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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nip/Tuck: Damien Sands

What a great episode! It was different, unique for this show, and was clearly a challenge to shoot and edit so that the "reality" look and feel were achieved. It certainly wasn't the best episode of Nip/Tuck, but I'm all for stuff like this. Taking chances with proven formulas is something I can respect. Anybody pay attention to the beginning? When Christian was trying to convince Sean to do Plastic Fantastic with him? Christian made some comment about how "reality is the future." Granted this was written and shot at least a few months ago, but it's still a little eerie considering the current TV climate because of the WGA strike. Kind of ironic that I sat down to watch a scripted drama spoofing reality TV when all these writers are fighting to be compensated for creative episodes like this and actual reality is slowly taking over every channel.

Every cliché from reality TV was played out perfectly as I would expect and most of it was over the top. When you consider Sean and Christian and the company they keep though, it's really not that much of a stretch. Even though Sean pushed for it, you knew right away that there was no way the pilot episode was going to show them in a positive light.

The biggest scenes from the show within the show all focused on Julia, Liz, and Olivia. Once the producer figured out that they were all angry, jealous lesbians... well, not much else to say there. The only thing that bugged me is that by episode's end, nothing stuck. Liz and Olivia kissed, there was a fight, and then Olivia and Julia made up. It would have been nice to see some of that conflict play out for a few more episodes. Although, at this point, it's only a matter of time before Julia realizes that this isn't who she is. I know I haven't really seen anything to back that up (other than her thorough enjoyment when Christian was giving it to her), but I just don't see any other logical outcome.

More observations:

During one of his interviews, Sean said he played Dr. Peter Casey on Hearts and Scalpels. I think that's the first time I've heard the name of his character.

During one of Julia's interviews, I heard Connor cry and Julia went to check on him. He's alive! (Are they ever moving back to New York?)

Speaking of New York (the VH1 variety), how disappointing was that? I saw the previews with her in it and thought it would be hilarious. She guest starred just for the sake of guest starring. She gave Christian some tips, but it was still a little pointless.

Unless I see her on set, it looks like Kate is gone for good. I was thinking I'd see her come crawling back to Sean, but maybe not.

Despite Christian's goal to win back the spotlight from Sean, I love how even a foolish little reality show won't even be greenlit unless Sean is on-board. Although, this one didn't get picked up at all...

I need more Aiden Stone and Freddy Prune. Those two guys are hilarious. I'm sick of them never being around.

I'm surprised that neither Matt nor Kimber were around. This would have been the perfect situation for their meth addiction to come out.

What was the deal with Damien Sands? How did he know that Christian was also dabbling in the male escort service? Moreover, why did Christian care? After the way it worked out with his last patient (bathtub lady), I thought he was done.

Then there was the big ending (after Plastic Fantastic had finished taping). Eden ran away from rehab, her arms covered in cigarette burns. At first, she was all about spilling secrets but then Sean was nice to her. That was probably a first for her. Result? Instant crush on Dr. McNamara. Then, as I have waited for, they kissed. OK... first off, she's 18. I think. That's what she told Christian when she wanted surgery. But even still. She's in high school, she's messing with Annie. You'd think Sean would have learned his lesson. Guess not.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Closer: Next of Kin

I'm sorry to say that I didn't like this "special" episode. It was a little too cheesy, over-the-top, and far-fetched. Yes, yes, it was great to see the cast during this time of the year since The Closer only airs during the summer. It felt comforting to reunite with Brenda, Fritz and Lts. Flynn and Provenza... but the story wasn't really worth it. The whole thing didn't suck, but I did feel let down by the episode.

A few things seemed like too much of a stretch to me. First, the ending was a bit much. Brenda's parents decided to adopt the younger brother of a criminal? Wow. That's some serious Southern hospitality. Second, the RV trip from Georgia to Los Angeles. Brenda's parents are unbelievably giving. Maybe it was all that holiday spirit. It was the RV trip where I started to lose interest. It began with a bunch of goofy faces for the characters to react to Brenda's parents and that went on a little too long.

What I did like about this episode, however, was the different light in which Brenda was shown. I like her because she's quirky and obsessed with work. I laugh at how Fritz can put up with Brenda's obsession, but it wasn't as funny when she hurt her parents because work was her top priority. Brenda is very selfish. Or, maybe self-centered is a more accurate description. Either way, she thought she and Fritz could fly to Atlanta to apprehend a robbery fugitive and pretend like they were going to visit her parents for Christmas. Her father's disappointment in her was heart-breaking.

And, even though I thought it was sick and wrong, I was fascinated with Brenda's huge lie to get her suspect to admit to the bank robberies. She wanted him to believe that his little brother was dead because he fled to Atlanta and left his brother behind to become a victim of his partners in crime. It was a disgusting lie, but it ended up being justified because 1) Brenda pointed out that Wesley is the one who got people killed, and 2) Wesley never believed her in the first place.

Also? I liked the 30 seconds of work that Fritz got to do. Last season, he sort-of turned into a puppy dog who followed Brenda around everywhere. Even though Brenda one-upped him, he did get to spend a minute or so interrogating Wesley, the robbery suspect. He also got to tackle Wesley when he tried to escape out the RV bathroom window.

Ultimately, the episode ended predictably--with Wesley shooting his fellow bank robbers and then dying. It was hinted at by Lt. Provenza, who wanted to tell Wesley the truth about his brother before setting him loose on the city of Los Angeles. Wesley turned the tables on Brenda, calling her bluff about his dead brother, but still sought revenge on his fellow bank robbers. I presume he shot them because they killed his friend, Arnie, and tried to kill him. Anyway, the "surprise" reason for shooting the robbers wasn't a big enough twist for me to be shocked at the ending.

Best Line: "Brenda doesn't lie." - Fritz, after Brenda threatened to shoot Wesley if he angered her again.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Friday Night Lights: Seeing Other People

NBC's promos for this episode of Friday Night Lights promised this would be the episode where Landry's morals got the best of him, driving him to confess to murder. But in reality, that was the smallest part of this episode, which leaned more on strong moments from the Taylor family and one of the best comedic subplots of the season. The ending left me with plenty to discuss.

One of the things I love most about FNL is the way it can turn tired teen show plot lines into something artful and fresh. An example of that came from Julie and Tami's parallel stories of misunderstood relationships. Julie's behavior around Noah takes me straight back to high school; the suggestion that the two of them could ever have a romantic relationship gives me the squirms, but I love the way the show is playing it so far. Julie might be flirting, but she might also have found a friend and mentor (who just happens to be older, male, and relatively attractive); Noah might see her as just a bright, eager student with untapped potential. And yet, their relationship looks like it could be something more, something utterly inappropriate. That's the side Tami sees; the scene where she ripped into Noah for his perceived indiscretions — and only got angrier with every one of his smarmy responses — was incredible (but couldn't she have just closed the door?). And so was Julie's reaction, full of fury at losing the one person she believes understands her.

And then there's Tami and Glenn — no illegal age difference there, at least, but still a perception that they could be doing something improper. For whatever reason, Coach hasn't seemed to be understanding what Tami's going through as a working mother of a petulant teenager and a needy newborn. I doubt he actually thinks Tami would cheat on him, but he's worried about appearances. Even more than that, he misses his old relationship with Tami, their laughs and light moments. Frankly, so do I; I'd love to see them get back to having fun.

Speaking of fun, practically every moment of the Smash storyline was exactly that. I don't understand where the show is going with Smash's recruiting trips — and shouldn't a player with his skills be visiting schools I've, you know, heard of? — but if it leads to more moments like "So tell me: Was it Cabo in your pants?" then I'm all for it.

Some other thoughts:

As I mentioned, the Landry stuff filled only a small part of the episode. I did think it was fascinating to hear Landry say aloud that the man he killed was a horrible, despicable person — to the man's brother, no less — and interesting how that prompted Landry to reexamine why he was keeping this secret. As for what that actually means, I guess I'll find out in the next episode.

Riggins' apology was one of my favorite moments ever, and I would have loved to see him keep apologizing to every Panther, one by one. Everything about it — from the "firecrotch" nickname to telling a young player how he really brings it on practice days — was quintessentially Riggins.

Matt and Carlotta bore me. There, I said it. I can't even really muster up the strength to be annoyed by their ridiculous pairing.

Seriously, how amazing was Riggins' ferret-keeping, meth-making roommate's binoculars/flask contraption? And where's Riggins going to live now, anyway?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Burn Victim

This episode was a return to the basic formula of My Name is Earl that had been absent for most of this season. You know, the concept of Earl actually helping someone get their life back on track and the reason I started watching in the first place. This season has been about Earl's self-preservation behind bars, so his help hasn't been karma-motivated but rather reduced sentence-motivated, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.

