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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Riches: Pilot

This is a great soup when you need a meal in a hurry.

Chicken Corn Chowder

1 can cream of chicken
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 cups cubed cooked chicken (I use the precooked Tyson grilled chicken)
1 can corn, drained
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a large saucepan, combine the soup, milk, onion, and rosemary. Stir in chicken and corn; heat through. Add the cheese; stir until melted.

The Riches: Pilot

If there's anything close to a certainty in this wacky world of 3,000 channels, it's this: When a new show premieres on FX, chances are it's going to be pretty good. Even the less-than-stellar shows are more daring, creative, and entertaining than most of what I might see on a broadcast or basic cable network. And The Riches is no exception; in fact, it is one of the most well-done new shows of the year. The Riches knows where it's going. And it looks like it's going to be a pretty fun ride.

Eddie Izzard plays Wayne Malloy, the patriarch of a family of Irish Travelers, who roam from town to town assuming identities and ripping of innocent people, or "Buffers," in their terms. We find that out right away when Wayne and two of his three kids -- Dehliah and Sam -- invade a high school reunion; the kids steal everyone's wallets while Wayne distracts them by becoming the life of the party. The oldest Malloy child, Cael, awaits to spirit them away in the family home / getaway RV.

After some difficulty, they swing by the penitentiary to pick up Dahlia, played by Minnie Driver. Dahlia missed her kids and husband during her two years in the joint, and we find out later that she got snagged for a crime for which Wayne should have taken the fall. Anyway, after Dahlia reunites with her Traveler clan, a dustup occurs between Wayne and his cousin-in-law Dale, who has taken control of the clan's affairs. Wayne steals the family's money and takes the Malloys on a trip to parts unknown, essentially breaking from Dahlia's family in one fell swoop.

On the road, they get involved in an accident that kills the occupants of a BMW. Wayne decides to take the family's ID and the keys to their new house in a wealthy Baton Rouge subdivision, where no one has ever met the dead couple. Once they move in, Wayne realizes that assuming the role of the dead couple -- the Riches -- not only helps them hide from Dale, who wants Wayne's hide, but will also allow his family to get off the road and finally live the American Dream, in their own perverse way. After initially objecting, Dahlia agrees to stay. And so begins the Malloys' life as the Riches.

Izzard and Driver are what make this show work .I don't know much about the kids just yet, outside of the fact that Cael seems to be the one most in control, Dehliah knows more about the family's skeletons than she lets on, and Sam likes to wear girls' clothes. But I'm sure I'll learn more as the weeks go on.

The pilot actually showed less humor than I initially expected, but there were flashes. The scene at the reunion showed Wayne at his schmoozy finest, and the scene where he goes golfing with his neighbor Jim and hustles obnoxious executive Hugh Panetta, shows Wayne's sly side.

Questions abound: will the Malloys be outed? How does a bumpkin like Wayne know how to play golf so well? Will Jim's wife Nina be the one to find out the ruse, or will she be too doped up to care? When will Dale catch up to them?

Like most FX shows, there's an overabundance of bad language, some violence, and flashes of nudity. But it didn't distract me from concentrating on the Malloy's adventure.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Concert Review: Angelique Kidjo

Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) was alive and kicking on Saturday evening for the Angelique Kidjo concert. Kidjo brought her soaring voice and group of five musicians who specialize in the rhythmic sounds of Afropop.

In the middle of enthusiastically speaking about the uniting power of music, Angelique Kidjo stopped herself to ask: "Can you imagine this world without music? Can you? People would be jumping off roofs every day?"

In addition to music from her native West Africa, she offers modern pop-American R&B, and South American and Caribbean styles.

No one sat still through her show. She was certainly dancing. "I'm in paradise when I'm on stage."

Kidjo was born in the West African country of Benin in 1960 and moved in the '80s to Paris, where she became a popular performer. In the '90s , she had a series of Afropop dance hits and earned Grammy nominations.

Her latest CD, "Djin Djin" (due out May 1, but she had copies for sale which I quickly bought one) has Kidjo singing with guest starts Joss Stone, Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel and Carlos Santana. It's also a return of the more traditional sounds of Benin and of Africa in general.

Kidjo demonstrated the expansive range and depth of her vocal power. Her voice is guttural and she reaches deep within herself for a rich and, at times, masculine tone. She sings with great emotion and is definitely enjoying herself.

I was fortunate to see her Saturday evening and was deeply impressed by her commanding stage presence. I really had no idea any about her music when I bought her ticket. Standing barely five feet tall, Kidjo dances with incredible energy and grace; she also knows how to get people on the dance floor.

This was one of the best concerts I have seen in ages and would go again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Dresden Files: Walls

This episode of The Dresden Files was another doozie. Walls was the story of a gang of students using an evil magical artifact to pull off sensational robberies, with Harry being drawn in after the girlfriend of one is killed outside his office in what appears to be a hit'n'run.

Anyway, definitely creepy, these kids running around with the severed hand of a dead thief and using it to walk through walls. Extra creep points for the hand being covered in wax and used as a candle, and the bits where the ghost of said thief materializes while riding around in the body of one of said hapless kids.

"Oh no I have an Evil Hand" is totally what I kept thinking all throughout this episode. That one line from Angel is forever emblazoned into my memory, I swear.

I liked the remarks about how technology doesn't work for him, and the bit where he and Bob were flabbergasted that his answering machine actually picked up a message for once was great. I especially liked how Bob wished him luck turning it on.

And this played nicely into Harry revealing how a tech-impaired wizard does his spying: with bees in a jar. Yeep! Very clever use of sympathetic magic there, not to mention a way to get the audience cringing as he puts that jar up by his ear and his eye!

And speaking of things that were pretty cool: Harry throwing fire around at the end! FINALLY! It's about time we see him pull a fireball on something!

Another creep-inducing moment where the boys are coming out of the bank and one of 'em gets chopped in half coming out through the wall.

Touching on the side effects of Harry's powers again, and of magic in general, the main "in universe" thrust of this tale is to highlight the dangerous consequences of using black magic, prompting a show-stealing, understated performance from Conrad Coates as Morgan, the High Council Warden, and the appearance of a gruesome waxy monster. Terrance Mann also delivers on the Bob front, as always, meaning that even though this might not be quite as strong as the last couple of episodes, the powerful performances bring it so close as to still merit an A- Grade!

Walls also drops another hint about Harry's shady past as well as further insight into Bob's character, which goes a long way to creating the world building illusion that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Good writing is what will ultimately make or break this show and its recent track record suggests that - as long as they continue with this calibre of material - the show could have a long and healthy life. Battlestar Galactica has just been renewed for a fourth season, so, with bigger viewing figures (if not the critical acclaim), I would guess that the short term future, at least, is secure for The Dresden Files

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Simpsons: Rome-Old & Juli-Eh

Seriously, what is it with Grandpa Simpson falling for Marge's family members? In one show he almost marries her mother, and this time he puts the moves on Selma. Talk about a lot of weird Thanksgivings.

This episode had some good laughs, but overall I wasn't too impressed. The secondary story involving Bart and Lisa building a gigantic castle out of cardboard boxes from ASS --which stood for "American Shipping Services," and is not, as one truck indicates, affiliated with the human ass-- and fighting an apocalyptic battle with the men in brown was more entertaining than the main story, in my opinion.

