Friday, February 23, 2007

Cocktails OR JJ Abrams Takes It Up a Notch

Last night’s episode of The Office delivered up its usual share of hilarity, but it ratcheted up the awkward level quite a few notches above the norm. Michael Scott’s diarrhea of the mouth was certainly not limited to him blurting out “Jan and I are lovers,” to the Dunder-Mifflin CFO hosting the party.

For those of you that haven’t seen the episode yet (shame on you): SPOILER ALERT!

Yes, it’s true, the Awkwardness™ passed from character to character like a baton at the relay race in the Socially Retarded Olympics. Dwight and Michael traded it a couple of times:

Dwight: What’s the square footage?
David: About 5,000.
Dwight: Does that include the garage?
Michael: Dwight, that’s not appropriate.
David: I don’t know.
Dwight: It’s a common question.
Michael: David, how much did this house cost?

Jim grew more and more awkward as he found that his girlfriend had “relations” with just about every guy at the party.

What? Karen’s a ho?

Nah, she just punk’d Jim so bad he didn’t even see it coming.

On the other side of town, at the bar, new heights of uncomfortable were reached by the whole gang. Creed, who is never awkward cause he’s Creed, reveals that he runs a fake ID business out of his car with a laminating machine he stole from the Sheriff’s office. Dang, he must carry a wheelbarrow with him everywhere he goes. Toby spends the entire evening winning a stuffed animal from the resident Evil Claw Machine™ for Pam only to have her rebuff his attempt at romantic generosity by reminding him that his daughter would like it, oh, and where was he all evening? She really wanted to hang out with him.

Nowhere was the unease more apparent than when Pam bared her horrible secret about Jim’s kiss to her on-again boyfriend Roy. The episode, directed famed Lost and Alias producer, J. J. Abrams, ended on a sincerely sinister note with Roy vowing to kill Jim Halpert after demolishing the bar with his drunk brother.

Yeah, kill.

So there you have it. While it was a hilarious episode, even in the Awkwardness™:

Dwight: Oh good, your up. Who makes this chair?
9-year-old Startled Awake: I don’t know, it was here when I was born.
Dwight: I want one. Really good solid construction. It’s comfortable. What is this? Oak?
9-year-old Obviously in Shock that a Stranger is in His Rocking Chair in the Middle of the Night: I don’t know.
Dwight: What do you know?

It ended on a decidedly creepy note. Pam and Roy are obviously through, this time for good, I’m thinking. Pammie’s newfound resolve to get what she wants may prove an interesting plot driver. Jim and Karen are still cute together and should stay that way. Michael’s retardation is stymieing Jan’s search for the forbidden high. Dwight is Dwight and I wouldn’t have him any other way. And Dunder-Mifflin soldiers on.

Oh, and thanks again to for the quotes from this episode. Those cats are quick!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ghost Rider? He barely Knew Her!

Okay, lame pun aside, he knew her pretty well. Stacy and I got a long-deserved break from the kids this week when we went to see Ghost Rider with Jon on Monday. We went armed with the knowledge that two good friends of ours did not like the movie. I quote, “The Punisher was better.” While I haven’t seen The Punisher (rated-R), I had heard plenty about it and knew that it fell somewhere between Daredevil and Fantastic Four among the latest crop of comic-inspired movies. I found it hard to believe that Ghost Rider could be that bad, considering how kick@## the previews looked. Then again, you can’t judge a book by its cover. You also can’t judge a book by what other people say about it. That’s why I don’t listen to movie critics. I lend a bit more weight to what friends say, but I usually reserve judgment until I have seen the movie.

In this case, I’m glad I did. Ghost Rider was much better than it could have been and nowhere as bad as some of the stinkers that Marvel has cranked out lately. It wasn’t even close to Spider - Man or X - Men levels of radness, but it rocked in its own way.

Let’s start with the visuals. No? You want to know about the story, you say. You want to know how compelling the characters were, you plead. Well too bad, non-existent, disembodied voice, this is my review.

