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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Bones: Boy in the Time Capsule

That Guy. You knew him in high school. He was loved by all the women (and some of the men), the teachers, and a good portion of the student body. He was probably very popular, maybe a member of the student governing body, and he pretty much had the school in the palm of his hand. Which meant he could do things that faculty and students alike would turn their heads and look away at.

Special FBI Agent Seeley Booth was That Guy.

For argument's sake he's still That Guy now. Yes, he isn't laughing while someone dangles a squint off of a stairwell (although I could see that happening) but he still has the essence of Big Man on Campus surrounding him. Look at the way he treats the squints as well as Dr. Sweets. He's constantly picking at them for all of their faults. Yet, as Sweets told him in therapy, Seeley still feels that he's the Golden Boy.

As a fan of the show I know that this is just a clever facade that Booth puts up in his role as FBI agent. When he is with people he loves (his son), and cares about (Bones) he can be a different person. Take the example of this week's ending scene between Bones and Booth. After telling Temperance a fairly humiliating story about his teenage years Booth dropped his 'I Am Man' persona and got pretty deep with Bones. The end of the conversation was so quiet, so close, so deep that you thought that these crazy kids were a couple. It was so full of sexual tension that I was ready for Booth and Bones to smooch it up.

This episode of Bones was a dedication to the high school class of 1987. There were so many classic 80's references that it was hard to keep up. Some of the ones I remember them mentioning or showing were: acid-wash jeans, 10,000 Maniacs, doc martins, floppy disks, Rubik's Cube, and ghetto blasters.

My favorite reference, and one that I'm sure many people pointed at the screen and exclaimed about, was the Commodore Amiga that Angela used to read the floppy disc of the murder victim. Personally, I owned a PC Jr., but I could certainly relate when she shoved that 5.25 floppy disk into the external drive. My, how far we have come!

Most of the action was with Booth and Bones this week, but there was still plenty going on at the Jeffersonian. Through conversations about their high school years we found out that Cam broke a bunch of house rules -- not really a surprise in my eyes -- and that Zack got bullied quite a bit in school. Again, Zack's revelation wasn't a big surprise either. What they all had in common was that they knew a That Guy in high school.

Booth and Bones did quite a bit of investigating this week trying to find out who the murderer was. They really didn't need to since a good portion of us already knew that Gil, the victim's best friend, was the killer from the first time he was questioned. I was surprised that the victim impregnated the cheerleader. I didn't really notice the resemblance until Bones looked at the boy questioningly while at the cheerleader's home. When I saw that I immediately thought that the boy was the victim's son.

Brownie Mallow Bars

I have the day off. After taking down the Christmas Tree, going for a walk (a nice sunny day in Michigan), and taking a nap so I can stay up late tonight, I also baked these yummy bars. A brownie mix streamlines assembly of the chewy bars, which are topped with mini marshmallows and a decadent layer of chocolate peanut butter and Rice Krispies.

1 package fudge brownie mix ( 13x9 pan size)
1 package ( 10 1/2 ox) miniature marshmallows
2 cups ( 12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispie cereal

Prepare brownie batter according to package directions for fudge-like brownies. Pour into a greased 10-in x 9-in x 2-in baking pan. Bake at 350 for 28-30 minutes. top with marshmallows; bake 3 minutes longer (marshmallows will not be completely melted). cool on a wire rack.

In a saucepan, combine the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until smooth. Remove from the heat; stir in cereal. Spread over brownies. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until firm before cutting.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prison Break: Bang & Burn

The writer's strike hits again. There was supposed to be five more episodes before this season's fall finale. Instead I got a plain ol' ending comparable to any regular episode of Prison Break. Certainly not what I would have expected based on this show's history. It's not a bad thing, just disappointing. I understand the need to stockpile and space out the dwindling supply of new episodes, but it's unfortunate that it results in segmenting seasons in such sloppy fashion. Enough with the complaining though. The writer's strike is happening and I knew what to expect. If I can look beyond that, this episode really was quite good. It left me with plenty of questions to ponder as I wait for Prison Break to return in January.

First big revelation? Susan B. isn't who she says she was. OK, not that big. Her name is Gretchen (or is that an alias too?), she really was a POW, and if there was any doubt left that she didn't work for the same "Company" that I've come to grow and love, I met her boss. Kim's boss. Creepy bald guy. Anyone else find it odd that he said more in his one scene in this episode that he did all of last season? What gives? I kind of liked the idea of him being mute... or at least selective about when he spoke.

After the way the last episode ended with Whistler and Gretchen meeting for a quick chat in the visitor's area at Sona, I've been waiting to find out what exactly James' involvement with the Company is. No real answers given there, other that the fact that he's clearly worth more than I've been led to believe. He must be if they're willing to sacrifice Michael and Lincoln and also hire two helicopters to try and bust him out. So what can he do for them that they need so desperately? And if it was so important, and they always had helicopters at their disposal, why bother with Michael in the first place? For as strong as the Company is supposed to be, it continually comes off as weak and discombobulated.

The whole episode led up to that moment and it was obvious that it was going to fail. What I didn't see coming was Michael taking the heat for it. Where did they drag him off to? There's no way they're just going to set him free, so I'm guessing he's being brought to a different portion of the prison. Solitary maybe?

Once again, Bellick and T-Bag were just sort of there. Mahone has moved up the food-chain a little bit with his potential testimony on the line. I just don't care though. He may be getting more screen time than the other two, but Mahone's a lost cause at this point. He's an addict who can't get himself together. I get it. All three of these characters were so good in the past and it's just a shame that there isn't a better way to integrate them into this season. Hopefully Mahone being thrown back in Sona will facilitate that.

Fortunately, characters like Lechero and Sammy have filled the gaps. It's going to be interesting to see the power struggle between them grow. Sammy already suspects Lechero of something, and if "El Patron" is off helping out Michael or Whistler with the escape then it won't be long before Sammy takes the throne and Lechero becomes just another inmate.

More thoughts...

Did I ever find out exactly what McGrady did? I feel like I did but I just can't remember.

What's Lincoln planning on doing with the gun-shot noises he recorded with Sucre?

What's the deal with Whistler's second apartment? And the passport that Sophia found? Gary Miller? Alias or real name?

Was there any significance to the notes about Mahone that Whistler had in his bird book? Seems like he's been keeping tabs on everyone. Looking for ways to manipulate.

It's about time that Michael finally took off his shirt. The acknowledgment that the tattoos still exist is big.

What caused the riot that led to the shutdown of Cell Block A? I wonder if starting another riot in B might be the solution to breaking out amidst all the chaos?

Speaking of chaos, I can't wait to hear Whistler's excuses to Lechero. Without Michael around as the buffer, Lechero is going to want answers for the helicopter mess and more importantly, why wasn't he involved. Get comfortable though. I won't find out for another couple of weeks.

Pam's New Music Downloads

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, holds court as an eclectic array of stars - from Frank Sinatra and Keith Richards to Elton John and Whitney Houston - sit in with her on the collaborations, most of them previously released, in her latest CD Jewels in the Crown. And while there is some padding, there are some real gems, like "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" with Eurythmics. But it's "What Y'All Came to Do," a funky throwdown with John Legend that really is worth it.

When you've set the bar as high as Alicia Keys has with her Grammy-winning first two studio albums, you've got a tough act to follow. But the singer-pianist continues to scale artistic heights on As I Am. While not veering too much from the Keys playbook - classic R&B with an ear to contemporary hip-hop, heavy on the ballads - it hardly strikes a bad note. Highlights include the hit first sing "No One," a soulful declaration of love and devotion; "Lesson Learned," a blues-streaked collaboration with John Mayer; and "Superwoman," a powerful, gospel-ish ladies' anthem.

Movie Review (Sweet, Cute & Funny): Juno

As you may have heard by now — since one can't throw a hamburger telephone without hitting another Juno lover — there are so many reasons to see Juno and basically no reason not to. So, just how endearing can one movie be? Let me count the ways . . .

The story.
The plot is basically this: Smart-talking teenage Juno (Ellen Page) and her goofy (yet self-aware) best guy friend/onetime sexual partner Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) find themselves unexpectedly expecting, and Juno seeks out a well-to-do young couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to adopt the baby. What's wonderful about this story is that it's simple, and the things that make it interesting are merely the things you would expect to make it interesting in real life: the actual emotions involved in being a pregnant high school kid; the strains of parenthood on a couple; the what-now limbo pains of two people who had sex and now don't know where they stand. It's sweeter and stranger than real life, but only by a little bit, so it's still relateable.

The script.
First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody astounds me. There have been countless comparisons drawn between this movie and Napoleon Dynamite, but Juno simply has more compassion and is way cuter. Cody manages to balance humor and heart in a way that's accessible but not overdone, quirky but not "weird for weird's sake" and touching but not saccharine. She's my new American hero.

