Thursday, December 30, 2010

Odds and Ends

-- Another honorable mention in my TV blog should have been Luther, the superb BBC miniseries starring The Wire's Idris Elba in the title role of an emotionally overwrought detective who gets a little too attached to his cases. Elba's performance elevates the series above the typical police procedural.

-- Shame on SyFy for cancelling Stargate Universe, easily its only solid series (apologies to Warehouse 13, which is fun but a little silly at times). Caprica was a droll waste, but SGU was the worthy successor to Battlestar Galactica's dark, character driven storytelling. It sounds like the producers might get a chance to properly close out the second season, but this show was getting better with every episode.

-- Alert to Samsung HDTV owners. After owning mine for a little over two years, the capacitors burned out causing a power cycle issue that took anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to turn on the TV. After doing some research, I found out it's a very common issue. Despite being past warranty, Samsung at least allowed a local technician to repair it free of charge, but I've heard the problem can resurface. I'm not sure if newer TVs are being built without these cheaper caps, but buyer beware.

-- V returns to ABC next week. I'm willing to give the new season a couple episodes, but the first was so stunningly bad that it will need to impress in a hurry to keep a place on my DVR.

-- Also returning is the criminally underappreciated Southland to TNT. It's a cop show in the vein of NYPD Blue or Homicide.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best of 2010: Television

Going to the movies today is no longer cheap and, let's be honest, given the cost, your odds of getting quality entertainment for the time and money are not in your favor. Television, however, is still relatively inexpensive (and the major networks are still technically free) and produces entertainment that lasts longer than a couple hours. It allows for intricate plotting and character growth and you don't have to wait two or three years to continue the story (although AMC shows make it feel that long between seasons).

It's a sad fact that when I started jotting down lists of film, music and TV for these best of compilations, coming up with ten-plus TV shows was easy. I have yet to find ten movies that I feel are worthy of a Top 10 list, though. Not only did I see fewer films in the theatre, I also didn't feel any real desire to see many.

10. Parenthood - NBC
From the producers of Friday Night Lights (that'll show up later on this list) is another well-written, very well-cast series that relies strongly on its characters. Following various members of a large family, there isn't a wasted character among them and the acting is superb.

9. Terriers - FX
Add this one to the list of great, cancelled series. The occasionally comical tale of two private detectives who get in over their heads started slow but eventually ramped up into a densely plotted crime drama that fans of The Shield would appreciate. Given the slow-burn of that series to creative peaks, I'm surprised this one wasn't nurtured longer.

8. Glee - Fox
The first season was a bubble-bursting delight of music, comedy and stylish storytelling. Season two has been a bit uneven, but still capable of making me smile, dance and burst into song (much like its characters) at any point. Recent highlights like the all-male "Teenage Dream" and Gwyneth Paltrow's turn as a substitute (please bring her back!) have ensured this show will always be on my must-see list.

7. The Walking Dead - AMC
The pilot alone would have put this show near the top of the list...a grim tale with the perfect tone about humans in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The subsequent episodes of the short first season weren't nearly as masterful, but there is still so much promise in this series, especially if they expand upon more of the brilliant comic book material.

6. Modern Family - ABC
The only sitcom to make this list is here for a's incredibly funny and that cast is so spot on from top to bottom. The Emmy was well-deserved and it hasn't lost a beat in its second season.

5. Mad Men - AMC
I've commented in the past that this show, while amazing, hasn't deserved the Best Drama Emmy for three straight years. The recent 4th season, however, was probably the best of the series so far. Focused on the deconstruction and resurrection of central character Don Draper, every episode wove new depths of character and drama. Don's probably the best "anti-hero" since Vic Mackey...a man who we are meant to admire and despise in the same moment.

4. Friday Night Lights - DirecTV/NBC
There is so much that is so impossibly perfect about this series. Every time a key character leaves the show I assume it will never be the same, but new characters become just as important, memorable and fascinating. At heart, it comes down to the core duo of Coach Taylor and his wife (Kyle Chandler/Connie Britton), the best couple on television. No spoilers on the final season, please...I'll have to wait until NBC graces us with its re-airing next year.

3. Lost - "The End" - ABC
The final season of Lost was a mixed bag...the flash-sideways world was confusing and occasionally unnecessary and we still have so many questions that will never be answered. But damn...could you ask for a finer final episode? I know opinions on that are mixed as well, but for this fan, who religously followed the series from the beginning, it was a resolution filled with emotional payoff and delirious moments of satisfaction.

2. Fringe - Fox
I keep talking about how I'm surprised this show is still airing and Fox's recent announcement to move the series to Fridays (a.k.a. where smart sci-fi goes to die) has only filled me with more dread...but I should really call attention to the fact that this show gets smarter and cooler every season. This season's alternate-reality plot has been tense and the former "creepy of the week" aspect has evolved into a carefully constructed world where "fringe" science is closer than we think.

1. Breaking Bad - AMC
AMC deserves some kind of special award for producing innovative, bold television in the "basic cable" realm...the kind of series that are typically expected from HBO or Showtime. Breaking Bad is probably the pinnacle of the new dramatic class...edgy, always unexpected and darkly funny. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul desevered their Emmys this year and waiting for a new season (probably next summer) is agonizing.

Honorable Mentions: Men of a Certain Age, The Big Bang Theory, Community, Stargate Universe, Justified

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best of 2010: Tracks

Last weekend I finally finished my annual "Best of" mix CD and have been rapidly burning copies ever since. This year's selection took nearly two months to put together but I'm pretty proud of it. It's very diverse and has a little something for everyone. Copies went out to the public today.

