Wednesday, May 31, 2006

MOVIES: X-Men: The Last Stand

Spoilers ahead.

I was a fan of the first X-Men movie, and I thought the second was even better. The third, X-Men: The Last Stand, I didn't care for as much as either of those, but I still liked it.

The main difference between the first two and the third, of course, is the director. Bryan Singer had a knack for delivering great action sequences without sacrificing character. Brett Ratner is a hack. That he doesn't completely destroy the franchise in the third film is more a credit to the actors and characters established in Singer's films that any ability of his own.

I will give him credit for some exciting fight scenes. The battle in Jean Grey's childhood home was spectacular -- and its end result was a big surprise (to me, anyway). Magneto's rescue of Mystique was good, car-smashing fun (as long as you're not one of the dudes in the smashed cars). And the whole Golden Gate Bridge/Alcatraz finale was mostly successful, although it suffered from a bit of overkill. But really, it would be pretty hard to mess up Magneto ripping the Golden Gate out of the ground, especially since that's mostly in the hands of the FX people, not Ratner.

As far as the FX goes (go? Should "FX" be treated as singular or plural?), I actually had some problems with it (them?). A lot of the bluescreen/greenscreen stuff was painfully obvious -- and I don't mean in the big fight scenes, I mean just in quiet establishing shots. For example, when Scott is standing on the rocky outcrop at Alkali Lake, there is an obvious mismatch between the rock and the water, a digital seam that indicates that the rocks and the lake were not in the same place. It's relatively subtle, but to me, very distracting. Same thing when Magneto and his Brotherhood first approach the Golden Gate. It's all too apparent that the actors are standing in front of a greenscreen, not any real landscape. There were several other moments like this throughout the movie, which added up to a real nuisance for me. They should be a whole lot better at disguising those kinds of things these days, shouldn't they?

Another nuisance: the amount of characters. It seemed like there were too many and too few at the same time. Too many bad guy mutants on the one hand, with their Troma-quality "I'm a tough punk! No, really! Look at my tattoos and black clothing!!" outfits. And not enough of the characters we came to know in the first films. Missing in action for most of the movie: Professor Xavier, Rogue, Cyclops, Nightcrawler (completely cut out of this one), and Jean Grey, who actually has a lot of screentime, but doesn't do much more than glare menacingly. Of the three major mutant characters added for this film, Juggernaut was entertaining enough (and apparently his line, "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" is some big deal internet phenomenon that someone will have to explain to me), Kelsey Grammer's Beast I thought was excellent, and Angel was a complete waste of time. Didn't work for one second.

Kitty Pryde got a lot more to do (and did you know she's been played by three different actresses now?), basically replacing Rogue, and honestly, Kitty's powers are a lot more dynamic onscreen than Rogue's. But I'd have preferred more Anna Paquin. Bobby and Pyro also get their long-awaited showdown, and it was a little disappointing to me. All they do is shoot a single beam of ice or fire at each other? No moving, no dodging, no strategy? Eh. I did like Bobby turning into the fully frozen Iceman, but again, the FX were (was?) a bit off. And Storm finally became a major character, taking up the space left by the absence of other characters, perhaps at the insistence of Halle "I've got a damn Oscar, you know" Berry. Her relegation to a minor role in the first two films has always been kind of a mystery to me. Not that she's that spectacular with her increased role here, and not that her role is increased all that much; maybe if a fourth film happens, she'll actually get a plotline.

Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart (while he's around), and Hugh Jackman once again anchor this film, with McKellen especially getting a chance to go crazy, whether it's rallying mobs of mutants to his side or squinching up his face real hard while he moves bridges (way to sell it, Sir Ian!). The scenes between Logan and Jean were a high point for me (well, aside from some naked Rebecca Romijn, that is. Hey, I'm only human). Jean's attempted seduction of Logan was sexy and creepy at the same time, and their final encounter was sad but inevitable. Could've been made better if there were a little more to Jean, a little more reason in this film to show why Logan loved her in the first place, other than she just looked hot in her underwear.

Good action scenes; could've been better. Good character moments; could've been more with the major players, and more effective. It's a step down from the high standards set by the first two films, but overall, it's still pretty good. I just hope, if there's a fourth film, Singer is available.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

MOVIES: Mission: Impossible III

Why does Mission: Impossible III gain a colon when abbreviated? And why does the "Impossible" lose its capital letter? M:i:III. Or, as Stephen Colbert called it, "Miiiiiih." Anyway, those are probably the least of the questions I could ask about this movie. For example, here's a good one: why the hell did I see it?

Here's at least one answer: I felt like seeing a big dumb movie with shit getting blowed up real good. I probably should have seen X-Men: The Last Stand instead (you know what that title needs? More colons), and in fact, I have seen it now (review tomorrow, probably); I was waiting to see it with a friend. So M:i:III was the other obvious choice.

Alternate reason: anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman in it can't be all bad. And that held true, even for this post-couch-jumping Tom Cruise vehicle. Hell, even without Hoffman, I knew it couldn't possibly be as bad as Mission: Impossible II.

Hoffman makes an unbelievably excellent villain. My favorite bit is where he threatens Tom Cruise: "Do you have a wife? A girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm gonna find her. I'm gonna hurt her. I'm gonna make her bleed." You've probably seen that bit in the trailer and the commercials. What makes it so amazing -- and what you can't tell from the commercials -- is that Hoffman is completely defeated at this point. He's been captured, he's tied up, on his way to custody, completely at the mercy of his captor. And yet he's still so stone cold evil, so cocky, so completely assured of his ownership of Tom Cruise's character, that he rattles off this horrible threat -- and we already know, from the opening scene (most of the rest of the movie is a flashback from that point), that he makes good on his promise. Great, great villain. He should be a James Bond bad guy. (By the way, so should Alan Rickman. Somebody get on that!)

There are other good performances. Ving Rhames doesn't have much to do, but he does it well. Billy Crudup I like. Simon Pegg's got a great comic relief role. Sir Laurence Fishburne is -- I was about to say "is always great," but then I remembered the last two Matrix movies. And Assault on Precinct 13. He's generally better than average, let's say instead. I even spent most of the movie watching Tom Cruise and hardly ever thinking, "Man, Tom Cruise is out of his fucking mind." So good job there.

Aside from Hoffman, I was mostly interested in this film to see what first-time feature director J.J. Abrams would do with a massive budget and huge stars. Well, first he hired Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg. Good for him. As for the rest -- I have to admit, as much as I love his TV work, and as much as I wanted him to hit a home run here, it's fairly pedestrian. He does a good job with the action scenes -- compared to a lot of directors these days, he does an excellent job just in keeping the action coherent at all times, instead of assaulting us with blipvert cuts (man, Wikipedia has an entry for everything). There are some standout moments -- the attack on the bridge, the abduction of Hoffman at the Vatican, and of course, Hoffman kicking the shit out of Cruise (kind of a lame, anti-climactic ending to that fight, though).

But all the big action setpieces, while fairly engaging in the moment, don't really satisfy as a whole. There are a few amazing things that happen throughout, and a few patently ridiculous things, as is only to be expected, but they still somehow left me wanting. For me, watching Hoffman be evil was far more thrilling than watching Cruise swing from one skyscraper to another, or two helicopters engage in midair battle. Also, that goddam crap with the masks -- OY! Must every film in this series hinge on multiple uses of those ridiculous masks??

Abrams the writer does a better job than Abrams the action director, with some good quips and some great villainous speechifying, but there was just something lacking overall. Not a lot -- but enough to leave me disappointed. A decent diversion, but lacking that extra something to make it a genuinely good movie.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sidebar Update

Let's dive right in!

This week's Object of My Affection: Bonnie Hunt. Pixar loves her (A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Cars), and hell, that's almost reason enough to love her too, just right there. Also: she's so damn funny it's not even funny. Wait, that makes no sense. Strike that last part. Also: she's cute as a button. A BUTTON I TELL YOU. Her performance on Celebrity Poker Showdown, of all things, was about the most adorable thing I've ever seen. Hope she gets back on TV real soon.