"Those boxes are for shipping, not for creating a world of pure imagination!"

Not to say there weren't some good laughs to be found throughout the half-hour. Homer "Flintstone-ing" his car to save on gas was an immediately classic moment. During Grampa and Selma's courtship, the camera panned past a few cars at lover's lane, stopping at their car that was rocking up and down. Cutting inside, we saw that Selma was giving Grampa CPR.

Patty, disguised as Selma through the perfect placement of a bobby pin, and Homer, disguised as Esteban de la Sexface, also offered some laughs, including Patty envisioning Homer as Mrs. Krabappel and Homer exclaiming to the camera after Selma showed up, "Dos Selmas? Ay-yi-yi!"

The best part of the episode, though? Grandpa telling Selma's daughter a grim tale of his time in the war, but "censoring" it for her young ears and using terms like "machine hugs" and "fun throwers."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lost: Enter 77

Okay, now we're getting somewhere. After the feel-good episode with Hurley learning that he can make his own luck/hope, this episode delivered some action, answers and... still more questions. Let's reflect:

In Sayid's flashbacks, his was Najeev and he was working as a chef in Paris where he met Sami, a fellow Iraqi whose wife, Amira, claims Sayid brutally tortured her. All they want is for Sayid to admit it. Slight problem: Sayid is certain he never tortured her and "cannot admit to something I did not do." Don't they all say that, Sayid?

Amira strokes a cat that she saved from a torturous death, and she says the cat sometimes bites or scratches because he forgets that he is safe. The cat is similar to the cat at The Flame. In the end, Sayid admits to having tortured Amira, who sets him free because she doesn't want to be a ruthless torturer like Sayid.
In Island news, Locke, Kate, and Sayid are following a compass bearing of 305 North, which is a little something Locke has derived from Eko's stick. Sayid is frustrated by Locke's faith-based excursion but soon he comes upon a cow. Then a farm. Then the eye-patch guy, or "Patchy," who promptly shoots Sayid in the arm. When Locke and Kate come busting in, Patchy realizes it's all a big misunderstanding and gets to work removing the bullet from Sayid's arm. He also reveals a string of information of questionable truthiness (if I may):
  • The station is called The Flame and is the center for communication with the outside world.
  • Patchy's name is Mikhail Bakunin, and he claims to be the last surviving member of the Dharma Initiative.
  • He was in the Soviet military, stationed in Afghanistan, before he responded to a newspaper ad for Dharma which asked, "Would you like to save the world?"
  • In what he calls "The Purge," the rest of the Dharma people were destroyed when they waged a war against the "hostiles" (indigenous people of the Island?). After the war, a few hostiles told Mikhail that he could stay at the Flame if he stayed within a certain area.
  • The Flame communicates via underwater beacons that emit sonar pings into the ocean, guiding submarines. The giant satellite dish on top of the farmhouse apparently doesn't work.

Other stuff that happens at the Flame: Locke comes upon a computerized chess game, which brings him to a menu screen where we see our old buddy Marvin Candle. This time, Candle presents a few options, the last of which is to "enter 77" if the station has been taken by hostiles.

In the C4-wired basement, Sayid and Kate encounter Ms. Klugh, the creepy Other lady who said Walt was special. In a loud showdown, Kate and Sayid hold Ms. Klugh at gunpoint while Mikhail holds Locke at gunpoint, none of them willing to give up their captives. Ms. Klugh and Mikhail scream at each other in Russian. So Klugh asked Mikhail to kill her!

Then Sayid takes Mikhail prisoner. Sayid also finds a map on which he locates the "Barracks" and assumes that is where the Others have their village. Meanwhile, Locke has entered 77 and the whole Flame station blows up, conveniently after everyone's outside.

Less importantly, Sawyer loses a ping-pong game to Hurley and now can't make up any nicknames for people for a week. I have to say, I laughed out loud when he called Sun and Jin "Crouching Tiger" and "Hidden Dragon."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dinner & A Concert: Lorie Line An Intimiate Piano

Stir up this tender chicken and pasta entree in a hurry. It features spinach fettuccine for a colorful change of pace.

Fettuccine with Chicken

8 oz spinach fettuccine
Chicken breasts, cubed (I used the precooked Tyson)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
3/4 up Parmesan cheese
Garlic powder

Cook fettuccine according to package directions. To save time, I use the precooked Tyson chicken. Drain fettuccine; add chicken, milk and butter. Stir in cheese topping, garlic powder and pepper; heat through.

Lorie Line - Intimate Piano Evening Series

Last night the State Theater in Kalamazoo was the setting for a small intimate setting for Lorie Line's lush piano music - similar stylistically to George Winston and Jim Brickman. Mary and I are fans of Lorie's since we are both pianists and so were about 125 other folks who attended this event.

Photo: Mary, Lorie Line, and Me

Lorie played with a small group of her favorite musicians for a more "unplugged" acoustic setting. It was high interaction on the stage. She made you feel like you were listening to her and her fellow musicians in her living room with all the story telling and relaxing atmosphere.

She played favorites from over the years, and showcased her original compositions and favorite standards, and shared the personal stories that go behind the music. She has recorded 26 albums to date, her music drawing on influences such as baroque, blues, jazz and soul.

Even though I have been playing the piano going on nearly 38 years, I was in awe at her talent and ease in which she played. She is truly a gifted artist. Plus, she was extremely warm and friendly when I spoke to her while getting her authograph and picture taken.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Prison Break: Sweet Caroline

Man, this might just be the best episode of the season! We finally got to hear what was on that tape.

President Reynolds had sex with her brother! Incest! The ultimate twist!

Holy smokes, I didn’t see that one coming. It wasn’t a surprise – it was a shocker. It was even more effective because it was part of a great scene with Michael, Mr. Kim and the President. It’s not often these three intermingle, and their back and forth made the reveal that much more intense. When Kim swooped in at the last second and told Caroline that he too knew her secrets, it sent the series off in a completely different direction.
On a side note, I was wondering why Lincoln’s buddy brought him a six pack. But when Reynolds resigned, and Linc screamed and threw the bottle against the wall, I had my answer.

As I suspected, C-Note survived his suicide attempt, which really isn’t that surprising considering he tried to hang himself in the middle of the day with the guards milling about. His storyline has shifted now that the other agent is trying to nail Mahone.

Speaking of Mahone – he is truly brilliant. I love the whole I’m-so-strung-out-on-tranquilizers act, which led to Sarah’s fake escape. I thought it was pretty silly that she didn’t mention the Mahone encounter to Michael when the two spoke on the phone, but she did just learn about the pardons, so maybe her mind was elsewhere.

Did T-Bag leave his brain in Alabama? Instead of just hiding out and waiting for Bellick to grab his bag and leave, T-Bag infiltrates the baggage area and gets into a fistfight with an airport employee. Seriously, all he had to do was go to the bathroom, wait a few minutes, and he’d be able to pick up his five million with no problem. However, from a plot perspective, it’s understandable. The money had to be put back into play, but I just hate it when smart characters do dumb things. The writers came up with that awesome incest twist, but couldn’t figure out a better way for T-Bag to lose his bag?

