean-sprited than satirical, and last night's ep was full of some pretty bitter humor. From Brian's old flame turning out to be a hideous monster, to his bastard son mostly being a murderous psycho, to an extended joke basically mercilessly bashing Matthew McConahay (sp?), I just found a lot in this episode to be generally pretty off-putting. I also thing this episode is a great example of how a joke is often funnier the more subtle it is. Back when Stewie was merely an effeminate baby with a murderous streak, he was often flat-out hilarious. Now that he's a full-on gay baby, the joke was already stale halfway through the episode as we were continuously beat over the head with this new out-and-proud status quo. It's too bad, because I thought FG was really gaining some momentum during its last run. It's a shame to see it devolve into a show that embraces its own worst tendencies.

My Grade: C

- Okay, now for a movie review. Because while last week I didn't end up getting into the free screening I was supposed to attend, this weekend, nothing would stop me from seeing Jet Li go at it with Jackie Chan in a kung-fu dream match. And thus I present to you:


- How great is your kung-fu? That was the question I asked of The Forbidden Kingdom as I sat down in the theater. And it was two hours later that I had my answer: the movie had a silly script, some wooden acting, and a nonsensical, acid-trip of a plotline. But was it's kung-fu grip strong? Indeed it was, Daniel-san. Indeed it was.

Basically, this movie is a kung-fu version of The Neverending Story. Same basic premise - picked-on loner type kid gets magically swept away into a fantasy world of high adventure, eventually returns to his world a better and stronger boy, and finally teaches those schoolyard bullies a lesson or two to boot. In this case, our hero is a geeky, martial-arts obsessed kid from Boston who looks like a cross between Shia LaBuff and a young Scott Bakula. His room is a shrine to Bruce Lee and The Shaw Brothers (it probably would be to Chan and Li as well, but that would be a bit weird, continuity-wise). He collects bootleg kung-fu flicks that he finds at a shady pawn shop run by a wise old Mr. Miyagi type. And yet, he's still kind of a geek, at the mercy of a bunch of cartoonish thugs who seem ripped out of the pages of 1970's comic book, complete with thuggish, "street" dialogue that might make Stan Lee cringe.

To sum up what happens from there ... well, let's see ... the thugs decide to rob the old man, things get (somewhat shockingly) violent when the lead thug shoots (!) Mr. Miyagi. But before he goes, the shop owner bequeeths some magical staff to our hero, Nice Jewish Boy, and - bam! - the staff transports the kid from Boston to a mythical land of kung-fu adventure that's like a mix of Crouching Tiger and Mortal Kombat.

There's then an overarching plot about how the staff is being sought by a ruthless warlord type, who used it to imprison a mythical monkey-king centuries ago. Thus begins the journey to free the monkey dude, as our young hero is joined by the Drunken Master himself, Jackie Chan (playing, well, a Drunken Master), a young warrior-woman with a knack for flinging deadly throwing-darts (a prerequisite for this type of movie), and by, well, Jet Li, playing a silent monk (I think he is actually named Silent Monk), who is in fact an aspect of the Monkey guy (so he too wants to get the spear back to Monkey, etc.).

Of course, all of this is essentially window-dressing so as to ppave the way for a number of sweet fight scenes. Now, a lot of what we see here is pretty typical wire-fu stuff. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hero, Iron Monkey, or House of Flying Daggers ... then you've probably seen a lot of the action stuff here done really well already. But the thing I appreciated about Forbidden Kingdom was that it knew what the real main event was - Chan vs. Li, baby. When the two first meet midway through the film and ave the inevitable misunderstanding resulting in fisticuffs, it feels like a bigtime brawl, baby. The film really nails the iconography inherent in two of kung-fu's all time legends going at it for the first time ever, and I was on the edge of my seat watching the two exchange flurries of punches, kicks, and countermoves. Sure, it was all under the guise of a kid-friendly fantasy flick, with both wearing goofy period costume and such, but somehow, it all worked. It's in part because, for all its wackiness, Forbidden Kingdom serves as a somewhat heartfelt tribute to the great martial arts movies. It is in a way an homage to Chan and Li, painting them as rival masters not of this world but of some mystical kung-fu land where each is like a god. It's goofy and fun, yet there is a real kind of love-letter dynamic at play. It's evident from the opening credits, which are displayed over a montage of old-time kung-fu movie posters. From the get-go, the movie gets you primed and ready to rumble.

Chan and Li are huge presences, but there are some other fun turns as well. Our lead villain is a classic pulp antagonist, hissing his EVIL dialogue with the prfect amount of reptilian venom. There's a white-haired witch, looking like an anime character come to life, who uses her retractable, silken hair as a deadly weapon. There's a lot of cool characters, that's for sure, and the movie has them frequently and satisfyingly fight it out early and often, with all the acrobatics, elaborate choreography, and crazy kung-fu stuff that you could hope for.

So yeah, the film brings the pain, but it also tends to bring the pain, if you know what I mean. Some of the dialogue really is painful, and oftentimes just plain hard to understand. As charismatic as Jackie Chan is, he still struggles to speak English and to really be an effective actor other than when the script calls for broad humor. Li is a bit more of an effective dramatist, and its a blast seeing him play both a strong and silent monk and the crazy, hopped-up Monkey King ... but again, his stilted English combined with the flat script does produce some cringe-worthy moments. What's most disappointing about the movie is that it has some great visuals, great action, two icons in Li and Chan, and a proven, time-tested and kid-friendly premise - but too much of it feels thrown together. If just a little more care had been given to the bookend scenes in the real-world, for example, the movie could have had the same kind of fairy-tale effect as kids classics like The Neverending Story. But we never really focus on the awe and wonder that would go along with being swept away into a fantasy world. Everything is just kind of taken at face value, and it gives the movie a somewhat sloppy feel. It's the kind of movie that COULD have been a real kids' classic with some better storytelling chops, but is instead frustrating in that it really misses the mark in terms of giving us a classic hero's journey. Our main character is swept away into this other world, almost instantly accepts his fate, and within minutes goes from geeky teen to martial arts master - with a character arc that feels haphazardly handled at best. It's a shame, because the movie reminded me of all those great kids movies from back in the day, and at times it really had that same sense of fun, awe, and wonder. But as is, Forbidden Kingdom is a movie chock full of kung-fu action, an iconic throwdown between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but a movie that feels too hastily-thrown together to be measure up to the classics.

My Grade: B

- And with that, I'm out like a ninja, baby.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Explain it to me in Star Wars." 30 Rock, Office, LOST, and Smallville - Reviewed!

Oh man, what a week. Thank jeebus it's Friday is all I can say.

I'll jump right in though, because man, last night was a ridiculous embarassment of riches in terms of good TV. For the first time in a while, the deck was truly loaded, and you had to have your remote control hand warmed up if you wanted to catch all the good stuff. It didn't help that the Rockets and Jazz had a barn-burner of a good game last night, which was a lot of fun to watch - shades of the great Houston vs. Utah rivalries of days gone by - but the game unfortunately caused me to miss a few snippets from some of the other good TV last night (I think I missed the ifrst 30 seconds or so of both 30 Rock and Lost .... as Liz Lemon might say: blurgh!).

Okay, onto the reviews:


- I know, you were thinking I'd start with LOST, right? Well, the thing is, is that as good as Lost was last night, the big winners for me were NBC's pair of comedy superstars. Both returned to form last night, for me delivering their best and funniest episodes since they came back with new episodes following the writer's strike. The Office last night, as has been the trend the last few weeks, was DARK. But unlike the dinner party episode which was brilliantly twisted to the point of being more uncomfortable than funny, last night's ep was both pretty awkward and at times uncomfotable, but also laugh out loud hilarious. I loved all of the interaction with Michael, Dwight, and Ryan - their trip to NYC was just so well done, playing off some of the funniest aspects of Michael's persona - his longing to turn back the clock and be a swinging young bachelor, his longing for male companionship, his longing for female companionship (of a slightly different kind), and his weird man-crush on Ryan, where last night he was so happy to attach himself to Ryan, who he perceives as young, hip, and exciting, that he was totally blind to the fact that the guy was having a drug-induced meltdown. Like I said - very dark, but like I said, very funny. The fact that Michael ended the episode on Cloud 9 was the perfect capper. Meanwhile, Dwight was great with his strange belief that New York was some kind of alternate universe where hobbits and amazons roamed the streets. "Do you live in a normal-sized house?" Bwahaha ... Then, the stuff at the office was well done i nthat it set up Jim more and more as a guy whose happy-go-lucky demeanour covers up the fact that he isn't necessarilly a great planner, when his idea to stay late on a Friday in order to avoid coming in on a Saturday backfires, as the crew gets locked out of the parking lot. The best moment of this plotline came towards the end, when the slowly-building tension between Toby and Pam came to a sudden head, with Toby blatantly placing his hand on her thigh in full view of Jim ... and everyone else in the office. Jim, Pam, and Toby's reaction was totally awkward and absolutely hilarious, with perpetually morose Toby abruptly announcing his impending move to Costa Rica, running away from the group, jumping the fence, and jogging home. Classic. Also, Meredith getting hit in the face with a football was pretty funny as well. Anyways, this one was up there with the best Office episodes of the season - laughs, pathos, awkwardness - who can ask for more? And by the way, as anyone who works in the digital world can attest to, Ryan's misguided insistence that Dunder Mifflin's website inexplicably become a social networking destination was right on the money.

