Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Justified: Devil with the Deal

Previously, I've written (at length) about this show's marvelous ability to be interesting and exciting and scary and hilarious even when it's main/best character is off-screen for significant stretches of time.

In focusing on the prison break of Dickie Bennett (and, sure, you can come too Dewey Crowe), the banking practices of Ellstin Limehouse and a betrayal within Boyd Crowder's crew, Raylan was once again more on the periphery than most prime time dramas would ever dare put their protagonist. And for the first time, it started to annoy me.

And it's not just Raylan I'm missing. Art, Winona and Tim (who has now appeared in just 1 out of 4 episodes this season...yes, I'm continuing to keep track!) also sat out last night's episode. We can argue about the merits of each of those characters (except, for Tim...there's no arguing what he brings to the show), but I'd absolutely rather watch them than corrupt prison guard Ash Murphy or corrupt prison nurse...or the two ill-fated yokels they dragged into their plan. Oh well, at least Raylan got to know more about Rachel last night (while chatting in front of Limehouse) than he did during the previous two seasons. We also learned the connection between Limehouse and the Givens. (After Arlo beat Raylan's mom, who sought refuge in Noble's Holler. A younger Ellstin administered his own beat down when Arlo came looking for her...and a 10-year-old Raylan witnessed it.)

I'm not saying I want "Justified" to wrap up stand-alone cases each week with the same cast ala "Law & Order"...I just miss these characters I've gotten attached to.

The other problem I had with last night's episode is that it was abundantly clear (at least to me) from the very beginning that Devil would be dead by the end of the hour. He would either be killed before the opening credits by Quarles if he rejected his offer (can I get an amen?!) or he would be killed before the end credits by Boyd for betraying him. It was also abundantly clear that Johnny wouldn't turn on Boyd and was just playing him. The reason I'm a bit bummed is because "Justified" doesn't usually tip its hand in such an obvious way. I DO give the show credit for staging Devil's death in a way that evoked Boyd's own shooting in the pilot...and for once again managing to make Boyd seem both brutal and merciful.

Just as Devil's death referenced Boyd's shooting, I liked the way Raylan running over Ash evoked both "Pulp Fiction" (Butch running over Marcellus) and Elmore Leonard's own pulpy fiction (having Raylan run over Ash twice, and comically withhold medical attention to get info was hilariously absurd). Of course, Raylan was able to find Ash after an all-too-brief meeting with Boyd. (Please keep finding reasons for Raylan to go see Boyd, writers.)

Seeing that everyone (Boyd, Ash and his crew) wants Mags Bennett's money, I totally understand why Dickie insisted that Limehouse keep the meager amount that is left of the $3 million: as long as people think this mythical amount of money is out there (and that Dickie is the only one who can get to it) he gets to live. And thank goodness, because Jeremy Davies is awesome (especially when he sarcastically acted like he'd tipped Raylan off to his whereabouts).

So what'd you think of this episode? Do you think Limehouse is telling the truth about the amount of money that's left? Were you as glad to check in on Loretta as I was? (Just a fantastically-played scene: her unhappiness AND gratitude were palpable.) Was I the only one a bit underwhelmed by this episode? Finally, could the show really kill off Dewey Crowe? (It looks like the prison nurse removes some organs, so it's not looking good.)

Glee: Glee Bangs

Since I strongly believe Sue Sylvester is an almost completely useless character (and has been for a while, despite Jane Lynch's brilliance) and that Will Schuester is the worst character on a popular TV show I have ever seen (honestly...who is worse?!), let's just say I don't tend to enjoy the episodes of "Glee" that feature Lynch and Matthew Morrison heavily.

But for some reason, I didn't completely hate "The Spanish Teacher."

Well, not all of it at least: I still thought all the stuff with Sue suddenly wanting to become a mother was absolute garbage. Sure, Sue deciding she wanted to have a baby is no more or less ridiculous than marrying herself, but unless she decides to go the surrogate route down the road (and please don't make me talk about her asking Will and the MALE STUDENTS OF NEW DIRECTIONS to father her baby...ick), this storyline was basically another admission by the writers that they have no idea what to do with Sue.

I mean, other than the funny exchange where she claimed she frozen her eggs before the technology was even invented, Sue didn't even get great lines. Instead, most of the elaborately cutting insults Sue usually gets were handed to returning guest star Nene Leakes, back as McKinley High's Olympic bronze medal-winning synchronized swimming coach. (That's the early front runner for "Most Ridiculous Sentence I'll Write in 2012.) Since the baby crap is a non-starter, my best hope that Sue's storyline wasn't a total waste of time is that she rediscovers her competitive fire...with trusty Becky there to help stoke the flame.

Meanwhile, the reason I didn't totally hate Mr. Schuester last night is because the writers gave Matthew Morrison the rare chance to act like an idiot/jerk ON PURPOSE. Usually, Will's maddening passiveness and oblivious dorkiness/creepiness are an unfortunate by-product of terrible writing/questionable acting, but last night we were all (including the characters on the show) supposed to see that Mr. Schuester is an idiot!

With a new tenured teaching spot open at the school, Mr. Schue realized he should brush up on his Spanish skills if he wanted to beat Sue to the punch. Enter night school teacher David Martinez, who also happened to be musically inclined and volunteered to help Will teach Spanish to the glee club. (Um, how about teaching Spanish to your Spanish students, pal?)

Although, Martin was infinitely more convincing as a former teeth model than as a teacher, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his performance. Although the obvious comparison point is Gwyneth Paltrow's Holly Holliday, I enjoyed the natural, easy nature of Martin's performance, in contrast to Paltrow's more explosive, eager-to-please work, which was also good.

It turns out that, much the way Becky had filed a complaint about Sue, Santana had lodged a similar complaint about Will and his embarrassing short-comings as a Spanish teacher. (I like that the seed was planted early on with her horrified reaction to "La Cucarracha.") I'm not sure why only Santana realized what Will and no other student had ever seen (he's a horrible Spanish teacher, and only took the job because it was the only one available), but it resulted David earning the Spanish teaching gig and, I'm sure, more Ricky Martin down the line.

One of my favorite little running jokes on "Glee" has been Emma's ridiculous pamphlets, so it was kind of awesome seeing them center stage last night. Not only were they hilarious ("So, you're a two-timing ho"/"So, you're dating a two-timing ho"), but they allowed Emma to come to the rescue when she sold a bunch of them, and gave Will a cute way to apologize for being a jerk. (I liked that he called himself out for acting like Terri.)