Whatever the motivation, this episode was an improvement over the last few in that it had both a good message and also some very funny moments including a prison prom with racially diverse chocolate fountains, an impassioned story about a man and his turtle and the continued bumbling of Warden Hazelwood (Craig T. Nelson) who forgets he's talking to a reporter when he casually mentions his wife, the governor, is a sex addict.

The warden's big mouth is the starting point for this episode as he promises Camden County a new prison reconciliation program but has no idea how to implement it. So once again, he asks Earl to find a good candidate in exchange for 6 months off his sentence. Earl thinks John the Painter, an artistic inmate doing time for burning down his parent's house after his personal meth lab caught fire fits the bill.

The only hitch is John isn't sorry for burning down his parent's house, and feels his parents are the ones who should apologize for being so mean to him. He believes it's their behavior that caused him to go down the wrong path and the only way he'll even reconsider is if Earl can organize a prom to make up for the one he missed when his parents refused to let him go. Of course, they refused because he was too stoned to drive, but he doesn't see it that way. He's a version of pre-karma Earl, someone who blames everyone else for his problems, never himself.

The most shocking part of the episode comes when Earl finally snaps. I've seen Earl do some pretty bad stuff to others in seasons past, (his redemption is the point of the show after all,) but seldom have I seen Earl go to such extreme lengths to prove a point. When John refuses to reconcile even after the successful prom and with his reduced prison sentence in jeopardy, Earl gives John a taste of his own medicine. He sets John's paintings on fire with the justification that John's behavior made him do it. Fortunately, this act makes John understand his misplaced blame and anger and helps him apologize to his parents.

It's good to see an episode of Earl tackle themes of redemption and reconciliation again. When they choose to do so, this show can really deliver a positive message. Sure, they fill the episodes with plenty of funny jokes and silly characters that run around acting stupid to distract me, but in the end, it's the show's heart that keeps me coming back.

One more bit of good news: because the warden shredded all of his reduced-sentence certificates at the end of the episode, it looks like Earl's going to have to get out of jail the only way I'd expect from a career criminal: with a prison break.

Concert Review: Allison Downey

Last night Jean & I attended a CD Release Concert for local Kalamazoo folk singer Allison Downey at the Little Theatre on Western Michigan's University campus. For the concert, Allison and her husband and musical partner, John Austin, expanded to a full band with musicians featured on her second and newest CD, Across The Sea.

Big plans for her first CD, Wind At Your Back, got sidelined by her move to Kalamazoo. You can here two songs from that CD on the Bob's Retirement Video (posted January 26, 2008). She came from Austin, TX, to WMU's theater department in 2002. Downey became a regular performer at the Kraftbrau Brewery, which is where I first heard her, and The Union.

When she's herself, Downey shows influences of the Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. Songs range from country to folk-pop and piano ballads, intimate songs you could find on a Sarah McLachlan or Nora Jones album. Austin with a six-string electric bass, works in more groove than one would expect in folk.

The new CD includes "Almost" and "All That Matters," Downey's songs that won the People's Choice Award at the 2007 Wildflower Arts & Music Festival.

A wonderful concert on a cold January evening.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MTTT & Bob's Retirement

Thursday night we gathered at the Old Burdick's Bar & Grill to celebrate Bob's retirement after 25 years of combined service. Nearly 35 people attended this party. We had a large contingent from our Portage office, plus employees from Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee who were in town for a GRM intensive training class. It was a wonderful, but bitter sweet time.

Bob and I have been close friends for 20 years (since I started). We have weathered changes in leadership, financial hard times, employee layoffs, and the deaths of fellow colleagues. But we have celebrated new products, new customers, the good financial times, cruised on the company trip, our MTQ trip to Minneapolis, shared travel stories and our love of photography, and enjoyed a round of drinks or two. No matter where Bob was in the country or out of the country, he always sent me an email with a weather report. You couldn't ask for a better friend and one of the most loyal employees the company will ever have. Thank you Bob.

Click on the video below to see what a fun time we had roasting Bob.

When we came to Old Burdick's, we didn't know the cooks expected us to go home with leftovers. Nearly all the meals or appetizers were huge.
This was one of several good surprises at the 165-seat eatery, a smaller version of the original Old Burdick's Bar & Grill, still located at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. The owners of the new restaurant have done a pretty good job of recreating the feel of the downtown Burdick's. And the new place is definitely an improvement over what has been at the site in the recent past. The all-new restaurant feels fresh and different. Being a fan of Old Burdick's, I was happy.

Burgers remain the mainstay. The cooks take the half-pound of ground beef seriously and ask customers to indicate a desired temperature of doneness. The buns are baked for the restaurant by Renzema's Bakery of Parchment.

With over 35 people to serve, I was very impressed with their staff. We had a couple waitressess and the manager was always stopping by to see how things were going. The few mistakes that were made were corrected promptly and pleasantly.

I definitely recommend the "new" Old Burdick's at the Holiday Inn-West and look forward to my next visit.

Dirty Sexy Money: The Watch

This episode of Dirty Sexy Money featured a blast from the past: Dutch George. No, he didn't come back from the dead, but I did get to see what he was up to six months ago. In the present day, Brian had to face the music after his bribery attempt, Juliet returned, and Karen went on a big date. Oh, and a huge Darling secret was revealed! This show keeps getting better and better!

Let's start things off with the biggest moment in the show so far--Brian is Nick's half-brother! I was impressed that the writers pulled the trigger on this secret so soon, and halfway through the episode no less! They could have easily teased us with this storyline for the rest of the season, but I'm thrilled that they didn't. I also hate it when a major twist or revelation is introduced at the very end of an episode; it's much more fun to witness the fallout in the same week while it's still fresh. Nick has a more brotherly rapport with Patrick, but his arguments with Brian make the revelation a more realistic choice for a sibling.

In spite of the news about Brian, Tripp was the real bastard this week. It's disturbing that Tripp can suddenly turn on the man that he treated like a son for decades. He really seemed to hate Brian, but perhaps he was simply taking out his issues with Letitia on her son. Still, he treated Nick with more paternal compassion. Tripp and Nick were the ones having a heart-to-heart after the truth came out, not Tripp and Brian. Why was Tripp so eager to make Nick feel like a part of the Darling family?

The flashbacks with Dutch (played by the incredible Peter Strauss) gave me the opportunity to see a happier version of Letitia--at least at first. Letitia looked like she was truly in love with Dutch, almost more than she is with Tripp in the present. Why did she choose that moment to tell Dutch that he had another son, and why did she let Brian hate his father for so long? As Brian said, things would have been different between him and Dutch if he had known the truth. Letitia did everyone a disservice by keeping such an important secret. I have to agree with Brian's claim that Letitia acted out of self-interest by lying. What else could she be hiding?

Patrick spent the episode heavily medicated, but that didn't stop him from making some important decisions about his romantic life. I think he must be incapable of ending things with Carmelita; he's tried and failed several times now. The "firearms chapter" might not be over for Patrick, especially once Ellen discovers that Patrick lied to her. In other Darling goings-on, Juliet returned from her trip, but only made a brief appearance. Her twin brother continued his pretend life as Jeremy Babeson. Sadly, Clark the driver wasn't around to help Jeremy act poor. After last week's dinner, I wouldn't have expected Lisa to lift a finger for the Darlings, but she came through with some nude paintings for Jeremy's fake art career. I still think it's hilarious that he regards everyone as poor; he even called the expensive ants "low-budge"!

Simon made another move against the Darlings by asking Karen to discuss "merging resources" over dinner. What happened to Karen's big plan to destroy Nick's marriage? I guess there's nothing wrong with a little companionship during a long-term scheme, and I am talking about Blair Underwood here. I'm starting to believe that Karen is the smartest of the Darling siblings. She's the only one who realizes what Simon is capable of. Her warning to Simon about not doing to Tripp what he did to Darling Plaza was right on the money. Simon is proving to be a real menace. Why was he discussing business with Patrick while he was drugged? Sure, Karen did the same thing, but she's family. I can't wait to see this ex-wife and child that he mentioned. His comment about the Ghanaian princess being his "primary partner" made me wonder if she's involved with his plans somehow.

The flashbacks also made it clear why Dutch might have defected to Simon Elder's side. After learning of Letitia's deceit, Dutch was convinced that he needed to distance himself from the Darling family. It's a shame that Nick didn't hear his father out, though. It might have prevented him from taking a job from Tripp later on. Now it's doubtful that Nick will be resigning anytime soon. He admitted to Lisa that the money is too tempting to pass up. Being a small-time philanthropist isn't enough for Nick, now that he has access to the Darling Foundation funds. Finding his father's killer is no longer at the top of his list of priorities.