My Grade: A

30 ROCK:

- I've always said that 30 Rock is at its best when it avoids sitcom-style sappiness and focuses on its patented brand of off-the-wall, absurdist humor. So yeah, I was pretty happy with the comedic chaos that was last night's ep - a perfect storm of laughs, parodies, and great character moments that had me rolling. First off, great to see Will Arnett back on the show. His delivery as always was spot on, and the exchanges between him and Alec Baldwin were on the money, and even contained some unexpected sadness and empathy. Liz Lemon's transition from showrunner to corporate exec was pretty funny, and as someone who's worked on both comedy shows and with programming execs, there was some pretty on-the-money satire in that plotline. I loved how Liz's simple suggestion regarding GE microwaves became an instant hit, and wherever she went Liz was credited for coming up with "Button Classic," when all she did was reject a new design in favor of keeping the old one. Yep, sounds like GE alright ... (Whoops, did I just say that?). But the thing that drove this episode over the top for me was Tracy Morgan. The guy just makes me laugh. plain and simple. The gag of him shouting an exclamation, only for him to actually be saying someone's name, well, I don't know if that will ever get old (last night it was something like "Eureka! She'll know what to do." hahahaha). Tracy's plan to create the ultimate pornographic videogame was just inherently hilarious. "Explain it to me in Star Wars." Hahahaha ... The whole thing just had me in stitches, and a late-episode cameo by Chris Parnell only added to the overall awesomeness of the episode. Now THIS is the 30 Rock we've come to know and love. Eureka, indeed.

My Grade: A


- Last night's LOST was a great return for a show that's been THE must-see-TV show of 2008. The show went out a few weeks ago with a couple of so-so episodes following the landmark "The Constant," but last night we got an ep that, if nothing else, kept me on the edge of my seat with a hearty mix of balls-to-the-wall action and breakneck storytelling. I guess where I might differ a little from some Lost fans is that I get kind of annoyed with Ben Linus. Yes, he's a great character, but I feel like the Lost writers at times fall a little too in love with him. In last night's ep, the focus was squarely on Ben, and I think some of my frustration with him is that he's been given SO many layers as a character, yet we still have no real idea what his actual deal is. To compare to another great sci-fi TV villain, look at the Cigarette Smoking Man of X-Files fame. In episodes like "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," we got a ton of insight into the character that made him much more than simply a cookie cutter badguy ... but still, when push came to shove, he was a villain through and through. With Ben, there seems to be this whole notion that he is in fact on the side of the angels, and the writers on Lost now tend to emphasize this idea that, hey, maybe Ben's been fighting the good fight all along, and it's Whidmore and the others who are the real big bads. The problem with that is: Ben is clearly evil. In this episode, he LETS HIS OWN ADOPTIVE daughter die. So who could argue with Sawyer when he suggests that they just leave Ben to the wolves? I guess my only point is that Ben is long past the point of moral ambiguity, so let's stop pretending that his great master plan is somehow well-intentioned. The dude's stone-cold evil.

Anyways ... all that being said, it was a totally riveting hour of Lost last night. The island invasion by Whidmore's crew was action-packed and intense. Who didn't love the redshirts being knocked off one by one as Sawyer tried to warn them to stay back? The entire siege on Locke's compund was pretty riveting stuff, and it culminated in a nail-biting stand-off between Ben and Badass Whidmore Dude, that went against convention, or "the rules" as Ben stated, if you want to get meta about it, and saw the hostage actually gunned down, Ben's bluff called, and poor Alex a goner. A great, tragic scene, to be sure.

My one question -- the lead Whidmore attacker was the same guy we had seen on the boat with Sayid earlier, right? So, um, how did he get off the boat again? Did I miss something here? Anyone?

Otherwise, the flash-forwards with Ben tracking down Sayid (... and teleporting?!? What's what about?) were interesting. Apparently Ben now has combat skills equal to those of Jack Bauer, but hey I guess that's par for the course when you're an evil mastermind. I'm still a bit confused about the exact nature of time on the island - ie why was Ben confused about what year it was when he got to the mainland? And I also thought Sayid was a bit too hasty in joining with Ben on his quest, especially since Sayid is typically an "I demand answers" type of guy.

Still, any complaints had to have been somewhat negated by the awesomeness of the Smoke Monster devouring all of Whidmore's men at Ben's behest. And then Locke, nonplussed, admonishing Ben for saying that he didn't know what the monster was - nice. Finally, that last flash-forward scene with the bedside chat between Locke and Whidmore - very cool. Sure, it raised a lot of questions, but all of them are pretty darn intriguing. When Widmore said he knows who Ben is - what did he mean? What were "the rules" as Ben and Whidmore had agreed to them? And you have to wonder ... where is Penelope and/or Desmond in the flash-forward timeline? Might both be on the island, setting up a weird symbiosis in Ben and Whidmores' quests (Whidmore's looking for the island, Ben's looking for Penelope).

So yeah, I was at times a bit frustrated with the ep ... but, overall? This was an exciting, action-packed episode with some amazing bits of character, plot, and a lot of steam going into next week. Welcome back, Lost.

My Grade: A -


- Again, a pretty decent episode of Smallville that was hampered by the show's typical lazy writing. Chloe - is there anything she can't do? After making the point that she would have to up her computer-hacking game in order to make her way into top-secret NSA computer systems ... Chloe promptly breaches US government security and hijacks spy sattelites. Umm ... okay? Overall, this was a fun little episode that pitted Jimmy against Chloe in a kind of Mr. and Mrs. Smith riff. But after last week's grand plotting and epic fall of Lex, it seemed like the reset button was hit a bit this week, and things seemed to revert back to business as usual. This holds especially true with Lex - I was surprised to see the spotlight shift so far away from him after such a bigtime episode last week. So basically, while the focus on Jimmy was fun, it did have the air of being Filler en route to some big stuff that looks to be coming in the next few weeks. But geez, let's get to the good stuff already! They totally had me intrigued at episode's end, with the prospect of Clark visiting Krypton by means of time-travel. Now, next week looks to be yet another "what-if" type scenario, aka more filler. Come on, give us some epic ACTION already!Jimmy Olsen: secret agent is semi-entertaining, but I think Smallville fans are collectively dyin' for business to pick up.

My Grade: B

- Alright, that's it for now ... looking forward to a weekend that will hopefully include some rest, relaxation, and come Sunday night, some BREAD!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Politics and Basketball: If Ya' Smell What Barack. Is. Cooking.

So last night was not a good one for me in terms of rooting for my teams / political candidates of choice. First, the Suns blew a first-half lead to lose their second consecutive game to the Spurs. Second, Barack Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary Clinton - an outcome that pretty much everyone predicted, but was still frustrating in that a surprise win for Obama would have cut off all of Clinton's momentum in one fell swoop.

- First, the Suns. I just think that the Suns are now basically DOA unless they really pull off a miracle at this point. The Spurs are too good and too consistent to lose 4 out of 5 games, and the Suns right now are just not 100% gelling as a team. You can see the conflict in the way they play. Most of the team is prone to playing a fast-paced, run n' gun game. Shaq however, has long thrived in a slower, half-court game. Sure, back in the day he could really run the court well for a big man, but you can just see him stuggle to fit in alongside Amare Stoudamire, who zooms across the court and plays above the rim. If Shaq isn't getting you offense, then he is not all that useful, and so it was no big surprise that the Suns came close to tying the game in the fourth quarter, after a long draught, once Shaq was out of the game. I think that Nash needs to do a better job of adjusting to the teammates he has on the floor. When Shaq is out there, run some post-ups and line the perimeter with three point shooters. When he's out, that's when you go old-school Suns and play small-ball. Nash needs to dictate the pace a bit more and stay in control of the ball -- even when he's played well, he's often looked out of sync with his teammates since the arrival of Shaq. As for the Spurs, you can't say enough about them as a team. When you have a former all-star like Michael Finlay coming in as a fourth or fifth option, you know you're stacked. Ginobli is playing ridiculously well right now, as is Parker. And Duncan is just a beast - easily one of the all-time greats at his position, what he sometimes lacks in killer instinct he more than makes up for in sheer skill and consistency. The scary thing about the Spurs is that, even though their first two games with the Suns have at time been close, it hasn't even really felt like the Spurs have been pushed to the limit yet. We've yet to even really see playoff perennials like Robert Horry utilized (you know he probably has at least one more big-time three left in him before all is said and done). The fact is that the Spurs are looking great - like a team that could easily, once again, go all the way.

It's interesting - all of the NBA playoff series thus far that have gone two games have ended up with one team having a 2-0 lead. I suspect that will change tonight with the Detroit-Philly game, but it still points to some formerly intriguing matchups that have so far failed to produce much competition. A lot of people, me included, thought Dallas would have one at least one of the two games agains New Orleans at this point. I thought Houston might have come out with something to prove against Utah. And I thought that a reinvigorated Wizards, with Arenas back in the lineup, might be able to upset LeBron and the Cavs. No such luck so far. The Suns, Mavs, Rockets, and Wizards are all now looking more and more like potential first round victims. And meanwhile, as the Celtics likely steamroll over Atlanta, it will be interesting to see when and if Boston finds a real challenge in the post-season.

- Now, as for last night's political events ... I think that it was yet another primary that kind of went according to schedule, even as many of us hoped it would go otherwise so we could finally have some closure. But while the Hillary camp was ecstatic about the win, the reality is that a.) it wasn't that big of a victory - the margin was low and Obama did much better than earlier polls had predicted, and b.) the Clinton victory in PA was one that even Obama's own campaign had long-ago predicted. If you listened to Tim Russert review the Obama campaign's leaked, internal primary-prediction guide, it relaly is amazing just how on the mark that document has been thus far. The good news for Obama supporters is that the document ultimately predicts an Obama win despite some late setbacks in states like PA. But with the next set of primaries still a few weeks away, I cringe at the thought of Hillary's continued tactics of Republican-style Obama bashing. It really does feel at this point that Clinton is literally scratching and clawing her way through the tail-end of the primary race, pouncing on Obama at every turn and adding her own criticisms to every piece of tabloid-fodder, sensationalist piece that comes around the bend. It's amazing to me how, in her victory speech last night, Clinton somehow painted herself as this scrappy underdog, fighting Obama's big money campaign. Are you kidding me? Obama RAISED those campaign contributions - most of which were from small donors. How can Clinton accuse Obama of having these sinister-seeming financial resources, when most of that pool comes from ordinary Americans? Meanwhile, Clinton dug deep into her family's own vast wealth to bolster her campaign's spending. Hypocritical much?

