Friday, May 30, 2008

LOST Season Finale Blow-Out - Plus: NBA, Ellen, and MORE

Okay, so before I get to LOST ...

- So they have officially dismantled my cube at work. So sad ...

- Also sad:

- Well, the Lakers are once again in the NBA Finals. At the least, this should make for an interesting finals, as the Lakers right now are certainly one of the more exciting teams in the NBA. As much as I can't stand him, Kobe Bryant is playing at the absolute top of his game right now, and may be so unstoppable that no one on either the Celtics or Pistons can stop him. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol is playing at an unbelievably high level. He's not as flashy as Kobe, but he always manages to be in the right place at the right time. The combination of the two is lethal, and it makes the Lakers the favorite to win it all. That being said, tonight is going to be HUGE for the Celtics. So far, I've been disappointed that their killer instinct only seems to surface every so often. The Celts need to take a look at how the Lakers brutally took apart the Spurs and do the same to Detroit tonight. None of these 20 minute long lapses where the ball gets walked up the court and players stand around and let Pierce or KG go one on one. Boston does NOT want to be in a Game 7 situation, so as far as I'm concerned tonight it's time to put it all on the line.

- A special mention has to go out to the whole crew at TNT for their always-awesome coverage of the NBA. Seriously, I always get a little sad each year when TNT's coverage ends, because for the last few years they've been hands-down the best in the biz. They have, by far, the two best play by play men in Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan. Meanwhile, Inside the NBA is endlessly entertaining. I could watch Ernie, Kenny, and Charles riff about basketball and whatever other randomness is on their minds all day. What I love about TNT's coverage is that the atmosphere is always jovial, celebratory, and full of good humor (not to mention oftentimes genuinely hilarious). On ESPN, in contrast, it feels like you're hanging out with a bunch of uptight, mean-spirited dudes who rarely crack a smile and talk about every game like they're describing a political scandal. So of course, I made it a point to watch the final edition of Inside the NBA last night following the Lakers game, and as always stuck around for the closing montage that always serves as great retrospective of the NBA season to date. So thank you to the crew at TNT and Inside the NBA for producing, week in and week out, not just the best basketball coverage on TV, but one of the most entertaining shows on television in general.

- By the way, today is a sad day at NBC as it's Ellen's last day here on the Burbank lot. To think that NBC Pages starting in the next few weeks and months will never have the experience of working at one of the craziest shows around. I mean, where else can you see elderly women dancing in the aisles to Technotronic? I almost always had a great time working at Ellen, and through working there as a Page I had all kinds of great celeb sightings and close encounters. I met everyone from Lauren Graham to Gene Simmons to John Travolta, saw Gwen Stefani, Alanis Morisette, and many others perform, and had a lot of strange, silly, and memorable experiences. I'm sad to see it go, even if it's just moving up the street to Warner Brothers. Hopefully I can still walk up the street and meet up with Carlos or Diahna J. for the occasional high-powered business lunch!

- Okay, onto last night's HUGE season-ender of ...


- Last season, LOST ended its season with one of the most stunning episodes not only in the show's history, but maybe in the history of television. The cliffhanger, flash-forward ending was a narrative twist that truly defined the term "game-changer." After a period where the show struggled to get back on track, last season's finale was a clear signal that Lost was back.

Now, things are a bit different. The fourth season of Lost has been superb from start to finish, the best overall season since S1, filled with classic episodes and moments, and with a renewed sense of purpose following the decision to determine a definitive end-point for the show and work backwards from there. So Lost didn't need to have a mind-blowing, M. Night-style twist to cap it's landmark fourth season, but I think a lot of people maybe expected one. Instead, what we got was a slam-bang action movie of a finale, a rip-roaring adventure that for two hours had all kinds fights, narrow escapes, and things that went boom.

Overall, I thought this was yet another pretty spectacular episode of Lost. There were so many BIG moments here. Some that directly tied into the show's ever-more complex mythology, others that were simply great action set pieces or defining character moments. From the get-go, things started out on a rollicking note with a much-anticipated Sayid vs. Keamy mano e mano showdown. Great fight scene, and it was capped by the appearance of Kate with Richard and The Others in tow. From there, it was a total roller coaster ride. Kate's pact with The Others pursuaded Ben to let her and her crew leave the island, so Frank's helicopter was theirs for the taking. But meanwhile, Desmond, Jin, and Michael have made apretty horrific revelation - on the freighter that's supposed to save them all, there's a mountain of C-4 that, with one press of a remote-controlled button, will blow them all to kingdom come. And man, that Keamy proved to be one persistant bastard. Even after seemingly being killed by un-aging Richar Alpert's three bullets to the back, Keamy shows up to greet Locke and Ben looking relatively unscathed. While those two descend into the Orchid Dharma station so that Ben can carry out his plan to "move" the island, Keamy descends on them. And guess what - he's wearing a "dead man's switch." If his heart stops beating, the C-4 on the freighter, as Jin so elequently stated earlier, goes "boom." This doesn't stop a crazed Ben Linus from pouncing on Keamy like a rabid animal, however, and brutally stabbing him, presumably as revenge for Keamy's murder of Ben's daughter Alex. In one of the episode's most memorable moments, a beleagured Locke asks Ben how he could have so thoughtlessly killed Keamy, knowing that doing so would doom everyone on that boat. When Locke reminds Ben that, now, everyone on that freighter is as good as dead, Ben callously asks: "so?". Wow - I think anyone who says Ben is the true "good guy" in Lost needs to reexamine their position. The guy is, clearly, stone-cold evil with a capitol "E."

I loved the whole scene of Ben "moving" the Island. Whether this was accomplished through some advanced form of science or some mystical means I couldn't say, but the scene of Ben using all his willpower to turn that giant, subterranean wheel, had a real magic to it. I also loved pretty much everything with Locke and Ben in the Orchid. Locke watching the instructional Hanzo (?) video, as Ben proceeded to do everything the video said NOT to, was funny and a great little scene. Time-travelling bunnies, indeed.

There were also all kinds of epic heroics here. Sawyer jumping from the helicopter as it lost fuel and swimming back to the island was a nice bit - it showed just how far Sawyer had come as a character to actually do something selfless. It's amazing to think that this was the same guy who once stole all of the survivor's guns so he could proclaim himself self-appointed ruler of the island.

We all knew Jin's end was coming, but it was still a heart-wrenching scene. Sun's shock and grief was palpable and raw as she witnessed her husband go up in flames. Michael had his little moment too, as he stayed with the C4, trying to dismantle it up to the last possible second, until an appearance from the Ghost of Christian Shephard appreared and told him that, finally, it was Michael's time to go. As others have said, it seems strange to bring back Michael only for him to die in such abrupt fashion, but narratively, the death made sense. Plus, it looks like Lost is bringing back practically all of its dead characters in Jedi fashion, so who knows if and when Michael, or even Jin, could reappear. You have to wonder if Christian and/or Jacob has some kind of power to pick and choose people to inaugurate into their little not-quite-dead club. I mean, for example - what's the deal with Claire? We saw her make a surprise appearance in future-Kate's home, visiting Aaron. But was this just a vision, a bad dream? Or is Claire in the same boat as Charlie and Christian? Supposed to be dead, but somehow not quite? Whatever the case may be, the recurring theme of "I see dead people" is going to have to be one of if not THE major questions to be answered next season. Is there a connection with time-travel / pseudo-science, or is this some kind of mystical / paranormal phenomenonon?

Another intriguing question was the mystery surrounding Charlotte. She's been on the island before? So ... is she a Dharma kid? An Other? A time-lost walking paradox? Hmmm ...

Now, I guess the biggest complaint I have with the episode was simply that, well, the show has never done a great job of addressing the fact that there are supposed to be dozens of 815 crash survivors on the island other than the several main characters. Attempts to address these forgotton castaways have often come across as hamfisted - Nikki and Paulo anyone? And the same could be said for tonight's ep. The lens was never really successfully pulled back to show how all of these epic events were affecting Joe Crash Survivor. Not that I want the focus to be on them, but we never quite got the sense of how many people were still on the island when the freighter blew up, how many were killed in the freighter explosion, etc. Where were Rose and Bernard? Still on the island? Were Juliette and Sawyer literally the only ones left on the island other than The Others? It was almost comical when the helicopter quickly landed on the freighter before it blew. I mean, it was like "sorry pal, you're not a main character, we're leaving you to die." I just wished the full scope of this had been addressed or at least mentioned by a Jack or Kate. Sure, our six biggest characters survived, but we can assume dozens were lost in the explosion - to Jack, who by default became the Moses of sorts for the group - you would have thought he would have more of a sense of failure in not leading "his people" so to speak, to the promsied land. Again, I get that of course we are going to focus on our pricipals, I just would have liked to see the full scope and reach of the exodus from the island a little better conveyed.

But in the end, this was a riveting piece of TV. Many times throughout the episode, I thought to myself just how well-done this was compared to anything else on TV. The look, the scope, the acting, is just without peer in the world of TV drama. From Jack to Sawyer to Locke to Ben - each of the main characters is played with so much nuance and skill that all of the actors involved on the show deserve recognition and applause. And most importantly - this episode got the ball rolling for yet another season of awesomeness. Sure, there is still a pile of unsolved mysteries, from old riddles like the four-toed statue to new ones like Richard's agelessness, there is still an enclyclopedia's worth of unsolved plot points that at some point need addressing. But again, the stage has been set. The puzzle pieces are in place. We are working both backwards and forwards to put it all together. And the show, in doing so, is reaching an important turning point - instead of simply feeding us myteries, its beginning to fill in the hows and whys. We know now that it's Locke in that coffin. It wasn't a mind-blowing revelation or jaw-dropping twist, but it's fuel for great stories, it's a solid endpoint to work up to as we fill in the blanks.

I can't wait for next season of Lost, after this - a great season finale to a show that has ruled 2008 as bar-none the best thing on TV - does it at times frustrate? Sure, and it wil lcontinue to do so. But in the end, there's no denying that we're witnessing an epic, action-packed saga for the ages.

