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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pushing Daisies: Dummy

If I thought Pushing Daisies couldn't get any cuter than the last episode "Pie-lette", think again Pam. This episode brought out a singing Kristin Chenoweth, knitted gun cozies, and a car that runs on dandelions. I thought it was perfect.

I think this second episode of "Daisies" gave me a pretty good sense of what the format is going to be. Ned, Emerson and Chuck head out to solve a case, suffering through many twists and turns but ultimately coming out victorious in their search for justice. Meanwhile, Chuck and Ned do some adorable things. Hey, I can live with that.

The case itself wasn't too hard to crack: Either Janine or the dandelion car salesguy was going to be the killer, and when the crew got Janine talking (thanks to pie), it became pretty clear that it wasn't her. But it still led to an amusing enough hour, with funny twists ("No. There are skeletons in the closet.") and creative camerawork. I'm hoping they can find a way to create perfectly staged moments like the scene with Emerson, Chuck and Ned in body bags in the dandelion car without spending a fortune.

Ned and Chuck still aren't being completely honest with each other. Chuck keeps hinting there's more to her sheltered life with her aunts; Ned keeps avoiding the fact that he killed Chuck's father. Chuck wants to know everything about Ned, and I don't think it's going to be long before she figures out that he's keeping something big from her. I can't imagine the show will keep them angry with each other for long, though — how cute was the body bag kiss? They're meant to be.

A few other thoughts:
  • The flashbacks with Young Ned are quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the show. The scene with all the dissection frogs coming back to life was hilarious. Plus, Young Ned's haircut makes me giggle.

  • If there was a moment in the episode that went too far, Olive's singing was it. But I liked it — and not just because Kristin Chenoweth has an amazing voice. I loved the choreography with Digby and the floor cleaner, and I chuckled every time she had to interrupt her flow to turn more customers away. On the other hand, I don't want it to become a regular thing.

  • Best narrator fun fact of the evening: "Young Chuck did not refer to a refrigerator as anything but a cheesebox until she was 17."

  • I loved pretty much everything about the dandelion car factory, from the salesman who talked too fast, to the reveal that Chuck spoke Japanese, to the flashback with the dandelion girls in their Dr. Seuss-y dresses being taught to present and shimmy. Could have done without the Titanic-referencing makeout scene, but I can forgive it.

  • The entire idea of Chi McBride knitting is hysterical.

  • Also, favorite Emerson quip of the night: "Do they touch much?" "Wish they would." (Runner-up: "It's a dead end. And not the kind of dead end that you can un-dead and re-dead again like you're supposed to.")

  • Best sight gag: Janine wrapped in bandages with lipstick over the gauze. Runner-up: dandelion high-five!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bones: Death in the Saddle

Maggots in the eye sockets! Yay! Three episodes in and I finally get a body that makes one put their fork down and push away that plate of pasta with red sauce. Not only was there maggots just pouring out of the body's eye sockets, but there were a pair of feet that were cut nicely and buried several feet away. And, I got to see those feet up close and personal. Fantastic!

Yet, it doesn't compare to the liquefied body of last season for some reason. Go figure.

This episode of Bones was one of the weirdest that I've seen. It was also one of the most humorous. The whole 'pony play' thing just kept me going 'What the hell?' every time I saw it. Plus, the interaction between Bones and Booth was at its lightest of the season so far.

I would actually say that there was a bit of status change between Seeley and Temperance this week. Maybe it was just the way I saw it, but Bones seemed to be the person in charge of the investigation this time around. She was asking many of the questions and pointing out where to next look for clues. She was also making Booth feel extremely uncomfortable with her talk about sex and role-playing.

Booth is a very easy target when it comes to that type of stuff. While he shows the swagger and the attitude of a hard-nosed FBI agent, he's pretty much all white bread inside. I can tell that he's pretty conservative with the things he says. So, when a subject like role-playing pops up it's easy to rile the poor boy.

While the 'pony play' theme was weird, it was highly amusing to watch. Plus, the murder investigation connected to this little Virginia retreat was interesting to follow as well. I had a feeling it was Annie Oakley who performed the murder, but wasn't quite sure about it until Bones discovered that the victim's eyes were gouged out by a professional. A professional like a doctor, which Annie was in her real life.

The other story in this week's episode was the further investigation as to who Angela previously married. It was decided that she would go under hypnosis to determine the name of her current husband. Here is another example of a character in Bones seemingly being one type of person, yet being thrown off by something unnatural to them.

Angela is, in no uncertain terms, a free spirit. She embodies some of that new age vibe from the 60's, most likely courtesy of her father. Yet, when it comes to being put under to find the name of her husband, she totally freaks out. Luckily, with the help of the hypnosis Angela was able to pull the name of the person from an image that she saw. See, I need to try new things once in awhile.

Now, the other items of interest from this week's episode:

  • Bones' comments to that perp as he was running out of the butcher shop. My Lord, funniest line of the night! Then, Booth telling her that they really need to work on their cop talk
  • Speaking about cop talk, Bones uses the phrase 'Lard ass and good cop' to distinguish between the nice police officer and the angry and fat police officer.
  • In a span of five minutes time cantaloupe were mistaken for honeydew melons. How can you confuse these? Honeydew has a smooth, slightly pale skin. The employees at the Jeffersonian need to eat more fruit.
  • There's a change in relationship between Zack and Jack. It seems that his time in Iraq transformed Zack into a 'man of action'. That's why he isn't going in with some of Jack's ideas. Jack is pretty disappointed about this and unsure of what to do.
  • Since the main story was about some fetish involving horses, there were plenty of horse jokes. The victim's name was Ed, so he was called Mr. Ed throughout the episode. When speaking to another suspect Booth muttered the phrase 'My Friend Flicka'. Then there were the corny horse jokes that Bones told to Booth.
  • When Bones is surprised by the intelligence of something Booth says, he replies 'Obviously I'm smarter than a fifth grader'.
  • Another Booth quote, when interviewing a butcher who is interested in slaughtering horses for meat, 'There's crazy pony players and whacked-out, crazy pony players.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Damages: I Hate These People

"You're a baptist, right Ray? Repent!" - Patty

This was the first episode this season since the pilot where I really felt a tense energy. It's definitely because I'm getting closer to the point when the past catches up to the future. It went from eight days away, to six, to two in this episode and now I'm just waiting for the point when the toned down colors of the present suddenly change to indicate that I just crossed the line.

First up, let's talk about that quote. I threw it in because, while I thought it was harsh, I never actually thought Ray would take it literally and go all the way. He shot himself right in front of Patty (which explains the single blood drop on her shoe), but it's a little disappointing. With the announced second season, it's too bad Ray won't be around. He could have just fled to country with the same results to the Frobisher case. It was dramatic and all, but I don't think it was necessary.

I can understand why it happened though. With all that southern charm and pride he's known for, finding out that he was a closet homosexual (that kissing scene was awkward) and guilty of insider trading would have ruined his life. Sure Patty offered him a job, but he would have never recovered from a blow like that. I loved the flashbacks between him and Gregory though. I was waiting for when I would finally see how they met and what led to Palm Beach.

So the blood was Ray's and that means that Patty might not have been present for Ellen's attack or David's murder. It's starting to look more and more like Frobisher is indeed behind it all. He had no problem taking out Moore and now that Ray is gone, so is any shred of Art's conscience. He'll find out about the tape and go after whoever has it. It's his only salvation.

Katie seems to have dropped the tape off at Ellen and David's apartment, but it also seemed like she was waiting for Ellen to leave. This all happened in one of the "2 Days Later" flash-forwards so I assume I'll get an answer, but is there something on that tape that leads David to break it off with Ellen? Is there something Ellen did that I still don't know about? That might be a stretch, but at this point, I'll consider anything when it comes to this show.

Now, I've mentioned the blood drops a few times, but I liked how that and some other little things played out in this episode. I appreciate stuff like that, when the writers pay attention to details. I finally saw Ellen leave the message on Lila's phone that the cops found. I saw Lila use the keys to the apartment again. I loved how Ellen turned down Patty's offer to have the job back and then even said no to her brown envelope stuffed with cash. I saw what appeared to be a look of worry on Patty's face when she finally heard Tom's message about Ellen in jail. With that in mind, it seems like Patty might be fleeing just because she needs some time to think. She's clearly torn up about witnessing Ray's suicide and the trial is still over four weeks away. So what else happened that pushed her to run?

As I've come to expect from this show, there are still lots of lingering and new questions:

  • What were Patty's real-estate goons doing in the apartment? Bugging it? Searching for something? If it was indeed bugged for whatever purposes, what did they use? Just listening devices? Or fibers optics? Could there be video of David's murder hidden on some hard drive video feed in Patty's office?
  • How's the story with Lila going to pay off? At first, I thought she might be behind David's murder, but now I feel like Frobisher is and someone was just looking for that tape. However, if Katie did indeed drop the tape there, Arthur would only know it's there if he got to Katie. I know she's alive in the future... so... my head hurts.

I'm not sure what else to think at this point. All season long I've been hoping for this big twist and now it seems that it's wrapping up with the safe finish and it's all Frobisher's fault. I hate to say it, but it even looks like Patty might not be that bad after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prison Break: Good Fences

Well now I know. "What's in the box" turned out to be what I expected. Anyway, upon opening up his little gift from The Company, Lincoln saw the worst -- Sara's head neatly wrapped up in some decorative tissue paper.