Dutch's watch changed hands several times in this episode, and it finally made its way to Brian Jr. There were a lot of sad and dramatic moments this week, but Brian's farewell to his son was my personal favorite. I hope I haven't seen the last of Brian Jr. It isn't often that I find a child actor to be so genuine and adorable. Brian continues to lose family members at an alarming rate. His wife and daughters are gone, his biological father is dead, Tripp despises him, and his son is off to Brazil. Nick is all that Brian has left. Will loneliness and desperation bring Nick and Brian together?

All in all, I thought this was the best episode yet.

My favorite lines of the night:

Nick: "How about a thank you?" Brian: "Send yourself a gift basket."

"Hospitals freak me out anyway. It's like Death: 'I'm coming for you, Karen, here I come!' It's just the way they hit me sometimes." --Karen

"I got your charitable giving right here." --Patrick

"It could have been Karen." --Lisa, after Brian is revealed to be Nick's half-sibling

"The firearms chapter of my marriage is over. I hope." --Patrick

"She must really love you. You know, to shoot you like that." --Carmelita, on Ellen

"I think he's still a little stunned by the one-day turnaround, but he'll get over it." --Karen, on Freddy

"No one says everything." --Tripp

"They are my children to me, but like, the ones that I give away." --Jeremy, on his paintings

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bionic Woman: Do Not Disturb

Jaime: "Antonio used to say 'a briefcase is never really a briefcase.' "
Jonas: "Yeah, well, Antonio's dead."

I usually highlight a good, funny line of dialogue or exchange, but the above is so laughably bad I had to place it right at the top.

So let me get this straight: Jaime, who doesn't want her sister to know about her spy life because she doesn't want to put her life in danger, brings her along on an assignment to drop off a mysterious package to a mysterious stranger? Yeah, that's a good idea. And then she slips up and gives away info that the bad guy isn't supposed to know that she has, blowing her cover.

I believe I said this before, but I'll say it again: Jamie Sommers is the worst agent in the world.

This continues to be a baffling show, but one that's entertaining. For every single "what the hell?" moment, I get moments like the banter between Nathan and Jaime which is funny, or the scene with Jonas killing the guy posing as the valet. Good stuff. But Michelle Ryan continues to have the personality of a coffee mug, and her sister just brings the whole show down. I find myself screaming at the television, WILL YOU PLEASE JUST TELL YOUR SISTER YOU'RE A SPY?! It's going to come up at some point, and it will probably save her life if she knows what to look out for (strangers coming to the door, weird packages, whatever). Jaime thinks she's protecting little sis when in reality she's putting her life in danger week after week.

And I love the opening scene, with the entire secret organization at a bar saluting the life of Antonio Pope (Isaiah Washington). The scene didn't ring true at all, because I doubt most of these people (except Jaime) would hang out in bars, there was never any hint of any closeness between these people, and it just seemed tacked on to give some continuation to the story of Pope's death. Besides, you'd think they could afford a bar in that deluxe HQ they spend all of their time in.

The plots continue to be somewhat intriguing, but they all end up leading nowhere. Like this episode. Jaime finds out that the sullen, emo-looking guy that her little sis meets at the lodge is the son of a man that needs to be assassinated. That could be an interesting (if contrived) story, but all I get are lots of running around and serious looks from bad guys following them. I was truly, truly, truly hoping that the son would actually turn out to be a bad guy too, helping his dad, and he'd pull a gun on Jaime, but that never happened. And if I can say, if Jaime needs to call her boss, maybe she shouldn't borrow some guy's cell phone. He can now hit "redial" and find out all about the secret organization and maybe even her bionic-ness.

But again, I can't sit here and say it's so bad that I won't continue to watch. I've had shows like that before, but I enjoy this show even though it has, well, bionic flaws.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nip/Tuck: Chaz Darling

"You don't want to play this game with me." - Christian

No you don't. The second Christian said that to Eden, a clock started and all episode long I was waiting for the alarm to go off. What was he going to do to her? For a minute, I honestly thought nothing. He gave her the pills and Eden was on her way, her mouth shut about Christian and Julia's night together. Maybe it was because I watched the episode early in the morning and I was still a little drowsy, but I never saw it coming. Well played Dr. Troy.

The funniest thing about all of this? Eden is probably a drug addict anyway! She's one of the shallowest, most self-absorbed, image obsessed characters I've ever met on the show. Add in her giant-nippled BGF (best gay friend) Chaz telling her she needs to lose some weight (what?!) and she's probably been popping diet pills and who knows what else for a while. Of course, Christian knew he had to give her the percocet and the xanax to really sell it to Olivia and Julia.

Speaking of Olivia, I gained a lot more respect for her in this episode. She yelled at Eden when she found out about how her daughter was blackmailing Christian and she supported everything during the intervention. She's not the pushover who sides with her daughter no matter what like I initially thought. If only she knew about that hidden camera in her bedroom.

Eden isn't stupid though. It'll be great to see how she retaliates when she's out of rehab in six weeks. She's the only one saying what everyone else is thinking though (especially Liz): Julia isn't a lesbian.

The dynamic between Sean and Kate was getting a little old and I'm partially glad that they finally hit a rough patch. Honestly, I think I enjoyed it more when they had more interaction on the set Hearts and Scalpels. But now that Sean has finally admitted that he can't shake the image of Kate "unloading" in the hot-tub... well, that's a deal-breaker. Add in his confession that his proposal was based on fear and not love... well, that too. Oh and don't forget Kate's fantasy (seemed like more of a natural attraction) of having sex with a black man. Sounds like this relationship is doomed.

The obvious set-up was that Sean is still in love with Julia and that's exactly what happened. With Eden gone for six weeks, that story might get shelved for a while. However, that doesn't mean there aren't other ways for Sean to find out.

Moving on to Kimber and Matt. Wow. They just keep heading downhill, huh? They're still smoking meth like crazy, the baby is clearly going through some sort of withdrawal from all the smoke. That and she's malnourished. It sounds terrible, but I'm finding the whole situation a little comical. I mean... they really let this happen? Matt's fantasy is a kitchen stocked with baby formula! Don't even get me started on his willingness to star in a gay porn flick for drug money. I think the one thing that worries me is that there won't be any commitment to one side of the story. Will they get better or won't they? I just want to see one side go all the way. So far... drugs: 1, the church: 0.

More thoughts:

The safe word is "big-wheel."

I've always found the titles of pornos to be funny, but Kimber's #1 best-seller is one of the best ones yet: Plumbers and Dykes.

When Kimber said she called the church, did she? Seems like it was more of a lie just to get Matt home. After all, if she called the church, she wouldn't be screwing her dealer as payment... right?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Grasshopper Pie

You only need six ingredients to whip up this fluffy and refreshing treat. I made this for Monday's Yoga Babe night.

2 pkgs (3 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 can ( 14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
15 drops green food coloring
24 chocolate-covered mint cookies, divided
2 cups whipped topping
1 chocolate crumb crust (9 inches)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in milk until smooth. Beat in the food coloring. Coarsely crush 16 cookies; stir into the cream cheese mixture. Fold in whipped topping. Spoon into the crust. Cover and freeze overnight. Remove from the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with remaining cookies.

Bones: Santa in the Slush

"Christmas and skeletons do not go together." -- Both Max Keenan and Seeley Booth, but not at the same time.

No, this isn't a photo taken from a dream sequence of either Bones or Booth. It is actually Seeley and Temperance locking lips. The kiss was performed under duress and a bit of blackmail due to the puckish nature of Caroline Julian. So, it wasn't as intense as I thought their eventual first kiss would be.

Then again, Booth ended up with the gum Bones was chewing right before the kiss. So, maybe this was the kiss that would lead to the eventually blissful relationship of the FBI Agent and the forensic anthropologist.. Only time and several other successful season will tell.

After the last pretty intense episode I was treated to a whimsical installment of Bones, which fit with the 'holiday magic' theme of this episode. Of course, Bones being Bones the magic began after finding a dead Santa in the sewer. They really had fun with the, ahem, myth of Santa in this episode as everything that they discovered about the dead jolly man pointed to the fact that he really was the true Santa Claus.

Everyone, including Bones and Zack, were getting into it. I wouldn't think that would be the case from two of the most analytical members of the Squint Squad. Yet, Zack was starting to believe a bit when they found out that the guy's name was Kris Kringle and that he was kicked by a reindeer. And, Bones was like a little kid when she and Booth went to the Santa's apartment (above a toy store, no less) and saw all the cool, yet creepy, stuff this Santa had. Personally, I loved the holiday train set in the middle of the room.

