Thursday, January 11, 2007

24 Reasons to Love ‘24’


1. The clock. Real-time action over the course of an entire television season is one of the more amazing innovations in the history of modern entertainment. One of the best truisms I’ve heard about “24” is the producer who said the show’s central figure isn’t Counter Terrorist Unit Special Agent Jack Bauer—it’s the clock.

2. The “clock sound” is louder on the way into a commercial break than coming back from commercial.

3. Kiefer Sutherland. The guy was born to play Jack Bauer. He sets the tone for the entire show; he’s the foundation, and the standard-bearer. Sutherland’s at his best not when running or shooting at full tilt or screaming at someone (as you might think), but in moments of quiet, deadly fury.

4. Jack often serves as judge, jury, and executioner.

5. Jack Bauer jokes are hysterical.

6. The casting, overall, is superb—and it better be, because new people are coming in all the time. No character is safe, which not only adds a heightened sense of drama to every season, but keeps once-beloved personalities from going stale.

7. When characters die, they are briefly mourned and often missed, but the show moves on. No over-sentimentality allowed (thank goodness).

8. Then again, there’s just the right amount of emotion simmering right at the surface—especially for Jack—and you have to have seen every episode of every season to get the full impact.

9. The episode-ending cliffhangers are consistently the best I’ve ever seen, even better than the doozies on “Alias.”

10. The plot MOVES. Just when you think everything’s going to be resolved, a whole new Pandora’s box comes barreling down on top of you in midstream.

11. The villains, on balance, are well-developed, three-dimensional characters, with clear (if sometimes conflicted and objectionable) motivations for their actions.

12. Mary Lynn Rajskub’s facial expressions while playing systems analyst and all-around techno-guru Chloe O’Brian are priceless.

13. The show uses hyper-real scenarios to demonstrate real truths. There may not be a superhero like Jack on our side, but “24” reminds us people are sacrificing their lives for this country all the time—and I’m thankful and glad to have them out there.

14. Inner-office and inter-agency politics at CTU have national security implications. (Another example of reality in the hyper-real scenario.)

15. With all this craziness going on, you’d think the dialogue would be perpetually cheesy and/or stilted. By and large, it’s not.

16. Good guys drive Fords, bad guys drive Chevys.

17. The show is essentially apolitical, from a Democrat vs. Republican standpoint.

18. The writers aren’t afraid to use torture as an interrogation method.

19. The doors inside CTU make cool whooshing sounds.

20. The CTU telephone ringer is distinctive and never seems to annoy me, even after 120 episodes.

21. Real U.S. military personnel used at least one episode’s action scenes as a training mission.

22. Watching four (or eight) episodes in a row on DVD is great fun—and better than just about any movie you’re going to find (until the “24” movie hits theaters, of course).

23. “24” seems to only be getting better. I didn’t think anything could top Season 4, yet Season 5 managed to do it, without question. We’ll see if that trend continues when …

24. The curtain goes up on Season 6 Sunday at 8 p.m. with a two-night, four-hour extravaganza!

The Art of Monk


Former Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk—who just happens to be my favorite football player of all time—is once again on the ballot for this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Instead of going into my long rant about why he should ALREADY be in, I'll defer to this guy, whose 20-minute video montage of Monk's career is everything and anything that needs be said.
See, this is why I can't throw out all my Redskins stuff.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