The whole thing just makes me wonder what Obama's counter-tactics should be. In his speech last night, Barack only briefly addressed Clinton, then moved on to his usual grand themes, emphasizing the differences between himself and John McCain. Part of me admires Obama for avoiding getting into much back and forth with Hillary, but part of me wants to see him take a little time and really rip into her - if he did, I don't think many would be able to argue that she didn't have it coming. The bottom line is, Hillary's negative tactics will only hurt the democratic party come general election time. All she can accomplish is to make those who dislike her feel even more strongly about their misgivings, and make those who support her have unnecessarily negative views towards Obama, who policy wise is not far removed from her, but is in danger of becoming a polarizing figure a la Hillary, mostly due to her own efforts to make him that way.

In any case, I hope that Obama can soon close this thing out, but even more I hope he can do so in a way that keeps the party united and strong. There's a great editorial in this week's Newsweek bashing John McCain and his ever-shifting policies. It's written by Anna Quindlen, who I'm not usually a fan of hers, but here she really hammers home her point that McCain has a long track record, by HIS OWN ADMISSION, of saying things and taking policy positions for the sole purpose of making himself more electable. It's something that will come back to bite him soon enough, but it's all the more reason NOT to divide the Democratic party, because there is then ample opportunity to divide the Republicans over McCain's totally inconsistent positions over the last several years and beyond. Check out the Newsweek editorial for more:

- At least the presidential campaign got a dose of comic relief on Monday, when all three candidates presented taped messages that were aired on WWE's Monday Night RAW. Hearing all three use wrestling terminology was pretty hilarious and yes, pretty cringe-worthy, but it was all worth it just to finally here Obama say "if you smell what Barack is cooking!" That one's been a long time coming, dude.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reviewing SARAH MARSHALL, San Diego, Passover, and MORE

Life is a highway, and I've been riding it all weekend long. Yep, seeing as how this year was the rare one in which the first two nights of Passover fell on a weekend, I decided to pack up and truck it down to San Diego to celebrate the seder with Aksel and his family. It was a long trip, and I set out a bit later than I intended, mostly due to being unable to pry myself away from the double-overtime Suns - Spurs Game 1 that was an instant playoff classic. But I arrived in San Diego, or more specifically Chula Vista, without getting lost or any other major incident, luckily enough. We had a nice seder, good food ... and the next day was fun as well, as Aksel, his sister Janice and I saw some of the sites of the Chula Vista area, and then took an impromptu trip down to Sea World. I believe I went to Sea World once when I was like seven, and that was in Florida, so even though it was already a bit late in the afternoon and I was getting nervous about heading home while there was still some light out, I said "dammit all" and agreed to spend a few hours with Shamu and co. So we did just that, spending the afternoon with sharks, walruses, and penguins. Then I set out again, hitting the road for the long drive back to Burbank. All in all though, a fun weekend - definitely a good way to kick off Passover and a nice excuse to get away from Hollyweird for a bit.

- And now I've got basically a week of Passover ahead of me. It still amazes me how the norm in LA seems to be to not keep the holiday in the least. I mean, I think I've accumulated too many years of Passover observance at this point to not observe its no-bread dietary regulations without a huge amount of guilt and self-loathing that would surely hit me if I were to become a true-blue LA Jew. All I know is, it was pretty frustrating this year trying to guage interest in doing something for the seders, whether it was going to an organized event or what have you, and having response be minimal to nil. Since when did one have to be a super-orthodox ultra-Jew to celebrate the holidays and enjoy a little culture and tradition?

- On the other hand, it is kind of a drag to try and keep kosher for Passover, no doubt about that. Especially for those of us who are cooking-impaired, and for those of us whose usual diet consists almost entirely of bread, grain, and wheat-based goods. But what I will say is this: after eight days of eating matzoh, salad, and chicken ... finally gorging yourself on pizza to mark the holiday's end is pretty much the greatest thing ever.

- No real TV stuff to talk about this week, at least in terms of reviews. One thing that a lot of people are debating is the hype / overhype factor going into tonight's return of GOSSIP GIRL. I'm finally all caught up on this season so far, so I feel like I can weigh in ... The show is good, really good - it's well-written, has a great young cast, and is entertainingly soapy without being ridiculously melodramatic. And let's face it - the marketing of the show has been brilliant these last few weeks. Call it annoying if you want, but all those ads brandishing over-the-top exclamations like "OMFG" are doing a great job at drawing attention to the show. And it's to the show's credit that it hasn't really had any OC-like super-huge plot twists yet - when something really big DOES happen, it will feel much more legit than if there hadn't been this slow build. So yeah - all of that stuff about Gossip Girl being a #1 show on iTunes and whatnot really doesn't mean jack - I can tell you firsthand that the only tangible benefit of that standing in the Apple rankings is a bit of good PR. But good PR is exactly what the show needs and what it's getting, so kudos to CW for actually marketing a show correctly for once and making a real effort to grow a franchise. Why oh why couldn't they have done the same for Veronica Mars?


- I don't think the trailers did a great job of conveying just how funny this movie is. I wasn't sure quite what to expect going in, but I remained optimistic - in paper, Sarah Marshall had all the trappings of an A-level flick from the Judd Apatow comedy factory. A former member of the Freaks and Geeks ensemble getting his much-deserved spotlight? Check. A host of Apatow-land guest stars, from Paul Rudd to Jonah Hill? Check. A script that mixes broad comedy with conversational humor that smartly looks into the mind of the post-adolescent male? Check. So I shouldn't have really been surprised - this was another film on par with 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad - a hilarious movie that I daresay had the overall best and funniest script of any Apatow flick to date, thanks to Jason Segal. The point is, this is top to bottom one of the funniest comedies I've seen in a while, and certainly one of the best films of 2008 thus far.

To start, it's just great to see Jason Segal getting the spotlight. I've recently been rewatching some Freaks and Geeks, and on the second run-through, it's amazing how Segal's Nick stands out as perhaps the series' overall most interesting character, responsible for some of the series' funniest and most memorable moments. Who can forget Nick serenading Lindsay with a 100% awkward rendition of Styx's "Lady," for example? So classic. In any case, Segal brings that same awkward, droopy yet overly-expressive energy to this film, and it's a lot of fun to see. Like Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, you get the sense that Segal isn't playing a character too far removed from his own experiences and personality - and that's probably even truer here, where much of the script is supposedly based on Segal's own experiences with bad break-ups. That feeling of authenticity is really on display here - and really, it's all the little details that make things pop. From Segal's rendency to eat cereal from a gigantic mixing bowl, to his spontaneous imitation of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, to the way he admires himself in the mirror in the morning - the movie instantly grounds itself in a kind of everyday reality that has been the trademark of Apatow's comedies to date. It's that comedy of recognition that helps to make the movie so funny - I mean, who hasn't walked around with a stick and bellowed "You shall not pass!" in their best Ian McKellan voice? Anyone? Anyone?

But I digress - the genius of these Apatow movies is how they deftly mix these very grounded characters and dialogue with moments of really broad, laugh-out-loud comedy. The wackier stuff is present in Sarah Marshall thanks to reliable supporting actors, the kind of people who instantly make you smile when they show up. I mean, who doesn't love Jack McBrayer, aka Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock? In less hilarious hands, his character here - a guy on his honeymoon overwhelmed by the desires of his wife - might have been annoying. But McBrayer is so good at playing naive and befuddled that he never fails to deliver big laughs. Same goes for Paul Rudd - the guy just has awesome comic timing, dating back to his Wet Hot American Summer days. His character here, a stoned-out surf instructer, is actually way funnier than the trailers indicated. Jonah Hill may be a bit of a weak link here, as his character does grate a little by the film's end. Nonetheless, Hill has some funny bits, and delivers some great setups for Russel Brand ...

And Russel Brand, a British comedian, is hilarious in the film as pop-star Aldous Snow. He steals many a scene with his laid-back, sex-guru persona, and some of his lines are simply classic. This guy needs to be in more movies, that much is for sure. Both of our leading ladies are similarly very good in their roles, and do a great job of playing off of Segal and Brand while not being strictly one-dimensional love interests. Kristen Bell is particularly good as the title character, Sarah Marshall. No secret that I've been a big Bell supporter due in large part to my love for Veronica Mars, but it's honestly hard to think of another actress who could have played Sarah with such a great mix of realism and movie-star glamour. Bell paints a pretty vivid picture of a woman at the very beginnings of stardom, who still has one foot in the more mundane world of Segal and his huge bowls of cereal, and one foot in the world of Hollywood and rock stars and paparazzi. I'm sure a big part of Bell's authenticity is that Sarah Marshall probably isn't too far removed from Bell's own experiences as an up-and-comer in Hollywood. Similarly, Mila Kunis does a nice job as a perky resort receptionist who befriends the depressed Segal. I'm sure people will be tempted to knock her, but I thought she was handled the role of rebound-girl well. I always thought she did a good job as Jackie on That 70's Show (which gets a lot of crap, but was a really well-done sitcom in its prime), so it was cool to see her in such a big role.