With an episode so focused on the adult characters, there wasn't a ton of movement on the storylines involving the students. Sure, Mercedes went back to her boyfriend Shane after not communicating with Sam for a week at Emma's request, but anyone who thinks that's over is kidding themselves, so we're just spinning our wheels here. (Unless Chord Overstreet mysteriously disappears again.)

Meanwhile, Rachel spilled the beans about her engagement to Mercedes and a huffy (is there any other kind?) Kurt, who tried his darndest to convince Finn that he had more going for him than being future Broadway star Rachel Berry's arm candy. (Yawn) I'm sorry, but haven't we been playing this out for AT LEAST a season. I already thought the circumstances surrounding the engagement were fairly hideous, but now it's getting tedious.

On that note, let's get to the (bilingual) musical numbers.

"Sexy and I Know It"...B: The number wasn't a great showcase for Martin's (or anyone else's) musical talent, but it was fun enough that it made me mostly ignore how completely inappropriate it is for a "teacher" to sing this to a group of students.

"Don't Wanna Lose You"...A-: This Gloria Estefan song was a relatively low-key performance (especially for the diva-licious Mercedes), but that's exactly what I liked about it. We know Mercedes can blow it out, so it's nice to hear her softer side.

"Bamboleo/Hero"...B+: Much better than any Gipsy Kings/Enrique Iglesias mash-up has any right to be. (Also a sneaky way to incorporate most of the male glee club members into one number.

"La Isla Bonita"...B-: Yes, he's hot and she's hot, but this Santana/David number didn't really stand out from a singing standpoint, and the dancing (while good) wasn't good enough to make up for it.

"A Little Less Conversation"...D: I realize this insulting performance was supposed to suck, but it just wasn't awesomely bad enough to enjoy. It simply sucked. Mission accomplished! (If he had incorporated the Taco Bell chihuahua, I would've given it a D

So what'd you think of this episode? Looking forward to seeing David Martinez again? Finally, which of Emma's pamphlets is your favorite?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Glee: An Eye for an Eye

Though "Glee" remains as nonsensical and uneven as it's always been (Quinn got into Yale despite spending the first part of this season as a class-cutting burnout, and spending the second part of this season trying to get her baby back by destroying Idina Menzel's life? What the what?!?!) I've noticed an encouraging trend the last few episodes: a return to covering/re-imagining/butchering pop music.

As the McKinley High glee club geared up for the school production of "West Side Story", I feel the show became way too reliant on lovingly recreating numbers from Broadway musicals (this from a guy who loves "West Side Story" and has a framed poster from the "Chicago" movie hanging in his living room). I know it may be hard to remember now because it feels like the show has been on for seven years, but a big reason "Glee" became a certified phenomenon when it premiered was because of the way it re-interpreted/mangled pop music...and not because it catered to mostly theater geeks. (Sorry, drama queens and's true.)

Yes, I realize last week's episode opened with a loving recreation of "Summer Nights" from "Grease", but it also featured current hits like "Moves Like Jagger", "Without You" and "We Found Love." So what better way to keep the pop music momentum going than with a tribute episode to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Now, tribute episodes on "Glee" (like everything else) have so far been a dicey proposition. The "best" ones have been harmless diversions ("The Power of Madonna", "Theatricality"/Lady Gaga), while the worst ones ("Rocky Horror", "Britney/Brittany") make your eyes roll to the back of your head. (Really, writers? The best way you could think to get into musical numbers is to have cast members visit the dentist and hallucinate while under anesthesia?!)

Last night's episode also got off to a shaky start on that front (the Troubletones were bitching about New Directions winning their face off because ND performed MJ...ok, whatever), but mostly incorporated the whopping NINE musical numbers in (relatively) believable ways. (Especially "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Scream" and "Never Can Say Goodbye.") Blaine inadvertently told Sebastian that New Directions planned on doing Michael Jackson songs for Regionals, so Sebastian stole the idea. Unless he KNOWS, the Warblers are performing before New Directions at Regionals (and ND look like a bunch of also-rans), why would he WANT to cover the same artist as another glee club? (Again, whatever.)

I've previously made the point that "Glee" doesn't need Sue Sylvester (and can do with much less of Will Schuester's creepy love life) and last night's episode proved my point: especially when you have a nasty villain like lead Warbler Sebastian around. I imagine a lot of people hate the him (especially after the Mega Slushie he gave Blaine), but I'd rather direct that hate to Sebastian (someone who is SUPPOSED to be an antagonist) than spend time hating angry Santana, increasingly useless Sue or skeevy Schuester.

I should probably add wretched Rachel to that list.

I thought last week was embarrassing for poor Finn (he went from wanting to join the army to learning a painful family secret to proposing to Rachel), but this week was even worse for Rachel. Not only did she rain on Kurt's NYADA finalist parade by whining about not getting her own letter (maybe it was at home, but her gay dads didn't go above and beyond to deliver it to school like Burt did), but she appears to have only accepted Finn's proposal (despite Quinn's sensible advice to the contrary) when it looked like she wouldn't get into her dream school.

While I ponder why this show seems hell bent on making us hate all of its characters, let's break down the musical performances.

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin"...A-: What does this song title have against "G"s? Anyway, I thought this was a really strong way to, well, start the episode and Darren Criss is at his best when he's in upbeat/ebullient mode. Bonus points for the glee club dressing up in all of MJ's iconic outfits...except for Finn's tragic bedazzled football jersey.

"Bad"...B: Where the hell did they even find a multi-level parking lot in Lima? Anyway, I enjoyed the choreography, the acapella flavor of the arrangement (mostly courtesy of the Warblers) and even the rampant cheesiness, but Blaine diving in front of Kurt at the end like he was a Secret Service agent taking a bullet for the president was a step too far. Sorry.

"Scream"...A: You've probably noticed I make fun of this show a lot, but credit must be given where it's due: "Scream" (an underrated song, in my opinion) was one of the most expensive music videos of its time and this was a great recreation. (On a TV budget, no less!) Solid vocals/great dancing from Kevin McHale and Harry Shum Jr., and impressive effects. Also, androgynous Mike Chang = Janet Jackson...who knew?

"Never Can Say Goodbye"...B+: Let's be honest: the ceiling for any Quinn solo performance (with Dianna Agron's thin, flavorless voice) is a B+. So what I'm saying is that this sweetly ironic number (Quinn coming to terms with herself and waving goodbye to Lima and her various guys) is as good as it gets.