The music.
From the original music by Kimya Dawson to beloved favorites by Belle and Sebastian and Sonic Youth, the soundtrack to this movie is a hipster's wet dream. Every song in the film is so in keeping with the tone of Juno's world, you can't help but be swept along her journey with her. And if I think about the final scene's song too much, I will cry immediately. So, there's that.

The main character.
Juno is such an engaging character in every way. She's funny, sharply sarcastic, adorable, and a huge know-it-all. She's at times very young and scarily vulnerable, but this is easy to forget because she considers herself such a tough girl. Even if her adventure weren't so compelling, you would want to accompany her anywhere.

Jason Reitman's direction.
There is something about this director's attention to detail that is somehow comforting. The audience is completely immersed in this world, especially in the characters' homes, down to the last goofy-yet-still-preppy photo of the wealthy married couple and Juno's parents' worn furniture. Reitman truly wants us to sit cross-legged in Juno's room for a while, and this welcoming tone only deepens our affection for Juno and all the people she cares about.

Bottom line: If you're prone to enjoying these kinds of films — smaller indie movies with a lot of humor and some moments so sweet you might burst — Juno is for you.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family Guy: Lois Kills Stewie

After years of pondering, I finally find out what the planet would be like if Stewie Griffin ever realized his dream of world domination. As President of the World, the matricidal Griffin child declares the kind of laws I'd expect from an evil genius, including a decree that all of the nation's milk is to be supplied from Hilary Swank's breasts, and that anyone who sees Peter Griffin should throw apples at him. Maybe Stewie as President wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. He'd also ban "straight to video" Disney films.

This results in a fantastic awkwardly long vignette where I see a scene from a future Aladdin installment where Jaffar is getting an eye exam. It's so inane and absurd that I couldn't help but laugh, and it's something that I did throughout this entire carefully crafted episode of comic brilliance.Not only does this episode feature plentiful laughs, but - like the last episode - tells an actual story. Stewie's escape from the courthouse is followed by a memorable family hostage moment where the evil child holds a gun to his family and escapes the house with Brian in an aim to infiltrate the CIA and take over the world.

It all leads to a Matrix-inspired climactic battle sequence in the White House between Lois and Stewie. Not only was the fight choreography fantastic, but it contains some of the most visually stunning animated imagery I've seen in the series. If I thought the violent nature of Lois' "assassination" was shocking, then the sight of Stewie's bloody corpse could be seen as being downright disturbing.

While some fans might groan at the "it was all a dream" ending, the handling of the denouement was faultless and the sheer brilliance of the storyline more than makes up for it. The tongue-in-cheek conversation between Brian and Stewie followed by the spoof of the Sopranos finale was the final exclamation point in this fantastic episode.

Additionally, a slew of celebrity cameos help make this second half of the Family Guy hundredth episode celebration one of the best outings I've seen in years. Patrick Stewart reprises his role from sister series American Dad, Willem Dafoe shows up as a man who lives under Stewie's bed, and the entire judging panel from American Idol makes an appearance as Stewie auditions for the show in a flashback sequence.

It's great to see the homicidal evil side of Stewie again. Even if it was just a simulation, the moments where he held his family hostage, or made Peter comment on his "macaroni owl," or how he made Brian speak to Joe at gunpoint serve as reminders of how fantastically entertaining Stewie can be when written correctly. The desperate closet homosexual version of Stewie that I see all too often in more recent episodes is only fun in small doses.

With the writers' strike in full effect, it seems that this might be the last new episode of Family Guy I'll be seeing for a while. It's a bittersweet way to end the abruptly short season as the quality is reminiscent of the series' brilliance from the early years and it seems like the show was really starting to hit its stride for the season. Hopefully the series will be able to live up to the high bar set by this two-part classic upon its eventual return.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Get LOST in 8 Minutes and 15 Seconds

For anyone who didn't get into Lost right at the very beginning, all of its complex twists and complicated mythology must seem pretty intimidating. ABC clearly realizes this, and so in preparation for the premiere of the fourth season on Jan. 31, the network has released a video summarizing all three seasons in eight minutes and 15 seconds. That number itself is a reference to the number of the flight that crashed in the ocean to kick off the series, and it's just one of a zillion numerical clues you new-to-Lost folks have to look forward to.

The Simpsons: Little Orphan Millie

After a lot of Homer and Marge-centric episodes (I don't count 'Treehouse of Horror' stories because they take place outside of The Simpsons continuity. Don't laugh!) I finally get one focusing on the Simpson kids and their friends. In this case the spotlight is on one Milhouse Van Houten. This is not the first time Milhouse has been featured in an episode. In fact, he's probably the only other kid on The Simpsons that has had more than one show focus on him. Remember the 'Radioactive Man' episode waaayyyy back in the seventh season?

This is most likely due to his friendship with Bart. Because they have been so closely linked since the very first episodes of the series Milhouse has been given a richer backstory than, say, Martin.I know about his unrequited love for Lisa, his affair with Samantha Stanky, and the break-up (and subsequent get-together) of his parents.Actually, the pending nuptials of Kirk and Luann were part of the plot for this episode.

For the most part the episode was entertaining and fairly free of over-the-top sight gags (save for the plane that supposedly brought in Milhouse's uncle. The thing looked like it came out of a quaint Dutch village). This is the pattern that this series has taken since season 19 began. I don't see a problem with it since 1) There have been plenty of seasons where the gags have overshadowed the story; and 2) Family Guy has picked up slack on the gags anyway.

Unlike the first few episodes the show was back to the format of major 'A' story and very minor 'B' story. It threw me at first, though, as the scenes where Homer didn't know Marge's eye color were what were seemingly driving the episode. But, that soon took a back seat to Milhouse, who went from being a 10-year-old baby to an unemotional tween who sees nothing but the rough edges of the world around him.

Will this be a permanent change for Milhouse? Doubtful, considering the fact that he found out that his parents were actually alive by the end of the episode. And, would I want Milhouse to grow up anyway? The young Mr. Van Houten is the perfect sidekick to Bartholomew J. Simpson as he goes along with about anything Bart says. It would be weird if Milhouse suddenly became the cool one while Bart was reduced to second banana.

Heck, it felt weird to Bart in this episode as he felt his coolness slipping away and feeding into Milhouse's James Dean mystique. For someone who has been so sure of himself year after year Bart is actually full of insecurities. There have been plenty of times where Bart has worried that the personality he built was slipping away due to another person or situation coming down the path. Think back to Milhouse's relationship with Samantha. Didn't Bart tell her parents that she and his best friend were snogging?

Wow, I did a ton of psychoanalyzing here! Let me touch on some of the other things that happened in this week's episode:

Kirk and Luann. Hm, for a couple who are so much in love (again) they seem to have some underlying issues (There I go psychoanalyzing again). Luann got a bit pissy when she thought Kirk told Milhouse to say those things about him being a pawn in their relationship. Then, Kirk's first draft of the wedding vows was particularly full of venom.

Bart's observation that Kirk and Luann could be brother and sister, or half-brother and half-sister, because they look so much alike.

Homer sticks his head into a bee-hive, runs into a patch of blueberries, then rolls himself up into the green picnic blanket to look like Marge. You know what, other than Marge's accusations that Homer was mocking him no one else thought it was all that unusual.

After nearly two decades Lisa finally sees Milhouse in a different light, just like the rest of the girls at her school.

Homer's little musical number about Marge. Just before this scene aired I was thinking that there hasn't been a good musical number on The Simpsons this season. I thought the song was cute and wish it had gone on a bit longer.

The whole feud between the Danish Van Houtens and the Dutch Van Houtens. I wonder, do all Dane males resemble Harrison Ford from the Indiana Jones movie series?

This episode was the second without a guest voice ('Treehouse of Horror' was the first one) and I found it refreshing. I'd rather watch an episode that doesn't feature a guest voice that the writers have to work in some way. Whenever they do that it seems the move the focus onto the voice actor and detract from the story itself.

MTTT - Bilbos Pizza & Brewing Company

M's Thirsty Third Thursday gathered December 20 at Bilbos Pizza & Brewing Company.

Bilbo's has been around as long as I can remember. When I was attending Western Michigan University in the early '80s, Bilbo's Underground Tavern was the place to be seen in. All the "cool" college kids hung out there. Oh I remember the days of just sitting there doing my homework and eating a slice of that delicious deep wheat-style crust waiting for my next class to start. But I digress...

A couple years ago Bilbo's lost their lease near the campus and moved to an impressive building that houses a magic formula for dining entertainment that attracts both college-age students and families. The menu includes their famous gourmet pizzas, hand-crafted ales, sandwiches and grinders.

The night we were there though was the worst. First, the place was freezing cold. Grant it, this is Michigan, but most places you don't need to wear your coats inside. I thought it was me, but when the guys started to complain how cold it was, I knew there was something wrong. Second, the waitress had just started working nights. She screwed up all of our orders, never brought Lindsey her "remade" pizza, and our bills were a jumbled mess. Again, I thought maybe it was the restaurant part that was having troubles, but Liz & I moved into the bar later on. We sat there for the longest time and no one ever waited on us. On top of this, our table was never cleaned from the people who had just left.

