Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not-Altogether-Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, one and all! I must confess this is a holiday that used to mean something to me, but now passes almost without notice. But there is one tradition that I haven't let slip. Every year at this time, I like to watch the original film Halloween, by John Carpenter.

This year, I "celebrated" a day early, by going to the movie theater. Halloween was showing on the big screen. Encouraged by my recent experience seeing Back to the Future in the theater, I felt like doing the same for Halloween. The main difference in this case was that I had never before seen Halloween on film.

Unfortunately, I still haven't. Halloween was presented on the big screen, but via digital projector. And not a good one, at that. We're not talking about the incredible crystal clarity of digital projectors that have been slowly appearing in theaters for events like major animated movies, or the new 3-D incarnation of The Nightmare Before Christmas. This was a pixelated, dimly-lit mess. I know someone with a home theater who owns a sharper projector than this.

And while the small crowd did hold some affection for the film, like the crowd of weeks ago had for Back to the Future, Halloween doesn't hold up nearly as well. Somehow, the imperfections of the movie -- which I know damn well are there, having watched it at home every year for some time now -- seemed less forgiveable on the big screen, with a sometimes-laughing audience:

Haddonfield has strangely shifting geography, depending on the time of day one is trying to get around. Lynda's boyfriend doesn't quite seem to know what he's doing in the bedroom. Coat hangers are strangely effective weapons.

And these are just the things you can hear people mumbling about.

If you can somehow overlook all that and get caught up in the emotion of the movie, Halloween is still a great, visceral ride. But it seems to be getting harder for me, and this year was the hardest of all. Before the film, I'd been having a conversation with a friend about how I wasn't sure what to think of Rob Zombie's upcoming remake of the film -- I've never had the experience of being an existing fan of an original movie receiving the remake treatment. Yet after the movie, I found myself thinking, "well, there actually is a lot they could improve here, provided they don't mess with certain key things."

Not the same sort of catharsis as I had two weeks ago, but a cartharsis nonetheless, I suppose.

Monday, October 30, 2006


It was a low-key night of television, with most of the shows taking a week off. But the one show I follow that was new tonight, Prison Break, was at its absolute best.

Within the span of a single episode, they deftly juggled multiple plot threads: Michael's investigation of Mahone, Linc on the run with LJ, Sarah cracking the code and heading to her rendezvous, C-Note's reunion with his family, and T-Bag's attempt to track down the woman who sent him away.

As I said, it was all handled well, but two of the plot lines were excellent in particular. The first was the Michael plot, which culminated in his taunting phone call to Mahone. It was great to see Michael put on the "black hat" for a change, and get under Mahone's skin just as thoroughly as he'd been crawling under Michael's. These adversaries don't directly interact much with each other -- but when the moments come where they do, it's great that they're as well done as this.

And then there was the T-Bag plot. How perfect is it to have Bellick be the one to catch up with him? You almost don't know who to cheer on in this situation, since you've got the two slimiest, love-to-hate-them villains on the show pitted against each other. I suppose I can't really be pulling for the pedophile murderer to get the upper... er, hand... but still. I suspect we'll see them both take bites out of each other, which is the best of both worlds.

And while I found the Linc/LJ story the least satisfying of the lot, it had one of the trademark cliffhanger endings that made season one of Prison Break so strong. How in the hell are the writers going to get out of this situation?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mumbai's the Word

Next time traffic patterns have got you down, buck up and just think: you could be driving in India.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cyber Tailors

Blogger issues last night prevented me from bringing you the regularly scheduled Galactica commentary. So as a bonus, I hope you'll enjoy this story about techno-suits to help soldiers perform superhuman physical feats.

Part Six-Million Dollar Man, part Ripley-fighting-the-Queen-at-the-end-of-Aliens.


I thought last night's new Battlestar Galactica was a strong return of the things I felt were a bit muted in the last few weeks. The episode had almost no artificially forced plot -- it was a story that sprang entirely from the characters and their recent circumstances, and thus it was an episode that packed a big emotional punch.

We got to see a stark portrayal of how strongly the occupation affected characters like Starbuck, Tigh, Gaeta, and Tyrol. Clearly, none of them are "alright" or "back to normal," nor does it appear they will be any time soon. And that's as it should be.

I was glad to see them acknowledge that Roslin wasn't going to just be able to step back into being president, with Zarek being the next in line. And though initially I was a little disappointed that it was going to be a simple matter of him stepping aside for her, I was very pleased to see that the writers used the brief "Zarek presidency" as a way to really juice the story, by making him sanction the activities of the "jury of six." When Starbuck asked if what they were doing was legal, it really put a new spin on things to hear that the answer was "yes."