(The Voice of) My Generation


Eddie Vedder can sing anything.
Case in point: His new cover of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The song appears in an upcoming Adam Sandler film, “Reign Over Me” (co-starring Don Cheadle), that looks like it could be a welcome return to “Punch-Drunk Love” territory for the typically juvenile actor.
Anyway, Eddie recorded an outstanding version of “Reign” for the soundtrack, and it debuted in full earlier this week on a Seattle radio station; you can hear a recording made from that airing (albeit recorded over the Internet) here.
Eddie is quite particular about the songs he chooses to cover—both on official recorded versions and those that pop up during live sets. They almost always mean something special to him, and his passion clearly fuels the performances. It’s a remarkable thing, really, because his rugged, unmistakable baritone can seemingly fit into any song he chooses.
When I call Eddie the voice of my generation, I don’t mean in some literal, artsy sense—I mean his actual vocal performance (his lyrics, actually, can be hit or miss—more hits than misses, but still …). It was his voice, and his intensity, that originally drew me to Pearl Jam, and it’s the reason I’ve stuck around all these years (with all due credit to the most underrated guitarist of my generation, Mr. Mike McCready).
So this latest in a long line of excellent cover choices got me thinking about my favorite Vedder covers; he’s exposed me to some great music. Note: This list is focused on EV covers, not PJ covers. Thus no “Rockin’ in the Free World” or “Baba O’Riley” or the like, because those are more full-band experiences than strictly Ed songs. These are the 15 favorite covers I most strongly identify with his incredible voice. Note No. 2: This list is comprised only of the covers I’ve heard either via bootleg or in person; Pearl Jam have covered a few hundred songs in their career, and by no means have I heard them all.

1. “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” Hunters and Collectors (as performed 8.18.2000 in Indianapolis)—Just a simple little song, but its infectious melody—played solo on guitar—fits Ed’s voice perfectly. According to pearljam.com, he’s only performed it 12 times and only once during the entire 2000 tour—thankfully, I was lucky enough to be out on the lawn that night. Oddly, this is one of the few songs I haven’t gone back and checked out the original source material. Have to do something about that …

2. “One Step Up,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed on a pre-PJ EV demo)—I had always liked this song from “Tunnel of Love,” but hearing this stunning karaoke-style rendition put it over the top. I didn’t know anything about it when I downloaded several years ago, and that first listen blew me away.

3. “Save It for Later,” The English Beat—No “Betterman” feels quite complete without this tag. Too many great versions over the years to choose from, though that night in Indy featured a stirring rendition (what a show that was!). Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to The English Beat.

4. “I Am A Patriot,” Little Steven Van Zandt—This was my No. 1 choice for years, as it’s a beautiful song sung to perfection by Ed, and a political song I could actually identify with. But the stretch of lines that ends with “I ain’t no Democrat, and I ain’t no Republican” doesn’t ring true anymore after Ed’s shameless shilling for a moron like John Kerry during the Vote for Change Tour in 2004. Still an awesome cover, though.

5. “It’s OK,” Dead Moon (as performed 8.3.2000 in Virginia Beach and 8.24.2000 in Jones Beach, N.Y.)—“Betterman” may not feel quite right without “Save It for Later,” but there IS no “Daughter” without a tag, and this is my favorite of the many, many great ones over the years. “It’s OK” became a song of catharsis in 2000 after nine fans died at the Roskilde festival in Germany earlier that summer. I honestly thought the band would break up (so did they, for a while), but it’s moments like this that kept them going. The Jones Beach version was included on the “Touring Band 2000” DVD, and it’s a must-see goosebump moment. (Looking forward to the similar THREE-DISC 2006 version due in a few months!)

6. “I Believe in Miracles,” Ramones (as performed with Zeke on the Ramones tribute CD)—You want passion? I give you EV covering the Ramones. This song absolutely blasts off that album and dominates every other entry included. Ed’s performance was so awesome, he actually has two Ramones covers on the CD; the other, “Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love),” is good, but “Miracles” is spectacular.

7. “The Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed with Sleater-Kinney on 10.3.2005 in Philly)—An absolute, total, shocking surprise of a pre-set opener. And it was basically PERFECT, right down to the harmonica solo (although Ed did have a little trouble with a few of the high notes). You can read more about it here.

8. “Naked Eye,” The Who (as performed solo 2.24.1994 in NYC)—Ed takes the stage for a guest appearance as part of Roger Daltrey’s 50th birthday bash and makes an indelible impression on the Who faithful in the crowd that night—and on me, listening to it years later. As best I can recall, Ed’s unbelievable version of “Naked Eye” gave me the final push I needed to start really listening to The Who—you know, beyond that “best of” sort of way. He played seven songs over the course of that two-night affair, and they are all stellar.

