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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

CSI: Drops Out

A desperate Nick and Brass team with an old adversary to halt a rapidly growing murder count. Less gory and more story as a merry chase ensues. The team again plays with their laser beams in an attempt to figure out another unusual sequence of events that escalates beyond the simple killed/victim mold.

'Method Mans' Drops gets a 48hr pass in order to assist Brass and the CSI's to end a growing list of victims. Of course things never proceed smoothly and as Brass and Nick take Drops to help find his lady, who could well hold the key to the case, even a GPS ankle bracelet wont let the slippery con from seeking his own line of investigation.

As often happens the line between good and bad gets blurred and I wouldn't be surprised to see the surprisingly effective method man getting more air time in the near future (the modern 'Huggy Bear?' - he's got the walk, talk, attitude, insider dealings - but can he stay clean enough?)

Its also nice to see that the team is running more on brains than the emotions of recent episodes. Catherine is definitely better when she controls herself rather than the career risking blowups that are much better suited to the street hardened Brass or the tempestuous Warrick.

Overall a very good effort. Just enough humor to counter the bodies - and much less graphic than many episodes. I thought the pace of the show was just right and the hour flew past.

Friday, May 30, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Killerball

Since the show's return from the writers' strike, Earl has gotten stronger and funnier with each episode. This show was jam-packed with some hysterical dialogue, flashbacks both real and imagined, as well enough items crossed off the karma list to help Earl's condition.

The episode began when the hospital decided it needed its bed back, so they kicked Earl out and into Randy's care. Not surprisingly, this led to a few dicey situations, not the least of which was when Randy gave Earl a bath and then used a blowdryer to dry him off while he was still in the bathtub. Earl never knew the danger he was in because he wa still comatose, but his mind was exactly as it's been these past few episodes: wide awake in an imagined TV sitcom.

When they first introduced this sitcom gimmick, it felt flat and uninspired. Since then, however, the writers have injected life and humor into the idea. My Name Is Earl already uses flashbacks as a way to show who the Hickey boys were before they discovered karma. But the writers did themselves one better by having Earl's sitcom alter-ego have his own (fake) flashbacks, which allowed for even more great sitcom clichés to be included. The intentionally hacky device they used to pull it all together was to have an elderly TV Earl and Billie look at an old photo album and recall all the funny adventures they never really had.

Given Earl's love of television as a boy, it makes perfect sense that he'd imagine some of these situations taking place in his imagination. For example, TV Earl remembered when his kids were no longer cute, so a new smart-mouthed cousin moved in. Another flashback was when he and Billie were having a fight, so they drew a line down the center of the room and each person was barred from crossing to the other side. And finally, TV Earl had a "very special flashback" where Randy admitted that a bad man touched him inappropriately. I swear, if Diff'rent Strokes didn't use all of those as plot devices at one time or another, I'm losing my memory.

The rest of the episode was packed with more great jokes, many of them coming during a game of quad rugby that comatose Earl was forced to play in order to appease karma, (Randy controlled his wheelchair via joystick.) Earl has never been a politically correct show, which adds to its charm. Last year they got away with some dark comedy at the expense of guest star Marlee Matlin, and this time around, wheelchair-bound athletes don't fare much better. In a nod to Friday Night Lights fans out there, guest star Kevin Rankin played yet another quad rugby player, only this time he was the ex-boyfriend whom Earl had to reunite with his ex-girlfriend in order to cross an item off his list.

There was almost too much plot stuffed into this one half-hour of television to provide a suitable synopsis. Suffice it to say, this was the funniest, most well thought out episode in a long while and it ended on a high note as Earl finally woke from his coma. Upon waking up, Earl tells Randy, Joy and Darnell about his dreams of growing old and still hanging out with Randy, Joy and Darnell, which everyone agrees is just about perfect. But the line of the night followed immediately afterward as Earl then told them how he imagined he was married to Billie was great. "Billie? Who's he?" said Darnell. Joy added, "Oh crap, I think the coma made him gay."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Riches: Dead Calm

Here I am, with the next to last episode of the season, and I found it just a little strange. Perhaps I was reading too much into the fact that there is only one more episode to go. But this didn't feel like an episode setting me up for a big conclusion/cliff hanger. I'm left thinking there are a whole lot of irons in that fire that need to be dealt. While it wasn't what I expected, there were some very interesting developments in Eden Falls.

Let's start the day at the office, and head home later. I was happy to see things moving forward with Hugh's mayoral campaign, and I love the slogan. Out with the old, and in with the Hugh. That's top notch local politics. Wayne's solution to get the signatures was even simpler than I imagined. I got where he was going with the list of voters from the church he asked Aubrey for, but I thought I would be treated to an example of Wayne winning over another crowd. There just wasn't enough time, I suppose.

There were bigger fish to fry at the office as it was time to pick a contractor for Bayou Hills. Again, I was surprised as Hugh eschewed Doug's choice, Riley, and went with his man Wilkins. The explanation, "Wilkins is a stiff, but he's my stiff." was perfect Hugh reasoning. Of course, the real story was with Riley, and Dale. I finally get a peek at the game Dale is running. It's bigger than Dale. It's bigger than Riley. It's Quinn.

The Irish accent was a clear tip to where that was headed, but I was still surprised when Dale was waiting in the bar. I was looking for Traveler involvement in the bid, but not that Traveler involvement. It's the fork in the road that has been looming for Wayne and Dale all season. And didn't I know that Wayne was going to come out on top in this battle? That last scene at the Rich house explained it all so well. Dale was in way over his head. Enough that he pleaded with Wayne to help him. But he's still too stubborn to actually come clean. As to who is in the truck waiting to visit punishment on Dale, I'm going with Riley and his merry band of thugs. Whether this will be the end of Dale though... I tend to think not. He doesn't have the stuff to lead or take control, but he does have the resilience to keep coming back.

Stopping by the school before I get back to the house I find a very strange part of the episode. I'm all for some development for Didi and Sam, but is now the time for it? There's only one more episode to go. Sam finding someone that accepts him without questioning is a story with some legs. But those are probably legs that would be better stretched in season three. And the same could be said of this new Didi story. I'm curious about her and the security guard with grand ideals about how I should treat everyone. There little scene in the chapel was intriguing, but also just felt somewhat out of place as I lead up to what is serving as the season finale.

Cael's story, on the other hand, does feel like it fits in here. I just can't decide which way this is going. It certainly seems like it's all a setup, and the future is not looking bright for him. With Wayne set to make a big score, Cael's value as bargaining chip is enormous. However, Quinn has just enough of an aura of being reformed that he could actually have other plans for Cael. Granted, it is a slim chance, but one that still has possibilities.

And that brings me to casa Rich, where the real action was this week. It all played out beautifully right from that first conversation between Landry and Dahlia. Once again I see that on her own, and off the cuff, Dahlia is not the greatest con. Landry didn't have to write anything in his notebook because he wasn't buying a bit of it.

I loved the starts and stops of the conversation that I knew was coming all night. Dahlia asks about the P.I., and Hugh interrupts Wayne. She asks about the money, setting the trap, and you could feel the tension, what would Wayne do? I wasn't shocked when he lied about it. Wayne is one-tracked on Bayou Hills to his own detriment, but again I was put on hold. And I saw the interruption yet again when they were about to have it out and Jim's party showed up.

Finally, the showdown I had been waiting for, and that same tension was there. How far would Wayne carry the lie? I was glad that he finally came clean, and then riveted as he kept trying to justify Pete's death. It is all coming together now, what integrating themselves into the buffer life has done to them. All of the worries from the beginning of the show are coming back. As Dahlia put it, "Cael's right. We've lost our souls." It's a huge wedge between Wayne and Dahlia, but at the same time, they've come so far with it that they are stuck together. I find myself being more and more sympathetic with Dahlia's case as it all develops, as crazy as that case is.

There were a couple of misfires, but I thought the revelations and story between Wayne and Dahlia really made the episode. It all does leave me wondering just what is going to happen. One episode just doesn't seem like enough time. Bayou Hills, the election, Dale, Devereaux, Landry, Quinn, Cael... There is a lot of story to rap up. I suspect I'll be left hanging where some of that is concerned. Either way, it does set up to be a very interesting finale.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Music: Aimee Mann "Freeway"

I'm inching closer to the June 3 release of Aimee Mann's next album @#%&! Smilers and I am positively salivating for it. I've already heard one song off the album, "Thirty One Today" and now there's a video of Mann playing another track, "Freeway" at Artists Den.

"Freeway" is pretty much exactly what I think of when I think of good, solid Aimee Mann songs. It's got some cynical lyrics set to a great, appealing melody which, in this case bounces right along in a way that's almost as catchy as "That's Just What You Are" (almost!). With regard to her upcoming album, it all seems to be so far, so good. To check out "Freeway" for yourself, click below.

Aimee Mann Performing Freeway live!