Baltar on a base star now, eh? I guess that means he'll be for season three what Helo was for season one -- an interesting, but parallel and largely disconnected storyline in the whole. It would seem that he's come back from the brink where he found himself near the end of last week's episode, and he's no longer ready to die. I'm sure he'll "recover" from that despair very quickly -- Baltar has always been one to act with less emotion or sympathy when he can do so from afar and not have to face the consequences of his actions. (He'll be sitting in a swivel chair under a spotlight on top of a tall column in a big, round, empty room in no time!)

An excellent episode.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Play's the Thing

Tuesday night, I went to see the Denver Center Theater Company's production of the play Amadeus.

Some background for those who don't know. First, this is the stage play by Peter Shaffer, upon which the Oscar-winning film was based. Secondly, the DCTC is essentially the major professional theater in the city of Denver (though there are other professional locales, and plenty of others also doing good work).

Thirdly, I was in a local production of Amadeus at another theater here in town about nine years ago. (Our production got uniformly great reviews, and was picked for a short revival the following summer for "Theater in the Park.") Mainly due to this last tidbit, I was very curious to see what another theater company would do with the show. And actually, this isn't the first time I've seen someone else do Amadeus. During my years in Virginia Beach, I saw the professional stage company there also perform this play.

I wasn't the only one from that old production of mine that was interested in this new version. I attended the performance with a friend who worked the technical side of the show. And of all the nights we picked to go, we happened to run into the director of our production while we were there.

By now, my preamble has probably run as long as what I'll say about the show itself, so let's be on with it. In all, it was a very good staging of Amadeus. Their sets and costumes were incredible (and one would hope so, given how much more money they have at the DCTC than our theater had). Most of their cast was pretty good.

Their Salieri (the role played in the movie by F. Murray Abraham) was an interesting departure from ours. He found a lot of humorous moments in the role that our very severe actor missed. This Salieri was fun at times, while ours was all gravitas, all the time. It made for more of a "ride," with peaks and valleys, and that's quite good. But it made those "peaks" not as high, which was rather bad. Some moments in Amadeus call for extreme drama, and unfortunately this Salieri had the audience so predisposed to laugh at times that some people occasionally laughed at the wrong times. Plusses and minuses to both approaches, I'd say.

On the bad side, their sound design was awful. This is a play about music, arguably even more so than most musical theater. Our production played music to blasts you out of your seats at times, and had several complex, overlapping sound cues. Theirs seemed to play softly from speakers mounted way upstage, in a theater which clearly should have been capable of more.

And their Emperor (a role played in the movie by Jeffrey Jones of Ferris Bueller/Deadwood fame), was horrible. My friend put it perfectly: "I feel like I want to hunt down our guy now and tell him, 'man, I had no idea how important your part was in this show until I saw this other guy do it so badly.'"

But as I said, this production was still great overall. And most importantly, the play itself still works completely. Even after all these years, I found I still knew huge chunks of the dialogue (not just my own), but it still moved me. There's a reason this play is still performed so much, a reason why the film adaptation won Oscars, a reason why it is still popular after so many years.

And I was very glad to have had the chance to revisit it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Every Man For Himself

So far this season, it seems like only every other episode of Lost is really doing it for me. But tonight was the "on" week.

My main criteria of a good Lost episode were in evidence tonight. There were lots of very important character moments as the relationship between Sawyer and Kate was really tested by the Others. There was an interesting and relevant flashback as we saw a new chapter from Sawyer's past -- we got to see exactly what Sawyer meant by "every man for himself" and "when you let them in, that's when they can hurt you." Fun head games with the Others, as they, in Ben's words, "conned the con."

There admittedly wasn't much in the way of island plot progression, but I didn't mind. The tiny snippets of Desmond testing his "future sight" were intriguing enough. (The question is, is he repeatedly glimpsing the future? Or was he given one flash of things to come, and is now working off of what he saw? Or something else?)

I couldn't help but wonder if we'll be seeing some of the characters in Sawyer's flashback again at some point down the road, since so many of them were played by recogizable actors. Not "A list," necessarily, but working folks in Hollywood that you know if you've watched much film or television. There was Bill Duke as the prison warden, a familiar face in everything from Battlestar Galactica to Karen Sisco to Predator to Payback and who-knows-what-else. Ian Gomez as the victim of Sawyer's prison con, a recurring fixture on Felicity and The Drew Carry Show. And there was Kim Dickens as the mother of Sawyer's child, best known for her role on Deadwood. In other words, a lot of good acting talent to just "waste" in small parts in one episode.

But then, they did just take another Deadwood actor, Paula Malcomson, and shoot her in the one episode she appeared in (unless you count watching her die on the operating table tonight). Too bad.

