Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Recommended Reading

Experience has taught me that when Noam Chomsky has something to say, to listen intently. Now here's "America's Leading Thinker" with a devastating assessment for what the country's recent past means for its immediate future. Real feel-good stuff, let me tell you.

(Back soon with my X3 review.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy Trail(er)s

The latest Superman Returns trailer premiered this past weekend in front of X3 (which, by the way, I have many thoughts on, and you can expect them shortly...), and even though it's not up on the official site just yet, the kind users of YouTube have posted it for your viewing pleasure:



Once you're done there, hop on over to Sony's official Ghost Rider site and check out the trailer for the Nicolas Cage-starring Marvel Comics adaptation, available in domestic and international flavors. From what we see here, doesn't look horrible, but there's plenty of time between now and its Valentine's Day release to form a more concrete opinion.

Zaki's Review: The Da Vinci Code

“If you’ve read the book, you’ll like it!”

That was the refrain I heard repeatedly over the past week from the legions of Dan Brown faithful when told of my mixed reaction to director Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. So, if you’ve read the book, you’re in good shape. Fair enough. But what of those (like me) who haven’t read the book?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Holy S! - Part Three

You ever notice how international trailers for films are inevitably better than their American counterparts? To wit, here's the European Superman Returns trailer. We'll probably be seeing a variation on this one this Friday in front of X-Men: The Last Stand, but regardless, it's nice to get a sneak peek at some new stuff we haven't seen yet.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Of WEST Endings

As every television season wends its way towards May and June, we inevitably see one or two workhorses or cherished favorites make their final fade-to-black. This year has been especially brutal for veteran series, with a veritable bumper crop of cancellations and finales.

This past week saw the last hurrahs for That '70s Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and Will & Grace, and tomorrow is the final episode of JJ Abrams' spy-thriller Alias. I'm sure I'm missing others. I never watched any of these shows with anything resembling regularity, so I can't say it means much to me that they're ending.

But then there's The West Wing, which signed off for good last Sunday.

I remember very distinctly the revelatory feeling I had back in the Fall of '99 as I tuned in to this much-ballyhooed series from some guy named Aaron Sorkin, who had previously worked on a show I'd never watched (Sports Night) and a couple of movies I'd never seen (The American President, A Few Good Men). It took mere minutes for me to realize that this Sorkin guy was the real deal.

In rapid-fire succession we were introduced to Sam Seaborne (Rob Lowe), Leo McGarry (John Spencer), CJ Cregg (Allison Janney), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), the senior staff of a fictional presidential administration, along with the equally-rapid-fire walk-and-talk style that became the series' hallmark under director/executive producer Thomas Schlamme.

By the time that first episode ended, with its closing minutes serving as our first introduction to President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), intoning "I am the Lord thy God..." with his trademark twinkle, I was hooked. Somehow Sorkin, assisted ably by his journeyman cast of famous and familiar faces, had managed to make me care about a show I had no business caring about. Those first few seasons were about as perfect a collective of television episodes as has ever been produced. Ever. And they have the raft of Emmys (24) to prove it.

I've made mention numerous times on this blog over the past year-and-change of the creative resurgence the show underwent these past two seasons with its election plotline, a seemingly insurmountable task given the sizable shoes Aaron Sorkin left behind when he and partner Schlamme departed the show during its fourth season over "creative differences." The fifth season was almost painfully unwatchable, but somehow the show's creatives powered through and made The West Wing something great again.

It's truly a testament to the bravura power of creator Sorkin that he was able to create characters of such lasting vividity that three years after his exit that initial fondness diminished not one iota, not even through cast departures bitter (Lowe's salary-dispute led to his exit in year four) and sudden (Spencer's death by heart attack late last year).

Given all this, it's hard to encapsulate the feeling of sadness that washed over me as the final hour of The West Wing began to unfold, knowing this was the last time I'd be seeing these characters. I'm not usually the type of person who gets misty over a television series, yet here I was, getting, if not emotional, then nostalgic.