Moview Review: Young@Heart - Will Make You Weep/Laugh for Hours

Going into the theater for Young@Heart, I knew I was doomed. I have a soft spot for stories about elderly folks, so I knew it would make me cry. Coldplay songs also make me cry ("Fix You"? Come on!). And oddly enough, standing ovations and enthusiastic applause sometimes make me cry. The Young@Heart documentary has all of this — and more. It had my number from the start, and I went through many tissues. But I also smiled a lot, and felt the joy that radiates off these inspiring people, leaping through the screen and into the hearts of the audience. Young at heart, indeed.

The movie opens on an auditorium full of people wildly cheering, standing, beaming (Pam's Weepy Face, Take One). Soon I discover that they're at a kind of rock concert, and we hear the first wail of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash. But it's not a group of stringy haired punk kids onstage — it's a collection of earnest, wrinkled faces and heads with gray-white hair. It's the Young@Heart senior citizen choir of Northampton, Massachusetts. And that's just the first few minutes.

Under the tough-love leadership of choir director Bob Cilman, this group of older folks gets together a couple times a week to learn songs that — as I find out in the one-on-one interviews with the members — aren't necessarily enjoyable music to these people. But for the most part, the choir members like learning new things and get a kick out of performing these "young peoples'" tunes. Throughout the film I'm treated to renditions of songs by the Ramones, David Bowie, Gloria Gaynor and — to the dismay of my tear ducts — Coldplay.

In between songs (and music videos!) I grow attached to certain members through personal interviews, as they all work toward learning a whole new lineup for a big upcoming concert. The new songs present their own challenges and some of the members begin to suffer greatly from health problems, but they doggedly attend rehearsals and study the words of the songs because Young@Heart is that much fun. And because audiences are counting on them.

Honestly, this stuff writes itself. The subject matter naturally taps into some of our most basic fears: that growing old means winding down and maybe being forgotten, neglected or unheard. Here, as a powerful contradiction, old folks are given voices — actually, big screamy punk rock voices — and far from tuning them out, people pay money to hear them. It's a most hopeful and exciting take on the issue of growing old in America.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bones: Player Under Pressure

Brennan: "I don't know what that means."Angela: "Are you serious?" - When Cam reveals that both seminal fluid and saliva were found in the basketball player's shorts...

This episode Booth and Brennan teamed up (get it?) to find out how a college basketball player, who was found squashed into an accordion under the bleachers, was killed. First things first: Find out whether his skull experienced "powdering" as Zack called it from strikes to the head or from being mashed through a grate. See? A little gross. So, in classic Squint Squad format, Hodgins and Zack set up a little experiment. They stuff a turkey carcass with a skull mockup and some ambrosia salad and push it through a grate. Of course, they and Cam, who has come to see what experiments they are doing now, end up covered in the salad.

It seemed that the lab served mostly as comic relief in more extreme ways than it has in the past. First, there is the ambrosia salad. Then, there is the deliberately obtuse Hodgins mashing up maggots in Cam's personal blender. Cam exacted her revenge not on Hodgins but on Angela: First, she treated Angela like a secretary; then, she made her point about Angela and Hodgins being too demonstrative in the workplace by giving Angela a DVD of sex in the storage area. Naturally, as much as Angela is horrified, she also thinks it's pretty cool to have her own Hodgins sex tape.

The major tension between Booth and Brennan was about the inside glimpse they get into collegiate athletics. Brennan has been boning up on her Chomsky: She finds sports to be, anthropologically, a way that boys pretend to be warriors; it is a way that stunts their development. Booth, who is a consummate athlete and sports fan, takes offense. Where was Sweets to mediate this disaster this week? I bet Sweets would have agreed with Brennan about sports, but Zack and Hodgins were front and center with the basketball stats when it turned out that the victim was one of the season's highest rising stars.

Of course, the case unfolded much like an accordion itself. The show seems to be moving away from what the actual bones in the lab report about the body, though, in favor of the investigation in the field and the relationship between Booth and Brennan. Naturally, this relationship is a central focus of the show, but I am just geeky enough to really like what the bones can say about the crime, so I hope this isn't a continuing trend.

What I learned from the bones this week was that R.J. was struck and killed by a 25-pound weight. However, the crime was essentially solved with the discovery of seminal fluid, a "loogie," saliva, blue lipstick, and a case of the clap. Steroids and an over-involved alumnus were red herrings.

Booth is usually absolutely stellar about reading people. This week, though, he actually had the murderer aiding in the investigation and playing good cop/bad cop with him in investigating "other" people for the murder. The murderer was a cop, and he was obstructing the investigation and trying to pin the murder on someone else. The fact that he was a stellar college athlete before he turned cop was the only thing Booth seemed to care about, even after Cutler confessed.

Granted, I will cut Booth some slack because he was trying to keep Cutler from killing himself, and you pretty much have to say what you need to say in those situations.I was surprised that Brennan didn't nail Booth for that pretty serious lapse in judgment; instead, she stroked his ego by telling him he really is a warrior. That might be true, but she doesn't usually bolster him like that. It must be love.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Masterpiece: My Boy Jack

Harry Potter is all grown up, and I hardly recognized him now. Daniel Radcliffe starred in a PBS movie based on the story of Rudyard Kipling's son Jack, who lost his life at the age of 18 in World War I.

At the beginning of The Great War, British patriotism was running high, and Rudyard Kipling had a great love for the British Empire. Kipling was afraid that the Germans with their massive army posed a great threat to everything the British had built around the world. He encouraged his son to Jack enlist, even though Jack was severely myopic and almost blind without his glasses. Jack was lost in the first battle in which he fought, the Battle of Loos, and his body was never found, despite Rudyard's desperate searching.

He carried the guilt with him his whole life, that he had sent his son unprepared into battle. He wrote the famous poem, "My Boy Jack" in tribute to his son. I think it could be a tribute to every young man this Memorial Day who has been sent into battle, and continues to be sent into battle, never to return.

My Boy Jack - by Rudyard Kipling

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.Nor what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

DVD Review: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

I'm sure you know the basic premise of this movie: girl gets assignment to write an article on how to lose a guy in ten days, guy takes a bet that he can make any woman fall in love with him in ten days. Nice setup. So, why aren't I laughing?

This is a classic battle of the sexes, mistaken identity comedy, the kind audiences have been entertained by for centuries. I kept thinking this was a 60's movie, that Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant or even Doris Day and Rock Hudson would have taken the premise and made into a classic out of it. Was it just the actors?

Matthew McConaughey is a very handsome man, but he's not a very good actor. He delivers his lines in a steady monotone, as he does in pretty much every movie I've ever seen him in. There's no inflection in his voice, and he doesn't know how to milk a scene, which is necessary in comedy. He may be eye candy for the ladies, but the movie flatlines every time he's on the screen.

Kate Hudson is a pretty good actress - you can really see her mother's influnce on her comedy skills in this movie - but she can't carry this film. For one, her character lacks a foil to work off of - McConaughey is much too serious. Plus the script has her being a bit too obnoxious for my liking. There's a nasty edge to the plot to dump her guy, and that just doesn't work in a comedy.

If this were a 60's movie, you'd have an entire ensemble of comedians playing secondary roles to keep the laughter going. But here, the supporting cast draws a blank. Hudson's boss at the magazine should have been played for humor, but instead she's mean-spirited and controlling. The two female rivals at McConaughey's advertising firm are conniving and hard. The only bit players who understand this is a comedy are Robert Klein and the jeweler's wife.

As a love story, it doesn't really work either because you're left wondering at the final scene where they reconcile on the Brooklyn Bridge whether these two really know each other. I mean, they've been role playing the entire movie, and except for a brief moment at his parent's house, they really never let their guards down. They look good together, and I guess in this modern era of movie making, that's supposed to be enough.

Mildly entertaining and funny at times, but I'd have to consider this movie so-so.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Men in Trees: Wander/Lust

And so…Julia and Marin finally meet. It's been a long time coming. And of course, as Icould have guessed, they get along. Because really, Julia is pretty groovy and she isn't a threat to Marin. Right? Right??

This episode was about comings and goings. Patrick departing for parts unknown (starting with a stop to see Jane in New York). Jack gets a part-time job in Anchorage with Julia. Jane's ring goes missing. Celia gets a roommate. Marin gets a sculpture. Of Julia. In her living room. Yikes.

And the story about the ebb and flow of a couple--there is something really interesting to me about what happens when two couples meet for the first time. It's almost like you are dating the other couple. Comparing, contrasting in your own head. Are they happier than you? Do they have your same troubles? (p.s.- I suspect it may only be women who do this.) There is sometimes a "grass is always greener" thing that happens in these situations. Marin had to go through this and realize maybe what she and Jack have is pretty damn good.

And of course, this is all made complicated by the fact that Jack and Julia shared that experience at sea. What happened out there bonded them, and Marin will always feel like a bit of an emotional outsider with Jack when it comes to that. Would I let him take that job with her?