Finished Stephen King's Cell (verdict: eh), and I'm now on to Terry Pratchett's Thud!, another book I previously featured on the sidebar as a coming attraction while I was reading Jonathan Strange. I was going to put Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness up there, but I finished reading it before I finished updating the sidebar. Next!

I rented Days of Wine and Roses, a Jack Lemmon classic I've somehow never gotten around to seeing, from Blockbuster a week ago, and I've been trying to watch it ever since. But stuff keeps happening. I'm really, really going to watch it tomorrow, this time for sure. So don't anybody bother me tomorrow! Unless I decide to go see X-Men 3 instead.

Listening to Cake's Fashion Nugget. It's a pretty damn decent album, isn't it? I've only relatively recently really gotten into this group, so I'm, what, a decade behind the curve? Hey, for me, that's cutting edge.

God, I hate Barry Bonds so very very much. He's a dick, and he's a blatant steroid case. Don't even try to defend him; he took the 'roids, and he knew he was taking the 'roids, whatever lies he may try to feed the press. He knew, and didn't care, because he's a cheater and an asshole. Then again, so are half the players in baseball, but we're not talking about them. We're talking about Barry. He's a douche, and now this douche has more home runs than Babe Ruth. Hate, hate, hate him so much. Hate.

But that doesn't mean my hate is all used up! Bonus hate goes to Pat Robertson. Again. He's been claiming this week that he once lifted 2,000 pounds with his legs. That's a ton, okay? Pat Robertson says he lifted A FUCKING TON with his legs in 2003, when he was 73 years old. Barry Bonds can't lift a ton with his legs, and he's been soaking in steroids for the past decade. It is yet another in a seemingly endless series of Robertson's insane, attention-grabbing idiocies -- this time, as a promotion for his protein shake, which is as bogus as everything else having to do with him. Pat Robertson is a liar and a crook and a vile excuse for a human being. But seriously, Tom, tell us how you really feel!

Lyric of the Week comes from Bad Religion's "The Defense," which is off their album, The Process of Belief. This album grew on me very quickly; lots of outstanding stuff on here. I used the whole chorus for the sidebar, but the part that I really love is, "Ain't it beautiful to be alive?" followed by the response, "Yeah, right!" Gosh, you're so cynical, Bad Religion!

Looks like that's it for now. I'll try to get to some backlogged reviews tomorrow, for Scott Pilgrim, M:I:III (or, as Stephen Colbert called it, "Miiiiiiih"), various season finales on TV, and, oh, everything. I'll try, but as always, I guarantee nothing.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

MOVIES: Hoodwinked

I've been laying low on the blog this week. Thought I'd better put up something before we hit the weekend. So, a quick movie review.

I don't know what I was expecting when I rented Hoodwinked, but even those low-to-non-existent expectations were not met. This is the worst fairy tale/Rashomon-inspired computer-animated film I've ever seen. And I mean that.

I guess this is one of the first films released by The Weinstein Company (now that the Weinstein bros. are done at Miramax), and it definitely looks like a cartoon released by people who don't know how to make cartoons. The animation is stiff and jerky, the lip-synching of the voicework to the animated characters is spotty at best -- the whole thing feels very much like it was thrown together in a rush because the Weinsteins said, "Hey, you know all those CGI movies that are so popular these days? We should do one of those. RIGHT NOW!!" Have you ever watched the extra features on the DVD of a good computer-animated film? You know how it shows the many layers that have to be compiled together to get the final results? First there's the geometric framework, then colors, then textures, then lighting, etc., etc., etc. And just the lighting, for example, can take up four or five layers on its own. Hoodwinked looks like the animators left out about half of those layers.

The movie opens with Little Red Riding Hood, her Granny, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Woodsman caught up in what appears to be the traditional finale of the Riding Hood fairy tale, when the cops arrest them all for a domestic disturbance. That's kind of clever, actually, but by this point, about three minutes in, I was already hating the animation. Anyway, the cops bring in frog detective Nicky Flippers to interrogate them, and they all have a different story to tell, all of which stray far from the original fairy tale. All their stories involve a plot to steal the recipes from the various bakers of goodies in the forest, forcing them to close shop, and all of them are suspects in the crime.

Like I said, it's kind of a clever premise, but the execution is handled tremendously poorly. I've mentioned the animation, but the writing leaves something to be desired as well. Any humor to be found here comes primarily from the voicework. Patrick Warburton, whom I believe I've recently said is always awesome, is again awesome here as the Wolf. Great, distinctive voice on this guy, and, as opposed to some of the other actors here, he's got tons of voicework experience (Family Guy, The Venture Bros., Kim Possible, and The Emperor's New Groove, just to name a few) and knows how to bring out the comedy in the material. Andy Dick is also very good as malevolent bunny Boingo, as is David Ogden Stiers as Nicky, and, surprisingly, Xzibit as Chief Grizzly. Some of the other big names involved don't really work. Jim Belushi, doing a goofy accent as the Woodsman, is weak. Anne Hathaway as Riding Hood brings nothing special to the role. And Glenn Close as Granny -- why? Any other actress could be doing the little old lady voice here. I guess the Weinsteins just wanted the box office power Glenn Close holds over the tweener audience.

There are a few inspired bits and pieces here and there -- Nicky Flippers is an obvious tribute to William Powell's Nick Charles, and the Wolf, who turns out to be an investigative reporter, wears the same ratty sweatshirt and Lakers jersey Chevy Chase wears at the beginning of Fletch. (The Vin Diesel XXX-inspired bits with Granny doing extreme sports, on the other hand, fall as flat as you'd expect.) There are a few elements like this, and the voicework, which, if given the proper support, could've made a decent film. It seems like an awful lot of effort to put together any animated film; why not spend that extra bit of effort it would take to make it really good?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Weekly Sidebar Update! Now every third week?

Wow, it's been three weeks since my last Sidebar Update? So much for keeping it weekly. Hell, I actually thought I was only a week behind. Where'd that extra week come from?

Anyhoo. This week's Object of My Affection is Christina Aguilera. Say what you will about her, she sure cleans up nice. And even when she ain't so clean -- that can still be pretty nice. Remember when there used to be kind of a contest between who was hotter, Christina or Britney Spears? Christina's photos in the new GQ prove once again: holy mother of crap, did Christina win that battle! Poor Britney. Poor crass repugnant white trash skanky Federline-enabling baby-endangering Britney.

Under Reading is Stephen King's Cell. That book was up on the sidebar once before, when I was giving previews of books I'd be reading once I finally finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Well, I did finish it, and it was the best book I've read in a long, long time. So worth the time expenditure. Endlessly clever, funny, and exciting, with tremendous, fully-formed characters, strikingly vivid imagery, and a wonderful use of the formal language of 19th century English literature. I loved every page. As for this King book: eh. It's not as bad as some other books from King's late period have been, but it's not great, either. It feels like a rehashing of works from his early career, from the telepathy of Carrie or The Dead Zone or Firestarter to the apocalyptic themes of The Stand. Good action, which kicks in almost instantly, but the characters, which are usually his strong point, are fairly lame and sketchy, and saddled with King's typical dialogue quirks, which are growing staler with every book. At least it's a quick read.

I'm planning on re-Watching Deadwood season 1 on DVD over the next few days, followed with season 2, which will be released on Tuesday, in preparation for the 3rd season, beginning on HBO June 11. This is the best show currently on TV. And believe me, I watch every single show on TV, so I'd know. If you haven't gotten into it yet, do yourself a favor and rent the DVDs ASAP. And I'm Hating reports that this may be Deadwood's last season. I thought it had at least four years worth of life in it, maybe five. If true, it's a crime. HBO, come to your senses! Get this show renewed for another year!!

I've been Listening to Ben Folds' Rockin' the Suburbs. I've had the album for months, and it's taken this long to grow on me. When I first heard it, I was disappointed that it wasn't as funny and upbeat as some of the Ben Folds Five music, but now that I'm giving it a second chance, I'm appreciating its greater lyrical depths, and enjoying the music, which, though much more lowkey than the previous stuff, still has its hooks. Some damn depressing songs in there, I'll tell you what.

