Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let's Get "Lost" Tonight (You Can Be My Black Kate Austen Tonight)

First off I apologize for the awful Kanye reference in the title. Oh wait, I don't. Because it's awesome.

Anyway, "Lost" returns tonight (and along with it, my long and rambling post-episode blog posts,) and I'm fairly excited. As in, "it's all I think about now that the college football season is over" excited.

So here are my totally 100% guaranteed to be accurate predictions for the fourth season.

The Smoke Monster Will Finally Reveal Itself
In a stunning cross promotional move between JJ Abrams franchises, it's gonna be the monster from Cloverfield, hereby referred to as Cloverfield. Which makes him less scary. As in, "look out, it's Cloverfield!" It just doesn't have the same ring to it as Godzilla, King Kong, or even Mothra, who, as his namesake implies, is...a giant moth. Anyway, Cloverfield will turn out to have drinking problems, get arrested with a DUI after shooting one day, not get along with the cast, and go the way of Mr. Ecco and Ana-Lucia. In a spiral of self destruction, Cloverfield will become addicted to pain killers, write a tell all book that reveals Mathew Fox to be a racist, and pose nude in Maxim.

In Another Cross Promotional Coup, The Cast of "Juno" Will Crash Land On the Island.
And about the first time one of them says "honest to blog," sings a Moldy Peaches song, or stops narrative progress to talk about hipster bands and obscure Italian horror movies that a former stripper screenwriter thinks would be cool for a sixteen year old girl to like...Sayid will kill them all.

Hurley Will Still Not Shed Any Weight.
This is a real prediction you can take to the bank. I've always loved how the writers have tried to address it, especially when they revealed that Hurley has a secret stash of Ranch dressing he hid from his fellow survivors. I'd probably do the same thing. Ranch is fucking good.

Despite Predictions Of An Upset Or At Least A Close Game, The Patriots Will Massacre The Giants
As long as I'm doing predictions, why not?

The People Jack Talks To On The Radio Are...
The Harlem Globetrotters! Didn't you ever see that episode of "Gilligan's Island?" They promised them that they'd send help back. They promised them!

In The New Flash Forward Structure, We'll Learn More About The Near Future
Though clearly, in the future, fake beards don't look anymore convincing.

Charlie Is Not Dead
But he will have amnesia.

Locke Will Get Engaged To The Island
But after a stormy six month engagement, Locke will break it off, saying that the two have grown apart.

If the Writer's Strike Doesn't End Soon, All The Lost Fans Out There Are Going To Be Pretty Pissed Off In Eight Weeks
Especially when the eighth and final episode that has been produced before the strike began turns out to be about Nicki and Paulo.

Check out which of my predictions come true tonight on "Lost." I'm pretty sure the "Juno" thing is going to happen. I know I'd love it if that movie and everything about it crash landed on a remote island (except for Michael Cera. He must be protected, as he is a national treasure.)

Jack To The Future

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Ballad Of Johnny Saltlake, Or Sundance In a Day and a Half

I promised that I'd follow up my small post about Salt Lake City with a full report from my Sundance trip almost two weeks ago. Seeing as I am a pretty lazy blogger, any of my (millions of loyal) readers would not be blamed for thinking I was never going to fulfill my promise. But here I am, ready to give you the lowdown on the trip and my experiences at Sundance 08.

I jumped into the loaded car with three friends, one of whom had his film, Freezer Burn (which is a really cool and funny comedy that blends elements of science fiction, romance, and character drama into a very original and impressive first feature,) in the Park City Film Music Festival. We drove into Vegas first, and stayed at the Stratosphere. As a major Vegas fanatic, I can now, with full confidence, recommend that you never stay at the Stratosphere. You might as well be in Primm, Nevada (the gas station/ resort 50 miles away from Vegas for people who can't wait less than an hour to feed the demons of their gambling addiction.) The Stratosphere is a bland and ugly place, and the drinks aren't cheap enough to justify how bland and ugly it is. Give me a scummier cheap casino, one of the few remaining classic casinos, or even one of the ridiculous Disney-fied themed Casinos over the Stratosphere. The Stratosphere fails to be any of those things, while featuring some of the worst aspects of all three. Hell, I'll take Circus Circus over it. Because, even though you feel like you might get stabbed by a meth addict at any given moment in Circus Circus, the place has character.

