"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lost: Expose

Well, "The Man from Tallahassee" was a tough act to follow, and it is probably unfair to compare the two episodes. This episode had its moments--shirtless Sawyer, double-crosses, and guest star Billy Dee Williams. Nikki and Paulo's story needed to be told, and I think that the writers accomplished what they set out to do.

The Flashback

I actually thought that the earlier parts of the flashback were pretty entertaining. Nikki Hernandez played a character named Corvette in a show that Hurley compared to Baywatch, with strippers. I thought that was Baywatch? From the looks of it, Exposé was a naughtier version of Charlie's Angels, with the incredibly cool Billy Dee Williams as the boss. I'm still in shock after seeing Lando Calrissian on a Lost episode.

Apparently Nikki and Paulo conspired to con, poison, and steal from the show's director, using Nikki as bait. The plan worked, and a remorseless Nikki and Paulo cackled their way into millions of dollars in diamonds. It seemed like a really complicated plan for both Nikki and Paulo to get jobs close to Howard, but it worked, so who am I to judge?

It's safe to say that the plane crash destroyed both the plan and Nikki and Paulo's relationship. It took Nikki about five seconds to shift her attention from a shaken Paulo to the bag o'diamonds. Some familiar faces showed up during the mostly post-crash flashback. Ethan's appearance existed only to lead gullible viewers like me down the "working with the Others" path. How awesome would that have been, though? Leslie Arzt had a scene with Nikki that turned out to be very significant. Nikki should have been paying more attention to his spider lecture. That mistake literally came back to bite her.

Paulo started to catch on to Nikki's priorities, and wisely hid the diamonds from her. His desire to save his relationship was sweet, but I guess that Nikki is not much of a romantic. Once she realized his "betrayal" she coldly threw a poisonous (but not fatal) spider at him. Unfortunately for Nikki, the spider's ability to attract males worked against her. That's why you never trust other women, ladies.

For my money, the best part of the flashback was Nikki and Paulo's one-track mind when it came to the island mysteries. They found Yemi's plane and the Pearl Station, but could not have cared less. Who knew that it was possible for Lost characters to be even less curious about the island? Paulo even overheard Ben and Juliet's ultimate plan for Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, and did not bat an eyelash.

At least the Others' intentions are clear now: Ben cleverly manipulated Jack using his feelings for Kate, and used Michael's love for Walt to get him to deliver the gang.
The Beach

Back in real time, a frantic Nikki buried the diamonds in the jungle and collapsed in front of Hurley and Sawyer. Their exchange about her final words was priceless. Plywood? Power lines? Paulo lies? Detective Hurley decided to investigate, and even Sawyer got into "the case" after they found Paulo in the jungle. As usual, Sawyer was acting out of selfish motives, and only wanted the diamonds.

Sawyer had a lot to juggle during this episode. A guilty Charlie finally spilled the beans to Sun about her fake kidnapping, and Sun took her anger out on Sawyer. Hurley's suspicions also had to be dealt with. After questioning Desmond, Hurley believed that Sawyer was somehow involved in Nikki and Paulo's demise. Sawyer eventually revealed that Nikki asked Sawyer for a gun (presumably to kill Paulo).

I don't want to speak for Paulo, but I would have preferred a nice, quick gunshot to the fate that Paulo received. Nikki didn't fare so well, either. They were both presumed dead and ended up being buried alive with their diamonds. Now that is poetic.

A few final questions/thoughts:

In the crash sequence during Nikki's flashback, she cast a long look up at the sky. Was there something moving quickly through the air?

I loved all of the faux-police talk between Hurley and Sawyer: "perimeter sweep" and "forensics hatch" were my favorites.

Nikki's speech about the spider as Paulo was becoming paralyzed reminded me a lot of Daryl Hannah's snake speech in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

What was the point of the scene where Vincent runs off with the blanket that covered the corpses? Having had dogs, I find that kind of mischief believable, but why throw that in?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Mud Bowl

Excuse me for a moment . . . WOOOOO HOOOOO! The Panthers are going to State!!!!
Ok, with that out of my system, it's time to catch up with our ever-deepening cast of characters.

I'm sure most high schools don't have toxic trains within five miles of the school or stadium. But hey, just like the silly business about playing the state semifinals in a pasture (no coach in his right mind would do that), I can overlook some over-dramatization because I love the people and the stories on this show. I'm anticipating a depression soon when the season ends.

Speaking of Coach Taylor, his response could not have been better when he sees that giant ad for sleazy car dealer, Buddy Garrity, on the side of the stadium. As the old saying goes, he looked like he "had just bit a lemon." No wonder he skips out on playing at a really, really shiny new stadium, and no wonder he's thinking hard about that college job (after all, there's no commercialization in college sports, right?).

Saracen's best friend Landry has been one of my favorite characters all season, and it was good to see him more this week. He had a great line when he told Tyra (with whom he is completely smitten) that he started a math club at school, "but no one showed up to the meetings." And then he was great in the final scenes, after she had been attacked in the parking lot. Admit it, you knew this guy in high school, if you weren't actually him.

Cheerleader girlfriend, Lyla, for all her faults, may have snapped quarterback Jason Street out of his funk (a quick splash of water never hurts). It even got him to finally speak out about the lawsuit; the scene at the settlement conference was a little fuzzy, but apparently he was able to end the whole thing. Now if he can graduate and get through four years of college, he can get a job at Dillon High, teaching PE and coaching JV soccer and the quarterbacks.

