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

Friday, August 31, 2007

DVD Review: Osama

Osama does a great job of invoking sympathy and emotion as it shows the severe type of violence and evil events that take in the Afghanistan. It is an excellent movie about a young girl posing as a boy to earn money for her family, and the movie is one of the best foreign films I have ever seen.

The young girl is given the name "Osama" when she cuts her hair short like a boy's, and she sets out to find work. The Taliban are always prowling the streets, and she knows that if they catch her, they will kill her. Luckily, she finds a job with a kind man who sells milk. He helps to hide her and pays her. She is living in constant fear, and the man, although he is kind, can't seem to comfort her. Instead of becoming used to her new life, I see that while she is trying to act mature, her child instincts are taking over and she acts and feels like a small child lost in a foreign world.

The girl does have a family that I can tell loves her (especially her grandma), but it makes me wonder why her mother and grandmother would risk her life just for money and food. There had to be another way to do this, but, one again, I am unaware of the circumstances in those countries, so maybe this is the only alternative.

Anyway, after working for the milkman for a while, she is whisked away by the unknowing Taliban to be trained for war (they are gathering all of the local boys to go to war). She is nervous that she will be found out, and eventually she is.Her fate is sure death, but a man agrees to marry her, and her life is lost and saved at the same time. When she arrives at this man's house, she meets his dozens of other wives who say that their life was ruined by coming there. This is not a happy conclusion to the movie, and I see the girl's life deteriorate right before my eyes.

Osama is a brilliant exercise in emotional drama, with a great storyline and superb acting. It seems like this is more of a documentary than a film because of the acting. It feels like you are watching real events happen to real people. This is a must-see film that is very emotional and realistic.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rescue Me: Pussified

"Next time I'm on the can and I want a drink, I don't want to have to reach back and come up empty!" - Maggie

I think this may have been the first episode in the history of Rescue Me where there wasn't one moment that really made me laugh, smile, or chuckle. How could it? A montage bouncing back and forth from Mike's mom's funeral to Needles discovering Jerry's body! Wow. That being said, I wasn't 100% satisfied with this episode. It just felt a little stale, like nothing really moved. I suppose when a close friend kills himself, life comes to a bit of a screeching halt though.

Now that I think about it, every big thing that happened in this episode has been something that was hinted at or suggested already. Franco bought an engagement ring. Sean and Maggie are probably getting a divorce. Tommy might actually be impotent. The insurance companies are settling and neither Tommy nor Sheila will go to jail. See? Nothing really shocked or surprised me. What did? I'm still getting nothing from Tommy's ghost parade. I need some hallucinations of dead people and I need them fast.

The episode did have its moments. Some funny and some sad:
  • It was a nice touch when Tommy convinced the M.E. to list Jerry's cause of death as "coronary failure." That way Peter will never know how his father actually died, especially since the guys had him cremated too.
  • I loved the look of satisfaction on Lou's face when he figured out that Jimmy the Jew was leeping with another fire-fighter's wife. Looks like Bart is coming to the 62 Truck crew.
  • Troy being completely obsessed with Tommy was a riot. Is that the only reason that he's dating Sheila?
  • Loved when Lou gave Mike a hug instead of making a gay joke. Not for long though. ("We attack at dawn!")
  • The fire scene in the office building was tense too. After they got lost, I really thought someone minor like Mike was going to die. If one show out there can layer on the deaths, this would be the one.
  • The scene with the marriage counselor was by far the best part of the episode though. Janet and Tommy explain their screwed up life and the guy thought he was being set up by a co-worker. Hilarious!
  • I loved the little nod to the Worcester, MA, Cold Storage Fire (where Leary's own firefighter cousin was killed) when Tommy talked about a similar fire that Jerry helped with in the Bronx back in the 70s. Another nice touch.

Beyond those little moments, there wasn't much else other than what I mentioned earlier. Just a lot of stuff that confirmed what I already sort of knew. Now that I'm four episodes in, I think my biggest concern is not knowing what the big conflict is going to be.I think Tommy and Janet will still probably have another shot once he actually has a doctor diagnose what's wrong with his wedding-tackle. As far as Nona goes, she'll be around to complicate things. I'm sure Sheila will be too once she tires of Troy. But still... where's the conflict? I suppose all I can hope for is something big that I can't yet predict. Knowing this show, I'm sure it will be good.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eureka: Phoenix Rising

Eureka is a quirky show on the Sci-Fi Network that just started its second season. I had never heard of this show until I read an article about it in a recent issue of the TV Guide and thought "Hey, I have to check this out." And you know what? I like it. Probably because I love shows that are just a little off kilter and have unique characters.

The premise of the show is Eureka is a secret town in Oregon, I believe, that is home to the best minds in America. Jack Carter somehow stumbled upon this "secret" town while transporting a prisoner and soon became the sheriff of this unknown city. Most everyone works for Global Dynamics, which is ran by the Pentagon.

From what I gathered the season finale last year left open the question of whether or not (or at least how much) Jack and Henry remembered from the now non-existent future. This episode clears that up quick: they remember everything. It's fun to watch Jack so easily slip back into the patterns that were familiar to him in 2010. He gives his keys to Zoe so she can drive, but she's only 15. He refers to Allison as "Ally" and refers to the two of them as "we," since in his timeline they were married. Here, of course, they haven't even gone out on a single date. While Jack finds his knowledge of the future somewhat enjoyable, Henry of course has a much more tragic story. He and Jack's future only existed because Henry went back in time to save Kim, and now Henry has to deal with that loss. Jack still has the possibility of getting together with Allison, but Kim is gone. Things get a bit less for Jack as events diverge from the way he remembers them - particularly with the spontaneous combustion of certain citizens of Eureka.

Carter and Henry investigate Eureka's latest mystery. They keep referring to an Artifact that must plays a huge role in setting up a big mystery for this one. It seems nearly everyone is involved this time, Allison's autistic son Kevin, Beverly the therapist/escort/assassin and nearly everyone connected to Global Dynamics. The Artifact is an active force of its own.

The show has a terrific set for Global Dynamics, and everything from the writing to the acting - especially the banter between the leads - has a crisp feel to it. The relationship between Jack and Henry seems to be pretty deep and this dynamic adds to the show. The end is also a terrific setup for the season - as Henry becomes something of a tragic anti-hero who is likely going to repeat his mistake of trying to get Kim back. Perhaps he believes that he can figure out a way to save her without changing the time line - or maybe he just doesn't care anymore. Whatever the case, his decision to wipe out Jack's memory but preserve his own seems a lot less altruistic when he shows up to apply for a job at Global.

Eureka has an eccentric tone and attention is paid to the numerous quirky inhabitants of the town. The vibe is very much Northern Exposure meets X-Files. I have added this to my "must see" list of TV shows and look forward to finding out more about this quirky little town called Eureka.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Closer: Ruby

Wow. Just... wow. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe during this episode. I held my breath as Brenda and the Priority Homicide team looked for a kidnapper. And then I held it as Brenda, and then Sgt. Gabriel, interviewed the creepiest sex offender ever shown on television. And then again, as they found the kidnapped 8-year old they were looking for. Let's just say my brain didn't get a whole lot of oxygen.

And let's talk about that sex offender for a second. Was he scary or what? I am going to have nightmares about that guy. I kept muttering, "Oh my God" to myself as the guy said, "You see, everyone pretends kids don't want to have sex. But they do." *Shiver*

That was some ballsy dialogue on the part of the writers. I can't even imagine hearing something that extreme on Law & Order: SVU.I was actually very thankful when the focus of this episode shifted from the kidnapped girl/sex offender to the covering of Sgt. Gabriel's butt. Besides Lt. Tau, Gabriel is the one in the squad room who is a rule follower. We know he has been simmering a bit lately and hasn't been seeing things in black and white (legal vs. illegal), and this kidnapping was the last straw for him.

I honestly didn't know how on earth Dep. Chief Johnson was going to save Gabriel's job and her case, but Dep. Chief Cmdr. Taylor sure came to the rescue, didn't he? Of course, Taylor was doing it for Gabriel and not for Brenda... but still. He cleverly offered to book Roger, the sex offender who had a confession beaten out of him by Sgt. Gabriel. And, oops!, he put the guy in with the general population of prisoners and let the word slip that he was a child molester.

Prisoners may be bad dudes, but they all hate child molesters and beat Roger to a bloody pulp... covering up any evidence of what Gabriel had done. Sort-of sick and wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, much less sick than Roger.That opened the door for Brenda to do her thing.