Lyric of the Week is from Tom Petty's "The Apartment Song." It pretty much describes my current living situation. Man, I need to move into a house. And I'm looking to do that in the near future, by the end of the summer at the latest. Wish me luck.

I've retired the Wit & Wisdom of Dwight and/or Barney feature for the summer TV hiatus. When the new season starts in the Fall, I'll see if I want to return one or the other to the sidebar, or if I want to do something else entirely.

And that's it! Let's see if I can stick to the update schedule next weekend. I make no guarantees.

Friday, May 19, 2006

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2006: Fox, The CW

Fox

New on Monday, Vanished is another show trying to tap into the ongoing mystery thing that seems so popular right now. The wife of a Senator disappears, but, as the web page says, "before the FBI can solve the mystery of where she is, they first need to figure out who she really is." BUM BUM BUMMMM!! She's an alien! No, wait, she's a ghost! No, wait, she's Abe Vigoda!! What's more: "In VANISHED, nothing is as it seems. Everyone is a suspect. Everyone has a secret. And no one is safe." This show is just making me tired already. Hey, Vanished, let me let you in on a secret of my own: I'm not watching you.



For Tuesday: Standoff is about two FBI negotiators. One's a man and one's a woman, so -- surprise! -- they're sleeping with each other. There's some other junk but I'm so bored already I can't concentrate. At least Ron Livingston is in this thing. And Gina Torres. They might at least make it not entirely horrible.



Then on Wednesday, there's Justice, a lawyer show. SO BORING. Why are you boring me, Fox? It's got Victor Garber from Alias, but it's still just another damn lawyer show. BORING!



On Thursday, Fox is putting two new sitcoms up against My Name Is Earl and The Office. Good luck with that. First up is 'Til Death, about a cynical, long-time married couple whose new neighbors are perky happy newlyweds. It's got a decent cast -- I love Joely Fisher, and Eddie Kaye Thomas is usually pretty funny, though I am getting sick of Brad Garrett. Or at least, Brad Garrett being Brad Garrett -- he is just relentlessly obnoxious when he's being himself, so overbearing and desperate for attention. Kind of like Robin Williams. But I digress. The fourth person in the cast is Kat Foster, who looks very familiar to me, but I don't think I've ever seen her in anything before. Anyway, she's a little cutie, so good for her. I know I won't be watching this show, but I don't instantly hate it like everything else new on Fox so far.

The other sitcom is Happy Hour, about a guy who moves to Chicago, then loses his girlfriend, his job, and his apartment in one day, and has to move in with a new roommate who, surprisingly, is very different from him. They're the original Odd Couple! I don't recognize anyone in the cast, and the premise does nothing for me. I'm betting this will get axed almost instantly.



And that's it for Fall. Wow, pretty disappointing from a network with a reputation for being cutting edge. A cop show, a lawyer show, two bland sitcoms, and whatever the hell Vanished is going to be. I'm guessing it'll play like a soap opera. It's the only thing that really feels like the old risk-taking, mold-breaking Fox -- too bad it sounds so stupid.

The CW

I can't find any preview sites for this new network, so I'll just tell you that they only have two new shows. The first is Runaway, on Mondays, and I can only share what I've learned from Tim Goodman: it stars Donnie Wahlberg "as a father who takes his entire family on the lam to prove he's innocent of a murder charge." It's a family-sized The Fugitive! And the second show is The Game, which "revolves around women either married to or sleeping with football players." Based on those shreds of info, both of these shows sound like must-miss TV to me. Good job, the CW! Hey, at least they saved Veronica Mars. Of course, they also saved 7th Heaven and Reba after announcing both were cancelled. I think the CW doesn't know what the hell it's doing.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

TV: Ding dong...

Hey, I forgot to mention it when I went over the ABC schedule, but: rejoice, good people, rejoice!! Freddie's dead!!

No, not that Freddy.

Not even that Freddie. (Great song, though.)

Yes, that Freddie!! Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s awful, awful, AWFUL sitcom! The bane of my existence! It's dead! Dead dead dead, dead and gone! Oh, frabjous day! Calloo, callay!!

Enjoy this moment, people. But don't lose sight of the bigger picture. Now we need to start working on The War at Home. And then -- According to Jim!

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2006: CBS

CBS

Wow, CBS must be kicking ass. They're only adding four new shows. I thought ABC was doing well, but they added ten shows to the Fall schedule (counting Saturday's college football). Big difference.

On Monday for CBS there's one new sitcom, The Class. To quote the web page, it "explores the lives of a group of twenty-somethings from the same third-grade class brought back together for a surprise reunion after 20 years." First of all, how stupid is the idea of a third-grade class having a reunion? The show creators obviously liked the idea of a 20 year reunion, but they also wanted a cast of "twenty-somethings," so they couldn't make it a high school reunion, or even a middle school reunion. They had to make it third grade. Hey, why not make it the 16 year reunion of their seventh-grade class? That makes equally as much sense, and keeps them the same age. Second, if they were all in the same class, don't call them "twenty-somethings," as though their ages spread across a wide spectrum. They're either 28 or 29. Oh, wait, you mean the actors are "twenty-somethings," like Lizzy Caplan, who's 23. Or Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sean Maguire, and Joey's Andrea Anders, who are 30, 30, and 31. Hey, I guess I'm "twenty-something" too, if the "something" can be double digits. This show is from one of the creators of Friends, and it seems obvious he's trying to recreate that show's feel. Only this time, with two extra white people! And look, they happen to be evenly split by gender. I'm sure that will prove to be convenient. PASS. Big-time pass.



Tuesdays bring us Smith, about a group of crooks who carry out high-stakes heists. What's with all the heist shows recently? Three of them over the last few months, now this one, plus Let's Rob... on ABC. Geez, time to move on to the next fad. This one stars Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen, slumming it on TV, and Amy Smart, also stepping away from movies, but this has gotta be a move up from Just Friends. I like all three of those people, but I'm pretty tired of this heist thing. This one's a maybe.



Jericho, on Wednesday, seems way too high-concept to survive. A little town in Kansas sees a mushroom cloud on the horizon, which plunges the town into isolation, fear, and paranoia. (Seriously.) Okay, how isolated could the town be, even in Kansas? How long can this mystery last? Send some people to drive -- or take a horse, or walk, if the cars stop working or something -- in the opposite direction of the cloud until you hit another town, even if it's two hundred miles away, and find out what's going on, if the explosion is a single incident, a war, whatever. This show wants to be a clever Twilight Zone episode a little too much, and I can't see any way it'll work without being completely ridiculous, and without every person in the show acting like a complete idiot. Plus, it's got Skeet Ulrich. Ick. Pass.



On Thursday we have Shark, which is about a high-powered, high-class defense attorney who suddenly switches to the prosecutor's side, and starts going after the same kind of rich and powerful people he used to protect. Bleh. Right? Except -- the attorney is played by James Woods. Okay, now I'm interested. Plus Jeri Ryan is in it? And Spike Lee directs the pilot? Wow. I'm hooked. I'm not a big fan of lawyer shows -- and this one is up against ER, so its prospects are slim -- but I'll definitely give this a shot.



And that's it! Of interest for midseason is the sitcom Rules of Engagement, starring Patrick Warburton, who's always awesome, and Waterfront, about the ethically-challenged mayor of Providence, RI, starring Joe Pantoliano, who's also always awesome.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2006: ABC

ABC

Nothing new on Mondays. On Tuesdays, Set for the Rest of Your Life is a reality series planned for midseason, to replace Dancing With the Stars when its season ends. Wow, ABC, you're off to a really bad start. I don't care about "reality" shows -- I don't even watch Survivor or Amazing Race anymore -- and, like last year, I'm giving myself a free pass to avoid them. I'm not even going to bother to hunt for the web page for this one.