If only Michael knew that his one true love was dead and gone. Something tells me Linc was weighing his options by not telling his brother the truth though. Saving only L.J. might not be enough to keep Michael in escape mode.That's the beauty of this season, much as it was in the first. It doesn't matter who you kill off or who you add to the mix. The goal remains the same. As Michael proved in this episode, all that matters is who you can manipulate to achieve that goal.

I didn't expect Michael to have a plan implemented just yet. Granted, it's still in the early stages but it's also steps ahead of what I expected by episode four. However, I do think that it's a little less dramatic since he's making it all up as he goes along rather than glancing under his left armpit for the next tattooed instruction. Still, I am enjoying the manipulation. It's making the show for me right now.

Lechero has no idea that Michael electrified the fences and Bellick paid for it in the end with that hot cup of coffee poured on his back. I almost wonder if Michael pushed all that dirt into the breaker box just so Bellick would think something was going on. Sort of an impromptu set-up on Michael's part.

One of my biggest complaints so far has been the worthlessness of characters like Mahone and Sucre. Consider that fixed. Both men have now been given a point to be on the show. Sucre is the new gravedigger. It's a perfect situation for him. He can make money to send back home to his family and help Michael escape at the same time. By spraying the chemical meant for the dead bodies onto the fence, the electricity heats it up and according to Michael, it'll rot through steel. Hello hole in the fence. Next step? Getting rid of the guards with guns. How's he going to create a diversion that will actually get all those guys out of their towers though?

Mahone has a different story. Michael has been jerking him around, giving him pointless tasks to make him feel involved and Mahone didn't really think twice about it. That was until he started with the withdrawal symptoms coupled with hallucinating images of Haywire. Throw in a drug addiction courtesy of the newly appointed prison drug czar T-Bag, and Mahone got his faculties back. So it seems that for the rest of the season, he's going to be quite the thorn in Michael's side unless he has an active involvement with the escape.

Other stuff on my mind...

I'm not sure I really care what Whistler did. Unless it's something horrible or utterly amazing, I really don't think it will impact the story. They still need to get him out of prison. Mark my words though because I'm calling it now -- whatever conspiracy he's tied into will end up being a big disappointment.

I wish Lechero had been a bit more lenient on Bellick. I liked the little dynamic developing between him and Lechero. Bellick got fooled and was just trying to pass on some advice. Even though Michael covered his tracks this time, I think it's safe to say that Lechero's curiosity has been peaked.
Why try and make Susan B. Anthony compassionate and cold all at the same time? I don't get her character though. What about her involvement made her the right pick to handle the duties as Lincoln's pseudo-handler?
Michael will hear about Sara somehow. That won't be good because he is going to be PO'ed with his brother for keeping mum.

Now I mentioned that Whistler has to have done something pretty crazy for me to really care. What if it is something horrible though? How's Sofia going to react to that? Already, she seems like she doesn't know him that well. She might be the lynch pin for this whole operation and if it turns out that she gives up on Whistler, then what's Lincoln going to do? I don't actually see that happening... just a thought. I guess my point is that Lincoln needs some better roadblocks on the outside. He's not hitting any bumps in his quest. Sure, Sara's head was a traumatic thing to see and all the deaths are weighing on him, but he's not slowing down.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Family Guy: Believe it or Not, Joe's Walking on Air

After six years in a wheelchair, Joe Swanson regains his ability to walk. In character, he then decides to go into extreme sports. I've always liked Joe and I think Patrick Warburton's voice makes the character.

The show has apparently gone back to the constant cut-away references. At least they're being self-referential about it with Cleveland's line "I hate shows that cut away from the story for some bull crap".

The self-referential nature of the show doesn't stop there. There was a conversation between Joe's doctor and Peter's father-in-law on the fact that they were voiced by the same actor.
The episode had the prerequisite song and dance number. It wouldn't surprise me that if there ended up being a Family Guy movie, it would be a musical.

The ending was somewhat predictable. I figured Joe's wife Bonnie was going to cripple him again, although I laughed at the preceding fight scene. That fight could have passed for one of those M-rated video games. Bonnie is still pregnant in this episode, but I believe she'll be giving birth this season. A seven-year pregnancy. Phew.

The two best creations of this show, Stewie and Brian, were barely seen in this episode. Each had one or two scenes. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing but it's something I noticed.

Things I liked in the episode: the irony of Joe having to leave the hospital in a wheelchair after he's been given his legs. The Spider-Man appearance. The fact that the Quahog Men's Club looked a lot like the He-Man Woman Hater's Club from The Little Rascals. E-rock-tion. Judas and Pontius Pilate walking into the distance to the sounds of The Brady Bunch. When Stewie killed Colin Farrell with a futuristic ray-gun.

I did like the episode better than the last episode. Family Guy is starting to stick to what it does best, even if the creators of other shows comment on their style of humor. The show is even self-referential about that when Peter makes an illogical cut-away reference and tells Lois "Don't call me on this stuff".

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Simpsons: Midnight Towboy

Three episodes of The Simpsons down. Time for an extensive, in-depth analysis of the nineteenth season so far.

Not bad.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting an earth-shattering change in the show after The Simpsons Movie premiered this summer. What has come down the pike since late September has been entertaining and provided a good solid laugh or two. However, I do have one concern and an observation about our favorite yellow-headed patriarch.

My concern first. I'm beginning to feel that the producers are using guest voices a bit too much, and not utilizing them when they do. Over the last three weeks we have had four separate guest voices: Lionel Richie, Stephen Colbert, Maya Rudolph and, this week, Matt Dillon. Other than Richie, who was really a walk-on role, none of the other voices were really used well.

Take for example Matt Dillon's voice. In this week's episode Matt voiced Louie, a tow-truck driver from the town of Guidopolis (which seems to be past Odgenville. Mark that on you Google Maps). Louie's big scene was during the first act of the episode, and that was about it until somewhere between the second and third acts. True, he had some good lines during the first act, especially when he told Homer that he would rip his head off, vomit in his body cavity, then stuff the head back down into Homer's body if he ever came looking for a tow job in Guidopolis; however, there wasn't much to the character after that.

Is it really worth it to have these stars voice characters if the writers really aren't going to do right by them? There are more than enough talented voice actors already part of The Simpsons' cast that could do a character like Louie. In fact, they've done it numerous times. Perhaps it's time to give the guest voice actors a break.

Now for the observation. Well, actually Bart's observation. During a conversation about Homer between Marge and the rest of the family Bart mentioned that Homer had been getting dumber each year, but he now seems to have plateaued. This surprised me because I've been saying the same thing since the season began. There have been episodes and actual whole seasons where Homer has seemed so unintelligent. This season he's sort of evened out.

Yes, he does have his moments -- the whole pledge scene (reminiscent of Animal House) in the first minute or two of the program -- but he seems to be holding his own. In this week's episode he even takes a leadership role after being kidnapped by Louie and thrown into his basement, which is full of other tow truck drivers who crossed Louie's path. I like this type of Homer. The extremely childish Homer can get on my nerves. I don't know what the writers have in store for him for the rest of the season. So, I will just have to wait and see.

Let me get to a quick review of this week's episode as a whole. After two weeks of one-story episodes we are now dealt with two sub-plots again. Yet, it was different this week as the sub-plots diverged from one main story, then converged again at the end of the show. Despite my feelings on multi-plot episodes in FOX animated programs (don't like them) I was actually grateful to see another person being focused on other than Homer.

In fact, the plot about Marge's attempts to get Maggie to be less clingy interested me more. I got a good chuckle at the scene where Marge was trying to find a website about Maggie's condition while Bart and Lisa were trying to tell her how to navigate. In one click she's buying a freezer all of a sudden. The representative from C.R.I.E also interested me because she seemed to complete every sentence with a word ending in -ize. Actualize was my favorite.

Other little thingys of note:
  • Maggie spells out 'I AM OK' on her building blocks after initial separation from Marge.
  • Maggie's new found independence. Clipping her own nails, putting a lock of hair into her baby book.
  • Moe not knowing if the glass he was giving to Homer was full of paint or milk, then Homer drinking what was in the glass.
  • Lenny and Carl mentioning that things would turn out okay in a lawless society now that Homer stopped towing people. Now, how many times have the citizens of Springfield said that only to have something spontaneously burst into flame.
  • Mr. T. is in The Lion King! Man, I got to get me tickets for that show!

Friday Night Lights: Last Days of Summer

Oh, Friday Night Lights, it's good to have you back. This episode had a lot of what makes "FNL" so brilliant — but it also had one major moment that took the show down a new, and pretty controversial, path.

The show picks up roughly nine months after State, and a lot has changed in Dillon. For one thing, all the high schoolers seem to be wearing a lot less clothing. For another, Coach is off in Austin at TMU, while the Panthers struggle with a new coach and Tami prepares for life with a new baby.

That baby makes its appearance pretty early on, when Tami goes into labor while visiting Julie at the pool. On the one hand, I thought it was a bit much to have Tami's water break at the pool while Julie was lifeguarding; on the other hand, is there anything that could be more hugely humiliating? As part of her coping, Julie embarks on some serious sabotage of her relationship with Matt, flirting with some older lifeguard nicknamed The Swede.

