Friday, October 31, 2008
- Greetings boys and ghouls, and welcome to a special Halloween edition of the All-New, All-Awesome Adventures. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my entry from yesterday, where I urge Gen Y'ers to get off their kiesters and vote, and review Clint Eastwood's Changeling to boot. But, let's time-warp back to the here and now. Halloween 2008.
In honor of the occasion, I present to you:
DANNY'S ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN PLAYLIST:
- "This is Halloween" (from The Nightmare Before Christmas) - cover by Marylin Manson
- "The Monster Mash" by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
- "Thriller" by Michael Jackson
- "Disturbia" by Rihanna
- Theme from The Twilight Zone
- "(He's Back!) The Man Behind the Mask" by Alice Cooper
- "Feed My Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper
- Theme from The Munsters
- Theme from The Addams Family
- "God of Thunder" by Kiss
- Theme from The Outer Limits
- "Fear of the Dark" by Iron Maiden
- "Dracula's Lament" from Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell
- Theme from Ghostbusters
- "Bark At the Moon" by Ozzy Ozbourne
- "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie
- "Enter Sandman" by Metallica
- Theme From Army of Darkness
- "Sympathy For the Devil" by the Rolling Stones
- "Fire" by Arthur Brown
- Theme from Scooby Doo
- "Little Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham
- "Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah" from 30 Rock
-"The Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- "This Is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas (original version)
Some quick TV Reviews for ya' ...
- First off, thank the lord that 30 ROCK is back. The show that I named the best TV series of 2007 finally returned last night with an episode jam-packed with classic lines and memorable bits. Was it the best-ever episode of 30 Rock? Definitely not, but there were still enough hilarious moments to make the episode one of the funniest things I've seen on TV in a while. I mean, Will Arnett and Alec Baldwin going at it? Tracy Morgan bestowing Judah Friedlander with a pair of golden nunchucks? Comedy gold right there. I would have liked a little more of the supporting cast and a little more Tracy Jordan, but hey, this was overall a great premiere. Baldwin had the line of the night, about working the day shift at the graveyard and the graveyard shift at a Day's Inn. Awesome.
My Grade: A -
- THE OFFICE started out with a freakin' hilarious Halloween-themed opening, in which Creed, Kevin, and Dwight all dressed as the Heath Ledger JOKER. Classic. From there, things got a bit soapy with Michael and Holly and Jim and Pam. I thought the Michael / Holly stuff had some really great and funny moments though, and the addition of Daryll as a third wheel was classic. As was Michael's infinite road-trip playlist that consisted of "Life Is a Highway" over and over again. I thought the Pam bit where she meets Jim's brothers was kind of clunky. I get what they were going for - almost psychoanalyzing Jim via his brothers, but, yeah, didn't quite work for me. Dwight vs. Andy though? Pretty classic.
My Grade: B+
- In some ways, I really enjoyed the latest episode of SMALLVILLE. It had a fun script and some nice interaction between Clark, Lois, Chloe, Jimmy, and Oliver. However ... let's be real here. If this series actually followed any sort of logical character development, Clark is at the point where by next week's episode he would be Superman. There's no getting around it at this point. And normally, I would say they are doing a pretty good job of building to that big reveal. But the frustrating thing is ... they are NOT really building towards anything. Again - how can you have these kinds of plotlines with no hope of payoff? That being said, this was a well-done episode with some really cool moments. But all I know is, the last episode of this season better have SUPERMAN in it.
My Grade: B
- Alriiiiiiiiiiiiight ... Happy Halloween!!!!!!!!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Blog of the Living Dead: Why Gen Y Needs to Vote, TV Stuff, and a review of Clint Eastwood's CHANGELING
- First of all ... I'm excited that Halloween is almost here. It's been a great couple of weeks of Halloween-related craziness - from the annual Horror Movie Marathon to Knott's Scary Farm, and, finally, tomorrow night is the main event, (the-event-formerly-known-as) Page-O-Ween. I've got my costume pretty much ready to go ... let's just say that I'll be having an Appetite for Destruction come Friday night.
- By the way ... as many know, I love Halloween-related music. From Thriller to the Time Warp to Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah. For some reason though, the awesomely cheesy yet clasically-creepy song that's been in my head of late: Alice Cooper's MAN BEHIND THE MASK. Yes, 80's (or early 90's?) synth-rock horror-schlock at it's best! Check it:
- Nothing too specific to rant on today, other than the fact that, yes, like many Dems who painfully recall the debacles that were the 2000 and 2004 elections, I am still somewhat nervous for Obama, despite his substantial lead in the polls. Unfortunately, there are just so many backwater hicks out there who still think Obama is some kind of Islamo-fascist, or who simply won't vote for him because of his race. On the other hand, this is also a nation that has made African Americans like Oprah, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Words some of the biggest and most popular stars in the world. So, sure, I have a few worries about the so-called Bradley effect, but overall, I am pretty confident that America in 2008 is, really, more than ready to elect a non-white president.
But, secondly, I am once again hoping that all of my peers in Gen Y GET OFF THEIR @$$es and vote! I guess I probably get a bit of a skewed view on this issue since between living in Boston and New York and now LA I've been in big cities with lots of smart, driven, politically-engaged young people. Almost all of my friends are very much engaged in this election and have either already voted or will be there at the polls on Tuesday. But ... will this happen across the country? I really hope so, because, look, we're not so young anymore, people. If this was the 1950's we'd all be married with a kid and a dog and living in a house in suburbia with a white picket fence. Sure, here in 2008 most of us 20-somethings are still trying to figure it all out and can barely pay rent, etc. But geez, don't you think it's time we at least pried ourselves free from YouTube and Facebook long enough to vote? I will be really disappointed if our age-group is not a huge factor in this election, that's for sure. But, again, despite some concerns, overall I am optimistic. Like I said, at least anecdotally, people my age are more geared up than ever for this election, and I think that the reality that this presidential election WILL AFFECT US deeply has really taken hold.
Because look, the fact is that right now, politicians don't really give a crap about us. There is still a huge 70 and 80 and 90-something elderly population that desperately needs care. There is still a gigantic Baby Boomer population that is worried about their retirement and health care. There's still a ton of 30 and 40-somethings (Gen X'er's, I suppose), who have been living the yuppie lifestyle since the dotcom boom and wonder about their fading stock market portfolios.
So ... what about us? Sure, most of us have no money, are facing a tough job market, student loans, etc., etc., - but who cares? The country's got more pressing problems to deal with. Well, here is where we need to elect Barack Obama. Because let's face it, the Democratic party is the party that actually gives a crap about the big picture, that actually has a platform to address the problems that are building NOW which will seriously damage us in 20 or 30 years.
I mean, with Obama, we will hopefully move toward environmental policies that ensure that in 20 years we don't have to all don gasmasks to walk outside. With Obama, we will move towards a foreign policy that actually builds towards world peace rather than an Us versus Them divide and conquer strategy that has been the hallmark of the Bush Doctrine. With Obama, perhaps we can actually implement universal health care, so that those of us who find ourselves jobless at some point can still go to the dentist.
It's funny, because McCain has been playing the "fear" card so much in his campaign, but so much of what we're supposed to be afraid of is ultimately so trivial. We should be afraid of Obama's tangential associations, of "socialist" tax policy, of the guy's middle freaking name. Yet all of the big stuff, the stuff that we really SHOULD be sort of scared to death about - global warming, a diminished America on the world stage, economic collapse -- all of that, according to McCain, is imaginary. Sarah Palin still doesn't know or care what the cause of climate change is. McCain believed the fundamentals of the economy were strong up until the moment of crisis, and still supports all of Bush's tax policies that got us into this mess in the first place. He was on the frontlines of the politics of fear when he supported the War In Iraq as if it were Vietnam: Part II, and in denial when it came to the reality that Saddam Hussein was not, in fact, Osama Bin Laden. McCain and Bush were so busy fear-mongering about WMD's that didn't exist, that they forgot to consider that our actions might actually create a new haven for terrorists, and did a shoddy job securing our ports and our internal security and, oh yeah, catching Bin Laden.
