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Friday, January 29, 2010

Edge of Darkness (***)


"Everything's illegal in Massachusetts."


Just about everything Mel Gibson does in Edge of Darkness is illegal in Massachusetts. Older, craggier, and sadder, Mel plays a Boston police detective whose daughter, apple of his eye though they haven't seen eye to eye in years, is shotgunned down at his doorstep. Mel swears revenge, and gets it. Sounds like a simple story, like Taken, but unlike Liam Neeson's relatively straightforward "murder half of the Paris underworld to find my kidnapped daughter" actioner, Edge of Darkness plunges Mel into a labyrinthine investigation involving a shadowy corporation called Northmoor, which may or may not be supplying nuclear weapons to enemy nations (it does) with US Government complicity (it is), and who may or may not have been responsible for the execution of Mel's daughter and her tree-hugging hippie "terrorist" chums (they are). Edge of Darkness doesn't play like a taut, wind-up toy; Mel's bereaved cop pursues his investigation at a somber pace, driving around Boston and Western Massachusetts trying to track down his daughter's friends and associates while staving off a psychotic breakdown. To the filmmakers' credit, Mel's movements around the Boston area mostly make logistical sense, though the location of Northmoor headquarters seems to shift from Western Mass. to the North Shore halfway through the movie. The languid pace of Mel's detective work is rocked at regular intervals by stunningly shift, knock-you-out-of-your-chair, brutal bursts of bloody violence. My favorite ultraviolent moment was Mel staring down a car about to run him over and emptying his beretta until the driver is dead and the car careens into a river. When Mel pays a visit to Danny Huston, the "insane" head of Northmoor, to find out more about what his daughter did for a living, he finds Northmoor headquarters to be a vast, multi-acre complex "leased from the US Government" that even a James Bond villain would think is much too sprawling.  At this point, it becomes clear that whatever Northmoor and the US Government agents, including Ray Winstone, who liaison with Huston are up to, it's too big for Mel's weary Boston cop to take on. I did enjoy how the G-Men scolded Huston for his methods of disposing of his enemies (radioactive gas and poison milk) and the headaches he creates by acting like a diabolical comic book super villain.  The filmmakers also seemed to understand that the plot was too much for a lone cop wanting someone to pay for his daughter's murder to handle. (Maybe if Danny Glover were there too, but he's nowhere to be found, sadly. No way Murtaugh would sell his partner out like Mel's friend does here.)  Fortunately, Edge of Darkness follows the classic Mel Gibson action playbook of how to handle bad guys: "No way you live." When Mel's done with the heavies, Winstone even picks up Mel's slack and keeps the violence coming, blowing away all of the movie's loose ends. 

Smallville 9x10 - "Disciple"


Special DC Universe guest stars:

The Smallville press release touted the Dark Archer as a DC Comics character, but I've never heard of him. Then again, I'm not up on Green Arrow continuity, certainly not stuff that's been going on with him this last decade.

It's been weeks and weeks but Smallville's finally back with Lois and Clark sucking face, counting their PDAs, and Clark bailing on her whenever he Superhears a cry for help.

The Dark Archer, complete with comic book Green Arrow's facial hair but looking a lot like the Comedian from Watchmen otherwise, shoots Lois with an arrow, then goes after Chloe, and finally kidnaps Speedy.

We learn that Oliver was in some form of archer cult, with rules reminiscent of the Sith Lords. The Dark Archer (they said his name several times - was it Vortigen? No idea how to spell it) lives by the code "No Lovers, No Allies, No Disciples", but according to their wacky rules, when an archer is feelin' like he ain't the archer he used to be, his disciple's supposed to end his life. (Darth Sidious would probably crack up at that rule.) So Dark Archer came to Metropolis and messed with Oliver's life to get Oliver to end his. Huh?

