No joke.

I realize I'm opening up a door that has the words "potentially tremendous disappointment" written on it, but Warner Bros. continues to raise my expectations for The Dark Knight, the followup to Batman Begins. They laid a fantastic foundation for the franchise with the first film, updated Batman's costume to make him much more mobile, and now they've unleashed a torrent of terrific teasers. From the election-appropriate introduction of Harvey Dent to a crazy quilt of joker jests, their marketing department is killing it.

The latest salvo is today's release of the teaser poster, and no joke – it's real and it's spectacular. Combining the more mature take on the material (i.e. the Joker is a deranged lunatic, not a merry prankster) with iconic imagery that fuses hero and villain, it's a breathtaking piece of dark design. If the movie's half as good as the poster (unlike, say, The Phantom Menace) we're in for some serious smiles next summer.



I was tempted to stop the review right there, Spinal Tap-style, but a few more words must be said. Those words are: do not, under any circumstances, see Hitman.

Timothy Olyphant, good in pretty much everything else he's ever been in, is not in this. He plays the titular Hitman, a killer with neither a name nor conscience - just a tattoo on the back of his bald head indicating the number an order of monks that trains assassins branded him with. I'm basically skipping over the fact that there is, apparently, an order of monks that trains assassins because the movie does, too. I guess we're supposed to have memorized the videogames the movie's based on for it to make any sense. Or at least to explain why Olyphant shambles like an improperly assembled mannequin thru most of the flick.

The plot feels hastily tossed together by a member of the target audience, which I presume are frustrated fifteen year olds. Hitman kills some guys. Turns out one of the guys is a double of another guy. Other Hitmen try to kill Hitman but he talks them into dying with dignity, so they don't shoot him - instead opting to get sworded to death. Some chick wants to have sex with Hitman but he doesn't, because he's so cool. Hitman kills some more guys. Hitman kills a lot more guys. One guy traps Hitman in a chair, but a helicopter flies by and shoots everything up. Hitman escapes, goes back to nail that chick, and stands on a building to look cool. With a gun. 'Cause he's Hitman.

I mean Shitman. Pass.


Prison Broken

Ok. Prison Break always required a healthy suspension of disbelief. But even as an ode to coincidence, it had its pleasures. The gee-whiz neatery of the original escape. The pleasant surprise that was the on-the-run fun of Season 2. And, for tha ladeez, the fact that Wentworth Miller would have to frequently take off his shirt to inspect his tattoos. But as the curtain fell on the strike-shortened "fall finale," it's time to come to grips with this... Prison Break makes no sense.

The third season had a potentially nice twist - Michael Scofield, the original prison breaker, found himself behind bars and his recently-freed brother Linc, the original prison breakee (?) had to get him out. Isn't it ironic... don't'cha think? However, the showrunners didn't stop at some fun hunter-has-become-the-hunted deliciousness, they opted to up the ante by locking Scofield inside "SONA."

Which is a Panamanian prison.
Where the police have sent the worst criminals imaginable.
Then backed off to a safe perimeter.
And let the inmates run the asylum.
While they flew unicorns down a trail of rainbows.

Well, the last bit hasn't happened yet, but my DVR cut off the scenes from the next episodes, so who knows - it wouldn't be out of character for this show that apparently takes place in some grungy South American version of fantasyland. In addition to the completely nonsensical locale, Scofield is saddled with a mission that involves busting out not only himself, but another criminal named Whistler, wanted by "The Company."

The conspiracy elements of the show have always been the weakest, but they were allowable amidst the Shawshankian hijinks inside the walls of Fox River. But now, where Scofield might as well change his name to MacGyver and establish a rate card for breaking out of increasingly ludicrous prisons, trying to follow the exploits of Whistler, who needs to be broken out of SONA for... some reason, by... some people, at... some specific time is an exercise in frustration.

SPOILER ALERT for people who are still watching: to close the fall season, The Company, much like the rest of us, got tired of waiting for the kids to break out of SONA and stormed it with helicopters. It's unclear why they didn't do this, say, before Scofield showed up. It didn't work, Scofield got blamed for it, and as his punishment... got freed from the prison. It's unclear why they didn't, say, shoot him like every single other person who tried to escape. One assumes he'll be put in an even worse prison - perhaps on the moon. Or Atlantis. Or in The Running Man.

