Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Swear to God, Somebody Plays on Defense

Friday Night Lights: Keeping Up Appearances
Season 3, Episode 7

Holy crap! This season is now over half over! I didn't have a problem with the strike-shortened season two, given that it was killing my love of this show. But didn't Jason Katims and crew let DirecTV and NBC know they were going to make it good again this year? I mean the show has always compressed things, massively compressing the football season to focus on the things happening off the field. But damn, doesn't Dillon play AAAAA Texas football? Shouldn't there regular season be 10 games long? How much football are we missing and are they all just 35-10 blowout victories? But more important than the games, things are just incredibly compressed this season. And with focusing four episode long arcs on the final stories for both Smash and Street... well times running down pretty quick. While still a decent episode, I personally miss Julie and Matt, but hey one less episode of Tyra and her moronic decision to date a rodeo cowboy instead of focusing on her goal of going to college... yeah, I can deal with it.

The idea of keeping up the false pretenses and trying to pull one over on people or yourselves, prevails through a lot of this episode. Joe McCoy and Eric pretending they both don't pretty much loathe the other. General rule of thumb when someone with the ultimate smug smile pulls it out and cuts off your apology quickly before you make your point... he doesn't really mean it. This is one of the more engaging storylines of the year because Joe can't be forgiven because of his pure love of the Panther team and he really doesn't want to be friendly with Eric (like Buddy does) except to push JD continually to the forefront.

I have a couple problems with the introduction of JaMarcus Hall, the team's fullback, who is hiding the fact that he plays football from his parents and with Tami and Coach's help convincing them to let him play. First, that they introduce a yet another player (who we very well might never see again) and STILL don't make him a defender just bugs me. An entire new dimension could be added to the games and practices if it seemed like Eric or any of the assistants ever called a defender to task over something. And while Eric and Tami both are impressive visiting the boys parents, it's just too convenient that this character that we've never even heard of before takes the game over to such a significant degree this week.

Devin, the new bassist of Crucifitorious who can apparently pull songs out of her head, seems like an obvious set-up for a love interest for Landry, except she's doesn't want anybody to learn she's more fond of the ladies. It's not the best performance, but her attitude is at least a change of pace, seeing a couple people in school who's lives don't revolve so much around football. Although it's nice to see Landry get a confidence boost from Tami, who is just firing on all cylinders in the advice categories this week.

Buddy and his kids pretending everything is fine despite obviously growing in different directions makes us feel a bit for the character. But having the love of Panther football bring them together... well that's just a little convenient. I suppose it can be justified that the two younger children (visiting from California where they live with their mom) aren't really as different and unforgiving as they seem, but are just rebelling against their cheating father.

Jason and his crew's struggles to sell the house is the least involved storyline and I would prefer if this happened in a week when a bit more was happening in the other plots. It would probably be better if their sale didn't seemingly fall from the sky into their hands. And even the very thin developments in their story needs to be padded to fill time with Street helping best buddy Tim make a highlight video to get into college. It's tough to get too involved especially when everything (including the happenstance meeting with a New York based agent... hmm...) seems to be just getting the chess pieces in place for Street's final episode. And the finale with him out by the pool with former girlfriend Lyla (who is surprisingly stand-able this week) trying to talk himself into being a sports agent or something, but definitely not in Dillon, makes a great final set-up.

Final score: 2.5 score out of 5 (just can't get too worked up over yet another game decided on the final play)


Friday, February 27, 2009

Fillin' Gaps. Get Your Mind Out Of The Gutter!

Lost: The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
Season 5, Episode 7

It's a testament to the terrific pace of this season thus far that a slow episode such as this one doesn't completely derail my enjoyment of Lost.

Yes, Lost Fanboys are pathetically proclaiming EVERY new episode of this season as the best yet and while it's not as lame as it was during season 2 ("Dave" was a worthless episode, deal with it) it's starting to make me abhor the fandom of this brilliant show.

Yes. I called Lost brilliant and I still didn't care for this episode. It wasn't because it was a BAD episode. Far from it. Terry O'Quinn was terrific. It was just...well, why did we waste an entire episode showing Locke visiting the Oceanic 6? We knew how those meetings went, we knew how it affected Jack. The bulk of the episode was dedicated to showing up the story gaps that we could already piece together from the last season and a half of the show.

The major issue I have with the episode and truthfully it's a small quibble, is that now 90% of the people who left the island have now returned. It's sort of like what "Battlestar Galactica" did when the fleet made it to Earth with ten episodes to go in the final season. Where are they headed? Who knows. I'll give the Cuse and Lindelof a free pass for now, I have to see where this is headed.

So what did we learn? Not a whole lot, but what was revealed was highly intriguing. Firstly, the frozen donkey wheel apparently shoots everyone out of John Malkovich's head onto the New Jersey Turnpike...wait, wrong story. Actually the frozen donkey wheel apparently always drops it's users in Tunisia. Charlotte found a Dharma polar bear skeleton in the Tunisian desert, so yeah. Somehow a polar bear used the donkey wheel. Good to know.

Charles Widmore apparently knows where the wheel deposits it's users and has set up surveillance of the area. It does, however, beg the question of why Chuckles didn't have those camera's a few years ago when Ben first left the island...hmmm. Charles has his men pick up Locke when he appears and they fix up his broken leg. Our first big shocker of the evening comes when Charles informs Locke that he actually wants to help him get the Oceanic 6 back to the island. Apparently Ben tricked Widmore into leaving the island where he was the leader of The Others. Widmore's motives are not entirely lucid, much like Ben we are left wondering if he's the good guy or the bad guy of the story. If Locke wasn't such a sucker, I'd be inclined to say that he's the good guy and everyone else are the baddies.

Matthew Abbadon (played by Lance Reddick who, I am contractually obligated by Jim to mention, was previously seen on "The Wire" and is now serving time on "Fringe," poor soul) gets to play chauffeur for Locke as he takes a fun trip around the world. He doesn't get much to do here 'cept be AWESOME and find people. Find people like...Locke's long lost fiance, Helen. Sadly for Locke (and Helen) she's livin' six under. Shortly thereafter, Ben kills Abbadon. Goodbye, interesting character (who was previously on "The Wire").

And finally we learn how Locke dies. Surprise. It was Ben. Yes, if you had half a brain (I'm talking to you Lost Fanboys!) you surely saw this coming. Locke was about to do the deed until Ben barged in and saved him. But his reason behind the save was merely to squeeze Locke for info (namely his contact, Eloise Hawking, and proof that Jin was still alive) and once that was taken care of...well, so was Locke. Except not quite. Since the Island does that voodoo that it do so well. Seeing Locke alive on the Hydra station island as HIMSELF and not a smoke-monster created golem made for a great plot development.

Does that mean that Christian Sheppard (who died in Australia and had his body deposited on Crap-hole island by the plane crash) is ACTUALLY Christian Sheppard as well? God, I hope so. It would give me "B" in my Lost Plot Theory Bingo game.


Billy's Favorite Retro Games! (Part 7 of 200)

The Oscars are still fresh in my mind, what with Mickey Roarke being nominated(but denied the win by Sean Penn) for his turn as Randy "The Ram" in the movie The Wrestler. There's a great scene in the middle of the film where Randy plays a fictional old-school NES brawler, Wrestle Jam, starring The Ram himself(Also mentioned in the scene is Call of Duty 4 which, considering how long it will probably take me to reach 200, will be a featured retro game sometime in the next decade). This "game" was very reminiscent of one of my absolute FAVORITE retro games: PRO WRESTLING!

Pro Wrestling was one of Nintendo's NES original sports titles like Ice Hockey, Tennis, and Golf. And much like those games it followed the most unoriginal naming scheme ever. Thankfully that's a small concern about this game as it has some crazy surreal things that can happen in it. You start by choosing your favorite wrestler. This is standard operating procedure in any fighting game. This game seems to capture the 80s WWF feel wonderfully with it's eclectic(and in some cases mildly racist) roster of pugilists.