So even though Bilbo's has the best pizza in all of West Michigan, the service at the Stadium Dr. restaurant has little to be desired. Next time, I'll just get it "to go".

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Friday Night Lights: How Did I Get Here?

This episode of Friday Night Lights was a particularly intricate one, with stories weaving in and out of each other throughout the hour. For the second week in a row, I think the show was up to the high standard of season one — and yes, that even includes the murder story. It's still not the road I would have taken for the show, but this episode brought some intriguing fallout. It also brought Tami's sister, a new Dillon cheerleader, and a militant soccer coach into the mix.

I'll start with the one part of the episode that really stands alone: The murder/cover-up plot. I'm still troubled that the story seems distant from the rest of the show, but at the same time, I'm finding myself riveted by it. Landry and his father fascinate me, and not just because they look eerily like actual father and son. The writers have set them up as two completely different people, aliens trying to understand each other's lives. But when Landry is in trouble, his father will do whatever it takes to bail him out, even if that puts his future as a cop in jeopardy. And boy, will that car fire put his future as a cop in jeopardy. How could it not be traced back to him? If that car is found, it will still have its license plates and identification numbers, no?

Tami, meanwhile, is back at work, and that's bringing a lot of changes — the arrival of her sister, for one. Shelly is like Tami if she'd chosen differently at every step, and despite how much Tami loves her family, there's a part of her that wishes she had Shelly's freedom. It's so wonderful to see Tami interacting with anyone these days (I've even come to savor the Glenn scenes), and I think Shelly's stay is going to be a fun.

Both Jason and Riggins took big steps in this episode — Riggins toward football, Jason away from it. How odd was it, by the way, that nobody seemed terribly concerned that the two had skipped the country? Coach cared, I suppose, insofar as he kicked Riggins off the team; do I think he'll be gone for long? I love every episode of this show where the guys end up messing around on the football field, and this one was no exception; it's sweet to see Riggins trying to help Lyla's ex-con, but it's even sweeter to see the guys playing ball like the kids they are. Jason, meanwhile, is doing some serious growing up, turning 19 and moving beyond the football career he wishes he had. Watching football highlights at his party was just painful. I'm a little surprised he's ditching the Panthers altogether, but he does seem committed to changing.

Some other thoughts:
  • Interesting resolution to Coach's skimpy salary: He's now the athletic director. I loved his clenched-teeth "I am going to kill Buddy" after his first encounter with Bobbi Roberts.

  • Raise your hand if you're relieved Matt was making out with not-the-nurse! *raises hand*

  • The "Green is Universal"-mandated lines in this episode were hilarious. "Oh, it's an environmentally friendly bag!"

  • Riggins and his brother playing with Tami's breast pump? Priceless!

  • It's so quaint and wonderful that people solve problems on this show by having dinner.

  • Either there's a major airport a lot closer to Dillon than I realized, or the jumbo jet in the last scene is about to crash.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Men In Trees: The Girl Who Cried Wolf

I've added another show to my repertoire of viewing pleasure - Men In Trees. I've only caught a few episodes during the second season, but so far I like what I see although I'm still a little confused on who is who and what everyone is doing in Elmo, Alaska, but I'll give it a whirl.

Heck, even I was crying, "Wolf! Um, make that wolves!!" as that final scene arrived. That final scene of this episode had me on the edge of my seat. What would I do? Seriously, what? Jack has advised Marin to throw something at the wolf and scream. Is Annie's beloved cat about to become airborne mincemeat?

The cursed-wedding storyline was cringe-inducing, though not in an entirely bad way. I personally just hate seeing things go so terribly wrong every step of the way, especially when good people are involved. The instant they showed that heavy church bell atop Annie's roof, I knew it was heading straight through the shingles and on top of Mai's heirloom tea set. To my aforementioned point, seeing the tea set in shards crushed me. (Even though Mai is my least-favorite Trees character. Her voice is grating, her personality even more so.)

All the embodiments of the curse had me sad. Seeing Ben lose the bar because of his carelessness? Ouch. (Did he have other infractions on record that just one would shutter him? I digress.) And the eyebrow? That was pretty funny though.

Poor Eric and Sarah didn't get much of a chance, did they? That storyline felt a bit rushed with the church board pressuring the reverend to give up his dalliance with the former town pimp. I hope he doesn't regret his decision to bail and take it out on Sarah somehow. I like her character, and if she can't be happy with Ben, give her some bliss with another good dude.

Annie Potts was fine as Annie's mom, though they made her come off as a bit racist in those first scenes with Mai. "Why don't we bio-moms bond?" was a bit harsh and I am sure raised the hackles of many adoptive parents out there. But to her point, the Chinese dragon in a church ceremony was a bit much, and c ame off as an "Isn't this wacky?" indulgence on the writers' part.

And then there is, of course, Jack and Marin. (Isn't it great to see a real-life couple actually have chemistry on screen as well? It's rare.) I loved her speech about how she doesn't want to be "that girl" who asks her man to choose her over something else. (Nice parallels to the Eric-Sarah story, where without even being asked, he chose love over work.) Did Marin's first face-off with that one lone wolf show her that she "doesn't need a man" to complete herself? That she will be fine during the separation from Jack? If so, what does the cliff-hanger portend to teach her? That, you know what, she does need him around more than she thought?What would I do? Would I ask Jack to stay?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

DVD Review: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

This movie was very good. Throughout the entire movie, my butt was glued to my sofa, and my eyes were glued to the screen. The movie was able to keep me watching it through every scene, either with action, humor, suspense, drama, or just great special effects.

There was plenty of action in the movie in the form of three tasks that Harry must complete. The first task was awesome, with Harry having to fly around Hogwarts castle, trying to avoid a fire-breathing dragon. In the second task Harry must go into the lake and save Ron, while being attacked by many different sea-dwelling creatures. In the third task he must find the Triwizard cup within a MASSIVE maze that comes to life and attacks him and the other champions. As I said above, there is a lot of action in this movie, but I'm not complaining.

There is tons of humor that had me on the floor laughing. The humor in this one is more adult than in the others, and also a lot funnier. This movie centers a lot more on the trio, and it shows them going through puberty and developing new emotions, which adds some funny moments. Though these scenes are funny they will also hint at who will end up together later on in the series. The Weasley twins are featured a lot more in this movie, and it adds a lot of laughs to an otherwise dark movie.

But don't think the movie is all about action and humor. There is a great plot. To sum it up, the dark Lord Voldemort is rising in power, and the entire magical world is aware of his presence. Harry has a nightmare about Voldemort, who is trying to get to Harry, in an attempt to regain his body. Deatheaters, Voldemort's followers, attack during the Quidditch World Cup, and someone sends up the Dark Mark, Voldemort's sign. Later, at Hogwarts Dumbledore announces that Hogwarts will host the Triwizard tournament, a tournament where one champion from three schools will fight in three deadly tasks. The three champions are: Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts, Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons, and Victor Krum from Durmstrang. But after the three champions were picked, another champion was picked. This other champion is(you guessed it) Harry Potter, who is to young to have entered his name. Why was his name entered, and who did it?

The acting in this movie is great. When Ron is angry at Harry for getting to be a champion, I can really feel Ron's hatred towards Harry. Even though I despise Hermione, I just can't help feel sorry for her when Ron practically ruins what should have been the best night of her life. And only a heartless devil wouldn't be sad when Harry returns from the third task with the dead body of one of the other champions.

Brendan Gleeson is great as Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, a former Auror(dark wizard catcher) and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Micheal Gambon is a better Dumbledore in this film than he was in the last(though he still isn't as good as Richard Harris). Ralph Fiennes plays a great Voldemort. The roles of the adults are lessened in this movie, as it is more about the kids, but they still give great performances. Matthew Lewis is also great as Neville Longbottom who gets a much larger role in this film than in the others. Overall the acting is outstanding.

The special effects in this movie are awesome, the best special effects ever. The dragon in the first task is the most realistic looking dragon I have ever seen on film. The mer-people during the second task are great, and the living maze in the third task is truly incredible. The Dark Mark is frightening, and Voldemort's resurrection at the end is spectacular, though slightly disturbing. These special effects are probably the best any one has ever seen.

This movie is dark, the darkest movie so for, but still very good.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

From my blog to yours, I wish all my faithful readers, friends, and family a very Merry Christmas. Thanks for your support and love!

My gift to you during this wonderful time of the year is my Top Four TV Shows of 2007:

1. Mad Men
Th year's most evocative drama - '60s glamour swathed in cigarette smoke - is also its most provocative. AMC's absorbing period piece introduced me to ad men, selling a version of the American Dream belied by the emptiness of their own personal lives. Anchored by Jon Hamm's instant-star turned ad exec Don Draper, living with a false identity to escape a painful past, Mad Men filters its nostalgia through the cruel realities of workplace and suburban sexism.

