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Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Couple of Dicks

Cop Out ~ This is the second time (that I know of) that Kevin Smith has been cock-blocked over a movie title. First Zack and Miri Make a Porno was trimmed to Zack and Miri for family viewing advertising purposes. This time, the entire title has been changed, from the funny and on-the-nose A Couple of Dicks to the ridiculous Cop Out. Although, in hindsight, this might be a better title for the finished product, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The title is indicative of the genre it’s paying homage to.

This is the film that Smith talked about in great detail when I saw him in Philly a few months back, at the time tentatively called A Couple of Dicks. Smith talked about how Bruce Willis knew what he was doing, had been doing it for years and wouldn’t let Kevin direct him. It shows on the screen. But maybe it was intentional.

Cop Out comes off both as a relic of the 1980s buddy cop movies, and as a perfect homage to those same 1980s buddy cop movies. And Bruce Willis is a veteran of that era, and a master of the genre. Smith uses Willis’ reluctance to be directed and his experience to the film’s advantage. Willis’ solo scenes, along with those of the flick’s villains, are right out of the target decade. Smith might as well as recruited the bad guys from an old Steven Seagal cop movie. One of the good ones, that is.

The sound of the flick is also unique and homage. Kevin Smith wisely utilized not only 1980s and 80s-type tunage for the film but also brought Harold Faltermeyer, composer of the Beverly Hills Cop films among others, out of retirement to do the score. Brilliant. Despite the current day trappings of the Cullen brothers script, the soundtrack never lets you forget what it is you’re watching.

Kevin Smith actual direction surprised me. He’s very good at action despite what he himself says. There are scenes that surprise with their effectiveness, like the backwards car chase and the gunfight at the end. All very eighties, mind you, but effective. Smith’s movement is fluid and quick-cut all at once, and it’s a good thing. I’d really like to see his Green Hornet or Fletch now after seeing this.

Tracy Morgan is hill-larry-us as his hype promises, and the highlight of the film. Seann William Scott is fun whenever he’s on screen (perhaps he should be more in a sequel, hint hint) and the cameos by Susie Essman and Jim Norton are a hoot. And any predictability, clich├ęs or monotony of the 1980s buddy cop genre that are present are elevated by the considerable talent of Willis, Morgan and Smith. Great flick and fun night at the movies.


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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker ~ This is a guy movie, and a damn good one – but I think if it wasn’t set in the topical Iraq War, it probably wouldn’t be nominated. That’s not to say it’s not a good film – it’s a great film. But we all know that politics –especially politically correct politics- always sways the Academy. The Ministry soundtrack of anti-war, anti-Bush music hits the point home where the film’s heart is.

The Hurt Locker is something we haven’t seen in some time, a war movie, and that’s probably because currently, we are at war. And it’s a new age war movie. The way that films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Steel Metal Jacket changed our perceptions, The Hurt Locker will as well.

Performances by Jeremy Renner and especially Anthony Mackie, who was ashamedly not nominated for Best Actor, are top notch, and overshadow easily veteran actors like Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce. It was directed by James Cameron’s wife Kathryn Bigelow at her husband’s urging – and now she might beat him for the Best Picture Oscar.

This is an intense, no holds barred, war movie for our time – and highly recommended – my odds-on favorite to win the Oscar. So far.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quickies 2-25-2010

A Serious Man ~ The latest from the brilliant writer/director Coen brothers at first seems to be about a 1967 college professor whose life unravels after his wife leaves him, but underneath it all, it’s really a black comedy about Jewish religious mystery. This strong contender for Best Picture Oscar is a step back in the right direction for Coens after a couple misfires. Highly recommended.

GI Joe: Resolute ~ This animated version of GI Joe represents a more adult interpretation. Rather than ray gun weapons and morality plays, this one has knives, guns and blood. The realism is more gimmicky than anything else as the story and the characters are fairly predictable and pedestrian. A fun watch for fans but offers little else to the rest of us.