Rather than simply post the list this year, I opted to make it heard as well. I couldn't find every song on, so the full list is below the player.

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The Best of 2010

Infinity Guitars – Sleigh Bells
Airplanes – B.O.B. feat. Hayley Williams
Paris – Kate Nash
Howlin’ for You – The Black Keys
The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells
Die by the Drop – The Dead Weather
Animal – Neon Trees
Tighten Up – The Black Keys
Not Strong Enough – Apocalyptica
Bright Lights Bigger City – Cee-Lo Green
Coffee and Cigarettes (Acoustic Version) – Jimmy Eat World
Rill Rill – Sleigh Bells
Dog Days Are Over – Florence & the Machine
Love the Way You Lie – Eminem feat. Rihanna
Speechless – Lady Gaga
Nothin’ on You – B.O.B. feat. Bruno Mars
Out of the Blue – Julian Casablancas
Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
Airplanes, Pt. 2 – B.O.B. feat. Hayley Williams & Eminem
Crying Time – The Gracious Few

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II - PS3

Two years ago, LucasArts released probably the best Star Wars video game to date, a tale taking place shortly before A New Hope following Vader's secret apprentice, Starkiller, as he resists his master and helps the early days of the Rebellion. As a story, it was an exciting piece of the extended universe filled with familiar characters and fascinating new ones. As a game, it wasn't terribly original (essentially the God of War engine with lightsabers and Stormtroopers), but the thrill of playing a powerful Jedi who was vaguely neutral in the Dark/Light discussion was irresistible. Force lightning, choking enemies, lightsaber was a fanboy dream come true.

The annoucement of a sequel this year was met with eager anticipation...Starkiller (spoiler alert) seemingly died at the end of the original game, so how was he back and where would the story go from here?

Force Unleashed II picks up probably a year or two after the first. It's quickly revealed that our new "hero" is a clone of the original of several Vader has attempted to perfect. He can't seem to get them to shake their memories and desire to reunite with lady love Juno. This latest clone is no different and quickly escapes Vader's facility. The ensuing game is little more than a hack/slash actioner, following Starkiller as he tears through hordes of stormtroopers and various robots. I'd venture to say there are no more 15 unique enemies and the methods to kill them are easy to figure out. The original game wasn't overly complicated in action, either, but it also never felt this monotonous.

What disappointed me most was the story...I felt very little concern about what was happening, there was minimal character development and only Vader's role seems to really connect it to the Star Wars universe in general. The ending leaves things wide open for the inevitable third entry.

I finished FU II (that seems oddly appropriate) on Medium difficulty in six days, only playing for an hour or two each day. I rarely felt challenged and wasn't upset to stop playing for sleep or other activities. Replay value would seem to be minimal. I can't even say that the game looked or played better than the first. It was glitchy at times and the cut scenes weren't as well animated.

I only recommend this one as a rental or deep discount purchase. I doubt I'll rush out for part III either.

Rating: C-

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fall TV Preview

Hi, I'm back...I'm way behind on reviews for movies (Inception, Scott Pilgrim), music (Sleigh Bells, Black Keys) and TV (Torchwood, a Star Trek retrospective), but I'm getting back into the swing of things with a more urgent you ideas of what to watch this fall by telling you what I'll be watching. Let's get right to it on a night by night breakdown.


How I Met Your Mother - CBS - Lost a little of it's pizazz last year, but still a great ensemble with routinely hilarious gags that reward long-time viewers. But do me a favor...tell us who the mother is this year...I'm beyond caring about the mystery anymore.

Chuck - NBC - This show isn't always terribly fresh or unpredictable, but the cheeky geek factor and sexy Yvonne Strahovski keep me coming back. Guest stints by the likes of Brandon Routh, Scott Bakula and (this season) Linda Hamilton help, too.

Lone Star - Fox - I'm a sucker for smart new dramas and this one has all the buzz. All I know is it's a tale of a con man living two lives and Adrianne Palicki (Tyra from Friday Night Lights) is in it.

The Event - NBC - This preview is not The Event. I have no idea what is, but this show looks like it could be the next Lost...or the next FlashForward. Get excited accordingly.

Hawaii Five-O - CBS - This might totally be another formulaic crime drama (a la CSI, NCIS), but its looks fun and Scott Caan is inspired casting as Danno.


Glee - Fox - I don't care who you are or what you think this show an episode (preferably the Madonna ep or the one with the bed commercial featuring "Jump") and tell me you weren't singing/dancing and smiling ear to ear. I'll be burning you a copy of the soundtracks.

No Ordinary Family - ABC - Michael Chiklis follows The Shield with...a comic book family drama? Hmm...not sold on this one. I'm afraid of Heroes (post Season 1) crossed with an early 90s TGIF comedy.

Raising Hope - Fox - Fox comedies that aren't animated typically suck (calling it as I see them), but the ads for this are just funny.

Parenthood - Love, love, loved the first season of this show. Great cast, great writing and not too schmaltzy.

Detroit 1-8-7 - ABC - Wait, am I really going to watch this? Sometimes I throw a show or two on the DVR to see where it goes.

Warehouse 13 - SyFy - I expected this (like 90% of SyFy programming) to be's goofy, but fun, with great literary and historical references given a genre spin.


Undercovers - NBC - Because it's a new show with J.J. Abrams attached. You don't need another reason to at least give it a shot.

Modern Family - ABC - It won so many Emmys for a reason.

Terriers - FX - I haven't watched this yet, but I trust FX...see: The Shield, Justified (which is only left off this list because I don't know when it's coming back).