I'm looking forward to the hilarity of Mai and Celia as mismatched roommates and Patrick on his journey...and, hopefully, more Cash.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, folks! You know what this means: a day off from work (for many of us), the beginning of summertime — and barbecues! In the happy spirit of long weekend-ness, lI put together a playlist of songs so we can adequately start (as Fresh Prince might put it) "chillin' out maxin' and relaxin' all cool."

Speaking of Fresh Prince, the Will Smith "Summertime" tune is pretty much a staple on playlists like these. Weezer also seems to be in order here, so I'm including "Island in the Sun." I'd also throw in a little Wilco, maybe "Heavy Metal Drummer." And there needs to be some older tried-and-trues, of course, so I'm including a little Sharon Jones ("The Dap Dip") and some Nick Gilder ("Hot Child in the City"). And living 45 minutes from Lake Michigan, this list wouldn't be complete without Rogue Wave's "Lake Michigan."

To see the other good times songs I've picked, click below:

Memorial Day BBQ Playlist

The Riches: Trust Never Sleeps

Right about now, some of the Malloys should probably be having some second thoughts about returning to Eden Falls. The lure of big money is hard to resist, but it's certainly not going to be easy money. The dark turn to their adventure continues in episode five as I find Dahlia continuing to struggle with her new triple life, Pete causing more trouble for Wayne, and young Cael striking out and getting some story all his own.

As mentioned before, that Bayou Hills payday is a fat one, and it's going to help lessen the perception of many a threat. P.I. Landry came calling. It did all play out as a throw-away story of the week, but then, that's only true if Landry doesn't come back. That's something I expect I will see at some point.

When he started going through the trash my first thought was that Wayne is much too careful to have anything incriminating in something so publicly accessible. The fact that Sam had tossed the towel, and was sharp enough to put two and two together and realize what could come of it, was a clever way to go. It also got us back to the always entertaining "partnership" between Wayne and Dale. It's a great dynamic because they both know there is no partnership, and they are both convinced that they have the upper hand.

Wayne also had his hands full with Hugh. I'm thrilled that the mojo transplant is taking. This Hugh is so much more fun. I love hearing him rattle off lines like how he doesn't want to spend his time with politicians, because they are liars and crooks. Right after he bitches because his crooked politician got fired. Hugh does see the world in a very particular way. Speaking of Hugh's go to zoning guy, Graham, I liked his replacement, Ulysses Gillard. I suspect that Gillard has no idea the kind of mess he is getting himself into, but it's worth it for the simple fact that he has proven to be the catalyst for Hugh's mayoral campaign. That has all kinds of potential.

Meanwhile, Dahlia just continues to dig her hole deeper and deeper. It was pretty clear from her meeting at Devereaux's office that this just can't end well. He is just way too smart to get played for long. Add to that the fact that with everything else going on around Dahlia, she is really off of her game. The double life of being Dahlia with the family, and Cherien to the public was asking a lot. Add in another secret life of law abiding Dahlia and those dark clouds really start to roll in. I don't really have my finger on where Devereaux's heading with this. It sure seemed like he had taken just about all the crap he was going to take from Dahlia in that final scene in the squad car. But is there another angle for him to pursue? I'm curious to see where that goes.

The other thing I wasn't completely sure on was Di Di's little B&E adventure. Where did that come from? A little nostalgia for the old times, or did Cael get inside her head a little bit before he took off? With all of the tension between Wayne and Dahlia, which was so obvious to Di Di, is her curiosity for the buffer life finally being overshadowed by the reality of their surroundings?

And finally, saving the best for last, my favorite part of the episode was Cael. I was a little concerned with his story when his latest tent adventure started. It seemed like it was a path I had been down a couple times already. Making the move to have him set out on the road was a good choice. And it didn't go down at all like I thought. I've seen it so many times, when he started in with his pool hustle, I was sure there was a beating coming, to show him that life on the road has it's own particular set of bumps.

The escape into the waiting Cassidy RV was a pleasant surprise. That first conversation with Decklin was particularly good as there was a very nice tension between the two of them as they both tried to get a feel for what each others intentions really were. Cael might have misjudged a bit, or had his judgment clouded by Rosaline. Understandable I suppose, as it wouldn't be the first time he has made that mistake. There wasn't much to his meeting with Eamon, although I could tell that Cael had a whole history of who he had been in the past by his reaction. Still, that little "Welcome home." carried some weight for where things will be heading in the next couple weeks.

Overall, a nice solid episode, and I think they have things lining up for an exciting finish to what is probably going to end up being looked at as an all too brief season.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bones: The Man in the Mud

Rejoice! New episodes of Bones have finally returned to the FOX schedule. And, despite what others think, this girl, this chick, this sexy dame, is very glad for its return. Not happy that FOX is screwing with the schedule of this show, mind you, but glad there are new episodes nevertheless.

Bones is one of those unique dramas that can mix gruesome, terrible death with humor and light-heartedness. It is really a story about relationships, friendly or romantic, and the connections that are established by two totally opposite sets of people.

Plus, I get to see maggots crawling around a person's skull. So, it's all good.

This episode is a good example of what makes Bones work so well. In addition to the murder investigation (which was fairly predictable, more on that later) there was also the ongoing story of FBI Special Agent Seely Booth and Temperance "Bones" Brennan and their adventures in the office of one Dr. Lance Sweets. Actually, the story wasn't about Bones and Booth all that much but the character development of Sweets himself, who was added as a regular cast member last season.

I know Sweets is young. Incredibly young. Near the point of still being in the womb young. Yet, when he leads the therapy sessions with Bones and Booth he is the man under control. There has been more than one occurrence when the doctor has dressed down Booth for his attitude towards him or the mandatory therapy sessions he was dragged into. And, while Booth has tried to get the best of Sweets, many times it bounces off of the therapist and back to the FBI agent.

This was different as I saw Sweets outside of his normal element. Away from his office, and together with his girlfriend April, Sweets is, well, a 23-year-old guy who really doesn't know about women. Especially if the woman is stronger than he is. In this case April was definitely the stronger of the two outside of the therapy world.

It didn't seem like it at first -- she seemed a bit ditsy at the beginning. But, as the double date between Sweets-April and Booth-Bones continued it was clear that she was the stronger person of the two in the relationship. It certainly didn't help that Sweets was trying to impress Bones and Booth with his supposed relationship prowess. Every guy knows that when they try to puff up their chest and show that they are the big man on campus they usually get deflated.

When I looked at the ceramics scene a bit closer I could actually see that Lance and April were a younger version of Seely and Temperance. Okay, April wasn't nearly as smart as Bones was, but there was that fire in her eyes and that hatred of having someone else tell people how she feels or that she apologized for something she didn't do. But, when she began to talk about her fish she had the same passion that I have seen Bones portray when talking about her skeletons. Sweets, like Booth, had that awkward streak in him where he would tell a joke or make a statement that, either would fall flat or would be attacked by Bones on its merits. So, it wasn't surprising that Bones sided with April and Booth with Sweets in their car ride the next morning.

I think the best scene of the episode took place at the ceramics class. Not only did I see Seely and Temperance dress like way too old hippies, but the best gag of the night occurred during this time. I know that Booth is a man's man when it comes to his life and the way he holds his cards tight to his chest. So, when I saw him being so artistic, in such a short period of time, it's both interesting and funny. I mean, I would have to be a very adept sculptor to take a pile of clay and mold it to be a horse in about five minutes time. And, such detail on the horse!

There were other things going other than Sweet's romantic life crashing around him. There was also some action involving the Squints over at the Jeffersonian. I don't know if this whole 'King of the Lab' thing was taking place last season, but it has become a prominent feature this season as Hodgins and Zack compete to find that one clue that will push the investigation ahead. Both of them thought they were King this time around; however, in reality, they didn't have anything to provide Cam with. I wonder if this whole contest has to do with Zack's new emotional stance after spending a number of months in Iraq.

Speaking about Cam, I've been thinking about the relationship between her and Zack lately. It seems that every episode this season has had one scene where she and Zack going back and forth about the current murder mystery and what the evidence may mean. I feel the reason Cam has taken the young Mr. Addy under her wing is to take the place of Bones, who was Zack's mentor and sponsor during his doctorate days. And, while Temperance bestowed upon him the scientific skills he needed, Cam is giving him the investigative, or speculative, skills needed when it comes to criminal acts.

Moving on to this week's criminal act...it was pretty standard as mysteries go on Bones: a body, or part of a body, is found, Bones and Booth tell the family, they investigate, they may or may not pull in the wrong person, and then they finally get the right one. Many times the interest level of the mystery depends on the suspects, and this time around the suspects were a bit flat. The only one who wasn't was the lawyer of the family (who was played by the guy who plays Mr. Friendly on LOST). As he appeared on screen more and more I thought that it was going to be him who murdered the two motorcycle racers. Turns out, it was the daughter of the racing team owner who ended up killing their top racer and her own twin brother.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ida: The Pain of Loving You

The indie band Ida recently premiered their cover version of Dolly Parton's "The Pain of Loving You," and it's lovely. The New York City band, which formed in 1992, has a sound that is evocative of Iron and Wine, or a calmer, more pared down Belle and Sebastian. It's a sound that works well for the Dolly cover which will be a part of their forthcoming EP, My Fair, My Dark.

