Monday, June 29, 2009


Man, Mondays can be tough, especially when your work week starts out with a trip to the dentist. Agh, good times. I need an Advil.

Speaking of which, here's my review of Michael Bay's latest ...


- I'd need to do some serious bad-movie watching to prove this, but is it possible that Michael Bay made a great movie in THE ROCK and that each subsequent film has gotten progressively worse? Is it possible that, with each new film, Bay shows less and less restraint when it comes to giving in to his worst creative impulses? Is it possible that with each new Bay film, the blow-'em-up filmmaker increasingly forgets about making a great movie and, instead, simply panders more and more the absolute lowest common denominator? The first Transformers movie was pretty bad, but if nothing else it was worth seeing for its eye-popping f/x. Now that the novelty of the CGI is gone though, what is left for the bigger and badder sequel? How about a script that makes less sense than ever, a story devoid of heart and soul, direction that is obnoxiously ADD, and despite all that, a running time that is way, way too long.

Transformers has a couple of things going for it. Let me list them for you:

a.) The guy who plays AARON PIERCE on 24 is in this. Even though his character is given nothing cool to say or do whatsoever, the mere fact that it's AARON PIERCE: AGENT OF AWESOME in the movie, or a character who might as well be him for all we care, is kind of cool if you're a 24 fan. At the least, if you get bored or frustrated with the movie, you can look forward to not-Aaron Pierce showing up and giving the movie a slight injection of gravitas.

b.) Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime. As in part 1, everything Optimus Prime says is pretty darn awesome simply because he has an incredibly badass cartoon superhero voice. Even the most cheesy line sounds pretty kickass when Prime says it. So of course, this means that OP barely talks or is given any real characterization throughout the entire 2 1/2 hour movie.

c.) There is one pretty cool, and surprisingly coherant, fight scene about halfway through the movie, in which Optimus and co. duke it out with the Decepticons in the middle of a forest. Pretty badass hand-to-hand robot fighting here, and Bay reigns it in enough so the fight actually has a bit of dramatic momentum and gravity. Of course, this is not emblematic of the movie's action scenes as a whole. The movie's final half hour is basically one giant shoot-em-'up action scene that pretty much makes no sense, has no internal logic, and cuts back and forth between characters with reckless abandon. Dammit all.

d.) The opening two minutes or so of the movie is pretty sweet - I'm not sure what happened, but it's Optimus Prime's narration telling us something about how Transformers met humans way back in ancient times, and they fought or something. But basically just the juxtaposition of the narration with some random scene of dudes with spears fighting some giant robot is kinda cool.

And ... yeah. Everything else is pretty bad. The script is bad. But maybe, just maybe, the over-the-top plotline about an ancient race of Transformers called The Fallen COULD have been kinda cool if given more time to be fleshed out. But instead, we get endless "humor" in the form of dogs humping each other, Shia LeBuff's mom eating a pot brownie, etc. Oh yeah, there's two jive-talkin' sidekick robots who make Black Vulcan and Apache Chief from Superfriends look like racially-progressive characters. As for Shia, he's just flat-out goofy for most of the movie. You never once buy him as a dramatic lead, and there's never any real suspense around his character. He just kind of runs around aimlessly, and there's really no good reason why he's supposed to be some kind of chosen one. There's brief moments of him saying how he just wants to be a normal college kid, etc. But we never really explore that. But, guess what?! We do spend several scenes with Shia and Megan Fox and the big drama that threatens to tear their relationship asunder: will he or won't he say "I love you." Dude, I just spent a whole season watching that storyline play out on Gossip Girl (seriously), and I don't need to see it in friggin' Transformers!

Meanwhile, a ton of cool actors are pretty much wasted. John Turturro is one of my fave actors, but his character is annoying as hell here. He's like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day except if you took away every shred of what made that character work. And Michael Bay's spastic editing ADD doesn't help. I mean, in the final, climactic battle scene, Turturro gives a whole speech about how this is his big moment to do something good for his country. He proceeds to climb a giant pyramid on which is affixed a planet-eating doomsday device. On top of the pyramid is an evil Decepticon looking to activate the device. Now, Turturro climbs the pyramid, and we keep cutting to him flailing away and yelling every five seconds. But what is he trying to do?! Why is he climbing a giant pyramid? When he gets near the top of the pyramid, he enacts his heroic plan ... he radios for help from a nearby aircraft carrier! And why did he need to climb a giant pyramid to do that? Damn you, Michael Bay.

Let's see ... Rainn Wilson of The Office is in the movie for a couple of minutes. Megan Fox does nothing the whole movie, except, if she bats an eyelash it gets its own slo-mo shot. There's something about how her father just got out of prison and how she is conflicted about a long-distance relationship with Sam (Shia), but hey, that's all a lot to process when we've got things to blow up. And I just found this out: the great Hugo Weaving is the voice of Megatron. And Tony Todd is The Fallen?! Wow, they really took advantage of their talents in this one, folks!

The crazy part is that with the movie being so long and drawn out, the actual robots seem like they're barely there. The three most featured good-guy robots are all comic relief - the blaxploitation twins and then Bumblebee, who's isn't-he-cute not-talking schtick was old halfway through Part 1. Optimus is cool when he's actually on-screen, and the other Autobots are rlegated to background players. And hey, how about the villains? They should be cool, right? Well, the main "villain" in terms of screentime is a miniscule Decepticon who eventually becomes good and likes to hump Megan Fox's leg. Yeah, there's a lot of humping in this movie. Megatron and Starscream don't do much at all, except there's one scene where Megatron randomly beats down his weaselly lackey that is sort of cool. But yeah, the new big bad here is The Fallen, who I guess is like The Emperor to Megatron's Darth Vader. Except whereas the Emperor kicked ass, The Fallen is just another robot who doesn't seem all that different or more dangerous than any of the other robots. Except he can only be killed by a "Prime," of which Optimus is one (duh). Why that is, I don't think we know, and by that point in the movie, we probably don't much care, either.

What kills me about this movie is that it has a couple of cool moments, but there's no way in hell you can tell me it's a good movie. There's the camp that says "oh it's a big fun summer movie and I have no expectations for it other than Megan Fox and explosions." To anyone that says that: you are a moron. There is an art to making quality films of any genre, and that includes blockbuster action movies. And on most counts, Transformers 2 fails. There aren't characters that you care about. There isn't a plot that gets you invested in the action. Even the action doesn't get you invested in the action, because every time dramatic momentum begins to build up, we cut away to a random shot of F-16's zooming through the air or random soldiers walking on an aircraft carrier in front of a red horizon. WTF. Not only that, but the tone is all over the place. I'm all for well-timed comic relief, but you can't have an epic movie about killer robots also feature approximately one leg-humping joke a minute. It doesn't work that way. But back to the artform of blockbuster action movie-making: look at movies like Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Lord of the Rings, Wall-E, King Kong, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Spiderman, Star Wars, Star Trek, and countless others - these movies combined style with substance, action and wit, visual flair with iconic characters. Transformers may be the equal to those movies in box office gross, but in all other ways, it's not in the same league, no way, no how. Even campier, less serious films like The Mummy and Independence Day make Transformers look completely weak by comparison. When the basic storytelling of a movie doesn't hold up, it's hard to give it high marks. Even visually, as cool as some of the CGI is, the art style is more often than not like a bad Rob Liefield drawing come to life, with so much unnecessary visual detail that the robots become a chore to look at and to try to follow. What happened to simple and iconic design?

This is Action Movies for Dumb People. There's no imagination, no drama, no momentum. I know, what do you expect, it's a movie based on an 80's toy-line and Saturday morning cartoon, right? But man, those old cartoons had spark, they had imagination, they had characters that kids loved. This movie isn't even appropriate for kids - it's too focused on leg-humping and sex-appeal to remember that it's supposed to be a giant robots movie for ten year olds. Sadly, the cartoons for ten year olds back in the day were way smarter than this.

My Grade: C-

- And that's all for now - until next time!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pop Is Dead: Thoughts and Reflections on the Death of Michael Jackson

- What a weird day yesterday was, and what a confused jumble of pop-cultural craziness is today. Michael Jackson is dead at 50. The boy-king who never wanted to grow up never did. He died before he had a chance to get old. And on one hand, you have everyone trying to all of a sudden ignore the freakshow and focus on the music. And on the other hand, it's pretty much impossible to ignore what might be one of the strangest, most disturbing, most fascinating, and maybe the most tragic stories in the history of pop culture.

It's hard not to think that Michael Jackson was the tipping point - his astronomical rise to fame represented the moment when celebrity culture had finally and devastatingly gone too far. Jackson became so big and so huge that his life no longer bore any semblance to that of a normal human being. As his appearance became increasingly grotesque, so too did his public persona. On the news networks today, everyone is trying their hardest to focus on the music and not the person. But man, all one needs to do is look at a photo of Jackson from the last several years. And as much as the man was one of the iconic figures in music and entertainment, how can you not think: "good lord, what the hell happened?"

I say that because I am just old enough, at 26, to remember a time when MJ still represented the absolute epitomy of cool. Like many of my generation, I vividly remember going to Disneyworld as a young kid, watching the 3-D movie/attraction Captain EO, and thinking that it, and in turn MJ, was the coolest thing since sliced bread. Even at that point, Jackson had that otherworldly, cosmic quality to him, but it manifested in a way such that you couldn't help but admire him. Captain EO freaking rocked.