She knows that Roger has a mother complex and she comes in as the mother figure--the protector--and gains his trust. And when she catches him in a lie, she gets real stern with him. And gets him to confess... not just to the murder of the one kidnapped girl, but also to two other murders. She also drove him to suicide by gaining his trust and then being so disgusted by him, like his own mother is disgusted by him.

I don't know about you, but this struck me as an Emmy-worthy episode. Brenda's quirks and weirdness were completely gone and she was just in all-out detective mode. She had to switch from being angry to being sympathetic, and finally to delivering some tough love to both a sex offender and Sgt. Gabriel. It has become obvious that Brenda's role in the squad room has become 'mother hen' and I get the feeling she doesn't like that very much. Watching her in this episode made me feel exhausted. Kyra Sedgwick truly was spectacular, and she was backed up by a terrific script that let her show a very large range of emotions.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Office: Initiation

Usually whenever Dwight gets excessively weird, the show seems to suffer a little bit. I know that all offices have at least one off-kilter staffer (mine included), but with Dwight you have to suspend reality to the nth degree.

That being said, in this episode I got to see a little bit more of what lurks underneath Dwight's pompous exterior. He really seems to be a go-getter, but whatever he's going to try to get still is somewhat questionable.

His attempts at initiating Ryan into sales are certainly unique--I still don't get how Dwight is the number one salesperson in the Scranton branch. Either he's very good or the rest of the sales force have no pulse.

Ryan, to his credit, plays along because he figures he can get at least a kernel of information to use to bolster his career, but Dwight just can't conform. He just has to have this nutty initiation rite, and eventually Ryan has enough and calls Dwight a "freak"--a bold move on his part.

Meanwhile, it's Pretzel Day at the branch, and everyone rushes down to get one. Michael is under surveillance by Pam (under Jan's orders) to see how productive (yeah, right) he is during a typical workday. There's definitely tension between Michael and Jan.

As Dwight's initiation of Ryan continues, Kelly wonders what is going on with her boyfriend, and says that Dwight is a "freak" to Angela, who had defended him by his being "individualistic" and throws the "freak" term right back at Kelly. (How great an episode would it be if we are able to see Dwight and Angela out on a date or just spending time together!)

The Jim-Karen flirtation doesn't do anything for me. The squeaky chair stuff seemed rather forced. I don't think I have the patience to see if this thing will develop or not. I guess I'm so used to seeing the Jim-Pam dynamic that any other situation involving either one of them would pale in comparison. To top things off, Jim and Pam finally spoke on the phone, and although there were some awkward moments, you can just tell that something will happen between them--either a hookup or another rejection on someone's part.

I kind of missed Michael not being the focal point of the episode, but Dwight's interaction with Ryan kept things moving. I especially liked their "bonding" at the end when they were sitting at a bar doing Depth Charges (dropping a shot into a mug of beer and chugging it all down). It brought back some memories for me, as hazy as they might be.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Closer: Saving Face

With broiled mozzarella cheese bread on top, this hearty soup is delicious. It's ready in no time and is excellent.

Onion Soup with Sausage

1/2 lb pork sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 lb sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup sliced onion
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) beef broth
French Bread
Shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large saucepan, cook sausage; drain if needed. Add mushrooms and onion; cook for 4-6 minutes or until tender. Stir in the broth. Bring to a boil Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 4-6 minutes or until heated through. Ladle soup into ovenproof bowls. Top with a slice of bread; sprinkle with cheese. Broil until cheese is melted.

The Closer: Saving Face
Does anybody else really, really want cake? The scene near the end of this episode where the entire team was eating an angry bride's wedding cake made that cake look so good. Yeah, it was a good episode. But, what stuck with me was the cake.

I love when the writers pull out episodes like this one. Sure, there's a dead person and an investigation, but the entire episode still manages to be light-hearted. It all started with Lt. Provenza dropping a coffin down a flight of stairs, then proceeded to a fight between an angry bride and Brenda, and to the entire homicide team eating the bride's $30,000 catering (including that cake).

There were a lot of great scenes in this episode involving Brenda (the bride fight was pretty great), but my favorite was in the plastic surgeon's office where the surgeon made Brenda speechless. He tried to guess what she was in for and started saying very rude (but true!) things about how she slathers her red lipstick on, making her mouth look huge. So, she's suffering from self consciousness as she attempts to solve a murder. And it only gets worse when she looks to Det. Daniels for advice on new lipstick and Daniels takes her down another notch by bashing her wardrobe. Brenda's wardrobe, incidentally, is probably my favorite quirk of her very quirky character. The woman constantly pairs contrasting patterns and looks as if she shops the sales at JC Penney.

Lts. Flynn and Provenza got some good play in this episode as naughty little boys. It was like a playground dynamic between them and Brenda and Lt. Tau, who had to run and tell Brenda about the murder the minute the victim was discovered.There wasn't really much controversy to this episode and I didn't get a whole lot of overall plot advancement, but that's perfectly fine with me. I was entertained. I got a little of the Brenda/Fritz relationship where she's under pressure to go look at houses, but the Brenda/Sgt. Gabriel riff didn't come up this episode. Best to let that simmer, I say.

I was a little uncomfortable with the blackmail practiced by Johnson and Pope at the end of the episode. I guess the justice system is full of this type of blackmail-- if you do this, we won't charge you with that-- but it seemed a bit unethical.

A couple of great one-liners:

"Not a wet eye in the house." - Lt. Provenza to Lt. Flynn after his eulogy.
"Nothing tastes better than someone else's wedding cake. Mine tasted like prison food." - Lt. Provenza
"Oh, well. We're hateful people." - Dep. Chief Brenda Johnson
"Does this case have anything to do with the LAPD?" - Chief Pope"No." - Lt. Provenza"Then give me a big piece (of cake) from the corner." - Chief Pope

Carissa & Jim's Wedding Photos

Last Saturday, August 18, I was in Putnam County, Ohio, for my friend Jean's daughter Carissa's wedding. It was a beautiful wedding and a very fun reception.

Highlights of the day: Jean played the flute during the ceremony, Bacon Bob (the bride & groom's St. Bernard) came down the aisle with the rings, the bridal party took a hay ride from the church to the reception hall, and Carissa rode a small 4-wheeler hauling Jim around the dance floor. Plus lots of good food (pig roast), interesting music & dance moves (I think it's my age), and a wonderful time with my two best friends - Jean & Patricia.

In the photos: I'm in the red polka dot dress, Patricia is in the white top, Jean (mother of the bride) is the solid black dress, and Michelle is the black dress with colorful spots.

Olivia, my friend Patricia's 12-year-old daughter, took most of the photos using my camera. So I cannot take credit for some of the "embarrassing" photos. She did a great job. Blogspot just came out with a video upload so enjoy my photos.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

MTTT: Bell's Brewery & Family Guy: Peter's Two Dads

The MTTT crew celebrated our 2nd Anniversary of the Thirsty Third Thursday after work drinking club at Bell's Brewery. MTTT all started in 2005 in August at Bell's Brewery and from that point forward we return each August.

Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo is a micro-brewery. They offer a wide selection of tasty beers and tend to promote seasonal recipes, as do a lot of micro-breweries. My personal favorite is Oberon . It's rich in color and flavour. Bell's Brewery also has a beautiful beer garden attached to the aesthetically pleasing pub. It is home to many of Kalamazoo's college-age hippie-types, which adds to the whole exuberance of the Bell's experience.

All the MTTT'ers ordered different Bell beers and all of them were highly recommended. Lindsey was the bravest and had the 10.5% alcohol content beer (Expedition Stout) and one glass was all she could take. I just made myself thirsty for a Bell's Oberon, so I'm glad I keep a six pack in my refrigerator.

Family Guy:

Despite a couple of underdeveloped plotlines and an overabundance of offensive and uncomfortable jokes, this episode of Family Guy somehow manages to succeed with just enough truly hilarious moments and actual story elements.Conducting a detailed a plot analysis of any Family Guy episode is somewhat pointless, but there actually seems to be an attempt by the writers to put together a storyline that has a slight amount of cohesion.

Meg's birthday party serves as the backdrop for Francis' death, and gives Chris an excuse to provide his only meaningful contribution to the episode with a brief musical solo. The other threads in this episode focus on Stewie and Peter.

I got to witness the final moments of Peter's father Francis's life, as he's crushed by his weighty son who was riding a unicycle drunk while dressed up as a clown during Meg's birthday party. The ongoing joke and plot thread that starts off the episode concerns how little respect Meg gets in the family. Meg bursts into the room talking about what she'd like for her upcoming birthday and nobody really seems to pay too much attention to what she was saying. Neither of the Griffin parents knows how old their daughter is, and they don't seem to care too much either.