Kin Corn Karn, King Slender, and my favorite Starman. Not to be confused with either the comic book or movie of the same name, Starman gets his name from the fact that he wears a pink jumpsuit and mask with a giant purple star on it. You might think that Starman would be a big puss, but he is totally bad ass. Using his pink tights as a way to lure unsuspecting wrestlers to their doom!

The only other wrestler who can potentially match up to the awesomeness of Starman is The Amazon. Why? Well, because The Amazon is...uh, well, he's the creature from the black lagoon, actually. I don't know if this guy is wearing a costume or not, but one of his special moves is to bite the fuck out of his opponent's face. If he's wearing a costume, that's dedication.

Being an NES game it's got a limited move set that consists mostly of punch and kick. You can jump off the turnstile and bounce on the ropes as well as leave the ring. Don't expect any crazy weapons though(well, aside from The Amazon's pearly whites), this was the early NES days, I'm surprised that they had space on the cartridge for spectators let alone extra kilobytes for a folding chair.

Now, one of the things that this game is famous(or infamous, rather) for, aside from Starman being awesome like a possum, is the horribly great Engrish translation. Win the big championship match and you get this:

A winner is you. It's certainly up there in the annals of bad translations. It's not quite an "I feel asleep" or "All your base" but it's enough to endear me to this horrible, horrible, awesome game.

You my boy Starman! You my boy!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Comic Time! (2/25/09)

It's a busy week for That's a Wrap comic reviewing. A pair of Avengers books each perform better than expected, but Captain America is still the standard bearer for Marvel. Over in DC, the impossible happens twice with Geoff Johns performing beneath expectation in a pair of titles. At least James Robinson is almost able to start his own brand of storytelling in Superman and Gail Simone holds her own in Wonder Woman. And I figured it was about time to introduce you to Terry Moore's Echo. So buckle up, beware spoilers and click below to continue.

Comic Reviews for Week of 02/25/2009

CAPTAIN AMERICA #47 - "Old Friends and Enemies: Part 2 of 3"
Written by Ed Brubaker, Art by Butch Guice

In this middle issue of Ed Brubaker's latest arc is a slight step back from the first issue thanks to regular artist Steve Epting sitting out in place of Guice. Their styles are similar, but this issue was clearly drawn by the apprentice, not the master. The facial expressions are slightly lacking, more similar to Billy Tan than Epting and with most of the issue taking place at night, Guice crosses the line from using the shadows to set a mood to letting them confuse the picture.

But aside from the weaker effort on the art, this issue continues in much the same excellent manner we've generally been enjoying for about four years now. Enough credit can't be given to Brubaker, who in resurrecting Bucky, creating his history as the Winter Soldier and developing him as our new title character, took his "definitive" take on Captain America to a higher level. In this issue, Brubaker continues to draw the different aspects of Barnes together.

Really this issue's larger issues, of Bucky accepting and moving past his rather less than savory past to his new role, literally getting past wearing the garb of a killer. That we get to work in a mad scientist as the villain (as opposed to a skull-faced Nazi or and intergalactic warlord) only adds a slight touch of the fantastic, keeping this book more rooted in Brubaker's own noir corner of the Marvel Universe.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5

ECHO #10
Written and Art by Terry Moore

Most of you have probably never heard of this book, let alone read it. And I doubt there are many fan's of Moore's first solo project, "Strangers in Paradise." I actually never got that into his first series. It came about in a time when I wasn't following comics for a ten year stretch. But it at least convinced me to give this series a chance. Now this is much more up my alley. We've got four or five absolutely incredible regular characters and a terrific sci-fi hook. And while the lead character, Julie, is wonderfully flawed, she isn't the highlight of the story.

Without a doubt, the focal character of the opening scene, Ivy Raven, is the best creation in the title. Just about the smartest detective you've ever met, this female version of the Mentalist is cold and collected at all times, but has a practical warmth to her. This lets her rise above the level of bad guy... which of course she very well might end up being.

The artwork is often rather simple, but given that Moore does both, I give him a bit of leeway there. This is mostly forgiven anyway given how exceptional he is at drawing expressions. It's an incredibly important aspect of the art given how the conflicts come few and far between here with most the action of the variety of two people talking to each other.

This issue's opening is a bit of an exposition explaining the technology of the suit that exploded back in issue #1, which gave Julie a gnarly breastplate. The remainder is a nice back and forth phone conversation between the female leads. And while Ivy is generally reinforcing the idea that she's too cool for school, Julie comes off well in her role of very human and confused. A nice little cliffhanger at the end still works here because we haven't known anyone long enough to be certain they'll survive except for Julie.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5

GREEN LANTERN #38 - "Rage of the Red Lanterns: Part 4"
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Juan Reis

Now that's just plain weird. Johns absolutely nailed this arc which started back in the Final Crisis plugged Part 1. While its great to see the various ring Corps really getting into the swing of things and the cliffhanger last week seemed to set us up for an absolutely spectacular take on the real power of Hal Jordan - his incredible willpower, the resolution just lets down. There's a somewhat cool moment, but its for a rather unspectacular character we just met a few months ago. And the arc totally leaves us hanging on the main character and then he appears back on Earth, looking perfectly fine in the Origins and Omens backup story.

The real highlight, behind Reis continuing to get better and better each month to the point that he's now just as crucial to Johns' ongoling GL story as original artist Ethan Van Schiver, is the pulling of Carol Ferris into the ring wars. While Cowgirl was a perfectly fine placeholder, I've been a big Carol supporter since before Hal even returned. I look forward to their eventual confrontation, but its kind of a letdown when the best thing about a book is clearly something in the future. I've gotten used to Johns wow-ing me plenty each month, but for now this arc wraps up too quickly with little internal struggle and all the best stuff looks to be still ahead of us.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5

Written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway, Art by Jerry Ordway

This arc's first issue left me hopeful for the next couple parts, but Ordway's art takes a bit of a step back this week and Johns story is bogged down in a very uninteresting revision of the history of Billy Batson's family and life leading to Captain Marvel. Several pages in the middle lack any real success in establishing space; the location of characters in relation to one another. You're never entirely sure if the entire contingent of the JSA is even in the same room at any given time. And when they do appear on panel together, the story feels disjointed, like we're skimming to catch up.

There's never a proper setting developed. And while I understand the Rock of Eternity is an incredibly mystical and confusing place, it doesn't help matter to have characters taking turns being thrown or floating into the ether and pulling each other back in turn. The teaser for next week only reinforces the idea that we are going to get deeper into Captain Marvel mythology revision. With so many incredible characters already on this roster, Johns and Ordway aren't doing much to convince me it's worth the time to have more adventures with the Marvel Family.

And after the ending of Final Crisis, it's disappointing to see Mary Marvel again turned into a villain (I thought that was over, is she still possessed by Desaad?) with no real explanation of the why or how. She just shows up and starts knocking Stargirl around without a reason. I'd like to think this will all get pulled together, but I was never a big Captain Marvel fan. And as much as I loved the work Johns did for this title since launch and before that for years on the "JSA" book, maybe its time for some fresh blood. I'd just like one more wonderfully drawn issue by Dale Eaglesham before we go. But we'll have to wait a couple months for that.

Final score: 2 stars out of 5

MIGHTY AVENGERS #22 - "The Writing on the Wall"
Written by Dan Slott, Art by Khoi Pham

From the first issue, I supposed this reboot of an Avengers book was just what I was looking for and something I really don't care for. From instant one where the villain overtakes the world and kills the other two Avengers squad (including Captain America, Ahh!) we knew everything would be reset at the conclusion of this three issue arc. Between the pre-established ending and the glancing over of continuity to get Quicksilver to his starting point as a hero possessed by a demon god, we weren't off to a great start.

But the crew Slott assembled and his reason for doing so rings so true and could be the thing to make this book stand out. New Avengers is where the big action is with the big characters like Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Dark Avengers is Thunderbolts 2.0. But here an old school Avengers fan gets together characters that don't steal the headlines because they don't have their own books in several cases. And the idea of fluidity in the roster means we can also jettison anybody that will be limited to telling the more off the beaten path adventures.