The visuals were spot on. Never has a demon-possessed, flaming-skulled bounty hunter for the devil, with a flaming demonic bike of awesomeness and a death-dealing fiery chain of pain been translated so well between mediums. The initial transformation took a while to get to, but we were well served with some spectacular bike stunts in the meantime. The first time Ghost Rider made his appearance, you got a real sense of how painful such a transition might be as his flesh literally burns from his bones, leaving a grinning skull wreathed with hellfire behind. It wasn’t long after that his bike makes its own transformation with skeletal claws slowly reaching up to caress the gas tank, exhaust pipes elongating to bone-shaped tubes, down tubes morphing into solid chains, and a skeletal ribcage forming underneath it all. Very nice.

Ghost Rider’s origin was kept intact, something I feared would not happen. The previews made it seem like Johnny Blaze sold his soul to save the life of a girl, which would have been completely wrong. Thankfully, that wasn’t so.

The players ran the gamut from over-the-top comic book acting to genuine talent. This movie reminded me why I like Nick Cage. His Johnny Blaze had an excellent sense of timing and reaction. Cage lends a comedic quality to his characters that is understated yet supplies just the right amount of humor to offset the dark topic of the movie. Eva Mendes, who I maintain is near the bottom of the hot Latina starlet list (I would sooner take Salma Hayek, Vanessa Marcil, or Eva Longoria over her, though she is still miles above Horseface herself, Penelope Cruz,) played Roxanne Simpson, a hot newscaster with a smoking past with Blaze. Okay, I gotta stop with the fire references, this is too much even for me. She was all right, but I’m not much of a fan of hers anyway, so I paid more attention to her revealing outfits than her performance (boobtastic).

Sam Elliott, who was his usual crusty self, led the supporting cast. I wouldn’t have him any other way. His Caretaker was a joy to watch. Peter Fonda, looking extremely aged, played Mephistopheles nĂ© Mephisto. I expected his character to be over the top, but he was delightfully subdued, if a bit creepy uncle. I appreciate seeing Donal Logue in anything since his turn as a vampire lackey in Marvel’s first modern foray into comic book movies, Blade. Sadly, the rest of the supporting cast sucked donkey balls. Wes Bentley’s campy Blackheart led actors that were even worse in the villains’ camp. Besides Brett Cullen's Barton Blaze, the rest are completely forgettable.

If this movie lacks for anything, it is the plot, and boy does it lack. Mephistopheles sics Ghost Rider on Blackheart, who is searching for a contract that contains the power of 1000 souls. The previous ghost rider hid the scroll from Mephistopheles, fearing the power would make him unstoppable. Blackheart wants it to rule Hell and Earth with it. Now, why would a paltry 1000 evil souls from some abandoned town in the Southwest mean so much to the ruler of Hell? I would imagine that he gets more than that in a slow year. Not to mention, the state of the souls seems like it would devalue the deal. Wouldn’t 1000 innocent souls mean much more to Mephistopheles? Why can’t the ruler of Hell manage four demons, one of whom is his own son? Why can Ghost Rider handle them when he can’t? There were plot holes aplenty as the movie progressed. For instance, the legend says there is one ghost rider every generation, but the last ghost rider was from 150 years ago. Abuh? Wouldn’t it be nice if generations were spread out that far? I could dig living 150+ years.

So yes, the plot stunk, but oddly enough, that didn’t detract much from the movie. This flick did not pretend to be anything more than it was; a disposable bit of eye candy to while away a couple of hours. It didn’t aspire to be Oscar-worthy. It didn’t have its sights set on critical acclaim. It delivered itself as a guilty pleasure that I would certainly watch again, if for nothing more than seeing Ghost Rider blaze down the side of a building to land in the midst of a hornet’s nest of angry cops.

I give Ghost Rider four out of five flaming skulls on the meaningless scale that I just made up.