Unfortunately, not everything was pure and innocent (and weird) about this Santa. Booth found a whole bunch of money hidden away in one of his dresser drawers. Now, this is where I got confused about the mystery...was it this particular Santa who was the pick pocket, or was it David DeLuise. I seemed to think that it was Kris, but it was implied that Mr. Kringle confronted the other Santa about his habits.

Either way, DeLuise's Santa was arrested for the murder of Kris. This didn't make the other temporary Santas happy at all. I don't believe I have ever heard a more menacing version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town before. I will always hear that song in a different light from now on.

Even though the Squints and Dr. Sweets (who is now named in the opening credits and said 'Was there tongue involved?' after Bones told him he and Booth kissed) were seen in this episode it was pretty much all Bones and Booth. They were both a bit miserable about the upcoming Christmas holiday, and not just because they found a dead Santa. Seeley was grumpy because his son was going to Vermont to spend the holiday with his mother, while Temperance was upset that she could not get her criminal family together for a Christmas celebration.

I knew that things would turn out okay for my favorite non-couple because the heart of the show is, well, heart. Booth got to spend Christmas day with his son after Parker came to find him and, thanks to the mistletoe kiss, Bones got her family together. I really enjoyed the musical montage showing how everyone was celebrating the holiday. There were the festively-dressed Squints smiling and hugging and passing around gifts, followed by Max looking at a barren trailer interior, followed by a very sad Booth. As the music continued the scenes switched and, all of a sudden, Max and Russ were being festive, and Seeley was reunited with his son. It was very heartwarming.

And, I'll admit it, I teared up a bit when Booth appeared outside with a Christmas tree.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

DVD Review: A History of Violence

After finishing watching A History of Violence, I was left with the question of did I like it? Did I not like it? It was one of those movies where I couldn't make up my mind as soon as it was over. But I have decided for the former and here is why.

Though A History of Violence has a good story, interesting characters, and good acting, it suffers from poor pacing and directing. Sluggish most of the time, it then throws in a few moments of graphic violence and sex as if to remind me why I am watching a movie with such a title. It almost tries to hard to focus on the 'violence' of the film, while sacrificing other elements of story telling.

Tom Stall (played by Viggo Mortensen) is an average American living in an average American town in the heartland of Indiana. He has a devoted wife (Maria Bello), and two average kids named Jack and Sarah. Their lives are normal and rather easy going as most people's lives are in small American towns.

Then, one day, everything changes. After preventing a robbery and killing two thieves, Tom Stall becomes an 'American Hero'. Though he tries to shy away from such titles, the sudden fame brings up a past 'Tom' wants to desperately forget about in the form of three strangers dressed in dark suits who follow the orders of Mr. Fogarty (the always welcomed Ed Harris) who arrive and only refer to him as 'Joey'. It is then that the problems begin for A History of Violence.

Though the movie does not fall into the typical 'action' movie ideal where the good guy immediately kills all the bad guys, the story sudden stalls (no pun intended) and almost comes to a complete halt. I was treated to vague threats and hints of a past of 'Tom' that are the supposed crux of this movie but really don't go anywhere. Oh, and Jack ends up beating the two bullies harassing him. Can't forget that part, can I?

After a threat made to Jack on his own property, 'Tom' reverts to his 'Joey' alter ego and kills two of the dangerous men while Jack does away with Mr. Fogarty himself. In doing so, Tom reveals to his family who he really is and there is no escaping that reality. If this were the end of the movie, then there would be a solid conclusion for A History of Violence.

Instead, the story drives forward with a final confrontation with Richie Cusak (William Hurt), the brother Joey Cusak has been running from for all these years. More graphic killing (as the tile of the movie implies) and then, quite literally, the movie ends with Joey returning to his family in time for an uncomfortable dinner.

I had high hopes for this movie but the above mentioned slow pacing and poor direction ruined any real affect it could of had. What could have been an interesting story of a man being forced to face his past and how has instead becomes slow and pondering and filled with rather bad 'Philly' accents. I blame this on the director. Direction, or lack of, is what prevented this movie from being as enjoyable as it should.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Family Guy: Peter's Daughter

In the second of the series of episodes completed without Seth MacFarlane's approval, I am treated with a surprisingly funny story-heavy outing. With a combination of situational humor, random jokes, and Meg getting pregnant, this episode thoroughly entertains from start to finish, with only a few hiccups and missed opportunities along the way.When Quahog is hit by a flood, some obvious references to the tragedy in New Orleans are made, including an oddly familiar structure called "Quahog Stadium." Considering that the writers tend to take every possible opportunity to make political jabs at the current administration, it was an odd choice not to make any in this entire episode, when there were so many opportunities to do so.

In any event, the focus during the flood was almost entirely on the Griffin family, and the events leading to Meg falling into a coma. It's always been a running joke on the show to treat Meg as a useless character and give her as few lines as possible, but in this episode, the talented and lovely Mila Kunis gets to put on an actual performance. The circumstances leading to Meg's coma are absolutely hilarious, as Peter insists that Meg get some beer from the fridge in the flooded kitchen and she gets stuck underwater. How the suffocation turns into a coma is a medical mystery, but even while suspended in the water, and her subsequent tenure in a hospital bed - there's one thing about Meg Griffin that never changes: she always has her hat on.

In the hospital, Meg meets the man of her dreams, a young doctor named Michael Milano. In short, after Peter vows to become an overprotective father, Michael has difficulties in continuing dating Meg. A couple of weeks later, Meg claims that she's pregnant and this leads to sudden wedding plans.

In classic Family Guy fashion, Peter provides a slew of inappropriate jokes that will shock and disgust even the most hardened viewer. There are just so many of these subtle and not-so subtle jokes and they were expertly dispersed throughout the episode. Some of the obvious highlights include Peter showing up as a male stripper at Meg's bachelorette party, his amusing selection for the wedding cake figures, to statements about the dire condition of his Nerf football stand out in particular.

This episode even had a B-story going with Brian and Stewie buying a fixer-upper house together, which was highlighted by a "so-dumb-it's-brilliant" walkie-talkie conversation gag and culminated with a gratuitous explosion featuring Stewie and Brian jumping out of the exploding trashed domicile at the last second.

By the end of the episode, everything returned to normal as usual, but the journey was definitely a worthwhile one with the perfect blend of comedy and story. I've always said that Family Guy is at its best when it tries to tell a story along with the barrage of jokes, and this episode is a prime example. Not every joke was funny, and the story could have used a bit more development, but the sheer quantity of gags easily overcomes these minor shortcomings. Even without Seth MacFarlane's final approval, this episode manages to shine.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Soup of the Week: Fiesta Corn Chowder

This mouth-watering chowder will add zip to any menu. The full-flavored soup with tomatoes, green chilies and Mexicorn will definitely chase away the chills (it's 10 degrees here right now).

Fiesta Corn Chowder

2 cans (10 oz each) diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 can cream-style corn
1 can ( 14 1/2 oz) chicken broth
1 can ( 11oz) Mexicorn, drained

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until cheese melted and soup is heated through.

Movie Review: Atonement - Riveting and Beautiful

I haven't read Ian McEwan's 2002 book on which Atonement is based, so speaking from a strictly cinematic standpoint, Atonement is a stunning work of film. The story is told efficiently and with an eye toward capturing both the romantic beauty of the English countryside as well as the frightening cruelties of war. The winning combination of a tight script and brilliant direction by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) pretty much makes everything else fall into place. The device of shuttling back and forth in time keeps things interesting, piquing my interest as to cause and effect (i.e. if this happens in the future, what happened in the past to cause it?). The performances are solid — particularly James McAvoy's, but mostly on the part of the women playing Briony at various stages in her life — though the actors most likely benefited greatly from such assured direction.

The story spans several decades, beginning in 1935 at the posh estate where Cecilia's (Keira Knightley) family lives and where the son of the housekeeper, Robbie (McAvoy), while still slightly removed because of his class, has mostly become a part of the family. Just as he and Cecilia begin to act on their attraction toward one another, Cecilia's young sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan as the young Briony) accuses Robbie of a heinous crime he did not commit, and he is sent away. Choosing military service instead of prison, Robbie serves in World War II, and though he and Cecilia continue to love each other, their lives are never quite the same. As for Briony, the guilt of her mistake haunts her throughout her life, though she tries to achieve atonement through her writing.

My favorite aspect of the movie is this: The story's action is often accompanied by the rapid click-clack sound of a typewriter, a constant reminder of a moment that changed everything, as well as the sound that exemplifies Briony's means of seeking redemption. The most clever thing about this is when this clacking actually becomes the film's score, a rhythmic drumbeat that provides an accelerating pulse to the visuals. It not only makes the action seem more frantic and intense, it starts to sound like music, a tune of desperation.