As a footnote, I thought I'd mention that tonight on The Nine, we saw one of the main characters playing online poker. Filmed months ago, of course. It was both a laugh and a sad reminder all at the same time, and all unintentional.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tales Both Humorous and Intriguing. Concisely.

Among all his writings, Ernest Hemingway somewhat famously wrote a story of just six words. I'd heard of this bit of trivia (even the full text of the story: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") before being reminded of it in a recent article from Wired magazine. But the article had a great new twist.

The magazine enlisted writers of our time to concoct their own six word stories. Some are from novel writers, others from film and television writers. I particularly liked Joss Whedon's ("Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so."), and got a snicker from William Shatner's ("Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.") as I wondered if he got Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens to actually do the writing on this one just like all his Star Trek books.

In any case, fun to read.

Funner still to craft your own.

End of the World concert tour.

By firelight, the cowboy whittled bone.

Try it yourself. Could be fun.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tonight's New Episodes

Prison Break returned tonight from a brief exile-by-baseball, and tonight it succeeded in making me feel really dumb.

I'm referring to the ending, in which it was revealed that the man chasing the fugitives, Mahone, has ties with the overall conspiracy. I felt completely dumb for not figuring this out before. So much else has tied up in the conspiracy -- why not this element too? And then there was his cryptic line from the last new episode ("I've got nothing against you, but they do."), helpfully repeated for us in tonight's re-cap. It just seems so obvious now. I guess I'm just not working hard enough to figure out "what's going to happen next."

What I did figure out far ahead of time was that Sucre's apparent betrayal of the group was a set-up orchestrated by he and Michael. And cheers to T-Bag (even while I'm booing him in that love-to-hate-him way) for double-crossing (triple-crossing?) them. Now he's off to tie up loose ends from season one. Should be very creepy.

Meanwhile, we have Dr. Sarah out on the run, and LJ and Linc finally reunited. Excellent -- a potentially more interesting storyline coming in to replace one that was a little dried up. (The latter being "solo LJ," I mean.) And we got to see some good "buddy moments" between Michael and Sucre before those two split up again.

In all, I'd say it was a good episode of Prison Break.

It was also a good episode of Studio 60, though perhaps a bit too unfocused. There was wonderful stuff in all the distinct storylines going on. Tom's trouble with his family (and the unexpected connection to Afghanistan), Jordan's drunken desperation for a friend, Simon and Matt's interesting look at race in comedy, Cal's encounter with a blacklisted writer... it seemed that even though I was enjoying all the stories, they were all getting a bit of the short shrift. It's not that I think any one of them could have existed in an episode on its own -- certainly not. But maybe with just one or two fewer story threads, the remaining ones could have been explored more deeply.

Studio 60 sits out next week. It was due to have been a re-run anyway, and NBC has decided to test drive another struggling new show, Friday Night Lights, in its time slot. I'm hoping this doesn't end up being further bad news for the ratings-challenged Studio 60.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Now Departing

I was back out to the movies again this afternoon, to catch up and see Martin Scorsese's The Departed. I'm giving this movie a solid endorsement, but with a few minor "asterisks."

Generally speaking, the movies I like best are ones that evoke some sort of strong emotional reaction in me -- big laughs, great sadness, whatever. Or, sometimes when that's not quite happening, I'll give a movie high marks if it really gets me thinking (as did The Prestige). The bottom line is, I don't really like to be a "passive observer" when I'm watching a movie. I like to get caught up in it somehow.

The Departed didn't really do that for me. It wasn't an emotional ride, and it wasn't really thought-provoking in a way that stayed with me after leaving the theater. Nevertheless, it was a very well made movie, on every level.

The writing was strong. The dialogue was particularly great, with lots of perfect lines I could see becoming "famous quotables."

The acting was good. I didn't expect to believe Leonardo DiCaprio as much of a "badass," but he sold it. Matt Damon was equally good. Mark Wahlberg made a real character out of a relatively smaller role, as did Martin Sheen. And Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin -- well, I'm not sure they ever really "act" except as slight shadings of themselves, but they're fun to watch, and both clearly having fun in this movie.

The directing and editing were also strong. It was a two-and-a-half hour movie, but it never dragged. You were pulled along through the story, with a skillful mix of moments crafted for artistic "showiness" and moments of "getting out of the way" at the appropriate times.

I say all these good things, and bear in mind that I don't normally go for "gangster" films. But then, this one almost plays more like a spy caper than a crime drama, with its tangled web of espionage and counter-espionage.

Yes despite all that, I found this a film that I didn't "feel" deep down was great. It was more of a movie where I sat at an intellectual distance and said (in a snooty accent), "oh yes, that was very good indeed."

