Monday, December 28, 2009

The Decade in Television

I cannot pass up the opportunity to create list. Lists rule. So with that being said, here is my top 10 television shows for the last decade. To get some stuff out of the way, comedies do not mean as much to me as dramas, I screwed up and never watched The West Wing, and I don't like Mad Men as much as the rest of the world.

10. Burn Notice

When I put this list together originally, nearly everything was cancelled and that seemed really sad so I wanted to sneak in another active show. Having Burn Notice this high may be a bit of a stretch since it’s still only in its third season, but once Lost dies these will be the new episodes I will look forward to the most. Although shows that follow a specific structure usually bore me, Burn Notice has somehow broken through this barrier. The best parts of every episode is how Michael deals with the weekly client, explains everything through voiceover, Bruce Campbell drinks beer and cracks jokes, and Fiona gets to or wants to blow some shit up.

Burn Notice is in no way a one-man show but Jeffrey Donovan is approaching Jack Bauer/Vic Mackey territory. He is Michael Westen and every thing he does I believe because of Donovan’s performance. Just for his work alone, the show would be worthwhile but he is nearly matched by Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, and Sharon Gless. The fact that it has taken this long to find the perfect television role for Bruce is a damn shame but at least I now have Sam Ax. Anwar is such strange casting but she somehow pulls off crazy dangerous bomber who happens to be 72 pounds soaking wet. And Gless may be the last person ever allowed to smoke consistently on television while not being a period piece.

The only worry I have for Burn Notice is how long they can keep up the premise of the show. Westen is a burnt spy who is stranded in Miami, which is a cool premise. But in the 2 and a half seasons, they have altered his status quo multiple times without really changing anything so he still us burnt and still helps people. Eventually it will get tiring if each season builds to him getting his spy life back, but in the end he wins but doesn’t get what he wants. Still seeing Tricia Helfer get shot in the gut by Fiona was a sweet moment at the end of the second season. And I still look forward to how Michael scratches his way back into the game.

9. The Shield

The Shield is my first love/hate television relationship in the top 10. There were parts, and by parts I mean entire seasons, where I nearly checked out on the show. It was never about the quality of the show, but more about my feeling that the show was wasting time and not actually moving the story anywhere. Then Shane became the worst character on television and didn’t die for 2 seasons, which just pissed me off. Still the last scene in the finale was amazing and made up for so much. Oh yeah and Vic Mackey.

Vic Mackey was just an amazing character all around. Just the casting of Michael Chiklis was amazing. Prior to this he was known as “The Commish” and by the end of the first episode he was Vic Makey. The transformation goes well beyond shaving his head; this was a completely new person. Just seeing Vic in action was mind-blowing. The lead of the show was a blatantly dirty cop. The sad part was that the shocking twist of the pilot, Vic killing a cop, was a hole they spent 7 seasons trying to dig Vic out of. But there really was no coming back from that, and thankfully they based the climax of the show around it. This was also one of the faults of the show; Vic was a bad guy and it was annoying how they would constantly redeem with one hand and dirty him with the other in every season.

The rest of the cast had their shining moments over the 7 seasons, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes, and Kenny Johnson all had their arcs that were solid B plots. The arc of Dutch is damn astonishing to look back on. He was nothing more than the butt of Vic's jokes in the beginning but by the end he was the man in the interrogation room. As for Walton Goggins , it's hard for me to divorce my hatred of Shane from the man portraying him. Shane killing Lem still pisses me off and that was after I already hated him for the Tavon fight. Man, I wanted him to die for what felt like and ultimately became years. Even though the cast was strong the middle seasons were propped up by guest start. The runs of Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker kept the show alive while they delayed the inevitable fall Vic. Close appearing on The Shield had a secondary affect of convincing her to do more television and led to the fantastic Damages. And Forest was coming off his award winning performance on The Last King of Scotland and damn near topped it with Kavanaugh.

The Shield ran just a bit long but the phenomenal final season tied things up so well that the entire story looks stronger in retrospect. Its always amusing to me how much the ending can influence my opinion. The Shield took advantage of this fact.

