Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I am a Superhero

From a post in the General Community section of Los Angeles Craigslist:

This is it. I am him.

If you want to invest in someone that can be the first super hero ever, it is me. All I need is time, and someone to invest in that time.

I will need you to pay for training and equipment, as well as room and board.

I am in excellent shape already, and the most motivated and righteous person you have ever met.

If you want to make a real super hero, I am your man.
So much more creative than the losers posting begging for cash on Craigslist!

DWTS Results - We want Winners, not Whiners!

As I predicted, Shannon Elizabeth's mea culpa for last week's hysterics wasn't enough for the voters. I was also right about Cristian getting enough sympathy votes to continue--despite suffering a ruptured tendon (ouch!) that requires surgery. He's delaying surgery to continue the show--but I'm predicting it won't be long of a delay. The audience sympathy vote works once--after that you're on your own. Hey, it's harsh in the dance world!

Speaking of harshness, the glare off Kenny Mayne and Jerry Rice's glitter was a bit much--although the DanceCenter segment was humorous as usual. And how much do I love Def Leppard? I have to say, Dancing with the Stars and Def Leppard aren't two things you'd usually hear in the same sentence, but their performance--complete with cheese-tastic pyrotechnics--was the second best thing about the show (the first being Shannon's elimination!). I was pretty stoked that the director chose to focus attention on shots of the smoke billows, guitar, drummer and the rest of the band rather than the tedious professional dancers during Pour Some Sugar on Me.

I was wrong about Mario joining Shannon in the bottom two (For those keeping score, Me = 7, DWTS = 4). This week it was the winsome Marissa Winokur that felt the sting of the red light. This season's fanbase is the most fickle EVER. Next week's elimination show is also the celebration of 100 episodes (I have only watched about HALF of them...) and will feature the judges Top Ten dances and performances by Mario Lopez and Apolo Ono.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm Not There - On DVD May 6th

Part historical, part allegorical, part biography, part mythology, I'm Not There, the anti-biopic by Todd Haynes, captures the essence of one of the most elusive figures in the music world. Although it takes its title from an obscure Bob Dylan track, it also speaks to the film's theme as a study on identity rather than the life of an ever changing and enduring American artist.

"But I loved the name "I'm Not There" as a way of beckoning this idea of this person who's alway moving on, always a step ahead and every time you try to grasp him, contain him--like a flame, he's gone."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes
The film features six different actors portraying seven different characters--or facets of Bob Dylan's evolution. A 13 year old African American boy, Marcus Carl Franklin, plays Woody Guthrie--a "grassroots urchin" who represents the young Robert Zimmerman who adopted the name of a famed Welsh poet as his surname and created an elaborately fictional back story upon his arrival on the New York scene. Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a charismatic protest singer who eventually converts to Christianity and evolves into Pastor John, an evangelical preacher and gospel singer. Heath Ledger plays Robbie, an actor playing the part of Jack Rollins in a biopic within an anti-biopic, whose struggles with balancing fame and family mirror the relationship issues Dylan faced with ex-wife Sara Lownds.

Ben Whishaw portrays the poet/philosopher aspect of Dylan as Arthur Rimbaud, a character based on the French poet who influenced Dylan. Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, an outlaw version of a Dylan who has retreated from public life. Haynes says of Billy that he's a Dylan who exists more in the mind--more in the unconscious of our own history. And last but most definitely not least is Cate Blanchett portraying Jude Quinn, the most recognizable Dylanesque character--the Dylan gone electric from mid '65 to mid '66. Blanchett was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for this role and not enough can be said about her mesmerizing performance. She absolutely disappears into the role--she's just phenomenal.
"The only way to get to the core of who he is, is to honor the changes that had defined his life."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes
Eschewing traditional linear storytelling, Haynes cobbles together a movie using different film stock, movie genres, artistic styles, soundtrack producers as well as actors to represent each period in Dylan's life. The stories bounce from one character to the next--paralleling, intersecting and eventually coming full circle. I have to admit, I'm not a big Dylan fan and have very little background on his life and music so I found it hard to follow at times. I'm guessing that even a Dylan fan might find it difficult to understand. But Haynes did not make the film to help us understand Bob Dylan, but to celebrate his complexity.
"People tell you to find yourself and be yourself and this is a sort of freedom but...the ultimate freedom is being able to escape that..."

- A Conversation with Todd Haynes

I'm Not There is not an easy film. It's meant to encourage immersion more than comprehension. It's stylish, arty, lyrical, poetic and profound. It's deep and at times you may feel like you're drowning, but it's visually arresting. Haynes uses Dylan's music--both popular and obscure--to underscore the events depicted on screen. soundtrack mixes original Dylan recordings with existing covers, including new versions by a variety of musicians including Ritchie Havens, Iggy Pop, John Doe and Sonic Youth, among others. You've got Eddie Vedder performing All Around the Watchtower and John Doe singing Pressing On in musical quilt that is both eclectic and cohesive.

The two-disc DVD set features:

· 9 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
· Audio Commentary with Director Todd Haynes
· Premiere Featurette
· Making Of I’m Not There
· Subterranean Homesick Blues Music Video
· Audition Tapes – Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin
· Gag Reel
· Conversation with Todd Haynes
· Making of the Soundrack
· Dylan Filmography
· Dylan Discography
· New York Times Article on the Film Written by Robert Sullivan
· On Screen Lyric Stream

The most interesting of the extras is the Conversation with Todd Haynes--which really ought to have been titled "Conversations" as the background and making of the movie is woven together via a variety of interviews Todd Haynes did during the publicity tour for the film--much in the same way his film interweaves its narrative. Haynes, in different clothing and altered hairstyles, almost appears to be played by different actors throughout the featurette, which makes it an oddly comic homage to the film he's discussing.

Haynes doesn't deconstruct the Dylan mythos as much as he creates a new and inventive way to experience the man and his music. The metaphors and metamorphoses he creates issue a challenge to the viewer. As the outlaw character of Billy the Kid breaks out of prison at the end of the film, it symbolically represents Dylan's unceasing struggle not to be limited or defined by others--a quality that Haynes admires and applauds and strives via this film to serve up as inspiration to all of us.
All I can do is be me.
Whoever that is...

- Bob Dylan

DWTS - Times Two

Dancing with the Stars featured both a Ballroom AND a Latin dance from each couple, continued bickering between judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli (Len to Bruno: "I think your hot air is responsible for global warming!"), injuries and a shift in the top spot from consistent leader Kristi Yamaguchi to hottie Jason Taylor. The other thing that was consistent in last night's show was the most horrible music selections EVER. Almost completely undanceable. Yikes!

Jason started out with the Quickstep. It's amazing how someone so big is so incredibly light on his feet. Carrie Ann gave it a triple "fantastic" and he scored an almost perfect 29--which was the highest score of the night. His Paso Doble, done to the NFL Monday Night Football theme (Seriously? Who can dance to that?) was suitably dramatic, but he and Edyta did the unforgivable--a lift! Still, he managed to score a 26 giving him a total of 55 and putting him in first place for the night.