"Human Nature"...A- Can someone explain to me why Chord Overstreet was fired after the end of last season only to be brought back and (apparently) made a full-fledged cast member a few months later? Whatever...he's back and the show is better for it. Anyway, this was a sweet duet that made me truly buy the Sam/Mercedes romance for the first time. (Also, I'm all for anything that keeps Mercedes from bitching about losing solos to Rachel.)

"Ben"...C+: Too sentimental by half. From the way Kurt, Rachel and Finn lovingly serenaded an eye-patched Blaine, you would think the guy was on his deathbed. The + is for heroically resisting the urge to change each "Ben" to "Blaine" in the song.

"Smooth Criminal"...A: Santana and Sebastian may not agree on who won their fantastic, intense face off, but I think we can all agree the real winners were 2Cellos.

"I Just Can't Stop Loving You"...D: Maybe it's because I hate everything about what's happening with Finn and Rachel right now, but I thought this blah number was completely disposable. It's almost like the writers realized, "Crap! We gotta get a Rachel/Finn duet in here somewhere."

"Black and White"...B+: This was a fun way to close out the show, but let's get one thing straight: Kurt DEFINITELY should've let Santana go to the cops with the incriminating tape where Sebastian admits to almost blinding someone instead of just singing him a song about unity. What's the best case scenario anyway? Sebastian joins New Directions to do a happy dance on stage while Blaine undergoes a painful procedure? (At least we got to hear Santana say "underboob" a dozen times.) The + is for the face-morphing at the end. I remember that effect blowing my mind when I first saw it.

So what'd you think of this episode? Can someone remind me why Damian McGinty/Rory Flanagan is on this show? Who the hell carries rock salt on their person? (Wouldn't it have been much easier to mix in pebbles or something else from the parking garage?) Finally, my big takeaway from this's REALLY easy to get into Yale...just make sure you write a kickass essay!

Justified: Wicked Games

What is up with the bad guys on "Justified" this season and the twisted games they play?

(And I'm not even talking about whatever the hell Quarles is doing with the half naked man blindfolded, gagged and tied up to that bed; the fact that he was barely bothered by Wynn Duffy stumbling onto that sight made it 10 times weirder/scarier.)

I apologize for leaving you recap-less so far this season, but I assure you that it's not because I think any less of "Justified." Here's my quick rundown of the first two episodes, in case you care: I thought the season premiere was as good as season premieres can possibly get, but I thought the second episode with "Assistant Director Goodall/Not Karen Sisco (Wink, Wink)" was merely very good. But then again, we got to see Art Mullen be badass and make a legit (non-comical) arrest. Plus, you'll NEVER hear me complain about seeing Carla Gugino.

Last night's episode, "Harlan Roulette," got its title from the even more sadistic version of Russian Roulette pawn shop owner (and Dixie Mafia lackey) Glen Fogle (scary guest star Pruitt Taylor Vince) likes to play with his underlings. While the Harlan Roulette scene was incredibly tense and wonderfully hard to watch, I still have to rank it behind Fletcher "The Ice Pick" Nicks' Final Countdown.

As Trooper Tom Bergen helpfully reminded Raylan (and us) a marshal's primary duty is to catch fugitives. And though I enjoy the one-off episodes that mostly focus on a criminal of the week, I think the show is at its best when it delves into the generations-spanning conflict within Harlan and its inhabitants.

Fortunately, "Harlan Roulette" managed to have it both ways: turns out Raylan's old pal Wade Messer (who you may remember as the guy who set Raylan up to be strung up to a tree and tortured by Dickie in the season 2 finale and who is played by an impressively scumbag-gy James LeGros) and a fellow oxy addict were committing a string of robberies for Fogle, who was feeding their oxy habit. The Dixie Mafia's oxy business has been hovering in the background throughout the show's run (most notably the oxy bus episode with Dewey from last season), and I'm delighted to see the writers finally cash those chips in.

I also think it's a brilliant move to make this year's Big Bad (Quarles) the exact opposite of last year's. That's no slight to Emmy winner Margo Martindale, I just think it would've been tough to top homegrown Mags Bennett, so why not bring in an arrogant, flashy, psychotic outsider who's in Kentucky to show the hicks why it's called "organized crime"? (Plus, I suppose the people who miss Mags have Ellstin Limehouse to keep them warm at night.)

It was hilarious seeing the job of killing Raylan get delegated from Duffy to Fogle to Messer with the idea that if the assassin fails a loose end is tied up, but if he succeeds even better.

In the past, I've pointed out (with admiration) that each episode of "Justified" can afford to go long stretches without showing Raylan (and developing its colorful bad guys) because there isn't that much to him. (At least not from a dramatic standpoint.) That said, Timothy Olyphant's florid monologue about not going into someone's house uninvited was a great call back to the pilot (when he met Dewey at Ava's house) and a funny twist when it turned out he'd gone into Wade's house and removed his gun. (I was probably the only fool who was worried for Raylan as he nonchalantly turned his back to Wade's doorway, while Wade scrambled to find his gun...I should've known better.) Raylan's "We all got lines we gotta cross" is pretty much as on-the-nose explanation of what "Justified" is all about as we're ever going to get.

Raylan was able to use Wade to lure Fogle and the stooge who'd apparently seen him torture one too many victims. The ensuing standoff was classic Elmore Leonard, from Raylan casually mentioning his house hunt to the two bad guys shooting and killing each other. (RIP Glen Fogle and, um, Other Guy.)

Before Fogle died he pointed Raylan in Wynn Duffy's direction and the two got to have the unpleasant conversation Raylan had warned him about. More importantly, Raylan came face-to-face with a smiling Quarles for the first time this season. Their first meeting was genius precisely because Raylan had no idea he was meeting his main adversary...or that said adversary has a nasty "Taxi Driver" surprise up his sleeve.

I wanted to end the recap with Raylan's fantastic "the next one's coming faster" line to Wynn after tossing him a bullet, but I suppose I should talk about Boyd and his efforts to completely take over crime in Harlan.

Though Walton Goggins continues to make Boyd a magnetically articulate and nasty piece of work (pulling that double move on the guys at Johnny's old bar was a neat trick), like Arlo I wasn't fully engaged in his speechifying and promises to make his crew least not yet. Still, it's plain to see there's a showdown coming with Limehouse/Raylan (and possibly Quarles).

Few more quick thoughts: it's good to see Johnny Crowder back, I'm kind of obsessed with Jeremy Davies' skittery, ignorant, false confident, cagey(?) performance as Dickie and I don't believe Devil is long for this world.