Anyway, Sucre and Bellick are going to go after the money, but they don’t know what name T-Bag was flying under or what the bag looks like, so they’ll run into a problem at the airport. Of course, Sucre can’t be seen there, so Bellick will be flying solo, so to speak.

Finally, I have no idea why Scary Corporate Guy would have a file folder labeled “SONA”? What the does that mean?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Dresden Files: Soul Beneficiary

This soup tastes like you spent all day cooking. Plus you can spoon the leftovers over baked potatoes!

Broccoli-Cheese Noodle Soup

1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped broccoli
2 oz angel hair pasta (not sure how to measure this out - I had too many noodles)
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup water
3/4 cup milk
6 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed
1/2 cup sour cream

Cook both the broccoli and pasta according to package directions; drain. In a large saucepan, melt butter, stir in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in the water, milk and pepper until blended. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; stir in cheese until melted. Stir in the broccoli, pasta and sour cream; heat through (do not boil).

The Dresden Files: Soul Beneficiary

Waking up in bed with room service delivered by a pretty blonde would make any sane man question his luck–and might even cause a bit of confusion Heh. Well, that’s what happened to Harry Dresden.

This episode had Harry investigating a case of black magic. At first, it just seemed a run of bad luck with two people dying in his apartment. One was a client, one was the client’s wife. Both died supposedly of heart attacks. Yet, the thing was that Harry found out neither really had died.

Come to find out, the wife was in league with a morgue assistant who just so happened to be a dark wizardess. The scheme they had was simple. Drug an unsuspecting man, move him to another city, and have think he was married. Then, with a life insurance policy taken out, the wizardess would kill them and then resurrect the man after having collected the money and start the process all over again. Neat trick, huh? Yeah. That was until Harry Dresden got involved.

The two women, who turned out to be lovers as well as partners-in-crime, abducted Harry and set out to do the same scheme using him. However, it backfired, of course, and Harry was able to escape. It was hilarious when the one woman (the one playing the wife) was trying to kill him, and he was like, “wait honey, can’t we talk this out?” Heck, she was wielding a fireplace poker at him! I guess that’s what drugs do to you. Then, when Murphy came to pick him up, she had to help him into the Suburban she was driving, twice. He climbed out. Now, that was funny.

Oh, the skull Bob lives in is supposedly his own skull. That is to say: his skull when he actually had a body. That was his punishment. Apparently, he’d brought back to life the woman he loved using a resurrection spell, which is against the laws of magic–because it’s considered dark magic. So, now he has to spend eternity as a ghost inside his own skull. Yikes! Nice touch, though.

Pam's New Music Downloads

Bruce Hornsby, with his cerebral piano style, and Ricky Skaggs, all furious picking, aren't an obvious match. But as it turns out, they complement each other so well on their new CD Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby. Best is their version of Hornsby's "Mandolin Rain" on which Skaggs displays his virtuosity on the titular instrument while Hornsby provides evocative accompaniment.

Mika, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter who was born in Beirut and is based in London, breathes refreshing life into pop music on his animated debut, Life in Cartoon Motion. The CD kicks off with the poperatic pomp of his glorious U.K. hit "Grace Kelly", on which Mika flaunts his self-taught skills on the keys.

Sharing his name with the legendary Doors frontman, James Morrison has already made his mark in his native Britain. Undiscovered, his debut CD hits the U.S. with a brand of bluesy pop that paints him as the British answer to John Mayer. That may not make him the most original bloke on the block, but when the tunes are this strong and the voice is this soulful, it hardly matters. Best is the R&B-dipped single "You Give Me Something" on which Morrison and his richly textured pipes really give us Yanks something to talk about.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

MTTT & The Winner: Pilot

Thursday, April 19, was our monthly M Thirsty Third Thursday. This month we took over Mulligan's Grill & Sports Bar in Portage. A very nice place with a wide menu selection. About 30 employees & few spouses gathered for lots of laughs and a drink or two. The Product Engineering Department celebrated a pre-release of a version of our software, so these guys were in prime form. There was also a group of visiting employees that joined us. They are part of the Systems Integration Testing.
See more photos at my Kodak Gallery Mulligan's Album.

This show is basically a standard sitcom with an abnormal premise. Rob Corddry’s Glen Abbott narrates from the future in which he eventually became “the richest man in all of Buffalo”. It is set in 1994, mainly for the ill-conceived pre-set notions we may have had about various public figures (such as “Bill Clinton seems like a strong family man” and “Bill Cosby is a great public speaker”) and for OJ jokes (whom Glen’s dad vehemently defends, with the series set in Buffalo and OJ having spent his entire career with the Bills, it makes sense).

His life takes a turn for the better when his childhood crush, Alison, moves in next door and is now a divorced doctor with a 13 year-old son, Josh, that Glen immediately befriends. They are both socially inept, mild hypochondriac’s and wildly nervous and insecure around women. Again, like any other sitcom with the exception that revolves around a middle schooler and his best friend in his early thirties.

By the end of the pilot, Josh is fully aware that Glen pines for his mother and is mostly indifferent about it. Actually, he is encouraging about the prospect of Glen potentially being his stepfather. And essentially, that is the entire series, Glen and Josh trying to improve their social standing in order too appeal more to women.

The series has its highs and lows, a few good punch lines but mostly tired and rehashed ones. The only notable acting comes from Corddry, who plays his role charming and innocently enough that it avoids being misconstrued as creepy or even pederast. This wasn’t terribly unexpected, as Corddry had a good turn on Arrested Development. Every other adult actor on this is too peripheral to even warrant commenting on. Child acting in comedy series’ isn’t really subject to criticism.

The most intolerable aspect about this show? The overbearing laugh track. Maybe its because I haven’t regularly watched a sitcom with a laugh track since Seinfeld went off the air, but it didn’t add to the show, if anything it detracted. It seemed like nothing more than a que for viewers to use so to know when to laugh, but even then we would be submerged in uproarious laughter when it seemed like nothing more than a simple exchange. Bizarre.

This series does not have much staying power. However, even after this is cancelled, I do believe Cordrry will get another network series (if he stays in television), hopefully he will have more creative control than he does with The Winner.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Simpsons: Yokel Cords

Marge [talking to Bart at the psychiatrist's office]: Bart, honey, this is all we can afford for now. If it doesn't work, maybe when you're older you can pay some lady to make you happy for an hour.
Bart: You know, I'm pretty sure I will.

Part of the fun of watching The Simpsons is trying to guess who the guest voice is each week. This episode had five guest voices packed into the episode, some of which were easier to guess since the actors were playing themselves, of course: Steven Sondheim, Meg Ryan, Peter Bogdanavich, Andy Dick and James Patterson.

With or without the clever cameos, I thought this was one of the strongest episodes of the season so far: plenty of great jokes, visual gags, and pop culture references. I loved Lisa and the kids going to see Un Chein Andalou, and the gigantic eye and razor blade showing up at the end of their big musical number.

Okay, I'll admit I didn't care much for the musical numbers in this episode, but at least they were used sparingly, and as I stated above, they were packed with great visual gags.
Speaking of visuals, the Goreyesque sequence in which Bart tells his friend about a cafeteria worker who makes soup of children's heads was a touch of brilliance, if I do say so myself. That sequence ended with a nice little transition back to reality as the scene dissolved from one of the bobbing heads to Milhouse woozily teetering back and forth. Of course, the transition of James Patterson in Marge's dream turning into her alarm clock was much funnier, but it's that combination of subtle gags and not-so-subtle gags that combine to make the best episodes.