Thursday (busiest night on TV)

The Big Bang Theory - CBS - New night, same nerd-a-rific hilarity.

S#*! My Dad Says - CBS - Early reviews are pretty low on this, but it's Shatner, so I have to watch.

Community - NBC - Criminally unappreciated comedy. Watch either the paintball or chicken finger eps and tell me you aren't sold.

30 Rock - NBC - I'm not as high on this show as everyone else, but Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin will keep me watching every week.

Fringe - Fox - The best show no one I personally know is watching. How this is still on the air (on Fox!) is a mystery, but damn if it isn't riveting, super smart sci-fi. I'm done making X-Files comparisons...this show doesn't bog down it's mythology, but leaps right into it, now wrapped up in an alternate universe that's trying to take our world. Oh, and lest you forget, J.J. Abrams is behind it, too.

The Office - NBC - I suspect that the wilting, but still fun, Office will pull out some great, awkward moments for Steve Carrell's final season, but is there really a point in going on after that?

Outsourced - NBC - I suspect this will be more "Kath & Kim" than "The Office" but I'll give it a try.

Nikita - The CW - Haven't peeped the pilot yet, but I've always liked the idea behind Nikita.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - FX - Take the often unsympathetic characters of Seinfeld, make them completely unlikeable, stir in a lot of depraved comedy and Danny DeVito on an edgy cable network and you get a sitcom that pushes envelopes every week with sickening glee.

The League - FX - I admit, I love this show mostly because it's about a bunch of guys playing Fantasy Football. It does fit nicely with Philly though.

Friday (yes, I have a social life, this is what DVRs are for)

Human Target - Fox - Surprisingly exciting actioner that depends on its winning cast and well-paced scripting.

Blue Bloods - CBS - Tom Selleck stars in it, so that makes it worth a viewing, right?

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Cartoon Network - Star Wars fans...this honestly is a great show and you're depriving yourself if you don't check it out. Despite eventually heading in a direction we all know (Episode III), there are a lot of surprises and unexpected pleasures. The animation is great and it actually plays out like a episodic war story.

Friday Night Lights - DirecTV/NBC - If you're a DirecTV subscriber...congrats, you get to watch the final season spoilers, please. I have to wait until January to see one another of my favorite shows sign off.

Stargate Universe - SyFy - Been aching for some dark sci-fi to fill the Battlestar Galactica void? Would you believe a series called Stargate could do it? I wouldn't have either, but the only thing this show has in common with the film and two other series of the same name are the gates themselves, bits of the mythology and occasional guest spots by SG-1 cast members.

Caprica - SyFy - Speaking of BSG, the prequel series doesn't carry the gravity or humanity, but it's an intriguing look at the technological vanity that led to the fall of the Twelve Colonies.


Get out of the house! Go see a movie or a baseball game...have a date night...or watch earlier seasons of one of these shows on DVD.


The Cleveland Show - Fox - Not as funny as Family Guy, but still good for a few hearty chuckles every episode.

Family Guy - Fox - Love it or hate it, it makes The Simpsons look like The Flintstones and often out-edges South Park. I can't wait for the Return of the Jedi homage, "It's a Trap!"

Mad Men - AMC - Though Breaking Bad (which should return in spring) is better, Mad Men deserves the praise and this season is already amazing on every level. AMC is making a case for brilliant drama and this one will by followed in October by...

The Walking Dead - AMC - Debuting on Halloween, don't let yourself be turned off by the zombie premise. Yes, it's the catalyst for the story, but if they stay close to the comic, this quickly becomes a very character-driven piece. What happens to regular men and women when the entire world goes to hell...when the horrors of humanity are even scarier than the undead?

So there you go...set your DVRs or plan your evenings...and don't call me during Fringe.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


As the saying goes, "everything old is new again." It seems every other film to be unleashed from the Hollywood machine is a remake (or "re-imagining" as producers like to call them) of a classic (?) movie or television show. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but whenever a studio is in need of a hit, it's quite easy to look to what worked before.

It came as little surprise that a new film in the Predator franchise was commissioned. The original 1987 flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a cult action classic...a jungle war movie turned sci-fi creature fest. There was a forgettable sequel and two mildly tolerable mergings with the Alien franchise (how long until we get a new one of those, too?) that has kept the deadly hunters on the silver screen, but the concept had worn thin.

Producer Robert Rodriguez apparently felt by adding an "s" to the flick, he could capture the same brand of magic James Cameron did with Aliens. I'm hesitant to compare this movie in total with what may be the best sci-fi actioner of all time, but the extra consonant isn't all that Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal lifted. Predators is filled with believable characters, smart action pieces and avoids as many cliches as possible en route to delivering a movie that's actually a worthy sequel.

Unlike the original, the action gets underway pretty quickly in this film. We're thrown into the story with a free-falling Adrien Brody moments before a chute opens and he's deposited in a jungle. Brody quickly finds other souls plummeted into the same situation; all well-trained military, criminals and mercenaries. They have weapons and they're ready for action.

Of course, we the audience know they're here to be hunted by the Predators and they quickly and violently discover that as well. Naturally, everyone gets picked off one by one and their hunters are eventually revealed. The odds of survival would seem slim.

I don't suppose the plot is particularly challenging, but it doesn't need to be. Brody, not known for such roles, lends some gravity to the cast (a fun cameo from Laurence Fishburne doesn't hurt either). No one overacts and sharp directing keeps everything in the realm of believability. Who lives and who dies isn't necessarily shocking, but I enjoyed the hunter/prey games and some of the showdowns are on par with Arnold's faceoff with the original Predator. I was also quite pleased to hear many of the original music cues throughout.