So what'd you think of this episode? Can Wade Messer give Dewey Crowe a run for his money in the "Lovably/Hilariously Incompetent Bad Guy" Sweepstakes? Is the corrupt prison guard blackmailing Dickie one too many story threads? (It feels superfluous right now, but I have a ton of confidence that these writers will make it pay off.) Finally, we've had three episodes of "Justified" so far this season and Marshal Tim Gutterson has only been in one: unacceptable.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dancing with the Stars: "Maybe It's Time To Get Out"

And all this time I thought I was watching “Dancing with the Stars” because I enjoy ballroom dancing, orchestral butchering of popular songs, the insanely hot female Pros, the bonkers yet sneakily-insightful judges panel and Tom Bergeron’s awareness of just how ridiculous this show is.

Nope. I was wrong.

Turns out Maksim Chmerkovskiy “made” this show the juggernaut it has become. Before I break down Monday night’s Broadway Week, I have to talk about Maks’ mini-meltdown. (I’m purposefully skipping all the backpedaling I’m sure he’s been doing for most of Tuesday.)

First of all, I’m neither shocked nor deeply offended by what Maks said. Why should I? The self-proclaimed “Bad Boy of the Ballroom” often comes off as an abrasive jerk to his partners in what we see of rehearsals. We also know the self-proclaimed “Sex on a Stick” has a pretty high opinion of himself.

So while I’m not at all surprised that Maks BELIEVES what he said, I am a bit surprised he actually said what he said. From watching this couple the last few weeks, I would’ve guessed that Hope was the one that wanted to go home, but instead it seems like Maks —who has never won the not-that-coveted Mirrorball Tropy — is the one who’s ready to be done with the show.

I’m actually a fan of Maks (my favorite DWTS couple is probably still Mel B and Maks), but the bottom line is that he looked like an immature fool last night. The worst part was when he chastised the judges for being too judgmental. (Actually, the worst part was how mortified Hope looked.) The crack to Len about maybe it being time to get out of the ballroom business was a low-blow too, but Len strikes me as a guy who can take as well as dish it, so that didn’t bother me as much.

While you take the appropriate time to fully appreciate the ridiculousness of that previous statement, let’s talk about last night’s couples, in order of appearance.

Rob Kardashian and Cheryl: Last week, I declared that Rob was the third best dancer on the show. I’m not ready to back off that statement yet, but I think he took a slight cha cha cha step backward with his performance of “Walk Like a Man.” The technique was still there, but he looked more like the tentative kid from earlier this season and less like the dancer who was almost Cheryl’s equal during their rumba last week. (Cheryl looked more butch than him.) If anything, it looks like that visit from his mom rattled him.

Nancy Grace and Tristan: Talk about Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life. A ‘9’ Carrie Ann? Really?! I’ve always said that Nancy’s technique was solid, but I didn’t see anything last night that was significantly better than, say, her “Flash Gordon” Paso doble. In fact, I thought the parts of the foxtrot that were in hold were pretty basic and dull. Fortunately, Nancy really came to life during the jazzier, side-by-side solo work and showed strong performance quality for the first time.

David Arquette and Kym: How was delightful Aussie Kym never cast as Sandy from “Grease” on this show before last night? Perfect casting aside, David Arquette’s quickstep proved to be a little too unstable and wobbly, even if it was perfectly delightful. It’s to the point where David seems like such a nice guy and so happy about everything having to do with the show (he’s the anti-Hope) that I end up rooting for him to be better than he actually is…and I’m slightly underwhelmed.

Ricki Lake and Derek: The inevitable Ricki vs. J.R. storyline for the finals really started to gain steam last night. (Although, last night it seemed like EVERYONE was gunning for J.R.) There’s not really much for me to add to the overall excellence of Ricki’s “Luck Be a Lady” quickstep other than to reiterate how great of a choreographer Derek is and to show gratitude than Ricki is now letting her weight-loss come up organically rather than mention it every single week.

Chaz Bono and Lacey: Coming off a season-best samba last week, it’s not a shock to see Chaz take a bit of a step back. I didn’t think his tango was as bad as most of the judges made it out to be (decent posture, solid footwork). Then again maybe I didn’t hate it because his “Phantom of the Opera” mask covered up most of the wincing that usually makes Chaz’s performances literally painful to watch.

Hope Solo and Maks (pictured, left): Since I covered Maks-gate up top, I’m going to focus on the dancing. I don’t know why the Pros don’t bring in dancers that are the same sex as their celeb partners more often because it makes a WORLD of difference to see how movements and steps are supposed to be done. It seemed to work for a while with Hope…until the troupe dancers went away. By the time she hit the dance floor, she was mostly her stiff self, which can be passable in certain dances, but NOT the rumba, which is supposed to be fluid. I wouldn’t call it her worst dance of the season (as Len did) but I still can’t imagine she’s long for this show.

Unfortunately, all this controversy overshadowed the fact that this was a rumba to “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” (You probably have to be musical theatre geek to appreciate how ridiculous the previous sentence is.)

J.R. Martinez and Karina: J.R. closed the competition portion of the evening with a show-stopping quickstep to the closing number from “Chicago.” If there’s one clear advantage J.R. has over Ricki, I’d say it’s his musicality (the way he feels the music and translates it to his movements). That was once again on display last night. I don’t know if this was actually Karina’s most ambitious routine (as she claimed), but I WAS a little scared that J.R. would blow his cartwheel. Crisis averted and J.R. tied Ricki atop the leader board.

So what’d you think of this episode? Were you a fan of the “Big Spender” group number? (I actually LOVED the group stuff…but could’ve done without each individual couple mangling their lifts.) Was Maks ok to complain or is Len the only one allowed to complain? Finally, who do you think is going home? (I think Chaz’s time may be up.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dancing with the Stars: Manic Monday

I may have been out of commission the last two weeks — thanks to a Tampa Bay Bucs football game that pre-empted “Dancing with the Stars” and my vacation last week — but it’s been pretty obvious for a while now that the battle for this season’s ridiculous mirrorball trophy is between J.R. Martinez and Ricki Lake.

J.R. and Ricki are SO much better than everyone else — especially with the once-promising Kristen and Chynna gone — that watching everyone else has become somewhat of a waste of time.

Read-on for my thoughts on who SHOULD join J.R. and Ricki in the finals, as well as my breakdown of each couple on 80’s Night (so much neon!), in order of appearance.