Here's a few other things I loved in this episode:
  • The names of Cletus' kids, which included: Incest, International Harvester, Birthday and Crystal Meth

  • Bart doing Mad Libs with his psychiatrist, and coming to the realization that his father never took him on the Merry-Go-Booger because he was always passed out in the parking snot.

  • The Honeymooners ending with Cletus' face appearing in the moon over Springfield.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing: is this the first time we've heard Superintendent Chalmer's first name? Bart refers to him as "Gary" in one scene.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Book Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This book was really hard to get through. It was slow and contemplative to the edge of comatose. I stuck with it to the end because I was determined to piece together a definable plot and/or message. But alas, I got nothing out of it.

It was possibly the most boring book I have ever ready. It is written completely in the first person and the narrator drones on and on reminiscing over his boring life for over 300 pages. It was unbearable. I was initially drawn to it because it is Pulitzer Prize winner. However, I am also looking for entertainment and a compelling plot. This book contains neither.

While the author has a talent for making simple words seem lyrical, this so-called “letter” could have been half as long and therefore half as boring. I didn’t identify with the setting, the over-the-hill preacher, or any of the tiny little everyday details of his life – past or present. Is this really how he wants his son to see him?

When asked for advise on writing from a group of fledgling you authors, Kurt Vonnegut once said, “If it doesn’t advance the plot or build character development . . . throw it out.”

Gilead is written in a manner that is the opposite of Vonnegut’s advice.

Interesting characters? Zero
Interesting plot? Zero
Ideas? Zero
Wit? Less than zero
Humor? Not a speck

Don’t read this unless you want to fall asleep or spend 10 minutes on a well-written but confusing sentence

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mr. Monk Goes To The Hospital

It's a sad and depressing time in the lives of Monk fans everywhere. The fifth season ended with the airing of "Mr. Monk Goes to the Hospital." There won't be a new episode of Monk again until July, so my expectations were undoubtedly high. However, these high expectations weren't necessarily met. Instead, after a season of strong, but sometimes awkward and unusual episodes, the season ended on perhaps one of the most unusual and unsatisfying of them all.

With that said, "Mr. Monk Goes to the Hospital" is still a good episode of Monk, providing plenty of humor and an intriguing crime-ridden storyline. OCD detective Adrian Monk visits the hospital with his assistant, Natalie Teeger. The reason for his visit lies in a nosebleed that doesn't seem to want to end. Naturally, the funny Monkesque antics ensue before long as Monk and Natalie spend considerable time in the emergency room waiting for Monk to be treated.

However, Natalie quickly ups and leaves Monk alone at the hospital to go meet a date, this being her first day off in several months. Adrian reluctantly releases her from duty for the day and is treated. It's directly after this treatment that Adrian wanders off, only to discover one of the hospital's doctors murdered in his own office.

As Adrian examines the crime scene with his friends at the San Francisco Police Department, Detectives Stottlemeyer and Disher, the evidence quickly leads back to an elderly patient, 82-year-old Hank Johansen. Of course, this man was unable to commit the crime, and before long, all signs point towards his doctor, Dr. Scott.

The problems with the episode don't lie in any of the above. The first problem is in what ends up happening to Monk at the end. Dr. Scott bludgeons him brutally and then treats him in the hospital under a fake name. Monk is literally seconds from death when he is nearly injected with a substance he's allergic to, but is saved in the nick of time. This brutal treatment of Monk was a little strange to see in the season finale. I would have preferred a triumphant Monk that left us wanting more. Instead, we saw a down and out Monk walking with a walker, and I couldn't help but wonder if his character did, in fact, need a break.

The second problem lies in how the episode ends. Not only did Monk stumble out of the hospital with only brief mentions of the crime and Dr. Scott's arrest, but I didn't even see the arrest or feel any sort of vindication for which Monk fans are usually accustomed to at the end of the episode.

It was simply a strange way to wrap up a season.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dinner and a DVD: From Hell

I made this dish last night for the Yoga Babes. Chow mein noodles provide the nice crunch in this hearty dish.

Beef 'n' Rice Bake

1 lb ground beef
3 celery ribs, thinly sliced
Onion, chopped
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1 jar (4 1/2 oz) sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 can (3 oz) chow mein noodles

Cook beef, celery and onion until the meat is browned and vegetables are tender; drain. Stir in rice, peppers, mushrooms, soy sauce, butter and brown sugar; heat through. Transfer to a greased baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. sprinkle with chow mein noodles. Bake, uncovered, 5-10 minutes longer or until the noodles are crisp.

Featured Attraction: From Hell

"One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the twentieth century," says Jack The Ripper.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Jack the Ripper, but surprisingly this was my first film based on the story. From Hell is an outstanding mystery and a dark, moody film. This is the type of film that will stick in my mind days after seeing it. I'll have the image of old Whitechaple in my head. I'll have the terrific murder scenes stuck in my head, but most of all I'll have the image of Jack the Ripper in my head. From Hell disturbed me. It even scared me, and a few scenes I was a little bored (action fans will not enjoy this film). From Hell is certainly not for everyone, but it certainly was for me.

Johnny Depp is fantastic. He is one of my favorite actors, and certainly delivers the goods in From Hell. His performance is perfect, and one of his best. Heather Graham also does a fine job in From Hell. I was surprised with her performance. I'll admit, when I saw she was in the film, I was worried. I mean who doesn't get worried when they find out the same actress who was in Austin Powers 2 is going to be in a Jack the Ripper film. But she did surprise me, although I still think she could have done better.

The murder mystery is also great. It keeps you guessing the whole way through (I was not successful in guessing who Jack was), and when the killer is revealed, it all makes sense.

And let me tell you, From Hell is violent! Although not as gory as I expected it to be, it still made me cringe (that throat slash!). A lot of the violence takes place off screen, which let my imagination run wild, and it did just that (My head is filled with tons of gory images).

Sure the film is a little slow moving, but how fast can a murder mystery movie be? But at the same time, I was completely absorbed in the film.

A truly frightening, yet enjoyable movie.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lost: Tricia Tanaka Is Dead

A Hurley episode. A happy episode. A let's-all-ride-around-in-a-VW-van-and-not-further-the-story episode.

THE CHEECH! A young boy -- with a familiar head full of curly hair but an unfamiliar skinny frame -- was inspecting a car’s engine, when the Cheech Marin approaches, keys in hand. He gives them to the kid to start the car. Quite certain the car needed a new carburetor, the kid didn’t think it’d work.

Cheech, ever the optimist, must’ve been a member of The Secret cult with all his positive thinking: “Having hope is not stupid! You’ve got to believe! Make your own luck!” And what do you know? The kid turned the ignition, and it worked. Always trust Cheech, man.
Sadly, Cheech couldn’t stay. He gave “Hugo” (Hugo = Hurley… was that supposed to be a surprise?) a candy bar, hoped on his motorcycle and headed to Vegas, where Chong was most likely waiting to film Up in Smoke.