The way the story unfolds by jumping back and forth in time works well to keep an audience riveted. I was so immersed in these peoples' lives that I was surprised at the end to find that two whole hours had gone by. And though I plan on reading the novel by Ian McEwan, in some ways I'm glad I didn't read it before seeing the film, as the surprises in the story were that much more effective. Several of my fellow viewers must not have read the book either, for there were audible gasps and murmurs floating up around the room. I just love it when that happens. I loved so much about the experience of watching this film that I must go see it a few more times. I wonder if I was so fully in the movie's grasp I might have missed some things. This is one movie I am excited to watch over and over again, and I certainly recommend everyone else see it at least once.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Simpsons: Funeral for a Fiend

Welcome to the Frasier reunion. Yes, not only did Kelsey Grammer reprise his role as Sideshow Bob Terwilliger in this episode of The Simpsons but David Hyde Pierce returned as Cecil Terwilliger and John Mahoney come in as the boys' father. While Pierce and Mahoney did have their moments it was all Grammer this episode as a Sideshow Bob coming apart at the seams. And, that's appropriate, as it was the tenth time that Bob has appeared on the animated comedy.

For the most part this episode was entertaining. Plus, it also brought a bit of continuity into the show, something that comes and goes on the program. The Simpsons needs to keep things straight when it comes to its Sideshow Bob appearances because there is so much history with the character and fans would probably cause a minor uproar if they saw the slightest change. With the other characters this isn't done so much. For example, what happened to Milhouse's new James Dean attitude he developed a few weeks ago?

The episode featured the usual jokes you'd find in a Sideshow Bob vehicle. Bob's cleverly planned plot to kill Bart and the rest of his family goes horribly wrong in the end due to some quick thinking by a Simpson child. This time around it's Lisa. I've noticed over the years that most of his plots are foiled by either Lisa or Bart, or a combination of the two. I still remember the episode "Black Widower" when Bart had to draw diagrams for Homer to let him know that Selma was in trouble with her new beau, Bob.

For a minute there I did believe that Sideshow Bob had finally kicked the bucket. I mean, the show has to end sometime. So, why not start to kill off some of the characters? What made me believe that was not the funeral itself but Cecil's little speech to Bart on the sidewalk near his home. Then, the minute passed, and I realized that Bob could never be killed and that it was all a clever ruse. Plus, some individual attempt on Bart's life had to take place.
Some of my favorite moments during the Sideshow Bob scenes:

Bob mentions that his fake commercial led him to direct a feature film -- The Hills Have Eyes 3: The Hills Still Have Eyes

Lisa mentioning Bob's misquotes of Shakespeare, which he really takes to heart.

Snake appearing at Bob's funeral and then again as a cellmate of the Terwilligers.

Mother Terwilliger. Turns out that Bob got his hairstyle from his mother.

Time to talk about the scenes that brought the return of Sideshow Bob. Other than the appearance of the Mr. Sparkle commercial during Lisa's first scan, the Tivo moments didn't do anything for me. Even Marge staying up all night watching television wasn't new -- the whole family did it years ago when they first got cable.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Theater Review: Menopause: The Musical

Most women wouldn’t exactly find menopause something to sing about… unless they’re singin’ the blues. But writer/producer Jeanie Linders thought there was plenty of humor to wring out of The Change. So, gearing her show to her 38 million Baby Boomer comadres, she took two dozen classic songs from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, and tweaked the lyrics to reflect the Change of Life. And, since it opened in Orlando in 2001, it’s played more than 100 cities in 10 countries. But frankly, I can’t understand why.

Of course, there are plenty of funny things to say about the mood swings, night sweats, wrinkles, weight gain and hot flashes. But this show sounds like a couple of women sat up late one night over a big bottle of something or other, and started riffing on their communal kvetches through familiar songs. And someone thought, Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney-style, ‘Hey Kids! Let’s put on a show!” Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened. The creators openly admit that the musical was “inspired by a hot flash and a bottle of wine.” It feels like a summer camp skit to me.

They’ve got fertile subject matter (pun intended) and some great songs. But the lyrics are so pedestrian and uninspired and repetitive and un-funny, I barely cracked a smile the whole evening. Here are some low-lights: I Heard it through the grapevine.. you no longer will see 39? or the disco fave, Stayin’ Awake, Stayin’ Awake. Then there are some really embarrassing ones like Drippin’ and Droppin’, a Ladies Room lament to the tune of Burt Bacharach’s Wishin’ and Hopin’. The lamest lyric of all, the grand finale, is YMCA, reconceived as the insipid and unimaginative This is Your Day. Ugh.

Admittedly, there are a few cute numbers. Like I’m Havin’ a Hot Flash, instead of We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave; the plastic surgery prayer, Please Make Me Over, and the Wimoweh song, In the guestroom or on the sofa, my husband sleeps tonight.

The rather flimsy setup for all this silliness is the meeting of four very disparate females, with prototype names like Power Woman, Earth Mother, Soap Star and Iowa Housewife, who come together on a one-day shopping spree in Bloomingdale’s, New York. They obviously have similar taste in lingerie as well as music: their first encounter is fighting a sliver of tiny black underwear. Then they run into each other again — in the bathroom, the hair salon and the café – which gives them ample time to commiserate. They sing solos and girl-group doo-wop as they execute rather anemic, lackluster choreography. The three-piece musical backup band is excellent. And so are the songs. But a great deal depends on the performers putting it over.

For the show to work on any level, the talent has to be super-sized and rafter-rattling. These gals, one of whom is a WMU alumna and another a Michigan natives, are good, but they’re not inherently humorous. Yet each had at least one moment in the sun. But none of it justifies the enduring popularity of the show.

The phenom probably says lot about how much women need to share their menopausal misery and know they’re not alone in their suffering. But in defter hands, the endeavor could be so much funnier. And it could actually provide some insight, even a little analytical depth — not just superficial complaints that culminate in a conga line. I found most of the intermissionless evening to be juvenile and silly. But the women all around me were howling. Which left me thinking, I'm just too young to get it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Men In Trees: Sea Change

So, what do you make of this change in Patrick? I think it’s a pretty interesting obstacle in his relationship with Annie and I loved Dick and Celia’s suggestion that Annie try a more physical approach to getting Patrick to remember her and their life together. It’s just too bad it didn’t work. What I find interesting is that Patrick still seems to be a pretty good guy — sometimes. I didn’t love it when he called himself lame and told all his gathered friends there was nothing about his life worth remembering. I also didn’t like — and Annie didn’t either — him saying he’d call her after they’d had sex. Annie was happy with her new Patrick when they were between the sheets but the one she has to deal with the rest of the time just isn’t the man she was supposed to marry. She can’t pretend she’s OK with the way things are between them.

But at least one couple that was supposed to get married did: Sam and Jane. Considering what happened with Patrick and Annie, I can’t blame them for wanting to tie the knot as quickly as possible. It would have been even nicer to see Plow Guy in the episode. Shouldn’t they be on their honeymoon if they just got married? Would they seriously honeymoon in Elmo? Elmo’s got its charm but it doesn’t seem like Jane would be there unless two very important people lived there — Marin and new husband Sam.

While Jane and Sam couldn’t wait to get married, Mary Alice and Jerome slowed things way down. Mary Alice hasn’t been with a man in 10 years — that’s including her husband — and she gets a very strange refresher course of sorts from Mai. Buzz also gives Jerome advice on how to "lock" Mary Alice. That faulty advice leads to a disastrous date but there’s something there between them so Mary Alice and Jerome decide to try a long-distance epistolary romance. It’s a good thing Jerome’s the postmaster.

And they’re not the only ones in a long-distance courtship. Marin and Jack are trying to do the whole ship-to-shore thing. He calls. They have a conversation in which they don’t really hear what the one another says. They get cut off. Repeat. It doesn’t seem to be working very well for either of them, and after finding a business card from a woman who calls Jack "Sweets," Marin’s brain goes into overdrive. She needs to find out if they really are together and who this other woman is. Marin does the grown-up thing eventually but calls mystery woman Donna to discover she's Jack’s mother. I think she should feel a little embarrassed. Does she really think Jack would have something else going on with someone else? I know we had the whole Lynn situation but I think Jack’s learned his lesson.

Julia could turn out to be a little hiccup in that relationship. I know she’s married but Kelli Williams is sticking around for a while. And after the near-death experience they seem to be having on that ship, I guess you never know.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Ben and Theresa. Ben finally seems to wise up and decide to make Theresa a priority in his life again. He buys her a new car after she tries to make a dramatic exit in her old clunker after a fight and it falters on her. He takes her to the rink where he shows her the brand-new Zamboni, which has been named after her. I think those two crazy kids are going to make it.

Now for some fun dialogue:

Dick: "All women are snoopers… because all men are liars."

Marin: "We’re together. Feelings were implied."

