Friday, February 27, 2009

Top Chef Becomes Pretty Good Chef

Hey everyone. It's weekend, and that means it's time to catch up on all the pop culture I missed this week. So how bout we all pretend I wrote all these posts days ago and you just didn't see them until now. K?

First off, the Top Chef finale, in which the winner was....Hosea? Really? The guy who generally coasted through the middle without standing out? Whose main contribution to the show was his uncharacteristically Real World-esque will-they-or-won't-they with Leah? That guy gets to put his name along with greats like Harold, Stephanie, Hung, and Ilan? How did this happen?

Well, it seems to be from lack of competition. As much as I've questioned Carla's last minute surge, I was starting to come around to her. Maybe she was hiding her talent for the first 8-10 episodes. Maybe she could really pull off a win. Instead, she abandoned her plans for advice from Casey (herself a victim of the final episode choke), sabotaging herself in the process.

Which leaves the battle of the baldies, Stefan and Hosea. Stefan seemed destined to win from the first episode, but his confidence got the best of him toward the end. Once again, he didn't take the extra minute to think "vanilla and chocolate ice cream is not that exciting," or "maybe frozen fish is a bad idea." All it takes is two slip-ups for Hosea to coast to an unspectacular victory. This marks the first time the Top Chef was crowned by default, not merit.

So tthis season was disappointing, but it's hard to see how it could have been more satisfying. Maybe if Jamie, or even Fabio, had lasted longer. And at least, in Toby's last ever appearance (please let this be so), he avoided making any lame movie jokes. Unless you could him saying a meal should have a beginning, middle, and end, which he said approximately 528.6 times. Anyway, here's hoping season 6 will see the exit of Toby Young, and the return of a Top Chef worthy of the title.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kenneth the Governor

Saw this on Foote Steppes (great political blog) and had to share it.

Still not having seen the Republican response, I was skeptical when I heard of the Bobby Jindal/Kenneth the Page comparisons. Then having seen clips on Daily Show, I realized it was soooo true. If he really is the Republican party's only hope, I'm right now calling a 2016 race between Bobby Jindal and Alec Baldwin. And nobody messes with Jack Donaghy.

State of the Blog

If any of you loyal readers have found it odd that I've dared go a few days without updating, there's a reason: after months and months of searching, I finally have a job! While that's great news for me, for you it does mean I have less time for blogging and less time for the entertainment I blog about.

This week in particular is a bit crazy, but I promise next week we will return to a somewhat more normal schedule. In the meantime, I will try in the next few days to share my opinions on the not-a-State of the Union (Campaign Obama is back! And I mean that in a good way!), the Top Chef finale (Hosea? Seriously? Who let that happen?), and of course this week's Lost, whenever I get around to watching it.

So keep checking back here, cause when I find a free moment, it's yours.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Lackluster Oscars Show

The first-time producers promised this year's Oscars show would be more fun and stay within 3 hours. The second promise was obviously a lie (it was 3.5 hours), but the first promise was equally hard to spot. The biggest change was bringing in theater man Hugh Jackman to host instead of a comedian, and not telling him he wasn't still hosting the Tonys. His opening musical number had its moments, and he brought a good level of energy to the show. But what was the point of that tribute to musicals, in a year that only saw Mamma Mia and High School Musical 3? Oh, because Jackman still thinks he's on Broadway.

There were also some changes to the way awards were handed out, having presenters give out multiple awards in a group. Less presenters meant time saved and, even more thankfully, less awkward stage banter (like Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston. Painful). The time saved was soon wasted by having former winners describe the nominees. I'm hoping next year they return to the film clips, because when old actors blabber on for awhile, I stop listening. For that matter, why was every nominee list read twice?

Finally, those show-killing video montages. While the genre tributes were still just as pointless, at least they were current. Anything is better than last year, when I think one montage theme was "movies about America." Seriously? Best was the Pineapple Express guys watching movies from the year. As they laughed at the serious dramas, The Reader once again learned what the cost was of taking that slot away from The Dark Knight, and I was entertained.

The awards themselves turned out to be even more free of surprises than the show surrounding it. Obviously not everything was locked up, since I only scored 16/24 on my Oscar predictions, but little happened worth raising an eyebrow for. Slumdog had a near-sweep with 8 wins, losing only to itself in Original Song and to The Dark Knight in a sound category. Sean Penn beat out Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, and Penelope Cruz held her lead in a competitive Best Supporting Actress race. But the only award that seemed like a real surprise was Best Foreign Film, in which some Japanese movie I've never heard of beat off favorites and Waltz with Bashir and The Class.

The speeches as well were the typical unmemorable parade of "thank you"s. Still, there were a few good moments. The Japanese guy who won Best Animated Short made up for beating Presto by ending with "Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto." And in easily the best speech of the night, Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black spoke to gays and lesbians, saying that God does love them and that someday soon they will have equal rights. Certainly a lot more positive than Sean Penn's message, that anyone who voted for Prop 8 will have shame for generations.

Anyway, these awards shows tend to feel boringly predictable at the time, but that's not always a bad thing. I wish Slumdog had lost some of the pre-Oscar awards, maybe giving SAG to Milk, just so those who saw it late could experience what I did many months ago. But with such a weak pool of nominees, it was the best picture and did deserve its wins. I wish The Dark Knight had gotten more than two awards, and I would have liked to see Mickey Rourke take Best Actor. But the Academy does deserve credit for not doing anything too boneheaded, like giving Benjamin Button Best Picture. In the end, predictable is better than wrong.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Funny People Trailer

A full trailer for Judd Apatow's new movie, Funny People, is up, and it looks...different from his first two. Check it out, though I should warn you that it seems to give away the entire plot of the movie:

So it kind of looks like a cross between Punchline and The Bucket List, and then abandons that to be a typical romantic comedy. Looks a lot more serious than his other movies, though the trailer gave me some chuckles. So I guess it could go either way: all sap with no laughs, or a successful Punchline-style comedy/drama. Apatow hasn't directed a bad movie yet, so I trust him to pull it off.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

And the Best Cursing Award Goes to...


Awards Daily has a pretty amusing compilation of all the swearing, cursing, etc. from all of the best picture nominees. There may be some spoilers if you haven't seen the movie:

Biggest takeaways: Not much swearing in The Reader or Benjamin Button. Slumdog uses the word "slumdog" a lot. And Milk is easily the funniest one to watch.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscar Predictions

UPDATE: I'm switching Supporting Actress from Penelope Cruz to Viola Davis.

It's that time again. With the Academy Awards telecast airing this Sunday, it's time for me to do my final predictions. Let's hope I do better than I did with the Golden Globes.

Best Picture
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire or Milk
Should Have Been Nominated: The Dark Knight, Wall-E
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Benjamin Button, The Reader

It would be one of the biggest upsets in recent history if anything but Slumdog won, and I can't see anything besides possibly Milk having the power to do so. Benjamin Button's considered the biggest spoiler, but it gets very little love, and I suppose The Reader is still a possibility. But this is a category you can feel comfortable betting on.

Best Actor
Will Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Should Win: Mickey Rourke or Sean Penn, Milk
Should Have Been Nominated: Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button

This is a really tight race that could go either way. Sean Penn perhaps gives a better performance, but he's won before and Mickey Rourke's got the kind of personal story voters like. That's why I'm betting on Rourke.

