Entertainment News and Views
Chief Justice Michael Stailey's Blog
• Location: Santa Monica, CA
Santa Phone Home
A friend of mine has launched a new service for the holidays, one in which Santa will make a personal call to your child between now and the big day. If you're looking for something a little special this holiday season, I encourage you to check it out.
Highway to Hell
Supernatural - Tuesdays 9:00p ET / 8:00p CT on The WB
A quiet summer night in Kansas. A woman stirs in her bed and realizes her husband is not there. Going to look, she sees him hovering over the crib in the nursery, watching their infant son sleep. She turns and heads downstairs to the kitchen, only to discover her husband asleep in front of the living room television. Panic stricken, she runs back upstairs. Awoken by his wife's screams, John runs upstairs to find all is quiet. Son Sam is awake in his crib, but no making a sound. Blood drips from above. Looking up in horror, we see his wife plastered to the ceiling, immobile, her abdomen covered in blood. In a split second, she is engulfed in flame, as is the entire room. Grabbing Sam and older son Dean, the three flee the house as it is consumed by fire.
Thus, it begins. Two brothers, touched by an unknown evil. Raised by a father obsessed with tracking the beast that killed their mother and begat this life of dark vengeance. By the time high school is over, Sam's had enough. He goes away to college and establishes a normal life. In 72 hours, he will interview for law school and begin a promising new career. Only life has a funny way of correcting itself. When Dean shows up and announces Dad has gone missing, the boys hit the road to find him. While Sam is adamant this is a one-time deal, a series of events quickly proves you can't walk away from the family business.
From the minds of creator Erik Kripke (Boogeyman) and director David Nutter (Millennium), Supernatural fills a void left by The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. It's a modern take on the classic Demon Hunter archetype -- men touched and changed by the forces of evil, who subsequently rise up as humanity's champions and protectors (Blade, Van Helsing). As is often the case, they operate under the radar, keeping the innocent in the dark about these things that go bump in the night. It's a difficult life, but one to which they have been called.
Geared to The WB's target 18-34 demographic, the series stars heartthrobs Jansen Eckles (Days of Our Lives), and Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls). The boys play extremely well off each other, offering up an authentic fraternal relationship complete with a truckload of emotional and psychological baggage. The dialogue is sharp and well delivered. Even the weekly guest stars possess a depth and authenticity not often seen in hour-long sci-fi/actioners.
Drawing from centuries of folklore, myth, and legend, the writing team brings the boys face to face with a new evil each week, as they crisscross the country in search of their missing father. The production team avoids the trap of drawing from the classic Joss Whedon/Chris Carter warehouse of Vampires, Werewolves, Demons, and Aliens, opting instead for an A-list treatment of culturally based North American C-list beasties -- Woman in White, Wendigo, Skinwalkers. Impressive special effects, well thought out and executed plots, and a significant level of detail indicate the creative team is in this for the long haul. The backstory itself offers a deep wealth of material that can be diligently mined over the course of many seasons.
If the writing team can avoid the pitfalls common to most sci-fi/fantasy series -- same plot, different baddie; combined with a mass of unresolved plot threads -- and develop a rich universe that the boys and audiences enjoy exploring each week, we could have a worthy heir to the Whedonverse on our hands.
The Jury will reconvene at midseason.
25th Anniversary Blues
Elwood: You don't like it?
...and neither did most of the 250+ fans in northwest suburban Chicago who gathered to pay tribute to one of their favorite films.
Tonight's special 25th Anniversary event, hosted by National CineMedia brought out the die hards. The atmosphere was much like a Comic Con merged with a midnight showing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, complete with fans dressed like Jake and Elwood accessorized by briefcases handcuffed to their wrists. Most attendees however were a mixed bag of fanboys and fangirls, from early twenty-somethings to late fifty-somethings, some sporting decades old Blues Brothers t-shirts that had not fit properly in quite some time.