2. Pushing Daisies
ABC took quite a risk with this candy-colored fable of a man who brings the dead to life, albeit with silly string attached. An enchanting confection, if not for all tastes, Daisies has pleasantly surprised me thinking it could never top its dazzling pilot. Every episode is a charming, inventive delight, a bright spot in a mostly dim fall.

3. Lost
I'd be lost with this ABC show, which remains the most emotionally compelling and surprisingly suspenseful of TV's fantasy-adventures. Introducing one fascinating Other (the enigmatic Juliet) while dispatching two unloved interlopers (Nikki and Paulo) in an inspired Twilight Zone - like detour, Lost blew my mind with its flash-forward finale, revealing that Jack and Kate got off the island. What's next? Can't wait.

4. Friday Night Lights
Here's an underdog to cherish, with characters who strike a deep chord of empathy. NBC's lovingly, thoughtfully observed drama of a small-town Texas life uses football as a prism to explore issues of race, class, religion and (more melodramatically) redemption. As a bonus, there is no sexier or more believable TV couple than (coach) Eric and Tami Taylor. I'll champion this series to the final touchdown.

Seasons Greetings.

Pam & Earnhardt

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Movie Review (the title says it all): Enchanted

The calendar year is nearly over, so what I'm about to say is a bold claim, but I stand by it: Enchanted truly is the feel-good movie of the year. The movie combines old-school Disney animation and live-action filmmaking, with a little modern-day computer-generated animation tossed in, and the result is nothing less than magical. Disney movies have often provided a fantastical escape to far-off places, and Enchanted pushes this to an even more exciting level.

The standard Disney magic coexists with the real world, making viewers (well, at least this viewer) wonder... maybe magic mirrors, fairy princesses, evil queens and "true love's kiss" really do exist. The feel-goodness is simply infectious, and you can't help but be swept up in this world of wonderful possibility.

The story follows Giselle, a woman from the land of Andalasia who wants nothing more than to marry Prince Edward (James Marsden). Yet Edward's mother (Susan Sarandon), determined not to be removed from her throne when her son gets married, prevents Edward and Giselle from sharing "true love's kiss" by catapulting Giselle into present-day New York City ("where there are no happy endings!"). There, of course, Giselle embarks on many hilarious adventures, made funnier by cultural misunderstandings. That's not the end of the magical story, though.

When Edward leaps into real life to save Giselle, his mother sends one of her guys (played by Timothy Spall) after him to poison Giselle, though Giselle's faithful chipmunk friend Pip scuttles into New York as well, trying his darndest to thwart the poisoning. Meanwhile, Giselle befriends Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey), enchanting both of them — and, in certain musical numbers, all of New York — as she waits for Edward to find her.

There has been much talk of Amy Adams' superb performance and I can't join the resounding chorus of praise quickly enough. She is utterly committed to this role, from her wide, unblinking, sweet eyes to her supple wrists making dainty princessy hand gestures. You fully believe that she's a fairy princess because, well, she seems to believe it so much.

The rest of the cast also appears to be having a lot of fun. James Marsden is perhaps my favorite of all the supporting characters. His oblivious nature and overzealous princely grandeur never failed to make me giggle. Susan Sarandon is appropriately villainous, her bizarre drag-queenish attire nothing short of fabulous.

There is one moment toward the end when I started to become annoyed that the story would fall right in line with some of the older Disney princess stories in which the female characters are either "good" and therefore helpless, or else they have too much power, which makes them evil. Also, the whole idea of women in fairy tales dying unless they are kissed by the right man makes me queasy. Yet Enchanted has quite a few twists in store, creating a sweetly romantic ending in which everyone — male and female alike — has a moment of strength and triumph.

I know many folks not technically in the targeted age bracket for this film who saw this film — be it for Patrick Dempsey, the adorable Amy Adams or because, well, even as a fourty-something it's still exciting to see a real-live fairytale princess on screen. This is perhaps the true allure and success of Enchanted: it puts a modern face on age-old stories, reigniting a childhood belief that maybe — just maybe — fairytales are real. And that feels good.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Video Clip: "All I Want For Christmas Is You" from Love Actually

For the last post on the Saturday before Christmas, it seems only fitting to go out with a rockin' and heartwarming video clip from Love Actually. This is one of my top five favorite scenes from the film, when Joanna sings "All I Want for Christmas Is You," and she points to Sam . . . before pointing to everyone else! Sigh. This movie just gets me right in the feelings.

I hope you like this part of the movie, too. To end your week with some holiday spirit from Love Actually and Pam

My Name Is Earl: Randy Is In Charge (Of Days and Our Nights)

For over two seasons, the Hickey family hierarchy has been firmly established - big brother Earl makes the decisions and little brother Randy goes along with the plan. However, the roles were reversed in this episode as Randy decided (over Earl's fierce objections) that as the prison guard, he should be the one in charge. Not surprisingly, his choice led to disastrous results that will be resolved in Part Two.

The power struggle began soon after the warden (Craig T. Nelson) asked Earl for another favor - to head up the prison's Scared Straight program. Earl "auditions" other inmates to join him in a performance at a local school and chooses Randy as the accompanying prison guard. As I've seen before, Randy is terrible at his job and Earl wants him on the assignment not because he thinks he'll do a good job, but so that he can look after him. What follows is a clash between the both of them that ends up with one escaped convict, one angry prison warden and two brothers who both think they're in charge.

I had all but forgotten about Liberty & Ray Ray. Their re-appearance. however, answers the question I had about how the writers will deal with a new baby. They won't. Just like when Phoebe had her brother's babies, Joy will give birth and I'll never see that kid again, except maybe during sweeps.

The glaring problem in this episode (and throughout this season) is the inconsistency of Randy's character. Just last week, the inmates gave him some credibility after they witnessed his behavior on an episode of Cops. But this week, he's back to being the buffoon who gets his wrist handcuffed to his leg and his nightstick stolen. When Earl points out that Randy's too trusting to be a prison guard and that Earl has always been the one in charge, all of a sudden, Randy gets really smart and really cruel. He has the other guards take Earl's clothes, he messes with Earl's food in the cafeteria and he ultimately kicks him off the Scared Straight production, a job that would've cut five weeks off Earl's prison sentence. Those actions were so out of character for Randy, and worst of all, they just weren't that funny.

Luckily, there were some things that made me laugh, although not as much as I'd prefer. The slyest joke of the night came when Earl and the warden were discussing the direction of the Scared Straight performance. After the warden asked for a "green" message to be weaved throughout, Earl replied that the message really didn't fit with the rest of the story, kind of like how NBC's green crossover event had to be shoehorned into all of the Thursday shows, regardless of their appropriateness. After the warden forced him to stick with the green theme, Earl agreed to tie a story of a shower murder into a lesson about water conservation.

The decision to have prisoners audition for the Scared Straight program was a great idea, seeing as how Frank (Michael Rapapport) treated it like an acting gig and not the educational tool it was designed to be. However, it seems like they missed a perfect opportunity to squeeze in more jokes by not adding more auditions by other crazy inmates.

Obviously, as part one of a two-part episode, there wasn't much closure, but there wasn't much suspense either. Was the question, "Who's in charge?" worthy of a cliffhanger? Do I care about Frank enough to worry about his escape? The answer is no. With the promise of a manhunt for Frank, both the characters (literally) and the creators (figuratively) are doing everything they can to escape the prison surrounding them this season.

To this point, it's unclear whether this was the best direction to take My Name Is Earl. The episodes have been uneven thus far and it seems like they've gotten off track. In the past, they could ignore Earl's karma list and his redemption every once in a while, but only if they had a good reason for doing so. They've done it a bunch of times this season, but they haven't replaced the original premise with a strong or funny enough substitute. Hopefully Part Two will restore much of the heart that's been missing from this show lately.

Pam's New CD's

I haven't bought many CD's lately, but this past month three CD's were worthy for me to buy and add to my extensive collection. And, of course, Christmas wouldn't be the same without a new CD.

John Fogerty - Revival
Fogerty hits the spot with his meat-and-potatoes roots rock on this rousing disc. On songs that sometimes hark back to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the 62-year-old-Hall of Famer sure sounds like a rocker reborn.

Robert Plant and Allison Krause - Raising Sand
The rock god and the bluegrass queen would seem to make an odder couple than Felix and Oscar, but with ace producer T Bone Burnett, they find common ground in these rootsy covers.

Seal - System
Seal returns to his dance roots without missing a techno beat.

Yolanda Adams - What A Wonderful Time
An album of joyful Christmas songs is a perfect fit for this contemporary gospel start. Praiseworthy indeed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bionic Woman: The List

Bionic Woman continues to struggle to find its footing, with a fairly fun episode that suffers from some rather glaring inconsistencies and continuity problems. While Jaime and Tom have some great chemistry together, complete with snappy dialogue and some nicely orchestrated action scenes, the show seems to be uncertain what to do with the other characters.