Best Actress
Will Win: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Should Win: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Should Have Been Nominated: Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Angelina Jolie, Changeling

The Reader may be Kate Winslet's weaker performance in 2008, but it's still Oscar-level work and she's still long overdue for a win. Anne Hathaway's still got plenty of nominations left in her, so the biggest competitor is Meryl Streep. Since Doubt is hardly Streep's best work, this should be an easy win for Winslet. Unless Melissa Leo creeps in as a dark horse...

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Should Win: Heath Ledger
Should Have Been Nominated: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: All deserved it

The biggest no-brainer of the night.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Viola Davis, Doubt
Should Win: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Should Have Been Nominated: Rosemarie Dewitt, Rachel Getting Married
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Amy Adams, Doubt

The least predictable race of the night. Penelope Cruz is the frontrunner, so my gut says she's bound to lose.. But who can beat her? My bet is Viola Davis, who makes the most of her limited screen time. But I'm also kind of feeling a surprise upset by Taraji P. Henson, and I wouldn't count out Marisa Tomei either.

Best Director
Will Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Should Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Should Have Been Nominated: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Stephen Daldry, The Reader

There's a slight chance voters may reward David Fincher to make up for Benjamin Button's loss in best picture, but I doubt it. This is about as much of a given as Slumdog for best picture.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Milk
Should Win: Milk
Should Have Been Nominated: Rachel Getting Married
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: In Bruges

This one's a tight race between Milk and Wall-E, but I think enough people will mark down Wall-E for its lack of dialogue to give Milk the win. Though there's always a chance of an In Bruges sneak attack.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Should Have Been Nominated: The Dark Knight
Shouldn't Have Been Nominated: Benjamin Button

Another category Slumdog should easily carry. Some attention has been given to Benjamin Button's terrible script, but I think the most likely upset is Frost/Nixon. Still not gonna happen.

Now the Rest:

Foreign Film - The Class
Waltz with Bashir is the frontrunner, but as an animated documentary, it's way too weird for the stuck-in-the-past Academy.

Documentary - Man on Wire
It's won just about every award it's been up for. Have voters even seen the other films?

Animated Film - Wall-E
The second biggest no-brainer of the night.

Cinematography - Slumdog Millionaire
Benjamin Button is certainly beautiful, but Slumdog's camerawork is way more innovative.

Visual Effects - The Dark Knight
This could easily go to Benjamin Button, but I think voters want to make sure Dark Knight gets something.

Art Direction - Benjamin Button
Voters will leap at the opportunity to give Benjamin Button one of the 13 awards it's up for.

Costume Design - The Duchess
It always goes to the period piece.

Film Editing - Slumdog Millionaire
It usually goes to the film whose editing is most noticeable.

Makeup - Benjamin Button
The award Benjamin Button most deserves.

Score - Slumdog Millionaire
....Though if they go the traditional route, that's all Benjamin Button.

Song - "Down to Earth," Wall-E
The two Slumdog songs should split the vote, letting Peter Gabriel's deserving song win.

Sound Editing and Mixing - The Dark Knight
These categories are made for the blockbusters.

Short Film (Animated) - Presto
If Wall-E was a lesser Pixar film, Presto would have totally overshadowed it.

Short Film (Live Action) - Spielzeugland (Toyland)
I heard it was about the Holocaust. Oscar voters love the Holocaust.

Documentary Short - The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306
It's about the MLK assassination.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Return to Lost Island

Lost Spoilers Follow....Beware

Last night's Lost was another winner, harkening back to the show's pilot as the Oceanic Five (that's right, five) returned to the island, fulfilling Jack's season 3 finale prophecy of "We have to go baaaaaaack!" Yet regardless of how awesome it was as everyone gathered aboard and waited for turbulence to hit, I couldn't enjoy any of it. That's because the entire second half of the episode, all I could think was, "WHAT DID BEN DO TO PENNY WIDMORE?!?!"

When Ben casually told Jack about a "loose end," I started fearing for Desmond's love. That fear only got stronger when Ben, bloody and broken armed, called Jack from a payphone by Desmond's marina. His haggard appearance means there's hope Desmond was able to keep the bug-eyed Other away from his family. And Ms. Hawking's words suggest Desmond has to survive. But since I don't see Ben getting on that plane without having kept his "promise" to Charles Widmore, I fear the worst for Penny, and Little Charlie too. As next week is just about Locke, I don't see an answer coming soon.

There were plenty of other unanswered questions about how the crew spent their last day in the real world. The biggest is what happened to Aaron, a topic Kate promises never to discuss. What can happen to a 3-year-old in like the 12 hours Kate was gone? Did he die in some horrible accident, or did someone else steal him away? Hurley and Sayid were even more surprising to see at the airport, and their motivations were even more hidden. Hurley seemed to get a call from someone, but who? Sayid seems to be there less on his own volition, hauled in by some kind of cop. Does that make him Kate's proxy? Lastly, the "coincidence" of Frank Lapidus piloting Flight 316 seemed to be the final straw to break Jack's doubt. How great was Frank's expression as he saw everyone? Let's hope he gets a better fate than 815's pilot.

Six episodes into the season, we finally learned where the new characters are coming from. There were the Tailies, the Others, the Freighter Folk, and now the 316ers. The only two we need to know are Caesar and Ilana. Caesar only appeared briefly, offering Jack his condolences over Locke's death. The look between them that followed went above "this is a new important character" to "this guy is sketchy." All we know about Ilana is she's got a badge, she's got something on Sayid, and she looks like a cross between Kate and Ana-Lucia. That's enough for me to say she and Sayid are hooking up by season's end.

The episode began, as the series did, with a close-up of Jack's eye as he wakes up in the jungle. If his race for Hurley's cry of help didn't lead to as cool a sight as the burning fuselage, it was still a nice allusion. The only 316 survivors we know of so far are Jack, Kate, and Hurley, with everyone else MIA. Since Jin's in a Dharma jacket, we can assume a fair amount of time has passed on the island since Locke left, but we don't know how much. So who survived the non-crash? What are all the other left-behinders up to? And is there any hope for Penny? Looks like we've got at least two weeks before we'll find out.

No Country for Europeans

Ugh, Bravo hasn't posted its episode photos yet. I'll try to get something better tomorrow.

Before I get started on the first part of the Top Chef finale, can I just say how great it is that Gail is back? No more lame movie references and sad attempts at humor. Just actual intelligent food criticism. Welcome back, Gail, and never leave us again.

The other big return was Jeff, after winning a second chance quickfire. I assumed the quickfire was arranged to correct the show's mistake of booting Jamie two weeks ago. No dice. But since it didn't backfire and bring back Leah, I'll call it even. Actually, the week's theme - Creole food - turned out to be perfect for Jeff, leading to one of his best-ever performances. Sadly, second place wasn't good enough, and he didn't stand a chance against the sudden lovefest for Carla.

Seriously, what is going on with Carla? For 9 episodes all she did was make adequate desserts and move around her crazy eyes. Then suddenly, over the past 3 or 4 episodes, she's become a judges' favorite. Yet despite all her wins, I can't shake my first (nine) impressions of her, and insist she's not a serious competitor. Could she really have been holding out on us all season, or have the past few episodes just been right in her comfort zone?

