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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross

The Great Readers of M's June Selection was Miss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann B. Ross. Karren chose this book. First off, let me say that I "like" sentimental books where everything works out beautifully in the end. I have an abiding affection for mind candy of many kinds, and this genre is one of the ones I generally enjoy. I like the Mitford books.

Second, let me say that I adore books with oddball southern women taking on the world and winning. So I should have loved this book. I certainly had high hopes for it. A great title. But I hated it. For the first few pages, I liked Miss Julia. Then I hated her. She talks like a third-rate stereotype in a cheesy movie. She seems to be about as smart as a door, and not nearly as clever. And she didn't solve her own problems at all.

This book has a somewhat entertaining plot but very little literary value. Miss Julia's character is wildly inconsistent throughout. It seemed, for instance, that the author could not decide if Julia knew that her pastor was a creep or not. On one page she knew that clearly, on the next she was starting over at the bottom of that learning curve. The scene in which she is accused of being a nymphomaniac is unbelievable and just plain weird.

It seemed like a really bad "I Love Lucy" episode where people that you have seen to be smart and of good judgement did really odd, stupid things. The resulting situations required more unwieldy events to get back to a reasonable, and predictable, ending.

On the other hand, the overall plot provided enough interest to ensure that I finished the novel. It is easy, mostly positive reading for times when you need pure, low stress escape. I don't have much interest in the sequels, but I can concede that Miss Julia may have a place in the world of light reading.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Masterpiece: Cranford

Masterpiece has saved the best for last. Cranford was a particularly savory treat. Even though I'm not a particular fan of frock coats and corsets, I loved this three-part series.

An adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's classic novels about an 1840s Victorian English village, Cranford teems with life and is packed with subtle, engrossing performances. Dame Judi Dench plays Matilda Jenkyns, a sweet and slightly timid spinster who is part of the pack of middle-age, middle-class women who rule the small northern village. Their acknowledged and somewhat feared leader is Matilda's sister, the decisive Deborah whose rulings in every matter, from how one should eat an orange to whether women should attend funerals, carries the force of law.

What Cranford does so lovingly is show the tender hearts that often lurked behind these formidable Victorian exteriors. Deborah is so rigid about the rules of propriety that she won't allow her servant girl to have "followers," and she rues the day the railroad will come to Cranford; the trains will bring not only change, Deborah sniffs, but "noise, disease and the Irish." Yet Deborah also notices the broken heart of a new neighbor, the daughter of a retired Army officer, and does all she can to engineer a match for the woman.

The lively, gossiping women of the town, especially the excitable Miss Pole, dominate every event, large and small. And though their adventures are sometimes played for laughs (as when a cow goes missing), Cranford doesn't settle for merely satirizing Victorian life. The fine script depicts the women of the town with complexity and compassion, and the men don't get short shrift either, though they have to have commanding presences to compete with the formidable women of the town.

The doctor's sweet, tentative wooing of the rector's daughter has unexpected moments of tragedy, but the most affecting scenes are of Dench and Michael Gambon as two former lovers who had lost track of each other for decades but meet up again. Unlike some of Masterpiece's recent historical dramas, Cranford depicts their rekindled relationship without forced melodrama and with admirable restraint. The problem with the Dench and Gambon scenes is that there aren't nearly enough of them.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Theater Review: Hair The Musical

Like the tangled strands of an unruly mane, "Hair" celebrates life while mourning deaths, and it echoes the present in the past.

But it's the unbridled liveliness that stands out in Kalamazoo's Whole Art Theatre's production of the 1969 rock musical.

My two best friends from childhood were visiting me the first weekend of June and we decided to see this production since one of my co-workers stars in the musical. It was a full house clapping along to the music in some spots, and, by the final curtain call, standing and dancing.

Through most of the scenes, about 16 bell-bottom- and bead-clad actors are on stage, their pelvises set to repeated thrust mode and irreverent energy oozing from every pore.

The director did a good job of managing such an active cast in a small space. They strolled up the aisles, writhed on the floor, and clustered on multilevel scaffolding.