Temple Grandin ~ An excellent entry from HBO Films based on a the true story of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who designed more humane methods for taking care of and unfortunately slaughtering cattle. It’s a powerful story with an actoring tour de force by Claire Danes as the title role that if she doesn’t get an Emmy nod it’s a crime. Highly recommended.

What Happens in Vegas ~ Harmless but fairly predictable 2008 romantic comedy about two people, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, who meet and marry in Las Vegas while intoxicated then hit the jackpot. To keep the cash, a judge orders them to stay married for six months, and hilarity, as they say, ensues. It’s predictable fun, even though I still don’t see what the big deal about Kutcher is.

The Dead One ~ This minor horror flick is proof that typecasting sometimes can not be broken. Wilmer Valderrama of “That ‘70s Show” plays the undead pawn of an ancient evil Aztec god, and it’s really not a bad scary movie, with legitimate horror moments, but every time Wilmer is on screen all I could think was “It’s Fez!” Really ruined it for me.


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

High Definition

You know that the next level in television technology has been reached when you will watch something you have zero interest in – just because it looks so damn good.

I don’t care all that much about the Olympics, and now that they’re every two years, they’re not even that special any more. Yes, the opening and closing ceremonies are sometimes fun in a train wreck sort of way, and yes, it’s great when the US is winning or some new hero with a heart-pulling back story makes good, and heaven forbid someone dies – but for the most part – don’t care, don’t care, where’s my Okama Gamesphere, ya know?

New Year’s Day we got ourselves a late Christmas present, a big old widescreen high definition television. Now we’re spoiled and loving it. But there are interesting side effects. The Olympics. Whoa. They just look so good in high def. It’s the most stunning stuff I’ve seen on television since the switch. I am mesmerized.

Now excuse me while I go watch curling...


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Eurovision 2010 - Malta



Here's Thea Garrett with "My Dream," Malta's entry for this year's Eurovision Song Contest. It seems that of the dozen or so final entries in already, many are long boring ballads like this one. I certainly hope the remaining countries inject some of the usual Eurovision quirkiness into their music or this stands to be a fairly boring competition this year...


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Destroy All Monsters

Sherlock Holmes ~ Yeah, this is the other film called “Sherlock Holmes” that came out in 2009. This one, from The Asylum, has been nicknamed in genre circles “Sherlock Holmes Destroy All Monsters” because of its plot involving giant monsters overrunning Victorian London. It’s also been alternately known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, not that that helps much. For those not in the know, The Asylum specializes in making near-beer copies straight-to-DVD of blockbusters currently in theatres.

While it’s more Jurassic Park than Destroy All Monsters, it is an interesting entry, told from Watson’s point of view some forty to fifty years after the fact, and old Watson himself hypes it as Holmes’ “greatest and least known achievement.” Holmes is played by a relative unknown named Ben Syder, while young Watson is Gareth David-Lloyd of “Torchwood” fame. Villain of English legend, and the villain of this piece as well, Springheel Jack is brought to life by Domenic Keating, late of “Enterprise.” Both, while being quirky genre favorites disappoint here.

The movie moves painfully slow and neither lead has the charisma (at least here) to keep viewers interested. I seriously believe that Ben Syder may be the worst Sherlock Holmes ever, and must surely be related to someone involved in the production. Gareth Davod-Lloyd looks alternately bored and sedated, nowhere near as cool (or even uncool) as his “Torchwood” character Ianto – but at least he is more engaging than Syder.

When it does get exciting (it’s rare, but it happens) the action comes off like a flavorless episode of the old “Doctor Who.” There’s even a weird Cyberman-like episode that wants so badly to be Russel T. Davies-ish, it’s painful. And, now that I think of it, this flick probably owes more to the Who episode “The Next Doctor” than it does Sherlock Holmes. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the badly CGI-ed dinosaurs, and the giant robots. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as cool as I just made that sound. Give this one a miss, and go see the other Sherlock Holmes movie again. You’ll thank me.


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Monday, February 22, 2010

Planet Hulk

Planet Hulk ~ Up front, while I know the gist of the story that comprises this animation based on the Marvel Comics event of a few summers back, I did not actually read the comics, so for the most part this is pretty new to me. For those without a comics background, “Planet Hulk” was originally written by filmmaker/comic book writer Greg Pak and illustrated by Carlos Pagulayan.

