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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rescue Me: Babyface

The Season 4 premiere of perhaps one of the best shows on television today, RESCUE ME. I have loved this show from the start. It’s not an easy show to watch. But it’s real and it’s honest, and real and honest aren’t always pretty. Especially for the FDNY.

The fourth season picks up 9 months after the end of Season 3. Tommy is being investigated for insurance fraud as the police believe that he took out a life insurance policy against Sheila as well as a new insurance policy out on the beach house a short time before it went up in flames. Everyone is convinced he’s going to jail for this one, but Tommy claims to not remember exactly what happened. The police don’t buy it, nor does Tommy’s lawyer who suggest Tommy lies rather than go back to the cops claiming he doesn’t know what happened. And as for what really did go down, all I know is that Tommy was rescued by a female volly (volunteer firefighter) played by Jennifer Esposito.

Per usual, nothing in Tommy Gavin’s life if working out for him. He is back with Janet. Well kind of. They are living under the same roof in a platonic relationship (let’s see how long that one lasts) and together raising “little no name” who may or may not be Tommy & Janet’s son. Neither of them are sure if the baby is Tommy’s or his recently departed brother, Jimmy.

Although little no name might not be Tommy’s, Colleen sure is. His former lesbian, born again daughter has turned into a sex crazed, drinking, pot smoking punk. While Tommy is frantic about his daughter’s behavior, Janet seemed unphased and reminds Tommy that Colleen is Gavin after all - what did he really expect?

In the most shocking moment of the night I learn that Maggie and Sean are still married. These two made it through nine months of marriage. Notice I didn’t say nine months of married bliss. Sean married Maggie, he couldn’t assume that he was going to be happy, right? He’s certainly not happy with Maggie’s porn collection. He tries to ditch them but gets caught and ultimately decides that if he can’t get to trash them he might as well watch them with her…yeah, maybe not his best idea.

In happier couple news: Franco and his lady are still going strong. Richard is pushing Franco to marry his sister….how else will he get her out of the house so he can have sex? Jerry’s son has decided to get married and has asked his father to be the best man. Showing just how far he has come in the acceptance of his son’s homosexuality, Jerry agrees. And Kenny is still doing God’s work aka sleeping with his girlfriend the nun…in the church…during Mass. A straight ticket to hell for that guy.

Despite the good and the bad in their personal lives, the guys are always firefighters first. And when a call comes in for the guys to rescue some trapped kittens (no I’m not kidding), they never expect the building to explode and the floor to collapse leaving them all hanging for their lives. As an eerily upbeat B-52s song plays in the back, the guys start falling down the collapsed floor in slow motion into the awaiting flames. Thankfully (and conveniently) the explosion also knocked out a side of the building so when the guys slid down the floor they were actually deposited on the outside ground below. A few scrapes and bruises but the guys are all fine…and they even managed to save a few cats.

Just another day in the life of Tommy Gavin. So here’s where it all gets a little tricky. I know that Tommy is being investigated because he took out the house and the life insurance against Sheila. But where is Sheila? When I last saw her she left Tommy behind as she ran from the burning house, no? Was she dead? Was Tommy collecting her life insurance?

Just as I think Tommy is heading into a final meeting with the police he instead lets himself into an apartment, and as the camera pulls back it’s revealed that Sheila is enjoying a drink on the sofa. Huh? And to complicate matters even more she says “We’re sitting on $2 million dollars and you’re screwing it up!” What?! I’m confused.

I’ve got lots of questions. Was Tommy in on the insurance fraud from day one? Was Sheila? Is Sheila alive or was Tommy seeing her ghost? So confused.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Creature Comforts: Animal Magnetism/Secrets & Lies/Pets at the Vet

I finally saw the premiere of CBS's Creature Comforts, a delightful little series from Aardman Animation, best known for bringing us Wallace and Gromit. This is the third incarnation of Creature Comforts, the first being a 1989 Academy Award-winning short film of the same name. That British short took the audio of interviews with ordinary people living in housing developments and retirement homes and attributed their answers to animals in a zoo. The American version retains all of the charm of its predecessors (there was also a British television series) while presenting a distinctly American vibe.

The look of Creature Comforts is not dissimilar to that of other Aardman creations, including the previously mentioned Wallace and Gromit and the feature film Chicken Run, but it's that familiar style that first grabs you. The animals are simply adorable, with their wide mouths and round bodies. The animation itself is masterfully done, as should be expected from a company with such a great reputation. The choice of movements for the characters worked so seamlessly with the unscripted dialogue I sometimes forgot that these weren't voice actors I was listening to.

That brings me to the true gimmick of the show -- that ordinary people sharing their personal thoughts on all sorts of subjects is what's giving these animals their voice. This week, topics included doctors, animal magnetism and secrets and lies. The humans being interviewed seemed to range in ages and occupations. From the sound of things, the series has done well in representing the American public… well, the American public I'm likely to find on network television.

In this episode, we were presented with the likes of cute children telling jokes, long-married couples pleasantly bickering and a nice young man that doesn't have much luck with the ladies. It's doubtful you'll ever hear an interview from the gangbanger or the deadbeat dad or your local corner prostitute. While those interviews might be colorful, it's simply not the tone Creature Comforts is going for. This show is all about lighthearted, innocent fun and we like our stop-motion animals that way.

The meat of the series is seeing which animals the animators paired to the human dialogue. Some of these juxtapositions resulted in immediate chuckle-inducing visual puns, like the voices of men talking sincerely about the aromatics of wine coming out of the mouths of dogs sniffing the back ends of other dogs, or the fully-submerged fish complaining about his dry skin. Elsewhere, the pairings of voice to animal have a more subtle connection, such as the female panda deflecting the advances of a male panda in a breeding facility, or the lizard child telling bad jokes to crickets. But the episode became most engaging as certain characters began to truly reveal themselves. Most of those memorable scenes came from the couples (the lovebirds, the bees, the horses) that already have a built-in rapport with each other.

Creature Comforts is not life-altering television, but it is some smartly executed, good-natured fun. I'm not likely to find myself laughing from beginning to end, but I was smiling the entire time. This is the epitome of summer viewing. There's really nothing to think about while I was watching -- no storylines to follow, no great mystery to solve. I can just sit back on a warm evening with a glass of lemonade and see what tickles my funny bone.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Family Guy: Mother Tucker

The episode starts off at a disappointing air show (no crashes), which leads to a new job opening for Brian as a radio talk show host. Creating a sophisticated morning show, Brian doesn't do very well - until he receives help from Stewie, who makes his show a Howard Stern-esque program featuring more noises and profane dialog than any of the wholesome content that Brian was striving for. But with ratings up Brian ditches all self-respect and adds as many fart noises to his program as possible. By the end of the episode Brian sees how he has sold out and quits the program.

While this is happening Peter's mother comes back to town and reveals that she has left his father, and is going to date again. After going to a singles meeting, she eventually hooks-up with the local news reporter Tom Tucker. Like a child dealing with his new stepfather, Peter goes through this transition like a five year old - denying, hating, and then embracing. Eventually Peter's mother leaves Tom, but Tucker stays the good stepfather and continues to help Peter grow up. In the end, we find that Peter recognizes that Tom's actual son needs his father more than he does, and so he allows Tom to leave - and reject his own responsibility as a parent (in true Family Guy form).

There were many things that were great about this episode, but the funniest aspect of the show this time around was their take on radio. From the first time I saw the radio jockeys I got the impression that they are immature, simple-minded idiots who pander to the lowest common denominator - and isn't that the truth? Everything about these type of radio shows was dead-on: the overplaying of excessively long soundbytes, the made-up mascots (i.e. the manic monkey), the stupid show titles (i.e. Weenie and the Butt), and the total aloofness to tact.

When seeing Stewie and Brian duplicate this mentality with their hilarious characters, I got something that is way out there… but somehow remains within the realm of feasibility in the world of shock-jocks and radio DJs - and that just adds to the humorous nature of the show. So even though this storyline seemed to end rather abruptly, it was still funnier than anything I have seen on the show in a long time.

The other very funny bit of the show was Peter's reverting to a child. Even though he is pretty stupid, he conducts himself as an (dumb) adult most of the time, so when I get to see him act like a young child it is pretty funny. Now this is something that could easily be overdone, and not be funny at all - but MacFarlane did a great job with Peter's voice making him sound exactly as a child would in the given situations.

My favorite scene was taken almost exactly taken from the movie Kramer vs. Kramer - when Peter's mother left and it was just Tom Tucker and Peter at the dinner table together, and Peter disobeys Tom by leaving the table and eating ice cream leading to a spanking. So even though this could have easily gone over the line, or been pretty lame, it was actually really funny.