Or perhaps he'll be caught by the most powerful force of all - the Writer's Strike.


Happy Hump Day

Looking at this cascade of logos, I'm reminded of an Oreo. An Oreo of TV shows consumed by someone who can't take the creamy filling. The top and bottom of this show sandwich are surprisingly tasty, while the middle is just a bit too much. So, in proper eating order...

Dirty Sexy Money: Wow, this show sounded like a disaster. A revival of the Dallas/Dynasty style prime time soap, highlighted by Donald Sutherland wearing a silver version of Tom Hanks' hair from The DaVinci Code. But it's turned out to be a fantastically fun slice of cheese that's worth a watch. Peter Krause, freed from the doldrums of being Six Feet Under, serves as a terrifically wry guide thru a billion dollar family that's divorced from reality. Try it.

Pushing Daisies: Speaking of six feet under, that's where many of the costars of this show reside. The conceit is that a man who makes pies can bring people back to life with a touch... but only for a minute, as then he has to send them back to the grave. This is ostensibly to help a private eye solve mysteries, but in truth it exists to shove more whimsy down your throat than if you choked down a sandwich made of Willy Wonka, the Coen brothers oeuvre, and everything Wes Anderson's ever made... with some Edward Scissorhands sauce on top. Rather than being a little quirky and charming, it's QUIRKY!!! and CHARMING!!! So much so that I found myself wishing that the Piemaker would just touch himself and be done with it. It's cute and all, but altogether too cute. Back to the grave, Daises.

Gossip Girl: And, surprisingly, back from the grave is Gossip Girl. The pilot left me really flat, but the show's grown on me over time. It's not high art, but it fills The O.C. hole rather well (not as dirty as it sounds). Will Gossip Girl's narration still occasionally defies the laws of reality (such as when she "spots S & B" alone and undiscovered, but the everpresent shots of people checking their Sidekicks have gone the way of, well, The O.C. And the main characters seem to have re-established some tenuous grip on reality, despite being set in another Upper West Side world of privilege. Not essential viewing, but part of a nice dirty sexy combo for Hump Day. Enjoy.


Practice Makes Pointless

I don't know why this show exists. I mean, I know why – same reason Law & Order spawned Criminal Intent & SVU and why there are apparently CSIs in every county in the country. Spinoffs are nothing new, and not intrinsically bad, but there's a fine line between Frasier and Joey. That fine line representing the red one on your wrists after watching Joey.

But aside from the novel idea that two shows about hot doctors with cutesy names and sexy problems will make more money than one... there's no legit reason for Addison to pack up and move to LA. Her search for "change" and "something different" and "a baby" were shoehorned into an awkward backdoor pilot, and now that she's out on her own, things haven't improved.

Well, that's not quite true. Fortunately, they scrapped an element that was completely unwatchable – a David E. Kelley-style talking elevator, but otherwise the transition from Seattle Grace to Oceanside Wellness Center has been rough. Addison's heretofore unknown best friend was recast, downgrading Alias' Evil Francie to someone who looks sorta similar but seems much angrier. The hot surfer boy receptionist, oddly cast with the geeky guy formerly known as Piz from Veronica Mars, hasn't changed actors, but the character has been completely rewritten to be an apprentice midwife who's smitten with Angry Black Woman. This provides lots of comedic opportunities to reinforce the fact that the field of midwifery is pronounced mid-whiff-ery. As in the whiff made when one swings and misses. Kind of like this show.

Tim Daly plays an alternative medicine specialist named Peter whose nickname is billed as... "Pete." Taye Diggs plays Sexy Black Man who used to be married to Angry Black Woman. People who've portrayed great conflicted characters on other shows (Amy Brenneman way back on NYPD Blue, Paul Edelstein on Prison Break) are saddled with such jarring contradictions that they feel like caricatures instead – she's a psychiatrist who can't stop stalking a former lover, he's a pediatrician who is, apparently, a sexual deviant. Which is great for someone who works with, you know, kids.

The whole enterprise is so strained and uninspired, I feel like Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew or Scott Bakula should show up at any minute. It's a shame, too – Addison, formerly a sexy sassy foil for the winsome interns of Grey's, has been reduced to someone who dances naked around her beach house because "Whoo! California! Whoo! Freedom!" And producers like Shonda Rhimes and Marti Noxon, formerly of Grey's and Buffy the Vampire Slayer respectively, have been reduced to overseeing ripped-from-the-headlines type swill like babies switched at birth and a widow craving her dead husband's sperm.