We mostly were in sin city just to sleep, so we only hit the casino floor for about an hour and a half...which was enough time to get five strong whiskey drinks in me and lose 40 bucks playing roulette. Satisfied and drunk, I retired to my room for a brief night of sleep before we hit the road to Utah.

Utah- gorgeous place that I hope to avoid visiting other than for future Sundance trips. But the state didn't get truly disturbing until we entered the Salt Lake City limits. The billboards were the first things that creeped me out. Weird bible quotes, ads for motels that claimed "Brigham says the La Quinta Inn is the coziest in Utah!." an ad for "the first R-rated Mormon film," one of those "adopt a highway" signs that said the highway was adopted by "mothers against gun control," and weirdest of all, a few giant ads that had pictures of recently departed people with their date of birth and death listed on them. I'm sorry for your loss, but did you need to advertise that your family member died?

Then there were the street names. Turn right from West100North Street onto North100East Street. Are the mormons just too uncreative to think of street names or are they just fucking with us secular sinners?

And of course, there are those pesky alcohol laws. Only one ounce of booze per drink, unless you order a "sidecar," which is a second ounce of alcohol served in a shot glass that the bartender is not allowed to pour into your drink for you. And most of the bars are actually called "social clubs," which means you have to pay to get a "membership" to drink there. Even the beer has lower alcohol content in Utah. I guess the Mormons figured that if they're going to Heaven for their beliefs, they should put themselves through Hell on Earth before they die.

The locals seemed to be borderline openly hostile to the invasion of Hollywood types. I used to read about how agents, actors, and directors would invade the town and drive the locals crazy sipping their lattes and yammering on their cell phones (a 90s version of Hollywood stereotypes, I know since this is what everyone in America is like at this point,) and I sympathized. But after a few encounters with SLC citizens, I lost all sympathy. The girls at the CVS Pharmacy near our hotel were openly making comments about us and said as we walked out "but what do we know, we're just a bunch of hicks." I didn't say it, you did. Listen, not to be a jerk, but you work at a CVS in Salt Lake City. You can't make me feel bad about anything in my life.

So, anyway, Sundance. Park City was a short half hour drive up a mountain from Salt Lake, and once you got into town, it was gorgeous. Snow blanketed the entire charming ski town, and being a California native, snow is something that you generally have to drive into mountains to see. It was a frigid 11 degrees outside when we got into Park City, but we bundled up and braved the crowds. We only ended up seeing one movie for a short, day and a half trip to the festival, but it was a doozy- George Romero's newest zombie pic, "Diary of the Dead." The movie was probably Romero's most bluntly political (in a series of bluntly political horror films) but it also had more gore and action than the previous entry into the series, "Land of the Dead." The whole film was shot handheld, with a digital camera, supposedly by one of the main characters, ala "Cloverfield." The device works about as well as it does in the JJ Abrams monster movie, but the characters address the fact that their friend won't stop filming during a crisis way more than Hud's friends do in the year's first blockbuster. Anyway, there was lots of zombie gore, a crazy sequence with a mute Amish badass, and plenty of left leaning political commentary. My kind of movie.

And the good old hippie/ icon of gory and violent horror cinema, Romero, was there, telling the crowd that "I'm a little drunk," and earnestly explaining that "Diary" is "one from the heart." The guy sat two rows behind my friends and I, which was great.