We've all heard Dolly Parton remakes before (most notably Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" and The White Stripes' "Jolene") and often the artist tends to do something dramatically different. What's refreshing about the Ida cover is that it stays true to Dolly's bluegrass-y, folk sound. You can listen to both versions below, and If you like what you hear, check out Ida's latest CD titled Lovers Prayers.

The Pain of Loving You - Ida

Eli Stone: Waiting for the Day

What the hell? Did I really just see what I thought I saw on Eli Stone? The entire episode was predicated on Eli having a vision that if it were to come true, would be catastrophic. He sees the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed when an earthquake hits San Francisco. This isn't the first time he's seen this kind of destruction, but the last time nothing happened. So, then, what am I to make of the fact that this time around, it really does! Like I said, is this really real?

Seriously, what happened in this episode suggests that this is the penultimate moment for Eli Stone, the character and the series. Everything is building to Eli having the surgery to remove the aneurysm that's supposedly causing all his sensory hallucinations next week. Eli meets with the surgeon and is advised to get his affairs in order. With just a 50-50 chance of surviving or becoming a vegetable, Eli asks Matt -- who now calls himself "The Dowd" -- to write his living will. When Taylor finds out and insists that nothing will happen to Eli, he tells her he doesn't want to be Terri Schiavo'ed, hence the documents. Patti learns that if Eli dies, she gets all his George Michael CDs.

Unable to get anyone to believe his visions, Eli turns to Dr. Chen. He alerts Eli to Dr. Daniel Foote who claims to have a machine that determines earthquakes. His forecast coincides with Eli's vision, so Eli takes Dr. Foote's claim to court to get the city to close the Golden Gate Bridge for that time of the quake. Eli winds up facing Marci Klein, Jordan's nemesis at W.P.K., who is determined to win in court and make Eli look ridiculous -- which in turn will prove to the partners that Jordan's faith in Eli is ruining the reputation of the firm. By getting Maggie, who was second chair with Marci, to testify against Eli, Ms. Klein wins in court. Before the partners, Jordan speaks eloquently about humanity and the need for an Eli Stone in every business. Still, when the votes are counted, Marci wins and Jordan is ousted as managing partner.

Even though the judge rules against Eli and Foote, a representative of the city tells them that the mayor is a believer. The bridge will be closed -- just in case. Eli pleads with his co-workers to have faith in him and leave the 22nd floor offices and go to Golden Gate Park where they will be most likely to survive The Big One. Some do, the partners don't, and just as Jordan gets the news that he's been trounced, the quake hits and glass shatters all around. A beam crashes to the conference table and he asks for a re-vote, having been proven right about Eli.

At Golden Gate Park, Eli, Nate, Patti, Dr. Chen and Maggie (plus her cute fiance, Scott), watch as the Golden Gate Bridge collapses in two! And that's that. This was a 6.8 quake on the Richter scale and all they showed was the bridge collapsing (thank you, CG effects) and some rubble in the office. Where was the devastation? Where was The Big One in Silver Terrace? For all the build-up, nobody's hair got mussed! I realize this is episodic TV, not a feature, but please -- if you're going to make it real, make it real. I was left with a big 'what the hell?' I guess we'll find out next week.

Other Points of Interest:

There was no music in this episode. No joyful song. No clues in the lyrics. Nada. Zip. I missed it.

Why was there no connection to the last episode's messianic show? If you had a vision of a possible future where you're leading a cause, with the message to Live Brave beating in your head, wouldn't you be thinking about it? Eli didn't even bring it up.

There was carryover from the last episode in The Dowd and Taylor. He finally got a dinner date with her and proceeded to act like a jerk. It was fun to see Eli choose him to do the living will because he wanted a lawyer with an "utter lack of humanity."

Jordan really went to bat for Eli. He referred to himself as being "made of Kevlar." That appeared to be so after the earthquake left him unscathed. He also had a good scene with Eli, letting him know that Eli's weird cases have been allowed because of Jordan's good graces. He used the phrase, "at my pleasure," like Eli was his servant. Very imperious. Very Jordan.

When Eli speaks to his co-workers, he says of himself that he's the lawyer with the hole in his head and an inappropriate song in his heart

Eli's feelings for Maggie are getting complicated. After giving her a frame as an engagement gift (Patti bought it), Maggie puts a picture of Scott in it and Eli recognizes that Scott was driving the cab in Eli's vision of the bridge collapse. After losing in court, Eli implores Maggie to believe his prediction of destruction and save herself and Scott. To convince her that he knows Scott's involved, he uses the pet name Scott has for Maggie -- "Macaroni."

I like Katey Sagal as Marci Klein, but she's really coming off as too much the Wicked Witch. She needs to have something else going for her besides proving Jordan wrong. Was she telling the truth about a past affair with him? Her manipulation of Maggie was predictable. Hell, Eli warned Maggie that Marci would use her against him, and Marci did.

Nate should have been with Eli when he met with the surgeon. I'd want my M.D. brother with me when I'm planning on having brain surgery.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review: "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

The Great Readers of M's May book discussion was "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Pat chose this book and it quickly became one of my top 10 books.

Jacob Jankowski is pushing 90 and wallowing in a nursing home, abandoned by his family and surrounded by aged octogenarians who irk him with their senility. He has few pleasures in life --- an astute and friendly nurse named Rosemary and his vibrant memories. As Jacob lies in his bed, drifting in and out of sleep, lucidness and dreams, the compelling story of his experiences as a young man unfolds in Sara Gruen's mesmerizing novel, "Water for Elephants."

The year is 1932. Jacob is 23 and just shy of getting his degree in veterinary medicine from Cornell when he learns that his parents have been killed in a horrific accident. Emotionally and monetarily stranded, unmoored and with nothing to lose, Jacob jumps a train and finds himself traveling with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Starting at the bottom rung of the strict caste system within the ranks of the Circus employees, Jacob's veterinary knowledge quickly garners him a place near the top of the hierarchy, among the company of the hot-headed ringmaster August and his beautiful wife Marlena --- the all-purpose female star of the show.

He also finds himself among the company of cantankerous midgets, gloriously endowed "men's entertainers" and a menagerie of exotic and soulful creatures. Gruen has proven herself a master at depicting the uncanny and often astounding bond between humans and animals, and the scenes with Jacob and the creatures under his care are nuanced and lovely. Gruen paints each creature's persona with as much care and detail as she does for the humans, subtly illuminating the similarities and undermining the concept of human superiority. In the Depression-era setting of Jacob's tale, the survival of the humans is inextricably intertwined with that of the animals; they all live in a kind of chaotically symbiotic state where a star horse's sickness could spell bankruptcy and the chance for redemption lies in the acquisition of an elephant named Rosie.

Exceptionally drawn as well is the development of a tentative bond between Jacob and Marlena. Jacob immediately is attracted to the lovely Marlena. She takes longer to reciprocate his affection, and throughout their cautious and hesitant budding romance the presence of Marlena's husband looms large and threatening. Gruen's pacing is excellent and the tension among Marlena, Jacob and August simmers and crackles before coming to a brutal and electrifying climax.

The transitions back and forth in time, and the mundane events that unfold as Jacob moans and gripes through his days at the nursing home, could have been, in the hands of a less skilled writer, jarring and distracting, breaking the flow and drawing the reader out of the story. But while the crazed, dramatic and often spectacularly bizarre world of the Benzini Brothers is fascinating, as the novel progresses the reader becomes equally drawn into Jacob's present world. His disdain for his aged body and regret over the confusing array of relatives who visit him intermittently and whose names are permanently muddied in his mind is deeply poignant.

Gruen spent years researching Depression-era circuses, and the breadth of her knowledge is revealed in all the tiny details that pepper Jacob's memories, but she also has a finely-tuned radar for the magic and mysteries of the human heart. The meat and madness of this novel may appear to lie in Jacob's memories of his younger self, but in her subtle exploration of Jacob as an old man, Gruen finds an equally compelling story.

Readers may find themselves churning through this book at a rapid-fire pace, eager to see what lies ahead, then slowing down as they realize the pages are dwindling. "Water for Elephants" is a book that can be read and reread, recommended and handed off between friends; it begs to be discussed and mulled over. With lines of startling beauty, haunting and evocative scenes and finely-drawn characters who dance off the page, readers can dip in and out of the novel, immersing themselves in Jacob's memories. The story and its characters will haunt readers long after they have resurfaced.