The Chief at Seattle Grace said he'd leave Addison's job open as long as he could – here's hoping it's at least as long as it takes for the novelty ratings this show is getting to wane, because Private Practice... should've stayed that way.


Bion-eh-c Woman

I've used the "eh" joke before, but then again, they've made this show before, so I figure... whatever. Which is, in fact, sort of the vibe surrounding this remake - whatever.

Now, I'm no slave to the original show - from hazy childhood memories, the whole Bionic Whoever seemed like standard 70s sci-fi schlock. Battlestar Galactica paved the way for improving on the original, but Bionic is stuck in the mud. It's not that we're treading on hallowed ground, it's that we're following in well-trod footsteps, be they bionic or not. NBC threw a lot of money at this update, but not much in the way of innovation or inspiration.

I won't spent much time on the characters or plot, as clearly neither did the creators. Suffice to say that in the pilot, the Woman becomes Bionic. By the second ep, Dr. Burke has shown up and they battle some improbable virus. By the third ep, I've lost interest. Despite all the gee-whiz high tech-ery, theres not much to care about here.

You've seen the training sequences before, you've seen the fight scenes before, you've seen the cast before. The one new element is Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers, but she's a miscast at best. A natural Brit, Ryan comes across as halting and hesitant in the role. The overall feel is squirmishly awkward, which isn't what a show built around the ultimate cyberwarrior of the future needs. Alias, a clear model for this series, had its issues, but buying Jennifer Garner as a supersmooth operator/asskicker wasn't one of them.

Reminiscent of a young Ione Skye, this Bionic Woman is sort of like watching the "she gave me a pen" scene from Say Anything... just with guns and hacky wirework where people leap across huge chasms with their legs flailing and backs arched as if they were hanging from, you know, wires. While the harness may keep the characters from falling flat, the show still does. Pass.


Excuse the Pun, But...

...Moonlight sucks. I know – terrible, obvious joke, but it's no more terrible or obvious than anything in this show. In fact, the first line of the show is "being a vampire sucks." Hell yeah it does, particularly when the vampire's name is... Mick St. John. Seriously? Mick St. John? Sounds like a Morning Zoo DJ.

Anyway, this show both revels in stock characters and cliches (we need another reporter-who'll-do-anything-for-a-story like we need another hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold) and ignores some classics of the genres (these vampires can, in fact, go outside - it just makes their head hurt). Oh, and it's horribly written, cheaply shot, and poorly acted.

Mick St. John's bio says he likes "riding motorcycles, rock climbing, music and playing his guitar." Good to know, as he should be free to enjoy those pursuits soon.


Don't Fear the Reaper, Chuck

If you took recent hits Heroes and Alias, mashed them together and sprinkled some Supernatural sauce on top, you'd get the one-two punch of Reaper and Chuck. On The CW and NBC, respectively, they're both iterations on the "geeks save the world" theme. While it's not a surprise that different networks execute shows along a similar theme (see Singing Bee vs. Don't Forget the Lyrics), it's a shocker that they're both killer.

Reaper's about a slacker who works at a big box supply store who finds out that his parents sold his soul to the devil and is forced to work for him as a bounty hunter. Chuck's about a slacker who works at a big box supply store who finds out that his friend emailed him all the government's secrets and is forced to work for them as a spy. They share wacky best friends, hot potential love interests and terrifically smart scripts. They also benefited from big-time directors at the helm - Kevin Smith knocked out the Reaper pilot while McG made Chuck better than either of the Charlie's Angels.

Also, Chuck's a great companion piece to Heroes and Reaper matches well with... America's Next Top Model? Ok, well, the similarities had to end somewhere. Chuck drew bigger ratings, too, so if Reaper flounders, here's hoping it shifts to Thursday, where it'd slot in nicely with Smallville and Supernatural.

Regardless, they're both absolutely worth a watch - tune in and geek out.


Not worth a shot

I barely made it thru the pre-credits sequence before abandoning this disaster. An over-edited introduction sequence presenting a bunch of wacky rich guys and their k-razy sex problems. Set to a jaunty salsa beat we find out that: one CEO is sleeping with his ex-wife! One CEO has to track down missing shrimp or he won't get to sleep with his wife! One CEO's company mixed up children's vitamins and Viagra!