The other story attempt in this episode centers around Stewie discovering that he enjoys the pain of getting spanked, and as such, tries to push his mother into hitting him. This particular plotline falls a bit flat. It's not all that funny and it felt like it was thrown in as filler. Other than the shock value of watching Stewie fantasize about his mother beating him, there was very little to salvage these somewhat disturbingly offensive moments. One joke that does stand out, however, is Stewie asking Lois to "step on his cubes."

Of course, the main storyline in this episode revolves around Peter's discovery about his father. Upon Francis' death, Peter finds out that his real father's a "fat stinking drunk" from Ireland, and embarks on a quest to find him, but not before a brief Peter-as -Wonder Woman reference.This plot thread works really well, and is filled with a classic barrage of absurd jokes and numerous flashback moments, including a great Return of the Jedi reference, as well as a short scene poking fun at Ben Affleck.

Peter's father makes a grand entrance as the "town drunk" in a tavern called "Wifey Mcbeaty's Tavern." After engaging in and winning a drinking contest with his real father, the two burst into song for yet another musical interlude. These musical moments seem to happen very often on the show lately. They don't always work well, but in this case the song and accompanying visuals were appropriately entertaining.

Peter's dad could be a great addition if the writers choose to continue including him in future episodes (along with his pet sheep cleverly named O'Brian). There seemed to be fewer flashbacks and pop-culture references in this episode, which helped move the main story forward.

While Family Guy has never been about telling decent tales, the cohesiveness of the Peter's real father storyline helped define a sense of purpose to accompany the off-the-wall arbitrary jokes. Wacky random humor when combined with a sense of direction goes a long way in making these episodes feel more complete and satisfying, and in this respect, "Peter's Two Dads" succeeds remarkably well.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bones: The Girl in Suite 2103

Whew, I was scared there for a moment. When this episode began without seeing a horrendously mangled body in the first 30 seconds I thought that Bones was about to 'jump the shark'. I was especially fearful when Booth and Bones entered the murder scene (after a very interesting conversation about Booth's reaction to elevator music) to see intact bodies. Luckily they came across a charred skeleton near the end of the first scene, so my fear ebbed. Then, they found a second unrecognizable skeleton hanging from a light fixture, and I could breathe easily again. Especially since the second body was the focus of an entertaining episode.

I have to tell you, Emily Deschanel as Doctor Temperance Brennan, otherwise known as "Bones", really had a great episode. I don't remember her being so frank to so many people since the second season began. She was particularly brusque to State Department representative Alex Radzwill, who is a little person. She went off on Radzwill several times about his need to push around taller people because of his lack of height. Many of the lines she got out were very funny. Oh, also, she needed to get a translation from Booth about something Radzwill said. Good to see that the shoe sometimes fits on the other foot.

In general, everyone had a good performance this week. I am really enjoying the scenes at the Jeffersonian Institution sans Booth or Bones (who seems to be distancing herself from the rest of the team). I finally got to see a little bit more of Zach Addy. While he is respectful to his superiors, Zach does seem to have a bit of a devilish side underneath his scholarly frame. He loves to give digs to Booth when describing unusual findings on their victims. He also interacts really well with Jack Hodgins. When those two get together it's like teenage boys playing with a chemistry set.

Oh, and speaking about Jack, the sexual tension is growing between him and Angela. When those two are together in a scene you can just see it all around them. As I said last week, get these two kids together.

Let's talk a bit about this case: the murder of a waitress at a, I guess, hotel (wasn't quite sure where). I really had no idea who the murderer was until the very end. I love this stuff, because it allows the viewer to follow along with the evidence and the logic to see if they come up with the conclusion faster than their television counterparts. It's almost like the classic board game Clue, except with many more dead bodies. This mystery had plenty of twists and turns to keep moving my attention to another suspect.

One more thing to talk about this time around . . . Seely Booth, Real American Hero. Many leading men in crime dramas have plenty of gray edges to them. Not Booth, who is truly a white hat hero. He proved it when he disposed of fake evidence that could have been used to get the murderer to confess that she had killed the waitress. Even though he didn't respect the diplomatic immunity that the murderer hid under, he abided by the decision. Booth is really a good man.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Studio 60: What Kind of Day Has It Been

Storylines are wrapped up, arcs are given closure, outstanding issues are resolved and to some extent this final episode provides a kind of finality and completeness for the cancelled series. The events of this episode serve as a conclusion for the three part "K&R" episode. In fact, this is really just part 4, given a new name to better serve as a finale for not just the season but the series.

All of the crises set up over the last three episodes end well. Tom's brother is rescued by Special Forces, Jordan and her baby are just fine while after four hours of stonewalling, Simon decides to apologize to the press - but only after Jack says he doesn't have to. Of course Matt and Harriet get together, though Matt's new found drug addiction is left unresolved albeit with a sense that he'll be just fine. The conclusions come one after another, providing for a series of great emotional moments for all of the actors involved.

As I've said more than once, this is a show not short on talent in the acting department. Steven Weber runs off with the show again in a quietly riveting scene where Jack realizes and admits to himself that he should have stood up for Matt and Danny back in 2001. He - in what seems an almost accidental way - likens himself to the executives in the 50s who gave up the names that became the list of Communist sympathizers used by Joe McCarthy. He seems to realize in that moment that he values things even more than the Network, and he betrayed those values. Weber's Jack Rudolph proved to be the most complex and interesting character of the series, and that's saying something in a show that had some well written characters played by terrific actors.

I saw that Danny Tripp made a similar realization a few years earlier when he followed Matt out the door rather than apologize for a political sketch. "I found myself saying screw honor, patriotism and friendship. We could lose the franchise," he says to Harriet, horrified at what he was becoming. He knew Matt was right, and he knew there were more important things at stake than his job or Studio 60. Right there is perhaps where I found the malaise that affected the show for its run: that there are more important things than Studio 60. It always seemed clear that Aaron Sorkin thought a TV show would be an interesting setting, but he kept having more pressing issues on his mind and tried to shoehorn them into this show.

This is a decent finale for what has been an uneven series. This episode, like the rest of the show, is a class act with high production values, good and great performances and a strong sense of style. It's just hard to care too much about it all. When Danny turns off the light and walks away, there's not much emotion beyond a sense of "this should be more emotional than it is." The show closes with Matt looking at the clock counting down the time until the next episode of the show - which could have served as the setup for a second season. This might prove painful for some more adoring fans who wanted to see the show continue. I'm sad to say that I don't share their pain.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Rescue Me: Commitment

Jerry's story has been developed really quietly this season. He had more screen time in this episode that he did in the first two episodes combined I think. You get my point though. He's there and he's not. Now that I know how this episode ended, it makes sense to me. His lack of a presence in this season now feels like a creative choice by Denis Leary. Jerry was a ghost this season. I knew things weren't looking too bright for him. His job was in jeopardy, his wife has been completely lost to Alzheimer's, his gay son who he doesn't truly accept is getting married, and now we find out that he's completely adverse to the idea of retirement.

The name of the episode was "Commitment" and that's exactly what Jerry needed. People to care about, to do favors for, and to look out for. If he retired or took the H.Q. job, he doesn't have that commitment. He'd have no one and unfortunately for me Jerry knew that. That final sequence as Jerry made his last supper, played with his new golf clubs a little, and groomed himself... it was tough to watch. I'm sure I'm not alone, but once he started chopping vegetables for his salad, I knew it was coming. It ended with it a gun in his mouth, a black screen, and a single shot. I don't know the outcome since it went black, but I don't see this being some kind of a set-up. Jerry Reilly was a great character and he'll be missed.

Alright. In an attempt to be slightly cheery, I'l move on. Actually... it might just be easier to list things that made me laugh...
  • Loved that fake ED treatment that Tommy was reading about in the magazine: Hugerophen. Great name!
  • Tommy stealing Mike's face cream.
  • Lou had some great ones. First he called Colleen's boyfriend Prick Jagger and then he compared Theresa's sex drive to a tsunami that destroys everything in its path. Hilarious.
  • I shouldn't have laughed, but I did: Richie's girlfriend bowling. I'm a horrible person.
  • Uncle Teddy wanting to go back to jail because he needs a schedule. He said he'd go on a killing spree!

That's what this show does though. It makes me laugh and cry. There are still plenty of stories that I'm looking forward to getting answers to though. How long before Tommy realizes Janet is going through post-partum? Is Colleen going to come home? What happens when Ellie finds Teddy? Will Tommy ever come to his senses and just sleep with Nona? Which house is Bart going to pick? And finally, will Jimmy make any more appearances? Actually... if this ended the way I think it ended, I might see Jerry again sooner than I thought. Tommy's ghost parade anyone?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Movie Review: Paris, Je T'Aime

"Paris, Je T'Aime," assigns the age-old subject "Paris + Love," as well as a specific neighborhood, to 18 renowned filmmakers, then collects the results in a charming anthology. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but it never had me checking my watch or counting how many films I had left to endure. As with Paris itself, there may be dull spots, but there's usually something impressive just around the corner.

