Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Veronica Mars-Season 1

This is defintely the best the show that you're too cool to watch. I had never had any interest in this show due to the fact that it was a)on UPN and b) the name of the show and advertisements for it did nothing to strike my interest. Despite many great reviews and the fact that the online tv community has been buzzing about this show since it premiered, i ignored it. Now, 3 seasons and a cancellation later, I have finally decided to give this show a chance....and I'm really glad I did.
One of the most intriguing things to me about this show was that many people claimed that anyone who was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would defintely enjoy this show as well. Considering there was no supernatural elements, I didn't understand why someone would make that statement other than the fact that both shows have blonde female leads. But I quickly realized that everything from the storytelling, the dialogue, the pacing and even the characters paralled the Buffyverse.
Veronica obviously is much like Buffy in the fact that she's the lead female protagonist who is able to get a team of friends around her to help her do her job as she continually makes witty quips throughout every situation. Logan is a lot like Spike, he's defintely viewed as a bad guy but we see the transformation in him throughout this season, much as we did with Spike throughout the 7 seasons of Buffy, and Duncan reminds me of Angel, a really kind and good person who is continually tortured by this horrible act in his past. I guess you could say that Wallace is kind of like a less dorky version of Xander, most of the 09ers would represent Cordelia, but Keith Mars is far from filling the shoes of Giles. Giles was cool, but not this cool.
To be honest, I don't have any real complaints about the first season of this show. It was a really well constructed TV show, so I will highlight a few things that I especially enjoyed.
  • The Veronica/Keith Mars chemistry- this father/daughter relationship is ultimately the anchor of this show and have developed these characters into two very real people who play off eachother perfectly. Their dialogue is always sharp and full of wit, and its always interesting to see Keith's who demeanor change when he goes into full dad mode. In the midst of her mom running out on her, him being fired, and her best friend being murdered, this relationship was the glue of the show that made it all work.
  • The Pacing- I have never in my life see a "big picture" unfold quite as well as this one did. The season begins with the murder of Lily Kane, Veronica's best friend, Duncan's sister, and Logan's girlfriend, so we immediately see how these characters all connect. Other storylines, of course, wrap into this one as well and many smaller revelations continue to feed our hunger to find out who the killer is by the end of the season. Shows like Prison Break and Buffy have also done this well, building their whole season upon a big finale, but the even those shows faltered at times, having some episodes that just seemed designed to drag the whole thing out a little longer. That was not the case with this debut season of Mars, as they included the right amount of twists and turns and added new unexpected layers to the story along the way.
  • The "stunt" Casing- Usually when shows bring in some recognizable faces, its due to the fact that Sweeps is going on, and most of the times they struggle to make a real use for these people. Scrubs is one of the rare exceptions, always seeming to make great use of their guest stars. Veronica Mars also did this, not throwing away good opportunities. Johnathan Taylor Thomas probably had his strongest role today as an undercover FBI agent sent to stop a possible threat at the high school, Anthony Anderson was great as a violent rap mogul who belived his daugther was kidnapped, and Tina Majorino and Aaron Ashmore were both put to great use in their recurring roles. Even the bizarre choice to use Paris Hilton in one episode panned out ok as they got her to play some stuck up shallow blonde...which didn't seem to be too much of a stretch. It was also great to see Buffy's Alyson Hanigan show up as Logan's sister...in a role that is probably the polar opposite of Willow.
  • The ending-Sometimes shows build up all season and this fail us at the end. This is absolutely not the case here. The last few episodes of the season are one tense moments after another, eventually leading to the shocking revelation of who really killed Lily Kane. The great thing is that it didn't have a whole bunch of twists just to be shocking, they all made sense and flowed together perfectly, even if they hit like a ton of bricks.

    I'm really excited to begin the second season and can't recommend this show enough. Much more than some lame teen show, much like Joss Whedon did with Buffy, Rob Thomas has created an incredible community full of monsters and demons...only this time they look just like you and me. Whedon is probably the strongest storyteller in tv, and this show is so remiscent of his work, but at the same time creating its own very unique identity. Definetely not the teen fluff it was advertised as Veronica Mars takes us to some very dark places, but the art of character development and great storytelling makes this one of the most addicting and satisfying shows you'll likely come by.

