Thursday, February 26, 2009

Boston vs. LA, and LOST Thoughts!

Two Wednesdays, two Clippers games where I was at the Staples Center live and in person. Just lucky timing, I guess, and the fact that I was presented with a couple of offers for tickets that I could not refuse. Last week, I had courtside seats to witness the Clips get slaughtered at the hands of Shaq and the Suns. This week though, I got to see the Boston Celtics take on the Clippers, for relatively cheap, thanks to a great deal through Boston University. The atmosphere at Staples was great - the stands were positively filled with Celtics fans, as various promotional deals like the one offered by BU saw LA's large population of Beantown transplants pack into the stadium to play the part of the heel and cheer on the usually-hated Celtics. Sure, the pro-Celtics chants were often drowned out by angry retalliations of "Boston Sucks!" from LA natives, but the back-and-forth made for one of the most lively crowds I've seen in a while. The game itself was suprisingly close and down-to-the-wire.

The Celts were sans Kevin Garnett, and were playing very helter-skelter and without any real offensive focal point. Neither Ray Allen or Paul Pierce truly stepped up, and Rondo seemed to buckle a bit under the pressure. Meanwhile, the Clippers played some of the best basketball I've seen from them in a long time. Marcus Camby and Zack Randolph played particularly well, and overall they came out with a lot of fire and will to win. They didn't play great by any means, but they played well enough to scrape out a win over a depleted Celtics squad. That said, Boston could totally have won that game if they hadn't botched the final play. With the crowd on its feet expecting an epic final shot, the Celtics just lost the ball out of bounds as the clock expired, in what was a very anticlimactic finish to an otherwise exciting game.

The result was that my friends and I had to exit Staples to a chorus of hearty "Boston sucks!" chants and a lot of Clippers fans sporting $#%^-eating grins. Still, it was pretty darn cool sitting amongst fellow Boston-ites in a sea of green T-shirts. Tons of BU'ers were in the house, and it was almostl ike being back in Beantown for a night. Plus, I ran into a couple of Birthright Israel friends as well - putting one last exclamation point on a pretty crazy night in downtown LA.

Upon getting home, I was pretty exhausted from a looong and taxing day, but there was still something to be done before I could drift off to sleep. So without further ado ...


- Wow, okay, now that's what I'm talking about. After a couple of weeks of plot-heavy but often frustrating episodes, LOST hit back this week in a big way. This was really the first ep in a while that to me just kicked ass and fired on all cylinders. Because not only did we get some jaw-dropping forward momentum in terms of new plot revelations, but we got some vintage character drama courtesy of Locke and the man who portrays him, the great Terry O'Quinn. It's been a while since O'Quinn really has had the spotlight and has had the opportunity to once again blow us all away. He's done it before - "Walkabout" was the episode of Lost that cemented me as a fan for life - any show that could so quickly produce so classic of an episode was alright in my book. But here, as the story of Locke's return from the island is finally told, O'Quinn just totally shines, producing a complex, emphathetic turn as one of TV's absolute most compelling characters. And O'Quinn had a couple of great foils, one in particluar in Michael Emerson as Ben Linus. The confrontation between Ben and a suicidal Locke was absolutely riveting - I'm not sure why exactly Ben disposed of Locked in the manner he did, but what I do know is that I was hanging on every word, and the intensity of Ben's murderous actions made for some truly edge-of-your-seat TV. Did the mention of Eloise trigger the act? Or was it something else? Regardless, this episode never became frustrating, because all of the plot developments came about organically from the action. This was great writing - it never felt wooden like last week's ep did in parts. Once again, there was that great feeling of the puzzle pieces fitting together. We got some long-awaited returns, for one thing. WALT was back after an extended absence, and I anticipate that his story still has a lot of traction before all is said and done. I also loved the return of Abadon and thought his ultimate fate was fitting. Abadon's return was a perfect example of complex continuity done RIGHT. The enigmatic character returned, we learned more about him, past appearances were acknowledged and wovern into the fabric of the story, and the character's final fate felt appropriate and dramatic. Then there was the whole angle of Whidmore trying to convince Locke to join up with his cause. Pretty interesting, and that line about a war coming? Epic stuff, that. You've also gotta be intrigued by the new cast of castaways who a seemingly resurrected Locke is now palling around with in the present, on the island. How do they fit in, and how significant of a role will these new characters play? And, finally, you've got to respect a good old fashioned cliffhanger ending delivered with just the right amount of dramatic oomph. What I'm getting at is that, hey, that ending was badass. "Who is he?" "He's the man who killed me." Daaaaaaaaaamn. Next week, please. LOST is back, baby.

My Grade: A

- Sah-weet, almost the weekend. That was fast.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dammit! 24 Thoughts and OSCAR Aftermath ...

- So I think I did pretty well with my Oscar picks, right? Okay, so like most people I got tripped up by some of the smaller categories like Foreign Language Film (Waltz With Bashir was robbed!) and Live Action Short (how could a short titled "The Final Inch" lose out ...?), but, I predicted a lot of the major categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Okay, those weren't exactly giant question marks, but still. As for Best Actor ... as I alluded to in my last post, I did kind of have a feeling that Sean Penn would win for Milk. But I was really pulling for Mickey Rourke and The Wrestler, so part of me had to believe that one of the year's best movies would not get shut out entirely. Again, I did think Penn was great in Milk, but I just don't know if it was quite as powerful a performance as Rourke's. Now, I didn't see The Reader, but I'll have to check it out eventually to evaluate Kate Winslet's performance. Personally, I was just put off by everything that I read about the cutthroat campaigning that went into Winslet's Oscar push, and I guess I assumed that voters would be put off by it to some extent as well. Guess not - but congrats to Winslet on a win that was probably a long-time-coming. I was pretty surprised that Milk won for best original screenplay as well, it didn't strike me really as a writer's movie. But mostly, I was happy to see Slumdog recognized in several key categories, as to me it would have been both an upset and a disappointment if any other film had won for Best Picture or Director or Adapted Screenplay.

As for the show itself ... eh, whatever. The Oscars to me have always been overly long and boring, and I can't stand the scrutiny of what everyone's wearing and all of the other red-carpet celeb-worship. That's not to say I didn't have a lot of fun watching the Oscars with f riends and seeing if my picks were correct or not ... but other than a few funny bits with James Franco and Seth Rogen, and Ben Stiller ragging on Joaquin Pheonix, the Oscars still were not necessarilly great TV despite a change in format. I mean, how many song and dance numbers do you need? I did like the past winners coming out to present this year's nominees, but it still felt too long. I loved the idea of showing trailers for upcoming 2009 movies, it's too bad those were relegated to being shown over the ending credits.