Two of the most memorable films are the comedies "Tuileries" by the Coen brothers and "Tour Eiffel" by Sylvain Chomet. In the hilarious "Tuileries," Steve Buscemi is a tourist confronted with hostile Parisians and a guidebook that can only be described as Coen-esquire. "Tour Eiffel" is a witty take-off on the French cliché of mimes.

Other highlights: Some of the movie's best acting is found in "Quartier Latin," where longtime friends Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara play a divorcing couple. Alfonso Cuaron's one-take "Parc Monceau" has good actors (Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier) and an even better twist.

Tom Tykwer's "Faubourg St-Denis" has the exciting visuals, music and editing that you'd expect from the director of "Run Lola Run." It also has one of the largest scopes, retracing a love affair at high speed. A blind man picks up the phone, and hears from his girlfriend (Natalie Portman) that she breaks up with him. He reflects on their relationship."Bastille," too, takes place over a long period of time. A man meets with his wife at a restaurant, to break up with her, so that he can run off with his mistress. But the wife has some devastating news. Pretty basic, but truly sad and beautiful.

"Pere Lachaise" isn't a horror film, though you might expect that from its setting (cemetery) and director (Wes Craven). It has good acting from Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer, and a friendly, charming ghost.For horror fans, there is the vampire-themed "Quartier de la Madeleine," but it's over- heated, over-stylized, and looks like a bad perfume commercial.

Meanwhile, "Porte de Choisy" is like a bad hair-products commercial crossed with God knows what else—set in an Asian beauty parlor, it's the anthology's most head-scratching film.

Other misses: The opener, "Montmartre," is a very generic romance. I also felt like there should have been more to Gus Van Sant's "Le Marais" than there was between the two boys. Maggie Gyllenhaal does well as a drug-addicted actress in "Quartier des Enfants Rouges," but the shaky camera-work distracts from the story. "Place des Victoires," starring Juliette Binoche in a very Binoche-ish role as a grieving mother, is sentimental and has nothing to do with Paris. And I don't think I got the life-and-art joke in "Pigalle."

Three of the movies confront social issues of race and class. "Quais de Seine," about a beautiful Muslim girl and a leering white boy, is too obvious in the points it makes, but uses the location well. Catalina Sandino Moreno is very good in "Loin du 16eme," about a poor young woman who works as a nanny in Paris's richest neighborhood. "Place des Fetes" shows an Afro-French medic tending to a wounded Nigerian immigrant who used to work in her parking garage. It examines the tensions between first- and second-generation immigrants and is also quite moving.

Alexander Payne ties everything together with "14eme Arrondissement," where a stereotypical middle-aged, middle-American tourist (Margo Martindale) describes her Parisian vacation in very bad French. At first a shallow satire, it becomes sincere and quietly epiphanic. "14eme Arrondissement," and a good half of the other movies in "Paris, je t'aime," shows how a short film can dazzle and surprise you—just like Paris itself.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Closer: Grave Doubts

This was one of those great episodes that went seamlessly from comedy to drama, something The Closer does better than any other procedural on television. Think about it: CSI slips the comedy in throughout the investigation, but The Closer gets serious when it needs to.

The beginning of the episode was laugh-out-loud funny thanks to some great one-liners from Lt. Provenza (I'm so glad the budget cuts didn't get him). When Pope's not around to bring the funny, Provenza can always step in. Some of the more memorable lines were: "Does the face ring a bell?" - Dep. Chief Johnson, referring to a rotting corpse"He's lost a little weight." - Lt. Provenza. "This kid went missing in 1992-- that's, like, three wives ago." - Lt. Provenza". "And you thought nuns were tough." - Lt. Provenza

A few more quirky moments came from Lt. Tau and the comparatively nerdy crime lab guy who sat Brenda down to describe to her how they handle ballistic evidence. It almost seemed like a humorous dig at CSI because, obviously, Brenda knows how ballistics work, but the forensics guy explains it anyway. On CSI, they're always explaining to each other how they're doing things.

Also... I noticed the framed photographs on Brenda's desk. There's one of Fritz and a really psycho-looking one of her cat. Classic.

While the episode started out as a comedy with Lt. Provenza and Fritz as the clowns, that slowly receded to the background as Dep. Chief Johnson got into the investigation of a body of a teen-age boy who was reported missing during the LA riots of 1992. Things got real tense for her when the boy's brother, a reformed gang member who is running for city council, starts to put pressure on her and gets Chief Pope's promise to handle the investigation delicately.

I enjoyed the rift that happened in the squad room whenever Father Jack was brought up in conversation. Some of the detectives got real hot under the collar about the way that the man lets gang members turn in their guns and turn over their drug money to him in exchange for a new start. Particularly Lt. Flynn, who got away with saying "asshole" in this episode to describe Father Jack. Dep. Johnson obviously didn't agree with Father Jack's methods and didn't handle him with kid gloves (as if she handles anyone that way), and that rubbed her No. 2 man, Sgt. Gabriel, the wrong way.

So that brings me to what is looking to be a theme for this season. Besides the stupid budget cuts, it looks like Sgt. Gabriel no longer thinks Brenda walks on water. She got a confession from a guy whom Gabriel thought didn't deserve to be charged with the murder of his own brother because of all the good things he has done for the gang neighborhoods since the crime.

I loved what Brenda said to him, "You think you can substitute your own personal sense of right and wrong for the law?"I think Sgt. Gabriel is going to get a lot of attention this season and the writers are setting him up for something big (at least, that's what I hope is happening). He saved Brenda's butt last week by coming up with a solution to her budget crisis, he's all bent out of shape over this latest confession, and also Det. Sanchez is flirting with his girlfriend? The guy is gonna go nuts soon!

Also, we're being set up for a visit by Brenda's father. Can't wait to meet the only man on the planet who has Brenda scared out of her wits.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Creature Comforts: Winter, The Zoo

The latest and last episode of Creature Comforts displayed a fatal weakness in the program's concept: if the human interviews are not entertaining, neither is the show. While the animation is great and the animals are adorable and funny with their settings and actions, it's what's being said that's at the heart of the show.

"Winter" was a very boring segment, with hardly a chuckle to be found. Nothing said really stood out as a fresh or unique take on the winter months. It's cold, I get it. Straightforward juxtapositions of voice to animal didn't improve things. The man who got very, very cold was presented as a penguin on a floating piece of ice. And the man talking about jumping into cold water as part of a polar bear club was, in fact, a polar bear. The cleverest moment, and only real highlight of this segment, came with a groundhog talking scientifically about how the tilt and rotation of the Earth affects the climate. Turns out this groundhog was the famous Punxsutawney Phil who determines how many more weeks of winter we'll have based on the sight of his shadow. This was the only smart twist in segment one.

The second half of the show, "The Zoo," had a significantly higher number of laughs. However, the idea of taking people's interviews about their living conditions-- in retirement homes, jail, etc.-- and turning it into animals talking about living in the zoo seemed oddly familiar. The old folks were especially entertaining. The elder lions, slowly talking into the microphone, were a hoot. I also loved the Abbot and Costello like exchange between a hard of hearing warthog and the interviewer: "Tell me about the food here?" "About what?" "The food." "Fuse?" "Food." "What is 'fuse'?"

Stealing the show, however, was another visit to the Panda Breeding Facility, with the sassy female panda having a war of words with the amorous male panda. An entire episode devoted to this group would not be a horrible idea.

Padding out the half-hour were animals talking about what celebrities they've been told they look like. This really didn't use the format of the show very well. The first bit, with a pug-looking dog saying she looks like Jane Fonda was cute, because a pug-looking dog has no resemblance to Jane Fonda. But that's about as far as the concept could go-- animals saying they look like someone who, obviously, they don't look like.

Still, I can't complain too much. Creature Comforts is still great to look at. The visuals remain smart and creative, with all sorts of fun background action taking place. The deer using several helium-filled balloons to float away to freedom stood out. I also enjoyed seeing the polar bears doing vodka ice shots while another talked about doing whatever they can to cope with the bitter cold.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Family Guy: Whistle While Your Wife Works

"Whistle While Your Wife Works" followed Peter as he had to deal with adverse work conditions after blowing his fingers off with fireworks. Being that he couldn't type or stay concentrated, Lois came in and lent a helping hand. Meanwhile, it is found out that Brian is dating a "moron" guest voiced by Drew Barrymore.