The Simpsons: Papa Don't Leech

SPRINGFIELD: GOOD -- The new town slogan that cost Mayor Quimby the entire treasury of Springfield.

When it comes to supporting characters The Simpsons have them up the proverbial wahoo. Many, like Flanders, Mr. Burns, Apu, and Millhouse, are distinct personalities with lengthy back stories that I know quite well. Others, like Bumblebee Man, Cletus, Kent Brockman, and Comic Book Guy, are known, but only by the stereotypes that they have been given. Fortunately, most of them have been given spotlight episodes to flesh them out a bit more.
While these episodes have been hit or miss, I have always found them to be quite interesting because they gave a different perspective on life in Springfield.

Granted, one Simpson or another was usually involved in their spotlight show, but they were usually in the background. This gave the character, whom we saw countless times on screen with a gag line or two or just in a group shot, a chance to shine and garner a new set of fans. And, since there are probably well over a hundred characters on The Simpsons to explore, and the show has run for nearly two decades, there has been ample time to explore each and every one of them. Which begs the following question...

Why have a spotlight show for Lurleen Lumpkin?

If she was a recurring guest-star like Sideshow Bob I wouldn't have an issue with it as he has appeared many times over The Simpsons run. The thing with Lurleen is, other than some very brief cameo appearances, the last time I really saw Ms. Lumpkin was, well, her first appearance on the show in Season Three!

Again, I refer back to Sideshow Bob. As Bob has appeared at least once every season or two -- the most recent being this season -- viewers know about him and at least a bit of his back story. Lurleen? Other than the brief summary that Bart gave about her this episode no one but the most die-hard and long-term fans knows about her. Because of that lack of back story the viewer uses to determine if they should like or dislike this character, the episode fizzles.

Which is what it did. And, this is coming from someone who saw "Colonel Homer" during its original run and knew the whole back story about Lurleen's unrequited love for Homer (and her apparent obsession with men who looked like Homer). If it was really about Homer coming to the rescue of Lurleen, placing the Colonel hat on once again, and returning her back to the stage I would have had a different opinion. However, by throwing that whole plot about her delinquent father into the mix all I could say was 'What the hell?' to my television, which didn't respond because it's actually a television.

It didn't impress me one bit and, frankly, it all seemed kind of rushed. In the first act I only got about five minutes of Lurleen and her back story. Then, in the second act, I had the delinquent father and the reunion. Finally, in the third act, the Dixie Chicks somehow got involved because Lurleen's father stole one of her songs (more on that below) and made it his own. Heck, even the joke of how the Chicks were now loyal to Fox News and changed their ways about America was unfunny.

I also found the Simpsons, other than Marge, to be unusually subdued. Oh, there was a good Bart-Lisa gag with Homer having a picture taken of his butt and put on a T-Shirt, but for the most part they were a bit quiet. Even Homer was very un-Homer-like, including his dream sequence where he ends up killing his Dad. It was just an off show all around.

The only good thing to come out of this episode is I finally got a few new songs. I liked her "Daughter" song as it was more upbeat and the entire Simpson family got involved rhyming to the word "daughter" (Harry Potter, Estee Lauder, etc). I enjoyed Lurleen's sad country ballad as well, only because I got to see Maggie (who has been incredibly ignored this season) pull a little Back to the Future gag by holding up her toy telephone to the air vent so the unibrow baby could hear the song.

I'll be honest...I had a feeling that this would be a mediocre episode at best after three fairly strong outings. I can only hope that the writers and producers over at The Simpsons will reconsider the next time they decide to give a solo opportunity to a supporting character many people don't remember.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Canterbury's Law: Trade-off

Even though I missed a couple episodes because FOX moved it to a new date & time unbeknownst to me (what else is new with TV programming these days), I was still able to keep up with the show. However, it hasn't been my favorite show and I believe it has not been renewed for the 2008 Fall season so no hard feelings.

Prison for Canterbury? Not.

This episode shows us a different side to Liz Canterbury. In previous episodes Liz is always confident and focused. She normally goes after every case with single-minded determination. However, when faced with an indictment for her own wrong-doings, there is a huge crack in her tough exterior. She seems almost defeated and even seeks to make a plea deal with DAG Williams.

In the meantime, her associates are not so willing to lay down and die, especially Russell. I got to see a new side to him as well. He picks up the slack for Liz, comes up with a plan and executes it. He re-exams an old homicide case successfully prosecuted by DAG Williams, to reveal Williams' own wrong-doings. It was great to see him squirm. One of my favorite scenes was Cherry Pie's testimony. He/she's assessment of Williams was priceless - big feet, cheap suit.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eli Stone: Patience

Wow! What an episode. Well, not the whole episode; the last two minutes. For the first time on Eli Stone, I got a glimpse of where the visions may be taking Eli. Also, if the vision of the future he had is on target, then the thing in his head, the aneurysm, is either not fatal as I've been told, or -- perhaps -- Eli will have the surgery and live many more years. At least until 2018. That's if I'm to believe that the vision he had is the real future...

But first let's talk about the "Patience" episode. I'm not really loving that title, but I guess it makes sense when you think about the totality of the show. Eli has one of his sensory hallucinations and finds himself in Times Square, New York City, in the middle of a huge rally. People are chanting a theme, "Live Brave," and there are signs and banners promoting the Live Brave movement. The man at the microphone is named David Mosely and he's being cheered.

Eli follows the clues in the vision and discovers that David Mosely is a prisoner in Tipton Bay, a correctional institution rife with organizational abuses. Teaming with Keith Bennett, the WPK criminal lawyer -- who happens to have been Mosely's attorney ten years ago when the prisoner refused to heed his advice and wound up doing hard time -- Eli takes on David's case. The bad man in the center of all this is Warden Brown and with the help of Maggie and the unnamed legal clerks in the firm, as well as another clue from the vision, Eli finds the one man who can expose the warden's abuse of power and tyranny, Daryl Rhodes. In the end, however, David's parole is denied by the Governor, so he has to have patience and wait another year for a new parole review. Hence the title.

Eli is pulling all kinds of long hours working on the Tipton Bay Prison hearing, all pro bono which ticks off Marci Klein -- Klein as in Wethersby, Posner and Klein. She appears from the London office to needle Jordan about how he's running the office, in particular, letting Eli do all this free legal work and scaring off the big money clients. Jordan refuses to be intimidated by Marci, but she announces that she's taken office space on the 20th floor and plans to monitor the situation more closely. Oh goodie.

Meawhile, Patti coaxes Eli who connives a way to get Matt and Taylor to represent the rights of two gay chimpanzees -- Steve and Pete -- who have been forced to live apart at the zoo by anti-gay-chimp activists. Silly storylne; cute chimps. 'Nuff said.

The real kick in the head was the last two minutes, as I said. Eli sees the vision one more time and discovers that David Mosely is not the speaker at the event. He is there to introduce Eli Stone as the man behind the Live Brave movement. It's Eli who's the prophet. Eli kisses Maggie and their child, then takes the stage to thunderous applause. Oh my, does this mean, is this true? Is Eli meant to change the world? Who can say -- I'm left to speculate. Wow.

Other Points of Interest

-- The silly chimp story was kind of sweet, and they acknowledged that it was silly. Still, Matt vamped a very funny defense, citing Chimpanzee Torte Protection (CTP).

-- Chemistry between Eli and Maggie is definitely brewing, but I liked that he tried to push her away and back to her Ohio fiance. You gotta love a guy that noble.

-- Keith is a character with mucho integrity. He reaches out to David Mosely, offering to help him get the parole by teaching him the law.

-- For a guy who's worked 36 hours straight, Eli should have looked a little bedraggled, maybe in need of a shave. Unbutton that collar, man.

-- Taylor was impressed by Matt enough to give him a chance to take her out to dinner at the most exclusive restaurant in the Napa Valley. A ballbuster till the end, that girl. Matt was less smarmy this week.

-- No George Michael music. No brother Nate.

-- Dr. Chen is feeling neglected.

-- The first shots of David Mosely (David? Moses? Biblical connections to leaders) were done in silhouette, so all you saw was an African-American man being cheered by a huge throng. It looked a lot like Barack Obama at his rallies.

Pam's New Music Downloads

This singer-songwriter, Tristan Prettyman, follows up her 2005 debut with another set of fetching folk-pop on Hello...x. Adding light blues hues to tracks like, "Madly," the breezy first single, she displays shades of Norah Jones and KT Tunstall.

Steve Winwood feels like jamming on his first studio album, Nine Lives, since 2003. The result? Nine shape-shifting songs that are meant to be played live. Blind Faith cohort Eric Clapton adds some bluesy grit to "Dirty City."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

CSI: A Thousand Days on Earth

The case in this episode is a very delicate story and was given very good justice by the writers, actors and everything went well together perfectly.

Whenever the kids are involve in crime scene, everybody always gets too involve in solving the case. The body found in a box was too sad and too disturbing at the same time. The hysteria of the media was well executed. And how everybody handle the case was realistic. In truth, while watching the episode, I kept on thinking, "this is why I love the original CSI." Their dedication to realism makes each episode convincing.