Hope Solo and Maks (pictured, right): I’m sorry, but I’m just not seeing what the judges and everyone else seems to be seeing in Hope. (Especially Len, who keeps claiming she has a chance to go all the way.) Although her performance quality has improved each week (as silly as it was, I really liked seeing her rock out at the end of “Livin’ on a Prayer”) I still find her to be an incredibly awkward and stiff dancer. Fortunately, being a little stiff isn’t the worst thing in the world when you’re dancing the tango, as she was last night. Still, I think she’s a pretty bad dancer who hasn’t noticeably improved since week 1. On top of that, watching her argue with Maks is officially as depressing as watching Brandy argue with Maks. (Except that Brandy never me giggle by saying that she’s accustomed to having “balls being driven at her face.”) Oh well…at least she’s still really hot!

Carson Kressley and Anna: Whatever strides Carson made as a competent dancer during his paparazzi-themed tango a few weeks ago have officially been undone by his pirate waltz last week and his unwieldy cheerleading jive this week. Carson’s a terrible dancer, but since we already established that either J.R. or Ricki are winning, I’m ok with keeping Carson around as long as I get to type phrases like “pirate waltz” and “cheerleading jive.” Bruno perfectly summed up Carson’s dance (and the entire show in general) by calling it “a crowning achievement in madness.”

Nancy Grace and Tristan: Nancy really is not a bad dancer at all. The problem is that she continues to show infinitely more personality during her rehearsal packages (Nancy Grace was a cheerleader…who still remembers her chants?!) than she does on the dance floor. (In fact, we’ve seen more nipple than personality from Nancy in the ballroom up to this point.) Her rumba to “True” was, once again, solid but unspectacular. I was more interested by her continuing banter with Tristan, who is the most interesting new Pro this show has added in years.

J.R. Martinez and Karina: Jose Rene Martinez’s samba was absolutely the best dance of the night. I can’t really understand why Carrie Ann wasn’t “feeling it”, but I did enjoy the way Bruno milked the crowd before giving the couple its first 10. I honestly don’t see any weaknesses with J.R. as a DWTS competitor: he can do Latin and ballroom and he can be funny/charming, as well as completely serious.

Rob Kardashian and Cheryl: Ladies and gentleman, my official third place pick for this season of “Dancing with the Stars”! I never would’ve guessed it after the first week, but Rob’s gradual improvement (like a hare, not a rabbit) has made him into a shockingly proficient and engaging dancer. As the judges pointed out last night, he actually looked like he was Cheryl’s equal for the first time, and there’s really no reason to believe that won’t continue. (I don’t even think he’ll need lesson on how to be “sexy” from his pal Romeo, who skeezed me out a few times last season when he constantly hit on Chelsie.)

Chaz Bono and Lacey: It may seem like faint praise, but this was absolutely Chaz’s best dance during his time on the show. I was worried for his creaky knees when I heard he was going to have to do a samba to “Get Down On It.” Thankfully, Lacey’s impressively limber/energetic dad Buddy (a world-renowned dancer who happens to be a large man like Chaz) was on-hand to help and seemingly inspired Chaz. Since Chaz looked like he was having fun (or, at least, like he wasn’t in pain) I was finally able to enjoy watching him.

David Arquette and Kym: Like Len, I enjoyed the 80’s punk vibe more than I did the actual tango to “Tainted Love,” which was solid. If anything, David seemed so paranoid about being technically perfect (he freaked out at the prospect of breaking hold) that he lost a good part of his performance quality, which is his greatest strength. At least we got a dose of that during his great Len impression in rehearsal. (“It’s like ordering fish and not getting the chips!”)

Ricki Lake and Derek: After earning the first 10s of the season last week, the most predictable thing in the world was that the judges would be extra hard on Ricki or look for a way to knock her down a notch so she doesn’t peak too early. They didn’t have to look too hard last night. The judges crushed her for being off-rhythm while busting out the Roger Rabbit dance. My biggest problem with her alleged foxtrot is that I’d have absolutely no idea that it was SUPPOSED to be a foxtrot if I hadn’t heard English-accented announcer guy introduce it as such. Still, she was very strong while in hold and (unlike Chynna and Kristen) performed late in the show, so I suspect she’ll be fine.

So what’d you think of this episode? Anyone else surprised that The Bangles were still together, much less releasing a new album this fall? Finally, am I way off base on Hope? If so, who do you think is going home tonight?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Glee: The 'Cool' Asian

At this point, I think a lot of us can agree that pretty much every character on “Glee” is incredibly annoying.

As far as I’m concerned, the exceptions are Brittany/Puck (who mostly speak in dim bulb one-liners, so they’re not even on-screen long enough to get annoying), Coach Beiste (with her gigantic plate of pasta) and Santana (who is awesome).

(And *POOF* Santana is back in glee club after being dramatically kicked off by Mr. Schue a grand total of TWO episodes ago. Sure! why not?)

For the most part, I can understand why the characters are annoying. Most of them are high school kids, and teenagers — with their selfishness, fickleness and immaturity — are generally horrible people.

In a shocking turn of events, two of the characters who usually get on my last nerve wound up being among the most likable people onscreen in “Asian F.”

And, no, I’m not talking about Sue (who had an odd, silent cameo last night) and Will Schuester, who solidified his position as the worst character on TV. Don’t believe me? Last night, Will went from harsh (berating Mercedes during booty camp when she clearly wasn’t feeling well) to creepy (“Here’s my big box of porn, Emma!”) to idiotically insecure (inviting Emma’s parents for dinner because he thought she was ashamed of him). At least we were introduced to the hilariously specific world of ginger supremacy.

No, I’m actually talking about Rachel Berry and Mike Chang. That’s kind of an odd pair of characters to hate, isn’t it? Well, while I LOVE Lea Michele, I’m tired of Rachel’s hyper-competitiveness and wish the writers would find something else for the character to do. As for Mike: I suppose the dude is harmless enough, but I don’t like how full of himself he is for a character that’s about as useful to a singing group as a guy with a great three point shot is to a football team.

Either way, Mike’s story stole and salvaged last night’s episode of “Glee”, which fell back on some bad habits. (Although it did fall back on at least one good habit: the wonderfully random idea that Tina is a vampire who terrorizes Principal Figgins.)

After Mike earned an “Asian F” (an A- to the rest of us), Mike’s stern dad met with Principal Figgins and tried to get Mike drug tested before zeroing in on glee club as the source of his son’s “struggles.” (Mr. Chang will definitely be voting for Sue.) Mike wanted to try out for “West Side Story”, but his dad forbade it, leading to the night’s best non-musical scene as a conflicted Mike danced alone in a studio. Eventually, he decided to follow his heart with support from his sympathetic mom, who showed up so randomly that for a second I thought she was really dead and he was talking to a ghost. (That may still be the case!) Harry Shum Jr. is obviously a great dancer, but for the first time last night he got to show that he can be a pretty effective actor.

