Wednesday, February 24, 2010

LOST Its Way?! Making Sense of the Latest Episode and Asking the Tough Questions...

LOST Review:

- Last night's LOST was definitely an improvement, but the same overarching problems were apparent that have been there throughout the season thus far. Again, when Lost is telling such serialized stories, with each episode serving as merely a single piece of the puzzle, it's hard to talk about the overall direction of the series within the context of a single episode. On one hand, I realize that some very interesting groundwork is being laid, and that there is the potential for some really cool moments to come about over the course of the next few weeks. At the same time, there are no guarantees that a satisfying payoff is on the way, and what we've seen so far has been fairly unremarkable in terms of plot progression, in terms of "answers," and in terms of a sense of "bigness" befitting the final season of Lost.

Still, this Jack-centric episode had some really nice moments. The flash-sideways was easily the most compelling we've yet seen, for example, as it had some real emotional beats to it. We learn that this version of Jack is actually the father of a teenage son. Given Jack's own history of father issues, it was interesting to see the tables turned, with Jack's son acting cold and somewhat distant towards his dad. In a way, seeing Jack ultimately work to repair that relationship and somewhat bond with his sone was cathartic - it served as a nice bookend to all of Jack's oft-explored parental hangups. Whereas the Kate and Locke flashes seemed pretty redundant as compared to previous character explorations, this one actually covered some new territory and provided a compelling "what-if" scenario for Jack.

I do think that the random pop-ups from island characters in the alternaverse are getting a little tiring though. Am I really supposed to get excited that Dogen from the Temple randomly shows up as the father of a kid trying out for the same conservatory as Jack's son? Here's where I think that the sideways flashes are lacking a real sense of importance to the overall plotline. I'm sure that the connection between the two universes will ultimately prove important, but as of now we have no clue how events in one world reflect or affect those in the other. For now, there's no reason to care about the sideways flashes except to catch a glimpse of the Lost characters' lives had they not ended up on the island. It's a fun little character excercise, but without some added weight to keep us invested in these flashes, it's still tough to get all that excited about them.

On the island, I enjoyed the light banter and sense of comraderie between Jack and Hurley. Like Hurley said, it felt "old-school," and Hurley's comic relief provided some much-needed self-mocking. I mean, after all the craziness that's occured this season, it was nice to hear Hurley somewhat acknowledge just how absurd all of it was. On the other hand, there were moments that pushed the meta-commentary a little far. I mean, when Hurley and Jack stumbled upon the twin skeletons in the cave, I think fans everywhere thought "okay, FINALLY, let's hear what the deal is with these two". Instead, we get Hurley speculating on the same sorts of ideas that fans have many times, like, what if the skeletons are two of the castaways, there due to some crazy time-travel shenanigans? It was kind of put in there as an in-joke of sorts, but, seriously, just give us some of these answers! And look, I'm not saying I want a bland laundry list or checklist of answers, but, I do want a couple of genuine "wow" moments that address the series' longstanding questions. Preferably sooner rather than later ...

And then there's the ongoing saga of Jacob vs. Smokey. On one level I'm curious where all of this is going. At the same time, I don't think either character is all that intriguing, at least not yet. Especially considering how into the story of Whidmore and Penelope I was. I mean, what about the "war" that Whidmore mentioned way back when? The Lost landscape was pretty awesome back then. Ben and Whidmore as at-odds villains. Desmond as the epic hero. The island as a mythical place that was the source of real-world melodrama. Now, I worry that Lost has devolved into a 1960's-era Marvel comic book. Because historically, nearly every character on Lost was a real character. They had depth and nuance. So far, Jacob and Smokey don't. When Lost has introduced peripheral characters, even those have often been flat-out awesome (eye-Patch Guy, anyone? Keamy? Clancy Brown?! All badasses!). So far, Jacob and Smokey are pretty bland. And yes, I get it, that's part of the point. But again, throughout Lost's history we've had epic time-travelling sagas, talk of war and gathering stormclouds, huge twists, and shocking revelations. A sense of pulpy fun and adventure. Now, all that boils down to Jack going into a lighthouse and seeing his name on a wheel?

I get that a lot of the lighthouse stuff was more about Jack's character than anything else. And I did enjoy the sheer journey of getting there. Even if it was unsatisfying plot-wise, Jack flipping out and shattering the magical lighthouse mirror was in-character. But still ... the whole excercise was ultimately pointless, in terms of advancing the plot. Jack now knows what Sawyer found out last week - he and the other castaways were "chosen," they were "candidates," so to speak. Their lives were observed and manipulated. This was all news to Jack, but not to us, the viewers. So again - good to great character stuff, counterbalanced by little to no plot development.

The overall feel of this episode was strong. Matthew Fox turned in a great performance as always, and the overall portrait of Jack in this episode - both versions - was really interesting and compelling. It was one of the stronger character pieces Lost has done in a while, and it was an episode that finally showed off some of the potential that the sideways flashes have to offer us some *new* insights into the characters.

And yeah, the next couple of episodes could deliver the payoff to all of this prolonged setup. But I do feel the pacing has been off, and I am wondering if Lost has gotten off track from the intriguing mythology that it set up last season and prior. I feel similarly to how I felt last week - this was a strong episode, but it still left me with doubts about where we're headed from here.

My Grade: B+


- Is Jacob really the "good guy" here? If so, then what was his relationship with Ben all this time? Ben is pretty clearly an evil, lying, bastard. So why was *he* Jacob's figurehead leader for all these years?

- Who are all the people who live at the Temple? Are they pro-Jacob or pro-Smokey? How long have they been on the island? And why are they so damn reluctant to answer a single question with a direct response?!

- Who *are* Jacob and "The Man in Black?"

- Who are the group of people who were killed by Smokey in the premiere, of which Ilana is now the only survivor? What is the deal with their little Cult of Jacob, and how does it relate back to the fabled Statue?

- What's up with the various supernatural powers that various people possess? How/why is Richard Alpert seemingly immortal? How/why did Walt have supernatural abilities? How did Locke regain the ability to walk and how did Rose become cancer-free? How about Miles? How/why can he speak with the dead?

- And how/why can Hurley speak to the dead, for that matter?

- Who was the Christian Shephard that we've seen on the island? Was he the Smoke Monster in possession of Christian's body, as he now is with Locke? If so, then what happened to Christian's body? Locke's original body is still around, afterall.

- Who were "The Others" anyways? How and when did they originally get to the island, and why did they wear fake beards when they were originally introduced? At one point, they were depicted as sort of wild, tribal people, and then they were basically Ben's lackeys living in suburban tranquility on the island. How do "The Others" that we had previously met relate to the *other* Others that live in the Temple? And why do they call themselves "The Others?"

- What's up with Claire? She's been tainted / corrupted by Smokey, I guess - but how and why? Can he just possess anyone he wants? If so, why doesn't he just possess everyone and call it a day? If Sayid is also possessed, then when will he start acting crazy a la Claire?

- Speaking of Claire, I didn't quite get her interaction with Jin. I mean, yes, she's crazy now, but still ... where did she expect her baby to be once she was presumed dead? Wouldn't she maybe guess that Kate or Juliette helped take care of Aaron in her absence? And why did she randomly have animal bones in her cradle?! Weird.

- So why did Ben have to kill Locke again? Has Ben been working for Smokey the whole time? I assume yes, but if so why couldn't Jacob do something about him? Why is Jacob so darn passive about everything? Why can Smokey proactively kill people, etc. but not Jacob?

- We know that each castaway was assigned a number by Jacob and Smokey - each number is from "the Numbers." So ... what are The Numbers?!

- What was the war that Whidmore talked about, and will we get to see it?

- Who is Dogen? Who is Lennon? Why are they so lame?

- Did Juliette somehow know about the creation of a parallel timeline before she died? That seemed to be the implication, but if so, how did she know?

- What's up with Jack's health issues in the alternaverse? The appendix scar, etc? Is this the first hint of crossover between the two universes?

- Is this show even about time travel anymore? I mean, I loved it last season when we got into all of the quantum physics stuff that helped explain the nature of the island (RIP Faraday, once again). Now all that seems to be out the window in favor of supernatural cosmic craziness.

- And what about Eloise Hawking? Wasn't she one of the main people who urged the castaways to return to the island in the first place? Why did she want them to go back? What's her deal, anyways?

- Why does Jacob get to have all of the castaways' names on a wheel, complete with magic mirror that looks into their lives, whereas Smokey just has their names scrawled on a cave ceiling?

- Okay, brain hurts now. Leave your comments and thoughts. Dammit all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWENTY-FOUR: "Son, you better put that down, or you're gonna get hurt."


- Hmm ... one one hand, last night's 24 was one of the season's all-around most solid eps. On the other hand, there were a couple of ridiculous moments that made me roll my eyes in annoyance. Let me start with those. Okay ... 24 has always played fast and loose with time ... BUT ... are you seriously telling me that that woman from the Justice Dept. was called, summoned to CTU, and made it there to question Renee ... at 1 am?! Come on. I think it speaks to the fact that 24 has lost a lot of its old sense of pacing. I've talked about this a few times in the last couple of weeks, but it bears repeating: I still want 24 to justify itself. I want actual reasons why everyone is working around the clock with no food and no sleep. There has to be such a sense of urgency, such a driving force behind the plotlines, that we don't even have time to question the show's internal logic, and we don't want to. On last night's ep, and throughout the season, that hasn't really been the case. There are plenty of lulls in the action where you wonder why people aren't just calling it a day. There are plenty of logic-killing moments like the Justice Dept. visit to CTU that just don't make sense given the timing. I like that 24 is over the top, but I hate these kinds of logic gaps.

Otherwise, this was, as I said, a very solid episode of 24. First off, they FINALLY gave the Dana Walsh / Jenny Scott / creepy stalker storyline a shot in the arm (or a shot to the head, depending on how you look at it). Dana decided to take matters into her own hands, and contemplated killing her abusive stalker and his crazy-ass friend. But, Cole Prinze Jr. catches up with her, threatens the stalker, and that seems to be that. That is, until Crazy Bearded Stalker Friend flips out, stabs Stalker and tries to take out Cole and Dana, leading Cole to blow him away with a shotgun. Finally. Although, it would have been hilarious and semi-awesome if somehow Crazy Friend-of-Stalker (the same guy who some local ho-bags dubbed "a total freak" after being lured into his rapemobile), somehow became the Big Bad of the whole season! I mean, what if he wanted to "graduate to the bigtime", got ahold of the nuclear rods, and became Jack Bauer's public enemy #1. Bauer vs. Redneck, no-holds-barred. But alas, two of 24's most annoying-ever characters are (hopefully) gone. And yeah, we can only pray that Stalker Guy does not recover from his stab wounds. Honestly, I'm not sure where to take the Dana storyline from here. Maybe have her kind of resume Renee's undercover op, using her past criminal connections to help find the nukes? In any case, they need to do something to get Katee Sackhoff in the middle of the action and not on her cellphone fretting about stalkers. But, at least the wild showdown in tonight's ep was a good first step.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed just about everything with Jack in this one. It's funny - in this season, we've seen Jack do a lot of talking. But over the years on 24, Jack sometimes goes for so long without showing emotion or introspection that it still feels kind of novel when we do see it. And Kiefer had some great moments in this one. Plus, it was super-refreshing to have a sequence where all signs pointed to Jack "going rogue" yet again, only to have him regain his composure a bit and actually talk things out with Hastings. I mean, if Jack had gone rogue and helped Renee escape CTU, what was he planning to do from there? If his goal was to have her avoid prosecution, how would that have helped her cause? So yeah, kudos to 24 for actually changing things up and letting some CTU agents get the jump on Jack.