I give it an A-, but it's not top 100 material.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Great Trick

Last night, I caught the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, The Prestige. This man has yet to make a movie I haven't liked. Memento remains #2 on my list, Following and Insomnia were both great (though the former has increased in my esteem over time, while the latter has dimished somewhat), and his Batman movie was the only one of the five I found remotely likeable.

This movie has continued the streak. It's definitely top 100 material for me. I'm not sure I'm going to settle it in an exact spot until I've had time to think about it a little more, or until I've seen it again. And I do want to see it again, in the theater, quite soon -- I can't even recall the last new movie I saw that I'd even dream of going to the theater twice to see. But for now, The Prestige is hanging out right around #80.

This movie is meticulously crafted. Every single frame is an inseparable part of the whole. Every scene is integral, and gains meaning upon reflection. Every move of the characters and development in the plot informs the overall themes of obsession and sacrifice. The acting is outstanding -- one of the reasons I most want to see it again is to be better able to watch for nuances in the performances that I missed while studying the plot so carefully the first time around.

And yes, that plot. It's an incredibly well constructed story. Like Memento and Following, this movie is not presented in chronological order. Piecing together that exact chronology here is considerably trickier than it was for either of those movies, but it's absolutely right for this twisted tale -- like a magic trick of its own. You're clearly meant to figure out certain upcoming events in the story ahead of time (and you do), while other bits are hidden from you (and I, for one, did not anticipate them). The film truly rewards active viewing, thinking while you watch. It's not a movie to sit back and let wash over you.

And since no other movie this year has cracked my top 100, you know where this is going. It is the best movie I've seen this year, and it gets an A. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Adama! Adama! Adama!

Overall, I liked tonight's Battlestar Galactica. I say that up front, because I'm about to heap on a bunch of quibbles and complaints I had with the episode -- I'm focusing on the bad for a moment.

The Lee Adama material tonight felt rather unpolished to me. The dialogue in the opening scene between he and Dualla had a tinny falseness in my ear that is very uncharacteristic of the show. Unusually heightened, unusually self-conscious.

I love when Galactica portrays the "hard choices," but Colonel Tigh's storyline tonight was rough to take. He killed his own wife? He did that, knowing that rescue was coming at any moment? Was that really necessary? It seems to me like it would be nearly impossible for the writers to ever redeem his character from this point on. But, then again... Baltar is responsible for genocide many times over, Roslin has ordered the deaths of people (it's too easy to say "they were just Cylons") and kidnapped a child from its parents, and so on. Maybe they're all just as flawed.

The loss of Pegasus? Telegraphed from too far away. I guessed I'd hoped that since they writers had thwarted expectations once by not destroying the Pegasus in the episodes that first introduced it, that they'd do so again this time. Though I suppose this does give Lee's character an interesting road for future episodes.

And speaking of thwarted expectations, I guess I'm a little disappointed that after season one's cliffhanger took six or seven episodes to resolve, this vastly more epic cliffhanger from season two was wrapped up so quickly.

Was anybody else bothered by the coincidence that the real mother of Starbuck's "child" just happened to be right there on the flight deck next to her?

Actually, all these thoughts are more than quibbles, really. But, on the other hand, other stuff in the episode was really terrific.

The visual effects were mind-blowing. The in-atmosphere jump of the Galactica, the collision and destruction of the Pegasus... each image was more amazing than the last.

Baltar running off with Six at the end should prove interesting territory for the future. Baltar truly among the Cylons, as in the original 1970s incarnation of the show? Well, not exactly, of course. But what twists will the writers put on it?

Lots of good performances from the cast, particularly Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, Alessandro Juliani as Gaeta, and Kate Vernon as Ellen Tigh.

I guess it's now "back on the road" for Galactica and the fleet. I'm eager to see what happens next.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Back to Back

Not long ago, I mentioned the Continental movie theater, Denver's special giant screen. Well, it's not just for current big blockbusters. On Wednesday nights (and Saturday mornings) they also often run older movies in special, one-time only showings on the enormous, three- or four-story tall screen. And last night was a very special movie for me: Back to the Future.

This remains the #1 movie on my personal top 100 list. For one thing, I just think it's a damn entertaining movie. But also, I have fond memories of going to seeing it in the theater back in 1985. It was the first time I can recall going to the same movie twice in one day. I went with my mother and sister in the early afternoon, and we all loved it so much, we roped my father in that night to go again when he got home from work. I haven't seen all that many movies with my father, and fewer still with my mother, which makes this a pretty rare memory. This was also before half my brothers and sisters came along, thereby making "family movie night" a pretty dicey proposition -- again, just going to show that this was highly unusual behavior for my family (despite my own personal love of movies)..