One viewer just tuned out. Literally the only reason to DVR this show is that Grey's often runs long.


Strikes Two and Three

Bad week for pilots. First, K-Ville turned out to be "Cop Show... with Gumbo!" and now Kid Nation and Gossip Girl underwhelm as well.

Child labor laws! Seedy reality TV waivers! Legal loopholes! With all the controversy swirling around this show, I buckled myself in for a thrill ride down the delicious depths of network exec depravity. What I got was marginally more compelling than JD Roth's "kid Survivor" program, just set in a fakey Olde West ghost town. Turns out the only shocking thing is how boring Kid Nation is.

There are occasional "eww" moments, like when the kids have to haul carts full of "frontier supplies" and we watch one writhe in the pain of a charley horse. There are occasional "aww" moments, like when the youngest kid decides to leave, quivering out the words "I'm only 8. I'm a third-grader. I think I'm too young to be doing this." But mostly there are... no moments. Just a bunch of kids participating in poorly-themed competitions for a gold star and a phone call home. While I'm not one who's been sounding the drums against this show from the start, it does turn out to be a little icky to subject children to reality show scrutiny. When the ten-year old beauty queen says she wants to "make this a better world by bringing world peace to Africa with all the orphans" and that "the No. 1 place that needs world peace," it's laughable, but it's that need-to-take-a-shower-after kind of comedy because, you know, she's ten. Slotting the punkass 14-15 year olds in as the show's "villains" feels similarly unseemly. Overall, this societal experiment is about as effective as Peter Brady's volcano.

Sex! Power! Money! Teenagers! You'd think it'd be a tasty mix, but unfortunately this cocktail doesn't go down anywhere near as easy as the martinis that main character Serena swills in the opener. It's got a good pedigree, too - developed by the The O.C.'s Josh Schwartz from a successful book series starring a lead from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell. And it all adds up to... nothing.

It's not unwatchable, but the pilot provides no compelling reason to tune in. It's well-shot, so the locations look almost as pretty as the cast, but it's got no teeth. A bitchy drama set among the privileged prep school set is fine, but it'd be nice if you had someone to, you know, root for. Plus the titular hook (hee hee... titular) is way overplayed. The conceit of a blog that everyone reads that tracks everyone in it prolly plays pretty well on the page, but on screen it paves the way for silly scenes where the camera tracks around a bar as everyone reads their Sidekicks and says things like "what's Gossip Girl saying?" or "did you read Gossip Girl?" or "OMG Gossip Girl!" while the narrator says things like "seen at the bar - S and B reading their Sidekicks like they were the latest Harry Potter - who knows what it's about? Well, me... Gossip Girl!" Yeah, yeah, it's the myspace/facebook generation... I get it already. What I don't get is why I should care.


The Road to K-Ville...

...is paved with good intentions. Good actors (Anthony Anderson out of his mugging mode and Cole Hauser, who actually managed to be pretty good in 2 Fast 2 Furious) with a good cause (shed light on the post-storm struggle in New Orleans... and pump money into the local economy). Previews looked good. Boy, I wanted to like this show.

Boy, I didn't.

It's not a disaster, just a well-assembled failure. Shot entirely on location, it looks beautiful. But written entirely in cliches, it sounds ordinary. Aside from the setting, you've seen this story a thousand times. It's Cajun Lethal Weapon, complete with mixed-race buddy cops... who are willing to do anything to get get the job done!!! Detailing the plot of the pilot is pointless, because if you've ever seen a cop show, add a po-boy sandwich and a shot of bourbon and you've seen this one.

So does it pass the Pilot Hurdle? Nope. The show's not entirely hopeless, I suppose, but it doesn't show enough promise to wait to see if it finds its sea legs. I wish K-Ville well, but it's one and done.



The less said about this show, the better, as it was pretty uninspired start to finish. The few things worth mentioning?
  • The fact that, to a man, everyone seemed annoyed at having to present and accept awards in the round
  • The fact that the show's graphics were eerily reminiscent of I, Robot (which, for conspiracy nuts, was also a Fox property)
  • The fact that Emmy voters inexplicably continue to love Boston Legal
  • The fact that Fox censored Sally Field speaking out against the war, treading into a dangerous "thought it was a free country" grey area in the name of appeasing the FCC
Highlight of the show was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert "giving" Steve Carell the absent Ricky Gervais' award. Everything else... not so much.