Lyla, meanwhile, has become born again. There's no explanation, just a scene of her being baptized in a river. But if it leads to more moments like the one at her family dinner where she prays for everyone to have "the strength to remember that mothers of three should not be wearing skinny jeans," I'm cool with that.

The biggest moment in the episode belonged to Landry and Tyra — and it's got to be the most divisive thing the show has ever done. The man who tried to rape Tyra comes back and attacks her again in a convenience store parking lot; Landry goes after him with a pipe, whacking him across the back of the head and killing him. The two then load his body into Tyra's truck and appear to dump it in the river. It sounds very I Know What You Did Last Summer.

But I was taken by how moving and restrained it was. (Frankly, I preferred it to the scene where Buddy attacked Pam's new boyfriend in the dealership parking lot.) Tyra and Landry are terrified; Landry has set himself up to be Tyra's knight in shining armor; they have a chance not to live in fear anymore. Now, dumping the body is a different matter, and I'm worried about how "FNL" is going to play out the consequences of that decision. Obviously the two of them are in shock, but I still think it's a leap for them to find the river and throw the guy in it.

A few other thoughts:
  • The relationship between Matt and Landry is still one of my favorite parts of the show; Landry's "What Would Riggins Do?" deserves its own bumper sticker.
  • I'm not getting much from the new Panthers coach yet, probably because I figure that Coach Taylor will be back soon enough. Still, I was surprised at just how much he berated the players — and I sort of loved the way he threw Buddy Garrity out of practice.
  • My favorite act of rebellion from Julie: "I'm not wearing shoes, dad."
  • The scene with Coach giving all the Panthers their championship rings? Tears.

Mad Men: Indian Summer

Several episodes ago, after the episode where Don/Dick was reunited with his younger step-brother Adam, I wondered if Adam would reappear. Had I seen the last of him? Would he cause more trouble for Don? Would he show up in the season-ending cliffhanger? Those questions were answered in the very first minute of tonight's episode, as Adam gives the hotel clerk a package to mail to Don and then promptly goes to his room and hangs himself.

I was not expecting that.

This episode advanced the plot quite a bit, because there were a lot of changes and hints of changes to come. What happened to Don's brother was change #1.

Change #2: Cooper makes Don partner. Roger comes back to the office to a round of applause. His wife wants him to stay just an hour because she thinks he's coming back too soon, but he has to deal with the Lucky Strike exec, who is worried about lawsuits, a surgeon general's report, and possible warnings on cigarette packages. Of course, Roger overdoes it (I mean, really, cigarettes and NY deli so soon after a heart attack?) and promptly has another heart attack! He's wheeled out on a stretcher and his wife Mona tells Cooper to go to hell. But I see that Roger might really love Joan, even if he does announce it by saying "I think you're the finest piece of ass I've ever had, and I don't care who knows it."

Change #3: Betty and Peggy love orgasms. The guys have to come up with advertising for the new PER, or Personal Exercise Regime, contraption. They think Peggy would be perfect to handle the copy because she's a woman and woman are interested in exercise and health (plus, she's really overweight!). Peggy tries it and discovers it has a side effect. Um, let's just say that instead of the name she came up with, The Rejuvenator, she should have called it The Orgasmotron. At first she's shocked by it, but finally succumbs to it and wears it to bed, especially after a disastrous date set up by her mom with a trucker. Peggy acts all Manhattan-like, or at least tries to, and the trucker is put off by her attitude. Meanwhile, Betty has sex with the rumbling washing machine and fantasizes about the A/C salesman who came the day before. I think her psychiatrist and Don are confusing unhappiness with horniness.

Change #4: Pete might have his secret weapon against Don. After Cooper makes Don partner, Pete suddenly thinks that he'll slide into Don's spot and Don's office. As he's having his own little fantasy sitting in Don's office after Don and Peggy leave for the night, the mail boy brings the package that Don's brother mailed. At first Pete leaves it on the desk but then ... he takes it!
[Insert ominous music here]

A stunning, beautiful episode, right from the stark opening of images of Adam kicking a chair out from under himself to the sad look on Peggy's face when she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. And the stuff with Roger possibly leaving and Joan worried and the office intrigue of Don's promotion and Pete's scheming ... this series is rolling towards a great season ender.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Name is Earl: The Gangs of Camden County

For two seasons, Earl Hickey has made great strides by righting all the wrongs he's done to people from his past via his karma list. In this episode, karma and his list aren't even mentioned, but Earl is still able to help a ton of people, most importantly, himself.

As a result of last episode's good deed, (helping Glen the Camden Scout get parole), the under-qualified and overwhelmed warden, (played by Craig T. Nelson) offers Earl a deal: help curb the violence between the Latin gang and the Black gang in return for one month off his sentence. Warden Hazelwood needs all the help he can get. His wife is the governor, and she only got him the job so he wouldn't embarrass her by spending all his time at home playing Guitar Hero in his boxers.

Earl takes the deal but soon realizes, not surprisingly, the task is not what he expected. What makes Earl such a satisfying show each week is that while a seemingly obvious problem never turns out to be as simple as it seems, the solutions to that problem are just as unexpected.

As it turns out, the violence isn't the result of hatred between rival gangs, but rather the two gang leaders, Hector and Jamal, intentionally picking fights so they can hide within the ensuing brawl and consummate their forbidden love. Yes, in a very surprisingly reveal, I'm clued into their relationship with a great music cue, (The Persuaders' "Thin Line Between Love and Hate") as well as a full-on kiss right before the commercial break. The episode becomes a homosexual version of West Side Story, with Earl caught right in the middle.

When Earl advises the gang leaders to go public with their relationship, Hector refuses, leaving Jamal as the spurned lover and thus causing violence to escalate further. In easily the funniest part of the episode, Earl's plan to get the guys back together features a twist on two great late-night clichés: the slow-motion hose-down of Jamal's tight white t-shirt and his suggestive eating of a Popsicle. Needless to say, Hector swoons over his lost love.

On the outside, there's another person who's filled with longing. Randy is still miserable without Earl, and continues his pathetic crime spree in the hopes of getting imprisoned with his brother. Failing that, he decides there's only one other way for them to be together. He takes the prison guard exam and scores a "55 percents." Apparently, that's the highest score they've had all year.

This was a solid show with the some great jokes including the warden's incompetent decision to let an outside company use prison labor to build ladders, (you know how that turned out), and Jamal repeatedly expressing his deepest feelings of heartache and desire with, "I feel sad."

The episode also sets up storylines for the future. First, Randy's impending exploits as the worst prison guard in history, as well as a potential "win-win" relationship between Warden Hazelwood and Earl. If Earl keeps helping out in exchange for months off his prison term, he'll be free by the end of the season. Hey! That works out perfectly.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Lions

In this episode, the show's over-the-top moments were swapped for more dramatic ones. Far more time was spent on the murder mystery and affair plotlines than on the crazy antics of the Darlings, and the show still worked for me. "The Lions" shed light on the unique father-son relationships that exist within the Darling family. Letitia said that "we're all capable of everything," and this episode certainly proved that.

The scenes between Patrick and Tripp helped me understand Patrick's role within the Darling family and the show itself. At first it seemed like Patrick existed solely for the transsexual mistress plot, but there's much more to him. In the last episode, Jeremy talked about being a disappointment to his father, and this episode was Patrick's turn to worry about Tripp's expectations. Donald Sutherland's performance added a lot of depth to the character of Tripp. He doesn't want power for its own sake; rather, he wants the Darling family to shape the world in which they live. It's a little sad that Tripp thinks of his legacy only in public terms, though. Letitia was right when she said that Tripp confuses power with love.

This episode turned several of the show's characters into complex human beings, including the character of Carmelita. She went from a clingy mistress last week to a significant part of Patrick's life this week. Her advice to Patrick made me want to see more of her character. Carmelita genuinely loves Patrick, and I'm looking forward to the moment when she realizes that Patrick will never leave his wife for her.

I'm surprised (and glad) that Brian isn't just a one-note jerk. It took Nick forcing his hand to get Brian to take responsibility for Brian Jr. (or Gustav, the Swedish bullet train orphan), but at least he has a heart. Like Tripp, Brian seems to care about the legacy that he'll pass on to his only son.

So far, I think the writers have done a great job of mixing the humorous and dramatic elements of each character. Brian's cranky one-liners would have gotten old really fast if that was all that his character provided. I love that Brian initially talked to his kid in the same way he talks to everyone else. How long do you think it will take for Brian's family to figure out that Brian Jr. is his? He's not a great liar, after all (that Swedish orphan story was way too detailed).

The Juliet and Jeremy storyline was my least favorite part of this episode. The Natalie Klimpton drama definitely could have waited until next week, although I suppose it's important to keep the show light when murder and infidelity are in the mix. The actress playing Natalie isn't that interesting to me, which is unfortunate, since Natalie will be around for the next few episodes.

I would have expected Juliet's former BFF and current rival to have a lot more attitude, or at least a personality. Jeremy's attempts to hide the truth about Natalie from Juliet were pretty funny, though. It takes quite an imagination to come up with a lie about a Belgian chef brought in to cook for the UN.