Anyway, Oliver didn't kill Dark Archer; he just shot him in the shoulder. The funny thing is Clark flung himself at Superspeed in the way of the three arrows meant for Speedy that Oliver decided to take, but Clark did nothing to stop the arrow Oliver shot back at Dark Archer. Then Oliver pointed out after the fact that he aimed for the shoulder and it wasn't a kill shot. It seemed like Clark was surprised to hear it. Did Clark not block Oliver's arrow on purpose so he'd be surprised how it would turn out - and so he could yell at Oliver about "NO KILLING!" again?

Poor Speedy got caught in the middle of her mentor and employer's weird cult past. First Oliver almost strangled her after she tried to get the drop on him in sparring, then Oliver yells at her and tells her to get lost, then she gets kidnapped and brought to a hedge maze in Coast City by Dark Archer. I forgot she didn't know Oliver was Green Arrow, but she does now. Is she interested in archery? Seemed like Oliver was teaching her Filipino stick fighting. I thought they were suddenly writing Speedy off the show, but she looks like she's gonna stick around some more. Good. I like Speedy.

Meanwhile, Zod still wants his powers, wants Clark to help the Kandorians to get their powers, and refuses to drop this matter. Zod decides to introduce himself to Lois in the hospital and drop off a medallion with the symbol of Rao. At first Lois seemed skeptical of Zod, but much later, Lois acted like she thought Zod was all right and was surprised Clark was suspicious of Zod.

Then we find out that there's a Book of Rao Jor-El hid on Earth and Zod needs it to complete the Solar Tower. Then we see the Tower is pretty much built. That was pretty damn fast.

Oh, Chloe said that after Oliver got off the island he was marooned on in his backstory, he disappeared "for like a year" and presumably joined the archer cult. But later on Oliver says the Dark Archer "raised him like a son". Raised him in a year? I forget how old Oliver was when he was on the island according to Smallville continuity. Didn't he meet Tess there, or am I mixing backstories? Times like these I wish I had Smallville on Blu-ray.

Next week, at long last, Smallville: Absolute Justice! Absolutely.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Soloist (**1/2)


Robert Downey Jr. is on the roll of his career but in between Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes is The Soloist. Based on a true story, Downey plays an LA Times columnist who encounters Jamie Foxx, a mentally ill homeless man who was once a musical prodigy.  Along with discovering Foxx's life story and explaining how he flunked out of Julliard and ended up on the streets of LA, The Soloist also tries to shed some light on the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles. Much of the story takes place in a slum area reminiscent of "Hamsterdam" in season 3 of The Wire. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), The Soloist never seems clear about  what we're supposed to feel about the homeless, in general, and Foxx, specifically, besides basic pity.  The film tries to explain Foxx's schizophrenia but that somehow made Foxx's character less interesting. The flashbacks involving how Foxx fell in love with music as a boy were more compelling than the adult Foxx's plight. Downey, meanwhile, goes through a character arc where, during a quiet third act moment with his long-suffering editor and former lover Catherine Keener, he literally spells out what his character learns during the movie.  He then finds Foxx and spells it all out to him personally. One can tell everyone in The Soloist was fishing for Oscars, but they had a faulty rod.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Into the Wild (***)


Into the Wild is a good movie. The direction by Sean Penn, the cinematography, the screenplay, the music by Pearl Jam, and the performances by Emile Hirsch, Jenna Malone, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook, and Kristen Stewart are all very fine. The problem with Into the Wild is that it's a good movie about a complete idiot. Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who abandoned society because he hates his parents to backpack across America, eventually ending up in Alaska after a year and a half.  Along the way he has some amazing adventures, sees breathtaking natural wonders, and meets both interesting and not-very-interesting hippies, tramps, and hobos, most of whom try to talk some sense into him about his life's ambition. Instead of listening to any of them, or any form of common sense, McCandless doggedly pursues this romantic idea he has of living in the wild as an FU to society. He doesn't last very long and in the end F's himself. Despite the very best efforts of the filmmakers to make McCandless' journey deep, meaningful and inspirational, this is a story of a young man throwing away his life. He "learns truths" along the way, the most "profound" of which dawns on him as he starves to death after eating poison berries. Fat lot of good any of those truths do him dead in a bus in the middle of Alaska. It's a damn shame.