My Grade: A-

- Alright - happy weekend. Check back soon for more!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I am the SON OF RAMBOW! Movie Review, plus: multiple RANTS OF DOOM

Okay, I shall start off this entry with some random rants, er, thoughts:

- Hillary: get out of the race already. Unless you can show a scenario in which you can mathematically win the delegate count, it's time to call it quits. And now we have Bill talking about a conspiracy to prematurely annoint Obama as the Democratic nominee? What is this, vast right-wing conspiracy redux? There is a time to fight and a time to show grace and poise and teamsmanship. If Hillary wants to be a class act, she should step up to the plate and endorse Obama and urge her supporters to back him. And you know what? I've been an Obama supporter from the start, but I'd say the exact same thing to Obama if the situation were reversed. The most important thing is getting a Democrat in the White House, and at some point there has to be thought given to how best make that happen. Now it looks like Clinton seems intent on proving just how close to Obama she can get, as Michigan and Florida delegates are now looking like they'll be counted in some form. Again - why the insistence on reversing the original decision? I mean, does the delegate system need some reexamination? Sure. Is not the time to do it? Most definitely not. All I know is, dragging out the primary to its bitter end is not the way to weaken McCain and build momentum for the Democrats come November.

- Now, it sickens me when these polls come in and there's still a block of voters who say race is a factor in their vote. I mean, you know what? Many, including myself, throw a lot of criticisms towards Gen Y (and I'll do just that in a moment ...). But one thing you have to give us some credit for - we have essentially moved past the ridiculous idea that because someone's skin is a different shade that makes them in any way different. Obviously, we can and should appreciate cultural differences. But really - who ARE these people who wouldn't vote for someone based on their race, and WHAT exactly is their reasoning? I'd love to hear it, honestly.

- Like 90% of all men, I can't stand the popularity of Sex and the City. I realize that us guys are often into all kinds of stupid crap that women cringe at the thought of. But the worst part of Sex and the City is that girls actually want to be like and try to be like the show's vapid, self-absorbed characters. It's no wonder that so many women of my generation know more about shoes than they do about politics. I know, this is a crass generalization. Apologies. But, why can't women aspire to be more like, say, Veronica Mars - you know, smart, helps people, witty, selfless, and less like the materialistic women of SATC?

- But here's one more thing about SATC that pisses me off, and in this case I'll actually be slamming the show's detractors. I personally find it really obnoxious and disgusting when guys in magazines, on the radio, etc extend their dislike of the show to the realm of personal attacks. No, I don't like the show, but I have absolutely nothing against Sarah Jessica Parker. And I think it's ridiculous when loudmouth idiots go off about how she is supposedly ugly or whatever. This is funny since most of the time the people saying this are themselves fat ugly slobs. It's also just absurd - even if she isn't one's ideal woman, whatever, obviously a quick walk down the street will show that such criticisms of her looks are a bit overstated. But finally, I hate to say it but all the talk of her looks to me smacks of latent antisemitism. Anyone who knows a lot of Jews knows that SJP's look is a pretty typical look, and I say that as a card-carrying member of the Jew Crew. I just cringe every time I hear people rudely talke about her features because to me it really does sound like they're by extension calling typically Jewish features ugly. And worst of all, all of these loudmouth chauvanists quick to spew so much venom on a woman just because of their snap judgement on her looks, well, they basically serve to undermine all of us regular guys who simply wish to make well-reasoned arguments critiquing SATC's merits as a show. Meanwhile, anyone who takes such joy in labeling someone else as ugly needs to take a long look in the mirror.

- Okay, tonight is a big one for the CELTICS. This is it, baby, no more fooling around. But I have to say, I'm a bit worried about Boston's chances. Thus far, it seems like they've won in the playoffs with a combination of sheer talent and a bit of luck. Rarely has a Celtics playoff win this year made anyone stand up and say "wow, they really played a great overall game." It's part of the reason that the team has been so up and down - they've been winning, more often than not, thanks to one or two standout individual performances that have carried the load. But where the Celtics have been lacking is in gameplan, and it's something that Doc Rivers needs to think about. Where is the running game, the great offensive sets, the team game? Detroit's defense is too solid to depend on a 45 point game from Paul Pierce to save the day, and it doesn't allow Ray Allen to camp out on the three point line. Sure, the Celtics do have a few matchups they can exploit, but I think they are going to have to not only hope for big games from the big three, but also really gel as a team in a way that we haven't seen from them in a while. That being said: go Celtics!

- And by the way, normally with the teams I root for, I have the NBA conspiracy-theory thing going against me. But not this time. If the Lakers make the finals, then a matchup with Detroit or Boston would be an 80's nostalgia-fest and likely a ratings boon, but really, a Celtics-Lakers finals, unthinkable only a year ago, would be THE big money matchup, and you can be sure that David Stern is chomping at the bit to see it happen. It's amazing how two possible outcomes of the conference finals are: a.) Celtics vs. Lakers - aka one of the most intriguing and epic matchups the NBA will have seen in a while, or b.) Pistons vs. Spurs - aka a matchup that feels like it's been done to death, between two of the most skilled, albeit boring teams in the NBA.

- Luckily, it's a short week this week thanks to the recent good ol' fashioned three-day weekend. I had a fun, mostly relaxing weekend, necessary in order to recover from the craziness of last week's east coast adventures. Some highlights included: Indiana Jones (see my previous post for the authoratative review), Dan K's Rock Band party in NoHo, an excellent dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with Abby W, and then, as I'm about to write a lot more about, a trup to the Arclight on Monday to see ...


- Amidst this summer's many blockbusters, here is a small movie that nonetheless captures the imagination. Son of Rambow is the type of film you don't see a lot of anymore. It's a movie about kids, and it's a movie that I think would actually be not only appropriate for kids but a real favorite for any kids lucky enough to see it. But this is a kid's movie with bite. It doesn't pull punches. It has real sadness and despair in its plot, coupled with real friendships and relationships. It's a movie that will make even the toughest of us a bit misty-eyed, because it's a movie that really earns its sentimentality. But most of all, this is the kind of movie that takes you back to the days of childhood - it shows the roughness, the harshness of childhood, sure - but it also makes you remember the simple joys of letting one's imagination run wild, of creating.

I mean, who doesn't fondly remember being a kid and seeing some then-monumental TV show or movie, and just being totally possessed by it? That feeling of seeing an action movie and wanting to jump around and go pretend to be a spy or a commando. The feeling of then going on to create your OWN stories, your own fictionalized adventures. As a kid I would sit and create my own stories, my own comic books, my own films, and that excitement over the feeling of creative creation has never left. But when you're a kid, that feeling is even more heightened, the rush of inspiration and creation even more instense. And that feeling is what's captured so brilliantly in Son of Rambow.

The film is set in 1980's England, and centers around two young boy, probably around 10 years old or so, who form an uneasy friendship at first but soon bond over their shared project. First, there's Will Proudfoot. He's a shy, quiet, and slightly weird kid, but we gradually come to understand why that is. His father died from an aneurism while mowing the lawn. His mother then devoted herself to a group a religious sect known as The Bretheren, a very strict group whose beliefs prohibit Will from watching any TV or movies. This means that whenever Will's teacher shows the class a video, Will has to dutifully pack up his things and leave the classroom. But that doesn't stop Will's imagination from working - his books are filled with drawings and doodles, and that at least helps him to deal with his somewhat lonely ten year old existence. Then, there's Lee Carter. Basically, Lee is THAT kid. You know the one - that kid in elementary school who never did his homework, was always getting in trouble with the teachers, and who was generally looked down upon by pretty much everyone, even if the fact is that no one ever really gave him a chance. Kind of a real life Bart Simpson, of sorts. Except Lee has more going on than meets the eye. Like Will, he's a lonely kid. His father left him, and his mother took up with a wealthy Spaniard, leaving Lee with just his fast-living teen brother to look after him in their big empty house. But one thing Lee has is his love of film. Okay, so maybe he doesn't LOVE film, yet, but he spends his weekends at the local theater, making bootleg tapes of new movies that he then sells off to the local kids.

So Will and Lee come together in a bit of brilliant happenstance - Will is sitting outside his class while the other kids watch a documentary. Lee is sent outside after being scolded by his teacher. At first, Lee bullies Will into hanging out with him, and their forced friendship consists mostly of Lee ordering Will around. But then, something happens. Lee leaves Will alone as his pirated copy of First Blood is playing on the TV. For Will, this is, I think, literally the first movie he's ever actually seen. And as you can imagine, he is freaking BLOWN AWAY. As Colonel Trautman gruffly warns Rambo's pursuers that they are dealing with a man who could fight off 200 men, who was born and bred to be a one-man army, you can see the wheels in Will's head turning, the synapses firing. It's that moment, when he virtually had no other choice but to take that formative experience of RAMBO and make it his own.

Enter Lee Carter - an amateur ten year old filmmaker of the highest order, he's already been planning on making a movie to enter into a local young filmmaker's contest. But now Will is struck with the bug too. And so the two go off and begin their epic creation, a work that could only be known as Son of Rambow.

The scenes of Will and Lee beginning to film their epic are just totally joyful and hilarious. Seeing the repressed Will show up at Lee's door ready to film, donned in tank top and red bandanna, is simply priceless. And what we bgin to see is that Will as the Son of Rambow and Lee as his faithful mentor Trautman - well, they begin to take on the characteristics of their characters, and they begin to form a real friendship that for each of them is the first time they've found a real friend, a real companion, a real brother.

Like I said, it's sweet and sentimental, but handled with so much humor and imagination that it really works. The two leads are both really excellent, two of the best and most natural kid actors I've seen on screen in a while. And the best part is, and maybe this is some of the British sensibility coming into play, they feel like real kids, not robot-like Hollywood pod people.

Director Garth Jennings has a a great sensibility here as well. He keeps things mostly grounded, down to earth. He really captures the time and place, with all kinds of little details keeping things firmly entrenched in the 1980's setting. But he also has little scenes that go inside of Will's imagination, showing the power and force of his daydreams of the stories beginning to formulate inside his head.

At times, the movie can get a little distracted. There's a kind of subplot about a French exchange student that is fun but at times a little meandering. But in the end, it does a nice job of tying into the movie's larger them of defying other's expectations and finding one's true self through creative expression. But mostly, despite some slow sections here and there, the film really works. It's a feel-good, celebratory film, but at the same time its surprisingly harsh, gritty, and uncompromising. It doesn't feel watered down - some of the aspects of these characters' lives are genuinely rough around the edges, and some of the things that happen to them throughout the course of the movie are raw and painful. But in the end this is one that will bring a smile to your face. Just like Rambo did to Will and Lee Carter, Son of Rambow may do to you - it may give you the sudden urge to grab some buddies, don a bandana, and go out and make a pseudo-action-movie-sequel of your own.