As far as Dutch's murder goes, a few more pieces were added to the puzzle. Norman Exley cleared Brian of any wrongdoing (for now), but guessed that Tripp might have been involved in the plane crash. Nick got a peek at Tripp's journal, which included a doodle of a plane hitting the water with some words crossed out.

While I agree that Tripp is hiding something, he looked genuinely hurt when Nick accused him at the photo shoot. Then again, Donald Sutherland is such an incredible actor that he makes Tripp's behavior difficult to read. He could be pretending, and he could be innocent. He was quick to put Nick on the trail of Simon Elder, however. Perhaps there's some bad blood between Tripp and Simon.

The serious moments surrounding Letitia's affair with Dutch really balanced out the crazy photo shoot scenes. Jill Clayburgh and Donald Sutherland bring so much credibility to the show's dramatic side. Juliet and Jeremy make me laugh, but Letitia and Tripp make me think. I cannot believe that Tripp didn't know about the affair (it seems that way to me, anyway)--Letitia has been terrible at hiding her feelings for Dutch so far. She mentioned off-hand that Dutch was part of the family, and she even had one of their staff drive her to Dutch's grave (presumably).

The crushed look on Tripp's face when he figured out the combination of Dutch's briefcase was heartbreaking. I cannot say enough positive things about Donald Sutherland in this episode. Every little gesture and facial expression was perfect for the scene. Clayburgh and Sutherland are also extremely believable as a couple, whether they are talking about their children or their marriage.

So far, the show has found a good balance between touching drama and over-the-top comedy.

Funniest Darling moments:
  • "I want to be normal-sized and independent."
  • "She'll take you back if I have to shoot you at her with a cannon."
  • "She said that she's a free radical now, and you, of all people, would understand."
  • "He's my son. Get rid of him." Brian's note, written on the church's stationery.
  • "This nice, lonely lady is going to get you some cake."
  • "She put out your signature perfume without your name on it. And she stole your bangs."
  • "Jeremy called. He wants you to copyright some song he wrote with Justin Timberlake. He left it on your answering machine."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Movie Review: American Gangster

The first frames of American Gangster show Frank Lucas, Denzel Washington, setting a man on fire and then shooting him to death. You would think this would set the tone for an incredibly violent film. Instead, American Gangster decided to take it slow, and build its tension at a slow boil over it's rather long 157 minute run time.

American Gangster is a very good, very effective, and somewhat unsettling gangster film that will almost certainly have it's place at the 2008 Oscars. It is the first mainstream gangster film to return to original genre format set up in the 30s, the rise and fall of a gangster.

American Gangster is two stories. First it is the story of Frank Lucas' rise to power as a heroin dealer in the 1970s. This is where the film spends most of it's time; exploring both the business side, and the personal side. The second story is of Richie Roberts, Russell Crowe, a narcotics detective attempting to take down a drug empire in a world of dirty cops.

Both stories are equally captivating and if there is one fault of the movie it is that the two stories feel awkwardly separate at first, and that's because they are. I said earlier that the tension is set at a slow boil. Throughout the film there are seemingly random shots of drug use used to establish setting, and Ridley Scott cleverly sneaks in Vietnam coverage on the television that in many cases parallels the story.

This simmering tension is incredibly effective, making the sociopathic tendencies of Frank Lucas really jump off the screen. The violence is often abrupt, gritty, and once the climax of the film is reached, we're given one of the better, most realistic shoot outs I've seen in a while.

The acting in American Gangster is top notch, Denzel delivers his lines with an unsettling calm that really makes the character feel dangerous. Russell Crowe makes the cop feel endearing and yet human, and keeps you rooting for him. In the end, American Gangster is a really really good gangster film and on top of that, just a great movie in general. Does it rank up with the crime classics like the Godfather and Goodfellas, no, but it's darn close. Ridley Scott takes all the right elements and makes them fit into one incredibly entertaining film.

Bionic Woman: Paradise Lost

The show is taking baby steps, but the second Bionic Woman showed some promise. The fact that this is a show going through a lot of changes was clear thanks to some big examples of instant retroactiving of events from the show's own pilot, but in most cases, these alterations were the right way to go.

First off, what, Will's dead? Okay, Jaime's boyfriend was shot in the first episode, but it hardly seemed like a fatal injury and there was no indication that he was dead by the end, nor did she even learn that was a real possibility. All that taken into account, it was jarring to open the second episode with his funeral. On the other hand though, for the sake of the show at this stage, it's a good move. Will wasn't exactly an engaging character, and the show already has a better and much more intense "Can I trust this person?" love story with Jae and Sarah. Of course it's hard not to think that maybe Will actually isn't dead and will be popping up again at some point, but for now, the show must go on....

Currently Bionic Woman has a lot of campy content, which included Jonas's revelation that the Berkut Group is a clandestine organization dedicated to stopping rogue organizations… or something. Let's just say it was a lot of nonsense that Miguel Ferrer did his best with, but hey, if I can buy into SD-6 and G.I. Joe, I can buy into this. The show is also ridiculously unsubtle at times, such as the scene in which one of Jaime's friends gleefully wants to celebrate getting into Columbia Law, which hammers home the whole "Jaime is sad because she wishes that was her life" motif.

A lot actually happened in this hour, including the introduction of Jaime's new supervisor, Antonio Pope, played by Isaiah Washington. Ignoring Washington's off-camera behavior, he is a solid actor who definitely brought the appropriate gravity to the role. Meanwhile, Jaime began some serious training ("We're gonna need a montage!") with Jae, which lead to a nice reveal: The fighting Jaime showed off against Sarah in the pilot was the "demo", a program entered into her bionics that Sarah was using to test her. While not explaining everything Jaime did in the pilot, like how she disarmed the assailant in the alley, it did do a nice job of going back and saying no, she's not yet suddenly an incredible fighter.

This was explored further in the episode's threat of the week scenario, as Jaime and Ruth traveled to a small town decimated by a biological weapon. There was more silliness here -- a teenage girl who'd survived the attack and seemed entirely unaffected emotionally by the whole thing -- but also some fun bits, including Jaime's fight with a bad guy. Things went very badly for Jaime at first, who fought rather ineptly, hurting her hand when she punched him with her non-bionic arm, then getting her bionic arm stuck in a wall when she missed on another punch. It was nice to see her still trying to get this superhero thing down, and I then got some legitimately cool moments as she finally caught him with a punch, sending him flying, and then knocked him out with a bionic-kicked paint can to the head.

There's still a lot of work to be done on this show. Becca, Jaime's sister, seems very extraneous and forced into the story -- Jaime taking her phone call during the middle of the crisis was just lame, nice Tenacious D reference aside -- and she and Jaime's relationship seemed to turn from affectionate to ongoing major arguments on a dime. Yes, I know sisters squabble, but do these girls have serious issues or not? And more so, why should I care, when there's more interesting stuff going on?

Sarah returned again, and she and Jae proved to certainly have the Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing going - I've already seen him shoot her, but this time they ended up having sex. Sarah's revelation that she was "hacked" also is intriguing, since it seems to both hint at a bigger conspiracy at work, and also re-conceptualizes her as someone who appears regretful of what she did and perhaps not a true bad guy. Though why would she shoot Will then? Does she know something about him, besides the secret file Jaime discovers (way to ineptly hide it under a way too loose floorboard, Will)? Or maybe she just knew the character was kind of lame?

This is a show trying to find itself, but the good news is that this second episode is at least pointing in the right direction. Both the show and Jaime herself stopped being so dour, and the little glimpses of humor were welcome, such as Jaime telling Jonas "God you're a douche." And hey, Kevin Rankin showed up as the Berkut group techie! As a Friday Night Lights fan, that is never a bad thing.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pushing Daisies: Pie-Lette

I finally watched Pushing Daisies! The result? Most of my friends either loved it or hated it. What seems to make people love it or hate it is the same thing: the format. If you enjoyed movies like Big Fish or Amélie, you should be inclined to liking Daisies. I fall in that category. Actually, I'm entertained thanks to the colorful scenery, the chemistry between Ned and Charlotte, the narration style, the cutesy storylines, the procedural aspect, etc.

Not even 25 seconds in the episode, I knew that Pushing Daisies would not be like any other show on TV. The scene is highly colorful (yellow flowers and a bright blue sky), the soundtrack is reminiscent of fairy tales, and the narration is quite precise (not a minute older) and entertaining (at least to me). The action takes place in the little town of Couer d'Couers (the way narrator Jim Dale pronounces it, I think they meant "Coeur d'Coeurs," which is the proper French spelling for "heart").

I meet young Ned who is happily running with his dog, Digby. But there is a black cloud coming in this picture perfect scenery: a van hits Digby. It is at this time, and not a second later, that our lead character discovers that he has the power to revive the dead by touching them. But he doesn't know that this gift comes with a price since there was no instruction manual coming with it, and he learns it the hard way. After his mother suddenly passes away, Ned revives her. Soon, Charlotte's father dies. (Charlotte is nicknamed Chuck... yes I know, another character named Chuck this season!) This tragic event highlights the fact that if Ned revives someone and doesn't touch the person again under a minute, someone else will die.