9. “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty (as performed solo during the 1994 tour)—The notion of bootlegs on the Internet was in its infancy while I was in college. This cover (I still don’t know which version) was one of the first songs I downloaded; I was so thrilled with it, I burned it onto a CD ASAP and ran over to a friend’s dorm room—a huge Petty fan—to play it for her, and she was floored by it, too. Just one of those nice PJ-related musical memories I’ll never forget. You know what sucks, though? I think I’ve lost that CD …

10. “Let My Love Open the Door,” Pete Townshend—Ed’s performed this song, my favorite of Townshend’s solo work, multiple times—solo, with the band, and with Pete. It’s basically great each time, any way he does it.

11. “Masters of War,” Bob Dylan (as performed 10.16.1992 in NYC)—Ed absolutely eats this song alive. This version was played with Mike during a Dylan tribute at MSG but has been in regular rotation since 2003 for obvious reasons.

12. “Timeless Melody,” The La’s (as performed 6.14.2000 in the Czech Republic)—Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to The La’s.

13. “Modern Girl,” Sleater-Kinney (as performed 10.3.2005 in Philly)—Great little tag at the end of “Not for You.” Thanks, Ed, for introducing me to Sleater-Kinney.

14. “Growin’ Up,” Bruce Springsteen (as performed 7.14.2003 in Holmdel, N.J.)—I basically bought this bootleg just for this song, and it turned out to be a train wreck. Still, a gallant, endearing try.

15. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” The Who (as performed on the “Reign Over Me” soundtrack)—I’ll have to wait until I hear an official version, but something tells me this song will be moving up the list rapidly—and soon.

Everybody Sees It But Them: The Sickness of Joe Gibbs and Mark Brunell


Politicians often issue announcements they’d like to hide “out with the trash,” releasing information late in a news cycle so it won’t make the weekday morning papers.
Congratulations, Joe Gibbs: You’ve now sunk to the level of a politician.
On Monday, Washington Redskins Quarterback Mark Brunell had major shoulder surgery on his THROWING ARM. The surgery took place, of course, after Gibbs finished his slate of year-end pressers so no one will have access to him for comment on the situation.
The ramifications of this news are stunning, depressing, and far-reaching. If I hadn’t invested more than two decades of emotion and fandom in this now-pathetic franchise, I would throw out every scrap of Redskin memorabilia I own. Today.
Even a half-blind man like me could see Brunell couldn’t throw the ball from here to there this season. If I could see it, my wife could see it, my brothers could see it, my parents could see it, the moron twins on SportsTalk 980 could see it, then it stands to reason every single defensive coordinator in the NFL could see it, too. Thus opposing defenses packed the line of scrimmage against the Redskins, knowing Brunell couldn't threaten them deep—whether the play was a run or another awful short pass, either way it was going to be right in front of all 11 defenders—and promptly stopped.
Some morons in Washington wonder if backup Ladell Betts should be the starting running back next season over Clinton Portis. Well, is it any wonder Betts' monster rushing attack began at the same time Brunell was benched and second-year QB Jason Campbell—who possesses a laser-rocket arm, as Peyton Manning would say—was moved into the lineup? As soon as defenders had to start worrying about passes traveling more than 10 yards through the air—what a shock!—the Skins' excellent offensive line was able to open up some running lanes again. If Betts gained 1,000 yards this season, a healthy Portis would have run for 1,600-plus with Campbell as a backfield mate. Perhaps the Skins could have won more than five games and actually made the playoffs in the pathetic NFC.
What makes me the most sick, though, is Gibbs' loyalty-to-a-fault for Brunell. With this news about Brunell’s obvious season-long injury, it's become a full-on sickness between these two guys. And what's worse, they're both Christians! Brunell should have had the moral integrity to bench himself if he was so hurt he was hampering the team, and Gibbs should have had the moral integrity to own up to his mistake.
Instead, Gibbs subtly passed the blame off on to new offensive coordinator Al Saunders, claiming the team got away from "Redskins football," meaning power running. Well what, exactly, was Saunders supposed to do with Brunell as his dilapidated triggerman? Saunders' offense relies on a QB willing to take hits and deliver the ball deep; Brunell can do neither. So Saunders had to start coming up with what Rick "Doc" Walker dubbed the "poodle offense" to try and cover for Brunell's obvious liabilities. By the end of the year, with a real QB in Campbell under center, the offense was clicking pretty well—both running and passing.
So however you look at it, Brunell and Gibbs cost the Redskins multiple victories for reasons unknown and inexplicable to anyone other than those two men. Their relationship has been an albatross around the team's neck for the past three seasons. From the very beginning of this second tenure in Washington, Gibbs hasn't felt like the same person this city has worshipped for nearly three decades. His first move was bringing in Brunell, and he's been covering up for that horrendous mistake ever since due to what I can only assume is abject vanity. In the same offseason, he then traded away Champ Bailey (the best cover-corner in the league) and a second-round pick for Portis; I love Lil' Clinton, but the team could obviously use Bailey right now more than Portis.
Gibbs has spent the past three seasons defending these awful moves, all the while championing second-rate players. He’s acted like Grandpa Joe, the kindly old guy who never says a bad word about anybody and just wants everybody to love him. Well, that doesn't cut it "up here," as Gibbs is fond of saying.
My only hope is this: When the reality of the worst season in Gibbs’ career finally settles in over the next weeks and months, perhaps that will reawaken the hard-nosed man of integrity I knew from my childhood. Perhaps he’s finally through worrying about expectations so he can finally get back to fulfilling them.
If so, Gibbs is off to a very, very bad start. This latest Brunell indignity foisted upon Redskins fans was an inexcusable act of cowardice perpetrated by a coach previously thought incapable of such a thing.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