A little bit later on, I became an MTV junkie and, back then, you'd get a healthy mix of older videos alongside the newer stuff. Every so often, there was a retrospective or countdown of some sort that would feature the Thriller music video, and every single time it was an event. I'd watch it from beginning to end, and if the video was accompanied by the behind-the-scenes documentary that showed how John Landis and Rick Baker put together the makeup and costumes for the shoot, well, even better. I mean, Thriller, in addition to being the ultimate pop song, is pretty much the ultimate geek music video. Rick Baker, Vincent Price's incredible narration, zombies, ghouls, and werewolves? It's sad to think what might have been - between Captain EO, Thriller, that classic un-billed Simpsons role ("Lisa it's your birthday!") and the old Sega-made Moonwalker videogame, Michael Jackson was practically a fanboy icon at one point. I mean, how many kids developed a love of classic horror thanks to Thriller? It's weird to see Thriller now though, in that the zombiefied version of MJ in that legendary video is actually less frightening than what Jackson actually became. I guess it was a sadly prophetic statement when he said "I can scare you more than any ghoul would ever dare try." Sad but true.

When the album Dangerous came out, I and everyone else was already pretty weary of the man behind the mirror. Even in grade-school, you knew something was off about the guy. But still, I bought Dangerous on cassette tape and listened to it about a million times. I loved the album's cover-art. Black or White, at the time, was rock n' roll awesomeness - a very 90's but still very cool track that fused rock and rap, that still gets you up and excited every time you hear that killer opening guitar riff. As a budding young rock n' roller, I loved the collaboration with Slash on Give In To Me. As a young NBA basketball fan, I got a kick out of the Michael Jackson-Michael Jordan mash-up on the music video for JAM. And I still somehow know most of the lyrics to Who Is It. But even by this point, you could't just enjoy Michael Jackson's music without thinking about the oddity he had become. I remember the parody they did on In Living Color, "Black or White," which at the time I thought was completely hilarious, and the thing that really kid of hammered it home: this guy was a bit off.

Jackson's music really was so good though that you wanted to root for him in spite of everything else. I remember watching the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, which featured an absolutely KILLER opening medley from MJ, that featured him owning it up onstage alongside guitar virtuoso Slash. That was one of those big moments for me where I didn't care about any of the weirdness. MJ was on stage with freaking Slash and he was kicking ass seven ways to Sunday. This was right after Scream had come out, I believe, which was probably the last truly GREAT Michael Jackson song / music video. But it's funny watching the clip on YouTube now - this performance is probably the last time Jackson just seemed downright badass. And man, did he rock. As many have said, his talent was simply off the charts amazing. You really wish that all the other stuff wasn't part of the equation.

But as the years went on, and the trials and the scandals piled on top of each other, the sad truth was that Michael Jackson wasn't just eccentric, but seriously and disturbingly damaged. The epitomy of this might have been the special that aired in 2004 when Jackson was interviewed by Martin Bashir in a hugely-watched TV special. I was actually doing my semester in England when this aired in the UK prior to being re-edited for American TV, so I believe the version that we saw was longer and more in-depth. In England, the two-part special was watched by an astonishing percentage of the country, and for good reason - it was hugely compelling, yet completely disturbing TV. Jackson, looking stranger and more alien than ever, talked openly about sleeping with young boys and other bizarro aspects of his truth-is-stranger-than-fiction life. You couldn't stop watching, but at the same time, it was just horrifying to see what this man had become - a complete mental case, a living monster of plastic surgery nightmares, and very possibly a criminal and child molester.

It's for this reason that I am really bothered by the hardcore Jackson fans who act as if he was some kind of uber-benevalant deity. As much as you wish that the Jackson of 1987 could emerge from the ether and declare this other guy to be a fraud and an imposter, the two are one and the same. And look, I am all for eccentricity. It's what makes life interesting. But there is a big distinction between eccentricity and flat-out psychosis. And man, is it ever tragic. It's tragic to think of all the factors that pushed this beloved icon into this world of insanity. What would ever make a global pop star want to alter his appearance as MJ did? Why was this guy, who had so many fans and supporters, spending his time in creepy relationships with random kids? Why couldn't he have just been about the music and the entertainment and the charity works and good deeds? Why did it all have to morph into this scary sideshow of the bizarre? But to simply ignore all that and paint this guy as a martyr? To me that's simply being naive. He was an amazing artist, and iconic performer. But yesterday wasn't the day a hero died - it was the day that a chapter closed on one of the biggest, strangest, most disturbing stories of our lifetime. For ages and ages, people will be wondering: "Who was Michael Jackson, really? And how could such a seemingly great American story take such a twisted and tragic turn?"

The achievements can't be denied. The music will last forever. Decades from now, a DJ will play "Billie Jean" and it will, as always, get the crowd moovin' and groovin' to that classic beat. Thriller will always be *the* all-time great music video, a Halloween classic and a pop cultural touchstone. The albums, the songs, the history, the breaking down of racial barriers, the influence on countless pop stars across multiple genres and generations ... all of that is indisputable. But there will, sadly, always be that big asterik. That looming question of "what happened?" It's the beginning of the end of one of the most fascinating personalities in modern history. It's strange, tragic, and I don't yet know quite what to think ... and I doubt I ever will.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Danny Baram: Year One. I review YEAR ONE, Plus: A SC Governor RANT O' DOOM!

Well, I'm back, in the midst of what's already been a fairly crazy week. Operating on too little sleep, I'm runnin' on pure adrenaline, baby. But I am here with an all-new all-awesome blog for your reading pleasure, so strap in and keep reading ...

First of all, I would like to mention a couple of pieces of sad news from the last few weeks.

- For one thing, a fond farewell to ED MCMAHON. I'm not old enough to have really enjoyed Ed during his long stint on The Tonight Show, but after having worked on the show for over a year as an NBC Page, part of what made the experience so memorable was the sense of history and tradition that the show did and still carries with it. One of the standout moments for me was the special edition of the show the day after Johnny Carson passed away. Standing there in the studio and watching so many legends, including Ed McMahon, wax nostalgically about the old days ... it really hit home that I was in that instant a small part of a grand showbiz tradition. Very sad to see one of the true TV icons go.

- I'd also like to make mention of DAVID CARRADINE. A true badass of television and cinema, Carradine was one of those mythical performers who didn't seem all that removed from the iconic characters that he played. Thanks to the Kill Bill movies, I and many others of my generation became familiar with the kung-fu icon, and Carradine made you believe that, with a flick of the wrist, he could truly bring you to your knees with the Five Point Exploding Heart Technique. So long, Cain, may your adventures continue in the great beyond.

Also, I want to comment on Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina ... but, honestly, I don't even know what to say. I think what kills me is: okay, he had an affair. It's not the end of the world. But why did he have to be such a lying a-hole about it? And like so many creepy politicians, he had the hubris to believe that he could somehow get away with all of these shenanigans. Not the affair, per se, but the whole flying to Argentina without telling anyone, even his family or staff. For the last time: in this day and age, NOTHING IS SECRET! Why can't people get this through their heads? WTF! Why do we go through this ridiculous cycle of lie, cover-up, confession/apology?! Why can't politicians, celebrities, etc., just be honest about how they live their lives? In America, it's proven that you can still enjoy great personal and professional success even if: you really like the ladies, you're gay, both, etc. SO JUST ADMIT IT! And if your lifestyle doesn't jive with the professed values of the "Grand Old Party," then for god's sake, don't get into politics, and don't pretend to espouse values that you don't actually believe in. And geez, don't be stupid about it! Why can't this guy just have had an affair? If that had been it, few would have cared, and he'd have a bright political future still ahead of him ... maybe. But now he's a lying creep who goes on unannounced sex vacations. That's ridiculous. And the irony is that the Republican army comes out on the news shows and defends the guy for stepping up and being a man and admitting his mistake. Um, hello! He should have done that BEFORE HE TOOK A MYSTERIOUS TRIP TO ARGENTINA WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE! Then I'd be like, okay, this guy has a shred of integrity left. Now, not so much. Ugh.

- Alright, time for a movie review, this time of Harold Ramis' latest:

YEAR ONE Review:

- I really, really wanted to like Year One. To me, it looked like exactly what the comedy doctor ordered - a throwback to the old-school humor of movies like History of the World Part 1 - movies that didn't have to be biting satire or edgy or ironic. I'm talking comedies that are just unabashadly goofy. Comedies with a fun, high-concept premise, that are really only concerned with making you laugh. In some ways, Year One is in that Mel Brooks-ian tradition. But in execution, it too often falls flat, and worst of all, just feels lazy. Whereas the classic Brooks films are notable for their slavish attention to detail, Year One doesn't quite seem to know what it is as a movie. Is it a caveman comedy? A biblical parody? An ironic "let's give ancient guys modern sensibilities" flick? Rather than focusing on any of these areas in aprticular, Year One makes the mistake of just slapping all of these concepts together in a giant comedy stew.

To be honest, the result kind of insults my intelligence. Not that a movie like this needs to be 100% historically or biblically accurate, but ... what the hell? Our main characters in this movie start out living in caveman-like huts. Soon after they meet the bible's Cain and Abel, and their father (Adam, presumably, though I don't think his name is mentioned). Later on they meet Abraham and Isaac, who live amongst a tribe of Jews. After that, they learn that Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed. At some point, there are Roman-esque slave-traders right out of Gladiator. You can see where I'm going with this, and you can see how things don't stack up to the academically-accurate Mel Brooks films. I'm sorry, but all of the blatant and unexplained inaccuracies are just pointless and lame.