Personally, my movie radar is now firmly affixed on WATCHMEN. The early reviews have so far have been good to great, and I am dying to see how Zack Snyder and co tackled the source material. Rest assured, I will be back here soon to talk a lot more about the hype for Watchmen. All I'll say for now is, as relates to the Oscars ... if Watchmen indeed turns out to be an excellent adaptation of one of Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels ... shouldn't that qualify it for some love come next year's Academy Awards? Man, I'm still bitter about nobody but me thinking that Hugo Weaving should have gotten an Oscar nom for V for Vendetta.

But yeah, as for this year's Oscars ... glad that Slumdog was a big winner, very nice to see Heath Ledger get his well-deserved kudos, and cool that Penelope Cruz won for a great turn in Vicky Cristina ... other than that, nothing that really got me too excited, and no huge, jaw-dropping surprises.

- But yeaaah, speaking of excitement and jaw-dropping surprises, it's time to talk ...


- Well, that's three certifiably kickass episodes of 24 in a row, meaning it's official: 24 is on fire. Boomshakalaka, baby. Last night's 24 was one of the show's classic "one threat ends, another surfaces" installments, which are usually fun since we get the rare satisfaction of seeing Jack actually avert a major threat and see the badguys get their due. Last night, it was the endgame (at least for now) for our old friend Dobaku, who goes out in something of a blaze of tragic glory. But let me just go through some highlights of why this episode kicked some ass:

- DOBAKU IS DOWN ... but the CANDYMAN (Tony Todd) is in the house as our next uber-villain. Sweeet.

- Meanwhile, KURTWOOD SMITH, one of the all-time badass actors, returned, and we can all hope that it's only a matter of time before he and Jack are standin' back to back sporting twin rifles and trading quips.

- Great car chase at the beginning of the episode ...

- Similarly, very nice progression of the whole Mole-In-the-FBI storyline. Sean's desperate schemes to protect his cover were a lot of fun to play out, and his attempt to escape the FBI offices once discovered were suitably intense.

- How is Bill Buchanan basically running the government within a matter of hours? Is he just that damn good?

- Also, why would Jack give Dobaku's data chip to some random dude in a helicopter after all that talk about the FBI being corrupted? I guess it was necessary to progress the story at the needed pace, but still ...

- Did Freckles' #%&$-slap of doom turn out to be as intense as was hinted at in last week's preview? I thought it was a nice scene between her and Jack ... I'm just curious where they're going with it. Earlier in the season, it seemed like Jack was just being Jack, and all the complaining about his methods was just due to him being surrounded by a bunch of FBI pansys rather than his usual CTU compatriots. But now, they do really seem to portraying Jack as a guy one step away from losin' it. Pulling a gun on a random EMT worker, telling Freckles that if she pulls a gun on him to use it, and mouthing off to Tony "Soul-Patch" Almeida? That doesn't seem like the Jack we know. I'll be curious if they really go all the way with this and have Jack truly snap, or if it's just more good-cop / bad-cop shenanigans.

- Anyways, next week's two-hour spectacular looks off-the-chain. White house invasion! Aaron Pierce had better be involved. But man, Bauer, Almeida, Tony Todd and Clarence Boddikker all in one place? Now that's some serious gravitas!

My Grade: A-

- Alriiiight, I'm out for now. On one final note: Andy Richter is going to join Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show! Awesome ... this is gonna be good.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Danny's OSCAR Picks 2009 ...

- Alright, I've already talked a bit about the Oscars in the last few weeks, and my overall thoughts on the movies of 2008 can be found in my giant-sized, year-end wrap-up post from December. So I'm going to try to keep this relatively bried (at least by Danny Baram standards ...). But I did want to adhere to tradition and present my personal picks for this year's Oscars.

One overall thought about this year's Oscars: since the overall pool of nominees in most categories is not that strong this year, and since many big-name films were snubbed in key areas, this year's Oscars *should* end up being pretty predictable. In most of the big categories, there's one choice that is clearly most deserving of the Oscar, and overall I think there's one movie this year, Slumdog Millionaire, which of the main nominees stands head and shoulders above the competition. Therefore, it's almost shocking to see how many times my personal pick seems to be aligned with my projected winner. We'll see how that pattern holds up tomorrow though ...

So without further ado ...



Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- I think most people who've seen Slumdog have little doubt that it was the best overall film of 2008. Given that most of the other Best Picture nominees are not particularly strong, and in some cases fairly divisive (ie Benjamin Button), I think it would be a huge upset if anything other than Slumdog won the award. And that's fine with me - Slumdog deserves it, hands down.


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- Here's another category where you have to give it to Slumdog. On one hand, Danny Boyle did a phenomonal job injecting the movie with kinetic energy and dazzling imagery. Boyle is a director who is long overdue for recognition, and like the Coens' win last year, this award will be not just for Slumdog but for an incredible body of work overall. On the other hand, I don't think any of the other nominees had particularly notable directing. All had very good direction, but come on, I don't think Milk or Frost/Nixon dazzled anyone with their directorial prowess. Now, how Wall-E, Dark Knight, Gran Torino, Burn After Reading, or The Wrestler were not nominated in this category I have no freaking idea.


Should Win: Mickey Rourke
Will Win: Mickey Rourke

- Okay, this one COULD go to Sean Penn, and I think that that's because The Wrestler has a lot going against it as an Oscar favorite despite being in my view the year's second-best film behind only Slumdog. For one thing, not many people saw The Wrestler, and for another, it has pretty limited female appeal. Sean Penn was amazing in Milk, no doubt. But his performance was great because of Penn's total transformation. Was it ICONIC in the way that Rourke's was? No. Rourke deserves the win, and I think he will get it by a hair. Perhaps as a belated apology for The Wrestler being so otherwise snubbed.


Should Win: Meryl Streep
Will Win: Meryl Streep

- This one is tough to predict, as none of these performances seem like they were all that mind-blowing. That said, to me Meryl Streep was pretty riveting in DOUBT, and I think that most academy voters will choose to recognize her for that fact. Her role in the movie is melodramatic, full of little quirks, and it's basically an acting clinic. This one should and will go to Streep.


Should Win: Heath Ledger
Will Win: Heath Ledger

- An easy category to pick. Last year, it was overflowing with talent - this year, one talent stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ledger wins it, hands down, and it will be a well-earned win. His JOKER in Dark Knight is one of the most iconic villains ever in cinema, and when you really look at why DK worked as well as it did, a huge, huge part of that has to be chalked up to Heath's breakthrough performance.