Later that day, Ned learns more about his powers when his mother kisses him as she puts him to bed. When he touches for a second time someone he revived, the person dies... for good. That's a lot to take in for a kid.

The episode jumps to about 20 years later. Ned owns The Pie Hole, a restaurant specialized in pies (could this be as an homage to his deceased mother?). As a side job, Ned works with Private Investigator Emerson to solve murders and collect the rewards. Emerson chooses the cases; Ned revives the deceased and asks them who killed them before touching them again. The gig works pretty well until Chuck, whom Ned hasn't seen in 20 years, is murdered. After reviving her, Ned can't come to terms that he has to send her back to the dead especially since she was his first kiss (probably the only one too) and because he still has a huge crush on her. Since he let Chuck live, someone else had to die, Ned can never touch Chuck again (unless they find a loophole down the road), and she has to hide because everyone around town knows she died.

The rest of the episode has Chuck, Emerson and Ned work together to find who killed Chuck and collect the reward. Their investigation leads them the Chuck's aunt's home where the killer eventually turns up. Since Daisies has a fairy-tale side, the ending is a happy, of course, one.

Even though I already know a lot about Ned's powers, I don't know everything. For example, his dog died/was revived about 20 years ago yet he still looks like he did back then. Does it mean that people he revives but doesn't touch again stop aging? Or at least, age at a much slower pace?It'll be interesting to see how Chuck and Ned work and live together yet never touch one another. They already showed some creativity in the pilot (Emerson hugging Chuck, the kiss using the monkeys, the holding hands) but they can't do that forever.

I wonder if it'll drive them crazy to a point Chuck will try to get a place of her own. Or maybe they'll allow one another to see other people even if technically they are not dating one another? Ned will also have to tell Chuck about her father's death. Will she forgive him especially since he also lost his mother due to his powers? (Okay, technically, she didn't die because of him but her second death was because of his powers.)

I thought that the characters were well-defined (at least enough for a pilot episode) thanks to the narration and flashbacks. It allowed me to relate to them and care about what happened to each. I enjoy the character of Ned a lot. He has a lot of insecurities and views life in a different way due to his powers and his upbringing. Olive, even if a tad annoying, will be a good comic relief. I didn't care much for the aunts though and I wonder how they will include them in every episode since they are regular characters. Maybe they'll open a shop near The Pie Hole? Or they'll learn of Chuck's "live again" status, thus be present in her life?

I really enjoyed the format and feel of the pilot. The camera work, the narration, the claymation/live action scene, the flashbacks, etc., all helped suck me in the storylines. The possibilities for storylines are endless since the series has a procedural element. Oh and for those wondering yes, it is a song from Amélie that plays when we first meet the aunts.

Pam's New Music Downloads

The new Bruce Springsteen album, Magic, is everything you want it to be. After folky turns on 2005's Devils & Dust and last year's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, the Boss - reunited with the E Street Band for the first time since 2002's The Rising - gets back to the business of making crowd-pleasing rock. And Magic shows that, at 58, he is still a wiz at it. "Livin' in the Future," is a spirited arena rocker.

After the beautiful heartache of 2003's breakup album Bare, Annie Lennox returns with more haunting melancholy - the kind that her voice was made for - on Songs of Mass Destruction. "Dark Road," is the richly atmospheric first single.

As far as dance-pop divas go, Jennifer Lopez may never have her Ray of Light or Control. but she learned enough moves from Madonna and Janet - two other singers with limited voices - to usually make her albums guilty pleasures. Brave, while hardly daring, is consistently entertaining. "Stay Together," is a swirling anti-breakup anthem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Damages: Sort of Like a Family

"I'm so sick of your bullsh*t." - Ellen

And there it was. The moment that I wasn't necessarily waiting for, but definitely was expecting. Ellen strikes back. She went from being timid to bold enough to tell off Patty -- the woman who made her that way. However, despite that and some other stellar moments in this episode, I'm officially frustrated with Damages. It really is one of the best things on TV right now, but it has also knocked off Lost as the biggest culprit in terms of the questions to answers ratio. The one silver lining is that it's a cable show and rather than wait a full 22, I'll hopefully get some results in the final three episodes.

I'm not saying lay it all out. I still want a good finale... but give me something. It's no fun when a show of this caliber spends a whole hour doing nothing but confirming assumptions that I've had for weeks now.

So Ellen finally spoke her mind after she went out on her own and uncovered a lead that Patty never even knew existed. And what did she get? Fired. It was to be expected as was Patty's end of episode phone call to Ellen, expressing her satisfaction with Ellen's findings. Will she "un-fire" Ellen as she did with Tom? I would assume so, but I'm sure Ellen will have conditions. Especially being put back on the Frobisher case. Initially, Tom commented that Ellen isn't Patty's kind of lawyer. After all, her hiring was only a set-up to get to certain parties. Maybe she is more like Patty though. David certainly won't be happy if that's what happens.

At the end of all this, what do I know that's new? Well... nothing really. In the present tense, flash-forward type scenes, I heard all sorts of things that most people have already discussed. Ellen thinks Patty tried to kill her and Tom seems to be jumping on board. What's the deal with Tom though? Why has Ellen scrapped Hollis Nye and gone with Tom instead? Is he trustworthy?
Regardless, Tom found some trace amounts of blood in the apartment. So maybe he is in the dark too. The clean-up crew wasn't 100% thorough. Now even though Patty was implicated with that one shot that showed some blood droplets on her shoe, that was a bit vague. Didn't Tom find signs of a struggle at Patty's beach house? Broken glass and picture frames; a scotch stain on the wall? Patty could have been attacked too, no? However, my gut still says Patty is behind the hit on Ellen and that David's murder is an unrelated incident. Why else throw in the story about obsessive Lyla if it isn't going to go anywhere?

Now as I said earlier, there were some stellar scenes in this episode. I loved the deposition, seeing Frobisher and Patty square off. Danson and Close are both fantastic and those scenes really showcased it. The only question I had was how Patty would get Frobisher to explode on camera. He saved himself by going public with the events of 1983, so the divorce (and Patty's inside knowledge of it) provided an easy (and story wise, convenient) out for Patty to get under Art's skin. It did become a bit much when she used about every marriage related metaphor though.

In the end, what did I learn from the deposition? Nothing I didn't know already. Arthur played stupid about Gregory Malina though. I thought he might try and act as if he knew him and come "clean" the same way he did about Virgina.

So after all that, what new questions can I add to the list?

  • Who was taking photos when Ellen met with Moore? My initial thought? Katie. She watched the confession tape and now she's helping Ellen by tracking her without anyone's knowledge.
  • Will Moore's old S.E.C. colleague testify that Moore wasn't the probing investigator that everyone thought he was?
  • What happens when Frobisher finds out that Ray, the one person he still trusts, is lying to him?
  • Does Patty's creepy doorman have any connection to the attempted murder?
  • Is Tom just playing dumb? Or does he know more about Patty's whereabouts and intentions?

I think, at this point, that one of the few things that will justify so many questions like this will be to find out that Patty somehow has a deeper involvement with Frobisher. I honestly don't think that will happen, but it would tie it together... you know? As of right now, it feels like whatever is going on with Ellen and Patty in the present tense is an unrelated matter and the Frobisher case was simply what brought them together. Short of being involved with the man that she's fighting so hard to bring down, what could Patty possibly be hiding that would cause her to kill the people around her and flee the state?

Eureka: A Night in Global Dynamicc

There were a lot of loose ends for this season to tie up with the finale. Kevin's connection to the artifact, Nathan and Allison's work to understand it, Beverly's ultimate goal, Henry's grand revenge scheme, Carter's increasing suspicion/recovering of his memory, and just why is Jo with some new guy instead of Tag, like she should be. For the most part, I think they did a pretty good job answering questions.

The relationship between Carter and Henry was actually my favorite part of all of it. It played out really well over the course of the season. I was really sold on it when Carter started in with the guilt trip, "You're my best friend" stuff. I was a little let down that I never got the big confrontation where Carter just shouts "I remember everything!" That being said, the scene at the end when Henry is leaving did make for a nice moment between the two of them, and wrapped that story up nicely.

One bit that I didn't think worked out as nicely was the partnering of Henry and Beverly, and the conflict that caused between Henry, Allison, and Nathan. We know now that Henry was actually out to help Kevin, but I just didn't buy his "I tried. You wouldn't listen. You didn't trust me." argument for why he went about it the way he did. Given what I know, and what Henry knows, about Allison, I have to think that just blurting out "I know how to fix your kid." is going to get you some face time.

Henry's big conspiracy did lead to the lock down, which gave Carter and Nathan bonding time and the suspense filled group following along back at SARAH with Fargo and Zane. It also laid the groundwork for the thermal cleansing, which just has to be bad. So, in that regard it worked to power the episode down the path. But I did think it was the weakest part of the plot. It just felt a little off.

As far as Kevin goes, I like the resolution. I could argue that the genetic cleansing transporter built from banned technology which I have never heard mentioned was all too convenient, but I'm willing to just roll with that revelation. It feels like Kevin and the artifact have run their course. I'm good with dropping that one for the foreseeable future, now that there is nobody left who can interface with the artifact. Of course, keeping in mind that Beverly is still out there somewhere and it hangs as a possible story somewhere in the distance.