Of course, that pump had already been primed by NBC's decision to air the show's award-winning 1999 pilot immediately before the finale (this itself a last minute decision after the cast refused to participate in a clip-filled retrospective, the one sour-note in an otherwise dignified transfer-of-power).

So, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, what did I think of the episode itself? It was what it was. An ending, and appropriately, a beginning. With Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) already having won the election several episodes ago, there wasn't much drama remaining to be wrung from that, other than whether Santos would or wouldn't wear an overcoat to his swearing-in (he didn't).

Thus the only big decision remaining was whether or not the departing President Bartlet would pardon former-Communications Director Toby Ziegler, following his leak of classified information. This too wasn't exactly the height of drama, given that a flash-forward at the beginning of this season already gave us the broad strokes.

So, bereft of any real tension, this was simply a chance to say goodbye -- the characters to each other, and us to them. Was it perfect? Not quite. Several creative decisions remain perplexing, such as Richard Schiff's curious absence from the entire episode, while Rob Lowe made his long-anticipated returned to utter a mere two lines of dialogue. Still, the show paid nice tribute to the departed Spencer, whose presence was felt 'till the very end (and whose visage never left the opening credits), and it was also nice to see creator Sorkin in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo during Santos' inauguration.

Ultimately, as President Santos took the reins of office (appropriately enough, asking Chief-of-Staff Josh Lyman the series' trademark, "What's next?"), and President Bartlet flew off into the television sunset, pondering what "Tomorrow" would bring, we in the audience were left to reflect on the remarkable legacy the show left behind.

Looking back at real-life events of the past six years, from 9/11 to Afghanistan to Iraq, from rendition to torture to domestic spying, it was always reassuring to cast a wistful eye towards The West Wing, and imagine a White House where intelligence prevailed over belligerence, and what was right was more important than what was expedient. It made us believe that public service was something honorable. Maybe it was misguided idealism, but idealism is something I think we place too low a premium on. The West Wing made us believe in idealism as a trait that's worth having.

And so, as he heads off to the Valhalla of syndicated immortality, let us stop to bid a hearty hail and farewell to Jed Bartlet, the greatest president we never had.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Gore

Now Arianna herself has joined the growing Gore Yes!/Hillary No! drumbeat for ' 08.

24-7

Just a quick note to marvel at the fact that, since posting it on YouTube one week ago, Mr. Boy Productions' 24 spoof film has been viewed, as of this writing, a staggering 5,723 times. Wow! Kudos to Sean and Brian for a job well done.

Our Pal Al

It's been interesting to note the coverage surrounding the release of the Al Gore-produced global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. With Kerry's loss in '04 swiftly receding into memory, and Bush's policies taking us from bad to worse, it's funny how Gore's near-loss six years ago has taken on almost mythical proportions, something that's not gone unnoticed by Rodes Fishburne over at The Huffington Post.

Heck, even SNL has gotten in on the "coulda-woulda-shoulda" action, with Gore's amusing apperance on this past week's opening sketch where "President Gore" reflects on his successful tenure as C-in-C. Where Gore kept all that charisma and self-effacing humor during the 2000 campaign is anyone's guess...

I've said it before on here and I'll say it again, my bet is that Gore will come out of left field at the last moment to take the Democratic nomination, despite all his protestations to the contrary. At least, I hope that happens, because if the Democrats are pinning their hopes on Hillary to bring them to victory, they'd better be prepared to extend their losing streak for four-to-eight more.

Speaking of entertainment and politics, I've gotten a few e-mails asking for comments on last Sunday's West Wing finale, and while I meant to post something earlier it's taken me a little longer than I anticipated to pull my thoughts together. I'll try to be back later today or early tomorrow with my reaction.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Superb

Check out the just-released poster for Superman Returns:

Director Bryan Singer has said in the past that one of his major influences on this project was the Rockwell-esque superhero art of painter Alex Ross, and as evidenced by the samples below, you can definitely see that influence at work here.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Must-Flee-TV

Want proof that the apocalypse is coming? Click here.