Here’s the story – Earth’s heroes, continuously unable to stop the Hulk and his rampages of destruction, put him in a rocketship and blast him into space where he lands off-course on a world that has been praying for a champion/savior. Guess who fits the bill? That’s right, ol’ Greenskin. It plays from there.

Hulk becomes a gladiator along with other alien refugees called the Warbound and much of the first half of the flick has them fighting generic opponent after opponent – except for Beta Ray Bill. Effort is put into making the Warbound sympathetic and give them depth but for me, it never happens. I zone out when the Hulk isn’t on screen.

One intriguing aspect of the story is the educational curve that transforms our gamma-irradiated hero from “Hulk smash” to “I learn.” It’s never referenced directly but it’s obvious, and even a bit frightening as the Hulk gets smarter. It is a bit of a mix of savage dumb green Hulk meets gray evil Hulk, but without the charm or wit.

Carlo Paulayan’s art translates well to the simple animated style used in Marvel’s features. His style, flavor and action blend well with the animation, and most importantly look like the pages come to life. But again, having not actually read the comic, I can’t really comment on Greg Pak’s writing and if Greg Johnson’s screenplay really does it justice. I’m guessing it does as Johnson is a longtime veteran of Marvel animation, new and old.

For the fanboys, cameos are also made by Iron Man and the Illuminati, and old school Thor. Look quickly or you’ll miss Adam Warlock, Gamora and Pip the Troll, Star-Lord, and the Grandmaster. The Silver Surfer who played heavily in the comic version sadly could not be used due to rights issues. In his place is the far more interesting (in my opinion at least) Beta Ray Bill.

Like previous entries from Marvel’s animated direct-to-DVD features, Planet Hulk is highlighted by a superior score from Guy Michelmore. This composer is amazing. I wish a compilation of his work or better yet the actual soundtracks were available to buy. You’d have sales here at the very least.

As an added bonus on the DVD there is a preview and the opening sequence of the next animated feature Thor: Tales of Asgard. Yes, it is a tale of teen Thor, not as out of continuity as one might think, but it looks not only marvelous, but fun as well. Honestly I enjoyed these few minutes more than I did all of Planet Hulk.

Planet Hulk isn’t bad, but it’s not your average Hulk tale either. Okay for a rental, recommended for the comics crowd, but really it’s no big deal. For some better Hulk animated try this.


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Eurovision 2010 - Armenia



While there are only ten of the thirty-nine finalists for this year's Eurovision Song Contest decided at this point, Armenia's entry is my favorite so far. "Apricot Stone" by Eva Rivas is an early, but strong contender.


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Friday, February 19, 2010

Main Enterprises Magazines

Just a quick note of shameless self-promotion here, but I wanted to let everyone know that Main Enterprises now takes PayPal!

This move into the twenty-first century means that folks can now take advantage of the new technology and order some of the magazines from these fine folks, like Comic Fan! and Dark Corridor for which I've written.

Check them out here!


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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kit Kat Bits

I've been going to see the Dumpsta Players for most of the fifteen years they've been around. I just have to say that last night's performance of the Kit Kat Bric-A-Brac Broadway Revue was the best ever. And I've seen tons of Dumpsta shows. This was the best and my favorite.

DJ K-Tell and the gang kept it simple - candy bars singing Broadway tunes, and the bizarre juxtaposition worked so well. Elaborate costumes, all homemade, found or thrift bought (thus the Dumpsta name) highlighted the show which featured Broadway both old and new including songs from Oklahoma, Spring Awakening, West Side Story, Cabaret and even Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Coolness.





The Dumpsta Players return to Bob and Barbara's in April for the much anticipated 14th annual Promtrash!


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Eurovision 2010 - Albania

It's Eurovision season again, and already several countries have chosen their finalists for the annual song contest in Oslo this year. First up is Albania's entry - "It's All About You" by Juliana Pasha.