Should Win: Penelope Cruz
Will Win: Penelope Cruz

- Viola Davis, *maybe*, has a chance to upset here, but I just can't see it happening since her screentime is so, so limited in Doubt. On the other hand, Penelope Cruz was awesome in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and her character really elevated the movie and gave it life. She's my pick to win, and I think many of the voters will agree.


Should Win: Wall-E
Will Win: Wall-E

- Another easy pick, despite whispers to the contrary. I mean, come on, everyone knows Wall-E should have been nominated for Best Picture. If it doesn't at least win for Animated Feature, then there's something seriously wrong here.


Should Win: no opinion
Will Win: Man On Wire

- I wish American Teen had been nominated, but whatever ... I've heard nothing but great things about Man On Wire so I figure it'd be a huge upset if it somehow does not take home the trophy.


Should Win: Waltz With Bashir
Will Win: Waltz With Bashir

- Argh, it bites that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is not nominated. But Waltz With Bashir is the one movie in this category that I've seen, and I'm guessing it will be a favorite with my fellow Hollywood Jews on the academy board. Go Israel!


Should Win: Tossup between Wall-E and In Bruges
Will Win: Wall-E

- Man, maybe IN BRUGES will win, but if so it would definitely be a big upset, as I think I'm one of about 5 people who's actually seen that movie. Check it out though - it rocks. That said, Milk could also win, but Wall-E is my pick as it really was a brilliant screenplay and just a brilliant concept in general. Let's see if the academy agrees ...


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- To me, no contest on this one. A brilliant screenplay, amazingly structured and framed. This should win hands down.


Should Win: Benjamin Button
Will Win: Benjamin Button

- If there's one area where BB deserves a win, it's here. The aging and de-aging f/x were pretty remarkable, and I predict this will be the area where the movie is thrown a bone.


Should Win: Hellboy II
Will Win: Benjamin Button

- Hmm, how many academy members likely saw Hellboy II? I mean, seriously though, Hellboy II has some of the most incredible makeup I've ever seen in a movie, and the use of real costumes and makeup f/x rather than CGI is incredible. It should win, easily. But will it? The prestige pic will probably get the nod in BB, and that's a shame.


Should Win: The Dark Knight
Will Win: Benjamin Button


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: Benjamin Button
Will Win: Benjamin Button


Should Win: no clue
Will Win: ah, I'l go with "The Final Inch" ... hey, it sounds dramatic!


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog
Will Win: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog


Should Win: Presto
Will Win: Presto


Should Win: no clue ...
Will Win: again, no idea, but I'll guess "New Boy", why not?


Should Win: Wall-E
Will Win: Wall-E


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- And that's it for now ... let's see how I fare ...

PS -- shoutouts to: Gran Torino, American Teen, Let the Right One In, Son of Rambow, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Role Models, Speed Racer, and Burn After Reading. Insanity that none of these fine films received nominations!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thank You, CONAN~! A Tribute to Late Night With Conan O'Brien.

"We're going on to this next gig, and sometimes I read that it's time for Conan to grow up because he's going to 11:30. And I assure you ... that's just not going to happen."

And with that CONAN O'BRIEN said exactly what all of us wanted to hear, with heartfelt sentiment and defiant honesty, and with that one of the greatest comic geniuses of our time took LATE NIGHT out with a bang.

Any fan of great comedy had to get a little choked up along with Conan throughout this past week and tonight in particular. Because, yeah, Conan is off to do big things in taking over the hosting gig of The Tonight Show, but the end of Late Night With Conan O'Brien marks the end of an era in television, and the culmination of one of the absolute best stories in showbiz. Because Conan is not some Hollywood posterboy who coasted along on easy charisma and charm. Conan is one of us, he's the geek who made it, who hit it big, and who went out there each and every night and fought the good fight. Late Night With Conan O'Brien has never been afraid to be awkward, weird, crazy, random, and just plain off-the-wall. It's never been afraid to be SMART. And through it all, Conan's pretty much been the same awkward yet hilarious guy - and even though he can be one of the craziest dudes on TV, I think most people realize that beneath it all he is one of the most humble, talented, and genuine people in the world of entertainment. Even though his success story is one of Hollywood's least likely, few people are more deserving of it than Conan.

And tonight's final episode of Late Night has some special meaning to me, as not only have I been a longtime fan, but I also had the honor and great privilege to work on the show as an intern and production assistant in 2004. I still remember the feeling of amazment I got when I walked into the Late Night offices for the first time. It was my first real gig in the world of entertainment, and ever since I've basically been working to recapture the sense of fun and creative energy that was flowing through those halls at 30 Rock.

As an intern at Conan, I had all kinds of crazy encounters with the various guests on the show, but the main attraction was really just the chance to watch Conan and his outstanding team of writers and producers at work. Each and every day, I was really just in awe of how much creative and hilarious material was being churned out. And then, watching Conan and team rehearse before each show was like attending a free comedy clinic. I've never seen someone so focused on getting all of the details of a joke or gag just right. Conan is truly a student of the game, and just one of the most prolific and creative minds I've ever seen at work. Same goes for the writing staff, who never had a shortage of great material, and the regular troupe of great character actors who could seemingly play any crazy character on a moment's notice. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to see a genius like Robert Smigel at work, or that I got to hear Joel Goddard tell old showbiz stories, or that I got to hang out with a young writer / comedian named Demitri Martin, who is now enjoying a ton of success in his own right. There was a great group of interns at that time, and I think the majority of us went into work each day just sort of giddy that we were actually there working for Conan O'Brien.

I also think back and realize that I was lucky to have been at Late Night during what has to be regarded as one of its creative high-points. I got to see firsthand the introduction of the now-classic Walker Texas Ranger Lever. I saw Will Ferrell do the Leprauchan Dance. I saw the birth of Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage. I saw Conan spontaneously destroy his old offices with a hammer in one of the all-time hilarious segments. I even saw Conan interview a then-obscure oddball by the name of Borat, in what at the time was one of the funniest segments I have ever seen on TV. On tonight's final episode, I couldn't help but smile ear-to-ear when Conan introduced a clip that he called his all-time favorite bit on the show - Old Tyme Baseball. Not only is the bit completely hilarious and quintissential Conan, but I clearly remember being assigned to run out to FYE and select a couple of CD's of banjo-music for use in the sketch. I remember running into Conan in the hall and proudly telling him that I had just picked up a bunch of music that he could use in the bit. I think it's safe to say that in most cases when working on a show you'd eventually just sort of get used to being around a particular celeb. But on Late Night, I think us interns has so much pent-up hero-worship for Conan that anytime we saw him or got a chance to actually talk to him, we'd basically be reduced to quivering masses of jelly. I mean - this was the guy who wrote the Monorail episode of The Simpsons!