As for the famous Park City celebrity sightings, we had very few of note other than the awesome Romero Q and A. We saw the guy who plays Lloyd on "Entourage," but I've seen him at almost every single slightly big hollywood event I've ever been to as press, so that's hardly one to get stoked about. Our fellow travelers did go to a big MySpace party that Maroon 5 played at and met USC Great Reggie Bush (who my dog is named after, which would have been a weird thing to tell him if I had been at the party) and Perez Hilton. I wonder if those two had anything to say to eachother. Unfortunately, one of my friends got kicked out of the party because some of the former USC players were trying to get their friends in using his bracelet. Not being an SC alumni, I have a feeling he probably thinks a little less of the Trojans than I do. Just slightly. We met up with him after the movie while he huddled in the mall for warmth as we imagined a zombie apocalypse destroying the agents and assistants working the many parties along the frozen streets of Sundance.

Mostly our festival experience taught us that we should probably plan a little more in advance before we go, get ourselves some real Sundance badges and decide what we want to see ahead of time. And oh yeah, probably spend more than just a day in Sundance and try and be there after the first couple days, when nobody is really there yet and none of the big films are screening. All the reports from Sundance 08 I've read in the media have made me feel like I didn't miss much... there didn't seem to be many gems in the festival this year that critics and audiences are excited about. And if the current version of a Sundance "gem" is something as overrated as the cute but not that cute as last year's big hit (and current best picture nominee, WTF,) "Juno," than I weep for the state of American independent cinema.

Our drive back from Utah turned out to be the best part of the trip. As a creative challenge, we decided to start writing a screenplay with the goal of completing a feature by the time we got home. We only got fifteen pages deep, but we decided to keep going with it and finished the script last night. The script is called Johnny Saltlake, and it's about a badass from the town he's named for who seeks revenge on the bad guy who wronged him, befriends a coyote in the desert, runs for Utah state office in order to change the aforementioned liquor laws, fights a giant, Cloverfield-like monster, kills a group of ninja assassins with a chainsaw, discovers a global Mormon conspiracy, fights a flying Shark, hangs out with Martians, becomes the savior of mankind, and smokes. A lot. And that's only part one.

We finished the script yesterday, and it's a full blown, ninety minute feature. And it's totally, completely insane. So if one great thing came out of Sundance 08, it's "Johnny Saltlake." Maybe there's hope for the American indie film scene after all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Decline of Coachella

The Coachella lineup was announced this week, seemingly much earlier in the year than usual. Perhaps the festival's promoters announced the acts so early this year in order to make up for the extremely underwhelming and somewhat bizarre group of acts they've assembled.

Roger Waters doing “Dark Side of the Moon” is their top headliner? Oh my god everyone, let’s spend $100 to see the guy from Pink Floyd drag out that old warhorse of an album at Coachella even though we didn’t spend $30 to see the same thing when he played it at every local amphitheater across the country a year ago! I feel like Waters has been touring “Dark Side” for the better part of a decade now, so how is his playing it at Coachella supposed to be the big headline that makes you jump up and say “oh fuck, I have to go to Coachella this year or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life!” This is the festival in which The Pixies played their first reunion show in the same year that Radiohead and Kraftwerk played just a few years ago. Maybe if they had put together a full Pink Floyd reunion, then that would have been something to get excited about…or not. I’m no longer a stoned high school student, so it’s hard for me to get really excited about Pink Floyd at this point in my life.

Led Zeppelin reunited last month and is probably going to tour the U.S. soon. If they wanted the stoned teenager in all of us to come out for Coachella, couldn’t they have tried harder to get the Led out?

And then there’s the first day’s headliner…Jack fucking Johnson. Really? Really? This is the best you could do? I guess Coachella has really abandoned adventurous music fans and turned towards taking cash from bros who just want to listen to some chill tunes and drink some cold brews in the sun while they play hackey sack, toss Frisbees, take their shirts off, continue to repress their latent homosexuality, and just generally drain their father’s trust funds. Coachella used to be a place to where music lovers would make a pilgrimage to the desert to see edgy and interesting musicians, and now one of their headliners is a guy whose brand of boring acoustic rock is blandly inoffensive enough to be used as the soundtrack for the “Curious George” movie.