Quarantine (**)



The most upsetting part about Quarantine is that it started off well. A comely reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and The World's Most Dedicated Camera Man (Steve Harris) are sent to do a piece on a local LA fire department, interview the fire fighters, and tag along as they're sent out on a call.  There's some expected sexual flirtation between the reporter and the firefighters, mainly Jay Hernandez, and the behind the scenes at a fire station was interesting. It's a very good first act, a nice set up that could have gone into any manner of interesting directions. Instead, they get called into an apartment building full of zombies. The denizens of the apartment building, comprised of familiar faces and character actors from lots of different movies and TV shows, are all infected by some mutated form of rabies that turn them into zombies. Rabies! Before long, everyone is quarantined into the apartment building and are left to fend for themselves as everyone infected with the super rabies get zombified. To their credit, the actors heroically work their asses off to sell the terror. Meanwhile the movie gets bleaker and more pointless as it continues.  The single camera verite-style cinematography, done well at first, goes beyond Cloverfield-level ludicrousness. Camera man Harris keeps the camera running long past the point of believability. As the zombies keep popping in and out of frame, Harris still makes sure to get a close up of each one as he's running for his life in terror. Quarantine hammered home its most important lesson: Even if zombies are chasing you up the stairs and into smaller and smaller spaces, don't drop the camera. Whatever you do - Do not drop the fucking camera! Once it's dropped, it's all over.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Free Bird

"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get."

Last night, Conan O'Brien ended his all-too-brief stint on The Tonight Show with a joyous celebration. It was a wonderful show. Honest, real, heartfelt, surprising, and of course, very, very funny. It was amazing television, and an amazing celebration of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. It marked both an end that came much too soon to Conan's era of The Tonight Show and an end to a career Conan had with NBC that lasted over twenty years.

How Conan chose to go out - having the time of his life performing "Free Bird" on guitar with Will Farrell, Billy Gibbons, Beck, Max Weinberg, and friends - is something I'll probably never forget.  The performance, and indeed, his entire final show, including guests Tom Hanks (the man who coined "Coco"), Steve Carell, Neil Young, and his video package of moments from the last seven months set to Cheap Trick's "Surrender," was some of the best television I've ever seen.

When Conan briefly put comedy aside and spoke his classy, heartfelt final words to the audience, it really stuck. Thanking NBC for the last 20 years and his fans for their outpouring of support over the last two weeks, Conan urged young people to not be cynical, work hard, and be kind.  

Conan hosting The Tonight Show infused the venerable franchise with youth, vitality, innovation, silliness, and a sense of potential for the future.  On a personal note, though it was only for seven months, it meant a great deal to me to have a Tonight Show that I could call my own; one that spoke to the generation I'm a part of the way Johnny Carson symbolized his generation and David Letterman did the generation that followed. I'm glad I can say I watched every episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien without fail. Conan O'Brien is my Johnny Carson.

Conan will be all right. Can't wait for his return and to join him in once again having a lot of fun on television.

His closing remarks on The Tonight Show:

Before we end this rodeo, a few things need to be said. There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can’t say about NBC.  To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: between my time at Saturday Night Live, the Late Night show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show, I have worked with NBC for over 20 years.  Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we’re going to go our separate ways.  But this company has been my home for most of my adult life.  I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.

Walking away from The Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world, I absolutely love doing it, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium. But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun.

And finally, I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational.

To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.  As proof, let’s make an amazing thing happen right now.

"To Be Continued..."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Parks and Recreation 2x14 - "Leslie's House"

I never realized we'd never seen Leslie's house until this episode. For some reason, when she was planning her dinner party, I just assumed it would take place in Ann's house.

I get impatient during episodes now waiting for April to visit Andy at the shoeshine place. April's smooth winning Andy back from her "betrayment" of him was excellent. (I also liked her facial mocking of Leslie's attempt at speaking Spanish.)