Also on Tuesday, two new sitcoms. First is Let's Rob.... Apparently that's the full title now (according to the web page it is). It used to be Let's Rob Mick Jagger, but I guess they're going with the ellipsis instead. You know, in case they come back for a second season (yeah, right!) and have to rob somebody else. Or maybe they'll use the Mick Jagger title for one year, then switch it to, I don't know, Abe Vigoda the next year. (That would be sad.) Originally, the show was going to be Let's Rob Jeff Goldblum. I'm not kidding. But Goldblum was already signed on to do Raines. Well, when that show tanks, maybe he can be in the second season (yeah, right!).

I said all that bad stuff to say this good stuff: I think the premise is intriguing. A comedy take on a season-long plot show like 24, in which some inept goofballs plan to, yes, rob Mick Jagger? Interesting. Mick Jagger playing himself in cameos? Has some promise. Starring Donal Logue? Okay, you got me. I'm in. He's hilarious. But then the promo copy on the web page says: "What they don't know is that there's a much richer target for them... the chance to find hope, self-esteem and confidence within themselves." And I'm out again. Gag. That is cheesier than a one-ton block of cheddar. Seriously, why are you trying so hard to make me hate you before you even air? Interesting side note (well, interesting to me, anyway): the creators of this show are Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett, who also created Ed. And in the pilot episode of Ed, before being replaced by Michael Ian Black, the character of Phil was originally played by... Donal Logue. He couldn't be in the series because he was committed to another show that got picked up, Grounded for Life. Hey, I said it was interesting to me.



Then there's Help Me Help You (nice Tom Cruise reference there; you're on the cutting edge of ten years ago), which stars Ted Danson as a group therapy leader who's in need of therapy himself. Ted Danson is available? Man, I thought Becker might still be on the air. It was one of those shows, like Yes, Dear, that you kept thinking had been cancelled years ago, but kept showing up with new episodes. A cockroach show, unpleasant and tough to kill. Anyhoo, this new show looks like it will be much, much easier to kill.



On Wednesdays, the new show is The Nine, about nine people who were taken hostage during a bank robbery. Promo copy: "They will share the common bond of what happens inside the bank and will be forever affected and intertwined because of it." Yeesh. Who writes this stuff? Every episode begins with a ten-minute flashback (is it any wonder this show follows Lost? People love flashbacks!) to the robbery, then picks up with "The Nine" in their later lives. Going back to the ad copy, this show "will keep audiences hooked with the mystery of what happened during the hostage standoff," with each episode "uncovering why and how these nine strangers are still linked today". Already I can say: who cares? This premise loses me instantly. It's got a decent cast -- Chi McBride, Tim Daly, John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox from Enterprise) -- but I can not imagine caring about what happens during this bank robbery, dragged out ten minutes at a time over, what, one year, two years, five years? Especially when you know these nine people survive. "And in this episode -- one of the nine almost gets shot! But then he doesn't. But next time, they might really shoot him! But you already know they don't. But maybe the time after that -- nah, we're just kidding." Sounds awful.



Thursday brings two comedies whose premises sound so awful I can't believe it. Big Day, which... okay, I'll let the promo copy tell you: "If '24' married 'Father of the Bride,' their child would be 'Big Day.'" If you don't want to hurt somebody after reading that, you must be on Prozac. Yes, it's another serialized sitcom, like Let's Rob.... Only this one is all about the minute crap that leads up to a wedding. Ugh. You know how some people get so up inside their own ass when planning a wedding that the entire rest of the world ceases to exist for a year? You know how awful spending time with those people can be? "Choice of side salad? A trivial decision you would think, but for the mother of the bride, this might as well be the most critical decision of her life, and if you're the caterer, you'd better get it right." Oh my GOD I already hate this show so much. Also, what about the second season? "Welp, we're married now." Do they get married again? Come on, people. Try not to create shows whose premises are exhausted after the first year. (That goes for Let's Rob..., too.)



Next is Notes from the Underbelly, another show about people crawling up inside their own ass, but this time it's about a baby, not a wedding. Okay, I've had it. Look, you goddam TV people: everybody knows what weddings are like, everybody knows what pregnancy is like. And unless the wedding or the pregnancy directly involves you -- NOBODY FUCKING CARES. These are not inherently magical or fascinating things. These are ordinary, happens every day, happens in every life kinds of things. You can have a plot about a marriage, or a baby, but to build entire shows around these things, as though you were revealing new truths, as though they had never happened to anybody else in the history of the world -- Jesus Christ! Get over yourself.



Also on Thursday, a new show from J.J. Abrams, Six Degrees. Playing off the "six degrees of separation" theory, it's about six random people in New York whose lives intersect in ways they're unaware of. Could be soap opera stuff, like Felicity, but the way the web page is playing it up, could be mysterious fate/destiny stuff, like Lost. Tell you what, Abrams, how about you just stick with the blockbuster TV hit you've already got and help give that one some kind of direction, rather than gallivanting about making new TV shows and directing Tom Cruise vehicles. Still, this does star Hope Davis, whom I love, and I have liked all three of Abrams' previous shows, so I'll give it a try. But seriously, J.J. -- pay some attention to Lost.



On Friday, we have Betty the Ugly, which is an adaptation of a huge Spanish language TV hit. Dad runs a fashion magazine; dad hands things over to son; dad hires Betty to be son's assistant, because he knows Betty isn't attractive enough to distract son from his job. And this is a comedy? Hm. I'm leaning toward "pass" on this one, but on the dead zone of Friday night, anything can be worth checking out.



Also Friday is Men in Trees. It stars Anne Heche, which already makes me cringe. She and Tom Cruise need to go away and have a crazy party by themselves. Anyhoo, she's a best-selling relationship expert whose relationship falls apart (didn't see that coming!) during a trip to Alaska. So she stays in Alaska to heal, and, I'm assuming, Northern Exposure-style quirkiness ensues. Man, wasn't Northern Exposure awesome? This show, on the other hand -- I don't think so.



On Saturday, we've got ABC Saturday Night College Football. This sounds like genius to me. Not that I'm inclined to watch, but it sounds like an excellent programming strategy on a night where all you have to worry about are reruns of Cops or reruns of old movies. This could get decent ratings. I'm interested to see what happens here.



Sunday brings the non-anticipated, non-demanded return to television of Calista Flockhart, in Brothers & Sisters. I'd summarize the plot, but I keep falling asleep. Lots of soap opera-type malarkey. Does feature both Ron Rifkin and Balthazar Getty from Alias, which is interesting -- but not nearly interesting enough to get me to watch. This is what's taking over for Grey's Anatomy (which is moving to Thursday)? Good luck with that.



Okay, that's, like, one, maybe two shows I'd care to watch. Wow. Not looking like a good year for ABC. But what do I know -- they'll probably get five huge hits out of this mess. And cancel the one show it'll turn out I actually like.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2006: NBC

This week, the networks begin unveiling their Fall 2006 television schedules, which means it's time for me to start unfairly judging the new shows on their title, premise, and promo web page alone.

I did this last year (the entries are still perma-linked over on the sidebar), which led into my extremely painful decision to watch every single new show premiering in Fall 2005 (also still linked on the sidebar). I swore I would never do that again. And I won't. Probably. At any rate, here's a preview of the pain we've all got in store for us in a few months. And as with last year, thanks to Laurel's TV Picks for her handy, helpful Fall TV grid. (You might want to fix your links on 30 Rock and Studio 60, by the way, Laurel!)

NBC

On Monday, the only new show is Heroes, about a bunch of people around the world who suddenly get superpowers. I expect this show to tank as quickly as the three Lost-inspired supernatural shows from last year, Invasion (which apparently has now officially been cancelled), Surface, and Threshold (the WB's aptly-titled Supernatural, which wasn't really a Lost ripoff like the others, might still survive to the CW). The show stars Adrian Pasdar, whom I know a lot of people like from the legendarily cancelled-too-soon Profit, but who always rubs me the wrong way. No reason, he just bugs me. It also features Ali Larter, who is smokin' hot, but is cast in the prurient cliche role of "a Las Vegas stripper struggling to make ends meet to support her young son." Ugh. But! It also stars Greg Grunberg, J.J. Abrams' lucky charm and a big favorite of mine. His presence alone guarantees I'll check this show out for at least a couple episodes... despite the additional presence of Milo Ventimiglia (the hated Jess from Gilmore Girls) as "a young dreamer." Double ugh.