Its also good that they start using really hi-tech equipments this episode. The surveillance camera on the site where they found the body and the camera used to see what's inside the grocery where a hostage was happening.

I'm just wondering why they only have one case this episode. Makes me think that this could be continued as season ender with Catherine and Leo, finishing their business. About the Leo guy, I think this is the first time that CSI focuses on what happened on the innocent suspects they interrogate. I like the confrontation at the end.

Birthday Pictures

Believe it or not, there are three of us at my office who were born
on May 15 - me, Dave, and Vince.

Liz & me celebrating at The Grotto

Lindsey & Girts

Rob & Kit

Al & Cheryl

MTTT - The Grotto at Capone's

The MTTT gang met at The Grotto at Capone's on May 15 to see what the buzz was all about and to celebrate my birthday.

There's a 16-foot-long booth covered in buttoned black leather in the corner of a new Chicago-style pizzeria and bar where you can enjoy a slice, drink a beer and protect your blind spot. It's the centerpiece of The Grotto at Capone's, a new pizza joint combining some of Chicago's best known exports - thick pizzas and images of the prohibition days when Scarface ruled the streets.

Two Western Michigan University graduates and co-owners of two Pita Pit restaurants opened The Grotto back in March after months of planning and almost $1 million in renovations. The space just off WMU's campus had been home to Bilbo's Pizza and Brewing Co. for 30 years.

The building is split in half with the main bar and restaurant upstairs and the basement bar, called the Grotto, taking on the appearance of an underground Capone hideout. The Grotto's floor is painted gray to resemble a cave. It's dimly lit. The upstairs is well lit with vintage photos of Capone and the prohibition era. There were lots of TV's, ample seating, a long bar featuring two Tommy guns hanging on the wall, and the aforementioned booth. A patio was just being finished while we were there.

Liz & I split a spinach pizza, which was very good. Lindsey had a meatball sandwich, Rob a sausage patty sandwich, and Kit & Cheryl both had an Italian beef sandwich. It appeared everyone liked their meals. They had a very extensive list of beers on tap - Magic Hat #9 - being one of our favorites!

Beware of their wines. The waitress, who was a super nice girl, said they had glasses of wine on special for $2.00. I ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon . I knew I was in trouble when she asked if that was "red or white". Needless to say, my glass of "red" wine ended up tasting like red wine vinegar. On top of this, she misspoke and the wine was $3.50 a glass. But what did I expect? This is a college bar. I quickly moved to my new favorite beer Magic Hat #9 after that.

We definitely celebrated my birthday in style.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Coldplay says its upcoming album, Viva La Vida, is taking the band in a new direction. But judging by this video, Coldplay may just be realizing its destiny as the more indie-rock and (refreshingly) less earnest equivalent to U2. I mean that in the best possibly way, because I have a serious Coldplay weakness, and I appreciate that the band takes itself seriously but not too seriously.

This '70s-inspired, military-outfitted video for "Violet Hill" — full of faded architecture and landscape porn — could easily be pretentious in another band's hands. But Chris Martin (looking good, I must say) and Co. add enough cheekiness to make it endearing. To watch, click below:

My Name Is Earl: Stole a Motorcycle

The last week episode I was introduced to Earl's life after prison, which wasn't much of an improvement seeing as he was now in a coma. While his body lay lifeless in a hospital bed, his imagination was busy living inside a classic three-camera sitcom. It was nice to see the show returning to form this week with an episode that took advantage of all those timeless sitcom clichés wrapped around some creative non-linear storytelling.

I learned that crossing items off the karma list improves Earl's health. As a result, Randy decides he'll work on the list in order to help his brother. When it's determined that his first item is "stole a motorcycle," Randy begins his quest to not only return the bike, but to remember all the craziness that surrounded the theft as well.

The chronology of events was a bit confusing at times because one third of the episode took place in the present day, one third took place in flashbacks and the last third took place inside Earl's imaginary TV show, "The Hickeys." It was like a sitcom version of Memento only with a Scooby-Doo-type mystery. That's not an insult, but rather a compliment given the time constraints and the fact that this is a comedy after all.

Once the show unfolded and pieces were put into place, it became evident that a lot went on that night, including a drunken limbo contest, an assault with a "pantenna," (a TV antenna with panties hanging from it), and a mini-car chase through Camden County. However, the funniest exploit of the night had to be when Randy, dressed in a chicken suit, entered the Crab Shack and threw customers' chicken dinners on the floor while screaming, "You're eating my baby!"

Whereas the last episode didn't execute the idea fully, there was no escaping the very funny and self-aware laundry list of sitcom clichés on "The Hickeys" this time around. There was 1) the classic husband/wife misunderstanding due to someone overhearing a double entendre-filled conversation. 2) A perfect freeze-frame right before the commercial break with the actors in mid-smile staring into the camera. And of course what sitcom parody would be complete without the crème de la crème of clichés: 3) a pregnant woman giving birth in an elevator. This episode took full advantage of all the built-in humor a sitcom parody provides and it was great to see the show fully embrace the idea, now that it seems to be a running gag in these next few episodes.

The decision to have Randy work on the karma list is an interesting twist. It's still a show about redemption, but now it gives Randy more of a purpose other than playing second banana to Earl. This opens up a new realm of comic possibilities as well, given that Randy is a dim-witted buffoon who tackles problems much differently than his brother. Earl can't stay in a coma forever, but it will be interesting to see where they take this idea and for how long.The producers should get credit for going in a slightly new direction, while still staying true to the spirit of the show.

Hopefully I'll soon be able to learn about Billie's fate and explore her present day character as well as her June Cleaver alter ego. Overall, this was an improvement over the last show. While not at the level of the series' best episodes, they executed some interesting storytelling devices and delivered some solid jokes throughout the episode.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Riches: The Slums of Bayou Hills

Use any cliché you want: this is the episode where the chickens come home to roost, the shit hits the fan, the bill comes due, the Malloys have to pay the piper, etc. etc. What I do know at the end of this episode is that Wayne is starting to get in over his head, and even he knows that his conning skills are only going to get him so far. He's been able to dig himself and his family out of the messes they've created to this point, but this one is a doozy. Not only is he going up against a guy that's probably an even bigger con artist than he is, but also this guy doesn't have any semblance of a conscience. Talk about a deadly combination.

You know, looking at Felix Minkov, you wonder how Hugh could have ever entered a deal with the guy in the first place. He just looks like he's up to no good. But I know what Hugh sees: dollar signs. So it doesn't matter if the guy he's golfing with looks like he just came off a Russian fishing barge; all he's hearing is the song of $150 million. Little does he know that Felix wants to not only screw Hugh out of the deal, but do so by sending him to prison, as well. And he's going to want Wayne's help. Check that, he forces Wayne to help him, because a con man knows another con man when he sees him, and could sell out Wayne in a heartbeat.

But there are more layers of deceit in this Bayou Hills deal. Felix's lawyer, Barry Stone, could sell Wayne out, since he went to college with Doug Rich. But the patented Malloy Dirt Search(tm) took care of that quickly. Also, Felix not only wants to cut out Hugh, but he also has Hugh believing that they'll be able to build Bayou Hills and somehow sidestep the federal government's low income housing requirement. See, they're counting on the rich tenants objecting to living near poor folks who were displaced by Katrina. Peachy guys, aren't they?

Wayne has to be the most naive con man on the planet, because he not only promised Aubrey that he wouldn't sell out the Katrina victims, but he had no idea that Felix would "make" him, so to speak. Anyone who's been watching the show since day one knows that Aubrey's been suspicious of "Doug" for quite a while, but didn't call him on it until now, when she realized he was going to sell out. Since Aubrey's been his law lifeline all this time, Wayne knows he can't lose her. He must have freaked out inside when "You're not really a lawyer, are you?" appeared on his BlackBerry screen after Aubrey transmitted all that law info during the investors' meeting.

Before I get to Dahlia, lets talk a little about DiDi and Cael. We know Cael wants out; he even camped on the lawn because he didn't want to stay in some "rich asshole's" house any longer. But DiDi likes this world, despite the bitchiness of her classmates. She truly was embarrassed that her classmates saw her and Cael play street musicians at the mall. The scene where the two of them sat at the mall, discussing about their diverging interests in Eden Falls, was short but sets up a nice storyline that I hope is explored later in the season.

Now, Dahlia. I'm amazed that she was genuinely surprised that the parole officer cuffed her and yelled at her. The man's seen far too many people skip out on their parole to trust anyone, even someone who's saying that she's tired of running. I'm also surprised at her shock that she couldn't find a job because of her criminal record. It's probably a function of the fact that Dahlia's never had to honestly look for a job before. So, now she has to live even more of a double life; stay in a crummy apartment and gut fish to stay out of jail, work at Panco and live in the Riches' house in order to help Wayne score the big deal. When is she going to crack from the pressure?