Mai: "Subtlety is for suckers."

Mary Alice: "… I’m feeling very irregular."Jerome: "I’m sorry to hear that."

Jerome: "I would never forget you, especially if we were to… write letters."

How funny was it to see city-girl Jane walking through the woods with Marin while she was looking for deer tracks? Why Marin was doing that? It seemed a little strange to me. And I’m ready for Jack to be back in Elmo. I don’t think we know how much time Jack’s been on the ship but hopefully that storm will send him back to Marin. Or at least Elmo.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dirty Sexy Money - The Country House

I learned a little bit about Simon's beef with the Darlings, although it was hard to completely believe either side of the story. Letitia and Karen's plan to sabotage Nick's marriage entered phase one, and Patrick's marriage took an unusual turn. Meanwhile, Jeremy pretended to be poor and Brian pretended to be a caring father. The results of their efforts were varied.

Things aren't looking so good for Lisa and Nick's relationship. A lot of the blame rests on Nick's shoulders. For starters, he didn't tell Lisa about last episode's kiss. Didn't he learn anything from the trip to Italy? If Nick wants to set his marriage right, he must be totally honest with Lisa about his dealings with Karen. Otherwise, these little revelations will keep popping up at bad moments. Nick is making Letitia and Karen's job really easy right now.

On the other hand, Lisa is also partially responsible for her problems with Nick. It seems like every week Lisa finds a way to get irritated with Nick and his relationship with the Darling family. This week, she was angry that Nick's job was keeping him from painting. As grievances go, this one was pretty weak. Seriously, Lisa can buy an expensive work of art, but they can't get someone in to paint while Nick is working? I'm beginning to worry about those two. It's clear that Lisa wants to fight for her marriage, but Nick continues to follow in Dutch's footsteps. Will his job cost him his family?

Thank goodness for Jeremy and Clark! This episode would have been pretty heavy on the drama without Jeremy's "poor man" storyline. I wasn't in love with this plot development at first, but I'm officially on board now that Clark is involved. Jeremy "Babeson" could use a fatherly influence from someone like Clark. It was cute that he went to the limo driver for tips on being a regular guy; Clark probably earns more money than I do. Jeremy's not quite an everyman yet, though: he used his famous name to get a table at a restaurant, and he had no idea how to get back to Manhattan from Brooklyn. When Sofia directed Jeremy to the subway, he looked as though she had recommended that he take a magic carpet back into the city. It looks like he'll have to get an average Joe's apartment, too.

There were a lot of sit-downs going on in this episode. Brian began his battle for custody of Brian Jr., and things didn't go so well. Nick had a fair settlement arranged, but Brian had to go and take legal advice from Karen. When he couldn't buy Brian Jr. from Andrea, he made a heavy-handed attempt to bribe the arbitrator. I expected Andrea to take the bait, but perhaps she's holding out for significantly more money. Either way, I don't trust her at all. Brian Jr. doesn't have the most ideal parents to choose from; maybe Clark can adopt him. Things keep going badly for Brian--his family's in China, he could lose his son, and now he might be in trouble with the law. I'm afraid of what's in store for him.

The second major sit-down involved Patrick, Ellen, and Carmelita. In this case, Patrick was like a child being fought over, and he had no say whatsoever in how his time would be divvied up. Ellen showed a lot of spirit during the meeting, but Carmelita has the upper hand when it comes to Patrick (and she knows it). Carmelita isn't just Patrick's mistress; he can talk to her with far more intimacy than he can with Ellen. Ellen is really just the face of the marriage, while Carmelita and Patrick have the actual relationship. Scratch that: Ellen is the face and the trigger finger. The shotgun moment was unexpected, to say the least.

The final sit-down was where all the big dirt came out. Simon's hatred of the Darlings goes all the way back to his childhood. His father had an affair with Tripp's mother, which leaves room for even more theories about who is related to whom. This revelation also presented another possible motive for Dutch's murder; Dutch was the one who had Simon's family deported to Russia. Simon has moved up another level on my evil genius scale; his response to Tripp's ambush was pretty scary. He basically demolished Darling Plaza for spite, and to send a threatening message to Tripp. What will the man do next?

Some doubt was cast on Tripp's character as well. Simon was under the impression that Tripp took part in his brother Kenneth's assassination. This could be a juicy storyline in the future. I can't wait to see what Tripp does to retaliate for the destruction of his former home. Simon needs to be taken down a peg. Was anyone else a little weirded out by Tripp's comment about almost being ready to "leave this life"? The writers had better not pull a Jericho and kill off the best part of this show. I need my Donald Sutherland!

Finally, congrats to the cast and crew of Dirty Sexy Money for getting picked up for a full season!

My favorite lines of the night:

"You know how the justice system works. Whoever has the most money wins, right? You've got nothing to worry about." --Karen, on Brian's custody battle

"Who knows? Maybe the three of you can somehow, I don't know, complete each other." --Nick, to Carmelita

Andrea: "Are you trying to buy my son? Brian: "I'm trying to buy our son."

"Both myself and the garage encourage responsible yet heavy drinking." --Jeremy, to Sofia

"You're right, Jeremy. I can't actually afford a beard." --Clark the driver

"Clarksdale! You're like the fountain of middle-class romance formation." --Jeremy

"It touches on the truth." --Simon, after his family history is revealed

"Babesons don't shake. Babesons hug." --Clark, meeting Sofia for the first time

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pushing Daisies: Smell of Success

This episode of Pushing Daisies gave me my first whiff of something new for the show: a plot thread not involving our core characters that could continue for more than one episode. Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, who was initially supposed to appear on the show earlier this season, finally turned up as a scent expert who sniffed something peculiar on Chuck, and I'm not sure I've seen the last of him. Elsewhere, Olive and Chuck's cheer-up mission with the aunts reached a new level, and I learned how Ned found himself making pies in the first place.

Overall, this wasn't my favorite Daisies episode; all the usual elements were there, but it just didn't feel quite sharp enough to me. They're solidly into another phase with the aunts' story, and the rest of the show seems to need an injection of something new as well. It could be Molly Shannon's upcoming appearances, but it could also be Reubens; the end certainly made it seem like Oscar Vibenius isn't done with the girl who smells like honey and death.

The case this time around focused on a "nose" who had written a book on making odors work for you (title: Smell of Success) and who turned out to be staging near-death experiences for himself in order to get more publicity. That led to some particularly vivid descriptions of scents ("pungent like fried chicken grilled on a bed of hair"), and it also provided the chance for Olive to coax the aunts back into the pool, thanks to the rejuvenating scent of chlorine. Since Pushing Daisies has established itself as a show where people just might burst into song, I'm curious to know what everyone thought of Aunt Vivian's "Morning Has Broken." I loved the way that scene was put together, from the shadow of the rain hitting Aunt Lily's face to the moment they dove into the pool together.

Meanwhile, in one of the sweetest Young Ned segments yet, I learned that Ned became The Piemaker to stay close to his mother after her death. Not a groundbreaking revelation, but it explained why Ned would reject Chuck's cup-pie idea; he wants to stay true to his mom's memory. But he's also madly in love with Chuck, and so in the end, the cup-pies won their spot on the Pie Hole's menu. He and Chuck were so cute hugging each other by hugging themselves; that may be as "together" as they ever get, but in a moment like that, it's enough.

Some other thoughts:

Emerson usually rules the one-liners, but this episode belonged to Olive. From the "is that a rolling pin in your apron" crack to her take on the stages of grief — "something, something, something, acceptance!" — she presided over many of the funniest moments. In between, she had a sweet scene with Chuck when she handed over her mom's sweater and asked her not to cry because they didn't have that kind of relationship yet.

Though it was an off week for Emerson, his "your book was a bomb" bit was great.

Until that opening scene with Young Ned, it hadn't ever occurred to me that Ned can't even eat his own pies. Poor guy!

Sight Gag O' The Night: Chuck wearing a "Jews for Cheeses" T-shirt. Runner-up: Olive sniffing her own wrist after being told she smelled like dog.

Monday, January 14, 2008

DVD Review: Hart's War

First off, let me say I didn't hate this film, but neither can I give it high marks. It quite simply fails, mostly. It tries to be a war movie, but it isn't really about war. It tries to be a POW movie, but it fails (miserably). It tries to be a movie about racism and there it only partially succeeds, because the setting is just so wrong.

The setting is a German Stalag (POW camp). There are Allied prisoners there, both Russian and American. The film is mostly set on the American side of the camp. The German guards are remarkably nice to the American prisoners, which is very unrealistic. Life in the camp is good for the most part and all the Americans look very well-fed (also unrealistic).