Mutants Flailing?

Last night Fox wedged a seven-minute selection of clips from X:Men - The Last Stand in the middle of its usual Thursday night crap-fest. Check 'em out here. My own reaction to the stuff is curiously tempered. Maybe it's the lack of Bryan Singer behind the camera, the presence of Brett Ratner behind the camera, the obviously-CG effects, the curiously flat music (which I hope to God is a temp score), or just me getting crusty and hard-to-please in my old age, but something about it just feels sort of...off.

That said, Kelsey Grammer's Beast is as impressive as one would expect, the Angel looks interesting, and it looks like there'll be some spiffy action sequences. Still, this one comes out in three weeks, and I've yet to see anything that's set off my "wow" reflex.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You Don't Know Jack (and Tony)

My friends Sean Coyle and Brian Hall are huge fans of the television series 24. They also have far too much time on their hands. The end result? Just the latest short from Mr. Boy Productions:

Monday, May 08, 2006

From THE ONION...

Given this week's postings, this one seemed like a natural to add to the mix...
Comic-Book Superrman Impervious To Copyediting

NEWARK—Executives at DCC Comics have announced the debut of comic-book character Superrman, whose invulnerability to copyediting protects him from nefarious outside forces and intellectual-property lawsuits. "Thrill to the exploits of Superrman, the only child of a doomed plant! Gasp in awe at his Superr-Strength, X-Roy Vision, and his ability to leap mall buildings in a single bounce!" read a press release issued by DCC. "Superrman's only weakness? His vulnerability to Cryptonight… and his star-crossed love for sassy, sexy, trouble-prone reporter Louis Lane!" The editors of Superrman say the comic book will be released alongside those of other popular DCC characters such as Wander Woman, the Flush, and Batdan.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Holy S! - Part Two

Here's a nice capper to what's turned out to be a pretty Super week (the piss-poor conclusion to DC Comics' Infinite Crisis notwithstanding...). A side benefit of all the hype surrounding Bryan Singer's Superman Returns is a renewed interest in the character, which in turn leads to all manner of tie-in books, analyses, etc.

Singer himself is tapping this well of interest by recruiting documentarian Kevin Burns (who previously produced the exemplary Behind the Planet of the Apes in 1998 and the Star Wars doco Empire of Dreams in 2004) to create an exhaustive, definitive celluloid history of the world's greatest superhero, Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman.

Here are some excerpts which show the scope of the project as well as the sheer number of sources interviewed and captured on tape, all with some connection to the decades-long history of the Man of Steel.



You can read some thoughts from Burns on the project's birth here. It's still unclear how Look, Up in the Sky will debut, whether as a standalone release or as a bonus on the eventual Superman Returns DVD, but either way I have a feeling it'll be worth the wait.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Meeting of the Minds

Here's what happened when crusading British journalist Robert Fisk sat down for an in-depth chat with crusading American journalist Seymour Hersh.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sad, but True

From E! Online:
...one in ten American adults has cast a vote for an Idol contestant this season and of the 1,045 people who responded to the telephone poll, 35 percent of those surveyed said they believed voting on American Idol was as important or even more important than voting in a U.S. presidential election.
*sigh*

Hell Freezes Over (And Han Shoots First)

I have to admit, this bit of news came out of left field.

If you're an old-school Star Wars fan like me, then you'd probably given up hope of ever seeing the image above again. Thanks to George Lucas' consistent Thought Police-ing of the Original Trilogy since the Special Edition re-releases of 1997, he has asserted again and again that the versions that were first released in the theaters "no longer existed."

This in turn has forced those of us who grew up on a pre-prequel flavor of Star Wars to live with an unending coterie of increasingly ridiculous digital revisions to Lucas' cinematic saga all made in hopes of having it all "fit" (and putting to the lie the misbegotten notion that he had somehow had it all planned out from the outset).