You also had to love the scene where Jack is about to leave CTU, only for Hastings to ask him to go "all in." Now that's what's been missing from 24 for a while - a scene with some real GRAVITAS, baby. Jack gritting his teeth and tightening the strap on his Jack-Sack ruled it. And it was a nice way to keep Jack in the middle of the action without him having to constantly work outside the system. Good stuff.

I also thought there were some pretty nice twists on the badguy front. I was sure we were in for many episodes of Jack and CTU chasing the rogue Russian son around NYC. But, very quickly, things changed - the son was killed, Evil Hassan escaped with the rods, and then turned on his extremist co-conspirators when they decided to up the ante and try to blow up an NYC landmark. Now, he's on the run and quite possibly a deadman. Again, it was an interesting change-up. Now we just need a really awesome character to emerge as the true villain of the season (paging Mr. Almeda ...). The stage is set, so I can only hope that 24 follows through.

This ep definitely felt like a turning point in the season, and that's good, because we needed it. Again, the stage has been set. Let's see if business, finally, begins to really pick up.

My Grade: B+

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Duly-Appointed Federal Blog Post: SHUTTER ISLAND - Reviewed! Plus: Smallville, The Simpsons, and More!

Back in the thick of things after a couple of days where I was decidely off the grid. The reason? A visit from the parents, who were in LA from the east coast for the last few days. It was a pretty exhausting weekend though. I spent two straight days, Friday and Saturday, driving around with my Dad, from car dealership to car dealership, looking at used cars. I am not really a car person. And I am not really a shopping person. And I am definitely not a used car dealership person (although who is?). So yeah, this was a pretty painful process for me. I didn't end up purchasing a car, but the upside is that I'm now much more familiar with the used car landscape - what I like and don't like - and the kinds of price ranges that you can expect to find in the marketplace. As with many areas though, I tend to have expensive taste. I think the car market right now is particularly frustrating in that regard, because so many of the new models of popular cars are so superior to the older models, as the car companies have tried to step up their game to fight their way out of the recession. But yeah, part of this was due to my lack of familiarity with the car market going into this process, but I kept finding myself taking a liking to a particular car, only to find that the features and look that I like were only recently introduced in newer and pricier models. I came somewhat close to picking up a used '06 Altima, for example. The exterior was nice, but the interior was somewhat uncomfortable and unappealling, especially as compared to newer and nicer Altima iterations. I get that with a used car, especially a modestly budgeted one, I am never going to get my ideal model. But, with that being the case, I'm much better educated now and better equipped to actually make a purchase. But, good lord, is there anything worse than a used car salesman?

Anyways, I am now pretty wiped from a long weekend, but ... I still have a lot to talk about in terms of movies and TV. I caught SHUTTER ISLAND on Sunday, which I'll be reviewing in this very post. But first, some TV Reviews:

- SMALLVILLE on Friday was a return to the overarching Zod storyline that's been running throughout the season. After the awesome Justice Society episode and the fun Zatanna ep, it felt like a bit of a come-down to dive back into the somewhat plodding Zod / Kandorian saga. The fact is, the storyline has had its moments, and Callium Blue has made Zod a more compelling adversary than he might have been otherwise ... but overall, this storyline has never 100% made sense, and it hasn't yet really picked up much steam. The future-looking ep in which Clark time travels to a world ruled by Zod was a highlight, but the show never quite built on that episode's key plot points in a really effective manner. Clark knew that Zod was planning to build a tower that would transform the earth's sun - granting Zod and his army superhuman powers while robbing Clark of his. And yet, Clark never really seemed to be doing much about it. Meanwhile, "Absolute Justice" set a bunch of other, more interesting storylines in motion - the JSA, Checkmate, and the reveal that Tess Mercer was, in fact, a Checkmate agent all along. So, yeah, now we're back to Zod, with little to no allusions to Tess' newly-revealed identity, and Clark back to treating Zod - aka the soon-to-to-be evil ruler of earth - with kid gloves.

On one hand, this ep did take steps to ramp up the Zod storyline. But first, it introduced YET ANOTHER storyline revolving around mind-control and characters not acting like themselves. Are you serious, Smallville? I mean, really? I like how at this point nobody even blinks when confronted with mind-control - Clark just sort of shrugs it off as "yep, here we go again." In fact, Clark even uses his meteor-rock-induced power of suggestion to get Zod to spill the beans on who killed Jor-El (funny how Clark waited until now to man up and get Zod to talk). But, the whole light-hearted, Valentine's Day Lois-as-domesticated-housewife storyline made for an odd contrast with the episode's more serious Zod plotline. I mean, why even bother with the Valentine's stuff? If the show ever does do a real Lois and Clark wedding, then episodes like this one only serve to undermine their relationship. How about a couple of episodes where we actually see why the two enjoy spending time together?

It's funny too because Clark barely even seemed interested in his own romantic subplot this week. Instead, he was occupied with the Kandorians and trying to peacefully win them over to the side of earth, and to turn them against Zod. When that didn't work, the show actually had a pretty damn badass moment: on the eve of Zod's unveiling of his new tower, Clark, perched on a gargoyle, Batman-style, uses his heat-vision to BURN THE TOWER DOWN. A surprisingly dark and cool ending to what was a really all-over-the-place episode. Hopefully, Clark's drastic actions at episode's end escalate this whole storyline, and we get back to big action and epic storytelling. And please, NO MORE MIND CONTROL storylines, EVER, for the love of god.

My Grade: B-


- Well, I gove THE SIMPSONS credit for at least attempting a unique (sort of) and ambitious storyline with Sunday's ep. But, what could have been a really cool episode fell flat as the jokes ran dry after the first commercial break. Basically, the premise was that Lisa researches her family's history, and comes across the diary of her Civil War-era ancestor whose family helped a slave escape to freedom via the famous Underground Railroad. It was an interesting idea, but just not a very funny one. Worse, instead of creating some interesting new characters for the episode, the flashbacks to the 1800's used the same device as the mostly-terrible "three stories" eps, in which the primary Simpsons characters are reimagined as historical dopplegangers. Nevermind the fact that, if Lisa was learning about her dad's side of the family, it makes no sense for the matriarch of the clan to be an 1800's version of Marge. Also nevermind the fact that Lisa already investigated her family history in the great ep "Lisa, The Simpson." Odd that in an episode that had numerous visual callbacks to classic episodes, the writers threw continuity out the door. On the plus side, the first several minutes of the ep were a lot of fun. Lisa's talk with Homer and Grandpa about the Simpson family history was filled with hilarity (I loved the jokes about how every Simpson was a bad apple, even Adam and Eve Simpson, aka the Rosenbergs). The heart of the episode, though, the Civil War era stuff, was just barely watchable. The jokes were only so-so, and while there was some visually appealling animation, the segments were mostly a bore. Still, a couple sequences that were packed with spot-on jokes (I also loved everything at the school's Black History Month assembly - Lisa's powerpoint presentation was great) helped save the episode from mediocrity.

My Grade: B-

- As for THE CLEVELAND SHOW, I think we've established by this point that episodes which focus on Cleveland Jr. = funny. This one was no exception, as the ep revolved around a pretty funny feud between father and son. Cleveland wanted Jr. to get a job, but the plan backfires when Jr. ends up working as a bartender at Cleveland's usual hangout spot. Jr. actually runs the place competently, unlike the usual owner (voiced by David Lynch!), and has Cleveland and his friends paying for their drinks and contending with a new, more upscale clientelle. It was sort of a cross between The Simpsons episode where Bart works at the Burlesque House and the one where Moe makes his bar more upscale. Nonetheless, it was funny, and Cleveland Jr. chopping off his dad's mustache in retaliation for Cleveland causing Jr. to lose his job was great. The Cleveland Show isn't yet a "great" comedy series, but it's still one of the more reliable fixtures of the FOX Sunday night lineup. And yeah, I know, American Dad. Well, I don't watch it, suckas.

My Grade: B+

Okay, time to take a look at Martin Scorsese's latest ...


- Shutter Island has a lot of the trappings of a truly great movie. An incredible cast. Moody, absorbing, mesmerizing direction from a master filmmaker - Martin Scorsese. A memorable, haunting score. At times, Shutter Island almost feels like a lost film noir from the 50's by way of The Twilight Zone. It's a movie that evokes the 50's not just in setting and theme but in style. It's a crime procedural that is also very much about the larger context of the era - trauma from WWII, the illusion of the suburbs and of postwar domestic tranquility - it's about H-Bombs and HUAC and the Cold War. And it's also about delivering that Twilight Zone-style headtrip - that feeling of "is everyone else crazy or is it just me?" It's a beautifully-shot movie, and it's an ambitious one. But ... I also don't think it's up there with Scorsese's best. Visually, the legendary director is at the top of his game. But this isn't necessarilly his thematic comfort zone. The script is a bit messy, a bit long and dragged-out. There are some very, very interesting twists and turns, but they aren't delivered with quite the punch that they should be. The movie has several intense, amazing scenes, but it also has some clunkers. Shutter Island is a memorable movie that's well worth seeing, but it falls short of true greatness, especially given the pedigree of talent involved.

Shutter Island starts off with a crackling setup. Through thick fog and cold water, two federal marshalls ride a ferry to an island off the coast of Boston. On the island is an asylum for the criminally insane, and somehow, one of the asylum's patients has escaped, and is currently missing. From the get-go, we get a feel for what Scorsese is going for in this one: thick atmosphere, an ominous, creepy vibe that's like a 50's film noir meets Kubrick's The Shining, and an air of otherworldly, hallucinagenic mystery. This isn't a gritty, realistic film - it's melodramatic, exaggerated, stylized, and oftentimes surreal.

Scorsese does everything he can to make the film pop. There are great, sweeping shots of the island - dangerous and foreboding - surrounded by jagged grey rocks and a stormy, violent ocean. Like the characters, we feel trapped, cut off from the outside world. As the mysteries deepen and the sense of paranoia increases, Scorsese ups the tension and quickens the pace. He also reminds us that our protagonist is an unreliable guide through this world. He suffers flashbacks to his WWII days, when he was a participant in the liberation of Dachau. He has nightmarish visions of his dead wife. His cool exterior belies a lot of inner turmoil. And Scorcese masterfully puts us in his headspace.

The cast is also very much up to the task of absorbing us in this noirish, nightmarish world. Leonardo DiCaprio has proved a reliable collaborater for Scorsese, and he's really good here as (duly-appointed!) federal marshall Teddy Daniels. He still looks young to me - it's hard to buy him as the sort of hard-boiled, grizzled army vet that he plays here. But, DiCaprio mostly sells it anyways. Meanwhile, there are a number of really amazing supporting turns in this one. Ben Kingsley is a scene stealer as the sinister-seeming doctor who oversees the asylum on Shutter Island. As Dr. Cawley, Kingsley is appropriately creepy and mysterious. Same goes for Max Von Sydow as a German colleague of Cawley's. It's interesting in that we've seen a lot of creepy asylum's in pop culture lately. Batman's Arkham Asylum (which, if you're a Batman nerd like me, you can't help but think of when you see this movie), for one, and the Victorian asylum of The Wolfman, for another (and some of those macabre methods of psychotherapy from Victorian times are alluded to in Shutter Island).