There was a lot of love going around in this episode, with the judges liking all 5 meals. But with Carla and other presumed lightweight Hosea getting most of the love, one of the Europeans had to go. I have to say, this challenge seemed a bit unfair to me, given that the Americans knew so much more about this style of cooking. Tom's response was essentially "You read a book on it, so tough luck."

Of course, Stefan's been slumping so heavily the South likely wasn't what got him. Second week in a row his cockiness got in the way, and second week in a row he was spared despite being the judges' least favorite. He better turn it around and bring back the old Stefan for the finale. Because it would just be wrong to see Hosea or Carla win.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oscar Night Musical

I guess they got Hugh Jackman to host for a reason. According to Entertainment Weekly (and others), the Oscar show will feature a big musical number in which Wolverine sings along with Beyonce, High School Musical's Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, and Mamma Mia's Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper.

It's nice that the first-time producers are trying to shake things up, but this is probably more likely to confuse the old folks than bring in any teenyboppers. Still, a big musical number has got to be more entertaining than another 20 minute long montage. And I'm curious to see how all those very different people will fit together onstage. So does knowing Zac, Vanessa, and Hugh are "all in this together" make you more likely to watch the Oscars this Sunday? Or are you more interested in that promise to keep the show under 3 hours?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Ok, I realize this list is coming about a month and a half (or more) too late for anyone to really care. Even with the extra time I still didn't get to every movie on my to-see list. This may not be among my strongest top 10 lists, but those top four can hold up to any other year. Let's get to it.

1. The Dark Knight
The Academy may have dropped the ball, but The Dark Knight is still the movie of 2008. Sure, Heath Ledger's Joker is already one of the greatest movie villains of all time, and yes, Christopher Nolan managed to make perhaps the most politically resonant movie of the year using comic book characters. But the real reason The Dark Knight is my #1 is because when you rewatch it, and see how all the instantly iconic scenes build and build for two and a half hours, it's clear what the movie is: a classic.

2. Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog may just be the straight-up most enjoyable movie of the year. Blending Dickensian storytelling, Bollywood dancing, and just the tiniest dash of neorealism, it ends up transcending all labels. All those torture and eye-removal scenes just make the fairy tale ending all the more satisfying.

3. Wall-E
The other brilliant blockbuster of 2008, Wall-E somehow managed to be a biting critique of civilization while simultaneously showing hope for humanity...and did so with robots in love. With only a few well-placed "Waaaall Eee"s and "Eeeeeeevaaaas" for dialogue, Wall-E and Eve were the most touching couple of the year. Pixar has animated many things - fish, cars, toys - but it was the low-vocabulary robots that really came alive.

4. Milk
How often does a movie make you want to go out and take action at exactly the right moment in history to do so? The passing of Proposition 8 may have given a somewhat tragic air to Milk, showing how little has changed in the past 30 years. But there's just so much hope, and belief in the power of the political process, that you know Harvey Milk's story isn't over yet.

5. The Wrestler
For me, The Wrestler is at its most powerful in that final scene. We've gotten to know Randy so well and seen so much of his life in the past two hours, that we know exactly what that final Ram Slam means to him, heading into that heartbreaking Springsteen title song. A look at the fakery of pro wrestling and a career-best Marisa Tomei add to the movie's greatness, but it's Mickey Rourke's incredible performance that anchors it.

6. Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road may be the anti-Titanic, bitterly showing the dissolution of love instead of its beginning, but what better way to take advantage of the chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet? Forget Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, this was the powerhouse acting battle to watch in 2008. With beautiful production values and a scene-stealing turn by Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road shows how to turn an unadaptable literary novel into a great film.

7. Synecdoche, New York
This movie is so deeply flawed that I can't wholly stand behind it. The second half doesn't even make any sense. But the parts that do work are just so brilliant that it's impossible to ignore. Whether a surrealist comedy, a serious meditation on life and death, or a brainteasing puzzle, Synecdoche, NY was easily the most original movie of the year. And confusion goes down a whole lot easier with such a talented ensemble cast.

8. Rachel Getting Married
It's not just the handheld camera that makes you feel like you really attended this wedding. As dysfunctional as it may be, the family feels more believable than in any Hollywood wedding movie I've seen. Black sheep Kym could easily shatter that authenticity, but Anne Hathaway plays her so genuinely that you believe every drug-addled story about her you hear. Playing against type never felt so good.

9. Frost/Nixon
The better of the two theatrical adaptations, Frost/Nixon wins by taking advantage of the screen. The "how he did it" before the interview is engaging enough, but it's the key moment when Nixon falters that makes the movie. Like all good history tales, it works past and present: Frank Langella will make you completely rethink Nixon while letting you imagine what it would be like if someone nailed Bush the same way.

10. Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers love to play with old Hollywood genres, replacing Bogart with The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Well, here the concept was "what if we took a spy movie and made the McGuffin worthless?" Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and the rest of the top notch cast take that concept and run with it, making for one of the Coens' funniest movies. CIA Chief JK Simmons' line pretty much sums it up, "Report back to me when know...makes sense." That wouldn't be nearly as fun.

Best Picture: The Dark Knight
Runners-Up: Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Milk

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Runners-Up: Sean Penn, Milk; Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Runner-Up: Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Runners-Up: Emile Hirsch, Milk; Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Runners-Up: Samantha Morton, Synecdoche, NY; Viola Davis, Doubt

Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Runners-Up: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight; Gus Van Sant, Milk

Best Original Screenplay: Rachel Getting Married
Runners-Up: Milk, Wall-E

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Runners-Up: The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon

Best Animated Film: Wall-E

Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Runners-Up: The Dark Knight, Milk

Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Runners-Up: The Dark Knight, Wall-E

Best Original Song: "The Wrestler," The Wrestler
Runners-Up: "Down to Earth," Wall-E; "Jai Ho," Slumdog Millionaire

Eastbound and Down Is Fucking In

Grade: A-

Does watching Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder) act like an asshole sound funny? Then Eastbound and Down, the new HBO comedy created by McBride and his Foot Fist Way buddies with Will Ferrell producing, is exactly what you should be watching. Playing along the lines of The Office (British), Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Action, McBride's Kenny Powers is a loser who offends with his every word. That's not to everyone's taste, but if you can take it, it's pretty hilarious.

The show starts with a quick run-down of Kenny's rapid rise and bitter fall as a star baseball star, from coining the catchphrase "You're fucking out" to the audience chanting it at him. "Several shitty years later," as the title card tells us, he's back in his hometown, living with his brother's family and teaching gym at his old high school. He also tries to get back his high school girlfriend, now engaged to the principal, when not calling prostitutes, doing coke with the bartender, or plotting his return to the big leagues.

Unlike Curb or The Office, Kenny's hijinks tend to cause less cringing, just laughing. Maybe it's because Kenny is such an outright loser that there's little hope he'll ever pull anything together. It helps that the supporting cast is made up of straight men to let Kenny shine in his delusional, foul-mouthed glory. As in The Foot Fist Way, the best targets are kids, like when Kenny tells everyone to bully one kid who dared to suggest Kenny ruined baseball. Sure, you wouldn't be able to spend a full network season with Kenny. But at a British-style 6 episode season, that's just enough time to laugh along.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dollhouse Has Room to Grow

Grade: B

, the new sci-fi show from Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible), has been plagued with bad buzz from the start. There was the production shut-down, the scrapped original pilot, the Friday death-slot, and finally weak reviews upon its premiere. But there's something critics forget when they compare Dollhouse's pilot to Whedon's other work: Whedon shows never get good until the second season. I'm even counting Firefly, which you know would have gotten amazing had it been renewed. Season 1 is always too procedural, like Buffy's monster-of-the-week plots, and the good stuff never comes until later.

