Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"What the Chuck?" - CHUCK's Season (Series?) Finale Thoughts, Plus: 24 and More!

Holy lord, we need MORE CC's, people. Let's talk Monday night TV, stat, because PRESIDENT PALMER AUTHORIZED THIS.

CHUCK Season Finale Thoughts:

- Absolutely awesome. That's all I can say about last night's epic Chuck finale. A near-perfect episode, last night's Chuck had a little bit of everything, and all I can really say is: wow, now THAT was an episode.

Every story beat was hit to perfection, and the episode, like Chuck, seemed to wear its heart on its sleeve. There was romance, action, heroism, villainy, and an absolutely glorious montage set to Jeffster's rendition of Mr. Roboto. About that sequence: Best. Montage. Ever. I mean, wow, never has Mr. Roboto been so spectacularly wrong and yet so amazingly right.

The ep was a perfect storm in which Chuck's three disparate worlds collided - his life as the Intersect, his home life, and his life as a humble agent of Buy More. But everyone had their moment in the sun - Chuck and Morgan had some classic moments of fanboy friendship, Jeff and Lester had the aforementioned montage to end all montages, Bryce Larkin returned for one final mission, and Scott Bakula whupped ass with his sweet arm-computer thingie like it was 1988 all over again. Chevy Chase continued to be awesomely evil as Roarke as well - I mean, kudos to Chevy, man. It was great to see that one of my all-time favorite comedic actors can still go. And thank you in general to CHUCK for continuing to feature one great guest star after another.

I also can't say enough about Adam Baldwin as Casey. The character has walked a tightrope between being a lovable badass and a genuinely dangerous operative / adversary, but the show has done a great job of pitting him against Chuck enough times that, when he does finally stay true to his friendship with the Chuckster and swoops in to save the day, it's a great, stand-up-and-cheer moment. I mean come on, Casey and his howling commandos parachuting into Ellie's wedding for the last-minute save? Now that's awesome.

Finally, the action-packed ending sequence just had a great, "holy crap, where is this all going?" sense of urgency to it, and even though I suspected that it might end with Chuck re-absorbing the Intersect plus some spiffy new powers to boot, it was still a pretty cool way to end things. It was a cool, dramatic ending, and yet between Casey's "What the Chuck?" crack and Chuck's geeky "I know kung-fu" episode-ending quip, there was that trademark sense of humor at play throughout.

It's funny, too, because if CHUCK does come back for a Season 3, this stands as one hell of a cliffhanger. If this is it for the show though, it's almost an equally perfect ending. How can a blatant "to be continued" cliffhanger serve as a fitting ending, you ask? Well, in that sense it's more of a metaphorical "to be continued," a statement that Chuck's life is now turning a corner, and that while this chapter of his life may be over, a new one is about to begin. Cheesy? A bit, but you couldn't help but notice how closely this ep paralleled the series pilot - from Bryce's daring escape to Sarah taking out some rogues with a well-placed knife-fling. I loved all the symetry, and it did make you feel that Chuck, and the show, had come full circle.

And now here we are, at the brink of potential cancellation. I'll hold off on delivering a eulogy for the show, as I am semi-optimistic that it could return. But if this is the end, I do think that the show went out with one hell of a bang, and a fitting and satisfying ending to boot. Still, I can't help but think that CHUCK is more popular than the ratings indicate. It's one of the few shows on network TV that seems legitimately geared towards Gen Y, the same people who do the majority of their TV watching via DVR, Hulu, and DVD. But that's what made Chuck instantly stand out to me when I first read the pilot script back in 2006. It felt like Y: The Last Man meets Alias meets The OC. Unlike most network TV shows, it felt like it was written by people who weren't too far removed from the central characters in age or sensibilities. It just plain felt like a cool show. And you know what? It will be a real shame if Chuck finds itself replaced by yet another cop or lawyer show. Or God forbid, mindless reality crap. Let's hear it for what is an increasingly rare breed: fun, original concepts in television.

And let's hear it for Chuck. Domo Origato, Mr. Roboto.

My Grade: A

24 Thoughts:

- Okay, last night's 24 was one of those episodes that got crazy to the point where I was half-expecting Jack to wake up in some kind of VR chamber surrounded by his dead wife, Tony, Bill, Chloe, etc and realize that he's been the subject of some crazy miltary psych experiment for the last five years. I mean, wow, an enraged / slowly-going-insane Jack shouting out the name of President Palmer as if this were Season 2? Crazy-awesome.

Last night's ep had a ton of kickass 24 moments. Jack's face-to-face with Jonas Hodges, for one, was flat-out filled with gravitas, and seeing the sheer intensity on display as Kiefer and Voight engaged in verbal sparring was pretty awesome. We also got the return of CHLOE, who left her husband Morris and son for a midnight rendezevous with Jack and team. The return of the old CTU computer displays within the halls of the FBI was a nice little slice of nostalgia. Now they just need to rewire the phones so that they have the classic CTU "doop-doop-DEE-doop" ring.

Meanwhile, Evil Tony continues to be perhaps the show's most intiguing character. We still don't quite no what his deal is, but you can't help but sorta root for the guy even if he's gone rogue. But, that brings me to one of the episode's potential missteps - that being the badguys' master plan. Right now, you've got to admit that the schemes of this secret cabal of private military corp peeps don't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, okay, so their original plan was to secretly stage a terrorist attack, and then taking advantage of the ensuing chaos to build their own power base within the US government. But now, Starkwood has basically been exposed - you'd think that that would kind of put a damper on the whole plan. And yet, the PMC'ers still think that when the $%^# hits the fan, the government will be running to them with open arms. You'd think that the government might be *slightly* weary of turning power over to the PMC's after one of their number just tried to deploy bio-weapons on US soil. Hmmm ...

Otherwise, my only other complaint is the whole Olivia sideplot is, as usual, pretty lame. I mean, at 3 am in the midst of national crisis she has the determinaiton to enact some crazy scheme to presumably frame someone for Jonas Hodges' murder? Even worse, that someone could be AARON BY-GOD PIERCE? Aaron deserves better than this, brother.

But ... the couple of groan-inducing moments in this ep were easily overshadowed by the numerous moments of awesome. Everything with Jack ruled it, and we got the usual great performances from Kiefer, Cherry Jones, Carlos Bernard, Jon Voight, et al, with enough gravitas to keep me pumped for next week's ep.

My Grade: B+


- First off, KING OF THE HILL. While this episode wasn't necessarilly a classic, it was a nice epilogue to Cotton's story, with Hank tasked with carrying out his deceased father's last will and testament. It was funny and heart-warming in that unique KOTH way. And what kills me is that this show STILL gets no respect from FOX, being relegated to a terrible 7:30 pm timeslot over the last couple of weeks. And now, with the poor performance of Sit Down, Shut Up, FOX's longtime utility player is being called back up to the big leagues.

My Grade: B+

- THE SIMPSONS had a pretty solid ep, with Homer, in a rare showing of commitment, devoting himself to bettering Bart and Lisa's lives by helping Bart with his school projects and helping Lisa to become more popular. The results were actually pretty funny, especially Homer's psychological techniques for making Lisa cool. Not a ton of huge laughs, but not a bad little episode either.