As always these plotlines were accompanied by a fair amount of flashback/manatee gags which were less funny than normal (excluding the hilarious use of Tim Curry's Lord of Darkness character from Legend). As mentioned only one of the storylines was really funny, and that was the one that featured Brian's girlfriend Jillian. The other story with Peter and Lois was really not funny at all, and seemed to be a step off from most of the material that the show normally airs.

The choice of Drew Barrymore as the voice of the ditsy beautiful blonde was perfect, and it wasn't much of a stretch to match the voice with the character. But what really made Jillian such a great character was her interaction with the Griffins. She matched stupidity with Peter and Chris, while acting as an endless source of comedy for Lois and Stewie. And in the end, Brian couldn't get rid of her, which is perfectly okay with me as we hope that Jillian is kept around for as long as possible. It has been a while since Stewie and Brian's interactions have been this fun, and the ever-present addition of the dumb girlfriend could really help in continuing Stewie and Brian's spiteful relationship.

Another topic that was pretty humorous in this episode was how they made fun of mediocre films. In three separate scenes bad Hollywood movies were glorified by the main characters. The first film was You, Me and Dupree, which Peter always discussed about with Cleveland at the beginning of every work shift. The second film was Along Came Polly which Quagmire would dictate scene by scene to Peter in the middle of his work day. The third film was Mr. 3000 which Jillian couldn't get to work in her DVD player. The mention of all these movies seemed like a way for MacFarlane and the Family Guy writing staff to sort of make fun of the rousing support for mediocre films from the broad audience.

Plus along with these three movies there was a large segment dedicated to the television show Wings, which although not a film, was also an average show that was embraced in the episode (by Quagmire). This wasn't the best episode of Family Guy, but it wasn't bad either.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The August selection, chosen by Pat, of the Great Readers of M was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Having just finished reading The Kite Runner, all I can say is, "amazing." At times, it can be extremely haunting and excruciating, but in the end, I could not help but be moved by this story of love and redemption. Although it vividly weaves in stories about Afghanistan and the Taliban, it was the heart wrenching story regarding Amir, Baba, and their personal demons and of Amir's redemption that engaged me in the end.

"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975," Khaled Hosseini's narrator reflects in the opening paragraph of The Kite Runner. "I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."

Hosseini is an Afghan-American novelist and physician, who moved to the United States in 1980. This is not his memoir. Hosseini's debut novel tells the compelling (though at times melodramatic) story of Amir, an Afghan man now living in Fremont, California, remembering his childhood in Kabul in the 1970s, who is haunted by his childhood betrayal of his friend Hassan, the son of his father's Hazara servant.

Amir inherited a love for literature from his mother, who died while giving birth to him. As a boy, he would read to Hassan under a pomegranate tree. This concerned his father Baba, who prefered soccer to books. One day while the two boys are kite running, Hassan is brutally raped and beaten by a sociopathic bully (Assef) while Amir hides and watches, too paralyzed with fear to help his friend. Amir remains silent for 26 years, during which time he attempts to atone for by his cowardice and disloyalty.

His story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from pre-civil war Afghanistan, to the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan through the Soviet invasion, to the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the Taliban regime. Rather than his simply drawn characters, it is Hosseini's depiction of Afghanistan life (otherwise known to me only through the evening news, besides what Linda told while Phil was stationed there and, sadly, knowing a young man in the US Army from Kalamazoo who was killed last week in Afghanistan in a road side bomb) that gives this novel its greatest strength.

Years later, after his father Baba dies of lung cancer, and after he marries Soraya Taheri, Amir becomes a successful novelist. He returns to Kabul, where he learns Hassan and his wife were killed by the Taliban, that Hassan was actually his illegitimate half-brother, and that Hassan's son (Sohrab) has been sold as a sex slave to a Taliban official, who is none other than Assef. Assef brutally beats Amir and seriously injures him, but Amir is saved by Sohrab. Sohrab and Amir escape, and Amir attempts to adopt Sohrab so that he may take the emotionally damaged boy home with him to the United States.

When the two then bond through running kites together, The Kite Runner becomes a deeply moving story not only of male relationships, but of personal redemption from childhood guilt.

This is a wonderful book! I've read many novels and this is one of the best, if not the best. It would be impossible to read this book and not be touched by and love the characters. When I finished this book I felt as though I had lost a friend. I know I will never forget this story. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Simpsons: The Haw-Hawed Couple

At first glance, this episode of The Simpsons is like a box of unbuttered popcorn mixed with M&Ms: even if the whole snack is rather bland, there's plenty of great bits tossed in. I loved Marge uncharacteristically whacking Bart with a wooden spoon, Homer's cry of "Woo hoo! Marital sex!", and Milhouse telling Bart it's better to walk in on both parents being intimate instead of just one of them.

Nelson is a bully, but he's a complex bully. His home life is anything but ideal, but at school his knack for intimidation makes him king of everyone, even if his subjects secretly despise him. When Bart is the only one who shows up to his birthday party, Nelson is so thrilled he recruits Bart as his best friend, and Bart takes advantage of all the perks. Nelson soon realizes, however, that Bart really doesn't like him at all, and as usual everything ends up back to normal in the end.

A decent episode, I thought, though not spectacular. My favorite part of the episode actually came from the secondary plot in which Homer becomes engrossed in a Harry Potter-like children's book. When one of the main characters is killed off, he worries about upsetting Lisa so he makes up his own ending to the story where everyone escapes and later "fight Star Wars."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bones: The Truth In The Lye

I have to give credit to the creators of Bones; they certainly know how to find unique ways to decompose a body week after week. And this episode was no exception as the body du jour was quickly dissolving in a bathtub of bleach and liquid Drano. As I said . . . Ew!

But, it isn't the tub full of bloody skin that brings me back, it's the fact that this show is good. So, pushing the image of a pitchfork full of skin out of mind, let's move ahead.

Let's forget about decomposed bodies for a second and speak about relationships. Not about the one between agent Seely Booth and his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his child), who occasionally sleep together. Nor about Booth and Doctor Cam Saroyan, who also occasionally sleep together. Or Booth and Bones, who are really, really, close to sleeping together (which would be the point that I stop watching the show because I just hate when they do that). No, I'm talking about Doctor Jack Hodgins and Angela Montenegro. Get these two together already! They're adorable and need to hook up. And not just for a little bit, then break-up due to some stupid thing. They should be together for the length of the show.

Back to this storyline. The one husband-two wives concept has been used plenty of times in procedural crime dramas. But, as usual with Bones, they like to twist it up a little. It turns out the wives of the victim knew that he was two-timing each of them. What they didn't know, until later, was that he had impregnated a third person. All three went to confront him and that's when they gave him the bleach bath. But, they actually didn't kill him, because the victim was already dead from an apparent suicide when they reached him. But it wasn't a suicide, and it wasn't even a homicide. It was just a simple accident which, due to a brittle bone condition, turned out to be fatal. Of course, the accident occurred when the victim's boss confronted him about some missing money, and he and the victim got into a little row. So, the boss decided to make it look like a suicide to get away. Got it all?

The main thing I liked about this episode was the lack of Bones and Booth. Yes, you heard it right. I actually got to see more interaction between the other members of the Jeffersonian Institution investigative team without Seely or Temperance hanging around. That's nice, because these team members, including Cam, have a good chemistry when alone. It's also the time that Angela steps away from her computers and really shines. I'll go so far to say that I wouldn't mind an episode where Bones is away at some conference and either Angela or Cam (or even Zack) help out with an investigation.

There is one thing that bothered me, and it's really a minor quibble. It was the seeming supernatural powers that Bones exhibited this time around. Particularly at the point where she guesses that the third person to sleep with the victim is pregnant. When asked how she knows, Bones talks about the woman's gait and the spreading of the something-or-other. I was waiting for her to say 'Oh, I saw it all with my microscopic vision'. I think some of that needs to be toned down a bit because it takes away from her growing humanity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dinner & a TV Show: The Office - The Merger

I'm rarely home until at least 6pm or so most evenings, so I appreciate quick recipes.

Chili Jack Chicken

Skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies
Prepared Mustard
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large skillet, brown chicken in butter for 10 minutes; drain. Add the broth, chilies, mustard, garlic, and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until chicken juices run clear. Stir in the cream; simmer until thickened. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook until the cheese is melted.

The Office: The Merger

The show has a great mix of normal characters I can easily relate to (such as Jim, Pam, and nearly everyone from the now-closed Stamford branch except Andy) working with over-the-top, abrasive and alternately creepy/annoying characters like Michael, Dwight and Andy. Arguably, the funniest moment in the entire episode was before the credits even began to roll, as Pam was making Dwight run laps around the office building, while "timing" him with an electronic thermometer. It was the kind of perfect Dwight-mocking prank that Pam and Jim excel at.