8. 24

If only I didn’t have to judge 24 by every season that aired this decade. 3 years ago I would have been trying to figure out a way to shoehorn it into the top 5. But because of the last couple seasons I feel like I have to defend rating it even this high. I think it would be easier to concentrate on the high points of the first 5 seasons if the show wasn’t still on the air terrifying me with whether it will rebound or get even worse. But those first 5 years were amazing television.

The sheer amount of batshit insanity that took place in those 5 days is astounding. I’m not sure when Jack Bauer became a mythic figure in my eyes, but it was either the hacksaw in the first hour of day 2 or telling Kim to shoot him again at the end of day 2, bottom line is that it occurred somewhere in day 2. How much do I need to list to defend my point? Jack’s first torture scene where he does everything by threatening a guy with a towel, lumberjack beard, irradiated George Mason, Jack rises from the dead naked and still kills a roomful of mercs, Jack takes out multiple targets while having a heart attack, motherfucking Chloe O’Brian, Chase as Jack Jr., Jack killing Nina in cold blood, Jack executing Chappelle, Jack sits in his SUV and cries, drunken Tony as Jack's only friend, naked Mandy, faking Jack’s death, Jack walks into the sunset rocking aviators, Edgar dies in front of Chloe, evil Logan, Jack, Martha, Pierce, and Mike team up to stop Logan, then day 6 happened and it became just another show.

  • A show where not only Jack’s brother is evil but so is his father.
  • A show where Audrey is brought back in a coma just to twist the knife that is permanently in Jack’s heart.
  • A show where zombie Wayne Palmer rises up to lead the country in its time of need only to crash and disappear with no follow-up.
  • A show where the entirety of season 7 was 24: Torture = Yeah!
  • A show where Tony Almeida was brought back from the dead for the express purpose of ruining the second best character in the show’s history.

All of those moments may not be as bad as Teri's amnesia or Kim v cougar, but they were bad plots that dominated the last 2 days. The bad stuff used to be the dumping ground for the C and D storylines. Now they can't even be consistent with the A plot.

Still, even I can do the math and 5 brilliant outweighs 2 mediocre. On top of that, on its worse day 24 has the best action scenes in all of television. In its 7 seasons 24 has had badass car chases, shootouts, hand-to-hand fights, and just general damn explosions that are amazing for the small screen. And although I may not be giddy every Monday night, there was a time when every commercial break left me out of my mind and no other show packed that much adrenaline into 60 minutes.

7. Veronica Mars

What a shame. I want to do these write-ups with as minimal whining about how television is made as possible. That being said, it is very difficult to talk about Veronica Mars without bringing up how the show eviscerated itself in order to get a third season after it had already softened the season long arc in the second season. I wouldn’t call the first season perfect but it was pretty damn close. But since the ratings were never there for the show, it kept coming back as a weaker version of the original.

What made the first season of Veronica Mars great was that Veronica spent very episode trying to solve the murder of her best friend while dealing with the mystery of the week. The Lilly Kane/Veronica’s rape plotlines were so strong that they drove the entire season. Instead of feeling like they were drawing things out, new information was revealed so consistently in nearly every episode that the tension just kept building. It was an amazing piece of work. The second season … not so much. Instead, the bus crash felt like an attempt to recapture the magic and came up short. The third season doesn’t even rate because there was no year-long arc and in its place were 2 mini-arcs and a weird race to conclude all storylines by the finale. That's not to say that the second and third seasons weren't still fun to watch, they just never reached the emotional peak of the initial plot.

Veronica Mars was carried beginning to end by Kristen Bell. The fact that the whole show elevated beyond the cesspool of teenage UPN/WB/CW crap is because of the work Bell was doing. She made the idea of a high school PI not feel like a forgettable Nancy Drew rehash and more like a serious drama that just happened to star teenagers. It didn’t matter if Veronica needed to be serious, goofy, emotional, or whatever Bell was game and delivered. She was at her absolute best sharing the screen with her father Enrico Colantoni. Who knew the photographer from Just Shoot Me could be so damn awesome? I would have said Jason Dohring's, Logan Echolls, but his character's balls were cutoff in the third season. The rest of the cast ran the gamut from awful, Teddy Dunn's Duncan, to hilarious, Ken Marino's Vinnie Van Lowe, but as long as they were across from Bell it usually worked.