Kristi's Waltz laid her low this week. I don't know what the judges didn't like about it--it was light and pretty with lots of spins. She only scored a 26--which is the lowest score she's ever gotten. She came back like gangbusters with a clean and crisp Cha-cha. Len groused about the modern choreography, but Bruno and Carrie Ann loved it enough to give her 10s. She scored a 28 (thanks to crankypants Len) for a total of 54 for both dances.

The surprise of the night was Marissa Winokur who came on strong with a classic, classy Tango that earned her a 27. She joked that she was getting confused learning two dances and that it might turn out a "Rumbango." Her Rumba was more sweet and soft than sensual and sexy and most of the hip action came from partner Tony. She scored a 25 on that for a total of 52 points.

Mario's Foxtrot was smooth--but the choreography didn't really match the music. He earned a 24 from the judges. He rocked the house, however, with his sharp and slick Mambo. Even Len loved it and he scored a 27 for a total of 51 for both dances putting him in fourth place.

Tied for fourth with Mario was Shannon Elizabeth who started the evening with an apology for her whining the week before. The judges loved her Tango, but I thought it looked more like pain than passion. She earned a 27 for that, but when she came back to shake her booty for the Mambo, the judges called her gawky and gangly and awarded her only 24 points. Amazingly she seemed happy with that although the exact same score and comments last week produced a major hissy fit.

In last place was Cristian and Cheryl who started out with a Waltz that looked smooth and effortless--but probably because there wasn't much effort. It was too much Cheryl and not enough Cristian. They earned a 25 for their efforts hoping to catch up with the Latin round. Alas it was not to be as during the Samba, Cristian got a horrendous cramp in his arm. Although the judges said they would score the portion of the dance prior to the injury, they gave him a measly 21 points giving him a total of 46.

Here's where the sympathy vote kicks in--Cristian has definitely raised his Q scores with his stint on DWTS and although I doubt he'll win it or even make it to the finals, I think the viewers won't let him go yet. I'm hoping Ms. Elizabeth's histrionics will have her leaving the dance floor this week. I think she'll be joined in the bottom two by Mario who's had a taste of the red glare last week.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Belated Earl

This my the better late than never My Name is Earl post--watched online with a herky-jerky DSL connection. The good news is that by the end of the episode, Earl came out of his coma. The even better news is that means no more sit-coma. Earl's coma-induced fantasy life came complete with a "jump the shark" moment with the introduction of the precociously cute black cousin Wendell and Earl playing his own twin brother (who oddly enough bore more resemblance to the late Charles Nelson Reilly). The best news was the reappearance of Noah Crawford as young Earl.

While ABC may be raking in the GLAAD nominations, there's probably not a lot of love coming from the disabled sector--what with Gabrielle's catfight with some wheelchair bound guys several weeks ago on Desperate Housewives and last night's episode of My Name is Earl which saw the still comatose Earl (Randy to Patty: "Earl's still got a touch of coma." Patty to Randy: "I missed a lot of my 30s like that...") being wheeled around in a shopping cart and then transferred to a souped wheelchair compliments of one of Patty's former managers ("It had everything a crippled pimp would want...").

Randy searches through Earl's list trying to find an item that comatose Earl could cross off. Turns out, it just happens there's an item that has to do with making things right with a pair of paraplegic siblings, Tiffany and Brett, from whom Earl and Randy stole wheelchairs and went joyriding as youngsters. As Randy uses his degree in Joystick from the University of PacMan to maneuver Earl around to help Tiffany make T.R. jealous ("When he kisses me, he sends shivers halfway down my spine!") and help Brett's team not forfeit in the game of Killerball ("Over my half dead body!") all to REO Speedwagon's Roll with the Changes.

Just the right touch of irreverent politically incorrect redneck humor coupled with simpleton sweetness. Earl is back--thank God for that!

Desperate Housewives - Playing with Fire

The Gabby/Carlos blindness storyline officially went to the dogs last night. Specifically, a seeing eye dog named Roxie who is very protective of her new master--and not so hot on Gabby. The bickering between the Solis' over money is a continuing issue with Carlos telling Gabby she should cut out her $300 hair appointments and Gabby retorting, "You're the one that married me for my looks!" "Well I'm blind now so as long as you use deodorant, I'm good," Carlos counters. The squabbling over the new addition to the household escalates to the point of Gabby returning Roxie to the trainer--but Roxie, like Lassie, comes back home. A "snap out of it" pep talk from Edie brings Gabby back to reality and all is well again in the Solis household.

Things are not so hunky-dory with the Scavos as Lynette suspects Tom burned down Rick's restaurant. Rick, finding a matchbook from Tom's restaurant at the scene of the crime, has the same suspicion and when he shows up to confront Tom, they come to blows. (Seriously, who would be stupid enough to commit arson and leave incriminating evidence at the scene?) When Tom ends up at the police station, Lynette corroborates his alibi, only to learn that while she doesn't believe Tom is innocent, Tom doesn't believe she is either. He still thinks she slept with Rick. The truth comes out with the Scavo twins admit to setting the fire because they overheard Tom and Lynette arguing about Rick and his restaurant.

The truth also came out in regards to Orson when Julie tells Mike what Orson said while sleepwalking. Mike confronts him and asks him point-blank if he was the one who ran him over. Orson admits running him down to protect his mother (she killed Monique while Mike was there on a plumbing job...) and Mike decides to forgive him. Susan, on an emotional rollercoaster due to pregnancy hormones (Oh, who are we kidding here? When is Susan NOT on an emotional rollercoaster?) storms over to the Hodge's house and lashes out at Orson. Bree is horrified to find out what her husband did and while Susan eventually decides to follow Mike's example and forgive Orson, Bree cannot.

The biggest revelation is the fact that Wayne Davis, Katherine's ex and Dylan's Dad is NOT dead. He is actually a creepy cop who manages to ingratiate his way back in his daughter's life while simultaneously manipulating her into deceiving her mother. What is his agenda? He admits to abusing Katherine but claims Katherine gave as good as she got. And if he's not dead, who's in the grave marked with a cross that Katherine visited last episode?

According to the promos, next week's episode features Edie taking Orson in after Bree kicks him to the curb. Interesting. Edie has already tried to get her hooks in Susan's ex, Carl, as well as Mike Delfino, and when that didn't work out she went gunning for Carlos after he and Gabby were divorced. Now Orson. Seems Edie has a taste for sloppy seconds.

Hmmm...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Killing the Blues

My first exposure to this beautiful bluegrass influenced song performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss was in a J. C. Penney American Living ad that played before the movie trailers. The ad featured typical scenes of red state America--bucolic, mid-west, small town, hometown kitsch, but deeply affecting and effective when set to this hauntingly, aching melody. Written by Rowland Salley and featured on the album Raising Sand, it's languorous harmony feels like a sultry summer day. It's my new favorite song.

Enjoy.