My Grade: B+

- Finally, FAMILY GUY had decent at best, mediocre at worst episode that had some promise in that it actually tried to present a solid Chris plotline, but seemed unable to focus on anything in particular, getting far too sidetracked with the Stewie-on-steroids B-plot and the usual assortment of cutaways that now seem more forced than funny. I mean, I hate when Family Guy just becomes a series of cutaways with the actual plot serving as the filler. That's not how the show used to be, and it's just lame - especially when 3/4 of the cuts are not even especially funny. Still, there were a couple pretty good jokes in the mix, especially a roided-up Stewie repeatedly cutting off Brian as he tried to get by - a classic FG joke that went on so long that it went from sorta funny to really funny to hilarious. Mostly though, this was a pretty unmemorable ep.

My Grade: C+

- Now, I've only seen the pilot of SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, but after viewing it I can barely stomach the thought of watching Episode 2. I have to ask - what happened here? You've got Mitchell Hurvitz, the creator of Arrested Development. You've got an all-star voice cast that includes AD alums Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. But none of that can make up for the fact that the show was just not funny in the slightest. The timing, the jokes, the plotting - all of it was just off the mark. Even worse, the characters all felt completely flat and many of them were just downright irritating. There were little moments where the rapid-fire dialogue showed shades of the old AD wit, but just as the show would get your hopes up, it'd dash them with a flat punchline or an annoying character moment. I guess there is a *slight* chance that the show could turn things around given the talent on-hand, but given the poor reception it received, I don't know if many would be willing to stick it out and give it that chance.

My Grade: D

- Okay - I'm out for now. Next post will be the long awaited review of ANVIL.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Can You Be Awesome For Me? Huge TV Roundup: CHUCK, PRISON BREAK, 24, SMALLVILLE, FRINGE, THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, and MORE!

Alright, people. I'm back, after an insanely busy week that kept me from writing on the best darn blog in the biz. Whenever I get backlogged like this it's always a sort of domino effect - I just keep accumulating things I want to write about and the task of actually getting it all down on paper (so to speak), gets ever more daunting with each passing day. In any case, I will do my best to sum up some of the TV-related stuff I've been wanting to talk about, and will hopefully get to other topics throughout the week ... so buckle in, baby, we're off.


- Let me start by urging everyone to watch tonight's season finale of CHUCK. I know I haven't been good about consistently reviewing the show, but the fact is: Chuck is one of the funniest, most fun, and most entertaining shows on TV. I'll talk more about it after tonight's episode, but I do want to mention that the last few episodes of the show have been absolutely (Captain) awesome. CHUCK has always excelled at great stunt casting, but the recent additions of Scott Bakula as Chuck's estranged dad and Chevy Chase as a software mogul / evil agent have been totally inspired. Bakula is perfect as Chuck's dad, aka Orion - a mysterious mastermind tech genious. And welcome back, Chevy Chase! Chase has been a lot of fun as a wise-cracking villain. Meanwhile, the show has gotten away from formulaic standalone episodes and really gone full-speed-ahead with its ongoing storyarc. A ton of huge developments have occurred in the last few eps - from Chuck and Sarah finally sealing the deal (well, almost) as a couple, to Captain Awesome, Chuck's future brother-in-law, learning about Chuck's secret CIA-status. And in a climactic showdown with badguy supergroup Fulcrum, Chuck foils their plans and in the process has the supercomputer Intersect removed from his mind. All that, plus the usual hilarious antics at the Buy More superstore. Tony Hale (aka Buster from Arrested Development) has really been finding his groove of late, and the rest of the lovable losers that populate the store rarely fail to bring the funny. I admit, I've been back and forth on CHUCK at times, but the last couple of episodes have really put it over the edge for me - this is a show that 100% deserves to be watched and enjoyed and to come back for a well-deserved third season! Can't wait for tonight's finale.

- Okay, let me talk about a show that is definitely ending in a mere matter of weeks, that show being PRISON BREAK. It's so crazy - in the weeks leading up to its Fall Finale, PB was absolutely kicking ass, bringing a heaping helping of gravitas to Monday nights prior to 24's eventual return in January. But when PB finally came back for its final run last Friday, the show seemed out of gas. There were already signs of this in the Fall, when after an episode that seemed like a pseudo-series finale, the show just ... kept going, introducing Michael Scofield's mother as a new Big Bad. Now, part of the problem here lies with FOX's scheduling. Last Friday, they threw us right back into the middle of a fairly complicated storyline with little to no recap to get us back up to speed. It was just - bam! - Prison Break is back, hope you remember all of the plotlines from December, enjoy! Nice job, FOX, way to show some love for your show or its fanbase. That said, the first episode back from break definitely felt kind of "blah." I expected the show to come back with a huge bang, and instead there was definitely a lack of urgency to the storytelling. It was that feeling of "geez, they STILL don't have Scylla?" And of "remind me again why T-Bag and Self are still in the mix here? And isn't Lincoln acting a bit too buddy-buddy with a couple of guys who have repeatedly tried to kill him? Anyways, the whole Michael's mother thing is a bit on the lame side. For a series that's known for its amazing villains, having Michael and Lincoln's mom turn up as a conniving ex-Company operative seems more than a little generic / cliche. A couple of potentially cool moments (the General getting blowed up real good) were overshadowed by a lot of non-action. Suffice it to say, it was great to have PB back last week, but I had to admit it was a somewhat underwhelming return. Now, this past Friday's episode was definitely a step in the right direction. The pace was quicker, the tension greater, and the dialogue snappier. T-Bag finally stopped acting like a good soldier, Mahone was allowed to be badass, and Michael had a couple of vintage Scofield moments. Sure, the whole pregnancy angle just seems unnecessary, but this week's ep reminded me of one of the key elements to Prison Break's success: breakneck pacing that doesn't let up. The fact that we know the end is near was kind of reassuring in that we know that these storylines are not going to be dragged out for too much longer. We're racing towards the endgame, and that in and of itself is exciting. My hope though is that the Company storyline is wrapped up ASAP. Let the final ep or two really tighten the focus on Michael and his personal journey. Let's get one final Scofield vs. T-Bag showdown. So, yeah, despite some of my criticisms, it's good to have PB back and I'm happy to be on board for one last run.

- Meanwhile, 24 has been firing on all cylinders of late, and I can't wait to see how tonight's episode plays out. Last week's 24 provided all kinds of action, drama, and emotional highs and lows. I'm still somewhat in denial that Tony is all-out EVIL, but at the same time I am eagerly awaiting the inevitable Jack vs. Tony battle to the death. Now, one thing that does make me weary: on almost every season of 24, we get the reveal that, guess what, there is some huge evil conspiracy at work behind the scenes, and that the guy who we thought was our uber-villain is in fact just one cog in the secret-cabal wheel. We are now getting that again this season, and every time, it *sounds* awesome at the outset. The problem is, 24 has almost never delivered any true payoff on all these conspiracy plotlines. We had the President Logan / Blue Tooth Mafia conspiracy, the one with the guy from Saw / Operations from La Femme Nikita, and now this one, in which Starkwood was apparently just a bit player. So 24, my plea to you is: STOP HINTING AT THESE HUGE EVIL CONSPIRACIES IF YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO FOLLOW-UP! I mean, how many competing conspiricies are there in the world of 24? Most high-level government employees are probably involved in at least two of 'em at any given time. So that is my biggest hope for the rest of the 24 season - stop teasing us with these huge uber-villains only to drop the ball!