But really, once again, this movie does such a great job of making depression funny thanks to Segal. A lot has been said about the amount of, um, exposure that Segal enjoys in the film, but it's really makes sense in terms of the plot and character arc that the movie is going for. This is a guy who is pretty emotionally and socially naked - just as you couldn't help but cringe yet laugh as Segal belted out "Lady" in the Freaks and Geeks days, the same holds true here. Without spoiling too much, there is a moment here where Segal is urged to peform a song he's been working on from his pet project - a puppet musical about Dracula (yep, you read that right). Suddenly, in his best Bela Lugosi singing voice, Segal is going all-out, belting out the absolutely hilarious lyrics to his Dracula song with total sincerity and conviction, in front of a room of total strangers who have no clue what they are witnessing. The moment is honestly one of the funniest I've seen on film - and it's partly because of the craziness of the voice and the lyrics and partly because it feels so raw and honest. When Segal puts himself out there, he really puts himself out there.

And that's why I can't recommend Forgetting Sarah Marshall enough. Of all of the Apatow comedies, I think it feels the most honest, the most authentic. It's amazing too because in the end it is, essentially, a romantic comedy, a genre which is notoriously NOT funny. And yet I think I laughed about as much here as I did for 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up ... but I left the theater feeling even more satisfied, because the story felt more authentic and better told. Are there flaws? Sure -- the plot does drag a bit, and the movie does feel a little overly long. The rebound relationship between Segal and Kunis was a little too Nora Effron-romantic comedy-ish for my tastes as well -- it didn't quite gel with the overall tone of the film. But those are mostly nitpicks - the bottom line is this was a hilarious movie and certainly, the reigning king of comedy so far in '08. And holy lord, someone make the puppet Dracula musical as soon as humanly possible.

My Grade: A -

- Okay, happy Monday. Time for a healthy lunch of ... um ... geez Passover is rough.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some Much-Needed Political Smackdowns, Plus: Smallville, the Office, 30 Rock, and MORE

Finally, the blog returns. The last few weeks have been a bit crazy, so I've had little time to write here, and I don't like that I've gotten into this weird only-write-on-Mondays-and-Fridays patterns ... but I guess for now it is what it is, so, let's go.

- So who watched the big Obama vs. Hillary debate on Wednesday night? I kind of agree with the peanut gallery that the first round of questions, largely focused on tabloid-ish issues, came off as hacky and desperate on the part of the ABC moderators. On one hand, I do think there was a degree of public demand to here Obama address some of the various mini-scandals that have plagued him the last few weeks. On the other, the whole thing reeks of the press playing into its own self-perpetuated hype machine. After all, did the average person really take that much offense to Obama's "bitter" comments? Polls say that no, they didn't. And personally, if you had shown me Obama's words without any editorial commentary, I wouldn't have been offended in the least. I mean, remind me again what's wrong with calling people bitter? There are a lot of bitter people out there, and guess what - it's often the bitter people who are the ones ranting about the liberal media, ranting about their right to bear arms, and ranting about how the entertainment industry is rotting our country's moral values. Personally, I enjoyed Obama's comment because it felt honest, and it felt like it cut through the crap and made a very un-political yet still valid point.

Anyways, I do think that Obama surprised some people in that he didn't always seem to have great, tidy answers to some of the more pointed questions thrown his way at the debate. However, I also think that most of those questions focus on issues that are only marginally relevant to the campaign. Politicians and people active in public life constantly associate with unsavory characters, and a tenous connection between two people doesn't necessarilly mean anything beyond a brief an unmeaningful association. The tables could easily be turned on Hillary if someone decided to stoop that low, and there is this unwritten rule that people can't really ask about her relationship with her husband. And probably, it's best that they don't. My point is only that you can't have it both ways. If Hillary wants to really get into it with Obama about why he didn't immediately leave his Church once it was clear that his pastor had made certain disrespectful comments ... well, I mean, isn't it obvious? Couldn't the EXACT same question be posed of Hillary - why didn't she immediately leave her husband when she found that he had had an illicit affair? In both cases, there are complex reasons behind each decision, a mix of personal and professional justifications. So how can Hillary have it both ways? It just pisses me off that she could easily have taken the high road on these questions pitched towards Obama and leave them be - and yet she constantly jumps in and adds how SHE would have left that church or how SHE would be cautious when considering who Obama associates himself with. She could EASSILY have just let the issues speak for themselves - I mean in a campaign like this it's inevitable, in any case, that her various campaign managers and supporters would focus in on these criticisms of Obama, without her having to get her hands dirty.

In sum, that's what really bothers me about Hillary. Everything with her feels like a clear and calculated TACTIC. And as Obama has pointed out, that kind of mentality has long been the domain of the GOP, so it's especially disheartening to see her adopt this mindset, even at this point in the race when, very soon, as she keeps pointing out, the democratic party is going to have to really put on a united front if it hopes to win the White House.

Now, I have to say I was disappointed in both candidates for their stand in the debate on gun control. I am honestly sick of political figures kissing up to the gun enthusiasts and always making it a point to praise the second amendment and dutifuly acknowledge the sacred ritual of father and son bonding over a good round of hunting. I'm sorry, but this is CRAP, and I wish someone like an Obama would just come out and say it. If the best way a father knows how to bond with his son is to go out and shoot animals, then that is one seriously f'd up relationship in my book! I'm not advocating repealing the 2nd Amendment or anything, but I just don't see why there can't be a serious crackdown on gun ownership to absolutely ensure that only certain types of guns are sold and that only people willing to go through extensive background checks can purchase a gun. But from jsut a cultural perspective, it's such a ridiculous bit of hypocracy. I love how politicians can, in the same breath, talk about how great it is when a father and son go hunting and then condemn movie and videogame violence which is pure fantasy and fiction. Ugh.

Anyways, political rant over for now ... time to talk about important matters like television.

- Oh, but first a quick update ... I was supposed to see an advance screening of THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM last night ... I was pumped too, as come on, it's Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the same movie. That's the martial arts equivalent of Superman vs. Batman or Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get the memo that our tickets were merely first-come, first-serve, so we got to the Arclight theater in Hollywood pretty early, but were greeted by a looooong line of eager kung-fu fans many of whom had been in line for hours. The place was a madhouse, as that same night the Arclight was ALSO hosting the red-carpet premiere for the Harold and Kumar sequel. Yikes. At least I got to see Rob Cordry walking the red carpet. Kind of cool. But, man, I really have a strong desire to see some Jet / Jackie smackdowns. Next week ...


- Okay, I will start with SMALLVILLE, as already today I've had a little debate about this one with some fellow fans. Here's the thing - last night's ep was a pretty damn good piece of storytelling in many respects - there was real drama amongst the characters, and as a showpiece for the great Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, it really was a quality episode. But what brought this episode down for me was just all of the annoying and lazy conventions that plague nearly every episode of Smallville. Everyone in earshot getting knocked out cold JUST before Clark swoops in and uses his powers to save the day. Clark traipsing into Lex's inner sanctum totally without conflict - doesn't Lex have his security dudes under orders to keep him out at this point?!? And as my friend Seth pointed out, why is everyone on this show now a master computer hacker? It's just juvenile stuff like this that hurts episodes that would otherwise be considered very good or great. I mean last night had some really truly GREAT stuff. That opening scene with Lex and Lionel was inarguably badass. I doubt Lionel has actually bitten the big one (if so, it is lame to kill him off in the first 5 minutes of an episode with barely any fanfare), but even so it's always a lot of fun to see the two Luthor's square off. I also really liked the recurring theme of Lex battling his inner child. It could have come off as ultra-cheesy, but I actually thought it was handled well and really emphasized that Lex was undergoing a traumatic change, crossing a line. When Lex symbollically did away with his Young Lex aspect, the kid yelling at him that he didn't have to kill Lionel, and Lex screaming back "I had no other choice!", it was a reall dramatic moment - great stuff. Like I said, at its best, this ep was simply a superb showcase for Michael Rosenbaum as Lex, and it really makes one sad that he won't be a regular next season. If next season goes on sans Lex and Lionel, it will really suffer for it. For now though, I'm mostly enjoying the ride, and I can only hope that the show can overcome some of those inherent problems with its storytelling style in order to really deliver episodes that are not just "good for Smallville" but just honest to goodness great TV. And as one last aside - I did LOVE, in the preview for next week, the shot of Lex in the arctic that seemed lifted right from Alan Moore's classic "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" - kickass.