So here's the deal. Under George W. Bush we were on an eight-year downward spiral that culminated in where we are today, aka royally #%$*'ed. We've screwed up the economy, placated the oil companies thus making zero progress towards getting off of foreign oil, fought a misguided war, and done a crap job of dealing with internal crises such as Katrina. Some of that is Bush, some of that is Republican policy to which McCain also subscribes.
But I don't want to just bash McCain. Obama has, in a short time, demonstrated that he's a man with incredibly strong leadership skills, vast knowledge about the issues we face at home and abroad. He's the kind of guy who takes advice from all manner of people, who tackles problems with intelligence and deliberation. I have no doubt that with Obama as prez we will move towards a better environmental policy, a better foreign policy, and a better economic policy - as well as social policies that reflect a more liberal mainstream - finally, we can break away from a social policy dictated by the religious right.
And hey, if we all get out there and vote, and the numbers reflect that, then you know what? Obama may have a new special-interest group to contend with. So really it doesn't matter if you're in a swing state or not - we need the Gen Y vote to mean something this year, or we're screwing ourselves for another 4 years and beyond.
- Nothing too substantial to talk about today, as I've mostly spent the last couple of days trying to catch up on CHUCK and PUSHING DAISIES. I continue to really get a kick out of Chuck, and I think it's great that they are finally starting to flesh out some of the backstories of characters like Sarah (or is that Jenny?). It's funny, because while people think of Heroes as a comic-book TV show, CHUCK to me is really the TV show that captures the sensibilities of modern comic book hits like Y: The Last Man, with a mix of geeky-cool humor, compelling characters, and fun action. Chuck is always awesomely entertaining to watch, and I would love to see it find a bigger audience. If only we had done a better job advertising the fact that Ben Savage guest-starred on last week's ep - I guarantee at least a few guys and girls raised on heaping helpings of Boy Meets World would have tuned in out of curiosity, if only to see what had become of the man formerly known as Cory Matthews. As for PUSHING DAISIES, I remain a huge fan, and completely admire the show for its visual splendor and awesomely crafty dialogue. I do think that the plotting has gotten a bit too convoluted so far this season, with a bit too much interpersonal family drama diluting the core message of the show at times. I also think that Ned, while he's always been fairly emotastic, has been a bit too mopey lately. At least in Season 1 we saw him engage in a couple of sword fights. In Season 2 he is too often a complete girly-man, to quote my fair state's governator. It's time that Ned grows a pair and stops worrying so much, and gets back to being a bit more of a hero. But, don't get me wrong - I still love Pushing Daisies, and would urge anyone to watch it who likes their TV a little more on the whimsical side. With so many grim n' gritty shows on the air (or just plain idiotic reality shows ...), it's awesome to see one that dares to be different (and intelligent!). Another case where I can onlyhope the show gains a larger audience so that it can continue.
- And now, a movie review for you, this time of Clint Eastwood's latest drama ...
- Changeling, the latest from the legendary Clint Eastwood, is one of those prestige Oscar-bait movies that has all the pieces in place to be a classic, but for some reason or other never quite comes together to deliver on its promise. The cast is universally great, the direction by Eastwood is reliably sure and steady, and the true story behind the script is both bizarre and fascinating.
However, based-on-a-true-story or not, what happens with Changeling is that the script presents some of the events in such a way that they seem wholly unbelievable. Maybe it's because some of the characters are too broadly-drawn, or maybe it's a mismatch between the down-to-earth direction and the melodramatic acting ... but for whatever reason much of the first half of the film is simply frustrating. There were too many times where I just couldn't grasp why the characters behaved or reacted the way they did.
Let me back up for a second - the plot of Changeling deals with a strange case of kidnapping in 1920's Los Angeles. Angelina Jolie plays a single mother who's beloved son is snatched from their home one day while Jolie is stuck working late. Almost immediately, the police bungle the case - they don't immediately look for the boy, citing a law that says that a child doesn't officially qualify as "missing" for 24 hours. Then, as the press begins to heavily cover the missing-child story, the police rush to find the kid in order to get a PR win. Unbelievably, however, the police find a child who somewhat matches the missing kid's description, but who, clearly, isn't actually Jolie's son. They present the kid to Jolie, who immediately asserts that he isn't her son. And yet, the police are so determined to get that moment of great PR, that they practically force her to take the kid home and act as if he is in fact hers. Quickly, things spiral further and further out of control. The corrupt police captain makes it his mission to cover up the whole debacle despite Jolie's public outcry. He goes so far as to have her committed to an asylum, claiming she's insane. And soon, there's a full-blown, X-Files-esque conspiracy at work, with everyone from the police to the doctors in on it. And meanwhile, there's this random kid under Jolie's custody, who all these people keep telling her is her son.
For this entire segment (which I guess covers at least the first half ...) of the movie, to me Changeling veered from head-slapping frustration to unintentional comedy. One of the biggest problems is the performance of Jeffrey Donovan, who plays the corrupt police captain who helps engineer the anti-Jolie conspiracy. It's a problematic character, because in many ways he is the villain of the movie, and yet we never really understand why he's doing such horrible things. The script paints him not necessarilly as evil, but as an ambitious opportunist. Yet Donovan (who I really thought was Guy Pierce for a while during the film ...), plays the part like a mustache-twirling comic-book villain.
I'm not sure how much of that can be attributed to the dense script of J. Michael Straczynski, who many know from his work in comic books and sci-fi. It's always cool to see a popular genre-fiction figure spread their wings, and generally, I'm a fan of JMS. His work on the comic Supreme Power, for example, was absolutely stellar, and his book Rising Stars has often been cited as essentially Heroes before Heroes became a hit TV show. But his script for Changeling is uneven - as mentioned, it has too many moments of comic book melodrama mixed in with Eastwood's more typically sober style. Since this is a real-world story with its feet firmly planted in actual history and events, I found it pretty frustrating whenever random characters - Donovan's along with several others - acted so sinister and conspiratorial without any real indication to us the audience as to their motivation. Meanwhile, Jolie's Christine Collins is at times a strong protagonist, but at times seems to just go along with all of the crap thrown her way. I mean, this kid who isn't hers is thrust into her home - you'd think that immediately she would ask him all kinds of questions to prove that he wasn't her son. But it takes her seeing him in the bathtub, and realizing that he's circumcised (which her son apparently wasn't) to have that "oh my god, this definitely isn't my son!" moment.
However, the movie REALLY picks up in its second half. Once the police conspiracy gets blown open, the movie goes from being an ineffective and somewhat hokey thriller into a very compelling courtroom drama. John Malkovich is good as always as a crusading radio host who fights for Jolie's cause. Malkovich is definitely on a role, although his work here isn't quite as dynamite as his memorable turn in Burn After Reading. Also notable though is Jason Butler Harner as the psychotic convict who was responsible for the kidnapping of Jolie's son along with dozens of other kids, many of whom he brutally murdered. Harner delivers a scary and riveting performance - at times maybe even too over the top, but ultimately his disturbing turn may be the movie's most memorable and lasting image. Also absolutely great is Geoffrey Pierson, as a lawyer who comes in to represent Jolie pro-bono when she goes to court to fight the LAPD's cover-up campaign. Pierson, once a president on 24, delivers in a few short minutes an absolutely amazing courtroom speech that sent chills up my spine. It was the kind of performance that almost reminded me of, say, William Hurt in A History of Violence, where a gravitas-infused actor just comes in for a few minutes and tears the house down.
Also notable is Amy Ryan (of late of The Office), who is superb in her role as a fellow unfairly-institutionalized mental patient to Jolie. Ryan delivers a knockout performance in a segment of the movie that is otherwise pretty hamfisted.
As you can see, so many of the ingredients are there for CHANGELING to be one of those really special, instant-Oscar-fodder movies. But despite a couple of amazing turns from a universally talented cast, the movie just never fully comes together to form a compelling whole. Too much of the setup feels contrived and heavy-handed, so that when the payoff comes, as well-done as it is, it's too little too late - we as an audience have already been taken out of the movie to some extent. I think this is a film worth checking out, but I am already thinking that this will be only the second best Eastwood film this year - all of the excitement and fire that this movie lacked seems to instead have been reserved for GRAN TURINO. I can only hope that that one shows that Eastwood can still provide the whole package and deliver one more effortless classic. This one tries hard to be that movie, but never quite works as it should.