I also thought Mark Ruffallo was excellent as DiCaprio's partner-in-crime-fighting. Rufallo looks like he stepped right out of a 50's-era film noir, and he has some great moments in the film. Similarly great is Michelle Williams, who appears in flashback as Teddy's deceased wife. While some of William's scenes tend to drag (more the fault of the script), her impressive performance helps lift them up and make them watchable. Suffice it to say, I've seen Williams play eccentric, but after this movie, there's no doubt that she can also play crazy. Patricia Clarkson and Jackie Earl Haley also have memorable cameo roles, as does Ted Levine as the asylum's devilish Warden.

The direction, the cast - both are stellar. The movie's main fault then, I think, lies in the script. As I alluded to, the script - an adaptation of the book by Dennis Lehane - is not as tight as it should be. And some of this is in the editing, too. Some scenes really drag. Some of the big reveals are very overexpository. And the movie beats you over the head with some of its big twists, essentially to prove that they hold up under the movie's internal logic. But still, you leave the movie wondering whether it all really fits together in the end. In the wake of movies like Memento that elegantly and dynamically fit together like a well-crafted puzzle, the various drawn-out reveals of Shutter Island feel clunky in comparison.

Still, this is a movie that is sure to provoke a lot of debate and discussion, and that's great. It's certainly well worth checking out, and there are any number of great scenes and memorable performances that make the movie enjoyable and absorbing. But it's a movie with A LOT going on, and it's a movie that ultimately leaves you scratching your head. With a narrative this complex and multilayered, the film desperately needed to come together like clockwork and to end with a bang in order to really resonate. And I'm not sure if Shutter Island really pulls that off. Still, it definitely has its moments.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, just about made it through another Monday. Stay tuned for thoughts on 24, and much more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LOST Latest Episode - Reviewed: Is That All You've Got?


- Okay, it's going to be difficult to talk about last night's episode of Lost. Because I am of two minds about it. Here's the thing: there were a lot of cool scenes / moments in this one. That's pretty much guaranteed when you have an episode that focuses in on perhaps the two best characters in the Lost pantheon - Locke and Sawyer - who also happen to be played by probably the show's two best and most charismatic actors. Terry O'Quinn was awesome, as always, in this ep. He sold every story beat like a champ. And he played two completely different characters with relative ease - alterna-timeline Locke, and possessed-by-the-man-in-black Locke. O'Quinn has always been the MVP of Lost, and he proved it again in last night's ep, bringing genuine emotion and pathos to the flash-sideways storyline of a still-wheelchair-bound version of Locke who was coming to grips with his own limitations. In this reality, the Locke who screamed "Don't tell me what I can't do!" in "Walkabout" had begun to lose some of his conviction. He came back from his Australia trip dejected, a beaten man. He's fired from his job and can't summon the nerve to call up Dr. Jack Shephard for a spinal consultation. He's engaged to Katey Segal, but has convinced himself that she has to suffer through his handicap. For longtime Lost fans, none of these themes were anything knew. This is familiar territory in terms of Locke's backstory. But again, O'Quinn sells it, and makes it all interesting and compelling one more time.

We saw something similar occur back on the island. I was pretty ambivalent about the overarching storyline involving Not Locke and his cosmic chess match with Jacob. But, I did get a kick out of Sawyer going back to his old, rebellious ways. Seeing the return of Sawyer: cowboy antihero was fun, as was seeing him act snarky and cavalier in the face of a powerful and potentially evil supernatural entity. I liked the little hints of Indiana Jones-style adventure - the precarious ladder-climb down a steep cliff, for example. But again ... all of that was cool, but, I am beginning to worry that the big-picture stuff is in just as precarious a position as Sawyer on that rickety rope ladder.

I just wonder whether the show is really beginning to collapse under the weight of its years of mysteries and mythology. I mean, I really only wanted two things from this final season. One: a huge, epic sense of scope and adventure as characters clashed and plotlines intersected - I wanted big stakes and big moments. Secondly, I wanted answers that didn't necessarilly answer *everything*, but that tied together the themes of the series in a manner worthy of the best Twilight Zone twist endings. with a few jaw-dropping, mind-bending moments thrown in for good measure. So far, I don't feel like Lost is urgently racing towards a giant-sized and epic conclusion. I feel like it's throwing a bunch of stuff at us that is pretty out-of-left-field. Just when the show should be tightening the screws, it feels like the plotline just keeps getting wider and looser. The sideways flashes feel like yet another opportunity to examine these characters, most of which have already been psychoanalyzed to death. The Jacob stuff just feels deflated from what it once was. It almost feels like the writers now have to be intentionally cautious about revealing story info simply because they know that the story they've worked out is nothing all that mind-blowing. Two cosmic entities playing a life-size game of chess with real people as pawns? That's what this all boils down to? And if that's the route you're going to go, at least make us feel like we are really in the presence of gods wielding awesome levels of power and knowledge. Instead, it's just a dude who looks like Locke battling for the fate of the universe with a blonde guy who looks like your average generic TV actor.

I just want a sense of grandeur, a sense that business is picking up, that five years of twists and turns have all led up to THIS defining, climactic moment. And yet, I'm still waiting for Lost's final season to deliver its first truly great episode. This was a really well-done ep taken on its own terms, a solid B+ and a big improvement over last week's ep ... but as a key chapter in the final volume of LOST? ... I want an A-level episode, and I feel like saying "come on, is that all you got?"

My Grade: B+

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All-Star Jammin' - NBA Thoughts, 24~!, and More!

Well, back from a long weekend and back to the grind. This week is going to be slightly crazy. My parents were supposed to have flown into LA from the east coast *last* week, but due to the snowstorm over there (well, morel ike fear of a snowstorm - turns out it wasn't actually much of a storm), their flight was cancelled. They rescheduled the trip, and now they'll be here Tuesday through Sunday. Good times.

Anyways, it was a fun three-day weekend, and I felt like I got the chance to both relax and be productive. On Friday, I hit up the famous "Friday Night Live" event at Temple Sinai in West LA, for the first time ever. Basically, it's a Shabbat service followed by a gigantic gathering of Jewish young adults for basically a giant reception/party/schmoozefest. It was fun, I ran into some Birthright Israel peeps, and it was cool to see so many young Jews in one place. It definitely felt like the place to be.

Meanwhile, it was a huge weekend for sports. The Olympics in Vancouver kicked off in grand fashion, with an interesting opening ceremonies. Even more exciting for me though was NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND. I caught all of the various events and festivities, and as always it was a lot of fun to see the NBA's best square off in the three point shoot-out, the dunk-contest, and the All-Star game itself.

Still, there was no denying that this year's dunk contest was flat-out weak. In the last few years, guys like Dwight Howard have helped to bring some excitement back to the show - so much so that rumors swirled that big guns like LeBron or Dwayne Wade might enter the fray this year. Instead, the oppositte occurred. Dwight Howard dropped out, and the contestants were mostly no-names. Past winner Nate Robinson won basically by default, and the crowd was never all that into the whole thing. So I say: the NBA needs to do something to get the game's biggest names back in the contest. Throw in some veterans, some newbies ... hell, get that D-League guy who apparently did a 720 in the D-League dunk contest. But this year's dunk contest was, undeniably, a let-down.

The rest of All-Star Saturday Night was fun - the best part is always the celebratory atmosphere, and the TNT crew always seems to have a blast calling the event. As is often the case with TNT's NBA coverage, half the fun is just watching the banter between Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Reggie Miller, Ernie Johnson, etc. I will say - I got a kick out of Paul Pierce of the Celtics pulling off the surprise win in the 3-Point Shootout, and then declaring himself one of the "best shooters of all-time." Wow. Hey, the guy doesn't hold back, got to respect that - right?

The actual All-Star Game on Sunday was actually one of the better games in a while - a close game that was competitive but still had dozens of jaw-dropping highlights. It was strange not having Shaq in the game - he's practically been Mr. All-Star Game for years now - but it was also fun to see some of the newer guys, like Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo - step up. And of course, between LeBron, D-Wade, and Dwight Howard, there were plenty of human-highlight-reel moments. Typically, The All-Star Game is when I start to really get into the NBA season and start to pay closer attention to the standings and big matchups. So yeah, I'm excited to see how this NBA season plays out - it's going to be interesting.

And now, some TV reviews ...


- Well, this week's ep was definitely more fun than last week's. But, the same basic problems still persist - whenever Jack is kicking ass, things are good. But just about every other character and subplot is really tanking. Some are boring (everything with Hassan and his daughter), and some are just plain cringe-worthy (Dana Walsh and her redneck stalker). The Dana Walsh storyline sometimes threatens to be so-bad-it's-good - I mean, her stalker's dumbass friend grabbing his cellphone and calling Dana a bitch - well, that was sort of funny. But, the storyline as a whole is just terrible, and worse, it lessens the intensity of the main nuke plot. I mean, if Dana, one of CTU's top operatives, runs away from her desk to deal with this other stuff like every two minutes, then it can't be *that* urgent, can it?

Speaking of urgency, 24 thrives when there is a sense of urgency and desperation driving the action. Even if this is the show's ninth season, we still need a reason why these characters are going full speed ahead for 24 straight hours. This episode was frustrating in that regard, because there were a couple of instances where characters like The President, Hassan, Renee, and maybe even Jack would, under normal circumstances, call it a day and go home. So far, the plotline on 24 is relatively low-key compared to what Jack and co have dealt with in the past. No one is really in danger yet - all that's at stake is a peace deal that seemed to be on somewhat shaky ground to begin with. The problem then becomes that we don't really get invested in the plot week to week - we just tune in to see what kind of badass, violent thing Jack will do next. I mean, it used to be that most of Jack's big "holy-$#%&" moments were at least somewhat organic to the plot and context of the story. Time was running out, the clock was ticking, etc.

That said, there were some scenes in this ep that definitely brought the awesome. Jack escaping from his torturous predicament was a classic moment of Jack Bauer Power. Same goes for Jack's under-the-table gun battle with the Russian crime boss. Jack went hardcore and put that Commie right through a table. Great stuff. And the following scenes were great as well - with Jack casually syncing up with the President. I mean, how many people not named Jack Bauer can hand you a cell phone and be like "dude, it's the President of the United States." More gravitas-infused moments like this, please.

Ultimately, this season of 24 just needs something to give it that extra dose of energy. Really, Renee's psychotic / violent breakdown is the only real storyline with any bite so far this season. The actual threat - nuclear rods loose in the USA - is nothing special. Jack has no real personal stake in the mission - he's basically just there because he's a workaholic who can't seem to stay retired. And the political intrigue is basically non-existent. And geez, where's Aaron Pierce?!?!

It's easy to get distracted by an episode that has a couple of kickass moments of vintage Bauer awesomeness. But ... business still needs to pick up soon to help salvage this season.