The random jokes were really funny (especially the celebrity monotone roundtable and the Mannequin/The Ring bit), the story was actually crafted well, and the characters didn't act too far off from what you would expect.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bones: Mother and Child In The Bay

Should you decide to eat your dinner during the watching of Bones, and you don't have a strong stomach, be prepared to go hungry the rest of the night or perhaps make a visit to the porcelain phone. Because it can get pretty grisly, icky and gooey. Hence, the reason why they preface the show with a 'Viewer Discretion is Advised' message. Just a little warning, courtesy of me.

Don't believe me (you never do)? Well, take this episode: the body of a woman missing for over a year is discovered floating in Delaware Bay (that's in the Mid-Atlantic part of the United States, for all of you West Coasters). Not only do they discover her body, but the body of an unborn baby as well. As a father (which I didn't know about), Special Agent Seeley Booth takes the investigation of this homicide seriously. Unfortunately the main suspect in the murder, her husband, has suddenly disappeared. Well, if he was found and confess to the murder it would be an awfully short episode.

As per many of these crime procedurals, the evidence on the table is not all that it seems. First, the stab wounds were not made by a man. Using a scientific experiment, stabbing a dummy with a knife connected to a computer, it is determined that the force of impact was performed by a woman, possibly the current girlfriend of the potential murder suspect.

Next, there are traces of not only fresh water in the skeletal bones of the murder victim, but salt water as well. It takes the talents of Jeffersonian Institution doctor Jack Hodgins, expert in soil and sediment, to conclude that the victim was originally murdered and dumped in a fresh water creek in Gloucester City, New Jersey (perhaps by Tony Soprano).

Finally, the baby isn't hers. Oh, the victim was pregnant, but the baby was cut out of her and replaced with one that had died by Shaken Baby Syndrome. How do the doctors at the Institution know that? The overlap of the cranial bones points to a breast-fed baby, no older than two weeks.

Using the extremely cool holographic tank, expert Angela Montenegro is able to put a face on the dead child's skull and age it to a point where they can make a facial match to another person. Turns out the profile matches one of the mothers who was a friend of the victim. She had shaken her baby to death, lured the victim up to New Jersey for some relaxation (God knows why), stabbed her above the stomach, and took the unborn baby.

Other than the fact that the plot could have been ripped from Law & Order: SVU, I found this episode to be very enjoyable. The only thing about Bones that makes me uneasy (other than the first 20 minutes) is all of the scientific conversation. True, Agent Booth is there to provide a layman's translation; yet, it's still hard to follow unless you subscribe to Scientific American or The New England Journal of Medicine. I know they're all supposed to be very smart and the tops in their fields, but it can be a bit frustrating at times.

Enjoy your liver and onions smothered in gray gravy.

Pam's New Music Downloads

"I feel it all," sings Feist on the summery pop delight also titled "I Feel It All." Indeed, this Canadian singer-songwriter has a little bit of everything on her third solo album The Reminder. Reminding me of Joni Mitchell, Feist possesses a haunting voice that makes these songs linger in my head longer after they are over.

If I thought that Paul McCartney's bitter split from wife Heather Mills might have turned him into a grumpy old musician, I thought again. His new CD Memory Almost Full finds McCartney, who turned 65 in June, facing death with his sunny side up on "End of the End."

Bon Jovi continues to take a turn toward Nashville on Lost Highway. Bon Jovi makes twangy tweaks in sound, while employing country-style songwriting on tunes such "Lost Highway."

Often brilliant and never boring, the White Stripes maintain their position as the first couple of alt-rock on Icky Thump. The crunching, country-tinged "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" seals the deal.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Office: Grief Counseling

Is Michael Scott feeling a bit of his own mortality? He was really devastated by the news of his old boss' death, and he could not comprehend why his staff and his manager (Jan) did not feel the same way he did.

I thought Pam was especially good in this episode, especially when making Michael get coffee from the warehouse during his walking down the stairs bit and during the funeral pyre scene where she broke out in song. I guess the fact that she feels liberated from Roy (and Jim, to some extent) is allowing her personality and sense of humor to come out even more.

To me, the best line of the night was when Michael was describing the 5 steps of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance--and he said that if "I can get everyone depressed, that'll be good enough for me." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist of the idea. Although he's trying to be sincere, the buffoon in him is still there, and I sure wouldn't have it any other way.

Up in Stamford, it looks like Jim and Karen may be headed toward getting together. I'm sure eventually word will filter down to the Scranton office, and most likely Michael will blurt something out in Pam's presence. How will she deal with it, especially with Roy trying to win her back?

The staff grief counseling meeting was good, but when Kevin started with his Weekend at Bernie's story, I nearly lost it. (I've always thought Weekend at Bernie's remains one of the more unsung funny movies of the 80s.)

Anyway, another solid episode with Steve Carell at his best.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Riches: Waiting for Doug (Season Finale)

The Riches had the kind of season that had its ups and downs and left me on the fence about whether or not I wanted to keep watching next season. At this point, it was really up to the finale to win me over. Now that the final episode has aired, wrapping up the inaugural season it's unfortunate to report that The Riches simply didn't amount to much.

One of the major problems with The Riches was an apparent unwillingness to commit to a tone, a direction or an overriding narrative drive. The show lacked focus, wavered from being a drama with comedy to a comedy with dramatic elements until ultimately it was difficult to be that invested in either the story or the characters. This was all the more frustrating because so many of the elements worked.

It's a great idea, Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver formed a very strong core for the cast, and the show often hinted that interesting developments were coming. They never really arrived however, and The Riches ended up being mostly setup with very little payoff. Dale remains menacing without posing any real threat for the entire series. Doug's relationship with Hugh seemed to get relegated into the background towards the end. The small bits that occur in the one-off episodes, such as Doug's ex-wife, the Clancy Brown sting, and the ever growing sense that Doug's paralegal, Audrey, was catching on to him. None of this bore any fruit and the series seems to end with a shrug of the shoulders more than a jaw-dropping cliffhanger.

The introduction of Pete worked okay last episode, but he just comes off as a fool here. He buys every lame line and excuse from Wayne and Dahlia. It's hard to tell if this is because the writers are trying to make Wayne seem clever or Pete seem pathetic. The latter is more believable, and Wayne stopped seeming too clever several episodes ago. The writers tend to dumb down the Malloy's marks, rather than craft well thought out cons. Which is a shame, because the pilot held far more promise of what the Malloys were capable of; back then, Izzard played a small time crook with natural talent who dreamed big.

The series also promised a bit more from the kids, Didi, Cal and Sam. All of these roles were very well cast with great young actors. While some interesting things popped up at school with Cal working for rich kids, Didi dating a "buffer" and Sam painting their life story on the wall - much of this material was dropped halfway through. The rest never came of anything. What did happen to Didi's boyfriend? Whatever happened to the rich prep school kids that Cal seemed to be befriending? In the finale we see very little of them and their individual storylines are forgotten.

FX has already renewed The Riches for another season, so it seems they have confidence that the producers are taking it somewhere. The show and cast are interesting enough to see what happens next season. However, a very uneven season and a lackluster finale doesn't exactly have me chomping at the bit for more Riches

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Studio 60: K&R Part 1

I think there's something particular to Studio 60 fans in that we really, really wanted the show to be good. I'm not a hater. I'm not watching this show and cackling. Yes! Yes! That's right, Mr. Sorkin, make a left turn into a dramatically unsatisfying kidnapping of Tom Jeter's brother! Yes! Now flashback to 2001 for no reason whatsoever! Ah, yes!

That's not what I'm doing. I sit down hoping that the show will be good. I hope this for two reasons: 1) because I'm sticking out the remainder of the episodes and I want to be entertained in that time, and 2) I really, really had high hopes for the show and I hate to be wrong.

So that's why it's with a heavy heart that I must report my dislike of this episode. The second Harriet went down to pray in the opening sequence, I thought the show went off the rails. That, combined with the meaningless (and I mean absolutely meaningless!) flashback, the silly K & R conversation, and the crass Jordan pregnancy scare (more on this in a minute) and I was left with a pretty bad 60 minutes of television.

Let's get the bad over with first:

- Harriet praying. I pray that Harriet and Matt don't talk about religion on the show. Is that irony?

- The flashback. Sorkin can get pretty ham-handed with his "messages," but even I thought the "This war will be over with by dinner time" comments were being laid on a little thick. Yeah, Aaron, I get it, the war has dragged on a lot longer than anyone ever expected. Remember when this was a show about a TV show? I thought the exploration of trying to be funny in the face of war and 9/11 was a particularly rich vein (remember Giuliani and the firefighters at the first new SNL after the attacks? "Can we be funny again?" "Why start now?"). Too bad this was ignored for... I don't even know what the flashback was trying to accomplish!