My Grade: B
- Alright - I'll be back soon with more - including a special HALLOWEEN edition of the blog. Until then, go watch 30 ROCK tonight!
Monday, October 27, 2008
First off, this past weekend was essentially Week 2 of my trifecta of Halloween-themed October weekends. Last weekend, as has been documented here on the blog, saw yet another successful annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon go down at The House That Baram Built, as well as a trip to the El Capitan theater to take in The Nightmoare Before Christmas in spooktacular 3D. Now, this weekend cranked things up yet another notch, as it was once again time for our annual trek to KNOTT'S SCARY FARM. I'm not quite sure what it is about Knott's that I like so much, but I think it's just that it is unabashadly goofy. It has that old-timey amusement park feel, yet is packed to the brim with Halloween haunts, with mazes with names like 13 Axe Murder Mansion, Club Blood, and Killer Klown Kollege. If that doesn't push your "awesome" buttons, then my friend, we are not quite on the same wavelength.
Anyways, myself, the G-Man, Seth E, his gal-pal Sarah, and Meghan B. piled into Seth's car and drove down the 5 on our quest for Halloween thrills, down south towards TouristLand. What followed was a night of haunts new and old (classics like The Doll Factory and Killer Klown Kollege were joined by new attractions like The Slaughterhouse and The Labrynth - I did miss Lore of the Vampire, though!). We even took in an undead-themed stage show dubbed "Fangs," a musical revue featuring pop hits performed with a paranormal twist. And of course, just walking through the fog-engulfed theme park means running into all manner of axe-wielding killer klowns, grizzly ghouls, and inbred mutants with an axe to grind.
All in all, it was another successful trip to the Scary Farm.
Now, the countdown begins to the annual giant Halloween celebration, which has evolved from its humble beginnings as "Page-O-Ween" into Carlos M's own personal Pasadena party madhouse. I look forward to seeing faces old and new on Friday, and hope to get many horrific photo-ops.
- And by the way ... this week I can't stop listening to Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah over and over again. This hilarious gem of a fake pop song from 30 ROCK is seriously a legit contender for Funniest Thing Ever. I am seriously pumped for the Funniest Show on TV's sure-to-be-glorious return to TV this Thursday. There's been a marked lack of great TV comedy of late and new episodes of 30 Rock are just what the doctor ordered.
- But, as one quick addition / plug, why wait until Thursday to check out an all-new ep of 30 Rock? If you run RIGHT NOW over to your local grocery store or newsstand, pick up a copy of TV Guide - the one with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin on the cover. Included with each issue is a promotional code that's good for one FREE download of 30 Rock's season premiere, effective immediately - so no need to even wait for Thursday. Check it out - even if you're a lapsed TV Guide reader like me (never liked the change from the classic format ...), this is one issue that's a must-have.
- Now, I didn't see any new movies this past weekend although there are a couple that are definitely on my list. I still really want to see Sex Drive, as I'm always up for a good teen comedy and I've heard pretty positive things about that one. I kind of still want to see Body of Lies just because it's Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. And at some point soon, I definitely need to see Charlie Kaufman's latest journey into weirdness, Synecdoche, New York. I've seen VERY mixed reviews, but can't help but be extremely curious, as I'm a huge fan of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine. Not to mention that Phillip Seymour Hoffman has been on a total tear lately.
- After Friday though, my most-anticipated '08 movie may just be Clint Eastwood's GRAN TURINO. Yeah, the title makes it sound like a race-car movie or something, but the trailer shows that this might be one of the best movies of the year and potentially one of the most badass movies that Clint Eastwood's ever done. And that's saying something. Basically, it looks to be the story of Eastwood as a tough and mean old bastard who decides that, before he goes, he's going to kick ass one last time and use his power of badassity to clean up his crime-ridden neighborhood with nothing but a shotgun and a scowl. Suffice it to say - holy $#%&, this looks awesome. See for yourself: http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/grantorino/. This could definitely be a stealth conteder for an Oscar, no doubt. Meanwhile, the trailer put me on such an Eastwood kick that I finally got around to watching the second Dirty Harry movie, MAGNUM FORCE. While not quite as sharply made as the original Dirty Harry, the movie still kicks a fair amount of ass.
- Finally, I'm really looking forward to seeing ZACK & MIRI this weekend. I felt that Kevin Smith made an underrated and pretty hilarious movie in Clerks II, and am eagerly awaiting what could be his best comedy since Mallrats. Smith hasn't exactly been prolific these last several years, so there's always a high expectation that comes with each of his movies. Here's hoping this brings back those same feelings of genius lowbrow humor that first put Smith on the map with Clerks way back when.
- As far as TV stuff goes ... yikes, I am still playing catch-up on a number of my favorite series. I am still 100% enthusiastic ans supportive of both CHUCK and PUSHING DAISIES for example, but somehow I am now a couple of episodes behind on both series. As far as HEROES goes, I have only seen the first two eps of the season thus far, and have barely any motivation to keep up. To me that season premiere was really make or break, and I just couldn't believe how little had been fixed from the mostly-broken Season 2. I was surprised to see that Entertainment Weekly went so far this week as to slap Heroes on its cover with a negatively-slanted story on how to fix the ailing drama. But the fact is that I agreed with many of EW's suggestions. I've heard that things have picked up a bit the last few weeks, and I believe that tonight's ep marks the return of the one and only Kristen Bell ... so I may yet have to get myself back in the loop. But when each episode simply becomes an excercise in frustration, I have to wonder why I'm even making the effort to stay current with a show that I rarely actually enjoy.
- I felt similarly last year about SMALLVILLE, but so far this year has seen a number of episodes with surprisingly sharp writing and a bit of a darker edge. Still, after a promising start, Smallville now seems in danger of slipping back into its old ways. I thought last week's ep, for example, was a heavy-handed and sloppy story that wasted a lot of potential inherent in bringing in a badguy as huge and well-known as Doomsday. It's bad enough that the comic book monster's origin is now tied into Smallville-style teen drama and angst, but worse yet is the lengths that the show now has to go to to push Clark to the brink of superhero-dom only to pull back and keep him as regular old Clark Kent for yet another week. At this point, having Clark operate as a stealth, superpowered vigilante in bustling Metropolis is really pushing things to the brink of believability, and making it all the more frustrating that he isn't yet, you know, Superman. How much longer can they tease viewers without any payoff?
- Still, the primetime drama that has been getting better every week is Stephen King's favorite action-adventure hour, PRISON BREAK. For a couple of weeks running, Prison Break positively kicked ass, bringing the love-to-hate-her villainous Gretchen back into the fold, bringing revenge-bent Mahone ever closer to the edge, and creating a nice dynamic between Scofield and his new boss / ally, the smart-alecky Agent Self. I felt that last week's episode was a slight step down in that it saw the capture of The Company's hired hitman in a somwhat anticlimactic fashion. For weeks, we'd been anticipating a mano e mano confrontation between the Assassin and Mahone, and it wasa bit frustrating to see that angle dropped or delayed for the time being. Hopefully we stil lget the epic badass showdown we've been waiting for. But on the other hand, the Gretchen vs. Sarah grrlfight almost made up for things, with an ultra-intense showdown between the two enemies that saw Sarah go nuts on her former tormentor. In the end, the show has a lot of momentum at this point and has really picked up after a so-so season premiere. Despite a misstep here or there, Prison Break is back, and I can't wait for new episodes to resume. It's currently my #1 must-see show on TV.
- Overall, there's no doubt that THE OFFICE has been pretty great since it made its Fall return. Amy Ryan has been positively stellar on the show, and it will be a real shame when she makes her inevitable exit. Ryan and Steve Carell have been comedic gold together, the highpoint being the Ethics episode from last week which was pretty much a classic. This past Thursday's ep again had a little too much of the soapiness that sometimes weighs down the show. Especially seeing Dwight involved in more serious stuff, it felt like a little much. I dont mind Dwight being a well-rounded character, but let's face it - he is there for comic relief. I want a ton of clasic Dwight-isms in each episode, not Dwight moping around about losing the love of his life. Similarly, enough with all the Pam and Jim angst. Again, that stuff often feels too contrived when it is pushed into the spotlight rather than being kept more subtle and in the background. That being said, the last few eps have really been carried by the Michael-Holly interactions. The opening five - ten minutes of Thursday's ep, with Michael speculating on how his upcoming date with Holly would go, were downright hilarious.