That's not to say that the movie isn't funny, or that it doesn't work in some important ways. The truth is, Year One is a decently entertaining movie. A number of the jokes do click, and a lot (and I mean A LOT) of that is largely due to the awesome cast assembled here. Look, think what you want about Jack Black and Michael Cera, but the two are at the top of their games here in terms of selling the material they have to work with. Black makes a lot of lines funny simply by virtue of his over the top delivery, and Cera's mumblecore stammer is the perfect compliment to Black's runaway train excitement. Honestly, I would love to see these two paired up again - it's actually crazy how good of a comedic duo they could be with the right material. This is a movie that basically kind of coasts on their established personas. Some may get really turned off by that, but I'm a big enough fan of both that they kept me chuckling throughout the movie.

And like I said, the supporting cast is pretty damn amazing. And even when the writing is flat, the actors help make things at least watchable. I mean, David Cross had to me maybe the weakest and most poorly-written role in the movie as the murder-lovin' Cain. But Cross is naturally funny and entertaining enough that he is almost able to make it work, and at the least make the character watchable. Same goes for Paul Rudd as Abel, even though his role (understandably ...) is much smaller.

But I think what keeps this movie afloat is that Black, Cera, Cross, Rudd, and everyone else just seems to be kind of goffing off and having a ton of fun making the movie. Even when the plot gets really dumb and the jokes don't work, you often smile or laugh thanks to the performers' expert timing and pitch-perfect delivery. Take Oliver Platt as a big gay advisor to the King of Sodom. It's a pretty stupid role on paper, but Platt seems to be having a blast playing it, and goes all out with his goofy lisp, uncomfortable come-ons to Cera, etc. Despite the inherent stupidity, I admit that I got a pretty big kick out of Platt here. Even the really small roles get extra love and care from talents like Bill Hader, Hank Azaria, Kyle Gas, Olivia Wilde, Paul Scheer, and McLovin' himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. I give credit to Harold Ramis and producer Judd Apatow for assembling such a great group of talent.

Still ... all the talent in the world can't make up for a script that is, aside from some inspired jokes here and there, pretty weak. A movie like this doesn't need a great or layered plot, but this movie's plot is just plain weak. There's some half-hearted thread about Jack Black being some kind of "chosen one" that is never really picked up on. There's a barely-there dual love-story, but he female characters here barely get in more than a couple of lines, and have less personality than the princesses in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. And the fact that the timeline of the movie is completely broken is a recurring annoyance - it makes it pretty difficult for the film to have any sense of flow or continuity. If this were strictly a series of sketches like THE TEN, it'd be one thing, but the movie tries to be loose and sketch-y yet still have a more traditional and big plotline. Not good.

I was pretty back and forth on whether to check this one out in the first place, given the mostly mediocre reviews. But in the end I felt like the dream-team comedy duo of Jack Black and Michael Cera had too much potential for hilarity for me to pass up. In the end, I was proved somewhat right, as I did overall enjoy the movie, despite its flaws, and to me the handful of genuinely very funny moments and lines of dialogue, and the generally fun pairing of Black and Cera, made this worth a watch. But as a movie on the whole? This one has some serious and noticable flaws, and a plotline that feels rushed and scattershot. History of the World is not going to be usurped anytime soon as the king of historical comedies.

My Grade: B-

- Alright, that's all for now. Peace out, peeps.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Dark Side of the Moon: A Review of the Old-School Sci-Fi Mystery, MOON ... Plus More!

Hey everyone, back from a fun weekend and slowly starting what is looking to be a pretty ho-hum Monday. Luckily, I am here with an all-new post to help cure what ails ya'. First off, I want to mention a fun outing from this past weekend, as some friends and I attended a performance of CIRQUE BERZERK! Basically, this local LA event combines an old-school circus-under-the-bigtop with the darkly-comic style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Since a regular circus tends to have that dark and creepy element to it anyways, it seems like a natural fit to just crank up the goth and see what happens. And that's exactly what Cirque Berzerk does. It's a lot of fun, and I especially loved the crazy carnival atmosphere that surrounded the show. They literally set up a giant old-fashioned circus tent in the middle of a field in downtown LA, and surround it with a mini-carnival area with food and merchandise vendors, a spacious bar area, and live music. Evil clowns stroll the grounds even as giant fireballs signal that its time for the circus to begin. The show is very performance-heavy, with acrobats, trapeze artists, clowns, and music - all with a distinct goth / bizarre twist. Each segment of the show is given a title like "The Final Moment" or "The Danse Macabre". And while most of the fans in attendance are simply curious joe-shmo's, you do get a certain segment that comes decked out in full-on goth gear, further adding to the Tim Burton-esque atmosphere. Good times - I'd definitely recommend that people in the LA area try out the Cirque Berzerk.

- Also, saw a couple of movies this weekend that I'm excited to talk about, so let's get to it:

MOON Review:

- To me, Moon is an absolute must-see movie. It's an honest to god SCIENCE FICTION movie, and in this day and age, that is a rare but pleasant surprise. Moon isn't about f/x or over-the-top action. It's about an intriguing idea, a mind-bending premise, a moral quandary. This is the stuff of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick. Moon is a movie that is in the cinematic tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Alien, and other such true science fiction movies - the kind they just don't make much of anymore. Somewhere along the way, movie makers got so caught up in CGI and remakes of 80's cartoons that they forgot what it meant to create sci-fi that is cerebral, intelligent, and thought-provoking. Well, Moon is a low-budget but high-concept return to sci-fi awesomeness. If it's playing in your area, run and see it immediately.

It's a bit hard to talk about this movie because so much of what makes it a fun film is the element of surprise. The story plays out like a mystery, with tension slowly mounting as we begin to realize that something isn't quite as it seems. And when the twists start coming, they really do transform the movie. The film that you think you are watching in the first ten minutes or so is NOT the same film that you end up with when all is said and done. So I'd urge would-be viewers to read as little as possible about the movie beforehand.

To set up the basic setting and premise though, MOON stars Sam Rockwell as the lone worker dispatched to manage the day to day duties of a lunar energy-mining plant. It seems that in the near future, the world's energy problems have been largely solved by the discovery of a nearly unlimited energy source buried deep within the moon's surface. Large energy corporations have set up mining operations on the moon, creating lean, efficient lunar bases, staffed with minimal crew, to help oversee the harvesting of materials. When we first meet Sam Rockwell's Sam Bell, he is literally all alone on a remote lunar outpost, though he is nearing the end of his three year contract with the energy company, and is eager to go home to his wife and daughter. By this point in his tenure, Sam is slowly beginning to succumb to what some might call space madness. He is trying to keep it together for a little bit longer, but it's clear his time alone in space has had some severe psycological effects. To that end, Sam's only company on the station is Gerty, an omnipresent computer system that runs the station's operations and communicates with Sam with a collection of smiley-face emoticons, as well as the calm but slightly eerie voice of Kevin Spacey. Undoubtedly, the intention was to draw comparisons to HAL in 2001, and the movie deftly plays off of the similarity.

Again, hard to say much about what happens from there, suffice it to say that this is NOT just a movie about a guy alone on a lunar space station. Some major $%#*% goes down, is about all I can say.

But what I can say is that Sam Rockwell is absolutely great as the central character here. A lot is asked of him in this movie, and Rockwell takes on the challenges that the script presents and turns in a defining, career-best performance. Given how much of a singular focus Rockwell is in the film, things could have easily gone bad in the hands of a lesser actor. But Rockwell pulls it off, and is alternately intense, tragic, funny, heroic, insane, and yet easy to root for. I'll also mention Kevin Spacey as Gerty. As odd as it sounds, Spacey's turn as a conflicted computer system might just be his best performance in years.

I also want to mention the look of this movie. New director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie!), is now intantly a name to watch in my book. He pays tribute to a lot of movies in terms of look and feel - 2001 immediately comes to mind, for example - but he gives Moon a great clean but lived-in look. The sets are all filled with great detail. And the atmosphere is suitably tension-filled and claustrophobic. And best of all, Jones uses old-school model work to great effect. No CGI - the lunar surface scenes are done the old-fashioned way, and the low-budget means of coveying the vastness of outer space looks solidly awesome.

Now, part of what makes Moon so good is that it's a refreshing throwback to old-school sci-fi. But I do want to make sure to judge it on its own merits, and think that as a whole the movie really works. I think the one weakness is that, at times, the script doesn't quite come together as well as it should. Moon seems to hesitate in terms of how much it wants to provide a greater context to the time and place in which it occurs, and that ambiguity makes for an ending that isn't quite the exclamation point that it should be. In addition, the movie is in some ways a loving tribute to films like 2001 and Blade Runner, but some might question its overall originality. Personally, I enjoyed the potent mix of new and very relevant / topical ideas with the familiar sci-fi tropes.

My hope is that Moon gets the attention it deserves from fans and critics alike, and that more movies of this ilk get made. I also hope that Sam Rockwell is remembered come awards season, as this may be one of the first true Oscar-worthy leading performances of 2009. In any case, go see Moon - it's a bonafide trip to the Twilight Zone.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, I've got a lot more coming your way this week, so ... stay tuned.

Friday, June 19, 2009

40,000 Hits and Counting! A Special Look at Leno, Conan, and a New Era of Comedy!

40,000 hits, baby.

In light of another big milestone for this here blog, I'd like to once again say thanks to everyone who's been reading. True, about half of those come from me hitting "reload" on my browser thirty times every night, but still ... Actually, for the last year or maybe more I've been importing my posts onto Facebook, which I suspect has increased my readership but also lowered the hit count on the actual blog. So wherever you're reading this from - thanks! And hey, I've amassed 40,000 hits WITHOUT resorting to scandalous tales of Hollywood debauchery. That's right folks, The All-New, All-Awesome Adventures have enjoyed smashing success thanks to something that is rapidly vanishing in the age of Twitter and Facebook status updates: good, old-fashioned, fully-formed, long-winded writing.

