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Friday, April 30, 2010

Back of the Hand

"You watch your mouth before I show you the back of my hand!" - Tracy Jordan
Maybe I should change the name of this blog.

Community 1x21 - "The Art of Discourse"

The turnaround on Britta the last oh, four to six episodes or so, has been nice. They've done a good job of making Britta likable. I think "bagel" and her reaction to being mocked had a lot to do with it. Taking the piss out of Britta is funny but also softens her up considerably.

Annie's still dating Vaughn? I don't mind as long as I don't have to see it.

Community's patented "Reaction Shots from Around the Table" is an incredible series of visual gags they keep finding new ways to spin on. I especially liked everyone mocking Annie's gasps.

I was dying at that goat sitting in Pierce's place. The goat's reaction shots were at least as good as Chevy Chase's.

Hearty laugh from me when Pierce walked by Shirley and sat next to an apologized to a different black lady. "Of course."

"You invited me to a 'pool party' that turned out to be a baptism!"
"Well, excuse me for trying to sneak you into Heaven!"

Who is the hottest girl in Greendale Abed made out with if it's not Annie or Britta?

I hate teenagers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Losers


Don't Stop Believin'! Hold On To This Feelin'!


With the objective of stealing The A-Team's thunder in its sights, The Losers arrives with gun barrels fully loaded in comic book superhero and nerd cred. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian from Watchmen), Chris Evans (The Human Torch from Fantastic Four and the man chosen to be The First Avenger: Captain America), and Zoe Saldana (Uhura from Star Trek) topline The Losers, which is based on a DC/Vertigo comic few have read, which in turn was based on DC Comics World War II characters even fewer have ever heard of (I'm one of those few. I'm cool). The Losers also stars Idris Elba from The Wire; the status of whether or not you watch The Wire instantly determines your coolness. A well-armed, well-trained, and oddly goofy special forces team, the Losers open the picture being abandoned and betrayed by Max (Jason Patric), their shadowy CIA handler, in Bolivia after a mission goes sideways - best I could follow, the Losers were supposed to be killed but instead 25 children the Losers rescued rode the midnight train to slab city. Saldana mysteriously appears in the Losers' lives, often in her underwear. She seduces Morgan with acrobatic, violent sex that literally burns the house down, and promises to finance their campaign to return to the United States and kill Max for her. Crazy ass comic booky action and explosions commence. The Losers was co-written by Peter Berg, who last directed Hancock, and like Hancock, The Losers feels frothy, a little light on necessary substance (only Evans and Columbus Short, the Losers' wheelman ("Legless Pooch" - in-joke), get backstories about their families), and shamelessly sets up a sequel. Evans is a standout - he's the funniest, most likeable guy in the movie. Short and Evans do all of the comedic heavy lifting. But if anyone upstages Evans, it's Jason Patric, playing a bizarre, slithery villain with dreams of making a lot of money from mass destruction. There are a couple of switcheroos and trademark changes of heart that aren't all that surprising, but the bottom line is The Losers is a lot of fun. I was most fascinated by two things: the worship shown to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", and by the white shirt Jeffrey Dean Morgan wore the entire movie. Did he constantly launder that shirt when it got soaked in blood and grime or did he have a secret stack of white shirts that always traveled with him?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lost 6x13 - "The Last Recruit"

I don't think I've ever been more impressed with Jack than when he jumped off that boat. His transformation is complete. He's practically an all-new character. Jack's been a source of frustration and disappointment for six years. You always wanted to think the best of him but we too often saw the worst. His character has been redeemed.

It's pretty satisfying to see Jack completely changed. He takes orders, he's calm, he's thoughtful. He sincerely apologized for getting Juliet stuck in V. He has faith. And he sure does love the Island - well, maybe not, but he believes in it. If only the late John Locke could see Jack now; he'd smile that squinty-eyed crooked smile of his.

Is Jack with Smoke Locke like Smoke Locke thinks? Maybe after Jack recovers from being exploded on the beach, he might beg to differ.

"You can always turn someone back from the Dark Side. Anakin?"
"Who the hell's Anakin?!"

Many's the time I wish we never found out the hell Anakin is. Has living on the Island for the confusing and contradictory amount of time he has obliterated Sawyer's pop culture knowledge? He was Mr. Nickname. He should know who Anakin is. He knew that Lapidus looks like he stepped off the set of a Burt Reynolds movie. (Maybe Sawyer's reference points are still stuck in the 70's).

They could have called this episode "Everybody Betrays Locke". The Candidates couldn't wait to bail on Smoke Locke and take off on their plan B. Sayid probably even betrayed Smoke Locke and lied about offing Desmond in the well. Where was Sayid at the end when the Widmore missiles blew up all of those Others? Did Sayid follow Locke back to the beach?

The episode started out with more straight up answers: "Were you, Smoke Monster, inhabiting Christian's dead body?" "Yes." "Why?" "So Jack could find water." Wow. The Smoke Monster should have said, "All I've ever wanted to do, Jack, is just tell you all these answers to your questions up front. It just didn't work out that way."

I really thought for a second Kate's attempt to reason with Claire would get her if not killed, then shot. I don't think Kate's been injured on the show. She hasn't been shot or stabbed or stepped in a bear trap. She's been fucked in a bear cage... I'm digressing. I was hoping while they were eating the canned goods in the galley of the boat, someone would have encouraged Claire to use the bathroom sink and wash her hair or something.

Kind of out of the blue, because with all the other stuff going on it sneaked in under the radar a bit, we got the Jin and Sun Island reunion we've waited two seasons for. "Looks like someone got her voice back." Frank Lapidus Spells Things Out.

Meanwhile, in the sideways universe, Sun recognized Locke. Did she just recognize him from Oceanic 815 or was there a cross-reality realization? Jack recognized Locke too from their meeting at the airport. Dr. Linus found out Locke's first name, and it's a manly name like John and not a girlie name like Leslie (Arzt).