The main conflict of a demon god taking over the world is actually less interesting than Hank Pym getting over his inferiority complex, personified overall and in this arc by Tony Stark. Ideally it would be nice to get past this first arc and focus more on the character's that should be here long term: Hank Pym and Jocasta, the Young Avengers' Vision and Stature and a reformed Scarlett Witch. That's going to be the big challenge of the next issue. All the good moments might be for naught if Slott can't pull off the beginning of the redemptive arc of a woman that has seriously screwed around with hundreds of thousands of lives.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Billy Tan and Various

Bendis, you sneaky little bastard! The set-up for a big fight might have pretty much been the plot of issue #49 and every bit of promotional material released seemed to indicate that Osborn's Dark Avengers and Cap's New (Old) version of the team were headed for a big issue #50 punching-fest in a desparate attempt to jack the book's price up a couple bucks. Well, spoiler alert... the fight never happens.

It makes sense, because the hero's plan to lure Osborn to them is laughable in its predictability and execution, that the bad guys wouldn't show. Instead the big mission of Dark Reign (that the villains of the MarvelU: Loki, the Hood, Dr. Doom are all in league) brings the villain organization run by the Hood into the fray.

While Tan's artwork continues to drag the book into mediocrity, so I'm all in favor of the decision to use a massive amount of guest artists to tell the story of the battle from each Avenger's point of view. The double splash page by Bryan Hitch that starts the multi-artist procedure was a bit of a let down given my stratospheric expectations for him. Most of the others are fine with the work of David Aja, Alex Maleev, Steve McNiven and Steve Epting rising above the rest.

The highlight of the book is Bendis' conclusion, where Clint Barton goes on television to take a stand against the world seemingly forgetting the man in charge of an international peace-keeping initiative is violent sociopath and a murderer, in fact a super-villain. It actually puts the big fight to shame... one guy sitting in front of a camera talking. It's that good a speech.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5

SUPERMAN #685 - "The Long Goodbye"
Written by James Robinson, Art by Javier Pina

It's not so much of a long goodbye. It's actually far, far too quick and try as he might, Robinson just can't make it work convincingly. Sure enough, the arrival of Mon-El and the nice little deus ex machina to avoid his rather quick death is resolved almost without any explanation in the first six pages and requires no wonderous action by the main hero besides sticking his head in the next room and having the solution handed to him. I know we're being set-up for an ongoing mystery, but it makes Superman look stupid. Stupid that he never realized the solution was literally right in front of him the entire time and rather cuckolded that he does nothing of consequence. Not to mention the fact that it yet again completely craps all over Legion continuity, just as it appeared the Legion of 3 Worlds might help standardize it.

Pina's faces are just awful, looking either utterly blank or rendered in the most simplistic of expressions. But he does do a nice job with the final splash page of Superman flying away in the background and Lois in the foreground.

Everything comes off as the most forced and editorial mandated muck since J. Michael Strazynski's One More Day arc in "Spider-Man." The motivations for Superman leaving Earth to live on New Krypton could have been much better explained and handled with a more deft touch. Perhaps Robinson was frustrated being pulled in too many directions or he was too anxious to get onto his stories with Mon-El and the Guardian running things in Metropolis.

While I'm sure Superman: World of New Krypton will be a change of pace, I'm not sure if it's the right one. Does DC really want to write out Superman from most of their stories (which they had better - this entire enterprise will seem pointless if he's still in Justice League or making guest appearance every other week) and the same time Batman is on a half-year hiatus? After a few years of great Geoff Johns stories in Action Comics, I just remain hesitant about this new direction and thoroughly unimpressed with everything since the conclusion of the Braniac arc.

Final score: 1.5 stars out of 5

WONDER WOMAN #29 - "A Changed World"
Written by Gail Simone, Art by Aaron Lopresti

Well, we're supposed to be one month away from the big reveal of the new champion of the Olympians and I will give Simone this: she isn't letting up on dragging Diana through the trenches from almost every direction. Between the machinations of Dr. Psycho and Cheetah taking the fight to Wonder Woman, Genecide's continued rampage (and command of the lasso), Jason and Euphemus declaring war on America's navy, Zeus assaulting and beating of Milohai, the deity that supported Diana while the Greeks were away and the kidnapping of Diana's best friend. She's had a tough week. It's nice to finally see our old buddy Steve Trevor show up again since his dear wife Etta Candy has been kicking ass and taking names alongside Diana for months now.

Lopresti certainly shines with the old dual fight editing we've seen often enough before. The biggest problem with this style is the repeating of images or visual elements and character movement. Until the last page of the issue, Lopresti does a fine job avoiding that pitfall as often as possible.

My one complaint about the issue is the quick way the Donna Troy rejects Diana. It's painfully obvious that something else will eventually be revealed to explain her massive uncharacteristic reaction (either the after-effects of Genecide or something more), but it would have been better to play it with a softer touch while still in the middle of so many other significant events.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Best Time You'll Have On A...Er, Hog...

The modern 3D Grand Theft Auto games have always been packed full of things to see and do, but there is inevitably places in the city maps that the games just don't have the time nor inclination to visit for a mission. It's just something that fans of the series have come to understand. Why can't I do a mission in that small town near San Fierro? What about the military base in Vice City? How about the amusement park in Liberty City. Well, thankfully with the advent of current-gen game systems network capabilities Rockstar Games, developers of GTA, can rectify this issue with the release of the first Xbox 360 downloadable content pack: The Lost and Damned.
Can you do something in the amusement park? Sadly, no. At least not yet. But you will explore the mostly neglected island of Alderney. Even without the amusement park this pack is still a joy to behold and just as Rockstar sets the standard high for other developers with their games, they redefine what DLC means to Xbox 360 owners.
The Lost and Damned introduces us to Johnny Klebitz, vice president of the titular biker gang "The Lost"(and before you ask, there is no gang called The Damned, it's a metaphor, meathead). Johnny has been running things while gang president Billy was cooling his heels in the can. Billy gets paroled and Johnny has to give up the autonomy he had before. It doesn't help that Billy is a total hop-head and seems to want to start a massive gang war in Liberty City.
The first thing you must realize is that The Lost and Damned is practically a full length game. Hell, it took me less time to beat Mirror's Edge than it did to finished TLAD. It's easy to balk at the $19.99 price and feel like you will be slighted by purchasing it, but trust me, this DLC's main story will easily take you 9-10 hours to complete. I pretty much rushed through it and it took me ten hours. The price is much easier to swallow when you consider all the things that this expansion offers.
More than twenty main story missions, twelve bike races(in the vein of seminal fave Road Rash), twenty-five gang wars, side missions, more birds to find, new weapons, new vehicles and new mini-games are most of the additions that this DLC provides.
One caveat, the additions in TLAD cannot be traded up to Niko's story in GTAIV. So, no grenade launcher or arm wrestling in the main storyline. Sorry, folks. The good news, however, is that like previous GTA games, once completing the campaign in TLAD you can still continue playing as Johnny as long as you like.
The good news here is that most of TLAD is fantastic. The story, while not as moving as GTAIV protagonist Niko Bellic's, is top notch. Johnny's story is handled fairly well in the short time that it has to present itself. You will get to know the members of The Lost fairly well, with only a few main characters being slighted(Brian the wheelchair bound ex-bike being the biggest example). The ending does seem to come too abruptly, and unfortunately like GTAIV it wades into the cliched mafia story towards the end. Unlike GTAIV these missions are few and come mostly towards the end.
Rockstar has implemented a mid-mission re-try feature, which allows you to restart any mission you fail from the last cut scene you are shown. While this is a much needed feature, it tends to make the game slightly easy. Rockstar seemingly tries to balance this easiness by making any ammo you expend(not to mention money spent at the hospital after you die and before you restart) not respawn during the re-try. It feels like cheap way to punish players for re-trying the missions and after I realized the game did this I quit using the replay "feature."
Using motorcycles has been refined, and unlike Niko, Johnny is an ace cyclist. No longer will you fly off the bikes with a slight tap, it takes quite a wallop to knock Johnny over the handlebars. The handling has been tweaked as well, most of the choppers are a joy to drive now, and you probably won't want to pilot Johnny in anything else(unless like me you take to the skies in every mission that lets you do so). Some of the time when you are riding with the gang to or from missions a The Lost insignia will appear, holding position over it will recover armor and activate dialog. While this is a cool feature, it is lost in the shuffle of the story and disappears after about a third of the game making it somewhat pointless overall.
The new mini-games are pretty worthless and not worth touching more than once. Air hockey sounds great in theory but the controls are spotty. High Card, Low Card is interesting but doesn't have much depth. Arm wrestling asks you to slam the right analog stick back and forth violently, I cherish my controllers enough to not destroy them on something so trivial.
Friend Lost gang members are usually available by phone to give assistance in missions, provide weapons or bring bikes to you. Unlike Niko's slacker pals, these guys will provide their assistance right away without being taken on a man-date. Though it's nice to have access to these perks rather early, it makes some of the collecting of money rather pointless as you don't need to waste it on weapons. The Lost member who provides paid weapons in his van charges entirely too much for some of the high end firepower making him fairly useless until later in the game and by then you probably won't need to buy anything from him. It's nice to have the option however.
The main selling point of this package is the connections to GTAIV. Rockstar promised that TLAD would fill in mysteries from GTAIV, and while I couldn't think of anything mysterious to be filled in TLAD does mesh with the main story wonderfully.
Without going into any spoiler specifics, something happens late in the game that is upsetting but happens off screen. I got really upset that I wasn't allowed to see an important story scene. Later while cruising the city a news report came on the radio describing the situation I didn't witness. I then realized that I witnessed the scene in question from Niko's point of view in GTAIV. I literally got chills from that. The last time I felt that kind of astonishment from a game was Bioshock's big twist. It's not quite on par with that classic twist, but it's rare that a GTA provokes those kinds of feelings.
Despite the high price tag Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned comes highly recommended for it's intriguing story and new bike controls. Beware, this expansion is strictly for those of you who have already completed GTAIV. For the rest of you, what the hell are you waiting for?!