Unfortunately, five minutes later host Gordon Meyer wraps up the discussion and thanks the panel for their time. The screen goes dark and the audience hunkers down for the film to begin, only to be greeted by a "Brief Intermission" sign and the return of, you guessed, Jack Johnson. Now they're pissed.
Broadway: All Shook Up or Just Warmed Over?
It seems Broadway has fallen victim to the same illness that has plagued Hollywood in recent years -- Originophobia: The fear of investing in or producing anything new or different. Granted, big budget studio films and Broadway musicals are a huge risk, with a massive investment of resources and no guarantee of any return. But isn't that the nature of art itself -- opening yourself to the creative process and allowing inspiration to guide you where it will? Art and the people who create it run counter to everything that Wall Street stands for. So why would anyone expect art could possibly guarantee financial success? Unfortunately, in order to produce what is considered to be mainstream art, we artists must jump into bed with investors and give them at least some of what they need, to ensure the feeling that their money is being well spent. It's here where we often compromise our integrity, creating this TV dinner amalgamation of entertainment -- a repurposed entrée, with a side or two of good performances, and (if we're lucky) a teeny, weeny dessert of truly inspired artistry.
Case in point, look at the "hot shows" currently running on NYC's Great White Way...
WICKED - An adaptation of the acclaimed 2003 Gregory Maguire novel
SPAMALOT - An adaptation of the hilarious 1975 film MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIN
THE PRODUCERS - Adaptation of the outrageous 1968 Mel Brooks' film
THE LION KING - Adaptation of the 1994 Disney animated classic
HAIRSPRAY - Adaptation of the 1988 John Waters' film, his first box office success
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS - Adaptation of the forgettable 1988 Frank Oz comedy
Now, this collective of theatrical experiences is not necessarily a bad thing. I have seen four of these shows and enjoyed each of them immensely. Yet while inventive in their own ways, they are built upon on someone else's work and not true original creations.
If this weren't indication of trouble enough, we've fallen down the slippery slope into the muck of another repurposed musical theatre genre. What used to be called the "Musical Revue," an evening of music from a individual artist or composer, as performed with minimal staging by a big name star or a group of unknown performers, has mutated into something that simulates real theatre, but not quite -- crafting an entire script, complete with characters, plot (so to speak), and full production values, around the same said music. It's a lot like what we used to do as kids, when you would write a number or letter on a piece of paper and then see how many cartoon faces, animals, or objects you could make out of it. Cute, but the novelty wears thin real fast.
Three such shows are currently generating somewhat respectable returns on Broadway and in touring productions around the world...
MAMMA MIA - Scripted around the music of the 1970's Swedish supergroup ABBA
MOVIN' OUT - Scripted around the music of Billy Joel
ALL SHOOK UP - Scripted around the music of Elvis Presley
While I have not seen any of these three shows, I have listened to the soundtrack for ALL SHOOK UP and scientific theory has proven my concept of Originophobia.
With a book by Joe DiPietro (I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE), arrangements by Stephen Oremus (WICKED), and music by Elvis, you would think there might be something to this... but there's not. Elvis was never meant for Broadway. His music demands a different kind of vocalization; a different kind of sexual energy; a 300lb bloated man, sweating profusely in a sequined jumpsuit two sizes too small. Seriously though, musical theatre actors are simply not wired to pull off the gestalt that was the King of Rock 'N Roll. I am far from being considered one of the Elvis faithful, but I do love his music and listening to this original cast album does nothing to invoke his charismatic voice or performance. In fact, you'll find yourself hitting the advance button through mind cringing renditions of "One Night with You," "Devil in Disguise," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Burning Love," and the butchered version of my personal fav "A Little Less Conversation." There is the occasional song that works, like "C'mon Everybody," but it still feels like they're aspiring to present a '50s version of RENT. Let's put it this way, if you've ever been to a theme park musical revue -- you know, Six Flags presents "Getting' Down to Motown" or "Rock 'N Roll is Here to Stay" -- you've already experienced ALL SHOOK UP. Good musical theatre actors, singing and dancing their butts off to the music of a legend now spinning in his grave... or at least suffering a blinding migraine while working the deep fat fryer at a Portage, Michigan Burger King.