Killing the Blues

Leaves were falling just like embers
In colors red and gold they set us on fire
Burning just like a moonbeam in our eyes
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud
Killing the blues

Now I am guilty of something
I hope you never do
Because there is nothing
Sadder than losing yourself in love
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud
Killing the blues

Now, you ask me just to leave you
To go out on my own and get what I need to
You want me to find what I’ve already had
Somebody said they saw me
Swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud
Killing the blues

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Leatherheads

It's unbearably hot in L.A. today, so rather than suffocate in my stuffy little apartment I decided to cool my heels in an air-conditioned movie theater. I also had a free ticket, so what better opportunity to check out George Clooney in Leatherheads. My much anticipated pairing of two of my favorite actor guys--Clooney and The Office cutie John Krasinski--has not been a critical or box office triumph.

The kindest review I read was Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gives it a solid three stars and says "He belongs to two churches — film and football — and George Clooney worships at both in Leatherheads, a scrappy debate on the rules we live by disguised as a screwball comedy." But most reviews were lukewarm, although willing to give Clooney a pass (pun intended), as with the Washington Post's John Anderson who wrote, "Clooney is the Peyton Manning of movie stars, so he's allowed to punt once in a while."

So is the movie a touchdown or a fumble? Well, it's neither. It's more like a long, grueling drive down the field that has time running out just inches short of the goal line. Okay, that's enough of my football euphemisms. There are some great moments in Leatherheads; the opening depicts the disparity between the well-attended college football games vs. professional football showing the Duluth Bulldogs playing out in a rural pasture while a bemused cow watches. It's brilliant. Too bad there aren't more moments like it.

Clooney also does too much telling instead of showing. It's a basic concept in filmmaking to not tell what you can show. And if you can show it, there's no reason to tell it as well. Shots of his team players going back to their old vocations after the Duluth Bulldogs go bankrupt are preceded by Clooney's character of Dodge Connelly saying something to the effect of "Well, I guess they'll go back to the mines or the fields." This wasn't the only instance where Clooney felt the need to EXPLAIN things to the audience. Tell us a story--let us decide what it means. Apparently Clooney rewrote all but two scenes of the script originally written by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. When the WGA refused to give him a writing credit, he resigned from the Union and went FiCore. And who knows, maybe he vastly improved on the original script--but given the finished product, it would have been just as well his name's not on it.

Leatherheads tries to evoke the wit and patter of a 1930s screwball comedy. And it tries a bit too hard at times. The banter is fitful and not nearly as sharp and smart as The Philadelphia Story or His Girl Friday. At the beginning of the film, everyone seems to be forcing the sparkle. For example when Carter Rutherford (Krasinki) vaults over a railing with ease. It comes off as contrived. By the middle of the movie, everyone is a bit more subdued and it works better.

The subplot of Rutherford's war heroism may or may not have been necessary. I can see where some critics felt it unnecessarily complicated the plot, but the question of celebrity and of the public needing heroes and the media too happy to create them is an issue that is well worth exploring. Unfortunately, it's used as a clever little plot point to help our hero win his girl--completely disregarding the fact that the crowds generated by Rutherford's perceived heroism is what is galvanizing professional football. The weight of fame on Rutherford, beautifully evinced in Krasinki's eyes, is also given little play in the film.

But then again, it was supposed to be a film about football--it's humble beginnings and how it eventually came to be the regulated, commercialized, hypefest that it is today. Clooney wanted to show what it was like when it was a GAME. And when the game was about having FUN. And this is where the film's biggest failing occurs. In all his scenes of the grit and grime of pre-commercialized football, we don't get to see the fun. All the oddball characters that make up the team are treated as mere filler--more like extras than characters.

And the end of the film Dodge is faced with the choice of continuing to play professional football by the new rules or to have fun and get thrown out of the sport. The stakes are high, but as an audience we don't feel them. And all those now illegal plays like the "Pig in a Poke," "Rin Tin Tin" or the "Crusty Bob," we never got a chance to see them. The ending is clever but without the proper set-up, the payoff felt like a day late and a dollar short.





Friday, April 25, 2008

Ugly Betty and The Office - The Best Laid Plans...

Well, after all my gloating about setting up my digital converter--whoohoo!--you knew something had to come spoil it. Turns out, in order to record a TV show while watching another, you need TWO converters. I don't even want to guess how to wire all that! So I disconnected the converter to being able to tape My Name is Earl while watching Ugly Betty. Then I tried to rehook up the converter to watch the rest of my Thursday night shows--only to somehow lose the signal for ABC. That being the channel LOST is on, I had to disconnect the converter again and watch my shows with a crappy analog signal until I had enough time to get everything working again (which was after 11 pm!).

Unfortunately, I screwed something up and so my attempt to tape of Earl gave me a horrible snowy picture that's completely unwatchable. I'll have to see about watching the episode online. So no My Name is Earl yet--sniffle! Was it a decent episode or did they slip into a sitcoma again?

On Ugly Betty, Betty's plans to celebrate her 24th birthday (in real life, star America Ferrera turned 24 on April 18th!) are complicated by the appearance of Charlie (Henry's pregnant ex-girlfriend) in New York City for some kind of baby doctor conference? Whatever. Obviously she was really there to put a crimp in Henry and Betty's relationship and she succeeded. Even Hilda's threat to Charlie--showing her killer manicure and telling her "These are not just decorative!" doesn't prevent her from interfering. The trip to the Poconos was off and even the romantic dinner (at the "Pemberley Inn"--a reference to Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy!) and concert in the park with fireworks got ruined by Charlie faking illness. Gio (nearly shorn head--does he look even hotter or what?!) finds out that the birthday plans are off from Amanda who has the message from Henry. "Did you give her this message?" he asks Amanda. "I'm a receiver, not a giver!" is Amanda's snappy reply. He shows up in a horse-drawn carriage to try and save the day, but the cart loses a wheel and Betty spills her hot chocolate and they don't make it to the park in time. Even the ever optimistic Betty substitutes welding sparks as pyrotechnics and Gio for her beloved Henry.

Wilhelmina intimates to Daniel that Renee's secret is a tendency to get obsessive and needy with men. She tells him to ask her about Stonybrook. When he does, Renee claims it's where she attended college and admits to being a little wild back then. She gets angry at Daniel for being influenced by her sister and storms out in a huff. She gets Willie's partner in crime, Marc, drunk so she can extract secrets from him to use against Wilhelmina. It works as Marc reveals how Wilhelmina extracted sperm from Bradford Meade's corpse to create an heir and get one third of the Meade fortune.

She records this info on her cell phone and threatens to expose Willie if she continues to interfere with her and Daniel. There's a scene where Marc, ostensibly sent to retrieve the incriminating cell phone, is confronted by Daniel. Marc pretends to have the hots for Daniel who threatens to call the police. Renee admits to Daniel that she is on medication for some mental issues and Daniel is fine with that. He asks her to move in with him and she agrees. But it turns out that Marc wasn't after the cell phone, but Renee's meds--which he swapped with some of Willie's fat blockers. It's only a matter of time before Renee completely loses it and then no-one will believe her ravings about Wilhelmina...