So the only way to judge a Whedon pilot is by its promise, and in that respect I think Dollhouse does pretty well. The show's about an illegal agency known as the Dollhouse that implants its agents, or "actives," with personalities tailored to specific assignments. In the pilot, we see protagonist Echo (Eliza Dushku) assigned to show a guy a good weekend, then negotiate a kidnapping ransom. It's all very high-concept, but so far there's little additional mythology. The procedural style will get old fast, but it's entertaining enough for now. That's mostly thanks to Dushku, who hasn't had a part worthy of her since Faith on Buffy/Angel. I'm sure her Echo will soon have an assignment Dushku can't handle, but for now she's the right mix of likable, badass, and hot to ground the rest of the show.

I wish I could say the same of the supporting cast. Most promising is BSG's Helo as an unorthodox FBI agent (is there any other kind?) deadset on discovering Dollhouse. So far his subplot seems out of place, but I'm sure his discovery of Echo means he'll join the action soon. I also have hopes for Echo's handler (Henry Lennix), who gives off a Giles/Wesley vibe as Echo's protector. Most disappointing is the Tech Guy (Franz Kranz). He seems set up to be the show's Xander/Doyle/Wash, but so far he's just annoying. Hopefully he'll chill out as time goes on. Too chilly though is Olivia Williams' Dollhouse leader, who shows little but her icy exterior. Whedon shows often live and die on the ensemble, so this group definitely needs some work.

Most of the other problems feel like opening night jitters. The pilot suffers some of Whedon's weakest dialogue, as characters feel the need to give stuffy, self-important speeches that would be more at home in the Matrix sequels. The pilot is also way too serious, showing none of the humor characteristic of Whedon's shows. It's still a vast improvement over Firefly's second-episode-as-pilot premiere. It just feels like Whedon was so determined to cram everything in to introduce the show, he didn't have time to make it fun. Once the show learns to relax and laugh a little, I believe a classic Whedon show will emerge, even if takes a season to happen. Let's just hope Fox gives it that time to find itself.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top 5 Valentine's Day Episodes

Valentine's Day has led to some great episodes of TV. These may not be the best examples, but they are the ones I remember the most.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"
In one of Buffy's best-ever episodes, a spell gone wrong causes every woman in Sunnydale (but Cordelia) to fall in love with Xander. As the spell gets stronger, Amy the Teenage Witch turns Buffy into a mouse, and Buffy's mom hits on Xander. Most holiday-appropriate: Cordy calls Harmony a sheep and gets back together with Xander.

2. Lost - "The Constant"
Airing last year on Valentine's Day, "The Constant" is already a Lost classic. Heading out to the freighter, Desmond catches time travel sickness and gets dislodged in time. The only thing that can keep him alive: his Constant, true love Penny Widmore. When Penny answers the call on Christmas, she doesn't just save Desmond's life, but creates the show's most romantic moment.

3. The Simpsons - "I Love Lisa"
I choo-choo-choose you. Ralph's misguided crush is elementary school Valentine's Day at its most embarrassing.

4. Arrested Development - "Ready, Aim, Marry Me"
There's plenty of potential couples in this romantic getaway-themed episode to choose from - Lindsay and Uncle Jack (guest star Martin Short), Lucille 2 (Liza Minelli) and Buster, or Michael and Sally Sitwell. But the best one is Michael and Tobias. Tobias' self-recording leads to some of his best-ever unintentional double entendres.

5. Veronica Mars - "Ruskie Business"
Not much love for V in this episode. She helps new-friend Meg find her secret admirer....only to find out it's her ex, Duncan. She helps a Russian mail order bride find her husband...only to find out she's Russian mafya looking for someone in witness protection. Still, dressing up as Madonna for an 80s-themed dance? Awesome.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Cylons...

Holy frak, that was a lot of information in last night's Battlestar Galactica. I'm talking the entire history of the Cylons, every question we've been wondering about the Final Five since four were revealed, and a new way of looking at, well, the entire series. It was the kind of episode sci-fi fans crave all series long, and usually end up disappointed. Like that season 3 Alias episode where it turns out Syd's 2-year disappearance has a pretty lame explanation. But not this time. By coming up with cool answers to the big questions and telling them in a dramatic way, "No Exit" ranks among BSG's best episodes. Puts all the more pressure on Lost to do as well in its final season.

So first off: The History of the Cylons. It seems Final Five Ellen, Tigh, Tyrol, Anders, and Tory worked in a research facility on Earth. When they knew the nukes were coming, they reinvented resurrection so the five of them could survive the blast. Returning to the other colonies (slowly) to stop the First Cylon War, they made a deal with the Centurions: stop killing humans and they would create eight (eight!) new Cylon models. The first one, John (aka Cavil), helped create the rest. But he was jealous, bitter, and envious, so he not only killed Daniel (#7), but set the Final Five up to be downloaded with false memories, and witness the Second Cylon War as humans. Now he wants them to recreate resurrection.

Yeah, that's a lot. Aside from being a cool story though, it all makes a lot of sense. The Final Five seem different from the rest because they created the rest. They seem like good guys because they tried to stop the Cylon attacks. And I think we can now unequivocally state that Cavil/John is the villain of the entire series. He masterminded the attacks, he neutralized the Final Five, and he will spend the rest of the series trying to find them to recreate resurrection. Helps give a new structure to what's been going on the past four seasons.

This history came about in two stories: Anders sharing new memories before surgery and Ellen's interactions with Cavil/John over the past 18 months. The Anders side was basically straight-up exposition, but still managed to feel dramatic. There was the deadline of "how much can Anders say before going into surgery." There was Starbuck, torn between wanting answers and wanting her husband to live. There were Tigh, Tyrol, and Tory, lingering around the sick bay like impatient children. And then there was John "I'm a PC" Hodgman as the brain surgeon. Like Darrell Hammond on Damages, he was kind of distracting, but the episode could use the comic relief.

The more interesting side was Ellen and Cavil/John. Both were different from the last time we saw them, as Ellen had her memories and Cavil/John showed his real face. Yet the relationship between them was so well established right away they might as well have been playing off each other the whole series. Their scenes were less about the information learned than the power dynamic between them, as John tried to bend her to his will while she acted the benevolent, omnipotent mother figure. I initially found the reveal that Ellen was the Final Cylon a bit disappointing, but Cylon Ellen is awesome enough that I take that back.

There was also a break from the information overload in the subplots, which led to some nice moments. Roslin passed the torch to Apollo, naming him the real leader while she retired to figurehead. Tyrol got to be Chief again, and got Adama to compromise on his ban of Cylon technology to save Galactica. And Tigh got to hear his baby kick. So going forward: Which blonde will Tigh choose when Ellen returns? Who nuked Earth in the first place? Will we ever find out what's up with Starbuck? And who is Daniel? I guess that's why we've got five more episodes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Prime Minister Pooh?