I know there will be people who disagree with me, and that's okay. I'm sure the Elvis faithful will find layers of hidden value in this production. I'm sure the loyal Broadway-goers of NYC and the Tri-State area will enjoy this musical time trip. I'm sure the family and friends of my Equity brethren will thrill to their performances. To them, I say all the more power to you. I have tickets to see AVENUE Q and SPELLING BEE.
The Dark Knight Returns
"Inspired" is the word that comes to mind.
It's been almost twelve hours now since my better half and I saw BATMAN BEGINS, and my mind is still abuzz.
Let me preface this mini-review by stating my biases upfront. As a long-time comic book reader, I have quite a bit of time and emotion invested in the Batman mythos: from the gritty realism of David Mazzuchelli and Frank Miller's Batman: Year One back to Denny O'Neil and Neal Adam's stellar redefinition of the character in the '70s, not to mention the many weekday afternoons spent jumping around the family room with my brother beating the snot out of our friends while watching Adam West and Burt Ward BIFF and POW their way into history. Also, as an actor, I had the pleasure of working on the set of the new film, whose cast and crew were nothing short of a blast to be around. While our three night shoot chasing the Bat-tumbler across a two-mile stretch of suburban Chicago highway amounted to little more than 10-15 seconds of actual screen time, it took nothing away from this impressive piece of filmmaking.
Chris Nolan and David Goyer have crafted something truly special here: a dark, psychological drama of one man's quest for inner truth and eventual embracing of his place in the world, while keeping at bay the dark temptress of vengeance. The first half of the film, devoid of any Hollywood super-heroics, can stand on its own as a potential Academy Award winning feature. The cinematography, the characterizations, the dialogue, the fight choreography, and the casting are all brilliant (save Katie Holmes who appears to be the weakest link in the Kevlar). The second half drives the audience 100mph into the superhero realm, but never loses the essence of what came before, making the through line of the story all the more powerful.
While other contemporaries such as Variety's Todd McCarthy and USA Today's Mike Clark feeling something's lacking in this non-traditional comic book adaptation, I have not seen a more beautifully crafted, well executed script in quite a long time. Characters growing and playing off each other with authenticate effusion; an intricately crafted and timeless world that is itself a critical character; and performances that are often reserved for "more respectable" films.
Hats off to the brass at Warner Bros. for putting their trust into the hands of a young writer/director with vision and passion to spare.
The Good, The Bad, and Episode III
I've avoided reading any press or forum discussions on REVENGE OF THE SITH before seeing it, which I did last night. My brother came in from New Hampshire this weekend. Having seen the first five films together in the theatre, I had to wait -- and I'm glad I did. It gave the hype and my anticipation a chance to dissipate, letting me go in with little or no expectations.
I apologize in advance if these topics have already been discussed to death, but I just want to get a few things off my chest.
Ewan McGregor, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, and Ian McDiarmid were somewhat immune to the Lucas effect, although McDiarmid was sucked into the abyss once his Sidious personae was revealed.
* How is Obi-Wan cutting off Anakin's legs and watching him barbeque not a 'jump the shark' moment? Even pushed to the point of desperation, this enlightened man of honor with such love for his protege would have done everything in his power to save Anakin. This is just bad writing. A better choice would have been to have the two continue their fight over the lava. Anakin falls. Obi-wan grabs hold to save him, while his body is slowly consumed by the molten rock. Assuming him dead, Obi-wan is consumed by grief and returns to the ship, while we see the mechanical hand pulling what is left of Ani's body onto solid ground.
* Hadyn looks nothing like David Prowse in the Vader suit. And the Stanley Kowalski "Stella!!" moment should have been left on the digital cutting room floor. The telekinetic destruction was more than enough to get the point across.
Wasted Plot Points
The film wasn't all bad. A bit too much at times. Heavy handed, certainly. But some things worked very well.