- Jordan's pregnancy scare. Here's a question for you: when a show is struggling in the ratings and the show within said show is also struggling in the ratings and one of the characters very crassly suggests that the way to save the show within the show is to have someone on that show deal with a pregnancy crisis (as it's an easy way to manipulate the female audience) while those very characters are DEALING WITH A PREGNANCY CRISIS, how are we supposed to care for those characters? I mean, it's almost as if Sorkin is saying to us, "All right, jerks, you're not watching, so here's something that'll make the women weepy." I'd like to believe that it's just an ironic wink, but I really didn't feel that way. I found the whole thing insulting.

- Tom Jeter's brother. I'm sorry, I'm just not buying this. Like the flashback, there's an interesting story about the consequences of political satire ("Mohamed the Thin Skinned Prophet" and how a Muslim extremest group might deal with it) buried underneath about thirty layers of faux-drama. Instead we're treated to Tom Jeter asking angry questions.

Now, all that being said, there was some good stuff tonight. Sorkin's too talented to turn in a complete clunker. So, the good:

- No Simon! I like D.L. Hughley, but let's face it: there's nothing for him to do anymore. His disappearance was the first of the cost-cutting absences that actually improved the show.

- The return of Cal!

- Danny proposing to Jordan. It was romantic and moving and funny all at the same time.

- Danny ribbing the doctor.

- Jack. Last week he was in full-on stereotype mode, this week he's Mr. Sharp-Suited-Super-Shark-With-a-Soul. Not sure why the characterization keeps oscillating, but when Jack Rudolph is good, he's really good.

- In keeping with that, the Matt and Danny and Jack conversation in the flashback was the only part of it that I liked.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dinner & a DVD: Gosford Park

This lasagna-like entree is quick and delicious.

Cheesy Sausage Penne

1 lb bulk Italian sausage
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jar (26 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 pkg (1 lb) penne pasta
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
4 green onions, sliced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In a large skillet, cook the sausage and garlic; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and onions.

In a greased baking dish, layer half of the pasta and sausage mixture. Dollop with half of the cream cheese mixture; sprinkle with half of the cheddar cheese. Repeat layers. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Featured Attraction: Gosford Park

It's Britain between the wars, and a large group of aristocrats--and their servants--are gathering for a weekend shooting party at a magnificent country estate. As the servants bustle downstairs, their masters go about their own business, which generally involves being as nasty to each other as they can possibly be. Intrigue abounds, both upstairs and downstairs,and the viewer soon understands that there is something very sinister just below the surface.

There are outsiders here as well: a film star, who is treated with condescension by the gentry, and adulation by the servants; a Scottish valet who isn't what he seems to be; and an American producer who is present to do research for a movie (one of the ironies of this film is that all his research is for the sake of a Charlie Chan movie--a series not noted for realism).

Tensions continue to mount, until --sure enough--a particularly nasty member of this crowd gets murdered. No one seems to care much, including the incompetent police inspector, who is much more interested in pouring the coffee properly than in good detective work.

Anybody who sees this movie as a conventional murder mystery will probably be disappointed. But that's the wrong approach to this movie, because it´s less a classic who-dunit, than a critical look at the English class system in the 1930's. If you remember the director is Robert Altman, you know from the start that this movie is going to be something completely different than a normal movie.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Book Review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Great Readers of M's July Book Discussion, "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold, was chosen by Kim.

"My name was Salmon, like the fish. First name, Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on Dec. 6, 1973." First sentence of "The Lovely Bones" A powerful sentence. One that either makes you want to go on or toss the book to the other end of the room.

Fourteen year old Susie narrates from heaven. (A giant playground of swings.) She sees her mother and father mourning, breaking apart. Her sister pulling away from the world. But her little brother talks to her. She sees the murderer sitting in the dark...staring out the window towards the school-grounds.She watches her life go on...She watches people grow older as she should be. She holds on to earth.

Some of the images in 'Lovely Bones' are beautiful. Like when somebody dies Susie feels their soul brushing against her cheek...Or when the family dog dies Susie wonders if she'll see him in heaven and suddenly he runs up to her, full force, knocking her down.

This book is not just about pain and loss and the reality of abduction. It is about healing and finally, finally in the end...going on. The thought-provoking novel that is `The Lovely Bones' pokes and prods at the concept of life after death, but even more importantly, the lives that continue after a death.

The story introduces us to Susie Salmon, a 14 year old girl who is trapped in her childhood after being brutally raped and murdered by George Harvey, an unusual man who lives on her street. Susie narrates the story from her heaven, where she watches the day to day lives of the people who were most important to her, as they grapple with her murder and move on with their ever-changing lives and grow-up, something which Susie never had or will have the chance to do.

The book delves into the lives of her family and friends as they attempt to move on and the colossal effect her death has on them as they struggle to stay together. From one character's affair, to the unexpected arrival of an eccentric Grandmother, and the intriguing obsession a school acquaintance develops, the book explores the ways in which each character deals with the tragic loss. All this is explained through the eyes of a young girl watching those she most cared about live the life that she never would, making it an even more fascinating read.

It is about her watching her family's struggles as they try to move on, when she herself can't. As well as this is the ongoing sub-plot involving her killer, a disturbing neighbor, as he attempts to remain one step ahead of the police, and struggles to keep ahead of the Salmon family as Susie's sister and father determinedly pursue him refusing to sway in their belief that he is guilty. The story then looks at the depressing life that he brought on himself after he is forced to leave his home due to the suspicion of others.

But in spite of all this and the events that take place, the book does not have an entirely gloomy outlook, but rather displays the optimism, if at times naïve, of a 14 year old girl. Although the desperate longing for her family is always underlying, the book does not have the depressed demeanor about it that you might expect. `The Lovely Bones' is no piece of light reading, but rather a complex and deep examination of a family dealing with loss, and how it is viewed by a teenager, specifically the one who's life was cruelly taken.

It is a story about overcoming loss, despite how hard it is to do just that. Its extensive mixture of characters and its many minor story lines will intrigue and interest you to the end, as you can't help but get involved in the daily struggle that is their lives, as you put yourself in the position of the characters. In short-read it, or you're truly missing out.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Soup of the Week & The Riches: It's A Wonderful Life

This soup goes together in short order and is very good!

Creamy Chicken Rice Soup

Chopped onion
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped celery rib
Minced garlic
1 tablespoon oil or butter
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) chicken broth
1/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
1 package cooked chicken

In a saucepan, saute the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil until tender. Stir in the broth, rice, basil and pepper. Bring to a boil Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and milk until smooth; stir into soup. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken; heat through.

The Riches:

With one more show to go in this season, things are getting complicated for The Riches. Maybe not complicated enough, and certainly not as dramatic nor as thrilling as the pilot seemed to promise - but things are interesting nonetheless.

At long last, someone from Doug's past has come calling - and this time it's not someone Wayne can easily take care of, such as Doug's mother-in-law and ex-wife. This time, the man in question is Pete, Doug Rich's best friend. Pete's a troubled guy down on his luck, and has come to find his good friend Doug. The Malloys do their best to put up a front as the "Montpierres," and it looks like Pete has bought it.

Dahlia has to pretend to be Doug's ex-wife and she tells Pete that Doug was never his friend, and used to mock him behind his back. This is exactly the wrong news for Pete, who has a panic attack, which he follows by contemplating suicide. Whether he would do it or not we'll never know, since Dahlia and Wayne arrive in time and Dahlia talks him down.

Making matters worse, Dale finally shows his face at Hugh's wedding. He doesn't make any demands or threats, which somehow seems worse. Wayne is still trying to figure out how to deal with Dale when Pete shows up in his office. Pete has now seen that Wayne is pretending to be Doug Rich, and he knows for a fact that Wayne is not Doug Rich. This is the first time in the series that this has happened, where there's really nowhere for Wayne to run or hide.

While Dale and Pete are adding real dilemmas for the Malloys to deal with, it's a bit too little too late in the season. With only one episode to go, it's kind of hard to believe that this is the first time this scenario has come up. Every other situation has been dealt with cleanly and efficiently and without consequences. When you add up the various problems that the Malloys have dealt with in a single episode, the show really begins to strain credibility.

Nina starts to put it together in this episode that the Malloys aren't who they say they are. She says it in a way that almost feels as if the producers are acknowledging the doubts and questions of the audience. While the season finale might be truly fantastic, as a whole the season of The Riches has mostly been one of "take it or leave it." Not bad, with some interesting and original ideas, but not especially compelling and sometimes poorly executed.

This episode showcases some of that lack of "oomph." Take the moment where Pete considers suicide, for instance. I never thought he might do it, as the show has shown by now that they're not that kind of show. Pete never really was going to kill himself, so Dahlia talking him down isn't that remarkable. Hugh's 5 day sabbatical isn't that interesting because it started as a destructive meth bender and ended with him taking time off at a spa and marrying a stripper. It really feels as though the writers are afraid to commit to their own ideas. I'm reserving judgment here until the final episode, but so far I'm not exactly chomping at the bit for more Riches.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Studio 60: The Disaster Show

I've had my problems with Studio 60. It had so much potential that it squandered! It was like a kid who, during freshmen year had a 4.0, started varsity on the soccer team and was elected king of the freshmen dance, and by junior year he's dropping acid in the parking lot with Bender from the Breakfast Club. I just want to take the show by its collar and say, "What's your problem? You had it all! A great timeslot, network support, quality actors in every single supporting role, and probably the best pilot of the last ten years! How the hell did you get canceled!?"