You could do a whole lot worse for genre action. Maybe there's something to pluralizing films.

Rating: B

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Last Airbender

If you're like me and have followed the career and films of M. Night Shyamalan since the beginning, you might feel a little like you've been in a trying relationship that makes you wonder how many times you can foolishly keep coming back. Personally, I may have found the final reason to break it off forever...only to indulge on a late night if I'm properly intoxicated and desperate.

Everyone knows how it began...The Sixth Sense was a smart, suspenseful film and even though I figured out the "don't tell" twist ten minutes in, I was pleased with how deftly the whole premise was executed. Shyamalan's next film, Unbreakable, was an underappreciated spin on comic book origins. The ending was a bit tacked on, but it didn't hurt the movie. With Signs I was officially hooked. I loved the idea of an alien invasion plot that didn't bother with the worldview...only how it would affect your average citizen. I was genuinely creeped out at several moments...a feat few films elicit for me.

At the peak of this "romance," I fully anticipated each time I got to see this director's name on screen. The Village still kept the mood, but the plot felt a little weak...the "twist" this time wasn't as interesting or a natural extension of the story. Things took a nasty and very disappointing turn with Lady in the Water, a "fairy tale" that was neither magical nor provocative. But hey, everyone is allowed a misstep, right? We could work through this...I'm sure it would get better. Then, it happened...or rather, The Happening, a movie about killer plants and breezes apparently. It looked great...cinematography like a slinky black dress that promised so much, but the actual deed and the climax? Phoned in...uninspired and boring. The cinematic equivalent of faking it...

Sexually charged analogies aside, a once promising filmmaker akin to Spielberg had strayed far from the path of entertaining. His screenwriting got progressively sloppy...twists and deus ex machina becoming his crutches. I still enjoyed his films visually...he set mood and tone with the best, but everything else felt forced.

I give all this backdrop to build to the review for The Last Airbender, an adaptation of a popular cartoon. While "A Film By M. Night Shyamalan" no longer thrills me as it once did, Airbender looked like a step back in the right direction. The trailers seemed like epic fantasy in the style of LOTR or Harry Potter.

The actual result is closer to an expensive direct to DVD production. Airbender throws us into the story immediately, following the adventures of Aang (Noah Ringer), a tattooed monk-like child with the power to "bend" air and use it combined with martial arts. He's the only surviving airbender in a world at the throes of the Fire Nation (guess what they bend) and hooks up with a young water-bender and her brother. They speak of destiny and Aang's apparent role as an "Avatar" who can learn to bend all of the elements and restore peace, etc... These details are thrown out as either random voiceovers or overwrought exposition.

What immediately becomes apparent in Airbender's flaws are rushed, gap-filled plotting and atrocious dialogue. I'm not a fan of the show on which it's based, but apparently this film covers the first season which lends itself to the scattershot story beats. What is supposed to be a globe-trotting adventure instead comes off as a highlight reel of a broader tale with the parts that would connect the dots left out.

In between set pieces and action sequences, the mostly youthful cast speaks in generic lines that might have been written by the actors themselves...they would sound forced on Saturday morning programming, too. Character development is practically non-existent, save perhaps for Aang's nemesis, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), a disgraced fire-bender seeking the Avatar to get back in his father's graces. Aang himself mostly looks confused and whiny. Shyamalan has taken flack for casting white actors in roles that were Asian in the cartoon, but really, he should be critiqued for picking wide-eyed kids that haven't even been through Acting 101.

What saves The Last Airbender from complete waste are the "bending" battle scenes. Watching these intricate dance/kung fu moves whipping water, ice, fire, air and earth about is fascinating and well choreographed, but it can't make up for the stale moments between. Planned as the first of a trilogy, I can't imagine the other two films will be coming soon to your local theatre. I can also safely say that M. Night Shyamalan will not get me in one again, either, no matter how many times he drunk dials me.

Rating: C-

Monday, June 28, 2010


It's been a month since the series finale of Lost and it's taken me at least that long to collect my thoughts on the series and that final episode (a second viewing didn't hurt either). I've also rewatched the entire series in recent months (and I give a huge thumbs up to seeing it on Blu-ray...those gorgeous island scenes are perfect for the format). If you've never seen the series and want to without foreknowledge...some spoilers ahead.

When Lost premiered in 2004 I didn't have high expectations. I'd seen the ads, heard some buzz and decided to check it out. The name J.J. Abrams didn't inspire as much excitement or "must-see" status. He'd produced the charming Felicity and thrilling but overly complicated Alias. Lost's pilot, directed by Abrams, thrilled immediately, easily one of the best produced, most exciting series openers ever. It had a theatrical feel, strong characters and enough mystery to beg any viewer to return in coming weeks. Producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof get all the credit in the world for continuing the excellence.

The first season of Lost was without a doubt the best thing on television at the time. There was an unseen monster in the jungle, terrifying "other" island inhabitants, 16 year old French distress calls and a mysterious hatch to who knows what. Lost was the show that you talked about every morning after with friends and colleagues. "Did you see...?" "What did that mean...?" "I think they're..." Theories abounded, questions piled on questions.

Always character driven at heart, the central conceit was a weekly focus on one of the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, following them in their island adventures while also flashing back to their lives before, up to and/or including their doomed flight. As the show twisted on, we started seeing connections in their lives, characters and places weaving in and out of their histories. Did it mean something? Were they all here for a reason?