Dennis the Menace "Bo" seems to be thrilled at the thought of mopey buddy, Tim Riggins, having sleepovers at his house; next thing you know, he'll be talking about "Uncle Tim Riggins of the Dillon Panthers" all the time.

As silly as playing the state semifinals in a pasture was, the football scenes turned out to be pretty dramatic, including yet another winning score on the last play of the game. And in a bit more dramatic license, the Panthers' opponents in the state finals in Texas Stadium will be West Cambia, current home of spurned quarterback VooDoo Tatum. Somebody else is headed for double-secret probation, we suspect.

Saracen takes so much grief from people, it's fun to hear him dish it out occasionally, as when he gets on the love-struck Landry about his "study date" with Tyra: "It's gonna be a huge night. I mean, you're gonna square a lot of numbers, maybe figure out a quadratic equation or something . . . it's adorable, what you're doing."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Soup & a DVD - Garden State

I dressed up canned minestrone to make this shortcut soup that's loaded with colorful vegetables.

Fast Vegetable Soup

1 can (19 oz) ready-to serve minestrone soup
1 package (16 oz) frozen mixed vegetables
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and rained
1 can (14 1/2 oz) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained.

Combine all ingredients. Heat until warmed.

Featured Attraction: Garden State

"Garden State" is yet another one of those so-called "quirky slice-of-life" comedies that is in actuality a depressing piece of misguided melodrama. What makes this type of film work is when the oddball characters ring true in some way (as they did in the far better "Sideways").

The problem with Zach Braff's film is that none of the characters seem real and all their quirks are there for no reason other than their own quirkiness (for instance, the listless druggie who makes millions off inventing silent Velcro or the moron who wears his knight costume to breakfast before going to work at a "Medieval Times" restaurant).

The film isn't totally without its charms. Natalie Portman is delightful and adorable. This is a perfect transition role for her as she matures from precocious child actress to leading lady. She does the most with her overwritten role as an epileptic ex-ice skater with a plethora of pets and an "adopted brother" from one of those Sally Struther's "save the children" campaigns. She comes across as endearing and genuine and is the only one of this motley "Garden State" lot I would want to spend some time with in the real world.

Writer/director Zach Braff, on the other hand, seems to be playing a pill-popping emotionless minor TV star whose mother just died, for no other reason than the fact that he is an emotionless actor who can't pull off any other type of role. His performance is hollow, and only in his scenes with Portman is he acquitted of his obvious self-indulgence.

There's a few mildly entertaining sidebars along the misguided coming-of-age trail (the underground "Grand Canyon" or the dope at the hardware store trying to sell his pals on a pyramid-scheme), and every scene Portman is in is better for it, but when you tack on an annoying folksy soundtrack and a horrible and safe "Hollywood" style ending, I couldn't help but feel cheated.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Riches: Operation Education

Things are starting to settle in for the Malloys, and their new lives as the Riches, and this is where the fun starts. As I watched the first two episodes, I was waiting for the series to get into a routine and show the Malloys faking and conning their way through life at Eden Falls. I just felt during these cons we'd see the lighter touches that the show's casting and premise indicated would be there.And this third episode doesn't disappoint.

We see one con after another in this episode, as the Malloys actually try to become upstanding members of society, all under Wayne's direction. The social security con was especially funny, as the kids were able to cop a form of gibberish that was close enough to Indonesian to be convincing. Of course, we had Wayne faking his way through his welcome speech at Panco, which he made soon after screwing Dahlia in their rented Mercedes. He even managed to incorporate the rock he used to make his briefcase look realistically weighed down. "We're rocks, all of us are rocks." When someone chimed in that together they make a mountain, we know that the buy-in on the part of the buffers has begun.

But you wonder how Wayne is going to actually do his job, considering he knows nothing about the law. He probably realized he was in deeper than he thought when he looked at the files and didn't even know a relatively straightforward term like "eminent domain." Heck, he even found it tough to fire the person whose place he was taking, momentarily getting conned himself (the guy said he had 12 kids, even though the pictures were cut out of a catalog). We know he's going to utilize the paralegal as much as possible, but that's only going to get him so far. And Panetta may be an asshole, but he's not a stupid asshole; he'll find out eventually that he hired a fraud. There's a reason why Wayne hasn't held down a job for more than a couple of days at a time.

The big con, of course, was Dahlia's efforts to get the kids into an exclusive private school after the headmistress, Jane Fedley, dismissed their entry. To be honest, as condescending as Fedley was to the Malloys, it's almost understandable. This family comes in, not knowing anything about the process of getting the kids into this school, and asks to have the kids enrolled immediately.

Cael and Dehliah don't even want to go to school anyway, thinking it's just "buffer bullshit," as Dehliah put it. But you can tell Sam wants in, as you almost seriously believe that he knows how to read Shakespeare in French ("Just the soliloquies," he tells Fedley during the con). Now, how does he want to do it, as a boy or a girl? Dahlia loves the kid the way he is, but knows he has to make a choice. I wonder if we're going to find out that Sam has more in common with his half-breed father than just a desire to steal the American Dream.

For a woman who was "scared of school," as Wayne said, Dahlia sure tried her hardest to get the kids into that place. That's what happens when you cross Dahlia Malloy, I guess. Anyway, putting one over on the headmistress, kidnapping her parrot, then pretending to find it in order for her to "owe them one," didn't feel as satisfying as it should have. I think it was because, as condescending as the woman was, she was an innocent victim. And that's going to be a problem with The Riches.