Last, Claire faces opposition from her children to starting up her new magazine, Hot Flash. She's about to throw in the towel, but she gets the standard "Little Engine that Could" pep talk from Betty. Touched, she gives Betty her earrings as a birthday present. Hmmm, last time she gave Betty a gift it was the toxic perfume that Fay Summers created and we all know how well that worked out! Funniest line (other than Marc's assessment of Willie's performance at Daniel's) was Justin upon finding out that Betty's Louis Vuitton is a street vendor fake, "You make it really hard for me to live vicariously through you!"

The Office started off in ridiculous fashion as usual. Michael gets gum stuck in his hair and Jim suggests peanut butter to get it out. Dwight rushes to the kitchen to fetch some with Pam calling out after him, "Not the good peanut butter!" Michael's attempt at dating are getting him down with him saying about the women he's being set up with, "They just lack a certain Crawfordness..." Ryan returns and he's obnoxious as ever--making the office come in on a Saturday to input sales into the website, which has been having its share of problems. Seems the social networking utility Ryan added attracted sexual predators. But that will all be resolved with Dunder-Mifflin Infinity 2.0...TBD. "Stay real, Scranton!" Ryan says as he leaves to go back to his jetset life in NYC.

Michael decides to visit Ryan in the City and hang out at clubs with him so he can meet beautiful women. He corrals Dwight and asks Jim to come along--but Jim won't because he's dating Pam. Andy volunteers saying, "The old ball and chain been wanting more chain than ball lately, if you know what I mean!" But Michael says no, singles only. While he and Dwight head for New York, Jim gets the bright idea that if the office works a couple of hours late that night, they won't have to come in on Saturday. Unfortunately, he forgets to alert the security guard to that fact and when they all leave to go home, they find themselves locked in. The extra keys are in Dwight's possession even though Pam asked him what would happen if he died. Dwight's answer, "If I'm dead, you guys have been dead for weeks."

Fortunately Toby has the security guard's number (but not his name!) in his cell phone. Jim calls to get him to come back to the office and let them out. Andy says, "Show of hands--who thinks we make a better couple than Jim and Pam?" and most of the office raises their hand--even Phyllis to Pam's chagrin. Squirmy moment when Toby gets a bit too comfortable and feels up Pam's knee in plain sight of everyone. Recognizing his faux pas, he announces he's moving to Costa Rica and jumps the fence. The cleaning crew shows up and everyone out is able to go home. Later the security guard arrives and is pissed to see no-one is there.

Meanwhile, Michael and Dwight's arrival in New York is greeted by Ryan with open arms. He even asks Dwight about the beet farm. "It's weevil season," Dwight offers. Ryan is high as a kite--a fact that escapes Michael who's too busy trying to hook up with women who are out of his league and Dwight who is preoccupied with Troy, Ryan's height-challenged friend who Dwight mistakes for a Hobbit. "Do you have powers?" Dwight inquires. After a wild night of carousing which ends with Ryan getting the @#$% kicked out of him by some women who won't let him dance, the three end up at Ryan's apartment. Ryan tells Michael and Dwight that he thinks "Troy" might have a drug problem. Dwight says, "I think his species might have a higher tolerance for them."

Looks like Ryan will be heading back to Scranton soon...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

LOST - The Shape of Things to Come

Okay, so you mean to tell me that this whole thing is just some game between two twisted control freaks? A power struggle of who owns the island between Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore? At one point in last night's episode, Ben referred to his daughter Alex as a pawn--but it seems that everyone on the island and even the freighter people are just pawns.

This is symbolically represented by John Locke, Hurley and Sawyer playing Risk--moving pieces on the board, conquering countries, taking lives. Hurley's premonitory promo line, "We're all gonna die," was actually in reference to the game he was playing with Locke and Sawyer and not the impending arrival of the other Others--aka the freighter people. Weird touches in the episode: the telephone ringing with a voice repeating 14J. Now the 14J stuff was weird, but even weirder for our Losties must have been just hearing a phone ring. The doorbell ringing later was even weirder. "We've come here to kill you, but we're politely ringing the doorbell first." Weird.

The flashforwards this time showed how Sayid came to work for Ben. We saw in The Economist that Sayid was assisting Ben and in the prior episode, Meet Kevin Johnson, we saw Sayid enraged to find out Michael was working for Ben. Now we come to understand the circumstances under which Sayid himself came to be in that position. Apparently after getting off the island, Sayid is able to track down Nadia in Los Angeles. He marries her, but she is killed by a hit and run driver and he brings her back to Iraq to bury her. That's when he meets up with Ben who tells him that Charles Widmore was responsible for Nadia's death and that he hired a man named Ishmael Bakir to run Nadia down. But did he? Or did Ben set things up in order to appeal to Sayid's baser instincts and get him to join his war?

Ben acts as bait for Bakir who points a gun at him and asks why he is following him? Ben tells him who he is and tells him he has a message for Charles Widmore. When Bakir asks what the message is, Sayid shoots him at close range. His wife dead, Sayid wants to help Ben fight Widmore to exact his revenge. I'm sure that was Ben's plan all along. Oh, and did you know Ben was an action hero? Didn't you love the scene in the desert (Tunisia--wasn't that where Charlotte found the polar bear skeleton and Dharma logo?) where the wounded Ben is approached by two turbaned guys on horseback with guns and he asks if they speak English? The one searches him, finds a club which Ben uses to beat him and grab his gun. He shoots the guy still on horseback and the other guy says, "Surrender." "Oh, so you do speak English," Ben snarkily replies.

Back at the beach, Jack is suffering from a stomach bug and popping pills. This time it's antibiotics, but we know in the near future it will be an assortment of painkillers (hey, would that be part of "The Shape of Things to Come"?). Bernard's yelling, Vincent's barking and there's a body washed up on the beach. Daniel recognizes it as the doctor from the freighter. His throat has been slit. There's a problem with the sat phone, but Daniel is able to rig it to transmit Morse code. He asks, "What happened to the doctor?" The response comes and Daniel tells the Losties that it said their friends were fine and the helicopter's coming back. But Bernard who also understands Morse code says Daniel is lying and that the message really said, "What are you talking about? The doctor is fine." "Were you ever going to take us off this island?" Jack asks Daniel. "No," is Daniel's answer.

It looked like Sawyer and Claire were dead meat when the freighter people arrived at the camp--especially when the house Claire was in was blown up. But other than a couple of no-name day player Losties who got caught in the crossfire, the only other casualty was Alex, who dies when Keamy calls Ben's bluff when he refuses to leave the house. Ben is shocked and mutters to himself, "They changed the rules" and disappears into his secret room. Who knows exactly what he did in there, but somehow he was able to summon the smoke monster and as it sucked up some of the freighter people, Hurley, Sawyer, Claire, Aaron, Miles (who looked really FREAKED to see the smoke monster!) and Locke escape. The plan is to go ask Jacob for help. Locke doesn't know where the cabin is, but Hurley does. Ben stays behind to have a moment with Alex. But when he rejoins them, Sawyer and company decide they want to go back to the beach. Ben and Locke draw their guns--Miles, Claire, Aaron and Sawyer can go, but Hurley stays. Hurley agrees to accompany Ben and Locke to the cabin and tells the others he'll catch up with them later.