My Grade: B+

- THE OFFICE had a much lighter episode than in recent weeks, during which the show had taken a decidedly darker turn. While it was nice to see the show return to an actual office setting and get back to bit players like Kevin, Creed, et al, I felt that this week almost overcompensated and was a bit too cartoonish and sappy for my tastes. Michael forcing his employees to set him up on dates with their friends seemed over the top, even for Michael. And then, when he did go on a date with Pam's nice-but-not-exactly-stunning landlord, I couldn't help but be reminded of a similar setup on the British Office. Now, the US version has always faltered in my mind when it tries to ape its British cousin ... and last night, I just wasn't crazy about Steve Carell's much more cartoonish take on his date with a less-than-attractive woman as compared to Ricky Gervais' instant-classic version. Gervais played the moment as brilliantly awkward and embarrassing - a memorable mix of male ego clashing with lowered expectations. And it points to a fundamental corner that the Office writers have painted themselves into with Michael Scott, which is that post-Jan relationship, who exactly is Michael Scott? It's almost an element that seems to needlessly complicate his character. Prior to the Jan relationship, Michael's date would have been much more interesting, in my mind - ie, if this was the only woman he could actually "get," would he be so quick to dismiss her? Now he can simply justify his rejection in his own mind by flashing the picture of his old, hot girlfriend as proof that he needn't bother with someone less attractive. It makes Michael more complex of a character, but at the same time it kind of distracts from the real core of who that character is - a loser who has no grasp on reality when it comes to women, among other things. In any case, there were some really great moments here, though to me most of the best came from the peripheral characters. Kevin was great in this one - you really had to feel for the guy when he stated that "he needed that win." Dwight never fails to crack me up with his dutiful responses to even the most absurd of Michael's requests. Rainn Wilson is flipping awesome. Now, I liked some of the interplay between Jim and Pam, but I still don't like when their relationship is kind of artifically thrust into the spotlight and we start getting into manufactured drama like "will he or won't he propose." That said, I think there is some subtle and interesting stuff going on, with maybe some growing tension between the two, and I appreciate how the show has things we see on camera and things that are bubbling below the surface - not many shows can pull of that kind of multilayered storytelling. All in all though, I thought the episode was light fun but not the show at its best. The main Michael Scott plotline was just a little much, and some of it had already been done to perfection by Ricky Gervais and co. But yeah, Andy's speech about the "little guy?" Funny stuff.

My Grade: B

- 30 ROCK I thought made some imporvements over last week's ep. For one, there was more Tracy Morgan! Morgan once again stole the show last night with some absolutely hilarious scenes that were awesomely random. The whole concept of him embracing the Republican party was comedic gold, and the dream sequence with Alec Baldwin as Richard Nixon, triggered by Tracy listening to "We Didn't Start the Fire," which got stuck on the word "Nixon," was so crazy as to be incredible. There were also some very funny moments with Kennth the page showing around an old-timey TV personality played by Tim Conway, who was hilarious in his deadpan, very Un-PC comments about the golden age of television. I was cracking up when he walked into the writer's room and exclaimed that they used to call it "the Jew room." Oy. I thought the main, Liz Lemon plot was decent though but never 100% clicked, as she struggled with whether or not to get back together with our old friend the Beeper King. Overall though, a very funny episode that was absolutely packed with great lines.

My Grade: A -

- Okay, I'm out - time for the weekend, and, oy, time for Passover - the holiday that ivariably makes me sick by depriving me of my main source of sustenance, that being BREAD and bread-related products. So Happy Passover to everyone - I'm headed to San Diego tomorrow to sit down for Seder with the Axe-Man. Back later with an update. ROCK.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Always Bet on Baram: 21 Review, The Simpsons, and MORE

Whooooooooooooo. Greetings from your favorite limousine-ridin', jet-flyin', kiss-stealin', wheelin', dealin' son of a gun. What's the good word? Juno is out on DVD today ... I hate how that movie has such a backlash against it - it was a great movie! Who cares if the dialogue is unrealistic? So is the dialogue in almot every great movie ever made, honest to blog. Screw the haters, Juno was one of 2007's best films in a year that overflowed with great films. I'll tell you another great movie that you shouldn't overlook -- Walk Hard. I keep seeing negative reviews of the DVD, but come on, it was hilarious! Any comedy fan should check it out ASAP.

Man, summer movie season can't get here fast enough. So many bigtime flicks coming over the next few months, I can barely concentrate on any one in particular. As regular readers know I have a compulsive need to rank things, so ... here's what I'm most looking forward to:

1. The Dark Knight
2. The X-Files 2
3. Iron Man
4. Indiana Jones
5. Wall-E
6. Speed Racer
7. Hellboy 2
8. Tropic Thunder
9. Prince Caspian
10. Kung-Fu Panda

And that's not even including some other big films like The Incredible Hulk and Wanted and Pineapple Express. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of others as well ... but, there you go.

- By the way, I may have alluded to this previously, but partly in the name of being film geeks and partly in the name of honoring the passing of a great actor, some friends and I decided to partake in a Charlton Heston mini movie-thon this past weekend, since none of us had ever seen two of his most famous forays into the sci-fi genre, SOYLENT GREEN and THE OMEGA MAN. My quick reviews? Well, Soylent Green is legitimately a pretty cool movie - a good performance from Heston and a really well-realized vision of a dystopian future that's coming apart at the seems. As for Omega Man, holy lord. I suspect that you need to be under the influence of various mind-altering chemicals to enjoy it - it made I Am Legend look like a masterpiece in comparison. I mean, the vampires / creatures in the movie are just NORMAL PEOPLE with white skin. On one hand they talk and think rationally, yet on the other had they spend every night, and I mean EVERY night standing outside of Heston's home, moaning, clawing, and hurling the occasional flaming object at his windows. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?! Man, what a strange, strange movie.

Anyways, I've got a movie review of 21 for ya', but first some TV STUFF:

- Sunday's episode of THE SIMPSONS seems to have been a bit divisive. Some are claiming it was a good to very good episode, especially relative to most episodes from the latter-day Simpsons output. But others, like me, for one, sat through this episode enjoying a few clever lines here and there, but mostly just shaking my head in disappointment at how much most of the humor missed the mark. The fact that this episode seemed to have pretty grand ambitions only made its ultimate failure that much more painful to watch. I mean, this ep, in theory, pulled out all the stops. It brought back a beloved one-off character from the show's glory days - Lurleen Lumpkin. It had a musical number. It even had a guest-turn from The Dixie Chicks. But what can I say, the ep just never really clicked. The opening, an oddly dark bit in which Homer fantasizes about killing his dad, was disturbingly random. And I guess that if you look at the original Lurleen episode, it was really not so much about Lurleen, and much more so about Homer and his temptation to go off with this other woman - the episode is a classic precisely because I think it surprised people with how many complex themes it pushed into an animated series. In this episode, there was really none of that complexity. Lurleen's daddy issues were dealt with broadly and swiftly, and Homer's relationship with her was pretty much glossed over. The humor did work in parts - I liked how all of Lurleen's post-Homer boyfriends were basically thnic versions of Homer - but too many of the jokes felt limp. In any case, this was one of those Simpsons episodes that was decent, but by evoking a classic episode, it really painted a tale of two shows - one that was effortlessly funny and multi-layered, and another that is gimmicky and seems to just be coasting along.

My Grade: C+

- I thought KING OF THE HILL had a similar feel, where it just felt a little off despit a premise that seemed to have some potential. The idea of Joseph leaving public school to go to a fancier private one seemed rife with comedic possibilities, but the episode seemed pulled in a lot of different directions, touching on the relationship between Joseph and Dale, Dale and Hank, and Dale and Nancy's newfound role as high-society prep school parents. Conspicuous by his absence was John Redcorn - you'd think it'd only be natural for him to show up in an episode that so heavily emphasized Dale's belief that Joseph's football talent was a result of his good genes. Plus, as has been pointed out, Hank did seem a little bit callous about Bobby's best friend changing schools. It's been a while since we've seen Hank and Bobby have much interaction, so it seemed like a missed opportunity.

My Grade: B -

- As for this Saturday's SNL featuring guest host Ashton Kutcher ... um, yeah ... the less said the better. Or, to take a page from Fred Armisen's recurring news-commentator character ... "Well, the thing is, I mean, we have to, don't you see?, the problem!, if I can be frank, dolphins!, throughout our history, and that's exactly what, when push comes to shove.

Okay, onto movies.

21 Review:

- First off, I'll open with the following preamble: Perhaps the coolest thing about 21, for me, was the fact that much of the movie was shot at Boston U. So throughout the film, I recognized familiar classrooms, hallways, and exteriors from my school, which was pretty sweet. Sure, the locations were used as a stand-in for one of those "grand institutions across the river," namely, MIT, but still, go BU!

Anyways, 21 is one of those movies that was surprising in that it could have been a lot worse, but also at least a little disappointing in that it never really amounted to anything more than a pretty by-the-numbers teen thriller. The movie tells the drawn-from-true-life tale of a couple of MIT students who, under the tutelage of a scheming professor, form a club of high rollers who travel to Vegas on weekends and use their penchant for number-crunching to beat the system and win big at blackjack. It's an intriguing story, but the movie spends a lot of time on flashy shots of Vegas and not enough time examining its principle characters and their motivations for embarking on such a risky and potentially dangerous endeavor.

The big upside here is the young cast, particularly Jim Sturgess as the lead. Sturgess' performance here reminds me a lot of some of the recent, breakthrough performances we've seen from Casey Aflleck. There's something in his work that goes deeper than we're accustomed to to seeing in this type of film - a nuance, a maturity. While the material he's given to work with isn't always particularly subtle, Sturgess nonetheless brings subtlety to the role. It's not a breakthrough film, per se, but it may just be that type of attention-grabbing performance for Sturgess.

As for Kevin Spacey as the students' sleazy cardshark / professor / ringleader, well, to his credit, his work here reminded me a little of some of his classic scumbag roles in movies like Glengary Glenross and LA Confidential. I'm still pissed off at him for sucking so bad as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, but I guess that's only partially his fault ... In any case, Spacey brings some zip to the proceedings, but his character is ultimately kind of a generic antagonist, and almost a little too sketchy to be believable. Part of the problem is that the pull he has over his group of student math prodigies is never quite defined in a satisfactory manner. This means that when the inevitable dissention i nthe ranks happens later in the film, it's all feels a bit forced, as we were never quite sure what this guy's deal was in the first place, or who these students were that they were so drawn to him. In fact, this almost seems like the more interesting angle to approach the film from, but instead ...