So it was with a great mixture of pride and sadness that I watched the last-ever episode of Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Proud to see the hometown hero graduate to the big leagues, but sad at the thought that the show that got him to the big dance was coming to an end. Will Conan be able to be Conan as host of The Tonight Show? Who can say, exactly ... But tonight was a happy reminder that Conan likely is incapable of being anyone or anything else. And while that might make some people cringe, for most of us, well, we couldn't be more excited. So be cool my babies, something tells me that Conan will be giving us plenty of memorable and hilarious moments in the months and years ahead. But for sixteen seasons of one of the all-time great television comedy showcases, all I can say is: thank you, Conan!

See you in LA!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


So Wednesday night I was fortunate enough to enjoy some great courtside seats at the Clippers-Suns game at the Staples Center. Man, what a massacre that was. Entertaining, to be sure though - I mean, who doesn't enjoy seeing Shaq and Amare run rampant over the hapless D-leaguers on the Clips? But, wow ... the fact that the Clippers played Phoenix twice in two nights, and both nights got reamed, and *both* nights allowed the Suns to score 140+ points on 'em ... that's just sad. I mean, it's one thing to lose in a single blowout - you can always chalk it up to a bad night or whatever. But to lose twice in two consecutive blowouts to the same team? Yikes. All that does is confirm that the first blowout was no mere fluke - you do, in fact, suck that badly.

Anyways, I am slowly but surely starting to get back into all things NBA after being kind of out of the loop for the first half of this season. I got caught up in all of the All-Star Weekend festivities and once again got a huge kick out of the dunk contest in particular. Last year, Dwight Howard's theatrics really reinvigorated the annual throwdown-showdown, and this year saw "Superman" once again thrill and dazzle the crowd with an array of gravity-defying jams. However, the competition and one-upsmanship that Nate "Lex Luthor" Robinson brought to the table could not be denied. Nate won the contest and upset the reigning champ, and now I'm curious to see the eventual tiebreak in 2010 - with the added twist that Lebron James himself has tentatively thrown his hat in the ring as a future entrant. Get Lebron, D-Wade, even Kobe in there and business will have really picked up.

But without a doubt, it was great Wednesday night sitting only several rows up from the floor, seeing Nash, Shaq, Amare and co wreaking havoc on the court.

- Alright, I'm sure you're all dying to hear what I thought of LOST, so here we go ...


- Okay, I have been a huge advocate for Lost over the last two seasons, and so far this season I've been enjoying each episode and getting fairly absorbed in the quickly-unraveling plot. I've defended the increased focus on the show's sci-fi mythology, and argued that said focus has still left plenty of room for great character moments in spite of the increasingly plot-heavy episodes.

Well, this week's ep was intense, exciting, and featured some really great character moments and revelations. There were exciting new mysteries introduced, and a long-awaited return to the Island for the Oceanic 6. I loved the way in which the episode was structured - you had a riveting opening with Jack, Kate, and Hurley back on the island, and then an extended flashback that filled in the gaps of how they got there while creating some new gaps in the process.

That being said, the opening 20 minutes or so of this episode frustrated me in a way that reminded me of how I sometimes felt watching the show in the early Season 1 and Season 2 days. What I mean is, and I've talked about this before, is that it's always bothered me how Lost will try to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to its own mythology. On one hand, this season of Lost in particular is unraveling a farily intricate and detailed science fiction mythology, with big concepts at its core like time travel and quantum physics. And yet, on the other hand, last night's ep had large sections in which characters spoke and acted as if they were in a Samuel Beckett play. I mean, these characters' lives are at stake, they are about to commit themselves to returning to a time-lost island for no tangible reason, and yet they never stop to grab Eloise Hawkings by the collar and ask "who are you, and how do you know all this?" At one point, Jack does ask something similar of Ben, and I cringed as Ben responded to an obvious question with a random, unrelated anecdote, and then walked away, with zero followup from Jack. Stuff like that just bugs me to no end and strikes me as lazy writing. If you want to avoid giving answers, then at least put your characters in some kind of urgent situation where there is legitimately no time for exposition. But in last night's ep, people were standing around, chilling in Eloise's mysterious hideout, and not even speaking to one another.

Now I know, people will say to me, "yeah, but this is how the show's been since the beginning." And I'd say that, yeah, this tendency to take shortcuts at the expense of realistic characterization is one of the show's biggest recurring flaws. Lost has always been at it's best when the situations are so dire and fast-moving that there's really no time for questions or explanations. Or when an episode (like "Walkabout" or "The Constant") is essentially self-contained. But the show has rarely done well when it's had to slow down and actually address all of the corners its backed itself into with regards to its labrynthine mythology. Nobody does cliffhangers and big reveals better than Lost. Few shows have a better cast of characters or a more clever approach to storytelling structure. No other show on TV comes close to Lost's ability to capture the imagination or present a story that truly feels like it's being told on an epic scope and a grand stage. But man, Lost just struggles when it comes to the details sometimes. Which is odd for a show that has its fans analyzing every aspect of the show with a microscope. That's what gets me - the show often seems to ask its fans to be detail-oriented, active viewers / participants. And yet, sometimes Lost seems to drop the ball when it comes to delivering the payoff to all of this.

So that's why I was a bit turned off by parts of "316", but again, these are my main complaints regarding a show that, mostly, I think extremely highly of. So highly that I called it, without reservation, the best TV series of 2008. And like I said, this episode had a lot of great moments, and as usual, I can't wait for next week to see how this all plays out. But to those who blindly praise 316 and call some kind of landmark episode, I say sorry, but no.

My Grade: B

Alright, time for some VERY long-time-in-coming movie reviews ...


- What up, ma' nerds? So, I am very happy to report to you all that Fanboys is actually a pretty great movie. I was starting to get really worried for a while there -- after endless delays and speculation about which version of the movie would ultimately hit theaters, I was really anticipating the release of the film, only to find that reviewer after reviewer seemed to be bagging on the movie. What? Could a movie this anticipated by geeks everywhere actually be that bad?