Jack and Claire had family reunions in both realities. I was impressed by how Jack's moppet son walked exactly like he does when they were walking down the hospital corridor on the way to Jack's surgery. Also, Claire has been pretty well established to be super-duper trusting. She got in the cab with Kate after Kate cab-jacked her at the airport, and she trusted Desmond pretty quickly before going into the law firm to meet the cleans-up-nicely corporate hot Ilana. (KABLAMMO!)

Detective James Ford and Kate have a lot of fun potential in the sideways universe. He's the scruffy cop with a mysterious secret, she's the wanted, sexy fugitive with a heart of gold. And Miles makes for a great third wheel. It's a shame the sideways universe won't continue as its own show. I liked how Miles and Jimmy tripped up Sayid and caught him so handily.

Incidentally, Sayid has been a hired assassin for Ben Linus and a zombie (would be) assassin for Smoke Locke. He has four episodes left to find a way to become an assassin for Charles Widmore and complete the Lost Super Villain trifecta.

So whatever happened with Richard, Ben, and Miles' plot to blow up that plane? Are they already on Hydra Island? I guess we'll soon find out.

Why Would He Destroy a Star?

I'm getting rid of using star ratings for movie reviews I write. The star ratings I assigned to reviews were originally meant primarily for my benefit. I tended to use star ratings as a quick snapshot, simply to remind myself what I thought of a movie at a glance, as I certainly don't instantly remember what I might have thought of every movie I've seen.

More and more, I'm finding that for some, the star rating has become a substitute for reading the review. Occasionally, I've found myself engaged in a debate over the meaning of the star rating - why this many stars and not that many? why a half a star more or less than a full star? - when the star rating really means so little to me other than as a memory device. In a hobby with relatively few benefits like maintaining a personal blog of movie reviews, that's become an annoyance I can really do without.

In truth, I've also not always been entirely on the up and up with my star rating assignments: I gave Avatar four stars as a joke. The review I wrote for Avatar argues very much against Avatar's excellence. There have also been occasions where the star rating I initially assigned doesn't hold up or reflect my opinion of a movie after a repeat viewing, both positively and negatively.

In the end, I've simply decided to go without star ratings from now on and see how that goes. I'll be retroactively eliminating past star ratings [Edit: no, I probably won't. See comments] and, starting with the next movie I see in a movie theater, there will be no star rating, just the review. Incidentally, the next movie I see is probably going to be The Losers. Apt.

Monday, April 19, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon (***1/2)



How To Train Your Dragon just about has it all: action, wit, a hero's journey, Vikings, and especially dragons. One of the most fun aspects of How To Train Your Dragon is its sheer variety of dragons: two headed fire breathers, fat little dragons, sleek, jet black "night furies", and one honking huge dragon that functions kind of as the Alien Queen in Aliens. The dragons inhabit a series of islands shared with the strangest tribe of Vikings I've ever seen in movies; the Viking children sound and act like average American teenagers but their husky parents all have Scottish accents. The Vikings are lead by the Viking King Stoick (Gerard Butler) and his genial sidekick voiced by Craig Ferguson. Stoick's son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) isn't much of a Viking, though perhaps Stoick naming his son Hiccup set the boy up for underachievement and low expectations. When Hiccup happens upon a dragon he maimed in the Vikings vs. dragons battle that opens the movie, he forms a friendship and understanding with the dragon, which he names Toothless, and becomes the first Viking to domesticate and ride a dragon. The cinematography and animation design are fantastic, with thrilling sequences of Hiccup and his tough girl companion Astrid (America Ferrara) riding his dragon that rival Avatar's vaunted 3D. I liked that the hero of the story is a smart, compassionate kid and those aspects of his personality are what win the day in the face of dragon-killin' Viking tradition. The movie contains a nice message of understanding and co-existence. The Hangover taught us tigers like pepper but hate cinnamon. How To Train Your Dragon instructs that eels are like cinnamon to dragons. Good to know.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ass Kicked


Kick-Ass holds up completely upon a second viewing. The first viewing was an unexpected blitz. Pure, sugary candy for the senses. While enjoying the charge from the audience that was seeing it for the first time, I cast a more critical gaze at Kick-Ass, hoping it would still work for me once the audacious shock value is gone. It does. Kick-Ass is a propulsive, superhero genre roller-coaster joyride the first time around, but upon closer inspection, it's just a damned excellent movie.

The iconography cheerfully borrowed from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man stood out even more. Dave Lizewski's house is pretty much exactly like Aunt May's house where Peter Parker lived. Dave's father looks a lot like Cliff Robertson's Uncle Ben. (Hilarious moment when he hesistantly asked his son if the muggers who put him in the hospital raped him.)  Kick-Ass spends time in rooftops and alleys resembling the ones Spider-Man visits. (Speaking of which, why do the characters keep walking through that one alley where they know the two muggers always hang out?) Kick-Ass even has a moment in a cemetery that fleetingly calls back the end of Spider-Man when Peter lied to Mary-Jane in a cemetery about not loving her. Lastly, Kick-Ass' jet pack flight across Manhattan with Hit-Girl was Kick-Ass' way of tipping its hat to all of the thrilling moments of Spidey slinging his webs and soaring through New York's skyscrapers. All due respect to the Web-head, but that jet pack ride was way cooler.

Upon first viewing, I didn't quite register the enormous billboard of Claudia Schiffer in the center of the shot when Kick-Ass first meets Hit-Girl and Big Daddy on the rooftops.  But hey, if you're director Matthew Vaughn and you're married to one of the world's most beautiful supermodels, why not put a billboard of her in your superhero movie?