In other, less-encouraging news we got the latest iteration of “Mercedes is Jealous That Rachel Gets All the Solos Part 4: On Stranger Tides.” After being spurred on by new boyfriend Shane (aka not-Sam), Mercedes went after the role of Maria in “West Side Story” with a newfound ferociousness. Unfortunately, she also managed to alienate all of her friends, including Rachel, who was obviously bothered by the competition but at least tried to be gracious.

It seems like every Mercedes storyline either has to do with her weight/looks or her jealousy of Rachel. This week, they needed the character to be a bitch, so voila! Amber Riley deserves better. (I guess they had to find SOME way to get people to join Shelby’s glee club.) For a while, it seemed like the show was hinting at Mercedes being pregnant (she’s got a steady boyfriend and was moody, nauseous and constantly holding her stomach, which is what woman on TV do right before it’s revealed they’re pregnant). Oh wait…never mind.

In other news, the race for class president took several turns last night with Brittany becoming the apparent front-runner and Rachel throwing her hat into the ring when it looked like she’d be missing out on the “West Side Story” lead. Even though Kurt was outwardly gracious and supportive to Blaine about Blaine playing Tony in “West Side Story”, he got a little huffy when he found out that Rachel would be opposing him for class president. (Because god forbid someone steps on poor widdle Kurt’s toes.)

Anyway, “Asian F” featured a whopping six musical numbers, so let’s jump in.

“Spotlight”…B: Amber Riley looked phenomenal and sounded good, but this number was a bit of a mixed bag. Earlier in the episode, Shane told Mercedes that when they’re watching “Dreamgirls” together, Mercedes says she’s ‘Beyonce’ but he thinks she really considers herself an “Effie” (played by Jennifer Hudson in the movie). So the way to prove that she’s an empowered “Beyonce” is…to sing a Jennifer Hudson song? Or maybe she was owning the fact that she’s “Effie.” Whatever, I’m confused.

“Run the World”…A: If it’s ok with you, I’m not really going to delve into why I’m giving this ass-shaking extravaganza a straight-A just in case my girlfriend ever reads this column.

“Cool”…A: The shocker of the night! Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations after Mike’s “singing” debut last year, but absolutely loved this. Obviously, this was heavier on dancing than singing, but at least the dancing was a funny reimagining (football players learn fast!) of some of the most iconic dancing ever. Also, Mike’s voice was improved and more than suitable for the role of Riff in “West Side Story.”

“Out Here On My Own”…C: Don’t get me wrong: both Lea Michele and Amber Riley sounded terrific (as usual) on this. The reason I’m giving it a bad grade is because of the annoying and hyperactive editing during the latest diva-off between Rachel and Mercedes. I get what they were going for, but cutting back and forth so often between both singers was incredibly distracting and didn’t do either of them any favors.

Because they blended into each other so much, I didn’t fully believe that Mercedes CLEARLY won this competition. As a result, Mercedes turning down the role just made her look like a bitch.

“It’s All Over”…D+: I was laughing my ass off at how terrible this was. (Hence the D-PLUS!) So far this season, “Glee” has been heavy on Broadway numbers and I get that this “Dreamgirls” number was trying to equate glee club’s frustration with Mercdes to the Dreamgirls’ frustration with Effie.

But not only did this re-inforce the idea that Mercedes is, in fact, “Effie” (not Beyonce), but the stilted way they recreated the scene from the movie was unintentionally hilarious. (As was the fact that everyone referred to Mercedes as “Effie”, while she called everyone else by their actual names…probably because it’s hard to substitute Mercedes into a lyric.) At least the costumes were cool.

“Fix You”…C+: F--- you, “Glee” for giving one of my favorite songs to a character I absolutely loathe, and using it as a soundtrack to his miserable, creepy relationship. Oh well…at least Matthew Morrison sounded good, and it was a solid way to end the episode.

So what’d you think of this episode? What should Shelby’s glee club be called? (“Brown/Sugar”? “Newer Directions”?) Finally, does McKinley High even have a dress code? (Judging from Brittany’s musical number, the answer is, “Thank goodness, no.”)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Sing-Off: 'Folk Tale

There was a lot to cover in Monday night’s two-hour “Sing-Off” extravaganza.

We had the typically lavish, over-crowded group number (this time it was Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know”) and we had 12(!) competitive performances from six groups, with one unfortunate collection of singers giving us their swan song at the end.

Round 1 featured each group singing a current radio hit, while the second round somewhat randomly turned back the clock to the 1960’s. In the spirit of last night’s jam-packed episode, let’s get on with the recap.

Vocal Point opened the night with a solid performance of Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never.” As Shawn pointed out, watching grown men sing Justin Bieber is just inherently funny. Fortunately, Vocal Point also had a good arrangement, strong vocals and crowd-pleasing moves on their side. Personally, I think they could’ve used the services of Justin Bieber’s suddenly unemployed swagger coach, but it was still a delightful way to start the evening.

Fortunately, they did much better with “The Way You Look Tonight” in the 60’s round. At first, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t keep the cool, lounge-y vibe that kicked off the song, but when I saw that they were intentionally hopping between tempos and genres to cover as much 1960’s music as possible, I was more impressed, even if it was still slightly schizophrenic to my ears (and eyes).

I really liked that Delilah went lower-key (not literally) with their performance of Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me” after their bombastic “Grenade” last week. Shawn was right about how it was a lesson in how harmonies are built and each singer pretty much held her own. I actually kind of wish they’d kept things minimalist the whole time because by the time everyone joined in to sing the familiar melody, their time was almost up. (We DID have 12 songs to get through.)

Unfortunately, their 60’s round take on “Heat Wave” was a COMPLETE dud. I thought it was a totally predictable choice for an all-girl group, and I wasn’t thrilled by the unimaginative arrangement (then again, what can you really do to this song?) Maybe I’m just sick of hearing people sing this during Motown Week on “American Idol.” The best thing about it was their retro dresses and their period-appropriate moves.

I thoroughly enjoyed Urban Method’s multi-tasking soloist Troy (and the reggae-ish vibe of his voice) as well as the female soloist whose name I didn’t catch, even if their on-stage interactions were a bit awkward. However, rapper Myke was jarringly over-the-top in the second half of the song, making for an unpleasant end to their first performance.