In Search of Truth: The Works of Terry Goodkind


I’d like to introduce you to two people I’ve come to know and love over the past six months. Their names are Richard Cypher and Kahlan Amnell—and, yes, technically they don’t exist.
Richard and Kahlan are the main characters in author Terry Goodkind’s 11-novel Sword of Truth saga. I’ve just finished Book 6, “Faith of the Fallen,” one of the best pieces of modern fiction I have ever read.
You can find Goodkind’s novels in any bookstore; they typically occupy an entire shelf in the sci-fi/fantasy section. But that distinction is nominal. When I first heard Goodkind’s disclaimer about his work—he does not intentionally engage in the “world building” typically associated with the genre—I dismissed the notion as nearly insufferable pomposity.

After finishing “Faith of the Fallen” and its predecessor/companion novel, “Soul of the Fire,” I believe his statement without question.

Goodkind is a devotee of writer/philosopher Ayn Rand, founder of the objectivist movement, which, in part, celebrates the best qualities of individuals—namely truth, reason, and love—while eschewing a “collectivist” mentality found in an ideology such as socialism (or liberalism). Goodkind is not na├»ve; he knows no human being is perfect. But Richard and Kahlan are the summation and embodiment of his hopes for the potential of humanity. He simply uses the trappings of traditional fantasy—magic, swords and sorcery, horses and castles—to showcase his characters’ ideals, and the points he is making about modern society.
He writes Richard and Kahlan in vivid, intimate, oftentimes agonizing detail. No stones in their personalities or thoughts are left unturned (conversations can last 50 pages or more); they are two of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever encountered, and their hopes, fears, desires, flaws, and loves are laid bare before us. Goodkind describes it as capturing us in their souls.
It will sound trite to those unfamiliar with Goodkind’s work (or those simply too cynical to allow his novels to affect their own souls), but his writing is so visceral, Richard and Kahlan feel like real people to me. I think about them when not reading their stories. And when I am reading, I react physically to their successes and failures, their bliss and pain (and there is violent, graphic pain); my stomach tightens, sweat blossoms in my pores, my throat clenches, tears come to my eyes. There have been times when I’ve wanted to throw the book across the room and scream; other times, I smile as wide as I ever have. Goodkind says he experiences the same while writing. The emotions of the scenes are paramount to him, as they are his tools for conveying his ideas.
These books are not perfect from a technical perspective. The first entry in the series, 1995’s “Wizard’s First Rule,” was also Goodkind’s first novel. In the 15 years or so since he began this project, he has honed his craft and freely admits his desire to go back and improve that initial manuscript. But the purpose—and its intended impact on the reader—shines clearly from the outset. And it is simply this:
Richard inspires me to be a better writer, a better husband, a better man, a better human being. Kahlan, too, while also reminding me how blessed I am to be married to a wonderful green-eyed woman and experience real, true love on a daily basis.
I could go on at length about what the Sword of Truth novels have come to mean to me, but that would require divulging details about the books that could spoil the experience for others. By that reasoning, this may be the only time I write about them, I don’t know.
I can assure you this, though: If you like fantasy, you will find a home in Goodkind’s work. If you don’t like fantasy, you may enjoy them all the more. He is a rare author, indeed.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Billion-Dollar Dozen: Summer 2007