I give Son of Rambow a hearty recommendation, and I'd urge anyone to check it out. It may be a small film, but don't let size fool you. The movie packs a Stallone-sized wallop, and it's up there with the best of 2008 thus far.

My Grade: A -

- Alright, that's it for now. Really skill, as the kids in Son of Rambow say.

Saturday, May 24, 2008



Warning: minor SPOILERS ahead ...

- Here's the thing about Indiana Jones: I, and I suspect many of you, love the IDEA of Indiana Jones. I love the iconography - the hat, the bullwhip. I love the mood, the atmosphere, the pulpy fun of the original films. I love the classic John Williams score. I love seeing Harrison Ford in almost any action movie - few other actors have ever been more closely associated with the notion of the consummate action hero. But let's face it folks ... in the decades since RAIDERS first hit the big screen, Indiana Jones the icon has outgrown Indiana Jones the film series. Indy is and has long been everywhere. We see the films parodied. We see the toys, the videogames, the themepark rides. The iconography of Indiana Jones is now a part of American pop-culture history. So now, here in 2008, we're in the unique position of actually having a new Indy film in theaters, after an almost twenty year gap since The Last Crusade. And this comes in a time when we've seen a new Die Hard, a new Rocky, a new Rambo, and three Star Wars prequels. A time when all the old favorites are being milked for every penny, and when the old actors and directors decide to go back to their bread and butter one last time.

But with Indy in particular, like I said ... to me, it's a franchise where the iconography has always trumped the actual films. And that's why I pick TEMPLE OF DOOM as my personal favorite installment - it plays up the pulpiness to the upteenth degree. It's a literal rollercoaster ride of a movie, drenched in atmosphere, rife with all manner of vile villains and exotic locales. It has the mine cart ride, bloodthirsty crocodiles, weird voodoo dolls, and a badguy who rips his victims hearts out of their chests. Sure, the movie's campy as hell, but it's not trying to be anything other than the best campy bit of pulpy goodness it can be.

With THE LAST CRUSADE, the purity of Raiders and the pulpiness of Doom gave way to somethign a bit more crowd-pleasing: Spielbergian sentiment. Sure, everyone loves a good father-son parable, but ... is that really what Indiana Jones is all about?

Well, if the Last Crusade was a fun but somewhat watered-down version of Indy, then KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a crazy mashup of all three of the previous movies, with a hefty does of "WTF" weirdness thrown in for good measure.

First, the good news: okay, well, the best news ... Harrison Ford is back. Yes, he's looking a bit old and frail here, but with that being said, any film fan will smile when they see Ford as Indy on the big screen. I mean, finally! This is one of the ALL-TIME great action heroes we're talking about here in Mr. Ford, and it's about damn time that he showed up to a movie with his working boots on. There are moments here ... some moments where Ford looks a bit shaky, a bit too soft-spoken, a bit fragile. But then, there are moments, when Ford IS Indiana Jones, is the legend, is the guy who may be a bit older, may be a bit rough around the edges, but damned if he can't kick some ass when the time is right. If nothing else, Indy 4 is worth seeing just to see the return of an icon, and I'm not necessarily referring to the character Indiana Jones, but to Harisson Ford.

Now, the flipside to this is that as much as we want to see Ford, and in turn Indy, kick some ass like old times, Spielberg and Lucas seem intent on doing everything possible to distract us from the movie's real hero. In the past, we always got a goofy sidekick or a damsel in distress, but here, the movie is completely overloaded with extraneous characters and overstuffed plot. And it's not just that. It's that as the movie goes on, we are teased with one or two vintage Indy moments, but there's never that big, climactic moment where Indiana Jones steps up, is the hero, and saves the day. In fact, for much of the movie's climax, Ford stands around, gapes, and does pretty much jack squat.

That's not to say that there aren't great action sequences here. If anything, Spielberg once again proves why he's the all-time king when it comes to directing set-piece action scenes. He just has that total knack for timing his cuts, so that the action moves at just the right clip. While there's nothing here quite as inventive or imaginative as the best scenes in Raiders or TOD, there are at least one or two sequences that are 100% thrilling and exceedingly well put together. A bike scene involving Ford, Shia LeBeuff, and a bunch of KGB agents is a highlight. It's a sequence that feels Indiana Jones through and through. So does the memorable chase through the jungle in which Indy and co engage in vehicular combat with a swarm of bloodthirsty villains - it's as exciting and well-staged as practically any action scene you're likely to see this summer or this year.

The aforementioned scenes are classic Spielberg. But man, there are a couple of bits here that are just laughably goofy, even for the typically-campy Indiana Jones series. I mean, at one point there is a cringe-worthy sequence where Shia suddenly becomes a greaser version of Tarzan, swinging though the jungle alongside a pack of friendly monkeys, who form some kind of instantaneous bond with him and then help him out by ATTACKING the badguys. Are you kidding me? As much tolerance and appreciation as I have for over-the-top action, bits like this really pushed it. Too many scenes felt like tangents meant simply to get a cheap laugh or get in a little bit of nostalgia or simply indulge some idle idea of Lucas or Spielberg. The obligatory "Indy hates Snakes" scene was hamfisted. The opening shots of CGI'd gophers or whatever felt too jokey and out of place. And how about Indy surviving a NUCLEAR BOMB detonation ... by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator? Okay, I'll admit that I'm not an expert on how plausible this is, but the whole nuke scene felt totally extraneous, and felt thrown in just so we could get the obligatory shot of Indy walking away from a giant mushroom cloud, as if to shout "HEY KIDS, this movie takes place in THE FIFTIES, see!". And again, I know we've seen campy, out-there stuff in this series before, but at least in, say, Temple of Doom, there was a kind of loopy internal logic. What makes Crystal Skulls feel so uneven is that, well, the tone is just that - uneven.

I think a lot of that blame can be placed on the script, which purportedly took bits and pieces of numerous drafts written over the years to create one big mashup of ideas and plotlines and dialogue bits. As far as the plot goes, like I said, it's overstuffed. I actually really dug the opening in Area 51. It had a great vibe - mysterious, action-packed, and a great reintroduction to the character of Indiana Jones. It established that he's older, slower, but can still pack a punch. If the whole movie had stuck with the tone established in the opening, we might have had a real classic on our hands. But while the first act had a great mix of cold war-era paranoia and intrigue, it seems like Lucas and Spielberg just had to blow things wide open as the movie went on. By the last act, it felt like we were in another film, hell, another franchise entirely.

Look, I actually think that, in theory, the idea of Indy uncovering the secrets of Area 51, Roswell, etc is a damn cool idea, and makes sense, fits the franchise, and gives a fun sense of historical context. But for the love of god, keep the alien stuff subtle, mysterious, and keep the real focus on Indy. But holy lord, the finale of this movie gets into some crazy new-age psychobabble sci-fi, heavy on CGI and light on coherance. It's a finale in which the goofy, out-there tone of the film gets ratcheted up to eleven. When John Hurt begins to mumble something about the aliens being not from outer space, but from "the space between spaces," the movie has officially gone off the tracks. Part of the problem is that so much of the movie is lacking in real atmosphere ... it's like Spielberg and Lucas go overboard in the finale trying to blow our minds with kewl CGI craziness. Rather than just let us go with Dr. Jones on his journey, let us follow him deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, the complicated MacGuffin of the crystal skulls is explained and expositionally talked about ad nauseum, and it's one of those premises that only gets sillier-seeming the more its talked about. It would have been one thing to have Indy discover extraterrestrial life. But here we're talking mind control, other dimensions, and all kinds of other randomness. It's like a videogame where you have to read a book-sized instruction manual before you can jump in and play. Ideally, the experience should organically draw you in and explain its premise.

The premise alone is enough to make your head spin, but then there's at least a few characters who probably could have been completely cut out of the film. John Hurt is simply annoying as an old archaeologist who has been possessed by the crystal skulls. Hurt is a great actor, so it's especially painful to watch him stumble through the movie babbling, shouting random stuff, and not really contributing anything worthwhile. Same goes for Ray Winstone. He's Indy's friend - no wait, a spy! - no wait, a friend! - oh sorry, just kidding, he was evil all along! Another character that could have been eliminated from the script with no real harm done.

And it's too bad that there's all this clutter, because it takes away from the real fun of the film, which is the dynamic between Indiana, his old flame Marion, and her son (and his?!?), a greaser named Mutt. It's great to see Karen Allen back as Marion Ravenwood, I only wish she had more to do and had more memorable moments. Her character in Raiders was a true classic, and some of that old spark returns here. She has a few great back-and-forths with Ford, and I give the movie credit in general for giving Ford some vintage one-liners and dialogue exchanges. Snappy dialogue is as much a part of Indy as the hat and whip, so it was nice to see that Indiana had retained his penchant for witty banter. That being said, I wish that the relationship between Indy and Marion was given more time to play out and develop. It had its moments, but had no real arc - it just kind of went from Point A to Point C. Same goes for the father-son relationship. Some great moments in there to be sure. Shia did a decent job - I didn't really buy him as a tough-guy greaser per se, but he had a good chemistry with Ford and handled the action scenes pretty well. Again, I wish more of the film revolved around Indy and his central relationships - however, too many other characters, random asides, and muddled plot points took away from what should have been a more central focus on the man himself.

Meanwhile, Cate Blanchette gave a solid effort as the film's main villain, a heavily-accented KGB operative after the mind-controlling powers inherent in the Skulls. However, I guess I was expecting a bit more from her here? I was hoping for a truly original villain, a great pulp femme fatale ... but in the end, Blanchette was servicable but not particularly memorable. I guess I expected more from the guy who brought us Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt. There was no great rivalry between her and Jones, and she never really did anything truly vile to make us root against her. When she met her ultimate fate, it was a pretty "meh" moment to me, which is a comment both on her character's relative blandness, and on the muddled circumstances in which she found herself at the film's end.