I miss Officer Dave, but Justin was a really good choice of a character 180 degrees from Dave as a Leslie love interest.

I also loved the Leslie logic of getting a government form that proves her party was a success. And the metaphor of Justin being a white stallion and Tom being a little brown pony. And Ron pressuring Leslie into five courses and then bringing deviled eggs.

You know who would have been a really interesting party guest? Councilman Dexhart.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Office 6x13 - "The Banker"

I can't believe coming off a six week absence, the first new Office of 2010 is a clip show.

Although it was cool to see the clips, it highlighted how glamorous everyone looks now compared to when the series started. Some of that has to do with the HD video used today and how the sets are lit now, but yeah, everyone looks like the best version of themselves as opposed to looking downtrodden and sullen like in the first two seasons.

Best line was Toby's "I don't want to lie but I don't want to tell the truth."

If anything, I wish Computron becomes a cast regular. I loved Michael arguing with Computron.

The Employee of the Month sign in the parking lot... was that always there or did Michael make himself the Employee of the Month for January, 2010 without David Wallace's corporate oversight to keep the EOTM program on the up and up?

Community 1x14 - "Interpretive Dance"

Pairing up Britta and Troy in a tap dance class wouldn't have been my first preference but it turned out pretty good

Troy: "I've spent a lot of money on tearaway clothes."

Jeff's girlfriend the teacher does nothing for me, but their relationship set up awesome scenes with Dean Pelton. The Dean is a fantastic supporting character. Has anyone noticed or cared that Professor Duncan hasn't been seen since Britta cheated in Spanish 101?

Pierce cracking wise in the audience was pretty much what I would think (but wouldn't vocalize) in that same situation.

Britta realizing she likes Jeff < Tom discovering he loves his wife on Parks and Rec. The difference? RON SWANSON isn't there waiting to steal Britta away.

I managed to get through this entire thing without mentioning Alison Brie. Oh, but how I want to rave about her.

Tonight, Tonight

It was a good ride while it lasted.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Book of Eli (***)


Book 'Em, Denzel


Do you believe in Denzel? I mean, do you believe in Denzel? I'll ask you again: Do you believe in Denzel? The Book of Eli is preposterous, ridiculous, absurd. Drawing upon the same idea as Cormac McCarthy's The Road - raggedy humans wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland of America hoping for salvation - The Book of Eli mixes in heaping helpings of Fallout 3 and Sunday school. The Road is a better, more realistic movie, but it's not entertaining. The Book of Eli is entertaining - if you Believe in Denzel. I believe in Denzel, and a guilty pleasure good time was delivered unto me. Denzel plays a holy man wandering "west" with the most precious book on what's left of Earth: a King James Bible. Denzel will (and does) kill to protect it. Gary Oldman will (and does) kill to possess it. Oldman, having a ball playing the heavy, has reached an age where he no longer needs make up to look like the old Dracula from Bram Stoker's Dracula. When Denzel wanders into the town Oldman rules, Oldman puts him up for the night and even whores out Mila Kunis to him. But Denzel's all naw, it ain't even like that, and she ends up being his loyal sidekick on the road. Ray Stevenson plays Oldman's top henchman who wants Kunis for himself, and who can blame him? She's the hottest little piece of ass in the burnt out, sepia-toned cinder that used to be America. Denzel never once said "My man!" or did his trademark "kiss two fingers and press them at the camera", but he did other crazy shit to compensate. I counted at least four points in The Book of Eli that left me slack-jawed: The opening scene where Denzel kills a cat for dinner (Alf loved it!), the first time Denzel unleashes his awesome fighting prowess and hacked a band of wastelanders to pieces, Denzel's ability to take a bullet in the gut and keep going and going, and the ending where we find out the Bible is inside Denzel, figuratively. The Book of Eli has plot holes you could drive a Mad Max-style armored truck through and even shamelessly sets up a sequel. Sorry, Mila, I doubt The Book of Solara is gonna happen.