Tuesday brings Friday Night Lights, an adaptation of the book and film of the same name, about a high school football team. Wait, Friday is on Tuesday? That will baffle enough people right there to ensure poor ratings. Ha! America's dumb! I liked the film a great deal, and the pilot is written and directed by the writer/director of the film, Peter Berg (and stars Kyle Chandler, whom I like, as Coach Taylor, and, weirdly, Connie Britton as the coach's wife, the same role she played in the movie, when Billy Bob Thornton was Coach Gaines), but I feel like I've already seen it. And, really, I have. Pass. (And that's not meant as a football pun.)

Also on Tuesday, Kidnapped follows one kidnapping case over an entire season. This kind of thing failed as Murder One, and it'll fail here, despite the success of current season-long plotline shows like Prison Break and 24. Which is a shame, because it features some great talent, including Mykelti Williamson, Delroy Lindo, and past Object of My Affection Dana Delany. By the way, I'll tell you who did it right now, just from the promotional materials. The press release says, "The boy's bodyguard Virgil [played by Williamson], the boy's first line of defense even after the kidnapping, is left to die." Left to die, but doesn't die. He's the bad guy (or at least one of them). I'd bet money on it.



Wednesday brings two new sitcoms, neither of which look like they totally suck, which is a great step up for NBC, especially following last year's great My Name Is Earl and the previous year's even better The Office. First is 20 Good Years, the less promising show, starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor (playing characters named "John" and "Jeffrey," which signals a lack of imagination that troubles me a bit) as two old dudes who realize they've got "20 good years" left, and decide to make the most of them. Not tremendously promising on paper, but the talents of Lithgow and Tambor make it worth checking out.

Then there's 30 Rock, which, any other year, would look like the most promising and original new show on the roster; unfortunately, this isn't any other year, it's the same year as Studio 60 (see below). Anyhoo: created by and starring Tina Fey (I could stop right there: sold! But I won't), it's a behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday Night Live-type live variety show. Fey, the head writer at SNL, plays the head writer on 30 Rock (big stretch). Does this mean, by the way, she's off SNL next year? Bummer. It also stars Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, and Rachel Dratch. I could stop right there -- and I will. Sold!



Then on Thursday, we've got Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. See if this sounds familiar: it's a behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday Night Live-type live variety show. Yikes! Deja vu, dude. This one is created by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Matthew Perry (who will hopefully do better back on Thursday than Matt LeBlanc did), which means it's going to eat up all the buzz 30 Rock probably should've gotten instead. I think both shows will be worth watching -- but this show is going to be great. It's so packed full of people I want to see I can't believe it. Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield, fresh off of The West Wing, Sarah Paulson (love her), Amanda Peet (LOVE! HER!), Evan Handler, Carlos Jacott, Nate Corddry -- this show is sick with talent, a lot of it underappreciated (except by me, I guess). My most anticipated show of the season, on this or any other network.

Also on Thursday, taking over the ER spot in January, strangely enough, is The Black Donnellys, about "the exploits of four young, working-class Irish brothers and their involvement in organized crime in New York City," all played by people I've never heard of, and created by Paul Haggis, who produced Crash, which I hated. Pass.



Nothing new Friday or Saturday. And on Sunday, we'll see the dawn of a new era in broadcast network football, as ABC's Monday Night Football moves to ESPN, and NBC takes Sunday Night Football away from ESPN. I'm skeptical of how well football will do on network TV on Sunday. Sundays and Thursdays are the biggest TV-watching nights, but I think people want and expect regular programming on Sunday night, rather than sports. I wouldn't be surprised if it draws lower ratings than ABC's Monday games from last year. Still, it's Al Michaels and John Madden, which is a good thing.



Other notes on NBC: Scrubs has definitely been renewed, but again is being held back for the second half of the season. Also being held for midseason debuts: Raines, a cop show (eh) starring Jeff Goldblum (Brundlefly!) and Nicole Sullivan (yay!), and Andy Barker, P.I., a sitcom starring Andy Richter, executive produced by Conan O'Brien, and co-starring Arrested Development's Tony Hale. Sweet!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

TV: Justice League Unlimited

Tonight was the season -- and series -- finale of Justice League Unlimited, and it was tremendous. A great end to the best superhero cartoon series ever -- in fact, one of the best animated shows of any kind, period.

I've talked about JLU once or twice before -- okay, I've mentioned it more like a dozen times, including my second ever entry at this blog. And I've made a special habit of commenting on the appearances -- and notable absences -- of my favorite character, the Flash. In fact, looking at all those entries one after another (including one on my favorite episodes of the entire series), I'm worried I might have a crush on the Flash.

Over on the AV Club blog, Keith Phipps notes that while every media outlet in the country is talking about several long-running TV shows coming to an end this season, almost nobody is talking about JLU. Which is a shame, but only to be expected. Cartoons are for kids, right? And kiddie shows are beneath notice. It just so happens that this kiddie show was smarter, funnier, and infinitely more exciting that the majority of grown-up programming (once again, I'm talking about you, Freddie. I seriously hate you so much).

Keith says it all about the series as a whole, and he says it much better than I could have. So I'll stick with taking a look at this last episode in the typical crass Tom the Dog style. These are the "Holy shit!" and "Fuck yeah!" moments in the JLU finale. (Dave Campbell hasn't copyrighted the term "Fuck yeah!" yet, has he?)

--Batman: "Boom Tubes." Superman: "He's right! Can you hear it? Like thunder." Superman's scared? Holy shit!

--Superman, when Batman suggests the heroes work with the villains: "Oh, come on! It's Lex flippin' Luthor!" Fuck yeah!

--The various heroes, from the Atom to the Question to Hawkman to Fire and Ice, suit up and teleport into battle. Fuck yeah!

--And then the epic world-wide battle begins, with superheroes and supervillains fighting side-by-side, from the Shining Knight and the Vigilante on the Great Wall of China, to Giganta putting the smackdown to a whole row of parademons (is that the right word?) on the Eiffel Tower. Fuck yeah! Special super ultra FUCK YEAH! to the Question, who uses his crappy-ass sedan as a blunt instrument. Oh, hell yes.

--Darkseid to Superman: "I hope you appreciate, Kal-El, that everything that happens from this point is on your head. The skies will rain fire, the oceans will boil, the streets will run red with the blood of billions. Only then, after your last, pitiful hope is extinguished, will I end your life. Let's go." Ho-lee SHIT! Now that is a threat.

--Lex Luthor: "You destroyed Brainiac, and I'm going to make you pay!" Darkseid: "Unlikely." Fuck yeah!

--Darkseid destroys the Daily Planet building, using the giant globe on the roof, and the battered body of Superman, as his demolition tools. Holy shit!

--Hawkgirl takes a spear in the back. Holy shit! Followed by the immediate Fuck yeah! of her Captain America-like partner (someone more comics-knowledgeable among you will have to tell me who that was) decapitates her attacker with the sharp edge of a flying shield. Seriously: Fuck yeah!

--The Martian Manhunter's badass return to the Justice League. The second biggest Fuck yeah! of the episode.

--Batman escapes Darkseid's Omega Beam. Fuck yeah!

--Superman to Darkseid: "I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard. Always taking constant care not to break something. To break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control, even for a moment, or someone could die. But you can take it, can't ya, big man? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose, and show you just how powerful I really am." Followed by the biggest, baddest motherfucker of a punch Superman has ever landed. OH! FUCK! YEAH!!! Best moment in the episode, and one of the best moments in the series. If you weren't cheering your head off at this, you're dead inside.