So let's take a look here - as you can see, the film has its problems. The plot drags and becomes too out-there tonally to fit comfortably in the established Indiana Jones mold. There are bits of goofiness that detract from the overall quality of the action scenes and dialogue. And there are too many ancillary characters and plot points that distract from our main hero, in what should be his triumphant return. But look, in spite of all that, I really did enjoy the film. There were moments when that unique brand of movie magic that Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford bring to the table was on full display. And that is a powerful alchemy. These three know how to combine action and emotion, awe and wonder, character and iconography, like few others do or ever have. This latest Indy flick has those big iconic moments, those scenes where Spielberg, more so than any other director, knows just how long to let the camera linger to soak in the action and the ambiance. It has, of course, the trademark John Williams score - a score that is pretty familiar after all these years but still gets the job done, accentuating each moment of the film with epic aplomb. It's like I said in my opening, with Indiana Jones, the iconography has always overshadowed everything else. And here, for a fourth time, that iconography is on full display, with the added twist that sure, Harrison Ford is older, Indiana Jones is older, but dammit, he's still the man. It's a reassuring and pleasant trope, one that plays on all those warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and longing for a simpler time. As has been said - the original Raiders was Lucas and Spielberg bringing to life their own nostalgia for the movie serials and pulp adventures of old. Now, this is that same duo acting out their nostalgia for their own earlier films. And so, it's something of a testament to the power of that nostalgia, to the power of that iconography, that the movie can entertain, make you smile, and work on a certain level, even if, upon closer inspection, the movie itself in many ways misses the mark.

My Grade: B

Friday, May 23, 2008

Return to LA: The Office, NARNIA - Reviewed, and MORE

Wow, I've only really gone through one real day at work since getting back from Connecticut, and already I am more than ready for the weekend. Today it's very east coast-ish here in LA. Rainy, windy, cloudy and dim - a great day to be at home reading in bed. If only ...

My flight back to Burbank on Wednesday wasn't the greatest. Good ol' Southwest, you never fail to make things interesting ... Early Wed. afternoon, my brother drove me to Bradley airport, where I boarded a plane for what would be the first of three takeoffs that day. First, we touched down in Chicago, where I had a three hour layover. That was okay, as it gave me time to relaz and grab a leisurely lunch. Then, I got on my connecting flight to Burbank, except, of course, it was scheduled to stop in Vegas on route to CA. After a bumpy ride that triggered my innate tendencies towards motion sickness, I was more than ready to take off quickly and hightail it to Burbank. Buuut guess what? Due to undisclosed reasons, the second part of the flight, you know, the part that was supposed to take me to Burbank ... was cancelled. So I had to get off the plane, and wait in that horrible Vegas airport for over an hour for the next flight to the Burbank airport. Ugh. I got back to my apartment close to 10 pm, totally exhausted and unable to do much other than numbly watch my DVR'd Office season finale before drifting into a deep slumber.

Now, I realize that some of my earlier posts about my Boston trip may have seemed slightly cranky. And yes, there were moments of the trip that warranted crankiness, to be sure. But overall, it was a really fun trip. Matt's graduation was cool, it was a lot of fun to hang out in Boston again, from Com Ave to Newbury St. to the BU Hillel. And it was nice to have a little time in CT to relax, watch movies, etc.

And now, summer in LA begins ... what will now be my FOURTH summer here in CA. Hard to believe, but I'm ready to roll. Just give me a one day to sleep in, and I'll be good to go.


- Things I still have to watch: the Gossip Girl season finale, The Simpsons and King of the Hill season finales, Smallville's upteenth season finale, the last few eps of Aliens in America, and probably one or two other things that I'm currently forgetting.

- As for the hour-long finale of THE OFFICE ... Overall, I really liked the episode. Over the last several weeks, my issue with the Office has been that it's been telling some pretty hefty dramatic stories at the expense of comedy and jokes. This week, I thought the balance was handled much better, in a way that reminded me in a positive sense of the British series. Oftentimes, Ricky Gervais had the ability to make the mundane goings-on of an office setting take on an unusually epic nature, and this week, Steve Carell and co did accomplished the same feat. I found myself holding my breath, wondering what would happen with Michael Scott and his old relationship with Jan and his new one with Holly, played by Amy Ryan. Ryan did a great job here - it was easy to see why Michael would so quickly fall for her and how there might be some real potential with the two. And it was interesting to see some role reversal, where Jim's cautionary advice might actually have backfired, causing Michael to miss a golden opportunity. There really was a great dynamic in this episode with Michael, in what amounted to one of the best character examinations of Michael Scott we've seen in a long while. Meanwhile, the humor was pretty spot-on. Steve Carell had some classic lines, ie "You cheated on me? when I specifically told you not to?". Some of his big moments really mixed comedy with pathos too - I mean the whole Yoda exchange with Amy Ryan was one of those great bits where you aren't sure whether to laugh, cry, or cringe, but end up just smiling at its brilliance. The Kevin-might-be-mentally-challenged subplot was pretty hilarious, and Creed had some great bits as well. My only two complaints? One: The Jim-Pam tension seemed a little forced. I get that so many of their big moments happen "at the office," as Jim pointed out to Michael, but come on, is Pam really THAT disappointed that Jim didn't propose to her at some dinky office party? And one that was supposed to be in honor of a guy who had a pretty public crush on Pam no less? Second complaint is that the whole Andy-Angela-Dwight triangle thing also feels rushed and forced. We haven't really seen enough of Andy and Angela to understand why he'd propose to her already. On the flipside, Dwight's legit sadness over Angela was handled pretty well, and Rainn Wilson always does an awesome job. I just get annoyed that Andy has gone from one of the funniest characters on the show to being a kind of utility player, whose personality changes episode to episode to fit the situation. Overall though, this was an excellent season finale, and was the rare pice of comedic TV that felt truly "big" and important and epic, despite the relatively small scale of the stories being told.

My Grade: A -

- I won't go too much into LOST's penultimate S4 episode, since it aired over a week ago at this point. All I'll say is: I thought it pretty much rocked. I am absolutely loving Lost right now, and am 100% aniticipating the season finale, even though I'm sure it will leave me begging for more. I'm dyin' to know how the various members of the Oceanic 6 ultimately end up together, how Locke is going to "move" the island, and what exactly Ben's plan is, as he turns himself into Keamy and his group of badazz mercenaries. Sorry guys, I'm a little too far removed from last week's ep to do an in-depth review, but this was a definite "A" episode for me. Can't wait for this coming Thursday's 2 hour spectacular.

- And one more thing: I've been watching a ton of ALIENS IN AMERICA, as I caught up on a couple of recent episodes during my recent flights back and forth from the east coast. The more I watched, the more I came to appreciate just how great this show is - it really seemed to get better and better with each new episode, mixing in some old-school family drama with a very hip and quirky sense of humor. You've got to admire the show for just how ambitious it is in its subject matter - it tackles issues of race, xenophobia, and politics head on in a sensitive and smart way. It's a shame that this show looks to be essentially DOA - I wish I had advocated for it earlier and more often. I'd encourage anyone to check it out while you still can, or download it from iTunes or whatever - it really is one of the best comedies on TV that only got better and funnier and more clever as it went on.

Okay, on to the final piece of the puzzle, a movie review of the latest installment of The Chronic (what!) cles of Narnia ...


- The first Narnia movie was a surprisingly successful film, both creatively and at the box office. If you check out my review from way back when, you'll see that I really enjoyed the film and thought that, despite some unevenness in tone, it was overall a nice start to the series and set up the world of Narnia nicely.

In this second entry in the series, what we get is a movie that's enjoyable, but never really becomes a cohesive film, never really reaches greatness. It's one of those messy movies, where certain moments seem to radiate brilliance, yet others elicit unintentional laughs. Visually, Prince Caspian is really well done. There's all manner of cool-looking beasts roaming about, engaging in battle, etc. There are some scenes that are just impeccably framed, the type of scenes that immerse you and transport you. The battles are chaotic but typically a lot of fun to watch. There's some really nice action choreography at work here.

But the movie lacks a certain spark. Things tend to just kind of roll along without a lot of real dramatic weight, and there's a lot of deux-ex machina storytelling at play. From the get go, for example, we await the return of Aslan, the Christ-like lord of Narnia who we know will be able to get our heroes out of practically any jam. But Aslan here is essentially a walking plot device - he is so omnipotent that his mere presence is all that is needed to turn the tide of battle in favor of the Narnians. But we anticipate this, and it makes us think "geez, why doesn't Aslan just show up already and kick some ass? I mean, what's he waiting for, exactly?" I guess that's the inherent problem with including all-powerful heroes in stories like this, but it sure does eliminate some of the dramatic tension.

The other problem is, well, part of the reason Aslan is so inevitably all-powerful is that the movie has no great villain to really drive the action. We get a kind of generic, pointy-bearded overlord, and his army of vageuly European-seeming dudes - the Telmarines - who wear elaborate armor and masks. And the lack of a great villain is just made all the more evident by one particluar scene in the film. About halfway through Prince Caspian, in a bit that might very well be the movie's best, the film goes off on a tangent and features a wonderfully dark and evocative interlude in which some particularly evil Narnians decide that, rather than wait for their purported savior in Aslan, they will instead summon the White Witch, who would then presumably usurp control of Narnia and do lots of awesomely evil stuff. In a brief cameo, Tilda Swindon plain and simply rules it, bringing the kind of epic awe and wonder and magic to the movie which otherwise was often sorely missing. I absolutely loved this one scene, and wish that more of Prince Caspian could have summoned up this same level of imagination and power.

Storytelling-wise, much of the plot just seems too glossed over. We never REALLY are made to care about the royal struggles of Prince Caspian versus his malevolant uncle. We never really see the reactions of the Telmarines to the reemergance of the Narnians, who to them were supposed to be merely the stuff of legend. They just kind of go with the flow and are like "oh ok I guess we have to fight a bunch of dwarves and minotaurs now." And we never really get much weight or explanation behind the twist that the two older siblings can no longer come back to Narnia. It's just kind of accepted, and that's that.

I do like the cast here though. The four main kids, the High Kings of Narnia, are all pretty likable. I especially think that the youngest, Lucy, is the heart and soul of the movie, and seems the truest and most natural of the four. Peter, the oldest son, on the other hand, seems a bit awkward and unnecessarilly whiny. It's hard to buy him as a High King of Narnia when he comes off a little more like a slightly bratty teenager. While the acting from Susan, oldest daughter, could be a bit spotty at times, I thought they did a nice job of giving her a bigger role here than in part 1. Not only does she kick large amounts of ass with her trusty bow and arrow, she has a fun little romance with Prince Caspian. Sure, it's mostly a lot of lusty stares and whatnot, but hey, I think the movie benefitted from a little dose of teenage romance. Edward has some fun moments too, particularly in that aforementioned scene with the White Witch. Meanwhile, I loved Warwick Davis and Peter Dinklage here. Both are consummate pros and do an awesome job as a couple of dwarves out of the LOTR mold. I mean, look, when you need a dwarf for a fantasy flick, you can't really do any better than by-god WILLOW. Eddie Izzard is also a lot of fun as the voice of Reepacheep, a feisty rat / expert swordsman. Definitely a standout and responsible for some of the coolest scenes in the film.

