Friday, January 30, 2009

Oscar Overload

As it has the past few years, AMC is doing a marathon of all five Best Picture nominees on the day before the Oscars, February 21st. The schedule goes like this:

10:30 AM Milk
1:05 PM The Reader
3:45 PM The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
7:15 PM Slumdog Millionaire
9:45 PM Frost/Nixon

I'm personally not sure who would really want to subject themselves to this kind of a marathon. At least two of the movies (The Reader, Benjamin Button) are way too heavy to make you want to watch more, and they come in the first half.

Though if Benjamin Button isn't going to end the marathon, following it with Slumdog is a good choice. No better way to wake up from the Brad Pitt slumber than with Slumdog's fast cutting, fun music, and hopeful story. And I like Milk as a starter, since it gets you excited despite its downer of an ending. Sad though that so few will end up making it to Frost/Nixon.

So, if over 12 hours of super-serious Oscarbait is your idea of a good time, click the link above. If, like me, you think that sounds kind of like torture, then best start catching the best pic nominees now.

From Daily Show to Serious Actor?

Following up on last night's post about Darrell Hammond on Damages, it seems we've already got another case of a comedian getting serious. In this case, it's new Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac (seen above), whose indie drama Medicine for Melancholy opens in select cities today, and, according to AO Scott's review for the New York Times, it's quite good.

From the way Scott describes the movie, it sounds like a black Before Sunrise, with a young sort-of couple walking around and talking. Even though Scott explicitly says not to call it a black Before Sunrise, I have to say I'm intrigued. Scott gives the movie a Critics Pick and singles Cenac out saying, "Mr. Cenac, a writer and fake reporter on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” calibrates Micah’s vacillations between earnestness and guardedness perfectly."

Daily Show has certainly led to some big things. Steve Carell and Ed Helms got The Office, Stephen Colbert got The Colbert Report, and Rob Corddry got to be the racist government guy in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. But will Wyatt Cenac turn this small indie role into a career? I'm curious to find out.

Until then, here's proof he's doing just fine so far:

Strangest Casting of the Week

This week, Damages introduced a new character, a shady fellow behind the death of Daniel Purcell's wife. This in itself is not news; Damages is filled with shady people who plan hits for corporate types. What is news is that this character is played by Darrell Hammond.

For those that don't recognize the name, you know his face. Hammond has been on Saturday Night Live for, wow, nearly 15 years. In that time, he's done a ton of classic impersonations, including Sean Connery, Al Gore, John McCain, and Bill Clinton (as seen above). Yet beyond the odd Law and Order episode (a requirement of all New Yorkers. I suspect I may inadvertently have played the neighbor of a pedophile at some point), this seems to be his first shot at drama.

So how's he doing? His character kind of seems like a gay version of his Donald Trump impression. Now, that type of oddball character would have fit in perfectly on Twin Peaks, but for Damages it's a bit strange. His presence is more distracting than anything else, since I keep expecting him to go, "Shuck it Purcell. Shuck it long and shuck it hard." But the character's not going anywhere for now, so I'm sure he'll end up making the season more interesting.

As for the rest of the episode (SPOILERS):

Big episode overall, what with Purcell's wife's killer being caught and killed and Purcell getting cleared. But it really all comes down to the ending. Just as he did ten years before, Purcell threw his testimony, leaving Patty with bupkis. I knew the man who fathered Michael "Planting Fake Bombs in My Stepdad's Car Is Fun" Hewes had to be a weasel. Dumping out the water sample Ellen smuggled out of a town not unlike the one from My Cousin Vinny is a real setback. At least Tom got some Mr. Pibb for the trouble.

Still, committing perjury and destroying evidence for a big pay-out is one thing. The reveal that Purcell was in on his wife's murder after all? Craziness. That creepy cop was right - we shouldn't believe a word that comes out of Purcell's mouth. He's definitely hiding more, and as soon as Patty finds out, he's going down.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Watch the Best Original Song Nominees

While most Oscar categories require you to actually see the movies to make an informed opinion, all you need for best original song is youtube, especially when you can find the scenes. Yes, if Springsteen's "The Wrestler" had been nominated it probably would have and should have won, but that doesn't stop these three songs from being worthy. Catch these fast, cause I don't know how long the powers that be will let these vids stay online.

"Jai Ho," Slumdog Millionaire
WARNING: This plays at the very end of the movie with clips from throughout, so if you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, you may be spoiled.



"O Saya," Slumdog Millionaire
This is one of the first scenes of the movie, so enjoy spoiler-free.



"Down to Earth," Wall-E
I could only find the song with credits in French, but that shouldn't matter.

Happy Days for Faraday and Co.

The scarf is my constant

Remember how last week I worried Lost might be going the Heroes route by covering too many storylines? Well, last night proved that questioning the Lost writers is just asking to be proven wrong. Coming out of last week's mind-boggling premiere, last night was a more focused affair, settling in on two characters: fan favorite Desmond Hume and increasingly important Daniel Faraday. Even with less characters, there were a ton of revelations and, of course, new questions. Let's get started.

The episode begins with a flashback (those still exist?) showing that Desmond and Penny have a son! We find out later the kid's name is Charlie, after the self-sacrificing hobbit. Awww. Back in the present, Desmond promises once he's found Faraday's mom he's done with all the island stuff. Yeah right. The more he protests, the more we know he'll be right in the center of things this season.

While we have yet to meet the mother (since she's in LA with Ben), we do find out a lot about the son. Desmond sees Theresa Spencer, Faraday's ex who he left permanently unstuck in time. Desmond also learns all roads lead to Charles Widmore, who very Dickensianly served as Faraday's benefactor. This info leads Desmond to confront his scary father-in-law. Widmore gives Desmond Mama Faraday's location, asking only that Desmond keep Penny out of it. Perhaps Widmore takes Ben's threat to Penny's life more seriously than his distaste for Desmond. But do we really think he's not still plotting against him? Not a chance. With the location set, the Hume family is off to LA, heading right into Ben's clutches.

Back on the island, it's the 1950s! The Others are still there, as is Richard, looking the same as always. As Juliet says, "Richard's always here." Any chance she'll tell us what that means? It seems the flashes will be giving us a nice lesson on island history, as this week we learn that before Dharma, the Others' main beef was with the US military testing H-bombs. For more attentive fans than me: Jughead was the thing Faraday and Charlotte tried to defuse last season, right? Does that have any deeper meaning?

With time travel so central this season, it looks like Faraday may be taking center stage the way Ben and Desmond have in the past. He certainly got a lot to do this week. Between pretending to be US military and indirectly professing his love to Charlotte, Faraday was taking charge. As for the Charlotte thing, it would be cute...if he wasn't lying to her about her time travel sickness. I would be worried about her bloody collapse at the end of the episode, but she still has to say, "This place is death," so I thinks she's good for now.

As for those 50s-era Others, there's Ellie, who's too hot not to be important somehow. TVGuide thinks she might be a young Rousseau, but that doesn't make any sense (since Rousseau hated the Others). Maybe she's Charlotte's mom? The bigger reveal is that the little weasel who led Locke to the camp is none other than Charles Widmore, the Big Bad himself. Seems he was up to no good even in his youth, trying to cut off Juliet's hand and snapping his fellow Other's neck for giving directions. And of course, a freighter full of new questions: Why did Widmore leave the island? Was he still there twenty years later to meet young Ben? Why does he want to come back?