Parks and Recreation 2x13 - "The Set Up"


"In eight years, I've saved the taxpayers over 150 grand. Now, I need the taxpayers' money to save me from the taxpayers."

Tom interviewing the candidates for Ron's assistant could have gone on even longer and I wouldn't have complained. It was obvious April would get the job, but the way they got there was awesome.

Is it me or could both Mark and Justin play Vulcans if the new Star Trek needed some guys for Sylar Spock to hang out with? Or maybe they could be the grown up version of the kids who bullied young Spock.

Andy was amazing! "You have to choose, either me or Justin." "Wait, I'm dating Mark!" "That close!"

Loved April's explanation for coming in late and her glee at Anne doing something wrong. April could replace Britta in that fantasy Buddy had on Community. By could, I mean should. (Incidentally, Chris Pratt said on Conan last week he's married to Anna Faris in real life. Good for him!)

Oh yeah, Will Arnett guest starred too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Community 1x13 - "Investigative Journalism"

Oh man, did I miss this show. I missed Annie "Hotlips" Edison (who's very young so we try not to sexualize her). I missed Troy and Abed. I missed Britta and her "old" breasts. I missed it all.

They all came roaring back for second semester without missing a beat, plus with Buddy, who they made me feel bad for excluding even though I wouldn't have wanted him around either.

The fakeout of Senor Chang's "death" actually fooled me for a second. The bit that made me laugh out loudest was the sight gag of Piece with the powdered sugar all over his face from Buddy's lemon squares.

The M*A*S*H fade out at the end was awesome, as was the Owen Wilson cameo with Star Burns in the "cool group." Cool they may be, but they don't have Annie "Hotlips" Edison.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'm With Coco

Seven fabulous months of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien > Seventeen years and counting of Jay Leno.

Go fuck yourselves, Leno and NBC.


My Facebook status as of 5:41pm ET yesterday:

John Orquiola is thrilled to hear Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and Kirsten Dunst were all booted off of Spider-Man 4. That franchise needed a total reboot after 3. My Spider-Sense is tingling.

I'm still excited. I like this reboot idea, and the potential for a new vision for Spider-Man. That status update was a bit rough on Sam Raimi and his actors, though, so let me spin some praise their way.

To me, for this past decade, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight are two sides of the same coin, the finest examples of what two kinds of comic book superhero movies could be. Spider-Man 2 crystalized what I think a Spider-Man movie ought to be, straight from my memories of being 10 and reading the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics collected that my dad got me. Spider-Man 2 was a tough act to follow (see Spider-Man 3).

Furthermore, Raimi crafted some unforgettable moments in his Spider-Man trilogy. I'm talkin' 'bout the upside-down kiss between Spidey and Mary Jane in the alley in the rain (and the bouncing boobies afterwards.)  The battle on the train between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus in 2.  And let's not forget all that dancing in 3. (I'd love to, but we'll never forget the dancing.)

Raimi should also be praised for eschewing "big name" stunt casting and enlisting some of our finest actors to play Spider-Man villains.  Willem Dafoe as The Green Goblin. Alfred Molina (my personal favorite choice) as Dr. Octopus. Thomas Hayden Church as The Sandman. Macho Man Randy Savage as Bonesaw McGraw ("Bonesaw's reeeeaaaddyyyy!"). All excellent, out-of-the-box picks that paid dividends.

Did Sam Raimi still have gas in the tank to make a great swansong in Spider-Man 4? Probably. I hear he was motivated to go out strong after 3's poor critical and audience reception (not that 3 didn't rake in a ton of money anyway despite most people's complaints). My understanding of the situation is that Raimi told Sony he couldn't make the production schedule for a 2012 release; nor was Sony totally on board with Raimi's ideas for Spider-Man 4.

Despite his mostly successful (and when he was successful, he was wildly successful) track record and what he did not just for the Spider-Man franchise but for setting the general "rules" and expectations by audiences for superhero movies this past decade, I personally don't believe Sam Raimi is the only person capable of directing a Spider-Man movie.

