12.19.2006

Ode to CSI:Miami

One of the guiltiest of television's guilty pleasures is surely "CSI: Miami," the flashy and slightly cheesy younger brother of the original "CSI." Just as William Petersen's grim professionalism sets the tone for the original series, David Caruso's ridiculously dead-pan and humorless determination sets the tone for "CSI:Miami." He's Sergeant Joe Friday taken to extremes. A very clever someone has posted to YouTube a compilation of Caruso's hard-boiled one-liners. Stringing them together only underscores the absurdity of both the show's so-bad-it's-good dialogue and Caruso's stone-faced, robotic delivery. That Caruso is so in love with his cool-guy sunglasses prop is icing on the cake.

11.24.2006

Burn the Peyton Manning bandwagon

It’s never easy rooting against All-American apple pie, but in today’s world courageous stands against ignorance and myopia have never been more important. And so the time has come to point accusing fingers at those of you who have happily drunk the Peyton Manning Kool-Aid. The sports media tell us at every opportunity how great NFL quarterback Manning is – the love and adulation heaped on this guy at times feels on a par with the praise lavished on Michael Jordan in the 1990s. Which is just ridiculous – Jordan won six rings, Manning’s won zero. Put simply, this is the time when all good men and women must begin to root against aw-shucks good-‘ol-boy Peyton Manning.

Herewith are five reasons why Manning deserves none of your respect.

1. Manning is paradoxically overrated. If you look at how much Manning’s accomplished, you’d be suitably impressed. Number one pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Co-MVP in 2003. NFL single-season touchdown leader with 48 in 2004. And yet, when it comes to big-time, high-stakes clutch performances, Manning has been very, very mortal. The Colts are typically extremely good in the regular season only to have the wheels come off in January when the post-season begins. Manning’s thus a combined 3-6 in NFL playoff games. This lack of success in Big Games has dogged Manning since his college days – give him credit: at least he’s consistent in his choke artist tendencies. To be fair, it’s okay to never win a Superbowl – there have plenty of outstanding quarterbacks who have had solid careers without doing so – but it has to be more than a little embarrassing to continue to fail when so many have anointed you as the one of the smartest and most gifted passers to ever play the game. Let’s also not forget the bank Manning makes – the Colts in 2004 gave him the biggest NFL salary ever at the time: $99 million over seven years. So much expectation, so few results.

2. Manning never met a play he didn’t want to audible. Have you seen this guy when he’s under center? It’s nothing but hand gestures and finger pointing taken to hilarious extremes. One wonders if he ever sticks to the play that’s called in the huddle. Certainly there are times when an NFL quarterback sees something in the defense that demands an audible, but it’s only Manning who’s developed this reputation for frantic scrimmage-line arm waving. Frankly, there’s something a little smug and arrogant about it, as if he’s buying into all of the talk about his intelligence and making sure everyone sees how clever and astute he is in reading defenses and adjusting at the last moment. That nonsense can come at a price, of course. A few seasons ago it was reported that Manning’s infinite audibles weren’t only confounding the defenses, but his own teammates.

3. Manning is apparently the only NFL player advertisers want to employ in their spots. There are plenty of recognizable faces playing football (including some, like Tom Brady, who've won Superbowls), but you wouldn’t know it from the advertising. You can’t watch a single commercial pod during an NFL game these days without seeing Manning’s mug working for one sponsor or another. There’s the ESPN Sportscenter and NFL spots with his father and brother (an irritant in and of itself – see #5 below), the Sprint commercial with his stupid mustache disguise (“laser rocket arm”), the DirecTV spots in which he talks to the camera from the field, and the - genuinely amusing - MasterCard spots featuring Manning cheering on everyday workers like paperboys and waitresses. Most of these spots trade on Manning’s purported mild-mannered affability. So it’s particularly jarring when Gatorade Rain uses Manning in a spot that requires an intimidating bad-ass. This is absolutely absurd. Rather than find a truly menacing NFL bully like Brian Urlacher, Gatorade went back to the goofy-faced Louisianan who intimidates with… his brainy audibles? Truth be told, these companies should probably all be boycotted, if only to teach them a lesson.

4. Any problem with the Indianapolis Colts offense has nothing to do with Manning. Watch Manning when a pass goes incomplete or the team fails to convert on third down. He slings his arms around and shakes his head like a petulant four-year-old. It’s never his fault (which seems odd since he’s the one making all of those audibles). He’s brilliant – it’s teammates who fail to elevate themselves to his level that leads to trouble. This tendency was particularly obvious in 2006 following the Colts’ predictable exit from the playoffs – at the post-game press conference Manning awkwardly suggested the real problem lied with his offensive line not giving him time to work his magic. Classy.

5. Manning’s part of a supposed football family dynasty. Not only do we have to endure all of the attention paid to Peyton, but we also have to hear all about his father Archie and brother Eli. This doesn’t just mean having to sit through cutesy big-lug advertising spots that feature all three, but also the annoying inevitability that every article and TV piece about Peyton will sooner or later make the obligatory mention of the family. We get it – they’re all quarterbacks. (Archie never won the big one, either, so maybe it runs in the family.) As a post-script, the true Manning sensibility was perhaps best displayed with daddy Archie got involved in baby Eli’s temper tantrum about wanting to be drafted by the Giants, even though the Chargers had the number one pick and decided to draft him. The look of disgust on Eli’s face holding the Charger jersey (moments before they traded his underachieving ass to the Giants) is priceless – to be so upset to have just been guaranteed millions. What a bunch of jerks.

In sum, let us all join forces to hope that Peyton Manning goes the way of the NFL quarterback who is so far most like him: gunslinger Dan Marino, a guy who racked up lots of honors and statistics but never won a Superbowl. Now that would be something to cheer about.

11.22.2006

Heroes "Homecoming"

Cool: Mohinder finds a list in his father's computer of all the world's heroes. A great moment, yes. But how exactly did Chandra Suresh find these people? There’s some throwaway technobabble dialogue about using the human genome project, but how would that allow a scientist in India to know if I can breathe underwater or not? Seems like a cheat, but we’ll let it slide. Also, did it strike you as kind of funny that all Mohinder had to do was click one button to get to that list? (Do you want to quit? No. Okay, then here’s all of the heroes.)
Cooler: We wonder at what point someone at NBC will get the idea to try and market and sell a mock-up version of Chandra Suresh’s Activating Evolution book.
Huh?: What high school takes one of the most dramatic social events of the year – the announcement of homecoming queen – and reduces it to a flyer stapled to a commons bulletin board?
Falling: Sylar, who was built up as this unstoppable force of gory evil and telekinetic power. But he was neutralized in just a few short minutes after tussling with irritating wimp Peter and mind-control pixie Eden. Feels like a letdown.

Lost "I Do"

Cool: A gold star for actor Michael Emerson. As dastardly as his Ben may be, Emerson still manages to stir genuine sympathy with his (probably phony) hangdog vulnerability in the scenes involving his fatal cancer.
Cooler: We really should mention Kate and Sawyer’s bear cage sex scene. And now we have.
Coolest: Jack springs into action once again, ignoring the Hippocratic Oath to put Ben in mortal danger on the operating table to force the Others to release Kate and Sawyer. Too bad Jack doesn’t realize they’re on a different island and have nowhere to run.
Huh?: We understand the importance of sweeps to ABC and appreciate that the second half of the “Lost” season will air without repeats. But February 1, 2007 sure seems like a long way away.
Falling: Kate. We learn she married a cop, apparently forgetting that she’s, like, a fugitive on the run from police. That said, this development is a nice callback to season 1 when during a game of “I Never” with Sawyer she revealed that she’d been married.

Battlestar Galactica "Hero"

Cool: Tigh finally gets himself a cool eyepatch.

Cooler: This is an episode with a lot of twists and turns as the truth is slowly revealed about Bulldog’s secret mission and Adama’s role in ending it. Adama’s clearly upset about the choices he made, but what choices were they? At first it seems he’s upset that he left Bulldog behind, then it seems like the problem is that he shot Bulldog down to preserve the mission’s secrecy, then later we find out that Adama’s mission across the Cylon Armistice Line may have been the provocation that started the entire war. This is good stuff, exploring the costs of command and the price of war.

Huh?: The Cylon base star scenes continue to mystify us. But that's why TiVo has a fast-forward button.

Best Line: “Sometimes surviving can be its own death sentence.” – Tigh to Bulldog, neatly summarizing theme of the entire episode.

Rising: Adama, who turns out isn’t a perfect leader with an unblemished record. His transfer to Galactica (the oldest battlestar in the fleet, remember), it turns out, was the admiralty’s way of offering him a graceful retirement following the disastrous mission with Bulldog.

Battlestar Galactica “A Measure of Salvation”

Cool: Baltar gets tortured. Finally. The Cheese Fry can’t wait for the reruns.
Cooler: The Cylon debate. Apollo and Roslin see this virus as the perfect opportunity to wipe out the Cylons, but Helo (and to a lesser extent, Adama) worry what such a decision will mean for humanity. How is Apollo’s plan any different from the Cylon’s nuclear attack on the 12 colonies? Are the Cylons a “race” worthy of preservation? Bonus points to Adama for insisting that the decision rest with Roslin. He doesn’t want his hands dirty.
Coolest: Helo makes the bold decision to put his money where his mouth is and sabtoage Apollo’s genocide plan. This guy’s something else.
Best Line: “I have determined the Cylons be made extinct.” – Roslin’s edict to pursue Apollo’s plan to infect the Cylons with the virus.
Falling: Baltar, whose arc continues to be the most confusing part of the show. What exactly is going on in all of those Cylon base star scenes? More importantly, do we care to do the work required to find out?