Besides the obvious references to Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan's Batman films, there are plenty of amusing odes to other superhero movies sprinkled throughout Kick-Ass. My favorite is when Kick-Ass decides to look for a missing cat (and he failed to actually bring that cat home.) Whether writer Jane Goldman intended to or not, to me, the superhero trying to save a cat in a movie is a cleverly subtle reference to Richard Donner's first Superman movie.  Christopher Reeve's Man of Steel, on his first night out as Superman stopping bank robbers and Air Force One crashing, took a moment to save a little girl's cat from a tree. I just like the idea of superheroes taking time out from their busy schedules to save pets for some reason. (And the joke is, of course, Kick-Ass didn't have a busy schedule.)

The first time I saw Kick-Ass, I assumed its use of John Murphy's eerie score from 28 Weeks Later was temp music that would be replaced in the final cut.  Imagine my surprise when I found it remains in the final cut. Surprise and delight, because Murphy's score worked incredibly well, adding a powerful layer of shock and dread in the scene where we see Big Daddy massacre Mark Strong's henchman in the lumber factory.

To me, the great, bravura sequence of Kick-Ass is when Big Daddy and Kick-Ass are being tortured and are about to be unmasked live on the Internet and Hit-Girl arrives to save the day. Everything about the sequence is incredible: Hit-Girl hitting the lights, plunging the room into darkness, then turning on her night vision goggles. I love the way director Vaughn shot Hit-Girl's POV to resemble a first person video game - one of the many canny ways Kick-Ass uses the language of video games that young people innately understand to work for the movie (to the chagrin of all the older fuddy duddies; sorry, Roger Ebert and friends).  The use of strobe lights and gunshot flashes so we see fragmentary glimpses of Hit-Girl in action - like comic book panels come to life - was genius.  Each time, this sequence absolutely kicks my ass.

Most important are the performances of the actors and the emotions of the characters in the sequence.  The way Big Daddy, burning to death and in unimaginable pain, shouts combat tactics to his daughter, and how she complies without question, absorbing his instructions and executing flawlessly.  "CHILD!"  The mixture of pride Big Daddy feels for his daughter mixed with the sadness of knowing this is the end of him and he's leaving his beloved daughter alone to fend for herself really got me.  The violence and style of Kick-Ass has been accurately compared to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, but the difference is that I never cared about The Bride or any of the characters in Kill Bill the way Vaughn, his writers, and the actors made me like and care about the characters in Kick-Ass.

It will be quite a challenge for Kick-Ass 2 to replicate or surpass what they achieved here, especially without the benefit of Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage in the cast.  On the other hand, Kick-Ass has a blazing new star in Chloe Grace Moretz.  (I loved the moment at the very end when Moretz cracked her knuckles in giddy anticipation of smacking down the bullies at her new high school who foolishly thought they could shake her down for lunch money. They have no idea of the wolf in their fold.) Vaughn has gone on record as calling Moretz the "Jodie Foster of this generation". It's hard to disagree. Foster famously played a 13 year old prostitute in Taxi Driver - controversial for its time - but she needed Travis Bickle to protect her. Foster's prostitute was no Hit-Girl. She never kicked ass.

Kick-Ass (****)



Kick-Ass is a shocking, disturbing, depraved, ultra-violent, and wildly entertaining superhero movie. Ten years into our modern (marvel) age of comic book movies, our culture and a generation of moviegoers are, by now, overly familiar with the conventions of the superhero movie genre. Zack Snyder's Watchmen attempted some commentary on superhero movies the way the graphic novel deconstructed the comic book superhero on the printed page; now Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass goes all the way with its mission: to shine a light on probably the most popular superhero movie of the 2000's, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, break it into its base components, and reassemble it with a winking, post-modern self-awareness fused with uncompromising, joyous bloodletting reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Kick-Ass lives up to its name, and then some.

Vaughn shoots Kick-Ass in a bright, cheery style similar to what Sam Raimi employed in his Spider-Man trilogy. In an ode to its comic book origins, all of the superhero costumes in Kick-Ass employ the basic primary color combinations (green and yellow, black and purple, black and red, black and yellow) that would have been available to Marvel Comics in the golden and silver ages. The main color that stands out, however, is red. Blood red. For the copious amounts of human viscera splattered all over the screen.

In a way akin to the "sideways reality" of the final season of Lost, Kick-Ass could be seen as the "sideways" alternate reality of Spider-Man.Vaughn and his writers Jane Goldman (screenplay) and Mark Millar (comic book source material) assembled a witty, knowing screenplay that honors Spider-Man's tropes very closely:  Nerdy but bright-eyed and likeable New York teenager (Brooklyn this time, not Queens, though he lives in virtually identical dwellings as Peter Parker) Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to put on a garish wetsuit costume (that he designs on notebook paper) and attempts to patrol his neighborhood as the superhero Kick-Ass. He gets his ass-kicked, a lot. What else would or could happen?

One of the most fun things about Kick-Ass is that the filmmakers are so aware of Spider-Man and other superhero movies, they can confidently make multiple digressions and gleefully comment on them. Spider-Man's hoary old "with great power comes great responsibility" chestnut is wittily parodied as "With no power comes no responsibility."  Kick-Ass' best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse - McLovin from Superbad) is the wealthy son of a master criminal (the always-terrific Mark Strong - the go-to villain these days and the future Sinestro in Green Lantern), dons a costume himself, and becomes his arch enemy Red Mist, a la Harry Osborn, the new Green Goblin. Red Mist comes complete with his own tricked out Mistmobile so he and Kick-Ass can hilariously rock out to his iPod while they patrol the streets of New York in style.

Kick-Ass totally one-ups Spider-Man in the young hero's love interest, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca).  To their credit, the filmmakers don't even attempt a "love triangle" as found in Spider-Man, and instead give their hero the kind of sex life a teenage superhero ought to have (and teenagers in the audience can really root for.) Spider-Man only got to famously kiss MJ in an alley; Kick-Ass gets to have full-on sex with Katie in an alley, and in her bedroom. Nice! Sure, he had to pretend he was gay to get to know her first, but it was all for the greater good. There will be no complaints from fanboys that Katie isn't "hot enough" as there were for Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson. Fonseca's Katie is ideal; a super pretty but accessible teen dream superhero girlfriend.