I'm thrilled to report that last night's experience was every bit as wonderful. I know every single line and every single moment of this movie, but it still works. It rushes along at a breakneck pace. The jokes are still funny. The action scenes are still tense and suspenseful. The writing is no less clever; the acting comes off just as pitch perfect. And magnified to enormous scale, with an audience full of fans just as thrilled to be there as me, it was even better. They laughed at everything. They moaned (tongue-in-cheek) when a bad splice at the end of a reel clipped off a memorable line. They cheered riotously when George McFly finally comes through and "lays out Biff in one punch."

In addition to getting to see my favorite movie on the big screen again, it was a much-needed reminder that going to the movies is not always the miserable experience I've come to think it is. Sometimes the audience is not a rude, talking, seat-kicking, cell-phone answering curse; it can be a fun-loving, excited, cathartic blessing.

I also got to enjoy Back to the Future on a sort of "meta" level. As throroughly as I know the movie, I still haven't actually seen it in several years. Now that it's (gulp) over 20 years old, there's a whole new layer at play. Originally, a big piece of the joke was "here we all are in the 80s; look at how quaint and odd and different and funny the 50s were." Now, on top of that, you have "here we are in the 21st century; look at how ridiculous and strange and outrageous the 80s were." Sure, we have nostalgic TV retrospectives like "I Love the 80s" to make snarky comments about and laugh at high hair and super-tight jeans. But it's another thing to see it projected larger than life, with no comment made on it whatsoever.

In short, it was the best time I've had at the movies in years.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Did I Like Lost? Does a Bear Take Captives in the Woods?

There were a lot of things I liked about tonight's episode of Lost, and one big thing I didn't like. Altogether, it added up to an episode I give a general thumbs up, but that I didn't enjoy as much as last week's Jin and Sun installment.

On the plus side, we got to see almost the exact drama play out that I complained was missing in the premiere two weeks ago -- we saw the emotional impact on Locke over the loss of the hatch and being proved so wrong. And it played out in tandem with an appropriate flashback, a completely new chapter of Locke's past where he also grossly misjudged the truth. (In his flashbacks, Locke is gaining quite a poor track record as a judge of character!)

The return of Boone in spectral vision quest guide form was a nice bonus.

The apparent "future sight" ability of Desmond is a bizarre and intriguing new wrinkle.

But on the down side, the island Macguffin to frame all of this interesting drama and emotion was pretty absurd. A polar bear took Eko hostage, and Locke had to go into its cave on a rescue mission? Huh? I think maybe the writers were on the same stuff Locke took in the sweat lodge when they came up with that storyline. It was strange and off-putting, even by Lost standards.

It's hard to believe, but we're already halfway done with this planned "mini-run" of six episodes. I think the pace is going to have to pick up considerably in the weeks ahead to get us to the mammoth cliffhanger I'm sure is awaiting us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Crossing the Streams

There's nothing quite like the giddy rush of having two of your geeky passions cross paths. Shocho has been feeling that rush every Monday, when some new comic book reference is made on the latest episode of Heroes.

Well, I got it tonight big time, when Guitar Hero got a shout-out on Veronica Mars. And no mild shout-out either. The game was referenced by name at two different times in the show, and characters were shown actually playing the game on screen. (Totally hamming it up to Smoke on the Water.)

Between that and Veronica working "frak" into her volcabulary in the last two episodes, it's like eating one of those lethal chocolate desserts from a Chili's/Applebee's/Bennigan's type restaurant... I'm on the edge of a very happy coma.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lip Service (Announcement)

The above picture is a bit blurry, so it's probably very important to clarify -- it is not necessarily the opinion of Starbucks that lips are the gateway to romance.

So long as you're not all getting the wrong idea.

Drawing Dead

Roughly a week ago, on their last day in session before adjourning to bother you full time with their commercials and recorded phone calls, Congress passed a bill to outlaw payment to online gambling sites. This is a form of the bill I mentioned a few months ago, with an important distinction: it was tacked onto a totally unrelated port security bill, in one of the government's most time-dishonored tactics. Bush signed the bill on Friday.

In response to the new law, many online poker web sites immediately suspended all U.S. money accounts. But a few are forging ahead, forcing the issue with the declaration that poker is a game of skill, not chance. And I hope it's forced sooner rather than later, because... well, simply: this totally sucks. Sure, it's far from the worst thing that our elected officials have done in the past few years.

But that list was already so damn long. Did it really need this too?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reviews From One Who Should Know

Wil Wheaton (that mondo-l33t blogger and TV's Wesley Crusher) has recently begun a series of articles for TV Squad. He's reviewing episodes of Star Trek: TNG, not without love, but with an incredible degree of harsh and biting wit. The highlight of each is his epic "synopsis" of the episode's plot. Each review will take you several minutes to read, but it's a guaranteed laugh for anyone who has seen the episode -- and quite possibly for many who haven't.