... We get a pretty lifeless romance between Sturgess and Kate Bosworth's character, a fairly cold cardshark who is basically there as the token object of lust. We also get lots of light scenes with Sturgess and his MIT friends, a couple of geeky braniacs who don't understand where their friend jets off to on weekends or why he isn't that into their create-your-own robot contest thing anyomore. One of his friends is that Chris Farley-esque guy from FOX's Back to You, who looks a lot like the late great Farley except not really as funny. I guess that's one kind of general complaint about the film -- it could have bene a pretty intense character study and thriller, but it keeps throwing in little bits of annoying humor, the kind of stuff that brought down similarly "look-at-me-I'm-so-cool" movies like Disturbia. You know - goofy sidekicks, blank-slate girlfriend characters, etc.

Overall though, I was entertained. The systems that the students used to beat the house at blackjack were pretty interesting in theory, and between Sturgess' brooding intensity and Spacey's hammy intensity, there was enough intensity to keep me attentive and curious about what would happen next. On the other hand, it seemed like every chance the film had to really turn things up a notch, all it delivered were yet more extraneous shots of flashing casino names. Vegas has bright lights - we get it.

My Grade: B -

- Okay, until next time ...

Friday, April 11, 2008

MONKEY BUSINESS: Heston, Facebook, and THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK return!

I decided I don't want to be one of those people who always introduces their blogs by calling out what day it is. Yes, it's Friday. But am I going to open with a big spiel about how awesome it is that it's Friday? No, no I'm not.

- Okay, so is it just me or is Facebook getting totally out of control? I mean, I was never too up in arms when they introduced the news feed, but I guess it's just the combo of constantly being force-fed everyone else's status updates and useless crap, and the huge influx of random people joining Facebook that is making it totally insane of late. In the last few weeks, I've gotten friend requests from about 8 people I've either never met or have never talked to more than once. My philosophy is this - if you are going to facebook-friend (yes, that's a verb now) someone you've never met, at LEAST send an accompanying message explaining what your deal is, to assure me you're not some random spambot.

All of the recent facebook-related absurdity came to a head last night, when I received a friend request from ... HYGIENA of Who Wants to Be a Superhero fame. Now, don't get me wrong, I am both honored and surprised that a reality TV star on one of the few reality shows I've ever watched, who I've never met before in my life save the time I walked by her booth at WizardWorld, would decide to add me as a facebook friend. Seriously, it was kind of cool. I mean, the woman was a superhero christened by Stan Lee himself. But, you have to admit, when Hygiena is friending you on facebook, it has to be looked at as something of a jump-the-shark moment for the site, if ever there was one. I mean, good lord, I remember when it was me, a few of my college pals, and nobody over 22 had a clue what this facebook thing was. Ahhh ... those were the days.

So here are my conclusions, or "takeaways" as people seem fond of saying in the corporate world: a.) Facebook is not freakin' linked in. If we've never even met before, then AT LEAST do the courtesy of introducing yourself and explaining why on god's green earth you want me listed among your online buddies. If you're a reality-TV superhero, you are excepted. b.) Yes, it's still very scary that people not of the "Facebook generation" are now so prevalent on freaking facebook. But geez, if your picture is a corporate ID photo or something, I don't think I can be your friend. And finally, c.) for you young'uns out there, I'm not saying that you should become lame and boring just because your boss is now probably on facebook ... but come on, THINK. Do you really want the entire world to know what Desperate Housewive you're most sexually compatible with or whatever? You do? Welllll okay then.

- Man, I've yet to have a chance to bid farewell to the man, myth, and icon CHARLTON HESTON. Now, like many, I have not been a fan of the man's politics since I began to realize that he was a right-wing gun-rights advocate. But also like many, I grew up with Heston's movies and came to know him as one of the first real "movie stars" that I recognized and could pick out in a movie. Of course, this was largely because, pretty much every year as a kid attending Solomon Schechter Day School, we'd like clockwork be shown The Ten Commandments every year around Passover time. I always really enjoyed the movie though, even if it was ridiculously long and we rarely got to watch the whole thing, in large part because of Heston's innate awesomeness as Moses. The guy just seemed like he was some real-life pulp novel character come to life - larger than life in every way, with that unmistakeable line delivery that gave all of his dialogue an epic weight. Suffice it to say, long before Jack Bauer had a virtual trademark on the term "gravitas," Heston was the very definition of the word. Few actor's today could pull off the type of "man's man" roles that Heston regularly brought to life, from Planet of the Apes to Soylent Green to Ben Hur, from El Cid to Touch of Evil to The Omega Man, Heston was, in his prime, the definitive alpha male, the go-to guy when you needed a Last Man on Earth, and a man who truly made you believe that he was hearing the voice of God himself. And who can forget his classic cameo in Wayne's World II? Can't we get a better actor, indeed. So while some may remember him as the guy who wanted us to pry that gun from his cold dead hands, the film fan in me is simply sad that one of the greats has passed away. So get your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty ape, as I separate the man from the politics for a moment and pay tribute to a big-screen icon.

- Now, as much as I do want to separate the great actor from the controversial politics that later became his trademark, one can't help but think of the ongoing gun control debate in the wake of Mr. Heston's passing. Partly, the issue is also on my mind thanks to a great editorial written by Stephen King in last week's Entertainment Weekly. The main thrust of King's op-ed? That while it's easy to point fingers at the media and the entertainment industry, and critique their roles in real-life tragedies like last year's horrific incident at Virginia Tech, the fact remains: that psycho would NEVER have been able to harm anyone without the aid of a gun. I know, thank you Mr. Obvious, but it's a valid point nonetheless, and worth stating because the NRA crowd tends to blame every conceivable factor OTHER than the guns as contributing to violence. Newsflash: society will ALWAYS have its share of psychopaths - why are we giving them the means to go on mass murder killing sprees?

To read the whole article by the Master of Horror, click below:,,20188502,00.html


- So last night was huge for fans of good TV. THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK were back, baby. 30 Rock was the TV show that, you may recall, I named as the #1 show of 2007. The comedy was on an absolute tear prior to the Writer's Strike, with its second season leaps and bounds ahead of its first. Some episodes had such nonstop laughter that there was barely time to recover from one joke to take in the next. The Office, meanwhile, had just begun to regain its footing prior to the strike. The season began on somewhat shaky ground, with a string of hour-long episodes that seemed to spread the comedy too thin. However, just prior the Strike the show seemed to take a darker turn, really ramping up the awkwardness level and starting to really get into the warped psyches of Michael and Jan. As I'll get to, last night's ep picked up right where we left off - namely, in a dark and very disturbing place ...


- Wow, last night's ep was the epitomy of strange and disturbing, playing out like a warped version of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? than an episode of a network sitcom. While there weren't a ton of big, laugh-out-loud moments, this was nonetheless a somewhat brilliantly conceived episode, depicting what truly seemed to be the dinner party from hell. As Michael finally convinces Jim and Pam to attend a dinner at he and Jan's house, it's clear that we are about to go down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Overall, this was a funny, tragi-comic ep that really took a turn to the darkside, with Jan fully outed as a complete psycho-bitch and Michael as a whipped lapdog stuck in the relationship from hell. Dwight and Andy gave a few moments of levity / comic relief, but man, there was a whole lot of awkwardness otherwise. I hope that the show doesn't get too entrenched in giving us a weekly mind$#%^ in place of more typical workplace-derived comedy, but as a standalone ep that played like some crazed theater of the absurd play in the mode of Edward Albee, this was indeed something you don't see every day on TV.

My Grade: A -

30 ROCK:

- My expectations and hopes for 30 Rock had been astronimically high going in to last night's return episode, but that was tempered, by necessity, by the fact that I knew that on Day 1 after the Strike, there was no way 30 Rock was going to be quite as good as I wanted it to be gresh out of the gates. So I went into last night's ep with an odd mix of optimism and skepticim. What did I think after having watched the episode? Well, this was a decent installment of 30 Rock, but certainly not at the same level as the instant-classics that made me declare the show the Best of 2007. Firstly, some of the key ingredients to the show's success were either missing or under-represented. Tracy Morgan stole the show whenever he was given a line last night. His uncharacteristic call for everyone to calm down near episode's end was hilarious - unfortunately it was one of only a few lines for Tracy on the night. And where was Jenna? Jane K's loopy starlet has increasingly become one of 30 Rock's highpoints, so she was very conspicuous by her absence. Overall, I think the main plot as well as the subplots just felt a little bland. While Tina Fey's attempts to hide her negative comments towards Jack (that he was a "grade-A moron") produced a few funny moments (loved the little cutaway that compared Liz Lemon to Cathy of comic-strip fame - aaak!), overall it didn't feel substantial enough to anchor an episode. Unfortunately, the two subplots didn't hold up all that well either. The CONCEPT of MILF Island is so inherently funny that it didn't need any truly stellar jokes to make it comedic ... but ... it wouldn't have hurt either. So while I was chomping at the bit to see how 30 Rock would portray this hilarious concept, it surprisingly turned out to be kind of just a blah Survivor parody rather than something totally absurd and hilarious as I had hoped. Next up, there was a lame, ripped-from-The Simpsons subplot of Frank getting his hand stuck in a vending machine ... I mean, seriously? The 30 Rock I know would never resort to such a pedestrian and been-done B-plot. So yeah, all in all there WERE some funny lines - Tracy, Kenneth, and Liz all delivered a few classics. But plot-wise, this was not a 30 Rock for the ages, indicating that it may yet take a few episodes for the show to once again get back into its "Best Show On TV" groove.