- Another show that has been absolutely on top of its game of late is THE OFFICE. I haven't talked a ton about the show, but for my money The Office has, over the last couple of months, regained its crown as the funniest show on TV. The last several eps, in which Michael has gone off to form a competing paper company to Dunder Mifflin (appropriately enough, The Michael Scott Paper Company), have been nothing short of brilliant. The reaction at DM to a new, sterner boss has been great. As has Pam's defection to Michael's new company. Ryan's return has been great as well, and Dwight's torn loyalties have resulted in too many hilarious moments to list. But at the center of it all is Steve Carell's increasingly awesome performance as Michael Scott - a man who, really, doesn't care about business, but just wants respect and love from his coworkers, who are essentially his surrogate family. It's heavy and sometimes dark subject matter for a comedy to go to, but The Office has dared to go very, very dark in order to mine its humor. The Office is definitely THE must-see comedy as of now.

- But what about 30 ROCK, you ask? Don't get me wrong, 30 Rock is still pretty hilarious week in and week out. It's just that it seems like the show has reigned itself in to some degree, and that's disappointing. Where last year the show seemed to really embrace its own random sense of humor, this year the show seems more sitcom-y than ever. That means that all of the awesomely nonsensical Tracy Morgan lines get buried underneath the plotlines about Liz and Jack's respective love lives. It means that the focus is increasingly on Liz at the expense of the great cast of supporting characters (where art though, Hornberger?). So again, I still love 30 Rock, and I'm happy that its ratings have been up. But I do wish it would forget about trying to appease the soccer moms and just be off-the-wall insane like the old days.

- One more show I've been wanting to talk about, and that's FRINGE. Back in the Fall, I thought this was a solid show, but never would have guessed how quickly it'd jump into my upper echelon of must-see TV. Fringe, of late, has just been kicking ass. The overarching plotline, involving mysterious corporations, alternate dimensions, and strange psychic beings, might be the most intriguing mythology currently on TV. At the same time, the characters have really grown on me. Olivia in particular has evolved from kind of a blank slate into one of the best leading characters on television. And what can I really say about the epic awesomeness of Jon Noble as Walter Bishop? The guy is delivering A+ performances week in and week out, and is far and away the show's MVP player. The one trouble spot is probably still with Joshua Jackson as Peter Bishop. Peter has definitely gotten more likable of late, but at times he still comes off as whiny and annoying. After all the times his father has been proven right with his oddball theories, you'd think that Peter would stop questioning him at every turn. That said, there is a nice chemistry developing between the lead players, and as mentioned the overarching storylines are really getting good. Fringe is easily one of THE top shows on the tube right now.

- I did catch this past week's SMALLVILLE and it was yet another *pretty good* episode that had a couple of really fun moments mixed in with a lot of groan-inducing scenes. I think looking at the overall trajectory of Smallville, one of the most obvious big-picture problems is just how slowly the show inches forward each episode and, subsequently, each season. I mean, it's amazing that this Davis Bloome / Doomsday storyline has been going on now for an ENTIRE season, and we've yet to even see Clark land a punch on his adversary-in-waiting. Same goes for this while Red-Blue-Blur thing. I mean, it is just more frustrating with each episode. Because we *know* the logical payoff to this is Clark becoming Superman, but we also know that that will most likely never happen as long as the show is called "Smallville." So it's basically a holding pattern where every single week we are teased with the prospect of Clark evolving into Superman, and yet we leave in frustration knowing that the show is not prepared to go all the way. Again, this past week's episode had some fun Lois and Clark moments, and Lois donning a superhero outfit as "Stilleto" actually played out a lot better than it had any right to. Still, the show seems to be grasping at straws to find new ways to inch Clark closer to full-fledged superhero-dom without actually pulling the trigger. Assuming it comes back next season, I really don't know where they can go from here. All I can think of is to have a season of Clark travelling the world and having random adventures, with the occasional Lois or Jimmy guest-spot. That would be cool ... but the current path is going to completely wear out its welcome if it goes on for much longer.

- Finally, I've got to give a shout-out to GOSSIP GIRL. Last week's Passover seder-centric episode was an amusing romp, and the show overall continues to be one of the most flat-out entertaining series out there. It's tempting to call it a guilty pleasure, but when a show has writing that's as sharp and clever as this (see: The OC), it's hard not to give it its props. Not entirely inconceivable.

- And oh yeah ... no LOST this past week, but this Wednesday the show is back with a huge milestone episode. *Very* interested to see what happens there.

- One more note: my DVR screwed up my FOX Sunday night recordings, so I have yet to see any of last night's episodes. But I do want to talk about the giant letdown that is SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, and also about the long-running goodness that is KING OF THE HILL, which aired its 250th episode last night. Dang! So stay tuned for my thoughts, coming soon.

- Okay, whew, that's all for now. I do have a huge movie review to get to soon, for an awesome movie by the name of ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL. So stay tuned for that, and lots more, including thoughts on Sit Down and Shut Up, as well as NBA Playoffs talk. Until then, Happy Monday, and watch CHUCK!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gettin' CRANKED: Movie Review Double-Shot: CRANK and OBSERVE AND REPORT

Hey everyone - I'm back from the weekend and slogging through this blistering Monday. It's HOT here in LA, and by hot I mean yesterday and today have seen temperatures skyrocket past the 90 degree mark. Yep, it's sweltering here in beautiful downtown Burbank.

Anyways, the crazy heat makes this Monday feel even more sluggish than usual. But I was lucky to have a fun weekend, which included a nice Shabbat dinner on Friday, tons of NBA playoff basketball, and a showing of CRANK 2 on Sunday evening.

With that in mind, I've been pretty bad lately about getting movie reviews up in a timely fashion, so I'm just going to jump right into it. Especially given that the first movie I want to talk about, Observe and Report, is to me already one of the most underrated movies of the year. Reviews have been quite polarizing, and I realize that there are a number of factors going against the film. From a marketing perspective, it was clearly a challenge to convey that this movie was world's away from Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It was also tough, I think, to message that this wasn't just another Seth Rogen movie. Director Jody Hill is slowly but surely establishing his own brand of comedy, but he's not a big enough name yet to really market. In a year or two though, you can bet that Hill's name will carry real marketing value ... right now though, only so many people know of THE FOOT FIST WAY or EASTBOUND & DOWN. In any case, those were some of the challenges the movie faced just in terms of getting people to come see it. In terms of critical and popular reception, the fact is, Observe and Report is a polarizing movie. When I saw it in CT with my brother last weekend, both of us were laughing nonstop throughout the film. I was shocked when I spoke with others who felt lukewarm towards the movie. I guess it may be an acquired taste to some degree, but, as I'll talk about in my review, to me, it's an absolute must-see movie, one of the year's best to date.