- I know, I know, some people still see it as a guilty pleasure, but I still love GOSSIP GIRL. Each week without fail, the hilariously over-the-top Chuck Bass has at least a couple of gloriously smug lines that have me laughing nonstop.
- I actually did watch, after ultimately just wanting to get it off my DVR, the entire 2-hour pilot of CRUSOE. I give the show credit for being something different, but in the end it really fell flat. It seemed like, on one hand, it wanted to capture the over-the-top action 90's-era shows like Hercules and Xena, but on the other hand was trying to borrow some of the epic mystery and intricate flashback structure of Lost. What it missed was fun characters, compelling storyarcs, and edge-of-your-seat pacing. The 2 hours seemed to really drag, and there weren't enough characteres to care about or mysteries to get invested in to really keep one's attention. The show had some really stunning cinematography, and I enjoyed its wholly British cast, but roles for greats like Sean Bean and Sam Neil were woefully small. The lead actor came off essentially like a poor man's Sean Bean, and without any cool supporting players to really root for, the whole thing was just very vanilla and bland. It made me wish we could return to the days when a show like Hercules wholly embraced its silliness.
- Part of me was happy to see TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES get a full-season pickup from FOX. If nothing else, it's a fairly well done scripted action-adventure show, a rare commodity in this day and age. Still, it's a show that often feels like its merely spinning its wheels. For a show about killer robots from the future, it's remarkably slow-paced at times. Still, Brian Austin Green has been great on the show, and Shirley Manson has been a nice addition to the cast as well. I would just like to see business really pick up, with some truly epic action scenes and a bit more bite to the plotlines.
- Finally, there's the ever-present giant that has been SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE this season. As much attention as the show has gotten for its political sketches, I'd say that, overall, it's been another fairly uneven season for the comedy insititution. The cast is uniformly talented, but so far this year they've been upstaged and outshone by guest stars like Tina Fey and Will Ferell. The reality is that the showdesperately needs some new cast members who can do decent impersonations. Darell Hammond can only do so much, and Fred Armison's high-pitched Obama gets more painful to watch with each passing week. Meanwhile, on the rare occasions when a guy like Bill Hader gets a chance to showcase his unique abilities, you'll get a real bright spot or two. You've gotta love the randomness of this past episode's Vincent Price sketch, for example - it felt like the kind of absurdist humor that SNL was built on. Same goes for Andy Samberg's awesomely insane Mark Wahlberg sketch from the other week. Even so, in general - enough with sketches that are the __(Insert Random Celebrity Here)___ Show. It's been waaaaaaaay too long since the show delivered a string of sketches built on a simple yet funny comedic premise, that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Great sketches like that are hard to come by these days, as are truly funny recurring characters. Is there a single great one on SNL right now? Tim Calhoun and McGruber are enjoyable, but their comedy has already been run into the ground. Even the political sketches - there have been flashes of brilliance, particularly with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, but this week's Biden opener exposed the fact that, without any special guest stars to rely on, the writing needs to really be on point to make up for the fact that Jason Sudekis only does a so-so Joe Biden. Personally, I'm happy that SNL is in the spotlight, but I hope the show realizes that a lot of that is due to it simply becomign a part of the political-pop culture machine in an election cycle. It gives the show a nice, temporary boost when it's being watched and scrutinized by every 65 year old pundit out there, but SNL became SNL by being cool and rebellious and anti-establishment. In a few short weeks the presidential race will be done with and we'll see what this cast and writing staff are really made of.
- Alright, that's all I've got for now. Good to be back on the blog and stay tuned for more, coming soon.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Monstrous Movie Madness: Oliver Stone's W, Appaloosa, and Nick & Norah - Reviewed! Plus a Halloween HorrorThon Recap!
Anyways ... the main event kicked off at about 8 pm with the night's first movie, GREMLINS. I usually try to start things off with a lighter / funnier movie, bonus points if it's from the 80's. Gremlins fit the bill to a T. I remember Gremlins being all over the place when I was a kid - toys, movies, videogames, etc ... and I think at some point I must have seen the movie, maybe. But I had no real memory of the film, and figured the combination of comedy, horror, and 80's nostalgia was perfect for the annual Horror-thon. The movie proved to be vintage 80's weirdness - insane puppetry / fx, a weird mix of innocence and darkness that is the trademark of many an 80's fantasy film, and a lot of fun-to-make-fun-of 80's nostalgia bits, with a cast that includes luminaries of the decade such as Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, and yes, Cory Feldman.
Our second film was the legendary sci-fi / horror classic, ALIEN. While the at-times slow pacing necessitated that we down a few extra cups of Diet Coke in order to get through, the movie proved as visually stunning and as well-structured as ever - with a still-impressive cast and a dynamite turn from Sigourney Weaver as the original female badass, Ellen Ripley. I think I may need to follow this one up by revisiting the sequels. Aliens by James Cameron, anyone?
Finally, we closed things out with a movie that was probably the most traditionally Halloween-appropriate film of the bunch, which is odd as there's not much that's conventional about EVIL DEAD 2. I had never seen this one before, only the original ED as well as Army of Darkness. And man, did Evil Dead 2 deliver - taking the basic premise and style of Part 1 and adding in even more visual creativity, over the top, Looney Tunes-style comedy, and an even more iconic performance from the one and only Bruce Campbell. It's one of those one-of-a-kind turns that makes you sad all over again that The Chin never became a bonafide Hollywood action star. In any case, the movie was a great capper to the evening, and it's nonstop parade of gore, humor, and classic one-liners kept my very tired eyes wide open as the night wore on. Hail to the king, baby.
So thanks again to everyone who stopped by for the Marathon. It was once again a monstrous success!
- Of course, the annual Horror-thon was not my only Halloween-related activity this weekend. I also made a trip on Saturday to see THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS in 3-D at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, during the opening weekend of its limited theatrical engagement. As always, seeing the film at the El Capitan was just an overall great experience. The theater's gothic interior, its in-house organ player (who warms up the crowd with scary tunes from Phantom of the Opera), and the random in-costume characters walking around Hollywood Blvd all lend to the creepy atmosphere of the experience. Obviously, atmosphere is a Disney specialty, and they rarely disappoint at Halloween-time. The movie itself is, of course, a classic, and in 3-D one can really see all the painstaking detail that went into its stop-motion animation. Once again, no better way to announce "this is Halloween!" than with a showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas ...
- Finally, got a chance to see the new movie "W" on Sunday. Now, I've gotten waaaaaay behind with my movie reviews of late, so I'm going to try for 3 somwhat shorter reviews here that cover all my bases from the last few weeks. All I can say to preface my review of W is this ... if you live in LA and ever get stuck sitting in the front row of the Landmark theater ... my advice is to bail immediately! Normally, being in the front row of a theater is pretty inherently painful, but at the Landmark it's a complete joke, as the bottom of the giant screen is literally inches from your face. How they can sell these seats in good conscience is beyond me, but all I know is that, after a minute or so of eyeball-bleeding pain, I realized there was no possible way to sit through an entire movie from that unenviable vantage point. I call B.S.! Anyways, I saw W at a slightly later time, so don't worry, loyal readers - the review is below:
- W, despite its problems, is a fascinating film. Carried by an amazing performance from Josh Brolin as the title character, the movie is an almost surreal look at the inner psyche and unlikely rise to power of the man who was once the black sheep of the Bush clan. To cut to the heart of the issue ... Brolin is great and really 100% inhabits the Bush character - but, so much of the rest of the film feels only partly-realized and frequently rushed. On the other hand, there are moments that touch on brilliance, moments that are memorable and thought-provoking. Regardless, there's certainly plenty of fodder here for lively post-movie conversation.