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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too Fat to Fly?

I love Kevin Smith. I just love him. And I love his work. He’s a hero, an inspiration, and a helluva writer/director – and a big comics geek too – come on, what’s not to love? But he seems to have gotten himself into some trouble with Southwest Airlines.

I also have some voyeuristic history with Southwest as well. One of my guilty television pleasures a few seasons back was the A&E series "Airline." It chronicled the efforts (and sometimes non-efforts of Southwest Airlines and their customer service department to take care of those who fly with them. Sometimes the customer was the monster, but most times it was Southwest. It was a very unintentionally funny show, but it has always made me a bit tentative when flying Southwest.

This week, Kevin Smith and Southwest have come to blows, and I’m really not sure who the monster is. Southwest ejected Smith from a recent flight for not passing ‘the armrest test,’ in other words, both armrests have to come down while seated. After being tossed, Kevin launched an attack via Twitter on the airline. It hasn’t been pretty.

Southwest fought back on their blog, Kevin hit them with not only his blog but also an emergency SModcast. I hate seeing folks I like fighting. But as Kevin Smith himself said today, "let’s talk about anything else tomorrow."


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Doug Fieger of The Knack Passes Away

Sad news yesterday as it was announced that Doug Fieger, lead singer of The Knack, passed away at the age of 57 after an extended battle with cancer.

The Knack burst onto the scene in 1979 with their debut album "Get the Knack" and the mega-hit of that year - "My Sharona." I was just a teenager at the time and one of those dopey kids who was addicted to his radio, and took it with me everywhere. I loved music and was always running up and down the dial listening to whatever I could find. While "My Sharona" is now considered to be pop music by today's standards - as someone who was there, let me tell you - it was everywhere. The single got equal massive play on not just the top 40 stations, but also the rock, disco (there were still a few left) and the R&B stations.

Back in those days of the dueling rock giants of Philadelphia, WMMR and WYSP used to have entire weekends dedicated to single musical groups. While Yes and Genesis often had to share the spotlight for a weekend, even though together they had dozens of albums to their credit - The Knack, with only one album, was featured with their own weekend on more than a few occasions. That is how big The Knack was.

Also, if you watch VH-1 with any regularity with their multiple nostalgia countdowns, they'll tell you that The Knack was a one-hit wonder with "My Sharona." Nothing could be farther from the truth. "Get the Knack" also featured the follow-up single "Good Girls Don't," which topped the request lines all during 1979 as well. The Knack's second album "...But the Little Girls Understand," borrowing from an old Doors lyric which itself borrowed from an even older blues tune, was one of 1980's most anticipated albums. It only managed to put one single, "Baby Talks Dirty" on the charts however. From there, Doug Fieger and The Knack faded into obscurity.

They didn't disappear completely though. Doug Fieger showed up by himself on the "Born to Laugh at Tornadoes" album by Was (Not Was) in 1983 doing lead vocals on two tracks. The Knack resurfaced briefly in 1991 with the rock single "Rocket O' Love," a song that I was quite fond of. "My Sharona" also popped back into the charts twice since its initial release after being used in movies.

Doug Fieger, and The Knack, were a major part of music in the 1980s, a slice of time in between the rock and disco of the 1970s and the new wave that was to come. Another rocker has passed on and will be missed.


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The Kit Kat Bric-A-Brac Broadway Revue


The Dumpsta Players Present – "The Kit Kat Bric-A-Brac Broadway Revue"

Wednesday, February 17th
10PM doors, 11PM showtime -- sharp!
$1.99 cover 21+

@ Bob and Barbara's Lounge
1509 South Street
Philadelphia, PA
Info: (215) 545-4511


http://www.dumpstaplayers.org/
http://www.youtube.com/dumpstaplayers

ALMOND JOY AND MOUNDS TAP DANCE!
BLOW POP IS MY FAIRY LADY!
YORK PEPPERMINT PATTY HAS A HARD KNOCK LIFE!