Jon Foreman-Fall EP

Music: 4
Lyrics: 4
Spiritual Content: 4

At a time of the year where music releases are really starting to slow down, it's great to have a nice suprise by way of the first of four solo EPs being released by Switchfoot lead singer, Jon Foreman. Each EP will coincide with the four season, the first being the Fall EP which is being released today through all digital outlets. In early 2008, the fall and winter EP will be sold together in traditional stores. These are more personal and introspective songs than your average Switchfoot song which is why Foreman decided to release them as solo projects, however the band still has a new album slated to hit stores before the end of 2008.
So how does this solo album hold up? Incredibly well, actually. Although there is more of a folk feel than I am usually a fan of, the chill acoustic sound of the album is kind of refreshing. The lyrics are deep and honest, reminiscent of some of the best switchfoot songs such as "let that be enough" or "24".
The album shines the brightest with one of darkest tracks, "Equally Skilled" is kind of dread look at humanity and all its fallness, but reminds us that God's hands are skilled when it comes to redeeming His people. Which also brings to the point that somes of these songs are some of the most openly spiritual tracks that we've heard penned by Foreman in a while. "Lord, Save Me From Myself" is another great example of Foreman just laying it all out all the table in a very personal account of his struggles.
Considering most of the album leans more towards an indie/acoustic feel than folk, most switchfoot fans will be able to enjoy this album, seeing as it's not drastically different than switchfoot, but a song like "southbound train" which includes a large number of folk influences might be harder for them to get used to. However, it works well, as does the heartfelt closer "My Love Goes Free" which is probably the most cryptic song on the album, while at the same time it has a very vulnerable edge.
Although Nothing is Sound and Oh Gravity! had some great moments, Switchfoot has been growing slightly stale as of late, especially when it comes to reusing similar themes over and over in their lyrics. This EP is breath of fresh air and true testament of what Foreman is actually capable of. I hope that the EPs to follow are just as strong as this one and that it spills over to his work with switchfoot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

2 More Movie Reviews

American Gangster
Rating: R
My Rating: 3.5 out 5
The plot of this movie is pretty much known and it is definitely an interesting look at Frank Lucas, one of the most prominent drug dealers in our nation’s history. His innovative and extreme measures led to an enormous amount of drugs being transported into the country.
The movie is slow in places, but it is a very interesting tale that we watch unfold before our eyes. Denzel Washington does a great job, as expected, with some especially tense scenes where we see a dark side that we don’t see Denzel usually portray. Not to mention, the character of Frank Lucas was pretty reserved unless someone really made him mad. Russell Crowe was also good as the detective assigned to crack down on drugs in Jersey.
Although Crowe’s character’s kind of an immoral slob in most aspects of his life, he does make noble choices as a police officer, most notably when he turns in 1 million dollars that he finds in an abandoned car. He is one of few officers at that time that weren’t crooked and involved in all sorts of illegal activity.
In the end, Crowe’s character experiences some kind of redemption when he begins to see that he’s not a very good person outside of a few noble decisions and it’s a pretty interesting journey watching him sort of discover this in the midst of his investigation.
Lucas does not show much remorse but does end up cooperating with the investigation once he gets caught. It’s a really interesting look inside a dark part of history that I did not know that much about. Slow at times, this film is still worth checking out.