Yesterday I tried to make sense of the Israeli election, feeling that it's been somewhat under-reported in this country. Well not anymore, now that it's been covered by the only news show worth watching. Jon Stewart may not have figured the situation out any more than I have, but he does compare Ehud Barak to Winnie the Pooh. And Wyatt Cenac may just have figured out why Israeli elections lend themselves to disorder. Give it a look:

Shakespeare Preview

The best part of living in New York City in the summer is the multitude of free events around the city. There's outdoor movies in Bryant Park, outdoor concerts at Summer Stage, and biggest of all, Shakespeare in the Park. Even though it's only February, today's announcement of this summer's productions lets us all look forward to summer all the more.

First, from June 9th - July 12th, is Twelfth Night. Now, this isn't as high-profile a play as recent Shakespeare picks (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth), but it does have something those other plays didn't: Anne Hathaway (Lauren Ambrose must be pissed). After shedding her Disney image (and clothes) in Brokeback Mountain and Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway's taking the next step in proving her acting mettle by going live, playing Viola. Makes waiting in line 6 hours for tickets a little more worthwhile.

As for the non-Shakespeare play (August 11th - September 6th), this year it's The Bacchae, a Greek tragedy by Euripedes that somehow slipped through Columbia's Core Curriculum, making it the only Greek play I haven't read (yes, that's hyperbole). No cast has been announced yet, just that the score will be composed by Philip Glass. Since last year this slot was filled with the hugely successful revival of Hair, it's going to take a lot more than Philip Glass to make this not feel like a letdown. Maybe they should consider casting Anne Hathaway.

Escape from Narnia

SPOILERS for this week's Lost follow. Stop reading now if you haven't seen it.

Is anyone else's nose bleeding from how quickly this season is flashing through the story? I mean, we're only five episodes in and already Locke (presumably) stopped the time flashes, (some of) the Oceanic Six are heading back to the island, and there's been one major death. I was enjoying all those time jumps, but if the sudden fast pace keeps making big, dramatic episodes like this one, I'm all for it.

I'll start with the story of Danielle Rousseau. I was surprised by how little time we spent with her, just enough to see her arrive and to kill her husband. I suspect the convenient timing of these two flashes has less to do with the island's agenda and more to do with the writers. It's like they said to the audience "there, you got your Rousseau flashback, happy?" But it's not like we really learned anything new about her story. I'm pretty sure it was in her first episode she told Sayid about killing her husband after the team was infected with "the sickness." So why bring Rousseau back at all?

Well, it turns out her backstory provides some important lessons on island mythology. The writers say that everytime we see the monster, we'll learn something new about it. Tonight, that something new was the rather big reveal that its purpose is to protect a temple. I'm pretty sure this is the first we're hearing of the temple, so what's in it? Also, we were led to believe Rousseau's "sickness" was the same one keeping Desmond in a Hazmat suit when he left the Hatch. But nope, just good ol' Smokey. Anyway, regardless of anything new learned about Rousseau, the whole fight against Smokey in the jungle made for the type of quality action-adventure less frequent since season 1.

Once Jin returned to Sawyer's warm embrace, there was a new problem: Charlotte. I feared that the episode's title, "This Place is Death," might prove literal for the plucky redhead, and that unfortunately proved right. Her death feels like Libby times 100. She was taken away far too soon, but this time we found out enough about her to know we wanted more. I'm sure she'll be back in some other form (perhaps as a child), since there's still so many questions. Why does she know Korean (as her only language besides English and Klingon)? Who is the father she left behind?

Still, she fit a ton of backstory into her last few minutes. It seems CS Lewis was a very appropriate moniker, as the island was quite literally her Narnia. Having lived there for years as a child, she has spent her whole life trying to find the way back, even as her mother assured her it was all a fantasy. Bigger still was the reveal that Faraday warned her as a child to never return to the island. It seems he was right about not being able to change time - his attempt to save her life just gave her further reason to come back. I'm sure saving Charlotte will be a driving focus for Faraday, but now that he knows a warning won't work, how can he manipulate time to bring her back? All those unresolved issues mean her death was not in vain, but she certainly will be missed.

Meanwhile, Locke made his long-anticipated exit from the island. Did anyone else think There Will Be Blood when he fell into the well and broke his leg? Fitting that Locke should leave the island as he entered it, unable to walk. Also a surprisingly informational meeting with popular ghost Christian Shephard. It appears that Ben moving the frozen donkey wheel turned the island into a broken record. Locke's little push seems to have put the island back on track. I guess this means the other island-dwellers will settle in one time period? I assume it's a pretty safe bet to say that's the Dharma Initiative.

Whew, that was a lot on the on-island happenings, but off-island most of the time was spent in Ben's car (unlike 24, Lost recognizes LA traffic). Ben lost Sayid, Kate, and Aaron in his quest to unify the Six, but he did win over Sun by showing her Jin's ring. Much like Faraday's future/past warning to Charlotte, Jin's attempt to alter fate had the opposite result. It was supposed to prove his death to keep Sun off-island, but ended up being the only thing to get her to come back. Will Lost turn out to be an all-out Greek tragedy?

Ben, Jack, and Sun arrive to meet Ms. Hawking at the same time as Desmond. How convenient! Since it was pretty obvious Ms. Hawking was Faraday's mom, Lost didn't try to milk that as a surprise. The bigger surprise was her announcement that it's time to send them back. Is Desmond getting roped into this? While promos of Jack and Kate making out show the trip may not be happening immediately, they will certainly be back soon. So are you all excited about the more unified cast with less time jumping? Do you hope a single time period might slow things down a bit? And what caused that Ben/Sayid split anyway?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Inglourious Basterds Trailer!

Update: Here's the official trailer. That means longer and better quality.

The first teaser for Quentin Tarantino's new movie, Inglourious Basterds [sic], aired on Entertainment Tonight. Thanks to youtube, we can take a look:

It's hard to think of three more disparate movie elements than Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and World War II. It only gets weirder when Mike Myers and BJ Novak (The Office's Ryan) are thrown into the mix. But at least in the trailer, it seems to be working. The Tarantino dialogue is still there, but doesn't seem out of place. Brad Pitt is actually acting, so maybe we'll get something more Twelve Monkeys than Benjamin Button. Basterds looks like the movie Valkyrie should have been - a campy action movie about taking down Nazis. I'm definitely excited, but is everyone else ready to forgive Tarantino for Death Proof?

Does Anyone Understand Israeli Politics?

Now, I'm no expert on Israeli's political process. In fact, I know next to nothing about it. But that won't stop me from expressing my opinion on yesterday's election using only this New York Times article as my source. It's still gotta make me better informed than Fox News.

So to catch everyone up on the soap opera that's occurred ever since corrupt Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would resign, here's who the players are in this special election. There's Tzipi Livni (picture above) of the centrist Kadima party, who as the current Foreign Minister has been trying to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. Next, Benyamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party, who has already been Prime Minister. Finally Ehud Barak of the left-wing Labor party, who is also a former Prime Minister, and shares just as little love from Israelis.

Now, in Israel, it seems voters don't vote for the Prime Minister, but for seats of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. With 99% of the vote in this morning, the score was 28 seats for Kadima, 27 seats for Likud, 15 seats for further right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu, and just 13 seats for Labor. And that's out of 120 seats. Which means no one is likely to form the coalition needed to lead anytime soon.

So the situation is this: Livni marginally won, but she needs a coalition to lead, which she's already failed once to get. Netanyahu thinks he should be forming the coalition, cause he could get that other right-wing party on board. You'd think Livni could count on Labor, but apparently they're taking their 4th place finish as a mandate to be even more irrelevant. According to New York Times, they want to be the opposition the only party that sort-of agrees with them. Even Republicans got behind Obama for about a week.