Geesh. I knew I had forgotten a few would-be blockbusters for summer 2007, but how did I miss the next “Ocean’s” and Pixar movies, not to mention Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” reprise and the surefire abomination that will be “Rush Hour 3”? Just proves my point, though: This year may be the worst of all time for pre-release hype. It’s going to be unbearable.
So, since it almost feels like summer outside anyway, might as well predict how the blockbuster season will go down now:

$350 million-plus
1. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (May 25)
2. “Shrek the Third” (May 18)
3. “Spider-Man 3” (May 4)
Even though the second installments of both the “Pirates” and “Shrek” franchises topped $400 million domestically, these three films might cannibalize each other this May—a trend I see coming for the entire summer, actually. The biggest question of the year will be answered quickly with these monsters: Will all of America really go to the movies en masse three times in one month?

$250-$300 million
4. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (July 13)
5. “Ratatouille” (June 29)
What is that funny-looking name on the last line, you ask? It’s the cumbersome title for the next Disney/Pixar effort, helmed by Brad Bird (the genius behind my fave of the Pixar stable, “The Incredibles”). Harry is a guaranteed hit, and Pixar hasn’t missed yet.

$150-$200 million
6. “The Bourne Ultimatum” (Aug. 3)
7. “Live Free or Die Hard” (July 4)
8. “Rush Hour 3” (Aug. 10)
Paul Greengrass returns for his second straight Bourne flick, which is awesome news, and the trailer for “Die Hard 4,” a film that seemed ridiculous when I first heard about it, looks decent. As for “Rush Hour,” the last installment made an obscene $226 million, but I’m factoring in blockbuster fatigue.

$100-$150 million
9. “Ocean’s 13” (June 8)
10. “The Simpsons Movie” (July 27)
11. “Transformers” (July 4)
12. “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (June 15)
This final group should all open huge but will probably flame out quickly. Those opening-weekend hauls should be enough to hit triple digits by the time all is said and done, although it wouldn’t surprise me if “Oceans” is the only one to actually cross that plateau.

Other movies to keep an eye on that I have absolutely no idea how they’ll place (also, keep in mind there isn’t a romantic comedy on this entire entry—one is bound to pop up and make some decent money):
• “Bratz” (Aug. 17)
• “Delta Farce” (May 11)
• “Evan Almighty” (June 22)
• “The Invasion” (Aug. 17)
• “Hostel: Part II” (June 8)
• “Nancy Drew” (June 15)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Best of 2006—Blurred Edition