And that's the thing - there ARE real moments of magic here. From Reepacheep's assault on the Telemarine army, to the White Witch's reemergence, to Lucy's prophetic dream in which she encounters Aslan. There are some astounding visuals, epic battles, and memorable characters here. The problem is, these moments never quite come together to form one cohesive, dramatic narrative. The stakes never feel high enough, and the story never really becomes involving. It's more a move where you're shuttled along from one spectacle to the next, making you hope that each scene offers up something cool, but increasingly skeptical that it will all add up to be something great. But don't get me wrong: this is a movie that has its heart in the right place, that really does succeed in bringing the world of Narnia to life. While this might not be the best example of what that world, what these characters are capable of, it's a world I'd happily visit again. So yeah, bring on Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

My Grade: B

- Alright, 3 day weekend baby! Tonight - Indiana Jones! Tomorrow - sleep! Now - I'm outta here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From Burbank to Boston to ... a blog live from Bloomfield, CT!

My last night in CT for awhile, and finally, reality begins to set in. After a crazy few days in Boston, the last few days here in Bloomfield have been a welcome bit of rest and relaxation. Because, man, Sunday was fairly insane. We had the giant, all-BU graduation early in the morning - luckily, unlike mine four years ago, this time the sun was shining over Nickerson field. In addition, the speeches were solid, especially the commencement address given by Redsox team president, Larry Luchinno. Brief, funny, and chock full of solid life lessons, Luchinno gave a nice speech that everyone pretty much enjoyed. From there, we went next door to the new Agannis Arena, which I had never been inside of before. Pretty impressive. This was where the College of Communication's commencement was held, and it was here that each graduate gets their name called and steps up to the stage to receive their diploma (or at least, a placeholder certificate). It was a bit of a mad rush to get seats and ensure that my grandparents were able to find seats that didn't force my grandmother to walk down any precarious arena steps, but things worked out okay, and the only remaining challenge was sitting through the 700 or so names that were subsequently called out.

After the COM ceremony, me, my parents, uncle, aunt, and grandparents joined my brother in a post-graduation meal, at the good ol' Longhorn restaurant near BU, a little place I believe I disscovered way back when, when it opened next to the big movie theater by Fenway. Nothing too fancy, but hey, for better or for worse, the Barams rarely do fancy. In any case, the atmosphere around Boston was pretty crazy. Thousands of students in red robes roamed the streets in a post-graduation haze, armed with cellphones as they tried to track down friends and family amidst the mobs of pedestrians. Meanwhile, the regular residents of Beantown laughed, sang, and drank, sporting red and green. Both the Sox and Celtics had bigtime games that Sunday, so suffice it to say, there was a lot going on around town. After our late lunch / early dinner, we were all ready to retire to quieter surroundings. Finally, exhausted, I drove back to CT with my parents after a few long days in Beantown. The next day, Monday, Matt himself came back to CT with all of his various things packed up. And after eight years, for the first time, neither of us was a BU student.

Monday consisted of a lot of sleeping. Tuesday a little more sleeping. Of course, in order to make sure that Matt's head hadn't gotten too big now that he was a fancy college graduate, I at times had to deliver a brotherly beating or two to remind him what's what. I also enjoyed some Betucci's pizza, and even got to meet up Monday night with Stephanie P. to share stories of my weekend in Boston and reminicse about our own good ol' days at Boston U. Somewhere in there, I watched the Celtics beat the Pistons in Game 1 of the Eastern conference finals, caught up on a little Lost, went with Matt to check out the Chronic-(what!)-cles of Narnia, and partook in some Indiana Jones-age in order to prep for the upcoming sequel.

Reviews will pop up here shortly. But the hour is late, I have to pack (big surprise, I know), and it's probably best if I leave this blog as To Be Continued, for now. But hey, how often do I write to you live from Bloomfield by-God Connecticut?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

From Boston, Deep In the Heart of Terrier Country

What's up, readers? Just a quick entry for you all as I prepare to hit the sack. You see, tomorrow is my brother's graduation, bright and early, and I still don't think I'm on east coast time (not that I'm ever even on west coast time, but I digress ...). It's been a looooong few days, and there is no rest for the weary. Let's briefly recap, shall we:

THURSDAY: Spend about 9 hours flying to Hartford from LA / Burbank. Stopped off in Phoenix and then Nashville, all flights booked to the last seat. Mostly slept after having been up most of the previous night packing and whatnot, though I did get in a few chapters of The Stand and watched a few eps of Aliens in America thanks to the magic of my Macbook. Got into Bradley airport at about 10 pm-ish, got home, felt like I had just taken a 10 hour trip to the twilight zone and back. Mostly, dying to know what happened on LOST.

FRIDAY: Drove up to Boston with the parents. You can imagine the fun of that two hour car ride that seems to always take twice as long when I'm subject to various lectures. Due to poor planning, last-minute plan-changes, etc, we hadn't originally anticipated arriving in Boston as early as Friday. But my brother decided we should all attend the big family Shabbat dinner gala at the BU Hillel (my old stomping grounds ... well, kinda - the new multi-million dollar Hillel building didn't exist back when I was a student). So yeah, this complicated things as of course all hotel rooms in the Boston area are pretty much sold out about a year in advance for graduation weekend. Ergo, the strange necessity to stay in a hotel in FRAMINGHAM, which is a good 30 - 40 minutes from Boston proper. Slightly absurd, when you realize another hour's drive and we'd be home in CT. But I guess that's the nature of family trips, especiall those involving two grown children who live on opposite sides of the country - things tend to get wonky. The Hillel dinner was nice, though it was certainly a little strange to be back eating Friday night dinner at the BU Hillel. In the course of a few mere hours, all my old feelings for the place seemed to come and go in waves. At first I saw a few familiar faces and remembered the fun sense of community that I had enjoyed there. Despite the new building, the food was pretty much the same as always, for better or for worse. Great challah rolls, okay chicken, odd-tasting soup, some tasty desserts. Just like I remembered it. There was probably one self-congratulatory speech too many and a bit of that old feeling of insularity, but overall it was a fun dinner, and I was happy to see the new building, etc. Anyways ... back in (yikes) Framingham, I watched the Lakers-Jazz game, hit the hay, and prepared for another day of Super Family Fun Time. Random tangent: at Hillel, some guy made a comment that he couldn't believe I was 25 and that he thought I was the younger brother as opposed to Matt. Um, say what now? This is my perpetually baby-faced younger brother we're talking about here too. Hmmm ... Well, not to worry, this trip should prob age me a good few years or so ...

SATURDAY: Which brings me to today ... Let's see ... we moved to Hotel #2, this time in Boston proper nearby to the Copley area, which itself isn't far from BU. Had some lunch in Copley Plaza, then did a little (okay, A LOT) of walking around Boston. This was fun though - my brother and I went up and down Newbury St., home to one of my absolute favorite places ever, the original Newbury Comics. Newbury Comics, if you don't know, is basically a mecca for all things awesome. Any cult DVD, great CD, graphic novel, or hipster T-shirt you could want is sold within its incense-tinged walls, and all at crazy-low prices, for the most part. Man, I wish there was a Newbury Comics in LA. On a whim, I checked to see if they had some hard-to-find Coen Bros. classics in stock - Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy. They did! And now my Coen DVD collection is almost complete ... Anyways, we walked all around Beantown, from Copley to Newbury to the Boston Common and then finally to Quincy Market and Faneul Hall. We had some food at Quincy Market's famed foodcourt, the T'd it back to Copley. Luckily, it was quite the nice day in Boston, so despite some sore feet, it wasn't a bad day for walking. Finally, my brother and I went to see a Boston staple, Blue Man Group! I saw them once way back during my freshman year of college. It was funny too, because that event was one of my first time hanging out with many of my soon-to-be best friends - Aksel, Christine T., and Stephanie P.. My brother had never been, so we went, enjoyed, and got caught up in all the alien blue trippiness of it all. Gotta love the Blue Man Group.

Which brings me to now. Holy lord, it's about 1 am and I have to be up in like 6 hours. Sonofa ... all I can say is that this is DEFINITELY one of those "vacations" where I'll be needing some sort of vacation from my vacation. Ugh - and I apologize in advance to a few Beantown-based friends who I had contacted last week about meeting up. This is one of those trips where I feel like I'm on a leash or something -- just too much craziness and no moment to slip away.

So, tomorrow is graduation day. Two count 'em two ceremonies (one big BU commencement, one just for COM). Then, dinner with the extended family, then, home to CT ... finally. Oh, but then Monday I am waking up at about 5 am to help my brother move out of his apartment. Just kill me now. 

Oh, it's funny too - in the hotel I'm staying in tonight, hated rival Boston College is having this really obnoxious senior ball thing. I say it's obnoxious because:

- students are riding in on these horrid disco-busses with flashing lights and blaring music, leaning out the windows yelling stuff like "college!"

- the attendees are dressed ridiculously. I've never seen so many dudes sporting ironic vanity canes in my life. Is that a new thing? If so god help the youth of America.

- in general, well, you BU peeps know how it goes: BC SUCKS!

And yeah, I'm still wondering what happened on LOST.

Live from BOSTON, this has been the All-New, All-Awesome (and some not so awesome) Adventures of Danny Baram.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beantown Bound

- Man, today is a weird day. Currently, my desk here at work is basically empty, all my work stuff packed up into boxes and my computer and phone sporting shiny labels. Our floor in the Pinnacle building here in Burbank is getting an extreme makeover, as we are basically maxed out in terms of available space, even as our department continues to grow and expand. To that end, we're remodeling the kitchen, copyroom, lobby, and floor space to create new offices, cubes, etc. As you may recall, once upon a time I was situated in a swanky office all my own. Then, as we hired more people, I got moved out into a cubicle, specially built to accomodate me. This wasn't too bad - although it was at first pretty jarring to go from the confines of an office into the great wide open, my current digs are spacious, have plenty of storage space, and conveniently positioned me in the center of our department's activity. I'm not exactly sure where my new permanent work space will be, but unfortunately, I do know where my temporary location is: the copy room. Yes, when I get back to work next week, I'll be situated amidst reams of boxed-up paper, monolithic copy machines, and garish flourescent lighting. Hopefully, my time in this strange new world will be shortl-lived, but it's not exactly a move I'll be anticipating. I guess it puts my initial frustration over moving from an office into a cubicle into perspective. If anything, this latest wrinkle is testament to the old adage: it can always be worse. But don't worry, I don't plan on going all Office Space and being confined to the metaphorical basement with no stapler and no cake, so to speak. If I have anything to say about it, for the next few weeks, copy room is the new black, because it'll be a daily xerox party with an extra "x" thrown in for good measure. No, I have no idea what I just said, but it sounded cool at the time.