Usually when a great show disappears as fast as Veronica Mars, I am at a loss for why this happened. That is not the case this time. The last few episodes of Veronica Mars barely resembled what made the show fantastic to begin with. Its cancellation while annoying was probably for the best because I don't even want to imagine what the next round of alterations would have done to the fourth season.

6. House

It seems like I keep coming back to this idea, but House is the greatest 1-man show of the decade. There isn’t even a question about whether Hugh Laurie is the best actor; he is Gregory House. The entire experience revolves around what he does for that week’s 60 minutes. Every single episode is about House with everyone else just interacting with House. There is no one doing as much heavy lifting on television as Hugh Laurie. And even though we are 6 seasons in, Hugh is still bringing new levels to the character that just carry the show.

What I find amazing about House is that over the 6 seasons only Wilson has not been completely f’ing annoying at one point or another. Wilson is just the perfect foil for House and has been solid week and week out since the beginning of the show. That’s not to say Cuddy, Foreman, Chase, and Cameron are detriments just that Foreteen was and is godawful, Cuddy-mom is painful, Cameron loves House went on forever, and Chase was always last on the totem pole and would disappear for stretches at a time. Still, everyone seems relevant whenever they are sharing screen-time with Hugh Laurie.

The only real complaint I’ve had over the history of the show is the poor batting average when it comes to overarching storylines. The first 3 seasons struck out with the Vogler buying the hospital plot, House loves his ex-wife debacle, and the root canal that was the Tritter screws with House for 47 episodes. The last couple of seasons have gotten better with House picks his new staff and the House loses his mind after Kutner’s death plots. Although I would enjoy a season-long arc, the structure of House is so solid that I don't even mind getting the usual every week.

To spoil the rest of the list that is just inches below this paragraph, considering Lost is ending House is the highest rated active program. Whether or not it is still in its prime depends on how the rest of this season plays out. The season premiere was some of House's best work so I hope that there are still years worth of greatness yet to come.

5, The Sopranos

Now its time for the ultimate love/hate television show for me. I never really understood the love affair that America had with The Sopranos. Seeing as I have it ranked in the top 5, obviously I think the show was top shelf, but there was this belief that The Sopranos was working on a completely different level from everybody else on television. That may have been true back in 1999 during the first season (which does not qualify here), but eventually HBO started airing The Wire and for me there was no debate. Eh, no reason to get into The Wire just yet.

When The Sopranos debuted, it brought a level of sophistication to television that had never been seen before. This may have been the turning point of television being viewed as viable if not better home for writers/actors than the silver screen. But once again that happened in 1999 when the first season blew away everything else being aired at the time. This decade saw all the subsequent seasons which continued the excellence but at times lost its way.

Honestly of all the shows I have in this list, I have the least to say about The Sopranos. Do I really need to praise James Gandolfini or Edie Falco? Their performances anchored the show and always kept me coming back even when I was bored with the storylines. Tony Soprano is a masterpiece. I doubt Gandolfini will ever find a role that takes advantages of his skills like this ever again. He was Tony Soprano in every single sense. The only issue I ever had with Falco was my hatred for Carmela Soprano. I guess that could alter my enjoyment of her performance. A show with so many characters like The Sopranos is at the mercy of people in the roles. This is where I felt let down over the later seasons; A.J. and Meadow were always weak, Janice was just annoying, the Vito arc went on forever and ever, and the Melfi scenes got worse and worse over time. So whenever The Sopranos strayed from Tony my attention strayed from the television. Thankfully the world revolved around Tony.