It's extremely painful to watch Pam get so excited by Jim's return only to be heartbroken when she sees he's apparently moved on to Karen. But as hard as it is for me to watch, things like this help ground the series in reality. After being rejected by Pam (and not hearing from her since, even though she had broken off her engagement) Jim would have been understandably hurt and frustrated. Having him act on a similar playful/flirty office relationship makes sense, from his character's standpoint -- he may have waited too long with Pam, and he wouldn't want to screw things up with Karen the same way.

With both Michael and Dwight toplining the antics in the Scranton office, one would think that the introduction of equally zany Andy would mean a little too much craziness in one office. But on the contrary, Andy's proven to be an even better source of hilarity than he ever was in the Stamford office, as he seeks to replace Dwight as Michael's lackey and even ends up hitting on Dwight's secret lover, Angela.

Based on the events of the Branch Closing episode, it was a little surprising that Jan wasn't in the office at all, only talking to Michael once during the day, after he fires Anthony. That seems extremely out of character for someone who didn't want to give Michael the job overseeing the combined offices in the first place. She has no faith in Michael's managerial abilities, and yet she allowed him to meet the Stamford employees by himself and show a "funny" with "a little bit of a zing to it" orientation video without her supervision.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Movie Review: Hairspray

Originally, I wasn't sure if I wanted to see this movie, but some of my friends just kept talking about how great it was. Let me tell you, it wasn't that great. It will appeal to a certain demographic (children, some teens, and baby boomer adults who like corny movies). And it was almost decent until the middle where it just seemed to drag on.

The story, if you don't already know, is about Tracy Turnblad, an overweight but feisty young girl who wants to be a star. When she gets the chance to dance on the Corny Collins show, she becomes a local celebrity, and wins the love of show heartthrob Link Larkin, the boyfriend of snotty teen queen Amber, who is the daughter of the vixen station manager, Velma Von Tussle. But when the show refuses to integrate white dancers with black, and then cancels "Negro Day," Tracy leads her friends in a protest.

There were just so many bad things about the movie that I don't know where to begin. John Travolta as a woman was ... horrible. His accent, his acting, his make-up, and everything was a big FLOP. The dancing was the worst. Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken, can't dance to save their lives and should never try it on screen again. It was painful to watch. Amanda Bynes just smiled the entire movie and Nikki Blonsky wasn't nearly as interesting as the hype built up around her. Pairing her with Zac Efron was a mistake, especially since he looked confused and in his own world throughout most of the movie.I could go on and on about how the directors just found a bunch of big-named actors (well, sort of) of all ages and pieced them together in this long, drawn out movie, but I won't.

I'll try to say something positive about the movie ... half of the songs were decent, but after a while they started to drive me crazy. The costumes were nice ... except for Blonsky's. (All they did was give her a white button-down shirt for nearly every outfit and sneakers that didn't work well). The sets and staging were nice and ...I really can't find anything else to say about this movie that's positive. Just be prepared for an overly extended movie that fails to measure up against other REAL musicals. I'll take Grease any day of the week over Hairspray!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Office: Branch Closing

This chunky soup makes a great main course. Best of all, it's ready...set...serve in just 25 minutes.

Macaroni Bean Soup

4 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato juice
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup slice carrotts
2 medium yellow summer squash, sliced
1 can (16 oz) kidney beans, rinsed and rained
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a large saucepan, ring the broth, tomato juice, macaroni, carrots, and garlic to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until carrots are tender. Stir in the squash, beans, seasoned salt and pepper; simmer for 10 minutes or until macaroni and vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat; stir in the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice.

The Office: Branch Closing

I've known people who have been laid off from their jobs, so this episode surely hit home .

Jan tells Michael that corporate has decided to close the Scranton office and will transfer a few staffers to the Stamford branch. Someone once said to me that you never truly find out what a person is made of until you seem him/her deal with a crisis. Watching Michael go to extremes to save his employees (and himself) showed that despite his overbearing, obnoxious, pompous personality, he does have a soul, and I ended up rooting for him to save the day. Of course, it was all moot when I learned earlier that after Josh decided to move on to Staples, the Stamford branch would be closed and merged into Scranton.

I thought Stanley's initial reaction to finding out that his job would probably be eliminated was priceless! The look on his face when he talked about retiring and taking it easy was marvelous and, of course, the disappointed demeanor he had when he learned that he would still be on the job was great too. Stanley is truly a terrific character and I would like to see an episode where he gets the bulk of the attention.

Of course, the inevitable "reunion" of Jim and Pam back in the same office was a major theme throughout this episode. They both awkwardly referred to it, but they didn't come out and say what they were feeling. Well, Jim did tell Jan that he was unsure about taking on the number two role in Scranton because of a personal situation, but in the end he took it because, frankly, he figured the job will pay him more and he gets to go back home. Plus, I know there's still something between him and Pam, and maybe he wants to take another shot at winning her. Let's not forget that Roy will be lurking about as well, albeit as an employee of a new company taking over the warehouse. However, Karen flat out admitted that she had a thing for Jim.

I have to say though that Ryan's attitude toward Kelly is getting a bit tiresome. He expresses all sorts of feelings that he doesn't want to be with her, but he attended the Diwali celebration with her and they seem to spend a lot of time together. His attempt to break up with her fell very flat, and when she ran into his arms after finding out their jobs were save, he didn't exactly resist. It's put up or shut up time for him.

Still, the attempt by Michael to imitate Michael Moore and confront the corporate bosses (with Dwight tagging along) demonstrated that he does have some backbone. OK, probably a very disjointed backbone, but give him credit for having enough guts to even attempt to carry out his and Dwight's plan.

Speaking of Dwight, how's he going to handle Jim as Michael's number two? If I thought there was tension between them before, wait until they are back in the same room again.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Studio 60: K & R, Part 3

While it's true that the show has found some solid ground, it's also tackling stories that it probably wouldn't had the show gone on to another season. These latest episodes, the three-part "K & R" story, are something of a kitchen sink attempt at saving a series that had been stuck in neutral.

The level and number of crises are worthy of a daytime soap opera: a main character in the ICU, her boyfriend without legal rights to her new daughter, Network executives talking about wiring millions of dollars to rescue the brother of a comedian who is being held by terrorists in Pakistan. It's all…a bit much.

And yet - it works. It's a contradiction that sets my head spinning. This shouldn't work - it should be laughable. And yet, the writing, direction and top notch performances by all involved carry it through. They are pushing this dying, bloated and pretentious show up a hill, on ice, in the dark, and other conditional metaphors that would make it very difficult - and somehow they're getting the job done. Does that mean I'm sorry to the see the show go? Not really. I think this may have been all the show had in it - it was best when it knew the jig was up and Sorkin pulled the trigger on storylines that are hard to top. How many times will the show be able to put characters in moral peril? How many times can TV actors play a role in national security?

Of course, all of that is speculation now. Steven Weber is stealing the show as Jack Rudolph. He's become the most complex and interesting character of the group. He's a bit of a hard nose, there's no denying that - but he's a realist and his heart is in the right place - when it can afford to be.

While this is a solid episode, this story still didn't need to be stretched to three episodes. Much of what's good in this episode, was seen last episode. The scenes with Jack trying to coax an apology out of Simon are redundant, the flashbacks to when Jack fought with Matt and Danny are padded for time and not that much happens in general. Tom is still waiting for news, Danny is still waiting for news, and everyone else is still…waiting. Sorkin is running out the clock for the one big finish episode that will hopefully preserve the show's legacy. It's all class and high caliber work, but at the same time if ever a show had spent its ammunition in one final daring charge - it's this one.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Office: Casino Night

In my humble opinion, The Office is hands down the best comedy on television today. Great writing, great acting, great stories--I could go on and on. This episode, the season finale from 2006, was, in a word, brilliant.

Let me briefly sum up what happened. Dunder Mifflin, led by Michael, holds a Casino Night charity function in the warehouse of the Scranton branch. Michael (played by the excellent Steve Carell) is doing his best to choose a suitable charity after the staff nixes the Boy Scouts. After some interplay, they decide to do something for AIDS patients, so that Michael can prove to everyone that he is a great "philanderer". (Love Michael's butchering of words.)

At the same time, the flirtation between Jim and Pam reaches a fever pitch when he offers to help her choose a band for her wedding. Just looking at them making eye contact with each other is enough to make you just want to shout at the screen, "Come on! Get together already!" In addition, how funny was seeing Kevin in "Scranton-icity"? The Wedding Singer flashed in front of my eyes at that moment.