The very idea of the costumed superhero even existing is dismissed as "impossible" by Lizewski's two interchangeable nerdy best friends because people with superpowers don't exist. Lizewski is stabbed, run over by a car, and is very nearly killed in his first outing as Kick-Ass; this cleverly creates an opportunity to give him a "power" of a sort: metal grafted to his bones ("I look like Wolverine!") and deadened nerve endings, which allow him to absorb brutal amounts of punishment. But even though Kick-Ass can take a bloody licking and keep on ticking, he's an untrained, generally ineffective thrill seeker proud of his naivete. Gradually, Kick-Ass loses his superhero innocence when he gets caught up in machinations way over his head, learning the true evil that lurks in the hearts of men.

The ultimate statement on the lost innocence of the superhero in Kick-Ass is reflected in its two greatest creations: the father-daughter dynamic duo of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. They're the real superheroes of Kick-Ass; the best equipped, best trained, and by far the most violent caped crusaders trying to bring down Mark Strong's criminal empire. They are Batman and Robin crossed with the Punisher, yet somehow cooler than all three combined. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, operating from the shadows at first, drive the main story and embody the ultimate tragedy of the piece. Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are so intriguing, they overshadow Kick-Ass until he gets caught up in their tangled web with Strong.

Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl is the breakthrough character of Kick-Ass. Hit-Girl is the snarling child sidekick of Batman's worst nightmares. The very conception and execution of this character is so very wrong, yet so completely amazing. She's the one everybody will be talking about (and dreading their daughter or little sister will emulate). Moretz, who memorably played Joseph Gordon-Levitt's worldly, relationship-savvy little sister in (500) Days of Summer, steals Kick-Ass completely. As the most foul-mouthed ("cocksucker", "cunts", and "douche" are some off her decidedly un-comic booky dialogue) and brutally violent 11 year old girl ever seen in a superhero movie, Moretz nevertheless infuses Hit-Girl with a vulnerability and genuine love for her father that makes her as endearing as she is fearsome to evildoers. As Hit-Girl, Moretz puts a bullet in Natalie Portman in The Professional and takes her place as the most bad ass killer pre-teen girl ever in movies. Even Strong's super-baddie had to remark that he wishes he had a son like her.

As Big Daddy, Nicolas Cage hasn't been this much fun to watch since he turned action hero in the mid-1990's. Delivering his lines with an amusing Adam West-like staccato, Cage alternates between being an obsessed crime fighter and a caring father (if a caring father willingly and repeatedly shoots his 11 year old daughter in the chest to teach her how to take a gunshot - one of the many uncomfortable but huge laugh-inducing moments in Kick-Ass). The sequence where Hit-Girl tries to save Kick-Ass and Big Daddy from being executed on the Internet, violently massacring Strong's henchmen as Big Daddy burns to death while shouting instructions to his "child!", is utterly spectacular. Cage, who was once to be Tim Burton's Superman and toplined Mark Steven Johnson's banal Ghost Rider, finally hit the superhero movie jackpot.

Beyond the epic, blood-splattered violence of Kick-Ass, and its uncanny commentary on movie superheroes (taking Your Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler and the Dark Knight in stunningly disturbing directions), the real heroic feat achieved by Vaughn and the filmmakers was to create characters you really do care about. They may be clad in garish costumes, and they may be the most prolific mass murders who ever donned a mask and a codename, but the superheroes of Kick-Ass are anything but two-dimensional. Kick-Ass is a superhero movie marvel for this heroic age, and it made a true believer out of me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WWE NXT #8 4/13/10 - Talk the Talk

Wade Barrett really showed something special with his promos in the Talk the Talk Challenge. He's a quick thinker, and he has mic chops to go along with his size. The Winds of Change would be a good nickname for him (or at least for his finisher); it's better than the Eagle, which is perhaps too American of a bird to associate with the British bare-knuckle brusier. I don't know how much time in real life the Rookies spend with their Pros, but Barrett has clearly learned a thing or two from Chris Jericho.  When Barrett boldly announced he would one day be the first British-born WWE Heavyweight Champion, I believed him.

Of the eight NXT Rookies, Barrett has shown the most of what I believe WWE is looking for in a potential top WWE Superstar. I don't just mean a spot on the main roster: Daniel Bryan, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater (the One Bland Rock Band) and David Otunga all show sparks of belonging in WWE in some form or another, but seven of the eight Rookies look like they're competing for a spot on the midcard. 

Only Barrett presents himself as a cut above; he could have main event potential one day. Perhaps this is because he's being mentored by Jericho, the only true main eventer of the Pros.  Barrett is intelligent enough to listen and learn from the multiple-time World Champion and one of the most charismatic and successful WWE Superstars ever. It's fortunate victory in NXT is not determined by fan vote because Barrett would not win a popularity contest (outside of England). Whomever is determining NXT's eventual victor must surely see the quality in Barrett. Wade Barrett seems to have it all. (Including his own entrance theme music soon.)

Slater and Gabriel seem destined for midcard status in WWE. Otunga can talk but is miserable in the ring and everyone can see that. He's also too smug as a heel; he doesn't react to boos or show ass. The others are unlikely to win NXT, but a good gimmick or storyline at the right time can salvage anyone. Skip Sheffield and Michael Tarver have good heel potential under the right circumstances.

I was most disappointed in Gabriel. He didn't even remember he beat Otunga LAST WEEK when Matt Striker REMINDED him outright. His promo sucked. I think Gabriel's been learning a few wrong lessons from his Sensei, mealy-mouthed Matt Hardy, who can only cut a decent promo on YouTube when he's drunk in a hot tub at 4am.