- When I reviewed Jody Hill's debut film last summer - the underground comedy hit THE FOOT FIST WAY - I talked about how, while the movie had its flaws, you could see nearly unlimited potential showing through the cracks. Even if I had mixed feelings about Jody Hill's debut effort, I also couldn't wait to see what he did next. You could tell that with a bit more maturity and refinement, it was inevitable that Hill was one or two movies away from producing something truly great.

Well, that didn't take long.

Because Observe and Report is a genuinely amazing movie. Not only is it gut-bustingly hilarious, but it tackles characters and themes far darker and more complex than the average comedy dares to approach. Going into the film, audiences will no doubt have preconceptions that the movie conforms to a particular style of humor. Please, throw all that out of the window prior to viewing. This isn't a Judd Apatow-style comedy. This isn't a "typical" Seth Rogen movie. Instead, Observe and Report is dark, twisted, and even disturbing at times. It casts Rogen as a mentally unstable mall cop who has fantasies of being a hero. When a pervert plagues Rogen's mall, Rogen sees it as his personal calling to thwart the villain. In doing so, he seeks to win the affections of a trampy makeup-counter clerk (Anna Faris), and also to one-up a local detective (Ray Liotta) who is investigating the case.

Part of what makes this movie so sublime are the hilarious performances by the stellar cast. First and foremost, Seth Rogen turns in what may be a career-best role as Ronnie the mall-cop. Sure, Rogen is funny, but he isn't simply playing a typical Rogen-esque role. Instead, he channels the likes of DeNiro in Taxi Driver and Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, playing a character whose sanity you really have to question. I know those are lofty comparisons, but Observe and Report does actually cover some similar territory. In fact, Ronnie is a lot like a Travis Bickle or a Holden Caufield, skeptical of phonies and utterly convinced of his own inherent nobility. What differentiates Ronnie from other comedic leading men is that Jody Hill really pushes the character pretty far ... he isn't just the typical man-child with overinflated ego - this guy has serious, serious issues. Give Rogen credit for fully committing to that kind of out-there character - he could have played things much safer, but instead, he really makes Ronnie into a memorable nutball for the ages.

Getting back to the rest of the cast, everyone else seems to follow Rogen's lead in terms of 100% committing to their characters, many of whom, like Ronnie, appear at first to be somewhat stock comedy characters, only to then go down dark and unexpected roads. Anna Faris seems at first to be the typical blonde bimbo character. But Faris plays the character to hilarious effect, and again, you will be shocked and amazed with just how far down the rabbit hole the script takes her. Same goes for Ray Liotta - he kind of plays to type as a hard-nosed, no-BS detective, but half the fun is seeing his rivalry with Ronnie descend into increasingly disturbing territory. One more example of how far this movie is willing to go - Michael Pena as Ronnie's dorky friend Dennis. At first Dennis appears to be the token goofball sidekick, complete with over-the-top accent. Soon enough though, Dennis is revealed as being a much darker character than originally anticipated. The transition is both laugh-out-loud funny but also jarring - yet another reminder that this really is a unique movie for the depths its willing to go to.

There are almost too many other great little moments and cameos to mention. Danny McBride is friggin' hilarious in a cameo as a gang leader. Patton Oswalt does some great stuff as an asshole fast-food manager. Twins John and Matt Yuen, playing John and Matt Yuan, are absolutely classic. They might be to Jody Hill what Jay and Silent Bob are to Kevin Smith. Aziz Ansari is responsible for some of the movie's funniest moments, including an expletive-laced faceoff with Seth Rogen that is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Celia Weston is great as Ronnie's alcoholic Mom. Meanwhile, Colette Wolf almost steals the movie as a put-upon mall-worker who takes a liking to Ronnie - she gives the movie a lot of its heart. And there is heart here. For all of its darkness, I was surprised at how much you end up rooting for these oddball characters - there are a number of scenes that produce real stand-up-and-cheer kinds of moments.

It's hard to describe why exactly this movie succeeds in all the places where The Foot Fist Way faltered. I think the great cast is part of the equation, certainly, but it's also just that Jody Hill seems to have finally struck the perfect balance between comedy and drama. Take out the jokes and you have a pretty compelling movie in its own right. Take out the depth and drama and you have a funny movie in and of itself. But combine both together, and you have something that easily transcends the typical dumbed-down Hollywood comedy. This does indeed feel like a singular cinematic vision, and it's a movie that isn't conforming to any particular conventions or expectations. It's hilarious, thought-provoking, dramatic, and disturbing all at the same time. And it's a shame that this movie wasn't a smash hit, but trust me, it has cult classic written all over it. This is one of the best movies of 2009 so far.

My Grade: A


- Freaking insane. After seeing the first CRANK flick I suspected that the guys behind the movie might have been under the influence of various mind-altering substances whilst making their film. After seeing CRANK 2, I am not asking whether or not these dudes were on drugs while making the movie, I'm simply asking what kinds and how much. Crank 2 is OFF-THE-CHAIN RIDICULOUS. It's like Grand Theft Auto meets 24 meets Jackie Chan meets David Lynch. Yes, that's right.

I mean, let me put it this way: during one of Crank 2's climactic fight scenes, Jason Statham as Chev Chelios is in the midst of a bare-knuckle brawl with his arch nemesis amidst a rundown power grid. For no discernible reason, a minute or so into the fight, the image shifts, and suddenly Chelios and his opponent are giant-sized dudes fighting in a miniature cityscape, old-school monster-movie-style, wearing latex masks bearing their own likenesses. WTF?!?!

The crazy thing is this: by the point in the movie when this happens, we've seen so much crazy $#%& that you barely bat an eyelash and just go with it. It's almost too much. Whereas Crank 1 was over-the-top but still somewhat beholden to the laws of reality, Crank 2 apparently takes place in an alternate universe which is sort of like ours except everyone's gone bat$#%& insane and the laws of physics don't and never have existed.

Crank 2 is a movie where, while watching, my jaw was literally hanging agape for almost the entire movie. I alternatively was laughing, cringing, or just in shock at some of the things I was witnessing. There are moments of brilliant hilarity coupled with moments that are just plain wrong.

One thing cannot be argued though: Jason Statham is awesome. He bobs and weaves through this movie like an uncaged animal, and he delivers his lines with just the right amount of dripping disdain for all human life. He is one perpetually pissed-off dude, and that makes for moments both badass and hilarious. Statham is totally game for everything this movie throws at him. So is Amy Smart for that matter. I mean, holy lord. Give her a medal of honor for the things she puts herself through in this movie. Everyone else in the movie similarly brings their B-movie best. But give Statham all the credit in the world - he totally gets how to walk the line in these movies, and manages to be both badass and in on the joke.

Again, it's a fine line. Sometimes I was loving the sheer craziness of this movie, and sometimes you have to wonder if a certain line of decency has indeed been crossed.

That said, Crank 2 is an insanely good time, emphasis on *insane*. The movie is nonstop energy, balls to the wall action, and subversive and perverse humor all rolled into one. And like I said, it's friggin' off-it's-rocker, delving into the sublimely surreal on more than one occasion, to the point where you're not sure if you've just been transported into some crazy alternaverse that is powered solely by the laws of videogame logic. In any case, you'd be ready to put in another quarter if necessary. Crank 2 is Crank 1 on acid. Yikes.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, I'll have some TV reviews and more coming up soon. Until then, get cranked, yo'.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back in LA: Post-Passover Recap, Plus: LOST, 24, and the TERMINATOR finale!