Back on the island, Hurley fills dead Libby in on the island goings-on and tells Charlie that he probably is going to die when Vincent, Walt’s dog, runs up with an arm in his mouth. The arm’s got a key…

WE COULD ALL USE SOME FUN - After winning the lottery, Hurley bought a Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack. Obviously. A perky reporter was there to interview him. Her name? Tricia Tanaka. You can imagine what happens to her… When she goes inside the chicken shack, a meteor -- or was it an asteroid? a bird? a plane, maybe? no, that already happened -- hits it. Tricia Tanaka’s dead.

So, back to the arm with a key… Hurley discovers an overturned Volkswagon and eagerly tries to enlist volunteers to help him get the car in motion. No one sees the point. “We can all use some fun!” (I swear, Hurley looked at the camera when he said that.) Still, no one sees the point. Except Jin. But that’s because he doesn’t speak English.

Meanwhile, Kate and Sawyer make it back to camp, and way too many unrecognizable people (the island must be a ferry stop or something) come to welcome them home.
Sawyer, angry his stash has been raided, goes looking for revenge, but all he finds is a very happy Hurley, along with Roger, Work Man -- the VW’s Dharma skeleton with a years-old stash of beer. Jin, Hurley and Sawyer (because of the beer) try to fix the car, to no avail. Then, Sawyer throws back a few with good pal Rog. Finally, Hurley sees a hill and sees the light at last. Charlie, looking death squarely in the face, calls shotgun. Badass.

THE CHEECH! RETURNS! Hurley’s mom thought all that “curse” talk was because of a lack of a father figure, so Cheech (aka Mr. Reyes) returns home after 17 years. Hurley, however, is dead set on returning to Australia to settle the score with those blasted numbers once and for all, but he can’t deny the powerful words of his pops: “We make our own luck.”

Inside the VW, Hurley and Charlie careen down the hill, and what do you know? He popped the clutch and made his own luck. Full circle, baby.

Meanwhile, as Kate’s trekking through the jungle, she realizes she’s being tracked -- two torches tend to give that impression -- and Sayid and Locke emerge from the jungle. They implore as to why Kate won’t let them help. “You don’t know where to look, and you’re not motivated?” Uh, Locke used his legs as a door stop for a steel trapdoor so he could read the glow-in-the-dark Dharma map, he concocted a crazy paste in a hut to help him find Eko, he punched numbers into a computer every 108 minutes for no earthly known reason, and -- oh yeah -- he managed to cure his own paralysis! How much more motivated does he have to be?!

Before they could discuss it, the French woman shot up the place. Kate asked if she’d help her find the Others’ camp. Why, Frenchie asks. “There was a girl, about 16. Her name was Alex. I think she’s your daughter.”

AND I’M STILL LOST: So, I'd love to assume Hurley just broke the curse by riding around in a VW, Little Miss Sunshine style, but that would mean that this episode actually moved the story along. It can't be that easy, can it?

And what’s with the dart Sawyer stepped on near the beach? And what’s with Sawyer glancing at some topographic maps of the island before tossing them aside for a Dharma-issued brewskie?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Soup of the Week & Body Worlds 2 Exhibit

Last weekend, I was off to Chicago again. After I returned, I heard from a lot of my readers that they missed my Soup of the Week. Have no fear, I'm back in the soup making groove again.

This is the first time I have made this, and I think it may just be a winner in any chili cook-off. No one will know it only takes five ingredients and only a few minutes to whip-up.

Barbecued Beef (or Turkey) Chili

1 can (16oz) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 1/2 oz) hot chili beans
1 can (15 oz) beef or turkey chili with beans
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1/3 cup barbecue sauce

Combine all of the ingredients. Heat and serve. Couldn't be any simpler!

While in Chicago, Tony and I went to see the Body World 2 Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. It was probably one of the most fascinating exhibits I have seen. If you are like me, I had no idea what this was about when I first heard about it. So let me fill you in:

Body Worlds 2 is a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts that are prepared using a technique called plastination to reveal inner anatomical structures. The exhibition's developer and promoter is a German anatomist named Gunther von Hagens, who invented the plastination technique in the late 1970s.

The exhibit states that its purpose and mission is the education of laymen about the human body, leading to better health awareness. All of the human plastinates are willing donors. The Body Worlds 2 exhibit consisted of about 20 full body plastinates with expanded or selective organs shown in positions that enhanced the role of certain systems. Cased in glass amid the upright bodies are more than 200 specimens showing an array of real human bodies, organs, and organ systems, some having various medical conditions. For example, there are bodies with prosthetics such as artificial hip joints or heart valves; a liver with cirrhosis; and the lungs of a smoker and non-smoker placed side by side.

What is Plastination:

Plastination is a vacuum process whereby the body’s water and fat are replaced with reactive plastics that are initially pliable and then harden when cured with light, heat or gas. All tissue structures are retained. Unlike plastic models, plastinated specimens are intricate, REAL displays of human anatomy. It takes an average of 1,500 hours to transform a cadaver into a full-body plastinate. Plastinated specimens are dry and odorless and retain their natural structure – in fact, they are identical to their pre-preservation state down to the microscopic level. "Slice plastination" is a special variation of this preservation technique. Frozen body specimens are cut into slices which are then plastinated. Plastinated organs and body slices are a useful teaching aid for cross-sectional anatomy which is gaining importance in medical communities.

No one had to remind me how important living a healthy lifestyle is. I definitely am a believer. But after seeing this exhibit, I know understand more about how the body works and how it can break down.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday Night Lights: Extended Family

Gee, there was actually a football game in Dillon this week. Not that I need it to keep my attention, but the five-point victory over the Royal Rock Dragons advances the Panthers to the state semifinals.

No, the football definitely has become secondary to one of the best shows on TV, which every week seems to give its characters more depth and introduces even more interesting story lines. Oh brother, I'm starting to sound like a TV critic.

The arrival of Buddy "Sleazy Car Dealer" Garrity at Coach Taylor's house might just have produced the best line of the season from Coach Taylor's wife, Tami, as they arrive at home after the game: "What is that thing that's sitting on our front porch? It's moving!" And then, "Make him go away." Gee, like that's going to happen. Light a stick of dynamite under the recliner, and keep him away from the note pads, where he discovers that Coach Taylor is talking to the athletic director from TMU.

The job offer from TMU leaves Coach Taylor in a bind -- he's going to need a new rumpled coaching wardrobe.

Mopey Tim Riggins has a new neighbor, the 21st century equivalent of Dennis the Menace -- a towheaded, never-shuts-up kid, but with just one overworked and extremely young parent. All this new Dennis the Menace needs is a paintball gun (instead of a slingshot) in his back pocket and a large dog. Tim, as the Mr. Wilson of the new millennium, gets the pain-in-the-neck little brother her never had.

Have to admit, I didn't see the reason for the long-term disappearance of the Preacher's Daughter, Waverly, coming. Supposedly, she had been on a mission to Africa, but it turns out she's been on meds for a "mood disorder" that seems pretty manic/depressive. Can Smash, who just recently quit is own "meds," deal with it?

Elsewhere, Jason and Lyla renew their love, even if all the Murderball types and their friends make her nervous and force her to use the word "fiancee" about 16 times. Ugh. About all that exchange produced was the information that Dillon is 200 miles from Austin.