Every cast member, even those tucked in the background, managed to be "on" all the time, creating personalities more than most ensemble shows.

Accompanied by an excellent, small, onstage rock band, the cast rolled out one hit song after another, with most of the solo voices strong and clear. Since there is little spoken dialogue, the song lyrics are particularly important, and cast members made sure every word was understood since no one was miced.

Most of the songs are upbeat and playful, but the several serious numbers protesting war and pollution were powerfully done.

The story focuses on Claude and his free-spirited, hippie friends as they sing about their loves and concerns. Claude is trying to decide whether to burn his draft card or join the establishment.

The Whole Art Theater's production includes the famous Act I finale, a nude scene where all but Claude shed their robes in symbolic unity and openness. The scene is brief and dimly lit.

The Whole Art's production of "Hair" is surprisingly powerful. With careful, bold moves, they take what could be a silly, outdated cliche and deliver the kind of theater that inspires standing ovation. It genuinely entertains and makes an audience take a hard look at itself. And of course, Kristen did a fabulous job as Sheila.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Simpsons: All About Lisa

"Applause is an addiction, like heroin or checking your e-mail." -- Sideshow Mel

Well, another season of The Simpsons has come to an end. As with the last few seasons some stuff was good, some was okay, and the rest should have gone back to the Writers' Room for further revision ("Treehouse of Horror", anyone?). Most of the weak stuff landed in the first half of the season for some reason -- maybe everyone was tired from the completion of The Simpsons Movie. The second half picked up steam, thanks to some solid episodes featuring Lisa and Bart.

Luckily, The Simpsons ended on a strong note with the Lisa-centric season finale. Once again going back to the on-going theme of how success can corrupt Lisa, I was treated to an episode featuring her turn to work with the famous Krusty the Clown. I say 'her turn' because older brother Bart had worked for Krusty in the past. And, like Bart, Lisa usurped Krusty's fame to become the star of the show.

You would think Krusty would have learned his lesson.

The situation on how Lisa became famous was different from the way Bart did. With Bart, the success was unintentional -- it stemmed from a catch phrase ('I didn't do it') that swept the country. With Lisa, it was more a manipulation of Krusty that permitted her to rise to the top and become Springfield's Entertainer of the Year. Of course, with that fame comes consequences.

While this was a Lisa-centric episode, it was also one that heavily featured Krusty the Clown. I havn't really seen Krusty in a major role on The Simpsons in quite some time. So, it was fun to see him at his most Krustiest. He was really on the rampage during this episode -- showing the viewers all of the traits that I have come to enjoy. This was also an opportunity to see more of Krusty's television past as he was celebrating his 4000th episode ('I never thought I would make it past 400 episodes'). It was hard to tell if the older versions of the Krustketeers were really old or just recently grown up. If recently grown up, that means Springfield didn't have color television until much later.

This episode also featured the heavy presence of Sideshow Mel, who was the narrator of this installment as well as Lisa's guide through the rigors of stardom. I don't get to see or hear too much of Mel. It seems that he has the same type of theatrical and cultural background of one Sideshow Bob; yet, he seems more comfortable in his role as Krusty's sidekick. He also seems to be one of the more grounded characters on The Simpsons, which made him a good moral compass for Lisa.

Now a brief go-around on the other events that happened during 'All About Lisa':

A rare parenting moment between Homer and Marge. Through an agreement, Homer spoke to Bart about his clown issues in exchange for Marge to handle talks about piercings and strange feelings.

Gabbo's back! The last place I saw the wooden dummy that brought Krusty down was in The Simpsons Movie. You know, the appearance of Gabbo may have been a bit of foreshadowing to the fate that Krusty would encounter this episode.

Comic Book Guy has returned, and is still in the Android's Dungeon. I believe that this is the first time viewers had ever seen CBG with his hair down. And, should probably be the last time.

The second story of the night wasn't that bad at all. I don't see Bart and Homer bonding too much these days. So, having them collect coins was a good touch by the writers. Nice how Homer was able to get the 'Kissing Lincolns' penny from Mr. Burns.

Drew Carey -- Hmmm. The animated version of Drew just didn't have the right feel to it. Perhaps because the real life Drew is shaped like an animated character.