Although I would have been more than willing to punish The Sopranos for the ending, the fade to black never really bothered me. It may have been a mistake but everything leading up to that was a solid close to the series. Even if it took a few to many years to get the end, The Sopranos will be looked back on as one of the most important television shows of all-time.

4. Lost

Due to the final season showing up next decade, Lost gets to be judged without having to deal with the possible disappointment of the finale. And barring a season so awesome that it puts previous seasons to shame, it was not going to be rated any higher than fourth even with if the finale took place this decade. So as it stands right now less than 2 months from answers, Lost is fricking badass. And if you were to tell to me I would think this back in 2005 in the middle of season 2 hell I would have kicked in you in the crotch then stabbed you while you were doubled over in pain. Then season 3 turned the show around and season 4 confirmed that the damn thing was insane and the creators weren’t worried about pleasing 100% of the audience. Ah thank you time travel.

It wasn’t until the beginning of third season that I finally decided I loved this show. I thought the hype over the first season was a bit too much due to my annoyance of how the show was structured. There were too many characters with all of them getting the focus on their own episodes, which made it too easy for me to check out on episodes concentrating on characters I didn’t care about. And I never cared for the flashbacks, but that was more about season 2 and 3. Still Lost felt different and the story demanded to be followed every week, something that networks usually cutoff at the knees. Sadly, season 2 was a step back for me. Everything I disliked about the show became worse, more characters, repetitive flashbacks, godawful Michael and Walt story arc, and the story seemed to stall. But, we did get the introduction of Ben so it ended up being worthwhile. Then season 3 began by putting Sawyer in a cage and Jack behind glass and it all started to come together.

The last 3 seasons have had their missteps but the plots that have connected have been so strong that Lost has grown by leaps and bounds. The first flash forward will always be held up as the moment the show stopped worrying about the audience following along and just told their story. And I will be forever grateful for drunken bearded Jack. This was then followed up by time travelling Desmond in the best single episode so far. Then they killed Locke and have stuck to it. Now we sit at a point where its hard to discuss even how the last season ended because everything hinges on the where the hell the story goes in the final season.

In the beginning, because Lost was obsessed with making every character relevant I grew to dislike much of the cast. But as we stand today after seasons of attrition, the remaining characters are all strong. I may prefer Jack, Ben, Faraday, and Juliet but the arcs of Locke, Sawyer, and Sun no longer bore me. Not so much Kate or Hurley, they have never recovered from my initial hatred. We shall see if they can alter my feelings before the close. As I write this, the last season is only a month away so its with a mixture of sadness and anticipation that Lost gets ranked in the 4 spot.

3. Battlestar Galactica

And I was worried the SyFy channel would not be represented on this list. The existence of Battlestar Galactica makes absolutely no sense. How did something of this quality appear on this network, remaking this show, with so many previously unknowns? Look I like Edward James Olmos as much as the next guy but let’s be realistic here. Whatever stars had to align, I am eternally grateful.

For better or for worse, the Battlestar Galactica finale is a part of this decade and the show must be judged with the ending in mind. I have to give it to the creators, they were not afraid to alienate their fan base in order to finish their story. Based on all the angry words I have read about the end of the show, I may be one of the few people who had no complaints about how the story was tied together. It was a true ending with very little wiggle room to cash in on a sequel down the road. They got around this by creating a prequel, but that has nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica. Plus I cannot be mad when a show is willing to go at their cast with a hacksaw in order to bring finality to character arcs. From suicide, to military execution, to revenge neck-snapping I heart this show.

I am a sucker for a strong female lead and in the beginning Battlestar Galactica had as much to do with Starbuck as it did with Adama, Roslin, or Baltar (who all carried the show at different points). Katee Sackhoff hit the ground running by making the baddest ass be the female fighter pilot instead of any of the males in the cast. She had the perfect mixture of violence and profanity. After Sackhoff, I would put Michael Hogan’s, Saul Tigh, as the biggest surprise. After the mini-series, Tigh was just the drunk Colonel who I didn’t care much for. But by the end of the story, Tigh had one of the best character arcs and it wasn’t just because of the eye patch … well some of it was the eye patch … okay nearly all of it was losing an eye and rocking an eye patch for the last 2 seasons. If I had the energy I would detail each and every single character and why the all kicked ass but there are still 2 more programs to write about.