That's probably why we have the specter of Dale hovering over the family. Dale is pure molten evil, and the way he got Tammy to manipulate Cael to the point where he's on the verge of showing Dale where they've been hiding, makes you think that he's going to get close to Eden Falls sooner than you think. He's the one guy that no one roots for, making a good counterpoint to the grey world of both the Malloy family and the phony buffers in the world of the well-to-do.

Actually, I'm surprised Cael fell for Dale's scheme so easily; he seems to be the one in the family who has his head screwed on straight. Maybe he knows what's going on, and we won't find out about his reaction until the next episode.

Good performances all around; I'm intrigued by Sam, and am looking forward to seeing more of him. He seems to be an expert con artist already, and his penchant for dressing like a girl can only help that. I'd imagine we'll see more scenes of Minnie Diver sucking down cough syrup or shooting meth, but for now, she's content to just swipe pills from her neighbor Nina. And that stoner musician dude who Dehliah met? I'm sure we'll see him again. Anyway, as the scenes FX showed at the end illustrate, the poop is going to hit the fan, making it harder for Wayne to keep things together. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pam's New Music Downloads

It's been a while since I have heard anything worth downloading. But now that summer season officially starts tomorrow, the music scene is heating up.

When it comes to establishing real staying power in the flavor-of-the month pop scene, the second album is critical. But the Arctic Monkeys bring the heat again on Favourite Worst Nightmare, which comes as close to matching their first album as one could have reasonably expected. On "Fluorescent Adolescent", frontman Alex Turner sings about a girl gone unwild. Luckily, though, these Monkeys won't be tamed anytime soon.

Fountains of Wayne continue to display a penchant for the witty, detail storytelling. Their latest album Traffic and Weather includes a suspicious boyfriend who spies his girl "with some guy wearing light-blue Dockers pants" on "This Better Be Good." To go along with their knack for narrative, Fountains of Wayne have a gift for breezy melodies and breezier harmonies that make their tunes go by like smooth cruising down the highway.

Prison Break: Fin Del Camino

Things you need to know

Lincoln tries to catch up with Michael

T-Bag is waiting for Michael to show up. Michael finds T-Bag and has flashback of everything T-Bag has done wrong in the past.

Mahone talks with his wife and tells her he is quitting his job as soon as he finishes his task.

Michael is suspicious of the T-Bag situation. He uses a young boy to find out which people are FBI and are watching T-Bag.

Michael runs into Bellick and Sucre. Michael is forced into helping Bellick get T-Bags money.

Sara Tancrdi is on trial. Tancredi is offered a plea deal of 12 years in prison. Tancredi relunctantly agrees.

Kellerman is sad and upset. He puts his military uniform on and puts his gun to his head and pulls the trigger.

Sucre wants to kill Bellick as soon as he gets Mericruz’s location. Michael says he won’t help him if he wants to kill Bellick.

Bellick sets off the fire alarm in order to get T-Bag out of the hotel. The FBI, Michael, Bellick, and Sucre follow T-Bag. Mahone follows Michael.

Lincoln knocks out Mahone. Lincoln and Mahone fight and Lincoln eventually pulls a gun on Mahone.

Bellick, Michael, and Sucre capture the FBI agents.

Michael, Bellick and Sucre follow T-Bag into a building and hold him hostage.

T-Bag tells them the money is in the closet and when they open the door they see a dead woman. T-Bag escapes in the confusion.

The police surround the building. Michael and Sucre escape in time but the police capture Bellick.

Michael and Sucre catch T-Bag again and drive him to the embassy. T-Bag offers information to Michael if he lets him go.

T-Bag stabs Sucre with a screwdriver in the car and Michael crashes the car. T-Bag escapes again.

Michael gets a citizen to call for help for Sucre while he chases after T-Bag.

Michael catches up to T-Bag and they get into a knife fight. Michael knocks T-Bag down and stabs him in the arm

T-Bag is stuck to the floor until the police arrive and arrest him.

Kellerman’s suicide attempt fails when his gun sticks.

Before Sara can take the plea deal, Kellerman agrees to testify on her behalf.

Michael gets a phone call from Mahone. Mahone gets the gun from Lincoln and has him hostage. Mahone wants T-Bag’s money and the boat in exchange for Lincoln.

Friday, May 25, 2007

MTTT - Martini's

A belated birthday celebration was held last night for me at Martini's during our monthly Thirsty Third Thursday. That's me in the middle with Kit & Cheryl.

This is the first time I have been to this place and I'm definitely going back. It has been a mainstay in the Vine neighborhood for over 10 years. More than 15 years ago, the original Martini's opened in Kalamazoo. Where I have been all these years??

Unlike many businesses that move and lose their clientele, Martini's has not only kept its clientele but grown its fan base. Within the past year Martini's renovated and expanded. Clearly there is something special lying within. As one walks in, they are immediately struck by the laid back, chill feel of the restaurant. The expressive use of light is used to continue this sentiment along with the fusion Jazz playing above. Walking through the corridor, the art deco feel becomes more and more apparent.

The recently added full restaurant has a little "industrial" feeling and they had those awful high heavy stools that are impossible for short petite women to push in, but overall I really liked the place. I had heard horror stories about the owner. That he was arrogant, etc. But I think I actually ran into him outside as I was parking. He was kind enough to tell me I was in a no parking zone and suggested I drive around. After I parked, he came walking around back and said, "Good job, kiddo." I like being called nicknames.

From calzones to salads to pasta to pizza, I had an extremely hard time deciding what I wanted. I went for the Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich. I was not disappointed. It was delicious. Liz had the Acorn Squash, which I tasted and it too was very good. Cheryl had the Italian Sausage Farcitta. Some of the guys had calzones and Kit ordered a pizza to take home. I could not tell what the rest of our table ordered but I did not hear a discouraging word from anyone.