I'd say wake me for The Grammys, but even I don't watch those.


And the Mashy goes to...

Fresh from their lowest ratings ever, MTV reinvented the Video Music Awards for the mashup/myspace generation. They took a traditional awards show and shoehorned it into The Palms in Vegas. They took several suite parties and crammed them on top of a traditional awards show. They took a bunch of stars and dropped them into several suite parties. And so on.

With all the revision in the air, what were the results? As always, eh. Some interesting performances interspersed with even more nonsensical awards. The mashup vibe continued thru the show (Rihanna with Chris Brown, Rihanna with Fall Out Boy, Rihanna with pretty much every award) along with some random drama in the form of Kid Rock trying to mash Tommy Lee's face up.

Speaking of random, the surprise special guests were neither. The much-ballyhooed Britney Spears "shocker" was that she seems to have pretty much gotten herself back into shape and pretty much lost any of the musical appeal that made her a star. The super-secret, bigger-than-big show closer was... wait for it... a collaboration between Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and... Timbaland (who's previously collaborated with... Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado).

Yawn. Wake me for the even less relevant MTV Movie Awards.


Dances with Vikings

Ok, when I saw the poster for Pathfinder, I assumed it was a low-rent Lord of the Rings/D&D style ripoff. Someone cashing in on the fantasy trend. And given that there was basically no marketing (I never saw a trailer), I also assumed it sucked.

Oh, how wrong (and right) I was.

Pathfinder is, in fact, a "retelling" of the "legend" of how 600 years before Columbus, the Vikings showed up, raped and pillaged, and then were driven off by some mysterious force. The mysterious force, apparently, being a lone Viking child left behind on a scouting expedition who was raised by wolves. Well, Native Americans, really, but it doesn't make much of a difference.

Flash-forward to when Lil' Viking has adopted the ways of the Native Americans and grown up into proud warrior - Stands With a Sword, if you will. His original Viking family shows up and all hell breaks loose. Fortunately, Lil' Viking was off picking flowers or some such thing, so returns just in time to see everyone butchered so he can exact revenge like it's going out of style. Or maybe he created the style, since it happened long ago, I dunno.

Anyway, he chops off a lot of heads, hooks up with the hot Native American to Poke some Hontas, and chops off some more heads. The film's digitally graded to be forty shades of blue, but it's even more degrees of blah. I'd say pass and find some other path - Netflix Last of the Mohicans instead.


Bourne Again. And Again... And Again.

Friends and I staged The Ultimate Bourne-athon over the weekend. Watched Identity and Supremacy back-to-back on DVD then out to the theater for Ultimatum. Turns out re-watching them was well worth it , as I didn't remember the first two flicks as well as I thought (ha!), and the third not only wraps up the trilogy, but rather ingeniously wraps into the second.

Put simply, these movies redefined the spy genre for this generation – razor-tight action set against a real-world backdrop, with a somewhat unlikely hero at the center. The recent reboot of the Bond franchise, Casino Royale, is a direct descendant. The movies have, by and large, received raves, so rather than just add my cheers to the chorus, let me highlight two particularly impressive traits:

Dueling Directors: Not only did the franchise transition from Doug Liman to Paul Greengrass, but each director battled with the studios at every step. Identity was heavily re-shot, and relations between Liman and Universal became so acrimonious that he wasn't asked back. Greengrass started (and mostly finished) shooting Ultimatum without a script, which cause much hand-wringing among the producers. Yet the final products are brilliant; the outputs of true visionaries.

Actual Action: I don't think there's a drop of CGI tomfoolery in these films. The incredible car chases aren't the result of some messy Matrix-y mixup; it's clearly guys driving cars into other cars. And walls. And other guys. The fight scenes aren't a series laboriously choreographed mano a mano martial arts masturbation sessions; they're brutal displays of what it'd be like to get your ass seriously kicked by a guy that's way way WAY better than you are. Spectacular stuntwork all the way thru.

So if you haven't seen Ultimatum, catch it while it's on the big screen. If you haven't even met Jason Bourne yet, it's high time you got acquainted.


While I Do Think She Can Dance...

...Sabra was the wrong call last night. I'd've gone with Danny or Lacey by a mile. Neil was an afterthought, and while Sabra's a killer dancer, nothing she did was particularly memorable. Aside from the fact that she wasn't a great soloist, Lacey nailed everything from every genre. And all the judges said Danny was, put simply, the best dancer ever to grace that stage. Sigh. Once again, America lets us down.