The whole episode with Tyra's mom and her sliced-up derriere, in the end (no pun intended), just confirms my opinion of Tami Taylor. She cleans up the house and, at the same time, her relationship with Tyra. Now she needs to work on the relationship between Buddy and Pam Garrity -- and his overly amorous relationship with football. Head on a stake indeed. I'd pay to see that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pam's New Music Downloads

The title of Joss Stone's third album is certainly a misnomer. After all, much praise has been heaped on this naturally deep-voice teen. But this disc, Introducing Joss Stone, her second set of original material, does introduce listeners to a more mature Stone. She expands her retro-soul sound by infusing a hip-hop vibe with the superb jam "Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now."

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is the newest release from Modest Mouse. Johnny Marr, the legendary guitarist, makes his presence felt on the first single, "Dashboard."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prison Break: Wash

Really? We’re going to have this huge buildup to the Magical Tape that can make everything right in the world, but we don’t even get to hear what’s on it? I spent the rest of the hour recovering from the letdown.

This episode did move pretty well, and touched on all of the story lines. Of course, the whole Cooper Green switcheroo was pretty silly. I can’t find the actor’s name, but the guy who played the fake Green always plays a bad guy, so my spidey sense was tingling from the get go. Moreover, the “my inhaler is in my jacket” and the “my cell phone is running out of juice” bits were also pretty lame, but at least the boys hooked up with the real Cooper before the episode’s end, which sent the series off in another direction.

On a side note, Mahone once again displayed some superior policing skills when he figured out how all the sight lines in the park led to the hotel. I wouldn’t want that dude chasing me - no way, no how.

Was anyone surprised to see a rope when C-Note opened up the package? I guess the background music was meant to reflect his personal shock, but the only thing surprising about the rope was that it was already tied into a noose. On that note – no pun intended – we didn’t exactly see C-Note die. He just stepped off the bed when the episode ended; so don’t count him out just yet.

T-Bag seems to be finally getting down to the business of being a multi-millionaire, and his haste to get out of Alabama (to Bangkok) somehow has him on a flight to Mexico. Wait a second, it’s the same flight as Bellick? I’m confused. Quick, I need to press the button. No, the one that says, “Suspend Disbelief.” Ah, yes, that’s much better, thanks. Moving on…

Am I crazy or was T-Bag intending to take three million dollars in cash through security? The bundles of hundreds are literally spilling out of the bag, but this deviously intelligent individual plans to take it through security!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Dresden Files: Bad Blood

This episode we're treated to the Dresden Files' take on the world of vampires. We learn a little bit more about "The High Council" and Harry's past. But I just wasn't that impressed with much about the show.

The take on vampires found here is the same take on vampires found just about anywhere. They like to dress up and be sexy, they hang out in clubs, they're immortal and bisexual. These vampires also congregate in 'houses' - similar to the Blade series. Only here it's the "Red House" - where Dresden's friend Bianca resides - and the "Black House" - comprised of vampires who can't afford swanky digs and instead live in seedy apartments.

Bob insists that Harry shouldn't trust Bianca because she'd kill him if given the chance. However, we never see why this is the case. In the flashbacks to when Bianca and Harry met, they have sex and she protects him - but there's no sign of her betraying him or trying to kill him. In fact, he asks her to kill him (in one of the few interesting and revealing moments of the episode) but she refuses.

Less interesting than the vampires is Clive, the vampire hunter. Dresden uses a nifty magic trick to examine Bianca's bodyguard's eye and get a perspective on who is trying to kill Bianca. He immediately declares that "it's Clive." We learn that Clive is a nasty contract killer used by the High Council. Harry somehow knows it was Clive because men in masks hopped out of an unmarked van with machine guns and crossbows. Black ski masks and white vans are the tell tale signs of the High Council's hit man? Not only is this particularly lame, but the action in the episode is directed with all the intensity of a slow motion re-enactment from Unsolved Mysteries.

When the climactic confrontation happens, Harry is shot in the back with two crossbow bolts. He howls in pain and collapses. Harry then shoots two bad guys in the back with a crossbow and then takes out Bianca's traitorous girlfriend. How does he do it? We have no idea because it's never revealed. Harry just manages to get up, somehow grab a crossbow and fire two bolts in rapid succession and then save the day. There's no logic to it, it's lazy and silly.

Was there anything worthwhile in the show? Barely. The episode revealed some more information about how the High Council functions and a bit more about Harry's past with his uncle. We know he was, at one time, wanted for using black magic to kill his uncle. As a supernatural detective series, The Dresden Files is unavoidably compared to Angel (one of my favorite shows). By incorporating vampires into an episode, that comparison is now all the more fitting, and Dresden comes off looking like a pale and entirely unworthy entry in the genre.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Goodbye to a Former Classmate

Sadly a classmate of mine died tragically over the weekend in a motorcycle accident in Texas. I have known Eric Eickhoff since 1966. We started kindergarten together at West Elementary in Napoleon, Ohio. I'll never forget Eric those early years because we were normally seated next to each other because we were typically the shortest ones in our class. Of course, he was always picking on us girls. That's us from our 2nd Grade Class Photo (1968) where we had to sit boy, girl, boy, girl.

We both played trumpet in the jr. high and high school bands. But Eric and John (Buzzy) Wulff (another classmate who lost his life about 25+ years ago) were always 1st & 2nd chair. I never had the talent both of them had. They were always getting into trouble with Mr. King, our band director, but they always came through during the tough halftime shows and many parades we marched in.

My family moved to Michigan in 1977 and even though I didn't graduate from Napoleon High School I still consider it to my alma mater. In 2004, Eric returned from Texas to attending our 25 Year High School Reunion. Eric was part of our golf outing. We never had so much fun golfing. It was a delight to get reacquainted and to reminiscence about our years growing up.
Photo from 2004 Golf Outing: Me seated on the right, Eric behind me in the black t-shirt.

My deepest condolences go out to Eric's wife and his two children.

No Dinner, but a DVD: Frailty

No time for dinner tonight. I had my facial (have to keep my youthful appearance) after work tonight so it was just frozen egg rolls. But I did manage to watch a DVD:


Many people consider the horror genre a mere bag of tired cliches and proved formulas, still, there are overlooked movies that prove the contrary such as this little modern gem that marks the debut of actor Bill Paxton as director. "Frailty" is a modest low-budget film that accomplishes more than what most of the recent big-budget horror films have done and with a very original and clever plot. This great mix of horror and suspense is a great step in Bill Paxton's promising career as a director.

While a series of bizarre murders by a serial killer named "God's Hand" shock the nation, a man (Matthew McConaughey) goes to the FBI headquarters one rainy night claiming that his brother is the infamous killer. Interrogated by FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), the man, whose name is Fenton Meiks, begins to tell the story of his childhood in order to explain why he believes his brother Adam was responsible of the murders.

And so he begins telling how when he and Adam were just kids, their father (Bill Paxton) had a religious experience and received a message from God giving them the mission to destroy demons. Fenton explains how he unwillingly joined his family in a bizarre series of murders following his father's visions.

At first sight "Frailty" is a low-budget film like the many dramas that are made for television, but in fact this film has a powerful and captivating storyline that never looses steam. It is a roller-coaster of suspense very well handled that keeps the tension always to the max. Without being explicit or too violent, the movie presents the internal hell that young Fenton had to endure while following his fanatic family and the conflicts he has as he doesn't believe in God.