So far, he's covered the first season episodes The Naked Now and The Last Outpost. They seem to be coming about one review every other week. And even after just the two, they're something I find myself looking forawrd to.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Frakky Friday

I was entertained, but not blown away by this week's Battlestar Galactica. Compared to the season premiere, there weren't quite as many good character moments, not as many "impossible decisions," not many moments evoking a strong and visceral reaction. I didn't find it boring or bad; it just fell short of the mark set last week.

Basically, it had "middle chapter syndrome." The wrapping up of the cliffhangers from last week took place in a predictable manner, and then the episode went on with setting up for the big conclusion of the rescue operation in the week(s?) ahead. I imagine that once the whole arc is complete, the complete tale will be a satisfying one. But this episode on its own just didn't have all the elements I love in Galactica.

Chalk it up to Friday the 13th?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Music Wars

Behold! The Battle of the Album Covers! How many do you recognize? (For myself, I'm going to say I knew a few more than I expected, but probably not nearly as many as I should have.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lost and Found

As down as I was about last week's season premiere of Lost, I'm pleased about this week's installment. This week had nearly everything the first episode did not:

Good character moments between people we know and care about, instead of uninteresting mystery dialogue between strangers. There were great scenes with Sayid, Sun, and Jin, and even better moments involving Kate and Sawyer.

Relevant and interesting flashbacks that revealed new information. We saw the (apparently) concluding chapter of Sun's affair, and it emotionally informed the action in the present.

Progression of the plot. Sayid and Jin tried to do something proactive against the Others, but ended up having a major resource stripped from them (the boat). We were reminded that Jin is considerably more shrewd and (sometimes) ruthless than he often comes off on the island.

And for the people that just geek out over the uber-mystery, there was also arguably more in this episode than the previous one, with the confirmation (though hinted at earlier) that the Others are indeed in contact with the outside world.

That's more like it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rock On!

There's less than a month to go until the release of Guitar Hero II, and the makers of the game have just announced the game's complete song list. (Well, the songs you don't have to unlock, anyway.)

As was the case with the first Guitar Hero, I don't know very many of these songs (though I know most of the groups). And also as was the case with the first Guitar Hero, I expect I'm going to know these songs really well soon enough.

Are any of your personal favorites or requests represented?

1. Opening Licks
Mötley Crüe - "Shout at the Devil"
Danzig - "Mother"
Cheap Trick - "Surrender"
Wolfmother - "Woman"
Spinal Tap - "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight"

2. Amp-Warmers
KISS - "Strutter"
Nirvana - "Heart-Shaped Box"
The Police - "Message in a Bottle"
Van Halen - "You Really Got Me"
Kansas - "Carry On Wayward Son"

3. String-Snappers
Foo Fighters - "Monkey Wrench"
Alice in Chains - "Them Bones"
Iggy Pop and The Stooges - "Search and Destroy"
The Pretenders - "Tattooed Love Boys"
Black Sabbath - "War Pigs"

4. Thrash and Burn
Warrant - "Cherry Pie"
Butthole Surfers - "Who Was in My Room Last Night?"
Matthew Sweet - "Girlfriend"
The Rolling Stones - "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
Guns N' Roses - "Sweet Child O' Mine"

5. Return of the Shred
Rage Against the Machine - "Killing in the Name"
Primus - "John the Fisherman"
The Sword - "Freya"
Thin Lizzy - "Bad Reputation"
Aerosmith - "Last Child"

6. Relentless Riffs
Heart - "Crazy on You"
Stone Temple Pilots - "Trippin' On a Hole in a Paper Heart"
Stray Cats - "Rock This Town"
The Allman Brothers Band - "Jessica"
Jane's Addiction - "Stop!"

7. Furious Fretwork
Anthrax - "Madhouse"
The Living End - "Carry Me Home"
Lamb of God - "Laid to Rest"
The Reverend Horton Heat - "Psychobilly Freakout"
Rush - "YYZ"

8. Face-Melters
Avenged Sevenfold - "Beast and the Harlot"
Suicidal Tendencies - "Institutionalized"
Dick Dale - "Misirlou"
Megadeth - "Hangar 18"
Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Free Bird"

Monday, October 09, 2006

Third Time is Not the Charm

Well, I gave Heroes three chances -- and now, I'm out. I struggled through tonight's episode, having heard there was some "big thing" at the end that was going to wow me. All the while, I'm wincing at the awful dialogue, growing restless with the ways the same damn information from the first two episodes is being recycled, and hoping that this promised ending is going to redeem all that.