Going Through the Motions

Heroes: Cold Wars
Season 3, Episode 17

Why stay with this show? Every week I ask myself that question. Is it a guilty pleasure? Shouldn't you like a guilty pleasure? I don't like this show anymore. It just frustrates me. A LOT. Because it's right there in between the idiotic character decisions, the constantly shifting plans and allegiances and the lazy writers mistaking a revolving door of deus ex machina for plot development and mediocre or undedicated performances. "It" being the potential to be a truly great show; not only great but a comic book come to life. But still, how will it get better? I mean besides firing every writer and starting from scratch. Episodes like this week's "Cold Wars" really highlight how it is the mistakes of the writers and the producers overseeing them that kill that potential for everyone else.

Beware spoilers below the cut while the show continues to spin in place.

Four episodes into this volume of the story and so little had been done or established as far as a status quo. And that's one of the two definitive problems with this show right there. We need some consistent status for the characters as far as where they live, what they do everyday when we aren't watching them and how they plan to exorcise the achievement of their goals. Now the show doesn't need to become formulaic in the mold of a "CSI" or a "Law and Order," where the beats of every episode echo the same to the point you know what's about to happen because we're 20 minutes into the episode. But look at any good mythology oriented television show and we know basically what the characters do every day: where they live, what they do with their lives. Mulder works at the FBI. Buffy goes to school. These characters' entire lives cannot subsist of - execute the plot. This isn't 24 showing every second. Without any consistent off-screen life or action there's a sense that everything is just adrift at sea rolling with the tide (or in this case the latest vision of the future). Having lives is crucial... even if their lives are something fantastic like an organized movement in opposition to the government (as opposed to three guys fighting each other in a hotel room for no reason). The audience needs to think they exist for some purpose besides for us to watch. Then it's real. Then we can care.

The idea to significantly devote time to Noah Bennet's memories of the last few weeks is just more wasted opportunities. We don't care seeing Noah meet the Hunter because nothing interesting happens. We learn nothing about either character that isn't already known, so this is just pointless. Ten to fifteen minutes of a 40 minute episode should not be summarized as: two tough guys meet. We learn nothing about the Hunter except his is a very driven, "My Way or the Highway" type of guy. The entire idea of seeing how it all began for Noah is pointless. We know it began with Nathan going to the president, but for some reason the writers are absolutely obsessed to returning before the inciting incident of every volume to boringly point out how each person became involved.

Too much here is explained as serving the convenience of the plot. There's one man watching one computer monitor that just happens to always be turned to the right channel. Need to start a confrontation with Peter? You just happen to see the one camera looking at him. Need to have Nathan go talk to Peter? You just happen to see Peter and the Hunter in the latter's apartment. Why were you watching that specific feed at that time? Maybe nothing good was on ESPN tonight. Need to capture Mohinder? Your troops arrive without explanation at the hotel they happen to be at? Nothing is adequately explained. Everything just seems to move into place because the writers think it would be cool or exciting for things to happen. Maybe in their heads there's adequate justification for everything, but the fact that none of it makes it's way onto the screen just makes everything look lazy.

And their lack of seeming concern has certainly spread. Greg Grunberg, Milo Ventimiglia, Adrian Pasdar and so many others look so uninvolved with their own character arcs, unable to adequate express their own fear/anger/hope they've become painful to watch performances.

I can't really blame the actors given the motivations they are provided. Mohinder apparently learned this all might be happening a week earlier. Why didn't he mention this to everyone given that it's understandable he didn't jump in bed with Bennet? Well, so they could get in a fight and Bennet could escape... for a minute. The fact that they have to have the "Why didn't You Tell Us? Because You Wouldn't Understand Me!" conversation TWICE just again comes off as unnecessarily repetitive.

Every character's actions are apparently supposed to be personally justified by the morally incorrect actions of others. Just about the only enjoyable conversation in the episode has Mohinder calling Nathan on the exact fallacy. The scene is also enjoyable because Mohinder doesn't automatically hop on the other side of the confrontation as previous characters have done frequently enough to cause a migraine.

And let me add the other one of the two overreaching problems infecting this program is the lack of consequences. Daphne's death is undone just two episodes after it happened... which I guess is better than the first time they killed her THIS YEAR when it only lasted a couple minutes. Why watch any week if everybody will be back next week? Deaths would be so much more meaningful if 9 out of 10 of them weren't reversed almost immediately.

And I can't even go into the writers once again being unable to manage the plot they have by redirecting people through another painting on the floor of a loft. Could someone come up with 30 bucks for a new set? Anybody? And things aren't going to get better by going back to the big explosion well isn't going to improve things.

Final score: .25 stars out of 5


Killin' Time With 24

24: 5:00P.M.-6:00P.M.
Season 7, Episode 10

Welcome to "Killin' Time With 24." A weekly morning-after 24 discussion hosted by your faithful That's A Wrap editors, Billy and Jim.

Every Tuesday morning we get together to discuss the previous evening's episode of 24. What we liked, disliked and where we would like to see the series go while avoiding any real work. It's like a virtual coffee break.

Sit back and let us do the complaining for you.