And while Tobey Maguire did an amazing (pun intended) job of being the Peter Parker for a generation, I also don't think he's the only person to play that role. (Hell, he's getting pretty old to play Peter Parker anyway. Peter should be a teenager or at least a young man. Maguire is in his 30's and is starting to show his age.)

Surely there are some talented directors out there who could pick up where Raimi left off and bring a new vision and energy to Spidey. I hesitate to name names, but looking at the Batman franchise, 6 years ago who could have guessed what Christopher Nolan could do with Batman?

It all depends on who Sony hires to direct and star. Hopefully, it will be someone good - someone extremely talented with a vision and passion for Spider-Man to equal Raimi's - and that the filmmakers aim to maintain the quality Raimi brought - because it's the quality of the Spider-Man movies that brought audiences to theaters in droves.

If they hire shitty people to make shitty Spider-Man movies, then I'll be pissed, and Sony will reveal themselves to be total idiots. But until then, I see no reason to not be optimistic for a new cinematic vision for Spider-Man.

(Oh, none of this is to say I don't have a healthy distrust for Sony and their ability to screw up a reboot. But unless they actually do screw the reboot up, I'm hoping for the best...)

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (***)


Heath Ledger's final film is an often wondrous, always totally bizarre romp through the mindscape of Terry Gilliam. The bewildering narrative, involving immortal Christopher Plummer wagering with the Devil (Tom Waits, whose mere presence got "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" stuck in my head), a traveling carny show, and a mysterious stranger who knows how to trick his way out of a hangman's noose, is pretty much besides the point.  Follow it if you dare; it's better to just go along for the ride. Dr. Parnassus is primarily a showcase for the incredible production design and the sheer strangeness of what's on the screen. Gilliam directs the actors to physically go for broke in every take; I've never seen so much manic energy and flailing limbs in every shot.  Due to Ledger's untimely death, several sequences taking place in the dreamworld of the Imaginarium were incomplete. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law all took turns pinch-hitting for Ledger.  I appreciated the stark realities of the pack of carnies traveling around London scrounging for money and meals, sometimes more than the fanciful whimsy on display.  Lily Cole is fetching as Parnassus' porcelain doll-esque daughter Valentina and Verne Troyer delivers some amusing meta-dialogue as Plummer's lifelong Jiminy Crickett. Terry Gilliam has a bigger imaginarium than you.

The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special! In 3D! On Ice!

What a terrific documentary on The Simpsons by Morgan Spurlock! Not at all what I was expecting, but turned out much better than what I was expecting - some sort of clip-filled, generic self-congratulatory tribute. This was a wonderful and unique look at the impact and legacy of the greatest television show in history.

Spurlock did a superb job capturing an overview of the cultural/global impact and popularity of The Simpsons while touching on some of its controversies and the criticisms towards it.

Of course, Matt Groening was right there happily yakking away about his creation, but it was cool how Spurlock showed all the street names in Portland, Oregon he took the names of the characters like Reverend Lovejoy, Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Sideshow Bob Terwilliger from.

It was also nice (wait, is "nice", the word I want? They're not exactly handsome, as expected) to put faces to Simpsons writers like David Mirkin, Sam (the first showrunner booted off the show but retaining executive producer credit and earning millions for life) Simon, and Mike Scully. Of course, Conan O'Brien had to be interviewed and I'm glad he participated. (Conan couldn't have known then how tempted he might be today to accept that job writing for Mr. Burns for $1, the way NBC is dicking him around). And there must be a few thoughts from "Hollywood Legend" James L. Brooks, of course.

I also enjoyed hearing from Sting, representing the hordes of guest voices over the years. "The Simpsons made my career..." Hugh Hefner was also interviewed for the special, boasting about Marge on the cover of Playboy. How many copies does Moe own? ("There's nothing sexier than still pictures of naked women in a magazine!") Moby's love and remixes of the "Mr. Plow" song were fun.

I'm a pretty huge Simpsons fan, but tattooing my entire torso with he Simpsons characters is one level of fanaticism I won't ever reach. Still, if I ever did get a Simpsons-related tattoo, the Stonecutters symbol the French girl has would be my choice.