Meanwhile, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the group finally hit their highest note (yikes, I’m turning into Nick Lachey) when they stopped taking themselves so seriously (“We’re edgy!”) and had fun. Their 60’s round performance of “Dance to the Music” was pure joy, funk, guitar solos and my boy Troy. The only problem I see is that the group was at its best when it abandoned its “Rapapella” identity. So what do they do from here on out?

Afro-Blue easily won the first round with their jazzy take on “American Boy” (I mean, I even feel a little silly pointing that out because it’s so obvious). EVERYTHING about it was brilliant…the cool, effortless scatting at the beginning, easy/breezy performance quality, the groovy soloist and the rafter-rattling bass and beat boxing.

After (arguably) giving two of the best five performances of the season, there was bound to be a bit of a letdown. Their take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was a perfectly solid performance that came off a bit disappointing because of Afro-Blue’s previous excellence. I really enjoyed soloist Trent’s voice (basically everyone in this group is amazing, it turns out) though I wish he’d opened his eyes and connected more with the audience. I also liked the “Everybody was talking about you” add on at the tail end of the song because I love a group that looks at an iconic tune like Marvin Gaye’s classic and says, “It’s really good, but what if we added THIS?”

I don’t know if the Yellow Jackets’ main soloist was TRYING to mimic Taio Cruz’s nasally voice or if that’s what he sounds like, but I did NOT enjoy him at all. It’s too bad because their version of “Dynamite” had a promising opening (those opening chords) and a decent finish, even if they’re choreography way heavy on mugging. The middle section was rescued by featured soloist Aaron.

Speaking of Aaron, his voice is so crystal clear and his performance is so earnest that I didn’t even mind the shameless flirting with judge Sara Bareilles during “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” I also appreciated the horns at the beginning and the faux-conductors off to the side. I thought it was easily the best performance of the 60’s round and probably what kept them in the competition. (Or maybe I’m the only one who thought they were in serious jeopardy after “Dynamite.”)

The pre-performance package showed us an overwhelmed (uh-oh) Kinfolk 9 (pictured, right) obsessing about their blend and talking about how they have to step their game up. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if their blend was any better this week because I was completely bored by their listless performance of “Price Tag.” Their singing, choreography and arrangement all appeared to be devoid of life. The only thing I remember is featured soloist Mary dropping it as if it were hot for a moment.

That’s probably why their rendition of “Let It Be” turned out to be too little, too late. I’m not as big a fan of soloist Moi as everyone else seems to be, but he absolutely put his heart and soul in this performance. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all there was to their by-the-numbers performance, which proved to be their last hurrah.

At least Kinfolk 9 proved they had a sense of humor by picking Beck’s “Loser” as their swan song. The choice came down to them and Delilah, who may have had the worst performance of the night with “Heat Wave”, but had a stronger body of work overall.

So what’d you think of this episode? Should Urban Method have been in trouble instead of Delilah? (I was ok with putting them through after their 60’s performance.) Why was Nick’s suit supposed to be retro? (It was a little shiny, I suppose.) Finally, was Moi’s distractingly terrible haircut the REAL reason Kinfolk 9 went home? (To be fair, it was probably the fact that they were the worst group, but still…)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NFL 2011 Week 4 Picks

Remember that completely disgusting and tasteless book O.J. Simpson wrote called “If I Did It”, where he “hypothetically” described the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman?

Well, not to go even a little “O.J.” on you, but since I was out of town and away from the Internet last week and didn’t do my Week 3 NFL picks, allow me to present a brief version of “If I Picked Them.”

Obviously, I could give myself a 16-0 record for week 3 (and you’d have no way to prove me wrong), but the reality is I would’ve gone 10-6. My six losses would’ve come from Bills over Pats, Giants over Eagles, Ravens over Rams (I thought the Rams would wake up at home…still waiting for them to wake up), Raiders over Jets, Seahawks over Cardinals and Browns over Dolphins. (What? I actually thought Miami could win a game once they got out of Miami.)

That brings my season record to (a party hypothetical) 30-18. Let’s jump right into this week’s picks.


I think Dallas’ offense will be a lot better than they were during the Monday Night football kicking contest against the Redskins, but I still think they’re too banged up to beat the surging Lions. (You’re damn right I just said “surging Lions”!)


Most of the talk around the Bears so far has focused on their inability to defend QB Jay Cutler. It seems like precisely the right time for their defense and special teams to carry them to a win.


I like the Bills (like everyone else) but his has letdown game written all over it. The Bills are coming off their biggest win in almost a decade and they have to go on the road to face a team that laid an egg last week. No thanks.


If Chris Johnson (pictured, left) had been around for preseason, he probably would’ve played three games. Let’s call Weeks 1-3 his preseason…it’s time to start playing for real.


The Chiefs actually showed signs of life last week for the first time all year, while the Vikings keep finding new and not-so-exciting ways to blow huge leads.


I’m riding sad, decrepit Rams bandwagon until the thing tumbles off a cliff.


The Saints tend to struggle a bit against crappy teams on the road, but they should be able to handle the Jags.


Ugh…I hate trying to pick this game. Houston lost last week against the first good team they played all year, but they acquitted themselves nicely against the Saints. Or did they? (Blowing a lead several times isn’t really encouraging.) Meanwhile, the Steelers struggled more than they really should have against the Colts. I’m calling that their wake-up call and saying they handle the Texans.


I’m more sure that the Eagles will win than I am whether or not Michael Vick will actually finish this game. (Philly doesn’t need him to beat the Niners at home.)


The Giants looked great last week, but Arizona is a sneakily hard place to play. I’m going with New York until the Cards can prove to me that they’re not a complete mess.


Seattle is another tough place to play, but I just can’t pick Tarvaris Jackson to win two games in a row. Sorry.


If Tony Sparano hasn’t updated his resume, he really should.


I’d be more inclined to pick the Patriots if Oakland hadn’t had that splashy win against the Jets last week (and if the Patriots weren’t coming in pissed from having lost to the Bills). The Pats will bounce back and win.


This feels like the week that Green Bay just completely kicks someone’s ass. (Finally.)


Each team has had its ups and downs, and we’re only in week 4! I’m taking the Ravens because I’m not encouraged by the Jets’ ability to stop the run after Darren McFadden ran wild all over them.


Are you ready for some garbage?! (On the plus side, I finally get to watch a Bucs home game on TV.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review (Sort of)

To coincide with today’s Blu-ray/DVD release of “Transformers: Dark of Moon” I’m making a dramatic comeback from my amateur movie critic retirement to review the alien robot blockbuster!

Well, not exactly.