Suffice it to say, I went into Fanboys with slightly lowered expectations, but came out of it very pleasantly surprised by just how fun of a movie it was. This movie won me over. It wasn't particularly deep or sophisticated, but it had a completely endearing quality to it. It felt like the kind of movie that some friends and I might dream up. It felt like a film that had a real, genuine affection for its characters and premise - it felt 100% authentic - the kind of movie that a couple of guys get together and shoot out of a real passion to just make something that embodies their sensibilities and sense of humor. Fanboys doesn't always get the biggest laughs or have the best acting or production values, but you can't help but get caught up in its sheer fun and enthusiasm. Sitting in a theater with a bunch of, well, fanboys, we all had a great time, laughed our asses off, and walked away feeling like we had just seen a real gem of a movie.

Basically, the plot of Fanboys revolves around a couple of lifelong friends circa the late 1990's, recent college grads just starting to plant a foot in the real world. Some have moved on to real jobs, others are still crashing with their parents and playing videogames all day. But at the end of the day, what unites all of these characters is that they are all, at their cores, Star Wars geeks. Sure, some wear it on their sleeves while others try to hide it, but get these guys together and they'll talk all day about whether Empire was in fact the best of the trilogy or whether Luke was still attracted to Leia even after he knew she was his sister.

What reunites the somewhat estranged group of childhood friends is that one of their number has cancer. The illness inspires the guys to go on one giant geeky adventure, the idea being to drive cross-country to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, sneak in, and steal an early copy of the yet-to-be-released new Star Wars flick. Afterall, what geek worth his salt would want to kick the bucket without seeing the new Star Wars movie that at that point had been twenty-plus long years in the making? Thus kicks off a wild and crazy roadtrip that has detours at a Star Trek convention, in geek-haven Austin Texas, in Vegas, and everywhere in between.

A lot has been said about the version of the film that screened a while back which cut out the whole cancer angle. Personally, I'm glad they kept it in. To me, the film had enough heart and handled the cancer plotline with enough care that it was well worth it to keep it intact. It really is the thing that drives the movie's premise, and without it I think a lot would have been lost. It's not so much of a presence that it turns the movie into a total downer, but it adds just the right amount of drama and heart to what is otherwise a pretty goofball comedy. As is, the mixture is just right.

I also thought the young cast was pretty cool and did a nice overall job. The principles are all fun and relatable and guys like Dan Fogler and Jay Baruchel have definite geek-cred to boot. And Kristen Bell is great as always, in a role that inevitably draws comparisons to the late great Veronica Mars. And yes, she does appear in the Princess Leia slave-girl outfit at one point. Yikes!

There are also a TON of awesome cameos. Seth Rogen is great in a dual role as a rival Star Trek nerd and a Star Wars geek / vengeful pimp (yes you read that right). Tons of notables pop up for funny roles - Craig Robinson, Will Forte, Kevin Smith, Ethan Suplee, Danny Trejo, Carrie Fischer, Billy Dee Williams, and even William Shatner show up, to name a few.

And again, to me, the humor mostly works. Sure, a few scenes are a bit clunky, but some lines are outright classics. And man, rarely has a movie done geeky humor quite so well. If you get a kick out of jokes about Star Wars, comics, the merits of Rush, et al, you will be in fanboy nirvana with Fanboys. I love that this isn't toned down to always make sense for a mainstream audience. Like I said, it feels like it was written by a bunch of geeky guys sitting around and joking about all the stuff they're into. If that sounds lame to you, then so be it, but I had a great time with Fanboys, and would urge anyone who's ever wanted to see a real comedy about pop-culture geeks to run to the theater and check it out if / while you can. This is a movie that deserves some love.

My Grade: A-

Okay, one more review:


- One of my favorite movies is The Nightmare Before Christmas, so I of course had really been anticipating Coraline - the long-awaited stop-motion followup from director Henry Selick. Not only was this a return to big-screen stop-motion animation for Selick, but Coraline also marks one of the highest-profile screen adaptations to date of the work of acclaimed author Neil Gaiman. Now, I'm not exactly a hardcore Gaiman fan, but I do really like the work of his that I've read, particularly The Sandman, a series where I've slowly but surely been working my way through the various volumes over the last few years. So in any case, I was really excited and curious to see how the movie version of Coraline would take shape.

The great news is that Coraline is a pretty amazing movie in a lot of respects. It's been a while since I've seen a movie that is this bursting at the seams with imagination and visual artistry. And it's also been a while since I've seen a kids movie that dared to be this dark and downright creepy. I really loved that about Coraline - it's one of those classic children's stories that still has a lot of depth and intelligence to it. It's exactly the kind of stuff I loved as a kid and still go crazy for today. Essentially, it's the story of a young and spunky girl, Coraline, who moves to a new town and quickly finds that her house contains a mysterious gateway into an alternate reality - a surreal dreamscape where things are much like our world only stranger. Everyone is a fantasy-version of their real-world alternate, except all of the people, eerily, have buttons for eyes. And while this other-verse *seems* like a little kid's fantasy, there is a creepy malevolance lurking behind the button-eyes of Coraline's other-mother and other-father. Perhaps, we soon discover, all is not as it seems ...

Aside from the fun fantasy premise and amazingly detailed visuals, the voice cast really does a great job. Dakota fanning is superb as Coraline - imbuing the title character with a ton of personality and wit. Fanning's natural beyond-her-years wisdom is a perfect match for Coraline's personality, and the other voice actors are similarly well-cast. Teri Hatcher is great as Coraline's mother, Keith David is awesome as a creepy talking cat, and Ian McShane is a lot of fun as a crazy circus performer. Overall, I loved the eclectic cast of characters on display here - it was like a trip to Maniac Mansion by way of The Dreaming.

But back to those visuals for a second ... wow. Not since Nightmare have we gotten a movie quite like this done in the stop-motion medium, and Selick and co have really refined their craft. There are shots that make you wonder just how they managed to pull off the visual magic on display, and there are scenes where you hardly even need words or music because the sheer power and wonder of the visuals is a true sight to behold. I saw the movie in 3D, and the added dimension really gives the film a sense of depth - as if you could reach out and put your hand around the figures and settings. There is a slight blurriness factor that is a side effect of the 3D glasses, but mostly the movie was a visual treat. Add to that character design that was both imaginative and wholly unique, and you have a movie that just plain looks awesome.

But I also admire Coraline for daring to be methodically-paced at times, for taking the time to let us soak in the visuals and slowly go down that rabbit hole and get engrossed in the story. At times, I would actually get sleepy watching the movie - not because I was bored, per se, but just because the whole move really has a soothing, hypnotic, dreamlike quality to its pacing and presentation. The music is also extremely well done, complimenting the film's sense of mood and atmosphere to a T.