Other interesting stuff:

Dale's still trying to weasel himself into this deal, which is hard to do from the mailroom. The look on Hugh's face when he saw Dale in a suit in his conference room was priceless.

Eamon Quinn is still lurking. And now he has an education to back up his villany, courtesy of the Univeristy of Phoenix. Did the school pay for that product placement? I can see the slogan now: "Teaching con men in prison since 1996." Who knew they even let maximum security prisoners use the internet?

Still, Quinn's speech to Ginny about the value of education made him even more creepy. Wayne always felt he was better than the rest of the Travelers because he had a bit of education. Now, he's going to meet his match in Eamon.

Things are getting serious at Eden Falls. Like the last episode -- and, admittedly, the entire second season so far -- the show's going in a direction that's obliterating pretty much any of the lightness we saw in the first season. I can't imagine that the remaining three episodes of this shortened season are going to get any lighter. That's too bad; I really liked the more whimsical elements that this show displayed last year. Oh, well. Time to buckle up, as things look like they're just going to get darker from here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eli Stone: Heartbeat

The title of this episode was called "Heartbeat" because Eli's case involved a heart transplant -- two actually -- but "Reflections" might have been more appropriate. Eli awakened in Nate's body and continued to find himself reliving his brother's life ten years before. And not on just any day, but the day that their dad died.Overall, this was a particularly interesting episode because it seemed to lay the groundwork for where Eli Stone is going. Since it's likely that the show is going to be renewed, the prospect of Eli getting that surgery, which may correct the aneurysm that's causing his visions, may not be happening after all.

Picking up the threads from the previous episodes, Maggie returned from her trip home and everybody could see that something was different about her, everyone but Eli. Of course, when he finally did see the change -- the engagement ring on her finger from an unseen fiance -- it was at the same time he was freaking out about Taylor having slept with Matt. I don't know who was more freaked about that really, Eli or Jordan. Neither of them want Taylor with Matt, and Taylor is saying she doesn't want another interlude with him, too. But in a scene in which Matt seemed to be channeling Arnie Becker from L.A. Law, he was sure that Taylor's no was really just her way of saying yes.

But the more important story was Eli's legal case: defending Nate from a man whose wife had died when she was passed over for a heart transplant based on Dr. Stone's decision. With Eli jumping into the past and reliving Nate's life ten years before, he discovered that Nate had had a similar case and made an eerily similar choice, when their father was in the hospital and dying. It turns out that he didn't die in a car crash like Eli thought; he'd had a heart attack. When given the chance to accept a heart transplant for Mr. Stone, Nate chose to let someone else have the heart because the old man was an alcoholic and likely never to stop drinking.

Did Nate make the same choice about Karen Masters, his patient who had died when she didn't get a new heart, because she was also an alcoholic? Interesting question, but the answer was a bit of a cop-out. In confidence, she had told Nate to give the heart to a more worthy candidate. Only after Eli proves to him that he knows about their father's transplant opportunity, does Nate explain that he didn't tell Eli the whole truth about Karen so as not to betray her confidence. Very noble, but considering the fact that his career was on the line, I think he would have told Eli anything and everything to save his ass.

Nate is duly impressed with the accuracy of Eli's flashbacks/revelations/sensory hallucinations to the point that he envies the fact that his brother has an aneurysm. Okay, maybe not the ailment, but the ability that Eli has acquired. The show keeps dancing around what is actually happening to Eli. Even Dr. Chen is running out of ways to explain what the visions/memories/whatevers mean. Between you and me, I love the mystery. It makes the show more delectable not knowing what it's all about. And I think that's why he's not going to risk losing this thing by having the operation.

Other Points of Interest:

George Michael was heard when Eli first goes to the hospital (as Nate) to see Dad. The song is "Father Figure," and when Eli recognizes it on the elevator, he says, "So not in the mood for this."

Great scene between Jordan and Matt when the latter discusses his romance with Taylor, referring to it as a hypothetical case involving Parent Co. and his subsidiary Daughter Inc. who may be contemplating a merger. The look on Victor Garber's face was priceless. When he says Parent Co. would crush any attempt at a merger, he reminded me of the Jack Bristow in Alias at his most lethal.

Nice touch with the ancient cell phone from ten years ago. But the cover of the newspaper showing Princess Diana's death as a time marker? That was tacky.

The wrap-up of Nate's case was kind of obvious. Eli brings in the woman who received the heart transplant instead of Karen Masters, basically saying that Nate made a difficult choice that doctors must make all the time. The jury agrees that Nate did not act with malice and they find in is favor. It was a tidy ending, but it was a good twist that Howard Masters refused to let Nate off the hook. He wished Nate the pain he's still feeling.

Taylor and Maggie teamed up on the "B" story, a couple accusing each other of infidelity when they meet online anonymously and plan an assignation at the Fairmont Hotel. It was essentially the story in "The Pina Colada Song" -- you know, by Rupert Holmes? "If you like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain..." Like I said, silly.

Patti is being seriously underused. She got off a good line when Eli said the messages he's been getting may be from God. She asked if God looks like Morgan Freeman or George Burns?

Hopefully, this won't be the last of Tom Cavanagh as Mr. Stone. It could be because of the closure thing, but I would prefer seeing more of him in other flashes. The way things are going with Eli, he could be flash forwarding soon and find Dad there in some reincarnated form.

When Nate said that Eli should re-think the surgery, he said that what his brother was going through may not be medical. He described Eli's ailment as "beyond science." I liked that; we may be heading to Twilight Zone territory.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Name is Earl: I Won't Die With a Little Help from My Friends

Due to a long delay from the writers' strike, I nearly didn't remember where My Name Is Earl left off. But thanks to a quick and funny re-cap at the beginning of the show by NBC president Jeff Zucker, I was caught up to speed. Unfortunately, there were as many great jokes in that prologue as there were in the remaining 58 minutes of a show that has really lost a step in its third season.

As Jeff Zucker informed me, both Earl and his potential love interest, Billie lay unconscious in the middle of the street. What followed was a comedy of errors as Randy stole an ambulance to take Earl to the hospital, picked up Joy, Darnell and Catalina along the way and together gave Earl even more injuries than he already had.

When Earl was a boy, he'd deal with his messed up life by immersing himself in television shows to drown out the pain and suffering around him. That coping mechanism came in handy in this episode because as his body dealt with excruciating pain, his mind escaped to an imaginary sugary-sweet sitcom where Earl was the perfect husband, Billie was the perfect wife, and they lived in the perfect house. As a result, events going on in Earl's real life would affect those in his imaginary one. For example, as his condition worsened and the doctors were sizing up his organs for donation, his sitcom alter ego got a promotion in another city that would mean saying goodbye to all his friends and family. It was an interesting but depressing way to deal with a dire situation.

The only problem is that dire and depressing is not exactly what I'm looking for when I turn on My Name Is Earl. There had been such an undercurrent of sadness running throughout the season already with the prison storyline and Earl's rejection of karma, it was frustrating to see it continue for another hour. All I was looking for were some funny jokes and that just didn't happen.

Earlier this season, there was an episode titled, "Creative Writing" that did a great job of skewering Sid and Marty Kroft-style television shows, as well as Spanish telanovellas and cartoons. In that episode, the jokes came fast and furious and were all on target. With this parody, the jokes felt half-finished, which is a shame because the family sitcom parody is still a funny idea. But like the rest of the episode, the execution left something to be desired.

Since I am an avid fan of the show and have watched since the first season and know that the potential for great comedy is in every episode, this show was a huge let-down.

Maybe if the writers' strike hadn't happened and maybe if there weren't so much advance hype about Paris Hilton's appearance and maybe if this episode didn't have the added pressure of being NBC's return to original comedy on Thursday night, this episode wouldn't be seen as such a disappointment. Unfortunately, that's too many "maybes". The sad truth is, the show wasn't funny. Hopefully it will return to form in these last remaining episodes of season three.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Trailer for The X-Files: I Want To Believe

OK, X-philes, ready for the most exciting one minute and 30 seconds of your day? There's a new, official trailer out now for the upcoming X-Files movie and it's pretty great. Billy Connolly being spooky, people frantically digging in the snow, and the creepiness factor.

Also, I'm convinced that the eerie theme music that goes with The X-Files can rival other recognizable theme songs and movie scores for its ability to create instantaneous chills.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe opens in theaters July 25. To check out the new trailer, click below.

Men In Trees: Get a Life

Believe it or not, a celebrity comes to Alaska. Why? Because they do whacky things, these celebrities. Who can blame stars for seeking a place to escape? Or a life to escape into, in Morgan Fairchild's case.