With so much going on, I didn't even miss Ben and the Oceanic Six. Though it is funny to realize that this week's episode only had two original cast members - Sawyer and Locke. So did you all like the Faraday-focus, or do you pine for Sayid to kick some more ass? Are you jonesing to learn some more island history, or is all this time travel leaving you with a bloody nose? And is it foolish of me to hope Desmond and Penny can keep their happily ever after for two more seasons? Comment away.

Top Chef Bowl: Battle of the Crazies

Is it just me, or has this season of Top Chef had some of the best challenges? Case in point, a Super Bowl challenge pitting this season's chefs head-to-head with seven All Stars of seasons past. Or should I say Not-So-All-Stars. With such stand-outs as "I've never seen that girl before" (quickly eliminated Camille from season 3) and "I guess she looks sort of familiar" (season 2's Josie), this wasn't exactly the best of the best of the best, sir.

Even if the returning players weren't top of their class, they did make for some entertaining and close battles. Crazy Carla took on Crazy Andrew in the crazy-off...and won. You see the look in her eyes when she won those Super Bowl tickets? Andrew didn't stand a chance. Then there was the Battle of the Loudmouths in Fabio vs. Andrew's BFFF Spike. Maybe Fabio should have spent less time trash talking and more time cooking, cause I know he could take Spike in a rematch. Most confusing of all was Stefan's loss to Andrea, never remembered as a heavyweight. Poor Finnish Stefan didn't make a dish as Super Bowl friendly and suffered for it.

Despite the fumbles of the Euros, it was pretty boy Jeff who had to pack his knives after losing to Josie in the Miami ceviche battle (how are ceviches so popular if I've never had one in my life). As it was Stefan's first time at the bottom and Fabio's needed for his personality, the decision was probably not just about this week's performance. But Jeff was doomed for a glorious fuck-up of the week eventually, due to his insistence on preparing everything three ways (I'll let you make the joke for me).

Toby Young Annoyance Watch: He went the entire episode without making a single lame movie reference! Yay! His comments may not have added much, but at least they were relevant and made sense. Let's see how long...what's that? He calls someone Obiwan next week? I miss Gail.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yippie Kai Yay Mr. Falcon

Thanks to TVTattle, I found a hilarious list of the worst movie edits for TV on askmen.com. Click that link for the full top 10 (including Neil Patrick Harris saying, "Let's go get some privates" in Harold and Kumar), but I wanted to share their top 2:



This is what happens when you meet a stranger in the Alps? What does that even mean?



The best part for me isn't that they bastardize the famous line with the non-sensical "Mr. Falcon." No, I just love that Bruce Willis suddenly sounds Mexican halfway through the line. Did they get his South American dubber to do the edit?

Nip/Tuck Back to Usual Tricks

Well, that didn't take long. And by "that," I mean Nip/Tuck going from watchably mediocre to unbelievably bad, just as it always does. Last night was actually a nice primer on all the stale tricks Nip/Tuck uses to be "shocking," so let's go through it point by point. If you've never seen Nip/Tuck, this might help you see why.

Pointless Deaths
Last night, the show killed off Portia de Rossi's Olivia by having her antidepressants mix badly with anesthetics in surgery. What did this death accomplish? There was the momentary drama of Sean thinking he killed her, but that passed. It's not like anyone will be too sad to see her go. So what was the point? Well, it got her off the show. In Nip/Tuck land, that's good enough.

Crazy Women
In Nip/Tuck, all women have to be crazy. And everything has to be "shocking." So kill two birds with one stone in patient-of-the-week Roxy St. James. Her voluntary double mastectomy could have been a legit subject of discussion....or she could cut off her breast with an electric saw in the McNamara Troy waiting room. Which one do you think the writers went with?

Sean and Julia
They have broken up and made up in just about every season. When she left him after the whole dwarf-banging episode (don't ask) it seemed final. Yet here it is again with Sean's out-of-nowhere desire to get back together with her. LET IT END!

Christian and Liz
First, the show nearly validates Christian's belief that all lesbians are one good lay away from turning straight. Then it decides to actually pursue a Christian/Liz romance. I'm not sure which is worse.

Eden
She's back, and crazier than ever (see "Crazy Women" above), throwing her mother's ashes at Sean and Julia after lying that Olivia shot Julia. First off, why couldn't we just pretend that whole amnesia/shooting thing never happened? Second, shouldn't she be too busy at 90210 to come back and haunt this show? Or could they have killed Eden off too?

This Video
I'm sure the whole "white girl thinks she's black" thing might have been funny to some people in the early 2000s. But I'm pretty sure I'd find it painful in any decade:



It's only a matter of time before Nip/Tuck follows Grey's Anatomy off my DVR queue.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vegetables are Hot

We all know the Super Bowl is really about the commercials (how many of you can honestly tell me which teams are playing on Sunday). But one commercial you won't be seeing is this one from PETA, banned for content. NSFW.



I think it's pretty funny, but Super Bowl producers do of course have to consider the children. So to sum up: vegetable advertisements for children are bad, beer commercials for children are good. Football really is a moral compass.

Useless Remake Alert



According to Variety, Hilary Duff will be starring in The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, an indie that it swears is not a remake of the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway classic Bonnie and Clyde. No, this movie will be about the same people and the same story, but that doesn't make it a remake.

You know the last time I heard that? When Tim Burton said his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would be a return to the Roald Dahl book. However he marketed it, the movie still shouldn't have been made.

So, ok, fine, we're getting a Bonnie and Clyde remake. But with Hilary Duff? Why not have Zac Efron in the Warren Beatty part? The original Bonnie and Clyde was one of the most controversial movies of its decade, and now we're getting Lizzie McGuire?

So what do you think? Better or worse than the once-rumored Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid remake with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon? I'd say not quite as bad, only because I like Butch Cassidy better. But seriously, stop remaking classics when there's so many bad movies to fix. Go take another crack at Dune instead.

Monday, January 26, 2009

DVDs for a Snowstorm

Today I celebrate my 100th post from a bus (gotta love the wireless on Bolt Bus). Leaving Massachusetts, I heard another massive snowstorm is coming tomorrow night. We only get a fraction of Boston's snow in New York; it's enough for a magical winter night without keeping anyone indoors. But for those of you stuck inside Tuesday night, here's some movies I caught recently that could make a good companion by the fireplace.

Hamlet 2



Hamlet 2 came out of Sundance a year ago as one of the biggest buys, only to completely fizzle at the box office last summer. Maybe it wasn't worth the $12 in theaters, but this enjoyably amusing comedy deserves a stronger second life on DVD. Hamlet 2 stars Steve Coogan, the incompetent and doomed director from Tropic Thunder, as incompetent though less doomed high school drama teacher Dana Maraschz. When the school principal announces the drama program's end, Dana sets out to prove its worth with an extravagant, time-traveling, musical Hamlet sequel.