Battlestar Galactica was science fiction at its absolute finest. It took spaceships and robots and told a story with political intrigue while asking questions about humanity and god. Who in their right mind would expected that back when the mini-series was announced?

2. Deadwood

A whole bunch of stuff that I loved was cancelled over the last decade, but we have now reached the most painful loss. It has been over 3 years since the final episode aired and I still don’t understand why Deadwood is not airing on my television. If HBO had replaced it with something or anything that would have eased the pain maybe I could have come to grips with the loss. Instead they aired David Milch’s replacement John From Cincinnati for 1 season confused the shit out of me then cancelled that. Since then the new dramas have been In Treatment, True Blood, and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I’m not sure how large the ballpark would need to be in order to contain those 3 shows with the high-water mark trio of The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood which all aired simultaneously from 2004-2006. What I’m trying to say is where the fuck is Deadwood?!?!

The world has always seemed a bit darker every since Al Swearengen stopped cursing at me through the television screen. The language on Deadwood was a character in and of itself. There is no category to place it in; just call it Milchian. And the man who was born to swear in pseudo-poetry was Ian McShane. From Swearengen’s first dialogue it became clear that Deadwood was going to revolve around this man. From his dealings with Wu, his kidney stone, his relationship with Bullock, his soliloquies while being blown by a hooker, talking to the severed Indian head, and his dignified walk across town after getting his finger chopped off by Hearst, this was McShane’s masterpiece. Right behind McShane was Timothy Olyphant's, Seth Bullock. There has never been a character who has been filled with more rage than Sheriff Bullock. He was quite literally shaking with rage at numerous points in the series. And he was the fricking hero! Coming in third and only because she never was given that much screen-time was Robin Weigert's Calamity Jane. I could write down some of the disturbingly profane things she said of the years but it wasn't the words but Weigert's delivery. It had to be seen to truly behold. The Deadwood cast went on for days and since Milch wrote every episode everyone felt relevant and took advantage of the time they were given.

If every thing else was taken out of Deadwood except the introduction of Garret Dillahunt onto my television then that would have at least been enough for an honorable mention. Every single cast member of Deadwood has left an impression on me so that I recognize them whenever they show up in other programs. They may never look or sound as good as they did on Deadwood, but there may never be anything like Deadwood again. Once enough time passes, I will be just glad that I got 3 seasons before it was unfairly assassinated.

1. The Wire

When it came down to it, this list was what comes after The Wire. I’m not entirely sure what the discussion would be if something was placed ahead of The Wire. What would the criticism be? What flaws am I not seeing? Not that I feel that my word is law, but I am comforted by the amount of lists that I have read that but The Wire at the top almost as an afterthought. It just seems more fun to discuss what wasn’t at The Wire’s level.

The Wire told its story from beginning to end within this decade and the key point there is that was the complete story that David Simon wanted to tell about the city of Baltimore. It wasn’t drawn out or brought back to make more money; it was actually the opposite it was never a guarantee that there would be another season. Because of what happened to Deadwood, I look back and appreciate every single minute of The Wire that was shot. Usually when a show ends either I felt that it went on too long or that there was more gas in the tank. The Wire was done and anything more, while I will kill to see it and that is an offer, would have inevitable been a letdown. Each season concentrated on a different aspect of the city of Baltimore, drugs, docks, politics, schools, and newspapers, and all were brutally honest. Honest to a level that had never really been explored on television.