Anyways ...

... the reason I'm packing things up here at work a bit early in anticipation of next week's intra-office move, is that tomorrow morning I'm boarding a plane for Beantown, baby. Okay, not quite, but I had to humor my love for alliteration. Seriously, tomorrow I board a plane bound for Connecticut. The next morning, the fam and I drive to Boston for pre-graduation festivities with my brother Matt, in preparation for the big day on Sunday - Matt's graduation from Boston University. Yikes! Matt is already a college graduate? When and how did that happen? In any case, I'm sure it will be a better ceremony than mine, four years ago from the same fine institution of higher learning. As any BU '04 grads will surely recall, our graduation day was marked by torrential rain that made us all very wet, slightly miserable, and decidely unphotogenic. Hopefully, this one will be a bit better.

It will be nice to finally spend a few days in Beantown though. Hope to hit up some of the classic BU haunts, maybe see an old friend or two to boot. So for the curious, I'll be on the east coast until next Wednesday, flying back that day and arriving back in Burbank late Wed. night. As is tradition though, expect at least a blog or two written from the east side.

What else?

- Celtics tonight - this is the big one. See my last blog for some analysis of the Boston-Cleveland series. All I'll say for now is: go Celtics!

- Some quality music I've been listening to lately:

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS: Gotta love the first real album from the New Zealand comedy duo following the sucess of their HBO series. As regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of the Conchords, and their album doesn't disappoint. It's basically just a compilation of the songs from the show, but that's fine as almost all of the tunes are subtely hilarious, in addition to being pretty clever parodies of various musical genres. I wish "If You're Into It" was included (it's inexplicably missing), but overall this is a must-own for those who want to be able to enjoy the humor of the Conchords on those long car trips.

THE ROLLING STONES "Shine a Light" Soundtrack: I really enjoyed the movie Shine a Light, and the soundtrack was therefore a great pickup for someone like me who is only a casual Stones fan, but got hooked on some of the movie's lesser-known songs. For me, it's great to have a mix of classic hits like Jumpin' Jack Flash and Sympathy for the Devil alongside some songs I wasn't previously familiar with. Thanks to the movie and album, I'm now a big fan of "She Was Hot," "Some Girls," and "Champaigne and Reefer" (featuring a killer duet with Buddy Guy), among others. Seeing the film and then listening to the soundtrack makes for a great one-two combo. It's fun to relive the film, keeping in mind how crazy it is that the live performances on the album are so energetic and heartfelt despite the Stone's status as elder statesmen of rock. Suffice it to say, I'm now a bigger fan of The Stones than ever before thanks to Shine a Light.

- Curious about NARNIA this weekend and how it will fare at the box office. After being way off in my prediction for Speed Racer, I'll sit this one out and just see what happens. Personally, I was a fan of the first film. While it wasn't spectacular, it could have been a lot worse, and served as a good introduction to the series. Prince Caspian, however, is a big question mark. The plot is obvously very far removed from the first chapter, with few returning characters. Tilda Swindon was such a standout in the original film - it will be interesting if any of the new characters steps in to fill her shoes as a memorable hero or villain.

- Anyways, I've got to jet so, until next time. See you at B-U.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CELTIC PRIDE: NBA Analysis, Gossip Girl, Simpsons, Smallville, and more on SPEED RACER!

- Gah, what's up with the Celtics being completely unable to win on the road? Last night, it was rough watching the Celts play so sluggishly against a Cleveland team that was really on their game. The sad thing is that, despite playing poorly, Boston kept it close for most of the game. If they had just played a little bit smarter and more aggressively, they could have easily swooped in and stolen one from the Cavs. You have to question the offensive sets they're using. I think a lot of Celtics fans would love to see the current team have a more run n' gun offense - I mean, imagine the type of quick play used during the Pierce-Walker era utilized with the current squad. It seems strange that right now, Pierce often finds himself attempting the same difficult one-on-one style plays that he was forced to use during the last few years. With all the talent on the team now, there should be a more seamless, effective offense. I say get the younger guys in there and force the older guys to run. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen can still go and can still run the fastbreak - so make them sweat a little bit out there. The type of grinding style used by the Celts can be effective if someone like Lebron is having an off night, but if, like last night, he's on fire, he is able to break through the barriers and in turn, Boston can't put up enough offense to counter. And man, what a thunderous dunk by James last night in the fourth. As Kevin Harlan put it, King James truly had "no regard for human life" with an instant-classic tomahawk jam over KG's outstretched arm, after driving past seemingly the entire Celtics lineup.

In any case, The Celtics need to really do some tune-ups if they hope to be a championship contender, let alone get past the Cavaliers. They need to be consistent and not just turn it on and off at random, as some older teams are prone to do. It reminds me of the late-90's Houston Rockets, with Hakeem, Barkley, and Scottie Pippen. At times, the Rockets effortlessly won, when the veterans were firing on all cylinders. Other times, they looked like they couldn't compete with younger, hungrier teams. Here's hoping the Celtics can turn it up a notch and really do some damage.


- Last night's GOSSIP GIRL was another pretty intense hour of TV. With a combination of great characters, some storylines that are really ramping up, and solid scripting paired with an excellent cast, the show of late has really been rising above its teen soap roots. In fact, more and more, the show reminds me of Josh Schwartz's prior network hit, The OC. It has that uncanny ability to create plots that transcend the teen genre and really do feel epic and dramatic. The characters have a certain iconic quality - these aren't just lame-brained, stereotypical teens, but modern day heroes and villains. Last night, I was disappointed in a few of the plot developments, but overall, I was glued to the TV. What was lacking? Well, I thought the revelation of what was on Serena's blackmail tape was a little anticlimactic. Last week, the big cliffhanger was that she had killed someone. This week, we find out that all Serena actually did was hand a sketchy guy some drugs (his), which ultimately led to him partaking in a lethal overdose. Slightly scandalous? Sure. Murder? Hardly. My other complaint was just that, well, the whole arc of Dan ditching Serena and falling into the waiting arms of Sarah / Georgina seemed a little too contrived. I get what they were going for, but it eventually just seemed a little forced that by episode's end, everyone knew about Sarah's secret ID except Dan. Finally, enough already with the on-again, off-again romance between Dan and Serena's respective parents. It's still pretty weird, by the way, that son and dad are involved with a mother-daughter combo. Can you say awkward? But on the plus side was ... well, almost everything else in this ep. I loved the meeting of the minds between Chuck, Nate, and Blair. Their comparisons of past transgressions was priceless, especially when Chuck simply offered up "I'm Chuck Bass." Chuck is alternately hilarious and just plain evil - certainly one of the breakout characters on TV this season. I loved how even though he has been kind of helpful towards Serena, he still lets on that he loves all of the drama surrounding her. He even sneaks a peak at S changing in her lowest moment, once she's fallen off the wagon again. Talk about creepy! Anyways, this was just a really fun episode. I think it's to its credit that Gossip Girl has gone from guilty pleasure to must-watch TV.

My Grade: B+

- SMALLVILLE from Thursday was another decent episode that was hampered by being super-freakin' cheesy. Once again, we get Michael Rosenbaum with some really great stuff as Lex, and then everyone else making sure that the already clunky dialogue sounds pretty much as clunky as possible. A lot of this has to do with the pretty abusrd premise that, in nearly every episode of late, we see Lex inching ever closer to the secret of Veritas and the Traveller, each time narrowly missing the obvious fact that said Traveller is in fact Clark. I mean, in this episode we go so far as to have Clark run at super speed into the chamber where Lex is fighting, knock out Lex's attacker, then run away with Lex none the wiser. All that was missing was for Lex to conveniently get knocked unconcious. Overall, the Veritas storyline had some cool potential - the idea of a cult built around the arrival of Clark is pretty interesting, and brings up some cool themes of Clark as savior, Christ-like figure, etc. It's too bad then that, rather than explore this with almost any degree of sophistication, this episode presented the last member of Veritas as generic insane zealot #1, inexplicably going from worshipping Clark one minute to trying to kill him the next. We also had a pretty useless subplot in which Lex abducts an old clockmaker to try to decipher one of the puzzles left behind by Veritas. Again, had some potential, but never really went anywhere. Hmm, why is that seemingly a fitting description for all things Smallville?

My Grade: B-

- I liked a lot of what I saw from this week's episode of THE SIMPSONS. First and foremost, the humor really felt on-point this episode, with at least a few bits that were flat-out hilarious. My personal favorite line: Homer saying something to the effect of "Mom, you keep disappearing and then reappearing and it's just not funny anymore ... kind of like that show Scrubs." Bwahahaha ... Like I said, some really good bits in this one. We also got a pretty good story, as Homer's mom pays her son one last visit before passing away, and in doing so leaves a final task for her son to complete in her honor. The episode took a bit of a jarring turn from down-to-earth family-based humor in its first half, to out-there, James Bond (or Hank Scorpio, if you prefer)-style action in its second half. While it would have been nice for a little more consistency in tone, overall I thought the episode worked pretty well, and actually served as a pretty good send-off for Homer's mom, even if some of the emotion was kind of lost when things got wacky towards the end. Still, the overall quality of this ep was such that it made me wonder: might The Simpsons actually be on something of a roll? While this season has seen its ups and downs, I think the majority of the post-strike episodes have been pretty good, especially by later-era Simpsons standards. I hesitate to make too bold of a declaration, but anecdotally, I'm pleased to say that for the last few Mondays, I've eagerly asked friends and co-workers that time-honored Monday question: did you see The Simpsons?