10:27:24) Jim: 24: The Greatest Hits Continues
(10:53:32) Billy: Indeed.
(10:53:41) Jim: how great they just happen to find the tiny microchip
(10:53:54) Jim: how great chloe backs it up
(10:53:56) Billy: Seventh verse. Same as the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and first.
(10:54:44) Billy: I couldn't believe Jack just let that thing go with a random cop to FBI headquarters
(10:55:05) Jim: i gotta say the guy from Entourage had just about the stupidest escape plan ever... a gut shot, that she could spend hours or days dying from, is his cover... seriously?
(10:55:14) Billy: it worked out in the end, but damn, seriously? The government is compromised and you just hand the thing away.
(10:55:28) Billy: Not only a gut shot
(10:55:39) Billy: but her fingerprints weren't even on the gun!
(10:55:51) Jim: well, i justify that if the government is compromised, it might make sense for some random cop to be trustworthy
(10:56:07) Jim: it would be pretty damn coincidental if one random cop was in on it
(10:56:50) Billy: Right
(10:56:53) Jim: nor did she actually fire a bullet. i mean come on you nail her center mass, and use her hand to pull the trigger to put one in your arm
(10:57:11) Billy: But just 60 minutes earlier Entourage guy made the cops pull Jack over
(10:57:16) Jim: and do a decent acting job when they come for you... he was painstakingly obvious
(10:57:23) Billy: if he could do that, then he could have gotten the chip from the cops
(10:57:54) Jim: I'm just thankful he didn't walk into chloe's workspace with a handheld magnet
(10:58:04) Billy: I thought for a good couple of minutes that Chloe was pulling a con on them
(10:58:13) Billy: and I sort of wish she was
(10:58:17) Jim: by the way, lucky that the chip isn't at all electrically damaged by ramming a guy with paddles
(10:58:50) Billy: It would certainly have been more plausible than, "Moss, I randomly fixed the thing that I said was un-fixable."
(10:59:15) Jim: and it coincidentally could only be downloaded once... i mean come on... yeah it should have been a chloe fake out
(10:59:35) Jim: would make more sense and give a well-liked character a cool and understandable thing to do
(10:59:58) Billy: Seriously, the chip is fried
(11:00:02) Billy: they lose the information
(11:00:11) Jim: as opposed to, "Shit! It's all over. We're done............................ Oh, nevermind, it's cool."
(11:00:28) Billy: Chloe realizes that Entourage guy is lying, even if Moss can't because they are buddies.
(11:00:49) Jim: a fakeout would let you milk all the same tension, but comes off as more plausible and scientifically accurate
(11:00:56) Billy: She lies, telling Moss that she fixed it, and has guards watch him make his break.
(11:01:28) Billy: Boom, they know he's lying. Plus Moss gets to understand Bauer a bit more.
(11:01:45) Jim: looks like no Jack-Renee action for you for awhile, my friend. For a second there I thought they'd have angry sex... but it was not to be
(11:01:47) Billy: Because now HE has to interrogate a friend who has betrayed him.
(11:02:16) Billy: That whole scene between Jack and Renee illustrates one of the reason's I don't like this season
(11:02:34) Billy: Jack is a good guy. WE know he has feelings.
(11:02:43) Billy: Why is he acting like a total ass.
(11:02:59) Jim: But he's towing the line of, THIS IS NECESSARY for the writers this year.
(11:03:13) Billy: That's all it would take is Jack to say, "It's never easy." THEN walk away.
(11:03:16) Jim: and the point is, the good thing about Jack is that he know's it's wrong.
(11:03:45) Jim: that emotional guilt is one of his defining characteristice... I mean he ran away to India and Africa to escape what he had done
(11:03:59) Billy: I know eventually Jack is going to break down to Renee, I can just feel it. But until that happens, he's kind of an asshat.
(11:04:16) Jim: yeah, kind of hard to root for the guy this year
(11:04:57) Jim: I mean it was only going to be so long before Jack always doing his own thing because he is always right would grow old. eventually, he should be wrong once in awhile.
(11:05:20) Billy: As a bleeding heart liberal
(11:05:30) Billy: I am appalled by the torture on this show.
(11:05:40) Billy: but it's escapist entertainment
(11:05:48) Jim: i mean in seven years, none of his actions, often based on the slimest of lead or clues has EVER failed to pan out perfectly
(11:05:53) Billy: and I begrudge it that much.
(11:05:54) Jim: that's too much
(11:06:38) Billy: But Jack at some point has to show that he has remorse for this shit.
(11:06:44) Jim: agreed
(11:07:01) Billy: Crying at the end of season 3 is not enough
(11:07:52) Jim: the idea since season two that he was a good man that realized he sometimes had to do bad things. they haven't stayed on course with that defining characteristic. Turning him from an inhumane human to the equivalent of a robot
(11:08:16) Jim: they've made it too easy and convenient for him to head down darker paths
(11:08:39) Billy: Season five handled it well, with Audrey and Paul seeing first hand what Jack had to do to get the job done.
(11:09:23) Billy: But since then, it's been bull headed Jack, know s exactly the right thing to do: the wrong thing.
(11:09:52) Billy: And I feel it now, the Senator is going to let Jack go.
(11:11:09) Billy: Because of the non-twist twist ending, of Senator Red Foreman's chief of staff being aligned with L.A. police chief---er I mean, worfs brother---er, candyman---no, wait General Juma!
(11:11:23) Jim: It keeps the show going, but in the wrong direction... I've said it about Heroes a bunch, but it's true here as well. Actions need to have consequences. Jack can't keep going back to the "I know I'm doing wrong and will accept whatever consequences there are after the job is done.", if the consequences never come
(11:11:57) Billy: In a show like 24 it's hard to show consequences before the end of the season
(11:12:02) Jim: Except by the Chinese, he has broken tons of American and international laws and NEVER called to task for it
(11:12:10) Billy: Jack did do a two year turn in a Chinese prison.
(11:12:40) Billy: He is on trial for his crimes by the U.S. govt now.
(11:13:02) Jim: But that was out of revenge for a death he did not directly cause. It has never been acknowledged that Jack is doing bad things and there is a cost.
(11:13:24) Billy: The problem is, if you show realistic consequences then Jack Bauer should be in police custody for 12 hours of the season.
(11:13:54) Billy: It doesn't exactly make for an exciting show.
(11:15:01) Jim: I know there have been consequences... but all of them have been for actions where we see Jack in the right, the Chinese abduct an American citizen and smuggle him out of the country, the President orders his execution forcing him to go on the run. It just all reinforces that the bad things are the result of other people's actions and Jack is ALWAY IN THE RIGHT.
(11:15:03) Billy: I do think that the "cost" is going to be Jack's life in the final episode of the series. Be it by a terrorist. Or friend/family. Or by his own hand.
(11:15:39) Jim: as much as I like the guy, you can see how that would be fitting
(11:15:59) Billy: How flippin' wonderful would it be if Kim Bauer eventually kills her old man.
(11:16:24) Jim: they would NEVER do that
(11:16:27) Billy: I mean, with proper build up, of course
(11:16:44) Billy: She's been so messed up by her father, hooked on smack
(11:16:57) Jim: i mean come on, you might as well say he gets exiled to Candytop Mountain
(11:16:59) Billy: the only way to be free is for Jack to die.
(11:17:06) Billy: Ha ha
(11:17:21) Billy: It's my dream of how to handle Kim's return.
(11:17:25) Billy: I know that it
(11:17:31) Billy: will not be as cool as that.
(11:19:54) Billy: Kim will not be hooked on smack. She'll just act like a smug little bitch, and I will wish that someone will just outright smack her. Nothing will change, because for a show all about time, 24 has a pretty awful recollection of the past.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Running Through the Oscars

After the rather epic and popular Oscar podcast (where we did correctly predict numerous winners), the actual show deserved something special. So taking a page from one of my writing idols, I plopped down infront of the tv with a fresh from the oven pizza, a bottle of Diet Sierra Mist and my mighty wit for a running diary of last night's 81st Academy Award celebration.

Join me below the jump as the adventure continues.

8:01pm - Why watch the Oscar preshow? I mean I know the full name of just one fashion designer... and only because her dad was a Beatle. But in my case, I'm mostly to trying to separate which of the nominees are okay with not winning and just here to have a good time (Viola Davis) and which will drop a Sour Patch Kids face if they lose (I'm looking in your direction, Kate Winslet). Also to hear their wacky real accents. In the case of Winslet, between "Revolutionary Road," "The Reader," "Little Children" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," I almost forgot how British she was. The answer is... very British.

8:10pm - Well the cast and crew for "Slumdog Millionaire" decide to test the structural integrity of ABC's little interview podium. I'm getting good vibes from them all coming together both because I'm a big believer in Karma and they remind me of the 1980 U.S. hockey team squeezing up there together.... good times.

8:15pm - Believe it or not America, I cannot remember ever seeing Miley Cyrus before in my life. Although, according to Wikipedia she was in "Big Fish," but still she's one of those massively popular stars that never really comes close to my attention. Discounting Tim Burton's greatest film ever, I can say I only knew her for .8 seconds before I disliked her. That's a time to rival the record of such legends as Tom Green, Carrot Top and Miley's dear old dad... proud company indeed.