Heroes “Seven Minutes to Midnight”

Cool: Ted the firestarter and Matt the mindreader compare weird neck marks. Are the marks something Horn Rim Glasses burned onto them when he studied them or are the marks clues to what gave them the power? Mohinder’s dad thinks it’s a natural evolutionary process, which would seem to contradict the idea that the heroes were kidnapped, marked, and given the powers.
Cooler: Horn Rim Glasses explains Sylar is killing heroes. This not suggests that maybe HRG isn’t the villain we’d suspected him of being. Even better, this suggests the show may ultimately be more satisfying that something like “Lost” that can seem so stingy with doling out plot details and backstory secrets.
Coolest: Eden isn’t just a pretty spy. She’s got a fun hero power of her own: suggestive whispering, Jedi-style.
Huh?: If HRG and Eden know Isaac can only predict the future when he’s high, why clean him up? It seems they do this just so Eden and HRG can have an argument about forcing Isaac back onto heroin. By the way, painting the future? Not as groovy as mindreading or time-travel or flying. But we suppose it was necessary for plotting purposes.

Battlestar Galactica "Torn"

Cool: Sharon’s new call sign is Athena (Boomer is no more), which was the name of Apollo’s sister/Adama's daughter on the original series. Some have suggested this is the writers’ way of subtly underscoring Adama’s growing connection to Sharon. All the more to make his betrayal of her regarding Hera all the more dramatic.

Cooler: Suggestion is made that the Cylon virus was deliberately planted – booby-trap style – by the 13th colony as it headed for earth long ago. We’re not sure what to make of that, but it’s interesting.

Coolest: The old Starbuck may be on the way back, what with the dramatic knife-blade haircut she gives herself. (Check out the worried expressions on her fellow Colonials when she whips out that knife in the communal bathroom.) It would seem that, unlike Tigh, Starbuck is ready to try and get past the pain she suffered on New Caprica.

Huh?: What the heck is this babbling-in-a-milk-bath Cylon hybrid thing? It’d be kind of cool if it wasn’t so clearly a ripoff of the pre-cogs in Minority Report.
Best Line: “That man doesn’t exist anymore, Bill.” – Tigh to Adama. A response to Adama’s demand that Tigh be the man he once was. Murdering your wife can do that to you.

Rising: Tigh, who’s becoming the show’s most compelling character, so happily succumbing to his burning hatred and self-pity (and the attendant alcoholism). Despite what he tells Adama, no doubt some future crisis will allow Tigh to redeem himself.

Lost "The Cost of Living"

Cool: Jack and Juliet continue their flirting and, honestly, The Cheese Fry can hardly blame him. Juliet may be the Bad Girl with a Heart of Gold that Kate only wished she could be - our zeal for Evangeline Lily continues to wane.
Cooler: Juliet’s clever tactic to communicate a secret message to Jack. She tells him how great Ben is while she runs a silent videotape for Jack in which she holds up contradictory handwritten signs, which includes “Some of us want a change.” Is she telling the truth? Is it a set-up? One of those goosebump moments at which this show excels.
Huh?: Yes, the integration of new cast members Kiele Sanchez and Rodrigo Santoro continues to be embarrassingly ham-handed and clumsy, but far more awkward is the sudden and rather anticlimactic demise of Mr. Eko, inexplicably felled by the black smoke monster.
Best Line: “Don’t mistake coincidence for fate.” – Locke, delivering one of those polished Big Theme gems.
Falling: The original castaways, who have become rather boring, don't you think? So far this season, all of the thrills and intrigue comes from the Others and their interactions with Jack, Sawyer, and Kate.

10.28.2006

Battlestar Galactica “Collaborators”

Cool: Poor Cylon collaborator Jammer finds himself judged, juried, and executed by an underground star chamber. Method of execution: purge by airlock via a Viper launch tube. While handcuffed. Before the title credits.

Cooler: Roslin pulls a Gerald Ford/Jimmy Carter and blanket-pardons everyone who might have collaborated with the Cylons. You know, to begin the healing.

Huh?: Will someone please give Tigh a proper eyepatch? The sloppy square gauze thing is dramatic and all but it really does seem unnecessary at this point.

Best Line: “Your presidency is a farce and it ends right now!” – Adama to Zarek after learning that Zarek actually okayed the Circle.

Rising: Gaeta, who refuses to beg for his life when sentenced to die for his purported crimes against humanity. This kid’s got spunk. Tyrol earns honorable mention for making a big show of eating with Gaeta at episode’s end, doing his part to thaw the freeze between Gaeta and crew.

Falling: Cally, who didn’t think it was worth mentioning to Tyrol that someone on the Cylon secret police, like, let her go. This dim-witted oversight may have cost Jammer his life at the hands of the Circle. If this show were a feature film, Cally would be played by Rachael Leigh Cook or Ashlee Simpson. She's that annoying.

Lost “Every Man for Himself”

Cool: Sawyer’s an ex-con. We knew it. Extra credit for pulling a con on a fellow inmate for the authorities to get himself an early release.

Cooler: It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but somehow Desmond seems to have developed some kind of clairvoyant powers to see the future.

Coolest: The Others fool Sawyer into thinking he’s got a gizmo in his chest that will burst his heart if his pulse rate exceeds a certain level. The cherry on this is watching Sawyer’s heart race dangerously fast when he catches a glimpse of Kate’s naked back.

Best Line: “We’re gonna have to get that guy another button to push.” – Charlie to Claire, in reference to Desmond, who’s been acting oddly ever since the hatch imploded (see Cooler above).

Rising: Kate displays some real moxie here. First she wriggles out of her cage. Then she refuses to flee into the jungle and abandon Sawyer, choosing instead to return to her cage. Oh yeah, and she also professes her love for Sawyer to keep him from getting beaten to a pulp.

Lost "Further Instructions"

Cool: Poor Flashback Locke’s played for a sucker yet again, this time tricked into bringing an undercover cop to a paraside farm commune that’s actually a thriving marijuana farm. Nice moment: Locke tries to kill the cop and preserve his little slice of heaven, but the cop calmly walks away, insisting Locke is a farmer, not a hunter.

Huh?: This is a treading-water episode. The whole thing is a big "huh?" Not much happens. And what does happens is completely bizarre, even for this show. John builds a Native American sweat lodge, has a fever dream vision of Boone who directs him to find Eko, who has – get this – been dragged to a lair by a maniacal polar bear. This is crazy, people. Crazy. It's episodes like this that scare off new viewers.

Battlestar Galactica “Exodus Part 2”

Cool: Galactica FTL jumps into the blue skies above New Caprica, burning as it free-falls through the atmosphere, sticking around just long enough to launch its Vipers before jumping away again. A real showstopper of a visual effect.

Cooler: Tigh unexpectedly puts his money where his mouth is and kills his misguided wife Ellen, punishment for her having helped the Cylons. This guy is becoming a real force of nature. His days of drunken, ineffectual self-loathing seem a thing of the past - his time in the Cylon detention center have honed him to a steely point.

Coolest: The predictable self-sacrifice of the Pegasus, as Apollo defies Adama’s orders and swoops in to save Galactica from certain doom. This sequence, which is capped the empty Pegasus ramming one of the Cylon basestars (which takes out another basestar after the explosion sends big chunks of Pegasus flying everywhere), is one of the most thrilling space battles since
The Wrath of Khan.

Huh?: Gaeta gives Baltar a chance to redeem himself by going to stop the Cylon nuke planted on New Caprica. Okay, but by the time Baltar goes looking for it, the planet looks completely deserted. Everyone’s already evac'd to Galactica, so who cares if a nuclear bomb goes off?

10.18.2006

NBC 2, CBS 0

Friday Night Lights (NBC) may be this season’s Little Show That Couldn’t. Critics love it but it’s not finding an audience, perhaps the victim of “tweenism.” It may seem too teen for adults and too adult for teens, so neither demographic watches it. The competition – Gilmore Girls and the inexplicable 1970s throwback Dancing with the Stars (you want to see real dancing talent, tune in to So You Think You Can Dance next summer – seriously) – certainly doesn’t help, leeching off women viewers who might actually like the more soapy qualities of this saga of a small town's obsession with its top-ranked high school football team. The execution also isn't very familiar - the camerawork is shaky, the performances rather raw, the dialogue often light on helpful exposition. The show can play like a verite PBS documentary. It's not the comfort food of ER or Law & Order. You have to pay attention. It’s the best new show of the season, but you probably didn’t know that because you’re not watching. Watch it now before it gets cancelled.

Heroes (NBC) certainly didn’t look too good coming out of the gate, seeming like a poor man’s X-Men what with the overt comic book influence and the copycat serialized structure that’s been so in vogue since the success of Lost. But this show is worthy of your attention. The individual character subplots, which are of course becoming more and more interlocked and overlapped as we go along, are more richly realized than most network dramas’ entire seasons. There’s something very Stephen King circa 1985 about the way the supernatural here invades the very ordinary. It all rings pretty much true. Here’s hoping the show concludes its New York City apocalypse storyline at the end of the first season and then – ala 24 – sets up a new crisis for season 2. This is a very durable premise with lots of story potential. You don’t need to watch it now because it’s shaping up to be the season’s first breakout hit. It’ll be around for a while.

Studio 60 (NBS, er, NBC) is the pretty girl you put up on the pedestal. But then you actually talk to her and you realize how wrong you were. You desperately want to like this show. Aaron Sorkin’s last two shows – The West Wing and SportsNight – were instant classics of complex character and smart dialogue. Sorkin's something of a genius. The problem seems to be that he agrees. As good as Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry may be, they can’t make you care about what happens during the course of producing a Saturday Night Live style sketch show. The stakes just aren’t that high. Perry's writer’s block isn’t the same as Martin Sheen's international hostage crisis. Plus there’s just a nagging feeling that Sorkin and his crew are very much in love with his snappy banter that leaves everyone sounding exactly the same (and smug in a way that suggests you're stupid if you don't think it's all so veddy veddy brilliant). Don’t bother.