So with that said, here is yet another post that is all killer and no filler. Well, at least 70% killer.

- In any case, with this post I'd like to take a moment to talk about the big Leno to Conan transition in late night. Yes, I know it's already been two full weeks since the big changeover, but a.) I haven't had time to write about this yet, and b.) I wanted to bide my time a bit and ge a better grasp of what Conan as host of the Tonight Show would really be like.

But first off, I do want to reflect a bit on the end of the Leno era. Sure, Leno will soon be back at 10 pm, but to me he has basically taken his curtain call, and everything that he does from this point on is basically an epilogue of sorts. For me though, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno will always hold a certain significance. When I interned for Late Night With Conan O'Brien, it was a fanboy dream come true. But when I worked at the Tonight Show, as an NBC Page, it was a sign that I wasn't in Kansas (or Connecticut) anymore. Even if I was never the biggest fan of Leno's comedic sensibilities, I stil lremember the rush I got as a Page during my first week or two of working the Tonight Show. The lights, the cameras, the band, the huge audience, and the parade of bigtime movie stars that I saw in person almost every day for several months. It was my big Hollywood moment, if you will, and it was a great run overall as a Page. I felt like working at the Tonight Show consistently gave me some sort of interesting story to tell, and a lot of those were documented over the months here on the blog. In fact, working at the Tonight Show, and as an NBC Page in general, was one of the main motivators for me to keep this blog going for the first year that I was here in LA. The Tonight Show to me, regardless of the host, is the epitomy of "showbiz" in the traditional sense, and I was right there in the thick of it, clad in blue polyester, every afternoon.

As an NBC Page, I got to meet a lot of the bit players who worked with Leno, and met a lot of interesting people. More than that, I led hundreds of NBC Studio Tours, the centerpiece of which was always a visit to the Tonight Show studio. I memorized all the facts and figures about that studio, and could tell its story to a group of tourists with just the right amount of over-the-top flourish. Similarly, there was the daily rush just before each show, as we desperately tried to seat everyone in the studio. It was like playing a human game of Tetris, except that if you screwed up, you'd be screwing up something on a live show that didn't have time to delay if the front row wasn't filled correctly. There were some close calls. I remember the time when we had two empty seats right in front of Jay as the show was about to begin, and me and another Page had to toss off our Page jackets and sit front and center. Then there was the time when I got caught right in the spotlight in front of Jay as the show was seconds from going on-air. Another second and it would have been me delivering the nightly monologue.

Then there were all the celebs I got to see while working the show. Some I just saw from a distance. Some I escorted to their dressing rooms. Some I awkwardly tried to make small talk with (cough*Avril Lavigne*cough). Not only that, but the number of bands and musicians I got to see play live thanks to The Tonight Show is amazing when I look back on it. Everyone from The Killers to Robert Plant to Billy Idol.

Finally, working at The Tonight Show allowed me to meet random people from all over the country and the world. Some of the most fun times at the show came while I was with my fellow Pages, helping to work the long line of would-be attendees - joking with them, hearing their stories, and, for the more easily-agitated of them, keeping them in line when necessary.

Some nights, Leno was on. The band was rockin', the jokes were hitting, and the guests were game. Some nights, not so much. But either way, there was that undeniable aura of old-tyme Hollywood glitz around the show. The show could be cheesy, the jokes were often as stale as a week-old bagel, and some of the interviews were cringe-worthy in their awkwardness. But hey, it was THE Tonight Show. And I was and am proud to have been been a part of it.

Now ... the CONAN era begins. After the final episode of Late Night, I gave a long tribute to Conan and what it meant to me to intern at the show in 2004. So I won't go back into that whole spiel. But, I guess the thing with Conan is that if you're of a certain generation and/or a certain sensibility, you can't help but root for him. Whereas Leno's humor is pretty canned, Conan's is the kind of finely-tuned madness that only a true comedy nerd could deliver. Conan is the geek who made good, and on Late Night he was willing to do comedy as out-there as anything that's ever been on network TV. Conan's #1 priority has always been not "will this play in the flyover states," but only "is this funny?". So the big question now is - can that anything-goes stlye of humor work given the new audience expectations that come with hosting The Tonight Show?

I think Conan has done something smart - rather than awkwardly adjusting his show to match the expectations of the Leno audience, he is instead bringing Late Night to The Tonight Show. He's doing a sort of "Conan O'Brien 101" for the uninitiated, re-introducing some of Late Night's most popular sketches while also introducing some new bits that are squarely in the Late Night tradition. I think the strategy is really working - maybe not so much in hooking older fans, but I think that what Conan's done is reintroduce himself to the Gen Y'ers who never got into him at 12:30. The fans who have been there all along are getting their usual dose of Conan, just earlier. But the new fans are getting a great mix of old favorites like "In The Year 2000" (now "In the Year 3000") and new buzzworthy bits - Twitter Tracker, anyone?

That said, there are definitely a lot of kinks to work out. The biggest may be the question of what to do with Andy Richter. Andy is fine as the announcer, but they need to figure out how to better work him into the rest of the show. Conan is such a fast talker, and so free-flowing in his thoughts, that there's really no room for Andy to just randomly interject comments into the monologue. I think it might be best to use Andy like Joel was used in the Late Night days or how Max Weinberg is used now - use him in random sketches, and have certain segments that incorporate him - but don't include him in Conan-centric pieces like the monologue or guest interviews. It's just too awkward to do so.

In general, I think they probably need to refine the flow of the show a bit more as well. Having a monologue followed by a sketch, and then another sketch after that, feels a bit stilted. I say go back to the Late Night format of having monologue, sketch, a guest, a secondary sketch, and then guest #2. That format kept you watching, even if you werent' crazy about the first guest, to see what the second sketch would be.

Finally, I say get rid of the Mario Bros. blue background behind Conan during the monlogue. The colors are too bright and don't contrast well with Conan, and anyways I think it'd look way better to just have him in front of the cool curtain that is behind the blue barrier. In general, the darker backdrop of Late Night was a much better fit for Conan, I think.

Ultimately though, Conan's stint as Tonight Show host has been great so far, and, certainly, a breath of fresh air. You get the feeling that Conan is still finding his footing to some degree, and there is definitely that feeling that it will be a few more weeks or even months before the show really hits its stride. Still, in only a couple of weeks' time, there have already been some truly memorable moments, and at least a few sketches that you might call instant classics. The pre-filmed intro to that first show, with Conan running cross-country, was a bonafide bit of awesomeness - a classic bit that was oddly profound even as it was hilarious. The thing that I love, as a writer, is to see great comedy writing finally make its way back to The Tonight Show. To me, Conan's best bits are the heavily-scripted ones that show off he and his staff's writing prowess. The combination of Ivy League intelligence and Mad Magazine zany-ness is what makes Conan's brand of humor so frequently hilarious.

In any case, it's definitely the end of an era. It's odd to think that new NBC Pages won't spend their days in "beautiful, downtown Burbank" with Jay Leno and co., and it's sad to see the old Burbank lot looking so empty. But as a comedy fan and a Conan supporter, I feel good that one of comedy's oldest institutions just got re-charged. The Tonight Show, ladies and gentlemen, is in good hands.

- And with that, have a great weekend everyone. Keep the hits coming!

Monday, June 15, 2009

SHOWTIME Comes To My Blog: PUSHING DAISIES Finale, LAND OF THE LOST Review, and an NBA Finals Rant O' Doom!

Oh man, it's craziness here in the City of Angels. The Lakers have won the NBA championship, and the streets are still littered with the morning-after residue of a classic bout of LA-riots. Yes, my friends, Kobe and co. have done it, they beat an inexperienced Orlando Magic team into an early submission. Everyone's favorite egomaniac can now take pride in the fact that he is "the man" - he won an NBA title sans Shaq, and he didn't even have to go through the defending-champ Celtics or the air-apparent Lebron James to do it. No, Kobe and the Lakers instead steamrolled through Dwight Howard and an Orlando team that, depressingly, blew every opportunity they had to make the series competitive. Whether it was Dwight Howard's relative lack of offensive firepower or the boneheaded decision to NOT foul Derek Fischer before that huge three last game, this was definitely a learning experience for the Magic. And a team like them needs that before they can really go to the next level. So, while it was no suprise to see the Lakers take the series, it was pretty pathetic to see the Magic come out last night with so little heart and so little fight.

The Lakers were easily the better team in this series ... but, that didn't make it any easier for me to see them win. I know a couple of LA transplants who have wholeheartedly embraced the Lakers, but I just can't bring myself to root for them with Kobe at the helm. Under different circumstances, maybe. But in sports and in basketball I can't help but root for people with character. For scrappy underdogs. For people who wear their hearts on their sleeve and have the "heart of a champion," even if they never come close to winning it all. I can't root for players or coaches who seem to take winning for granted, who have that "we can turn it on when we need to" mentality. I hate that whole zen-master mentality. Give me intensity! Give me Rudy T making a dramatic pre-game speech, or Jeff Van Gundy jumping onto Alonzo Mourning's leg. That's what, to me, makes sports fun to watch.