The movie starts out by spoofing inspirational classroom movies like Dead Poet's Society and Dangerous Minds, a strategy that only sometimes pays off. And Dana's over-the-top buffoonery sometimes comes a little too close to the worst of The Office's Michael Scott. But as soon as the play-within-the-play kicks in at the end, with such awesomely terrible songs as "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," it's all gold. Throw in Amy Poehler, Catherine Keener, and Elizabeth Shue (as herself) in minor roles, and you've got everything needed for a great rental.

Wanted


When I first saw the trailer for Wanted, I thought it looked like a lame Matrix rip-off. After having seen it, I realize it is in fact an awesome Matrix rip-off. With Fight Club mimicking voiceover and such cheesy special effects as a bullet whizzing back into the gun it was fired from, there's nothing the movie won't unapologetically steal. And such no-holds-barred ridiculousness is exactly what a dumb action movie needs.

The plot has something to do with James McAvoy's office drone (Neo) being recruited by Angelina Jolie's more-creepy-than-hot shooter (Trinity) into a secret society of assassins led by Morgan Freeman (Morpheus). If you doubt that McAvoy, after The Last King of Scotland and Atonement, could make a credible action hero, you're probably right. But his hilarious overacting shows he's fully in on the fun. The plot twists at the end make little sense, but I'd be disappointed if they did. Wanted won't revolutionize how action movies look, but it's a great chance to turn off your brain.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

America Loves Kevin James

Every week, Entertainment Weekly runs an online contest where you try to guess what the top 10 movies will be at the box office. And for the second week in a row, my picks were so far off from the actual top 10 that I've got no chance of taking down the crown. Why am I having such a hard time? Four words - Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

That's right, the Kevin James comedy is unexpectedly #1 for the second weekend in a row, bringing its total to nearly $65 million. Why? What does America see in this movie that I'm not understanding? Now, it was filmed in the Burlington Mall, where I spent a lot of my teenage years, so seeing that on film is appealing. But Boston suburbs can't be responsible for $65 million.

Now America, I understand beginning of the year is a bad time for movies. I don't really expect you to see Underworld 3 or Inkheart (what is this movie?) instead. And I know you can only see so much Oscarbait before going nuts (I followed up The Reader with Wanted yesterday and enjoyed every minute of it). But Paul Blart: Mall Cop? You can do better, America.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Revolutionary's Road is Tough But Worth Traveling

Grade: A-



Revolutionary Road, with its high-calibre cast, director, and source material, seemed like a shoo-in for the Oscars. But having seen it, I can't say I'm surprised by the Academy's distaste for it. The movie is, after all, extremely depressing and deeply unpleasant to watch. The fights between unhappy married couple Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) are the most brutal since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This may be the rare exception where you like the movie better having read the book first, just so you're prepared for what's coming. Oh, wait, this is supposed to be a recommendation.

So for those of you who haven't read Richard Yates' classic, the story's pretty simple. The movie, like the book, begins with a failed local play April stars in. While everyone else is able to laugh it off, Frank and April cannot. You see, the Wheelers, like so many of us, believe they are special. They are meant for more than Frank's numbingly dull job and April's ordinary suburban existence. As they fight, viciously, on the side of the road, you may think, "Is this all I'm getting for the next two hours?" But hope soon comes in April's decision to move the family to Paris. We all know it's a pipe dream, and that a change in venue won't actually solve their misery. Yet the Wheelers cling to it as a final chance at salvation before everything comes crashing down.

Justin Haythe's adaptation is shockingly faithful to its source material, with most lines straight from the book. At times I could almost hear the book's narration during pauses. Given the book's extremely interior nature, it's amazing the strategy works out so well. A lot of credit goes to director Sam Mendes. A lot of critics feel the cinematography, costumes, and art direction are too beautiful, causing the movie to feel cold. But...um...that's exactly the point!. Those shots of identically hatted men waiting for the subway aren't supposed to make you feel warm and tingly. The meticulous world Mendes creates is pretty, sure, but its real purpose is to create the claustrophobia the Wheelers feel.

All that supposed coldness in the decour makes the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet all the more stunning. Those who were expecting Titanic 2 may be disappointed, but that doesn't make the Titanic history irrelevant. DiCaprio and Winslet know each other well enough that not only is the chemistry there, but they know how far to push each other. Individually, they create characters almost exactly as I imagined them from the book. Combined, they're even better, as their mutual trust lets them go at each other with full force, making it all hit even harder.

Which is good, since even more so than in the book, the focus is all on them. Supporting characters like friends Milly (Kathryn Hahn) and Shep (David Harbour) Campbell and nosy neighbor/realtor Helen Givings (Kathy Bates) get just a few scenes. The stand-out though is surprise Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as John Givings, a mental patient and the only one to say the truth about the Wheelers. There's something Jokerish about him as he drolly cuts to the heart of their insecurities while sitting comfortably behind his armor of mental illness. When you laugh during his scenes it's not because they're funny, but they're the only release you're likely to get.

Frost/Nixon and Doubt were the two big theatrical adaptations of 2008, but in some ways Revolutionary Road feels more like a play. I don't mean like the way Doubt feels like a play, where the staginess makes it seem flat onscreen. I mean like you are actually seeing a play, and all of the actors' emotions feel immediate and powerful. So yeah, it's dramatic, depressing, and all of those other words you want to call it. But to call it a cold, pristine period piece? That must have been a different movie. Because with DiCaprio and Winslet acting at their best, there's nothing cold about it.

Hurley Sums Up Lost

As promised in my Lost recap, here's the clip of Hurley summing up the first 4 seasons of Lost in a little over a minute. It won't help new viewers have any idea what's going on, but it is funny to hear how crazy it all sounds out loud.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

That's It, I'm Checking Out of Grey's Anatomy

It may have taken a three-episode weepfest to do the trick, but I am finally ready to pull the LVAD wire on Grey's Anatomy. The season started off with some promise, but the last three episodes made it clear that Grey's suffers from an inoperable tumor of suckiness. With no more likable characters, no storylines I care about, and an increasingly revolving cast, there's just nothing to keep me going anymore.

The breaking point came with the show's stupidest plot device ever: Ghost Denny. Still here after Izzie "broke up with him" last week, he spent the entire episode saying, "I'm here for you" over and over and over and over and over again. If Shonda Rhimes wants us to forget he was ever a likable character, congratulations! Mission accomplished! Yeah, we get it, Denny's only there because Izzie's sick. But am I supposed to take solace in knowing the rest of the season will be a long, drawn-out illness story for Izzie?

As far as the "very special patients," at least those stories are over with. Eric Stoltz's Death Row inmate was supposed to provoke "hard questions" about surgeons' powers of life and death. But it was all so heavy-handed and annoying that I just couldn't care. Sick Kid seemed to only succeed in turning Bailey from the one remaining good character to someone else entirely. Also, why were Meredith and Christina fighting again? Does anyone care enough to remember?

I know this has all been well covered already, but what's the point of having George make 30 second cameos in every episode? TR Knight deserves much better, and I hope he gets out of his contract ASAP. Right now, all he's doing is reminding us of a time when the show was watchable. Speaking of outgoing characters, Sadie has had nothing to do but look creepy in the background since cutting herself. Why did they even bring her on?

