Mad Meh

I tried, I really tried. Not only to like this show, but to avoid another "meh." But if the penny loafer fits...

Anyway, I tuned in for the series premiere last year and it didn't take. As the episodes kept piling up on my DVR, I decided to abandon the Mad Men of Stirling Cooper to their drinks and smokes – until the raves also kept piling up and I figured it was worth another go. About halfway thru the first season on DVD... still not so much.

There's no soul. And perhaps I'm missing some meta metaphor buried deep within the boredom, but nothing makes me want to keep watching. The characters, particularly the lead mystery man Don Draper, are so detached and clinical that I can't find a reason to care about what happens to them. Or their relationships. Or their drinks and smokes. Once one gets over the Madison Avenue atmosphere, which I'll grant is skillfully executed, what else is there? Awkward pauses and long songs that fade to the closing credits. Pass.


Better Late Than... (Batman For)ever

Ok, here's the thing – I was out of town when The Dark Knight came out, so I saw it late. Adding my voice to the chorus of cheers for this magnificent movie isn't going to sound much different. I agree with the other three hundred million people – it's breathtaking piece of malevolent brilliance. Yes, Heath Ledger should be in the running for an Oscar and yes, it could be a legit contender for Best Picture. It's that good – not just a great superhero movie, but a superior movie overall.

That said, I do want to highlight what I found perhaps most impressive – that after a staggeringly well-executed viral campaign, the marketing team saved their biggest surprise for last...

The third act.

So often, watching a trailer is a 90 second version of a 90 minute movie – plot and all. Watching the movie feels like sitting thru a particularly labored director's cut. Not so with Dark Knight. At about the hour and forty minute mark, a major chase scene began to seem more and more climactic. Eminently happy with the movie so far, I settled in for what looked to be a bang-up ending.

Not so – The Joker's got an ace or two up his sleeve, and the last hour manages to stand up and separate itself from what's already a spectacular film. It's a gut-wrenchingly tense thrill ride... that I hadn't seen in the previews. The decision to not splash every moment on every screen across the globe was a welcome one – and must be adding to the incredible word of mouth that's helping the movie destroy Hollywood's record grosses.

Obviously the most credit must go to the filmmakers, but in this day and age, watching a marketing masterpiece is a rare treat. Well done.

Freeways & Fairways

If you've ever watched The Amazing Race and thought it'd be better if the contestants were carrying golf clubs instead of backpacks, or if you've ever watched golf and thought it'd be better if the players drove the carts into each other at breakneck speeds... I have the show for you. They call it Highway 18, as apparently The Amazing Golf Cart Race was taken.

It lifts Race's formula almost exactly, except instead of having to zipline across a pool of lions riding sharks or whatever, these mismatched teams of two face increasingly difficult tasks on the links. Many of which involve playing as fast as they can, always a smart strategy for the sport ;) The teams include a father who allows his smartass son to call him by his first name and relentlessly berate him, two good ol' boys whose last name might as well be Duke, squabbling siblings, a 40 year old financial analyst and a trophy/token African-American girl that claim they have a "special friendship," and the requisite hot blondes. The host's qualifications appear to be that she was a two-time Miss Oregon contestant.

And yet, it works. The shift from driving challenges to driving the green challenges can be a little jarring, but it's a fun spin on a solid formula. Overall it feels a little like the first season of Top Chef – when Billy Joel's trophy wife was hosting instead of Padma. It's little rough around the edges, not quite figured out, but a decent idea. One suggestion – when people finish last but are spared from elimination by being given a "strike" against them... make it a mulligan. Like, you know, in golf?



Yeah, I use the "meh" joke a lot. Unfortunately, there's a lot of "meh" stuff out there, and the latest Batman animated movie, Gotham Knight, sadly earns that distinction as well. Even with top creators from the comic and anime worlds all under the watchful eye of Bruce Timm, the genius who basically defined the animated DC universe, this discourse on the Dark Knight never adds up to much.

What's wrong? Part of it's the format (six unconnected short stories), part of it's the promise (supposedly bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and a lot of the problems fall on the style. Most of what's on screen just looks and sounds wrong, particularly for something that's supposed to fit in with the movies. Aside from a few token references ("the Narrows," the Scarecrow) this version of Gotham would fit right in with Neo-Tokyo. Or the Sprawl. Or Tim Burton's backyard. And these interpretations of both Bruce Wayne and Batman don't mesh with the movies either – instead of being grounded in reality like Christian Bale, this Gotham Knight is bulletproof, fireproof, and apparently logicproof, as the shorts are typical anime fare – all flair and flash without much substance. Even Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for several series, feels off when his voice is coming out of this...
...or this...
...or, unfortunately, this:
Overall, some of the shorts fare better than the others, but you're better off seeing the big screen Batman instead. Pass.


Hancocked and Overloaded

Wow, this is a weird one – it's both better and worse than I thought it'd be. Deconstructing superheroes has been happening in comics for a few decades, but it's relatively new to the silver screen. Can Hancock stand up with pioneers like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns or new classics like Astro City or Alias?

Um, no. There are interesting ideas and a promising presence, but a misguided twist and muddled mythos make this movie kind of a mess. Overall a watchable one, but certainly not a complete success. Will Smith plays Hancock – an apathetic, alcoholic superhero with a penchant for doing more harm than good, at least financially. On one of his early escapades, he saves a struggling PR exec (Jason Bateman, channeling kind of a combo of his dad roles from both Arrested Development and Juno) who decides to help rehabilitate the hated hero.

Smart concept, but after the initially fun scenes of Hancock's destructive heroics, the way it plays out drifts toward dumb. Faced with a series of summons and debt mounting in the millions, Hancock takes responsibility for his actions by agreeing to incarceration. It's part of the PR plan – prove to the public that he's willing to change and wait for them to need a hero again. And it works, as he answers the call a kindler, gentler (if somewhat more awkward) spin on Superman... until about the middle of the movie.

I'll avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that both Hancock's origin story and rogues gallery are weak at best. At worst, they make little to no sense and seem crammed in from an earlier treatment. At just over an hour and a half, the flick's sailing along at a nice little clip, takes a bizarre left turn that plays havoc with the plotting and pacing – and never truly recovers. It's a jarring shift in tone and storytelling that left me staring at the screen, wondering if I fell asleep and missed some crucial scene. There are a couple nice moments that wrap up the movie, but they don't hold up to more than a second's thought. Maybe a half second.

So what starts as a smartass satire of sorts turns into a fairly bizarre headscratcher. I mentioned it's better and worse than I thought – it doesn't deserve the blisteringly bad reviews it's getting, but it almost runs completely off the rails in ways you weren't envisioning. Is it worth seeing? I'll give it a light yes. Will Smith's good, Jason Bateman's funny and Charlize Theron is... um... hot. But you can prolly wait 'til DVD, particularly if you're not crazy about shakycam. Director Peter Berg takes his style from Friday Night Lights and overplays his handheld visuals a tad – so combine that with a sorta hit-and-miss movie and it might be more of a Netflixer.