After the last episode with Jaime in college and not seeing, talking to or worrying about Becca the entire time, with "The List" Becca's back in the story (while Pope is now oddly absent). Jaime set it up so that Becca would call Jonas in case of an emergency this time (whereas last week she just left her sister alone without anyones support and hoped she didn't call and hear her British accent?). While it's a nice twist that Jonas bailed Becca out this episode and didn't tell Jaime about it, it would be better if the show was consistent in its portrayal of Becca and Jaime's relationship.

Nathan talking to Jaime is another element that seems to be portrayed inconsistently. In this episode, he was able to quickly tell her -- somehow -- that the black wire is the one to cut to disable the bomb on Tom's waist. But last episode they were only able to talk on the phone, as Jaime bionic-jumped from roof to roof, and Nathan actually complained that she didn't have a Bluetooth headset. If they've set up some way for Nathan to get messages to Jaime without talking to her, that's great, but it'd be nice if the audience could see that, instead of Nathan just talking and Jaime magically hearing him.

The sequence in Paris at the end seemed to be a complete failing in continuity, as the team packs up and Jonas is there. Wait -- wasn't Jonas in San Francisco, bailing out Becca and driving her home just about an hour ago? Jaime called him, saying they need $8 million in less than an hour to get the list and, right after he hung up, he picked up Becca. So after he had a chat with her on the ride home, he then flew out to Paris? So at least 12 hours later (providing time for Jonas to fly out there), Jaime, Ruth and Nathan are just finally leaving the abandoned warehouse in Paris with Jonas already there and Tom just arriving (and saying, "You saved my life today"). It doesn't make any sense, and feels like sloppy writing, where they wanted a scene with Jonas and Jaime but forgot they would need to do it over the phone.

Overall, though, the fun, well-written parts of the episode outweigh the poorly conceived, inconsistent moments. Nathan is a decent comic relief, Jaime seems to be becoming more confident and capable in her bionic skills, and the Berkut Group is effectively being set up as a super-secret organization that can get things done when the CIA or anyone else isn't able to. The inconsistencies and discrepancies in the series so far can likely be attributed to all the behind-the scenes turmoil, rotating out writers, producers and showrunners. The potential is still there for this to be a very cool show if the same person or people keep running it for more than an episode or two at a time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nip/Tuck: Joyce & Sharon Monroe

Let the Hollywood exploitation begin! Two episodes into the new season and Ryan Murphy and Co. are already taking advantage of Nip/Tuck's new location. Competing Marilyn Monroe impersonators is something I would have never seen had Sean and Christian decided to stay in Miami. Now that they're out west, I'm quite sure that this will be the first in a long line of Tinseltown degenerates looking for ways to "enhance" themselves and make an extra buck.

The one-upmanship between Sean and Christian has continued as both vie for celebrity status. Sean has become a fan favorite on Hearts n' Scalpels. More lines, late nights at the set, and a budding romance with fellow actress Kate Tinsley. The result? Christian has been alone, forced to handle the few cases that McNamara/Troy brings in. The sad thing about it is that even though the two of them have flipped roles, even when Christian was at his worst in Miami, he was never this irresponsible when it came to the practice.

Sean has become completely blinded by his quick rise to "fame" and his priorities have become flawed. He chooses the show over his business and a People photo-shoot over his romance with Kate. He's a completely different person and even though I saw him make the effort to patch things up with Kate, I think I'm going to see him continue this transformation. I've never really seen the "Christian side" of Sean.

To try and match Sean's public image, Christian gets himself out there with the help of Fiona. Literally. In a Playgirl spread. I'm honestly surprised she helped him though. She found out he leaked Carly's surgery to US Weekly, so why give him a second chance? I'm thinking she has something bigger in store for him. Sean has settled comfortably into his role on TV, but he's still not very adventurous. Christian? He'll try anything. (And speaking of Carly, where was she? I was really hoping for a heated confrontation between her and Christian.)

There were two developments in this story regarding the female characters that I do want to applaud:

First up was Kate's rise in Hollywood. She used to be overweight and lost it through gastric-bypass, exercise, and eating healthy. I'm not saying that gastric-bypass is the solution for everyone with a weight problem (the negatives of the surgery were addressed as well), but I still think this put forth a positive message that "the nobody" can make it in Hollywood with some dedication. Kate came from low-budget off-Broadway productions and made it big in a popular TV drama, but she's still the country girl at heart. This was made perfectly clear when she shared a kiss with Sean in front of a studio back-drop of a tree-lined dirt road.

Next up is Julia's new romance. Now I realize that it's very safe to make the argument that this is just Julia being Julia -- reaching out for attention because she's all alone, raising her kids in NYC. Don't forget, she did have sex with Marlowe last season. However, you always hear about the closet homosexual husband, coming out years into a marriage when the kids are well into their teens. Why not the wife though? All I'm saying is that I hope this story doesn't become gimmicky just for the sake of having a lesbian relationship. I hope the writers really run with this and explore what Julia is going through and the kind of impact it has on the kids; especially Annie. An added bonus is that this has given Sean and Christian something to bond over at a point when their professional and personal relationship is as strained as it's ever been.

Then there was that final scene. Christian being rubbed down by both Marilyn Monroes. He smirks and a bright light illuminates his face as the two wannabes serenade him with "I Want to be Loved by You." It pains me to say it, but with the direction this season seems to be taking, that horrible new single "Gimme More" by Britney Spears would have been just as appropriate here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bones: Intern in the Incinerator

"It's always the suits, baby." -- Jack
"Hey, I wear suits!" -- Booth
"Yes, yes you do." -- Jack

At first I thought it was going to be one of the more serious episodes since Kristen, the murder victim, was known by Angela. But, as the hour progressed there were a plenty of amusing moments surrounding the investigation. Plus, I had some character development going on as well.

The best part of this Bones was that, save for a few scenes in the interrogation room, most of the episode took place inside the Jeffersonian Institution. I enjoy these types of 'box' or 'fishbowl' shows because it provides a bit more depth into the surroundings that the actors flit in and out of during 43 minutes of air time. In this case, I got to see some of the other departments that make up the vast institution of data gathering and meet their leaders.

Out of all of them Dr. Harlan Bancroft, the head honcho of the Institution, was the one I disliked the most. Booth described it the best when he called the man a "dillweed." He was just so slimy and subversively arrogant. That, and he practically threatened Angela when the squints fought him about another colleague's murder. Man, I was ready to jump into the television and put the smackdown on that guy.

I also disliked Dr. Kyle Aldridge, head of the Middle East department. He wasn't subversively arrogant -- he wore his arrogance on his sleeve. Anyone who has to say to others that he's smarter than them isn't very smart at all. Luckily, our good friend Bones put him back on the straight and narrow when she told him that she was the smarter of the two. I loved the interrogation scene between Temperance and Aldridge for it showed the continued growth of Dr. Brennan as a rough-and-tough inquisitor.

I actually came to like Dr. Klimkew, head of Authentications. Too bad he was the murderer. I had thought it was Bancroft that was the killer, and was actually disappointed when it turned out that Kilmkew helped push Kristen's body down the incinerator chute then killed Aldridge. Not only that, but he was smuggling artifacts out of Iraq as well. At least he was nice enough to ask Bones and Booth if they would recommend a lawyer to him.

Returning back to the cast that I have learned to love ... Cam had a nice story going on this week. I've come to like Dr. Saroyan in the last season plus and it was good to see some of her background being explored with the introduction of her sister. The scenes with her, her sister, and Booth were some of the funnier moments in this episode. Especially funny was when Cam found out that her sister kissed Booth right before they were supposed to go to her father's birthday party. For some reason the status changed on Booth and, instead of being the victim, it was all his fault that the sisters began to fight with each other.

Another fine scene was the one between Booth and Bones at the end of the episode. Bones was really hurt that Kristen's murder was at the hands of another Jeffersonian employee because, even though she was reluctant to admit it, The Jeffersonian was her home. Luckily, Booth being Booth, he let Temperance know the he would not abandon her if something like this happened again. I have to wonder if the very last moments of this scene, where Bones tries to smash the plastic cup and fails, were unscripted and kept in the show. Emily Deschanel's reaction certainly didn't seem like something you would see on a normal basis.

Other items of note:

The scene at the holographic tank. I don't know about you, but when they are using the tank and brainstorming back and forth as to what happened to the murder victim it gives me chills.

Zack and Jack are back to their old tricks again. This time, throwing a dummy out of the top-story windows to simulate the fall that Kristen made to the incinerator.

Angela's realization that the charred skull belonged to someone she knew. How her visions of who the person was came to life was pretty neat.

Jack slaps Zack upside the head after he asks what the difference is between Kristen having an affair with another man, as opposed to Jack sleeping with a still-married Angela.