The one part of the show, though, that was perfect, was the relationship between Matt and Danny. Even during the worst stretches of the show's short history, I could count on a few lines of sparkling dialog between the two of them to keep me watching.

Aaron Sorkin must realize this, right? With the number of references to blogs and YouTube on the show, he's got to be aware of those things and what people are saying about the show. He's got to realize that through all the problems people have had with his flawed brainchild, Matt and Danny was the one thing that we were all sure absolutely 100% worked 100% of the time!

So why... why would he give us a show where they don't appear once? I don't get it. Good as the supporting cast is (and Timothy Busfield and Steven Weber turned in their usual excellent performances), watching this episode, especially after going so long without a Studio 60 fix, was like going to a Beatles concert and hearing only George and Ringo songs.

That was my only major complaint tonight in what was otherwise a very solid offering. I guess since it had been gone for so long and had been produced with the foreknowledge that its cancellation was imminent, I was hoping that it would come out with both guns blazing and really show the world what it was missing. Instead I got a fairly forgettable mid-season episode that is more disappointing than it would have been because of the outside baggage.

That being said, here's what I loved tonight:
  • Drunk Jack and the reference to When a Stranger Calls.
  • The unflappable Cal. Wouldn't you like to be that chipper in the face of adversity?

Here's what I liked tonight:

  • D.L. Hughley and Nate Corddry. In the absence of Matt and Danny, they make a fine replacement.
  • Robbie's friend Robby.
  • Nate Torrence getting a bit more to do as Dylan.
  • Allison Janney as herself. Though the events surrounding the disaster show were not nearly as wacky and farcical as Sorkin probably thought, Janney was a fine mark for all the misdeeds. Her moment with Cal at the end was pretty good too, and a nice nod to the fact that at the end of the day, it is just a funky little Friday night sketch show.
  • The wink from Jeannie and the rest of the cast that everyone was fed up with Matt and Harriet. I'm not sure, but it felt like an acknowledgment that the entire world hated that forced romantic comedy.
  • The German Shepherd that only spoke German.

Here's what I didn't like:

  • The sketches.
  • The aforementioned absence of Danny and Matt.

Here's what I hated:

  • It's a small thing, but what is it with Sorkin and crappy sitcom situational comedy? There was the silly Danny and Jordan trapped on a roof scenario that seemed like it belonged on Night Court fifteen years ago, and then, tonight, there was the Three's Company-like double slap to Simon. Maybe I'm not smart enough to get it... is he parodying these conventions? Making a homage to them? How can a writer this smart seem so intent on putting such stupid situations in his show?

Friday, July 20, 2007

MTTT - Wild Bull Saloon

The Wild Bull Saloon is a lot to digest in one visit or even two. The monthly "Thirsty Third Thursday" gang visited one of Kalamazoo's newest restaurant & nightclub yesterday.

Show up at 930pm on a Saturday night and one glance around reveals a guy flailing about on a mechanical bull, people country line dancing, images flickering on flat-screen TV's, waitresses carrying out steaks on platters, and people all around downing beers and martinis.

The emphasis is certainly the nightclub aspect of the place, but when you focus on the food, I discovered the fare can stand on its own. The MTTT's recent visit to the Wild Bull may not have been perfect, but it did reveal a food quality that would draw me back for more visits with my friends. My "spicy" french dip was delicious. Lindsey also ordered the same sandwich and thought it was very good. Cheryl's pork chops were tender and juicy. Liz didn't care too much for her potato skins. John's sampler platter of ribs and and sandwich were gone before we knew it. The only thing left was four rib bones.

Of course, our eyes were pinned on the mechanical bull. Since we were there shortly after work, there were a lot of families since kids can ride free. The guy running the bull ride was nice and showed the kids how to ride. None of us were brave enough to ride the bull, but it was fun to watch everyone else. Liz participated in the line dancing lessons that were offered.

The Wild Bull is huge, with five eating areas and three bars, making it easy to get drinks no matter where you sit. Whether or not I would go back depends. I would go back for dinner and eat in the Cantina area where it seemed a little bit more relaxed. Unfortunately, the place is extremely loud and we were all horse from hollering at each other to carry on a conversation. I certainly have no desire to go later in the evening on weekends since I don't care for country & western music, plus it is filled with college-age kids.

Next MTTT is our 2nd Anniversary Celebration at Bell's Brewery.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lost: Through The Looking Glass

If there's one thing that's consistent about Lost, it's the ability to deliver spectacular season finales. This episode was no exception to this trend, delivering 2 hours of intense action that will for sure have fans scratching their heads and scrambling to decipher until the fourth season kicks off in January.

I wonder if, according to this flash forward, Jack never finds out that Claire is his sister. You'd think that if they knew, she could give him a little moral support.

I'm betting that nobody showed up for Ben's funeral and that Kate is with Sawyer now. Then again, there really could be a number of different inputs to this mysterious combination.

So Naomi turned out to be working for the wrong team - I totally called this! Just saying.

I know Charlie had to die, and I saw it coming, but I still found it to be pretty heart wrenching. I'm just glad he got to be a hero and went down in a blaze of glory.

I'm still not sure what to make of the visions of Walt. Especially now that Walt has gone through puberty in the off season.

Jack and Juliet share one of the worst kisses in TV history, not to mention it made almost no sense. And then he nonchalantly tells Kate he loves her? Since when is Jack so carefree with his emotions?

So is Mikhail undead or what? This is the second time he's been killed, only to come back virtually unscathed.

Gotta love the little snippet of pregnancy scare they throw in there for Kate and Sawyer, just to keep it soap opera-y.

Even though I'm not sure about Juliet yet, I have to admit that her banter with Sawyer is pretty entertaining.

Now that so many of the Others are dead, what are the Losties going to do with the rest of them?

It's interesting that there were 2 scenes of almost attempted suicide in this episode, and they mirror each other. Jack finally gets off the island, doesn't know what to do with himself, considers suicide. Locke loves living on the island, but in desperate moment, doesn't know what to do with himself and considers suicide.

Jack's "man of science" versus Locke's "man of faith" is showcased throughout this entire episode. The interesting thing is that Ben seems to be somewhere in the middle of these two.

I feel the need to give Hurley a huge shout out for proving himself and saving the day, even if it was quickly overshadowed by Sayid channeling the spirit of Jack Bauer and breaking some guy's neck using only his legs.

At the end of the day, Ben just wants to protect the island. He and Locke have a lot more in common than they think; I'm wondering if they are going to team up against the Losties in coming seasons.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Riches: Anything Hugh Can Do, I Can Do Better

I'm covering some familiar ground here. The Riches continues to be about a group of people who aren't sure "who they are anymore." However, not much is really happening. The show has begun running in place, and has removed much of the jeopardy that was setup early on in the season. It's still well acted, well produced and for the most part well written - but it's hard to argue that it's appointment television.

A few plot threads seem to have come to a crawl in this episode. Hugh is supposedly on a drug bender, but I find him in a spa, getting facials and wraps. Dale is hanging out at the neighbor's house, repeatedly scoping out the Malloy/Riches house, without ever actually doing anything. There's only so long you can be a "creeping menace" before you just start to seem foolish and as not much of a threat. Both guys are excellent actors giving good performances, but they've been asked to spin their wheels for far too long on this series. Hugh is always about to do something crazy, and Dale is always about to do something threatening - but they never really get around to it. It looked as though Hugh was headed there after falling off the wagon, but there's been little screen time for him since.

Once again Wayne's facing the dilemmas of being Doug Rich. The beat of "I don't want to be this man" has been hit many times. Starting with firing the man whose job he took, Wayne has repeatedly been faced with having to do things required of Doug Rich that he hates. And yet - he keeps doing them and I keep finding him having a similar dilemma. Even stranger, within this episode, Dahlia goes from wanting to keep their "buffer life" to wanting to scrap it - without any real catalyst for the switch. This just felt like lazy writing - as if something got left over between drafts.

Finally, the episode took an awkward turn into dealing with "issues." When Wayne finds out he has to go to court simply to keep a gay couple from moving onto Panco property, he has a crisis of conscience. Dahlia yells at him that it isn't right and "what if this were your son?!" She never acknowledges the reality of the situation, which is that if Wayne were to lose the case, it could bring the company down. This entire aspect of the story felt awkward and wedged into the episode. This could have been much more interesting, especially considering the possibility that Sam could be gay. Instead it's just another reason that Wayne feels guilt over being Doug.