If you are in Kalamazoo, be sure to check out Martini's on S. Westnedge. You'll be impressed.

Be sure to check out my photos of the evening's event at my Kodak Gallery. Click here!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Dresden Files: What About Bob?

Starting with a "previously on ..." (always a good sign for continuity), then jumping straight into the meat of the episode with Dresden's new girlfriend (whatever happened to Susan?) stealing Bob's skull, What About Bob? is a lot darker and more sinister than recent episodes (particularly last week's Charmed-lite debacle), exploring both Bob's backstory and Harry's childhood, his father's death and his subsequent upbringing by his creepy uncle, Justin Morningway (Bob's original owner).

Sprinkled with flashbacks and tie-ins to earlier episodes (including Detective Murphy's brush with black magic in The Boone Identity), the story ups the ante for Harry as Murphy reopens the five-year-old investigation into the death of Justin Morningway, suspecting that Harry may not be as innocent as he always claimed. Tensions rise as their friendship is put to under severe pressure, and even Bob's loyalty is sorely tested as a surprising Big Bad (who, sadly, doesn't appear to be sticking around) offers him the chance to regain his corporeal form.

Magic is well used, the story holds together and everyone acts their socks off - making What About Bob? the best episode of the series to date.

Book Review: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

The Great Readers of M's May book discussion was today. Our selection this month was chosen by Kit.

In "Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," Julie Powell wrote about her quest to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's french cookbook - Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie needed a "project" to motivate herself as she was not very happy working as a secretary for a government agency dealing with 9/11 victims. In addition to experimenting all the recipes, Julie decided to start her own blog, documenting her experience filled with lustily-written passages describing cooking. It was encouraging to her when she started having readers who encouraged her to keep going when she was very frustrated with her cooking as well as just life in general.

I found Julie hysterical, whiny, prone to fits, snarky, and I didn't expect any cooking advice, just some excellent interpersonal stories. Don't pick this up is you want to Master the Art of French Cooking. Don't pick it up if you want to glean expert recipe skills. In fact, if you are a foodie, you might not enjoy Powell and company's lack of appreciation for the more exotic delicacies. This is a book for anyone who enjoys a good memoir-this one just happens to be centered around the ultimate gourmet cookbook.

As a modern working woman, I appreciated Powell's shock at the time these recipes called for. Finding ingredients was hard enough (no supercenters for these people-they spent hours traipsing through neighborhoods for complete leg bones with marrow, or sugar cubes instead of granular sugar, or calves feet).

Once the ingredients were tracked down, recipes took hours, If things went awry, Julie could be behind on dinner by 10:30 AM. Mixtures often needed to sit for "at least 12 hours, preferably 24." Everything was made from scratch. No quick gelatin-it was created from calves' feet, which "makes your kitchen smell like a tannery...also, in my admittedly limited experience, it *tastes* like a tannery." Mayonnaise was made from scratch, and ladyfingers from scratch were attempted so as not to use commercial ones and "debase an otherwise remarkable dessert."

Powell's book takes place post-9/11, and she comments on her job as a secretary in a government office overlooking ground zero, on the families who visit their windowed conference room, and on her data entry job receiving surveys about the 9/11 memorial. She also lived in NY through the 2003 blackout, and there is a beautiful chapter about the candlelight dinner she made for her NY refugees on the night of the power outage.

Overall this is a terrific read IF you don't come looking to Master the Art of French Cooking. Plus I found a kindred-spirit in Julie as a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Read Julie Powell's blog at: http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Simpsons - Do The Evolution Intro (Homerazzi)

The Simpsons: Homerazzi

"Homerazzi" was a solid episode right up until its rather weak ending. But that weak ending did little to diminish the enjoyment had throughout the rest of the program. Everything got off to a fantastic start with a great, extended couch bit that followed Homer as he evolved from a single celled organism to his present state, with some perfectly placed cameos from some of our favorite characters along the way. See You Tube video above.

Another great thing that stood out in this episode was that there was no forced, uninteresting "B" storyline. Once Homer decided to become a paparazzo, that became the focus of the entire episode. This was very refreshing and allowed for some great guest appearances and plenty of screen time for one of our favorite Simpsons characters: Rainier Wolfcastle.

Act one's sole purpose was to set up the idea that Homer would now be making money as an aggressive celebrity photographer. Things started with Homer having a difficult time blowing out the E-Z Blo brand candles on his birthday cake ("Now easier to blow!"). As Lisa put it, "Dad, you're out of shape even for an American."

After the small fire that resulted, the family invested in a fireproof safe for their valuables. Having Bart's "Catch A Rising Star" talking Krusty doll turn on the lights to Lisa's hybrid Malibu Stacy convertible which caused Homer's "Scent of a Wookie" cologne to explode and destroy Marge's family photo album was great to watch unfold.

Marge was now determined to recreate all the photos in the album, giving us some great highlights. The recreation of their series finale party for Star Trek: Voyager was unexpected and funny, especially seeing Lenny dressed as Seven of Nine. The best picture recreation, however, was seeing the characters as they looked on The Tracey Ullman Show in front of a banner that read "Happy 1987." As always, they take a highly entertaining round about high to reach the main story arc.

After discovering that one of the pictures showed Duffman on a scandalous date with Booberella, Homer sold the picture and was encouraged to turn in more to become a moderately wealthy man ("I'm sort of rich! I can rent anything I want!"). With the paparazzi vs. celebrities topic not being as pertinent as it may have been in the late '90s, The Simpsons simply had fun with the concept instead of trying to make a point, and for that we are grateful. Plus the viewers were treated to three great guest voice appearances.