Jericho (CBS) stars Skeet Ulrich, which is really all you need to know about this show. The premise is certainly somber, perhaps the most blatant post-9/11 allegory we’ve seen yet: small town faces the possibility that most of America has been wiped out in a nuclear war. Jeez. Pass the popcorn. Given the right execution, there’s certainly a lot of drama and conflict to be mined from such a grim situation. Think what the writers of 24 could do with this (or, come to think of it, have done with this). Hope amid death, the triumph of humanity amid violence, the living dealing with the guilt of survival, etc. But the show is too clumsy for those kinds of themes. It’s like a high school drama good vs. evil production devoid of subtlety or nuance.

Lost "The Glass Ballerina"

Cool: Sawyer defies the Others’ explicit instructions and kisses Kate on the road gang work detail. It’s soon clear this was not about romance, but about luring the Others into attacking him so he could gauge their combat skill. Clever boy. But he loses points for later explaining his motivation to Kate in a voice loud enough to be picked by Ben’s microphones. How can the castaways at this point not be so paranoid as to speak in whispers? Don’t they watch the show?

Huh?: Sayid the master military tactician foolishly puts Sun in jeopardy by allowing Sun to make tea (!) in the docked sailboat while he and Jin stake out the jungle awaiting to ambush the Others. How can Sayid so underestimate the enemy?

Best Line: “I'm guessing most of these boys have never seen any real action. But that blond who had a gun pointed at you? She would have shot you, no problem.” – Sawyer assessing the Others to Kate. The blond he’s referring to is The Cheese Fry’s new It Girl, the Other named Juliet.

Rising: Sun, who’s turning out to be quite a dangerous character. First the flashbacks reveal her capacity for deception. As a little girl, she allows an innocent maid to be fired rather than admit her own misdeed. As a woman, she cheats on her husband and possibly allows herself to be impregnated as a result. But wait, that’s not all. Then, Sun gut shoots point-blank one of the Others, just moments after the Other claimed Sun would never do such a thing. Oops.

10.14.2006

Battlestar Galactica “Exodus Part 1”

Cool: The New Caprica resistance has somehow constructed a huge subterranean bunker a la Hogan’s Heroes (you get to it by opening a trap door hidden under a rug) right under the Cylons’ noses.

Cooler: Tigh’s months in Cylon captivity have turned him into a cold-blooded bad ass, all military tactics and merciless determination. The eye patch doesn't hurt, either. Will Adama even recognize this guy? Which leads us to...

Coolest: Check out the look of one-eyed anguish on Tigh’s face when Ellen confesses that she did indeed give the resistance map to the Cylons to save his life.

Huh?: The Cheese Fry is reserving judgment on the Starbuck-is-a-mommy subplot. Do we really want Starbuck’s edge softened by maternal instincts? Maybe, maybe not.

Best Line (tie): “Don’t make me cry on my own hangar deck.” – Adama to Apollo as they say their awkward testosterone goodbyes. “Adama wouldn’t lie to me.” – Caprica-Boomer to D’Anna, who claims Adama and Roslin faked baby Hera’s death. This betrayal will surely test Caprica-Boomer’s new allegiance to the Colonials just in time for November sweeps.

Falling: Cally, who just doesn’t seem worthy of Tyrol’s affections. She’s a bit, well, dim and always has been, more cute puppy than anything else. Here she is, fleeing the Cylon execution site and rather than stay low and hug the ground, she runs upright in plain site of the Centurions below. Which means Tyrol has to risk the whole operation to pull Cally out of the way. Blech.

Battlestar Galactica “The Occupation” and “Precipice”

Cool: Adama and Caprica-Boomer are now confidantes. There’s something very interesting developing here in the triangle between Adama, Caprica-Boomer, and Apollo. One could argue that Adama sees in tough-minded Caprica-Boomer something he’s never completely seen in Apollo, even moreso now that Apollo's gained 50 pounds or so since the occupation of New Caprica began.

Cooler: There are obvious parallels between New Caprica and 1940s Vichy France what with the puppet government and the underground rebel resistance. That’s the easy way to go. But this is a show that wants to make things complicated. And so here we hear our Tyrol-Tigh-Anders resistance referred to as “insurgents,” assigning the good guys the loaded name we associate with the bad guys in Iraq.

Best Line: “You work with the Cylons, you’re a target.” – Colonel Tigh’s icy rationale for recruiting a suicide bomber to attack the graduation ceremony of Cylon’s new human secret police force.

Rising: Ellen Tigh, who seems geuinely selfless here, having sex with Brother Cavil not for her own gratification but to win Tigh’s release. Even better, she defines “wrong thing for the right reason” when she steals a key resistance map to ensure Tigh’s safety.

Falling: Baltar, although it’s unclear just how much farther this guy can fall. He is kind of fascinating on one hand in his narccisistic misery. Then again, he is only enormously annoying in his weak-willed cowardice. Rather than take a noble bullet and maybe do the right thing, he signs a death warrant for the leaders in the Colonial community.

10.11.2006

Lost "A Tale of Two Cities"

Cool: Evangeline Lily was definitely the cast “It Girl” back in season one in 2004, but she’s lost a little something. Maybe it's her continued inexplicable romance with co-star Dominic Monaghan. Anyway, just in time comes the arrival of Elizabeth Mitchell’s silky "Other" Juliet, who could no doubt kick Kate’s ass or beat her at chess, either one. The torch may have just been passed.

Cooler: The Others live like J. Crew suburbanites in Fantasy Island-style bungalows on the far other side of the island. This is not what the Cheese Fry was expecting. And yet it makes sense somehow. The twists just keep on coming.


Coolest: Seeing the frightening crash of Oceanic 815 from the ground in a shaky long shot, showing how the plane broke up in midair without any clear reason for doing so (reinforcing the idea that it was the island’s big magnetic pulse the did it).

"Previously on Battlestar Galactica..."

"Lay Down Your Burdens" (Parts 1 and 2)
Cool: For the first time, we see what it looks like to do an FTL jump from inside a ship.
Cooler: Roslin, typically a paragon of morality, comes very close to stuffing the ballot box and stealing the election from Baltar. Even better, the episode initially suggests this coup is being carried out by Tigh and Duella without her knowledge. And then comes the bombshell when Roslin admits to Adama she personally okayed it. That’s gold.

Great ending: This may be one of television’s best season enders ever, right up there with J.R. getting shot. After Baltar wins the election, the action flash forwards an entire year to show the characters in completely new situations and relationships on New Caprica. Apollo’s gotten fat and wants nothing to do with Starbuck. Tyrol and Cally are a couple. Starbuck’s mended fences with Tigh. Baltar’s president lounges around Colonial One like Ceasar. And Adama’s got a 1970 porn star mustache. Oh yeah, and then they Cylons return. This is one ballsy story decision from which there is no going back.
Huh?: We get another healthy dose of Cylon religion mumbo-jumbo with an extended subplot involving Tyrol’s psychoanalysis-slash-religious-counciling by annoying Brother Cavil. More troubling, Cavil’s later revealed to be a Cylon which means we’ll have to see more of him.
Best Line: “I’m going to wipe the floor with you, Gaius.” – Roslin, all bad ass steely eyes and clenched jaw, to Baltar after he makes his surprise presidential candidacy announcement.

10.06.2006

"Previously on Lost..."

“The Whole Truth”
Cool:
Sawyer’s reading a copy of Judy Blume’s
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.
Cooler: If Jin’s sterlie, who’s the father of Sun’s baby? Is it going to some weird supernatural virgin birth? Or has the island healed Jin’s malfunctioning sperm the same way it healed Locke’s legs?
Huh?: Sun and Hurley cross paths in the middle of the jungle as if they were passing each other in the hallway outside the copy room. Even if the castaways have devised trails, this seems very coincidental.

Best Line: “Jack and Locke are a little too busy worrying about Locke and Jack” – Ana-Lucia to Sayid when he asks if she’s run her Henry Gale interrogation plan past the two de facto island leaders.
Rising: Henry Gale – He’s been a rather ambiguous character for the most part. Is he telling the truth? Is he an Other? The show’s been playing it both ways. But all doubt seems eliminated with his creepy suggestion here that sending Sayid, Charlie, and Ana-Lucia to look for his balloon could be the perfect way to ambush them in the middle of nowhere.
“Lockdown”
Cool:
A giant pallet of supplies is airdropped onto the island, proving that someone somewhere is still helping keep the hatch stocked with food. Even better, the somone somewhere may still think the hatch is being manned by Desmond.

Cooler: Henry Gale isn’t the bug-eyed white guy locked in the armory. He’s a smiling black guy, as proven by the driver’s license Sayid, Charlie, and Ana-Lucia bring back.
Coolest: That weirdo
blacklight map that Locke finds on the back of the blast door. Examined like the Rosetta Stone thanks to the power of freeze framing, the map is manna to the Lost geeks of the internet.
Best Line: “Should I go get a ruler?” – Kate, to Jack and Sawyer as they engage in one of their usual clenched-jaw stare downs.
Rising: Jack, who unexpectedly beats Sawyer at poker and wins all of the medicine Sawyer’s been hoarding. Bonus points to Sawyer for calling Jack “Amarillo Slim.”
“Dave”
Cool:
Hurley tackles Sawyer after one too many wise-ass fat jokes. Even better, Jin thinks it’s pretty funny until Sun makes him go break it up.

Cooler: In one of that textbook Lost twists (that’s - let's face it - becoming less surprising), we learn Libby was a patient in the mental hospital with Hurley.
Coolest: There is no Dave, people. He’s a figment of Hurley’s imagination. This is one trippy Mobius-strip of an episode, using a Fight Club-style twist to cleverly externalize Hurley’s suicidal urges (it’s not Hurley who wants to die exactly, it’s Dave trying to trick Hurley into dying by suggesting the island’s all in his head), which are wrapped up in his food addiction and lingering guilt over killing some people when a deck collapsed under his weight.