But other than Brolin's award-worthy turn, some of the scenes and characters take on the feel of an SNL sketch sans the jokes. In particular, the actors playing Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice come off as merely caricatures, with so much visible emphasis placed on mimicking their subjects, that the characters rarely feel fully-developed. And that's from an acting standpoint. From a plot standpoint, some of the more intriguing characters don't feel fully fleshed-out, and it seems like there's an overreliance on the audience's built-in knowledge of the key players. I mean, Richard Drefuss is pretty remarkable in some ways as Dick Cheney. But so much of the effectiveness comes from our preexisting notions of the Vice President. In the context of the movie, we get only the briefest glimpses of who, exactly, this fascinating character really is. Same goes for Karl Rove. In many ways, the real-life Rove might be the most interesting figure of the entire Bush administration, but as a character in W, Rove remains a bit of a mystery. Why does he stick it out with the Bushes through good times and bad? Why does he hover towards George W and not to the more seasoned Jeb? Again, W gives us glimpses, but it works more as a sidebar commentary to the headlines of the last few years than as a standalone movie. It makes you wonder how watchable it will be ten or fifteen years down the line.
Surprisingly, W earns a lot of sympathy for George W. Bush, the man, as it details his desire to exceed his father's expectations and prove his critics within his family wrong. When the movie highlights the more absurd aspects of W's personality and his role as the unlikeliest of political power-players, it tends to work pretty well as straight-up satire. There's a delightful absurdity to scenes like one where the rough-n'-tumble W leads his pack of old-boy Washington cronies on a hike while discussing strategy in Iraq. You almost wonder if W could have been a truly brilliant movie if it stuck to that more absurdist tone and really tried to be an all-out satirical look at George Bush. But the movie instead veers back and forth between satire and more sober politics, and then circles back around and to family drama and the coming-of-age story at its heart. And in some ways, the whole thing does fit together to create an interesting jigsaw puzzle of a biography. We get an interesting sense of how Bush's early experiences in politics shaped his presidency, and of how some of that family drama may have played a part in crucial decisions such as the war in Iraq.
But ... at times it fits together a little too conveniently, and at times it feels like director Oliver Stone forces Bush to be too much of a conventional leading man, not going far enough in condemning his ignorance and misjudgements. What I mean is - I think that Bush's desire to finish his father's work with Saddam Hussein WAS a factor in the decision to invade Iraq without substantial proof of WMD's, etc. But, to paint this kind of family drama as the largest reason for the War, with Bush having a real belief that he was doing good, that he was doing God's work ... to me, is to give Bush a bit too much credit for having wholly noble and legitimate intentions. In the movie, Cheney and Rumsfeld are depicted as the masterminds with neocon visions of a new American empire, and Bush is shown as someone who shares none of their Machievellian beliefs, who just wants to beat the "bad guys." In the movie, it all feels a little convenient and more like Hollywood sentimentality than real life political reality.
But really, Bush is just kind of a strange movie. As I said, it's pretty all over the place tonally. And the cast is just a very odd parade of well-known actors, some really bringing their parts to life and others sticking out like a sore thumb. Elizabeth Banks is good in her part, but it felt like such a glamorized vision of Laura Bush that it just felt a bit awkward. James Cromwell was really good as Bush Sr. ... but, it felt like James Cromwell rather than George HW Bush, with him oddly playing the part quite similarly to how he played Jack Bauer's sternly powerful father on 24. Don't get me wrong, there are some great scenes between Cromwell and Brolin ... it's just that, overall, there is this strange inconsistency in the tone of the acting performances. As I said, some feel like pure mimicry, some feel like actors playing themselves to some extent, and really it's only Brolin who is the best of both worlds - convincingly adopting W's mannerisms while also creating his own fully-realized character.
In any case, for all its faults, as I mentioned, W is a totally fascinating movie, and it's a strange yet satisfying experience to see a completely dramatized version of events that have, in real-life, proliferated the news over the last several years. To see things that happened only a few years ago already portrayed as dramatically-interpreted history ... it's kind of a rush. And Oliver Stone pushes a lot of crowd-pleasing buttons, looking for answers, as many of us were, as to the truth behind so many of the people and events that have shaped our country's recent history. It's an important and relevant and timely movie that plays well in the current political climate. But this is a movie made with the speed and recklessness of a cable news cycle - so most likely, its shelf-life will not be a long one.
My Grade: B
- Here's a movie that I would definitely qualify as "underrated." Thus far, the mainstream reviews I've seen have ranged from mediocre to decent, but to me Appaloosa was one of the real pleasant surprises of the last few months at the movies. While I wouldn't quite put it in the same league as some of the modern classics of the Western genre (Unforgiven, last year's Assassination of Jesse James), I'd say that Appaloosa is a real pleasure to watch, a throwback to the more simple and straightforward Westerns of old. This means that the movie lacks some of the modern trimmings, but, it is in most ways solid as can be. If anything, it's a joy to watch a great bunch of actors - some of the best in the biz today - interact with the kind of assured confidence and ease that only a select few bring to the table.
I mean - with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensson as the two leads, you really can't go wrong. As two travelling peacekeepers who wander the Wild West looking for trouble to clean up, the two partners have a great chemistry that evokes some of the great heroic duos of cinema. Both men are quiet badass types, but while Ed Harris is the leader of the outfit, Viggo is his ever-loyal sidekick of sorts, his right-hand man. In any case, when the two are summoned to the town of Appaloosa, hired to rid the place of a local outlaw who's been terrorizing the townsfolk, the two are tested as they haven't been before.
Part of the the problem is the outlaw himself, played with a brilliantly evil gleam in his eye by Jeremy Irons. Irons plays a somewhat new breed of outlaw - an enterprising badguy who has a sort of political platform to go along with his mischief. Irons is great here, and stands toe to toe with the other great actors in the film, giving his character an almost Shakespearean spin.
The other obstacle for Harris and Viggo is, of course, a woman - a bit of a Femme Fatale-slash-Southern Belle, played by Renee Zelwegger with the usual squinty eyes and pursed lips. Zelwegger arrives in town and quickly settles in with Harris, but it soon becomes apparent that she's willing to switch bedroom partners depending on which man can work best to her advantage.
Zelwegger's character may be the weakest part of the movie, as she sometimes feels more like a walking plot device and less like a real, fully-developed character. And at times the movie as a whole has a kind of aimless feel to it, where the plot tends to lose momentum and sort of forget where it's going. Because this is a movie where, really, it's one of those films where the highlight is just getting a chance to visit with these characters. The twists and turns of the plot are almost secondary, and it's not a movie that will wow you with visually-exciting direction or innovative style. Aesthetically, as directed by its star Ed Harris, the movie is as straightforward as can be. Mostly, the camera kind of just lingers on Harris and Viggo, and on Jeremy Irons, and on other talented supporting actors like the great Lance Henrikson, and just soaks in their badassness. The dialogue is really the highlight here. While the plot can be a bit uneven, there's nothing complicated about the dialogue. Hearing our Western vigilantes exchange sharply-worded, gravitas-infused, hard-boiled back-and-forth is simply a pleasure. I mean, Newsweek columnist George Will recently got such a kick out of it that he quoted numerous portions of the script in a recent column on the relevance of the Western. For people who like that kind of stuff, for those who wonder what happened to the John Wayne's and the Clint Eastwood's of the world, men who spoke softly and carried a big stick, so to speak, Appaloosa often exudes an old-fashioned kind of alpha-male awesomeness.
So while Appaloosa won't be the next huge Oscar hopeful (though I'd argue that both Harris and Mortensson turn in award-worthy performances ...), and it won't shake the foundations of the Western through bold new innovation, it is simply a rock-solid movie with a kickass cast that, mostly, fires on all cylinders. A movie that's all the more cool simply because they don't really make 'em like this anymore.
My Grade: B+
NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST Review:
- In the wrong hands, Nick and Norah could have been utterly grating and 100% lame. But I give the movie credit - it's a smart, funny, and entertaining teen flick that does a great job of feeling current without being pandering. Trust me, I get it - the marketing of the flick instantly raised warning flags that it was a lame attempt at being Superbad-meets-Juno, yet another oh-so-precious emo comedy with too-cool-for-school teens acting out their angst with two dollar words and lots of precocious music playing in the background. Okay, sure, in some ways - that's just what Nick & Norah is, but that's really taking the glass-half-empty view. The non-cynical way of looking at it is that, wow, why didn't they have teen movies like this when I was in high school? It would have been pretty cool, in retrospect, to see Michael Cera and Kat Dennings on the big screen back in the day as shining examples of some new geek-is-cool paradigm. Instead, all I got were the blockheaded fratboys of American Pie. The implicit message seemed to be that if even Chris Klein couldn't get some action, then what chance did *you* the lowly fanboy have? Now, geeky teens everywhere are taught that even Michael Cera can be a superpimp in his own right. How plausible that is I don't know, but it's a great concept even if it's only fantasy fulfillment.