Honestly, while I think Daniel Bryan is pretty great in his own right, he's got an Evan Bourne career at best in WWE. (Not that there's anything wrong at all with traveling the world and making WWE money. They all wish they had Evan Bourne's spot.) Unless he suddenly becomes a Daniel Bryan fan and gives him a big push, Vince McMahon won't know what to do with Bryan because of his size, so Vince will do the one thing he knows how to do best: use Bryan as enhancement talent to elevate bigger stars up the midcard.

The Miz really impressed the hell out of me with his motivational speech to Bryan. For the first time, he seemed interested in Bryan's success, if only as a reflection of himself.  The Susan Boyle line was clever and apt.  The DBMM on Twitter could stand a little adjustment to the Daniel Bryan Miz Meter when Bryan is performing on NXT.

But mainly, The Miz was right. Bryan, whether instructed to or not, has been bombing in his presentation as a WWE Superstar-to-be. He goofed around the keg challenge last week and he goofed around on the promo challenge - it's as if he KNOWS he has short term job security and a spot waiting for him after NXT is over. Hmmm...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lost 6x12 - "Everybody Loves Hugo"


Whose jaw didn't drop in shock and delight when Ilana went Arzt like a Roman candle? Earlier today Carleton Cuse Tweeted that Lost would start with a "blast from the past". They teased me good. Figured it was the return of Peter Chang, but no, it had to be Michael on the Island. Wait, no, Libby! Nope, literally, a blast from the past. How many days will it take Hurley to pick bits of Ilana off his shirt?

And dude, they blew up the Black Rock (set)! Explosions all over the place.

I liked special guest star Senator Kelly as Libby's head shrinker. That guy hates mutants. He doesn't hate crazy people. But he loves money. I also liked that Libby was in the insane asylum voluntarily. She's like that big fat white guy who pretended to be Michael Jackson in season 2 of The Simpsons.

Second Simpsons season 2 reference: Smoke Locke throwing Desmond down a well. There's a hole in my heart as deep as a well for that poor little boy who's trapped halfway to hell. I hope Penny is sending her love down a well.

In all likelihood, we'll never get the whole story on what Libby's deal was, why she was in an insane asylum before she was on the Island, etc. This was the next best thing. I liked when she and Hurley kissed and he downloaded a bunch of Lost season 2 flashbacks.

Out of the blue, we got the Answer of what the whispers are. And because Michael asked Hurley to apologize to Libby, we also learned the Spirits Stuck on the Island for What Bad Things They Did don't interact with each other. Which is probably for the best for Ghost Michael - otherwise, he'd never hear the end of it from Ghost Libby and Ghost Ana-Lucia for shooting them dead. I'm not satisfied with that Answer, though. The whispers have always preceded an appearance by The Others, so what up with that?

Richard flipping out the whole episode was pretty good. He's not calm and collected anymore. And aw, what a tease: Jacob told Richard what the Island really is. I hope on the march and sail to Hydra Island, Miles calls Richard on that and asks him what the Island really is.

The Candidates (plus Lapidus) delivered themselves to Smoke Locke just like he kept saying they would. There's so much detail and stuff to remember on this show, I was momentarily confused why Sun was writing shit down on a notepad. Jack point blank explained his change of heart and newfound ability to let go and let people tell him what to do. Except he's following Hurley, who lets dead people who yell at him tell him what to do.

And now Smoke Locke has all the Candidates together except Jin, if Jin is the final Candidate. I didn't remember until "Hello Jack" that Jack hadn't met the new and improved Thing That Looks Like John Locke until now.

Finally, the total out of left field shocker of Desmond running Locke over with his car. No one saw that coming. But at least now, Dr. Linus doesn't think he's a pedophile, brother.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Runaways (***)


Queens of Noise

The giddy joy of The Runaways is in its palpable recreation of the 1970's, long before rock music was made corporate and safe for children to consume in shopping malls. One of the movie's messages is that when The Runaways were around, rock and roll was dangerous. The 1970's time period is presented with persuasively detailed authenticity, greatly enhanced by a ripping soundtrack of that era's rock hits. At its best moments, The Runaways feels like stepping through a time machine, like it's really happening.

Kristen Stewart, effectively impersonating Joan Jett's swagger and gait, received top billing but The Runaways isn't really about Jett. This is Dakota Fanning's movie. Fanning is excellent as Cherie Currie, chosen for her jail bait sex kitten looks (half David Bowie/half Bridget Bardot) to front the first all-girl rock and roll band in an era when "girls [didn't] play electric guitar". 19 year old Stewart's Jett, a surly hellion in her own right, is practically the responsible one next to Fanning's 15 year old Currie, a wide-eyed dreamer who grows up quickly on the road, indoctrinated into the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle which back in 1975 wasn't just a trite catchphrase. Fanning and Stewart also sing The Runaways' songs in the movie as effectively as Val Kilmer sang as Jim Morrison in The Doors.

Stewart really and truly feels like she's Joan Jett by the very end, when The Runaways have broken up and Jett has scored a number one single with the Blackhearts ("I Love Rock and Roll", you may have heard of it).  By then, Currie had dropped out of the music scene but Fanning puts a button on her killer performance as Currie, closing the movie with a moment of relief and regret that's dazzling.  

Michael Shannon is also terrific as The Runaways' lipstick-wearing svengali producer Kim Fowley. Shannon all but steals the movie from Fanning and Stewart, but for all of Fowley's bullying speeches about rock and roll being about anarchy, rebellion and fucking, he might have been the forebearer of modern day corporate rock in the way he packaged The Runaways to each represent a specific sexual desire for horny male fans.

The Runways pretty much exploits its sexy young stars to the brink of the R rating. Underage drinking, cocaine use, and overdosing are matter of fact. Fanning continually raises eyebrows: Currie has unprotected sex in a restroom, poses provocatively then fronts the band in concert wearing lingerie, and later, she jumps up and down on her bed presumably in the nude using a bed sheet to block the camera. The Runaways also makes it a point to show how "close" Currie and Jett were as band members. The movie blatantly plays the cock tease card, freely flaunting Fanning and Stewart in their underpants, and showing them engaging in drug-induced foreplay and in bed post-intercourse, the movie cutting away while figuratively wagging a finger at the audience. 