Best Line: “Don’t tell me you made me up. It’s insulting” – Libby to Hurley when he suggests maybe she’s imagarinary, too.
“S.O.S.”
Cool:
One of the background castaways is called not by his name, but simply as the “frogurt guy.” That’s funny.

Cooler: It’s a little unsettling to see a flashback in which Locke is stuck back in his wheelchair.
Coolest: Rose’s terminal cancer is somehow miraculously in remission on the island. Which means she can’t leave (the reason why she was trying to talk Bernard out of his SOS signal). Poignant extra credit for Bernard telling her if she can’t leave, neither will he.
Great Ending: When Jack and Kate venture into the jungle to try and trade Henry for Walt, who comes staggering out of the bushes but Michael. Cut to black. Classic.

Best Line: “They’ll never give you Walt.” – Henry Gale’s ominous promise to Jack when he learns of Jack’s prisoner swap idea.
Falling: The Jack-Sawyer bickering is really starting to get old.
“Two for the Road”
Cool:
Check out Henry Gale talking about “him” – the Others’ leader: “He’s a great man, but not a forgiving man.” The kind of thing the Old Testament says about, you know, God.

Huh?: It’s around this time that you may start to wonder what happened to all of the scary monsters that seems to inhabit the island at the start of the first season. Characters now regularly wander off by themselves without a moment’s hesitation. Runner up: the Libby-Hurley romance. We all want to believe it’s possible, sure, but do you believe it?
Great Ending: Topping the previous episode, here Michael shoots Ana-Lucia dead on purpose, accidentally plugs Libby, frees Henry Gale, then shoots himself in the arm. Cut to black. That sucking sound you hear is millions of Americans dropping their jaws in shock.
Best Line: “Don’t you want my phone number?” – Sawyer to Ana-Lucia after sex, which was coldly instigated by her to get the gun to kill Henry.

“?”
Cool:
Libby’s on screen death may be one of the more scary and painful demises you’ll see on network TV. It’s not noble or heroic in any way. Even worse, she tries with her dying breath to implicate Michael, but Jack and the others think she’s just trying to make sure he’s okay. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but it works.

Cooler: Locke and Mr. Eko find the “Pearl station” – another hatch – and realize it’s a monitoring station for the Swan hatch. The whole thing, including the button and the 108-minute countdown, seems like a big experiment. The Pearl watches the Swan to see how the inhabitants respond. And Locke sees his entire button-centric value system crumble.
Best Line: “I’m sorry I forgot the blankets.” – Hurley to Libby as she’s dying from a gunshot wound that wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t have to go back to the hatch for blankets and stumble onto Michael’s murder of Ana-Lucia.

“Three Minutes”
Cool:
Though Michael’s eyes, we finally see the Others’ camp. But is it all real? We already know they wear disguises. So how much of this rustic,
Gilligan’s Island-style village is authentic?
Cooler: Sayid demonstrates his mastery of the Bad Ass Arts by realizing Michael has been “compromised” by the Others, which sounds all the more important when spoken in actor Naveen Andrews’ silky British accent.
Coolest: Miss Klugh gives Michael a list with four names of the people they want: Hurley, Jack, Sawyer, Kate. Creepy. How do they know who they are? And why do they want them?
Best Line: “Well at least now we get to kill somebody” – Sawyer to Jack, getting his groove on as they prepare to attack the Others and free Walt.

Rising: Charlie, showing some real backbone at long last by tossing those annoying Virgin Mary drug statues into the surf. Locke is of course on hand to bear silent witness.
“Live Together, Die Alone” (Parts 1 and 2)
Cool:
Kelvin, who captured Sayid in Iraq, is the one on the island who rescues Desmond in the sailboat, trains him in the ways of the island, and later tries to ditch Desmond.

Cooler: Sayid finds the Others’ camp, but it’s abandoned, looking very much like stripped-down stage set.
Coolest: When the countdown gets down to zero, Desmond twists the failsafe key and the whole island is enveloped in some kind of weird white pulse.
Great ending: Some grubby guys in an Arctic research station notice the Desmond-failsafe pulse on their electronic gizmos and calls Desmond’s girlfriend Penelope, who’s been looking for Desmond. Weird.

Best Line: “I think I crashed your plane” – Desmond to Locke when he pieces together the timeline.

9.08.2006

What Hollywood really thinks

Radar anonymously polled 50 Hollywood insiders to dish the dirt on the industry power players. We all knew Russell Crowe is a "Nightmare Actor" and Brett Ratner's the "Biggest Hack" but would have figured Ron Howard's partner Brian Grazer was the "Biggest Credit Hog"?

9.01.2006

It's Never Enough

1. Ikea
2. Dazed and Confused
3. Left-turn arrows
4. Snuffers Restaurant

5. Madden NFL Football
6. Central air conditioning
7. TV ads for Geico car insurance
8. Rachel McAdams
9. "Battlestar Galactica"
10. Newcastle Pale Ale
11. Elmore Leonard
12. The deep touchdown pass

13. Steve Nash
14. Stand-alone (not the mythology) “X-Files” episodes
15. Stone Temple Pilots’ “Plush”

16. “Survivors ready…. Go!”
17. The Cinerama Dome
18. “The Price is Right”

19. The Dixie Chicks
20. Astroburger
21. “Robot Chicken”
22. ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas
23. Tom Brady

24. Writer Chuck Klosterman
25. Netflix

26. The Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times
27. Cold fronts
28. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan
29. New carpet under your bare feet
30. Drivers who wave after you let them in

31. Stephen Colbert
32. The beep-pop sound effects of TiVo
33. Sirius satellite radio and uncensored Howard Stern
34. Pointless lists

8.05.2006

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive.”

Now that the Cheese Fry’s knee-jerk approval (“I actually kind of liked it”) has slowly given way to incredulous disappointment (“Shouldn’t it have been better?”) and finally assured irritation (“They spent $200 million on that?”), forthwith are twenty pseudo-objective musings on Superman Returns, the box office blockbuster that wasn’t.

1. Kate Bosworth is no Margot Kidder. People (i.e. the media) sure do seem to love Bosworth, but why exactly? She’s one of those actors that feel pushed onto us by glossy Hollywood magazines – call it the McConaughey Rule – whether we like it/her or not. Her brittle, prissy Lois Lane walks a line between boring and annoying. What’s Superman see in her exactly? Kidder may not be as traditionally pretty as Bosworth, but at least Kidder projected a rough-and-tumble toyboy sexiness.

2. The best thing about the film is undoubtedly the opening titles that use the same zooming 3-D text effect as the first films. This sets up a giddy, retro expectation… that the film never meets.

3. Which brings us to a rather strange problem. On one hand, director Bryan Singer seems intent on linking Superman Returns to the first two Superman films with Christopher Reeve. He uses the same music. He puts a picture of actor Glenn Ford, who played Clark Kent’s father in the 1978 film, on a Smallville mantel. He uses the same production design for the Fortress of Solitude. Marlon Brando even shows up from the dead to play Jor-El. But at the same time, this movie is undeniably creating a different mythology and exists in a universe all its own. Singer can’t quite find a logical way to connect his film with the Reeve films on a fairly important narrative detail: Lois Lane’s Superbaby. All good geek fans know Superman and Lois did the Krypton Clinch in Superman II after he gave up all his powers in that weird plexiglass box. But then he wiped out Lois’ memory. So she’d have no recollection of her time with Superman. But in Superman Returns, Lois’ irritation (and Bosworth-esque petulance) with Superman’s 5-year departure carries with it a clear suggestion that they Had Something Going when he left. If this had been just a re-imagining of the story, then we’d assume they did before the movie started. But there’s a clear suggestion (if not in the film text, then in numerous interviews with Singer) that Superman began his 5-year absence shortly after Superman II ended. It’s not connecting.

4. There are homages and then there are rip-offs. Look closely. This movie shares similar story beats with the 1978 film. Luthor hatches a plot to kill millions (“billions” in 2006 in what seems to be the result of a sort of super-villain-threat inflation) so he can have real estate to sell. Superman takes Lois on a nighttime flight. Luthor has a female sidekick – their relationship seems too platonic to be romantic – that expresses sympathy for Superman and turns on Luthor as a result. It could be that the filmmakers are banking on the fact that the core audience of teenagers and 20-somethings never saw the 1978 film, in which case the Routh-Bosworth flight carries zing it cannot for those who saw Reeve-Kidder do it almost 20 years ago.

5. By the way, who the hell’d want to live on that craggy continent of onyx that Luthor wants to create anyway? What kind of evil genius plan is this? It’s cool that Luthor uses the green Fortress of Solitude crystal for evil and creates a kind of anti-Krypton of dull blacks instead of shiny whites, but a big plot turn like this needs to be more than just cool, doesn’t it?

6. From what’s on display in Superman Returns, it’s hard to imagine actor Brandon Routh having a long career beyond this franchise. He seemed like a nice enough guy on “The Tonight Show” but for the most part, he works as well as he does in the film mainly because he’s doing such a great Christopher Reeve impression. Especially in the Clark Kent scenes.

7. Was the character of Jimmy Olsen always such an annoying nerd?

8. Bryan Singer predictably hits hard the themes of alienation that served him so well in the first two X-Men films. And it works pretty well here, too. Superman is certainly not like us. He’s all alone, the last of his kind. No one understands him. But part of his angst is completely self-created. He’s the one who left for five years, remember. Did he think nothing would change? Again, if Lois Lane were at all likable and interesting, if we could get a handle on why Superman loves her so much, this part of the movie would probably resonate much more strongly.