I hope the homes of The Simpsons collectors, especially the one in England, never burn down. They'd probably kill themselves.

Spurlock in Brazil, talking to Brazilians about why they're still mad at the Brazil episode, while poking fun at them, was a brilliant move. That was one fashionable speedo Spurlock wore in Copacabana Beach. There should have been monkey gangs and rats painted to look like Skittles chasing him.

The Comic-Con "Simpsons Idol" footage showed that one guy who did Homer's voice so perfectly, if they replaced Dan Castellaneta with him, we'd probably never notice. Castellaneta must have shit his pants when he saw that guy.

The Simpsons actually watching the special and complaining that it was not in 3D, nor was there ice skating, was pretty good.

Really, my only criticism is that Spurlock's documentary should have been twice as long and ought to have been in theaters. But, as Marge said a couple of seasons ago, "No more Simpsons Movies! One was enough!"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Race to Witch Mountain (**)


Finally, The Rock HAS COME BACK to Witch Mountain! Race to Witch Mountain is a misnomer - no one is actually racing to Witch Mountain. The Rock plays a Las Vegas cab driver who finds two superpowered alien kids in his back seat. They're here to save the world, or something, and they're being chased by an alien assassin and government agent Gaius Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds from Rome). The Rock and Carla Gugino eventually get the kids to Witch Mountain, where their spaceship is being held by the government, but it's not really a race. The Rock and Gugino affably mail it in for a couple of fat Disney paychecks. Spent the whole movie waiting for a race to Witch Mountain. I'm still waiting to see that race.*

* defines "race" as:
a contest of speed, as in running, riding, driving, or sailing.
races, a series of races, usually of horses or dogs, run at a set time over a regular course: They spent a day at the races.
any contest or competition, esp. to achieve superiority: the arms race; the presidential race.
urgent need, responsibility, effort, etc., as when time is short or a solution is imperative: the race to find an effective vaccine.
onward movement; an onward or regular course.
the course of time.
the course of life or a part of life.

All right, so if we want to get technical, the movie may be referred to as Urgent Need, Responsibility, or Effort for Onward Movement to Witch Mountain.

The Young Victoria (**1/2)



The Young Victoria tells of how Emily Blunt became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1837 and how she met the love of her life Prince Albert.  Just call it Victoria Begins. Concerned primarily with the political intrigue of various parties positioning themselves to gain the most advantage when the 18 year old Victoria ascends to the throne, what's missing from The Young Victoria is any real tension. Victoria begins as a sheltered princess under the domineering hold of her mother the Duchess (Miranda Richardson) and her consort Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong, looking like he wants to gut Blunt with a saber and leave clues for Sherlock Holmes to solve), who want her to sign away her powers to their regency. From far away Belgium, King Leopold plots to send his nephew Albert to England to seduce Victoria.  Meanwhile, Victoria's favor and trust is gained by Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), who politics his way into Buckingham Palace as her chief adviser.  It all plays in a very stately, staid manner, with almost everything taking place in exteriors and interiors of royal palace grounds. There's a love story between Victoria and Albert which is the heart of the picture, but that involves her sending him back to Belgium for most of the movie and writing him letter after letter about how awesome Bettany is before Albert gets sick of it and comes back to England. Then he marries her, they have one fight, he saves her life from an assassin, and then the movie's over. All of Victoria's adversaries seem to just disappear into other rooms of the palace, while Bettany just suddenly stops scheming and has a change of heart.  The most interesting stuff of Victoria and Albert's story ends up on the title cards before the end credits, describing what Victoria and Albert did together after the events of the movie. Blunt has occasional moments of radiance, but one can't shake the feeling the real Queen Victoria was more interesting than the movie makes her out to be. Jim Broadbent made for an amusingly cantankerous drunk King William in a couple of scenes. The look on Meryl Streep's face when her former assistant is crowned Queen of England would have been priceless.