Right now, the only characters worth watching are Sloane and Little Grey. When the best storyline of the night involves a broken penis, it's time to move on. Grey's Anatomy, we had a good year or so. But after three seasons of going through the motions, it's time to end this relationship. Goodbye.

Oscar Nods Prove Irrelevance


BEST PICTURE
Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button, Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader

Turns out the Academy's love of Holocaust movies overpowers all else, leaving The Dark Knight out in the cold, Gotham night. This category just proves how out of touch the Oscars are with...everyone. This year, The Dark Knight and Wall-E were not only two of the most profitable movies, but two of the most critically acclaimed. The Oscars are the only ones not on board, sticking with typical period pieces. I won't bash The Reader because I haven't seen it yet, but I have trouble believing a movie with 52% top critics on Rotten Tomatoes is better than the defining movie of 2008. To give the Oscars some credit though, Dark Knight did get 8 nominations, so it's not leaving empty-handed. They corrected the Golden Globes' mistake by nominating Milk (with 8 nods). And the 10 nominations for Slumdog are all well-deserved. I would say Slumdog is a slamdunk, but Benjamin Button's 13 nominations and Milk's underdog status mean this race is still alive.

BEST ACTOR
Sean Penn (Milk), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)

The only surprise here is that it matched the SAG nominations, leaving out Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio. So much for the Academy's blind love of Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino got a goose egg (though Changeling managed 3 nods). I'm glad to see Richard Jenkins get his due, but I do wonder how anyone thought Brad Pitt's lifeless turn in Benjamin Button was better than Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road. If they wanted higher ratings for the show, they would have, I don't know, nominated Dark Knight. This one's between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke.

BEST ACTRESS
Meryl Streep (Doubt), Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River)

In the biggest surprise, voters put Kate Winslet in lead for The Reader, ignoring her performance in Revolutionary Road. So yeah, they hated Revolutionary Road (which only got 3 nods) and loved The Reader (5 nods). I also wasn't expecting Melissa Leo to make it in, as Frozen River hasn't had too much buzz for awhile. Without double nominations to confuse voters, I'm thinking Kate Winslet will be winning her first Oscar here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Josh Brolin (Milk), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

Glad to see Michael Shannon make it on here, giving Revolutionary Road something. But I'm disappointed it came at the cost of Dev Patel, leaving Slumdog with no acting nominations. The other nominees are all just for show though, since we all know this is Heath Ledger's award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Amy Adams (Doubt), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Taraji P. Henson (Benjamin Button)

Putting Kate Winslet in lead for The Reader left room for Doubt to double dip. Since they'll probably cancel each other out and Marisa Tomei has already won, I'm guessing this will go to Penelope Cruz. But if Taraji P. Henson wins, Benjamin Button might be taking down the big prize.

BEST DIRECTOR
Danny Boyle (Slumdog), David Fincher (Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk), Stephen Daldry (The Reader)

Not nominating Dark Knight for best picture is one thing. But leaving Christopher Nolan out of directing? That's just absurd. Absurd. Guess that means Danny Boyle is winning.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Milk, Wall-E, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, In Bruges

I found this category the hardest to predict (I got 2/5), and I can't say I'm satisfied by the surprises. Sure, I haven't seen Happy-Go-Lucky or Frozen River, but In Bruges? Over Rachel Getting Married, The Wrestler, Burn After Reading, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Really? This better be a Milk victory.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Doubt, The Reader

Ok, no real surprises here, since Dark Knight and Revolutionary Road probably didn't stand a real chance. I'm gonna go with Slumdog for now, but any of those first three stand a decent chance.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Down to Earth (Wall-E), Jai Ho (Slumdog), O Saya (Slumdog)

I don't really understand why they didn't just go to 5 this year, since if there's no room for Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler," the category is too small. I too would have trouble choosing between the two Slumdog songs, but over Springsteen? At least we get to see MIA perform.

I'll do real predictions closer to the actual Oscars. In the meantime, I guess I need to go see The Reader.

Guys...When Are We?

As regular Zandervision readers know, I am a huge fan of Lost. So unlike other shows, which I write about when I feel like it, you can expect a Lost recap every week, if perhaps not so soon after broadcast or so lengthy. But a lot went down on this action-packed, time-jumping, alliance-shifting premiere. So let's get to it.

A classic Lost season premiere opening with music from a record and a morning routine. I didn't recognize the song this time, but I guarantee Doc Jensen at Entertainment Weekly, the biggest Lost fan on the planet, will let us know tomorrow. Instead of introducing a new and soon-to-be-awesome character like Desmond and Juliet, this time it's someone we sort of know: Dr. Marvin Candle of the Dharma orientation videos. After recording a video for one of the stations (I can't tell them apart), he finds out his team has found the Frozen Donkey Wheel, which he says should never be released (way to go Ben). Also in the Orchid...Daniel Faraday! How did he time travel his way in there? And why? How are we still not at the opening credits?

Well, it seems the left-behind islanders have, like Billy Pilgrim, come unstuck in time. It takes blown up hatches and crashing African drug planes to give them any sense when they are. But there is one constant on island life: someone is always trying to shoot them. Ethan shoots Locke, Desmond pulls a gun on Faraday, and those flaming arrows put an end to poor Frogurt (does anyone remember how he got the name Frogurt?). We don't know who the shooters are (or why a 12-year-old wanted to cut off Juliet's hand and keep it as a pet), but they certainly cut down a lot more nameless 815ers by setting their hair on fire. Looks like Hurley's lie is becoming more truthful.

So much for Locke as Leader of the Others. He's now too busy following Alpert's advice to become Jeremy Bentham. So are the rest of the Others traveling in time too and just hiding? Or, like ageless Richard Alpert, can they move around in time as they please? Speaking of Alpert, does his mastery of time make him a. Jacob, b. The king of the island, or c. Just a guy who wears too much eye make-up?

Faraday got a chance to shine as the only one who understands what's going on, but blew it by not explaining anything. Poor Charlotte, already suffering the nosebleeds of too much time travel. Where's her Constant? There's gotta be a polar bear around somewhere. Faraday got his Constant in Desmond, in whom he planted a memory to find his mom at Oxford. As for Sawyer, he just wants a shirt (so the writers can point out that he isn't wearing one). Only a matter of time before he and Juliet start hooking up.

Back on the mainland, Jack and Ben manage to spend most of two episodes inside a funeral home. How long does it take Jack to shave, really? Ben was surprisingly minor this week, spending too much time with Locke's corpse and too little time messing with people. It is cool to see he's built up his own network of white-haired minions off the island, helping him pull off...what? What happens in 70 hours? And why does it involve the ghost of Desmond's time travel dreams (who I'm guessing is Faraday's mom)? But the real question is why Sayid turned against Ben. Sayid is always right, so Ben must be up to something. I wouldn't have it any other way.

The mainland was really the Hurley and Sayid Show. I'll forgive Sayid for being unconscious the entire second hour because of how awesome he was in the first, taking out two hit men Bourne-style. There's a lesson in how to pack knives into your dishwasher. Hurley got some great bits as well, summarizing Lost's four seasons in a couple of minutes (as soon as I find it on Youtube, I'm posing it) and buying an I Heart Shizuhs shirt, when not chatting with Ana-Lucia. It's too bad Hurley had to go and get himself arrested, cause he and Sayid made quite the team.