9. It’s pretty cool that Lois Lane’s new boyfriend is a pilot. Nice detail. This is a girl likes guys who fly.

10. You’d think Kevin Spacey would have been better as Luthor. You also wonder why Batman has so many cool villains and Superman just has this one. Which is another reason why Superman II was so good – the villains posed a formidable threat to Superman because they shared his powers.

11. By the way, Superman II (“Kneel before Zod.”) doesn’t hold up so well. There’s a lot of cheese to be had. Not to mention the clumsy special effects. And as powerful a moment as it is when Superman gives up his powers for Lois Lane, it’s never clear just why has to do so.

12. The film delivers a powerful emotional punch when Superman’s weakened by kryptonite and Luthor’s thugs beat him to a pulp. Reminds you that drama comes from conflict – and it’s tough to manufacture conflict when your hero’s practically omnipotent.

13. The film has Luthor get out of jail on a technicality. Wouldn’t someone as smart as him come up with a more, like, interesting escape plan? Further points are deducted from the suggestion that Superman is somehow partly to blame for this – because he was gone for five years, he missed some kind of hearing that was apparently essential to keep Luthor in custody. Yeah, right. We’re not buying it.

14. It’s a goose-bump moment when Superman first appears on screen to save the only-in-the-movies shuttle/747 disaster. A wonderful popcorn moment.

15. A nice touch to show Superman basking in the yellow sun – recharging his Kal-El batteries – before exerting himself to lift out of the ocean Luthor’s craggy continent. As crazy as it is to see Superman lift a mountain (and yes, it's crazy), at least filmmakers tried to mitigate it by showing Superman soaking up the yellow sun rays.

16. There is something appealingly poignant seeing humans take Superman to the emergency room. What can they really do for him? But how can they not at least try? A nice moment.

17. Biggest plot hole: Luthor’s platonic sidekick Kitty diverts Superman’s attention from Luthor’s kryptonite theft by careening down a street in an out-on-control car. Superman predictably comes to her aid, which helps the plot… but doesn’t that seem like a pretty flimsy plan on Luthor’s part? Of all the crime in Metropolis, they’re banking on Superman attending to a moving violation. And he does. Not acceptable, people.

18. All in all, it’s really quite remarkable how brilliantly Sam Raimi and his crew have worked the first two Spiderman films.

19. A lot of right-wing pundits were chattering about the way the film dropped the last item in the familiar “truth, justice, and the American Way” line, choosing instead to have Perry White say “Truth, justice, and all that stuff.” Was it a liberal Hollywood decision motivated by international box office, to avoid draping Superman in the American flag at a time when the world sneers at the U.S.? Or was it an innocent story decision to make Perry White seem cynical and play with the line? Or should we all just get a life and stop worrying about stuff like this?

20. The Messiah metaphor isn’t very subtle here. We get Superman striking at least one crucifix pose. He hovers over the planet like some kind of god, listening to the cries and whimpers of what seems to be the entire population. There’s much debate about whether humanity needs a “savior.” And then there’s the awkward moment when the hospital staff checks on the sick Superman and finds him gone, the bed sheet tangled like a certain Someone’s tomb shroud. On one hand, these allusions add some interested depth to the story. On the other hand, it’s like, okay, we get it.

7.28.2006

"Apply Directly to the Forehead"

The Los Angeles Times' Dan Neil recently took a look at one of the more surreal TV ads running now: HeadOn. If you've seen it, you know what we're talking about.

Theoretically speaking, there is no bottom to the pop culture barrel, particularly as regards TV advertising. There will always be an ad that will sink lower and annoy more, always another commercial that will manage to limbo under our lowest expectations.

Wait . . . no . . . there is a bottom of the barrel! And welcome to it. I give you the ad for HeadOn, which has to be the worst, most irritating TV commercial ever made, that ever could be made. Compared to HeadOn, the awful Realcore diet pill ad ("Get rid of stubborn belly fat!") is a soaring aria to the nobility of Man.

The ad is simplicity itself, if simplicity reminds you of North Korean propaganda. A woman rubs her forehead with what appears to be a roll-on deodorant while a female voice shouts: "HeadOn, apply DIRECTLY to the FOREHEAD! HeadOn, apply DIRECTLY to the FOREHEAD! HeadOn, apply DIRECTLY to the FOREHEAD! HeadOn is available without a prescription at retailers nationwide!" This is the 15-second spot. Because of the economics of basic cable advertising, the ad will often run back to back, so you get 30 seconds of "HeadOn, apply DIRECTLY to the FOREHEAD!" etc.

This is the sort of thing that sends people into bell towers with rifles.

When I first saw this commercial, I thought I must be missing something. What, exactly, does the product do? It appears to be a balm of some kind, but for what ailment? How many people suffer from forehead pain? Perhaps it was for headaches. And then I began to spy a certain kind of genius about the ad. A headache remedy ad that causes migraines. Brilliant!

Indeed, I began to wonder if it wasn't maximally schlocky on purpose, the TV ad equivalent of outsider art. It has, after all, the surreal vertigo of some crazy piece of installation video or a Japanese blast ad, the kind accused of producing seizures. I also suspected the ad was supposed to be funny. For instance, there is this big yellow animated arrow pointing vigorously at the woman's forehead, next to the words "apply directly to the forehead." Wait, I'm confused. Where do I apply it?

This had to be some sort of spoof, some piece of carefully calibrated irony like the Old Navy or the Enzyte (natural male enhancement) campaigns. Perhaps it was a viral anti-ad that escaped the confines of the web somehow to reach legitimate TV. At least I wasn't the only one baffled. A quick google of "Apply directly to the forehead" returned hundreds of pages, with many bloggers howling for medieval tortures to be applied to the person responsible.

He was easy enough to find. HeadOn is made by a company called Miralus Healthcare, which has offices in Canada and Florida (the actual product is manufactured in Chicago). With a couple of calls I managed to contact Dan Charron, vice president of sales and marketing. I asked if he was aware of the buzz.

"We first knew something was up when we found all the web pages devoted to the commercials," he said. Did he also notice people saying it was the most awesomely awful commercial they'd ever seen? That surprised him. "Nobody in the focus groups said the ads were annoying," he said, a statement that made me feel very sorry for focus groups.

But, come on, this is some kind of postmodern gag, right, a parody of the hyper-hard sell? Alas, no. "We didn't intend it to be a joke," Charron said. "The idea is that all our competitors are pills. Our product you apply directly to the forehead. That's what makes it different. We wanted for people to remember it. It's the only product that you apply directly to the forehead." He kept saying that. This is the ad you get when Rain Man is your VP of marketing.

What about the peculiar anti-style of the commercial? The ad—which cost "almost nothing," said Charron—is actually an edited version of an earlier advertisement, recycling the same footage of the head-rubbing woman. At the request of the Better Business Bureau, HeadOn removed claims that the product provides relief from headaches, migraines and headache pain with sleeplessness.

Thus expunged of any claim of efficacy or benefit, what remains is, I think, unique in advertising: a commercial that says nothing about the product except how to use it. And this is where it gets weird. Because of its strange and evocative emptiness, the "apply directly" sound bite is catching on. There's now a web site that has laid it down behind a hip-hop dance mix. Another has converted it into a ring tone. How soon before we see T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, above a picture of a frosty mug of beer? It's a tribute to pop's alchemical power that the most uncool commercial in the history of TV has somehow been rendered, well, cool.

Meanwhile, Charron and his company are working on the next round of HeadOn commercials. If you want me, I'll be in the bell tower.

7.20.2006

Enough is Enough

1. "Desperate Housewives"
2. Star Jones vs. Barbara Walters
3. The term "baby bump"
4. Will Farrell
5. Keith Richards
6. George W.
7. TV ads for Carls Jr.
8. Jessicas Simpson and Alba
9. "The Sopranos"
10. Brad and Angelina
11. Trailers telling us not to pirate movies
12. $5 bottles of water at baseball games
13. Paris Hilton
14. Drivers who go 4 mph in parking garages looking for a space when there's plenty just two levels up
15. MIA Suri Cruise
16. The cult of Oprah
17. The witch hunt for Barry Bonds
18. Paula Abdul
19. The argument that Angels and Demons is a better book than The DaVinci Code
20. The space shuttle
21. The "War on Terror"
22. CNN's Nancy Grace
23. Gene Shalit
24. The weathermen on the network morning shows
25. Kobe Bryant
26. Lifetime movies
27. US Weekly and its tabloid magazine ilk
28. Heat waves
29. Jay Leno
30. Blogs
31. Motorcycle riders who don't install a muffler
32. "My Super Sweet 16"

7.02.2006

Summer movie haikus

Mission: Impossible III
Tom’s franchise is back
Gadgets, stunts, hot girls, Ving Rhames
Please pass the popcorn

X-Men 3Wolverine’s still cool
Ratner’s pic is pretty good
Singer’s were better

Cars
Pixar’s always good
But this one goes on too long
It’s no Toy Story

The Lake HouseTime travel romance
Poignant? Yes. Chemistry? No.
We blame Keanu

Superman ReturnsGood, but should be great
Margot’s Lois Lane’s better
We waited for this?

The Devil Wears Prada
Your worst nightmare boss
But worse and played by Meryl
Anne’s the next Julia

3.16.2006

The Best and Worst Films of 2005

1. Crash proved to be a curiously polarizing film, not so much for the raw, incendiary themes it’s exploring but more for the way writer-director Paul Haggis (and co-writer Bobby Moresco) explores them. Some embrace the film’s complex look at racial tensions and stereotypes and the implication that there is the capacity in all of us for both cowardly prejudice and color-blind fairness given certain circumstances. Others, though, can get past neither the film’s structure that allows a handful of characters to repeatedly (and, yes, sometimes implausibly) cross paths nor a preachy tone that sometimes feels a bit medicinal. Those snobbish people really should get over themselves. Crash is more parable than documentary. Viewed with the right mindset, it’s a powerful experience, thanks mostly to storylines featuring LAPD cop Matt Dillon and Hollywood player Terrence Howard. A must-see.