This is the dawning of the age of sugarius! Imagine Happy Hour at the candy shop and all the different sweet snacks wanna show off some Broadway! Blow Pop could have danced all night! Butterfinger is just a girl who can't say no! Bit-O-Honey's life is a cabaret! See Almond Joy and Mounds in a tap dance extravaganza!

Join the Dumpstas as we ride a sugar high down the Hershey Highway! Enjoy selections from "Hair," "Spring Awakening," "Grease," and "West Side Story!"

Have some sweet charity and take it slow, daddy-o, in -
"The Kit Kat Bric-A-Brac Broadway Revue"!


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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dick Francis 1920-2010

The grand master of crime fiction passed away earlier today at his home in the Cayman Islands. Dick Francis was 89.

The former jockey, who began his writing career after he retired from the track, wrote forty-two novel in the thriller genre, many of which were racing-themed. Francis won numerous awards and honors and was acknowledged as one of the best in his field.

His newest novel, "Crossfire," co-written with son Felix, a frequent collaborator, will be released later this year. Dick Francis will be missed.


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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle ~ This Hiyao Miyazaki classic is based on an award-winning novel by a British author, Diana Wynne James. Set in a very imaginative 1920s-ish steampunk world where magic exists, this surreal tale is well-suited to Miyazaki’s filmmaking and storytelling talents.

Young Sophie is cursed and turned into an old woman, voiced by the late and legendary Jean Simmons, and starts cleaning a wizard’s giant walking castle – the one referenced in the title. Howl, appropriately played by Christian Bale, is a spoiled brat of a wizard, and a coward to boot, seemingly a perfect role for Bale based on his on-set tantrums of recent years. The voice cast is rounded out by Billy Crystal as a enslaved fire demon, who for the first time in quite some time is not grating on my nerves. The demon, Calcifer, is actually a lot of fun.

The highlight of the film is the subtle way that Sophie ages and de-ages, depending on her emotions and situations, throughout. It’s a wonderful touch. I can’t recommend this enough as I love Miyazaki, but by the same token, it is Miyazaki, and a hard and bizarre pill to swallow at times. The man is a genius, and the animation is visually brilliant, so even just as eye candy, this is so worth seeing.

For another view on this flick, check out the Comic Widows review by Maxine Nelson here.


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Friday, February 12, 2010

Babylon A.D.

Babylon A.D. ~ In the first wonderfully designed special effects laden thirty seconds of this flick – the story is ruined. We know how this will all end. I’m not fond of flashback stories like this because too often those behind the scenes don’t succeed in making me forget the opening with what follows. It’s a gamble that rarely pays off. I still am unsure if it does – that’s how muddled the actual ending is.

Vin Diesel plays Toorop, a mercenary in a presumably post apocalyptic post-war near future world. He’s hired to transport a young girl from Russia to New York City. Along for the ride is Michelle Yeoh, as the girl’s bodyguard/nun/denmother. Don’t worry though, nun or not, she’s still Michelle Yeoh, and she still kicks ass. Charlotte Rampling and Gerard Depardieu are oddly cast, and against type, but fun.

At its core, this Blade Runner meets Road Warrior scifi Road movie actually reminds me a bit of James Bond flick, with all of its multiple locations and various stunt chases and fights. I’m sure Diesel had a lot of fun with this, because we all know how badly, and how impossibly, he wants to be James Bond.

When Diesel does die, as prophesized in the first minute of the film (so I’m not really giving anything away), the movie gets more than a bit weird. There is a nice twist on the whole ‘day I died’ rift, which was surprising. The ending and explanations (religious and otherwise) are quite muddy. That said, this was much better than it had any right to be, and worth checking out for genre fans.


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bride

The Bride ~ When I say The Bride, I’m for once not referring to the lovely woman I married but the interesting 1985 remake of the classic Bride of Frankenstein. Interesting is one of the few words to describe this flick, from its stunt casting to its foreign film quality to even its conceit to start with the Bride’s creation scene and just assume that the viewers already know the Frankenstein story and can just jump in and roll with it.