J.K. Simmons was a lot of fun as Homer's photo editor. Sure, he was basically doing his J. Jonah Jameson voice from the Spider-Man movies, but I loved his take on that character so I can't really complain. Jon Lovitz made yet another appearance on the show, this time as Enrico Irritazio, the paparazzo hired by the celebrities to take embarrassing photos of Homer. I love Lovitz on The Simpsons, but unfortunately, he wasn't given too much to work with this time out. Betty White simply stole the show. As Homer was in the middle of bitterly complaining about how snooty celebrities react to his photo snapping, Betty White arrived as the sweetest, kindest celebrity of all: "Thanks for taking my picture. If you want me to sign it, here's a stamped, self-addressed envelope."

Finally, Rainier Wolfcastle was a great choice to be the George Clooney fighting against Homer's incessant photography. His perfect, Terminator-like delivery of simple lines ("I'm not made of sushi.") is always good for a laugh and that was no different here.

Again, the ending was a bit unsatisfying -- Homer quits his paparazzi lifestyle, then picks it up again, then parties with celebrities on Rainier's offshore party platform -- but this remains one of the more memorable episodes of the season.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lost: The Man From Tallahassee

I'm heading to Croatia tomorrow so I'll write more once I return after May 22.

Well, the mystery surrounding Locke's former disability was finally solved, and it was worth the wait. Leave it to super-evil Locke's dad to add extra creepiness to the show. It looks like a popular theory about the island was confirmed, but as usual the truth was only hinted at.

The Flashback

I finally learned how Locke got in the wheelchair, and I learned the fate of the man who put him there. Even before his near-fatal injury, Locke had been collecting disability checks. Perhaps there were complications with his kidney surgery--he certainly looked like hell. Locke was approached by Peter Talbot, the son of a wealthy woman. This woman was engaged to a man named Adam Seward, of whom Talbot was very suspicious.

Talbot certainly had reason to be suspicious, since Seward was none other than Anthony Cooper. I cannot figure out why Locke kept Cooper's secret, but it didn't win him any points with the old man. Locke's threats to expose Cooper only got Peter Talbot killed. Cooper did not stop there, either. The man is a fixer, so when Locke confronted him about Talbot's death, Cooper pushed Locke through an eighth-story window. I know! Locke miraculously survived, and would be paralyzed for the next four years. I still cannot get over that scene.

The Barracks

Sayid and Kate were finally ready to rescue Jack, but of course Danielle and Locke were up to their respective tricks. Danielle instantly disappeared and turned up only to spy on Alex through the bushes. Locke, on the other hand, suddenly became very involved in storming the Barracks. He was acting on his own selfish motives, unfortunately, as I had suspected. Locke's first stop was Ben's bedroom, where he held Alex hostage in exchange for the explosives in Sayid's pack.

Kate went straight to Jack, who was less than pleased to see her. Apparently, Jack and Juliet were set to leave the island on the submarine in a few hours, and Kate's rescue mission was not part of the deal. Kate's reaction was pretty heartbreaking, as was Jack's promise to come back for her (that would not have been possible, right?).

Sayid made good use of his time at the swing set, planting serious doubt in Alex's head. I love Sayid; he can do anything with a few minutes of screen time.

As much as I loved the Locke near-death scene, the scenes between Ben and Locke were my favorites. Locke's face looked incredibly evil as he challenged Ben's right to live on the island. Each man held his knowledge of the island over the other, but Ben easily had the upper hand. Alex hinted at Ben's ability to manipulate people, making them think something was their idea. Sounds like a few con men we know, doesn't it? Locke initially believed he was forcing Ben to help him blow up the sub, but Ben had his own motives for going along with Locke's plan.
Mikhail was obviously telling the truth about communications being cut off, and about the Others' inability to return to the island if they left. Leaving will no longer be a possibility, now that more of Locke's sabotage has been carried out. What will happen to Jack and Juliet, now that their only ride off the island is gone? Ben surely has a plan for them as well. He definitely has a plan for Locke.

Earlier in the episode, Ben had asked Richard (Dr. Alpert, of "Not in Portland" fame) to bring him the man from Tallahassee. The man in question turned out to be a bound, gagged, and bloody Anthony Cooper. I was floored by this revelation. What am I supposed to think about this?

Ben gave a fascinating speech about the island's ability to show people what they want to see. Did Locke's presence on the island bring Cooper to the island also? Is it really Cooper? Are all of the previous island visions real, or were they conjured up by each character's thoughts? I cannot wait to learn more about the "magic box." I do hope that the writers give it a better name, though.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch- Changes

The amount of sheer joy this show gives me is ridiculous. I grin and squeel and get sucker-punched by situations that are all too real. Honestly, if you're not watching FNL, you're missing out. NBC.com has all the episodes on their sorta sub-par media player. They're also available on itunes. And for the last time, naysayers, this show is not about football. It features football, but it's about so much more.

Top 10 Awesome Moments of Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes:

10. The awkward grand gesture that was Tyra's mother dragging her into the Father Daughter Dance to prove that she's not a sabotaging harpy.

9. Buddy’s Dr. Phil-inspired scrapbook.

8. Riggins teaching 9 year-old Beau how to fight and reminding him that eye gouging and groin kicks are totally within the limits of a school yard brawl.

7. Buddy's spot-on local car commercial.

6. The Taylor family bantering over Eric's "award-winning"/"very mediocre" chili. Extra points for being able to see just how much Tyra wished her family could hold a candle to Julie's.