2. Brokeback Mountain reminds us that it’s often the languid, lyrical films that stick with you, the ones that take their sweet time and find big drama and meaning in the smallest of moments. There’s real poetry at work here – big credit for that goes to Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting (and justly Oscar-winning) score and the spare screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana - in this tragic story of two ranch hands harboring a secret love. It’s easy to politicize a film that deconstructs so heterosexual a symbol as the American Cowboy, but this is really no more than a variation on the familiar story of star-crossed lovers held apart by social convention. You may have heard that Heath Ledger is a revelation as the more tormented and repressed of the two cowboys, but attention must also be paid to the silent heartbreak conveyed by Michelle Williams as a wife whose marriage is a sham. By now, no one can say that Ang Lee isn’t one of our most versatile film directors (check out his credits if don’t believe it).

3. A History of Violence has its story roots in a graphic novel (adapted here by Josh Olson) and the pulpiness shows. It’s a lean, mean story about a small-town business owner and family man who may or may not have once been a ruthless mob enforcer. Is his past catching up to him? If so, how will he respond? It’s been said Canadian director David Cronenberg saw this film as an exploration of America’s unique obsession with violence, which makes sense given the way his movie gooses you to cheer when the bad guys get what they deserve while at the same time delivering the blood in such gruesome detail that you almost want to look away. The last half-hour is quite the bloodbath. That complexity – violence hurts, but it sure can be fun and sexy – lends unexpected depth and intelligence to what could have been another man-protects-his-family thriller.

4. The Constant Gardener may be gussied up with flashy non-linear editing, stylishly loose cinematography, and a poignant romance between bookish bureaucrat Ralph Fiennes and firebrand activist Rachel Weisz, but make no mistake: this is an old-fashioned spy thriller. And, in the able hands of director Fernando Meirelles, it’s a deliciously good one. In an exotic land of intrigue (here, it’s Africa), no one is who they seem, greed costs lives, a naïve hero learns the world is an uglier place than he ever imagined, and there is danger at every turn. Weisz (whose rather tart on-screen persona isn’t always easy to like) rightly won an Oscar because she’s the soul of the movie - it’s her character, and the love and respect so many of the other characters have for her, that drives the whole story.

5. Syriana weaves a complicated, layered tapestry of disparate subplots and agendas and locales and characters, all of which connect and impact one another in unexpected ways. Writer-director Stephen Gaghan wants nothing less than to offer a glimpse inside the murky political and business machinations at work in the Middle East. If it’s an undeniably ambitious film, it’s also one that never for a moment underestimates its audience. If anything, the film is perhaps too literate: much of the dialogue is hard to follow and it’s not always exactly clear what’s going on or who’s doing what to do. But when was the last time a Hollywood film’s main problem was that it was too smart? Rest assured, if you pay attention in Syriana you will the gist and feel smarter in the end for doing so. All this plus a riveting (and now Oscar-winning) performance by George Clooney who finally forgoes his glossy movie star image.

6. Walk the Line is a fairly straightforward story as its core: haunted and tortured artist is redeemed through the love of a good woman. What makes the film sparkle, obviously, are the details. The uniqueness of the backdrop certainly helps as the story explores some dark corners of the Southern-fried American country/rock music scene of the 1950s and 60s. (There’s a whole lot of singing going on here and without question, this movie will work best for fans of country music.) There’s also a lot to be said about the surprisingly assured direction of heretofore B-list director James Mangold. But it’s really the caliber of the acting that elevates a story that could just have easily been a Sunday night movie for Lifetime. We always knew Joaquin Phoenix could play brooding and misunderstood, but the steely resolve shown by Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash is a complete surprise.

7. The Interpreter works as a welcome throwback to the slickly-made, post-Watergate paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, which should come as no surprise since director Sydney Pollack directed one of the best of that era: Three Days of the Condor. All the requisite elements are here: an assassination plot that must be thwarted, a mysterious witness who may or not be trustworthy, a grizzled cop stumbling onto a vast conspiracy, a ripped-from-the-headlines political backstory (here, the bloody civil wars in Africa) that gives the action a global scope and ups the stakes. Stars Nicole Kidman (the mysterious witness) and Sean Penn (the grizzled cop) are predictably good, but it’s Pollack - with writers Charles Randolph, Scott Frank, and Steven Zallian – who delivers the real goods, particularly in a sweaty sequence involving a possible terrorist bombing. Top-notch.

8. Constantine reminds us that as tired as some genres might seem, they can always be revived with a skillful execution. The demons-and-hellfire supernatural thriller in which a lone hero must combat the forces of Satan (or some Satan-like power) is a cinematic staple, particularly on the lower shelves of the video store. But director Francis Lawrence, working from a script by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Capello – based on a graphic novel Hellblazer – gives the clichéd premise renewed life. There’s a lot of the expected mumbo-jumbo about demons and angels walking amongst us and the delicate balance of power between God and Satan, but the film ultimately works, believe it or not, because of a solid performance by none other than Keanu Reeves as a sad-sack sinner trying to win a spot in heaven by battling demons. It’s his universal dilemma – how can I redeem myself? – that makes the film about far more than just cool special effects.

9. Munich stirred quite a bit of controversy in its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is far too volatile a problem to allow for a reasoned discussion by all parties. In exploring the fallout of the 1972 Olympic massacre (and subtly linking that conflict with today’s “War on Terror” thanks to a shot of a 1970s-era World Trade Center), director Steven Spielberg and writers Eric Roth and Tony Kushner have been accused of being either too sympathetic or not sympathetic enough depending on who’s doing the accusing. But it seems clear they’re less interested in taking sides than in exploring the ambiguity and slippery morals involved in eye-for-an-eye justice. How do you define justifiable murder? The film isn’t without its flaws, particularly a strange climax that intercuts a sex scene with the Munich massacre, but it remains a compelling – and probably necessary - look at the politics of revenge.

10. Hustle & Flow treads much of the same ground as the Eminem melodrama 8 Mile as it explores the hard-scrabble rise of a rap artist trying to break free from lower-class hopelessness. But there’s a much more palpable sense of desperation and urgency in this film. Things may have seemed dire for Eminem’s factory worker, but that’s nothing compared to the situation weary pimp D-Jay (a magnetic Terrance Howard) finds himself in as he starts to realize that unless he can turn things around, he’ll never be anything more than a back-alley pimp. Like Rocky Balboa, he just wants one shot at greatness. Extra credit to writer-director Craig Brewer for providing so infectiously compelling a look at the way D-Jay and his crew slowly create the rap anthem “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

11 (tie). The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers both deserve praise – as well as admiration - for delivering high-octane laughs. When was the last time you watched a comedy that was truly, consistently funny? Most supposed comedies these days are too creaky (the endless variations on girl-meets-boy romantic comedies) or self-aware (the shameless mugging of Adam Sandler and his minions) to draw more than a smile or chuckle from audiences. But these two films benefited greatly from the perfect marriage of clever premise (a 40-year-old who never had sex, two horndogs troll wedding receptions for easy conquests) and charismatic talent (the awkwardness of Steve Carrell, the wise-ass charm of Vince Vaughn). Yes, both films suffer from needlessly long second acts, but it’s hard to complain when they mostly succeed where so many mostly fail.

Honorable mentions: Batman Begins; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Cinderella Man; The Family Stone; Funny Ha Ha; Good Night, and Good Luck; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; In Her Shoes; Jarhead; Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Red Eye; Serenity; Sin City; and Zathura.


The Dukes of Hazzard couldn’t have gone more wrong. How an amusingly corny (though beloved) 1970s TV show got transformed into so painfully unfunny a feature film is baffling. The problem seems to be that the filmmakers weren’t sure what approach to take with it. Do you update it and make it hip and mod like Charlie’s Angels or satirize cheesy 1970s anachronisms like The Brady Bunch? Neither, it turns out. Instead, just offer some lame jokes, a few car chases, and hope it all works out. But it doesn’t. Just about every decision is the wrong one. This includes giving Bo Duke a creepy romantic fixation on the General Lee, making Roscoe T. Coltrane and Boss Hogg figures of intelligent menace (instead of idiot comic foils as in the TV show), and casting dim-bulb Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke. A disaster.

War of the Worlds may take the record for worst flame-out in movie history. The first hour of the film – depicting a devastating attack from alien tripods with creepy echoes of September 11 - is about as tense and engrossing a set-up as you’ll see as Tom Cruise and his kids go on a desperate run for survival. The problem, as you’ve probably heard, is an ending that fizzles when it should have sizzled. Yes, the reason for the aliens’ demise stays true to H.G. Wells’ original, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good or satisfying reason. And you can’t blame H.G. Wells for a incongruously happy ending in which characters who should have died in the alien attacks suddenly turn up happy and whole in a neighborhood strangely untouched by the carnage we’ve just watched for two hours.

Flightplan reminds us that even Jodie Foster is mortal. The two-time Oscar winner typically has an impeccable taste in projects. She’s so discerning that her very presence in a film usually means it’s better than average. Not so here. This film boasts a pretty cool set-up (when a woman’s daughter goes missing during a long plane flight, no one remembers her having a daughter) in search of a second act. Foster – under the ham-fisted direction of Robert Schwentke – goes into full-tilt panic mode right away and there she stays for the rest of the film. They don’t get much more annoying than this.

Guilty Pleasures: MTV

It’s fashionable for Generation Xers (weaned on Martha Quinn and reruns of “The Young Ones”) to complain about MTV these days and its reluctance to play music videos outside of a few snippets on TRL. Last the Cheese Fry checked, the M in their name still meant “music.” But the network now is more of a “lifestyle” channel that programs its schedule with an eye to exploiting the trendy, sex-obsessed, in-your-face sensibility of its target demographic.