The episode ends with Ben confronting Widmore in his bed in London. "When did you start sleeping with a bottle of Scotch by the bed?" Ben asks. "When the nightmares started," Widmore replies. Widmore asks Ben why he doesn't just kill him and Ben answers, "I can't do that." (Why not? Is it against the rules?) Ben tells Widmore that he's here to kill his daughter (that would be Desmond's love, Penny) and that "you'll wish you hadn't changed the rules." Widmore says Ben will never find Penny and that "the island's mine, Ben." "You'll never find it," Ben counters.

Rules? What are the rules? How do you hide an island? What did Daniel mean by " 'When' is kind of a relative term"? What did Jack talk to Bernard about after the discovery of the dead doctor when he asked him if he had a second? If Daniel's so handy with rigging up a sat phone to Morse code transmitter, can he come to my apartment and get my digital converter to work so that I can record TV shows on my VCR?

Check out the recap on Lostpedia, screencaps at Dark UFO, Celebritology's Dueling Analyses and chat with Liz Kelly and Jen Chaney during the Lost Hour.

The Jane Austen Film Festival

A confluence of circumstances led me to Netflix Becoming Jane and The Jane Austen Book Club in succession. At the same time, my friend Stevie passed along some screeners from the recent PBS Masterpiece broadcast including Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Miss Austen Regrets. Then, to round it all out, I rented Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth min-series version) and Emma (starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam). So now I am well-versed in Miss Austen's novels (the movie versions of them, anyway!)--having watched all six (actually I've seen two versions of Sense & Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice...).

Although Jane Austen wrote only six novels during her short life, they are pretty much all the same story. You have either an impetuous, willful heroine (Lizzie Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland) or dutiful, sensible heroine (Fanny Price, Elinor Dashwood, Anne Elliot) who comes from a good, but usually impoverished family. Combine with one hero (a mixture of pride, intelligence, good character and money) and throw in an obstacle (either another woman to whom the hero is betrothed or a seemingly more appropriate suitor), add a dash of proper manners, bows and curtsies, eloquent letters, miscommunications, English countryside and formal dances and you've got the basic set-up for every single Jane Austen story.

As the Jane Austen character (played by Anne Hathaway) tells her sister, Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin), in Becoming Jane:

Cassandra: How does the story begin?
Jane: Badly.
Cassandra: And then?
Jane: It gets worse. With, I hope, some humor.
Cassandra: How does it end?
Jane: They both make triumphant, happy endings.
Cassandra: Brilliant marriages?
Jane: Incandescent marriages--to very rich men!

Becoming Jane is a good place to start the "Austen Festival"--as it's a fictionalized telling of the author's life as a young woman and her relationship with Tom LeFroy and how it inspired and informed her writing. Hathaway's Austen is supposed to be the Marianne Dashwood to her sister Cassandra's Elinor, but she comes off a bit muted. She is luminous and lovely to look at, but with James Cromwell and Julie Walters playing Jane's parents, Hathaway is a bit outclassed. Still, it has most of the Austen flourishes--gorgeous rural scenery, buttoned up etiquette, English country dances and a dashing hero.

And is Becoming Jane's hero oh so delightfully dashing. James McAvoy is the best thing about the film--adding wit, humor and passion to a somewhat plodding story. I'm also a sucker for the 18th century fashions--the empire waistlines, the bonnets, the cloaks. Becoming Jane plays a bit fast and loose with the facts--yes, there was a flirtation between Miss Austen and Mr. LeFroy. And Jane's sister Cassandra's fiance did die of yellow fever while on a military expedition. Neither of the Austen sisters ever married. But Austen was never known for her romantic heroines during her lifetime; she published anonymously. And it's doubtful the flirtation with LeFroy was the passionate love affair as depicted in the film.

Miss Austen Regrets starring Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in her later years is the perfect follow on to Becoming Jane. Williams portrays Jane as smart, sharp-tongued--although it's often planted firmly in cheek as she indulges in a penchant for teasing and witty barbs. Although Austen wasn't any sort of celebrity during her life, Miss Austen Regrets also takes liberties here with the character of Dr. Charles Haden, a fan of Austen's novels, teasing Jane about the fact that Lizzie Bennett doesn't fall for Darcy until after she sees Pemberley. Indeed! But before we cast Ms. Bennett out as a golddigger, we should keep in mind that Austen's philosophy on love was one of sense (no marriage without financial security!) and sensibility (no marriage without affection!).

Speaking of Sense & Sensibility, I saw both the recent PBS version starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as well as the Ang Lee version starring the fabulous Emma Thompson (who also won the Oscar for her adaption of the book for the screen), the gorgeous Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Hugh Grant and ALAN RICKMAN. I was arguing that I preferred the Ang Lee version to a friend who liked the recent PBS version. "But it has ALAN RICKMAN!" was my most persuasive argument. She sighed. "Well, yes..."

I don't think Charity Wakefield conveys the passionate, tempestuousness of Marianne as well as Winslet did and Morahan (who I recognized for her recent role in The Bank Job while perfectly competent, seems to be channeling Emma Thompson's portrayal of Elinor. You can especially hear it in her vocalization. Still, it's a decent telling of the story of two sisters--one sensible, one sensitive--and their trials and travails leading to their eventual brilliant marriages. Ironically, the sister devoted to "sense" ends up marrying for love, while the sister who champions "sensibility" marries a rich, older man ensuring a life of financial security.

Of the other PBS screeners, I enjoyed Northanger Abbey the best. Felicity Jones plays the plucky Catherine Morland, who's read one too many gothic novels for her own good. Jones reminded me of a British Alexis Bledel--she's simply gorgeous. Mr. Tilney is played by JJ Feild and he's probably the single most significant reason that this was one of my favorites. He's a hottie! The only downside to the production was the casting of William Beck (a ringer for a young John Malkovich) as John Thorpe. You can't believe for one second he would be any competition for Tilney.

Persuasion suffers the reverse problem--its foil (in the person of William Elliot played with aplomb by Tobias Menzies) was by and far more charismatic than its hero (Captain Wentworth played with stick-up-the-ass drippiness by Rupert Penry-Jones). The heroine Anne Elliot, played with subdued grace by Sally Hawkins, is a bit drippy herself. The production also boasts the talents of Rupert Giles (aka Anthony Head) as Sir Walter Elliot and the Queen Borg (aka Alice Krige) as Lady Russell.

Mansfield Park, however, was the worst of the lot. I haven't read the book, but apparently Fanny Price is a dutiful, sensible heroine. Unfortunately, the producers decided to make her a willful, headstrong heroine. And they cast Billie Piper in the lead role. She's an odd looking girl who seems wholly out of place in a period piece. It's boring--I found myself caring little about the characters and the story playing out on the screen and more fascinated with cleaning my bathroom. And I hate cleaning my bathroom!

I didn't get the PBS version of Emma so I settled for the Gwyneth Paltrow version. I enjoyed it. Gwyneth looks lovely throughout and does a pretty decent job with the accent. There are times when she's too nasal, but I got over it. Jeremy Northam is totally hot. Toni Collette and Alan Cumming offer great performances as well. And the costumes by Ruth Myers are so luscious! This Jane Austen story of a young woman who meddles unsuccessfully as a matchmaker has also been modernized in Clueless, but I like the costume dramedy better.