My Grade: B+

- Meanwhile, KING OF THE HILL had a very funny episode this week. I tend to love the KOTH episodes where one of Hank's closeted eccentricities is brought to light, and this week, the oddity of the week was a previously unrevealed fact that Hank is terrified of bats. Seeing Hank try to overcome his fear, ignore it, play it down, and try to justify it by claiming his fear was normal ("everyone knows bats are disgusting and evil!") was pretty funny. And, the phobia nicely tied in to a Hank and Bobby bonding story, giving a well-worn KOTH theme a slightly different twist. With Hank afraid to enter his garage due to the bat problem, Bobby is forced to take the initiative in building a boat for the local regatta, and in doing so, Bobby comes to appreciate some of the Bob Villa-style building techniques that Hank had hoped to teach him. Good stuff. My only complain was that the Peggy subplot, in which she becomes really into books about various "-ologies", was a little weak in comparison. Overall though, another excellent ep of KOTH.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, finally, I'd like to talk a little bit more about SPEED RACER. Okay, so my previous prediction that the movie would be a big box-office hit was slightly off. Okay, maybe it was way off. But here's the thing - I can't stand all the snarky movie sites that love to equate box office underperformance with a lack of creative quality. I mean, come on, does anyone really need to be reminded of all the great films that at one time or another were box office bombs? Or of all the craptacular movies that raked in the big bucks? Now, when everyone fancies themselves to be an armchair box-office quarterback, more and more people actually review movies based on the almighty dollar, to which I say: are you kidding me? The last time I checked, you won't find The Goonies or Labyrnth or The Nightmare Before Christmas on the all-time box office champions list - some movies simply go underappreciated in their time. Some movies are hard-sells at the outset. But Speed Racer is the kind of movie that a certain type of cynical hipster or stodgy critic is simply prone to hate, but kids and fanboy film geeks of all ages will love. It's a tough sell of a movie. I think people overestimated Speed Racer as a built-in brand. Few people under middle age have any real attachment to the cartoon series, and if anything it's a show more known for its look and early anime influence than for any real attachment to its characters and story. Perhaps Speed Racer should have been sold less as a preestablished franchise film and more as something all-new, all-different. Because, really, that's what it is. To me, despite being based on an already existing property, SR is as experimental in its storytelling technique and visual aesthetic as The Matrix. I don't know if that was properly conveyed in the marketing. And even if it had been, it's not necessarilly an aesthetic that most people will "get," at least not right away. So now, every where I look, there seem to be three camps of people when it comes to Speed. There is a minority group who saw the movie and actively disliked it. Then there is a larger group who avoided the movie, but has jumped on the negative critical bandwagon and not even given the film a chance. Finally, there are those who saw the movie, loved it, and are now spreading the good word, especially in light of the fact that the film seems to be getting overlooked or prematurely dismissed. Well, consider me to be in the final category. SPEED RACER rocked, and I'll tell that to anyone who will listen!

- Alright, I'm out. Happy Tuesday.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Going Mach 5 With SPEED RACER: Why Speed Is a Can't-Miss Classic


- Well, wow. I mean, wow. Listen up people and listen good - the critics are on crack, because SPEED RACER may just be the best film yet of 2008, and one of the best family films in YEARS. I haven't come out of a movie feeling this joyous and euphoric in ages. Speed Racer deserves to kill at the box office, and if by some twist of fate it doesn't, well, it will become a home-video classic without a doubt. I just can't fathom how stuffy, joyless, and out of touch one must be in order to watch this movie and NOT get caught up in the sheer energy and good vibes. But trust me on this one, fellow film fans, there's no two ways about it: there's two words to describe Speed Racer and they are these: kick-ass.

Okay, let's start with the obvious - the visuals. Let's just say the bar has officially been elevated. You know, for years now I've read about how James Cameron is going to revolutionize cinema with his vaporware movie known as Avatar. I've heard about how Avatar is supposedly going to meld CGI and live-action to bring the anime aesthetic to mainstream film in an unpreceented, groundbreaking manner. Well, Mr. Cameron, I sincerely hope that Avatar will be as good as promised, but, well, it looks like the Wachowskis may have beaten you to the punch. Speed Racer looks like no movie before it - its world POPS off the screen with a vibracy, a kineticism, a visual splendor that I've never seen before. Even after seeing numerous trailers and commercial spots, I still don't think I was fully prepared for the eye-melting sights that Speed Racer brought to the table. And this isn't just about complex CGI creations or soulless, empty digital f/x. On the contrary, Speed Racer exudes soul and bleeds style. Watching it was like seeing Akira, or Batman: The Animated Series, or Sin City, or The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time. It's a game-changer, but not solely because of the technology at play. No, I'm talking about in a more purely artistic sense. This is a WORLD the likes of which we've never seen, a world which pays homage to the past, sure, but this is the next evolution of the core concept, a reimagining that is itself a whole new paradigm.

The racing scenes in Speed Racer are like something out of a digital dream. Matrix-like physics wrapped around Japanese anime aesthetics coated with hi-rez, high-contrast videogame visual gloss. Even more impressive, the action moves at a lightining-fast pace, yet is still able to processed, absorbed, and followed. The cuts make sense from a narrative perspective, and every action scene succeeds in telling its own story.

Beyond even the racing, there are action scenes here that are an absolute blast. Imagine the 60's Batman TV show mixed with Dragonball Z and you might have an idea of what to expect. Visually, it's absolutely amazing how the nuances and conventions of anime have been adapted. From motion blur and speed lines to big eyes, raised eyebrows, dialogue style, and character mannerisms, this IS a cartoon come to life in the best and coolest way imaginable. I cannot say enough about the visual aesthetic on display here - from shimmering metropolitan cityscapes to dayglo cartoon suburbia to neon-Playstation racetracks, this movie redefines the term "eye candy." And the brilliant and innovative direction by the Wachowskis maximizes the wow-factor tenfold, with each shot seemingly captured for maximum fun. While the action and racing is visceral and kinetic, even the more sedate scenes are still bursting with imagination and color.

So the visuals are awesome, revolutionary even. Most critics seem to at least agree on that. But then I hear words like empty and hollow thrown out as enthusiasm is tempered. And yet, here I am, amazed at how much genuine heart and soul was in this movie. For all of its new-school visuals, I loved the fact that deep down this was an old-school family flick, through and through. If you go in cynical and jaded and looking for something inappropriately adult and ironic and self-aware, then go watch Shrek or something. SPEED RACER to me was so fun precisely because it revelled in its own innocence. It knew it was a living breathing cartoon and had as much fun with that concept as possible. But there IS heart here. Because woven through the film is a surprisingly effective story about family and growing up. It's a coming-of-age story for Speed. And it works - moreso, in fact, than most family films ever do.

In large part, credit can be given to the outstanding cast. Emile Hirsch is great as Speed. He sets the tone for the rest of the cast, who do an amazing job as a whole in terms of playing things straight - totally throwing themselves into this surreal world of Speed Racer. No winks and nods at the audience here - Hirsch and co. become real-life cartoon characters, and they really sell it. Even the look of the characters feels spot-on. I mean take a look at Christina Ricci as Speed's loyal girlfriend Trixi - has there ever been a more convincing portrayal of the anime character aesthetic in three-dimensions? In the end, Speed Racer truly makes you love its heroes and hate its villains, so to that end you know its doing something right.

But I have to take a second make special mention of John Goodman. Every once in a while, Goodman lands a role that reminds me why he's one of the underappreciated greats, and yeah, I'm as surprised as anyone - THIS is one of those roles. Goodman, sporting a big mustache and Super Mario wardrobe as POPS RACER, is so great here. He really is the heart and soul of the movie. How can anyone watch the great father-son scenes between Pops and Speed and then say this movie has no heart? And oh boy, when Pops is given the chance to whoop some ass, well, Goodman brings so much lovability to the character that his big action scenes are of the rare kind that make you want to stand up and cheer. Suffice it to say, I absolutely loved John Goodman in this movie.

How about Matthew Fox as the mysterious Racer X? Talk about badass, Fox kicks ass in this role. With a deep, superhero-style voice and cool-as-hell costume straight from the cartoon, all I know is that any kid who sees this film is going to be running out to get the RACER X action figure, pronto. Fox has some great scenes with Hirsch, and I actually thought that the mystery surrounding X's identity was handled well by the film - it both is and isn't what you thought.

Susan Sarandon is also great as Speed's Mom, but almost everyone is outshined by a little kid and a monkey. Speed's little bro, Spritle, is a riot, and so is his mischievous pet monkey Chim Chim. Again, this is one of the aspects of the movie that I thought was handled with the perfect amount of humor and charm. If you go in cynical, you might not be so amused. But I was won over by the little wiseguy and his monkey. I mean, who doesn't love a monkey sidekick?

And for the record, this movie does have both monkeys and ninjas. And monkeys fighting ninjas. Awesome.

Oh, and I have to mention the great Roger Allam as corporate tycoon Royalton. Allam does a great job of hamming it up - reeking of vile villainy, sneering out every word with wicked aplomb. And hey, SHAFT is in the movie too! Richard Roundtree himself has a great part as a retired racer-turned-announcer who plays a key role in the movie's larger mythology.

I think it's admirable that the movie carries the message of the importance of staying true to family and friends, of carving one's own path rather than conforming to a world that is increasingly corporate and driven by the almighty dollar. If the movie has any fault though, it's that the plot actually gets too confusing and convoluted at times, especially around the middle of the film. There's all kinds of stuff going on involving backroom corporate deals, warring factions of racers, and Speed's own family history that soon becomes pretty tough to follow. Ultimately though, I think the busyness of the plot becomes part of its fun - there's so many random characters that pop up and converging plotlines coming into play that at some point you just lose yourself in the madness, forget about the details, and get caught up in the larger storyarc of Speed's hero's journey. In the end, forgetting some of the overly complex story details, it's a fairly simple tale of family, destiny, and the love of the game.

But wow, in the end, as the credits rolled and a super-cool remix of the original SPEED RACER themesong blared, I found myself floored by just how great a movie this was. Two hours of pure action, fun, and tangible joy, with characters you couldn't help but love and visuals that, not long ago, were merely the stuff of overactive childhood imaginations. I know, I wasn't quite expecting this either, but there can be no doubt: Speed Racer rocks, and it rocks hard.

My Grade: A

Friday, May 09, 2008

Destiny is a Fickle Bitch: LOST, Office, 30 Rock - Reviewed!