Bart doing Carrot Top shtick at the auditions for Krusty. I enjoyed his impression of a Jack-o-Lantern.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Album Review: ColdPlay's Viva La Vida

Coldplay fans rejoice: Viva La Vida has arrived! This album, the band's fourth, is a big deal as Coldplay strives for that sweet spot between critical success and broad appeal. This time out, Chris Martin and Co. have brought in famed U2 producer Brian Eno to help take their sound in new and interesting directions.

Viva La Vida is indeed experimental but not in a way that will alienate fans. Many critics had a viscerally angry reaction to 2005's X&Y (the New York Times declared Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade" after that effort – ouch, right?), but Viva La Vida is just the kind of album you want a band of this stature to release mid-career.

Martin and his mates retain all the epic instrumentals that give Coldplay its signature amphitheater rock sound but apply an obvious amount of self-restraint to the album, making it fun without putting you to sleep. The band refrains from repeating choruses over and over again (ahem, "Fix You") and steers clear of the self-pitying lyrics of albums past, instead focusing on themes around war, religion, and the nature of love.

Viva La Vida is something borrowed and something new for Coldplay, and I'm pleasantly surprised and happy with the result. After giving the entire album a whirl, I feel like I’ve listened to a soundtrack of a sweeping epic that spans wars, generations, and the globe.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DVD Review: Herbie Fully Loaded

Far From Good is the rating I give to "Herbie--Fully Loaded." This is a combination of the same gags and plot as the original Love Bug, except Herbie is discovered at a junk yard instead of a used car dealer.

The busiest member of the crew must have been the product placement coordinator, as the movie acts as a long commercial for various products. Pro Bass Shops, Tropicana Orange Juice, NASCAR, Nextel, ESPN and a multitude of other purveyors of goods and services seem to have as much camera time as the actors themselves. And don't forget Volkswagen. Gee, isn't it funny that Maggie's friend is driving a VW SUV after graduation, and Michael Keaton walks up and does a quick technical specifications overview? Or that Micheal Keaton's sponsor drives a New Beetle?

As was said before, the plot followed the same line as the original, the only difference being that Dean Jones' character was transformed into Lindsay Lohan's, and the love interest was a male instead of a woman. I also must confess that I thought the original Love Bug was a real gas, especially Buddy Hacket dressing up as a hippie.

Speaking of Dean Jones, it would have been funnier if he was cast as Crazy Dave, or as Lindsay's grandfather (for continuity with the original).

The real question is how many times can Disney rehash the same plot with Herbie's antics? Of course, there has to be a sequel in which Herbie becomes infatuated with a GTI convertible, dumps the Yellow New Beetle, and goes off into the sunset.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pam's New Music Downloads

Ryan Reynolds can rest easy. After the actor's 2007 split with former fiancee Alanis Morissette - and subsequent engagement to Scarlett Johansson this year - he is spared the "You Oughta Know" treatment on the singer's new album Flavors of Entanglement.. Instead she deals with the breakup in a far gentler way on "Not as We," the heartbreaking highlight. Another affecting ballad, "Torch," also addresses the extinguishment of a relationship with vulnerability rather than venom. Meanwhile, on "Moratorium" - one of several track exploring Middle Eastern and electronica territory - a love-shy Morissette confesses she needs "a breather from the flavors of entanglement."

Trends may come and go, but real artists, like Aimee Mann, remain. On her new CD, @#%&*! Smilers highlights include the breezy "Freeway" and the bouncy "31 Today."

As the leader of the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan was never too much his father's son. The resemblance was there, but he was no sound-a-like. But on his solo debut, Seeing Things, Dylan embraces all his inner stripped-down set of folk-pop tunes that let us see him as never before. The concise, 10-song cycle was produced by Rick Rubin, who has a knack for getting this sort of thing out of elder statesmen like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. Now it's the next generation's turn.

As she prepares to kick off the second True Colors Tour, benefiting gay rights, Cyndi Lauper gets in step with the pulsating, anthemic dance music of gay clubs on her new disc, Bring Ya to the Brink. "Raging Storm," is an atmospheric rush.