On the other hand though, Kobe always just reminds me of that guy who was the best player on your high school team and never let anyone forget it. His reactions to any call against him remind me of a little kid's. His style of play is like watching a troubled teenager's psychology exam play out on TV. When he wants to, Kobe deliberately takes over a game and takes every shot. Other times, he seems intent on proving that he is an unselfish player, and passes up shot opportunities left and right. He constantly seems like he is playing either to spite or appease the critics, depending on his mood. My point is: unless you're a diehard Lakers fan, well, Kobe Bryant is not an easy player to like or root for.

Same goes for Derek Fischer. He's one of those annoying players who just won't go away. If he's on your team, I guess you've got to love him. But for everyone else, Fischer is the next in a long line of role-players like Robert Horry, Mario Ellie, John Paxson, etc. - those guys who always kill you with a big shot at the most inopportune of moments. But I think what kills me about these types of players is that self-confidence that they will always make the shot. Even guys like Jordan or Reggie Miller seemed pleasantly shocked when they made a huge money shot. When Derek Fischer made that huge 3 against the Magic and just smiled knowingly ... ugh. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but in that moment every non-Lakers fan in the world wanted to smack him.

And then there are the LA fans. I'm not dissing all LA or Lakers fans, but I just have the same problem with the LA mentality that I do with the NYC mentality - that sense of entitlement, the feeling that if things aren't going well for a little while, it's the end of the world. I mean, when the Lakers lose one game, the opinion columnists in the LA Times go banannas. What happened to sticking with something through good times and bad. That's something that Boston fans know about. And Clippers fans, for sure, know about. But the Lakers fans remind me too much of Yankees fans - it's not a special occasion when your team wins a title, it's just another year.

If the Showtime Lakers were playing right now, perhaps I could be a Lakers fan. I mean who doesn't love Magic, Kurt Rambis, and Big Game James? If the fun and scrappy Eddie Jones / Nick Van Axel team of the 90's was still around, maybe I could get onboard the Laker train. But for now? With the current team? Sorry, my LA friends, but for the time being, I remain a Laker-hater.



PUSHING DAISIES - Series Finale Review:

- I want to give a huge shout-out to one of the best TV shows of the last couple of years -- PUSHING DAISIES. ABC has been burning off the last couple of episodes for the past few weeks, during a no-man's-land timeslot on Saturday evenings. Yes, the same place where other great shows (Freaks & Geeks, anyone?) have gone to die. I mean, geez, can you imagine being the TV exec whose claim to fame is relegating Pushing Daisies to Saturday nights? You almost have to feel sorry for the people whose professional legacy is basically that they made the ending of one of the great TV series of this decade into a non-event. Ugh.

But let's take a moment to celebrate the awesomeness that was PD. It's no secret that I enjoy shows where the writing takes center stage, and to me Pushing Daisies was squarely in the tradition of writer-friendly shows like The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, and Veronica Mars. PD had a flair to its writing that was a welcome change of pace from the "realistic" and gritty tone of many TV shows. On the contrary, PD embraced the fantastical, the whimsical, the imaginative. In fact, it was practically bursting at the seems with imagination, and that is why, more that anything else, I enjoyed it so much. Of course, the cast was also phenomenal, from Lee Pace to Anna Friel to Chi McBride to Kristen Chenoweth. Not to mention the calvacade of great guest stars, from Fred Willard to Paul Reubens.

In any case, Saturday's series finale was to me a great last hurrah. Even if there wasn't time to give each and ever storyline a proper wrap-up, I liked that this ep took the time to address one of the show's biggest and most central plot-points, that being Chuck's relationship with her aunts, Lilly and Vivian, one of who, of course, was in fact her mother. Seeing the two retirees return to the Aquacade as part of a grand comeback for the Darling Mermaid Darlings and their synchronized swimming show - well, it was about as fun and visually stunning as you'd expect. The show's trademark visual panache was on full display here, as the Aquacade and its many strange carnival sideshows were an eye-melting blend of artistic eras and styles. But when one member of a rival synchronized swimming duo was unceremoniously gobbled up by a gigantic shark run amok, that was when I couldn't help but smile at the knowledge that this, right here, was what Pushing Daisies was all about. A mix of the whimsical and the gruesome. Neo-noir mixed with fairytale stories, murder-mystery meets Tim Burton meets 1950's comic books ... or something. Any show that features this kind of character and emotion, yet also doesn't hesitate to have a monster shark gobble up one half of a synchronized swimming duo at something called an Aquacade ... is a show that's alright by me.

The ultimate ending that we got was obviously somewhat tacked-on, but to me, it worked. I was happy to see some small hints at the various characters' fates. Emerson Cod was reunited with his daughter, Lilly and Vivian learned the truth about Charlotte Charles, Olive Snook found happiness with her taxidermist love-interest and left the Pie-Hole to open her own macaroni-themed eatery, and (whew!) The Piemaker, Ned, and Chuck, his childhood love, had an almost-happily-ever-after ending. Because as far as we know, they still cannot touch. But their relationship had always worked in spite of this small problem, so I see no reason why it wouldn't continue to do so ... at least for a little while longer.

So thank you to Bryan Fuller and the wonderful team of actors, writers, and production crew of PUSHING DAISIES. While it is disheartening to think that such an original and imaginative series failed to find a mass audience, I can guarantee that this will be a beloved cult classic for years to come. In the world of television, too often ratings success is equated with creative success. But the facts are these: Pushing Daisies shone bright in the often bleak world of television - it was and will be one of the true works of pop-art that the medium has produced.

My Grade: A

- Alright, onto the movies, where I finally get to my long-gestating review of Will Ferell's latest:


- In general, I'm all for movies that don't exactly fit into any kind of a box. I mean, how many times have I nostalgically watched some 80's kids classic, like a Goonies or Gremlins, and thought "man, they don't make movies like that anymore." So in theory, I should have a lot more praise for Land of the Lost, because lord knows it doesn't conform to any strict demographic-oriented conventions. But here's the thing: those 80's kids movies were so memorable precisely because they pushed the limits of how scary or subversive a kids movie could be, but they never crossed the line. The SPIRIT of the movies was always dead-on. Land of the Lost, on the other hand, feels like a situation where everyone was supposed to be making a family-friendly adaventure, but somewhere along the way, the filmmakers decided to make a raunchy teen comedy instead. The result is undeniably strange, and strangely entertaining. But at the same time, this is something of a trainwreck of a film. I mean, as a twentysomething guy with a strong tolerance for both gross-out humor and weird fantasy, I am probably one of the absolute few people who could find a lot to like in this movie. And yet ... I and people of my generation are too young to have ever seen the original TV series. On the other hand, I doubt many Gen X'ers wo enjoyed the old TV show are going to embrace the movie's wacked-out aesthetics. And for those with kids, man, are they in for a shock upon seeing the movie. Because, inexplicably, Land of the Lost is filled with random sex jokes and other none-too-subtle, adult-oriented humor, which I think deserves a hearty cry of WTF?!

As I said, I'm all for a movie that can't easily be pigeonholed, but in this particular case, I really have to ask: who was this movie made for?! It's totally inappropriate for kids who might be drawn to the material, it's based on a franchise that means nothing to teens and twenty-somethings, and is too strange and surreal (not to mention raunchy) for the more buttoned-down older-crowd. Again, in some cases, such a mish-mash of sensibilities could be a welcome change of pace. But here, it speaks to a pointed lack of vision and direction for the movie, which was marketed mostly as a family-friendly flick, but is really anything but.

Now, did I get a strange sort of joy out of the fact that Land of the Lost has so many moments that are just plain wrong? Sure, I definitely did. Many times while watching, I looked over to my friends in slack-jawed amazement - did Danny McBride really just make a vibrator joke to Anna Friel? Did Will Ferell just comment that a lizard creature had just "tapped the ass" of another lizard creature? Was there really an extended scene of Ferell and McBride hopped up on otherdimensional drugs acting really, really stoned? Like I said, it's a pretty entertaining mess, but definitely deserving of many a "WTF."

On the positive side, people like me who normally get a kick out of Will Ferell and Danny McBride will find things to like in this one. McBride in particular has some really hilarious dialogue, and his trademark deadpan drawl (made famous in movies like The Foot Fist Way and Pineapple Express) is completely intact here. He's one of those guys who can make almost any line of dialogue funny just by virtue of his affectation, and the inherent absurdity of a guy like McBride being thrown into this crazy world of dinosaurs and lizard-people makes for a pretty hilarious contrast. Will Ferell is kind of just doing his usual pompous / oblivious Will Ferell schtick, which is sometime funny, sometimes annoying, depending on the scene. Meanwhile, as a huge fan of Anna Friel thanks to Pushing Daisies, I was happy to see her have such a big role in this movie, with her British accent intact to boot. However, given how flimsy her character is in the movie, you almsot feel as if her talent is wasted. She is mostly just there to be Will Ferell's defacto love interest, and seems to spend most of the movie getting fondled by Cha-Ka, the funny-creepy monkey-man who tags along with our crew.

The other thing here is that, visually, I loved the look of the movie. The old-school set and costume work is all pretty awesome, and the villainous Sleestaks all look uber-cool and creepy. The whole movie perfectly captures the tripped-out, crazy vibe of the original TV show in terms of its visuals. But I think the mistake may have been that the movie never takes any of it very seriously. Kids would have loved the crazy creatures and sets if the movie had sort of played things straight, and yet Land of the Lost seems caught between paying loving tribute to the old show and trying too hard to convince skeptical teens that this is, in fact, some kind of kewl and edgy movie. Um ... why exactly did Land of the Lost need gay jokes again? Again, just odd and definitely off-putting to people who might want to bring kids to this.