I have to say I quite like that last part. Everyone knows Frankenstein, so why bother re-telling the tale and wasting valuable screen time. It’s something that I also think should be done with superhero movies – skip the secret origin and get to the story, and concentrate on telling a good story. Whether The Bride actually succeeds I telling a good story however, is another thing altogether. And although it’s officially hyped as a remake of Bride of Frankenstein, it is more accurately a sequel to the original James Whale 1931 Frankenstein, albeit fifty-four years later.

The casting, as I said, is quite interesting. Sting, who at the time was specializing in odd film roles, is Victor von Frankenstein, with Jennifer Beals, who had been having trouble following up her blockbuster role in Flashdance (and continues to, to this day), as the ‘monstrous’ bride of Frankenstein. Other oddities in the cast include David Rappaport, Quentin Crisp, Alexei Sayle, Veruschka, as well as an early turn by Cary Elwes. Clancy Brown gets his chance, as it seems every big tall actor does at one time or another, as the monster.

Much like the original film, the star turns out to be the Frankenstein monster rather than the title bride of Frankenstein. This is a shame as Sting and Jennifer Beals could have been quite good, but the friendship between David Rappaport and Clancy Brown is the real highlight of this film. While the Bride’s Pygmalion-like education is interesting (there’s that word again), Rappaport and Brown together are compelling.

The delight is short-lived however as the two storylines eventually collide. It goes downhill from there. All things considered The Bride is beautifully shot and a visual spectacle, well worth seeing if only for the interesting new take on the Frankenstein story. Fast forward through the early Sting and Beals parts, and it will be even better.


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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pandorum

Pandorum ~ When this first came out so many of my friends were buzzing about saying “You have to see this.” Having finally seen it, I really don’t understand what the big deal was. It’s a horror flick on a spaceship. Old idea, and it’s been done before – and one of the first - Alien - is still the best.

In the future Dennis Quaid and Ben Cooper (looking distractingly like Justin Timberlake) wake up from hypersleep missing huge chunks of their short-term memory – specifically who they are and what their mission is. They start to explore what at first seems like an empty spaceship and find – surprise surprise – they’re not alone. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

What follows is pretty much textbook O Henry and “Twilight Zone” fodder. It’s predictable, but nowhere near as predictable as Avatar. Pandorum is good if you see it for free, but don’t pay for it. Dennis Quaid could really do better.


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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Absolute Justice

Last night the CW aired one of the most anticipated episodes of “Smallville” ever, and it represents a turning point in the TV series. While it may be what many fans have been waiting for, the episode, “Absolute Justice,” might also be where “Smallville” finally jumps the shark.

The episode’s story has Clark, Chloe and Oliver (where is our Green Arrow spin-off already?) helping to solve the case of an assassin hunting down the forgotten and disbanded members of the Justice Society of America. It’s an Easter egg filled geekfest, and I’ll be the first to admit to a geekgasm while watching, but I wonder what regular viewers of “Smallville” thought of it. This was a solid break from the usual soap opera aspects of the show and full frontal dive into comic book land.

Yes, it was great seeing Doctor Fate in the flesh (although a taller actor would have been better) as well as seeing Stargirl, Sandman, Icicle, Star-Spangled Kid, Amanda Waller (yeah, Pam Grier!) and Hawkman come to live action life. That said I had problems with the rules to Fate’s helmet being reworked for TV. But the good far outweighed any quibbles.

We got to see Superman’s red cape (that series star Tom Welling has sworn he’ll never wear), and got two hours of spandex superhero action. We also got to see J’Onn J’Onzz not only back but repowered, green and almost in costume. And did I mention superhero action? Heck, the Stargirl/Icicle battle lasted longer than last season's clash with Doomsday. But with this introduction of the spandex set to “Smallville” continuity, the game has changed, and there’s no going back now.

The show has gone from freak-of-the-week to an “X-Files” wannabe to a “90210” wannabe to what “Heroes” should be – but this, this just might be what makes the series jump the shark. Spandex and superpowers are conceits that comic book fans just accept, but the visual reality of said may be too much for television audiences. Time will tell.

As for me, even if this is the last season, all I have to say is bring on the superheroes!


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