For the second year in a row, I can’t come up with 10 movies that would require compiling a “Best of” year-end list. In fact, I don’t think I even saw 10 movies in the theater this year. And glancing at the bevy of top-movie lists this past month, seems I didn’t miss much. “The Queen”? “Flags of Our Fathers”/”Letters from Iwo Jima”? “Little Miss Sunshine”? No thanks. The only consistently high-rated films I wanted to see but missed were “Borat” and “Dreamgirls.”
The simple fact is, there really are more reasons to stay in than ever. Television in 2006 didn’t just catch up to the film industry, the “boob tube” surpassed traditional Hollywood moviemaking. Sure there’s more reality schlock than ever, but TV is also taking more risks and greenlighting more ambitious projects than ever before, too—in my lifetime, anyway.
Taking a cue from HBO, the network that started this resurgence nearly a decade ago with “The Sopranos,” broadcast execs finally got wise and divided serialized shows (my flavor of choice) into mini-seasons, so viewers get major story arcs in big chunks, rather than having to sift through weeks of reruns for one new morsel. Thus shows like “Heroes” and “Lost” become more satisfying because their deep stories are played out in power-packed intervals.
Of course, all that said and still the most significant and powerful piece of filmmaking I saw in 2006 was, in fact, a movie. Since the lines between traditional cinema and traditional television continue to blur, I’ve blended my “Best of 2006” into one master list. Here goes …

1. “United 93”—This was quite simply one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Screw Scorsese, writer/director Paul Greengrass deserves every award-season accolade for actually completing a seemingly impossible mission of translating the still-open wound of Sept. 11 into a piece of work that not only keeps you pinned back in your seat, but honors those brave passengers at the same time. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch this movie again, but it’s burned into my memory. For more viewing, I highly recommend Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday,” which is similar in its documentary-style production. You can also check out my review from April here.
2. “Deadwood”—In any other year—meaning one that didn’t offer “United 93”—this superb Western would have topped the list. “Deadwood” is, yes, my favorite television show of all time—although simply labeling it a “television show” doesn’t seem to quite encapsulate all it has to offer, and at the same time reinforces my thesis about quality TV in general. A terrific cast, impeccable acting, true Shakespearean writing, classic Western themes, shocking violence that nevertheless didn’t feel excessive, and, unlike “The Sopranos,” characters you can actually love and root for. I’ve never seen its equal and can’t imagine I will ever again. You can read my June preview/review here.
3. “24”—The best adrenaline rush on screen—big or small—this year. I caught up with the herd in 2006, watching seasons 2-5 on DVD, and am definitely now a Jack Bauer devotee. Season 5 is my favorite of the bunch; I rank the others this way (best to least best): 4, 2, 1, 3. More on this topic soon (I hope, if I have the time/energy) as Season 6 blasts into existence in less than two weeks.
4. “Superman Returns”—I know most critics either panned or were generally indifferent to Bryan Singer’s take on the Man of Steel, but I absolutely loved it. Maybe it just caught me at a particularly good time, but this film gave me chills throughout, and I can’t wait for the next one. For more, check out my review from July here.
5. “PTI”—The little show I like to call “Pardon the Interruption” may only draw a few hundred thousand viewers a day, but it’s consistently the funniest half-hour on TV. Even with co-host Michael Wilbon morphing into an utter talking head and fellow host Tony Kornheiser spending most of the fall on split-screen for “Monday Night Football,” these two knuckleheads are the two most influential sports commentators in the business. And they make me laugh every single day.
6. “Entourage”—Season 3 may have had some rough spots (oh, that horrible two-episode “Dom” arc), but the first two eps of the year were two of the funniest pieces of television work I’ve ever seen. In fact, Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold smashing his assistant’s little “power figure” statue may be my favorite comedic scene of all time.
7. “The Nine”—Wow, forget what I said about those TV execs, because there’s no way this show should have been pulled from the schedule already. I hope they do at least let this season run its course, because this show started hot and never cooled. John Billingsley’s kooky suicidal-turned-optimistic Egan Foote received well-deserved acclaim, but Tim Daly (remember the straight-laced pilot from “Wings”?) was just as good as a gambling-addicted cop, maybe even better.
8. “Lost”—I basically gave up on this show (more on that in a minute) but came back for the Season 3 premiere and got hooked all over again. By focusing on the power trio of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, “Lost” returned to its strengths this fall and turned in a couple of its best installments. And let’s not forget a fabulous turn by he-with-the-wicked-eyes Michael Emerson as super-baddie (or is he?) Ben/Henry, plus sterling newcomer Elizabeth Mitchell as Jack’s captor/love interest, Juliet. Here’s hoping for more of the same when the show begins its 16-episode spring season in February.
9. “Heroes”—Although a little too self-aware at times of its “mythology,” credit NBC for taking a risk on this stellar action/drama. Like “24,” superb acting from multiple cast members helps ground a hyper-real show in a sense of human reality. There wasn’t quite enough payoff for that so-cool “Save the Cheerleader. Save the World” promo, so I’m a little reticent about the new “list” thing—again, a little too self-aware. But I’m definitely a fan.
10. “Whiskey on a Sunday”—This flawless rock doc told me everything I’d ever want to know about Flogging Molly, one of my favorite bands. It not only gives a great oral history of the group, but provides deep insights into several songs—most notably the heart-wrenching story of frontman Dave King playing an homage to his father, “The Likes of You Again,” for his mother for the first time. And the bonus CD was awesome, too.