5. "Appreciate your service, Sergeant Riggins."

4. Riggins getting in a 10 year-old bully’s face and threatening to punch a hole in his chest and rip out his heart if he ever bothers Beau again.

3. Lyla smashing the crap out of several cars and the front window of her dad's dealership upon learning of his habitual infidelity.

2. Beau's mom giving into the lazy charm of Riggins. “Beau can never know.” I’ll say, the minute he finds out, he’ll start in with “I can’t believe Tim Riggins is gonna be my new dad!”

1. Smash, Riggs, Matt and Street on the field, having the boy-bonding session to end all boy-bonding sessions. And ending it with a Brokeback joke and a promise of renewed friendship between Tim and Jason. Sigh.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Riches: Believe in the Lie

The Malloy family continues their transition into their new lives. The episode felt like a part two to the premiere as it ended with a bit of resolution for everyone, finally acknowledging that they are really going to do this. Now that they have committed, we can move forward with the story and let the drama and hijinks begin. For me, the best part of this episode was how they showed each of the characters dealing with all of these changes. Of those, I thought Dahlia's story was the most interesting. The burying of the money and the towing of the RV both served to show hard it is for Dahlia to let go of her old life.

Really, the Riches have no use for that crusty old RV. It just makes them stand out in a place where blending in is desired. To Dahlia though, it's not just a mode of transportation. The RV is part of who they are, and it represents some kind of safety for her and, more importantly I think, her family. She didn't have to get it back because it was taken from her wrongfully. It was much more for the psychological security of knowing it is there as an option.

Burying the money is a similar thing. They do have a perfectly good house, and burying money is a little nutty. But it seems that Dahlia doesn't think she belongs there, and she knows that settling in is inviting all kinds of trouble. Couple that with her struggles with drugs and it isn't a hard jump to get to Didi and Cael's conversation about Mom being crazy.

I'll add here that I thought the scene with Dahlia and Nina was excellent. She was so bizarre with the pulling of the hair and the way she was playing games with Dahlia. Nina being stoned out of her mind in the middle of the afternoon was not at all what I expected from that character when we first met her.

For their part, the kids aren't doing so bad. It's quite obvious that Cael's phone calls to Tammy are not going to end with a date to the prom and taking the rented Mercedes to Inspiration Point. Didi is hard to put your finger on at this point. She's a tough kid, and resilient, but you could see in the way she snapped at Dahlia that there is some hostility there. Sam is probably handling things better than anyone. That's due in part to his age of course, but he is making the most of this new adventure.

Wayne was having a pretty good go of it, initially anyway. Despite evidence to the contrary, he was set to make this work, and jumping in with both feet. I liked the job interview. Watching Wayne do his thing is going to be one of the highlights of the show as we move forward. You can see the gears turning as he works and works, just treading water, keeping himself in the game. And then, he gets the opening, this time in the form of Hugh, and finishes it off. The little look he gave when he asked how many of the cases against Hugh they had won was great. Right then, he knew he had his mark.

Things weren't all roses though. Wayne coming to grips with just how much he had bit off while he talked to the bartender was interesting. It gets right to the root of the problem. It's one thing to fool someone for a few minutes, or even a few hours. Fooling them for days and weeks, possibly even months, is a whole different ball game. It all finally took hold as he sat on the porch shooting guns with Hugh. His resignation that he is going to retire, and get an RV, brought him full circle. I think at that moment that he was actually ready to call the whole thing off.

It's interesting how the family came to the decision. It seems like Wayne's confidence and the way he was so set to make this work was part of what ultimately turned the rest of them around on the idea. And then, when he was as close as he has been to pulling out, seeing all of them together, in his idea of that American dream, they brought him right back around. It should be fun watching Wayne in his new gig working for Hugh. Still, you have to believe that all of this can't end well. There are just too many balls for anyone to juggle.

There was a little peek at some of that tonight. The phone call to Doug that Wayne answered. There is also Dale to be concerned with. While the family politics between him and Jenny are interesting, I don't think that is going to be enough to put off the eventual confrontation. So far, so good. It looks like it's going to be a fun ride.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Prison Break: Panama

Even though I loved this episode, I watched the whole thing in fear of suddenly hearing the Van Halen song.

I love it when the show starts out with pure action. Sucre and Bellick chasing down T-Bag was a great way to begin the episode. I guess it's no accident that Bellick continues to team up with the escapees to get his job done. Clearly he has more in common with them than he realizes.

I'm also very happy that C-Note survived. I was getting tired of Mahone's "final solution." Let's not forget, aside from Linc, C-Note is the only escapee who was actually innocent. Seeing him walk out of prison with his family was awesome. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him, but at least his family is relatively safe.

Once again, Mahone has a complete breakdown. I swear this guy gets more and more like John Nash every week. They say if you want to catch a criminal, you have to think like a criminal or in Mahone's case, a complete psycho.

As the episode wrapped up, it was nice to finally see Michael taking responsibility for all the collateral damage his plan has caused. Was it really worth everything that happened just to save the life of his brother? Did he really think he could expose what is clearly the biggest political scandal since the Teapot dome? Most importantly, as Michael and Linc walked on the beach, I kept expecting Hurley to walk up and say, "Dude, got any Pop Tarts on your boat?"

Friday, May 4, 2007

Lost: Par Avion

This episode of Lost was all about birds, both literally and metaphorically.

The Raven – John Locke

Finally we get to see a little bit more of Locke’s nefarious planning. I knew that his actions with the computer were sketchy, and that he certainly seems to have somewhat different motivations than Kate in this scenario, but it is becoming clearer that Locke has his own mission of sorts here.