There are a few surreal choices clearly meant to fulfill the 90s nostalgia industry that will probably hit its peak in a couple years with nostalgia for 90s era 70s and 80s nostalgia. The Verve is playing…huh? I liked that “Bittersweet Symphony” song as much as everyone else did in the nineties, but did they even ever record another song after that? Without orchestral Rolling Stones samples, that band had nothing. Then there’s Portishead and Fatboy Slim, filling in the slot that Massive Attack occupied two Coachellas ago, and proving that not every ninties electro act was created equal.

And, oh boy, Tegan and Sara are there again. Yay. Do those girls just live at Coachella? Their shrill and annoying acoustic rock will make you wish that Sheryl Crow was playing. Or that you were dead.

And then there’s Dwight Yoakam. Country superstar Dwight Yoakam, who has sold millions of albums, getting lower billing than Death Cab For Cutie at a festival that is utterly lacking in country music and country music fans. Anybody wearing a cowboy hat at Coachella is just trying to be ironic. How did Dwight even end up on this bill? Was there some sort of bizarre trade between the indie rock and Country music worlds? Somewhere out there, is Built to Spill nervously playing a set between Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, trying to avoid beer cans tossed at their heads when they criticize President Bush between songs?

As a sidebar though, Mr. Yoakam was quite amazing in the Jason Statham action junk movie “Crank,” playing the doctor who provides Statham with the movie’s exposition and explaining that he needs to inject himself with adrenaline…or his heart will stop.

It just feels like the festival planners don't know who their audience is anymore now that Coachella has grown so massive. Or maybe they have figured it out, and I'm just not part of that audience anymore, which is kind of sad. And what do I know? Maybe all the hipsters will show up to see Dwight’s set... but you know, ironically. And only because there’s nothing else good to see at the festival this year.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


My last post was a bit on the negative and angry side, so I hoped my next entry would be positive and happy in order to show the world that I'm not just another embittered blogger ranting and raving anonymously over the internet. Unfortunately, I stayed in Salt Lake City this week while attending my first Sundance film festival. And discussing Salt Lake City makes positivity...difficult.

So instead of bitching about Salt Lake in this entry (that will come later,) I'm just going to post a picture of a sculpture of a cow wearing a jet pack that was across the street from the Marriot we stayed at. It's literally the only cool thing I saw in Salt Lake City. And the only thing that didn't piss me off, annoy me, bore me, or just plain creep me out in the entire fucked up city.

I'll post more about my epic three day trip later. Reggie Bush and George Romero are involved, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2007: These Are Some of My Favorite Things

I'm working on my top ton movies of 2007 list (I'm still woefully behind on big titles, but I'm getting there,) so I decided to make a pop cultural grab bag of other stuff I really dug in 07 (and a few things I really hated.)

Tina Fey's sharp and absurd sitcom is the show that has carried on the tradition of the great, dearly departed "Arrested Development." And the show's second season is where it really took off, delivering some of the biggest laughs network TV has ever given the viewing public. Alec Baldwin talked about leaving the show during the summer hiatus because of his personal problems, but it's great for America that he didn't. His "coming out" speech when he tells his Republican peers that he's dating a Female Democratic Senator is classic, matched by his scene where he accompanies Tracy Morgan to therapy, playing the part of his entire family- and basing his impressions on seventies sitcom characters. The cast has morphed into one of the most unrelentingly funny ensembles on television. Morgan's delivery can make even the most banal lines hilarious, while Jack McBrayer, as weirdo NBC paige Kenneth, has created a truly "funny because he's weird" character, and Jane Krakowski is delightfully ditzy as the self centered actress Jenna. The show has featured a great list of guest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, "Arrested's" Will Arnett, "The Sopranos'" Edie Falco, and even Princess Leah herself, Carrie Fisher, while never using them in a gimicky way. But it's Fey who really anchors the show, and her performance as the overworked, romantically challenged producer Liz Lemon is equal parts charming, sweet, and funny. She's really grown into her role this year, while continuing to run the entire show. The forced hiatus of this show right in the middle of their scorching hot second season might just be the biggest tragedy of the Writer's Strike. Come on, producers and WGA, settle this thing- we need our "30 Rock" back.