My Grade: B


- Man, the "Absolute Justice" episode of Smallville was so good ... it was hard going back to "normal" Smallville in its wake. Luckily, this past Friday's episode was an above-average effort. Not in the same league (no pun intended) as the previous week's stellar effort, but still, a fun little adventure. I mean, hey, I will never complain about live-action Zatanna, and it was cool seeing the fishnet-clad master of magic back for another appearance. This ep was much better, actually, than Z's first appearance. It was a more light-hearted ep, but it was fun. This one started off in the midst of a Comic-Con style comic book convention, with Lois and Clark on the scene for the Planet. But when a young boy steals a rare comic - a rare comic that also happened to be cursed - he undergoes a magical transformation similar to the hero of the comic book in question - morphing from unassuming boy to superpowered man. The episode has some fun with the Captain Marvel-style shenanigans, even having Chloe fall for the new mystery man-who-also-happens-to-really-be-a-boy. There were some nice Zatanna moments (including a playful seduction scene with Clark), and some cool homages to Captain Marvel and Miracleman in the storyline, which saw the boy-turned-hero begin to snap thanks to the overwhelming influence of the cursed comic. Still, while the ep was fun, it was also pretty cheesy in parts. I wish Smallville would have followed up on "Absolute Justice" by doing a definitive Zatanna ep, that really took Clark on a journey into the world of magic that the character embodies. Plus, this was another in a loooong line of Smallville eps where the plot is predicated on mistaken identity and people not being who they appear to be. After all the cool twists and turns in the previous week's epic episode, it was a bit frustrating to see Smallville go back to the well yet again.

My Grade: B


- THE SIMPSONS has one of those episodes that was saved from being a total dud thanks to several jokes that hit the mark. In this ep, the Simpsons travelled to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, after Homer and Marge join with Skinner and Agnes to form a Curling team. Of course, Homer ends up being the weak link in the team, causing a rift between him and the rest of the squad. Meanwhile, Lisa gets Olympic pin-collecting fever. So, yeah, the plotlines in this one were pretty predictable and basically old-hat to longtime Simpsons fans. But, the episode managed to get in some pretty good Canada jokes, and featured a nice cameo role for Bob Costas, who was clearly very game. These various moments of inspired comedy helped save an otherwise forgettable ep.

My Grade: B-

- FAMILY GUY had some funny moments in an ep that is sure to be somewhat controversial, in which Chris tries to win the affections of a girl with down-syndrome. The ep had some pretty good cutaway gags and consistent laughs throughout, though few if any moments of true hilarity. Still, this was probably the most solid comedy of the night overall, and the ep felt more focused and less ADD than some other recent FG installments.

My Grade: B

- THE CLEVELAND SHOW had a pretty strange ep. The main plotline, with Cleveland's friend beginning to date a mousy woman who turns out to be mean and violent, well, it was alright but never fully clicked. And the subplot with Cleveland Jr. swallong Rollo's fish and acting as if he were pregnant ... just weird. There were some pretty funny moments though sprinkled throughout the half-hour - the climactic fight scene between Cleveland's wife and the mousy girl-turned-enforcer was pretty funny, for one.

My Grade: B-


- It's kind of amazing ... over the last couple of weeks, somehow, the first hour of NBC Thursday night comedy has eclipsed the second. Community, which I was lukewarm about at first, is now really starting to fire on all cylinders. Parks and Recreation went from having a questionable first season to having a stellar Season 2. In fact, over the last few weeks, Parks has been so good, well, it just might have become the funniest show on television. The show has managed to combine sharp humor with surprising realism and heart. The ensemble cast is really gelling. And the show's never been funnier. This past week's Valentine's episode was another excellent installment. I thought 30 Rock and The Office were pretty good but not great this week, but I just wanted to give a shout-out to Parks & Rec - if you haven't watched yet, give it a shot.

- Okay, I'm out for now. Back soon with thoughts on LOST.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Howl at the Moon: THE WOLFMAN - Reviewed!


- I may be going against the grain on this one, but I can only say how I felt about THE WOLFMAN, and how I felt was that it rocked. The movie has flaws, yes. It's messy and the script seems to have any number of holes. The love story is undeveloped and rushed, and the mythology behind the monster is not fully explored in a way that most modern movies tend to do. And yet, I barely cared about most of these things while watching the movie. Why? Because there was an old-fashioned movie magic in this one that made me smile. And yes, I know all the stories about political battles on-set and last minute changes with the creative team - how director Joe Johnston came in last minute, and how he insisted that CGI be used in places where Rick Baker and his legendary team had planned on using traditional, practical effects. But in the end, after all that, the movie still works. It's dark and gothic and creepy and atmospheric. In many ways, it's a throwback and homage to the old Universal horror films. It feels old-school. It turns up the action and intensity at times, but other times is slow and moody and thick with creeping gothic horror. And it's badass as hell. Benicio Del Toro looks the part - he is an iconic Wolfman, to me. Hugo Weaving is awesome, infusing his lines with the kind of over-the-top, British-accented gravitas that you can't help but love. Anthony Hopkins is uber-cool - the sinister old man who could still beat you to death with a candlestick and then might spit on your grave. I'm sorry, I couldn't help but love The Wolfman.

To me, this is a movie that channels the mysterious and horrific iconography of classic Universal horror. It invites you to use your imagination, to fill in the blanks. The broad strokes are enough to get you invested. That's why I didn't mind the underdeveloped romance with Emily Blunt as much as I probably should have. All we really needed to know is that, somehow, she and the Wolfman were in love - beauty and the beast.

What do I want in a Wolfman movie? I want creepy gothic horror. The movie has that in spades - and I love that it's set in Victorian England and not modern times. The thick fog, the grey skies, the somber colors, the flicker of candlelight, the accents. Those are the things that instantly set the mood for a classic tale of terror. The movie gets that. Most movies don't. What else? This new Wolfman has its tragic hero roaming through the woods at night and howling at the moon. It has strange old Gypsy women and feral wolfboys in faraway and exotic lands. It has scenes in which ancient tomes are scoured, the strange condition known as lyncanthropy is reasearched, and grotesque etchings of fabled beasts and monsters light up our imaginations.

These iconic sorts of scenes are coupled with fast-paced and kinetic action. When the Wolfman attacks, things get ugly. But man, is it fun to watch. I give Joe Johnston credit - he does the mood-setting scenes well, but he also cranks up the action and violence to frenetic levels. And yeah, there is a totally over-the-top wolfman-on-wolfman battle that is just plain crazy-cool.

And I totally loved everything in the dark, dank, Victorian insane asylum where Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot is taken to midway through the film. The combination of creepiness, gore, and yes, humor in this section of the film is a real highlight.

People say that Del Toro's didn't actually do much in the movie. Again, to me Lawrence Talbot is underwritten, but it was fun to be allowed to fill in the blanks for a change. Not every movie has to be a full-blown origin story that examines every facet of a character's psyche, you know. To me, the greatness of Del Toro in this one was more just about the world-weary look in his eye, the half-crazed expression when he's locked up in the asylum, the look of horror when he awakens from his wolfen form covered in blood and dressed in tattered clothes. To me that's what the Universal Horror movies were about back in the day - simple stories, iconic monsters, and just enough emotional depth to lend an air of tragedy to the gothic horror.

Meanwhile. Hugo Weaving is a lot of fun as well, as the London inspector intent on tracking down and killing the mythical beast. Would it have been nice to have a little more depth to the character? Yeah, it would have helped to up the drama if we had a little more emotional investment. But, Weaving kicks ass anyways. His line readings are over-the-top in the best of ways. He's just one of those great, underrated actors that is always a pleasure to watch as he chews up the scenery. Similarly awesome is Anthony Hopkins. I think it's true that towards the beginning of the movie he seems a little subdued. But do I think he was phoning it in? Definitely not. To me, it felt like he was slowly easing into the craziness that ensues in the movie's last couple of acts. All along, he has that evil gleam in his eye, and you just know that it's only a matter of time before business picks up. And it does, bigtime. I love the fact that Anthony Hopkins literally kicks so much ass in this movie. And thanks to some CGI magic, Hopkins really gets to pull off some crazy stuff that makes for one hell of a monster-mash finale.

And about that CGI ... I thought the transformation scenes were exceptionally well-done. And the action scenes as well. The places where the CGI stuck out were in some of the more random moments, like one bit in which a bear looks way more cartoonish than it ought to. But I loved that the overall look of the Wolfman was much more practical and old-school than I expected. In many scenes, the monster looked like a guy in really well-done makeup, and I loved that. CGI is cool, but there's something magical about seeing an actor transform in a tangible, real way into a monster. And I appreciated that, even in the CGI transformation scenes, things were shot in such a way so as to evoke old-school f/x - aka, subtler and less over-the-top than your typical CGI sort of scene.

If you overanalyze The Wolfman, there are surely a number of things that one can criticize and find fault with. Especially when you directly compare it either to the original Wolfman film, or to more typical, modern horror flicks. But to me, this new take on an old classic was a fun blend of old and new. Modern action and f/x, mixed with the slow-burn gothic atmosphere of the original Universal Horror movies. Three great actors in the lead roles. The iconic moments you want in a movie like this, with a few new twists thrown in for good measure. I had a blast watching this one. I hope it does well - because, man, it'd be cool if this movie helped to usher in a new golden era for classic Universal Horror.

My Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

FROZEN! The Stuck-on-a-Ski-Lift Survival Movie - Reviewed! Plus: LOST! And More!

Well it's been a crazy couple of days. I was mentally prepping for a parental visit, set to take place this weekend, but due to the snowstorm (or fear of a snowstorm) in the east coast, said visit has been postponed until next week. So now, I am forced to decompress, figure out my now-wide-open three day weekend, and then mentally prepare all over again. Oy. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the impending overabundance of family fun time, I tried to load up this week with lots of actual fun time. On Tuesday, I managed to score last-minute tickets to the Clippers vs. Jazz game on the cheap. Knowing that my brother is a diehard Jazz fan (despite being from CT), I had to jump on the offer. And it was a fun game. It had been a while since I'd been to an NBA game, and it was my brother's first-ever live Jazz game. For a man whose room was plastered with Stockton and Malone posters, that was a big deal. As for me, I was just enjoying being live at Staples with a giant pretzel and some live NBA action. Sweet! Last night, I went up to Universal Citywalk after work to check out a screening of FROZEN, which I had heard some good things about in recent weeks (and keep reading for the review!). And tonight, I'll be checking out an employee screening of WOLFMAN, which I am really psyched to see after many months of anticipation (so yeah, expect a review of that one very soon).

First of all, however, let's talk TV.

LOST thoughts:

- I was impressed, overall, with the two-hour season premiere of LOST last week. But, certain scenes and certain plotpoints left me a bit uneasy. In my review of the premiere, I wondered whether it would be difficult for the show to keep the narrative momentum going given the parallell timeline thing. I also expressed hesitation with all of the Temple stuff and the whole new cast of other Others that went along with it. In the premiere, the Temple scenes were fun, but undeniably hokey. Even worse, they embodied Lost's worst tendencies towards forced narrative ambiguity and deliberately broken dialogue for the sake of keeping secrets. Now, in Week 2, I think a lot of my fears proved well-founded. I'm sorry to say it, but this was one of the weakest episodes of Lost in a long, long time.