Then two American fighter pilots, both black, are brought into the camp and the racism part begins. No one wants them in their barracks, which is realistic. One of them is set up by the other prisoners and is summarily executed. The other is then accused of murdering another prisoner. The prisoners are then allowed to hold an American Court-martial! LUDICROUS! No German commander would allow something like this to happen in their camp. He even helps the defending attorney (who had been a Yale law student pre-war). Turns out, the Kommandant is a Yale graduate - how convenient!

In short, the entire plot is so full of holes that you could drain spaghetti with it. However, there are a couple of bright spots...look for good performances from Colin Farrell as Hart and Marcel Iures as the Kommandant. I wouldn't recommend this film unless you are bored.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nip/Tuck: Dawn Budge II

The return of the best guest star Nip/Tuck has ever had! Say what you will about Rosie O'Donnell (I couldn't stand her on The View), but when she steps into the shoes of Dawn Budge, it's gold. She was one of the highlights of last season (not to mention Christian's first paying "escort" customer) and her trip to Los Angeles easily made this episode an instant Nip/Tuck classic. From her hang-glider scene when the eagle attacked her to the face she made when the "ass bandit" had his way with her, she stole every scene she was in.

It's funny too, because from the first second I saw her with that mangled lip, I immediately thought "she needs to meet Freddy Prune!" And that's just what happened. For a brief moment, I actually thought she was dead when the stage light on the set of Hearts and Scalpels fell on her. However, I'm glad the writers chose to keep her around because O'Donnell and Platt are perfect together. Even though Christian tried to warn Dawn about Freddy's blatantly obvious sexual preferences, I hope Dawn is back for at least another episode so she can figure out that she's just Freddy's "beard." Did you see the face he made when the "ass bandit" poked him? Pure delight.

Now I mentioned earlier that Dawn was Christian's first customer so to speak, and if I recall, she thought sex with Christian was terrible. Well it can't be all that bad, because his new male escort service is taking off. Too bad all the loonies are calling him. A women who wants to be chilled to near death via ice and tranquilizers and then literally f*cked back to life? Um... how 'bout no. Even for Christian, I was surprised that he agreed to that one. Fortunately, I loved the pay-off when he saved the nut-job lady a second time because he prayed. The re-examination of his relationship with God and his childhood abuse is something that hasn't been discussed in a while, but I hope this nun sticks around. I'd love to see Christian explore this side of himself a bit more.

Then there's Sean. Poor Sean. First off, Dylan Walsh has never really wowed me as an actor. He's always been tolerable in this show simply because the role of Sean is so good. Well, Walsh finally sold me in this episode. He was spectacular. That one scene where he "fought" with his weaker half was excellent. The big question is, which half will win? I feel like he's being pushed towards Eden. Clearly Kate has weight and eating issues and Sean seems to be over-compensating by asking her to marry him. He has to sleep with Eden though. At this point, it's the only logical payoff. Notice how Sean's weaker half also seemed to be the more assertive half though? You can be weak and still know what you want.

Speaking of Eden...I had no idea what filthy things she was going to say next. No other character (except maybe Kimber in her porn days) has pushed the envelope this far. She makes for a great character though. But hey -- she has a conscience. She'll teach Annie how to induce vomiting, but cocaine is off-limits. That's what big sisters are for!

Speaking of Annie, what's the deal with her officially going to school in LA now? Or not, since she got kicked out for fooling around with a boy. Regardless, did Julia actually move out west? I'm a little ticked that Connor seems to have been forgotten about it. I was willing to forgive his absence when Julia was supposed to be "visiting," but it seems like she's there for good now. If I recall correctly, I think he's supposed to be at Erica's. You'd think Julia would have gone and gotten him by now though. I wonder if that's Olivia's doing? She seems awfully fake and she's very manipulative. Also manipulative? Matt and Kimber. Where were they in this episode? I want to know how they became meth addicts.

Overall, a great episode. Loved every minute of it.

Soup of the Week: Cowboy Chili

Sweet and chunky describes this hearty chili.

Cowboy Chili

1 1/2 cups cooked BBQ shredded pork
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup beef broth
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until heated through.

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd: Sumptuous and Tragic

As I was leaving the movie theater after watching Sweeney Todd, my mind was swirling with those silly, cliche comments often seen accompanying ads for critically acclaimed movies: "Sweeney Todd is . . . a visual masterpiece!" "Another Burton beauty!" "A tale of blood and woe — woah!" I'll spare you the rest. The bottom line is that I was impressed. And nauseated. But mostly impressed.

The Stephen Sondheim musical and Tim Burton are a match made in heaven. Burton's dark, sinister-looking scenery and the bloody, musical horrorfest of a story gel together seamlessly to create something so lushly gory — but heartfelt — you may need to dry heave a little bit.
The story follows Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a young man wrongfully imprisoned because the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) was obsessed with Barker's wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) and wanted her for himself.

Years later when Barker returns to London, he renames himself Sweeney Todd and opens up a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) meat pie shop, hoping to exact revenge on the judge by luring him in for a shave and then slitting his throat. For his part, Judge Turpin has been keeping Todd's daughter Joanna as his ward. Yet when a young friend of Todd's falls in love with Joanna by spotting her at her window, he determines to break her free from the Judge's grasp. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd figure out a gruesome way to boost her meat pie sales. Those are basic plot points, but there's much more to say about Sweeney Todd.

Burton does some gorgeous tricks with light, color and reflection. Cracked mirrors and the reflections glinting off of Sweeney Todd's shaving blades are heavily used to distort or duplicate images, and to not-so-subtly symbolize Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd's fractured identity and his tortured soul. Burton's London is swathed in shadows and muted by a dark gray sky. His color palette consists of shades of gray with tinges of gold, blue and raspberry. The jarring exception, of course, is the brilliantly red blood that gushes freely, sometimes spurting onto the camera lens itself, causing the audience to instinctively jump back. The one time he interrupts this dismal color scheme is when depicting Mrs. Lovett's wistful dream of marrying "Mr. T" and spending the rest of her days "by the sea." The quintessentially Burtonesque costumes and candy-bright colors in this sequence are outrageous and delightful enough to garner giggles of surprise.

Johnny Depp is magnificent, as always, and the rest of the actors are wonderfully cast. Alan Rickman is genuinely disturbing as the perverted old judge. His right-hand man played by Timothy Spall is convincingly sick and twisted. Sacha Baron Cohen is funny as the competing barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli, which is to be expected, but the surprise is that his performance is also quite chilling. My favorite aspect of this film, however, is the classic Depp-Bonham Carter combination. They're simply the most perfect duo, as always — each strange and broken-down in their own way, yet both powerful in their own way, too.

This movie has been hyped to the gills, and it's hard to live up to such high expectations. Having said all this great stuff about the movie, the fact remains that it is still a musical, and people who think musicals are silly will most assuredly still think this movie is silly — Johnny Depp or no Johnny Depp. The movie is also not for the squeamish, as there is more blood — and, well, ground up human meat — than a B-grade slasher flick. I have an average-strength stomach and I felt the gag reflex kick in more than once. If you like this sort of thing, however, it's all worth it.

Go see Sweeney Todd. Just eat a light meal beforehand.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bones: The Knight on the Grid

I am now a third of the way through the third season of Bones (or, if the strike doesn't end soon, 3/4 of the way through) and so far so good. This episode continued the trend of good stories by taking the Widow's Son case up a notch and tying up some loose ends in Temperance's life.

I have to say that this was the most dramatic I have seen Booth, Bones and the Squints in a long time. Even the season premiere where they first discovered the silver skeleton had more lighter moments than this episode. Oh, there were a few smiles here and there, but for the most part it was non-stop action from beginning to end. I have no problem with this since I have had plenty of episodes this season that contained a giant dollop of dark humor (Pony Play, anyone?).

At first, I really didn't think they would be moving that far ahead with the Widow's Son case this week. But, as the episode progressed and they discovered more and more about Gormogon and what he was all about I was really hooked. What cinched it for me was the discovery of a true bone skeleton in the mausoleum and the revelation that there was more than one Gormogon running around. That, and the pattern that Gormogon is following in his methodical killings.

When I think about it, the Widow's Son storyline is very Indiana Jones-like in theme. Think about it: ancient secret society out to kill and eat members of good organizations like the Masons and the Knights of Columbus. Bones and the rest of the Squints comprise the intellect of Dr. Jones, while Booth is the brawn. I wouldn't be surprised if one episode finds Seeley in a fedora carrying a bullwhip.

The person who is really helping out in the case, who I thought would not do so, is Lance Sweets. He has an extremely good insight into the mind(s) of Gormogon to the point that he was able to determine that there was more than one killer and there was a pattern to the killings. I think that Sweets personifies the young innocence that Zack once had. Mr. Addy has grown up considerably since becoming a full-fledged member of the Jeffersonian and has lost some of the youthfulness that he had in the first season. Sweets, who may be just as smart as Zack but in a different way, has taken his place. This is probably the reason why John Francis Daley was made a regular.