August Rush
Rating: PG
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5

There is so much that happens in this movie that makes you want to like it, and there are some really great scenes spread through, but everything from the pacing to its attempt to combine so many elements ultimately caused this movie to fall flat on quite a few levels.
In the movie, a couple shares a night together but are pulled away by other responsibilities that not even a number exchange occurs. Lyla (the female in this equation) ends up pregnant, and after an accident goes into labor early. Her father (Sheriff Valenti from Roswell!....or William Sadler as he also sometimes goes by) forges her signature and puts the baby up for adoption.
For anyone who has seen the commercial, you know that young August Rush (as his friend Wizard, played by Robin Williams, comes to call him) is a musical prodigy and its his music that bring his two parents (also musicians) back together.
There are some strong moments, like I mentioned, although it is hard to fully believe that Johnathan Rhys Meyers’s character would have been so tortured by and in love with some girl he didn’t even really know. Lyla’s (keri Russell) devastation is a little more logical.
Freddie Highmore does a great job as young August Rush and it is interesting to see Robin Williams in such a different role for him but this movie was trying too hard to be too many things. While I appreciated the whole musical aspect of it, sometimes they spent way too long having August space out and hear music in every random sound in the world.
There is also no real resolution and nothing really happens in the end that you didn’t already know was going to happen from the commercials. However, the journey alone would have been the worth it if there hadn’t been so many bumps along the way.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Enchanted Review

from Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Enchanted has got to be the obligatory date/family movie of the holiday weekend, which is interesting because date movies and family movies rarely overlap. But the romantic nature and fairy tale origin of this latest Disney tale will attract a wide array of audiences, and the nice thing is that it actually prevails in entertaining each demographic.
With the exception of a few unnecessary, off color references, this movie is about as squeaky clean as we've seen from any movie in quite some time, which is nice for a family movie considering some of the stuff that the Shrek movies and others have decided to insert into children's entertainment in the last few years. At the same time, this is a funny and very entertaining movie that will not bore or nauseate the older folks in the crowd.
While this wasn't really my choice for a movie, it still had a unique concept that peaked my interest. A Disney princess falls out of that perfect reality and into the harsh world of modern day new york, where her prince and chipmunk sidekick follow to try to find and rescue her. Amy Adams and James Marsden give top notch performances as Giselle and Prince Edward, respectively, completely enveloping the childlike innocence of classic Disney characters and reacting realistically to the real world. This is where most of the comedy comes from and it wouldn't have worked if the performances weren't as good as they were.
Patrick Dempsey plays Robert, a single father who is about to propose to his girlfriend of 5 years, Nancy. Through a string of events, he ends up taking in Giselle when he finds her lost in New York City, at the insistance of his daughter. Robert has a more negative (or realistic as he likes to think) outlook at love and his cold personality is the perfect spring board for Giselle's over top happiness.
Without giving too much more away, this movie does a great job at playing off these two realities and showing that neither of them is happy. I guess at the end of it all, in the midst of the children's movie full of fantasy sequence, even some hilarious song and dance sequences, we search these two extreme views of love and understand why both of them is unhealthy. Love will never be the fairy tale that Giselle thinks it is, and it can never be a science, although Robert treats it like one. Throughout the movie the different characters see the things that are missing from their view of love, whether it's romance or the practicality of just going on a date and getting to know each other.
Despite the few interesting thoughts you may run across, this is in the end, a children's movie, and has some over the top moments, especially towards the end when Susan Sarandon shows up in New York as Prince Edward's evil stepmother....and she looks hideous, might I add. But I do commend Disney on making a movie that is childlike without a ton of innapropriate references, while at the same time, not dumbing it down so much that no one else can enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thoughts on Monday TV- 11.12.07

Prison Break-Bang and Burn
The impromptu “fall finale” aired last night on Fox, seeing as Fox made the decision to hold off on new episodes of Prison Break until January where it can take of the place of the postponed 24 season.
After proving last week that it can still perform on it’s “A” game with its epic 2 hour episode, this week fell a little short of my expectations, but bearing in mind that it was never intended to be any sort of finale, I wasn’t too let down.
The storyline with Whistler and the Company continues to get more interesting, and I’m really intrigued to see exactly what it is that Lincoln is planning. And speaking of Lincoln, it’s good to see him throwing down a little bit the past couple of weeks. He’s really been a lot more violent the past couple of weeks, but it’s made for some pretty sweet action scenes. However, his scene at the beginning of the episode where Michael confronts him about keeping Sarah’s death a secret was brutal. It was at this point that we saw a completely different dynamic between the two brothers who have remained so close. The show finally led up to a pretty tense final moments in which the company sends a helicopter in to rescue Whistler, and thanks to Michael’s interference it doesn’t go as planned. And even after Michael’s brilliant plan to switch from a gray shirt to a light gray shirt, they still suspected that the recent escape attempts were connected to him in some way, leading them to decision to take him away from Sona.
Scenes from upcoming episodes were more than enough to whet our appetite and new episodes can’t come enough. Although this season started kind of slow, this Sona storyline has turned out to be pretty intriguing and I think they are taking it to some pretty cool places as we get to know these new characters a little better.
One final good word: William Fichtner’s performance as Agent Mahone continues to be absolutely brilliant week after week. Although it was frustrating to see him crack under pressure and ruin his chance in court, Fichtner continues to fully become that character and take his performance to the next level.
One final bad word: T-Bag is probably the most deliciously evil characters in TV history and it’s been kind of depressing to see him be on the sidelines so much this season. Aside from a few strong one liners, it is becoming increasingly rare that he actually has something useful to do. Hopefully that changes.