If there's anything that prevents Coraline from being a classic, it may simply be that the plot is sometimes so thin that there isn't much to it. This is really a visual journey rather than a story-driven one, and while that's cool, the movie doesleave you feeling slightly empty. The build-up is reat, but you never quite reach the dramatic high-points that one might expect. The movie doesn't have quite the sense of grandeur of Nightmare Before Christmas - and some of that may be due to time contraints -- but there are times where things feel a bit anticlimactic.

That said, Coraline is an absolute must-see. It's so unique and so imaginative that you have to admire it. This movie is a throwback in a way - it's a *real* fantasy movie - guaranteed to stir the imagination of kids and adults alike, but not watered down whatsoever. It dares to be dark and scary and disturbing and creepy. And that's why you can't help but appreciate the fact that Coraline is one cool movie.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, signing out for now. But I will be back VERY soon with Oscar picks, as well as a tribute to LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, the final episode of which airs tonight on NBC!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Uploaded from Jack Bauer's PDA: 24 and More!

On last night's episode of TWENTY-BY-GOD-FOUR:

- Okay, when I talked about last week's episode of 24, I tried to express my excitement that, after a season that had mostly been merely solid, finally, we got an episode that we could truly get behind and that elicited those old feelings of awesomeness that one typically associates with the Jack Bauer power hour. Well, hot damn, it turns out that last week's fairly kickass episode was really only the warmup to this week's barn-burner. I mean, wow, what an hour of television - I don't think there was a weak scene in the bunch. This one just completely fired on all cylinders - and it had a couple of positively kickass reveals. For one thing, a few old friends made long-awaited returns. Chloe's husband Morris returned for a brief cameo, which was pretty cool - hopefully Morris will have a larger role later in the season? But the second big return was just pure awesome on a stick ... The President asks Bill Buchanan if he knows of anyone trustworthy enough to pick up the Prez's estranged daughter and escort her back to the Whitehouse after her father is shot and in critical condition. At this point, you couldn't help but speculate as to who Bill's pick would be, but the result was such that any longtime 24 fan had to smile and cheer. For last night saw the return of one of the great heroes of the 24 pantheon ... AARON PIERCE, Agent of Gravitas!!! Oh hells yeah, Agent Pierce returned and with that business has officially picked up in the 24-verse. Meanwhile, we got some gripping scenes with Jack and Agent Walker, some longtime-in-coming classic Chloe moments / speeches, the build-up to what should be a kickass showdown with Dobaku, and hey, even Dobaku's special lady friend and her overprotective sister weren't bad at all, thanks to some excellent acting from both parties. The bottom line is this: as good as last week's episode was, this was really the first episode of 24 in a long time that made me want to stand up, cheer, and call up a couple of friends. This one was upload-to-PDA-worthy, baby.

My Grade: A


- Wow, THE SIMPSONS is now in HD and has never looked better. That said, Sunday's ep was not exactly a classic, with a fairly "meh" story in which Homer sees a would-be reality where he had been elected high school class president rather than a popular rival. A few funny jokes made this one worth watching, but nothing really stood out as original or particularly hilarious.

My Grade: B-

- KING OF THE HILL finally aired the episode I've been waiting for all season, in which Hank and co. travel to a Propane Convention, where Hank is tasked with introducing Buck Strickland at an awards ceremony in which Buck will be honored with a coveted induction in the Propane Hall of Flame. This was a classic KOTH ep through and through - I've always loved the odd dynamic between Hank and Buck, and whenever Hank gets serious about propane, it always cracks me up. We even got to see Hank wasted and acting crazy - a rare comedic treat. Great stuff.

My Grade: A-

- I thought that FAMILY GUY had one of its "sketchiest" episodes yet this weekend ... What I mean is - the ep really had almost no plot development and was basically a flimsy storyline wrapped around a series of lengthy and completely random gags. I thought the Christian Bale thign was decent but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. I did crack up at Stewie's Brian Adams music video though ... but still, with so little substance in the episode it was hard to care that much about most of the jokes. Episodes like this one make you wonder why Seth McFarlane and co even bother trying to construct traditional A and B plots - if you're going to just wrap them up in 5 seconds during the closing credits, what's the point?

My Grade: C+

- Alright, lots more on the way very soon!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Agent of B.L.O.G. : TAKEN - Reviewed!, 24, Lost, and More

Alright, it's been a longer gap than I'd hoped, but finally ... I'm back once again. Hope everyone had a great long weekend, a happy Valentine's Day, and for those of you here in LA, hope you got through a weekend that was uncharacteristically cold, rainy, and un-LA-like.
Also, hope everyone caught last week's entry ... but as I mentioned then, there's still have a ton to talk about so I'm hoping to write quite a bit over the next several days.

I know I've been behind on my TV Reviews, and that's partly because I've been behind on TV in general. But as any loyal readers know, the two shows I almost never miss are 24 and LOST. Now, just a quick preface: I did catch tonight's most recent episode of 24 and hope to comment on it soon, but for now I'm catching up by going back and looking at last week's installment. In any case, let me offer up some quick thoughts on recent installments of two of TV's heaviest hitters ...


- On Wednesday's episode: the short version ... Another extremely compelling episode of Lost, in what's been a great season thus far. I know some people have been frustrated with how plot-heavy this season has been, with how deeply it's delved into hard sci-fi at times (there was even an EW cover story about it ...). But to me, I've really enjoyed the breakneck pace and multiple huge reveals, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, and, finally, we are in the early *payoff* stages of the uber Lost storyarc. Plus, even in the midst of all the craziness, there have still been tons of great character moments so far - Locke, Desmond, Ben, Daniel - just some of the characters who have really had a chance to shine over the course of the last couple of eps.

That being said, I think this past week's installment was cool, but probably the weakest overall ep of the season thus far. It had some great moments, don't get me wrong, but overall things just felt a bit rushed. I mean, the scene that epitomized this was toward the end, when Desmond runs into Jack, Ben, Sun, etc. and barely even gets an acknowledgement, after presumably not having seen his island-mates in years. A small point, but still ... Bigger picture, it was a little frustrating to see an extended glimpse of Rousseau's early days on the island and yet get few if any real answers regarding what happened to her and her crew. I am still left wondering what exactly drove everyone in her group insane, and why exactly they were all targeted by the Smoke Monster. And Smokey guards an ancient temple ...? Say what now?

Still, the reunion of Jin with Sawyer and everyone else was great, and I also really liked the scenes with Daniel and Charlotte. I'm completely intrigued by the hints that Daniel will somehow interact with young Charlotte and influence her and her family to leave the island -- even though Daniel is the one who keeps espousing that you cannot change the past. But is it changing the past if his involvement in history was already recorded? Hmmm ...