Though there were many beloved characters, a handful became the core...led by Jack and Locke, whose reactions to island enigmas were often opposing and embodied by their own designations as men of science (Jack) and faith (Locke).

As season two unfolded, the intricacies of the island--its power and history--compounded. We learned more about the "Others" and a scientific exploration of the island by the Dharma Initiative. New characters entered the fold, including Desmond (one of my favorites), Henry Gale (later revealed to be on and off baddie Ben) and more crash survivors from the tail-section of the plane. Shocking deaths proved that no one was entirely safe on the island (or the series in general) and new wrinkles like the hatch and it's "push the button" urgency further added to the water cooler fodder.

Season 3 was a crucial turning point for the show in many ways. After a slow and not terribly exciting run of six episodes (much easier to digest on DVD, though), the show went on hiatus for several months before finishing the season in nearly consecutive installments. Fans were disgruntled (I admit my own frustration was at a peak)...answers were not forthcoming and for a series anchored by its characters, new additions like Nikki, Paolo and Juliet (who eventually would become a fave) weren't winning anyone over.

After the return from hiatus, the producers bore down and committed to a solid conclusion to the series after six seasons. Fueled by an endgame now in sight, the writers got down to business. Subsequent seasons would start in late winter but air without reruns and in compressed, heavily-plotted arcs. We had to wait longer, but the results were worth it. By the end of season three, Lost was as strong as ever and the season finale changed the show forever by altering the flashback format to present a surprising flashforward, unveiling a new revelation that at least some of our heroes had made it off the island. If I ever had any doubts about the show, they were completely erased when a scruffy, dour Jack screamed at a departing Kate outside of airport grounds "We have to go back!" I had to know how this happened.

Season four answered that question with more flash forwards revealing the identities of six survivors who escaped the island and the subsequent three years of their lives. How they escaped and how they told their story after the fact were now tied into intrigue surrounding multiple parties trying to protect, exploit and comprehend the island. This season might have been the best after the first.

By Lost's penultimate season, the producers had pulled the wool over the audience's eyes long enough. The series turned into full-on science fiction with a time travel plot that sent several regulars bouncing through several eras on the island before landing in the late 70s and the Dharma Initiative. On the flip side, the six who escaped were working to return to the island to save those they left behind. Paradoxes and mystical elements abound and little did we know that one of our favorite characters had been forever compromised. It was the lowest rated season of the series, but also one of the most brilliant and firmly built around pleasing the fans that had stuck it out at a time when audience attention was shifting back to more easily digested fair (I'm looking at you, episodic shows like CSI/NCIS/Law & Order)

Lost's final year was a bit uneven and has drawn mixed opinions for leaving a lot of the challenging aspects of the plot open to interpretation and drawing attention more to the characters, their connections and a new story-telling device dubbed a flash-sideways, depicting a reality where Oceanic 815 did not crash. But how did this world relate to that of the island, where a desperate attempt to reset their woes appeared to have failed? What could we make of the epic good vs. evil battle commencing with the sinister unnamed Man in Black, now wearing a familiar face? What was the island, why did it need protecting and who would do so?

Some of those questions linger still and answering them really isn't the point. As the final episode unfolds, we must face the fact that this show was never really about the hows and whys (though they were fun), but about the amazing people we grew to love, hate, sometimes both and developed all these emotional ties to. More importantly, the series itself turned out to be about those relationships as well...their desire to escape the island and reset what got them there betrayed the fact that they all found something better from the experience. The final fate of our castaways finds them in an ethereal other world of their own making, where they can all meet in the "afterlife" to re-establish their connections before "moving on." Admittedly, it seemed a bit out of the blue as a plot point a perhaps a little deus ex machina mumbo-jumbo, but the emotional resonance behind it made up for the conceit. I daresay no Lost fan wasn't openly weeping as our heroes and heroines sat in their faux church/airplane, interwoven with images of Jack stumbling through the jungle and that final shot of an eye closing (I called it about 10 minutes before but it was no less satisfying). Cue the fantastic, swelling cues of composer Michael Giacchino one last time and that final frame placard...LOST.

Lost was a series that probably couldn't have survived before or after its time. While densely plotted shows with sharply written characters aren't going away entirely, they may not reach the zeitgeist and mania that Lost did. How many other shows inspire such fanaticism? You could make a case for Star Trek but when has Trek ever needed complex blogs and deep knowledge of film, fiction, temporal physics and religious parable to analyze each and every episode? Lost was very much a product of the new instant media and internet age. It inspired fervent discussion in ways that some sports can't even aspire to. For much of the last two seasons, I held weekly court with coworkers seeking answers and help making sense of the latest episode. It was smart television that didn't talk down to its audience at any point. Rewatching the series, I chuckled at how many red herrings I mentally followed, how many theories I clung to and how many open-ended stories I may never understand.

I will miss Lost immensely, but I'm quite content with how and when it concluded. Few shows truly go out on top and even fewer reside in that place where I feel the need to continue singing their praises and helping make new fans.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toy Story 3

Considering how successful Pixar's films are, it's somewhat surprising they haven't tried more sequels. The fact that they keep putting out new material (and all of it good) is a testament to the creative powers within the animation studio.

Toy Story is the only exception so far (Cars and Monsters Inc. sequels are supposedly in the works)...their first feature spawned a follow-up in 1999 and now, 15 years after the original, Toy Story 3.

Our favorite toys, led by Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), are back with a new problem...their kid, Andy, isn't a kid anymore. He's preparing to head to college which means it's time to put away toys and move on. After nearly being thrown away, the gang decides that moving on to a daycare center might be the best thing for them. Sunnyside looks to be a toy paradise...where new kids replace any that outgrow the toys and everyone can live out their playtime dreams.