Jack's reaction to Booth after he tells her about kissing Cam's sister. I was laughing right along with Jack.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Prison Break: Photo Finish/Vamonos

A two-hour Prison Break? Now what did I do to deserve this? Well, it was really just two back-to-back episodes of Prison Break instead of a two-hour special. But still, the only thing better than one Prison Break episode is two Prison Break episodes. And they were pretty good episodes to boot. While I didn't get to see the much-hyped escape from Sona, I did get some interesting new developments in the plot.

Since I always thought that Michael's idea to escape from Sona in broad daylight was foolish, I have to say I was right. In fact, it was the daylight itself (or lack thereof) that foiled Michael's plans. Just as Michael and Whistler were climbing down the rope ladder and out to freedom, the glare was blocked by clouds and they had to scurry right back up. This was bad because they didn't get out of Sona. This was good because now Lechero can join them. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that they didn't get further in the escape.

While I am happy to see that Michael is back in prison this season, I don't want him to stay there the whole time. I am excited to see what would happen when the brothers reunite (especially now that Michael's beloved Sara is gone). Will they stick together or go their separate ways? But enough about what didn't happen tonight. Let's get to the major plot developments.

Lincoln finally told Michael that Sara is dead. I can see that Michael would be upset with Lincoln for not telling him sooner but I'm on Lincoln's side. It's his son, not some random prison doctor who just happened to be both attractive and kind enough to help with an escape. Lincoln had to keep this from Michael if he thought that the information would affect the escape.

Mahone is out of Sona. One of his colleagues from the past season showed up surprisingly with a deal. If he tells all and helps shed some light on the ex-president, then he gets to do his time in an American prison (preferably one that carries his brand of highly-addictive painkillers). I wonder if his old friend from the bureau is going to double-cross him. Perhaps the other guy she brought with her will do the double-crossing. The latter seems possible. Maybe they will reinstate him in some way and have him track down the brothers or Whistler (when the sun finally aligns in the right way for Michael to break out, of course).

The biggest plot development, one could even say "twist," came at the very end. Susan B. Anthony's real name is Gretchen (cause Susan B. Anthony is just ridiculous). But that's not the plot twist, obviously. At the end, she had this cryptic conversation with James Whistler. He told her to give him four more days to get out. He also said that he could do what he needed to do despite the lost time. I wonder what he will do or how exactly he is aligned with her. Does Whistler work for the company? Perhaps neither Gretchen nor Whistler work for the company at all. Maybe they are trying to subvert the company.

I must point out one last thing. What is going on with the supporting characters on Prison Break? Seasons one and two spent so much time building up Belleck and T-Bag as viable enemies for the brothers. Belleck has been reduced from a prison-guard-turned-bounty-hunter to a worthless blob. He might have killed the French guy (although I don't think so) but other than that his only contribution to this episode was blubbering about Sara's death. Like he really cares? T-Bag has carved out a spot in Lechero's gang and hasn't done much since. Maybe he and Sammy will fight for the head position in Sona now that Lechero's power has been displaced?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Family Guy: Stewie Kills Lois

Attaining the coveted one hundred episode milestone has certainly been a difficult road for Family Guy. This multiple Emmy-winning series has survived cancellations, censorship, outcries of tastelessness, and even a lawsuit or two. Through these ups and downs, I've managed to see the Griffins grow and evolve into the wonderful human beings that they have become; well not quite, but they've given me more laughs, groans, and controversy than almost any other dysfunctional television family.

Since its revival, the show has sometimes rightfully faced criticism about losing its creative spark, but there are more than a few occasions of brilliance that demonstrate the ability to live up to its full irreverent potential. One of the sources of this creative spark was Stewie Griffin and his unrelenting desire to seek out world domination and kill his mother in the process. Somehow, over the years, this world domination angle has taken a back seat. Stewie's never really gone through with any of his plans, and instead has been relegated to the role of a whiny and slightly desperate closet homosexual.

For the hundredth episode of Family Guy, Seth McFarlane and friends tackle the subject of one of Stewie Griffin's greatest ambitions - his not-so-secret desire to kill his mother. For the disturbed fans waiting for some form of a matricidal manifestation, you can feel comfort knowing, without spoiling too much, that the youngest Griffin absolutely means business and ensures that he doesn't fail this time around.

Presented with the kind of over-the-top flamboyance that you'd expect for such a momentous occasion, Stewie manages to live up to this episode's aptly named title. The circumstances surrounding the event, as well as the graphic nature of actual deed itself, will certainly manage to shock viewers.

While the brutality of Stewie's actions is one of the highlights in this special episode, there's enough happening here to satisfy even the most jaded fan. The offensively inappropriate jokes hit new heights and there's an added cliff-hanger ending that will keep you eagerly waiting the following episode.Since this episode actually features a genuine storyline, it's hard to get into details without giving away too many plot details, but there's a lot in this episode to like here.

As with any episode of Family Guy there's a barrel full of jokes and gags used to support the story. Some of the more memorable ones include a scene showing how God created Rosie O'Donnell, another featuring Peter misinterpreting the usage of a "poop deck," Stewie making a Freudian slip about tea bags with Rupert, and a truly hilariously shocking moment that involves Meg, hot dogs, and the New York Knicks. It's clever, crass and will evoke as many groans as it will laughs.

There are some tense courtroom moments, a birthday celebration with the gift of Lionel Ritchie, a cruise ship, machine guns, and the reappearance of the Kool Aid Man that help round out this carefully crafted and well-told cohesive storyline. With the amount of cheap manatee jokes kept to a reasonable level, this episode also manages to find an excellent balance between comedy and storytelling. It's a fantastic way to celebrate the Family Guy one-hundredth episode milestone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVIII

'The Monkey's Paw', 'The Bart Zone', 'The Devil and Homer Simpson', the entire 'Treehouse of Horror V' (the end scene where the Simpsons' bodies turn inside out actually freaked me out a bit), 'Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace' and 'Homer3'. Why do I mention these previous 'Treehouse of Horror' stories and episodes? Well, they're examples of funny yet creepy stories that The Simpsons did so well each and every Halloween.

So, uh, what happened?

I don't know about you, but this year's 'Treehouse of Horror XVIII' had nothing in the way of scare in it. In fact, one story out of the three featured shouldn't have really been in this episode at all. There weren't even any guest voices this year like there have been in the past. It's like they picked three movies from three different decades -- 80's, 90's, and 00's - out of a hat and decided to use them for 'Treehouse' this time around. The result, for me at least, was an episode that didn't have many laughs. Let's review, shall I...

Introduction: Marge did something that all of us television viewers have wanted to do forever -- remove all of the icon ads from other shows that appear on the show that you're watching. My favorite was when she put the little Greg House in the microwave and watched as he expanded and exploded. Right after that she got the Prison Break icons to run away. Not laugh out loud funny, but pretty amusing.
E.T. Go Home: This year's appearance of Kodos and (briefly) Kang took place in this parody of 80's movie E.T. There were some good moments, like Bart watching Itchy & Scratchy dancing on Samba With the Stars, and Kodos slipping in the 'seven million body bags' he would need in the list of items that would help him get back home. Of course, being a parody, the end of the story is not all warm and fuzzy like the original movie was. Homer and Bart get to do a bit of alien ass-kicking to rid the world of Kodos and his partners. This one was pretty cute. Plus, it actually featured Bart in an episode...something that hasn't been done since the season began.

Mr. and Mrs. Simpson: Yeah. This one, a parody of the 2005 hit Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is the story that should not have been part of this episode. Besides Marge and Homer killing everyone along the way what did this really have to do with Halloween? So Homer and Marge shot up the house during their battle. Big Deal. We can see that on a regular episode of the series every other week. I don't know how the producers decided that this would be a perfect fit for a Halloween-based episode.

Heck House: This was the only story that even came close to the creepiness that previous 'Treehouse' episodes displayed. There was a return of Ned Flanders as the devil (we all know that he's a Satanist deep down inside) as well as an appearance by Spider Pig. I liked how the kids did a complete 180 to do tricks instead of receiving treats and that these four individuals alone caused such havoc on Evergreen Terrace. Ned's examples of the Seven Deadly Sins featured not one but two examples for Homer (Gluttony and Sloth). Heck, Homer could have been the example for all seven of the sins.

All in all, this episode of 'Treehouse of Horror' was fairly mediocre. There were some giggles here and there but, for the most part, it was pretty forgettable.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Let's Get It On

Hey, now that's more like it! In my view, the latest episode of Friday Night Lights was easily the best of the season so far, dispatching one controversial plotline, making new headway with another, and — most of all — getting inside the lives and heads of these characters I've come to love.