Well, I'm back in LA, and after one day or so of having that relaxed, "just got back from sleepy New England" sense of calm, I'm already back in the LA grind. Yikes, that didn't take long.

In any case, it was nice being back in CT for a bit, as I hinted at in my previous post. My trip there, however, started on a somewhat unpleasant note during my Southwest flight from Vegas to Hartford. Initially, I thought I had lucked out, as I had an empty seat next to me and a quiet-seeming woman on the aisle. However, things took a turn for the worse when this awful couple asked if they could switch seats with the woman. The woman unfortunately obliged their request, and I was left stuck sitting next to Joe Dirt and Brandine. Holy lord, as soon as they sat down, they brought out bags and bags of fast food, which they quickly splayed across their tray tables. I swear, they did not stop eating the entire flight, and they just kept stuffing all of their used wrappers and cups and cartons into the back of their seats. They were probably semi-wasted when they boarded the plane, but they also each had several beers throughout the course of the flight. They also kept getting into these incomprehensible, redneck-ish arguments that would have been hilarious if I wasn't stuck listening to them.

Finally, I made it to CT around midnight last Tuesday night, was picked up by my dad, and was en route to Bloomfield by-gum Connecticut. On Wednesday, we still had a few precious hours of normalcy before Pasover began at sundown. Therefore, there was only one logical thing for my brother and I to do: go to Luna's Pizza in Simsbury to enjoy a slice or three of their patented pies. And oh man, that was some damn good pizza.

Wednesday night was our first Passover Seder, and it was quite a production. Parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. For the second Seder on Thursday, I volunteered to lead, and I made sure to put my own unique spin on the precedings. At our family seders, we use extremely well-worn haggadot, wine-stained and time-addled books that are probably several decades old. The language in the books can be hilariously antiquated, to say the least. Lots of "Lo's". Lots of "yea's", and one all-time classic passage that praises God for lifting our people out of "the dunghill." Yep, the dung-hill. Due to my consistently sophomoric sense of humor, I have, for years, been unable to read or even hear this passage without bursting into uncontrollable laughter. Well, you can bet that as I led our seder on Thursday, I fought through the laughter and made sure to remind everyone, with extra emphasis, that we had indeed been lifted from the proverbial dunghill. Dammit all.

Also on Thursday, I accompanied my dad to his new office in the CT State Legislature. As I walked into the building, I remembered that I myself had actually worked there in the summer of 2003, when I did an internship in the CT Senate Democrats' Press Office. Suffice it to say, while it was cool to see my dad's new digs, I was also quickly reminded of why local politics is probably not for me.

On Friday, my brother and I went to see OBSERVE AND REPORT, which will, of course, be reviewed here in this very blog ASAP. We then had our third consecutive family dinner in a row, this time a Shabbat dinner and not a seder. Later, the Baram boys hunkered down for a viewing of action-movie classic POINT BREAK.

After that, I had one more day in CT, and then it was back to LA early Sunday. After two seders, other assorted home-cooked Passover food, a few movies, and multiple instances in which I proved to my brother that my videogame skills are superior to his (note: this final point may be subject to debate ...), I was ready to return to Hollywood. To be sure, it was nice to know that I only had to endure a handful of days on my own of matzoh-pizza and Crispy-O's (the defacto kosher-for-passover cereal). Being a guy with limited cooking skills is not ideal for Passover, that's for sure.

Sidenote: I think I've mentioned this before, but the Subway restaurant location in the Las Vegas airport is easily the slowest and most poorly-run Subway in the country, if not the world. On my way to CT, I had a long layover in the Vegas airport, and only because I knew that I had over an hour to spare did I dare wait in the endless line to get that Subway sandwich. The problems with this Subway are endless. It uses a strange system in which you place your order, pay, and then get placed into a second line where you wait for your sub to get made (which basically necessitates that you order twice). Also, the woman who takes your oder and works the register is quite the sub-Nazi. She frequently makes mistakes and gets orders wrong, and deals with customers in an antagonistic manner that makes transactions take forever. Finally, this Subway is perpetually understaffed despite its popularity. As I walked past this Subway while en route back to Burbank on Sunday, I could only shake my head in pity at the poor travellers who were waiting in its unmoving line, just beginning to realize that they were in fact in the fast-food line from hell. My advice to anyone passing through the Vegas airport: if you have time to spare and are really hankerin' for a sub, then brave the line at your own peril, but know that you will be there for a while (and that you will pay crazy, inflated prices). If you're in a hurry, avoid at all costs! If there is a Subway in hell, this, surely, is it.

Anyways ...my flight back to LA was a bit rocky, but overall I made it back to Burbank on Sunday evening relatively unscathed. No crazy rednecks this time, luckily.

So yeah, since being back it's been a busy couple of days catching up at work and getting back into the groove. But, enough about me ...


- I thought last night's LOST was a fun episode that, while not packed with edge-of-your-seat excitement, was an interesting look at Miles - a character who's quickly grown into a fan-favorite. I thought the revelation that Pierre Chang is Miles' father was pretty intriguing, but at the same time, I kind of thought that Pierre / Marvin Candle was cooler when he was just that enigmatic guy who appeared in the Dharma videos. Fleshing him out as yet another source of daddy-issues seems like it might be a slight case of overkill. Really though, the highlights of this ep were the many great exchanges between Miles and Hurley. There was a lot of fun banter there, and so many great lines covering everything from time-travel to global warming. The little subplot about Hurley trying to write his own version of Empire Strikes Back was a bit goofy, but at the same time was an interesting kind of side-note to the whole "can you change the future or is it set in stone?" theme. Anyways, I'm psyched to find out what Daniel Faraday's been up to and to see his story play out - great cliffhanger that should lead to big things in two weeks' time.

My Grade: B+

- Now, a quick word on *last* week's huge LOST episode - just wanted to mention what a kickass ep that was. The Ben flashbacks and Ben's eventual "judgement" at the hands of ol' Smokey made for extremely compelling TV, and the Ben-Locke interaction was as sharp as ever.

My Grade: A-


- Sonofa ... say it ain't so, Tony! Say it ain't sooooooo ....

Is it true? Could Mr. Almeda really have turned to the dark side? Could the Sultan of the Soul Patch really have gone evil? Monday's jaw-dropping episode of 24 contained a number of intense moments, and even before the oh-no-he-didn't cliffhanger, this was shaping up to be one hell of an episode. The last several episodes have spent a lot of time building up Jack's tenuous connection with his fellow man, and so the scenes between Jack and his daughter in this ep were pretty powerful. It was cool to see Kim Bauer again, all the better since there were no cougars in sight. In any case, between the climactic showdown with Starkwood and the capture of Jon Voight, the emotional moments between Jack, Kim, and Renee, and the game-changing twist involving Tony, this was one crazy episode. My one complaint? The scenes with the President and Jon Voight were a bit absurd - I mean, unless Voight had been presented as a complete lunatic, which he wasn't before now, how in the blue hell did he think he was going to sit down with the Prez and convince her to turn over all of this power to him? Got to take my grade down a notch for that one.