The list of memorable characters would break my wrists if I attempted to type each and every one of them. So, let’s see how many I can get through before I cry wolf. Where to even freaking start? How about Michael K. Williams inhabiting the modern day Robin Hood, Omar Little. From the moment he entered the story a few episodes into the first season, everything moved up a few notches. Even when he was just the neighborhood stick-up man who had a penchant for whistling, Omar was the man. But then when he started to give these speeches breaking down the game, he delivered the defining lines in the entire run of The Wire. Do I go with McNulty next or Stringer or maybe Marlo or what about Bunk or it could be Lester or my man Bodie or freaking Avon or I could just keep going but I want to end on Snoop. I love Snoop. She made every scene she was in memorable; the power drill purchase was perfect. And her chirp should be incorporated in all forms of entertainment. The magic of The Wire is that a character like Snoop who was introduced in such a small role and was usually either being a thug or saying something goofy may have had the most moving death in the show’s run. Her final conversation with Michael is still tough to watch years later. The characterization on The Wire was note perfect from the beginning to the end.

I do hope that everyone who enjoys television at some point in their lives take the time to watch the entirety of The Wire. There have been many great shows but The Wire was on a different level. I would not change a single second that ever aired. No matter who was killed or where the plot went, I was along for the ride and am thankful to have been there from the beginning.

Honorable Mention


Best cast on a still active show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Was bifurcated by Y2K making it impossible to rank in the top 10 for this decade.


Is one of my favorite shows today by default. Has been slipping ever since the first season.


Oh how I wish I could judge it by the first season and a half. Sadly, there were five seasons.


Boo Fox Boo! You broke my heart once again.

And let's end this with some quick and dirty lists:

Best Cast

  1. The Wire
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. Deadwood
  4. Damages
  5. Lost

Best Actor

  1. Hugh Laurie
  2. Michael Chiklis
  3. Ian McShane
  4. Kiefer Sutherland
  5. James Gandolfini
Best Actress
  1. Kristin Bell
  2. Glenn Close
  3. Katee Sackhoff
  4. Mary Louise Parker
  5. Mary McDonnell

Friday, December 18, 2009

Red Cliff

I am completely aware of my film soft spot and honestly do not care if it leads to any sort of bias. I have been anticipating Red Cliff for years now. While it does not actually move to the top of the list, this falls right behind some of my favorite films of all-time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and The House of Flying Daggers.

There was a time where Red Cliff put together the trifecta of my favorite Hong Kong director, John Woo, Hong Kong actor, Chow Yun-Fat, and favorite Hong Kong genre, Chinese history (or more specifically everyone knows martial arts and everything is solved by these skills). Sadly Chow dropped out before filming began, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad and my second favorite HK actor, Tony Leung, replaced him. To say I had high expectations would be putting it mildly. Then mix in the fact that the 2 part original films were cut to pieces to fit into 1 film for an American release, well I had to see this as soon as possible and have been scanning theaters for months hoping to find a screen-time. It was definitely worth the wait and effort.

Now I wouldn’t call this John Woo’s first good movie since his last Hong Kong movie, but depending on your feelings towards Face/Off it is his first great movie since Hard Boiled. Its not even him going back to his guns and gangsters genre, where all his most famous films Hard Boiled, The Killer, A Better Tomorrow I and II reside. Like I wrote earlier, instead of going back to what he was known for, Woo went back to China to make a film similar to what Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou have done over the last decade. This almost makes his 17 years in America not seem like a waste of time. Almost.

Nearly every single character is a familiar face in Red Cliff. But Tony Leung is not only one of the leads, but someone that I always look forward to his performance. I have mixed feelings because it would be nice to see him in English language movies but at the same time he is always in the great films coming out of Hong Kong. He is the main hero, the classic skilled martial artist who strives for peace, along with Takeshi Kaneshiro as this awesome military strategist who never actually fought. He just made decisions for the generals and watched the bloodshed while fanning himself. I WANT THAT JOB! I could keep going through the cast but trust me when I said I loved every body in Red Cliff.

After seeing the American version of Red Cliff, I am fiending to get my hands on the original Hong Kong version. The fact that there is over an hour of footage that I haven't seen is killing me. Red Cliff was a fantastic import that confirms why I bust my ass to see these films in a theater.