Michael also is in a bit of a "love triangle drama" when he ends up inviting his real estate agent (Carol) and his boss (Jan) to the event. Of course, his bravado gets in the way and he looks foolish trying to "balance" both women, but still I root for Michael to find romance despite his boorishness. As I've seen over the course of the many episodes, despite his over-the-top behavior, he exhibits a sensitive, human side that makes me think that deep down, he's a good guy who just needs some understanding.

Of course, like the rest of the viewers of The Office, I was chomping at the bit to see what finally transpires between Jim and Pam. The flirtation was strong between them the entire episode, and the subplot was whether Jim was going to tell anyone about his possible transfer out of Scranton because of the lack of a future there. After hanging out in the parking lot with Jan, she tells him he has to say something to somebody.

Finally, after Roy leaves, Jim finally professes his love for Pam. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, Pam rebuffs Jim, saying that he misinterpreted things. He says he wants to be more than friends, but she apparently doesn't. We then see Pam alone in a darkened office calling her mother and telling her what transpired. Jim walks in, and after hanging up the phone, Pam and Jim finally kiss! I would imagine most Office fans stood up and cheered (me included), but I also thought Pam maybe would reject Jim's advances.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rescue Me: Tuesday

In its fourth season Rescue Me is sticking to its core as it gets things rolling. Last season the guys all had stories that kept them apart and involved other characters and there was something lacking with fewer scenes of them just sitting around talking in the firehouse. With this great ensemble cast, the more I see them together and explore that dynamic, the better.

The best scene in the episode occurs when Garrity, being himself, lets slip that Janet has a place in his "spank bank" - the catalogue of women he uses for sexual fantasies. Watching Tommy's slow burn of rage while Garrity attempt to talk his way out of it and only making it worse is hilarious, helped along by the fact that the whole moment recalls when, last season, Tommy sat across from his brother before launching across a table to beat him to a pulp.

There's some of the patented man-child humor that Rescue Me regularly employs to mixed effect. Of all the things that Sheila tells Tommy about what "really happened" the night of the fire - he's most disturbed by the fact that he wasn't able to perform sexually. This leads to some awkward moments as Tommy is afraid others will find out about this - which didn't happen and was totally made up by Sheila. The funny part is that Sheila knows exactly how to play Tommy, and realized he wouldn't ask questions about a preposterous story if he became insecure about his sexual prowess.

Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) makes another appearance here, and once again the show suffers for it. Teddy ground the show to a halt last season with his prison wife storyline, and the same happens here. The character just doesn't work and feels like it's a square peg in a round hole and the sooner he gets killed off or simply disappears the better. The only value here is that Teddy's wife makes the situation with Colleen running away with a member of a rock band seem worse.

The episode closes with Tommy commandeering a fire truck to race after his 18-year-old daughter who ran off with her 26-year-old boyfriend. Lou reminds him "Tommy, we're not even legally on a call. You have insurance investigators breathing down your neck, you really want to bring more trouble down?" And Tommy - being himself - says "It's my God damn daughter Lou." And the guys look at him and leave it at that, no further argument necessary. It's this unspoken bond between these men that holds the show together - helped along by the terrific performances of all of the cast.

A comment also must be made about this show's use of music. Many episodes end with the rest of the soundtrack dropping away to focus on the music. Music can sometimes be a crutch, or the mark of lazy writing - but in Rescue Me it's almost always used to great effect. Whether it's at the end of the premiere last season or when Tommy beats the snot out of Johnny. The music works perfectly as the show fades to black on Tommy's desperate face as he races to another emergency - not a fire - but the possible loss of his little girl to an adulthood for which he's not ready.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Closer: Homewrecker

I was very happy that The Closer didn't attempt to go with a big blow-out episode right out of the gate. The season premier was really a pretty typical crime and subsequent investigation. It allowed me to get comfortable with the characters again and reminded me why I like the show. The characters are quirky and there are always plenty of twists and turns in each investigation. Sometimes I can see where they're going, sometimes I can't.

The opening scene featured a series of shaky camera shots and frequent fades to black as an LAPD cameraman stumbles through a crime scene where Brenda and the rest of the high priority homicide team are investigating the murders of a husband, wife, and daughter. The crafty open was a two-fold mechanism to reintroduce me to the team and to establish the case. Pretty successful, I thought.

Brenda and the detectives find a teenage boy hiding in the attic. He's high on ecstasy and he's the only survivor in the family, which automatically makes him a suspect in the brutal stabbings of his parents and his kid sister. The fact that he lies about his whereabouts that night doesn't help him. But I know he's not guilty, right? It's too early in the episode to be picking out a real suspect. I loved the scene where Brenda was interrogating the teenager in the hospital room where she pretended to stab herself with plastic cups and screamed and wailed and hit the walls. I've seen this show enough and I know the Brenda Leigh Johnson character well enough that I knew exactly what she was up to. And, it turned out I was right: she was trying to make the kid feel guilty and want to die so she could hold him longer and put him on suicide watch. It was a tad bit immoral, really, to make the kid think he was responsible for his family's deaths and you could see that in Sgt. Gabriel's face as he reacted to Dep. Chief Johnson's screaming scene.

I also figured out ahead of Brenda that the father who was killed was a bigamist. Sometimes that happens with this series and I'm just thankful that it happened with this interesting plot twist that didn't necessarily reveal the killer. It's a little corny how she always gets a flash of brilliance about her case based on something inconsequential that someone else says in conversation. This time, it was Dep. Chief Taylor's mention of "breaking up a family" that made Brenda realize who her victim really was.

She eventually got the father's other son to cop to the crime. If there wasn't a constant stream of snot running into the actor's mouth, I'd say he rocked that scene. But the quivering lip and the spit and the snot was just a bit much for me. I mean, who just lets snot run into their mouth? I still felt so bad for the kid, though. His father was living a double life and the one he had with the other family was much nicer than the one he had with that kid. Heartbreaking, really.

As for the side stories, I'm hoping this is the last we'll see of the budget cuts plot line. It seems as though Sgt. Gabriel came up with a way to save the homicide team and get Chief Pope some federal dollars to help with overtime. I've been wondering what was going to happen with Brenda and the team this season since a lot of their conflicts are in the past. The first season, she was trying to prove herself to some strong-willed detectives. By the second season, she had won them over but she faced some trying times due to her past relationship with Chief Pope.

This season? Hopefully not budget cuts. I did read that one of the executive producers hinted that Sgt. Gabriel and Dep. Chief Johnson will not be getting along very well. I'm not sure that this episode set that up, really. She suggested to him that he transfer to another homicide division, but really left it up to him. And he was the one who saved her behind so I'm not sure where this conflict will stem from.

It looks like I'm in for more relationship tension between Fritz and Brenda as they move into a larger house together. I've seen some write-ups and I see that her mother is returning this season, and her father will make his first appearance. So that should make for a couple of entertaining episodes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie

Films that make me laugh within two minutes are very rare. Those that manage to do so within twenty seconds have practically never existed. Until now. The Simpsons Movie is a cracker right from the 20th Century Fox logo, where Ralph Wiggum pops up and does his own rendition of the company's celebrated fanfare. This shouldn't be unexpected, given the TV show, the most popular animated program of all time, has made fun of Fox countless times over the course of 18 seasons and 400 episodes.

Now that the world's favorite yellow family has finally made the transition to the big screen, they even have the guts to do some self-spoofing, as the most famous dumb-ass in animation history, Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), in a moment of truly inspired meta-cinematic madness (another one being Bart writing "I will not illegally download this movie" on the chalkboard), states while watching an Itchy & Scratchy movie with his kids: "Why pay for something we can get for free on the TV? I say everyone in this movie theater is a sucker! Especially YOU!". The last sentence is accompanied by his finger pointing directly at the camera, before the familiar title sequence begins, proving beyond any doubt that: a) Homer is deservedly considered the greatest television character ever aside from Fonzie; b) It was totally worth waiting 18 years for The Simpsons Movie.

Having been kept a secret for months prior to the film's release, the plot is actually ridiculously simple: because of the growing concern for the environment, no one is allowed to dump garbage in Lake Springfield anymore. However, someone ignores this and dumps a load of pig, uh, crap in the water, causing a major pollution and prompting the President, Arnold Schwarzenegger (!), to charge Russ Cargill (Simpsons veteran Albert Brooks) with securing the area.

Hence a gigantic glass dome that isolates Springfield from the rest of the world, prompting the inhabitants to put a price on the responsible's head. His name? Homer Simpson, of course ("D'oh!").Naturally, he chooses to run off to Alaska, only to realize he will eventually have to deal with what he has done and seek forgiveness. But given he is Homer, he might as well try to have some fun on the way, leaving it to Marge (Julie Kavner), Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and everyone's favorite TV brat, Bart (Nancy Cartwright), to actually save the day.