This season so far seems like a pretty radical shift from the past four years, splitting the cast in two and spending so much time off-island. Even bigger, there's no longer a single character focused on each week. Kind of sad to see such an important part of the show disappear, especially if it means an end to episodes like "The Constant." Still, if you count all the question marks in this post, you can tell Lost once again asked about ten times as many new questions as it answered. And that's why we love it. The on-island stuff may be a bit more intriguing for now, but there's a ton happening on both sides of the time divide. This may not rank among Lost's best-ever episodes, but it got the season off to quite the breakneck start.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oscar Nod Predictions

Tomorrow morning the Oscar nominations will be announced, and that means it's time for some predictions. After my utter failure at predicting the Golden Globe winners, I'm going a bit more conservative this time around, mostly saying what everyone's expecting. But the Oscars always throw some curveballs, and movies like Wall-E, The Reader, Gran Torino, and Revolutionary Road could easily do better than expected. Here are my predictions in the top 8 categories (in order of likelihood):

BEST PICTURE

Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Milk
Frost/Nixon
The Dark Knight

Alternates - Wall-E, The Reader, Gran Torino

BEST ACTOR

Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Alternates - Richard Jenkins, The Visitor; Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road

BEST ACTRESS

Meryl Streep, Doubt
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Alternate - Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Josh Brolin, Milk
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

Alternates - James Franco/Emile Hirsch, Milk; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona
Kate Winslet, The Reader
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Alternate - Amy Adams, Doubt

BEST DIRECTOR

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Alternates - Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino; Stephen Daldry, The Reader

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Milk
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Rachel Getting Married
Wall-E
The Wrestler

Alternates - Burn After Reading, Happy-Go-Lucky

BEST ADAPATED SCREENPLAY

Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Doubt
The Reader

Alternates - The Dark Knight, Revolutionary Road

We'll find out how I did tomorrow. In the meantime, check out the Razzie nominations. I'm personally glad to see The Happening did so "well," as it deserved every one of those nominations. I can't say I've seen The Love Guru or The Hottie and the Nottie, but here's one award I'd rather let someone else decide.

A Mind Frak of a Premiere

Sorry for the delay on writing about the Battlestar Galactica season premiere, but other things came up (like, you know, the Inauguration). So before tonight's hugely anticipated season premiere of Lost (recap special at 8, premiere from 9-11), let's go through through BSG's crazy premiere twist by twist. Now's the time to stop reading if you still haven't seen it.

Earth Was a Cylon Colony
They keep saying "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again," so...um...that's gotta be relevant, right? We do at least know how the Final Five differ from the previous seven models - they lived on Earth. So how do they keep being reborn? And what have they been doing for the last two thousand years? For every answer, there's five more questions. That's how good TV works.

Starbuck Finds Her Own Skeleton
It seems Starbuck really did go to Earth during the time of her presumed death, but did she really return? How long has that skeleton been there? And what does that make Starbuck? Since even Leoben had no frakking idea, I think the rest of us are doomed.

Dualla Kills Herself
Dualla never gets this much screentime, so you knew she had to be important. I of course fell for the writers' ploy and believed she was the Final Cylon. But no - she just gave in to the utter despair felt by everyone who believed Earth could save them. Dee may have been a minor character, but her tragic exit - choosing to end her life after giving herself one good final day - is among the show's best.

Ellen Tigh is the Final Cylon
While the rest of the episode was blowing my mind every 5 minutes or so, the final reveal was a bit of a letdown. I mean, Ellen was certainly a logical choice. We've all suspected her ever since Baltar wouldn't say if he lied about her Cylon test results in season 1. But after all that "One will be revealed" build-up, I expected some huge surprise. Tigh and Tyrol were both way more unexpected. I guess it's surprising it wasn't someone big like Roslin or Baltar, but that doesn't make it any more satisfying. Still, the idea that she and Tigh have been reborn together repeatedly is kind of cool (even if a lot like Hancock).

Despite all the big answers - the final Cylon, what happened to Earth - there were so many new questions that this final season has a lot to cover. Sure, the premiere was depressing and bleak, but that's BSG at its best. If the rest of the season can keep up this intensity, I'll follow Galactica wherever the frak it's going.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It is the Dawning of the Age of Obama

The day eight years in the making has finally arrived: Bush is gone, and we can finally say PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!

For anyone who couldn't make the streaming video work, I've got the big moments off of Youtube. First, the oath:



According to CNN, that awkward bungling of the oath was Roberts' fault, not Obama's. Despite being Chief Justice, Roberts somehow messed up the order of the words and Obama paused to give him a chance to correct himself. Roberts will probably be around for another 30 years though, so maybe in 8 years he'll get it right.

Now the big speech. Part 1:



Part 2:



I have to say, the first thing I thought watching this was, "Man, I didn't realize how much I missed Obama's big inspirational speeches." Since the election, his public appearances have all been a little more downbeat and serious, as he has tried to make sense of the mess the country's in. But today he was back in peak unifying form, speaking of how we can meet our challenges, of choosing "hope over fear," and of an "era of responsibility." No disappointments here.

As happy as President Obama must have been today, I think former President Bush (it feels good to type that) was even happier. I think he looked a good five years younger than usual. All smiles and handshakes the message was clear: Bush could not WAIT to get the hell out of that White House. As Bush said his farewell to Obama at the helicopter, you got the sense he was saying, "Have fun with this mess. I'm out of here, bitches!"

Also making a strange exit was former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a wheelchair over a back injury. The chair just made him look all the more like Dr. Strangelove as he directed everyone around him. So maybe that makes him more like Driving Miss Daisy. Driving Miss Cheney?

Another source of controversy going into the morning was Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation. As he stepped up, you could hear the polite but unenthuasiatic applause. After his very nice speech, the applause was considerably greater. Watch it here:



So, to paraphrase Jon Stewart, President Gallant has replaced President Goofus, and we finally got to open that bike we've known was under the Christmas tree all month. Tomorrow President Obama will start the extensive amount of work he has cut out for him in the next four weeks. But tonight, enjoy the parties Mr. President to celebrate this important and satisfying day.

High Schoolers Love Opera; Jack Buries Freckles

Stuck at work with no TV to watch the Inauguration? Don't worry! Just about every relevant site has a live stream of the event. Here's a few to choose from:

Hulu
CNN
NBC
MSNBC

So far, it looks a little bit like New Year's Eve, with a whole lot of people standing around waiting for something to happen. While waiting for Obama's speech, how bout a little of last night's TV?

It was a week for comings and goings on Gossip Girl, as Uncle Jack said goodbye and Teenage Teacher said hello. Jack's dismissal seemed a bit sudden, with little of his build-up having paid off. What the hell was the point of his tryst with Blair on New Year's Eve if it would never be mentioned again or have any impact on anything? Was it just to put that icky image in our minds? It almost makes me wonder if this was a case of premature Aaron Rose syndrome, when the producers realized a character wasn't working and kicked him off. But they did try a little too hard to make him evil, what with trying to rape Lily. An older Chuck Bass could have been fun. Oh well.