The Runaways was a five girl band (and much more attractive in the movie than the real band was - sorry ladies), but Stewart and Fanning get all of the focus. Little spotlight is left over for the other band members, who are sorely undeveloped as characters. Stella Maeve shines memorably as Sandy West, The Runaways' drummer, but Scout Taylor-Compton is reduced to angry glares and snarls as Lita Ford, whose character is defined purely by her jealousy and resentment of Currie getting all of the attention. That's still more than Alia Shawkat got as the band's bassist, a fictional character representing the real life Jackie Fox. Currie's long-suffering older sister Marie, played by Riley Keough, received much more character development than the rest of the band.

The bristling fun, rock and roll roller coaster The Runaways launches the audience on sputters out by the third act, as Currie implodes from the drugs and pressure of stardom and quits the band. In the slowed down moments where Currie unsuccessfully attempts to reconnect with her old life while Jett is forced to refashion herself as a solo rocker, the audience is able to reflect that the movie is a little shallow story-wise. The dead stop of the band feels like a dead stop to the movie. Still, it's obvious that this band truly meant something to writer-director Floria Sigismondi. The Runaways feels like a labor of love, and it's a cherry bomb of a rock and roll biopic.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Smallville 9x17 - "Checkmate"


Special DC Universe Guest Stars:
AMANDA WALLER (Pam Grier is Amanda Waller)

"Checkmate" follows up big time on the major story threads laid down in Absolute Justice, but before I get to all that, last week's Smallville was a fun little romantic comedy romp. Smallville pretty much went all out to prove they have the best looking cast on television and sex was foremost on the agenda: Chloe and Oliver have been getting it on, Tess and Zod got it on, and Lois and Clark... didn't quite. But we did find out Clark could if he wanted to; the major revelation was that all of his training with Jor-El at the Fortress has taught Clark full control of all of his abilities. In other words, Clark can bang humans without killing them. Zod apparently needed no such training, jumping right in the sack with Tess, although Zod probably didn't care as much if he killed Tess in the process. Plus the Silver Banshee was the villain!  It was a sexy spoonful of sugar before the hardcore DC Universe geekouts resumed with the main storyline setting up the conclusion of season nine. 

This week saw heaping amounts of homage to Watchmen, specifically the liberal use of Zack Snyder's slow-motion style of shooting action. There was also an amusing reference to Tess not having the clearance to look "under the hood".  If that wasn't enough, Tess discovers Oliver is the Green Arrow in a shameless swipe from how Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle discovered each others' secret identities in Batman Returns. Loved it.

Tess Mercer is in actuality Agent Mercer of Checkmate, having been recruited by Amanda Waller (The White Queen... er, curious choice of color) as a mole in Luthorcorp when word leaked that Lex Luthor was harboring alien technology.  Waller wants "Watchtower" and set up a whole scheme to capture Green Arrow (very easily, I might add) and "recruit" him into Checkmate, although Green Arrow's escape from Checkmate's clutches was pretty cool.

But Green Arrow was just the bait; the person Checkmate really wants is Chloe, and more specifically, Chloe's Watchtower database on the Justice League. Waller wants the superpowers of the League working for Checkmate (name dropping Black Canary, Aquaman, Impulse, and Cyborg) in order to combat the Kryptonian alien invasion she fears is happening.  (If Waller knew Zod is already zipping around the skies at full power, she'd probably lose her shit.)

Clark was placed in a position by Waller to betray the League in order to save Chloe's life but Oliver was able to use Watchtower to shut down the power grid in the Checkmate Castle (wherever the hell there's a medieval castle on a lake in America) so that Clark could save Chloe in Super Slow Motion Action Poses.

As Chloe and Oliver are solidified as a couple, Tess is seemingly SOL. Tess betrayed Checkmate to Clark (who pulled Batman's old "hang 'em from the top of a building, watch 'em freak out, and interrogate 'em" trick) and is forced to go underground.  Poor Tess. A week ago, she was rolling between the sheets with Zod, feeling pretty powerful because she could control him with Kryptonite, and now she's on the run and hunted by Checkmate for going AWOL. 

The episode really belonged to the Martian Manhunter.  This was the best presentation of J'onn J'onzz on Smallville yet and Phil Morris was great.  We got to see J'onn's flight, his mind reading and mindwiping powers (to protect Chloe, Clark, and Oliver's identities because Waller learned who they were), his shapeshifting, invisibility, Martian Vision.  We got it all.  J'onn is working for someone, a different player not Checkmate and not with the Justice League Watchtower, represented by an ominous red chess piece.  I presume J'onn is working for Maxwell Lord. My Justice League International geekout is all set to explode when Max sets foot in Smallville's Metropolis.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon: 6-B-ee

I tuned in to see the cast of Parks and Recreation, and this turned out to be a lot of fun. How cute is Abby Elliott? Nick Offerman was hilarious with the little bits he was doing. Aubrey Plaza never took her hoodie off ("I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!") The Parks and Rec cast killed.

I've never watched Glee and with any luck I never will, but I'd watch these guys sing at each other each week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lost 6x11 - "Happily Ever After"

"That man is the only person I'm aware of in the world who has survived a catastrophic electromagnetic event! I need to know that he can do it again. Or we all die!"

Well, fuck. Last week, I was pretty positive Lost and Not Lost were funhouse mirror images of each other but weren't going to cross over directly. I shouldn't have opened my big fat mouth via my deftly typing two fingers. What do I know? Nuthin'.

Not only did the sideways realities directly cross over this week via Desmond, but Charles Widmore on the Island seems to be aware of the other reality and is working against impending catastrophe.