So again, as a pure piece of entertainment, I can't deny that I had a lot of fun with this movie. It made no sense and was completely all over the place, but never was I bored while watching. At the same time, I realize that there is an art to making edgy and subversive family entertainment, and the minds behind Land of the Lost don't seem to grasp it. Think about The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, etc. - those were movies that had a darkly-comic edge but that knew exactly what they were doing. Land of the Lost has moments, but it feels like a movie without a vision - a misguided attempt at resurrecting yet another musty franchise, just because, well, that's what Hollywood does lately.

My Grade: B-

- Alright, that's all for now. Happy Monday everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Danny Very Soberly Reviews THE HANGOVER

Hey everyone, continuing to play catch-up here, as I've still got a bunch of things to talk about from the last couple of weeks. With this post, I've got a couple more summer movie reviews I've been meaning to get to, the first of which is below -- so ... enjoy!


- The Hangover is one of those movies that is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. When I saw it in a packed theater filled with teens and twenty-somethings, the audience was laughing harder and more frequently than at almost any movie I've seen. It's just one of those films that snares you in a vice-like grip of comedy and doesn't let up. Now, is The Hangover a movie that's going to change the face of comedy? No, not really. In fact, in some ways it's somewhat generic. It's one of those movies that you remember laughing a lot at, but then find it hard to recall any particular stand-out moments or lines of dialogue. Part of it is definitely that this is a "shock-value" comedy ... a lot of the humor comes from there simply being a long string of one outrageous moment after another. Like I said, it's a movie that grabs you from the get-go and keeps on delivering the funny. If you're looking for a fun summer comedy that is sure to please, this is it.

A lot of the credit for The Hangover's success has to go to the stellar cast. In less capable hands, the material could have come off as a lot weaker. Bradley Cooper is perfectly fine as the lead, and I'm sure that his solid comic timing and likable manner here will lead to a lot of other similar parts in the vein of this one. Really though, the movie shines thanks to Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis, both of whom are pretty darn awesome, and both of whom are long overdue for the spotlight. Helms, so funny on The Daily Show and The Office, is surprisingly the movie's emotional center, and probably plays its strongest character overall. Although, given his great turn as Andy Bernard on The Office, it's not a stretch for Helms to be playing a somewhat repressed, buttoned-up guy with a crazy side. But Ed Helms steals a ton of scenes in the movie, and his relationship with his nightmare of a wife, played by Rachel Harris, is the source of a lot of the movie's best scenes. Meanwhile, Galifianakis plays the Will Ferell-ish character here - aka the completely insane man-child who may or may not be a legit mental case. He completely nails the role though, and his goofy delivery is pitch-perfect. He's great with the more physical comedy too. Overall, The Hangover is a huge breakout movie for both Ed Helms and Zack G - both are hilarious in this one.

The other guy who really kicks ass here is Ken Jeong, who is quickly becoming one of the great unsung heroes of comedy. I recently read an article about Jeong explaining how, until recently, he was actually a practicing physician who only dabbled in comedy as a hobby. Pretty amazing, because the guy is not only hilarious, but absolutely fearless. He's one of those guys who looks so unassuming that all of the shocking stuff he does and says is just off-the-chain funny. And man, does he ever say and do some shocking stuff in this one. Let's just say there is full-frontal nudity involved. Yikes.

There are also a lot of talented people in smaller roles. No real huge scene stealers, but hey, when you've got Jeffrey Tambor popping up for essentially a cameo, you know you've got a good cast. On the other hand, some of the talent isn't quite used to their full potential. Rob Riggle for example, who is typically hilarious, doesn't have much to work with here. Mike Tyson, in his much-hyped cameo role, is kind of useless. Sure, there is something absurdly funny about Mike Tyson popping up in a movie like this, but it's more a laugh-because-it-seems-like-it-should-be-funny type of thing.

I guess the other thing is that, like director Todd Philip's previous comedy, Old School, there's just something about the attitude of this movie that turns me off a bit. Even as I was laughing at some of the outrageous gags, I couldn't help but think that the movie had a kind of obnoxious sensibility to it. You know what I mean ... it's one of those movies where all of the main characters are basically assholes, and yet they're portrayed as being cool and funny guys who you'd want to hang out with. It's a movie that glorifies the act of going to Vegas and getting wasted to the point of blacking out and not remembering what you did the night before. Where drunken adventures where you do stupid stuff are portrayed as the end-all be-all of good times. The movie half-heartedly tries to de-glamorize these ideas, but not really. At the end of the day, we're supposed to root for these guys who basically come off like semi-obnoxious yuppie Gen-X d-bags.

But yeah, The Hangover is a lot of fun in spite of the above rant. I laughed a ton while watching it and there were a lot of gags that were genuinely inspired and awesomely over-the-top. Ed Helms, Zak Galifianakas, and Ken Jeong are awesome. Definitely one of the more enjoyable comedies to come along in a while, although I can't rank it above some of the genuinely amazing comedies we've seen thus far in '09 - Observe and Report, Adventureland, etc.

My Grade: B+

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going UP - Pixar's Latest: Reviewed!

Alright, I'm back with yet another movie review for you, and this one has been a long time coming. I mean, it's not every day that I get to review the latest from PIXAR, so away we go - let's get to it.

UP Review:

- With each new Pixar movie, the pundits always line up and speculate about whether this, at long last, will be the one where Pixar drops the ball. Everyone is waiting for that other shoe to drop, for a Pixar movie to be a dud. And yet, the incredible creative process at Pixar consistently prevents that from happening. The place is a virtual idea factory, and when a creative company is built on great ideas - on imagination, visual splendor, and state of the art technology - well, it's a formula for success that Pixar has cornered like lightning in a bottle. Last year, WALL-E was perhaps their greatest achievement yet - a visually spectacular epic that was one one hand futuristic sci-fi, and on the other hand an homage to the silent pictures of old. Like other Pixar films, and perhaps to an even greater extent, Wall-E worked on multiple levels and could be enjoyed by people of all ages. It may well have been Pixar's definitive classic of this era.

The good news with UP is that it is yet another memorable, imaginative, and multi-layered movie from Pixar - certainly up to par with the level of quality that they have become known for. The bad news, if you can call it that, is that I wouldn't put this one on quite the same level as Wall-E. I mean, Up will still likely make it to many end-of-year Best-Of lists, and it is still likely a shoe-in for Best Animated Picture at the Oscars. But is it the all-around classic that Wall-E was? Again, I wouldn't put it quite on that same level.

The thing I loved about Up going in may also have been partly responsible for its shortcomings. Because, going into Up, I really appreciated the fact that we knew almost nothing about the movie. The trailers, at least the ones that I saw, gave us the iconic imagery of an old man with a flying balloon house. But beyond that, we could really only guess at what adventures such an unusual abode might lead him, and in turn us, to experience. The fact is that the reality of Up's adventure story doesn't quite live up to the spectacular promise of those trailers. For those expecting some kind of Oz-like wonderland at the other end of this balloon trip, you don't quite get that here.

But what you do get is an absolutely brilliant character piece. Moreso than maybe any other Pixar flick to date, Up is a character study, a focused-in portrait of an old man seeking purpose in his life following the death of his beloved wife. It's an ambitious central theme for a family film, but Pixar pulls it off as only they can. The movie's opening narrative, told in quasi-montage fashion, is perhaps the movie's crowning achievement. A mostly dialogue-less sequence, the movie's opening introduces us to a young Carl Fredrickson (skillfully voiced for most of the movie by the great Ed Asner), and shows us his early love for adventure, as he giddilly enjoys newsreel footage of his hero, Charles Muntz's, latest exploits. We then see a young Carl's chance encounter with an equally young Ellie, and the two instantly bond and become inseparable. We follow the two as they grow up, get married, and grow old together. And a lot more. The detail, the storytelling, and the nostalgic emotion of this sequence is just amazing, and Pixar handles some of the more tragic aspects of the Carl and Ellie story with the utmost care, nuance, and artistry.

Back to Ed Asner for a second, his voicework is definitely one of the real highlights of this movie. You definitely get the feeling that there is more than a little of Asner himself in the character, and the veteran actor really shines in this movie. The rest of the voices are also great - there aren't a lot of supporting characters to speak of, but one high point is definitely Christopher Plummer as the aged Muntz. Very fun stuff from Plummer.

I guess where I find some fault with Up is that it soars as a character piece (pun intended), but never quite comes together in terms of plot or story. A lot of the situations seem a bit thrown together. For example, Muntz has all the makings of a classic Pixar villain, and yet we never really learn enough about him to really "get" what his deal is. Why did he go from intrepid adventurer to embittered villain? Why and how does he keep an army of super-advanced dog soldiers? There isn't really enough meat to Muntz's story, and the effect is that the meeting and eventua lconfrontation between he and Carl feels pretty rushed. I guess it felt to me like Up had some untapped potential in terms of its story - it felt like there was some grand mythology lurking in the background that we never really got a chance to play with.

But again, this is at its heart a character piece. And the focus of the movie is Carl's personal struggle, as well as his budding relationship with the young and hapless boyscout named Russell. The overactive Russell and the curmudgeonly Carl seem like a real odd couple, but in fact they turn out to be kindred spirits, and that journey that they experience together is front and center here. I can't say it enough - it's amazing how much character and nuance Pixar is able to pack into these movies.