Coach Taylor is home, and he's back with the Panthers, and he's ... totally not getting any. Any other series would make the "new dad wants sex, but new mom just wants to sleep" plot line cheesy or gross, but FNL managed to make it sweet, touching, and totally hilarious. I loved Tami kicking Eric out of the bedroom, Mac asking Coach if he was "back in the saddle," the tulips and the candles. And most of all, I loved Tami doing exactly what her husband advised, leaving the baby for the night, going out with her friends, getting tipsy — and then not only denying him, but letting him know she was on to him. That's the Tami and Eric relationship I've been missing, hectoring each other endlessly but loving each other beneath it all.

Speaking of not giving in: Matt showed a little backbone, refusing to cave when Julie came crawling back. I'm glad he knows he knows he deserves better. Also, Landry's "No. No. No. No. No." as they sat in the cafeteria was one of the most authentic Landry lines I've heard in a while.

And it was just one of many great moments in this episode for Landry. Despite still being "that Lance kid," he got to play in his first football game — and he got to be the hero, albeit by getting creamed in the end zone. He gave the locker room speech that — while veering into cliche — still united the team. He finally thought he'd made his dad proud. And just when it was all going great for him, boom — Tyra dumps him in the harshest possible way. While I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent OK with the murder plot, the payoff has been so, so much better than I expected.

Some other thoughts:

I'm still not convinced Coach's struggles with the team are over. Matt and Smash supposedly kissed and made up, but it was only to get themselves back in the game; Matt's line about Coach using the team as a stepping stone to college ball showed that he, at least, still feels deserted and hurt.

Goodbye, experimental surgery plot! That could have given a whole new meaning to "jump the shark" (... in Jason's spine), but instead, the story played out with grace. Even Jason tumbling into the water — a moment I dreaded from the moment I saw the promo — was surprisingly restrained. (His motivations, though, still confuse me: I thought he was trying to swim away from Tim and Lyla so he could get the surgery.) And I'm hoping that's the end of the rumored "threesome" I've seen so much hinting about; Lyla's "I gotta go pray" cracked me up.

In case you, like me, want to immediately go download the song that played at the end of the episode, it's "If I Could" by Blue Merle. The one from the scene where Jason tumbles off the boat is "To Build a Home" by Cinematic Orchestra.

Do you think Landry would be more upset if he knew why Tyra really dumped him? Is Matt's rejection of Julie just setting him up for a love story with the nurse? (Please, no.) And do you think FNL is, er, back in the saddle?

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Our Other Cops Is On

On paper, this episode looked like a slam dunk. Easily the most memorable show from Season 2, "Our Cops Is On" was a frenetic half-hour of television that threw out the karma list theme in favor of wall-to-wall jokes and silliness. It was a great premise that matched Earl's criminal element with the long-running Fox show about, well…cops. It begs the question, is filming an exact replica of a previous show and stretching it into a full hour giving the audience too much of a good thing?

It's difficult, if not impossible to review "Our Other Cops Is On" without comparing it to last season's episode, because they are, in essence, the same show. The main and secondary characters are the same. The timing of the episode is the same, (taking place before Earl divorced Joy and discovered karma). And of course, the event of a Cops camera crew visiting Camden County is the same.

The only things that are different are the jokes, and they repeated a few of those, too. For example, the first time I saw a drunk Tim Stack (who wrote Part 1) wearing his Son of the Beach costume was funny/sad. This time, it was just sad. The first time Earl and Joy kidnapped Kevin, the poor Cops cameraman, it was a great twist. This time, it was almost expected. And of course, the first time I met the Camden police force, they managed to surprise me again and again with their incompetence. This time, there weren't any surprises.

The other misstep in this episode was dragging it out for an hour. NBC's hour-long episode of Earl thus far have been disappointing because the pacing of the show has been thrown off. Last season's Cops episode was crammed with jokes about Earl, Randy and Joy during their pre-karma days and also revealed small but humorous facts about other Camden County residents. That so much comedy could be stuffed into a half-hour is what made the episode work so well. This episode certainly included plenty of Earl, Randy and Joy getting into trouble, but that's pretty much all it was. If the first half-hour seemed redundant, the second half-hour was even more so.

However, this episode did have its moments. It felt like Yes, Dear stars Mike O'Malley and Billy Gardell (Officers Daniels and Hoyne) had more screen time than Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee. Along with their patrol duties, the officers were set to give an anti-terrorism demonstration at the Camden County July 4th fair, on the "first Independence Day since the September 11th 9/11 attack." Of course, the demonstration had disastrous results. Together with Officer Bowman, (The Drew Carey Show's Kathy Kinney,) they proved once again that the cops in Camden are just as thick-headed as the criminals.

The officers stumbled and bumbled their way through town, responding to domestic disputes, (involving a certain soon-to-be-divorced couple), multiple incidents at the strip club, (featuring a certain Latina stripper) and finally, the theft of $50,000 worth of hi-tech government surveillance and torture equipment, as well as the fireworks for the fair's finale, (taken by a certain pair of brothers). It makes you wonder how nice a place Camden County would be if all the main characters just moved away.

Overall, this episode had a few good jokes and plenty of crazy moments, including Officer Daniels' accidental shooting of a lamb, an infrared camera used to great comic effect and Randy and an inmates' joyful singing about the fiery death of "Tim Stacks" to the theme from Cops. However, this episode loses a lot of points because it was an inferior copy of a previous episode, and there wasn't enough plot to sustain another half-hour show based on the same premise, let alone an hour. In the end, this episode turned into a case of, "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wednesday Night Group - White Elephant 2007

The Unraveled Threads Wednesday Night Group held their Annual White Elephant Party last night at Brian & Laura's. What a fun night. I don't think I have laughed that hard in ages. Lots of wild and crazy gifts were exchanged. The best one, in my opinion, was the Grinch Bank that Dick ended up with up but I believe Marion stole. I ended up with an Elvis Teddy Bear.

Other gifts of note:

Battery Operated Snow Scraper
Rooster Bell
Whale Ornament
80's Movie Videos
Retirement Banks
Remote & TV Guide Holder
Deranged Stuffed Cat
Toilet Seat Wipes
1968 Encyclopedia
Sad Looking Christmas Tree
Kids Toys
Silver Inspiration Plate
Road Kill Stew
Hand Warmers

Dirty Sexy Money: The Game

No, red vests aren't the newest fashion trend; Jeremy actually became a valet on this episode of Dirty Sexy Money. While Jeremy was learning the complexities of parking cars, the rest of the Darlings were dealing with some serious drama. Dutch's death is officially a murder, and two of the most likely suspects, Tripp Darling and Simon Elder, faced off in an epic poker game.

After last episode's party fiasco, Jeremy wanted to be liked and employed on his own merits. For Jeremy, this meant working as a valet and being shot down by an incredibly hot woman in a Prius. I was impressed that Jeremy could drive at all, since he's usually chauffeured from one party to the next. How long before Jeremy gets tired of working for his former doorman? I can probably take about one more week of this storyline. Jeremy needs to accept all of the advantages and drawbacks of being a Darling if he ever wants to grow up.

I got more of Brian Light this week. Brian Jr. spent a lot of time with his Aunt Juliet, but he really wanted to bond with his dad. The more that Brian interacts with his son, the more I pity him. He doesn't even know what traditional father-son time is. Luckily, Brian still knows how to get along with his brothers. I don't remember seeing all the Darling brothers together before. The video game scene was enlightening--Patrick plans to leave the Darling Compound, and Brian thinks that his brothers get away with more bad behavior than he does. As much as I love the touching father-son scenes, I hope that Brian gets his edge back soon. His crankiness is one of the funniest things about him.

"Oops, I'm still married" is one of those problems that only exist on television. Since the plot led me to a half-naked Eddie Cibrian, I'm not inclined to complain. Just when I thought that "techno-philanthropist" was the coolest description ever, world-renowned anthropologist and People's Sexiest Man Alive Sebastian Fleet emerged (in a towel, no less). If husbands #1 and #2 are half as attractive as Sebastian, I hope I meet them soon.

Sebastian was pretty perceptive for someone who thought Dutch George was "some guy from the Netherlands." He knew that Karen always compares men to Nick, and that marriage #4 wouldn't be any different. Did Karen push up her wedding date because she knew that Sebastian and her mother were right, or is she really hoping for a fresh start? I'm starting to warm to Freddy; anyone who beatboxes while waiting in line for a marriage license is OK by me. I hope Karen doesn't break his heart.

Tripp proved his worth as a master of manipulation with the Patrick-Carmelita situation. Calling the paparazzi photo (which he commissioned) an "object lesson" was pretty cold. He even found a way to make Patrick question Carmelita's honesty when he was caught in his own lie. That guy is good. Tripp's dark side is horrifying and fascinating at the same time. It's also a bit bizarre that he views Patrick as a replacement for Kenneth. No wonder Patrick sought help from Simon Elder. Unfortunately for Patrick, I think he'll become another pawn in Simon and Tripp's game.