I mean, look, most of "What Kate Did" would have been fine filler material in your typical, above-average Lost episode. But this episode was also riddled with scene after scene of ultra-contrived writing that was just frustrating to watch. I mean, this is the final season, the time to deliver payoffs to all the questions that have been building and building. Does anyone really want an episode that in and of itself raises about 100 new questions? Worse was the manner in which these mysteries were presented. It was literally like watching Waiting for Godot or something. "Who are you?" "Someone." "What do you want?" "Not important." "What's in the pill?" "Do you trust me?" "Why should I?" "Do you trust yourself?" "Maybe." "Okay." UGH!

Lost - you can't have your cake and eat it too - we've been through this before. You can't have characters interact realistically one minute, and then have these scenes where, all of a sudden, people stop talking like people. If you want to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity, then think of a creative and organic way to do it. But for the love of Locke, DON'T have characters ask questions and talk to each other only to have them not actually say ANYTHING of substance. We get it, the Temple dudes are mysterious. But enough with this non-dialogue that serves no purpose except to make you want to punch Dogen and Lennon in the face. The thing that kills me too is that the Lost writers tend to turn this mode of dialogue on and off like a light switch. When they are ready to reveal answers, people talk normally. When they want to keep us in the dark, they have everyone speak in non sequitars. It's lazy and it's transparent. And it's frustrating to watch.

Meanwhile, the events in the non-plane-crash timeline never really grabbed me. I mean, there's only so much novelty in seeing the characters meet again under different circumstances. At this point, we've seen each characters flashbacks and origins ad nauseum. The alternate timeline just feels like another means of revisiting all that, yet again. In that sense, it's hard to get too excited about Kate and Claire off-island when it feels, to some extent, like a retread of what we've already seen. The "new" stuff on the island is way more compelling. Plus, this ep paired Kate and Claire, not exactly Lost's most exciting character combo. There was no Locke or non-Locke or Ben or Desmond. On the island, lots of Sawyer brooding and Jack flailing, and large amounts of our new Temple guardians who are thus far uber-lame, feeling like they walked out of some Final Fantasy game or something.

This was definitely not Lost's finest hour. Next week had better be a step up from this particular brand of weaksauce.

My Grade: C+

- MODERN FAMILY had a pretty enjoyable, Valentine's Day episode. And yet, I worry about this show, at least a little. Is it just me, or has Modern Family slowly been morphing from a random, wacky, and absurdist post-modern sitcom into, well, just a regular old sitcom? I mean, last night's episode definitely had its moments, but the whole thing could probably have been an episode of Full House. What's made Modern Family great in the past was that it kept surprising us by showing new, unexpected sides to its characters, and by having them play off of each other in unique, hilarious ways. Last night, everyone just acted as we'd expect them to, and every storyline was tied up with an "aww shucks" moment that would make Danny Tanner proud. Okay, I don't want to be an MF hater. I'm an MF'er! I mean, um ... ANYWAYS ... I still get a huge kick out of the individual performances on the show. Phil's semi-smooth, semi-dorky attempts to roleplay with his wife was hilarious. As was Cam's determination to help Manny find Valentine's Day love, and Mitchel's repurposing of an unused courtroom speech to defend Manny's honor. Otherwise though, this one never reached the comic heights of last week's outstanding ep.

My Grade: B

And now, a review of an indy survival-horror flick now in theaters - Frozen.

FROZEN Review:

- Ho-ly crap. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Frozen, the ski-lift survival flick that recently wowed audiences at Sundance. But I will tell you this: Frozen is hardcore. This movie isn't messing around. Sure, it lulls you into a false sense of security, at least at first. For a while, the movie is light, jokey, conversational. We meet a couple of college kids and we get wrapped up in their all-too-relatable dynamic: two best friends, one of their girlfriends, and a serious case of third-wheel syndrome. But soon enough, things take a turn for the nightmarish. What starts as a run-of-the-mill day at the slopes turns into an all-too-plausible worst-case-scenario. The threesome goes for one last run before the ski park closes. But the operator mistakenly thinks they've already gone on their run, and shuts the ski-lift down while the kids are still perched high above the slopes. Soon after, the entire place is closed for the night -- and it's not scheduled to reopen for almost a week. Our characters are now stuck on the lift - it's nighttime, it's freezing, and they're impossibly high up off the ground - too high up to safely jump. And oh yeah ... there are wolves ominously wandering about in the snowy terrain below. Like I said ... hardcore.

Frozen, as directed by Adam Green (of horror movie Hatchet fame), is a tense, brutal, and nail-biting suspense film. But what Green does exceptionally well is that he balances the nightmarish, horrific parts of the movie with the more low-key scenes that are really more just about these three everyman college kids and their relationships. I was surprised at how fun and naturalistic the dialogue was in the movie. There are some really nice, snappy exchanges between the characters, and Green really makes all three likable yet average. There's Kevin Zegers as Dan - the would-be alpha male who's been spending more and more time with his new girlfriend, Parker, and less time with his best buddy, Joe. Parker, played by Emma Bell, seems to be your typical plucky blonde, at first, but we come to realize that there's a bit more depth and toughness to her than she originally lets on. And then there's Joe, played by X-Men's Shawn Ashmore., who sort of emerges as the star of the movie. Joe is Dan's childhood friend. He's a cool guy, but can be a little awkward and confrontational. He's slightly geeky - his first answer to a random "worst way to die?" question is to make an obscure Star Wars reference. But he also seems to have heart and chutzpah, and so you can't help but root for the guy. All three of the principle actors are good, though Ashmore and Bell really stand out. Bell in particular has some pretty powerful scenes when things start to look pretty desperate. Ashmore is charismatic and shows an everyman likability and acting range that we haven't really seen from him before.

It's hard not to watch a movie like Frozen and have an ongoing internal conversation about how you'd react in a similar situation. The characters in the movie are smart college kids, but they're not experts on survival. They do some pretty stupid things once they realize they're stuck on the ski lift, but who's to say what anyone else would have done differently. However, I do think that Green falls a little too in love with having his characters engage in witty banter, even when circumstances are dire. I thought it was kind of weird that the characters never really have a rational conversation about how best to escape their predicament. When one of the characters takes a huge, life-threatening risk in order to attempt escape, it happens very suddenly and without a lot of forethought. Obviously these characters aren't physics experts or anything, but still ... it's frustrating that they don't seem to really think things through all that much. And when they start talking about old girlfriends and favorite Christmas gifts - well, some of those moments are affecting and well done, but how about saying "okay, so let's run through all the possible ways we could get off of this ski-lift without killing ourselves."

My only other complaint is that on occasion, the movie gets a bit cartoonish despite most scenes being very realistic and naturalistic. It's tough to really criticize, because on one hand, scenes involving one of the movie's chief dangers - a pack of ravenous wolves - are a lot of fun. Very scary, creepy, and shocking. On the other hand, some of the wolf stuff is a bit over the top, and brings the movie more into B horror movie territory than it needs to go. I know some have complained that the circumstances that lead up to the college kids becoming stranded on the ski lift seem contrived. This part didn't really bother me, actually. The fact that all of them had stashed their cell phones is mentioned multiple times, and hey, it doesn't seem that far-fetched that you could get stranded at a ski resort if you stay there past closing.

By the way - it was fun seeing a movie set in New England with so many shout-outs to local locations that I know pretty well having grown up in CT and having gone to school in Boston. Loved the Newbury Comics product placement.

Frozen is an ultra-intense, memorable movie. It's one of those films where you come out of watching it feeling like you've just survived a harrowing ordeal alongside the characters. Parts of it can be brutal and hard to watch. It's not the sort of movie you'll be going back to multiple times. But I came away impressed with the filmmaking. What could have been a gimmicky movie is instead a great example of a simple yet high-concept premise done well. And to the movie's credit, I think I may now officially be afraid of ski-lifts. And wolves. Yikes.

My Grade: B+

- That's all for now. Check back soon for thoughts on WOLFMAN!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Beeeeeeeeep. 24! Chuck! JD Salinger! And More!

Man, a lot going on in the world of entertainment this week. A few quick thoughts before I get to some TV Reviews ...

- Everyone should check out the brilliant film, A SERIOUS MAN, out on DVD today from Focus Features. This is one of the Oscar-nominated movies that a lot of people haven't seen yet, but I urge everyone to run out and watch on DVD or blu-ray or digital download. The movie is classic Coen Bros. - dark, hilarious, thought-provoking, and brilliantly written and acted. It's a twisted black comedy in the tradition of Coen movies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, and to me it was absolutely one of the best films of 2009. And by the way, to all those who say the movie is antisemetic or whatever, I COMPLETELY DISAGREE. In fact, I think the movie is one of the funniest and most interesting looks at American Judaism ever crafted. And, while you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy the movie, I think my fellow Jews will get an extra kick from A Serious Man's dead-on portrayal of suburban Jewish life in America. Just an incredible movie though, and everyone should see it ASAP.

- Word on the street today is that Warners has tapped none other than Christopher Nolan to oversee development of the latest SUPERMAN reboot. Nolan is a guy who, as is evident from movies like The Dark Knight, has a great sense of how to do right by these characters. While I wouldn't want a new Superman movie to be as dark and gritty as one of Nolan's Batman films, I agree with the decision to go back to the drawing board. Make a Superman movie with a great cast, with huge action, with an epic sci-fi storyline, with big, emotional beats and lots of heart and heroism. Don't repeat the mistakes of (shudder) Superman Returns. Come on, Nolan, help WB make a kickass Superman movie!

- Finally, I haven't yet had a chance to really talk about this, but I've been meaning to write a quick tribute to the great JD SALINGER, who passed away last week. It's a tribute to Salinger that my comments about him likely echo millions of others who became fans of his as young adults. I think so many of us had a similar experience - we read Catcher In the Rye - and it was immediately clear that this was a world apart from other works in the literary cannon. Holden Caulfied is the timeless embodiment of teen angst - he seems to speak directly to his young readers. So many books that you read in school are written in such lofty language, and take on such grand themes, that it's a revelation to read something so conversational, so immediate, so relevant. You might even say that ol' Holden's rants were a precursor to the digital era of blogs and Facebook status updates - you can only imagine all of the phonies that he might have taken shots at had his story been transplanted to the modern age. JD Salinger will forever be the voice of those who question the status quo, who get pissed off at their lot in life, who are sick of lies and hypcocracy and phonies. It was pleasant to think that Salinger was holed away somewhere in New Hampshire, quietly laughing at the world, letting his work speak for itself, content to let the spotlight shine on others. We need more originals like Salinger.

Shifting gears ...



- So I was a fan of last week's 24, and I thought that the slow-burn tension building was suitably ramping up the intensity for what I hoped would be a big payoff this week. And yet, 90% of this week's episode was kind of boring - the whole thing just seemed to draaaag, and just felt like it was more of the same from the previous week. The thing is, Jack Bauer and Renee Walker are entertaining enough that they can carry just about any scene. But while it's always fun to see just what Jack will do next, the same can't be said for almost any of the other characters currently featured on the show. Everything with the President, with Hassan, with Hassan's daughter, with the Russian mob ... it all just felt like placeholder material, and the fact that none of these characters is particularly interesting doesn't help matters. Worst of all - the ongoing saga of Dana Walsh and the lamebrained stalker from her criminal past. Last week, this univerally reviled storyline came off as so campy that it was kind of amusing. I was kind of entertained by the stalker and his thuggish friend just hangin' out at Dana's apartment, watching TV and eating nachos. This week though, we spent a lot of time with the terrible twosome, as they tried to rob a police holding facility with aid from Dana and her CTU-provided building schematics. These segments were just plain painful.