I mean, this isn’t even a review of the Blu-ray (which I’m picking up after work today). I saw the movie in theatres way back in July a few weeks after its release. My plan was NOT to put off writing a review long enough for the damn thing to come out on DVD! Alas, life interfered and here we are. (With unwritten reviews of “Harry Potter 7.2”, “Crazy, Stupid Love.” “Cowboys and Aliens”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Captain America” mocking me.)

Obviously, it would be silly to critically analyze a movie I saw nearly three months ago. Of course, it would be even sillier for me to critically analyze a movie called “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

As a result, I’m doing things a bit differently: I’m going to the notes.

You see, every time I see a movie in theatres or watch a TV episode I’m going to review, I open a Word document and jot down random sentences and observations that mostly only make sense to me.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” was no exception. So instead of trying to break the movie down by memory, I’m going to share my notes from July followed by a (hopefully) brief explanation of what each statement means.

Just two quick thoughts: 1.) This “review” will feature a few more mild spoilers than I would normally include in a review. (The movie’s been out for months and it made over $1 billion worldwide…so I’m guessing plenty of people have seen it.) 2.) Please don’t judge me after this horrifying look at my creative process.

Let’s get it on!

“Too much plot. (Lead.)”
Ok, so the “(Lead)” part means that I was planning on opening my review by saying something like, “Is it possible that the new ‘Transformers’ movie actually has TOO MUCH plot?”

Just like the other two movies in the “Transformer” trilogy, “Dark of the Moon” opens with Autobot hero “Optimus Prime” (the great, booming voice of Peter Cullen) giving us some back story on his race of alien robots. Except that with each subsequent movie, the back story has become increasingly (and unnecessarily) involved.

In “Dark of the Moon”, we learned Sentinel Prime (Optimus Prime’s mentor, voiced by Leonard Nemoy) barely escaped a war with the evil Decepticons on the planet Cybertron and crash landed on Earth’s moon. The wreckage was discovered (and covered up) by humans during the Apollo 11 mission and, oh whatever…let’s just get the robots turning into cool cars and destroying each other. I will admit that I chuckled when the movie somehow dragged Buzz Aldrin into all this.

“I enjoy Shia LaBeouf’s performance. (And Julie White and Kevin Dunn.)”
I’m probably in the minority on this (especially since he kind of turned into a turbo-douche while promoting “Dark of the Moon”), but I really enjoy La Beouf’s work in these movies. (For some reason I also enjoy the fact that solid actors like Julie White and Kevin Dunn seemingly drop in from a different, more neurotic movie to play Sam Witwicky’s parents.)

I still think LaBeouf should be making more movies like “The Greatest Game Every Played” or “Wall Street 2” (even though that was a sort of gutless movie, I think LaBeouf fit nicely into it) and less movies where he’s required to be an action hero. His urgent, motor-mouth performance propels the narrative whenever the Autobots and Decepticons aren’t on screen, and he somehow developed more believable chemistry with a bright yellow Chevy Camaro than he did with any of his love interests. Which brings me to…

“The first time we see Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, it’s a low-angle shot of her ass in underwear. That’s why she’s here.”
Pretty self-explanatory. When you hire a Victoria’s Secret model as your female lead, what do you expect?

That reminds me, I think the movie’s most shocking development is the fact that the loss of Megan Fox left a significant (overly-tanned) hole in the movie. Say what you will about her acting skills, but Fox has a definite presence that the vacant Huntington-Whiteley just couldn’t recreate. (No matter how many eye-catching white outfits she wore.)

“The reason Michael Bay can get actors like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, etc. in his movies is because he basically lets them do whatever the hell they want. SO over the top, along with Ken Jeong.”
And apparently what Oscar-nominated actors like Malkovich and McDormand to do is act like lunatics. How else to explain Malkovich’s hideous wig and even more hideous, inexplicable accent? How else to explain wildly overqualified, two-time Oscar nominee McDormand playing the nothing role of Government Bitch. (On the other hand, I don’t think Ken Jeong can’t not be wildly over-the-top. Triple negative!)

Oh wait…they also probably got paid buckets of money too. Let’s move on.

“Some of the lighthearted moments DID work.”
This was mostly in response to the second “Transformers” movie’s disastrous attempt at humor by introducing two jive-talking, racist robots named Skids and Mudflap.

Because Malkovich’s performance is truly an atrocity, it allowed me to enjoy Turturro’s typically bananas work as Simmons, one of Sam’s frenemies. I also enjoyed Sam’s parents (as I mentioned) and the ooze that was practically seeping out of all of Patrick Dempsey’s pores as a the rich bad guy. (On IMDB, he’s credited as “Dylan.” Is that a first name or a last name? Does it matter?!)

“The transforming with Sam scene was AWESOME!”
I believed this at the time I saw the movie, and I still stand by it: the car chase scene on the highway where Sam is inside of Bumblebee — who is forced to transform into a robot as Sam flies through the air, and then transforms back into a car just in time to save Sam — is the single coolest special effects shot I’ve seen all year. Made me feel like a kid!

“Humans were actually useful this time…the battle in Chicago was very entertaining.”
I always felt the non-Shia LaBeouf humans in these movies (particularly the military forces led by Josh Duhammel’s Lennox and Tyrese’s Epps) were pretty much afterthoughts in the plot and mostly there because director Michael Bay truly has a fetish for everything having to do with the military.

However, in “Dark of the Moon” they actually contributed a fair amount, particularly in a truly spectacular skydiving sequence during the film’s climax. High five, humanity!

“Autobots are kind of dicks.”
This is in reference to the notion that Optimus Prime and Co. basically allowed Chicago to be destroyed just so that the humans — who had just banished them from Earth — could see that the Decepticons were evil and that humanity needs the Autobots. Thanks, asshole…now where am I supposed to get my deep dish pizza?

"Still can’t always tell who is fighting who. (Besides Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.) But FANTASTIC effects."
My biggest gripe with the “Transformers” movies. Other than Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (and maybe Megatron), it’s pretty difficult to tell the rest of the Transformers apart. Michael Bay tries to compensate for this mostly by giving the robots outsize (and usually offensive) character traits, but once they start fighting each other, it’s basically just a bunch of twisted metal.

(During the climactic battle, my buddy asked me “Was that Starscream?” and I said “Yes”, even though I was only 80 percent sure.)

Despite my smart-ass tendencies, I rather enjoyed the movie and thought it was an upgrade over the deeply-flawed “Revenge of the Fallen”, while never achieving the charm (if that’s the right word) of the relatively quaint original.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon…B-