My Grade: A-

- I also want to talk about TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. If you've been reading the blog regularly, you know that, in general, I've been a fan of the show, but have had reservations about its relative lack of action and forward momentum. In fact, earlier this season, the show suffered through a slump of several consecutive episodes that were so dull and slow-paced that I almost decided to drop the series entirely. That said, the season's final few episodes really kicked things up a notch, and suddenly, I was glad that I hadn't given up on the show. In any case, the season, and possibly series, finale continued the trend of the previous batch of eps and was a pretty riveting hour of TV. We FINALLY saw Sarah and John meet with Weaver, and got some pretty big hints regarding her ultimate agenda as far as John Henry and her attempts to build a sort of anti-Skynet. What really impressed me about the last few eps and this one in particular was how so many threads finally came together. The flash-forwards to the USS Jimmy Carter, the "three dots," Cameron's spotty behavior - all of it came together to create a finale that did really feel like the culmination of everything that we've seen to date. Not only that, but this ep had what so may eps of the show have lacked - action, drama, and intensity. From some tension-filled pseudo-sexual moments between John and Cameron to Weaver's liquid-metal morphing, there was a ton going on in this ep, and that's before we even got to the crazy-ass cliffhanger. Now, when I first watched it, I was so caught up in the coolness-factor of John and Weaver travelling through time into a John Connor-less, post-Judgement Day future that I didn't really stop to think about it in a broader context. It's a shocking cliffhanger, to be sure - but if this in fact the series finale, then man, it's a pretty unsatisfying note to go out on. Even aside from that, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense why John would time-jump after Cameron. He's leaving his potentially sick mother alone and on the run from the law, and furthermore, his jump could be dooming the future, as John is effectively taking himself out of the timeline during the all-important years when he is supposed to rise up and lead the anti-Skynet resistance. Again, it just didn't seem to add up - why would John fling himself to who-knows-when? In any case, the questions surrounding the ending can't take away from what was a pretty damn good finale. I give the show a ton of credit - through compelling characters and some intriguing twists, I'm now substantially more invested in the Terminator mythology as a whole. The show added some genuinely cool elements to the mythos - Cameron, for one, is an awesome character - I can only hope that Summer Glau will find her way to the big-screen franchise. The relationship between her and John is just too intriguing to be ignored in the movies. Similarly, while it took a long time for Weaver's story-arc to gain momentum, the idea of a rival AI to Skynet that works with the humans is a potentially fascinating avenue to explore. Characters like Derek Reese, John Henry, and Weaver are more-than-worthy additions to the Terminator cannon. I think the ideal might be to bring this show back for a short run next fall that bridges the gap between the series and the new films. It'd be a brilliant marketing move for FOX and WB, and it could pave the way for characters like Cameron to find their way into the film franchise. As it stands though, even though I've had issues with the show, I respect it for being an intelligent, character-driven drama that never talked down to the audience. If every episode matched the quality of this finale, it would have been one heck of a series.

My Grade: A-

Alright, that's all I've got for now. Check back tomorrow for an OBSERVE AND REPORT review. Happy End-Of-Passover! Time for some glorious, glorious bread.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

From Bloomfield, CT - A Passover Interlude

Well, it's been a quick stay here in CT, and in a matter of hours I'll be boarding a plane headed back to Los Angeles. While it will be nice to get back to the sunny skies and endless excitement of LA, it was nice to take a couple of days to relax and spend time with family here in New England. Moreover, it was good to be back in Bloomfield during the Passover seders. While potential plans in LA were failing to really take shape, there was a certain comfort in sitting around our dining room table with my parents and grandparents, uncles and cousins, reciting the Seder from the same wine-stained haggadot that we've used since long before I was even born. In LA, every gathering is an event complete with theme and Facebook invite. In Bloomfield, it's just tradition.

I'll be back soon with a lot more, but wanted to get in a quick post, as is tradition, from the house in Bloomfield.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Adventures in Blogging: ADVENTURELAND Review + April Foolishness, The Simpsons, and MORE!

Back from a jam-packed weekend, with lots to talk about. On Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the KROQ April Foolishness show at the Gibson Ampitheater at Universal Citywalk - featuring an insane line-up of top-shelf comedians. Saturday, I journeyed down to Culver City to celebrate the birthday of one of my Birthright Israel peeps, Ron D., and had a really fun night. Sunday, I took in a showing of ADVENTURELAND, which I will review right here, in this very post. And tomorrow, I'm blowing this popsicle stand and flying to Bloomfield by-god Connecticut for a couple days of family funtime and Passover seder-ing. That's right, I'm going East Coast from Tuesday to Sunday.

Back to the KROQ April Foolishness show for a minute - wow, what an epic night of comedy! The lineup was simply off the chain. Let me recap:

- The show started off with a montage of KROQ comedy clips featured on the Kevin and Bean morning radio show, as well as special shout-outs and pre-packaged sketches from the likes of Bob Saget, Tenacious D, Joel McHale, and more. Good stuff.

- JIMMY KIMMEL did a quasi talk-show segment, talking wiht Kevin and Bean and recalling his days as a sports guy for their show. We also got a surprise appearance from ADAM CAROLLA, doing one of his old characters from his own time as a K&B contributor.

- The first official standup act of the night was RAY ROMANO. I've never been a huge fan of his, but I must admit that Romano had some good material, even if his go-to topics of fatherhood and married life may not have been the best fit for the audience at the show. Still, not bad at all.

- The Office's CRAIG ROBINSON was up next and tore the house down, doing a set that saw the audience singing along with Robinson as he performed a random medley of hilarious tunes on his keyboard. Robinson's manic delivery and hilarious facial expressions were awesome, and he had the theater rocking.

- One of my favorites from the good ol' days of Saturday Night Live, KEVIN NEALON, was up next, and he started off a bit shaky. But ... Nealon ended with an absolutely classic bit that may be, in retrospect, my favorite material from the show. Suffice it to say, Nealon's story about reviewing porn movies for Playboy magazine was comedic gold.

- SARAH SILVERMAN took the stage and her set was vintage Sarah Silverman - that unique blend of sweet and innocent with foul-mouthed and filthy that has been her stock and trade. There was some really great material here, although the most memorable moments of Sarah's set came when she called out a heckler in the crowd, looking visibly irritated, and reminding everyone that she is probably the last person you want to annoy. In any case, Silverman had some great bits and it was awesome seeing her live and in person.

- The last time I saw him in person, he was hosting the Saturn Awards ... so this was actually my second time seeing JEFF ROSS do live comedy. The Roastmaster was in rare form, firing off jokes one after another, and even bringing Craig Robinson back out to play piano as Ross recited a couple of poems (yes, poems - but with a Jeff Ross twist, of course).

- It took me a while to warm up to him, but eventually JOE ROGAN won me over with his over the top, animated style and hilarious anecdotes. His extended bit about how tigers are dangerous monsters that we should live in fear of was funny as hell, and he had the crowd roaring in laughter.