Listen, my Israeli friends tell me that all of the candidates are equally bad and unlikely to accomplish anything. But at the very least, Livni hasn't already tried and failed. Her insistence on talking to the Palestinians makes her the most Obama-like of the candidates, even if Netanyahu thinks he's Obama in web site design and rhetoric. So Israel, any chance you can get over stupid political mongering to get behind Livni and actually create peace in the Middle East? Or are you determined to make our political process look good?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pandas, Freckles, and Gossip, Oh My!

You might ask why I bothered watching Kung Fu Panda. It's a fair question. But after the Panda beat Wall-E in all the Animation Guild's awards, I was curious to see what would be losing to the robot come Oscar night. Getting past its obvious inferiority to the Pixar masterpiece, it's a surprisingly enjoyable watch, as far as straight-out kids movies go. Certainly if I was to take a kid to a movie, I could do far worse. The movie's best selling point is the animation. The various animated fight scenes do look really, really cool. I'm sure that's what the animators saw in it.

The Panda also stands out for its rather odd voice casting. Jack Black brings a little too much Tenacious D to his titular slacker. Angelina Jolie's voice has little enough personality you might think her Tigress is animatronic. Dustin Hoffman isn't the first name to come to mind when you hear "kung fu master." Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu are the token Asians in a movie set in China. And David Cross and Seth Rogen are clearly just there for the paycheck (seriously, Monsters vs. Aliens will be Rogen's 3rd animated movie. He really loves the easy money). Kung Fu Panda's not necessary viewing for anyone, but it's a perfectly nice way to waste some time.

Now to shift gears completely, Entertainment Weekly's TV critic, Ken Tucker, wrote this morning that he considers Jack's partner, FBI Agent Renee Walker, to be 24's weakest link this season. He calls her a "wimpy sentimentalist," a "sap," and even goes so far as to call her this season's Kim Bauer. Now, I personally think he's being rather hard on Freckles. Finding it difficult to hold a mother and baby at gunpoint seems like a rather reasonable response. Jack used to have some conscience issues once upon a time as well.

Now, I'm not saying she ranks on the list of memorable 24 characters, but how can you call her the weakest link with so many others to choose from? All Monotone does is make googly eyes at Uglier Sarah Jessica Parker and annoy everyone. Boring Boss seems to be the most extreme justification of torture, just because you'd never want to agree with someone like that. But the award for this season's Kim Bauer goes to the First Gentleman. Acting stupid and getting himself kidnapped? No contest.

Quick recap of Monday night's episode: Jack tries to become besties with his 3rd US president. Do you think when he asked President Taylor to "ask around" about him, he was referring to the dead and possibly dead Palmer brothers? Who else does he know that's still alive? Taylor eventually gives Jack his directive: find the First Gentleman within the hour. I like when 24 episodes have hourly goals; it gives them purpose. Plus, it meant the promise of a shoot-out at the end.

Meanwhile, Taylor lets Buchanan stick around and make policy decisions because she doesn't dare question the hair. Boring Boss enters the Jack Bauer Club...just to lecture everyone for the 8000th time about torture. Jack kills a guy because he's Jack Bauer. Freckles questions her desire to be Jack's torture apprentice for approximately one minute, 49 seconds. And Dubaku goes to confront his waitress girlfriend's wheelchair-bound sister for....reasons unknown. Seriously, does he actually plan on seeing the waitress again? Also, I think Uglier Sarah Jessica Parker is the mole. Otherwise what does she do?

Finally, the weekly gossip on Grey's Anatomy (why is the gossip so much better than the show? Watch any given episode to find that out). Costar James Pickens Jr. (The Chief) told Us Weekly that TR Knight and Katherine Heigl will both be leaving the show. Spoiler King Michael Ausiello at Entertanment Weekly says it's not a done deal, but it will likely happen sometime early next season.

Now, my first thought is to be happy for the actors. TR Knight's George has probably had around three lines an episode since episode four this season. Characters like "Nurse #8" have more screentime. Katherine Heigl's Izzie has had one of the stupidest subplots I've seen on any TV show in recent memory (you know which one I'm talking about). Watching the way these once-likable characters have been tossed aside is just sad, and both of the actors deserve to move on to bigger and better things.

But if they really leave, and only three of the original five interns remain, what's the point of even continuing the show? The show seemed to introduce a major new character every week, but the only one who survived was Army Doc. After another season, will there even be any Greys left? All I can say is I'm glad I stopped watching when I did.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Spring Movie Preview

Sick of deciding between Revolutionary Road and Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Well, the spring movie season is upon us, and I've compiled ten movies I'm excited to see. Now, spring doesn't have the blockbusters of the summer or the pedigree of the fall (and I'll likely strike most of these from the list as reviews come in), but that doesn't mean some diamonds can't be found in the rough.

Coraline (February 6th)
From the real director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (no, it wasn't Tim Burton), Coraline shares Nightmare's alternate world style fantasy and fantastic visuals. Plus this time there's Neil Gaiman as source material and 3D. Given the great reviews, Coraline looks like the best argument that February isn't all Oscar leftovers.

Gomorrah (February 13th)
Italy's snubbed submission for Best Foreign Film has been called the best mob movie since The Godfather by just about everyone who's seen it. What higher praise do you need?

Watchmen (March 6th)
If you've read the graphic novel or seen the trailers, you don't need me to tell you this is the biggest movie of the spring. The movie is also intriguingly cast, featuring Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson. If a dark tale of outlawed superheroes isn't your thing, best stay out of the way of the book's obsessive fans.

Duplicity (March 20th)
Tony Gilroy's follow up to Michael Clayton, this one looks a bit lighter with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as former spies exploiting two competing companies. The trailer makes this look like a lot of fun, and I'll see Clive Owen in just about anything. Maybe even The International.

I Love You, Man (March 20th)
While looking for a Best Man for his wedding to Rashida Jones, Paul Rudd becomes bffs with Jason Segel. While not actually affiliated with Judd Apatow, the Rudd/Segel pairing should make this a no-brainer for Apatow fans.

Monsters vs. Aliens (March 27th)
These CGI kids movies can definitely go either way, but I like what I've seen so far. A voice cast consisting of Stephen Colbert, Kiefer Sutherland, Will Arnett, Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogen, and Rainn Wilson also doesn't hurt.

17 Again (April 17th)
This is probably the movie from this list I'm least likely to see, but I couldn't disappoint Zac Efron fans excited to see him back onscreen. Personally, I'm more interested in Matthew Perry's return to film and the Big-in-reverse concept.

State of Play (April 17th)
I couldn't tell you what this is about, but I do know it's based on a supposedly awesome British miniseries, the cast is stacked (Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman), and the trailer looks really intense. That's enough for me.

The Informers (April 24th)
Early word from Sundance says this LA-in-the-80s set drama is more Rules of Attraction than American Psycho on the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation scale. But given my love for Ellis' books (and an appropriately 80s-nostalgic cast featuring Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, and Winona Ryder), that's certainly not enough to deter me.

The Soloist (April 24th)
I usually say nothing is worse than failed Oscarbait (the movie was pushed from November to April), but Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx could change my mind.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dick in a Box or Space Olympics?