Last, but not least, everyone's favorite Austen: Pride and Prejudice. I saw the Keira Knightley version a couple of years ago in the theater and it has a lot going for it:

1. Keira Knightley is a great Lizzie Bennet. I enjoyed Jennifer Ehle's portrayal, but I think Keira's unconventional beauty is more suitable for Austen's spitfire heroine.

2. Less annoying Mrs. Bennet. Brenda Blethyn is way less shrieky and shrewish than Alison Steadman.

3. Quicker pace. This version clocks in at a little over an hour. The other version is NINE HUNDRED HOURS long! (Actually it's five--it just feels like nine hundred hours.)

The PBS version has a lot going for it as well:

1. Colin Firth.
2. Colin Firth.
3. Colin Firth.

To be honest, Firth's Mr. Darcy mainly just looks pissed off for the entire first half of the series. When he surprisingly asks the lovely Elizabeth to marry him midway through, his little proposal inspires her wrath. Watching, I pretty much wanted him to bugger off as well. The nerve! The second half of the series, he is besotted. I think that's the Mr. Darcy that gets girls swooning. Lots of English dances in Pride and Prejudice. Not so many in Sense & Sensibility. I can't help but wonder how the characters managed to participate in all the verbal jousting without forgetting the steps to their dances. Or the fact that none of the other dancers seem to notice when the hero and heroine are traded barbed jabs at each other...

Last and most definitely least was The Jane Austen Book Club. Ugh! What an insipid movie. It made the PBS version of Mansfield Park look positively Oscar worthy. The synopsis for the film goes: "Six Californians start a club to discuss the works of Jane Austen, only to find their relationships -- both old and new -- begin to resemble 21st century versions of her novels."

Yeah. Not so much. There is an Emma type character but that's about it. And while Emma ended up marrying her cousin, who is sixteen years older than she, Maria Bello's Jocelyn ends up with a much younger guy. (But while we're on the subject--what was up with all the May-September relationships in Austen's work? Even ickier was all the slightly incestuous pairings of first cousins. Gack!) Hugh Dancy is definitely Austen hero material, but the ladies of the "Book Club" were pretty pathetic. If you like melodramatic Lifetime channel schlock, this movie is for you. But if you love the dry wit and verbal elegance of Austen's stories, do NOT bother with this movie!

All in all, movies based on Austen's books generally have memorable characters, clever dialogue, great costumes and happy endings--set amongst the morals and manners of 18th century England. What's not to like?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm a Convert

...to digital, that is. I've noticed recently that TV stations are running more PSAs about the impending end of analog and the need to switch over to a digital signal before February 17, 2009. Now, chances are good that by that date I'll have either:

1. Replaced my old outdated TV set which I think is old enough to vote in the upcoming election...

2. Subscribed to cable or some other digital service to receive television programming.

But, since my research showed that a digital converter can actually IMPROVE reception over an antenna (I get only three channels right with my rabbit ears...), I decided to take advantage of the government's rebate coupon offer ($40 towards the purchase of a digital converter) and take the plunge into the digital world.

I got my converter at Best Buy. They had a VAST selection of models. Actually they had ONE. How lame is that? At least it made the decision process easier. "Yeah, I'll take that one!" It retailed for $59.99. With the coupon plus tax, I paid less than $25. Then comes the fun part--setting it up! I've already got wires all over the place--from the antenna, the DVD player, the VCR, the converter for the DVD player into the TV. It's rather scary behind my TV.

So the first challenge was figuring out which wires should plug in where. After a few tries, I got that figured out--but the converter wasn't working. Oh wait--I have to set it to channel THREE. Once I did that, the digital converter ran through a quick set-up and I was good to go. I increased my channels from three to TWENTY-FOUR. I've got CBS now, three versions of ABC, a weather channel, two PBS channels and a couple of other local syndicated channels. And the picture is amazing! No more fussing with the bunny ears to tune in the picture. The reception is almost like I have cable, but without the big cable bill. Also without the cable channels--but still!

And I've got my VCR and DVD player working (just had to switch them both to channel three as well...), so now I'm good to go. One of these days I'll get DirecTV or cable and TiVo, but until then I'm pretty happy with my foray into the digital age.

DWTS - Marlee Moseys On

Well, I was right about it being Marlee Matlin's last hurrah on the Dancing with the Stars results show last night. But I missed the mark by predicting Shannon Elizabeth would join her in the bottom two (For those keeping score, it's me = 5, DWTS = 3). I have to say, although I was initially rooting for Ms. Elizabeth to continue on, I was really put off by her hissy fit hysterics in the post-performance confessional. She was crying over a 24--the very same score that put Marissa Winokur over the moon with happiness over the previous week.

Not much of a poker face going there, Ms. Celebrity Poker Player. Sheesh. What histrionics! I bet had the viewing audience witnessed that BEFORE voting, it would have been a very different results show. The producers, for some odd reason, chose to let Shannon off the hook early in the show. Bad move. I bet letting her sit and stew as long as possible would have created a totally YouTube worthy meltdown. Surprisingly, not only did Shannon make it to the next round, but Cristian de la Whatever escaped being in the bottom two this week as well. It was Mario, who had the second highest score Monday night, who joined Marlee in the red glare of shame.

Two more junior dances showed off their impressive moves last night. One nearly tripped up getting her foot caught in her skirt but managed to disentangle herself and continue on without missing a beat. Tom Bergeron took note of this and made a remark about how the teenager could teach some of their dancers a thing or two--which seemed to be a shot at Ms. Elizabeth's meltdown. The less said about "singer" Ashlee Simpson's performance, the better.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Republic of Tea Be Well Red Teas

You're probably familiar with the benefits a nice steaming cup of herbal tea can bring--the calming effects of chamomile, soothing a upset stomach with a dose of peppermint. The Republic of Tea Be Well Red Teas take the concept of a calming, soothing cup of tea one step further--by infusing their delicious red teas with specifically concocted herbal blends. Starting with organic South African Rooibos--a naturally caffeine-free, anti-allergenic herb with anti-oxidant properties--The Republic of Tea adds the highest quality wellness herbs in addition to yummy essences of fruits and spices to help treat a variety of ailments.

Originally, the line featured nine different teas which aided digestion, helped clear skin, detoxified, promoted weight loss or gave a boost of energy with herbs such as ginseng and ginger, passionflower and peppermint. The Republic of Tea has recently added eight new Be Well Red Teas to their line of herbal infused Rooibos wellness teas. I got to try three of them: get smart, get happy and get relaxed.

get smart Herb Tea for memory and focus combines the flavors of citrus (orange peel, rosehips and hibiscus) with tart cranberries and adds:

Rosemary - the ancient herb for memory
Gingko - shown to increase circulation
Eleuthero Root - Russian tonic herb for increasing endurance and enhancing performance
Gotu Kola - Ayurvedic herbs combined to improved memory

get happy Herb Tea for lifting your spirit features the flavors of lemon (bright lemon myrtle) and natural peach with:

Lemon balm - traditionally used to stabilize mood swings and increase memory
St. John's Wort - Shown in numerous studies to alleviate mild to moderate depression
Rhodiola root extract - Also shown to alleviate depression as well as increase energy, endurance and resistance to stress.