As for Teenage Teacher, the fact that she looks younger than most of the cast should make it less creepy when she and Dan inevitably start hooking up. How is it that Dan and Serena went instantly from back together to seriously dramatic fights? This whole Yale divide seems a bit overdone. Is it a rule that Dan must ignore Serena's call in every episode?

So now that Lily's adopted Chuck, I think it's only a matter of time before Rufus and Lily get married, Nate gets adopted too, and every single character on the show is in one big happy family. It seemed like everyone was related on The OC, but on Gossip Girl they really are. Brady Bunch 2, perhaps? And how many high schoolers really like opera that much? I guarantee they all fell asleep halfway through the overture.

24 had a bit of an off week, taking in the excitement of the last 2 hours while setting up stuff to come. I know it seems weird to say nothing much happened in an episode where the First Husband got drugged and Agent Freckles got buried alive, but what can I say, it's 24. And no Chloe and Buchanan automatically makes for a weak episode. But I will give credit to the super creepy ending, with all those shots of Freckles from behind the tarp looking around scared at Jack and Tony burying her alive. Seeing Freckles' POV as the last dirt went down heading into a silent clock makes up for any inactivity beforehand.

Ok, Obama's gonna speak any moment now, so enough with last night's TV. Time to watch history.

Benjamin Gump

Of course it's nice when everybody likes a movie, like Slumdog Millionaire, but what's more fun is when a movie divides people right down the middle. For my money, the biggest love it/hate it movie of 2008 is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which some of you may remember I panned a month ago. Now that it's been out for awhile, many of my friends have come up to me going, "What's wrong with you? That movie is brilliant! Have you no heart?" so I thought it was time to reopen the discussion. But first, a video to (humorously) make clear how true one of my criticisms is: BB is the exact same movie as Forrest Gump (but crappier):



BB supporters, try telling me the two movies don't have the same characters, plot points, and voiceover. And now the rest of my Top 10 Reasons Benjamin Button Sucks:

2. Too long
3. Too slow
4. Benjamin has no character
5. Benjamin's backwards aging rarely poses a major obstacle
6. Nothing drives the movie forward (because Benjamin is so passive)
7. No character beyond Queenie feels remotely genuine
8. The second half of the movie is just "look at how pretty Brad Pitt is"
9. No emotional connection whatsoever
10. Ridiculously overwrought score

But since BB has made over $100 million and will likely be getting a lot of Oscar nominations come Thursday, I'm obviously in the minority here. So what am I missing? Should I give the movie another chance? Or do people just really like looking at Brad Pitt? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

There's Something About Tara

Grade: B+

Earlier this week, I got a chance to watch the first two episodes of Showtime's new comedy, United States of Tara, which premieres tomorrow night. But you don't have to wait for the pilot, which has been on Youtube all week. With Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and John Corbett (Sex and the City) starring, Diablo Cody (Juno) writing, and Steven Spielberg producing, you'll want to try it out. Give it a look:



I have a feeling United States of Tara is going to divide critics down the middle. I can understand why someone wouldn't like the show. I mean, it is completely and utterly over the top. Tee, the first "alter" (as in alternate personality) we see, is a way over-exaggerated version of a teenager. Also, the show definitely tries too hard to fit the Showtime brand, with such a heavy focus on sex. When teenage daughter Kate is changing in the middle of a conversation, it's just like "was that necessary?"

But I'll forgive all that, because the show is funny. It doesn't pretend to be a realistic depiction of a mental illness. It's just a dysfunctional family comedy. And at times like when alter Buck and son Marshall beat up Kate's loser boyfriend, it works. Maybe that won't be the case when Diablo Cody stops writing, but it's clear she knows her TV comedy. The supporting cast is also solid, especially John Corbett as the laid-back husband and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) as the less understanding sister. But the show belongs to Toni Collette. Tee may be a bit too much, but Collette's total committment to all 4 of her characters is what makes the show funny. I for one found her Buck, a male, gun-toting, beer-drinking southerner, surprisingly convincing. Even if the show may just be a showcase for her, that's still one solid reason to watch.

In some ways, these first two episodes reminded me of the beginning of Big Love. It's a lot of "isn't multiple personalities wacky?" with few hints at where else the show is going. Beneath all of the Showtime effects (I'm pretty sure the house is the same one from Weeds) and the high concept premise, it's a pretty classic family show at heart. Episode two is about Marshall's trouble with a teacher (Bluth Alert! It's Tony Hale!) and Tara's trouble connecting to teenage Kate. So for now, it's an enjoyably broad comedy, but I'm not sure how long that will be enough. Since I said the same thing about Pushing Daisies, I'll be happy when I'm proved wrong.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Milk Will Recruit You

Grade: A


Harvey Milk, the United States' first openly gay elected official, was assassinated in 1978. Yet over thirty years later, with the passing of Proposition 8 in California, it's amazing how little has changed. In Milk, the clothes and sets are sometimes the only things reminding you it's the 1970s, as anti-gay crusaders make the same arguments they make today. Proposition 8 forms a cloud over the film, reminding us how strongly Harvey's fight continues today.

But our modern failures shouldn't get in the way of an inspiring and extraordinary film. Milk traces Harvey (Sean Penn) from an unhappy suit in New York to his assassination by fellow San Francisco city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). There are boyfriends and personal struggles, sure, but this is not a biopic. The film wisely avoids painting Harvey as a singular hero, showing how he led a far bigger movement. The movie may be called Milk, but this is above all a civil rights movie, doing for the gay community in the 1970s what many other films have done for African-Americans in the 1960s.

Given Harvey's famous opening line, "My name is Harvey Milk, and I am here to recruit you," the biggest compliment I can give the film is that it makes everyone want to get involved and fight, gay or straight. It helps that director Gus Van Sant uses so much real footage. Villain Anita Bryant appears only in archive footage, so you know every ridiculous thing she says is real. But what's also inspiring is the way Harvey fights solely through the political process. He quells riots and sets his efforts on voter registration. Yet he managed to pass a bill protecting homosexuals from work discrimination and defeated Proposition 6, an act that would keep gay teachers out of the schools. For all the deadlock in politics, the movie does show one politician who made a difference.

Milk is Van Sant's first mainstream movie since Finding Forrester in 2000, after a lengthy break for more experimental films like Elephant and Paranoid Park. It paid off. Some of that indie-style is still there, in the home movie clips, the mixing of archive footage with fiction, and the beautiful cinematography. He never goes overboard with the directorial fluorishes; they just give the movie an added oomph. So when a gay kid in a wheelchair calls Harvey because he has no hope, we don't dismiss it as too Hollywood. Van Sant makes it all feel authentic.

It also helps that the cast is uniformly excellent, led by a potentially career-best Sean Penn. He doesn't caricature the fey New York accent, creating a believable impression. But more importantly, he takes a symbolic figure and makes him very human. As for the supporting cast, Josh Brolin has gotten the most attention for his disturbingly normal assassin. James Franco as well does impressive work as Harvey's main boyfriend Scott, who grows from hippie to mustachioed activist. But for me, the stand-out is Emile Hirsch as the stray gay kid Harvey turns into an activist. He disappears so completely into the role you wouldn't even think of Into the Wild or Speed Racer.