8:24pm - Now here's three people I'm glad to see. Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow join the ranks of Jack Black and Jim Carrey as People Invited to Oscars to Boost Ratings That They'd Never, Under Any Circumstance Nominate For an Award. And can we please just task one camera to discretely watch the bar all night? I'm just praying an enraged Kate Winslet gets completely sloshed if Meryl Streep pulls off a deserved upset.

8:30pm - And here we go!

8:30:03pm - Hey, where's Jack Nicholson?

8:30:10pm - I'm not kidding, is he dead? Are the Lakers in town tonight? Status update people!

8:36pm - I have to say that I kind of admire Hugh Jackman's opening number. Even with the painfully awkward Surprise participation of Anne Hathaway, it's just as unfunny as Billy Crystal's openings for a fraction of the price and he did just as good job telling the story of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" without stealing three hours of my life. One last note on the intro, it's probably not the best sign for Frank Langella's chances that Hathaway does a better Nixon impersonation.

8:39pm - Right now I'm scouring the internet looking for news of Nicholson's death earlier today and fully prepared for him to push Paul Newman out of the last spot of the In Memoriam feature later in the show. I mean the Lakers are in Minnesota, so this makes no sense at all to me.

8:41pm - Ouch... Jackman kicks it to the first award rather awkwardly, leading to the first Are We Supposed to Clap? Oh Shit We Are! moment of the evening. Do we really need more pomp and circumstance over the acting awards? What's up with these clips of past acceptance speeches for Best Supporting Actress?

8:43pm - Five presenters for a single award? I'm prepped for a Monday morning finish to this show already.

8:45pm - So these five presenters are just going to wax philosophical about the glory of the nominees? Has the world gone mad trying to be original? Where's the clip? That's my favorite part of the bloody show! Unforgivable.

8:47pm - Nearly ten minutes to get through the listing of the nominees and on top of that they give it to Penelope Cruz for a damn Woody Allen movie? I think the Lord might not be on my side tonight... watch out "The Dark Knight" and "Slumdog Millionaire."

8:49pm - If that was a Visual Effects artist, we'd be in the "play them off stage" portion of the speech, but god forbid we not let Penelope Cruz make my ears bleed a little more. Please stop with the fainting joke people... you've all had more than a month to come to grips with your 20% statistical chance of victory... freaking prepare yourself.

8:55pm - FYI - reading a script aloud almost never seems as impressive as you think it would for most people. That being said, a nice win for "Milk," one of my top five films of 2008. Meanwhile, my brother actually asked me if a script about a person that really lived can be an original screenplay... wow.

8:58pm - After all the bull over an acting award, isn't it rather degrading how they throw the screenplay award back-to-back... Wait! What am I saying, this is a chance to get through two awards in less than 25 minutes... go Tina Fey and Steve Martin, go!

9:01pm - I'm thrilled for Slumdog winning Adapted Screenplay, but kind of sad we just missed getting three done in the first half hour.

9:02pm - I'll bet a million dollars Jen Aniston doesn't make a Brangelina reference here... any takers? Will Jack Black??? Oscar Tension people, gotta love it.

9:05pm - Congrats, "WALL-E," please step forward and accept your We Know You Were One of the Five Best Pictures of the Year, But Ya Know What... Screw You Award, also referred to as Best Animated Feature.

9:16pm - In Art/Set Direction, we've got the first chance for the Academy to apologize to "The Dark Knight" or twist the knife in my back a little more. And... twist goes the knife, giving it to "CCBB." That's a solid 2.5 on the gut shot scale.

9:20pm - Golly, Costume Design goes to a period piece ("The Duchess")... I did not see that one coming.

9:22pm - Make-up now... (and man, when not taking time to anoint the feet of actors, the show really runs along briskly) goes to "CCBB" again over "TDK." This is like watching your favorite sibling getting wailed on by the special needs student two grades behind them.

9:31pm - As the presenters, Natalie Portman and a bad Ben Stiller Joke, come onto the stage I realize that I still have a massive crush on one of them... and it isn't the Night at the Museum guy. On another note, I am literally going to start doing shots of tequila if "CCBB" wins again.

9:35pm - Well, "Slumdog Millionaire" saves my liver, but it can't help but sting that my favorite film of the year is 0-3.

9:43pm - The Pineapple Express boys teach me that I should have watched "The Reader" while under the influence and I would have gotten the joke. Can we get someone on the creation of the Oscar Bong, stat please?

9:52pm - Hey, another musical number... that would have been great if any musical was being recognized this year. Instead this is the producers following the directive to get a pop star and teeny-boppers on stage regardless of reason or consequences. I mean, I own numerous musicals including "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but did we need the unnecessary padding of 10 minutes to the telecast? You could have solved that problem and then some by letting Julia Roberts within 30 feet of a microphone.

10:00pm - It's time for Best Supporting Actor, so get ready for ten minutes of pointless blathering by former winners. But seriously, this is the biggest award of the night for me. I'm not sure I can handle Heath Ledger losing here. I don't mean I'd kill myself... that would probably be in bad taste.

10:02pm - The five former winners just came out... I have time for a bathroom break and making a bag of popcorn right?

10:06pm - Mmmmm, popcorn. May Ledger's victory be as sweet as you are salty.

10:07pm - YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:08pm - Yes! Yes! Yes!

10:09pm - (Doing the Dance of Joy - Mumfar style) Let's take a moment to mention this... a comic book movie has won an Academy Award for acting... We Will Tear Down That Wall!

10:10pm - Hey can we stop cutting away from Ledger's family to watch famous people insincerely tearing up... I'm looking at you Brad Pitt.

10:15pm - "Man on Wire" the only nominee that I've seen wins Best Documentary... it's certainly worthy, with my Netflix It! stamp of approval. And while I will point out the Oscar is not a plaything... who doesn't like MAGIC?!

10:25pm - Back from a commercial starring Tom Cruise to his cooler, saner and better grossing rival, Will Smith for the Action Movie Awards, also known as the low end technicals. Right now I expect another "CCBB" screw job here in Visual Effects, hoping my pessimism can sway the tide.

10:27pm - Nope. (Rant on.) Did anybody actually watch that piece of shit? Can we please stop awarding the same aging effects that looked just as crappy 15 years ago? For the love of Christ how about some love for practical effects? (Rant off.)

10:29pm - Finally a category my favorite film doesn't share with "CCBB" (Sound Editing). And while "Slumdog" and "WALL-E" are both worthy, I'm still fist pumping the TDK victory.

10:30pm - Man, Willy is rolling tonight. Sound Mixing (which is different from editing in a manner I don't understand) goes to "Slumdog." At least we didn't lose to "CCBB" again... that's right. I've become so attached to "TDK" that I begun using the first person plural despite my utter lack of involvement. TDK is the new Red Sox.

10:34pm - The lesson as always is never let Will Smith off stage if you can avoid it... or need to blow throw five technical awards in under 15 minutes to spend 40 minutes combined on acting. Even I have to admit a victory in Editing for "Slumdog" over "TDK" is well deserved.

10:41pm - God bless you, Jerry Lewis. I love any achievement award recipient that doesn't take it as an excuse to ramble pointlessly for 15 minutes. Cheers!

10:49pm - Hey, it's another promo for ABC's "Castle." You can never have too much Nathan Fillion that doesn't involve "Desperate Housewives."

10:50pm - The Oscar band finally gets to stretch their legs with the Score nominees.

10:53pm - Hey, it's Steven Spielberg! Fanboy powers activate!

10:56pm - I generally like the performances of the Best Song nominees both for admiration and mocking purposes. And while I'm fine with the three nominees, don't think I'm not still bitter as hell that Bruce Springsteen isn't on stage with an acoustic guitar right now with Patti, Steven and Clarence doing backup.

11:01pm - Another win for "Slumdog." If I was Danny Boyle, I wouldn't go to the bathroom for a while.