And finally, my favorite: get relaxed Herb Tea for relieving stress--it's better than meditating! This tea infuses roses petals and lavender that makes it smell as good as it tastes. So you get a bit of aromatherapy with every sip! And then if that's not enough to calm and soothe your spirits, they add:

Passionflower herb - Anti-anxiety and sedative properties
Eleuthero root - Increases body's resistance to stress
Kava root - Promotes gentle relaxation

Ah! There's nothing better than a nice cup of hot tea. Leave it to The Republic of Tea to build a better mousetrap, as it were, and improve on that cup of chamomile. Other new Be Well Red Teas include:

get maternal - a great tonic for pregnant or nursing women
get wellness - to boost immunity
get heart - for cardio health
get growing - promotes healthy hair, bones and nails
get passionate - improves the libido

For more information of the entire line of Be Well Red Teas--or any of The Republic of Teas premium brews--check out their website at www.republicoftea.com.

DWTS - Lowdown on the Hoedown

Last night's Dancing with the Stars featured a country-inspired group dance that accomplished little other than offering a glimpse at who will excel in the no holds barred freestyle round. Hint: It's not Marissa or Marlee. Other than that, few surprises during last night's performances: Kristi danced a crisp and cute Jive and earned the first 30 of the season. She is so gonna win this thing! Right on her heels was Mario who danced a sizzlin' Rumba to Marvin Gaye's Let's Get it On. Len was afraid that he and Karina were a bit too close to getting it on, and Carrie Ann pointed out that they did a lift--which is verboten, but he still earned a 28.

My next favorite for making the finals, Jason Taylor, slipped a bit this week earning 24 points for a Cha Cha that seemed like he was watching his feet too much. Still, in my opinion, the man is 255 pounds of sexy! Tying Jason was Shannon Elizabeth, whose Rumba looked more like posing than dancing. I think she's got a lot more potential, but it's quite possible that ("show-mance" with partner Derek Hough or no...) she'll be in the bottom two tonight.

Another possibility for the bottom two--and my pick to leave the show--is Marlee Matlin. She seems to be struggling in the last couple of weeks and the judges remarks are always prefaced with a reference to her deafness and what an inspiration she is. She is an inspiration--and such a spitfire! Although the costume and makeup department did her no favors last night. She looked like Celine Dion and Siegfried and Roy threw up on her. She was awarded the lowest score of the evening, a 21 for her Mambo.

Continuing to step up their games this week were Cristian de la Whatever and Marissa Winokur. Cristian's Foxtrot was very sophisticated, very Fred Astaire. The judges loved it and gave him a 27, his highest score and putting him in third place on the leader board. Will that be enough to keep him in the competition? He was in the bottom two last week, indicating a lack in the fan base. I hope he's able to stick around--he is a better dancer than Marlee or even Marissa.

Marissa, however, danced a graceful and elegant Waltz this week and scored her highest score, a 26. She's so exuberant and bubbly. I don't see her making the finals, but she'll definitely stick around for another week.

My prediction: Shannon and Marlee in the bottom two with Marlee going home.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Redefining "Friends"

I've written previously about how the internet both connects and isolates us, the benefits and downfalls of social networking sites, like Facebook. I'm continuously fascinated by the Internet and sites like Facebook which offer an easy way to maintain connections with friends and family. But social networking sites are also redefining the idea of what a "friend" is. I would venture to guess that the majority of social networking site users have never even met many of their so-called "friends."

A recent article in the Washington Post explores the phenomenon of what it terms Friends Next:

"For most people, when they thought of their close friends, it was people with whom they would share personal things," says Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and psychologist at MIT who has studied online social networks from their beginnings. "What's changing now is that people who are not in the other person's physical life meet in this very new kind of space. It is leaving room for new hybrid forms."
Can you be or have a friend without ever having met? Without having shared experiences and memories? Can one person really have thousands of "friends"?

It really is a brave, new world...

Desperate Housewives - Blindness vs. Things Coming to Light

Various reports have Nicollette Sheridan leaving Wisteria Lane sometime in the near future. Edie wasn't much in evidence in last night's episode, but then again neither was Teri Hatcher's Susan. Other than eating and shrieking, the writers haven't been giving Susan Mayer Delfino much in the way of a storyline on Desperate Housewives lately. Wonder what's up with that...

Gabby is still dealing with Carlos' blindness--and not very well. Although she finds a way to take lemons and make lemonade. "You're exploiting my blindness so you can score better parking?" says Carlos when he realizes that Gabby is dragging him along on her shopping expeditions so that she has a valid excuse for using the handicapped placard she obtained. This leads to a tense argument over the state of their life and relationship now with Carlos later apologizing, "I'm sorry for putting you through this," to which Gabby replies, "If it were anyone but you it wouldn't be worth it." Gabby is selfish and shallow, but that was a sweet tender moment as she helped Carlos put on his cufflinks. Apparently Carlos gets a seeing eye dog in next week's episode. I'm still betting the blindness gets resolved and his sight returns before the end of the season.

Gabby and Carlos weren't the only characters at odds--Bree and Katherine faced their share of tense moments as they collaborated on planning the Founder's Day Ball, to the surprise and horror of the others. "I faced cancer and a tornado, but I'm running from this," says Lynette. The others predict that one of the women will end up killing the other--and it certainly appeared like Bree was ready to wring the patronizing and condescending Katherine's neck. But it wasn't until Bree found out that Katherine had wrested the honor of presenting the Founder's Day award from her that she really lost it. When Katherine insists on taste-testing some dip that Bree knows has gone bad, Bree offers it up without warning her and Katherine suffers a severe case of food poisoning. Bree hopes that Katherine's being "indisposed" will allow her to regain the presentation duties, but Katherine soldiers on.

As it turns out, the reason Katherine was given the task over Bree is that Bree was the recipient of the award this year. As Katherine hands the award to Bree she whispers, "I know you tried to poison me." After the ceremony, Katherine and Bree have it out. Bree explains that before Katherine arrived, each of the women--Gabby, Susan, Lynette and Bree--had a niche. And that Katherine is competition for her domestic goddess status within the group. Katherine tells her that, while their similarity could cause rivalry it can also be the basis of friendship. "I understand you better than the others do...We're the same, Bree." Again, another very touching moment.

Then we have Lynette and Tom arguing over the reappearance of hottie Jason Gedrick as Rick. Turns out Rick, who Tom saw as a threat to his marriage, is opening a restaurant right down the street from Scavos. So, now he will also be competition for Tom's business. Tom's jealousy over the past situation leads him to throw a brick through Rick's window. But is he also the one responsible for setting the fire that burned down the entire building?