But for all the small feelings of "wow, they're really trying too hard," I have to admit that Nick & Norah has a certain feeling of authenticity. It doesn't feel like a throwback to John Hughes stereotypes, and it doesn't feel cut from the same cloth as so many Judd Apatow movies either. It really does kind of capture the feeling of wandering around the city at night, not quite sure where the evening will take you.
Michael Cera gets criticized for offering up similar performances in his various roles, but I say why stray from a good thing, when he's the master of awkward and deadpan teen comedy. Cera has the gift for awkward exhanges and mock-serious straight-man antics, and he of course has that slight sense of self-aware pseudo-hipster cool that makes him perfect for these kinds of roles. And then there's Kat Dennings, who is to quirky-cool indie-rock chicks as Cena is to the male equivalent. Dennings is really great in the movie - likable, funny, and again, authentic-seeming. I don't know how much of that is just because to some extent she's simply playing herself, but in this case it fits. As with Cera, there's that nagging feeling of "oh she's trying too hard," but look at Kat Dennings here as compared to so many lame teen movie bimbos from years past. Dennings' character is smart, multidimensional, cool but not stuck up, and hey, even Jewish and proud of it! Again, guys everywhere probably sigh and think "does a girl like this actually exist?". But give the movie credit for daring to be a bit different with its male and female leads.
And really, a lot of the movie coasts on the chemistry between them. When the movie is just coasting along and letting its characters riff - that's when it's at its strongest. Where it falters is when it tries to get gross-out laughs and be more like a typical teen comedy. To me, most of the best and funniest moments were the subtler ones. The more over-the-top humor often seemed out of place or just not all that sharp.
Really though, this is a cool little movie with two talented leads, and a unique style that elevates it way past the usual brainless and soulless teen movie fare. Not a landmark movie, but a pretty zeitgeisty one, that balances an air of corporate-derived cool with a genuine sense of rock n' roll independence - that makes you want to go out cruisin' in the big city until 6 am. Yeah, the title is cheesy as hell (what exactly is an infinite playlist?!), but the movie itself is a lot of fun, and likely destined to be a teenage fave.
My Grade: B+
- Alright - whew! Three movie reviews and change. I'll be back soon with some TV thoughts, including SNL, Prison Break, and more.
Until then, I dedicate this blog to Rudy Ray Moore, aka The Dolemite, who passed away today. Talk about one bad mutha', the world of pimp-fu has lost a founding father.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
But hey, after several days of quality family fun time, holiday celebrations, and lots of food (occasionally interrupted by ritualistic fasting) in CT, it's back to business here in LA. You know, all that Phase 2 stuff I've previously been ranting about. Plus, it's almost Halloween-time, and that means: this weekend - the annual Horror Movie Marathon. Next weekend: Knott's Scary Farm. Two weekends from now: Page-O-Ween. Talk about a triple-threat.
Okay, I will give some quick thoughts on tonight's Presidential debate ... in my:
POLITICAL RANT OF DOOM:
- Personally, I was surprised that any of the political commentators even thought that McCain had any sort of strong showing at all. To me, tonight's debate was the proverbial knockout for Obama.
Maybe I'm imagining things ... but McCain seemed to come unglued tonight. I know the word "erratic" has been very overused of late, but it's the word that comes to mind in thinking of McCain's performance. I think he got off exactly one good line - the "I'm not George Bush" quip. But, and this is an important "but," - Obama's quick response to that potential zinger was pointed and cutting. Because the fact is that McCain has rarely explained to what extent his CURRENT policies are different from those of W's. Yes, in the past, he has challenged his own party. But, here and now, how exactly is his tax policy different from that of the last four years? How is his health care plan anything other than an incremental improvement? I thought Obama absolutely killed McCain when it came to health care. I mean - who honestly is not in favor of the concept of universal health coverage? If it has no effect on people who already have health insurance provided by their employer, how can you argue with the concept of providing coverage for someone who's been layed off, or for a recent college grad yet to find a job in this tough market? McCain's entire economic policy is just tired and outdated, a relic of Reaganomics that has no place in a country going through an economic crisis. McCain was actually trying to blast Obama for wanting to spread the wealth! Wow, what a crazy idea! To most middle class voters, getting a tax break at the expense of the wealthiest Americans doesn't sound like too bad of an idea. It just goes to show how out of touch McCain is - he's preaching IDEOLOGY at the very time that Americans have suffered through eight years of ideologically-driven government, which has produced failure after failure. Tonight, McCain only gave credence to the claim that his policies represent more of the same.
The other big area where McCain has only hurt himself is with the whole strategy to go negative with his campaign. To me, the line of the night may have been when Obama cooly proclaimed that the McCain strategy of focusing on flimsy character attacks says more about McCain's campaign than it does about Obama. 100% true. And McCain really got suckered on that one, because Obama knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that the in a few quick minutes he could lay to rest the William Ayers issues, so he practically invited McCain to put it on the table. Now I think it's safe to say that it's a dead issue, so ... there goes the last three weeks of McCain's campaign strategy. The crazy thing is that some pundits think that McCain's attacks tonight may give his polling numbers a boost. Are you kidding me? As I just said, Obama calmly closed the book on McCain's #1 attack issue tonight, and put the focus on the economy and health care, issues that McCain's own advisors have said they need to take the focus off of if they hope to win this election. Furthermore, McCain's attempt to turn the issue of negative campaigning around towards Obama came off as pretty pathetic. I mean, McCain expects us to feel sorry for HIM on this? Obama has leveled McCain with some tough attacks, but nothing on the level of "palling around with terrorists." Obama has presided over some spirited rallies, but has not had incidents equivalent to the people shouting "kill him" and such at McCain and Palin's increasingly mob-mentality events.
Speaking of Palin ... to me it speaks to Obama's contasting campaign style that tonight, when he could have easily railed on Palin for any number of things, from Troopergate to her rallies to her Katie Couric interview - he didn't. He did nothing but compliment her. Sure, he's well-aware that Palin is an easy target. But he didn't take a single shot at her when asked about her qualifications. I know there's some level of political maneuvering behind that decision, but on some level I give Obama a ton of credit for taking the high road, when it would have been incredibly easy not to. I don't think McCain would have done the same had he been in Obama's shoes.
But even moreso than any one issue, from an objective standpoint I really don't see where McCain gained any ground at all tonight. He had one decent soundbyte that was handily countered by Obama in a matter of seconds. Most of the time, between his broken speech, flustered look, frustrated tone, and odd facial expressions, McCain to me came off absolutely terribly tonight - truly looking like a man coming unhinged. On any given policy point, I failed to see where McCain "won" the argument at hand.
And look, I'm not just saying that as an Obama supporter. There were certainly a few Hillary-Obama debates where I was more in favor of Obama's policies but felt that Hillary proved the more effective debater. But tonight especially, McCain plain and simply got owned. The poll numbers reflect it. And the biggest takeaway on the McCain side of things was the constant and goofy references to America's new favorite blue collar hero, Joe the Plumber. Yep, to McCain's credit, he just gave SNL, Stewart, and Colbert about a year's worth of material to mine.
I never had a chance to comment on the previous debate, and last week I felt that at least McCain made a few cogent and coherant points regarding policy. I wasn't a fan of Tom Brokaw's disciplinarian moderating style (and as a sidenote, I think I've really soured on Brokaw over the last couple of weeks - I've always been a huge fan of his broadcasting but have found him extremely dry and out-of-touch-seeming in his role as a commentator, and felt he performed porrly as a debate moderator, failing to choose compelling qustions and to encourage free-flowing dialogue ...). But, Jim Schaefer did a much better job tonight, with some good and insightful questions and a well-moderated debate.