With the election so dominant in 2008, last year's movies tend to be considered in political terms. The Dark Knight is the Bush movie, Gran Torino the McCain movie, and so on. But a movie about an unconventional political who got young people excited and mobilized for something they believed in? That's all Obama, regardless of what went down on his election day. And no matter where you stand on the issue of gay rights, it's hard to argue with the movie's closing line, "You've gotta give them hope." In 2009, maybe we can do the same for Harvey's memory.

Bret Easton Ellis Alert!

I heard awhile back that Bret Easton Ellis' The Informers was being turned into a movie, but I only learned last night that it already has a trailer. Now, Ellis (American Psycho, Rules of Attraction) is one of my favorite authors, but the movies of his book often don't hold up (thank you James Van Der Beek for ruining one of my favorite books). So let's see how The Informers looks.

Warning: NSFW. Lots of nudity.



The Informers is a hard book to adapt, as it's basically ten short stories loosely connected by some of the same characters. Yet I spotted a surprising number of them in that trailer (though not the one where it turns out everyone is a vampire). Regardless of cohesiveness, the large collection of pretty blonde people having lots of sex in different combinations means the movie will definitely feel like Ellis. And with Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, and Mickey Rourke, they've assembled quite the interesting cast. Here's hoping it's more American Psycho than Rules of Attraction.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush's Series of Unfortunate Disappointments

This week, President Bush gave a post-election Sarah Palin level of exit interviews, in which he tried to make sense of his legacy. As usual, Jon Stewart puts it all into perspective, hilariously:



There we go, Bush finally admitted to making a mistake...in the Mission Accomplished sign. Hey, it's a good start. Maybe by 2024 he'll say there should have been an occupation strategy for Iraq. Baby steps Bushie, baby steps. But it's unfair to blame Bush for things that were clearly our fault. The Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis, we let him down...somehow. And hey, complete obliviousness to anything that's happened in the last eight years is preferable to that imitation of self-pity he did. You just stick to your principles, insisting you'd rather be unpopular than....right?

Is Top Chef Turning into the Real World?

Poor Ariane. She knew she was doomed when she was teamed up with Power Couple Hosea and Leah. No culinary effort can stand between True Love. Still, that was pretty cold the way the lovebirds shut their mouths to let Ariane take all the blame. Was anybody else disappointed in the lack of a screaming match culminating in "you threw me under the bus!" (Isn't it a rule that all reality shows must say that at least once an episode?) Cause man, she looked pissed that the giggly, whispering pair's code of omerta got her the boot.

I do worry, though, that this may lead into the Hosea and Leah Show. Next week's promo just shows them cuddling and talking about how their relationship is so wrong/so right. Now, maybe Bravo's just taking a page from the CW, which once advertised an episode of Veronica Mars as being solely about a two-minute dinner scene with V's dad and boyfriend. But it's looking more like we may be heading into Real World territory. Once they've opened the door, it's only a matter of time before everybody sits around and talks (or sings) about their sexual orientation for an hour (yes, I was forced to watch last week's Real World premiere, and I want that hour of my life back).

On the other side of the spectrum, Stefan and Jamie had a bit of a lovers' spat. Neither seemed to do anything particularly odious, Jamie just already hated Stefan and Stefan enjoyed the hate (he thinks it's cute). Announcing himself as the sole cock (as in rooster) in the pen probably didn't win him any points (though he did love his own joke). But for all the bitching and fighting, they must have done something right, as they and teammate Carla took home the victory for their chicken meal. Will that make them get along better? Don't count on it.

Before I go, let's check in on new judge Toby Young. Last week, it seemed he cared more about making (often lame) jokes than about food. But as I hoped he would in week 2, he has mellowed....somewhat. There was nothing as bad as "Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder," but calling pesto "the big bad wolf" isn't too far off. Still, he actually talked about the food this week, so maybe he'll start doing his job. Somebody needs to just keep him away from similes and metaphors. Also, do you think Tom Colicchio really thinks Toby's that funny, or is it in his contract that he must laugh at every one of his jokes? I'm guessing the latter.

Does the World Need a Gossip Girl Spin-Off?

Today the rumors became truth: Gossip Girl is getting a spin-off. Now, my gut reaction to spin-off news is always dismay. When The Office was supposed to get one, I figured great, the new show will suck and take the original down with it. After all, it's hard to think otherwise when our only current example of a spin-off is Private Practice, a show that did just that. You pretty much have to go back to Angel to find a time when it worked.

But then I actually read the premise. According to Entertainment Weekly, it's about a teenage Lily Van Der Woodsen living with her sister in 1980s Los Angeles. And, presumably, Young Rufus will have a part too. So let's get this straight: no actual cast members are involved, it's a different decade, a different coast, and Lily's name is basically the only thing this show has in common with Gossip Girl. In fact, if it didn't take place in the '80s, it could be any other show on the CW.

If a spin-off was inevitable (and the months of rumors suggest it was), this certainly seems like a pretty good option. After all, wasn't the other option to focus on Jenny Humphrey? Who would want to watch that? Actually, I just thought about a Gossip Girl without Jenny and it seemed like a beautiful thing. Maybe she could take Nate and Vanessa with her, as she moves to Seattle to become a West Coast hipster. Is that still possible?

I'm still not convinced the Lily and Rufus Show will break the streak of bad spin-offs, but I'm willing to give it a shot (or more likely ignore it) on its own merits. So are you excited to learn more about Lily and Rufus' past to some quality '80s music? Or do you think this spin-off is the worst thing to happen to Gossip Girl since Aaron Rose? Comment away.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some Frakking Homework Before BSG's Premiere

Battlestar Galactica begins its final (half) season this Friday at 10, but are you ready? Here's a quick test: Which four Cylons had their secret revealed last season? Which Cylons formed an alliance with Galactica to find Earth? What body part did Gaeta recently lose?

Having trouble remembering? That's why there's the internet. Whether you're a diehard fan or you've never seen an episode in your life, this recap will catch you up on seasons 1-3:



And for the first half of season 4...



Even if you don't need a recap, Sci-Fi's still got something for you to do. The last few weeks, they've aired a 10-part webisode series about Gaeta. I haven't seen it yet myself, so it looks like I've got some homework too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fox Cancels Prison Break a Few Seasons Late

After four seasons of tattoos, severed arms, heads in boxes, and returns from the dead, Prison Break will finally be sent to that big house known as cancellation, according to Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello. For most of us, the surprise is not the cancellation but that the show is actually still on the air.

I didn't bail until Lincoln found Sarah's head in a box (before she resurrected), but wiser viewers bolted when the eponymous prison break occurred. No matter how many wacky conspiracy plots and out-of-nowhere deaths they threw in, there was no escaping the fact that without the prison, there was no Prison Break.

So, for those of you loyal few still hanging on, the final episodes will return April 17th. Anyone curious to see how it all ends? Or will you go back to forgetting this 24-wannabe ever existed?