Heroes-Four Months Ago
After what creator Tim Kring admits was a slow start to the season, Heroes has definitely been picking up the pace in the past week weeks. In last night’s episode, we travel back in time to find out what really happened after May’s season finale and sets up some pretty interesting things for the future.
Most importantly, we finally receive the answers we need in the Peter storyline, and that Adam twist with which last week ended was fully explained. I’m still skeptical about Adam having pure intentions, considering we’ve seen how he was in the past, but his and Peter’s escape and the eventual healing of Nathan answered a lot of questions.
Also prominent throughout the episode was the new character of Elle that we were introduced to earlier in the season, but tonight was the first long look at her frightening personality. Kristin Bell takes an enormous departure from her past role of Veronica Mars and becomes this sort of loopy sociopath that keeps an interesting balance between childlike and psychotic. Bell plays this role dead on, leaving no trace of her Veronica Mars self alive and becoming fully engrossed in her new endeavor. While her character is decidedly very aggravating, I think that her and Bob’s unclear motives and shady methods are making for some pretty good tv.
However, the characters of Maya and Alejandro still fail to live up to their potential. While Maya’s crazy power is pretty scary and interesting, there has yet to be a scene with these two that proves to be as captivating as it could be or anywhere near as good as we expect from Heroes. While tonight added more to the puzzle, and I’m definitely up for seeing where this leads, it was the slowest part of tonight’s episode.
Lastly, the Niki storyline was actually pretty good tonight, explaining what actually led to the untimely death of DL. This explains Niki’s over abundant cooperation with the Company to cure her and her newfound loyalty to her. Her out of control actions cost her husband his life.
While it would have been nice to see what was going on with Parkman (um…his marriage?) and Claire during this time, tonight was ultimately a satisfying episode that should have admittedly been on weeks ago. It’s great to see this show finally getting back to true form and discovering that our patience wasn’t for nothing.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Strike the hand that feeds you (E Commentary for the week of 11-3 thru 11-10)