My Grade: B -

- Finally, it's almost time for the NBA PLAYOFFS! While things in the East will likely be a snooze-fest until the conference finals, the West is set to explode from the outset this year with teams like Dallas at the bottom of the brackets who are themselves legit championship contenders. Last night, I took in a little NBA action in glorious HD, and man was it crystal clear. Now, as for who should get the MVP award, my pick is KEVIN GARNETT. Here's my reasoning -- KG got traded to the Celtics, and their team had the single biggest turnaround in league history, most of it thanks to the efforts of the Big Ticket. While Kobe is definitely a legit candidate, let's not forget that for the first part of the season, the Lakers were not that great. If anything, the addition of Pau Gasol triggered greater consistency from Kobe, renewed Lamar Odom's energy, and reignited the team as a whole. Kobe was a constant, but was he the IMPACT player of the year? Nope. Now - Chris Paul's numbers are huge, and he is also surely a legit MVP candidate ... but again I think you can look at the way the Hornets play, who their supporting cast is, and look at Paul as more of the bigest cog in that wheel rather than the lynchpin. Meanwhile, KG goes to a new team, turns around the whole franchise, and is putting up huge numbers to boot. The Celtics are THE team in the NBA this season, and KG is their franchise player. This is why he should be considered MVP.

- Okay, I'm out - have a great weekend and ... oh my god, I was wrong. It was earth, all along. Yes they've finally made a monkey - yes they've finally made a monkey - well they've finally made a monkey out of me-eeeeeeeeeee.

Monday, April 07, 2008

CAN'T GET NO ... SATISFACTION! (especially on Mondays ...). SHINE A LIGHT and LEATHERHEADS - Reviewed! And much more!

Back from another weekend, and ready to roll. Well, ready to go back to sleep is more accurate, but whatever. In any case, I had a fun weekend that included a birthday celebration for fellow former page Dan K, as well as a few film viewings, so, let's get down to business ...

Okay, first, some random TV STUFF ...

- Man, how weird was SNL this past weekend? Christopher Walken returned to host, and moreso than any other time I've seen him host, this really felt like an episode of "The Christopher Walken Show" or something, as nearly every sketch seemed tailored to Walken's, um, unique sensibilities. At first, bending the show to fit Walken seemed a good move, as I was cracking up at his totally random monologue and then at his turn as a high school drama teacher who kept changing the lyrics to "Greased Lightning" because they were too dirty. Pretty funny stuff, but from that point on things got more awkward-weird than hilarious-weird. A sketch that cast Walken as an office stalker was really odd but oddly flat, and then sketches that introduced a clan of Walken wannabes and saw CW as a plant expert afraid of plants ... well, they just felt more strange for the sake of being strange than anything else, even if they were speckled with moments of comedy. I definitely let out bewildered mutterings of "W ... T .... F?" more times during this episode than I have at anything SNL's done in recent memory. It was memorable, that's for sure, and at this stage in the game, that's a lot better than the alternative.

My Grade: B

- Last night's KING OF THE HILL was definitely a mixed bag. I definitely agree with the review over on The Onion's AV Club that the ep started off slowly, but took a pretty interesting turn later on that shifted the premise into much more fertile territory. Basically, the episode started out as a kind of run of the mill look at how Peggy decided to hire a troupe of actors to help her sell an an unattractive house, much to Hank's chagrin, of course. Pretty standard stuff for KOTH ... But things picked up when it was revealed that, carried away with her runaway success as a real estate agent, Peggy sells HER OWN house while caught up in all of the commotion. This definitely raised the stakes of the episode, as Peggy had clearly crossed a line and Hank had legitimate reason to be upset with her. Often, Peggy's incompetence goes unnoticed by her family, so it was interesting to see her screw up in a way that so directly pissed off Hank. In any case, the ending was pretty clever, with Hank being forced to betray his reputation as an impeccable home-owner by deliberately rigging his house so it would fail an inspection. Of course, the house is so ingeniously messed with that the inspector fails it, but later gives a knowing aside that it would take one hell of a home-owner to so craftily fail an inspection, thus preserving Hank's reputation. Classic KOTH, helping to save an episode that had been pretty bland up to that point.

My Grade: B

- As a sidenote, congrats to KING OF THE HILL for being renewed by FOX for next season for a limited run. While this season so far has been a bit up and down, it still feels like there's plenty of life left in the show - I mean, we've barely even seen any plots yet that deal with Lucky and Luanne's recent marriage, a subject rife with comedic potential. So congrats to KOTH - the underdog show that keeps on ticking!

- And all I can say is, I am lovin' my new HD setup. Sure, my selection of HD channels is currently somewhat limited, but this weekend I watched some quality NBA action in HD, and the difference as compared to what I was used to was night and day. And man, TNT was running the Lord of the Rings trilogy all weekend, and I just kept flipping back to the channel to take in a few minutes of one of my favorite epic film sagas in glorious hi-def. Okay, yes, I realize I am a giant nerd but dammit all, I freaking love those movies. "We must cast the ring into the fiery chasm from whence it came!" YES.

- I am also taking advantage of some pretty cool HD-only channels such as HDNet movies, in conjuction with my new DVR'ing capablities. Example - a quick browse through the channel listing showed me that a movie classic I'd been meaning to check out, Bonnie and Clyde, was playing on HDnet Movies in a few days' time. Set the DVR, and soon enough I can watch a classic movie in HD at my convenience, free of charge. I know, many of you are saying "no duh Danny, welcome to 2008." And to all of you I say, quiet down and let me enjoy my moment of HD / DVR happiness.

- As for BONNIE and CLYDE ... awesome movie. 'Nuff said.

Okay ... saw two movies this weekend so let's get to it.


- Shine a Light, the latest from Martin Scorcese, is basically a tribute to the staying power of The Rolling Stones and the remarkable fact that, here in 2008, the band is every bit the rock n' roll tour de force that they were 40 years ago. Essentially a straight concert film with a bit of documentary thrown in for good measure, Shine a Light captures the Stones during a series of benefit shows, put on by none other than former prez Bill Clinton. It's interesting - the venues aren't huge, the crowds aren't fanatical, but Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and co go out and perform every song like they've barely missed a beat from their 60's heyday. More than anything, the film is an ode to Mick Jagger's unflappable energy. He dances around the stage with such manic force that you come away thinking he should be put in a lab and studied by scientists. How can any 60 year old man go out there and dance and sing like that?

Judged on its merits as a concert film, Shine a Light mostly, well, rocks. Like I said, even old standbys like "Start Me Up," "Can't Get No ... Satisfaction," and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" are performed with maximum energy, soul, and bravado, with Jagger flailing his hips, kicking, busting a movie, and belting out the lyrics like a man posessed. There are some great guest stars who show up as well to spice things up. Jack White, Christina Aguilera, and Buddy Guy (especially Buddy Guy) all contribute to some powerful duets with Jagger. These are really some great, iconic performances of some hits, some rarities, and some covers - so much so that a purchase of the soundtrack album is now strongly under consideration.

I guess where the film left me a bit frustrated was that it hints at a larger sense of context and story, but never really delivers on that potential to be not just a concert film, but a real look at the Rolling Stones story. Scorcese juxtaposes the modern-day show with vintage interview footage, and its fascinating to see from-the-vault clips of Jagger and co as twenty and thirty year old rockstars speculating on their future as a band. I would have loved to see more of that. The essential message seems to be that after all these years, the band is still pretty much truckin' along, Jagger not much different at age 60 than he was at age 20 except that, now, his brand of sex drugs and rock n' roll has become such a part of the pop culture that he's shaking hands with presidents and making documenatries with Martin Scorcese. It's all kind of a light, breezy affair, a congratulatory celebration of a band that's made it this far and is somehow still vital, still goin'. On that count, it's a fun film filled with great music and some off-the-chain performances - it's just that it kind of teases you with glimpses at the past, at the backstory of the band, at their rise to fame and ups and downs and place in pop culture history -- but the film never really dives too deep in that regard. As I said, it's a light, breezy celebration of a movie, complete with Scorcese on camera in full-on mug mode. And, some of the film's most potentially interesting moments, like The Stones doing a meet and greet with the Clintons, are pretty much presented as is. It's left to us to think "hmm, this is quite a meeting of the minds" and "I wonder if Bill is really a big Stones fan, and there's no way that Hillary is, is she?" Again, the irony of the torch-bearers of sex drugs and rock n' roll being so chummy with the political establishment is left for us to ponder.

So as a concert film, Shine a Light rocks. The smaller venue makes it a film less about the fanbase of the band and more simply about the band themselves. You see how they work as a unit, how their energy levels vary wildly - whereas Mick is a freak of nature, Keith is a walking "this is your brain on drugs" ad. What Scorcese does though is he strips away a lot of the context, giving us a bare minumum of historical footage so that we can marvel at the band's longevity and staying power as we see them, past middle age and still putting on a hell of a show despite all logic dictting that they should long-since have been broken up, washed up, and irrelevant. In the end, it's only rock n' roll.

My Grade: B+


- Leatherheads was a movie that struck me as clearly having gone through development hell. It tried to be a sports flick, an old-fashioned screwball comedy, a Coen Bros.-esque postmodern twist on the screwball comedy, and a romance flick all in one, and as you can probably predict, the result is a film that doesn't particularly excel in any of its chosen genres. Luckily, the movie has a pretty likable cast, and a solid enough foundation, that it's an enjoyable ride in spite of its various problems. But it never quite clicks in a way that allows it to be anything more than a decently entertaining movie.

Leatherheads is most interesting when it sticks to its central premise - the tale of how professional football transformed from a small-time, backwoods sport into the beginnings of the bigtime world of glitz and glamour that the sport is known for today. If the movie has stuck to its guns and focused in on being a sports-comedy, it could have worked. But instead, the movie glosses over some of the historical context, and becomes less about football and more about the efforts of twin leads George Clooney and John Krazscinksi (of the Office dame) to win over a plucky reporter played by the only mildly-appealing Renee Zelwegger. The movie develops into a cat and mouse game of one upsmanship, and it tries its damndest to be cute and funny. But the level of wit present never comes close to being as clever as it wants to be, and the dialogue is pretty labored and rarely is it especially snappy or funny. The Coen Bros. this ain't.