So I said that 90% of the episode was boring (and I mean, hey, how long are we supposed to watch Sergei make futile attempts to call his fellow mobsters to ask whether they have nuclear materials in their possession?). But what about the other 10%? Well, let me just say: even as my attention started to wander off towards the end of the episode, the final few scenes caused me to sit up and watch, wide-eyed, as awesomeness was unleashed. Yep, Renee's fit of psycho-violence was just straight-up crazy, and the whole sequence of Renee stabbing Sergei like a woman possessed, accidentally knifing Jack, and then Jack PULLING OUT THE KNIFE FROM HIS CHEST and THROWING IT into the throat of Sergei's right-hand-man ... I mean, daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

From there, business picked up. Jack, still undercover as a hilariously nerdy German arms dealer, volunteered himself to be taken by the Russians-with-nukes. Renee breaks down and loses it. CTU loses track of Jack. And ... end episode. So yeah, a ridiculously badass ending doesn't make up for an otherwise mediocre ep, but ... it helps.

My Grade: B

- I've really been enjoying CHUCK this season, and last night's episode was yet another enjoyable outing for everyone's favorite geek-turned-superspy. I like that Chuck now has such a crazy combo of familiar genre actors - Superman from Superman Returns, Lana Lang from Smallville, and Adam Baldwin, who's just awesome. But even with all the superheroic cast members, Chuck this season is, at its core, about Chuck finally graduating from helpless trainee who happens to possess the Intersect, to competent secret agent who is a legit spy in his own right. As a guy like Chuck well knows, with great power comes great responsibility, and Chuck's increased role working for the CIA has meant that he's had to increasingly keep his friends and family in the dark about his daily wherabouts and goings-on. And now, that means Hannah, the new Buy More nerd-herder played by Kristen Kreuk. In this ep, Hannah cemented her role as a potential love interest for Chuck (or potential evil Ring agent posing as a love interest - who knows?), and at the same time, Chuck realized how tough it would be to have a real relationship given the increasingly top-secret nature of his life.

Any fan of Smallville surely cringed when Hannah started to get mad with Chuck for keeping secrets from her. It triggered instant flashbacks to Lana's endless whining about Clark's secrets on Smallville, and I was worried that that same whiny quality would tarnish Kreuk's otherwise likable character on Chuck. Luckily, Josh Schwartz and co. were smart enough not to drag out Hannah's suspicions forever. At least that's what it looks like. I don't know though, I'm a little skeptical on the whole people-being-suspicious-of-Chuck's-double-life thing ... I just don't want the show to paint itself into a corner with this. And you also wonder why the CIA hasn't modified Chuck's Buy More cover to make it a little less weird when his "ex-girlfriend," Sarah, comes around to bug him at work all the time. My only other complaint is that this episode felt a little late-period OC-ish in how quickly Chuck and Hannah, and Shaw and Walker, paired off. It's that feeling of "okay, this new character was just introduced, let's immediately have one of our main characters fall for them after about ten minutes." Suffice it to say, Shaw and Sarah in particular felt a bit forced. Plus - how can they hook up so freely when they're both spies? Wasn't the whole point of Sarah and Chuck breaking up that their romance was not allowed in the superspy handbook? I'm sure there's probably more to the Sarah-Shaw thing than the show is currently letting on, but man, the interaction between the two so far has been pretty lame.

Still, this was a fairly fun ep with some good action, humor, and some interesting new wrinkles in the life of Chuck. And ... I will bump up the grade a bit solely for the awesomeness of the ep's ending, with the Ring's shadowy uber-council making ominous plans. My hope is that Chuck ups the ante when it returns post-Olympics.

My Grade: B

- Okay, I'm out. PEACE.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Blog of Justice: SMALLVILLE's Golden Age, Plus: The Office, Parks & Rec, and More!

So, everyone have a good Superbowl Sunday? I went into this year's big game feeling pretty indifferent as to who won, but I have to admit I got caught up in the underdog story of the Saints. Sure, CBS sort of hammered you over the head with how the Saints had inspired the entire city of New Orleans and such, but still, it was fun watching them take some big chances and gut it out against the favored-to-win Colts.

Anyways, I have some TV items I want to discuss. And by the way, if you haven't already, check out my Oscar Surprises and Snubs post from this past Friday.


SMALLVILLE - "Absolute Justice" Review:

- First thing's first - I've got to talk about Friday's double-sized, movie-length episode of SMALLVILLE. Smallville is a series that I've written a lot about over the years, and it's one of those shows that I've stuck with through the good times and the bad. Many times, I've watched episodes of Smallville and come away disappointed, and yet, I am too much of a hopeless Superman fan to give it up. But I will say this about Smallville -every once in a while, it manages to surprise me, and every so often, it will have a moment, a scene, or even a whole episode that reminds me of how much potential this show really has. It's a show that centers around some of the most iconic fictional characters ever created, and sometimes, Smallville takes advantage of that fact and shows glimpses of the show it could be with the right writing and vision.

Well, Friday's episode was one of those great moments in the show's history. Written by DC Comics' fan-favorite scribe Geoff Johns, "Absolute Justice" had me smiling ear to ear for the duration of its runtime. It was like watching a whole other show than what we've become accustomed to. There were great heroes, compelling villains, and plenty of twists and turns. There was action ... real, superheroic action. And there was a story that was overflowing with shoutouts and homages to the DC Comics that inspired the episode.

And that aspect alone might have been enough to win me over. I mean, DC readers are familiar with Johns' respect for comic book history and mythology, with his reputation for reinventing characters and concepts while staying true to what's come before. But so many times, Smallville has teased us with concepts from the comics only to ignore what made said ideas so cool in the first place. Not so this time - even with a small TV budget and a limited cast with which to work, Johns very quickly introduced dozens of characters and high-concept plot threads, and somehow made them all work in a manner that even a casual fan could easily digest. But man, for us longtime comics geeks, this one was jsut a treat. I never thought I'd see the likes of Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Amanda Waller, or Courtney Whitmore, aka Stargirl, on a live-action TV show. I NEVER thought I'd see Wesley Dodds, Jay Garrick, Ted Grant, or Alan Scott. And never in a million years did I ever think I'd turn on Smallville and see Sylvester Pemberton, aka the original Star Spangled Kid. I mean, wow. Excuse me while I geek out, but ... friggin' awesome! And Johns didn't stop there ... there were countless little touches that made me smile. From the amazing painting in the old JSA brownstone depicting the original team in their Golden Age glory, to the reference to Michael Holt (the modern-day Mr. Teriffic), to the museum items that ranged from the "Fairplay" jacket to Wildcat's boxing gloves ... this ep was basically a DC fan's dream. Going in, I was worried about how Johns would shoehorn the JSA into Smallville's continuity, but he went above and beyond my expectations, perfectly capturing the spirit of the team and its legacy, while adjusting the concept to fit seamlessly into Smallville's world. Some might complain that the costumes seemed hokey or whatever, but you know what ... after a little while I didn't care. To me, it was awesome to see colorful costumes and fantastic powers straight out of the comics on TV. This was the most fun I've had with Smallville, well, maybe ever.

The crazy thing is that the episode didn't just introduce the JSA into Smallville's universe. It also brought in one of the DCU's best and most intriguing concepts and characters -- Checkmate, The Suicide Squad, and "The Wall", Amanda Waller. Excuse me yet again as I completely geek out. Awesome! Amanda Waller is one of my all-time favorite comics characters, just because she's so completely different from the norm - a middle-aged African American woman who is a high-ranking government operative and badass as hell. She is somewhat morally ambiguous in her motivations, and has no qualms about sticking it to anyone in order to get what she wants. Suffice it to say, seeing the legendary Pam Grier show up as Amanda Waller, leading a shady Checkmate operation that struck the JSA yet also served to rally them out of retirement ... I mean, YEAH, it was handled pitch-perfectly and felt like the coolest thing to happen to the Smallville mythos in a long, long time. I always thought CCH Pounder would make a good live-action Waller, but Grier looked and acted the part, and has the street cred playing the badass to boot. And hey, as if all that wasn't enough, she dropped the "Apocalypse" bomb as well ... tantalizingly teasing that the hellish war-planet Apokolips (and presumably its leader, Darkseid) could in fact be a involved in a future storylines. I didn't think Smallville would ever go there, and I don't know if they'd get it right, but hey, I'd at least give them kudos for attempting it.

I think that's what pushed this episode of Smallville over-the-top for me. It could have just been a fun shout-out to DC Comics geeks, but it was much more than that. For one, the overarching storylines of Smallville got a much-needed shot in the arm. We suddenly have a great antagonist in Waller and Checkmate, and a lot of interesting mysteries and questions about their true motivations and agenda. I mean, what? Setting up a huge, multi-layered storyline like that has *never* been something Smallville's done well or often, but here it is. I thought this would be sort of a standalone ep, but I was wrong. It laid the groundwork for a lot of future plotlines, which is great. Meanwhile, this episode had something that Smallville has at times possessed, but not always -- HEART. Johns is known as an action writer, a guy who does the big blockbusters. But anyone who's read his JSA Thanksgiving issues knows that the guy knows how to use these iconic heroes to elicit genuine emotion from the reader / viewer. And this ep had those moments. The great character bits that add substance to the storylines (the Green Arrow / Hawkman rivalry was handled very nicely), and the big themes that define the characters and teams. Johns has always compared the JSA to a family, and he carried that over into this episode of Smallville. I can't remember the last time a Smallville ep had me this emotionally invested.

"Absolute Justice" delivered on its potential. Sure, you wish that a story this big could have had even more characters and been upgraded to a bigger budget. But the ep's heart was in the right place, and that's what made it so much fun to watch. With one episode, the bar for Smallville has been raised. If every episode was like this, you'd have yourself a must-see series on par with TV's best. Kudos to everyone involved.

My Grade: A


- I have to say, NBC had a pretty amazing lineup of comedy this past Thursday. Almost every show was on-fire.

- I first have to talk about COMMUNITY, which I've been on the fence about for a while. I went so far as to drop the show back in the Fall, but eventually got back onboard, and I'm glad I did. The show has really upped its game of late - the writing seems much more fluid, and the characters much more consistent. But man, this past week's ep may have been my favorite ever. The main plotline, in which Annie falls for a hippie type who the rest of the group sees as bad news, was a nice showcase for the talented cast. It really felt like the dynamics of the study group had finally gelled, and there was now a reason for everyone to hang out other than the fact that they'd all been thrown together. The real star of the episode though was the bad movie night subplot, in which Chevy Chase desperately tried to fit in with his younger classmates by joining them in their weekly movie parties. Chase's stale attempts at jokes were just classic, as were the movies being watched. Kickpuncher? Able to punch foes with the power of kicks? Awesome! This was a classic ep of Community.

My grade: A

- PARKS & RECREATION also had an absolutely hilarious episode, with Aziz Ansari in particular in top form. I've said before that one of the key factors in this season of Parks being so much better than the first has been its refocus on the entire ensemble of characters - and this ep was proof that the best Parks eps take advantage of guys like Aziz. The whole saga of him moving out of the house he shared with his greencard-seeking ex-wife was pure funny. And Amy Poehler's plotline, about a slick snack company that planned to sell its new nutrition bars in the park, was also really good satire. And I loved Ron Swanson's role, as he overreacted to Amy's pestering over his drinking, and began a quest to engage in as much malnutritous behavior as possible. And also: DJ Roomba! Yes! Parks has been on a roll of late, and this was one of its best episodes yet.