But at the end of the day, this episode is not really about Morgan Fairchild, delightful though she may be. It's about what happens when someone shines a light on your life; do you like what you see? Marin, having been here for a year, has grown quite comfy in her routine. She loves Jack, she loves Elmo… but does she love everything she's become? I think it's important on this show to remind myself from time to time where Marin comes from. She will always be, to some extent, a fish out of water. At the same time, she wants to feel like she truly belongs in Elmo. No one likes to feel like an outsider. It takes a long time for a town to officially adopt you, and even though Marin owns a cabin in Alaska, she herself isn't ready to adopt the area code.

This episode was called "Get a Life" because everyone is exploring the other side of the fence in this episode. Morgan wants to be Marin. Marin wants to be the old Marin. Patrick wants to be Ivan. Ivan wants to be a better man to win Annie's affections. Annie wants to be ready. Sara sees her boyfriend through someone else's eyes and realizes she's more than she thought he was. Buzz thinks he can safely go back to his gambling habits but is sorely mistaken. Everyone gets to try out another style of life for a change… and most decide they'd like to go back to what they had. Some find that they can't.

Stay tuned for the next episode to see Julia again – and meet her husband, Jim. And don't think that Mai's not gonna find out about Buzz's gambling problem.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Movie Review: "Iron Man" - The Most Fun Ever

All hail John Favreau for rescuing the Summer blockbuster! Iron Man is the most fun I've had watching a movie in a long time. Going into the theater today, I was wary of a premise centered around a giant robot superhero. I figured it would be a recipe for a lot of CGI and explosions and not much else, something any old director with a giant budget can churn out this time of year. However, as soon as the first scene opened, AC/DC's "Back in Black" guitar riff filled the theater and I got my first glimpse at Robert Downey Jr.'s acerbic smirk, something told me I was wrong.

If Spider-Man's alter ego is a dweeb and Batman's Bruce Wayne is kind of a "Debbie Downer," then the human inside this iron suit, Tony Stark, brings me a new kind of superhero: the coolest cat in the room. I haven't read the Marvel comic the movie is based on, but I think the cool factor has less to do with the original character and more to do with the spin director John Favreau puts on it — along with Robert Downey Jr.'s mesmerizing and nuanced performance.

Can you tell yet that I'm excited about this film?

My hero Tony Stark is a brilliant manufacturing magnate who is supplying the United States government with sophisticated and deadly weapon technologies. He has seemingly bought into the party line that without these weapons the world would be thrown into chaos and his company keeps everyone safe. I get to know Stark as a ladies' man who approaches just about everything, including charges that he is responsible for a lot of the world's suffering, with a largely irreverent outlook. He's charming, witty and arrogant, and watching Downey play him during this first part is a whole lot of fun.

This isn't to say that there aren't parts that, upon reflection, are fairly preposterous, like when Stark is captured by the bad guys in the Middle East who order him to make them a weapon and instead he builds a giant robot . . . in the desert. But it's a testament to how fun (and how well-made) this movie is that I totally didn't care about the absurdity.

I know I'm not the first to point out that anyone who has observed Downey's personal ups and downs will be able to see the similarities between him and his character. It's as if someone decided to make an allegorical comic book hero based on his life. Because of this inspired casting choice, Tony Stark's personal transformation into a superhero is more than just believable — it's downright moving. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference between Tony and Robert Downey Jr. when his eyes well up and he realizes he should use his life to do good things with his unique talent.

Gwyneth Paltrow is wonderful as Stark's love interest/steadfast assistant, and Terrence Howard makes a great, straightlaced sidekick — first to Stark's hard-partying self, but later as someone who tries to understand his friend's new ambition to destroy all the weapons he supplied bad guys with. And then there is Jeff Bridges, who makes a marvelous, if prototypical, villain. This mature group of supporting actors, combined with a commanding lead actor and a director who leans heavily on story (not special effects) makes this one of the best movies I've treated myself to this year.

The Riches: Field of Dreams

Well, the Malloys are back in Eden Falls, living life as the Riches. And all hell's about to break loose.That's the situation in this episode. Wayne's trying to keep the big deal Hugh brokered alive while Hugh searches for his mojo. Dale is stalking around Panco looking for a job so he can be in on the deal. Only I know that the slimeball has some information and a hell of a lot of muscle behind him. And Dahlia is having yet another crisis involving her sense of place in the world. Oh, and then there is the kids: Cael wants out, DiDi wants to fit in, and Sam wonders why there's blood stains on the stairs. Looks like I'm entering the darkest part of the tunnel in this show, aren't I

Dale's muscle is Eamon Quinn, a Malloy family member who's just been released from prison after twenty years. My guess is that he went away for killing Ginny Dannegan's father and uncle, though her revenge -- shooting him in the shoulder -- seems to be a bit mild. But who knows what the Traveler code is like? Anyway, Eamon is an Irish Traveler who's actually from Ireland, and he seems to be simultaneously tougher and smarter than the entire inbred Malloy clan put together. For reasons as yet unexplained, Dale is partnering with Eamon on this deal, and now that Eamon is out, he's turning the screws (or, more accurately, wielding a mean fork) on Dale.

I'm not sure why Dale is partnering with Eamon. Does he think he's in over his head and needs the help? Or does he owe Eamon for something that happened twenty years ago? Either way, Eamon is a scary-enough presence that it motivates Dale to threaten his cousin Dahlia while she was in the bath. Give him a job at Panco or she goes back to jail. That was a pretty intense scene, and a good indication of why Todd Stashwick is so good in what is kind of a one-dimensional role: he makes Dale scary as hell.

I don't think Dale was the only reason why Dahlia decided to turn herself in to the local parole office, but it was a big one. Dahlia is just sick of running away from her problems. I still don't know the entire story about how she landed in prison; I vaguely know that it was a credit card scam and she may or may not have taken the fall for Wayne, but that's about it. But it looks like she knows she can't hide behind lies and schemes and smack and pot anymore. Of course, facing up to her parole violation is going to complicate things later, at a time when things for the Malloys least need complications.

Other stuff:

The Cael grade fixing plot was one long exercise in how Wayne can work within the sometimes-scummy world of the wealthy, but be simultaneously shocked at how truly scummy some of these people could be. Cael sold himself out because he doesn't want to be a buffer going to a boarding school, with a power-hungry father he doesn't recognize. "I'd rather be piss poor with my dad than $13 million richer with whoever you are," he tells Wayne.

I kind of wish the characters of Cael, DiDi, and Sam were a little more developed than they are right now. Especially Cael: he's just been a snotty rebellious teenager -- albeit in an twisted way -- for this entire run, and his character is the one that wears on me the most.

Nina looking up info on the Irish Travelers on the Internet tells me that she wants to be one. I do find it interesting that her pot dealer can be found at an AA meeting held in a church. I guess nothing is really sacred.

At least Wayne was able to convince Hugh that landing the big deal is what he needs to get his mojo back, instead of an expensive sports car. This show needs a mojo-filled Hugh back, if only for comic relief. I guess, due to the subject matter, it was inevitable that the show was going to take a dark turn, but I wish it didn't go in this direction. Yes, the performances are great and the writing conveys a good intensity. But you don't cast Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver in a show to be super-serious all the time, and the relentless grimness is starting to wear on them and me. Let's hope there's a light at the end of that dark tunnel as it gets towards the end of the season.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Masterpiece: Sense & Sensibility

Jane Austen's first published novel, "Sense and Sensibility," seems as fresh today as it must have in 1811. The complex story of courtship, told with wit, irony and humanity, is a great read almost 200 years later, and its characters are among the most memorable in English literature.

The novel focuses on two Dashwood sisters, Elinor (representing sense, or good judgment) and Marianne (representing sensibility, or emotion).

This two-part, three-hour PBS "Masterpiece" movie -- the last of the series' presentations of the six Austen novels -- gets off to a most shaky start. Amid the glow of red lights, a couple are making love. We can't identify them until much later in the story, but lovers of Austen may well ask: Have the movie makers abandoned their sense and let their sensibility run wild? An even worse fear for those who love the book: Has this Jane Austen novel been reimagined as a bodice ripper?

Almost immediately, the movie gets on the right track and stays there.

At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Dashwood, Elinor & Marianne's father dies, leaving the manor to his son, John and trusting that John will take care of his stepmother and three half sisters. With the encouragement of his odious wife, Fanny, John leaves his female relatives nearly destitute, and they go to live with a distant cousin in a Devonshire cottage.

Along the way, Elinor attracts the attention of Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars, and Marianne attracts two beaux -- Colonel Brandon, who is dependable but twice her age; and Willoughby, whom she prefers.

At different points in the story, both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby carry an ailing Marianne to safety during downpours, and both men display admirable qualities and puzzling behavior. The rivals dislike each other, and in a scene mentioned in passing in the novel, they even fight a duel.

Both sisters lose their loves, and both eventually find lasting love. One of the pleasures of the story is that it's unclear which of the three men are scoundrels and which are not, and which sister will end up with which gentleman. Yet, when the plot twists have been unraveled, the ending seems perfect