--Just when I'm ready for some more Superman-delivered beatdown, Darkseid unleashes the Agony Matrix. Now with skeleton-illuminating agony. Holy shit!

--Metron: "Only a 12th-level intellect has the slightest hope of surviving what you are about to experience." Luthor: "Then I'm overqualified." Fuck yeah! Followed by the Holy shit! of Luthor actually experiencing what's behind the Source Wall.

--Darkseid pulls a Kryptonite dagger from his costume. "I'm going to carve out your heart and put it on a pike in my throne room." Seriously, that guy knows how to deliver an awesome threat. Holy shit!

--Lex Luthor gives the Anti-Life Equation to Darkseid, apparently destroying them both. That's a Holy shit! AND a Fuck yeah!

--Wonder Woman: "And the adventure continues." Followed by the final shot, the entire League racing into action for one last time. And one last Fuck yeah!

And farewell, to 14 years of excellent superhero animation. There still remains a possibility that this incarnation of the DC animated universe will be continued down the line -- if not in another series, then at least in some direct-to-DVD movies (thanks to Noel Murray's comments on Keith Phipps' post for that info). But if not, this was a thrilling and fitting end to a great run.

Friday, May 12, 2006

TV: Potpourri

I keep reading about TV shows that are now available through various sources "on demand." What I need now is for somebody to offer the opposite of on demand -- call it "no demand" -- where I can require certain TV shows not to be available through any source. Like Still Standing. Or According To Jim. Or Freddie. God damn Freddie.



Spoiler for last night's season finale of The Office:

That final moment between Jim and Pam is the most amazingly romantic thing I've seen on TV all year.

Now Dorian is going to call me gay. Again.



Apparently, I've given up on Gilmore Girls, have I mentioned that already? I recently complained about the lackluster season the show was having, but I had no plans to stop watching. Because whatever its shortcomings may be -- hey, Lauren Graham. Sold. But there was a good month there where I wasn't watching any TV (that's the Tom version of not watching any TV, which means only catching up on recorded programs maybe once a week), and my TiVo, full to burstin', had to have space cleared off it to make room for new shows. I didn't intentionally delete any Gilmore Girls episodes, but it was one of my lowest priority shows, and eventually TiVo made the decision for me. Poof! Gone. First one episode, then two, then -- well, pretty much the whole season from the time I wrote that last post up until now. Actually, after the first few, I just removed the show from my Season Pass list.

And I'm ambivalent about it. In some ways, I'm like an obsessed comic book fan ("I hate Grant Morrison's X-Men! I'm only buying one copy!") with my TV shows -- I keep collecting them even after I stop liking them, just so I can say "I've got the complete set!" I've seen every episode of Gilmore Girls up to now, which makes me want to keep seeing every episode until the show is over. But if I haven't been enjoying it -- and I really haven't been -- why should I bother? So, I'm a little disappointed I missed the end of this season, but it turns out I'll live. Whether I try to catch these episodes in repeats, or via DVD rentals, or whether I even tune back in for next season -- still up in the air. Maybe I'll just let TWoP fill me in on what happened.



I caught some of the That '70s Show retrospective, or whatever you want to call it, last night. For a long time, that was a damn funny show. It's a shame this last season has sucked so much. (Speaking of sticking with a show when you're not liking it...) But when you lose the two funniest people on the show, and replace them with the two unfunniest people you can dig up, that can happen. But back to the retrospective: I see Ashton Kutcher is returning for the final episode -- but no Topher Grace? Really? Wow, that's a mistake. Please tell me he's going to make a surprise appearance, because otherwise, that's a really shitty way to end the show. Donna's going to end up with that dumbass (as Red would say) Randy? And as far as Fez and Jackie are concerned -- oh my GOD who cares. There have been a lot of funny and enjoyable relationships on the show, but those two match-ups are the least interesting by far. No, okay, Hyde and the stripper was the least interesting match-up ever. Man, was that gal an awful actress. She makes former guest star Jessica Simpson look like Dame Judi Dench.



Seriously: god damn you, Freddie Prinze, Jr. God damn you straight to hell.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

TV: Lost

Spoilers for last night's episode.

Few network shows seem to vary as wildly in quality and entertainment during sweeps as Lost.

During non-sweeps months this year, Lost has mostly slogged along with average episodes. I'm still a big fan of the show, and to me, an average episode of Lost is still better than most anything else the networks have to offer. But it's obvious that during non-sweeps months, we mostly get episodes with unrevealing flashbacks, character pieces that don't advance the overall plot, stories that retread what's come before.

There are some notable exceptions -- the map on the blast doors was in March, for example -- but mostly the big stuff comes during sweeps: the great "The Other 48 Days" episode, and the one where Ana-Lucia kills Shannon, not to mention Jack and Kate's first kiss, were all in November, while Henry Gale first appeared in February (which is a much less important sweeps month than November or May, but still). During non-sweeps months, the show tends to fall back on Charlie, Claire, Jin, Sun, and Hurley, as well as the "tailies," who (and I say this despite Hurley being my favorite) are definitely second-tier characters (or lower, like Rose and Bernard -- and hey, what's with them getting a flashback episode, but not poor Libby? She only gets a cameo in a Hurley flashback, and then BANG! Dead!). There are generally things of interest in each of those episodes (like that Libby cameo), but nothing that blows your mind, the way this show does at its best.

Then, come May -- whammo! First episode of the month -- Michael shoots Ana-Lucia and Libby! Ana-Lucia dies! Michael shoots himself! He's working for the Others!! Holy CRAP. Second episode (last night) -- Henry Gale escapes! Eko and Locke discover another hatch! And another Orientation tape! They learn (finally) that the numbers and button-pushing in the original hatch are meaningless! Libby dies! (I really did not expect her to die -- I thought she'd linger around in a coma or something until the season finale, at least, or that, since the episode's flashback was all about a supposed resurrection miracle, she'd come back to life at the last second. And as for that Orientation tape -- you have to wonder about the people who would take their "important" task of monitoring the video feeds seriously, when they've just been told that everything everyone is doing is completely unimportant.) Now that's good stuff. Which means it's time to pump up those ratings, and it's almost time for the season-ending cliffhanger.

Same thing happened last year. A whole lot of nothing down the home stretch, then a bunch of cool stuff in the last few episodes. Not to mention the many, many hiatuses we've had to deal with. Two weeks on, one week off. One week on, two weeks off. Hell, after November sweeps, the next new show wasn't until January 11. That's five off weeks between new episodes.

That's just the way of the beast, and I can't get too worked up about it. You save your best stuff for when it counts. But it just seems so blatant on this show.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TV: Veronica Mars

Spoilers ahoy!

The second season finale of Veronica Mars aired last night and, as with the end to the first season, it was a tutorial on how a serialized mystery can wrap up pretty much every single loose end satisfactorily, yet still leave viewers wanting more.

What I loved most about the episode was that, despite how much material needed to be packed in, despite how much plot there was, the show still took the time for an extended Graduation Day fantasy, in which Veronica's life had never been turned upside-down by the murder of best friend Lilly Kane. Father Keith is still sheriff of Neptune, mother Lianne (I'm always happy to see Corinne Bohrer!) never ran away, Duncan Kane never fled the country with his love child (although Veronica, oddly enough, is dating Logan in her dream, not Duncan), and Lilly is right there to celebrate graduation with Veronica. Of course, Veronica and Wallace never became friends, much to both their losses, surely; in a brief exchange, Wallace sums up the fantasy: "Have a good life -- I'm sure you will."

But the dream is fleeting: Lilly is dead, her killer has just been set free, and it's not a good life. Or at least, not an easy one. Which has probably made Veronica a better person than she ever could have been otherwise. And which makes for some great television.