The thing that got me in the end, even though I knew something was coming, was the final fate of the lobbyist who was deemed 'The Corrupter' by Gormogon. Since he was shown in the last scene montage it was certain that he wouldn't be long for the world. I just didn't know how it would happen. The guy coming at him from the closet was a great ending because it made me go 'What the hell happened?' while rewinding the VCR and then pausing to get a good glimpse of the killer. I guess I won't find out until later in the season what happened to the poor man.

Over to Temperance and her messed-up family. I was wondering when I would finally get to see Russ again, I just didn't know when. Luckily, it was sooner than later and it tied up some loose ends about Bones' family. For too long Temperance's back story has been in limbo. Now, as the third season chugs along, I am beginning to see a bit of stability in her life. Granted, both of the men in her life are in jail right now, but at least she knows where they are.

I have to mention this one thing about Booth -- he must have the best arrest record in the FBI. It seems that fugitives of justice just walk in his door and get handcuffed. Max Brennan did it last season (albeit, in Bones' office) and Russ did it in this episode. The way that his luck is going Osama bin Laden is going to walk up to Seeley one day, put his hands in back of him and say 'Eh, I'm done hiding. Just put me in jail now. At least I'll be sleeping on a cot and not a cave floor anymore'.

I can't end this review of Bones without a mention of the kiss. Was that the first time that Temperance's lips ever touched Seeley anywhere? Yes, it was a peck on the cheek, but it was a meaningful peck on the cheek. One full of gratitude for letting Russ see his 'step-daughter'. That was a very big emotional deal for Bones and I was a bit surprised when it happened.

Pam's New Music Downloads

The new Killers disc, Sawdust, - a collection of B-sides, outtakes and other non-album tracks - is the kind of compilation that is often spotty. But while there is some filler here, there are enough strong songs to tide fans over until the next proper studio release. "Where the White Boys Dance," is a moody groove.

Three things you can count on: death, taxes and good Mary J. Blige albums. And her eighth studio disc, Growing Pains, easily on par with 2005's Grammy-winning hit The Breakthrough, is often better than good (if not perfect). Take the great first single, 'Just Fine." Riding a killer dance groove reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough," a blissed-out Blige exorcises all the demons fans have listened to her battle over the years. It's an instant MJB classic. She keeps the party going on "Till the Morning," a bass-heavy, Neptunes-produced jam. And it wouldn't be a Mary J. CD without some soul-baring ballads. Best include the thorns-and-all "Roses" and the hauntingly melancholy "Fade Away," on which Bilge shares her pain as only she can.


What's the 411? (1992) the debut that instantly crowned her the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.

My Life (1994) Her masterpiece, hands down.

Mary (1999) Blige furthers her move away from hip-hop toward classic soul. Even pairs with Aretha.

The Breakthrough (2005) Grammy gold.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Family Guy: Padre de Familia

After starting his own anti-immigration group, Peter is determined to be a Mexican immigrant and forced to work as a day-laborer when he can't prove his American citizenship.I have to say that this episode was a dud. Something seemed wrong with the pacing (this is what happens when you get scab editors). For example, the Mary Poppins bit felt like it went on for too long. On the plus side, there was another Superman reference with Superman V: The Broken Condom (which does seem like a more logical reason that he left for Krypton when Lois Lane got pregnant. But I digress...).

I did like the beginning of the episode. I thought the uninjured veterans and future veterans were hilarious. But somehow I kept thinking that such fare is a risky thing to broadcast in the more conservative and pro-America Midwest. On the other hand, the people from the Midwest who watch the show probably thought it was funny as well.

I did wonder about the issue of marrying Lois for citizenship before it was brought up in the episode. I should have realized that Peter wouldn't remember anything about Lois. Why didn't they ask her maiden name? He certain says "Mister Pewterschmidt" enough times.

The issue I have with this episode and Family Guy in general is that the asides that are the lifeblood of the show's humor seem to have more misses than hits. Rewrites probably could have saved some of it. In this case of this episode, while the entire premise of our treatment of immigrants was a good one, the execution seemed flat.

Favorite lines: "Anybody wanna see my purple heart?" "You look like the Statue of Liberty's pimp." "Who discovered America? Dick York. No, wait. Dick Sargent."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

DVD Review: Harsh Times

In South Central Los Angeles, the unbalanced, deranged and neurotic ex-Ranger Jim Luther Davis (Christian Bale) meets his best friend Miguel 'Mike' Alonzo (Freddy Rodríguez) to drink beers and smoke joint. Jim is expecting to join the LAPD to marry his Mexican girlfriend Marta (Tammy Trull) while Mike is being pressured by his mate Sylvia (Eva Longoria) to find a job.

When Jim is refused by the police department, he becomes furious and begins a series of violent actions until he is called by the Federal agency and assigned to work in Colombia. Meanwhile, Mike gets a dream job, making Sylvia happy. Jim invites the weak Mike and their friend Toussant (Chaka Forman) to spend the weekend in Mexico. After some incidents, Jim returns bringing 20 kg of marijuana to Los Angeles, leading to a tragic end.

"Harsh Times" is a dramatic good movie based on two unpleasant characters. Jim Luther Davis, brilliantly performed by Christian Bale, is an unbalanced man, a former soldier with strong psychological problems, actually a sequel of war associated to his intelligence, his formation in a bad neighborhood and lack of opportunities in his civilian life. Mike Alonzo, performed by Freddy Rodríguez, is a man with a weak personality and with an exaggerated machismo, also fruit of his formation in a bad neighborhood, and absolutely influenced by Jim.

Together, they steal, fight, drink booze, smoke pot, do not respect women, therefore they are really scum. Along a couple of days, the viewer follows their "adventures" in this powerful and non-optimistic realistic film.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Simpsons: Husbands & Knives

"We're gonna be rich! We can finally afford to start a family!" -- Homer
"We have a family!" -- Marge
"A better one!" -- Homer

I think I have whiplash. One minute this episode of The Simpsons was about the new comic book store in Springfield and the next Homer was getting his stomach stapled.

I may have to sue.

Granted, that doesn't mean that this week's Simpsons wasn't enjoyable. It was one of those episodes that had a little bit of something for everyone. For the comic book wonks there was the appearance of three of the best independent comic writers of today: Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes. For me this was the best part of the episode. Not only did Comic Book Guy finally get his comeuppance, but there were plenty of inside comic book references.

For the fan who enjoys The Simpsons constant jabs at society trends there was Marge's entry into the business world with the opening of Shapes gyms for women only. For those who have more important things crossing their minds, Shapes is a reference to the Curvies franchise of gyms that focus on women only. Granted, Marge's spotlight was only about 6 or seven minutes long, but she had some good moments (she lost her 26-26-26 figure). What I enjoyed was the brief tribute to OK Go's video for the song "Here it Goes Again" (which I think is the best video I have seen in a long time).

Finally, for fans of Homer there was...Homer. This was smart, insecure Homer. His issues were something that he has revisited several times over the last 18 years: Marge may leave him and find someone else better. This time around he decided to get a stomach staple to make himself look good for the Corporate Marge ("Everything I eat takes like barf"). The best scene was when Homer was showing off his new body to Marge in the bedroom. What she didn't see was all of the fat that Homer had clipped and rubber-banded around his back.

What completed the episode for me was the pleasant little scene between Homer and Marge, walking along the streets of Springfield at sunset. Homer seriously asks his wife why she stays with him and Marge responded that she always sees the little boy that she fell in love with. It was sweet, and even the flying League of Independent Comic Book Writers couldn't distract from it.

My one problem with the episode was, you guessed it, the total under utilization of the guest voice. This time around it was Jack Black. His character was there in the first few minutes of the program (he was Milo, the owner of the new comic book store) and then singing behind the end credits, which actually went on without interruption. That was it. Really, one of the other voice actors on the show could have done something similar to what Jack did. Although, I did think that his Japanese rendition of Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat?" was pretty funny.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Music Video: Eddie Vedder, "Guaranteed" from Into the Wild

Eddie Vedder's haunting and soulful tunes are laced throughout Sean Penn's drama Into the Wild, bringing a dimension and beauty to Christopher McCandless' journey in ways that dialogue or silent images probably could not have achieved alone. A video recently surfaced for one of Vedder's songs for the film, "Guaranteed," and to watch it is to be launched right back to the emotional experience of watching this poignant movie.

The video mainly consists of Vedder and his guitar, lit up on an otherwise darkened stage while still pictures from the movie float around him. The song alone is lovely, but paired with the images it's quite moving.