11:10pm - Maybe I'm morbid. Maybe I'm sentimental. But every year I am absolutely locked in for the duration of the In Memoriam bit. My personal favorites that I'll miss include Roy Scheider, Ricardo Moltalban, Stan Winston, Charlton Heston (mostly for comedic purposes), Sydney Pollack and of course, Fast Eddie himself, Paul Newman. You will be missed every time I watch "The Color of Money" or "Road to Perdition" or especially "Cool Hand Luke."

11:15pm - One last note on the In Memoriam, I vastly prefer the clips compared to a singer onstage... stop trying to change thing for the sake of changing things Oscar producers.

11:18pm - Holy crap, there's going to be a new Academy president?! I nominate Barak Obama, so finally sports movies, comedies and superhero flicks can have their day without partisan politics getting in the way. Say it with me... Yes We Can!

11:19pm - Man, David Fincher looks massively older than I imagined him. "Fight Club" was a long time ago.

11:20pm - It's a Slumdog World and we're just living in it. I loved Danny Boyle's explanation for the Tigger bounce. Mumbai is looking like this year's New Zealand. Thanks, India!

11:24pm - As past Best Actress winners over-react and cry, I need to weigh in that Hilary Swank is not hot.

11:26pm - What's up with the standing ovation for the five Best Actress presenters? Man, I would be royally pissed if I was a Supporting Actor presenter. I'd probably just shoot myself if I presented anything else. Could we possibly keep the five presenter thing, but they each have to put $10K into a pool for the presenter that introduces the eventual winner? That would make this infinitely more watchable. I really hope Meryl Streep doesn't get screwed over for the illiterate Nazi. Both because it's deserved and Kate Winslet looks like she'll go Carrie on us if she loses.

11:28pm - D'oh! I guess you can't beat insanely boring illiterate Nazis that seduce the little kid from Narnia. Man, Meryl Streep totally gets screwed here. People talk about her having 15 nominations, but please remember she hasn't won since 1982. That's like four times she's deserved to win since then, but hasn't. It's frustrating that they throw her nominations and then basically forget about one of the best actresses ever.

11:34pm - Wow, Winstlet's dad can really whistle. Which I feel is a good time to mention that I can neither whistle nor snap my fingers. And the lack of each haunts me to this day. Also, we're past the three hour mark.

11:35pm - I love a lot about the Best Actor presentation. Nothing beats kicking up the theme to "The Magnificent Seven," just about my favorite piece of movie music in history and clip featuring John Wayne, Marlon Brando and Daniel Day Lewis... good times. They bring out a mostly All-Star line-up of presenters with DeNiro, Kingsley, Michael Douglas and Anthony Hopkins and... hey! Who let Adrien Brody past security???

11:38pm - Ladies and gentlemen, Funny DeNiro is in the house tonight! Although, I think Sean Penn would have preferred if he left out the "I am Sam" reference.

11:43pm - Dang nab it... no win for my man Mickey Rourke. And while Penn pulls out the "I never expected this" lie (I mean you were one of five nominees! You should have had a clue!), he at least is the type of ass that admits he's an ass... so we have that in common.

11:49pm - The last time I remember Spielberg presenting was the glorious year of "The Return of the King," so lots of good vibes going into the Best Picture award. I really think it'll come down to "Slumdog" or "Milk" and both are among my top five for the year. Also, I'm going to come down slightly in favor of inter-mixing the clips with other Oscar winning Best Pictures.

11:50pm - .... Because it reminds us what a blatant Oscar-baiting, Holocaust-usurping piece of crap manipulation that "The Reader" really was.

11:52 - I'm doing to Jai-Ho dance for Slumdog's win... and sure enough they pull one out of the We're All Coming on Together playbook first popularized (for me) by the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI... I love it. It's just an incredibly classy move to share the love.

11:56pm - Well, we're out of here before midnight, but it's a shame we couldn't have cut it to three hours by skipping the self-indulgent approach to the acting categories. Mmmm, movie teasers....


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Could We Just Wipe Last Week From My Mind?

Dollhouse: The Target
Season 1, Episode 2

There's not too much mistaking my rather open scorn of the premiere of this show. Not only was it deserving of a thorough bashing because it was directed in an unengaged style and was full of numerous scenes worthy of being cut and contained the great enemy of a well-written script, the enormous coincidence, but the fact that it was written and directed by Joss Whedon just wreaks of betrayal. It was the difference between getting your butt kicked by a bully at school versus your favorite uncle. One just hurts more... not that I'd know from personal experience.

On the bright side, its always thrilling when a show you are preparing to walk away from sucks you back in. Mostly because I get to say, "Just when I thought I was out...... they pull me back in!"

The main problem with the promotion of this show is that Eliza Dushku's Echo absolutely cannot be the main character. At least she can't right now. A main character that is effectively a blank slate brings nothing to the table. If they continue down the road hinted at during this episode that she can maintain pieces of what she remembers, then we can buy her prominence. But for now the only two characters worth following are Tahmoh Penikett's FBI Agent Paul Ballard and Harry Lennix as Echo's handler, Boyd Langdon.

Langdon should be the audience's eyes into the Dollhouse organization since he is involved deeply, but at the same time is the one person willing to question the morality of what they are doing and his arc in this episode going from being utterly ambivalent about Echo to genuinely caring about her is the correct approach. Also, it's nice to see more of the background on his early days with the company, establishing the accident involving Alpha should have been the start of the series... this is the danger of what Echo could turn into as well as what is hunting her.

The main assignment of this week, of her being engaged for a weekend date (although that would work better if we didn't just see it last week) and being hunted by mentally unbalanced young man, works well because it isolates the characters of Echo and Langdon. This makes them appear less as cogs in a big machine and more as individual people who can be placed in jeopardy and we should worry about. The fact that it's all a ploy, supposedly by Alpha, the rogue super-Doll (kind of like the Snake Eyes G.I. Joe toy that was cooler because he had a sword and was a badass) helps the show develop a cohesive main arc, rather than the one-shot style of last week. Ideally, your pilot should actually encourage people to come back for another episode, just fyi.

And I cannot stress this enough. The idea of Echo being able to recall things from previous imprints, even while in a cleaned slate status, absolutely needed to be introduced in the first episode. It seems utterly reasonable as an effect of a poison the spoiled rich boy hunting her down tricked her into taking. The fact that it was most likely provided by Alpha (because who would know more about remembering imprints), ties in excellently back to the main storyline of the series. Anytime you can make major character developments NOT be random (i.e. just happening to confront a kidnapper that took the person you were imprinted with), that's the way to go.

Agent Ballard comes off as far more of a joke to his co-workers in this episode, which is exactly how he should have been introduced (yeah, I know I've said that a lot this week). The most crucial needed development yet to be made is establishing why he is so driven. The character can't just be obsessive about this case for no reason. Since this is basically a story of missing girls, it would be easy enough to give him some history with this subject like a sister running away or a mother abandoning him for no known reason.

The entire episode works both to establish the series and more importantly the characters because it gives each of the actors something in their wheel-house. The hot and outdoorsy girl Echo is downloaded with is directly out of the Faith mold. Ballard striking out as the one man who believes and cares out of a moral imperative reminds us of more than one arc for Karl "Helo" Agathon. Langdon is the one character that lets the talented Lennix stretch beyond what I've seen of him before (mostly in "24" and "E.R.") and after this week, there's little doubt he can carry the bulk of this show for an extended time.

Now as positive as the review sounds, there are still significant holes in the series, mostly the rather limited range of Dushku. That could very well kill the series as right now it revolves around the idea of her actually being a completely different person every week and not just slightly altered flavors on the same meal. And while I can disregard the first episode, it is very important that Ballard not be isolated out of the main storyline for too long. The photo he receives of Echo is a good starting point, but at some point he needs to at least catch a glimpse of Echo in person or meet Langdon in some manner to bring the storylines more in sync. And at some point, he needs to be the A plot of an episode, which hopefully will help the series lose it's "Crazy Engagement of the Week" vibe.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5


Certainly Doesn't Put The Fun Back In Funeral

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Desert Cantos
Season 2 Episode 15

Everyone hates funerals. Period. End of story. So when I tell you that the first forty-five minutes of this episode were set at a very boring funeral, don't be shocked when I say that I began to hate this episode. Not that I wanted to hate it. I wanted it and the series as a whole to be awesome.