9 out of 10 (The originals may bump this to 10 out of 10)


Is it legal to have an actor use meth in order to prepare for a role? I only ask because I’m not entirely sure how else to explain the how Tobey Maguire got to the way he looks like in the final act of Brothers. For that alone I would recommend this film, but there is still the strong story and performances by Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal to back up my recommendation.

I wouldn’t call the trailers and commercials for Brothers misleading, but they definitely glossed over the fact that nearly half of the screen time was taken up by Tobey’s time in Afghanistan. It was a strong plot point because it all hinged on what he was willing to do to get back to his family, but I wasn’t expecting a prisoner of war storyline. On top of that, the Portman/Gyllenhaal relastionship was also different than expected. I don’t really understand how these things can happen if the answer is not deliberate misleading of the audience. The story that was actually was still strong even if it does not match the trailer. The only thing that really disappointed me was the climax of the film. Everything was building to a truly dark ending but instead they pulled back at the last minute and it felt flat.

Brothers was a phenomenally well acted film. Natalie Portman may be one of my favorite actresses but she was phenomenal here and that is not my bias speaking. She moves seamlessly from crushed, to rebuilding, to terrified throughout the film. There was chemistry between both Portman/Gyllenhaal and Portman/Maguire. I wouldn't say Gyllenhaal and Maguire were playing completely against type but ex-con Gyllenhaal and mentally unstable Maguire felt new. They both pulled it off which lead to some fantastic scenes near the end of the film. Still wish it ended differently.

There are movies that are built entirely on performances and Brothers casted A-listers and left it up to them. The 3 stars all delivered top shelf work which makes the whole movie worth seeing.

8 out of 10

The Blind Side

So, Sandra Bullock speaking in a hilarious southern accent is now enough to deserve award-level praise. While I definitely enjoyed The Blind Side, let’s not descend into crazy talk. In the end, this was just a slightly better version of the standard Disney sports movie.

Looking back on The Blind Side the plot seemed to happen around the main character. Quinton Aaron would stand around being ginormous and all the rest of the cast would bounce off him and move the story along. I guess this is why Bullock is getting all the praise. I thought Aaron did good work as silent and in over his head. Hopefully there will be work available for a 6’ 10’’ 300 pound actor. As for Bullock, this may be her best work but I’m not sure that was a tough list to crack. And that accent was hilarious but once again that could just be my general enjoyment of the southern twang. The best work of the entire cast was done by Jae Head as the little brother; he improved every scene he popped up in. Thumbs up for casting 2 Deadwood vets, Kim Dickens and Ray McKinnon, I will always approve of that.

The true story was amazing. I will not deny the craziness of this gigantic uneducated black kid randomly moving in with a rich white family and going on to the NFL. Yet the movie still felt like the usual uplifting Disney sports drama. Thankfully, the football action was not important to the story so we didn’t have to deal with the team coming together, breaking apart, and coming back together again right before the championship. The Blind Side avoided that but still but the whole plot in jeopardy just so the family can get back together and have an emotional ending.

This was a perfectly acceptable sports drama. The Blind Side had a one in a million story to draw from and didn't screw it up for the big screen. Is that praise?

7 out of 10

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ninja Assassin

Seeing the Ninja Assassin trailer in front of nearly every movie over the last 6 months was an easy way to build up some unattainable expectations. Then again its ninjas with lots of blood everywhere so what was I really expecting? It would have been very hard for me to despise Ninja Assassin based completely on the sheer amount of action it contained. Multiple fighting scenes are a quick way to my heart.

I’m starting to wonder if I will live to see the day where a Hollywood production will do justice to kung fu that Hong Kong cinema has excelled at for decades upon decades. Instead of highlighting the actual fight itself, Ninja Assassin falls back on darkness, loud effects, and quick editing. So instead of being awed by the skills being displayed in the scene, it is more about making me jump at the cool moments. This could have been so much more yet I still complain about this with every failed Hollywood attempt. I think the problem could be me.

The ninja in question is portrayed by Rain who definitely threw himself into the role. There is nothing like filming multiple scenes with your shirt off to make you work out like a madman. He also looked at home whenever he was in action. Hopefully he gets a chance in a more classical kung fu production.