BTW, if you didn't watch So You Think You Can Dance this year, do so next year. On every level, it's worlds better than Idol.


Had a Threesome...

...with these lovely ladies as I saw a trilogy of romantic comedies lately: Knocked Up, The Holiday and Music & Lyrics. None are particularly recent – I figure if you wanted to see these, you've seen them. Altho, SPOILER ALERT if you haven't. So rather than a traditional review, I present three Rules of Romantic Comedies derived from these movies:

Just Do It, Already
Unless you're pulling some sort of Crying Game-level surprise on us, it's a good bet that Harry and Sally are gonna end up together at the end of the picture. Just like Knocked Up's Ben and Alison, The Holiday's Amanda and Graham and Music & Lyrics' Alex and Sophie. Just like Julia Roberts & Anyone or Hugh Grant and Everyone Else. So don't take two hours and twenty minutes to do it! Knocked Up has lots of laughs, but falls prey to the same problem that sunk Wedding Crashers after an hour and a half or so – it runs out of funny and takes forever to... um... climax.

Don't Just Meet Cute
Encounter some actual, you know, obstacles along the way toward the altar. The hang-ups in The Holiday are minor - at best. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, fresh from getting out of bad relationships, switch houses and meet great guys. Winslet gets over the fact that she's a dishrag and Diaz conquers her inability to cry. Boo hoo. They all meet up for a New Year's Eve party, kiss, and the credits roll. That's a movie?

Stop Singing (Unless You're Supposed to Suck)
Our hero/heroine belting out a big number is often intended to be a high point in these movies. Not so much. It's generally designed to show how footloose and fancy free our characters feel while they're in love, but it mostly points out that actors can't sing (i.e. Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, Kevin Bacon, Russell Crowe, Juliette Lewis, Don Johnson...) Case in point: the faux 80s numbers in Music & Lyrics that open the show? Side-splitting. The heartfelt ballad that inexplicably closes it? Eye-rolling. Go the safe route – don't say anything.


Rock On, Pop•Tarts!

My man Frank may have posted weekly recaps of American Idol, but I'm throwing down the gauntlet to declare myself the bigger geek, I mean fan... because last night I ventured back to the muddy sounds of the Allstate Arena, but instead of power-popping myself to death, I had tickets to the American Idols Live! Tour... presented (with wild abandon) by Pop•Tarts.

Disclosure: I worked on a promotion with Idol, so this was a company outing with free tickets.
Full Disclosure: I secretly kinda just wanted to go.

It's hard to know where to go with a review like this. If you hate Idol and all it stands for, the sight of the 10 "best" singers in America covering a random smattering of hits isn't going to change your mind. If you're a fan (and a 9-year old girl), tho, it's everything you could hope for and more.

Embarrassingly Full Disclosure: The last time I attended a teeny-bopper show, I thought that maybe half the audience was half my age. This time, I'd consider myself lucky if half the audience had double-digits in their age. Sigh.

The tour is basically a series of greatest hits performances from the previous season: Phil sang Blaze of Glory looking like an extra from The Matrix, Melinda sang You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman looking like she had her neck surgically removed, and LaKisha sang I Will Always Love You looking like Whitney Houston ate Dolly Parton.

The crowd ate it up, altho it's debatable whether the actual performances or text-messaging shout outs like "screem if u luv Blakeee like me do!" posted on the jumbotrons got more response.

Other highlights and lowlights (your call as to which is which):
In truth, Blake's prolly the breakout star. It'll be interesting to see whether Jordin Sparks joins the Kelly Clarksons and Carrie Underwoods of the world, or is reduced to the Fantasia Barrino/Rueben Studdard/Taylor Hicks level, but say what you want about Blake Lewis... that sumbitch can beatbox.

So - a good time was had by all, particularly if you loved Pop•Tarts and assorted Kellogg's products, as the Idols closed the show wearing retro cereal shirts and made sure to thank their corporate sponsor (Pop•Tarts, if you hadn't been paying attention) as well as their friends in Chicago as they walked off the stage.

Oh, and the Season Seven auditions are going on now. We'll catch up with Idol in January – for now, Stewart out!