- Finally, PATTON OSWALT closed out the show with a pretty decent set. I recognized a bunch of the jokes from Oswalt's most recent talk-show appearances, but he still had a couple of great lines. Plus, you've got to give props to the sheer geekiness of Oswalt - who else could so nonchalantly work in jokes referencing Snake Plissken and Blade Runner into his routine?

- Overall, like I said, it was an epic night of comedy, and it was awesome to see so many big-name comedians at a single show. Many if not all of the featured performers could have headlined their own sold-out show, so it was an undeniable treat to see them all at one time, in one place.


- Speaking of comedy, last night's episode of THE SIMPSONS was pretty interesting. One one level, this one had the makings of a great episode - it was very character-centric ep, featured Moe the bartender in a central role, and felt pretty old-school in terms of style and structure. The storyline, featuring Moe's foray into online dating leading to a newfound romance with a "little person" had a lot of potential. Ultimately though, while the set-up had a ton of promise, the resolution was far too jarring. You couldn't help but root for Moe despite his tendency to screw up, but as much as it seemed inevitable that he would eventually drop the ball, it all happened pretty suddenly. Similarly, the Homer-Maggie subplot was just kind of there and didn't have a ton of great jokes. If the humor had been really clicking here, then the resolution of the storyline wouldn't have been quite as important. But since this episode really invited you to focus in on the plot, its flaws were all the more visible. That said, I wouldn't mind if more Simpsons episodes were this character-focused - I'd rather have a decent ep with a great storyline than a trainwreck-style episode that's random and all over the place. And you know what, I really liked the final scene, so I will bump up my grade a notch.

My Grade: B+

- So it turns out I am really glad I stuck with TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, especially given that this coming Fridays' ep may be its last. Luckily, it seems that the show is intent on going out with a bang, as the last few eps have really cranked things up a notch. For one thing, this past Friday saw one of the most sudden and out-of-nowhere character deaths I've ever seen on a primetime drama. Derek's cold-blooded death at the hands of a hostile Terminator was shocking to say the least. Beyond that, the episode finally saw a convergence of John, Sarah, and Cameron with Ellison, John Henry, and Weaver, and set things up nicely for a potentially explosive finale. The biggest reveal the show has up its sleave is likely the revelation of Weaver's true agenda, so I'm excited to see how that plays out. I also really liked that this ep finally painted John Connor as a hero - seeing him save Savannah was a cheer-worthy moment, because it's one of the few times we've seen John step up and do more than just brood. In any case, this penultimate episode had high drama, great action, and the promise of big plot twists still to come. Man - what took them so long?

My Grade: A-

- Meanwhile, Thursday's SMALLVILLE was a fun installment that was a key chapter in the ongoing Davis Bloome / Doomsday storyline. And yet, in usual Smallville fashion, what could have been a really great episode gets weighed down by a large dose of cheesy melodrama. One thing that's always been pretty lame about Smallville is how the writers use shortcuts to create miscommunication and ambiguity in the characters' dialogue. I mean, Tess Mercer - she clearly knows at this point that Clark is the "Traveller", but through hamfisted dialogue the issue was danced around to no end. Otherwise, the Davis Bloom stuff was handled pretty well, but I was disappointed in the episode's non-ending. At this point, geez, just have Davis be the rampaging monster Doomsday already. Having him return to Chloe at episode's end seems to just keep his storyline in a perpetual state of limbo, a state that Smallville is all-too familiar with. The fact is, not every villain has to be a full-fledged supporting character. Having Davis around all the time makes the wait for the knock-down, drag-out smackdown with Clark that we all want to see seem like an eternity. Still, when all was said and done this was a well-done episode. As a self contained ep of Smallville, it was solid. But you have to wonder when the ultimate payoff to all of these neverending storylines will finally come.

My Grade: B

Okay, time for a movie review ...


- This is not Superbad. Unlike director Greg Mottola's previous effort, Adventureland is much more in the vein of coming-of-age classics like Fast Times At Ridgemont Hight. It's down to earth, authentic, and has a surprising amount of dramatic heft to go along with the comedy. The characters are not just cartoons, but instead are surprisingly well-rounded. The script is smart and understated, and the direction really takes advantage of the 1980's setting to evoke a sense of nostalgia. It's a shame that Adventureland didn't perform better at the box office this past weekend, because it really is one of the best teen movies to come along in some time, and that's saying something given the many strong entries in the genre over the last few years. But the fact is, this story of a recent college grade spending his summer working at a crappy amusement park in Pittsburgh is both a tribute to the teen movies of old and a fairly unique entry in the genre.

Again, while Adventureland has some huge laughs, they are all earned thanks to great characterization. For the most part, this isn't an over-the-top, goofball comedy - think the sensibilities of Freaks & Geeks transposed to life after high school. To that end, it's funny to see so much talent associated with the "Apatow Gang" come full circle and go back to that subtler, more contemplative storytelling style.

The wall-to-wall strength of the cast really helps to pull of Motolla's vision. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent in the lead role - a slightly less geeky version of Michael Cera, Eisenberg really captures the uncertainty and weirdness of life immediately after college. And by the way, I really like the fact that this movie, while it is a coming-of-age story and one that kind of comes in the tradition of teen movies, deals with characters who are in their early twenties. For some reason, movies seem to gloss over this period and give the impression that once you're out of high school you're suddenly an uber-confident, drama-free adult (until you're in your mid-thirties, when you become a goofy man-child ...). It was almost weird seeing a twenty-something character having to deal with things like disapproving parents, but then I thought about my own life and realized that, holy crap, I was watching the most authentic post-college movie I've seen.

Back to the cast though, Eisenberg is good, but he is surrounded by a great ensemble. Say what you will about Twilight, but Kristen Stewart is undoubtedly the real deal. Her emotions and issues in Adventureland are so tangible and real-seeming that at times it can be almost hard to watch. Stewart is quickly becoming the go-to actress to play the quintissential damaged-goods-dream-girl. Suffice it to say, she's great in Adventureland, and you have to admire the fact that her character is painted with such shades of grey, and yet you really root for her.

It's so great to see Martin Starr kick ass in this movie - his best role since Freaks & Geeks. Playing a slightly older and more hipster version of Bill, Starr is all heart here and is a great counterpoint to Eisenberg's character. Whereas Eisenberg is falling in love and having this transformative moment, for Starr, it's just more of the same old crap. You don't see that a lot in movies, and here, it's sad, funny, and refreshing. On the oppossite end of the spectrum are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig from SNL, who provide a lot of the film's biggest comedic moments. Hader in particular is awesome as the 'stache-sportin' owner of the Adventureland theme park. Ryan Reynolds is also good as the slightly older and slightly mythical park mechanic. Then again, the movie is all about looking behind the facade and really getting into these characters, so he is not quite what he seems.

The fact is though, the movie does a great job of recreating the whole summer-job vibe. As someone who spent five years as a camp counsellor, I couldn't help but smile in recognition at certain scenes in the movie.

If there's anything that I'd hold against Adventureland it's that, sometimes, the movie wallows a bit too much in its own emo-ness. But it's a tribute to the writing and cast that, like I said, the authenticity results in numerous awkward moments that feel so real and personal that they are almost hard to watch. Shades of Freaks & Geeks, for sure. But overall I really liked the vibe of this movie, from the great 80's tunes (including YET ANOTHER shout-out to Rush!) to the finely-honed mix of drama and comedy, I really got caught up in the characters and story.