With only a few episodes left, hopefully The Riches will pick up some steam and deliver a great finale. So much of the original promise of the series has been lost in uneven episodes and slow progression of the story over the season. Wayne has mostly found it too easy to pretend to be a high priced lawyer. While it's interesting that most of their conflicts have become internal, and about their feelings of lost identity - but it's not believable that this would be their primary issue.

How the next few episodes resolve these issues will largely determine whether or not I'll be interested in another season of The Riches.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dinner & A DVD: The Good Thief

Chicken, ham and a wild rice mix make this comforting dish quick to assemble.

Chicken Ham Casserole

1 pkg (6 oz) long grain and wild rice mix
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 cup cubed fully cooked ham
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 cup shredded Colby cheese
Parmesan cheese

Cook rice mix according to package directions. Transfer to a greased baking dish. Top with chicken and ham. In a bowl, combine the soup, milk, cheese and pepper; pour over chicken mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly.

Featured Attraction: The Good Thief

This was a very enjoyable film right up until the climax. Then it was suddenly over and I was left wondering what had just happened, and that's not usually the sign of a good movie.

Nick Nolte is very good in the role of an aging thief in the south of France. He's turned sour over the years and has just hit rock bottom when the opportunity of a big casino heist turns up. He kicks his heroin habit and prepares to steal some paintings the casino owners are holding in a vault.

Nick and his gang have a plan: They're gonna leak the news to the police that they're planning on breaking into the casino vault, but the real robbery involves stealing the paintings held across the street in a secure room. The police will fall for the ruse while they make off with the real goods.

On the big night, everyone's in place except Paulo, who had to flee after killing the snitch who was screwing his girlfriend. Nick and Anne go into the casino and gamble while the boys are across the street tunneling into the room where the paintings are. But the police are on to the switch and are waiting for the thieves to break in.

Now, here's where the ending confuses me. The heist goes wrong because a gas line breaks and the thieves abandon their plan. But Nick is in the casino and he's on an amazing winning streak. I couldn't follow how much he was ahead, but it looked like tens of millions of francs - maybe the equivalent of ten or twenty million dollars.

Nick cashes all his chips in finally and the casino discovers that their vault has been emptied when they go to pay him. The twins working inside the casino have pulled off the caper they'd been planning and which Nick was aware of. In fact, Paulo must have helped them because he's seen in the end climbing out of the car with all the casino's money in it.

So, my question is, was Nick involved in the other heist, the one that really worked, or was his take just the winnings he made at cards? The way he won was so off the charts that I was expecting them to reveal he'd had some inside help, but that apparently wasn't the case.

Is Nick just incredibly lucky or was he really a very clever thief? I couldn't tell what the ending meant, and that was unsatisfying after having enjoyed the buildup.

Good characters and the scenery along the Riviera was terrific. Nick Nolte looking significantly better and more "together" at his character's lowest point in the film than he did in his real life mug shot. With a gravely voice that sounds like his throat has dealt with one too many cigars and one too many shots of booze, Nolte did mumble a lot, but I could understand him for the most part. Tchéky Karyo (Roger) was good as the detective shadowing Nolte throughout the film - they had a friendly relationship and Tchéky seemed on the verge of laughing at the other actor's jokes a few times. The rest of the cast is also very good.

Entertaining, but that ending still confuses me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

CSI: Living Doll

"You were the one thing I thought I done right." -Ernie Dell

That's it, huh? It's weird, but I suppose it is possible to enjoy something that you don't like. It's too bad that this is what I waited all season for, but the resolution of the Miniature Killer story was far less imaginative than I hoped it would be. The identity of the killer ended up being just about as standard as it could get and nothing creative even seemed to be attempted. Very un-CSI like if you ask me.

Natalie Davis, i.e. The Miniature Killer, was indeed one of Ernie Dell's foster kids who just happened to be out of her mind. The "great" twist? She blamed Grissom for her foster father's suicide. Foolish I know, but there wasn't much else to go on I guess. I hate to say it, but I have to complain.

First on my list? Is it just me, or was it ridiculously easy to figure out who the killer was? All season, it's been this huge mystery. If I've learned one thing about Grissom, he's incredibly smart. Always a step ahead. Now he's been making his own model for what? Maybe a month or two now? So he's probably made half a dozen trips to that hobby shop. He was even on a first name basis with the owner. This episode was the first time he thought to bring in some parts of previous miniatures to see if the owner recognized any of the work! You're kidding me, right? You know he had discussed the case with the owner because they were on the same page. That's just sloppy right there. The identity of Natalie could have been achieved a while ago! If you're going to stretch a case over multiple episodes, don't make the answers so easy to find.

Next up? Natalie's motives for her past killings. Ernie tried to feed his foster child some legit reasons for her killings should she get busted, but that was all bogus. Am I supposed to believe that she crossed paths with the three previous victims (as a temp cleaning lady) and took them all out simply because they were in possession of bleach? I think I am. That's too bad if Hodge's discovery was indeed the only thing that tied the cases together. At least we got an explanation as to why she hates bleach so much. Her father used it to clean up the blood of her first kill - her sister. I was hoping for something far more in depth and maybe we'll get that in the season eight premiere, but I doubt it.

Finally? Man... I'm not a Jorja Fox fan at all. I get the impression that the ending was supposed to be far more exciting and her refusal to show up and film her death scene messed it all up. Now I'm left with the wiggling hand (of some stunt double probably) allowing the summer for contract negotiations. Will she die or won't she die? I guess it depends on how much money CBS is willing to pay Fox. Frankly... I don't care.

As I mentioned earlier, I still liked the episode... sort of. Despite the fact that I was hugely disappointed with the story and the cliffhanger ending, I was still glued to the TV screen because I did want answers. I do think we'll get some in the fall premiere... just not good ones. Hopefully if Sara does die, we can move past it quickly and maybe the show can re-invent itself a little with some new cast members.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Soup of the Week & Lost: Greatest Hits

This is so simple and good.

Beer Cheese Soup

Chopped onion
2 cans Cream of Celery Soup
1 cup beer
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dried parsley flakes
3/4 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed

In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter. Stir in soup, beer, milk, Worcestershire sauce, parsley and paprika. Reduce heat; stir in cheese until melted. Heat through (do not boil).

Lost: Greatest Hits

This episode, which is centered on Charlie facing his imminent death while another showdown between the Losties and the Others approaches, is high on the sap factor and low in action. That being said, it's still a great lead-in to the finale, and it managed to hit home a bit with the softy inside me.

Whenever Lost starts off with a running-through-the-jungle action sequence, you know a good episode is probably in the works.

"Why does everything have to be such a secret? How about some openness for a change?"- Thanks Charlie, I couldn't possibly agree more.

Even though Rousseau has cooperated with the Losties in the past, it usually took some convincing. I'm wondering why she's suddenly so willing to go along with with their latest plan of attack on the Others. Maybe it's because some of the Losties have helped Alex and Carl?

I might be one of the few people who actually really enjoys Charlie.

Something about the way Naomi has been blended into the island dynamic doesn't seem right. Shouldn't they be pumping her for more information of the outside world?

I'm intrigued by "The Looking Glass" which is a pretty obvious reference to "Alice In Wonderland." I have a feeling there is going to be a lot of revelation in the next episode.

Charlie's flashbacks weren't particularly revealing, but I have to admit that they made me feel kinda warm and fuzzy inside. As did his moments with Claire - they may not be the most interesting couple, but they're a lot less whiny than Jake and Kate, that's for sure.

So Rose and Bernard are back and Bernard is already an important part of the latest plan. Personally, I thought they were somewhat interesting last season but now I'm alright with them being MIA.

So Jack says he's been the leader for the past 90 days, but Naomi said that Charlie has become this revered rock star and that DriveShaft's greatest hits CD has become huge. In 3 months? This seems like either a very subtle hint at the possibility of time being slower on the island, or a mistake of the writers.

Is it just me, or does it seem like sometimes Jin understands perfect English, and at other times, nothing?

The whole DS ring thing was pretty cheesy, but again, the girlie girl inside of me kinda loved it. However, the geek inside me couldn't help but to think about the "The Lord of The Rings."

Charlie randomly saves Sayid's girlfriend, Nadia, in London. Gotta love the tangled web of connections between all the characters.

I'm glad Sayid stood up to Jack. It's about time someone put him in his place.
The Losties have endless amounts of time to kill on the island, but they never once tried to follow that cable to the middle of the ocean?

Knocking Desmond out was very heroic of Charlie, if not incredibly dumb. Pretty sure he's going to regret that decision.

I think I held my breath almost as long as Charlie did, but I was happy to see him survive, even though there was a gun pointed in his face at the end of the episode. Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat for the season finale.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Riches: This Is Your Brain On Drugs

The fallout from the dinner party in "Cinderella" hit this week, and it made for one crazy ride. This is also the episode that switched my thinking from "Eddie Izzard, the comic, is doing a great job as Wayne" to, "Eddie Izzard is an actor." The writers heaped a heavy load on his back this week and he answered with what was an amazing performance.