One story that I think the writers should be running into sooner, rather than later, is the relationship between Allison and Carter. I'm not sure that the last nail was pounded into the coffin of possibility for a love connection there, but they are on that road. I don't think the secrecy and deception is going to play well with the sheriff, no matter how noble she thought her intentions were. And that look Carter shared with Nathan as they rode the panic room back up showed a new respect between the two of them. I think the good guy Carter would step aside. How it all effects the working relationship that Carter and Allison have should be interesting to see.

All things considered, it was a nice wrap-up to what has been a solid second season. It makes the recently ordered season three something to look forward to. And if nothing else, I think we all learned a valuable lesson tonight. "Boys, there's plenty of back door access for everyone."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Prison Break: Call Waiting

So... what's in the box? It's a simple question, used time and time again. The film Se7en pops into my mind. I've known for a while that Sarah Wayne Callies wouldn't be reprising her role on Prison Break and I finally saw her body double in this episode. Maybe it's too early to kill her off but it wouldn't surprise me if "what's in the box" offers the producers and writers behind this show an easy out.That being said, my gut tells me it'll probably just be a finger wrapped up in some tissue paper. If they do kill Sara off, there goes the biggest incentive Michael has to get Whistler out of Sona. Sure, The Company would still have LJ and I know family is big deal with Michael... but it's still not the same, you know?

Most of it focused on Michael's search for a cell phone. Obviously, Lechero is the only person in Sona who has access to something like that. So it created quite the conundrum and T-Bag eventually helped Michael make his call.I point that out because T-Bag is the only one from the supplementary ensemble that's really getting involved.

Mahone has no real point right now. He's crashing and going through withdrawal without those little white pills he loves so much. It's boring, just watching him wander around, hallucinating and sweating. The only good part with Mahone was when he laid out why Michael was in Sona in the first place.

Bellick is even harder to watch. He spent the whole episode looking for a shoe. Yawn. If you think about it, this whole hour would have been just as good and made just as much sense if any scenes with those two were dropped. I'm not saying they won't contribute to the escape plan later in the season once Michael finally has a strategy in place, but for now they're both dead weight.

The same goes for Sucre. He's just sort of there. Oh and drunk. Don't forget drunk.

So as I mentioned earlier, what's actually in the box will play a huge role. At this point, I don't really know how serious The Company is about getting Whistler out. The contents of the box will definitely help get that message across if it contains what I think it might. Beyond that, why is Whistler so valuable? Sure, maybe he is a fisherman and maybe he does charter boats, but what about that one location (the place where that naturalist took some water samples) is so valuable? Why do Susan B. and her cohorts need that location so bad?Other thoughts...
  • I don't really buy Lincoln doing all this detective work on his own. During season two, when Michael was right there in on it, it worked. Lincoln digging up dirt, trailing people, and figuring out secret codes on his own is almost too much for me. The whole series, he's been painted as the bumbling guy with no self-confidence who can't help but get himself into bad situations. Now he's like some sort of stellar sleuth. Although, if you think about it, it's all fallen into his lap. Sara throwing the shoe out the window is a prime example.
  • What happens when Lechero realizes that T-Bag is full of it?
  • I love how everyone else is always clean shaven, buzz cuts and all. Three episodes in and Mahone already has the Ted Kaczynski beard in full effect.
  • I don't think Whistler fully understands what he knows, but I also think he's not being 100% truthful with Michael... yet. I believe him when he says that Sofia knows squat though. I bet she does know something though and just doesn't realize it.

Other than the box, the next big question is how to get out. I saw Michael's brain clicking a few times in this episode as he scoped out the guard towers, the perimeter fencing, and where the bodies are buried. He's definitely thinking. But what?

DVD Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It's the second installment to the Harry Potter series, and it's an excellent follow-up of The Sorcerer's Stone. The Chamber Of Secrets sees some evolving elements of the series. There is also plenty of action in this one, and the acting is even better than the first.

It's the second year at Hogwarts for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and things aren't getting calm at all following last year. They're just getting more exciting. Harry Potter has definitely changed. He's wiser, less reactive to everything, and sees Hogwarts as his only home. Ron is the same clumsy wizard who likes to panic. Hermione has evolved the most. She's not nearly as bossy or rude, although she's still the most willing to study and learn of the trio.

The plot is as follows: Harry receives warnings not to return to Hogwarts. After Ron and his brothers rescue Harry from his still rather rude and mean uncle, aunt, and cousin, Harry returns to Hogwarts anyway. Strange mishaps occur to Harry as further warnings to leave, and at the same time there are random attacks against others, leaving students literally petrified.
Our trio of young wizards then learn about the chamber of secrets and what it holds, and that the heir of Slytherin will use it to extinguish muggle-born students. Worried that the heir has returned and is causing the random attacks, our trio plucks around for answers. Harry is accused of being the heir when it's discovered he can speak Parseltongue(Snake language). When Hermione winds up petrified, Harry and Ron seek and the chamber of secrets, leading to the truth. I'll save that for surprise.

Kenneth Branagh is well-cast as the pompous celebrity wizard Guilderoy Lockhart, hired as the kids' second "Defense Against the Dark Arts" professor. The particular standout here is new cast member Jason Isaacs, who is the very image of petty evil as Lucius, the father of Potter's nemesis Draco Malfoy. "Harry Potter" isn't just an action-fantasy story. This story introduces the important concept of "mug-bloods" (wizards with one or more non-wizard parent) and the theme of prejudice and bigotry shown by "pure-blood" wizards towards them.

The movie left me looking forward to the third installment, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Family Guy: Movin' Out (Brian's Song)

One of last season's highlights was the introduction of Brian's beautiful and endearing yet intellectually challenged girlfriend Jillian, voiced by Drew Barrymore. The obvious mismatch between Brian and Jillian was the source for some of the best laughs and actual drama in the previous season. Forgetting the fact that Brian's a dog, the fact that their relationship lasted so long is of one of those Family Guy oddities done right.

In this episode, their relationship is really put to the test when Brian gets weaseled into moving in with Jillian, despite his objections. Brian's one of those insecure characters who's easily manipulated by those around him. So when Peter helps Jillian to push the idea of moving in together, Brian reluctantly accepts. Despite not having sufficient funds to actually support paying his half of the rent, he goes along with it.

When Stewie offers to move in and help pay for the rent, Brian's okay with that too. Brian puts up with Stewie's obnoxiousness, even when it gets in the way of spending "quality" time with Jillian. Even after Jillian breaks up with Brian - it takes a pep talk from Stewie to convince him to actually go and try to win her back.

Stewie's not-so-subtle gay tendencies really stick out this episode. From the party guests he invites to the extremely obvious request to have sex with Brian (is that open gayness or something more animalistic?). Brian's reaction was hilarious.

The secondary story in this episode was remarkably entertaining. It's hard to think that scenes exclusively featuring Meg and Chris could actually provide some laughs, but there were a couple of genuinely funny moments between the two. The siblings end up working together in the same convenience store, but Meg ends up doing all the work while Chris and the owner, Carl, spend all their time talking about movies they liked. The movie discussion scenes, while not bone-splittingly funny, worked really well because the conversations themselves felt somewhat genuine.

It wouldn't be Family Guy if there weren't a few over-the-top offensive jokes and this episode has a few great ones. From the Meg and Peter phone-sex scene to Stewie's jab at the disposable income of immigrant families, to Peter's Donald Duck costume, this episode doesn't hold back anything when it comes to tastelessness.

It's definitely sad to see the end of the Brian and Jillian relationship, especially considering the great performance put on by Drew Barrymore. She moved on to dating mayor Adam West after the breakup. Hopefully Jillian will make another appearance sometime in the future - she really was a great addition to the show.

Overall, "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)" managed to rise about the generic plotline and deliver a pretty solid half hour of entertainment that told a cohesive (and somewhat sad) main story, with just enough gags to fill in the rest of the time. It's a bit more story-heavy compared to what I'm used to seeing on the show, but this is sometimes a good thing - especially compared to some of the completely storyline-free episodes I was subjected to in the previous season.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Homer Evolution

The Simpsons: The Homer of Seville

We're back to the silly in this episode of The Simpsons as another bodily injury gives Homer an advantage in life. I'm surprised that this is the second Homer-centric episode in a row. Usually, the producers are good at going around the Simpsons circuit to focus on another family member or the group as a whole from one week to the next.

I thought the episode itself was okay with a few good laughs. The injury that gives Homer an extra special push is one to his back. The result: Homer now has a wonderful singing voice only while lying flat. This scenario gave Dan Castellaneta a chance to show off his singing prowess.

To be honest, other than singing opera flat on his back, Homer was the most normal of the characters this week. Marge really surprised me when she crashed a house party (that turned out to be a wake) just because she didn't want to cook after church services. This is something Homer usually ends up doing. Seeing Marge snake through an open basement window made be do a double-take. Meanwhile, Mr. Burns partnered once again with Homer; the second time in a row that this has happened since the beginning of the season. Burns discovered Homer's singing while shopping for some extra body parts down at the hospital's morgue.