The show began with what seemed like would be a confrontation--Orson meeting with Mike at the rehab center. Orson fears that Mike has remembered who it was who ran him down at the end of season two. Turns out Mike just wanted to apologize as part of his twelve step program. (I thought Mike had already remembered that. Wasn't that what the brawl on the hospital roof was about in the middle of season three? Or Mike's veiled threat to Orson when he forced him to write a prescription for painkillers? Actually, the rooftop brawl was about Mike finding out that he wasn't responsible for the death of Monique and Orson knew all along and the "veiled threat" was actually just Orson's guilty conscience in action.)

Orson's guilt came to a head in last night's episode, leading the usually proper Orson to sleepwalk naked--much to Susan's chagrin. The second time she discovers him, she slaps him awake. (You're not supposed to do that to sleepwalkers, are you? I thought you were supposed to gently lead them back to bed...) The third time it happens, Orson is at least wearing pajamas because it is Julie who stumbles upon him. And this time the reason for his uneasy night walks surfaces as Julie hears him say, "I'm sorry I ran you over, Mike..."

The show ended with an unseen person opening the Fairview morning paper and coming across the pictures from the Founder's Ball--one of which was of Dylan Mayfair. He (it looked like the hand of a man) circles Dylan's face with a red marker. Who is targeting Dylan? Could it be her father isn't dead after all?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

My friend Teri from the gym RAVED about how this was the best movie she's seen and being that I've enjoyed other Apatow fare (Knocked Up, Superbad) I thought I'd check it out. I was worried about crowds--I hate crowds--so the plan was the early Sunday show at a neighborhood theater that's not known for being overly busy. Who would drag their ass out of bed on a Sunday morning to see the 10 am showing?

Turns out, I was right. Less than half a dozen people in the same theater that I saw Horton Hears a Who in just three weeks ago. You may remember, the theater was pretty much empty then, but what do you know--some hunched over geezer came in after the movie starts and sat down RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!! And today, with just a handful of people there to see the 10 am show? The very same hunched over geezer comes in 10 minutes late and sits down RIGHT in front of me! I kid you not! What the fuck?!!! This time he didn't leave after 5 minutes--but he didn't appear to be watching the movie either. What kind of moron comes into an almost empty movie theater and sits down right in front of someone?

Anyway, I had high hopes for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's got an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and rave reviews all over the place, including my friend Teri. My assessment: It's good but not great, and definitely not nearly as funny as Knocked Up or Superbad. Still, it has a lot going for it--let's run down the list:

1. Jason Segel, who also wrote the script, stars as the lovable man-child loser, Peter. There is an adorable quality to Segel and he out Ferrell's Will Ferrell with his propensity to let it all hang out as it were. He also wrote some of the lyrics to the music featured on the soundtrack and is a decent singer as well.

2. Russell Brand nearly walks away with the entire movie as the campy British rocker, Aldous Snow, that Sarah leaves Peter for. Brand's performance teeters on the edge of over-the-top ridiculous caricature and yet he manages to create a character who is so blatantly honest that we like him.

3. Bill Hader is not nearly as funny as he was as Officer Slater in Superbad, until the end of the movie when he gets to unleash his mad puppeteering skills.

4. The send-ups of the CSI type television series featuring great cameos by William Baldwin and Jason Bateman. Apatow also manages to get a dig in at the expense of NBC, the network that canceled his beloved Freaks and Geeks.

5. The Dracula Rock Opera performed with puppets. Turns out Jason Segel is going to be co-writing a new Muppet movie in the future. Don't even get me started on how much I love the Muppets! I owned Kermit, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal and the Snuffleupagus when I was young. The Dracula Rock Opera number performed at the end of the film was the best part of the movie. I wish it had been the whole movie. I guess I'll get that wish granted when Segel's Muppet Movie is released.

Kristen Bell manages to bring some depth and pathos to what could have been a one dimensional bitchy character and Mila Kunis is luminous as Peter's new love interest. Perennial Apatow players also pop up in the film--Paul Rudd as a stoner surfer dude and Jonah Hill as waiter / aspiring musician / stalker. And any flick that features an appearance by Steve Landesberg, however brief it might be, is alright in my book.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

I'm doing pretty well on my solitary Book of the Month club. It's appears to be the only resolution that I've been able to follow through on. Other than eating plenty of peanut butter, which we all know was pretty much a given...I chose this novel by Zadie Smith because I was blown away her first novel, White Teeth. Well, just about everyone who read White Teeth was blown away by the 24 year-old's debut. Given the numerous awards and subsequent hype following the release of White Teeth, it's little wonder her follow-up, The Autograph Man deals with the dark side of celebrity.

Smith writes of Alex-Li Tandem, her eponymous half Jewish/half Chinese protagonist, "He deals in the shorthand of experience. The TV version. He is one of this generation who watch themselves." The book also deals with themes of faith and religion--the novel being broken into two parts of ten chapters, each headed with reference to Kabbalah (in part one) or Buddhism (in part two) as a nod to Alex's multi-cultural heritage. But mostly it deals with our fear of death, our quest for immortality. Alex's fills the hole in his soul left by the premature death of his beloved father, Li-Jin, by collecting autographs--selling them, trading them and occasionally faking them. But it's not so much autographs and celebrity as the process of collecting things, as Smith shows us with another character in the book, a friend of Alex since his childhood:

"Rabbi Mark Rubenfine had a patio and a wife, curtains and carpets, a power shower and a twelve-seater dinner table...He had collected things in his life, which is what you're meant to do, placing them carefully between you and death, as on an obstacle course."
The things Alex collects create not only an obstacle course between him and death--but between him and his closest relationships as well: Adam, his best friend--a video store owning, Kabbalah spouting pothead, Joseph, his other best friend--whose childhood autograph preoccupation inspired Alex to take it up as a full-time occupation, and Esther, Adam's sister with whom Alex has had an on and off love affair for the last ten years. The most sought after item for Alex's collection is an autograph from 40s B-movie star, Kitty Alexander. On his quest to retrieve it, he travels to New York and is aided by a germaphobic ex-hooker named Honey Smith.

Smith excels in creating eccentric and quirky characters--full of feeling and flaws. The Autograph Man, however, pales in comparison to White Teeth--partly because the odd-ball assortment of characters and heartwarming story of family shone so brightly. And it still dazzles in comparison to works by many other authors. By focusing mostly on Alex in The Autograph Man, telling the story completely from his point-of-view, Smith sacrifices the depth and breadth found her first novel. It certainly doesn't help that Alex-Li is a self-absorbed, substance abusing, sullen sourpuss. But she manages to give an engaging and credible account of the workings of the human mind and the inner life of self-imposed "outsider"--even amongst his closest relationships. Alex's obsession with the categorization of things as either "Jewish" or "Goyish" (based on the famous George Carlin comic routine) reflects the human need to pigeon-hole people and things into clearcut labels.

Alex is also fascinated with gestures--the shortcuts we take with shrugs and eye rolls to say in a second what words cannot convey. Oddly enough, his attachment to these small signs and statements comes into conflict with his reluctance to perform a Kaddish for his late father when he tells Adam, "To me it's a gesture, you know? Nothing more." To which Adam replies, "What's more important than a gesture?" Ultimately, the book is a coming of age story of the perennially adolescent Alex. As he is able to mourn the loss of his father, he finally opens himself up to loving, and eventually losing, the other people in his life.