I'm also ultra-curious for next week's ep, in which it looks like Eloise, aka the Grand Dame of Time Travel, will presumably use her wise-sounding British-nanny accent to whimsically explain some of the big mysteries about the island that we've all been wondering about since Season 1. Man, that should be good ...

So yeah, I don't think this week's was the best-ever ep of Lost, but in general I'm digging this season. Still the best show on TV, says me.

My Grade:

(This week's ep): B

24 (last week's episode ...):

- Okay, for all of us who were waiting for the first truly kickass episode of 24: Season 7, we got it last week. I don't think I need to overanalyze this one too much, suffice it to say that the potent combo of badass Bauer, Bill Buchanan, Agent Freckles, and a high-stakes rescue mission to save the First Gentleman made for some exciting, gravitas-filled television. Not to mention, "With all due respect, Madame President -- ask around." is probably one of the all-time classic 24 lines. Apparently things will kick up a notch even more in the coming weeks as these will be post-Writer's Strike episodes ... here's hoping for even more Power in the Hour of Bauer.

My Grade: A

- I'd also like to make mention of last week's return to TV of KING OF THE HILL. One of my all-time fave comedies, the perpetually underrated KOTH returned with what was actually something of a landmark episode, which saw the long-awaited birth of LuAnne's baby. The episode had a lot of vintage KOTH moments, and once again surprised me with just how genuine and emotional the show can get and with how real the characters feel, despite being animated. Hail to the King, baby.

My Grade: A-

- I feel like I barely even need to grade THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK anymore, as both have been so consistently good this season. Especially The Office, which to me has just been on a real roll of late, finding the perfect balance between more off-the-wall humor and the darker, bleaker, and more subtle style of the British original. Last night's Office ep was just great overall. Michael's breakdown following his realization that Holly was now dating someone else was both hard to watch and hilariously awkward. 30 ROCK this season has at times felt a bit too old-school sitcom-y for my tastes, but still, no other show delivers as many awesome quotables week in and week out.

My Grades:

The Office: A

30 Rock: B+

Okay, onto some movie reviews ...

TAKEN Review:

- Sometimes, a movie comes along that you can't quite judge on a normal grading scale. Sometimes, a movie comes along that a lot of people won't quite appreciate, but that some people, people like me, will hail as a film that plain and simply, well, kicked ass. Taken is one such movie -- a badass action flick that makes you want to cheer. It's got a hero you can't help but root for, played with ultra-intensity by the great Liam Neeson. It's got some great action scenes, some memorable lines, and a breakneck pace that's quite literally all-killer no-filler. If you've been jonesing for an old-school action / revenge movie of the kind that they don't really make enough of anymore, then I can't recommend Taken enough. This is a manly movie, and it will grab you in a headlock and make you scream "uncle."

Told with a laser-focused sense of urgency, Taken is a movie that trims away the fat and presents a very streamlined story that manages to waste little time with extraneous plot. But what the movie does relaly well is that it takes just enough time to build up Liam Neeson's character. You get that gradual, slow build in the movie's first twenty minutes or so - just enough time to hammer home that Neeson at this stage in his life is basically a quiet, mild-mannered regular Joe Sixpack. He's a guy who retired early and moved across the country to be closer to his teenage daughter, who now lives with his ex-wife and her millionaire husband. Sure, we know that in a past life he was some kind of military operative, but no matter how badass he may have been back in the day, all indications are that those days are long gone.

And that's the whole fun of Taken -- the build-up of Neeson as an unassuming guy with a hard-edged past slowly but surely creates a huge level of anticipation for his mild-mannered character's inevitable hulk-up. So when his daughter is kidnapped and Neeson vows to wreak unholy vengeance on her captors, it's simply a joy to watch him begin his rescue mission with cold and calculating precision and ruthless aggression.

Really, this is just a fun movie that pushes all the right buttons for action-movie fans. It has an over-the-top, European feel to it that brings to mind the B-movie trappings of other recent Luc Besson-scripted fare like The Transporter. Not to say that Taken is quite as cartoonish as that film, but it does have that same sly sense of humor where you can't always quite be sure when the film is winking at the audience and when it's being deadly serious. With a guy like Luc Besson, it's often a pretty fine line. But that tightrope-walk between campy humor and straight-up action-drama makes for the perfect formula for one hell of an entertaining movie. All I know is, there were several scenes that made our theatrical audience burst into spontaneous bouts of applause. An action movie that makes you want to stand up and cheer due to sheer badass overload? Sign me up.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, back soon with reviews of FANBOYS and CORALINE and much more! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Back On Blog: Oscar Thoughts, a WALTZ WITH BASHIR Review, and MORE

I'm back, and there's a ton to talk about, so let's get right to it. A quick preface in that I really do have a ton to talk about, and I've been unbelievably backlogged in terms of writing down stuff here on the blog. In fact, I have FOUR, count 'em, FOUR movie reviews I need to get out there, and hopefully I'll get to at least one of them in this very entry.

First of all though, I do want to talk a little about the movies, but more specifically, the Oscars. Don't worry, no Christian Bale-style rants ahead, just some looong, long-overdue thoughts on this year's nominees that I've been meaning to write down for, oh, the last three weeks or so ...

To start, congrats to Slumdog Millionaire for all of its nominations, including Best Picture. Personally, I really don't get whatever backlash exists towards this movie. The worst is that so many people talk down the movie who haven't even seen it. I completely understand the fatigue that comes with so much hype around a given film, but I also hate when people dismiss something based on hype alone. Slumdog deserves to win Best Picture this year, and I also think that Danny Boyle deserves a Best Director nod. Adapted screenplay is another category where I've got to go with Slumdog as well. It's for that reason that I can't get *too* worked up about some of this year's snubs, because Slumdog would probably have been my overall pick in a number of categories anyways ... So, if we're talking about Dark Knight ... part of me does wish that DK was nominated, and part of me says "well, it wasn't going to win anyways, so ...". And then, with Dark Knight, I don't know ... Was it one of my absolute favorite movies of 2008, and the undisputed king of comic book adaptations? Yes indeed. But, from a purely objective standpoint, are there things about it that dont' exactly hold up to intense scrutiny? Unfortunately, yes there are. An at-times awkward script, some messy editing, and an anticlimactic ending all take points away in my book from Dark Knight's overall Oscar viability. To me, the one area where the movie absoultely HAD to get a nom was for Heath Ledger's iconic turn as The Joker. Since Ledger did in fact get nominated, I do believe that the movie's biggest strength was in fact acknowledged. Now, if only there was a Best Cameo award, I'd give it to William Fichtner in a heartbeat.