But in the end, I think the commentators are missing the point when they don't give Obama credit for hitting a knock-out, simply because his demeanor was cool and collected. The fact is, Obama seems to have confounded McCain , and ultimately, Obama's articulate delivery and consistency in tone allowed Obama to stick to his points even as McCain began to self-destruct. The next few weeks are going to be interesting, and after Al Gore and John Kerry, I'll be eternally skeptical about Obama's perceived lead until he's declared the winner on election day. But, part of me says that this is pretty much it for McCain. The TV pundits can try to be as artificially even-handed as they want, and act surprised when the polls show Obama won the debate. But people aren't stupid - there was a clear winner here and a clear contrast between the candidates. So congrats, Obama, you're on your way to the top of the mountain.
- I have to say, I thought last Thursday's episode of THE OFFICE was pretty amazing and hilarious. Unlike the much more drawn-out, hour-long season premiere, this past week's ep was tightly-packed with laughs and was a great example of a classic Office installment. I loved the ethics training seminar and thought it did a nice job of organically weaving the Michael - Holly relationship into the episodic plotline. But mostly, it was just really funny. I think Andy had the line of the night, when he presented the office with the moral question of would any of them steal bread to feed their families. Ed Helms' pompous delivery was just flat-out awesome. Rainn Wilson was great as always, and Dwight's back and forth shenanigans with Jim reminded me of some of the classic Tim / Gareth moments from the UK version. Overall, a great episode.
My Grade: A-
- Anyways, I still have two movies I need to review, but sleep calls. Check back tomorrow for much more!
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Everybody Knows, The Bird's The Word: a FINGER OF SHAME to McCain and Palin, Plus PRISON BREAK and FAMILY GUY
So, I'm off to east-coast suburbia for a week of long flights, Jewish holidays, family, and hopefully a little fun as well. Wish me luck.
POLITICAL RANT OF DOOOOOOOOM:
- You know what? Up until now I've been annoyed with, disturbed by, and frustated with the McCain-Palin ticket. But as of this weekend, I am downright pissed off. McCain has done just about the worst thing that a politicain can do - and that's show himself to be a complete and total hypocrite willing to stoop to any low in his pursuit of the Presidency.
McCain and Sarah Palin should be ashamed. Talking about Obama as palling around with terrorists ... totally and utterly disgraceful for them to stoop to that level of discourse. Palin, in her remarks, blatantly played off of people's latent rascism and fear of "the other" by going all out in trying to paint Obama as someone different from us, someone not to be trusted, someone who was hiding his true self from the public.
Are you kidding me, Palin? Obama has been 100% forthright in talking about his flimsy connection to William Ayers. Meanwhile, what has Palin done but provide non-answers when it comes to HER life? Isn't SHE the one who is currently under investigation as we speak for potential misconduct as governor of Alaska? Isn't she the one who's husband belonged to a backwoods political party that actually wanted Alaska to suceed from the Union? Isn't SHE the one whose own pastor is known for going on modern-day *witch-hunts* ?
Now, what McCain and Palin have done crossed the line from "Swift-boating" tactics into the realm of the truly dark and scary. At more than one McCain / Palin rally in the last few days, crowds of supporters have been whipped into hate-filled frenzies, screaming out "terrorist!" at the mention of Obama's name and some going so far as to yell "kill him!"
McCain, Palin - are you proud of the fact that you have played off of the latent rascism and hatred and fear that some possess in order to get a few extra votes? Are you proud of the fact that some people actually believe that Barack Obama - by all accounts a good and decent human being - is a terrorist? Are you proud of the fact that speakers at your rallys are *still* using Obama's middle name as some kind of fear-mongering device?
And Palin, we know in a short time that she's ignorant, that she's a political opportunist, that she brings nothing substantive to the table - and so it's no big surprise that she is resorting to these types of hateful tactics.
But McCain - what a disgusting hypocite. The same guy who calls himself a maverick based on his calls for campaign finance reform - now taking the Karl Rove-style politics that he once railed against to new lows. The same guy who always talks about being willing to lose an election if it means better serving his country ... Well, now it's clearer than ever that all the posturing about suspending the campaign was simply political maneuvering. If McCain had half the dignity he claims to, he'd rather lose an election than try to win by smearing his opponent with obvious propoganda. The fact is, McCain himself, IN HIS OWN BOOKS, has talked about lying in order to win elections, and it's now apparent that McCain has yet to learn from his past sins. He's using the same politics of fear that George W. Bush used, that Dick Cheney used, that Karl Rove used. And yet, even in their lowest moments, I don't recall any of the above equating their political opponents with terrorists.
It's really and truly sad ... because I think that ultimately these smear-tactics will backfire on McCain and Palin and only help to increase Obama's lead in the polls. But here's the thing - there will now be a handful of angry people out there who will be filled with hate and fear when Obama is elected, convinced by McCain and Palin that our president is some kind of evil terrorist villain. Again, just sad, that that kind of hate can thrive in a country like America.
So there you go, McCain, there you go, Palin. There's your lasting political legacy - driving a new wedge between red state and blue, fanning the fires of hatred and bigotry, and being responsible for some backwater idiots who, thanks to your ill-conceived propoganda, are now convinced that a good man in Barack Obama is a terrorist. Mission accomplished.
- Okay, let me talk for a minute about PRISON BREAK. For two weeks now, Prison Break has oficially been back, kicking ass and taking names like nobody's business. Things have really picked up on the show, with the plotlines really starting to gel and the characters really beginning to shine. William Fichter as Mahone is really stealing the show, giving new meaning to the term badass. Michael Rappaport is really coming into his own as Agent Self - it's almost enough to atone for the evil that was The War At Home. Seriously, it's always great to see a cool actor like Rappaport actually get some good material to work with. Meanwhile, the return of Gretchen to the fray has been a welcome addition to the mix - she is positively EVIL and one of the absolute best villains on TV. In tonight's episode for example, her opening scene with T-Bag ... well, wow, talk about an unholy alliance. I have to agree with the great Stephen King's latest column in Entertainment Weekly. While I don't always agree with the Pop of King, the master of horror is a man who knows a thing ot two about well-written villains and who has written a classic ex-con or two in his day. When King calls Prison Break the most entertaining show on TV, I'm inclined to agree. Especially after the last two weeks' worth of action-packed episodes, in which business has really picked up. Check out King's PB praise:
My Grade (last week and this week's ep): A
- I also have to mention last night's FAMILY GUY. I've been down on FG for a while now, with only a few bright spots here and there over the last couple of seasons. And last night's ep, as a whole, was a bit of a mixed bag too. But, here's the thing: the first 10 minutes or so of the episode, well, they were ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS. The Bird is the word! Too bad that, after 10 glorious minutes of awesome randomness, the episode became a somewhat bland story about Jesus Christ resurfacing on earth and bcoming a sort of stock Hollywood celebrity. But man, that opening ... if only they had just kept it going for the whole ep.
First 10 Minutes: A
Rest of the Episode: B -
- Alright ... I'm out for now ... my next blog post will be from the CT!
Friday, October 03, 2008
Well, that was Sarah Palin in last night's debate. It kills me, because the expectations for her performance were apparently so low that all she had to do to get positive reviews from Republican supporters was not fall on her face and not speak in tongues. Within the first few minutes of the debate, a few things were clear - that Sarah Palin clearly does have a certain presence and a certain likability factor and a certain "folksy" sort of stage presence, but also that, that being said, she is still not an intellectual, not a big thinker, and not someone who can argue a point very well without the aid of scripted catch-phrases or elusive non-answers.
So once it was established that Sarah Palin could in fact, like any other politician, stand on a stage and have some semblance of a back and forth debate, then it became time to actually look at the issues, look at who made the better points, look at who more persuasively argued their case to the American people.
And the pundits are *surprised* that the polls overwhelmingly stated that Americans thought that Joe Biden won? I mean, come on - most people are not going to declare a victory for Palin simply because she gave a few well-timed winks and used phrases like "doggone it." If I was voting for which candidate talked more like Foghorn Leghorn meets Frances McDormand's character from Fargo, I'd vote Palin. But as Biden reminded us, well, there are actual issues at stake here.