When they're good, Andy Samberg's Lonely Island digital shorts on Saturday Night Live can be the only reason worth watching. When they're not, you get "Space Olympics," an unfunny, nonsensical video from the season premiere. So where does last night's "On a Boat" fit into the scale? Dick in a Box or Space Olympics?

No question here. That's Space Olympics material, all right. Being on a boat is not inherently funny, and repeating that statement for a few minutes doesn't make it funnier. They can't all be gems.

At least Seth Myers' Weekend Update is still good. Funniest part of last night's SNL for me was his "Really?!?" segment regarding the whole Michael Phelps/pot smoking non-controversy. Take a look:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Failed Coup Jumpstarts BSG

Any fears that Battlestar Galactica would ride off quietly into the sunset in its final season were firmly put to rest, as the most recent two-parter, about Felix Gaeta and Tom Zarek's attempted coup of the Fleet, ranks among the series' best. BSG often slips into a bit of a malaise midseason, with forgettable episodes like the workers' strike. With Roslin abandoning her job to depression and Adama happy to retire with her, this season could have fallen bad. All it took was a little "revolution" to get everyone back in action.

The drama worked so well because of how easy it was to hate the two head conspirators. You would never have expected Gaeta to emerge as a major character, always quietly doing his job. But in just a few episodes, he changed from background drone to the kind of whiny, sniveling weakling that you wanted to slap everytime he feigned authority. The more he tried to justify his actions, the more you longed to see him shoved out an air lock.

Zarek, on the other hand, was always a compelling villain. His suits, his title, and his switch to Roslin's side on New Caprica fooled us into thinking he could be good. But this time the former terrorist showed his true colors, especially in ordering the massacre of the Quorum. Loved Zarek's expression, as it seemed his hurt feelings over the Quorum's failure to support him led him to the decision. Still, the Quorum has always been such an annoyance that they'll hardly be missed. There's one way BSG makes 24 look like MSNBC - it's the only show that makes democracy seem like a stupid waste of time.

While this episode may have been Gaeta and Zarek's send-off, to me the episode belonged to President Roslin (Mary McDonnell, this is your Emmy submission). Her speech to Zarek after he tells her Adama is dead, well, I think we're gonna have to watch that:

Seriously, how awesome is President Roslin? No more jogging around Galactica for her. Zarek may be a cold-blooded killer, but even he was left speechless. 24's President Taylor's got nothing on her.

This was also a recharging episode for Adama, whose anger gave him a really good reason to go on fighting. His snarl as he threw his admiral pin at Gaeta and his refusal to play along with Gaeta's "field trip to justice" showed a side of Adama we haven't seen in seasons. Watching him storm through the ship with his ragtag group of loyalists to retake control of Galactica made for an ultra satisfying end to the whole ordeal.

Other characters moved forward because of the fight. Baltar, super excited to discover a new look to his fave Cylon model, could have happily stayed in bed with his sexbot. But for once, he actually thought of something other than self-preservation. He admitted his scorn for his "fan club," but still chose to come back for them (even if the ship was restored by them). Romo Lampkin also got to do the right thing after awesomely killing a guard with a pen by helping Starbuck carry Anders to Cottle.

As for Starbuck, she finally got a break from all of her Earthbound drama and got back to kicking ass. Last week, she and Apollo got to play like John McClane in Die Hard by taking on Gaeta's army all by themselves. This week, she also got to be human again when Anders was shot, clinging to him when the rest of the team moved on. Nice to see Starbuck still cares about her husband, Cylon or not. But what happaned to him? Did he make it to Coddle?

Tons of drama over the past two episodes by focusing just on the human end. Next week we go back to the sci-fi with the return of Final Cylon Ellen Tigh. Maybe that will mean some more screen time for characters like Helo, Athena, Anders, and Caprica 6, all stuck in the brig the past two weeks. Like Lost, BSG seems to be profiting from the end date. If the remaining episodes are as strong as the first four, this could be BSG's best season.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Now That's Comedy Night Done Right

Why couldn't last night's combo of The Office and 30 Rock have followed the Super Bowl? The Office was everything the Super Bowl ep should have been, and the combination of Don Draper and Alec Baldwin as a Mexican soap star would definitely have gotten 30 Rock new viewers. Whatever night it was, last night was quality comedy, so let's get into it.

First up, The Office, which managed to find the perfect balance between cringe and funny with the return of a very pregnant Karen, the party planning antics of Jim and Dwight, and Andy's sad attempts to woo a client.

Finally Jim and Pam get to be funny. How great was Pam saying she's sure Al Qaeda would like her if they got to know her? While Pam was trying to make peace with Karen after winning Jim, Michael was, of course, making things as awkward as possible, asking if Jim is the father of Karen's baby. Michael also got to go all David Brent (British Michael Scott) with his public speaking, which again let Karen play the funny straight man. Karen here serves as a reminder that Michael's antics are only funny when there's someone to judge him for it. With the promise of an Amy Ryan return next week, this story should stay funny for another week.

Back in the office, Dwight creates the most pitiful birthday decorations ever and Jim elicits a $3 bill from Creed. Nice to see Jim and Dwight working together. As for Andy: who in their right mind would take Creed's advice, especially since he thought Andy was Jim? I can't say I managed to look directly at the TV during any of Andy's encounters with crush client Julia, but if The Office isn't making me incredibly uncomfortable, it's not doing its job.

Last night marked the arrival of Mad Men's Don Draper (or Jon Hamm in real life) as Liz's new romantic interest, a doctor who bakes and trains seeing eye dogs. He proved he could do funny on Saturday Night Live, and plays off of Liz nicely. Best was when, post-roofie, he realized all of Liz's manipulations with horror in his eyes. Hilarious. Also, I know some people miss the days when Liz just played straight man, but crazy Liz is here to stay, and I'm liking it.

Elsewhere, a Mexican soap star doppelganger of Jack Donaghy? Hilarious. Especially his hawking of some Mexican snack, "Now with more bull semen." If that wasn't enough, there was 30 Rock's idea of what Puerto Rican grandmothers like: pictures of their grandchildren and Tito Puente. Matt Lauer's cameo at the end was a guest appearance well worthwhile.

Finally, Tracy hanging out with laid off i-bankers let the show comment a little on the times ("They don't know how to do anything"), making it a funny enough C-plot. I just hope it doesn't inspire Congress to put "have celebrities buy banks" into the stimulus plan.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Canoeing Through Jet Lag

Tonight's Lost provided a simple question: Who sent the lawyers after Kate and Aaron's blood? When creepy lawyer Dan Norton (back from the dead after Monday night's 24) hinted his client had the DNA to win custody, I figured the options were limited: Claire's Mom, Claire's Baby Daddy (the painter), or....Uncle Jack. After all, Jack does need Aaron to get the Oceanic Six back together. But what if someone else with the same goal thought to act on Jack's behalf...

Anyway, with all that in mind, Kate was off tracking Norton and Sayid was doing what he does best: surprising would-be assassins with awesomeness. It may be hard to talk while being choked, but the fake doc did give up the address of his next target: Kate. When Jack and Kate follow Norton, they see him meeting in a motel wtih.....with Claire's Mom! Except....she doesn't know who Aaron is. She just has the same lawyer (there are no coincidences on Lost). Which means it was Ben (always guess Ben for string-pulling manipulation. Or Charles Widmore). Last takeaway off-island: if you're having trouble figuring out the perfect Valentine's Day gift, never underestimate the appeal of a box of chocolates....and a gun.