BEST DRAMA ON TV: Friday Night Lights
Who wouldathunk that a show about football would also be the most honest show on television about race, class, and life in small town America. Kyle Chandler should run for president after playing the most decent man on TV, Coach Taylor, and his young ensemble of players all have their moments to shine. I'm behind on the second season of "Nights," but the first season was one for the record books. If you're not watching this show yet, start now. Tune in, and make sure you've got some tissue- you'll probably cry. A lot.

So this was supposed to be my list of things I liked. So what? It's my list, and I'll be negative if I want to. Fans of Tim Kring's X-Men ripoff are disappointed with season 2 of the show. Which seems dumb, since season one is nothing to write home about. I've watched the first season on DVD, and while there are a few intriguing episodes, it was mostly boring. I don't like most of the characters, and everyone's favorite Hero, the Japanese time traveler named...Hiro (how clever,) comes off as more or less a giant, obnoxious stereotype. And the show had one of the absolute worst season finales I've ever seen. The show led you to believe everything was coming together for a big, fatalistic ending...and then just a whimper. Speaking of finales, this lead us to...

I don't know how much else I can really say about this amazing episode. It was a shocking, gripping, edge of your seat thrill ride, with a "game changing" twist in the very last scene that left each and every "Lostie" breathless. This amazing episode, along with the producers' announcement that they had an end date for the show in sight, and therefore could tell the story the way they wanted to and on their own terms, restored the faith of every one of the show's fans, and reminded us why we the story of the survivors of Flight 815 grabbed us in the first place. And it made us forgive them for the Nicki and Paulo episode (which I'm kind of a secret fan of anyway.)

I am a "24" nut. I defended the decisions of the show's producers in the latest season, sure that they had some plan to make it all come together in a way that would satisfy. The first four episodes were some of the finest work done on the show ever. Yet this last season, as a whole, was an utter disappointment that veered too often into ridiculous territory. The most intriguing part of the season- Jack's father showing up- was poorly handled, and, combined with some of the most unmemorable villains in the show's history, this was by far the weakest season in the show's history. "24" was guaranteed pulse pounding thrills and suspense, but delivered nothing but frustration in "day six." Maybe the writer's strike all but scrapping day seven will give the writers and producers time to fix the problems and get "24" back on track.

BEST ALBUM OF 2007: Radiohead's In Rainbows
Amid all the hype behind Radiohead's grand experiment in releasing their latest album for download and allowing fans to "pay what they want," the actual quality of the album was sort of ignored. Reactions by fans have been mixed, but I think the new album is remarkably coherent, confident, and just simply gorgeous. The band mixes electronic music with rock and roll in a way that is much more organic than their messy previous effort, "Hail to the Thief." And it's a more mature, grown up album too- Thom Yorke's lyrics seem a bit less alienated, and a bit more hopeful. "Reckoner" may be the most gorgeous track they've ever recorded.

BEST VIDEO GAME OF 2007: Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo finally shows us what they were trying to do when they thought of the Wii with this endlessly innovative and inventive game, the latest entry into the most successful video game franchise ever. The gameplay in "Galaxy" is constantly evolving and changing up on the player, and it's just a pure joy to experience. It's also one of those games that reminds you that video games are supposed to be fun...and you will have nothing but fun in this amazing game. How many other twenty year old franchises, in video games, movies, or television, are still this fresh and inventive after all this time?