Even so, if you choose wisely, MTV can still deliver the goods, even if it’s often a guilty pleasure that comes with a whole lot of Clearasil spots. The best of the bunch are these three:

1. Made. This show – a rather traditional one-hour documentary, though not something you’d ever confuse with “60 Minutes” – offers the kinder, gentler side of MTV, a channel that each year shamelessly broadcasts from the half-naked, drunken beaches of Spring Break. Each episode of “Made” follows one high schooler as he/she works to attain some dream or goal (which usually seems fairly arbitrary) with the help of a professional guide. See the school geek try to become a rocker, see the outcast try to join the basketball team, see the wallflower try to become a tough skateboarder. On its face of it the whole thing is rather silly, but these kids are far more real – full of doubt, worry, and a desperate need to fit in – than the plastic specimens you’ll see squealing on the Spring Break shows. Plus, the brutally clique-ish high school social scene on display in each episode in verite detail is sure to induce cringes in any viewer who managed to barely escape the 12th grade in one piece. It’s a John Hughes film come to life.

2. Next. The Dating Game for the ADD set. One contestant gets to meet five people to date (yes, there are same-sex episodes) and at any minute can say “Next!” to dump that person and meet the next one in the queue. When the contestant finally meets the date he/she likes, he gives them a chance to go on another date (without the camera crew) or take home one dollar for every minute they’ve been together. Whatever. The fun comes just from watching the cross-section calvacade of contestants and dates who come from all walks of life and all manners of style and dress, from surfer dudes to goth chicks, stripper chic to preppy nerd. Most of them are the kind of people you’d never in a million years want to date. Which is why it’s so much for see their egos deflated, either by being dismissed with a rude “Next” or by being the one cruelly saying “Next” for such shallow and pointless reasons. The flip side of this, of course, is that you end up rooting hard for the handful of genuinely decent-seeming people.

3. Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet 2. All the punctuation (and that cheeky “2”) in the wordy title can be intimidating, yes, but this is the guiltiest of MTV guilty pleasures, an ingenious and addictive cross-pollination between “Survivor”-style elimination challenges and bratty 20-something psychodrama of “The Real World.” By now MTV has cultivated a fairly extensive stable of reality TV stars thanks to so many years of “Real World” and “Road Rules” seasons and the network treats the cast members like its own personal company of actors, each with his or her own role to play – some are villains, some are heroes, some can be counted on, some are hopeless flakes. Because no one cuts tape together better than MTV’s editors, you can’t help but get sucked into the petty jealousies, beer-soaked bravado, and snarky to-the-camera testimonials. Watch it once if only for the extremely over-the-top opening credits packed full of an inordinate amount of sexy pouts and sullen glares that’s apparently intended to be taken completely seriously. We kid because we love.

3.12.2006

Lost “Maternity Leave”

Cool: There was something a little odd to the Cheese Fry the way Ethan (in the flashback) gave Claire water from a canteen that she described as sour. It's too strange a detail to be meaningless. A clue, perhaps, to some other secret?

Cooler: Zeke, the ostensible leader of the Others, isn’t a ragged bearded island man at all. We see him here as a clean-cut professional. (Kate later finds a locker full of Other disguises straight from the costume department at ABC.)

Huh?: Last week Jack was in full sanctimonious mode and resisted the idea of keeping Henry hostage for torture. This week, however, he’s intent on preserving the secret. Which is it? And where, for that matter, did Sayid disappear to in this episode?

Best Line: “I just don’t know why you let the doctor call the shots.” – Henry Gale trying to get under John’s skin and – surprisingly – succeeding. It’s a little hard to believe John is this fragile and so easily manipulated, but I guess his resentment to Jack is becoming harder to conceal.

Rising: Claire, who’s fiercely determined to follow Rousseau into the jungle in an effort to learn what happened when Ethan kidnapped her. Who knew she had this kind of guts and gumption (or whatever they call guts and gumption in Australia)?

Falling: Sawyer, who rather easily agrees to let three women go into the jungle alone to try and find Ethan’s lair. He acts like they're just taking an afternoon, no-big-deal stroll to gather coconuts. Yeah, he's a jerk, but one would expect he'd insist on tagging along, if only to protect psuedo-girlfriend Kate.

3.05.2006

"78th Annual Academy Awards"

A chronological stream-of-consciousness reaction courtesy The Cheese Fry:

* What starts as a funny bit with past hosts rejecting the call to host this year's awards (beginning with Billy Crystal and Chris Rock in the Brokeback pup tent) ends rather weakly with Jon Stewart in bed with George Clooney in some strained attempt at a topical gay joke. Maybe it looked good on paper.

* Is it me or is Jon Stewart having trouble with his monologue?

* Clooney wins for Best Supporting Actor, which was fairly predictable.

* What's with this new element of playing music under the winners' acceptance speeches? Presumably, it's to keep the pressure on to prevent any needlessly long speeches, but it gives the show one more level of melodramatic cheese. This isn't a Lifetime movie.

* The Tom Hanks getting-hit-over-the-head with a viola bit is kind of funny.

* It's Ben Stiller who gets the first genuine laughs of the night with his shameless delivery of the visual effects Oscar wearing an unflattering greenscreen body suit.

* The two winners of Wallace and Gromit put on their new Oscars bow ties that match their own. A cute touch, but it robs them of humility - they must have figured they had a good shot since they went to the trouble of making the bow ties. And who likes people who let you know that they knew they'd win, even if they knew they'd win?

* Naomi Watts, usually smoking hot, looks decidedly un-hot in an ugly dress whose color matches her skin tone.

* Dolly Parton works the room like it's the Ryman and has the Oscar crowd clapping their hands. Weird.

* A nice change to preview the Best Picture candidates by simply showing clips during show bumpers, rather than wasting time to bring out a presenter to read some pithy lines about How Important the nominated film is and then introduce the clip.

* Stewart's Scientology joke flops, reminding one how very seriously these people take all of this. Hollywood doesn't have a sense of humor about itself.

* Luke and Owen Wilson sure are charming, aren't they?

* Why can't the Academy find some way to let audiences see the live-action and animated nominated shorts? It's a crime that it's so impossible to find these films.

* Also a crime? The unending insistence on inserting cartoon characters into a live-action award show. The same people who won't laugh at a Scientology joke seem to think this kind of Saturday-morning cable-access nonsense is clever.

* Will Ferrell and Steve Carrel are pretty funny in their bad makeup.

* Another joke flops as Jon Stewart tries to riff on Russell Crowe's bad boy reputation.

* Consider Rachel McAdams another perennially smoking hot actress who somehow doesn't look good in her Oscar get up. What's going on?

* Only Morgan Freeman can get away with wearing a suit with no tie.

* Rachel Weisz wins Best Supporting Actress, which is what the pundits seemed to think would happen.

* Lauren Bacall fills in one of Oscars' most coveted slots: Aging Star Who Can't Read the Teleprompter.

* Jon Stewart finally delivers the goods with his Best Actress campaign ads: Keira Knightley for "Acting While Beautiful," Reese Witherspoon and "crazy letters that make no sense," and Judi Dench is no dame. Hilarious.

* Terrance Howard sure is charismatic and could become the Next Denzel. You read it here first.

* Strange that the March of the Penguins winners didn't say anything about how their film had to be rescued from oblivion by an American distribution executive who made the wise decision to stick on the Morgan Freeman narration, thus helping pave the way to box office gold and the Oscar. Hmmm.

* Jennifer Lopez. At what point is her 15 minutes of fame up, anyway? Enough is enough.

* Dolly Parton had the stage all to herself but for the Crash song we get interpretive dance and a burning car.

* What is the deal with these pointless montages? First the biopic retrospective, then the film noir retrospective, and now a rather random collection of clips about films with social impact. Hollywood is always annoyingly self-congratulatory, but this is ridiculous. And this clip package ends with a musical flourish that borders on parody.

* The Cheese Fry just doesn't get the appeal of the Ms. Salma Hayek.

* Gustavo Santaolalla justly wins for his memorable score to Brokeback Mountain, the only one that sounded unique and not just the same old bombastic orchestral score you've heard a million times. It's so memorable, in fact, that (right or wrong) it's become shorthand for homosexual subtext.

* Stewart scores with a joke about Itzak Perlman finger syncing his violin performance.

* Another montage, this one about epics. Stewart jokes that they're all out of clips now. Ouch.

* The Cheese Fry really doesn't get the appeal of the Ms. Jessica Alba no matter how skillfully the Hollywood PR machine tries to force us all to like her. The lights may be on, but no one's home.

* Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep deliver the goods with an amusing and, in a pre-canned evening of plastic phoniness, very natural introduction to Robert Altman by paying tribute to his customary technique of sloppy, improvised, overlapping dialogue.

* "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp" gets the Sonny and Cher Hour treatment with writhing dancers and flashing disco lights. Subtlety has never met Oscar.

* Oops: the camera shows briefly a couple of tuxedoed stagehands moving a "Pimp" streetlamp prop off the stage.

* The annual "In Memoriam" montage ends - as always - with the heavy hitters sure to pull the biggest applause: producer Ismail Merchant, then director Robert Wise, and in the anchorman spot Richard Pryor.

* Stewart lands another hit when he notes Scorsese's got no Oscars and "Pimp" group 3-6 Mafia has one.

* Philip Seymour Hoffman wins Best Actor for a film no one's seen.

* Reese Witherspoon wins for Best Actress and delivers a cutesy, Reese-like speech, including a misty-eyed bit about how June Carter liked to say "I'm just trying to matter."