Then, the plot. I've suspected Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas was behind the bus crash for a few weeks now, but for no good reason. In fact, the entire reason for my suspicion was his refusal to have sex with Mac, and his subsequent angry break-up with her. Seemed like there was a lot going on under the surface there, but what, exactly, I wasn't sure. Was he just closeted and reluctant to come out? It seemed like something more than that to me, and I was right. It took this episode to explain exactly why I was right. I was still running on the assumption that Veronica's chlamydia had been contracted from Duncan, and when we discovered Woody Goodman had it, too, I figured Duncan must have been the missing third Little League player that had been molested by Woody. I was as shocked as Veronica when she discovered the truth (and I loved the stunning camera work in that moment, the old Hitchcockian trick of pulling the camera back while simultaneously zooming in). "Not pictured: Cassidy Casablancas." A powerful reveal that gave me chills.

And the confrontation between Veronica and Beaver on the roof of the hotel was tremendous. We learned that Beaver has never been the good little boy he's been made out to be -- that in fact, he was the one who had raped a drugged Veronica in the first season. And then, as he taunted Veronica by telling her she had a minute left to call her father before he detonated the bomb on his plane -- the personal nature of that moment, the sheer, cruel, calculated evil of it, was more devastating that a season's worth of terrorism and torture on 24. When we saw the fireball over Veronica's shoulder, as we saw in her face her world dying, my heart sank. Even though I knew Keith couldn't be on that plane, that the show couldn't possibly be that unfair, for a moment I was right there with Veronica. What a brilliant, wrenching scene.

And Beaver's final moment was fitting, but still chilling. About to leap from the roof, he listened to Logan try to talk him out of it. But when he asked for a reason not to do it, Logan came up blank. "That's what I thought." And in silence, in the back corner of the screen, almost insignificant, we saw him take his final step backward, and just like that, he was gone. I almost wish Veronica had shot him when she had the chance. Or Logan. But that worked, too. Good riddance.

The rest of the supporting characters had their stories wrapped up, too, some not as positively as others. I wasn't too surprised (and certainly not unhappy) to see Aaron Echolls, Lilly's killer, get murdered himself, but I was surprised to see who was behind it -- Duncan Kane, hiring a hitman (his father's old security chief) from his exile in Australia. Good for you, boy, good for you. And Weevil's off to jail, arrested by sadistic bastard Sheriff Lamb in front of his grandmother, moments before receiving his diploma. And Jackie's in New York to stay, revealed to be the daughter not of a rich supermodel, but a working class waitress -- and the mother of a two-year-old. So that's Beaver, Duncan, Weevil, and Jackie, all presumably written out of the show for good in one fell swoop. Man, this show needs to repopulate when it comes back next year (I refuse to entertain the thought that it might not be back). Perhaps Arrested Development's George Michael and Maeby can reprise their roles as college students from earlier this season. After all, Veronica never did solve the mystery of Maeby's hair being shaved off.

Things went much better for Charisma Carpenter's Kendall, who it appears will definitely be back for season three (hooray!). An $8 million windfall for her, due to Beaver's real estate dealings, which hinged on the failure of Mayor Woody's incorporation proposition. (I like that Beaver's plan worked on two fronts, cover-up/revenge, and simple financial gain.) The cliffhanger set-up, in which she revealed the mysterious contents of a briefcase to Keith Mars, wasn't exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, but then, I don't really need to be hooked to come back for another year. I will tell you my one prediction for next year's mystery: whatever happened to Logan's mother? Her body was never recovered, was it? And we all know, in a detective story: no body means she's still alive.

All in all, another wildly successful finale to another wildly successful season. At times this year, it seemed like there was a little too much plot getting in the way of the action (as opposed to, say, Lost, which, up until last week's last five minutes, has spent a season with far too little plot moving things along). Almost everything involving the Fitzpatricks, for example. But the writing and the acting (mainly that of Enrico Colantoni and Kristen Bell, the best parent-child combo on TV) just keeps getting better. This is a great show, and hopefully the merger of the WB and UPN into the CW next year, and the subsequent (again, hopefully) merger of their viewership will bring Veronica Mars the larger audience it deserves.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

MOVIES: The Fly

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

For the past few weeks for me and a couple of friends, Thursdays have been movie night. More specifically, horror movie night. We've been watching some really hardcore, gruesome flicks: The Devil's Rejects, The Manson Family, Hostel. Last time, it was my turn to pick the movie, and I went out and bought a DVD just for the occasion, something I really should've bought a long time ago -- the special edition of David Cronenberg's The Fly.

I showed the box to one of my friends. He said, "Good movie -- but I thought you might want to watch something gorier." Later, about the time a horribly mutated Jeff Goldblum was regurgitating acid onto a man's hand, melting it into a liquid red lump of bone and goo, I turned to that friend and said, "Gory enough for you?"

It had been a while since either of us had seen this film. We both remembered there was some bad stuff in it, but we both forgot just how bad it gets. Cronenberg filmed The Fly 20 years ago, and it's still one of the goriest films ever made.

That's only half of what makes this such a brilliant horror film -- a brilliant film, period. What really elevates this film into greatness is a devastating story of a man losing his humanity, anchored by a bravely committed performance from Goldblum. It's Goldblum who really sells the picture, expertly conveying first the manic elation, then the repulsion and fear, of a man becoming something else. What could've been just a guy covered in horror makeup becomes a real, fully-developed character, loathsome and heartbreaking, terrifying but sympathetic.

If you've never seen it, maybe you should stop before I really spoil it for you. No? Okay: The Fly is a remake -- kind of -- of the 1958 Vincent Price film. It's about scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum), who has invented a teleportation machine. It can send inanimate objects with perfect results, but living matter gets horribly destroyed. Journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) chronicles his progress, while also falling in love with him. Seth successfully sends a baboon through the machine, then, before further safety testing, drunk and jealous over Veronica's connection to her ex-boyfriend, he sends himself through while she's gone. Unfortunately, there is a fly inside the machine with him as he teleports. Seth emerges from the machine believing he has been completely successful, and in fact feeling better than he ever has in his life -- stronger, more assertive -- but unbeknownst to him, the machine has fused him with the fly at a genetic level, and this is just the first stage of his transformation.

After reveling in his newfound power -- athletic and sexual -- and alienating Veronica, Seth begins to discover that his transformation has only just begun. He becomes irrational and aggressive, he begins craving outrageous amounts of sugar. His appearance degenerates from severe complexion problems, to truly hideous, and eventually to completely inhuman.

The transformation is gruesome and disturbing. As it progresses, Seth plucks off his fingernails; later, his hair comes out in bloody clumps; still later, as he begins regurgitating on his food to digest it, his useless teeth fall out of his gums. He saves all these pieces of himself in his bathroom cabinet, reminders of his fading humanity. When his ear peels off the side of his head, he grimly jokes to Veronica, who has returned to him in his later stages of decay, "The medicine cabinet has become the Brundle Museum of Natural History."

The grotesque spectacle is enough for a great horror film, but it's Seth's dread and loss that turns the viewer's disgust into pain and heartbreak. He begins calling himself "Brundlefly," acknowledging his mutation, but also trying to distance himself from his own tragedy, inventing a term he can use as though he were referring to a test subject rather than himself. Eventually, as he realizes the insect inside him is taking over, he tries to drive Veronica away. Here he speaks my favorite line in the movie: "I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man, and loved it. But now the dream is over... and the insect is awake." Later, he tries to convince Veronica not to abort his unborn child, which he sees as the last evidence of his humanity. He begs, "Please don't kill me," and it's devastating.

Goldblum gives quite likely the best performance of his career in this film, and Cronenberg delivers the best film of his career up to that point --- and I would argue, with the exception of Dead Ringers, his best film ever. (I've mentioned before my disappointment with A History of Violence, which I'm sure many others would name as his best.) It shows what heights a truly great director can achieve working within what some might dismiss as "genre" boundaries. The Fly is superior filmmaking from beginning to end.

Monday, May 08, 2006

State of the Blog

Another busy weekend keeping me occupied and away from the blog. At least it was a fun-filled weekend, instead of a crappy one, as has been the case for a number of weekends in the recent past. Still, what's good for my social life is not so good for the blog. I'll try later today to finish up an entry I started on Thursday about one of my favorite movies ever. And hopefully by tomorrow I'll get to Saturday's Sidebar Update. Just please, please, cease the rioting and looting in your despondence over the lack of updates here. Can't we all just get along??