BEST X-BOX 360 GAME OF 2007: Bioshock
The ambitious first person shooter combines Ayn Rand with classic shooter gameplay, and sets the whole thing in an amazing underwater city. It's one of the most atmospheric games I've ever played, and the fact that the creators tried to tie in literary themes is really cool and ambitious. Too bad the game falls apart a bit in the end, but overall, "Bioshock" is a unique experience, and it's totally worth taking the dive.

The PS2 could not have had a better swan song than this sequel to the amazing "God of War." Everything is bigger and more kick ass in the sequel. Sure, the story is kind of a rehash of part one...but you won't care as you pull the eyes out of an attacking cyclops and fly through the world map using Icars's wings. It's just completely kick ass.

BEST NOVEL I READ IN 2007: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, By Michael Chabon
Chabon's followup to his Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," may not be as fun and entertaining as his historical epic about comic books, love, and the 20th century. But "Union" is equally ambitious, telling the alternate reality murder mystery set in an Alaska that became the Jewish homeland instead of Israel. The imaginative novel combines classic hard boiled lit conventions with big ideas about Jewishness and their struggle for a homeland, managing to say a lot about the Middle East from the snowy peaks of Alaska.

BEST CONCERTS I'M NOT ASHAMED ROCKED MY ASS OFF IN 2007: Tie: Elton John in Las Vegas/ Billy Joel in Las Vegas
I'm usually an indie rock snob, but these two shows, in which the crowds consisted of middle aged yupppies who wouldn't understand why The National doesn't haven an s at the end of their name and would shake their heads in sadness thinking I was referring to a terrible tragedy at the mention of The Arcade Fire totally rocked my socks off. The Piano men reminded me what real showmanship is and kind of put all those indie rockers, with their shy and soft spoken stage demeanors, to shame. I guess that's why these guys charge over 100 bucks a ticket for decent seats. And also because all their yuppie fans have good jobs.

I probably enjoyed this more because I didn't pay the full 46 bucks to attend this silly evening of swashbuckling and...singing. The food was bland, the wine was crap, the beer was cheap and watered down, and the show had a silly Christmas theme to it. But I got to put on a pirate vest and help pull up a sail, and I only paid half price. If you're looking for a night out that involves a pirate show along with your meal, then this is your only option. But if you're more into jousting Knights, Medieval Times is right next door.

BEST TRIP TO VEGAS OF 2007:Billy Joel/ Jerry Seinfeld Trip, November
I went to Vegas a lot in 2007. Like once every two months. So I had a lot of fun trips to pick from. But the weekend we went to Sin City to see Billy Joel, and ended up getting tickets for Jerry Seinfeld as well, was probably the best. There was plenty of drinking, the Piano Man, observational humor, a stay in the gloriously cheesy New York New York. Plus the Rio buffet!

MOST INCREDIBLE MEAL OF 2007 (AND PROBABLY MY LIFE:) Emeril's "Kitchen Table" Meal, Las Vegas MGM
My friend Kyle invited me and another friend to meet his hooked in Disney Emeril's Vegas location, where were treated like VIPs at their famous "kitchen table" area. We were treated to an amazing six course meal with amazing foods I've never tried, an incredible glass of wine per course, and then a pile of amazing deserts at the end, which included the amazing and famous Bannana Cream Pie. I don't want to think about what the bill came out to in the end. I just want to think about the food.

That one hurt. "Slaughterhouse 5" rearranged my brain when I read in high school. Some people say you grow out of Vonnegut as you get older. These people are just trying to be cool. The guy saw this country for what it was, and it made him sad and angry, but he still had hope and compassion for all the people who let him down for so long. America lost their funniest, most whip smart, satirical, clear eyed, honest, and humane writer last year. So it goes.

BEST PART OF 2007 ENDING: Bush Has One More Year
'Nuff said. Happy 08, fans.