Bill Paxton gives an old school feeling to this character-driven horror film. With a very good pace he lets the story unfold keeping the interest and never letting the film drag for a second. It may not be the most visually impressive film, but it is a breath of fresh air against the fast-pack edition of modern horror films.

The acting is top-notch, specially in the part of the kids. Young Fenton can't believe his family is killing people under the excuse of a divine task. His performance as a kid who gets carried in this nightmare is simply perfect. Young Adam is also very good, and even when his role is a bit smaller he is very convincing as the only one who believes in his father's mission. Paxton is great as usual and one can never say if he is insane or if he really has seen God. It is a very convincing role and together with the two kids carry the movie with power.

The film is near-perfect and is a very good example that sometimes less is more. Still, the movie is a bit short and the ending feels a bit too rushed. However, it is enough to conclude this great story and is a very rewarding experience. It is a very good horror/suspense movie that will please fans of horror tired of the constant repetitive plots of modern horror films. This gem is definitely worth a look.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVII

Good thing for reruns. I have no idea how I missed The Simpsons annual Halloween special Treehouse of Horror episode in October 2006.

I always try to give the Simpsons Halloween specials the benefit of the doubt, because obviously when they first decided to do one for each season, starting with "Treehouse of Horror I" in season two, they probably weren't thinking they might have to keep coming up with three new vignettes every year for almost two decades, with no clear sign of stopping anytime soon.

So I cut the series a little bit of slack when it comes to these Halloween episodes, because sometimes you just run out of scary things to spoof and you end up creating something like "You Gotta Know When to Golem," about a mystical Jewish creature who becomes Bart's unwitting slave. But even though this was the least of the three stories this year, it did have some funny moments. I loved how the family created a bride for the Golem out of Play-Doh, and how the Golem turned from a silent killing machine to a neurotic freak that won't shut up the moment he's allowed to speak.

"Married to the Blob," the first story of the episode, wasn't too bad, though once they established Homer as an ever-growing blob with an insatiable appetite, there wasn't much left to do but watch him eat everyone and everything. I did like how they used him to solve the homeless problem, though.

"The Day the Earth Looked Stupid" the final vignette of the episode, was by far the best. This story takes a few shots at the debacle in Iraq. In this segment, aliens invade Springfield to prevent mankind from obtaining "weapons of mass disintegration," but their mission, called "Operation Enduring Occupation," turns into a quagmire. "You said we would be greeted as liberators!" accuses one alien.

All in all, not a bad episode as these Halloween ones go. I'm always happy to see the Simpsons stretch beyond their reality and give us something a little different, even if my excitement is more for the tradition than the content of the episode.

Favorite moment: Trying to justify their occupation of Earth, one of the aliens claims they still have the people's "hearts and minds," and then holds up a human brain and heart.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Simpsons: Kill Gil Vol 1 & 2

Homer: Why did you let that loser into our home?
Marge: I'll tell you why: Christian charity.
Homer: "Christian Charity?" What does a porn star have to do with this?

This was a repeat from Christmas, which somehow I missed. I was impressed with the overall holiday motif of this episode, especially the altered opening with snow, Christmas decor and Bart riding a snowboard (across dry pavement, even) rather than his usual skateboard.

Gil is the always unlucky salesman based on Jack Lemmon's character from Glengarry Glen Ross. He's a great character, but he can't sustain an entire episode. I know this episode was really about Marge and her inability to say no to people, thus Gil staying almost an entire year, but I simply didn't feel any kind of substantial dramatic build-up that would have warranted Marge and the family driving to Arizona just so she could finally tell him off. Still, the episode felt rather flimsy.

But enough of that. Here's what I did like:
  • Krusty yet again hosting a Christmas special, despite being Jewish (and popping out of Baby Jesus' bed at the ice show)
  • The sign outside Costingtons: "Christmas presents at Hanukkah prices"
  • The "Away" sign for Santa with a picture of Santa on the toilet
  • Marge "rented" a negligee
  • The leprechaun from "Treehouse of Horror XII" returning
  • Homer telling Santa's Little Helper that there's water under the seat as the dog sits inside a car in 117 degree weather

Also, I loved the Grumple that kept stalking Homer through the episode. It was a funny idea made funnier by the fact that it became more and more unclear what the hell this creature was exactly. At first one assumed it was just a guy in a costume, but then it bled green blood when attacked at Moe's.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy

This episode focused on a pair of murders that occurred on the same dreary night in San Francisco. However, the murders are quickly determined to be unrelated to one another, and the refocus of the investigation on the male victim, an innocent street performer, is demanded by the federal agents that are sent by Washington to investigate the crime. Why? Because it appears to be a serial murder case in the making, with the street performer's corpse being left with a note promising another, similarly brutal death in only 36 hours' time.

The federal agents on the case, led by the overzealous and cocky Agent Thorpe, rely on the newest technological devices to solve their crimes. Their over-emphasis on technology leads Adrian to seek his own way onto the World Wide Web. Watching him deal with a computer is hysterical, and when he takes control of Natalie's daughter's computer, a Dell laptop with a pink, floral design scheme on the back side, his quirky computer-related shenanigans simply increase in number.

It's hard to take an episode like this too seriously, and although Monk and his friends at the San Francisco Police Department are "put in their place" by the federal agents time and time again, it's our friends Monk, Stottlemeyer and Disher that get the last laugh when Monk solves the case, connecting both the murder of the street performer and the murder of the female victim whom they were initially investigating. The feds have no choice but to put their tails in between their legs as a result.

This episode of Monk didn't only prove that Adrian can outsmart even federal agents' high technology. It also proved that the series can remain fresh by throwing at us a hodgepodge of episodes that vary in seriousness, humor, character concentrations and storylines.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dinner & a DVD: 40 Year Old Virgin

Tonight is the calm before the storm. The temperature today was 73 degrees here in SW Michigan. Tomorrow they are forecasting 35 degrees and snow! T. S. Eliot was right - April is the cruelest of months. So with that in mind, I fixed this slow-simmered and seasoned with rosemary, mustard, and thyme tasty pot roast.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pot Roast

Red potatoes quartered
Baby carrots
Beef chuck roast
Dijon mustard
Garlic salt
1 1/2 cups beef broth

Place potatoes and carrots in a slow cooker. Combine the mustard, rosemary, garlic salt, thyme and pepper; rub over roast. Place in slow cooker; top with onion and broth. cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Featured Attraction: 40 Year Old Virgin

When you see someones list of their favorite comedy movies, you hear names like Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, American Pie, and all the other raunchy classics that everyone loves. The 40 Year Old Virgin will go right up there as one of the best.

Andy Stitzer (Carell) has never done the deed and it becomes known to three co-workers, who make it their duty to correct this anomaly. Andy prefers to compensate by creating seemingly healthy obsessions such as collecting action figures (including the Six Million Dollar Man's boss), gaming and the like. Just in case you forgot, he is 40-years old. As we come to learn through flashbacks, he really has tried, but just has not been "successful".

Prior to last year's sleeper hit "Little Miss Sunshine", Carell's possible career highlights have been as a "Daily Show" correspondent and the lead on one of the most under-looked and great groan-inducing comedies, "The Office". He has also stole scenes in "Anchorman" and "Bruce Almighty". This role showcases his expert timing, charisma, knowledge of constructing a joke and romantic/dramatic reach.