Well, it didn't. The big ending was just the same information restated yet once more. We get it! She's invulnerable! Can we please get on with it?

Good thing Studio 60 once again delivered a good episode. Tonight's installment was arguably heavier on the comedy and lighter on the drama than the first three, but it was still a great ride.

But the truth is, the TV I enjoyed the most tonight was watching the season three premiere of Battlestar Galactica a second time, this time listening to the podcast commentary provided by series creator Ronald D. Moore. As always, it offered great insight into the making of a TV series -- commentary of a caliber I wish was more common on the DVDs I buy.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's "Let's Go Out to the Movies" for a Reason

I had some interest in seeing Martin Scorsese's new movie The Departed, but I didn't work very hard at finding someone else to go with after my go-to movie-going friends were unavailable this weekend. And now I'm sitting here wondering, what difference does that make?

I watch movies alone at home all the time. But I can count on one hand the number of times I've been out to a movie theater by myself. Some sort of bizarre psychology is clearly at play here that says, "don't go out to the movies alone."

Is it some sort of societal conditioning that tells me going to a movie theater is not a one-person experience?

Is it the knowledge that going to the movies is generally such a miserable experience these days (with rude talkers, ringing phones, and the like) that it's just not worth the trouble unless you're "in it" with someone else?

Some other explanation?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Frak is Back

It's been seven long months, but tonight Battlestar Galactica returned with new episodes.

Sort of.

I say that, because it many ways, this isn't even the same show. It's all the same characters, but most of the roles have shifted around in the two time jumps we've now made (one year, in the final twenty minutes of season two; four more months before the opening of season three). Some of the people who were strong allies have become estranged, and new pairings of characters have come about (not too many Tyrol/Tigh or Tyrol/Gaeta scenes before tonight, for example).

The core allegory has now shifted to a portrayal of an uninvited foreign government occupying another civilization to enforce a new way of life. And the show is not pulling any punches in showing this in stark, truthful, sometimes horrible detail -- suicide bombings, people taken from their homes in the night by armed soldiers, execution squads.

No, this is not the Galactica I loved so completely for two seasons (and a mini-series). Nevertheless, in its transformation to this new kind of show, it has retained everything I liked before. Powerful and gritty drama, deeply drawn characters being put through the emotional grinder, and intelligent writing with a strong perspective and point to make. So far, I'm loving this new Galactica just as much as the old Galactica. (Or, if I'm counting the 1979 original, should I say I'm loving this third Galactica as much as the second?)

Sure, it may be too early to celebrate based on just two new hours, but it would seem that Battlestar Galactica is in no way suffering from the total reboot of its concept in the way Alias did when it tried a similar time shift between years two and three.

You'd think seven months of waiting to get to this point would make waiting just one more week for the next episode no problem. But I'm already itching for it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Swearingen's House of Pancakes

I only started watching Deadwood maybe three months ago. It's only been off the air for about a month. But I already totally miss it -- especially when so many of the new TV series this fall that were supposed to be the next exciting thing turned out to disappoint.

Even this makes me miss Deadwood:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Slow Comeback

Lost returned tonight for a "mini-run" of six episodes, and I have to say that my response to this first episode was, "I waited four months for that?" Actually, it was the first episode since the pilot two years ago that was written (in part) by J.J. Abrams, so in some ways, you could say, "I waited two years for that?"

Some will complain that the third season premiere didn't provide any significant new answers to any of the island mysteries. And it didn't really, but I've never been that bothered by the pace at which Lost doles out answers regarding the island. I've always been more a fan of the character drama, histories, and interpersonal relationships. And this episode was lacking on all those fronts.

The most dramatic character shifts "on deck" as of the end of season two all resided in the characters who were not taken by the Others. How has the destruction of the hatch altered the faith of Locke; did being proven wrong crack his psyche in some deep way? What about the impact on Eko? Or Desmond? How is Hurley going to deal with being let go -- unable to have helped Kate, Jack, and Sawyer, and unable to have gotten "revenge" on Michael for the death of Libby?

Unfortunately, no answers came on any of those fronts, as not one of those characters appeared in this episode. And I'm getting a sinking feeling (not having read any spoilers or watched any scenes from next week, mind you) that this mini-arc of six episodes will be entirely centered on the Others and not the rest of the castaways.

As for histories, we got a series of Jack flashbacks in which the actors were clearly working hard to deliver tears and pain, but it all felt rather flat. What did it all amount to? Reminding us that Jack gets crazy-obsessive? Yawn. We kinda knew that.

And as for character interactions? Again, we got cheated there, since the "trio" of prisoners were kept apart from one another for almost the entire hour. And Henry ("Ben") Gale and Juliet remain too mysterious at this point to take up the slack.