The Strike
With the current Hollywood writers strike showing no signs of ending (some sources say that we should expect it drag out for 10 months to a year), I thought I would offer my thoughts on the whole debacle. For those who don't know, the writer's strike started as a result of the studios refusing to properly compensate the writers for their work. The writer's simply wanted a better deal as far as DVD sales is concerned (the one they have now is crap) and they wanted a cut of the money that studios are making through iTunes sales, online streaming and a few other kinds of new media. The question is, are the writers justified?
Quite simply, yes. They are beyond justified. These are not spoiled athletes trying to talk the owners into bumping up their salaries a few million dollars a year. The average salary for members of the Writers Guild of America is $200,000 (in comparison to producers who pull in 2 million a year) and when you take out big name WGA members like Steve Carrell, Seth MacFarlane and Tina Fey...that number drops drastically. In all reality, the average WGA member is really just a middle class workers like most of us. Truth be told, some of them would even be classified as lower middle class. So when they are in between projects, it would be nice to have some royalties for their work considering they don't have millions to live off of.
Showrunners from The Office's Greg Daniels to Smallville's Alfred Gough and even tonight show host, Jay Leno, have all offered their support to the writers. In fact, most of the commentary you read on the strike will most likely come to the conclusion that the writers have every right to be doing this. And there's a pretty simple reason for that....they do.
Of course the studios have Michael Eisner speaking on their behalf, comparing the writer's to spoiled children and doing his best to portray them as a bunch of money hungry monsters. Of course, Michael Eisner would know a thing or two about being a money hungry monsters, but that's simply not the case here. It would appear that he's just looking out for his own, he knows the pressure of trying to protect one's precious millions and having some stupid worker way below you on the totem pole come and ask for proper compensation for their work. How rude!
24 on indefinete hiatus, shows like Heroes, Prison Break, CSI and The Office only have a few more finished episodes left to air, and one of my personal favorites, Scrubs may not even be able to properly finish their final season. While you may want to blame the writers, I would hope that one would fully investigate the situation and come to the only legitimate conclusion: the studios are ridiculous.
here's the little known, dirty little secret...the writers caved a little during the negotiations. now the studios would like everyone to believe that the writers just simply walked out in the middle of negotiations and promptly began to throw a temper tantrum by way of a strike. However, it was the writers who backed down from a getting a better deal for the DVD sales (have i mentioned the one they have now is pathetic) and were simply seeking compensation for new media. By the way, new media is quite obviously the way of the future and the writers were just simply asking to be part of the process. after all....they wrote the stuff.
with every day that drags on, it becomes more and more clear that studios are not only greedy, they're stupid. This is horrible for the entertainment industry, it is gonna end up costing them a lot more money than it's worth, and it just leaves the american people quite ticked off. however, i just encourage to guide that anger in the right direction. sure, the writers could accept another bad deal and be cheated out of a lot of money and royalties that are rightfully theirs, but they are making a bold and important move, and you gotta support them.

Green Week
As someone who is essentially a TV addict, I have come to realize that a large amount of television that I enjoy happens to be on NBC. NBC has really stepped it up in the last few years, putting some really impressive programming on the air....and it was a shame to see them give themselves a black eye this past week.
NBC decided to use one of their "sweeps" weeks to portray an environmentally friendly message, showing others how to be "green" and help the environment. Now, this isn't a bad message and having the cast members give "green" tips during commercial breaks was certainly acceptable, but forcing your shows to work a "green" related storyline into its broadcast for that week was a poor and unacceptable move.
On shows like Chuck and Scrubs, their effort to work an environmentally conscious message into their episodes this week was distracting and forced. The janitor being inspired to save the world after watching An Inconvenient Truth was simply not funny and didn't even work for his characters. Shows like The Office kind of shunned the idea of going green, but Michael's wilderness trip seemed to have suffice. Friday Night Lights made the cut by having one character make one passing comment about something environmentally friendly. Life's subplot about Detective Crews desire to visit a solar farm, however, was just absolutely ridiculous. 30 Rock was bold enough to just essentially mock NBC for this effort....but just between you and me, I don't think NBC got it.
The problem with this idea is this: it is never ok to FORCE writers to write some sort of propaganda into their television shows. It was incredibly distracting and it really just seemed like NBC was not concerned in making quality TV this week. It's one thing for a network to get incolved with a cause, but it is a whole other for them to force their shows to compromise their artistic integrity to fit into some gimmicky promotion.
While some shows were able to go "green" without really trying too hard, other shows were really hurt this week by their sad attempts to please NBC.

The Crossover
Well, CBS decided that it would be a great idea to have a CSI/Without a Trace crossover episode this week, just in time for sweeps, of course. I have never seen an episode of Without a Trace in my life and I don't think I want to. Anthony LaPaglia's character is, quite frankly, obnoxious as all get out and cocky on top of that. He was a poor fit in the crime lab and there was not a really an adequate excuse for this FBI agent from New York to randomly show up in Vegas for this case in a first place. He hears that a little boy's been murdered and automatically assumes it's a little boy who went missing 6 years ago....ok. It was a stretch and the crossover was just simply captivating to make me even want to stick around for the Without a Trace hour of it. I couldn't look at Lapaglia's freakin mug for two more seconds. He does the most annoying thing with his mouth when he's talking....