Honorable Mentions
• “Cars”—The latest Pixar effort probably belongs on the above list, but it was just missing that intangible little extra something found in classics like “The Incredibles” and “Toy Story.” Solid, to be sure, but the first half-hour or so kinda dragged. Still, there were some absolutely glorious images and laugh-out-loud moments.
• “The Departed”—I really, really, really liked this movie—right up until the last five minutes. That ending left a bad taste in my mouth. Until then, though, it was certainly one of the best gangster movies I’ve seen in a while. Kudos to Leo and Marky Mark—two actors I typically avoid—for spectacular performances. And as a Matt Damon fan, he didn’t disappoint, either.
• “The Prestige”—If I had made a top 10 list of just movies, this would have been on it somewhere.
• “Smallville”—The 100th episode was amazing, but Season 6 has drifted a bit. Nice touch in the last ep, though, using AFI’s “Prelude 12/21” as the outro music.
• “V for Vendetta”—Another movie that had a lot going for it until the bitter end. I just can’t get too excited about a film that’s going to preach at me about how I need to “understand” Islamic terrorists. Still, great performances by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.

Biggest Disappointments
1. “The Sopranos”—I ranted back in May about the exaggerated Vito story arc, so I won’t rehash here. But it says something that I, a devoted “Sopranos” fan, can’t remember a single thing about the Season 6 finale.
2. “X-Men: The Last Stand”—I knew going in that Brett Ratner was no Bryan Singer, but there’s no way I could have predicted in my worst nightmares the abomination that is this movie. You can read my review here.
3. “Alias”—The series finale was actually pretty good, but just about everything else about Season 5 was mediocre at best. It didn’t help Jen had to go get knocked up by Affleck, but they should have just ended with the excellent Season 4 finale. How great would it have been if Syd had just looked at Vaughn in the car and said, “I’m pregnant”—and there’s your series! The writers did the best they could, I guess, with little input from J.J. Abrams and a midseason hiatus, but this was a far cry from the series’ Season 2 peak.
4. “Lost”—As I mentioned earlier, Season 2 was a major drop in quality from the first go-round. Primary characters such as Jack, Locke, and Sawyer all went in petty, alpha male, king-of-the-mountain directions that made me dislike them, which is a bad, bad thing. Once again, J.J. Abrams leaves a project and it goes to crap. Can we clone him or something?
5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”—On first blush, I may have overrated this movie. I watched it on DVD over the holidays and it didn’t hold up very well—too dark, not enough genuine yuks. Of course, it may shift again depending on how well it ultimately sets up the third installment. And speaking of …

Bring Me That Horizon
It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but I’ll go on record now that this year may break ever box office record in the books based on summer alone. The month of May brings “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek 3,” and “Pirates 3”; other surefire blockbusters include “Harry Potter 5,” “Bourne 3,” plus the long-awaited “Simpsons” and “Transformers” movies (the former looks hilarious, the latter looks, well, meh). And let’s not forget a revitalized “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film in March!
Those are just the titles I can remember off the top of my head—I’m sure there are a few more pending “blockbusters” waiting in the wings. The scary thing is, I’ll probably see most, if not all, of the aforementioned installments; I just wonder if all these “must-see” movies will end up cannibalizing one another.
Hopefully they’ll be good enough to at least give me a reason to sit in a movie theater again.