Five Songs to Die By

I've been tagged by Frank for my fifteen funeral songs. As I'm less of a music guy, I'm going to pretend I misread and go with five. Enjoy (as I wouldn't, being – you know – dead and all ;) So. Without further ado, here's what you can play as I'm dirtsurfin' I haven't put the playlist in order... that'll be your job, livers!

I'd open by Welcoming my funereal guests to my personal Black Parade, thanks to my favorite death-poppers, My Chemical Romance.

Then bring things down a bit with Knockin' On Heaven's Door... the Guns 'n Roses version.

Get back on the power-pop track, but lightly, with I Miss You by blink-182.

Blow the doors off with another big inspirational kicker from MCR, Famous Last Words.

And leave 'em without a dry eye in the house (I hope) with Happy Ending from Mika (the first part, not the random hidden song after several interminable minutes of silence – there's a trend that needs to end).

Anyway, as you can see – while rock & roll will never die, I, apparently, cannot say the same. Cheers.


Mmmmm... ovie

Had a Very Simpsons Weekend: saw the movie and went to the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart on the south side of Chicago. Both were fun, altho neither were the Best. Whatever. Ever.

Movie: Basically an oversized episode, but sort of like the show – still funnier than most of the "regular" movie comedies. Liked that they focused on The Simpsons and told more of a personal story than an overstuffed cameo-athon. I haven't watched the show with any regularity for years, and seeing the movie made me want to tune in again. Which, I suppose, makes the Fox executives very happy. D'oh!

Kwik-e-Mart: They were out of Krusty-Os and Buzz Cola, but I did get a chance to have a Squishee amd eat an "official" Simpsons donut which, shockingly, tasted like... a frosted donut with sprinkles. Still, tho – a really fun (and pretty ballsy) promotion. It's less of a total store takeover, but the signage set it apart and the plastic characters gave the store more... character than normal. Fun. Here are a couple more shots:


Guess the One-Word Review, Vol. I: Epilogue

Valerie wins, but Frank didn't exactly lose. It's kind of a return to the Pumpkins' roots, but it feels like they dug a little deep – I'd've much preferred a Siamese Dream/Mellon Collie mix than this Gish-y/Machina mashup. So I guess it "rocks," but it leaves me totally flat. I can't imagine when I'll listen to a song off this album again. The Pumpkins are better when they wear their power ballad heart on their sleeve.

Overall, tremendously disappointing.
Here's hoping the return of Rage Against the Machine fares much better.


No, no – it’s Café Steamer, not Cleveland…

Given that I’ve crossed The Mendoza Line and I’ve got a wedding to appear in and wanna buy a coolass suit, I’ve started to explore the world of high-sodium, low-calorie frozen meals. The immediate options for food where I work blow, and I’m trying to find an evening balance between regular ol’ weekday dinner and fantabulous nights out on the town.

I suppose I’d do better actually cooking healthy meals for myself, but that ain’t gonna happen. I also suppose that I’m upping my salt intake rather dramatically, but whatev – I’ll start drinking more water. The larger concern is are these even edible?

We’ll see. Given that I’m loosening the reviewer’s shackles a bit with this blog, here’s the first installment of a (potentially) recurring segment...

Dining with Mr. Freeze
Vol. I: Healthy Choice Café Steamers: Cajun Chicken and Shrimp
Who knew they could make a double-boiler of sorts using microwaveable plastic? Why, the R&D guys at Healthy Choice, silly! It is pretty novel, tho – you microwave the whole bowl and then pour the top (food) into the bottom (sauce) to eat it.

Which is not as dirty as it sounds.

Anyway, the chicken didn’t turn to rubber and the shrimp actually cooked thru, so bonus points for both. To top it off (or bottom it, I guess) the sauce featured… flavor! So overall:

Recipe Realization: Good. Sometimes these things suffer from Airplane Food Syndrome (this was when they served food), where instead of just giving you a halfway decent sandwich, they try to microwave haute cuisine at 35,000 feet. But this tasted like the entrée’s title.

Filling Rating: Solid. Ate it while catching up on a bunch of friends’ blogs and didn’t feel like immediately running to the vending machine.

So Mr. Freeze says yes. What do you say? I'm conceivably eating a fairly large handful of these a week, so lemme know if you want to hear more about the aforementioned Cafe Steamers, Lean Cuisine's Paninis and Dinnertime Selects, Smart Ones and more.