Considering the differences in creative freedom between big and small screen, one might think, even hope, The Simpsons Movie will be edgier than the TV version. Those people will be sorely disappointed, as the film tries to be nothing more than a 90-minute version of one of the best episodes of the show, and succeeds. Then again, it's not like the feature length counterparts of Beavis & Butt-head or South Park were that different from the network originals (aside from the swearing not being bleeped out in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut). And in the particular case of The Simpsons, its longevity has made it an indelible, recognizable part of everyday life, meaning any changes in tone or themes would be like betraying the show's spirit.

Thus, except for a few PG-13 gags regarding sexual orientation (Ned Flanders: "The Lord invites me to confess to something" Homer: "Gay gay gay gay gay gay gay...") and bestiality (Homer's weird relationship with a pig), everything is just as all remember it: Lisa is still an annoying smart kid, Bart is still a master of mischief, his dad is still incredibly, deliriously moronic, Mr. Burns (creepy, despite only two scenes at his disposal) is still a vicious evildoer, and the movie is a rock-solid reminder of why the series is the ultimate cult program.

All a die-hard Simpsons fan is looking for, he will find here. Hilarious physical gags? Check, in fact the bigger screen allows the 11 writers (just imagine if this gets an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay), including creator Matt Groening, to come up with more spectacular stuff than usual (just watch as Homer finds himself between a rock and a hard place - literally!). Tender moments between Homer and Marge? Heck, probably the best in Simpsons history! The big, fat bloke strangling Bart? Check ("I'll teach you to laugh at something that's funny!"). Movie spoofs? Check ("Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig..."). Celebrity guest appearances? Just one (Tom Hanks), but it is priceless.

In the end, all these things turn The Simpsons Movie into an unstoppable gag-machine, a film that will make you laugh for the entirety of its running time, the most fun anyone will have in a cinema this year. It is so good it is hard, if not impossible, not to say: "Yeah!" once baby Maggie pronounces her first word: "Sequel?"

Monday, August 6, 2007

Creature Comforts: Self Image, Wingin' It, and Art

With its second episode, Creature Comforts continued to showcase its unique format (using excerpts from real person interviews and placing them in the mouths of a wide variety of animated animals) and provided me with another half hour of fun, easy-going summer viewing.

The episode was again divided into three segments, each dedicated to a certain topic. The first topic, "Self-Image," found animals as varied as cats and condors, owls and rabbits talking about their appearance and the appearance of others. At the top of the show, a male cat considered himself a ten on the good-looks scale, while his female companion said she didn't think anyone could think of themselves as a ten except Sean Connery. "Of course, these days, not so much anymore." Another highlight of this segment included a fly caught in a spider's web, each saying the other looked good-- the fly as a device to charm his way out of the spider's grasp, the spider referencing how good the fly looked to eat. Of course, the real charm of this situation comes from the fact that when the human voices were making these statements they were simply complimenting each other, not concerned about where they fell in the food chain.

In the second segment of this episode, I quickly forgot that the dialogue was coming from off-the-cuff remarks made by humans and simply allowed myself to believe these were the words of the animals that were talking. This was made very easy by the perfect stop-motion animation of the characters as well as the pairing of characters to topic, specifically birds talking about flying. There were a number of very funny moments in the "Wingin' It" segment that almost had me thinking this was scripted television. Those scenes included the one-legged, arm-in-a-sling cardinal talking about performing aerial tricks and how any landing you walk away from is a good one. The cardinal then proceeded to fall off of his perch. Another standout was the baby bald eagles (voiced by children) talking about how scary flying is and how one shouldn't look down when soaring at such great heights. The biggest laugh of the episode came from the penguin attempting to describe how birds fly, pseudo-scientifically talking about how the air flows above and below their wings and it's their constant flapping that keeps them in flight. "I don't know. That's just me assuming."

The last segment, simply entitled "Art," highlighted how the choice of setting, not just the choice of animal, added to the comedic effect of relaying these interviews. The dogs talking about how much they enjoyed art were not just dogs, they were dogs playing poker! The flies talking about pop art were wisely placed on top of a soup can, a la Andy Warhol's famous print. The program also represented two women fawning so sincerely over what makes great art as two pigeons resting on a statue… that they eventually pooped on. The dogs, flies and pigeons could literally have been situated anywhere in this animated world, but Creature Comforts is proving it's a much smarter show than that.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Book Review: "The Forgotten Man" by Robert Crais

I never heard of Robert Crais before I stumbled across "The Forgotten Man." This was not only an enjoyable read; it made me a fan of Crais's work. I can't get enough of his writing. The man writes in a style that's fast-paced and entertaining and the characters he crafts are believable and easily identifiable, too.

"The Forgotten Man" is an account of a bizarre episode in the life of celebrated Los Angeles private investigator Elvis Cole. Cole gets a early morning heads up from friends on the L.A.P.D that an elderly homicide victim with his last dying breath admitted to being his long lost father. Cole grew up without the knowledge of the identity of his biologic father.

His mother was not much help suffering from psychoses that rendered her delusional at times. She would run off for days at a time only to be brought back home by detectives hired by her father. Cole's mom filled his head with fabrications about his father, telling him that he worked as a human cannonball in a travelling circus. As a boy he would also run off after carnivals to desperately seek out his father.

Cole is allowed to piggyback his investigation with that of L.A.P.D. homicide detectives Diaz and Pardy. Physical evidence found by Cole at the scene of the crime leads him to a seedy hotel in Toluca Lake, an L.A. suburb. Going there allows him to establish the identity of the victim which turns out to be an alias. An autopsy reveals medical pelvic implants with manufacturing ID numbers on them which allows Cole to trace the devices back to a hospital finally revealing the true identity of the victim, a George Reinnike.

Reinnike had been receiving insurance payments, a result of a botched operation involving his legs. Nine years ago, he mysteriously disappeared from his Temecula address forfeiting the money. Further probing appears to tie Reinnike to a brutal bludgeoning of a family in Temecula, killing three and leaving a four year old female survivor.

Crais creates a conceivable and rapidly moving plot with a climax that took me by surprise. His peripheral characters especially Cole's partner the lethal Joe Pike and L.A. bomb squad detective the emotional and wisecracking Carol Starkey are developed with fascinating detail.

Highly recommended and you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Family Guy: Stewie Loves Lois

Question: Was Seth MacFarlane's first priority to offend viewers? Because if it was, he succeeded. The episode for Family Guy pulls as many homosexual and rape jokes out as possible. And the biggest problem with these jokes is that some of them go too far and crosses the line of good taste and revels in the awkward situations.

The plot of the episode follows Peter as he goes into the doctor for a flu shot only to stick around for a prostate exam. In true Family Guy fashion Peter believes that his doctor was trying to rape him. Eventually Peter takes his doctor to court, and gets his medical license revoked. By the end Peter does understand that the exam was just that, and that he was in need of the exam all along.

The other story told in the episode starts with Stewie having his stuffed animal destroyed by a dog, only to be sewn back together by Lois. The combined action of the restoration of his doll and a nice meal show Stewie that his mother is not his enemy but his best friend. After some nice bonding time, Lois finds that Stewie is just too clingy, leading her to homicidal thoughts. In the end things go back to the way they started as Lois ignores Stewie's cries and he hurts himself.

The Stewie/Lois story was really kind of funny. This bit was a nice window in on parenting. Although parents want to be closer to their children, they can find that it isn't as good of an idea as they initially thought. Plus, this new relationship led to a couple great confrontations between Stewie and Brian. As always Brian is working his best to impress Lois, while Stewie's new found love for his mother springs jealousy - what follows are a couple hilarious scenes with the two competing for her (one argument ends with Stewie screaming in Spanish which is very funny).

The other storyline is where my big problem is with the episode. I know that the story comes full circle and Peter realizes that he needs the prostate exam, but that does not excuse the rather frank and explicit rape jokes leading to this revelation. One of the scenes in particular - Peter giving his trumped up testimony of being violated in court - went from creepy and awkward to just plain disturbing. A black and white dream depicts Peter's interpretation of the "incident" which is just graphic depictions of him being uncomfortably groped, probed and kissed. I know that a couple of the flashbacks were direct movie parodies, but it was just wrong. Whereas a prostate joke can be offensive and funny, a rape joke can almost never be both.

I'm a fan of the Family Guy, and I admit that some of the better episodes and jokes are those that are offensive. But it is tough to tell people to watch a television program that treats these real issues with such nonchalance. I'm hoping that the new season is funnier than this episode - please, MacFarlane, think before you write.