Since the Island has always has been attributed with some form of sentience or otherworldly knowledge, I'm conjecturing the Island itself is aware of the sideways reality and is threatened by it, with a prideful umbrage that the Not Lost reality exists without it (and almost all of the main characters are doing relatively well without the Island in their lives). Maybe the Island has been taking steps to eliminate the sideways reality. Perhaps the Island communicated the existence of Not Lost to Charles Widmore via Eloise Hawking, gave the marching orders on what to do and even how to find the Island, which Widmore had been unable to do but suddenly he was able to take his Widmarine right to it.

That's as much speculatin' as I care to make at the moment.

I love that the glimpses of a crossover between the realities are via the love stories. Charlie has not met Claire but in a near death experience glimpsed that he loved her in another life. I also like that Desmond met Claire at LAX and then had to deal with Charlie for the rest of the episode. Daniel Widmore remembered he loved Charlotte. And of course, Desmond and Penny, the go-to weapon of mass tear-jerking Lost always turns to which never, ever fails. What is it about that scruffy Scot and that stiff ass Brit that their love story always leaves a lump in the throat? It's a Constant.

I liked Jack scoffing at Desmond that someone on Oceanic 815 ended up at the hospital. "Brother, a surprising number of people on our plane have ended up in this very hospital since the plane landed. Me, Charlie, the pregnant girl, the brunette in the handcuffs came by to see the pregnant girl. Any second now a couple of Koreans we don't know are on their way here."

They did a spectacular job showing Desmond's car crashing into the water. The camera angles used pretty much showed as closely as possible what it would be like to sit in a car that goes into water.

I also liked that the building housing the electromagnetic coils on Hydra Island resembled the raptor holding pen on Jurassic Park.

George from the Freighter turned out to be a great guy and was the best limousine driver since Argyle drove John McClaine to the Nakatomi Tower in the first Die Hard. The Freighter folk are generally nicer folk on Not Lost.

I loved all the callbacks: Widmore sharing his McCutcheon scotch with Desmond. The stadium where Jack and Desmond first met became where Desmond and Penny first meet. And of course NOT PENNY'S BOAT. Glad to see Daniel (Faraday) Widmore and Eloise Hawking too. "What happened, happened." In both realities, Penny is Daniel's half sister. I wonder if Penny's mother is ever going to be mentioned or if she's in any way important?

Desmond episodes are always so moving, I totally forgot about Sayid until he showed up and killed everyone at the end. I tend to think Smoke Locke is not aware of the sideways reality and what's going on with Widmore; that Sayid is taking Desmond back to Smoke Locke just because Desmond was "the Package", and to figure out what's going on.

"See you in another life, brother!"

WWE NXT #7 4/6/10

Quick Results:

Darren Young (#8) defeated Daniel Bryan (#1) with a roll up. Daniel Bryan is now 0-7.

Justin Gabriel (#3) defeated Michael Tarver (#7) with the 450 Splash. (Tarver is now 0-5 - "entering Daniel Bryan territory!" said Michael Cole)

Wade Barrett
(#2) defeated David Otunga (#5) with his fireman's carry front slam.

Kane defeated Heath Slater (#3) with the chokeslam. (I could swear Cole called the win as "Kane with a win over a very gay Heath Slater!" but no, he said "very game".)

Not a Pro in sight this week, which turned into a positive as the NXT Rookies got a ton of mic time. I think everyone got to at least say something to the live audience if not cut a promo.

Skip Sheffield turned heel during his promo (later, Josh Mathews mocked his Twitter, pointing out all of his Tweets are about what he's eating. He also inferred Sheffield is the least intelligent Rookie after Cole rightly praised the intelligence of Wade Barrett's blogs.)

Another new wrinkle in the ever-being-figured-o​​ut-as-they-go-along nature of NXT is that now, each week, there will be a physical competition.

This week, there was a full beer keg that the Rookies had to haul around the ring and back up the entrance ramp. Fast time wins, which turned out to be 12 seconds set by Heath Slater. His prize was a main event match with Kane, who took on and trounced all eight Rookies on Smackdown last week.

Striker claimed that each week's physical competition would test the physical and mental toughness of each Rookie. So this week's Keg Challenge tested the Rookies to see who had the physical and mental toughness to set up a Stone Cold Steve Austin beer sketch from 1998.

A big plus is that the live audience responded to the Rookies quite a bit this week. The crowd was into the competition, especially when Tarver acted like a total heel after he dropped the keg and was DQ'd. The crowd rained a "You suck!" chant on him. Otunga also got heel heat from his abandoning Cena on RAW, and Gabriel and Bryan got their usual positive responses.

Still, the new competition aspect is WWE Creative reaching into an old bag of tricks. NXT has now turned into the Diva Search. When will the Rookies have to eat pie and tickle Kamala?

Finally, Michael Cole was absolutely phenomenal this week. Seriously, he was all over Daniel Bryan, calling him every petty name in the book, mocking his Twitter, his blogs, his size, everything. He was actually totally hilarious.

Not since Jerry Lawler absolutely despised Bret Hart in the early 90's and murdered him on commentary each week has an announcer totally had it out for a wrestler like this. I find it really, really funny. Cole is the most entertaining thing on NXT.

Right now, Daniel Bryan vs. Michael Cole is my Feud of the Year.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Clash of the Titans (***)



"Fuck you, gods! Fuck you!" is the moral of the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans.  Everyone in this re-imagining's version of Ancient Greece must be a Cylon because all of these Greeks positively hate the gods. Anti-gods dialogue includes, "If you see a god, spit in his face!" and "Every step we take is an insult to the gods." "Good!" In this mythical, CGI-enhanced (3D if you wanted to pay more for less - I chose to see it in glorious 2D) vision of Ancient Greece, god-hating is the main sport of their Olympic games.