With the '04 DVD release implementing even more changes to these beloved films, fans the world over wondered in unison, "Doesn't this guy ever hit 'Save As'?" Well, we finally have the answer, and it is, surprisingly, yes. As this official announcement tells us, Lucas has caved to fan pressure and is finally planning on issuing digital versions of the films' original theatrical cuts.

Now, while I'd long ago made my piece with the prequels, as slipshod as the majority of them are, I have to admit it'd be nice to own the originals as I remember them, so on the one hand while I gave this news a hearty "Right on!" when I heard it, I also gave it an equally hearty "Sonova*****!!" having already forked over the sheckels to get the other "last" release(s). Does this guy have our number or what?

Anyway, with these new discs, you can finally prove to those young whippersnappers that there was indeed a time when there was no "Episode IV" or "A New Hope." Just Star Wars. There was indeed a time when Han Solo was a bad ass who shot first and asked questions later (although he never did step on Jabba the Hutt's tail). There was indeed a time when the Emperor looked like a hooded woman with monkey eyes. There was indeed a time when Anakin Skywalker's ghost looked like an old man and not an Emo teen. And so on.

The "Before George Messed It Up" version of Star Wars will hit DVD shelves for a limited stretch from September of this year through December, just in time for the Christmas rush. And then, in best Disney fashion, it will go back into the vaults and await the next digital format...and Lucas' next money grab.

The Colbert Response

It's been very interesting over the past week to watch the unfolding reaction to Stephen Colbert's keynote address at last weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner. First, it was ignored, with the media largely focused on showering Bush with hosannahs for his tag-team comedy bit with a lookalike. Then, once they figured out the Colbert story was generating a pretty heated online buzz, they too jumped on board.

For those who missed out on it, you can watch the video here and here, or failing that, read a transcript here. Now, while I'm hardly unbiased on the matter, I think it took cajones of concrete for Colbert to do what he did, speaking unvarnished, unsettling, unflattering truth to power in a way that I doubt Bush was at all prepared for or used to. Sure it made for some downright uncomfortable moments, but that's where Colbert excels, after all.

What a far cry from the time not too long ago when former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said to the media, "everybody better watch what they say." Seems like that moment, when a wayward anti-establishment comment got Bill Maher tossed off of ABC, has come and come and gone. Now you have Stephen Colbert saying of the president, with the man himself sitting two feet away, "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will." Ouch.

Naturally, the usual point men on the left and the right have already staked out their positions (Colbert bombed! Colbert was brilliant! Kudos! Crapola!), but having watched the actual event as it aired, I can definitely say there was an uncomfortable silence that hung heavy in the room throughout most of the routine, but I think that's less a reflection of the material itself than it is of everyone waiting for Bush to laugh (which he pretty much didn't).

Ultimately, I applaud Colbert not only for refusing to tone down his usual biting satire one iota, but also for having the courage to remain faithfully "in-character" as the preening jackass he plays on his show, even at the expense of getting a few chuckles from the gathered masses. You can watch a follow-up on Stephen's The Colbert Report, as well as see a reaction from Jon Stewart, here.

Recommended Reading

This one's from last Sunday and I meant to post it earlier, but as inevitably happens, life got in the way. After what seems an interminable interlude, Frank Rich has returned, this time looking at what Bush has awaiting him heading into his (merciful) last thousand days in office. The timing seems appropriate, given that this past Monday marked three years to the day that the Decider first bestrode that aircraft carrier in GI Joe duds proclaiming that a certain mission had been accomplished. May Day, indeed.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bonded

As if all the Super-goodness wasn't enough, Sony has also picked today to premiere our first look at new 007 Daniel Craig in action with the teaser for Casino Royale. I've been psyched with the Craig choice ever since I saw him in Munich, and this new footage confirms for me that he's a fantastic choice.

Holy S!

Here it is. The first full trailer for Superman Returns.