Of course, there's a twist to "paradise" which I won't divulge, but it kicks off a new adventure that tests the toys' ingenuity and speaks once again to the kid in all of us...the test of time on our once cherished playthings, the passing of tradition and the bonds of friendship when reality gets in the way.

The animation is typically top-notch...after watching the first two films last weekend, it's obvious how much the technology, talent and budgets have grown. I didn't see the film in 3D (sorry, but I'm not a fan), but I doubt I lost anything. Everything is still flawlessly rendered and beautiful. The script is equally funny, adult-pleasing clever and poignant.

The ending would strongly imply this is the final Toy Story (and it should be) and as a complete tale it's incredibly satisfying. I'll miss revisiting these characters, but I'm happy that every installment improved on the last and kept me smiling and enthralled. Pixar, you've got a friend a me.

Rating: A

Jonah Hex

The comic book film genre is still a potent money-making tool for Hollywood. The Dark Knight became one of the highest gross films in history two years ago, Iron Man 2 continued paving the way for the cohesive Marvel film-verse and Green Lantern will soon be a household superhero.

Still, for every blockbuster release and those that make comic fans proud that their nerdy addictions are becoming mainstream (or at least less taboo), there are plenty of "lesser" comic properties and failures proving that not every book combining pictures and word balloons should make the transition to the big screen.

Jonah Hex isn't exactly a well-known comic...the ongoing tales of a disfigured cowboy who can talk to the dead and often has supernatural adventures has it's fans (admittedly, I'm not one of them) and has been kicking around DC for nearly 40 years. I'd venture to say his relative anonymity won't be threatened by this film.

Okay, enough dancing around the point...Jonah Hex is a terrible film. After a brief telling of his origin (altered from the comic, I believe), we're quickly thrown into an adventure fueled by vengeance. Hex (Josh Brolin), a bounty hunter who can resurrect the dead by touching them, learns that the man (John Malkovich) who killed his family, scarred him and left him for dead is alive and planning a vicious attack during the country's centennial celebration. After a series of unbelievable gunfights, vision quests and pyrotechnics, victory is had and the country is safe.

This movie truly is that simple and stunningly uncomplicated. Fortunately, it's bare-minimum running time doesn't prolong the boredom with such things as plot, character development or structured story beats. I admired that the filmmakers allowed Brolin's face to be so scarred and Malkovich always plays a decent lunatic. Megan Fox has a glorified couple scene cameo as a prostitute who beds and assists Hex, but for you guys who think she might be worth the time to see this film, you'd be better off browsing through her photos on Google image search.

Rating: F

Monday, May 17, 2010

Iron Man 2

I apologize for being away so long. I'm making a renewed commitment to update more often and I'm going to do more than just write reviews. Occasionally, I'll spill some commentary on entertainment in general, maybe report some news and/or trends. But for now, let's get to a review of the biggest movie of the year thus far.

The first Iron Man was about as close to perfect for a comic book adaptation as you could ask for. Robert Downey, Jr. brought a believeable mix of cocky, comic and charismatic to the role of Tony Stark and what made the movie is it truly was about Stark, not Iron Man. Tony is a "hero" because it suits his own personality needs...he's the anti-Batman...wealth and the desire to use it for good without the guilt or parental issues (well, not in the "they're dead" sense, at least).

As the keystone of the new Marvel film universe, a sequel demanded some expansion to Stark's world and the fans demanded a bit more of the suit, effects and explosions than Downey's snark. Iron Man 2 does a nice job of fulfilling demands without sacrificing too much of the first film's character driven charm. "Too much," I emphasize, because something is lost, but not enough to complain.

As the sequel opens, it's been some time since Tony told the world he is Iron Man and turned superheroics into a bankable commodity (and a government issue, shades of the comic world's Civil War there). He's a rock star (heavy metal?) in the public eye and he's living it up.

Naturally, enemies are waiting in the woodwork and they take two forms in the film...Iron Man's battle ready nemesis, Whiplash, a Russian scientist with a grudge against the Stark family and the technology to match...and Justin Hammer, Stark's business rival willing to dance with devils to get ahead. Whiplash is played with sneering menace by Mickey Roarke (anyone else think he doesn't really "act" is roles like this?) and Sam Rockwell takes on Hammer with his oft repeated manic angry dork act.

Tony's biggest enemy is himself, though, and the movie mirrors some classic comic book storylines regarding his alcoholism (which really could have carried the movie by itself), vanity and the "iron wars" sparked by his creation. Add in some intrigue regarding his place in the bigger picture, symbolized by Nick Fury (ah, Sam Jackson, your cred just gets better and better) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, sexy but where's the accent?) from S.H.I.E.L.D., and IM2 certainly feels like a piece of a broader canvas. At times it's a bit too much (but not in the Spider-Man 3 sense) and the final act of the film turns into a pretty emotionless actioner, but all things considered, the sequel does nothing to detract from the first or future films in the franchise and Marvel U in general. Next year features Thor and Captain America films further paving the way for The Avengers where all of these characters will unite. I admit, I'm excited.

Rating: B+

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2010 Best Picture Nominees - Part II

Up - B+
Still not the best of Pixar's films, it is a heart-tugging adventure that gets underway quickly and never bores. Should win Best Animated Feature easily.

A Serious Man - B+
The Coen Brothers strike again! Quirky humor, an opening that seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the film and an ending that left most of the audience grumbling (I was laughing). Following the life of a put-upon Jewish man, his bizarre family and comically failing marriage, the laughs come easily and, like many Coen films, don't look for dramatic payoff.