Thursday, May 04, 2006

MOVIES: The Star Wars DVDs, Take 2

George Lucas has taken a temporary break from sucking.

That's right, for the first time on DVD (and for the first time anywhere for, what, over a decade now?), the original versions of the first Star Wars trilogy will be available. And I mean original original: the first film won't even have the words "Episode IV" in the opening crawl, which were added shortly after Empire first hit movie screens.

I don't know why I still care. I've been over this before, when the revised (and re-revised) versions of the trilogy hit DVD almost two years ago. I haven't watched any of those three films for almost ten years. I relinquished my Star Wars fan license long ago.

And yet... I think I'm going to have to get these DVDs. It's impossible to deny the appeal of having these films back in the form in which I first saw them as a child, back before Lucas trampled all over his own creation. I think most fans make that kind of a connection: Star Wars = childhood. So I don't want to grow up. So I'm stuck in adolescence. So what? As long as Han Solo shoots first, I'm fine with that.

Of course, this second DVD release is surely a crass marketing ploy on Lucas' part. "I'll never release the original versions!" Two years later: "Has the money from the DVDs dried up? Let's release the original versions!" (This new release, by the way, will take the form of 2-disc sets which also include the revised versions of the films released on DVD two years ago -- which is Lucas' way of saying to all of you who bought those DVDs: BURN!! Total burn.)

Well, you win, Lucas. You got me. I'll buy the new DVDs. I'll chase my childhood memories. And frankly: I'm happy to do it. I'm more excited about the Star Wars franchise than I have been since that monstrosity Phantom Menace damaged my eyeballs. Wow, actually looking forward to a Star Wars movie. How novel!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

TV: Letterman and Kindler

How come none of you told me Andy Kindler was doing reports for the David Letterman show? Come on, people! That's vital information.

Ah, it's not your fault. Why do we fight like this? Don't make me hit you again! As I was starting to say, it's not your fault, it's mine. Before last night, I could count the number of times I've watched Letterman in this millennium on one hand. Used to be, back in the day (April 11, 1989, specifically) I was devoted to the Letterman show with a passion. Late Night with David Letterman, that is. Larry "Bud" Melman, Chris Elliott, stupid pet tricks, the Top Ten list from the home office in Lebanon, PA, and of course, the World's Most Dangerous Band. Now it's The Late Show with David Letterman, and they're the CBS Orchestra. And angry young Dave is a mildly grumpy mega-millionaire with grey hair, a baby, and a quadruple or possibly even quintuple (the internet is unreliable) heart bypass surgery in the bag. Then again, I'm rarely awake when the show comes on, anyway. Is the problem that he's gotten old, or that I have?

So I watched the show last night for the first time in forever. Well, some of it. And it was decent, but it was hardly something I need to stay up for. Tom Hanks was on, which helped, because he's an excellent guest, but still, he's lookin' pretty damn old, too. That makes me sad. Except: hey, Andy Kindler! Yay and hooray. I think he's hilarious. There's something inherently funny in every single line he speaks, just in his delivery. Plus, his annual "State of the Industry" reports at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, in which he tears apart the hackiest crap in the world of comedy (such as Carlos Mencia, Larry the Cable Guy, and my favorite: he's offered a $1 million reward for "footage of Whoopi Goldberg being humorous"), are just brilliant.

Not that his comedy piece on Letterman last night, a filmed bit in which he visits the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, was exactly cutting edge. It was funny, made funnier by Kindler's presence, but it was also pretty typical for this kind of thing on a late night show. Still, his appearance was enough to make me glad to catch the show, and wonder if maybe I ought to get in the habit of TiVoing it. Probably not -- but still, this is the most thought I've given the Letterman show for five years.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Favorite Albums

On Saturday I referred to Bad Religion's Stranger Than Fiction as one of my ten favorite albums. Then I thought, "Say, what would the other nine albums in that top ten be?" Actually, I thought, "Say, that would make for an easy post!" And here we are.

For most of the images, I used HotFreeLayouts, because all the cool kids are doing it, what with their MySpace pages and all (whatever that is). I refrained from using multiple albums from the same artist, or else the list might've been all Who (plus Pete Townshend's Empty Glass and All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes). And of course, I found it impossible to stop at just ten, so here's twelve a baker's dozen fifteen sixteen. In no particular order.

The Who: Who's Next
The Who: Who's Next

...except for this first one. Which, as you should know by now, I believe to be the pinnacle of Western civilization.

Bad Religion: Stranger Than Fiction
Bad Religion: Stranger Than Fiction

"Punk with a thesaurus," as a friend of mine once said. This album is brilliant, loud and angry and funny and smart.

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

First jazz album I ever owned. Some of the most beautiful sounds ever recorded.

Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever
Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever

When I re-bought this album a week and a half ago, I called it one of my top ten albums. I guess I've been thinking about making this list for a while. Listening to it at home, it made me wonder why I waited so long to replace the old copy (which I lost). I've played it every day since, and I just keep loving it more.

Barenaked Ladies: Gordon
Barenaked Ladies: Gordon

I hate that I don't have my original copy of this album anymore (the one with the band members all making wacky faces). Still my favorite disc by one of my favorite bands.

Green Day: American Idiot
Green Day: American Idiot

There hasn't been a week since I bought this album that I haven't listened to it from beginning to end; there's barely been a day I haven't played at least a couple of songs. I'll keep calling it the best album of the new millennium until somebody proves otherwise. (Note: I will not accept any proof presented.)

Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape
Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Foo Fighters are better than Nirvana ever was. And this is their best, one face-rocking gem after another.

Hoyt Axton: Fearless
Hoyt Axton: Fearless

I'm a fan of Johnny Cash, I'm an admirer of Willie Nelson, I'm fond of Patsy Cline. But Hoyt Axton is the only country artist I worship. I grew up on his music, and you probably did, too, without knowing it -- he wrote a number of big hits for other artists, while maintaining his own terrific career. His Life Machine and Fearless albums are a one-two punch of musical greatness; they never fail to lift my spirits. (By the way, this was the one image I had to Google for myself. HotFreeLayouts, you have failed me.)

The Beatles: The White Album
The Beatles: The White Album

Double album means double the Beatley goodness!

The Refreshments: Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy
The Refreshments: Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy

Fantastic Southwestern rock (as I like to call it) from a band that sadly only released two albums, both of which I love.

Therapy?: Troublegum
Therapy?: Troublegum

Tremendous hard-rocking nastiness. If I made a horror movie, the soundtrack would be filled with Therapy? songs. Starting with this album's opening cut, "Knives."

They Might Be Giants: Flood
They Might Be Giants: Flood

I almost picked John Henry instead of Flood. Flood wins because I've listened to it more recently. I listen to this album and grin from the first song right through to the last.

Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend
Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend

Pure pop rock perfection. And one of the loveliest album covers ever. That's Tuesday Weld. Ain't she a cutie?

Public Enemy: Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black
Public Enemy: Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black

If I were allowed only one rap album, this would be it. Not that I really need much more than one rap album; I'm not a huge fan. But this album blows me away, more so even than PE's two previous albums, which are generally considered superior. Hey, I gotta be me. I hate to see Flavor Flav making a joke of himself on TV these days; he and Chuck D used to create the most important songs in rap music -- hell, fifteen, twenty years later, they're still the most important songs in rap music.

Neil Young: Harvest
Neil Young: Harvest

With so many highlights in his career, it's hard to pick Neil Young's best, but I'd say this, his most commercially successful album (I'm almost positive of that, but don't hold me to it) is also his most artistically successful.

Pink Floyd: The Wall
Pink Floyd: The Wall

The first CD I ever bought. I listened to this album endlessly my freshman year of college. Perhaps that explains a lot.

I'm sure to remember another one or two albums I should've included, but that list looks pretty solid as is. Opinions, anyone?

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