I was pleased that Nick appeared to pick a side and cooperated with Tripp in order to find Dutch's killer. He's up against people who are much smarter and have far more resources, and he needs an ally. Simon is definitely using Nick for his own purposes. The more that Simon talks about his "vision" for New York, the more he sounds like some super-villain. Even his laugh during the poker game sounded evil. It was great to see Blair Underwood and Donald Sutherland shoot menacing looks across the table at one another. Tripp needed an archenemy who could challenge him, and Simon fills that void nicely.

Tripp's intentions for Nick blew me away. I wonder if his desire to leave the empire to Nick (and his declaration of love) has anything to do with the mysterious DNA test results? Was it just another way to bind Nick to the family? Finally, who is behind the NTSB report cover-up and Norman Exley's murder?

My favorite lines of the episode:
  • "I've always had this uncanny ability to just chill." --Jeremy, on his special talents.
  • "Darling Pharmaceuticals...let's skip this one." --Nick, listing Jeremy's potential employers.
  • "I'm a vehicular ninja." --Jeremy, moments before he crashes a car.
  • "He activates my yoni." --Karen, on the gorgeous Sebastian Fleet.
  • "A watch? He can't even tell time." --Brian, on Juliet's $30,000 gift to Brian Jr.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pushing Daisies: Girth

My first thought when I learned Pushing Daisies was doing a Halloween episode: "Aren't they all?" But it turns out that Daisies lends itself perfectly to even spookier stories of hauntings and ghosts. "Girth" was definitely a Halloween treat.

This was a good time to get an Olive-centric episode. She's learned Chuck's secret, and she's already refrained from telling the aunts, but now she's desperate to tell Ned (not knowing, of course, that Ned is well aware Chuck is, er, "alive again"). So it was perfect that this episode involved a secret that Olive had sworn long ago to keep.

The case itself was a great callback to the Headless Horseman and other storybook fables, with trampled jockeys, ghost horses and a villain in (brightly colored) disguise. As usual, the little touches were my favorites: the distinct horseshoe print on the face of every trampling victim; the very large trophies for very small jockeys; the bar where people over 60 inches tall couldn't drink.

Ned, meanwhile, had some past hauntings of his own to tend to. It amazes me that Daisies can show heartbreaking moments — say, the revelation that Ned's father had left him and had another family on the side — and still make them sweet. Ned had spent every Halloween sleeping where his old bed used to be, trying to deal with his dad's desertion — but it took Chuck's aunts telling him what a good man he'd become despite his jackass father before he could truly move on.

Some other thoughts:

Emerson's one-liners are always a highlight, but he was really on in this episode. A few favorites: "Don't try to think that's a word that anybody knows.""Think of it as an escrow between my thighs.""Different like purple and mauve."The whole "conversation" with the money.

Speaking of one-liners, my favorite from the episode might actually be Olive's "I scream, you scream, no one screams when you fake your death!"

It's good that Olive and Chuck are getting some more screen time together as they battle for Ned's affections. The scene with Olive bouncing up and down on her bed cracked me up — but not as much as Olive finally getting swept off her feet by Ned, only to be dropped as soon as he realized Chuck was around.

JJJ's mother's barbs about Olive dressing demurely, huh?

I love that I'm starting to get more glimpses of the aunts' personalities — Lily saying she'd get a shotgun when the doorbell rang, Vivian grabbing the candy bowl.

There were so many fantastic sight gags that picking the Sight Gag O' The Episode is pretty darn tough. The aunts' heads exploding (and being filled with confetti) is a contender as is the jack o' lantern turning into a frowny face when Young Ned got the postcard from his father. But if forced to pick a favorite, I'd say it's Young Ned and Digby trick-or-treating in their matching ghost outfits.

I wonder how long the actor who played JJJ practiced his horsey gait. That was a nice touch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

DVD Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter is having a tough time with his relatives (yet again). He runs away after using magic to blow Uncle Vernon's sister Marge who was being offensive towards Harry's parents. Initially scared for using magic outside the school, he is pleasantly surprised that he won't be penalized after all.

However, he soon learns that a dangerous criminal and Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black has escaped from the Azkaban prison and wants to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. To worsen the conditions for Harry, vile shape-shifters called Dementors are appointed to guard the school gates and inexplicably happen to have the most horrible effect on him. Little does Harry know that by the end of this year, many holes in his past (whatever he knows of it) will be filled up and he will have a clearer vision of what the future has in store.

This film is darker and much better than the previous two films. I loved the new vision of the Harry Potter world by Alfonso Cuarón (obviously, each director has a different perspective). I found this perspective much more dangerous and less for little children, per se. The comedy is still here, though.

This film is probably the best film to date! I love the new score (although missing the old one) but this one gives us a bit darker atmosphere and magical at the same time.

I love the new style of the film, giving it a more "laid back" look than the uniforms look.Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson matured more into their roles, which makes their performances better. The new Dumbledore, Michael Gambon, plays a much younger and stronger look of this character.The visual effects are also good and there are much more sophisticated story telling in here, which I like. There are even more darker action sequences which contains more thrills and suspense.

I like Alfonso Cuarón as a director and this is one of his finest work.No more kidding around. This movie is much better and darker then the previous two movies. The performances are a bit better and the story a bit more sophisticated with great CGI and script. It's not all about the action. It's more about the story.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nip/Tuck: Carly Summers

Life just ain't easy for Sean McNamara and Christian Troy. They moved out to LA thinking it would bring them a fresh start. Sean had just put a messy divorce with Julia to bed. Christian had backed out of his engagement to Michelle. They needed a new beginning. After pouring all their money into a new state-of-the-art Rodeo Drive operation and recovery facility, what do they have to show for it? Nothing. Saying that you "almost" did some work on Joan Rivers isn't exactly a great resume when no one has heard of you.

The set-up was to be expected. Of course it wasn't going to be easy. Everyone is a plastic surgeon in Hollywood. But it's been two months since they switched coasts and the money is running thin. That's where this season of Nip/Tuck draws its plot from and watching Sean and Christian crack the secrets of their new celebrity infested locale is plenty of fun for me. I think they have got a good season in store.

Everyone has had work done and everyone already has a favorite surgeon. No room for someone new. However, with the help of publicist Fiona McNeil (Lauren Hutton), the guys land a creative adviser/producer position on a new drama series called Hearts and Scalpels. The show within a show set-up and self-reflexive tone is hilarious because of the way it pokes fun at some of the stories Nip/Tuck has employed in the past. It'll be fun to see how it develops under Sean's tutelage.

Now I mentioned Hutton, but she isn't the only guest star:
  • Tia Carrere plays Mistress Dark Pain, a dominatrix who seems to enjoy her job a little too much.
  • Bradley Cooper plays Aiden Stone, the cocky star of Hearts and Scalpels. He and Sean have developed this odd bond. Sean seems very overwhelmed by the instant celebrity factor he's achieved.
  • Paula Marshall plays Kate Tinsley, the co-star on Hearts and Scalpels. I don't think I'm really spoiling anything but she'll become a love interest for Sean.
  • Oliver Platt plays TV producer Freddy Prune. It's his best role. He's flamboyant and hilarious.
  • Craig Bierko plays Bob Easton, a studio exec who likes getting bit all over his chest by the aforementioned Mistress Dark Pain.
  • Jennifer Coolidge plays actress Candy Richards. One word: lips.

Daphne Zuniga plays actress Carly Summers, the episode's focus. She becomes Christian's first sexual conquest (that I know about) in LA. In a very cool throwback to his first night with Kimber in the pilot episode, he convinces Carly to get plastic surgery by drawing all over an old pinup of her with, you guessed it, red lipstick.

The best part of the premiere was how it changed Sean and Christian. For four seasons, Christian has been the dominant character, garnering all the attention and female adoration. With the success of Sean's cameo on Hearts and Scalpels, the tables have been turned as Sean now supports working on the show and Christian has lost interest. It brings out the spiteful side of Christian that I've seen before. It will be interesting to see if he continues his relationship with Carly and US Weekly.

OK, back to this episode. Other stuff on my mind...

  • I wonder if I'll see Gina come back and try to get Wilber. Again.
  • I assume that Fiona will, at some point, find out that Christian leaked Carly's surgery to US Weekly. Will she still represent him? It'd be interesting to see if she dropped him and kept Sean. Christian fending for himself would be a good for an episode or two.
  • Best lines in the episode? "I feel like I'm trying to sell semen at a whore house." - Christian. Bob Easton: "This place is deader than my Nana."
  • I loved when Sean spoke up and didn't take any crap from Aiden. This is what I'm talking about though. He's becoming more assertive and it's great to watch Christian fumble and fail at the same time.
  • I chocked on my spit from laughing so hard when Candy made those "gurgling" noises. Gold.

Overall, a very solid start to the season. Embracing everything that being in Hollywood/LA has to offer is going to be key when distinguishing this season from the previous four. There's a lot of stories available to use now that they're in a new city. I'm confident they will take advantage of them all.