Paul Rudd (David), Seth Rogen(Cal), and Romany Malco (Jay) are cast as the co-workers and eventual buddies who insist on passing on their collective wisdom, baggage and mistakes. Each character is perfectly honed, project great matter of fact sensibility and hilarious in every scheming scene/disaster. The stage is then set for two crazy encounters, which continue to reinforce his decision to remain a virgin for all eternity. I must mention Leslie Mann (the drunk), Elizabeth Banks (the sex freak), Jane Lynch (the boss) and the elder Indian co-worker, each of whom generates great laughs and support in their roles.

Andy insists that he will do this the right way, which at once is ambitious...finding a perfect woman, building a relationship and making it work. His buddies come to realize that there is a degree of merit to the approach, which they have come to have forgotten through their encounters over the years.

He believes he has found this in Trish, played by Catherine Keener. Their chemistry is wonderfully playful, sincere and believable given both their characters' background.

Ultimately, the movie is a brilliant piece of comedic work and is set to a great accompanying soundtrack, which itself strikes a euphoric chord. Amidst the barrage of mediocre and painfully unfunny comedies in recent years, this one really sticks out. It's definitely not for the easily offended, but despite many of the crude jokes, it never sinks to just tits-and-ass levels or plain crudeness. The film has the courage to believe in its own convictions. Great raunchy fun with a real heart.

Monday, April 2, 2007

CSI: Fallen Idols

Well it looks liked we're putting The Miniature Killer on hold for the time being. Instead, we got a regular, run-of-the-mill episode of CSI. The whole team working together on one case, just like the good ol' days. Pretty interesting story too. Crabs took the spotlight this time. Everyone had crabs.

Centered around a popular high school basketball player who apparently slept with anything that had a pulse, we got to see the inside workings of some jealous classmates as well as the outcome of the bi-polar teacher who loved the kid too. Freaky stuff. But not freaky in the, "I'm scared" sense. Freaky in the, "what the hell is wrong with you people" sense.

He loved her, she loved him, she got jealous, and they all got crabs. Apparently you can extract DNA from crabs and determine who someone has slept with recently. Everyone got their own sort of punishment for being such lousy human beings though. That one kid went to jail. The lying girl died from the brain hemorrhage. Basketball boy died after being pushed by his girlfriend, who was then hit by the jealous teacher who drove by and scooped up the body. Then she killed herself... on top of his corpse. See what I meant when I said freaky?

That was the episode in a nutshell. Like I said earlier, it really was great to see them team working together again on one isolated case.
This episode’s ending was a lovely scene that also happens to be, hands down, the hottest moment this show has ever had. Sara, looking into a mirror, holds up a straight razor and asks, “Do you trust me?” She turns around and Grissom, his beard lathered with shaving cream, gazes at her and replies with a delicious purr, “Intimately.” She moves close to him and he, trustingly, submissively, closes his eyes and tilts his head back. She holds his head steady with one hand and, with the other, begins to shave off his beard. This scene lasted all of 25 seconds and I felt like I needed a cold shower. That’s how hot it was.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Soup of the Week & My Name Is Earl: Guess Who's Coming Out of Joy

Cream of Zucchini Soup

1 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2" slices
2 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 cans (one 12 oz, one 5 oz) evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter

In a large saucepan, combine the zucchini, water, onion, bouillon, and seasoned salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Cool slightly.

In a blender, cover and process soup in batches until pureed. Return all to the pan. Add milk and butter ; cook and stir until butter is melted.

My Name Is Earl: Guess Who's Coming Out of Joy

Okay, I give in. Up until now I'd held firmly to the belief that the best My Name is Earl episodes were invariably the ones where Earl gets to cross something off of his list. This episode proved me wrong. There was no list-crossing, but I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard at the TV.

As I've mentioned before, Jaime Pressley (Joy) is pregnant in real life, which explains why the show keeps finding ways to show her pregnant. Joy shouldn't be that far along with the new baby, so it's flashback time. And we finally get to see Earl's full reaction to the birth of his two illegitimate sons.

This episode explains one of the greatest mysteries of the show so far. If Earl was such a bad guy before he found karma, then why did he stay with Joy after he found out she'd cheated on him and raise two sons that weren't his? I'm pretty sure you could have stuck me in a room with nothing but this question for a few lifetimes and I never would have come up with "so he could save his gerbils." But it's interesting that his father bullied Earl into doing one of the only good things he'd done before he found the list.

That said, I'm not entirely convinced that the old Earl staying with that family was the best thing for it. Sure, he provided for them, by stealing food and magazines, pulling a string when a child got too close to the street, and labeling the wall sockets "kid's don't touch." But I'm pretty sure most of those things would result in having the kids removed by a social services agent in real life.

I love that Earl's parents are getting a larger role, although I still think Earl's need for approval from his parents is a little after school special'ly. But the scene where Carl, Kay, and Earl are standing in the hall looking at the wrong baby was almost Office-like in its awkward humor. I love when Kay turns to Earl and tells him that maybe Joy can give the t-shirts (that say #1 Grandma and Grandpa) to her parents, and they can use a sharpie on the little white cartoon baby face.

Randy's in peak form tonight, showing his childlike innocence. After the story where we were supposed to buy his true and undying love for Catalina (before it was squashed by some nasty smells and Freudian references), it's nice to hear Randy express excitement at his own ideas.

One of my favorite moments of the episode:Earl finds out that Joy's second child isn't his either, and exclaims to Randy "I'm a clown. I'm a damn clown!" Randy replies, "But people like clowns. Hey, wait a second, if we all painted our faces like clowns all the time no one would know Earl Jr wasn't yours. Can we? Can we paint our faces like clowns?"
What else did we learn tonight?

Make sure to put antifreeze in your car in the winter and make sure to put in a diaphragm before going to a Ronnie James Dio concert.
Thanksgiving stuffing is kind of disgusting when you think of it as a euphemism.

Carson Daly is not the first TV celebrity Earl has taken advice from. Montel Williams was also Joy and Earl's therapist.

Earl's dad partly blames himself for the way Earl turned out.

But before things could get too sappy, Earl showed his father that he could finish something by completing the lamp he started in 8th grade. And in the course of 30 minutes, we get to see two generations of Hickey men electrocuted by that lamp. It's a good thing for those two kids that they're not really Earl's.

Pam's New Music Downloads

On her retro-soulful second album, Back to Black, saucy belter Amy Winehouse serves up a heady cocktail of vintage '60s R&B. The 23-year-old Brit comes out smoking with "Rehab," easily one of the best singles of 2007. Displaying both humor and chutzpah, Winehouse, who refused when her former management company wanted her to go to rehab, turns a righteous girl-group groove into a rebellious bad-girl anthem, as if Courtney Love has crashed Martha and the Vandallas.

Given the late '60s, low-fi feel of their latest record We All Belong, it's no surprise that two members of Philly quintet Dr. Dog once moonlighted in a Beach Boys cover band. Wearing their heavy Pet Sounds and late-era Beatles influences on their sleeves, Dr. Dog creates layered harmonies on the perfect pop of "My Old Ways." I almost expected this song to be encrypted with a subliminal message declaring that "Paul is dead."