And Just Like That, 24 is Awesome Again

24 writers, you have my apologies. Everything I said yesterday about a weak start? All undone by last night's two high-action, plot-twisty hours that were 24 at its rule-breaking, mole-hunting, undercover-going best.

The turning point came when it was revealed that Tony was thankfully not evil, but undercover. Now, I love undercover stories in general. All of the questions of will they get caught, how far will they go to keep their cover, that's all golden for me. So Tony and Jack undercover is just double the fun. But the best part is that it puts Jack and Tony back together, the CTU dream team bashing heads and taking names.

Even better is that he's undercover for Chloe and Buchanan, leading their own rogue, black ops version of CTU. Before you can shout "No more CTU!" they make it clear this is a different game entirely. If their sketchy warehouse doesn't do the trick, there's Buchanan, looking very spy-like with his black turtleneck, scruffy beard, and slick white hair. When he talks about sacrificing Jack and Sengala PM Metobo to keep Tony undercover, you know straight-arrow Bill is as gone as CTU. No wonder Jack's not sure if he can trust them.

With the real Chloe and Bill back, their FBI fill-ins get to be the "people who try to stop Jack." Chloe-Clone may still be lame, but the tech battle between the former Larry Sanders Show costars during the FBI escape proved her worth. Then there's Agent Freckles, betrayed over losing her teacher in the art of torture. She wants to torture so bad she tries it on her own, nearly killing a guy when he laughs at her lack of confidence. Jack better watch out for her, not because she'll arrest him, but for whatever weird S&M torture fantasies she's got planned.

We also saw the return of 24's favorite plot device: the mole. Unlike in previous seasons though, this time MOLES ARE EVERYWHERE! Sounds paranoid, but since this is 24 it's gotta be true. As far as Taylor's mole goes, it's gotta be the dull Chief of Staff, cause otherwise why is he there? As for the FBI, Creepy Guy's wife may be on that plane, but that doesn't make him innocent. Still, he looks way too evil to actually be evil. Freckles could pull a Nina Meyers, but a good mole wouldn't risk her job by torturing for thrills and worshipping Jack Bauer. That leaves Boring Boss and Chloe-Clone as the main suspects.

Sure, we've been through all of these scenarios already. The four-man CTU operation is just a variation on season 5's Jack Bauer Club, where a select but growing few helped Jack expose Logan's treachery. But at least now if 24 is predictable, it's predictable in a fun way. And as long as they keep coming up with great action sequenences like Jack and Tony's escape from FBI headquarters, I'll be hanging on every "dammit."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is HIMYM Trying Too Hard to Be Seinfeld?

As a show about people living in New York that coins the odd zeitgeist-friendly expression from time to time, How I Met Your Mother has always courted comparisons with Seinfeld. But with both of the major storylines from tonight's episode stemming directly from its 90s predecessor, has my favorite sitcom gone too far?

In Plot A, exes Ted and Robin start sleeping together as friends. Hey, didn't Jerry and Elaine try that too? They sure did, and it all ended very badly with Jerry giving Elaine money for her birthday. But HIMYM finds a nice twist to the set-up. Someone does get hurt, but it's not Ted or Robin. That would be Barney, who smashes expensive TVs and talks about it to a group of kindergarteners before Ted finds out his secret. That twist, along with Barney's general level of awesomeness, keeps this out of straight-out rip-off territory.

But as for Marshall's quest to sneak off to the bathroom at work, he might as well be shouting "yadda yadda yadda." The whole "reading a magazine" euphism was an unsubtle wink to "master of my domain" in Seinfeld's most famous episode. But, and I'm sorry guys, saying it fifty times in three minutes doesn't make it suddenly funny. Seinfeld needed its euphisms due to network censoring, which the audience knew. Here the humor of "reading a magazine" is "Euphisms are funny!" It does pay off when Barney says, "We're talking about masturbation, right?" going where Seinfeld couldn't. How far TV has come.

Oh, and as for those magazines, those reality star guest spots have been hyped up by gossip rags for months, yet were fairly forgettable within the episode. Boosting ratings with high-profile guest stars without letting it have any effect on the quality of the show? Way to go HIMYM writers, you are wise indeed.

Tina Fey Tells Us to Suck It

Ok, going back to the Globes for a second, I had to share the best speech of the night:



Just goes to show, THEY ARE WATCHING. And Tina Fey, don't let the haters get you down. On behalf of most of the internet, I want you to know that you rock. And Cougarletter CAN suck it. (For more on the haters, Gawker's got the story.)

On 24, The More Things Change...

24 kickstarted its long-delayed seventh season last night with the first two hours of its four-hour premiere. Usually the four hours are somewhat self-contained and highly action-packed. As many flaws as season 6 had (and it did have many), it delivered a kick-ass opener with Jack biting a guy's neck, Jack kicking a terrorist out of a subway car, a nuclear explosion, and Jack killing Curtis.

Last night's two-hour opener started out in the same spirit, with a suspenseful car crash and kidnapping of engineer Latham (John Billingsley) by risen-from-the-dead Tony Almeida and his nameless terrorist cronies. But for the next hour and 55 minutes, action largely gave way to exposition, as all the many storylines were set up and all the many new characters were introduced.

To make up for last season's failures, the writers wiped the slate clean with a new location and a whole new cast of characters. But while CTU may be disbanded, Jack's new FBI home might as well be its less popular identical twin. Chloe has given way to Janeane Garofalo's socially awkward techie. Rhys Coiro's analyst is basically the same character Zachary Quinto played in season 3. And while their boss could transform into the next Bill Buchanan or George Mason, for now he's just boring.

There are a couple of new additions who might pull their weight. Jack's FBI partner Renee lets Jack do his thing and can take down 300 pound guys in 3 seconds, so she can stay. President Allison Taylor seems to follow President Roslin (Battlestar Galactica)'s playbook on how to be a badass female president, but she needs better material than a lame justification for the war in Iraq. Her husband drags things down further with the investigation of his son's death. We know from Redemption that his son was killed by Jon Voight's minions, but that doesn't make watching him threaten hot brokers any more fun.

Of course, 24 is the Jack Bauer Show, so the supporting players are just there to help and hinder his terrorist hunt. But, as I asked in Redemption, who is Jack Bauer? He's been put through such ridiculousness over the course of the series that any humanity in him has long since seeped out. His former friendship with Tony gives him some connection to this season's stories, but he mostly answers everything with, "I don't care." Yeah, he got to threaten a guy with a pen, but these first two hours showed very little of Jack Bauer being awesome and a whole lot of him justifying torture. We don't watch 24 for serious political discourse. It's a superhero show for the War on Terror. Lighten up and kill some terrorists.

As for Tony, he had probably the worst send-off in 24 history (and there's been a lot). But while it's nice to have him back, a lame villain in a goatee does not seem worthy of the Tony Almeida we all knew and loved. I'm hopeful that his early capture last night means there's a better explanation for his actions, and maybe he will team up with Jack Bauer once more to save the day. Cause Tony just doesn't seem to work as a villain, even if he has the motivation. Also, the vague terrorist plot taken from various Die Hard movies isn't holding up to terror threats of the past. Maybe once everything comes together a little better we'll start to see the 24 of old. Tonight seems like a good time to start.