* Adapted screenplay goes to Brokeback Mountain, original screenplay to Crash. Very predictable. A pox on the houses of Oscar, however, for cutting off Crash co-writer Bobby Moresco. The show's already running past three hours - what's it matter now? Here's an idea: cut those stupid damn montages.

* Stewart's best line, in reference to Brokeback co-writer Larry McMurty's choice of pants: "I didn't know we could wear jeans."

* And now come the esteemed Hollywood royalty: Tom Hanks delivers the Best Director award to Ang Lee, Jack Nicholson (note: aren't we all a little tired of his sunglasses gimmick by now?) delivers Best Picture to Crash.

* It's not an upset of Shakespeare in Love proportions perhaps, but Crash definitely was a come-from-behind winner to topple favorite Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. Cynics would argue it was the flood of free Crash "For Your Consideration" award DVDs into the Hollywood community that provided the growing momentum these last few weeks. Maybe Stewart was onto something with his TV campaign ads - that could be the next step.

* Further bad karma is assured when the producers cut off Crash producer Cathy Schulman. You just proclaimed her the producer of the Best Picture of 2005 but now you have to end her speech to run another "Sons and Daughters" sitcom promo?

* Final running time: 3.5 hours.

3.03.2006

The One with all the Episodes

Here's a pointlessly trivial listing of all of the episode titles from NBC's Friends. A nice way to reminisce about the pop culture phenom of the 1990s, including the evolving hairstyles of Rachel and Monica, the yo-yoing weight of Chandler, and the slowly dwindling likability of Ross.

2.20.2006

Lost “One of Them”

Cool: Kate’s dad makes an unexpected flashback appearance as one of the soldiers involved in the POW capture of Sayid during the first Gulf War. Presumably, it was footage he shot of Sayid then that makes its way onto his recruitment office TV set for the "What Kate Did" episode flashback.

Cooler: Sayid’s torture skills were in part developed because of the U.S. military’s decision to force Sayid to interrogate one of his superior officers.

Huh? (tie): 1. In looking for the noisy frog, Sawyer and Hurley walk for what looks like miles into the jungle, which begs the question of what kind of superhero frog is this with a ribbit that can be heard on the beach from miles inland. 2. Locke and Sayid rightly assume that Jack will have problems with the torture of Henry Gale, so why not undertake that bloody mission after Jack’s gone? Why do it while he’s still in the hatch and able to intervene?

Best Line: “My name is Sayid Jarrah and I am a torturer.” – Sayid’s matter-of-fact introduction to new character Henry Gale, who may be an innocent wealthy adventurer who travels by hot-air balloon or may be an Other spy like Ethan and Goodwin. By episode’s end, Sayid is convinced he’s an Other, a possibility also suggested to the audience with a rather chillingly half-smirk from Gale.

Falling: Sawyer, who kills a tree frog by crushing it in his fist. When he said he wasn't a good person in the last episode, he wasn't kidding.

Battlestar Galactica “The Captain’s Hand”

Cool: The Colonials have given the battlestars nicknames – Galactica is the “Bucket” and Pegasus is the “Beast.”

Cooler: Baltar completely torpedoes Roslin during a press conference by announcing that he’s running for president against her. He may have the Cylons on his side, but it’s very possible that we have yet to see the truly dangerous side of Laura Roslin.

Coolest: It’s a compelling debate about whether or not to outlaw abortion in a scenario where humanity is facing extinction and every birth takes us one step closer to survival. What would you do?

Huh?: It’s a little odd that in trying to find the two lost Raptors, everyone stays on the Pegasus sifting through paperwork like Woodward and Bernstein. Why not, like, send out a Viper search party?

Best Line: “I need to go down there. You have the conn.” – Commander Garner ceding control of Pegasus to Apollo and essentially acknowledging that he has no place at the top of the command chain.
Rising: Apollo, who may not be a weak-kneed milquetoast after all. He takes confident control of Pegasus and manages to keep the ship safe long enough for Garner to make his Wrath of Khan-style sacrifice down in engineering, killing himself but repairing the ship.

Battlestar Galactica “Sacrifice”

Cool: The discovery of a growing hotbed of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who think the Colonial military is somehow in cahoots with the Cylons, which is a completely plausible wrinkle given the whispered rumors (and tabloid-style grainy photographs) of Adama’s meetings with Caprica-Boomer.
Cooler: It’s always good to see Colleen McMurphy-- er, Dana Delaney back on TV, here as terrorist ringleader Sesha Abinell. (Where do they come up with these names?)
Coolest: Unlike Adama and Tigh, Roslin was the only one seemingly willing to risk the consequences of not negotiating with terrorists... yet she was the only one who paid the price in losing Billy.
Best Line: “Billy, I can’t marry you.” – Dualla’s heartbreaking reply to Billy’s fumbling proposal. Once the terrorists take over the Cloud 9 bar, it’s easy to predict that Billy’s rejection must lead to a fatal sacrifice of redemption.
Rising: The writing staff, who’s cleverly employing movie clichés to form the spine of recent episodes. First we had the noir detective thriller, then the World War II-style ace pilot drama, and now a Die Hard-style hostage thriller complete with a shot of Apollo watching terrorists take over through a partially ajar door just as Bruce Willis did at Nakatomi Tower.
Falling: Starbuck, who must not have enough baggage to deal with so the writers now saddle her with the guilt of almost killing Apollo.

2.19.2006

Lost “The Long Con”

Cool: The complicated con Sawyer runs on hapless Cassidy in the flashback. She has no idea who she's dealing with.

Cooler: The suggestion that Sawyer may have had some genuine feelings stirring in his Grinchinan heart for sweet Cassidy.

Huh?: It was fun trying to figure out who was trying to make everyone think Sun had been kidnapped (was it Ana-Lucia? Jack?), but to find out it was just about Sawyer getting his hand on the guns so he could either A) tip the balance of power back to him or B) make sure people continued to hate him? That was the definition of unsatisfying. Another wasted episode.

Best Line: “I'm not a good person, Charlie. Never did a good thing in my life.” – Sawyer, explaining his world outlook and surely causing many female viewer hearts to flutter at the prospect of saving a bad boy like him.

Falling: Jack, who seems to be always angry these days. Didn’t anyone ever tell him you get more with sugar than with vinegar? Every encounter he has with another character seems designed to provoke and irritate. He couldn’t be more arrogant or brusque.

2.14.2006

Battlestar Galactica “Scar”

Cool: We learn here that Vipers all come equipped with on-board cameras that allow pilots to later study dogfights. It’s chilling here to watch Starbuck analyze footage broadcast by a Viper moments before it was destroyed and the pilot lost. This dovetails nicely with the episode’s overall theme of “death becomes a learning experience.” Just as reincarnated Cylon Raiders learn from each successive death, so, too, do the Colonial pilots learn from each other’s dogfight deaths. This is great stuff.
Cooler: Another melancholic moment comes when Kat adds to the 9/11-style wall of the dead a picture of the dead Viper pilot’s girlfriend (whose name sadly no one can remember) who herself died on the 12 colonies. Her picture had been in the pilot’s bunk, but with him dead, there’s no one left to remember her. And so she’s added to the nameless masses lost in the war against the Cylons. It's grim moments like this that remind one how far this reimagined series is from the toothless, disco action-adventure of the original 1970s series.
Huh?: This episode’s flashback-heavy, non-linear structure is too confusing to add to the drama as seems intended. It’s tough to figure out when we’re in the past and when we’re in the present.
Best Line: “To BB, Jo-Jo, Reilly, Beano, Dipper, Flat Top, Chuckles, Jolly, Crashdown, Sheppard, Dash, Flyboy, Stepchild, Puppet, Fireball...” – Starbuck’s poignant toast to fallen Viper pilots, contradicting her earlier tough-guy assertion that she never remembers the names of the dead.
Rising: Kat, who’s a great foil to Starbuck, perhaps because she’s just as cocky, insubordinate, and talented in a cockpit as Starbuck.

Battlestar Galactica “Black Market”

Cool: Though the show’s producers reportedly weren’t at all happy with this episode (the in-media-res open was supposedly one way they tried to strengthen it), the detective mystery conceit works pretty well, with Apollo playing the part of a Raymond Chandler gumshoe getting in over his head in a complex criminal underworld. He even gets attacked and threatened by the bad guys (“You tell Adama to let it go”).

Cooler: Do-gooder Apollo’s realization that there are sometimes shades of moral grays. He decides to let the black market operate as a necessary evil rather than trying to stop it, knowing full well no one can ever stop the demand for such a service. Then he bravely defends that choice to newly-irritable Roslin (see “Huh?” below).

Coolest: The implication that perhaps Zarek was pulling the strings all along, manipulating Apollo into offing Phelan so he could get control of the black market ring.

Huh?: President Roslin’s seems to have gained some edge since her miraculous cancer cure in the last episode. Note here her abrupt handling of Baltar in asking/demanding his resignation. That moment is satisfying in that it’s good to see someone finally taking Baltar to the woodshed, but it doesn’t ring true for Roslin’s character.

Good Line: “It’s hard to find the moral high ground when we’re all standing in the mud.” – Black market kingpin Phelan suggesting Apollo not get too high and mighty since he’s been known to regularly visit a prostitute.

Better Line: “Did you really expect some utopian society to rise from the ashes?” – Zarek explaining to Apollo humanity’s penchant for corruption and greed.

Rising: Apollo, whose cold-blooded murder of Phelan is the kind of thing we’d expect from Starbuck, not a clean-cut goody-goody like him.

Falling: Phelan’s henchmen, who just stand there after Apollo shoots Phelan in cold blood right in front of them. What kind of bad guys are these? Is it that they’re just so stunned by Apollo’s decision that they can’t react? It seems strange that not even one of them tries to kill Apollo in revenge. They even step aside so Apollo can have a private “moment” with his hooker girlfriend Shevon. Weird.