While it may not have seemed like it, there was a lot going on in this episode. Here are just some of the highlights:
  • Blackboard Gag: The Wall Street Journal is Better Than Ever. I didn't understand what this meant until about five seconds later when I realized that Rupert Murdoch is now the proud owner of that newspaper. When it finally dawned on me I laughed out loud.
  • Couch Gag: The Evolution of Homer. This was a pretty elaborate gag for a second episode of the season. Homer evolves from a blob of goo to the man we see today, which really hasn't evolved that much. Some of the good things here were Mr. Burns as the octopus, dinosaurs Bart and Lisa battling it out, and Moe devolving as he passed Homer along the way.
  • 'Jesus: The Real American Idol' -- this week's church signage
  • Homer's philosophy about 'au jus': Au Jus -- not quite gravy, not quite blood.
  • Mahogany -- great movie, great casket -- Bart at the wake he and his family crashed. This was the only solo scene that Bart had for the entire episode.
  • The Springfield Opera House looks an awful lot like another famous opera house based in Sydney, Australia. If I could only remember the name of the Sydney Opera House. What the heck is it?
  • What do friends of Placido Domingo call him -- P Dingo
  • We'll move to another table, Yoko. -- Carl, when he and Lenny are asked to sit at another table by Marge during her anniversary dinner.
  • Inflatable Homer Decoys. Need I say more about that?
  • After Julia the stalker is poisoned by her own drug-tipped dart, Chief Wiggum tells the snipers to take the shot. These are the worst snipers on the planet, as they didn't hit her once. They must be rejects from various A-Team episodes. Finally, a chandelier crashes down on her. To me, that was the funniest moment of the night.

Mad Men: Long Weekend

"Remember Don...when God closes a door, he opens a dress." - Roger Sterling

I'm having a real hard time trying to figure out if Roger Sterling is just misguided or an out and out sleazeball. He's married and has a daughter he desperately wants to understand, but at the same time he's having an affair with Joan and also tries to boff any cute girl that might come into the office. Or, in the case of this episode, two girls that come into the office. Twins, to be exact, that he chose for a new ad campaign. He even asks them to kiss each other at one point. Joan's going through that too, with her best friend Carol coming on to her as well, telling her she's been in love with her since college. All of the Mad Men episodes seem to have a theme, and tonight's seems to be "girl on girl action!"

OK, maybe that's not the theme, but it's interesting that it came up not once but twice in tonight's episode. Joan and Carol (just fired from a job at a publishing house) bring home two men from a bar. Joan has sex with her pickup, and even though Carol doesn't want to, she lets her guy do whatever he wants with her.

It's the long Labor Day Weekend, and Roger wants to party with the twins before the working world comes back the following week and they have to work hard on the Nixon campaign (before the weekend starts the gang looks at a Kennedy commercial and Don compares it to a commercial for Maypo - they also lose Dr. Scholl's as a client, something that pleases Pete).

Roger's all over Maribelle, even riding her like a horse at once point. Her sister Eleanor likes Don, but Don is actually restrained (hey, he cheats on Betty, but he has standards - "Maybe it's this office, but you're selling too hard."). Roger and Maribelle go at it though, but maybe they shouldn't have tried a second time: Roger has a heart attack and has to be rushed to the hospital. In the hospital room he seems truly upset about where his life is going, and even cries to wife Mona that he loves her. From sleaze to sincerity.

Meanwhile, the bizarre relationship between Pete and Peggy continues. She actually seems normal in this episode, just doing her job and not knowing what the hell Pete wants. Pete treats her oddly and even insults her. Ah, young love.
Good to see Rachel Mencken come back, this time with her father. Don convinces the old man to let Sterling Cooper redo a floor of the department store and do the advertising. Don stills wants something to happen with Rachel, but she's all cold towards him. No sign of Midge (maybe she's with her beatnik boyfriend), and maybe Don wants to move on to Rachel.

At the end, Don shows up at Rachel's door, disheveled, worried about Roger but making a move on Rachel. She tells him to stop it. They sit on the couch together and Don talks about life and death, which seems to convince Rachel that yes, in fact, she does want to do it with him. But he won't do it unless she wants to (she even says "yes, please" - yikes). After they make love, the revelations come pouring out of Don. Like Rachel's mom, Don's mom died in childbirth. But she was a prostitute. His dad remarried and he died when he was ten and then his mom remarried that jerk I saw in an earlier episode.

Another fine episode. I particularly liked the subtle nod to The Apartment at the end (a movie Roger and Joan talked about earlier), as Rumsen tells Joan about Roger's heart attack and tells her not to waste her youth on the old. They get into an elevator and he asks her to press the button for the first floor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

CSI: Dead Doll

Last season CSI ended with the resolution of the great miniature killer mystery. Along with the killer's identity, Sara Sidle's life and death situation was also revealed, as she was left in the desert, beneath a car. "Dead Doll" picked up right where it left off last year, with the CSIs looking through all of the evidence they have on Natalie Davis in an attempt to find Sara's location.

I couldn't help but be taken back to the fifth season finale, "Grave Danger," when watching "Dead Doll." That Quentin Tarantino-directed two-hour episode showed the CSIs utilizing very resource they could in an attempt to save Nick's life. There was a real sense of urgency which was felt through the screen. In "Living Doll," that sense of urgency wasn't there until the second half until Captain Brass located a tow-truck driver who was able to provide him with the location of the car Sara was trapped under.

Although the investigators were able to find the car, they were disappointed to see that Sara wasn't in the car anymore. She had managed to escape the torrential rainfall, only to end up in the sweltering Nevada heat.

While the pacing of the episode wasn't the best, I loved the final scene. Sara is found, unconscious and unresponsive. She's medevaced out of the desert, and Grissom's inside, riding along. Emotional, Gil holds onto Sara's hand and she eventually comes to, opening her eyes. She initially spots Grissom's name tag and then looks up to see his face. As far as endings go, this was likely the most emotional the series has ever had.

My Name is Earl: My Name is Inmate # 28301-016

The hour-long Season 3 premiere of My Name Is Earl starts off with a funny twist on the show's famous prologue. No longer a free man after pleading guilty to a crime he didn't commit, the show about karma gets a name change: My Name is Inmate #28301-016.

After two seasons of Earl Hickey crossing items off his list, a dramatic change of scenery makes sense to keep the show fresh. Given the character's checkered past, the creators made a plausible decision to put Earl behind bars, even if it wasn't his fault this time. Besides, for a show all about karma and redemption, could you ask for a better setting than prison?

Earl's done shorts stints in county jail, but never hard time. Luckily, at the end of last season, he learned he'd be cellmates with childhood friend Ralph. However, things immediately head south for Earl in this episode as Ralph copies the plot of The Shawshank Redemption (substituting a Dolly Parton poster for Rita Hayworth) and escapes, leaving him all alone in the Big House.

Unfortunately, Earl isn't the only one suffering as a result of his incarceration. Joy is struggling with the guilt she feels for having let Earl take her prison rap and is looking for ways to make it up to him. And Earl's brother Randy is a sad, lonely mess with no one to take care of him. The solution? To return Earl's favor, Joy agrees to let Randy move into her house and to look after him, which turns out to be harder than it appears.

Inside the walls, Earl's biggest concern isn't crossing things off his karma list, but rather figuring out how to survive prison life. Not surprisingly, with his past history of running afoul of the law, Earl knows a few people doing time with him. The first familiar face he meets is Sonny, an old friend who teaches him how to stay invisible to the other prisoners. Unfortunately, Earl can't stay invisible for long because Sonny owes a favor to another of Earl's acquaintances and rats him out.

This acquaintance turns out to be Glen Shipley. Once upon a time, Glen was a squeaky clean boy scout eager to help those in need. As it happened, young Earl was in need of someone small enough to climb through a window and open a door from the inside because he "forgot his keys." As it turned out, innocent Glen was mauled by guard dogs, arrested for breaking and entering and sent to juvenile hall while Earl got off scot free. Thus began Glen's downward spiral into criminal behavior and a life spent behind bars, all of which he blames on Earl. And now that they share a prison yard, Glen isn't shy about telling Earl all the descriptive (and amusing) ways he'd like to kill him.

Overall, this episode is a solid foundation on which to build the third season. Once again, the show succeeds in finding creative ways for Earl to get karma back on his side. However, the first half drags due to a shortage of great jokes and the lengthy exposition of Earl's new surroundings, routines and neighbors. This hour-long show takes a while to get going and even when it does, there are not as many laugh-out-loud moments as I'm used to seeing. Hopefully they'll stick with the prison location for a while because there are plenty of stories and jokes left to tell.

The most pleasant surprise of the show was Joy's continued evolution from one-note trailer-trash character to someone who is truly appreciative of Earl and his sacrifice. Sure, she's a mean bitch who's quick with insults and short on temper. But she's also more mature, as evidenced by her sticking to Earl's bargain and keeping Randy out of trouble, even if it does involve disciplining him with a huge rubber band.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dirty Sexy Money: Pilot

Dirty Sexy Money was finally watched and I love it! While it has been listed as a drama, the show's premiere featured many hilarious moments. The Darlings actually remind me of the Bluth family from Arrested Development. Both families are wealthy and full of self-involved people who say the most outrageous things. "Well, you're poor!" has officially become my new comeback. Let's not waste any more time, though. Meet the Darlings:

Patrick "Tripp" Darling III - Tripp is the head of the family and the former employer of Devlin "Dutch" George, the deceased father of the show's central character, Nick George. Tripp happens to be one of the richest men in New York City, and he knows how to rock a moustache. Following the mysterious death of Devlin George, Tripp asks Nick to take his father's place as the family attorney. Tripp trusts Nick's sense of morality, and is aware that his family cannot be handled by just any lawyer. He even considered Bill Clinton and Johnny Cochran (before he found out he had died already) for the job before settling on Nick.