* The observation deck battle between Anakin and Dooku, a direct recreation of the throne room battle between Luke and Vader, was a nice parallel, but you don't have to hit us over the head with it.
* The clone betrayal was done perfectly, with the right mix of tension, horror, and an overwhelming sense of dread.
* I would have liked to have learned more about the origins of the Sith. We are teased with Palpatine's betrayal of his own master, Darth Plagus, much like we have been teased with Darth Maul and Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus in the first two films. How did these men come to fall prey to the dark side. Who were they before? Were there female Sith Lords? (We do see one in the animated series). I would also like to have explored more about who and what General Grievous was prior to his cybernetic transformation.
* Tell us more about the history of the Jedi Council, who they are, and how they came to be.
* The digital backgrounds and effects have become so real and seamless that only on very rare occasions are you taken out of this beautifully crafted albeit overstimulated world.
A final personal message to George: Thank you for almost 30 years of great memories. I know the fans tend to dissect and discuss things way too much, but it's only because they've become invested in the world you created. And for that we are eternally grateful. I have the feeling that others will pick up the torch and develop many more stories for future generations to enjoy, if you allow them to; and I hope you do.
The World's Finest
The skeptic Judge Cobbs might be encouraged by this tibit unearthed from Garth Franklin's Dark Horizons news archive...
Ghost Rider's Hellacious Wheels
The gang from Superhero Hype! has an exclusive look at Ghost Rider's hot new wheels. I'm still a bit apprehensive about this Marvel Comics adaptation, what with Nic Cage headlining and all. But with a supporting cast of Matt Long (Jack & Bobby) as a young Johnny Blaze, Wes Bentley (American Beauty) as the evil Blackheart, and Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) as Mephisto, the devil himself, it has to be worth seeing.
Now if they can only capture the kitschy drama of the original comic...
Bon Voyage Boone!
With the spoiler-moratorium expired, it's finally safe to talk about this.
I can't say I'm shocked or disappointed. He was arguably the weakest member of the cast. Besides, with Boone gone, it leaves Locke as the only survivor with knowledge of The Hatch, the small plane, and a ten year supply of Heroin that would put Charlie into a drug-induced coma. His death has also directly affected Shannon and Sayid's blossoming relationship, Jack's control issues, Sun's position within the group, and most importantly Locke's emotional stability. And the writers now have many new angles to explore.
Given that model/actor Ian Somerhalder has reportedly signed a new one year deal with ABC, this could indicate that Boone will continue to haunt the remaining survivors in Season Two. After all, nobody really stays dead on this island anyway. Speaking of which, has anyone seen Jack's dad lately?
Steppenwolf, Malkovich, and A Video Rental Store to Beat ALL Video Rental Stores
The show was interesting but not exceptional. Malkovich was surprisingly flat, playing a turn of the century Hungarian aristocrat with his own Midwestern affect, while the supporting cast (save co-star Martha Lavey who set forth her own New England affect) all carried thick eastern European accents. Quite distracting and disappointingly ineffective.
However, there were three highlights to the evening...
2) James Schuette's set design, an imposing yet simple castle veranda overlooking the valley and the family's expansive acreage of vineyards. Using only lighting and some minor set pieces, the audience was trasported from the lush hey day of the region, to the desolate after effects of war.
2) Odd Obession. We arrived at the theatre early and were wandering around the upstairs when, across the street, Melissa spotted a garden apartment Video store named Odd Obsession. The sign out front read "Rare, Hard to Find Releases: Independent, Foreign, Hong Kong, Tokyo Shock, French New Wave, Film Noir, Experimental, Gay/Lesbian, Cult, Criterion, and More!" In short, a collection of all the films we cover here at DVD Verdict. We have been in the neighborhood hundreds of times and never knew this place existed. With time to kill, we went across the street and wandered around this treasure trove of filmdom. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. You would be floored by the wealth of fantastic films available for rent and sale at this little hole in the wall. I had to get home and check out the website to make sure this wasn't some sort of BRIGADOON experience. It really, truly does exist and you owe yourself a favor to check it out!
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