Things got off to a great start with Wayne and Dahlia's fight over the drugs that Chunky left behind. It's interesting that he walked in on her before she could decide which way she was going. I think that she would have flushed the stuff eventually, but I'll never know for sure. The chaotic argument after Wayne snorted a handful of the crank was fantastic. Dahlia's reaction, "Of all the assholic things you have done, this is the most assholic." summed it up nicely. That was such a crazy thing to do that it warranted brand new words to describe it.

While it was probably the worst intervention ever, you can see where Wayne is coming from. Clearly he places Dahlia on a pedestal, and the idea of her being an addict is a personal failure to him. They hit on it again later in the episode when Dahlia tells him that everybody knew she was taking the pills, he just wouldn't see it. It's part of the force driving him to make their life as the Riches work. If he can just make it perfect for her, she won't have these problems.

And from there, things really took off. Watching a manic Wayne panic over the realization of just how expensive this new life is was a treat. The fact that the dinner party left his status with Panco up in the air just added to the pressure on his clouded mind. His sudden desperate job search was funny, while also bringing out just how uncomfortable Wayne still is in Doug's skin. The scene with the receptionist at Hayden-Javitz & Associates was particularly good as Doug prattled on and on, making little sense. She was so annoyed with it. It paid off nicely when the managing partner turned out to be Stewart Peel. Wayne was suddenly so elated that he thought he had an answer, and then so crushed as Stewart dropped the hammer.

Meanwhile, with Wayne off on his crank induced adventure, Dahlia was left to hold down the fort at Panco. One thing I was a little disappointed in was the decision to not have Hugh hovering around the office. It would have raised the pressure just a little more as he questioned Doug's whereabouts. I could have even gone for a Doug/Hugh phone call. Despite that missing bit, Dahlia did well covering for Wayne. She showed how much the two of them have in common as she strung them along until she got her opening.

The situation with Cherien's mother came out of the blue and it makes me wonder where they are going with that. As the Malloy's become more and more a buffer family, the money becomes more and more of an issue. Would it be worth the $4300 a month to take in "Grandma" and have her live with them? Dahlia and Di Di both seemed to warm up to her rather quickly. That story also brought up the line of the night as a frustrated Wayne told Marvin O'Keefe that he is causing the supply of Doug Rich to greatly exceed the demand for Doug Rich.

As all of that was going down, lurking in the shadows was Dale. I think I have known since day one that Dale would eventually find his way to Eden Falls. The big question is what is he going to do now that he knows all about Doug and Panco? He couldn't have been luckier than to stumble across Hartley Underwood. Their scenes together were very good, as each of them felt the other out, trying to gauge whether they were on the same page. It also provided one of the creepiest flirting scenes I have ever seen as Dale admired and caressed Hartley's prosthetic arm.

Not much to do for the kids this week, but they did reinforce the differing paths of Di Di and Cael. As the family worried over Wayne's gig with Panco, Di Di made it perfectly clear that she didn't want to leave this life and go back to the motor home. It's understandable. She's a smart girl, and she is flourishing in this new environment. She recognizes that she has an opportunity here.

In the end, while it probably wasn't the road anyone would have advised for Wayne and Dahlia, this whole adventure was ultimately good for them. It forced them to work out some of their issues, and I think it was the final push that Dahlia needed to actually get straight. They'll be just fine, and their relationship is once again as strong as it ever was. Which is good, because more tough times are on the way.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Simpsons: Stop or My Dog Will Shoot

Bart: You can't send him away. He's a dog, not Grandpa.

You know, if Santa's Little Helper is the main focus of an episode, chances are it's not going to be very good. I didn't laugh very much during this episode, but here's what I did like:
  • The man exposed at the cornucopia contest exposed for "stuffing his horn"
  • Homer freaking out in the maze when Marge says they should "split up" (she means they should "split up" to find their way out, Homer thinks she wants a divorce)
  • The police animal training school scene where dogs attack Eddie (in a protective suit), followed by horses and crocodiles doing the same
  • Santa's Little Helper filled out the police report himself?
  • The pet shop owner keeping the python on a wheel and selling it by the foot like twine
  • The Microsoft paper clip popping up on the computer screen as the python swallows it: "you look like you're trying to eat me. Need some help?"

The rest of the episode, though, felt really flat, and Santa's Little Helper was way out of character. The Santa's Little Helper I know is not nearly as smart as the dog in this episode. He's loyal and fun-loving, yes, but he's also rather dumb, which is part of his charm, and also the reason he works better in small doses, rather than the main focus of the entire episode.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

DVD Review: The Good Shepherd

Edward Bell Wilson (Matt Damon) is a young idealist who believes in America and its place in the world. He loves democracy and opposes anything that is a threat to his country and the way of life it has developed. Edward is true patriot who knows no moral barrier or cost that would prevent him from his duty. In him is an idealist to the utmost who is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone.

And that is his problem.

The Good Shepherd is a story about a man who sells his soul. Not to a religious belief, money, a woman, or anything that is physical or concrete. Edward Bell Wilson sells his soul to an "idea" and he discovers that his choice has costs that he himself had not foreseen. In the end, The Good Shepherd is a tragedy for not just one man's life but countless others around him.

Shown through a series of flashbacks starting from the early 1960's, Edward's story begins as a young student at Yale. After entering Skull and Bones, an elite club of spoiled students which allows him access to a close group of influential men, he finds himself offered the chance to serve his country in Europe before America's entry into World War 2. Joining the 0SS, Edward enters the life of a spy and from there finds himself with a front row seat to the mid 20th century's most important events.

However that is where the costs of his decision begin to mount almost immediately. Upon entry to Bones he meets Margaret Ann Russell (Angelina Jolie), a sister to one of his closest friends. A quick night of passion results in a pregnancy which forces Edward to sacrifice his relationship with Laura (Tammy Blanchard), a fellow Yale student, in order to marry Margaret. In doing so he loses perhaps the only woman he has loved and while finding himself in a loveless marriage which will have unintended consequences for the future. A pattern begins which will trap Edward and cause his relationship to his son Edward Jr. (Eddie Redmayne) to suffer. Edward sacrifices his personal love for personal responsibility but he remains distant from the reality that creates.

The creation of the CIA by General Bill Sullivan (Robert De Nero) forces Edward into a world of fear and hostility between fellow agents, Soviet spies, and double agents. The overthrow of Guatemala ruler Jacob Arbenz, the failed Bay of Pigs operation, and the discovery of a possible spy within their own ranks draws Edward farther into the halls of power and international relations but also more away from his wife and son. He becomes a man with a mission but without a soul. He thinks and acts like a puppet whose strings are pulled from above while himself pulls those beneath him. There is no doubt or reason to believe that he is wrong or that he is acting in a way that is perhaps blind at best or morally empty at worst. He has become devoted to an idea and that idea is the CIA and the United States it attempts to serve.

The greatest challenge to that belief is the discovery that his son's lover, a young Congolese woman, is a Soviet double agent who is perhaps responsible for the leaking of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Edward realizes that there no way he can allow that woman, who is now engaged to his son, into his family without the risk of more information being given to the Soviets. On her marriage day she pays the price of betrayal, without Edward Jr. knowing about it at first, after being forced from a plane during flight.

It's this last move on Edward's part that reveals his true character more than any other action. Even as his son weeps in his arms at the news of his fiancée's death, he himself shows no real sign of remorse for the pain he has caused even if it was the right choice to make. He is a soldier and he knows what he must do, a man such as him is one who cannot be expected to do anything but what is expected of him. That makes Edward Bell Wilson, a man who can only see the world through the eyes of the CIA, a defender of freedom but also one who sacrifices his own without second thought.

Is Edward Bell Wilson a good man? That is the question The Good Shepherd asks. The answer depends on who is asked and what that person values the most: freedom, love, or duty?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CSI: The Good, The Bad, The Dominatrix

"So now you're building your own?!?" -Catherine

A fan favorite returns. This was only Melinda Clarke's fourth appearance as Lady Heather on CSI, and I'm fascinated with how much they've developed her character in that short time frame. It just proves that good writing can go a long way, especially when the notion of "less is more" is kept in mind.

The episode started off quite unexpectedly, as I was reintroduced to Heather in a situation that didn't exactly jive with her own beliefs. She's a dominatrix, so why has she put herself in a submissive role? Do I recall what she told her late daughter Zoey in her very first appearance? Something like, give your body and heart to a man but never your power? Well now Heather is ignoring her own advice. Sounds like a good premise for an episode to me.