Finally, I have to emphasize just how stunning Up is visually. While the setting isn't quite as exotic or imaginative as that of Wall-E's, the imagery here, the direction, the sense of wonder and emotion conjured up by the animation, is second to none. Seeing the movie in Disney Digital 3D, the clarity and crispness of the picture was jaw-dropping. But at the same time, the greatest moments of the movie are those that take their time with the images on screen and let the iconography of what's happening speak for itself. It's a downright Spielberg-style film in that regard - the movie is almost ET-like in its use of storybook imagery to convey a sense of awe, wonder, and emotion. It's for that reason that I have to give Up major props despite a couple of flaws with the story. Pixar has done it yet again.

My Grade: A-

Coming Soon: Reviews of THE HANGOVER and LAND OF THE LOST!

Monday, June 08, 2009


What's up, loyal readers? Hope you enjoyed my E3 recap -- last week was a crazy week, and I'm glad I finally got the chance to write down some of my thoughts on the show. Better late than never, as they say. But even as I was furiously typing away about E3, I was neglecting my usual movie and TV reviews and all the other wow-that's-cool stuff that you've come to expect from my All-New, All-Awesome Adventures. Well, the healing process begins now, people. The rest of this week I'll be playing a bit of catch-up, but you can rest assured that from here on in, the reviews will be coming fast and furious.

- But before I get to any movie reviews, I've got to talk about an event that I was privelaged to attend last week, that being a live studio taping of INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO.

Yes, Inside the Actor's Studio, the show that made James Lipton into a pop-culture icon. Through work, I was able to snag a couple of tickets to a rare LA-based taping of the typically NYC-based show, and seeing as how the guest was none other than comedy-king JUDD APATOW ... well, there was no way I could pass this up.

The taping, it turned out, was an almost FOUR HOUR LONG epic adventure into the most inner sanctums of Mr. Apatow's mind. By the end of the taping, I felt like I had just emerged from a deep and dark journey into a strange land. Suffice it to say, James Lipton was in rare form, asking absolutely insane questions with such straight-faced seriousness that you couldn't help but burst out laughing. James Lipton freaking rules, and is one of the most (unintentionally?) hilarious people I've ever heard speak. It's tempting to call him pretentious, but I do think that beneath the air of mock-pretentiousness, Mr. Lipton does sort of address his audience and his guest with a knowing wink. Basically, if you think about it, Lipton is in some ways the ultimate Fanboy. I mean, this guy takes art VERY seriously, and he's not afraid to gush about Leslie Mann's comedic performance in The 40 Year Old Virgin as if she were Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. One minute, Lipton might say something strangely brilliant and profound about the art of comedy or cinema. The next, he is recalling the first film he ever viewed in which he remembers seeing on-screen vomit. Awesome.

Aside from Lipton's craziness though, the taping provided an extremely fascinating look at the life and career of Judd Apatow. As a comedy afficionado, I was hanging on every word, as Apatow talked about everything from his early childhood in Long Island to his career as a stand-up comedian to Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared to Knocked Up and Superbad. As I've stated many times here on the blog, Freaks & Geeks is to me at or near the absolute top of my all-time favorite anything list, and it's one of the shows, alongside stuff like The Simpsons and The X-Files, that made me stand up and say "hey, I want to make this stuff!". So yeah, hearing Judd talk about the show and its legacy was pretty darn cool.

Anyways, just wanted to share. I'm not sure when this episode of Actor's Studio will air, but I presume it will be sometime in the near future as it obviously somewhat promotes Apatow's latest flick, FUNNY PEOPLE, which I believe drops later this summer. Gravitas, baby.

ALRIGHT ... It's high time I review some movies. So without further ado, a look at Sam Raimi's latest, a movie that you should all RUN to your local theater to see while it's still playing ...


- Welcome back, Sam Raimi. Oh yeah, it's true, Fanboys ... Sam Raimi is back, and his return can only be described with the following exclamation: "Hail to the King, baby." Yep, the Sam Raimi who was a geek god hath returned, and I am willing, ALMOST willing, to overlook the suckfest that was Spiderman 3 in light of this latest kickass horror-comedy extravaganza. Because Drag Me To Hell is not just some johnny-come-lately run-of-the-mill horror movie. Nope, this is the kind of flick they don't make much of anymore. I mean, it's PG-13 for god's sake. But this ain't no watered-down J-horror, folks. Drag Me To Hell is the true spiritual successor to THE EVIL DEAD. I know, I know, I can already hear the purists protesting at their keyboards. But even if Drag Me To Hell doesn't supplant Evil Dead II on your all-time best list, there's no denying that it channels the same manic energy, the same twisted humor, and the same star-making types of performances that made the Evil Dead series bonafide cult classics. So please, don't wait for this one to come out on DVD. Go to a theater. Send a message with your dollars. See this one *with an audience*, and ensure that Sam Raimi will make more of the movies he loves. I mean, look, I still want a big-budget Evil Dead 4 with Bruce Campbell in all his big-chinned, chainsawed-out glory ... but this is no mere pretender. No, Drag Me to Hell is a legit Sam Raimi horror movie. And if that means nothing to you, well ... time to turn in your film-fan cred, because this is an evil roller-coaster ride that will drag you from heavenly highs to the fiery depths of hell itself. Strap in.

Part of what I love about Drag Me to Hell is that, while it has a ton of scary, jump-out-of-your-seat type moments, it also has that great, creepy atmosphere that you don't get a lot of anymore in horror flicks. In fact, its macabre cast of characters and dark morality play of a story harken back to things like old EC Comics, Tales From The Crypt, The Twilight Zone, etc. What I mean is, the story is simple, memorable, and effective ... and at the same time the movie positively bleeds tension and atmosphere. But don't worry, it's also bugnuts INSANE, in the grand tradition of Evil Dead. Raimi brings his trademark techniques to his latest film, with lots of POV camera zooms and dips and dives, and action that is predictably off-the-chain crazy. Some of the scenes of over-the-top violence and gruesomness are so jaw-droppingly unbelievable that you'll be squirming in your seat and yelling "holy $#%&!" even as you laugh uncontrollably at the sheer absurdity of what you're witnessing.

It helps that the cast is uniformly great. I mean, this is a starmaking turn for Alison Lohman, who turns in an absolutely awesome performance that is a perfect fit for what Raimi is going for. She has a perfect sense of line delivery that is almost on par with Bruce Campbell's, in that she says all of Sami's great one-liners with just the right amount of hammy vigor, all the while playing things perfectly straight. It really is an iconic performance, and rarely has an onscreen transformation from shy and innocent girl-next-door to undead-stomping-riot-grrrl been handled so well or so entertainingly.

The rest of the cast is pretty good, though really they are just window dressing, as this is Lohman's movie. Justin Long does a nice job as her blissfully clueless boyfriend, and I was also happy to see Reggie Lee, who was so great as a villain on Prison Break, appear here as Lohman's similarly smarmy, ladder-climbing co-worker. Plus, a lot of the side character are just really great, from the uber-creepy old gypsy woman who puts the fateful curse on Lohman's character to the enigmatic psychic who tries to help her remove it. Like I said, the whole movie has that great old-school horror / supernatural feel to it. It's like someone took the very spirit of Halloween and bottled it up and made this movie.

In any case, after being one of many twenty-somethings who discovered Sam Raimi and Evil Dead after the fact via DVD and midnight movie screenings in college, it was a real joy to finally see a new Sam Raimi horror-comedy on the big screen with a large and enthusiastic audience. Drag Me to Hell isn't perfect - some of the later action scenes don't quite live up to the first big parking-lot brawl, and sometimes it does feel like the movie relies a bit too much on those turn-up-the-volume-and-scare-ya' type of moments. But as a purely fun movie experience, THIS, to me, is THE popcorn movie of the summer so far. Star Trek is this summer's reigning blockbuster champion, but Drag Me to Hell is the movie that has full command over its audience, the movie that will have you gripping your seat in tension, hanging on every twist, rolling in laughter, looking away in horror, and smiling ear to ear. Drag Me to Hell is, to put it simply, one hell of a horror movie.

My Grade: A-

Next Up, UP!

Friday, June 05, 2009

E3 2009: Danny Goes to E3 - Full Report Here!

Holy crap, this week has been insane, in the best possible way. I mean, there's a lot to talk about, but the biggest and best bit of news is that I got to do something I've wanted to do since I was a kid - I went to E3!

Yep, as a wee lad I would sit on my bed flipping through GamePro and PSM and dreaming of the techno-glory that was the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the mecca of all things videogames, the place where, each year, the major hardware and software manufacturers showed their latest wares. Basically, it was paradise on earth for every red-blooded kid or kid at heart who ever wielded a joystick. Last year, I got a small taste of E3, as I was able to attend Microsoft's press conference. While a lot of fun, the overall feeling last year, even just in terms of that presser, was that E3 had lost its luster. The show had been scaled-back, cut-down-to-size. It was now a sober, minimalist affair.

But this year, E3 was back, and I was there, baby. The bright lights and gigantic booths were back, as were the booth babes. There were big announcements, hundreds of new games, lots of surprises. Celebs were in the house. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo brought out the big guns. Walking through the E3 show floor on Tuesday, it was the slice of fanboy heaven I had long imagined. I looked in one direction and saw a giant jumbotron displaying an eye-melting trailer for Final Fantasy XIII at the Square-Enix booth. I looked in the other direction and saw Microsoft displaying the newest iteration of Halo - Halo:ODST, to throngs of eager gamers. I saw a sprawling line wrapped around the Sony booth, as gamers waited to take a crack at Kratos' latest adventure in God of War III, and I saw a giant DJ booth designed to showcase the latest Guitar Hero spinoff, DJ Hero. The sights and sounds were sensory overload, and yes, my friends, it was awesome.