Sam Worthington, ex-Terminator and N'avi sympathizer, stars as Perseus, the demi-god son of Zeus (Liam Neeson, clad in glowing armor for some reason). And he ain't happy about who his daddy is. Worthington's Perseus exists for one reason - to tell the gods to go fuck themselves and make them if it comes down to it. A calculated 180 degree turnabout from the starry-eyed Ken doll version of Perseus Harry Hamlin played in the 1981 Clash of the Titans, Worthington plays Perseus as a snarling, blazing-eyed action hero; modulating the levels of how pissed off he is by how often monsters and gods attack him.

This new Perseus ferociously zags where Hamlin's zigged: Hamlin was keen on being Zeus' son, gladly accepted any and all toys and weapons the gods favored him with (Bubo the robot owl from the original Clash makes a cameo and is quickly discarded), and was all about trying to be a hero worthy of the myths to be told about him. Worthington loudly and stridently declares over and over he wants nothing to do with being a god, rejects his divine heritage outright, and even refuses to wield the nifty, shape-changing glowing power sword Zeus drops off to him.

The biggest difference between the Perseii is that Hamlin did it all for the love of a woman, the celestially beautiful Andromeda (Judi Bowker). Worthington is all about revenge. See, it was a god, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, occasionally channeling a little bit of Lord Voldemort), who killed his adoptive family, including his Pa Kent played by Pete Postlethwaite, a humble fisherman who sure hated the gods and passed on his anti-god venom to Perseus.

The 1981 Clash celebrated the golden heroism of Perseus and his literally star-crossed love story with Andromeda. Worthington doesn't give a damn about the new Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).  Sure, he saves her from the Kraken, but Worthington only has eyes for Io (former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton). Can't blame him there. Io is clearly the only babe this demi-god wants to get horizontally Greco-Roman with; when poor Andromeda offers Perseus her hand in marriage and to be king of her city, he shoots her down cold. But... but... didn't Perseus read the Greek myths?  They're supposed to end up together.  Fuck the gods, and fuck the myths too, says the movie.

In this Clash's mythology, the gods defeated the Titans because Hades created the Kraken out of his own flesh. The gods then created man to worship them, but countless years of dicking humans around - and in the male gods' cases, dicking the women around - lead the humans to declare war on the gods. Perseus was created in a riff right out of the King Arthur legend, where Zeus impregnated the wife of the Greek king Acrisius while disguised as him. In his rage, Acrisius puts his wife and newborn son to death (I guess Acrisius stayed enraged for 9 whole months, waiting until Perseus was born before he called for the execution), but Perseus is saved via his demi-godliness. (For some reason, the brunette actress playing Perseus' dead mother in the coffin sealed in with baby Perseus is a completely different actress from the blonde Zeus impregnates in the flashbacks.)

Re-imagining of the mythology aside, Clash of the Titans does check off the greatest hits moments of its predecessor. When the city of Argos is threatened by destruction at the hands of the Kraken, Perseus must travel to the Stygian Witches to seek their counsel in how to kill the Kraken. They in turn steer him towards Medusa, whose gaze can turn the Kraken to stone. The Witches are an amusing throwback right out of the original Clash (complete with borrowed dialogue: "A Titan against a Titan!")  What doesn't make sense is how the movie makes a big point of how Madusa's gaze can only turn men to stone, not women and not inhumans, and yet Madusa can turn the Kraken to stone. (As in the original, the people of Argos - who never seemed to consider evacuating the city as an option when threatened with a Kraken attack - lucked out when the Kraken crumbles after its turned to stone. They probably wouldn't have enjoyed a thousand foot tall Kraken statue looming over their city.)

The new Clash also works in Pegasus, now a winged black stallion that Kate on Lost would go ga-ga for, and Perseus' deformed monster arch enemy from the first Clash, Calibos.  This time around Calibos is not the son of a goddess nor the former lover of Andromeda, but the former King Acrisius himself, who was deformed by Zeus' thunderbolt. Though the audience gets the full backstory on who and what Calibos is, strangely, Perseus does not.  He has no idea who this monster is who attacks him, stalks him, and attacks him again, or why he's doing so.  But then, this furious Perseus is too busy scowling, fighting, and killing to bother asking questions.

In a movie full of strange sights, the strangest has to be our heroes riding giant scorpions across the desert. (Why is there a sand-dune desert on the way to the Stygian Witches' lair, by the way? Where were these Greeks going, Tunesia? The movie established a 10 day time limit to save Andromeda - does it only take four days to travel from Greece to Africa via giant scorpion?)  Among Perseus' new sidekicks, mostly interchangable Greek warriors including another Bond veteran Mads Mikkelsen (bloody teared Le Chiffre in Casino Royale), was a desert dwelling mystical monster who looked a lot like a Prawn from District 9. But like the Prawn from District 9, this thing turned out to be a pretty cool cat for a hideous man-monster.

I found the gods themselves to be pretty disappointing. Fiennes' Hades was the big bad, looking to oust Zeus from his throne, but Neeson played a wussy, impotent Zeus, who liked to dress himself up in rags and hang out with Perseus, but otherwise refused to intervene for some reason. Why the Olympian Pantheon were all decked out in shimmering medieval-looking armor, I can't say.  Danny Huston plays Poseidon, who was the master of the Kraken in the original Clash, but it's a glorified cameo. And I hear Isabella Miko played Artemis, but you'd never know it if you watched the movie. She's hardly even in focus in the background of the gods' scenes.

Clash of the Titans is a grim, dour movie, and proud of it. As a frenzied action movie monster spectacle, which seems to be its primary intent, Clash of the Titans delivers when it must. The sequence in Madusa's lair where Perseus battles and decapitates (the surprisingly hot in her re-designed face) Madusa was satisfying, and the all-new, bigger, badder Kraken is a gruesomely impressive sight. And yet the Kraken's unleashed fury pales in comparison to Perseus'.  In this aggressive, violent new Clash of the Titans, immortality belongs to whoever is angriest, and no one - man or god - is angrier than Perseus.