My Grade: A-

- It was good to see THE OFFICE finally have a real, new episode after last week's recap show. The introduction of "Sabre" as the company that swooped in and bought the struggling Dunder-Mifflin felt a bit sudden, but it also made for some great, understated comedy. I thought the introductory video, featuring Christian Slater, was hilarious (and the looks on Dwight and Michael's faces when they saw him - priceless.) I loved Andy and Erin's Sabre song (they thought the company name was pronounced "sab-reh". Meanwhile, the Jim-Pam storyline, in which they scouted a prospective preschool for their soon-to-be-born baby, was a little grating, but it's interesting how the writers seem to be conciously making the pair less likable. Oh, and I loved Michael's visit to David Wallace's house. As someone who's seen formerly high-strung execs humbled and brought back down to earth following sudden corporate changes, there was an awkward yet spot-on humor to the precedings.

My Grade: B+

- Finally, 30 ROCK has had a solid season so far, but has struggled to attain the comedic heights of its glory days circa Season 2. Still, this past week's episode was very funny, with a nice turn from Jan Hooks as Jenna's manipulative mother. I really liked Jack's Glengarry Glenn Ross-style advice for Jenna (instead of "Always Be Closing," it was "Always Speak Quieter."), and the scenes between Jack and Jenna's mom were pretty great. Still, this was yet another episode that was hampered by an overly sitcom-y Liz Lemon storyline. If I had to pinpoint one reason that 30 Rock has slipped a bit, I'd say that it's because the show has tried to make characters like Liz increasingly conventional. Instead of highlighting the random absurdity that goes on around Liz, the show has instead become more of an old-fashioned comedy that has a couple of consistently wacky side-characters (Tracy, Kenneth, etc.), but central plotlines that in and of themselves are fairly straightforward. Liz and Frank moving in together to try to live a mutually more healthy lifestyle was funny, and I loved the Paranormal Activity-esque hidden camera footage used to expose each of their bad habits. But, is this the kind of storyline I want 30 Rock to have on a regular basis? Not exactly. Still, this was a really funny ep, and as always, there were at least a couple of classic Tracy Morgan lines ("I’m not offering. I’m just taking a survey to gauge general interest!"). Overall, pretty good stuff.

My Grade: B+

- I caught the season premieres of IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMITRI MARTIN and THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, and thought both were pretty funny. I think both shows are in that category where I really like the humor and sensibilities of the starring comedians, but feel like their series have been somewhat of a mixed bag thus far. That said, I thought both shows had really strong premieres. Demitri Martin had a couple of really memorable, funny sketches - "Funny Dog," the evil henchman sketch, etc. and some very funny standup segments as well. A good start for the new season, that felt top to bottom loaded with funny stuff and more consistent than earlier episodes. Meanwhile, I thought Sarah Silverman was, as usual, a little too reliant on gross-out gags to get laughs. But when the show was just being random and absurdist, I really enjoyed it. I loved the opening, for example, in which Sarah's sister sets up a ridiculously complicated series of ransom-style notes just to get Sarah to meet her for a mundane conversation. And I also liked the wacky subplot of Sarah's two geeky friends being haunted by the ghost of a guy they accidentally killed with a remote control. Still, there were those moments where I felt like the show was just trying to see how far it could push things as opposed to trying to get the most laughs out of a given scene. Good stuff though overall from both shows - I think my DVR season pass list just got a little bigger.

My Grade:

Important Things With Demitri Martin: A-
The Sarah Silverman Program: B+

- Alright, I'm out for now. Stay tuned, as always, for thoughts on 24!

Friday, February 05, 2010

OSCAR NOMINATION Surprises and Snubs! Plus: FRINGE goes out with a bang!

Sweet - the weekend is here. It's been a loooong week, and I am ready to kick back and enjoy a couple of days off. But, I have a lot I want to talk about, so, here we go:


So everyone is talking about the Oscar nominations, announced this past week. Personally, I can't help but get into the Oscars, because hey, I love movies. At the same time, it's hard to get too worried about who was or wasn't nominated. Afterall, the Oscars tend to ignore a lot of worthwhile movies, while recognizing films that have a "prestige" label to them, earned or not. I think the Oscars have had a pretty good track record the last couple of years in terms of Best Picture winners. I was on the same page with Oscar when movies like The Departed, No Country For Old Men, and Slumdog Millionaire won the big prize. And I have a feeling that this year there may once again be corrallation between my pick for Best Movie of the Year and the Oscar award for Best Picture. Still, it's always annoying to see how predictable the Oscars can be when it comes to some of their nominations. So what are my hits and misses when it comes to this year's nominations?

Kudos to:

- THE HURT LOCKER deserves all of the acclaim it's getting, in my humble opinion. I hope it wins for Best Picture, and I hope Kathryn Bigelow wins for Best Director. I think it will be cool if a female director is able to win the category, especially someone like Bigelow who completely defies any stereotypes about the type of film that a woman is capable of making. A woman made the most intense and badass film of 2009 - that's awesome, and I hope it's recognized. Similarly, I'd love to see Jeremy Renner win for Best Actor. Some call his nomination a surprise, but that's only because he wasn't already a star before this movie. To me, his was the best and most memorable leading actor performance of the year. As much as I loved Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Renner is the guy who deserves this one.

- DISTRICT 9 is probably the most pleasant surprise on the Best Picture list. Even more so than Avatar, this is the kind of movie that I wanted to see included in the Best Picture race with the expansion to ten nominees. District 9 would be a worthy Best Picture winner - I personally wouldn't put it above The Hurt Locker, but still ... it's one of 09's best movies, period. And the fact that it beat out movies with much more hype and much bigger budgets at their own game ... well, that makes this one all the more appealling.

- It's funny to me that JEFF BRIDGES is now a favorite for Best Actor. Nobody was talking about Crazy Heart until recently. And yet, it's a very likable movie and Bridges is great in it, as always. On a side note, I was happy to see MAGGIE GYLENHAAL nominated for Crazy Heart as well - she was great in the film.

- Some seem surprised that A SERIOUS MAN was nominated for Best Picture. Um ... why? It's another amazing film from the Coen Bros., right up there in the upper tier of their filmography. For some reason, people don't like to give comedies the same acclaim as dramas, but The Coens' comedies are almost always sublime works of genius. The Coens would also be my pick to win for Original Screenplay - they are such talented writers, their scripts always blow me away. They always amaze, and A Serious Man is no exception - I think it was near the top of the list in '09, and it would be a worthy Best Picture Winner.

- Same goes for INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Amazing to look back and see how mixed the reviews were upon its release. This was a phenomenal movie, and if anything, it should have gotten more nominations. Still, Christoph Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor, and deservedly so. Similarly, Tarantino would be a worthy winner for Director and Original Screenplay. I still like Bigelow and the Coens over him, but man, it's a close call.

- CORALINE and THE PRINCESS & THE FROG are both very worthy entries in the Animated category, and it would be interesting if either one somehow upset Up.

- I liked THE LOVELY BONES a lot, and was happy to see Stanley Tucci get a nom for Supporting Actor. Too bad the movie didn't get more overall love.

- I definitely don't consider UP IN THE AIR worthy of *best* picture, but I do think it's in the Top 10 of '09 - and the same goes for AVATAR. So I'm happy to see both nominated, but don't want to see either one win. I feel similarly about the Supporting Actress Race. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are both deserving nominees, but neither was as good as Mo'Nique in PRECIOUS.

- Which brings me to PRECIOUS. Again, I wouldn't quite put it as the best film of '09 (though it's close). But, I think both GABOUREY SIDIBE and MO'NIQUE deserve to win for Best Actress and Supporting Actress. They were just that good. Both turned in amazingly powerful performances.

- Back to AVATAR for a second though. While it's not Best Picture worthy in my opinion, I do think it deserves every technical award in the book. Its visuals are phenomenal and game-changing, and for all you former doubters ... I told you that back in July!

Who Got Snubbed?

- Inglorious Basterds got a lot of well-deserved nominations, but what about its amazing cast? MELANIE LAURENT did a fantastic job as arguably the film's lead character, Shoshana, in what was to me one of if not *the* best female performances of the year. WTF. Plus ... DIANE KRUGER deserved a Supporting Actress nomination. Christoph Waltz was great in Basterds, but the movie's leading ladies were right up there as well.

- Here's a movie that got totally snubbed: THE ROAD. Not a single nomination for what was, to me, one of the year's best films. Even if the movie itself didn't get a Best Picture nom, how could you overlook the always-great VIGGO MORTENSEN for Best Actor? His performance in The Road was amazing - ultra-intense. Bottom line: The Road wuz robbed!

- One more movie that got totally ignored: MOON. It's been well documented how the movie never got a proper Oscar push, and I get that. But still, I mean are Oscar voters just sheep that vote for whatever is shoved down their throats? Most big film fans I know jumped on the Moon bandwagon many months ago. I mean, look, personally I wouldn't rank it in the Top 10 movies of 2009. So I'm not going to say it deserved a best picture nomination. But - SAM ROCKWELL turns in one of the most remarkable and memorable performances in Moon that I've seen in a long while. Are you honestly telling me that Morgan Freeman in Invictus was better?

- Also, what the hell, ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL was one of the best movies of the year - how was it not even nominated for Best Documentary? Imagine the awesomeness that would have resulted if "Metal on Metal" was played live at the Kodak theater? Damn you, Academy!

- The Best Director category is really loaded up with strong talent already, but, there are definitely some big omissions in my book. Neil Blomkamp for DISTRICT 9, The Coens for A SERIOUS MAN, etc.

- The Hurt Locker got many awards and could win Best Picture, but ... whyyyy isn't anyone from its supporting cast nominated? Especially given how week the Supporting Actor category is, how about a nom for ANTHONY MACKIE, who was superb in the film?

- Finally, I know this movie had pretty much no shot of getting any nominations, but ... I still maintain that OBSERVE & REPORT was one of the year's best. Just goes to show that the Oscars may have accepted sci-fi and other genre fare into the fold, but not comedy! At least not yet.

Kudos *Not* Deserved:

- I really liked UP, I did. the first ten minutes of the film are incredible, and overall, it was good enough that I gave it an A- grade when I reviewed it this past summer. But, it's no Wall-E, and *that* was the Pixar film that deserved a Best Picture nomination, not this one. I don't get why the Oscars have to overcompensate for past failings. I'm not *that* upset by this, but I actually think Coraline and Princess and the Frog were better overall.

- How did INVICTUS score Best Actor and Supporting Actor noms? The movie was definitely not Clint Eastwood's best, not by a longshot. Morgan Freeman was good in it - he always is - but ... there were so many great performances this year that I'm very puzzled as to why he got the nom. How about Viggo Mortensen in The Road, or Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man, or Sharlto Copley in District 9? Even worse is Matt Damon's Supporting Actor nom - I mean, he was barely in the movie! It really was, I think, one of Damon's least memorable roles ever! He was actually much better in The Informant this past year. And, again, so many deserving actors got snubbed. Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker, Fred Melamed in A Serious Man, etc. Weird.