The story itself was extremely well laid out and I loved how it tied into Heather's previous story-lines. After the death of her daughter Zoey, Doc Robbins informed Heather that she had a granddaughter out there somewhere. Once found, Heather lost any visitation rights to her ex-husband (the child's grandfather). Being a dominatrix isn't exactly a good profession in the mind of the court. You could really see how this was affecting her though. Heather was clearly depressed and despite her diabetes, she developed quite the taste for rare single-malt scotch. So rather than do nothing for her granddaughter, she was willing to sacrifice herself to a violent client in exchange for over $800,000 to fund the child's future. Not your typical tear jerker, but it was still touching.

It brought to light the relationship that Grissom shared with Heather though. He gets her and this definitely did not sit well with Sara.

Elsewhere, I finally got a whole episode where Warrick said more than one line. He and Greg worked together on a standard hit and run case involving some bad blood between two cabbies. Now I admit that I've missed a few episodes here and there, but Warrick mentioned that he had a kid (when he picked up the heavy purse). Is that the first mention of him having a child or did I miss something? Besides, I thought things weren't going too well with his wife Tina?
Also worth talking about...

Before discovering that dead guy, Brass and Catherine were gossiping and Brass was about to talk about something "juicy?" I assume he knows about Grissom and Sara.

What's with Grissom's miniature replica of his own office? What's he trying to achieve?

Now that Greg is on loan to Ecklie and the day-shift, am I not going to be seeing him in the finale?

So yeah, the next episode is the end of the seventh season as I just mentioned. I'll finally find out the identity of the Miniature Killer and I honestly can't wait. I haven't been this excited about an episode of CSI since the Tarantino directed installment from a few years ago.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review: Suspect by Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham, a former investigative journalist from Britain and Australia has crafted a marvelous debut novel. "The Suspect" is a very tight, exciting thriller that stays intently focused on character and psychology supported by the leanest of realistic plots somehow managing, despite this simplicity, to be both bizarre and frightening at the same time! How wonderful is that?

Joe O'Loughlin is a successful career psychiatrist blessed with a wonderful loving wife and child. But when Catherine McBride, a former patient who once filed suit against him for sexual misconduct, is found murdered, horribly mutilated and buried in a shallow grave, O'Loughlin finds himself at the top of the list of the police suspects. Coincidentally occurring on the night of the murder, his alibi is his sole marital misstep with ex-prostitute Elisa but a misguided sense of honour, coupled with an all too human male fear of the results for his marriage, means he keeps mum.

Unlike other more mundane, mainstream thrillers, "The Suspect" makes no attempt to lead the reader too far astray with a typical collection of twists, turns or red herrings. The culprit, Robert Moran, another very deeply disturbed patient of O'Loughlin's practice is revealed to us early in the novel. The goose bumps in this novel are forced on us by the dark, creepy dialogue of Moran's therapy sessions and O'Loughlin's heart-rending attempts to maintain honour, professionalism and client confidentiality in the face of the almost certain knowledge of more murders to come. DI Vincent Ruiz piles up an astonishing array of circumstantial evidence and like The Da Vinci Code's Bezu Fache, the proverbial bull terrier with a bone who will not let go, Ruiz doggedly pursues O'Loughlin as his prime suspect in the brutal string of murders.

The characterization and humanity in the novel is served up in monstrous helpings with lots of garnish - O'Loughlin deals with the onset of Parkinson's disease and its effects on his daily living; Elisa, the reformed prostitute struggles bravely with her past and strong affection for O'Loughlin; Catherine McBride, the first victim, is a very troubled victim herself dealing with the mental demons of a difficult up-bringing and self-mutilation; and Ruiz, realizing his old-style, blunt, brutish methods of policing have dated him and are threatening his career, is determined to bring the murderer to justice against all odds.

A complex novel, no doubt, but so well-constructed that I had no difficulty following all of the well-maintained threads and plots! "The Suspect" is a fast-paced, nail-biting, believable and authentic thriller. He is definitely a new author that I will continue read.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Lost: The Man Behind The Curtain

This episode of Lost was the episode I have been waiting for: the long anticipated back story of Henry Gale/Ben. It was sometimes slow and often infuriating, but an incredibly revealing episode, to say the least. It also needs to be said that it ranked high on the "Lost" scale of moments that made me say "WTF?!"

Was I the only person who half expected Emily to give birth to some weird alien spawn in the opening scene? Maybe it was just the eerie music playing, or maybe I just secretly wanted island babies to be superhuman.

I was kind of surprised and disappointed that Ben was born in Oregon. I don't know why, considering he's almost never been an honest kinda guy.

The palpable shift in power between Ben and Locke is awesome. I love that the Others are all about Locke now, and it gives me hope that maybe the Losties and Others can all get along someday after all. Although that probably wouldn't make for great television.

"The Man Behind The Curtain" is Ben. Hey, does anyone else remember who the man behind the curtain was in the Wizard of Oz? He was a total phony, and kind of a wuss. Sometimes I wonder why Locke just doesn't kick his ass, like he did Charlie. And his father. And Mikhail.
"Namaste" is how the Dharma people greet each other. Wonder if they have any other cool catch phrases.

Horace mentions the "island's abundant, diverse...wildlife." Well, that's one way to gloss over "smoke monster and polar bears."

Young Ben is all about little Annie, and clearly he's still affected by her in real time. However, we never find out what became of her, or whether or not she was gassed like the rest of the members of the Dharma Initiative. Something tells me we may find out.

So Mikhail survived because the fence wasn't turned up to the highest voltage. Lame! Why would the fence ever be on lower voltage? Also, didn't he claim that he survived because the island provides special healing powers? (By the way, tell that to Boone!)

I can't wait until I learn more about Alex and how she came to be Ben's "daughter."

Trying to sort out the "who's who" of the Dharma Initiative hurts my brain. So Ben goes to school, lives in the community — but is his part of the island in cahoots with experimental guys like Kelvin, Desmond's hatch buddy?

Ben sees his dead mother, like Jack saw his dead father, and Shannon saw Walt. I've tried to make connections between these three incidents, but Walt really throws me off the track by being alive and all.

So Ben's dad is an alcoholic and blames Ben for his mother's death. Ergo, Ben has serious daddy issues.

Juliet changes sides more times than anyone I've ever seen.

So Richard was once a "hostile/native" but he looks like a hippie. He doesn't seem to have really aged from Ben's flashback to real time, unless the "Lost" producers expect us to believe that a haircut ages a guy a good 30 odd years.

Did Richard and the hostiles coerce Ben into killing his father and the rest of the Dharma people or was it the other way around?

The whole Jacob extravaganza was really irritating. I didn't find it creepy, intense or mind-blowing. I was just really irritated. Also, I think it would've been awesome if the writers had just made Henry Gale insane.

So Ben kills his father, takes over and becomes leader of the others, can talk to what may or may not be an imaginary friend. Locke kills his father (kinda), starts gaining respect of the Others, can talk to Jacob too... this doesn't bode well for Ben, which is why he went and shot Locke. However, I don't believe for a second that Locke is a goner.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Riches: Cinderella

One of the most interesting aspects of The Riches is that, because of Dahlia's jail term and the family's Traveler history, any disruption that the writers can throw in the Malloys' way seems at least somewhat plausible. Heck, I think the only thing that would make me roll my eyes is if Godzilla came to visit Eden Falls. And even then, I would give the story at least a half hour to play out before dismissing it completely.

Up until this episode, I didn't know much about what Dahlia went through in her two years in prison. I still don't know everything, but after meeting her Chunky Kay, we know that Dahlia's two years could have been a whole lot worse if not for her "cellie." We also know that friendship on the inside doesn't necessarily translate to friendship on the outside.

Davenia McFadden did a nice job as Chunky; I know that deep down she's a good person, but life circumstances -- she killed her abusive husband and readily admits it to Wayne and the kids -- and has a bit of an anger control problem. Despite the fact that her idea to market rabbit meat was a little stupid, and her way to get back at Hugh was to have him snort coke (or was it heroin?) off her boobs, she still seemed sincere in her desire to honestly get ahead in life. But Wayne knew things weren't quite right with her: seeing her sniffing glue was the biggest clue. He was right on the money when he told Dahlia that they were most likely "drug buddies" than anything else, and I'd imagine he now knows who helped make his wife the addicted mess she currently is.

Well, make that was. She didn't take what Chunky offered her after she asked her cellmate to leave. You want to respect Dahlia's efforts to want to share the Malloy's new-found wealth, but every effort to poke an opening in the walls she says they're building around themselves is another opportunity for their cover to be blown. It's going to be a constant fight for the Malloys; how do they make their way in this buffer life and not let their emotions cloud their judgment?