Now, that said, the question arises ... are movies like The Reader, Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon really so much better than The Dark Knight, that *they* should get Best Picture recognition? I haven't seen The Reader, but I will say that I am a bit puzzled by a movie like Frost/Nixon being in that elite category, and even more so by Button, which to me was a solid B+ but not in the A-range that to me is necessary to be a serious Oscar contender. If I had to pick one film that really got a Best Picture snub though, it would have to be The Wrestler. I mean, come on, The Wrestler is the complete package. Not only should it have gotten a Best Picture nomination, but man, Darren Aranofsky should really have gotten a Best Director nom as well for his gritty, understated work behind the camera. Not to mention that The Wrestler's screenplay was easily one of the year's best -- I wa honestly shocked not to see it nominated.

I was not really shocked to see a lack of noms for Gran Torino, as I loved it, but it's sort of a B-movie. But ... I don't see how Gran Torino got no Oscar love while Clint Eastwood's other directorial effort of '08, Changeling, did. I really wasn't crazy about Angelina's melodramatic acting in that one - in fact, I'd go so far as to say that she was actually better and more memorable in Wanted. Similarly, I thought Robert Downey Jr. was hilarious in Tropic Thunder, but at the same time, it just seems wrong that he wa nominated for his role there as opposed to Iron Man ...

I also was kind of annoyed at Wall-E's lack of nominations ... again, as with Dark Knight, I wasn't that surprised that Wall-E got snubbed for Best Picture, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel some frustration. Because Wall-E may have been Pixar's best film yet, and you have to wonder - if the venerable Pixar's best film can't get a Best Picture nomination, isn't that kind of pathetic?

Finally, I have to wonder how Burn After Reading was completely snubbed. Are you kidding me? It's funny too, because I actually think that Bradd Pitt was better in Burn than in Button. As was Tilda Swindon. And Frances McDorman and John Malkovich surely deserved some recognition as well. Overall, it just annoys me that when the Coen Brothers put out a great drama like No Country For Old Men, critics unanimously praise it, and yet when they do a great comedy, it feels like people are afraid to give it the kudos it deserves.

But really, other than these couple of gripes, I don't know if I'm in the camp of being quite as angry with the Oscar picks as some other seem to be. I mean, it's not like The Oscars have ever really represented what's cool, buzzworthy, or cutting edge. It almost seems not worth it to complain about how Son of Rambow got no noms, or American Teen, or how the outdated Foreign Language rules prevented Let The Right One In from even being nominated.

But on the plus side, you get a great little movie like In Bruges that has a screenplay nomination. You get Mickey Rourke in the mix for best actor, Heath Ledger a favorite for Supporting, and an overall amazing movie like Slumdog that looks poised to sweep a number of categories. As long as the end results reward the best of the best, you can't complain all that much about the ins and outs of the nominations.

I'll be back soon with my actual picks and predictions, but for now, those are my Oscar thoughts ... dammit all.

- Okay, I have a ton of movies I need to specifically talk about, but I'll start with one that I actually saw a couple of weeks back that I've been meaning to review. So without further ado ...


- Waltz With Bashir is a wholly unique movie that I would definitely recommend checking out -- it's not always the easiest film to watch, but it is undoubtedly powerful. More than anything else, it really is a pretty powerful anti-war film. Personally, I was fascinated by its subject matter. Having just come back from Israel, you can't help but visit that country and come away with a huge sense of Israeli pride and patriotism. But - there is a flipside - that being that for all of that pride and patriotism, you can't just ignore the fact that, in the conflicts that Israelis find themselves in, a lot of bad things do happen. Innocent people die, young soldiers are prematurely aged, hatreds are reinforced. No matter how noble the cause, war is ugly and horrible. And even when your intentions are the well-meaning, in war there is always, always the potential for things to go awry, with tragic results. Waltz With Bashir deals with this very issue - detailing the struggle of its filmmaker, Ari Folman, to come to grips with his time as a soldier in the Israeli army during the Lebanon War in the 1980's.

Despite it being relatively recent history, the now middle-aged Folman has a mental block when it comes to the events of the Lebanon War. He has hazy memories of the time, and has trouble piecing together where he was during some of the key events of the war. Most notably, he can't quite figure out what if any role he played during the notorious Sabra massacre that occured during the war, in which numerous innocent Palestinian civilians were executed by extremists, as Israeli forces failed to act in time to stop the slaughter.

Waltz With Bashir employs a unique animation style that is realistic, but stylized - not simply rotoscoped a la Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. The Flash animation really works well in the context of the story, reinforcing the dreamlike nature of the various flashbacks to Ari's time in the army. Essentially, the movie follows Ari around in the present-day, as he seeks out old army compatriots, asking them for their accounts of their days fighting in Lebanon. Ari is searching for any hint, any account, that jogs his memory and in turn puts a top to his recurring nightmares about that time. To that end, a lot of the movie is comprised of these various accounts, narrated by the actual witnesses in documentary-like fashion. And here's where the movie is unique -- its structure and real-life subjects make it essentially a documentary, but its animated style allows the movie to veer into all kinds of surreal territory. Even as we hear the first-hand accounts of our various subjects, the visuals on-screen paint a stylized and often abstract picture of their stories. The effect is that of an autobiographical graphic novel on screen.

And to be honest, my favorite moments of the film were easily those that were the most far-removed from what you'd see in a traditional documentary. There are chill-inducing rock n' roll montages, scenes of surreal imagery, and nightmarish warzones, that really wowed me. The music as a whole in the movie is awesome - with songs that evoke the era, set the tone of the movie, and just plain rock.

Honestly, the main time the movie drags is when it simply presents a sort of animated documentary. When it's just talking heads and fairly static images, the pace begins to slow and you get a bit taken out of the movie. Because so many of the scenes are wholly enveloping and immersive, it's harder to concentrate during the slow points.

But still, I will be rooting for WALTZ WITH BASHIR come Oscar time. It's a story that reveals the inner-conflicts of Israel, the price of war, and the strange nature of time and memory. It frames one man's life as dream and nightmare, as one cog in the wheel of a larger drama. It's unique visual style, structure, and use of music are all completely unique as compared to so much of what is out there. Certainly a movie I'd urge people to check out if it's playing near you.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, back soon with updates on Lost, 24, and reviews of Taken, Fanboys, and Coraline.