To me, E3 next year should be open to the public. Make it the videogame industry's version of Comic-Con. Why waste all this coolness on a bunch of journalists and business people? I mean, there's already a large percentage of attendees who are basically just diehard gamefans who have gotten their grubby hands on passes anyways. Why not blow open the floodgates and give John Q. Public the chance to play the latest and greatest games? Maybe next year?


But anyways, I think the three majors all had pretty darn good E3's, to be honest. Last year, Nintendo had one of the most infamous press conferences in E3 history, failing to show a single real game for the Wii and trotting out Miyamoto only for him to show off the much anticipated epic known as ... Wii Music. This year, Nintendo seemed to start things off on a similarly anticlimactic note, but ultimately showed off a couple of big guns that somewhat redeemed them. The fact is that Nintendo still only showed off one real blockbuster title for 2009, and that was New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. The title, a multiplayer take on the classic Mario formula (sort of a Mario-style version of Little Big Planet), looks like a lot of fun. Should Nintendo have a lot more for '09? Yes. But ... Nintendo ended their press conference on a huge high note. Not only did they give face-time to a number of high-profile, hardcore gaming franchises that will have new installments on the Wii, but they also had two huge debuts. The first, Super Mario Galaxy 2, was expected but, come on, it's a new mainline, 3D Mario game. I'm sure it will be awesome. The second debut was somewhat out of left field, which made it that much cooler. A new Metroid game - 2.5D, realistic graphics, and developed by Team Ninja, the acclaimed studio behind the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series. Team Ninja + Metroid = potentially REALLY kickass, and to me it was this announcement that saved the show for Nintendo. It was basically a beacon of hope that said "hold the phone, the Nintendo of old still lives" (even if the games are being outsourced to Team Ninja). The fact is, Nintendo has never been the same since it lost Rare to Microsoft, so it was a welcome surprise to see them once again partnering with a great outside studio.

Even with these signs of life, I still have to rank Nintendo's presence at E3 as the weakest of the Big 3. The Wii is really beginning to look weak compared to its technologically-superior rivals, and the software lineup just isn't there where it can stand neck and neck with the XBOX or PS3. While the increased third party support is great, the fact is that the Wii is ultimately still getting somewhat watered-down versions of Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Dead Space, etc. So for the hardcore Nintendo fan, I think they can take solace that there are two new Mario titles due out, a badass new Metroid, and even a new Zelda game in the pipeline (not shown at E3, but hinted at by Miyamoto). But the Wii is still too gimmicky. It still doesn't have the lineup of games beyond all the Wii-Motion and Motion Plus stuff to really stand on. But compared to last year? A much better showing from the Big N.


Sony's actual press conference was a little shaky this year - certainly nowhere near as smooth of a presentation as Microsoft's, and lacking MS' huge starpower in terms of celebs and whatnot (hard to compete with McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Spielberg!). But, when you look at the actual content Sony had to display, there was an incredibly strong lineup of games. I think that when you look at Sony's lineup of exclusives for the rest of 1009 and early 2010, there is a strong argument to make that they are at the top of the heap. I mean, God of War III alone ... to me that is THE game of E3, an absolutely killer app that will certainly be a system-seller. If you fancy videogames and don't drool at the thought of hi-def, blu-ray God of War mayhem ... well, check your gamer card at the door, my friend. And Uncharted 2 ... it looks absolutely amazing. Uncharted 1 was one of the most fun, and certainly most visually impressive games I've ever played. Part 2 looks to up the ante in every respect. Sony just has an overall stellar lineup, with games in many genres that all fell unique (unlike XBOX, where every game seems cut from the same cloth). Ratchet & Clank Future 2, Heavy Rain, MAG ... those are all very different games that all look great.

Those games were expected, but Sony had a couple of nice surprises as well. One was a trailer for The Last Guardian, the much-anticipated next game from Team Ico. Another was Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker for the PSP. A full-fledged MGS game, it looked positively awesome.

Speaking of the PSP, Sony lost a lot of potential momentum by having the news of the PSP Go leak prior to E3. But the fact remains that it's a slick-looking piece of hardware, and is part of an overall push for the portable device. This push includes a ton of hot-looking new PSP games, from Soul Caliber to Resident Evil to Little Big Planet.

What would have given Sony that final extra boost? An announcement of a PS3 price-drop, for one. Sony needs to get more systems out there, and their hardware is still prohibitively pricey. I think a price-drop could have been that final element that would have put Sony over the top at E3. Otherwise, Sony is still playing a lot of catch-up in terms of digital distribution and social gaming. Things like Facebook and Twitter on XBOX may be relatively small announcements, but they give the impression that Microsoft is emphasizing community. Microsoft also really wowed with its Project Natal, whereas Sony's own Motion Control demo, while potentially much more practical to gaming, didn't have quite the oomph of Microsoft's big reveal.

Overall though, I very much appreciate that Sony has the games that aren't simply bleak FPS shooters, and aren't simply toys for grandma to play with at a party. There are games with COLOR like Uncharted and Ratchet, and games that are experimental and that aspire to be art, like Heavy Rain and Last Guardian. Now they just need to up the installed base, which is going to be a daunting task if a price drop isn't announced soon.


MS rocked it at E3, no question. I was lucky enough to attend their press conference in person on Monday, and it was truly an amazing event. There were no real lulls, no lags in pacing - it was a perfectly-staged event built for maximum wow-factor and impact. I mean, the thing kicked off with some amazing footage from Rock Band: The Beatles, and then Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr actually showed up to greet the crowd and plug the game. Later on, Tony Hawk showed off his latest game, and after that, Steven friggin' Spielberg helped to present the super-advanced Project Natal. All of these appearances were kind of incidental, and Rock Band and Tony Hawk aren't even exclusive to XBOX. But there could be no question, Microsoft owned Sony and Nintendo in terms of putting on a show at E3.

As far as Natal goes ... I wasn't sold at first, but like everyone else, my jaw dropped when Peter Molyneux showed off his Milo demo. The technology just seemed so, I don't know, sci-fi. When the woman interacting with the virtual character Milo drew a picture on a real piece of paper, "handed" it to Milo, and then had that piece of paper, with the same drawing, appear on-screen ... well, it may have been *the* "holy-$#*&" moment of E3. Realistically, who knows what a Milo game would actually be like. And who even knows to what extent Natal can be a real game-changer for the XBOX as opposed to just a cool-looking tech demo. Who even knows when the thing will actually be released to consumers. But, no question, Microsoft used the Natal to put on a hell of a show.

As for the games ... Microsoft impressed with a couple of their 360 exclusives, although personally, I didn't see a ton that really appealled to me as a non-fan of FPS shooters. Alan Wake looked really interesting. Epic Games' Shadow Complex, and XBOX Live Arcade game, was prob my pick for coolest XBOX game of the show - a 2D side-scroller that hearkened back to old-school Metroid and Castlevania. The new Splinter Cell looked very cool as well, and UbiSoft looks to have really nailed the gameplay with this one.

MS also had a major blow to Sony in its announcement that the new next-gen Metal Gear game will in fact be multiplatform. Metal Gear Solid: Rising is still likely a long ways away, but, that was really a key Sony exclusive that now joins Final Fantasy XIII as a big get for XBOX. It was one more "f-you" to Sony, and it was obvious that MS was lovin' the fact that they were able to bring Hideo Kojima up on their stage at E3.

Finally, like I said before, Microsoft really has its $#%* together when it comes to all the online stuff. The fact that you will soon be able to instantly stream HD, 1080 p movies and TV shows is pretty great. And the Facebook and Twitter integration seems like it will be very novel and well-done. As far as being a multimedia wonderbox, Sony has the whole blu-ray advantage, but in many other respects, Microsoft is, at least for now, the leader.

Again, personally I didn't see many XBOX-exclusive games that really tickled my fancy. I'm not a Halo player, so ODST didn't do much for me. And there were A LOT of grey games. give me bright color, imagination, etc. any day of the week. That said, Microsoft had the best E3 press conference, and the Natal is clearly the most buzzed-about thing coming out of E3. You've got to give a ton of credit to Microsoft.

DANNY'S TOP 10 GAMES OF E3 (In Playable Form ...):

1. God of War 3 - Sony, PS3

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Sony, PS3

3. Brutal Legend - EA, PS3 & XBOX 360

4. Final Fantasy XIII - Square Enix, PS3 & XBOX 360

5. Bayonetta - Sega, PS3 and XBOX 360

6. New Super Mario Bros Wii - Nintendo, Wii

7. Assassin's Creed 2 - Ubisoft, PS3 & XBOX 360

8. Ratchet & Clank Future 2: A Crack In Time - Sony, PS3

9. Mass Effect 2 - EA, PS3 & XBOX 360

10. Shadow Complex - Microsoft / Epic Games, XBOX 360

DANNY'S TOP 5 GAMES OF E3 (Non-Playable):

1. Metroid: Other M - Nintendo, Wii

2. The Last Guardian - Sony, PS3

3. Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker - Konami, PSP

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Nintendo, Wii

5. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Konami, PS3 & XBOX 360

But yeah, E3 '09 was a strong indicator that E3 is in fact back. I had a great time attending the show. On the show floor, I got to talk games to the cast of one of my fave TV shows, CHUCK, met Mickey Rourke (!), and most importantly, got to live out my longtime dream of actually attending E3. Hopefully my first time won't be my last! Check me out on facebook to see lots of great photos. But man, it's a good time to be a game fan, and it was a week for the record books for me.

COMING SOON: Long-awaited reviews of UP and DRAG ME TO HELL, plus: I go to a taping of Inside the Actor's Studio!