In short, it felt like any random "filler" episode marking time in the middle of the season, not like a rousing start to an exciting new chapter of the story (as did the season two premiere). The new series premiering after it, The Nine, did a far more compelling job of pulling me into the story tonight.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Big Deal

I'd bet that between my years working at The Company and my team's Thursday night trivia wins, I have at least this many T-shirts:

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Monday Roundup

The busy TV night that is Monday is here once more. Here's my quick take on a few things from this evening.

Prison Break was decent, but sadly predictable this week. Last week's cliffhanger would have been a much stronger one to go out on a month-long break (for baseball) than this one. There was some good plot development, but the things that were supposed to surprise really didn't -- except maybe for Sucre's completely nonsensical actions at the end of the episode.

I have to take a moment and ask, how dumb is C-Note? I mean, he was arguably the stupidest of all the Fox River Eight. He'd been deceiving his woman about being in Iraq, and after escaping from prison, he thought they'd be able to reunite... how, exactly? Well, this week, he was literally ten seconds away from having half the other cons flee the house, taking with them a need to split the money extra ways. But no, he opened his big mouth about having reached the buried loot, cutting himself down to about (I figure) half the money he could have had. What a dumbass.

For once, the best line of the night did not go to T-Bag. Instead, Michael takes the honors with his quip about having to rob another bank.

I did check out Heroes one more time, and I was neither amazed nor totally put off. I still find the Indian professor a totally annoying means of delivering ham-fisted exposition; I think the static on the video tape of Vegas Mom's apparent psycho rampage was a pretty sad copout; I still don't find Hiro endearing. But, I am interested in Greg Grunberg's "washing out" cop character that was introduced this week (as I hoped I would be). And the introduction of a potential "super villian" that cuts open heads to suck out the brains might give the show a shot of something it really needs -- a unifying plot to bridge these separate stories. I guess this episode didn't really turn a corner for me, but was just good enough to string me along for one more episode. We shall see.

Studio 60, once again, was great. It was possibly the weakest of the three episodes so far, but that's really only because the bar had been set so high. It was still the "worst" of a very elite company. The issues were as intriguing as the first two episodes, the dialogue just as snappy, the jokes just as funny. There just wasn't quite as much of the emotion as the first episode (watching the meltdown of Judd Hirsch's character, and the rapport between Matt and Danny) or the second episode (the vivid depiction of the pre-show tension). Really, it's hardly a flaw worth mentioning. This show is still, hands down, the best of the new shows this season.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

One of the touring productions of the Broadway musical, The Lion King, is in Denver right now. This afternoon, I went to the matinee performance. It was a mixed bag; some good, some bad.

In the good column:

The look of the production was fantastic throughout. The designs of the sets, the look of the puppets, the striking usage of color -- the "spectacle" of it all, to cite Aristotle's Poetics, was beautiful.

Some of the cast was phenomenal. Rafiki, the baboon voiced by Robert Guillaume in the original film, has been changed to a female here, and the woman playing her was undeniably the best thing about the show. The ensemble was also incredible, really packing a punch in the group numbers.

The music was wonderful to hear performed live. The percussionists were placed out in full view on either side of the proscenium, and I was often times more tempted to watch them than the action on stage. (I mean that in a good way.)

And notably, unlike nearly every Broadway musical I know, this one had a great second act. Most musicals seem to come unraveled after intermission. The story gets rushed, the songs aren't quite as memorable. Not here.

But, on the bad side:

They hardly changed a thing from the movie. Sure, there were new songs here and there, but almost every line of dialogue came straight from the movie. I would have liked to see the show take a few more liberties, or at least not recycle all the same jokes.

Most of the performances were not that good. Granted, this is a touring production, and those are sometimes filled with "third or fourth stringers." But it's still a Broadway show, and it still costs an arm and a leg for a ticket. I think you should get what you pay for. Young Simba could sing great, and dance even better -- but his acting was like elementary school theater. Adult Simba had a good voice, but one very mismatched to the part -- far too tenor and soft for a "lion" (and totally overpowered by the Adult Nala). And Pumbaa, Timon, and the hyenas were trying so hard to replicate the vocal qualities of Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cheech Marin from the movie that it almost immediately became boring. And since they're performing the same dialogue anyway....

Overall, I'd say there was more good than bad about this show, but I was certainly expecting more from a Tony Award winner for Best Musical. If you liked the music from the film and you have a really good sound system with a lot of bass, it's probably worth your while to pick up a cast recording to enjoy the music. But otherwise, you probably shouldn't spend much time regretting it if you don't live in New York or in a city where this show is touring. There's better theater out there.