The Hurt Locker - B
The military/war film formula hasn't altered much over the decades. The wars and technology change, but themes of alienation, brotherhood, finding oneself in life-or-death situations and soldiers unable to reaclimate don't. The Hurt Locker doesn't add anything new to the formula, but it's tense, well-directed and quickly paced.

An Education - A-
Probably the most surprising of the Best Picture nominees, this movie shouldn't be pigeon-holed with a simple English girl coming-of-age tag. It's remarkably witty, thanks to strong performances by fresh-faced Carey Mulligan and seasoned Alfred Molina. Mulligan plays a teenage girl compelled to choose between her intellect and the affections of a charming playboy (Peter Sarsgaard).

District 9 - A-
I admit to being shocked this was nominated (one of the perks of the expanded field of nominees), but the sci-fi premise is only the means to tell a gritty, action-filled allegory of apartheid and racial tension.

If you're watching the awards tonight, enjoy and if you want a drinking game, take a shot every time someone thanks their agent, a nominee obviously fakes a smile after losing and someone cracks a painful Avatar joke.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Best Picture Nominees, Part I

The first half of AMC Theatres' Best Picture showcase took place yesterday, affording die-hard movie fans and those eager to see all of the year's expanded nominees a chance to catch them in two Saturday marathons. I sat in on three yesterday and expect to do so again next week. I've seen three of the remaining four and chose to skip one entirely (call me a less-than-completely-dedicated critic).

Avatar - B+
I saw it in 3D this time, which was actually a pretty cool experience. I was also surprised how rewatchable it was. Still a little slow and occasionally painfully obvious, but it's a beautifully rendered and exciting popcorn cruncher.

Up in the Air - A-
Jason Reitman definitely has a flair for modern, sardonic comedy. Up in the Air may not be as charming as Juno or as dark as Thank You for Smoking but it's filled with wry wit and believable characters. George Clooney is typically rogueish as a corporate "hit man" who skips around the country firing people for a living. He lives a detached life built around airports, hotels and the pursuit of travel "rewards." More importantly, he's perfectly okay with this...until a young go-getter (Anna Kendrick) looking to reinvent his business and a beautiful fellow hard-traveler (Vera Farmiga) throw a few kinks into his perfected world.

Precious - B-
This is the kind of film that will make you despise the human race because you know somewhere it's probably happening. Sixteen year old Precious is abused in every facet of her life...physically and emotionally by her spiteful mother (nominated Mo'Nique) and classmates. She's also suffered sexual abuse by her absent father (a source of her mother's resentment), resulting in two pregnancies. All of this is unveiled in the first ten minutes or so...the rest of the film does give some hope as Precious finds some direction and kinship in an "alternative school," but the horrific circumstances of her world are unrelenting. It's bleak in its honesty and terrifyingly believable.

The Blind Side
In an effort not to be completely exhausted, I skipped the Sandra Bullock feel-gooder. I'm not casting any judgement on the film, but I think I can reasonably say that this movie would not be mentioned in the same sentence with Best Picture were it not for the expanded category.

Inglourious Basterds - B
(From my November 27th review) Quentin Taratino's latest piece of violent fiction is still distinctly his, but the premise and setting, following a troop of cutthroat (scalp?) WWII assassins and various Nazis, is new and helps elevate the film above quirk. In the end, it's a piece of revisionist fantasy, but a funny one filled with several moments of Tarantino's typical talking head dialogue pieces. Brad Pitt turns in another bizarre performance but Christoph Waltz turns in the best performance as a slick Nazi colonel.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best of 2009: Music

This list always takes me a while to compile and I'm never entirely satisfied with the results. I really should invest in iTunes or some other music service to give me a wider pool of music than just what I buy on CD or stumble across on the internet. (Though I doubt anyone would accuse me of being limited in my tastes.)

10. All I Ever Wanted - Kelly Clarkson
Still the best thing that ever came out of American Idol, Kelly followed up the rather somber My December with an album more in tune with her smash Breakaway. Kelly is the anti-Taylor Swift, an artist who accomplishes pop pervasiveness without the faux-"I'm a delicate flower that no one understands" schtick. She doesn't break any molds, but she makes music fun while making fun music.
Highlights: "My Life Would Suck Without You," Whyyawannabringmedown," "Tip of My Tongue"

9. It's Blitz! - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O. can count two big moments for the year, scoring the wonderful Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack and releasing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs third album, a set of tunes that wouldn't be out of place mixed in a dance club but still remain unmistakeably alt-rock.
Highlights: "Zero," "Heads Will Roll," "Runaway"

8. Only By the Night - Kings of Leon
Hardly new to the music scene, you'd be hard-pressed to find a handful of people that had ever heard of them before "Sex on Fire" stormed the airwaves. Night has the feeling of a sweaty, smoky club where couples make out in dark corners and the band drinks heavily before and during the set. It is the definition of a sexy album.
Highlights: "Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody," "Notion"

7. Life Starts Now - Three Days Grace
Of the hard rock acts releasing new albums last year, Three Days Grace' latest was the only one that didn't disappoint (I'm looking at you Breaking Benjamin and Alice in Chains). A little more anthemic than their first two discs, Life gets by on slick hooks and the increasingly recognizable voice of Adam Gontier.
Highlights: "Bitter Taste," Lost in You," "The Good Life"