It would be nice if I could point out this great scene from Ninja Assassin, but it all runs together. There wasn't that one fight that needs to watched over and over again. This is my main fault; although the movie was fun it just wasn't memorable at all.

6 out of 10

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Some movies are just too goofy for their own good. The Men Who Stare at Goats took a ridiculous idea and went absolutely nowhere with it yet. Still casting can clean up many mistakes and a wacked out George Clooney was well worth the price of admission.

I sure hope the United States military has been trying to harness the awesome power of the mind, because I want to live to see the day where Charles Xavier walks or wheels among us. But outside of the idea that the government used hippies to train telepathy to soldiers, I don't know the point of the movie. Clooney was seeking out something and confronted Spacey but at the end why did any of this happened?

It is always nice to see crazy comedic George Clooney. There was a beautiful seriousness to his insanity here. He believed every thing he was saying and doing. His performance was enhanced by Ewan McGregor's straight man. The 2 of them had that easy chemistry that made everything Clooney was doing seem more insane. Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey filled out the main cast but they were more stereotypical than Clooney and McGregor. Bridges was the hippie and Spacey was the villain. They were fine but this was Clooney's movie.

The Men Who Stare at Goats may have been better if it had a tighter plot but in the end it was money well spent. This may not go down as one of George Clooney greatest roles but he still carried this movie from passable to a damn good time.

8 out of 10


2012 is the same movie Roland Emmerich has been making for over a decade now. The only changes are the landmarks that are destroyed this time around. Of course humanity overcomes their weaknesses and we are a better people at the end, how else does he end his disaster movies?

I’m trying to figure out if there was anything different between 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, or Independence Day. I got nothing. Even the freaking dog survives by ridiculous means just like ID4. There is nothing new to talk about here. The technology is better today so shit blowing up looks real purty. But much of the CGI is wasted on extra ridiculous scenes, like driving and flying through the earthquake, that never felt real even if GNP's of small nations were being spent on the effects.

There were a wide variety of fun names cashing a check here. I'm happy for Chiwetel Ejiofor even if he is not stretching many of his acting muscles. And John Cusack is always the everyman so he could have rolled out of bed and fell into this role. Speaking of Cusack, the storyline of his family was my biggest annoyance with the story. Right from the beginning you knew who was going to live and who was going to die and the fact that there is a happy ending is down right offensive. The guy's corpse isn't even cold yet!

I have no problem with Roland Emmerich blowing shit up every 5 years, but it would be nice if there was a new plot driving the destruction. 2012 is completely unnecessary and does not have enough memorable visuals to compensate for the story.

5 out of 10

Where the Wild Things Are

Although Where the Wild Things Are is a few grades above my reading level, I was able to enjoy the movie. This seemed a helluvalot darker than what I remember but not being 5 years old (physically I can’t promise mentally) it was an improvement over the source material.

The selling point for Where the Wild Things Are was Spike Jonze translation to film. The world that the wild things inhabit feels like something that a child would imagine. There is a dreamlike quality to everything, the forest, the desert, the fort; everything is just a bit off. That is not even taking into account the look of the monsters. The mixture of guys in suits and CGI delivered monsters that worked on screen. This was key since there was only 1 actor through the majority of the movie and if the monsters seemed fake the whole thing would have fallen apart.

How long did they look until they found an actor with the name Max to play the character Max? There can't be that many kids named Max running around Hollywood nowadays. He did as well as can be expected when a first time child actor is carrying the entire film. Although there were a bunch of monsters the one voice that came through the clearest was James Gandolfini. Maybe one day I will hear that voice and not picture Tony Soprano but that day is not here. The whole time he was speaking I was begging for the kid to run away because he was in danger. Then there was the scene were Carol is talking in his sleep and it was terrifying because Tony Soprano would do those things he was mumbling in the dark.

Where the Wild Things Are may not be the best movie of the year but it definitely felt original. Spike Jonze may not work often but when he sits down to work he delivers something new every time.

8 out of 10