Tripp is extremely devoted to his wife, Letitia. The couple celebrated their wedding anniversary with a lavish and highly eventful party (more on that later). While husband and wife appeared to be very much in love, their bond might not be as close as we thought. Apparently Letitia was carrying on a long-term affair with Devlin George, which Tripp may or may not be aware of. After all, the man is no saint himself. Tripp suspiciously helicoptered to the site of the wreckage from Devlin's plane crash, and was very interested in the briefcase the police recovered. Could he be behind the murder?

Letitia Darling - As the loving mother of the Darling family, Letitia has her work cut out for her. When she isn't planning glamorous parties, she's hurling vases onto the floor to get her children's attention. I got a glimpse of her tender side when she was consoling Juliet after a disastrous rehearsal. At first I thought that Letitia would be a bit dull when compared with the Darling children, but then the secret about the affair was introduced. Perhaps the affair contributed to the collapse of Nick's parents' marriage?

Patrick Darling - Husband and father, Attorney General of New York, aspiring politician, lover of transsexuals, Patrick is a true renaissance man. He obviously has a good grasp of the law, but morality is another story. I enjoyed the revelation that Devlin George broke up with at least seven of Patrick's girlfriends for him. Patrick hoped to ditch his current mistress, Carmelita, using Nick as a messenger, but no dice. When Nick passed on the job, Patrick's weakness kept him from ripping off the band-aid.

Karen Darling - What a wonderful, lovesick ditz her character turned out to be! Karen has no trouble in showing her affection for Nick, even in front of her soon-to-be-husband. Karen might be carrying a torch for Nick, but that hasn't stopped her from getting married several times. She's now preparing for marriage number four to Freddy, a dense professional golfer more interested in Karen's money than her heart.

Brian Darling - This guy is one hard-core bastard. He also happens to be an Episcopalian minister. Brian's big secret is that he has an illegitimate son that his baby-mama just stuck him with. He's also high on the list of suspects in the death of Devlin George. Apparently Brian has been giving money from the Darling Family Foundation to an airplane mechanic; quite a coincidence. All of my favorite scenes had Brian in them, and all of his lines were deliciously nasty.

Juliet Darling - A socialite/wanna-be actress, Juliet declared her independence from the family by having the maids pack her things and move out. During her parents' anniversary party, she attempted suicide by prescription drug overdose after she learned that her father has funded all of her plays. Luckily for Juliet, she couldn't keep most of the pills down. She's a pretty one-dimensional character right now, but that doesn't mean I can't have a good laugh or two at her expense.

Jeremy Darling - When he's not hung over or partying at Ethan Hawke's house, Jeremy might be the most sympathetic Darling. He cares a great deal about his father's opinion, and views Nick as the older brother he never had (except for those two other guys). At first I thought Jeremy was just going to be a male version of Juliet, but he surprised me with some depth and understanding (but not too much). And hey, anyone who buys his parents a Breeders' Cup-winning horse for their anniversary is OK by me.

Nick George - Not an actual part of the family, but firmly embedded in their scandals, breakdowns, and secrets. His reluctance to take the job as the family's attorney lasted for about five minutes, around the time that he asked for ten million dollars a year. Unlike the Darlings, Nick is actually in touch with reality. He has a plucky assistant, Daisy, who found the perfect ringtone for each Darling, a wife named Lisa, and an adorable daughter named Kiki.

Despite his resolve to be nothing like his father, Nick began to show similarities to Devlin in only two weeks, forgetting to pick his daughter up and getting caught kissing Karen Darling (on the cheek). He may not have the time to perform all the charitable deeds that he envisioned, but Nick is dead-set on finding his father's killer. He'll likely have a tough time of it, though. The guy couldn't talk his way into his own father's funeral, but hopefully he'll catch on.

The show reminds me a bit more of a primetime soap opera than a drama, but who cares about labels. Dirty Sexy Money is witty, wicked fun. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rest of the season is as entertaining as the pilot.

Quotable Darling moments:

  • "Playing blind is really fun." -- Juliet, on her role in Wait Until Dark.
  • "I'm sorry Grandpa's dead." -- Rev. Brian, to Nick's daughter, Kiki.
  • "OK Captain Jeremy, Captain Jeremy OK." -- The illegal aliens on Jeremy's new yacht.
  • Juliet: "I want to be a human being." Letitia: "And someday you'll be one."
  • Nick: "30,000 people die of starvation each day." Jeremy: "Yeah, but out of 7 billion people..."
  • "Did my wife just come by here: short hair, black gown, pissed?" Nick George
  • "You do it, he's your girlfriend...she?" Nick, refusing to do Patrick's dirty work.
  • "Space is freakin' coming apart. True story." Jeremy Darling, on the collapse of the cosmos.

MTTT - Fat City Bistro

The M Thirsty Third Thursday gathered last night at the new Fat City Bistro, formerly Nick's Tavern and Grill.

Fat City Bistro was opened this year by Dan Walterson, owner of South Street Cigar and Wine shop and Brad Roche. They thoroughly remodeled and gave the bar lots of upscale touches like rich wood paneling on walls; tables with thick, heavy, curled iron legs; restrooms with modern, swanky sinks; several well-placed TV monitors; and a great interior sound system.

The small, cozy bar has a string of white lights underneath the bar top, where there also are hooks for purses. The average age in the Bistro was probably 45 or so. No college students were there. It was also nice that you could actually carry on a conversation without having to yell above the music or crowd. The only complaint is the lights are so dim, I couldn't read the menu without lining the votive candles around the menu. I thought I might catch my hair on fire since I had to lean down so far to see.

The bar has expanded to include sandwiches, appetizers, salads, wraps, paninis and 7-inch pizzas. I had the nachos, which was a huge plate and made enough for two meals. Cheryl & Bob tried the pizzas and said they were very good. Liz had the quesadillas and liked them. Kenn had the sliders - mini-hamburgers. The "7 Minutes in Heaven" martini was a favorite of mine.

We all agreed this was a great place even though it is also considered smoking (cigar) lounge. Thankfully not a lot of people were there so the smoke did not bother me. The upstairs has over-stuffed black couches where folks can relax smoking their favorite cigar. I think the summer time sipping a cool martini on the deck would be right up my alley. So I will definitely be back come summer!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bionic Woman: Pilot

I finally watched the much buzzed about Bionic Woman debut. So does the show live up to all of the hype? Not yet at least.

British actress Michelle Ryan stars as the title character, who begins as an average bartender named Jaime Sommers - the character name is the same, but little else is similar to the 1970s series the new incarnation of Bionic Woman is based on. Jaime has been dating Will (Chris Bowers), a college professor who has a pretty big secret about who else employs him. This is revealed to Jaime in highly dramatic and traumatic fashion when she is in a terrible car accident, and Will brings her to the secret government agency he works for and uses their technology to save her, and in the process, enhance her.

Jaime wakes up to find out she's had much of her body replaced by new bionic body parts, giving her super strength, speed, sight, hearing, and more. This is not exactly great news to Jaime though, who is more than a little aghast at her new body, and less than cooperative with Will and those he works for, including Jonas (Miguel Ferrer), Ruth (Molly Price), Jae (Will Yun Lee). In the meantime, Jaime has a new stalker, a woman named Sarah (Katee Sackhoff), who was actually the person behind Jaime's accident; an event Jaime only has vague memories of.

The pilot to Bionic Woman is definitely a clunky one. There's a lot of rushed through and choppy exposition, such as a scene beginning with almost no build up, in which Jaime is telling Will she doesn't know why a brilliant professor like him would be with a drop out like her, in order to give the audience that information in a far too direct and less than subtle manner. There's also some semi-laughable dialogue like "We have to get you to rehab." "What for?" "Rehabilitation." Ahh, thanks for clearing that up.

So what works? Well, this is a sci-fi/action show, and taken on those terms, it's a fairly cool one. The accident that starts Jaime off on her new life is a startling and effective sequence. The Peter Parker-esque moments where Jaime experiments with her new powers by leaping from one building to the next work well. And some amusingly overdone grunts and shrieks aside, the fight scene between Jaime and Sarah that ends the episode is a strong one with some nice moments for both characters.

That being said, one nice touch in the pilot is that Jaime is not instantly a bad ass, and her super-leaps and other moves don't always go as planned, so hopefully as her character becomes more comfortable with her new abilities, Ryan will convey this blossoming in her performance. Among the supporting cast, the ever-dependable Ferrer stands out, bringing some of his trademark sarcasm to a role that evokes his similar one working on a cyborg twenty years ago in RoboCop.

"Remains to be seen" is the phrase of choice for Bionic Woman. Will this show find the right tone and style and come into its own? Watching the pilot, it's easy to see how Bionic Woman could easily be developed into something strong, or just as easily simply fail to come together. Here's hoping for the former to occur.