Guess the One-Word Review, Vol. I



Worst Book = Best Movie?

Maybe. For the first couple Harry Potter movies, it was enough (barely) to parade the high points of the books on the screen with sort of a “there, see? We built a Hogwarts set!” attitude. Azkaban was the turning point, where Alfonso Cuaron begin filming the movies like, you know, movies as opposed to theme park rides.

Altho, full confession – I’m totally going to the Harry Potter theme park when it opens. First in line.

Back to the recap and review. Goblet of Fire failed to live up to the bar set by Azkaban, much of that blame landing squarely on the disheveled shoulders of Michael Gambon and his horrible “homeless hippie” interpretation of Dumbledore. But good news, Muggles – Order of the Phoenix might just clear the bar altogether.

As the source, the fifth novel is prolly the weakest of the series. I say prolly assuming (desperately hoping) that the soon-to-arrive-seventh tome will send Harry off in style, unlike Revenge of the Sith, Lemony Snicket or The Sopranos. It’s where the series really started to bloat (hundreds of pages building up to the OWL exams where… they pass and everything’s fine) and is dragged down by the jarring characterization of Harry becoming a teenager. Where he spends the first third of the book being angry, stomping around, speaking in ALL CAPS to prove how angry he is, yelling at friends and acting generally, well, angry.

But the necessary exercise of trimming the fat to transition it to film has helped this story immensely. Instead of reading chapter after chapter of ANGRY HARRY, we see it in Daniel Radcliffe’s performance. Instead of drowning in detail over his obsession with Cho, we get the necessary notes that kill that relationship while sowing the seeds of another. And, thankfully, instead of diverting our attention with concern over who’s to be Quidditch Captain, we focus on the fact that, you know, the Dark Lord has returned and there’s war in the air.

Aside from a few iffy matte shots in the broom ride through London sequence, the film looks magnificent. Gone are the awkward CGI moments and flow-killing special effects sequences. Everything is shot beautifully and integrated seamlessly. Not a frame of film is wasted on unnecessary exposition, and what plot points do need to be explained are done so by zooming through dynamic newspaper headlines of the Daily Prophet – a nicely magical update to a traditional storytelling device.

If there’s one criticism to make, it’s that the end feels a little eh, but that’s a problem from the original pages. It’s a bit rushed and some of the big reveals fall slightly flat, but never fear – it’s nowhere near a letdown on the level of, say, Matrix Revolutions. Overall, it’s a well-trimmed tale told terrifically well. Enjoy.


Don't Forget Singing the Bee Lyrics!

We've seen this before. Armageddon vs. Deep Impact. Volcano vs. Dante's Peak. Antz vs. A Bug's Life. Two movies, two studios, one plot. This time, strangely, it's not dueling asteroid or eruption or insect flicks, it's two competing karaoke shows. I guess it's not shocking, given the success of stuff like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, American Idol, etc. What is surprising is that one of them doesn't suck out loud. Read on to find out which one.

The Singing Bee is on NBC, and hosted by former N'Sync-er and Dancer with the Stars, the unfortunately named Joey Fat One. The second he frantically ran-danced through the aisles, randomly picking singers from the crowd, it was as if I could hear the bow of the ship scraping against an iceberg. The show is an abject disaster, highlighted (if only briefly) by the fact that the scantily clad backup dancers are called The Honey Bees and are dressed like... honeybees:
The flow of the show is that several audience members are called up on stage where they, along with Joey Fat One, sort of pseudo-dance to the everpresent music. The house band, featuring a variety of brutal cover singers, launches into a song and the contests must complete the lyrics. The second they make a misstep, a loud buzzer sounds and Joey Fat One smiles. They keep doing this to whittle it down, and the last singer standing wins some incredibly small cash prize. It feels like a particularly bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Don't Forget the Lyrics, while unoriginal on several levels, is actually the better of the two. Altho it feels like a rushed ripoff of Singing Bee's karaoke concept with a title that's, oh, a bit too on the nose, they smartly "borrowed" Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's format. Instead of a cavalcade of hacks, we track the progress of one singer as he or she butchers several songs en route to a million dollar prize. Wayne Brady makes a great Regis, there are three similar lifelines, etc... it's basically the same show, set to music.

But honestly, it's harmless fun. Certainly not high art, not exactly appointment viewing, but worth a watch and worlds better than, well... The Singing Bee ;)