Much of this was precipitated by an explanation of the list by Mikhail, specifically regarding the John Locke he once knew. Is this the John Locke who fought boars and found his way into his hatch? If anything, it’s the John Locke I once knew myself and have been yearning for. I certainly believe that it is the John Locke who steals C4 and seems to have his own special plans for the Others once he gets into their Barracks.

The return of Locke as a character of important and, most important, mystery has been one of the reasons the show has improved greatly over the past few weeks, and this episode appears to send us heading further towards finding out more about Locke’s past.

The Pigeon – Dr. Christian Shepherd
You know how, when you’re in a park of any sorts, you see a whole lot of pigeons? Well, it appears that Dr. Christian Shephard is the backstory equivalent for Lost. Now having been spotted in the back stories of four different characters (Jack, Sawyer, Ana Lucia and Claire), there’s little question that he is somewhat important to the mythology of all of these characters.

I didn’t learn too much new about Christian in this episode, except that perhaps his frequent tips to Australia make a bit more sense. I would have to go back and watch his visit to the house while under the care of Ana Lucia to see if it connects to Claire or to some other character, but either way I like this continued development. John Terry is good in the role, his bones are sitting somewhere on the island, and it was somewhat nice to see a back story have some sort of ramification on the show’s overall mythology after a few very insular back stories.

The Common Indian Myna – Claire

Now, apparently, the Common Indian Myna is an invasive pest in Australia, which is kind of how I felt about Claire in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, the character isn’t quite that awful, but the problem was that it was a diversion to the much more interesting storyline regarding the search for the Others’ barracks.
It just sometimes feels like it’s a different show we’re watching, and this is frustrating when the other storyline involves people suffering from cerebral hemorrhage. Claire’s storyline wasn’t terrible in terms of backstories go, but her quest for a sea bird was too similar to everyone else’s quests to get off the island and provide hope for the future. Much like Bernard’s, however, there really wasn’t much hope in the least, and it was all rather misguided.

I like that we’re returning to long-forgotten characters, but I just felt like there were more important stories to be telling…and therefore it was a storyline very similar to an invasive pest.

The One That Flew the Coop – Jack

He’s fraternizing with the Others, playing football with Tom? From the preview, he’s being all friendly with even Ben? I knew that Jack was in fairly good spirits with the Others when they left the small island, but how did this all develop here? I’m assuming that it’s in an attempt to save Juliet’s life, but it’s clear that he’s not too concerned about escaping anytime soon (The running towards them was a neat little freakout).
I think it adds an interesting dynamic to things, and I very much like how this storyline is moving quite quickly. Whereas often these storylines have taken awhile to develop, this has moved quite quickly. One episode wandering in the woods following North, one episode at the Flame, one episode getting past the sonic boom fence, and then bam! They’re at the barracks.

Some nice little mythos tidbits along the way (Some interesting stuff with the list and the talk about leaving and coming to the island [For its healing properties?]), and some neat action sequences, and we find ourselves at a crossroads.

This is the kind pacing I saw in the show’s first season, and I think it’s a return to form of sorts. Now that we’re back to an integration between the Others and our castaways, let’s see if it can continue.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Book Review: Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

Although "Baker Towers" sounds like it should be set in an upscale apartment complex or perhaps an exclusive prep school, it actually takes place in a less glamorous, but equally evocative, setting --- the small coal mining town of Bakerton, in western Pennsylvania. The "towers" of the title are actually "two looming piles of mine waste. They are forty feet high and growing, graceful slopes of loose coal and sulfurous dirt ... On windy days they glow soft orange, like the embers of a campfire. Scrap coal, spontaneously combusting; a million bits of coal bursting into flame." The Towers always remain in the background of the novel's action, a quiet but powerful reminder of the town's industrial base and, eventually, a reminder of its past prosperity.

Bookmarked by two major wars --- World War II and Vietnam --- "Baker Towers" follows the fortunes of the Novak children in the wake of their coal miner father's death in the book's opening pages. Born to a Polish father and an Italian mother, the five Novak children seem to bridge the ethnic divides in their small town --- they live in a company house on Polish Hill, but grow up loving their mother's Italian cooking and customs.

Like many young people of their generation, the Novaks dream of escaping their small town. Handsome younger brother Sandy successfully and glibly leaves his industrial roots behind. Older brother Georgie, seduced by a life of wealth and glamour in suburban Philadelphia, escapes, only to regret his choice later in life. Sisters Dorothy and Joyce leave for a while, only to return after the outside world proves disillusioning or even dangerous. Only baby sister Lucy, whose talents and resources suggest that she would leave Bakerton at the first opportunity, truly chooses to stay.

As the five Novaks come to terms --- willingly or grudgingly --- with the hand their fate has dealt them, they find happiness in unexpected places. Their individual dramas and romances play out against the backdrop of a company town that is collapsing under its own weight --- first the company houses go up for sale, then the company store closes, the union goes on strike, and finally a catastrophic event changes the mine and the town forever.

Jennifer Haigh focuses on the trials and tribulations of women's lives, particularly in the years during and after World War II. With masterful plotting and small details, she brings to life the small joys and quiet desperation of the miners' sweethearts, wives and widows.
If "Baker Towers" has a fault, it is that Haigh, in effectively keeping five story lines in the air, sometimes loses a grip on one or two --- it's not always clear how younger brother Sandy figures into the story, for example. However, I was more than happy to forgive a few dropped balls as I enjoyed an ultimately satisfying, compelling story about a way of life that is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Bones: Bodies in the Book

I haven't been watching Bones since Friday Night Lights was moved to 8pm on Wednesdays. So I was anxious to get caught up on all my favorite characters.