Damn you, Charter Cable! Of course, the one time I have company over to watch some TV, the HD stops working. As Liz Lemon might say: "blurgh!" The most annoying part of dealing with Charter was that, for various reasons, it seemed pretty clear that there was some kind of area-wide issue at play here, and yet ... every single time I called them they said they had no knowledge of any area-wide outages and insisted I do stupid things like reset my cable box and whatnot. Arrgggh. And holy lord, is their phone system ridiculous. When you call, it automatically conencts you to either the East Coast or West Coast help lines based on your phone number. Since I live in California but have a CT-based cell phone, every single time I called Charter (which ended up being like 5 times), I had to go through the whole spiel about how they didn't have my phone number on record and so forth and so on. Are you kidding me? Nevermind the fact that, unless I specifically insisted that someone stay on the line with me, my call would typically drop out anytime I was being transferred. All I know is, Charter had better beef up their HD channel lineup ASAP because, whoo boy, customer service is certainly not their selling point.

Anyways, my traditional post-Thursday TV reviews are mostly intact, though written in mere standard-def. I know, I know, life is hard.

And unfortunately I have not yet seen SMALLVILLE. Check back soon for a review of Thursday's ep. But right here, on this very blog post, let's talk about ...


- Wow, what an episode. Last week, we got a character-driven, psychological episode that was, relative to Lost at least, pretty grounded. This week though, we took a ride on the crazy train straight into the Twilight Zone, and oh man, what a ride it was.

I love how one week, Lost can be an emotional, character-driven drama, and the next it can be a full out journey into Weirdsville. This ep, to me, was just one moment of coolness after another, with so much brain-exploding imagery and innuendo that I imagined Lostpedia imploding and/or going supernova as the events of this episode unfolded.

First and foremost though, aside from all the myth-arc coolness, this episode represented something that's been a long time coming: another great Locke episode. I've said it many times before here, but I'll say it again - while the Lost pilot was an astounding piece of television when it premiered, it was the Locke-centric followup, "Walkabout," that to me truly signalled the level of storytelling and overall quality that the show was capable of. That early episode set the standard for all Lost episodes to follow, and at times the show has struggled to live up to that same greatness, especially when it comes to Locke. Since that first episode, Locke-centric eps have been very up and down in quality, and the character as a whole has sometimes gotten far off course. I think most will agree that the Locke we want to see is that early version - the simple box factory worker who yearns to be out in the jungle, to achieve some greater calling, to be a leader and a hero. At times, Locke has since been portrayed as just plain crazy, a mixed-up dude who has somehow been stripped by the island of all common sense. But man, last night, the Locke of old came back with a vengeance, in what was a pretty deliberate-seeming move by the writers. This was the "don't tell me what I can't do" Locke. The complex, fascinating Locke. For the first time in a while, this was a Locke you could root for.

Getting back to the meat of the episode though, the flashbacks here were downright fascinating. I particularly loved the scene with ageless Richard Alpert visiting a young Locke at home, putting him through a Dahli Lama-style test of some sort. I'm not sure what the signifigance of the six objects were (is the Book Of Laws the book in which the "rules" of the Island are written?), but man, what an intense scene. The biggest takeway from these flashbacks is that Locke was tagged and influenced and monitored from birth by the show's various and mysterious players. Why, and to what end? Are Aplert and Abadon working together or against each other? Was it only Locke they were watching or was it all of the passengers on Flight 815? And what exactly is the nature of Locke's "specialness?" Does he have some strange power or is it merely that his destiny is intertwined with the island in some way, as it was alluded that Ben's had been as well. And who are Alpert and Abadon anyway? Is Abadon actually Jacob, or the Smoke Monster, or both? So many questions ... but again, as I've said the past few weeks, these mysteries feel much more intriguing and less frustrating at this point, because the show has the air of a puzzle being put back together. There is an endgame in sight, so it should be just a matter of time before things begin to fall into place a bit.

Locke and his strange history weren't the only mysteries tonight, not by a longshot. We finally checked back in on the freighter, where Sayid decides to go back to the island while Desmond remains behind, brother. While this isn't an uber-mystery per se, it's fascinating to predict how the whole "Oceanic 6 get off the island" scenario will play out. I mean, what the bleep happens to Desmond, for Penny's sake? I do love all the tension amongst the freighter crew though - Keamy is a great, evil / badass character who has added a great element of comic book villainy to the show these last few eps. I can't wait to see him tangle with the likes of Sayid or Sawyer. I wonder what the device is that's strapped to his arm? Is it a Batman-style "kill-me-and-the-bomb-goes-off" type thing, or something else? You've also got to love Lapidus (yes, I realize how that sounds ...). Loved his line about having signed up to work with scientists, not killers.

Okay - here's the big one: what's up with Christian Shephard, Claire, and the cabin? Are these two dead, like d-e-d dead? Some kind of half-dead zombies? Undead? Mostly dead? And does Shephard's presence on the island mean that Jack and Claire, like Locke, was long destined to end up on the island and pushed into arriving there by outside forces? And how about Claire's baby, Aaron? Once we were told that Claire was NOT supposed to let anyone other than her raise the baby. Now it seems preordained, at least by Christian, that she give up the baby for Kate to find. Last week, Hurley told Jack that Jack was not in fact intended to raise the child. Say what now? What's up with Aaron, who is "supposed" to raise him, and, oh yeah, What the Flip is up with Claire?

And that raises the question of the cabin itself, and by extension Jacob. Did Horace have some further signifigance beyond just appearing in Locke's dream? What's up with the cabin - how can a cloth map lead to it if its location always changes? And the biggest question of all ... who / what is Jacob?!?!

Yep, this episode was veritable Lost-geek overload. But like I said, there was still plenty of great character stuff. Locke's flashbacks were compelling, intense, and a reminder of what made the character so cool and unique in the first place. Ben had some classic, scene-stealing moments - him sharing a candy bar with Hurley for instance. And Ben had not only the line of the night, but maybe one of the most memorable lines ever on Lost: "Destiny is a fickle bitch." Wow, if ever the entire premise of Lost could be summed up in a single sentance, that might be it. And on top of all that, we end with one of the most intense setups ever on the show: Keamy and his crew poised to descend on the island and blow it to kingdom come, as the islanders coalesce for what may turn into all out war. Yes, I think it's safe to say that business has picked up.

My Grade: A

Okay, onto NBC's Must-See Comedies ...


- Well, this wasn't a bad episode of The Office ... it was entertaining, at times pretty funny. But honestly, this one just felt pretty flat overall, with a couple of plotlines that had some interesting potential, but that never really took off. Most importantly, the humor was just not clicking as it should be. It's hard to talk about The Office this way, I realize, because some people are simply content to watch, see the latest developments with Jim and Pam, and follow the characters as if they were watching a soap opera. But I don't buy that as a way to look at the show. The Office is first and foremost a comedy, and it's established a particular style of humor and comedic tone. Sure, moreso than many comedies, The Office has pretty complex characters who go through nuanced arcs from episode to episode. But still, if the humor just isn't clicking, if the jokes just aren't funny, then something is wrong. In this ep, I think the main plotline of Michael setting up a Dunder Mifflin booth at a local college job fair ... well, it ultimately fell pretty flat as a comedic premise. The highlight was, I think, the interaction between Michael and Pam - Michael's line about Pam being a wonderful and talented person, but that he'd never say that to her face, was a great little bit that illustrated to a T just how backwords-thinking Michael is and how juvenile he can be. Similarly, Pam's drive to ask around about jobs in graphic design was some nice advancement for her as a character. Ideally though, those interesting character bits would have been accompanied by some great jokes. But when, for example, Michael got up on the microphone to address the crowd, what could have been a classic Office moment of hilarity was instead a little bit awkward and not particularly funny. Especially when you draw the inevitable comparisons to David Brent's classic on-stage moments in the British Office ("simply the best!"). Meanwhile, Ed Helms had a few funny lines in the golfing subplot, but the storyline seemed so concerned with showing Jim's persistance and rededication to his job that somewhere along the way it forgot to have much in the way of humor. Still, I give this episode credit for tying together its various threads nicely. This was especially true in the great ending where Michael observed that someone like Jim can do anything they want with their life, yet they choose to work for Dunder Mifflin, in paper - this, of course, being more a sad commentary on Jim's lack of ambition than anything else. I really admire The Office in that it's perhaps the only comedy on TV that can weave together so many complex character themes in a way that really does make it watchable even when the comedy isn't clicking. But for a truly great Office ep, the funny must be brought.

My Grade: B -


- This week, we saw the season finale of 30 Rock, and it's hard to believe that this is already the last episode of the season. We've only had a handful of post-strike episodes, it seems, and I still have that feeling that the show was juuuuust on the verge of really getting into its groove. I don't know if the show ever matched its early-season levels of greatness during its midseason second-act, but even so, week in and week out, 30 Rock was the funniest, most quotable comedy on TV. Last night's episode was almost overflowing with characters, jokes, and plotlines, so it packed in a ton of comedy into a single half hour. That meant that even when some jokes missed the mark, seconds later something elsewould happen that was downright hilarious. However, two things happened in this episode that tend to get me a little nervous about the show ...

The first is this: to me, the show is at its best when its funniest characters, like Tracy and Jenna, are incorporated INTO the main plotlines. The trend of late though seems to be to relegate the wackier characters to the background, letting them have their own little wacky subplots so that the bulk of the episode can focus on the slightly more straight-laced Liz plotlines. To me, this hurts the show - put the funniest players front and center, and spread out the absurdist humor. Ghettoizing the craziness makes offbeat storylines like Tracy's porn videogame feel rushed, and gives less screentime to talented cast members like Jane Krakowski.

The second issue is a direct followup - sometimes, the Liz storylines get too sitcom-ish and cheesy. That isn't what 30 Rock is about, and it's not where its strength lies. I realize the show is trying to find some kind of happy medium between the absurdist, detached humor of Arrested Development and the soap-opera-y storylines of Friends, but I think it's hard to have it both ways. When Liz's boyfriend is a Beeper King-sized walking punchline, for example, it's hard to really get too emotionally invested in the is-she or isn't-she pregnancy game.

That being said, overall I really liked this ep of 30 Rock. My favorite plotline was probably the Kenneth the Page stuff. Any time the show has shown the rivalry between the Pages, it makes for awesome humor! The closing Olympic-style montage with Kenneth was flat-out hilarious. Alec Baldwin had some fun moments while working for the Bush administration, and Matthew Broderick was fun even if his Broadway-ish acting seemed a little too broad for a show like 30 Rock, no pun intended. As usual though, there were tons of classic lines strewn throughout, and, to top it off, a classic closing sequence that flashed to 3 Months Later as hilarity ensued. Kenneth as an international man of mystery? Genius.

My Grade: B+

- And that's all for today. Have a great weekend, and check back soon for a review of SPEED RACER.