So go check out Adventureland - it is certainly not the typical teen comedy - it feels personal, authentic, and it's a movie that has a lot of unexpected depth behind its humor.

My Grade: A-

Random Note: Saw JANET JACKSON at work today - she was in a meeting in the conference room that is right next to my desk!

Random Note: 24 had better kick some ass tonight.

Random Note: Cya.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Whatever Happened, Happened: LOST Review + TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER

- Okay, won't waste any time here and will just jump right into last night's LOST. Wow, now that was an episode. I have to say though, it really is amazing how any given episode of Lost can inspire such a wide variety of opinions. I think Lost has had a couple of truly canonical episodes that everyone can agree are among the series' best, but it seems like the more standard-issue episodes can prove to be pretty divisive. I mean, I was shocked to see The AV Club rate last night's episode a "B." To me, after a couple of very good episodes that ultimately felt like they were treading water to some degree, last night's ep really delivered a lot of the emotional payoff we've been waiting for.

As I was saying to someone earlier, sometimes Lost has its characters act in ways that don't quite make sense given what they've been through. Last night though, I really thought the writers did a brilliant job of rationalizing each characters' choices, taking into account what they've slowly begun to learn about the rules of time-travel, fate, and destiny. That topic in and of itself has been dealt with in a fascinating manner, and I loved Miles and Hurley's geeky conversation about the laws of space and time last night - tongue in cheek so as not to be too jarring, but at the same time really giving voice to the same questions that we the audience have been asking. I don't buy the argument that it was too expository, because the conversation was presented in a way so as to lightly poke fun at the inevitable questions that Lost's time-travel plotlines have inspired.

The great script was helped by some amazing acting from the always-great cast. I think this was the best acting job we've yet seen from Evangeline Lilly - she completely sold everything in this episode - and helped make the grocery store scene in the flashback legitimately terrifying. And man, just the look on Michael Emerson's face in that final scene when he woke up to see Locke alive and well - holy crap, so awesome.

I even thought they did a fantastic job fleshing out Ben's father a bit - for the first time he got a chance to be slightly sympathetic, and you really did wonder what might have happened had Kate and Sawyer not brought Ben to Richard and the Others. You have to wonder what kind of craziness awaits young Ben at the hands of the Others, and you also have to wonder if older Ben might now have any recollection of his previous encounters with Sayid, Sawyer, Kate, etc.

Again though, I was just seriously impressed with how tightly this episode dealt with all of the twistiness of time-travel in conjunction with some real character evolutions for the likes of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Juliette. Jack's decision not to personally intervene to help save young Ben makes sense, but it's also true that it represents a real shift in his character that's been building for a while now.

So to me, this was the best Lost episode in several weeks. Awesome stuff. And by the way, I was on record as saying there was nooo way Ben would be dead, and also predicted that Sayid shooting him would lead to Ben being taken under the care of the Others. Hate to say I told you so, but ...

My Grade: A

- Alright, while I'm talking about Lost, I may as well talk about a work that helped to inspire the show in some ways, WATCHMEN.


- One of my favorite parts of the Watchmen comic is the story-within-a-story, Tales From the Black Freighter. So much of Watchmen is about deconstructing the history of comic books, and the grisly comic read by a young bookworm in the Watchmen universe is a great tribute to the violent and controverial EC Comics of the 1950's. The violent, sexual, and ultra-pulpy EC comics of that era, like Tales From the Crypt, were made a target of the government and were singled out as being subversive and inappropriate for children. The attacks on EC and the implementation of a Comics Code that limited what kind of content could be in the books ultimately led to the company going under. But their legacy lived on, in movies, TV, and via Watchmen, which even features former EC contributor and pulp comics master Joe Orlando as a sort of meta-character within the narrative. Suffice it to say, Tales From the Black Freighter works as a parallel story in Watchmen for a number of narrative and metatextual reasons ... but beyond that, it's just plain cool and certifiably badass.

So I was really excited to see how Zack Snyder and co would adapt it, and I rushed out to buy the Tales From the Black Freighter DVD, which featured the animated pirate adaptation along with a faux-documentary, Under the Hood, that includes a lot of the supplemental content from the graphic novel that helped to give the world of Watchmen its historical context.

The Tales of the Black Freighter animated piece was really well-done. Gerard Butler's gravelly voice is a perfect fit to provide our grim hero's ominous narration. Overall, the animation is well done, and the imagery is as disturbing and haunting as it was in Alan Moore's comic. I did think that the art style felt a little too generic given the material. It would have been awesome to see the animation done in a manner that truly paid homage to the likes of Joe Orlando's old-school EC Comics art or Dave Gibbons' original Watchmen illustrations, but what we get feels like a slightly darker version of the old Don Bluth animation or something. Not that that's inherently bad, but it didn't quite evoke the old pulp comics in the same manner that Dave Gibbons was able to do in the Watchmen comic.

Overall though, I quite enjoyed the animated piece and I am really excited to see it cut into the actual Watchmen film, hopefully in conjunction with some additional footage of the comic's old newsman and the kid who frequents his stand. The behind-the-scenes featurettes indicate that there is more footage featuring both characters, so again, can't wait to see how this important aspect of the graphic novel ultimately makes it into the Director's Cut of the film.

On a final note, it was cool that the song "Pirate Jenny" from the Threepenny Opera was used as the end-credits theme here. It's well known that the original version of the song helped inspire Alan Moore's story, but I had never actually heard it before. Suffice to say, the haunting rendition here by Nina Simone is a great way to put an exclamation point on the morbid tale of the Black Freighter.

As for Under the Hood, there is some really cool footage to be found in the faux-documentary, and I loved the 70's-style presentation, complete with period-appropriate ads. We even get a cool ad for "Nostalgia," the Adrian Veidt-conceived brand that is featured so prominently in the Watchmen comics.

There's not a ton of meat to the documentary though, and the featured cast is a bit all over the place. Steven McHattie does an awesome job as Hollis Mason, and really excels at acting in an improvisational way that stays true to the documentary format. When he tells tales of the old days fighting crime with the Minutemen, and talks about the mysterious Hooded Justice or the trials before the House of Un-American Activities, you can't help but be fascinated. Carla Gugino and Edgar Jacobi are decent as Sally Jupiter and Moloch, respectively, but neither is quite as good doing the improv style acting as McHattie. On the other hand, a couple of the featured actors are way too over the top, like the guy playing a former colleague of Dr. Manhattan's.

I guess with both pieces, there is a lot to like, but both are short enough that they feel more like a snack than a full meal. As someone who was dying to see how Tales of the Black Freighter would be adapted, I'm glad I picked up the DVD. But I'm definitely happy I got the bare-bones DVD version - this is not one that justifies a deluxe edition or blu-ray purchase. There's a nice behind-the-scenes piece and the first episode of the Watchmen motion comic thrown in as well, but still, there is not a ton of content.

That said, this is a worthwhile pickup for the hardcore Watchmen fan.

My Grade: B+

- Alright, so long for now and "welcome to the land of the living."