Well, at least I wasn't hungry when this episode ended. The first victim, who was eaten by crabs, wasn't too bad, and the third victim, Brennan's publicist, who was chewed on by fire ants, was a bit discomforting. But the second victim, the girl who was being devoured by rats . . . that was downright disgusting. It was definitely a 'close your eyes' moment for me. Gore is part of the show. And, not only do they do it extremely well, but they incorporate it into the episode without seeming out of place.

This mystery worked for me. Three murders take place, each of them mimicking scenes in Temperance's new book. At first I thought that it was done by one person, just like Booth and the rest of the squints of the Jeffersonian Institution did. And, I thought that one person was Hank, the assistant to Bones' publicist. But, when it was revealed that the three suspects were connected (Hank killed victim 2, suspect 1 killed the publicist, suspect 2 killed the first victim) it all came together. The first suspect had an alibi saying he was at a campground. The third victim was killed by fire ants. Excellent!

Over to Bones' relationship with Sully. Can someone out there please tell me why, when two people have sex on a television show, they are shown under the sheets? It gets hot and stuffy under those covers, folks. This is where we first found our two lovebirds. However, as the episode continued it seemed that Brennan was distancing herself from Sully, moving away from the protection he was offering. She declared their relationship was a fling, but she and Sully knew better. In the end they made up and seemed to be taking the next step in their relationship.

Gosh, Hodges had some fine lines this week. One was 'Do you know how tight a rat's rectum can be?'. Another was said during a conversation between him and Cam. When Cam says she probably won't read Bones' new book she reveals that she enjoys books that feature strong women who meet sensitive artists and have mad, animal sex with them. To that, Hodgins responded 'So, pretty much sex books?'.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dinner & a DVD: Freedom Writers

This rich tasting casserole features pork chops, hash browns, and a topping of cheese and french-fried onions.

Pork Chop Casserole

Pork chops
Seasoned salt
Vegetable oil
1 can cream of celery soup
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt & pepper
Frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 can (2.8 oz) french-fried onions

Sprinkle pork chops with seasoned salt. In a skillet, brown chops on both sides in oil. In a large bowl, combine the soup, milk, sour cream, salt & pepper; stir in hash browns, 3/4 cup cheese and half of the onions. Spread into a greased baking dish. Arrange pork chops on top. Cover and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with the remaining cheese and onions. Bake, uncovered, 5-10 minutes longer.

Featured Attraction: Freedom Writers

Life is context. Hilary Swank's Erin Gruwell tells young gangster Marcus (Jason Fin), "… You know what happens when you're dead? People are going to go on living and forget all about you!" 15 year-old Marcus wishes to "die a warrior" protecting his own. No, as Swank's Gruwell pleads, his young death would accomplish nothing. For students in this Long Beach high school this is the gang and race war, where everyone loses, void of possibility, all about survival. For many, surviving to their 18th birthday is a milestone.

"Freedom Writers" based on the "The Freedom Writers Diary" by real-life teacher Erin Gruwell splintered racial gangs become a family, because Ms. G (Gruwell) really "sees" her students and dismisses their uninspired excuses. She is undyingly committed to their greatness. As Erin, Swank really walks the walk. She is absolutely powerful. In giving a toast to her class Erin requests, "The person you were. That person is over."

"Freedom Writers" is the most inspiring and touching movie I have seen in a long time. Tears were streaming down my face through a good half of the movie. "Freedom Writers" is about seeing and inspiring greatness in the presence of no possibility, and walking the walk.

In 1994 Erin (Swank) is a new teacher at a Long Beach high school teaching freshman English. Reviewing young Erin's reading list, the principal notes to Erin that Homer is entirely inappropriate for her student's elementary reading levels. The principal instructs idealist Erin to baby-sit her class, because she will not be able to teach them anything of value.

Scott Glenn as Erin's father Steve, advises Erin to do her time and "do your job". Erin's students know that they have been written off in this racial charged and divisive classroom. Maintaining order, much less teaching English is a threatening nightmare. With her father's pearl necklace and proper dresses, Erin seems an easy victim. However, Swank gives Erin spirit and tenacity.

The Blacks, Latinos, and Cambodians stake their territory in her classroom and are unyielding in retreat. Eva silences the room and breaks Erin's heart when she proclaims, "I hate white people!", and proceeds to justify. Where Erin draws her line in the sand is when she sees a racist cartoon of her student Jamal. She schools her wannabe gangsters that their game is not even in the same league—as the Nazis.

The tipping point occurs when Erin, along with her dad, escort her class to the Museum of Tolerance as they learn about the Holocaust. Her class even reads "The Diary of Anne Frank". Her dad begins to see Erin's great gift and acknowledges her, "I admire you…"

Erin is dedicated to her students carrying two other jobs so she can buy books and provide aids for her students. However, this comes at a cost. Her husband Scott (Patrick Dempsey of "Grey's Anatomy") supports her passion, but with Erin giving her all to her students there is little else left.

There is an electrifying scene where Marcus tells Erin, "That don't fly, Ma!" Erin reminds her class that she is not their mother. Then Eva and Andre tell her that "Ma" is a sign of respect.

And much like for Miep Gies ("The Diary of Anne Frank") these students that endure and move forward are the heroes, along with the woman who inspired and recaptured their innate greatness, Erin Gruwell. "Freedom Writers" is a very special movie.