But without devolving into a "Terminator of the week" plot line, sadly we will have to suffer through slow episodes like this. I can accept slow episodes now and then, but last week was slow and it was supposed to tie up the loose ends of the mid-season finale. Except it didn't. The writers put the brakes on for another week and the languish in a funeral for people we don't know or care about for three-quarters of this episode.

The mid-season finale ended with the reveal of the Hunter-Killer drone being constructed at the facility that Sarah infiltrated(and which T-1000, Catherine Weaver eventually destroyed)before being shot. Thankfully, this thread is picked back the last two minutes. Yes, it took three episodes but the entire Connor clan has now seen the H-K in person. So, Sarah isn't crazy. Well, at least not about THIS.

That was the only interesting portion of the funeral plot line. After Weaver destroyed the facility(which had a front as the most secure air conditioning company ever)all of the employees were considered dead. The mystery is whether that is true. Of course, Weaver sends an "investigator" to find the last employee who is not dead and we know that someone lived. John hooks up with a girl at the funeral who's father died at the facility. It doesn't take a genius to see that her dad isn't dead.

I do have some questions about why Weaver doesn't just assume a new identity and search for the last living employee herself. Why send a human when a robot could do the job better?

As it turns out, today is the anniversary of the original Catherine Weaver's husband's death. Agent Ellison(who I suspect is beginning to realize that Weaver isn't human) questions why Weaver's daughter isn't with her mourning. Weaver brings the girl to the office and begins to question her about her feelings on her father's death and why she misses him. This is a chilling scene. Why would a killer robot intent on the death of humanity keep the pretense of this life going? I can think of a number of ways that Weaver could kill the child and cover the death up. It makes me think more and more that Weaver isn't doing this to bring about the end of the human race.

The problem with TSCC is that it's audience is one accustomed to thrilling stories about killer robots. Slow paced episodes only work when there is a great and compelling mystery. Do I care about the missing employee of this company? Nope. Do I care why he's hiding the H-K drone at the end of the episode? Yes! That's interesting. So why take so long to reveal that this guy is tied to the main plot?

In the end, a show about Sarah Connor is seemingly at its best when every other character is at the forefront. In this case, Derek Reese and Catherine Weaver's B-Plots are much more intriguing and less obnoxious(to think that I would ever praise Brian Austin Green for being AWESOME boggles the mind), but they are. Summer Glau continues to be given little to do. And Cameron is a fairly boring robot right now. As it stands there are worse ways to spend an hour but if TSCC doesn't pick up the pace it won't matter.


Like Being Green Is Easy Either

Friday Night Lights: It's Not Easy Being JD McCoy
Season 3, Episode 6

Thank heavens. I has honestly worried the writers and directors might just leave JD as some rich 2.0 version of Voodoo Tatum, the New Orleans refuge that nearly destroyed the team chemistry in season one. Tonight we see more of the boy than we have in the entire show thus far and pretty much put to bed the idea of him being a clone of Big Bad Joe. So now maybe we can start to build a cast for the Panthers in future seasons beyond just perennial bench warmer Landry. And even if the freshman superstar gets some crazy adventures with Riggins and a sweet locker next to Peter Berg... the highlight this week is the struggles of Street, who shares some time with his old coach and makes the living room pretty dusty when talking to his baby over the phone. Don't forget there's spoilers beneath the cut while we learn "It's Not Easy Being JD McCoy."

Anytime you can start an episode with Riggins and the seniors organizing a running of the Naked Mile, tricking JD into running two and ending with the Coach asking, "Son, where are your pants." It's off to a good start. The main storyline of the episode is Coach forcing Riggins into a mentoring relationship with the young QB who has to keep his focus against a team that mostly seems to not relate to him, or like to him.

Of course Coach gets Riggins to help with the reminder that he won't be a Panther after this year... and honestly they need some of the younger actors to come back with Lyla, Tyra, Matt and Riggs all graduating (in at least Riggs and Lyla's case it's okay to say "at last" considering they were respectively Street's best friend and girlfriend when he was graduating two years ago).

"Get in the truck 1-2!" What can you say about the Riggs' tour of Dillon with highlights including the Landing Strip, the real Rally Girls, fans and burgers at Fran's Hamburgers 24-7 and of course, "We got Smitty's - dive bar. Know me as Toby, two time Iraq veteran." And of course the home of Lisa, a girl... you'll know. Anytime the nickname the Naked Gun is adopted, you know things will work out from that point of view.

At least we still have a villain this year in the insanely overbearing Joe McCoy, who has raised his son to have the utter singular focus of being a great quarterback. To see him immediately shoot down the idea of his boy even thinking about girls or going out with the guys after the victory makes us loath him and sympathize with his son at the same time. By the end it hurts to see him absolutely destroy the kid's confidence and all the good will Riggins had built up for JD with the team in the locker room.

I've been an unabashed Matt-Julie fan since episode one, so when they broke up for no good reason (i.e. some jerk called The Swed) in the season two premiere that season was already on my bad side. To see them get back together now as Matt and JD's lives on and off the field are heading in opposite ways. Every scene with Zach Gilford and Aimee Teegarden is great, not just with what they say, but the greatest nonverbal moves they make. From the nervous feet in the supermarket and the coy smiles, we know where this one is going.

Their trip to the lake plays perfectly with them in the place we knew they weren't ready for two years ago in "I Think We Should Have Sex." Plus, Matt perfectly shares my opinion of hot dogs... good to know. Like that first season episode, this week's reinforces the idea that both these actors should have successful careers after the show ends, which is something I don't think I'm looking forward to. And like that previous episode, which included The Talk... the single greatest Tami Taylor moment in the history of the show, Mrs. Taylor here gets to catch the look between the two in church the day after the lake trip... and you know she knows. It's always refreshing when this show remembers that some of the best moments don't need to be said aloud. The entire morning after sequence is a home run for everyone involved, especially Teegarden.

As much as we'll miss the smile of Gaius Charles, the ever-struggling optimism of Scott Porter as Street will be just as sadly missed. His child and baby mama moving to the east coast pretty much tells us where he'll end up at the conclusion of his four episode arc. This week he's got to overcome the struggles of getting some money to make a start by managing to fix up and turn Buddy's old house.

Meanwhile the idea that he has to deal with a moderately dedicated Herc and Riggs and a man like Billy Riggins that staples his own hand to the wall and buys a $1600 toilet (the Cadillac of Toilets). Against all odds, it's nice to see him get a boost at the end there with Coach Taylor, who along with Tami, don't have too many moments in this episode as the younger stars carry the work load. But Coach's wisdom continues to reinforce how great this show is and what a seemingly honest approach . It's great that Coach and Riggs both piss off their respective ladies to step up for Street and JD in place of a school dance. And they can always fall back on the fact that Eric and Tami only need about 15 seconds to shine.

The final scene with Street singing to his baby son over the phone is where the dust kicks in and things get emotional. Since he and the baby mum obviously feel a lot more for each other than they let on, it's absolutely critical these three end up back together.

Other things I loved:

Crucifictorious Returns! And even if Castor is gone, I love that he absolutely knows that Jimmy the drummer will be back next week. And of course with the arrival of Devon, we continue to learn Landry is a chick magnet... punk Christian rock bands and sitting on the Panthers bench just work for the ladies I guess.

Drunk JD... it's just plain endearing.

I think I've figured out how to turn off my mind to the Tyra-Cash storyline this week. A critical development in enjoying this otherwise terrific season. It's never fun to see a character that has come so far in danger of mixing up with someone well... he has a freakin kid! Do not believe this person.

Grandma Saracen's anger at Coach and the confrontation in the grocery store where she can't stay mad at him for more than 10 minutes... he is rather lovable.

Lyla doesn't show up for half an episode, always a bonus... especially when wearing a short dress and cowboy boots. Minka Kelly has limited uses, but tonight she's not half bad.

The idea of ending a game with a 14 point victory and taking a knee, as opposed to a last second Hail Mary or triple reverse... the most realistic ending to a game in the history of the show.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5