Now back to the island, full of fun new twists of time. At the end of season 4, I worried the left-behinders would seem like the reject story after most of the main characters left. How wrong I was. First up, they flash to the night of Boone's death. When Sawyer watches Kate deliver Aaron....that might be the most I've ever cared about the Sawyer/Kate relationship. Try to watch that and not go "awwww." Didn't work, did it? Before Sawyer can repress that emotion in a manly way, he's back to the future. So who are the canoe-goers, presumably new to the island? Charles Widmore's people? Or could it be the returned Oceanic Six? With Charlotte, Miles, and now Juliet all catching the "really bad jet lag," those Six better get back pronto.

Finally, the reveal that Jin is alive. Forgive me for not sounding more surprised, but that's what happens when you leave his name in the opening credits all season long. We don't know how he survived out in the water for a day or two, but we do know he was rescued by a very young and very preggers Danielle Rousseau. Does that mean we get to see her go crazy and kill her shipmates?

This week's entry can't compare to "Jughead," but it was still a solid if somewhat transitionary episode. The Oceanic Six reconvened, we got cool clues to island past and future, and Sayid got to choke someone. Nothing bad there, and it looks like it will all pay off next week. As for lingering questions: what happened to Rose and Bernard (and Vincent)? Did they die in the fire arrow storm, or is Bernard still working on that fire? Right now, that goes above "smoke monster" on mysteries I want answered.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jon Stewart Should Be a Film Critic

If my repeated attacks on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button aren't enough to keep you away, then maybe one from Jon Stewart will. It took me ten paragraphs to explain what was wrong with the movie. It took Jon Stewart about 20 seconds. Further proof that he is the most reliable source for...everything.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Best Resume Ever

Last night's How I Met Your Mother provided a useful lesson on how to get a job, courtesy of guru-of-all-things Barney Stinson. Instead of qualifications or experience, all you need is some quality time with Final Cut. If you're having trouble getting a job, perhaps a look at Barney's resume will show you what you're doing wrong:

Monday Night TV Overload

Since when was Monday the most happening night of TV? I haven't caught How I Met Your Mother yet, but that still leaves 3 shows that had big enough episodes last night to be worth discussing.

Last night's Heroes premiere had something to prove: Could Heroes learn from its mistakes, or is it doomed for crappiness? By fixing many of its biggest criticisms, the premiere definitely leaned toward the former. The episode felt less cluttered by slowing down the pace to give every character some time. The characters were all back in the real world, instead of the sci-fi land they've been in the past two seasons. And we're back to just the core cast, as the only major new character introduced was villain The Hunter (Zeljko Ivanek). So anyone thinking about catching up on seasons 2 or 3 someday, don't. Just start now.

That said, there wasn't anything too exciting about the episode until the ending. I'm unclear why Parkman suddenly gets to draw the future. Isn't mind reading enough? Sylar's quest to find his parents seems completely separate from everything else going on (and I'm sick of him). I'm not entirely sure why HRG is working for the bad guys again. And Claire's annoying me. That's not really a new criticism, I just thought maybe she would have improved.

But the plane crash at the end leads me to think the season has promise. Promos for the rest of the season show everyone working together, which could end the era of many uninteresting stories competing for time. Fighting against government hunters is a nice twist from the usual Company/Sylar threats of seasons past. So for the moment, at least, I think Heroes appears to be worth watching. But in a season where Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Damages, and even 24 are all having pretty exciting seasons, is there really room for Heroes at the watercooler? It'll have to do a whole lot more to earn its place.

You know it's a good episode of 24 when a ton has already happened and it's only been 15 minutes. This was one of those big arc-ending episodes, where Jack and Team Buchanan successfully made it into Dubaku's headquarters and killed all his guys...but not him. Nice to see Freckles become one of the team, even seconding Bill in highest level of paranoia by fighting Jack in getting outside help. Also cool to see Jack, Tony, and Bill take on Duabku's whole crew without getting a scratch. That's the Jack Bauer I know.

We also got another type of classic 24 plot in Kidron, Ohio, in which a minor character was introduced only to soon be killed. He may have called Janis honey, but his heroic sacrifice held up a strong 24 tradition. Looks like Kidron, OH can take down those signs asking for Jack Bauer's help. Any thoughts on the odd scene with Duabku's waitress girlfriend at the end? Will she be played against Dubaku only to stab him in betrayal, a la Alexis Drazen's girlfriend from season 1? Will she be collateral damage? Is there any other option in 24 land? With little screentime for the First Gentleman, an all around good episode. Let's keep it up.

Finally, Gossip Girl. I'd like to take a moment to take stock of how many seasons' worth of material Gossip Girl has blown through so far. Let's see, there was Lord Marcus and the Duchess, Serena the Socialite, Jenny the Fashionista, Cyrus and Aaron Rose, Bart's Death, Uncle Jack, the Rufus/Lily baby, and now the sexploits of the Teenage Teacher. I think that averages out to an entire different story every two or three episodes. Way to go.

So this week, Teenage Teacher found herself mixed up with The Police, as Dan was humming. "Young teacher/the subject/of schoolboy fantasy." It's like that line about how if you show a gun in act I, it has to go off in act III. If a teacher is introduced who looks younger than the students, she has to end up sleeping with somebody (actually, on Gossip Girl, you could just say "if a character in introduced, he or she has to end up sleeping with somebody"). So, after denying it all episode, she and Dan did the deed. I guess that's what happens when teachers give their address to all of their students.

My big question is this: Dan and Serena have now broken up for, by my count, about 800 trillion times. And each time, the scene goes exactly the same way. This time they even seemed to be going through the motions, as if to say, "Do I really have to talk about the Bass brunch again?" So why not grant that wish? We know now that anytime they get together, they will inevitably break up within two episodes, so can't the cycle end? I doubt it. I'm predicting at least two more make-up/break-ups before the season ends.

Oh, and how could I have forgotten Chuck Bass' trip into Eyes Wide Shut? A little odd, but at least Chuck Bass is being Chuck Bass. The whole secret society that (probably) killed Elle for telling their secret is just wacky enough for me to be intrigued. I'll hold off judging until I see where it goes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Top 5 Super Bowl Trailers

The best part of Super Bowl commercials is an early look at all the summer's big movies. Here are five of the more notable Super Bowl trailers.

Land of the Lost

Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, and Anna Friel of Pushing Daisies doing the Jurassic Park thing? I'm in.

Star Trek

Interesting how they continue to downplay the Star Trek part in favor of the young cast and the action. Since I've never seen Star Trek, that works for me.

Monsters vs. Aliens

I didn't get the 3-D glasses, but this appears to be about an alternate universe in which Stephen Colbert became president and installed Jack Bauer as head of the military. With GOB, Dwight, Seth Rogen, and Paul Rudd also in the voice cast, it's got to be funnier than what was in the trailer.

GI Joe

No idea how this relates to the original action figures, but I'm curious to see Dennis Quaid as an action hero.


Ok, Pixar didn't give any new footage for this trailer. But since the Year One spots looked kind of disappointing (though with Jack Black, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, and Harold Ramis directing, it's gotta be better than it looks), Angels of Demons still looks like The Da Vinci Code, and Transformers is...Transformers, Pixar's winning out.