Luckily, the film has a really fun cast. Clooney just kind of shows up here, both as an actor and a director, but he does a decent enough job of carrying the film and is mostly pretty likable, as an aging footaballer making a last-ditch effort to revitalize pro-football, which is suffering at the hands of the much more popular college version of the game. Enter John K., who plays a college star whose early entry into pro football gives the league a sudden infusion of fans, and begins elevating the game into equal parts sport and showbiz. John K does surprisingly little here - he basically shrugs and grimaces his way through the film without changing much of his usual Office M.O. But as I was saying, it was great to see the likes of the ever-reliable Stephen Root and Jonathan Pryce, who lend a touch of comedic flair and dramatic heft to the proceedings, respectively. While I don't thin kthis was the best work of anyone in the cast, it was, certainly, a talented and very watchable group that was assembled.

The biggest problem here? The movie just wasn't very funny, and for a movie that tried very hard to elicit chuckles, it was especially noticeable. Clooney has shown excellent goofball timing in movies like Intolerable Cruelty, it's just that here, the material was fairly flat, and everything had an air of being re-written, re-touched, and dumbed-down. This would have been okay, I guess, if it presented an in-depth look at the evolution of football, or had some real dramatic chops. But as it is, the movie tried so hard to be goofy fun in the manner of vintage comedies that it chose to live or die by its humor. Again, luckily, the cast and general good-natured style of the film made it much more likable than it had any right to be, but in the end it never quite added up to anything more than decently entertaining.

My Grade: B -

Alright, so long for now. Back soon with more words of wisdom.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Want an M&M?

Friday, how thou art glorious. Very happy that the weekend is finally here, after a loooong week at work and a definite lack of sleep. So, last night was fun little get-together as a big group of former NBC pages gathered at Ernie's mexican restaurant in North Hollywood for a bit of food and drink. Since this blog really kind of began as a chronicle of my new life as an NBC Page, I always feel a bit compelled to talk about Page-related stuff here. It was definitely interesting, as even though many of those assembled last night are people who I'm still friends with or still see regularly, the whole evening definitely had a kind of high-school reunion vibe to it for some reason. I guess it's partly because there is now that bit of divergence among the former pages, where while everyone generally keeps in touch ,even if only as Facebook friends or whatever, there are certainly little cliques of people who remain friends and hang out. Plus, career-wise, I think that people are now getting into that stage where, while once everyone was shiny and hopeful about a kickass Hollywood future, now many are either out of a job, in a job they don't like, or in a job that is okay, but not exactly what they forsaw for themselves. It's funny because people have kind of, in parallel, moved away from the stage of "check out my cool awesome job" to "man, working sucks." I guess it's that whole quarterlife crisis thing? It's like those assistant and coordinator jobs seem great at first, and it's nice just to have a salary, but then it's like "okay, so this is what I'll be doing for ten years before I get a promotion?"

Anyways, enough with my slightly-too-emo rantings.

It's the weekend, baby.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Kicking Ass with KICKASS, and lots more.

What's up, loyal readers? Man, this has been a nutty week. Lots of craziness at work, to the point where by the end of each day my brain is 100% fried. It's a terrible feeling. Like, yesterday I really needed to go grocery shopping, and just removing myself from my new couch (!) was like this huge process. I kept wanting to do some writing, but I sat staring at my computer screen and was pretty much just numb. Ahhh, I need a vacation. Or something.

Hmm, mentioning my new couch has made me realize that I've barely talked about me at all of late here on the blog. And what good is a blog if it can't be filled with every who-gives-a-crap detail of my life? Haha, okay, well, I won't totally bore you to death, but since I've already annoyed my friends and coworkers with this stuff, I might as well put it here too. Basically, I have been trying to make some very exciting (well, to me) upgrades to the ol' apartment of late. Gone is my old LL Bean couch, and in its place is a shiny new, and, much more comfortable sleeper-sofa. The new couch is a few inches longer, which is perfect as I can now lie fully outstretched on it without my feet going over -- a necessity for any true-blue couch potato such as myself. In any case, its very comfortable and is a big upgrade. Since I live in a studio apartment, any change in furniture is a bit traumatizing, as it changes the whole look of the place. Luckily, I am over my initial minor-trauma and am now pretty well-adjusted to the new look of my apartment. Let's call it Danny's Apartment 1.5. Or even 2.0, if we're feeling ambitious. New couch, new TV ... is this a sign that I'm moving up in the world? Most likely, no, but one can dream.

What I am realizing is that, since I am a big collector / accumulator / person who refuses to throw stuff away ... my studio apartment is getting really full. I already have more DVD's than I have room to store, my closets are all full ... Oh well, one step at a time. One step at a time.

- So, NBC announced its fall lineup, much earlier than is customary for the big networks. But, f course, this year is different thanks to the Strike, and while there are surely tons of cost-saving measures that make this new process advantageous, I can say that for us on the peripheries of the network, it's a lot less fun. Basically, when NBC announced its Fall Schedule, I got my info about our new shows the same way as everyone else -- going online and reading Ain't It Cool and Variety and the NY Times. I've barely seen any of the scripts for the new shows, and have definitely not seen any footage (and may not, as the late production schedules and lack of a real "pilot season" means that first episodes will be ready-for-viewing much later than is typical). So, when it comes to: what do I think about the new NBC lineup, I have no idea as of yet because I don't know anything. But yeah, like everyone else, I'm dying to know what exactly an Office spinoff looks like.

- As part of my new HDTV setup, I upgraded my cable to include HD channels (though Charter's selection kind of sucks right now), as well as built-in DVR. Finally, right? So I'm still playing around with recording seasons and series, but yes, I have finally entered the 21st century. Like I said, I'm movin' on up. Now I seriously need a PS3.

- Nothing to really talk about in terms of TV. Next week, THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK return, praised be Jeebus. I am dyin' for some more LOST though.

- One big TV news item is that longtime SMALLVILLE showrunners Gough and Miller have apprently left the show. I think that, overall, these guys deserve a ton of credit for creating a show with a great premise that really helped inspire the whole "the hero BEFORE they were a hero" genre, and paved the way, IMO, for shows like Heroes to have a place on network TV. Now, on the other hand, Smallville has undeniably been a show that's never quite lived up to its potential. Furthermore, over the last few years the show's quality has steeply declined -- forcing fans to endure endless runs of lame dialogue, week after week of characters being possesed or personality-altered, Lana being turned into a witch, Lana in general, and just an overall lack of real forward momentum or epic storytelling. Yeah, I've praised the show in recent weeks, citing a string of fun, big-event-style episodes that helped reignite some of my flagging interest in the show. But would I welcome some new blood to help end the show in style? Yes I would. Here's hoping that this next season of the show is its last, but that it's a fun, inspiring, epic adventure that delivers one hell of an ending.

- Speaking of Superman-related letdowns, DC's COUNTDOWN seems to get more godawful by the week, even as it jets towards it conclusion, after nearly fifty weeks of lame storylines, lame characters, and a plot that can only be called one giant, pointless cluster$#%*. I read this week's issue baffled at the sheer ineptitude of what I was reading. How did this happen? How did creators like Paul Dini and Keith Giffen allow their names to be put onto such a meandering, aimless piece of crap? Look, I am usually one to find the brightside in any given book ... but this has been 50 weeks of garbage ... I think it's fair to ask what gives.

- Now, on the other side of the coin, all hail Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly for the work they've been doing on ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, a series that with each and every issue gets better and better, each story a self-contained mini-classic in its own right, and even more impressive when looked at as part of the larger tapestry of the series. This book has proved the perfect venue for Morrison's out-there ideas and imagination, and Quietly's subdued but ultra-expressive art is a 100% perfect match for the quirkiness at hand. A must-read for Superman fans, All-Star Supes is awesome.

- One more comic to talk about: Mark Miller's much-hyped mature-readers series, KICKASS. After hearing so much about it, I picked up the first two issues and gave it a read. The verdict? Well, hard to say definitively this early in the game, but there is most definitely a spark here. The kind of spark that you see in a series like Y: The Last Man, or Preacher, or Supreme Power. A spark that indicates this COULD be the next great comic book. Basically, it's the premise that makes it so darn intriguing from the outset. A depressed and restless teen, firmly planted in the "real" world, has a pent up desire to throw caution to the wind, throw on an old scuba diving suit, and go out on the streets and, well, be a superhero. So he goes out, gets more and more into his whacked-out idea, and proceeds to quickly get the living hell beat out of him by a group of thugs. Within one issue, our "hero" is in a hospital bed, barely alive. But in issues #2, after months of healing, he tries to dispense some vigilante justice again - he just can't shake that crazy superhero idea of his. This time, he is once again beat up and humiliated, but somehow, he puts up a pretty good fight. The twist? a bunch of onlookers watch him, someone records the whole thing, and this being the "real" world - the video, of course, finds it ways on to YouTube. What happens next? I literally have no idea. But I haven't been this excited to find out in quite a while. The series, if nothing else, feels totally fresh and new, and I think what makes it so exciting is that I have no clue where Millar is going with this. Sure, there are some hints dropped and some foreshadowing of what's to come. But man, this one is going to be a ride - I can 100% see why this book was immediately optioned by a major studio to adapt into a feature film. This one has "make into a movie" written all over it. Highly recommended that you get on board.

- Alright, I am out of here for now. Now where's that old scuba suit ...