And there you have it - my Oscar rant o' doom!


- FRINGE last night was pretty kickass! Maybe Lost coming back forced JJ Abrams' other show to up its game, I don't know. But last night's "winter finale" (WTF! The show *just* came back from hiatus, and now it's off until April?!) delivered the goods. The episode was a welcome return to the show's overarching, otherdimensional mythology, as dimensions began to collide and previously hidden truths began to surface. But first, how about that opening, in which parallel realities converge and some poor guy from "the other side" finds himself with several additional limbs and a second head coming out of his stomach! Gross! And yet, intense. Definitely a memorable way to kick off the episode though.

I loved the ratcheted-up intensity though as the long-foretold otherdimensional upheaval began to unravel. The increased insight into Walter's old, morally questionable experiments reminded us that Walter can be funny and sympathetic, but he also participated in some pretty objectionable stuff in his younger days. John Noble once again ruled it in this one, going from funny to scary to pitiful at the drop of a hat. Lance Reddick also showed up to give injections of gravitas at key moments.

The one moment of cheesiness? Olivia, after being unable to access her special abilities, suddenly"feeling fear" and using that fear to trigger her latent powers, which allow her to spot people and objects that are of otherdimensional origin. A bit hokey, in my opinion.

But still, there was enough intensity and coolness in this ep to make up for it. The setup for future storyarcs was really intriguing - I can't wait (for April - ugh!) to see the full story of Peter's death and resurrection via his parallel-universe double. One caveat: I don't want to see Peter and Olivia hook up. I hope the show doesn't go down that path for a while, if ever, as was hinted at in this ep with some sexual tension between them.

Overall though, this episode was quintissential Fringe. Exciting, intriguing, daring, and filled with moments that were alternately funny, scary, and jaw-dropping. In this ep, business picked up.

My Grade: A-

Okay, I'll be back with more later. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

LOST's Final Ride: The Season Premiere: Reviewed! Plus: 24, Chuck, Modern Family, and MORE!

Okay, lot's to talk about. It's a big week in entertainment. February sweeps are here, the Oscar nominations have been announced, and LOST premiered last night, kicking off its long-awaited final season. If you're just here for the LOST review, scroll down a bit. First off, though ...


- So, call me crazy, but I really dug Monday night's episode of 24. I saw that The AV Club only gave it a C, and I saw that a lot of the commentators over there thought the ep was awful. Hmm ... did we watch the same episode? I actually thought this was the best episode of the season so far.

To me, this one was just dripping with pulpy atmosphere and slow-burn intensity. It had a very Season 1-ish vibe - nothing too grandiose going on, just Jack and Renee in the dark corners of the city at night, dealing with treacherous lowlifes. The episode was grim, gritty, and it even had an awesomely atmospheric musical score. I loved all the Russian gangster stuff - we got some really nice scenes of Vlad just being a sleazy, volatile prick. Renee being forced to cozy up to him was pretty uncomfortable to watch, at times, but it also ratcheted up the intensity. You could tell that Jack was steaming in his car, and it was nice and catharctic to see GLASSES JACK take out Vlad's entire crew with the help of Freddie Prinze Jr.

The Dana Walsh stuff is still pretty bad, but in a weird way it's almost crossed the line from bad to just plain comic relief. I mean, how can you not love her ex-boyfriend's sadsack buddy who just hangs out on the couch eating Doritos? So ridiculous that it's back to being funny.

Seriously though, I thought this was a really cool little episode. Nothing earth-shattering happened, but a lot of tension was built up, and the upcoming confrontation between Jack and Vlad is going to be badass.

My Grade: A-

- CHUCK had perhaps its best overall episode (at least so far) of the season on Monday, with a nice storyline that showed what could happen if Chuck had been a tad more embittered, choosing to use his powers for evil rather than good. A nerdy computer geek was introduced as a sort of Anti-Chuck, except that he wasn't necessarilly a bad guy, just misguided and lonely. Chuck's mission was to use him as a mark - to befriend him in order to get to the bottom of his plans (involving selling his weapons tech - a portable version of the Intersect - to the highest bidder, very likely The Ring). It was fun watching Chuck's awkward attempts at connecting with his fellow geek - I especially enjoyed the mutual admiration society that formed around Y: The Last Man (yep, I agree with Chuck - greatest work of fiction of our time!). Adam Baldwin as Casey was particularly on fire in this ep as well, with a number of well-timed quips. And hey, who doesn't love Walker in a "What the Frak" t-shirt. Yikes. I also enjoyed Morgan and Ellie slowly growing suspicious of Chuck's mysterious lifestyle. It will definitely be interesting to see where that goes. There's the potential for a jump the shark moment of sorts, but still, part of me wants to see Chuck and Morgan as the geekiest spy duo ever.

My Grade: A-


- Ugh, THE SIMPSONS was just plain mediocre on Sunday. A handful of funny gags couldn't save the episode, which was built around a nonsensical plotline: Homer wins the lottery, but doesn't want to tell Marge because he bought his ticket while he should have been with her at a wedding. Wow, yet another episode where Homer screws up, tries in vain to compensate for the error of his ways, than ultimately wins back Marge with some grand gesture that proves his love. ENOUGH! Also, the subplot about a Nintendo Wii stand-in becoming popular at the senior center went, well, nowhere. I thought there'd be some sort of satire involved (like a few years back when The Simpsons took some clever jabs at Apple and the iPod), but, no. The subplot was basically just an observation (old people enjoy the Wii) without an actual joke. Lame.

My Grade: C-

- FAMILY GUY was kind of fun, as it actually gave Meg a proper storyline, for once. Still, I get annoyed when so many FG episodes these days lazily rely on shock value rather than well-written humor to get by. But, amidst the usual shock tactics, there was a somewhat fun storyline here. I enjoyed seeing Meg actually defend herself and dish out some abuse rather than take it for once, and that one scene, where she slowly fileld a sack with soda cans and then proceeded to clobber her mean classmates ... well, it was pretty hilarious.

My Grade: B

- I also want to mention last night's MODERN FAMILY episode, which I thought was absolutely hilarious. I feel like MF is not as densely packed with hilarity as, say, 30 Rock, but at the same time, there are always a couple of moments per episode that just make me laugh. And overall it just has a snappy, feel-good vibe that makes it fun to watch. The characters are all great, and it's fun just seeing them interact in various combinations. Case in point: the hilarious subplot last night involving Jay and Cameron, who had scheduled a racquetball match against each other. Jay was paranoid that his usual locker room humor would be stifled by his new and very gay playing partner. And holy lord, when Jay and Cameron accidentally collided in the locker room, aka had a "moonlanding," I just about lost it. I also love mustache-Phil caught in the porto-potty, Sophia's horrible driving exposed, and Luke's discovery of jagermeister. Good stuff.

My Grade: A-

And now, wait for it ...

LOST - Final Season Premiere Review:

- Well, this is it ... the final season of LOST. I've been onboard since the first episode, and it's been an amazing ride. There have been a lot of ups and downs. The show kicked off with one of the most amazing pilot episodes ever aired, and went on to enjoy an acclaimed and much buzzed-about first season. Season 2 faltered with the introduction of the "tailies", but soon enough, things got back on track. And for the past few years, Lost has been one of television's most creative, thought-provoking, and cinematic series. It can be frustrating to watch at times - the show has piled on mystery after mystery over the years, and there are dozens of unanswered questions going into this final season, many of which likely will never be directly addressed. But still, longtime Lost viewers know that it doesn't usually pay off to dwell too much on the show's past. Instead, you sort of have to just go along for the ride, and let yourself be surprised with the twists and turns the show throws at you.

I will say this - the Season Premiere didn't blow me away, but it did its job in that it has me suitably intrigued to see where the season and the series goes from here. Clearly, the show's creative team decided to have their cake and eat it too. If you read interviews with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff, you will hear them talk about the question of whether to keep the story on the island going, or to reset the timeline and present a version of reality in which Oceanic Flight 815 never crashed on the island in the first place. Rather than choose one or the other, the writers and producers of Lost decided to do both. Apparently, a divergent timeline was created when the bomb known as Jughead was detonated by Juliet, and in one reality, all of the castaways are back in the present day, but still on the island. Meanwhile, in an alternate version of the timestream, Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer, etc. are on Oceanic Flight 815 ... and they make it safely back to LA without ever having crashed. From the looks of things, we'll be following both parallel realities, potentially for the entirety of the season. How they relate, whether there's crossover between them, and whether actions in one timeline affect the other - all that remains to be seen. There was certainly no big "aha!" moment as there was in the season finale from two season ago, where we found out that what we thought were flashbacks were actually *flashforwards.* We still have a ways to go before we get to the bottom of this riddle. Already, there are obvious red flags: why was Desmond on the plane, for example?

You have to wonder whether the show can keep the momentum going as they balance what is now essentially two separate storylines. The timeline sans crash is going to have to have some really jaw-dropping twists and revelations in order to keep our interest. It will be cool at first just to see the "normal" interactions between the likes of Jack and Locke and such, but where do you go from there - what's the overarching plot point that's driving the action forward in that reality? In the old flashforwards, it was the need to get back to the island. This time, the action back on the island seems much more urgent and relevant.

And I really dug a lot of the island action, especially in the immediate aftermath of the detonation. In particular, the tension between Sawyer and Jack was awesome and a lot of fun to watch. Sawyer was rightfully pissed at Jack's seemingly failed plan, and it was entertaining to see that tension reach its boiling point, with Sawyer going so far as to want to kill Jack for what he'd done, for a plan that resulted in Juliette's death.

Later though, things got a bit hokey. When the castaways journeyed to The Temple to try to heal the critically injured Sayid, the episode began to feel a bit like a cut scene from Mortal Kombat: The Movie. It's basically a given at this point that the characters never really pause to just plainly question what the hell is going on ... and yet, it felt awkward having everyone just blindly packing up and heading down to a mysterious temple to heal their friend, then barely questioning anything as they met up with a whole new group of "Others'. And if these guys had some magical healing ability, why not bring Juliette to them as well, just for the hell of it?

I've already heard theories that Jacob, now "dead" (whatever that means for an immortal), somehow possessed the body of Sayid, much as the Man In Black did with Locke. Or, maybe, we'll see Juliette resurface in a similar fashion. You do have to wonder though - how did Juliette know that "it worked?" Her final words to Sawyer were going to be confirmation that Jack's plan to alter the timeline was successful - but, how did she know? Did she have a moment of clarity in which she caught a glimpse of the alternate timeline? Does dying in one timeline somehow affect how events unfold in the other one? Hmm ...

I'm also curious what fake-Locke meant when he said he wanted to go "home." Where is home for him? Hell? Outer space? Some uber-dimension that exists outside the confines of the multiverse? Okay, I just blew my own mind. Too many comic books, I guess.

In any case, I'm cautiously optimistic about where this is all going. I don't think there will likely be any moment of mind-blowing revelation - no one episode, or season, is going to be able to tie up everything that's come so far with a neatly-wrapped bow. But Lost has been consistently exciting and entertaining - and smart and generally well-written - for the last few years now. It's going to be an exciting ride. Still, I wouldn't mind a couple more genuine, classic episodes, not to mention a few more "holy-$#&%" moments, before all is said and done.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, lots more to talk about - check back soon!