6. Them Crooked Vultures
The Vultures are exactly what Queens of the Stone Age should have been after Songs for the Deaf. Lead singer Josh Homme teams up again with Dave Grohl and, in a stroke of supergroup genius, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones for an album filled with rock goodness. Rumor has it Paul McCartney wanted in on the act, too.
Highlights: "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I," Mind Eraser, No Chaser," "Dead End Friends," "Elephants"

5. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
Let's be honest here, Pearl Jam hasn't been particularly relevant or exciting since 1998's Yield. After a stream of socially conscious but ultimately unenthusiastic albums, it took a solo project from frontman Eddie Vedder, the Into the Air soundtrack, and the re-release of the album that started it all, Ten, to get the last of the great grunge acts back on track. Many a listener hearing this set in my car actually inquired as to their identity...Eddie's voice is unmistakable but the tone isn't. He sounds happy...almost filled with a newfound joy for life. After a nearly two decade career that's seen so many contemporaries fade away, Eddie has a reason or two to smile. Not that Backspacer is all shiny happy setlist, but as Eddie admits on standout track "Just Breathe" I'm a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love... We'll be lucky if this is simply the beginning of the next phase for a band that is definitely iconic.
Highlights: "Got Some," "The Fixer," "Just Breathe"

4. It's Not Me, It's You - Lily Allen
It was hard to imagine how sassy young Lily would top her sharp-tongued debut, Alright, Still, but she accomplished the mission by simply growing up a little and learning a few new ways to tell everyone off. Her sing-song wit is still there and you still get a bit shocked when she slips a sweetly accented "fuck you" into a song or makes no allusions about being disappointed at "spending ages giving head" with nothing in return. She tells it like it is and it turns what could be poppy tunes into frank confessionals about young adult life.
Highlights: "Everyone's At It," "The Fear," "Who'd Have Known," "Him"

3. The Resistance - Muse
It really was inevitable that Muse would release a rock opera. Resistance isn't the best Muse has offered, but it's certainly the most cohesive...a sometimes overly symbolic tale of fighting the powers that be that is really best heard in one sitting, singles be damned. They also unabashedly unleash their synth-loving, Queen-inspired power rock.
Highlights: "Uprising," "Undisclosed Desires," "United States of Eurasia," "MK Ultra"

1 (tie). 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
Let me confess something to you...I didn't think American Idiot was the earth-shattering album some made it out to be. It was filled with some solid tunes, but I felt it was a bit of a sell-out from Green Day's early punk days. Breakdown, on the other hand, takes what I think Idiot wanted to be to the next level...grand scale stadium rock and roll. Perhaps I enjoy it so much because the beats and diversity remind me of my beloved Oasis (who they blatantly ripped off on Idiot) fused with modern punk-pop.
Highlights: "21st Century Breakdown," "Know Your Enemy," "Before the Lobotomy," "Last Night on Earth," "21 Guns"

1 (tie). Swoon - Silversun Pickups
I always felt like Smashing Pumpkins never got gritty enough often enough for my tastes. I loved them, but every time I really got into a down and dirty song like "Zero," "Siva" or "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," they'd spin off into some nostalgic catchy tune like 1979 or Today (both great songs in their own right). Silversun Pickups never lets up on the grinding guitars and vocal drive. Throw in the lead singer's kick-ass scratchy, effeminate-in-a-rocking-way voice, some well-placed strings and you have a fine album.
Highlights: "The Royal We," "Growing Old is Getting Old," "It's Nice To Know You Work Alone," "Panic Switch"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Best of 2009: Movies

First, I have to follow up on my statement on the Avatar review that I wasn't sure it would even recover production costs. Yeah, my bad...but really, who knew? I thought all the nerds (I'm including myself in that group) would rush out to see it the first week or two and then it would quickly fizzle out, unable to attract the mass moviegoer. I guess the buzz, the allure of the special effects and the premium 3D pricing ($12 at my local theatre, I can only imagine the price in major cities) helped it rake in some money.

So, onward with my first top 10 list for 2009. As always, the usual caveat...not all films were necessarily released in '09. A couple '08 films I didn't catch until last year are also on the list.

10. Inglourious Basterds
Not the best Tarantino flick, but this WWII fantasy (trust me, the last half hour is pure revisionist history, but fun) features his trademark brilliant, tense dialogue punctuated by moments of bloody violence.

9. Avatar
A fairly predictable story takes a backseat to some state of the art special effects. Worth seeing in a theatre.

8. Up
Ah, Pixar...spectacular animation, soulful storytelling. I've yet to see one of their films I didn't enjoy...I hope I never do.

7. Slumdog Millionaire
The Best Picture winner is a sweet, coming of age, boy-gets-girl concoction wrapped up in some very modern and stylish film-making.

6. Watchmen
The slavish interpretation of the acclaimed graphic novel may be too faithful at times, but it's still a fascinating story of "heroism" in a darker world.

5. The Hangover
Easily the funniest movie in years, a very adult comedy for a modern audience.

4. Where the Wild Things Are
Ah, Spike Jonze...will you please make such wonderful movies out of all of our favorite childhood stories?

I know...this one really doesn't belong on a 2009 list, but I waited to watch this film for too long and it deserves some love. Pixar's most beautifully animated flick...I highly recommend watching it on Blu ray.

2. District 9
The most surprising film of the year was this under-the-radar sci-fi gem with apartheid parallels.

1. Star Trek
Take a franchise that really hasn't been relevant for a decade, put it in the hands of a hot uber-producer/director (J.J. Abrams), go back to the basics and perfectly cast it. Accessible to almost anyone.

There you have it...look for the Music list soon...I'm still re-visiting this year's CDs to make my decisions.