Now, I'm not saying this was the best debate ever from Biden either. Especially in the beginning, the whole thing was just hard to watch at times. It was like one of those really sloppy basketball games where a good team plays a really bad one, and the good team gets dragged down to the bad team's level. I mean, it's got to be frustrating - how do you debate someone who isn't responding to questions and who doesn't directly address any of the issues on the table? And even tougher, how do you do so without tearing into them and in turn potentially coming off as a bully? Because of this, Biden was certainly off of his game a bit for at least part of the debate, and you could almost see him mentally conjuring up John McCain as if to have some kind of fantasy debating partner rather than his actual opponent - a woman who talks in sentances that make no discernable sense.
Case in point - when the talk turned to Iran, and by extension Israel, and Joe Biden talked about being a friend to Israel throughout his years in the Senate, and then went on the criticize the Bush administration's handling of the Middle East peace process. Rather than addressing Biden, or anything of any substance for that matter, Palin simply said something like "well, I'm glad we both agree that we love Israel." Okay ... how is one supposed to argue with that?
So yeah, there were many moments where Biden could probably have laid into Palin harder and really attacked her and put her on the spot. The only problem is there's always the chance that that would backfire, and the perception would, again, be that of Biden as bully. So while he had to play it a bit more subdued and let Palin do a lot of the talking, the strategy was probably ultimately the most sound. And at times, Biden did get fired up, and was quite effective in connecting McCain to Bush and in shooting down McCain's much-trumped-up rep as a maverick. Not Palin's, of course - but McCain's - a much easier and les risky target, even if there is so much with with to go at Palin with that it's almsot hard to know where to begin.
Personally, I thought the debate was not moderated very well, and Gwen Iffel's shoddy job contributed to the somewhat trainwreck feel of the event. Iffel was extremely inconsistent in terms of when she allowed the candidates to respond or rebut and when she just cut them off and moved on the next question. I was also surprised that the caliber of the questions didn't seem that great - there was nothing truly hard-hitting, and it was annoying to see her revisit some well-worn issues yet again. I mean - come on, another question about what agenda items would have to be cut back due to the economic bail-out? As if either candidate is going to give a hard answer on that one at this juncture? Simply a poor choice of question by the moderator.
Overall though, Biden really picked up steam in the latter half of the debate, and railed against McCain very effectively, making a direct link to Bush and clearly stating why McCain's foreign policy and other views were misguided. Palin, meanwhile, continues to be cringe-inducingly inarticulate. Her answer about the causes of climate change, for example, were completely incoherant. She doesn't know or care about the cause of global warming? Awesome - that's the kind of mind we need in the White House. Her answers on the economy made little sense and basically just reaffirmed that we are in a tough time. But where was the solution? I don't think Palin gave one concrete example of how a McCain-Palin administration would actually reform anything or work to solve any of the major crises we're currently facing. And oh yeah, out of nowhere she stammered something about increased powers for the office of the Vice President. Talk about the icing on the cake - so *she* of all people wants to be even *more* powerful than Dick Cheney!?!? Now THAT's a scary thought.
So yes, overall, the debate was not a great one. But at the least, Biden made several important points, none of which were in any way challenged in any substantive way by Palin. And, um ... isn't that how one *wins* a debate?
Thursday, October 02, 2008
For example, I walked into the Rosh Hashana services put on by Aish on Tuesday and expected to see a room full of people around my own age. Instead, I wondered if I was in the right place, because while there were some people my own age, the majority of the attendees were in their 30's, 40's, 50's, or older. Umm ... what? Not to be age-ist, but I don't quite get who exactly these people are. It's funny too, because last year I attended J-Connect's service and had almost the exact same experience. Who are these random old men that go to these services, and why don't these groups live up to their advertising and focus on limiting things to younger Jews?
The other big problem is that these groups tend to be fairly religious, yet they don't exactly emphasize this fact in their promotional materials. At Aish's services this year, just as with J-Connect's, men and women were seperated by a divider while praying, and the services were an odd mix of quasi-orthodox and experimental. Both groups offer long "break-out" sessions where attendees can opt out of praying for an hour or so at a time and attend a makeshift class that deals with some aspect of the holiday, meaning that if you wanted you could go practically the entire service without actually praying. Again, I don't quite get to what religious denomination this is trying to appeal to ... it definitely does not quite sync up with my expectations as a conservative east-coast Jew. Therefore, you get the same problem with each successive event - these groups cater to a rather small and insular group, and tend not to attract mainstream Jews who are LA transplants and looking to get involved. When they do attract new faces, most of us are put off by the level of orthodoxy and clique-y crowd. It's counterproductive, because the more religious Jews tend to have family and roots in LA and don't have the same need for a new Jewish center that us more mainstream transplants do.
Personally, I still don't understand why there isn't an organization for twenty (and early thirty)-something, mainstream Jews that combines the functionality and fun programming of a typical Hillel with some of the more basic services of a traditional synagogue. It could be an official part of the Conservative movement or just an unofficial organization - but there is that large gap that needs filling. Because again, it's sad to say, but with the high ticket prices of high holiday services at most synagogues and the lack of programs or organizations aimed at middle-of-the-road young-adult Jews, it's easy to see why the Jewish religion tends to alienate people in the time between college graduation and when they eventually start a family (a time that applies to the majority of young adults - this is 2008 not 1948!). If only I had more time, maybe I'd take matters into my own hands ... but for now I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that organized Judaism doesn't particularly care about my participation until I am able to pony up $200 for a high holiday ticket.
POLITICAL PREVIEW - Joe Biden vs. Sarah Palen - Arrre Yoooouuu Reaaadddyy tooo Rrrumbbblllle?!?
- With every interview (all three of them), Sarah Palin looks more and more incompetant to the point where she makes one George W. Bush look like a Rhodes Scholar. It's unbelievable, but on the bright side I give the American people credit - we as a country have, with the exception of Elizabeth Hassleback, seen through the hype and claims of shaking up Washington, and have spoken out and rejected Sarah Palin. McCain's numbers are down, and I have to think a large reason is that people look at this first major presidential decision - selecting Palin as his running-mate - and realize that McCain's talk about putting his country first is in fact total B.S. If McCain put his country first when selecting a VP candidate, he would have selected the best and most qualified available person - no questions asked. Now, let's see, why did McCain select Palin, of all people. Image over qualifications, style over substance, potential for high reward and yet the plausibility of higher risk.
I mean, this goes without saying, but Palin's interview with Katie Couric only got increasingly absured and cringe-worthy as it went on. I've already blogged about this, but wow, as bad as Palin's rambling non-answers about foreign policy were, what followed was even more disturbing:
- Palin couldn't name a single publication that she reads to keep up on world events.
- Palin couldn't name a single Supreme Court decision that she disagrees with other than Roe v Wade, most likely because she could not name a single Supreme Court decision other than Roe v Wade.
Are you kidding me? I've heard some commentators try to spin this that she was deliberately playing coy in order to not appease the "liberal media" or whatever. Well folks, sometimes the correct answer is the most obvious, that being: Sarah Palin is a frakking moron.
Now, Joe Biden is going to have to be careful, of course. There's YouTube footage of Palin in an Alaskan debate where her opponent got so fed up with her non-answers that he began acting very condescending - understandable, but it came off terribly and swung the crowd to Palin's favor. Biden needs to let Palin be her own undoing - lay off of her and more than likely, she'll do herself in. Now, it's going to be hard for Biden to resist one of his usual off-the-cuff jabs, and it's also going to be hard for him to resist taking off the kid gloves and laying into Palin, Conan the Barbarian-style. Unfortunately, doing so would elicit the "lamentations of de women" indeed, so it's best that Biden simply sit back and let the self-destruction of Sarah Palin unfold without his additional prodding.
But let's be realistic here ... if Palin tries to go off about her foreign policy experience, or about her economic competency ... she will be dangling a carrot in front of Biden and most likely, he'll jump at the chance to tear her down.
Yep, this is going to be good.
- Stay tuned: coming soon - a GIANT-SIZED Fall TV round-up with my thoughts on the return of last year's best new shows (CHUCK and PUSHING DAISIES), the return of PRISON BREAK to its former ass-kicking glory, and much more!