Speaking of judgment-clouding... Wayne came awfully close to becoming a partner at Panco, didn't he? Luckily, he decided to hold off singing the agreement Hugh put in front of him at the dinner party. It would have just been too much too soon for the Malloys; they're still Travelers, and Hugh being a partner would have made him into a buffer far too quickly, and Dahlia let him know that. But I also think he passed on the partnership because he saw Hugh being a raging lunatic tweaking out on his first snort in eight years, and I'm sure he thought that maybe ownership wasn't the best thing for him.

And Hugh was certainly hitting his stride when he publicly outing the Riches' neighbor Jim. How he knows Jim was gay is beyond me; maybe that's better left unsaid. But now I know why Nina sucks down those pills like they're Skittles; she's been in a sham of a marriage for 18 years. How sad for her that the only thing that keeps her going is the thought that people who drive past Eden Falls on the highway are jealous that she's living there. Compared to Nina and Jim, the life of the Malloys seems a whole hell of a lot more fulfilling.

What were those adjectives Chunky gave Hugh to convince him to make Wayne a partner? Or were the adjectives hidden under her bra? We'll never know, I guess.

The kids weren't particularly involved in the story this week. I still want to see more of Sam, but I was happy that the writers briefly explored some of his cross-dressing tendencies in this episode. "It's just a barrette," he says as he chafed in his dinner party suit. But I knew that, as soon as he eyeballed the lipstick in his hand, that he'd come to dinner in his prettiest Sunday brunch wear. Nice cover by Di Di; Hugh is enough of a prick that he would have never let Wayne live that down, while ripping Sam a new one in the process for not being part of the "B" team ("B" for "boy").

This was an entertaining episode, with a nice mix of humor and drama. There were a couple of loose ends presented (will Chunky seeing Doug Rich's degree come back to haunt the Malloys? How about her calling Dahlia by her real name in front of all the guests?) that may or may not get resolved. But it was well-plotted and well-acted as usual.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Simpsons - Homer makes domino videos

This is too funny and why I love this show.

The Simpsons: Crook and Ladder

Homer: What are you, a travel agent? 'Cause you're sending me on a guilt trip.

I have watched a lot Simpsons shows for many, many years and I try to judge each episode on its own merit. One of many great things about those earlier episodes is that they managed to combine top-notch humor with truly touching moments without making those emotional moments seem trite or tacked-on. I think the series, even as it nears its 400th episode, can still conjure up those moments, but I will admit that sometimes it doesn't quite hit the target.

Take, for example, this episode. First of all, this one of the funniest episodes I had seen in a long time. Here's just a few of the moments I loved and be sure to watch the YouTube video above:

  • The Nappien ad, complete with a bird pooping the pill into the man's mouth and phrases like "napping centers" and "awakegins"
  • The clever jab at the expense of Ambien (which was proved to cause "sleep eating" in some people) when Lisa 'accidentally' says the name of the real-life product
  • Homer's "Dominex" kneepads, and his videotape dominoes self-portrait, complete with Matt Groening's signature
  • Homer's MOOD SWINGS! Moooood swings.
  • The man in the house fire who states that gay marriage is the "real emergency"
  • The pastiche of the Forrest Gump theme that plays when Mr. Burns floats out his window
  • Apu's threatening stance: slapping a puppy against his hand
  • Apu pretending to be a reincarnated into a cat ("you have just been Apu-ed!")

However, when it came time for the emotional arc of the episode when Homer realizes his kids are disappointed in him, the episode was so immersed in wackiness it just couldn't pull it off. I thought the "Sad Eyes" sequence was funny, but it was funny at the expense of the kind of emotional payoff that puts The Simpsons ahead of more cartoony fare like Family Guy and American Dad (which are both funny shows in their own right, and yes, you can like them all equally and for different reasons).

Friday, July 6, 2007

CSI: Leapin' Lizards

Another one-shot episode and a crazy one at that. Fortunately I got some little hints as to what may be in store for everyone as the season winds down.

The main case as I said was a bit crazy. Believers of some kooky reptilian race were behind the conspiracy and murder of a Las Vegas black-jack dealer who they apparently thought was some kind of hostile lizard queen. Hmm... there's a sentence you don't find yourself typing out every day.

Ally Sheedy (she looked terrible!) was featured in many of the interrogation scenes. She played the woman with the sword who slayed the aforementioned hostile lizard queen. This sounds hilarious now that I'm writing about it by the way. It was just an all-over-the-place plot from the aliens, to the hallucinations, to the mounted woman's head and the pigs that ate her body. I suppose it's stuff of that nature that keeps me glued to an episode of CSI.

As far as our main characters go, we got some very interesting developments which has me excited for the conclusion of the Miniature Killer plot. Before I jump to that, let's talk about Warrick. I feel bad for the guy. I feel like he's barely been in this season at all and now I find out that his wife Tina is having issues with the hours he works. So his marriage is going downhill. If it does fall apart, it'd be interesting if they tried to explore his gambling addiction again.

Back to the good stuff. Way back when Grissom was on sabbatical in MA, he wrote that love letter to Sara. I didn't know if he mailed it. He didn't and Sara found it tucked in a book near Gil's nightstand. She read it, smirked a little, and then her face was almost drained of any emotion. She looked downright creepy, almost as if she was thinking about how she has this guy wrapped around her finger and he has no idea.

Speaking of that, how about Grissom making his own replica (of what?) at the end of episode? It's like he's trying to get into the mind of his adversary.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Get A Real Job

Continuing on his quest to become a real adult, Earl goes and finds himself a job. And of course Randy gets a job at the same retail establishment because, well... he's Randy.

As for Earl's ongoing efforts to become a real man, I was treated to an examination of class warfare as Earl learns that the stockroom workers do not mix with the show floor employees. He may have his GED, he's told, but the sales staff went to junior college.

The explanation of the differences between the Dockers and the Dickeys may have been one of the funniest things I've heard on Earl or any other show for quiet some time. "In a perfect world, we'd switch pants, but Dockers doesn't make a coverall."

Sean Astin didn't get nearly as much airtime as I would have expected in this episode. If he's going to play a jerk, it would have been nice to see him play even more of a jerk. But most of the action happens in the back room, where Earl struggled with his choice to move up in the world, and Randy's desire to just fit in.

Meanwhile, Joy prepares for the possibility of going to jail by selling most of the items she and Darnell own and buying a blow-up doll so that her husband doesn't get lonely. None of it makes any sense, "but hey," I said to myself, "since when has Joy ever made any sense?"

That said, I was taken completely off guard when the plan finally did make sense, and it turned out that all along her goal had been to flee the country.Hopefully her flight to Mexico means I'll get to see Catalina's family again. If there's one thing that the producers love, it seems to be recurring characters.

And as for character backstory, I found out how Earl decided he wanted to live his life with a mustache: the first time he drank chocolate milk. The irony that voice-over Earl says this line in all seriousness while fulfilling the second part of his three-part quest to be an adult is delicious. Almost as delicious as chocolate milk.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pam's New Music Downloads

There's real down-hominess to Cassadaga, the newest disc from Bright Eyes, the brainchild of indie hero Conor Oberst. The album's name comes from a small Florida town inhibited by psychics. The twangy tune "I Must Belong Somewhere," is the kind of bright ditty that will keep Oberst's "new Dylan" buzz going.

The British buzz bands just keep on coming: Latest to arrive are Klaxons, who unite rockers and ravers, punks and popheads, on their kinetic full-length debut, Myths of the Near Future. "Golden Skans" pours on the hooks and the harmonies as if the lads could be the Beach Boys of the near future.

After they won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2002, the challenge for Maroon 5 was to avoid the curse that has befallen other ward recipients. And they've done that with this satisfying if slightly lesser follow-up CD, It Wont' be Soon Before Long. The swoonworthy ballad "Better That We Break," could be the breakup song of the summer.

Rather than rehash their self-titled debut, which found them ably joining the ranks of the neo-new wave movement, the Bravery summons the courage to change things up on The Sun and the Moon. They have injected their '80s revivalism with a fresh dose of '60s psychedelic pop on the track "Time Won't Let Me Go." Think the Cure meets the Beach Boys.

On the scale of today's piano-pop men, Jon McLaughlin falls somewhere between Daniel Powter and Gavin DeGras. Proudly repping Middle America on his major-label debut, Indiana, has charm and chops. This evident on the tune, "Indiana", on which this boy earnestly confesses that he's not so ready to meet the big bad word.

On this ambitious concept album, American Doll Posses, the piano-playing singer-songwriter, Tori Amos, delivers her tunes from the perspective of five characters representing different female archetypes. The highlight comes on "Bouncing Off Clouds," a heavenly slice of atmospheric pop set to a bouncy beat.

The stakes have been raised for the Chicago band, Wilco. but they don't seem to be feeling the pressure on the breezy Sky Blue Sky. The sextet nails the bluesy, Stones-esque "Hate It Here."

Although Charlotte Gainsbourg, is better known as an actress, she has released her second album 5:55, which reels you in with its almost cinematic quality on songs like the evocative "Set Yourself on Fire."