On "You've Got the Love I Need," the vintage-'70s highlight of Al Green's new album, Lay It Down, the soul great teams up with Anthony Hamilton, probably the contemporary R&B singer who owes Green the biggest debt.

Clearly 3 Doors Down has had trouble establishing a strong identity. On their fourth studio album, 3 Doors Down, these guys can't decide if they're hard rockers, alt-rockers or pop-rockers. They do it all respectably but unremarkably. "It's Not My time," is a catchy, crunch single.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rest In #!&*@% Peace, George Carlin

Will we ever know why we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway? No. But I'm glad we had George Carlin around to ask these questions.

On Sunday, at the age of 71, the hilariously foul-mouthed comedian passed away from heart failure (and surely Carlin would make fun of that usage of "pass away" rather than just saying "died"; you can see his bit about death, now a funny, bittersweet video, here).

Often regarded as one of the greatest stand-up comedians, he is today deemed a "counterculture hero" who pushed the envelope in regard to profanity, most famously with his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine.

The AP notes that Carlin leaves a "legal legacy: His most celebrated monologue, a frantic, informed riff on those infamous seven words, led to a Supreme Court decision on broadcasting offensive language." In a 2004 interview, Carlin explained his thoughts on language that's considered taboo:

"There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. . . It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have. "

Over his life, Carlin put out "23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a few TV shows and appeared in several movies." He won four Grammy Awards and was nominated for five Emmys. Most of all, however, he influenced countless comedians who came after him. Judd Apatow notes, "Nobody was funnier than George Carlin. I spent half my childhood in my room listening to his records experiencing pure joy. And he was as kind as he was funny."

Lost: There's No Place Like Home Part 1

Alright, folks, I'm getting down to the wire on this season of Lost. Technically, this episode was "Part 1" of a three-part finale. I'm getting so close to getting tons of answers I can taste it. Parts 2 and 3 will come in a two-hour special.

One of my favorite parts of the last few episodes has been the merry trio of travelers I've gotten in Locke, Ben and Hurley. I'm going to miss their rapport and bantering when the season's over.

This episode seriously tugged on the ol' heartstrings a few times, first with the reunion amongst the Oceanic Six and their families (I personally lost it when Hurley brought Sayid over to his parents because there was nobody to meet Sayid; also, seeing Kate stand alone with Aaron made me sad). Then later when Claire's mother walks over to Kate and gazes at Aaron (knife enters gut) and tells her "Your son is beautiful," not knowing she's looking at her own grandson (knife twists).

I want to know what Daniel Faraday knows about the Orchid station. He says they used "secondary protocol" and then freaks out and tells Charlotte they must leave the island.

Ahhh, Sawyer with the baby, hot guy with a baby, hot guy with a baby! My ovaries kicked into overdrive a little there.

I get annoyed with the exchanges Jack and Kate have sometimes, especially when she thinks he's doing something foolish and he doesn't care. It never really makes a difference what Kate says to him, and it's getting old.

"That sonofabitch is stubborn. Hold up! You don't get to die alone." God I love Sawyer.

The island gets a name! Membata, whichis Indonesian for 'doubt' or 'uncertainty'.

I was curious about how they'd explain away Kate's non-pregnancy before the flight. Guess they'll just dodge that one for now.

Sayid and Nadia are so beautiful together. I don't know yet why Nadia gets killed by one of Widmore's men in the future? Nor do I have any theories?

Ben calls moving the island "both dangerous and unpredictable. It's a measure of last resort." So, "moving the island" is. . .really going to happen?

OK, Sun's dad is one shady dude. I think he might be involved in some way with either Widmore or Oceanic or both. The brief conversation I saw between Sun's dad and the other two men, discussing what sounds like some kind of heist or fraud ("Whoever did it used five different banks") seems significant. I don't think they would include this scene if it weren't somehow meaningful.

Also, GO SUN! "This morning I bought a controlling interest in your company. So you will now respect me." Love. Her. So. Much.

Also again: "Two people are responsible for [Jin's] death. You are one of them." Who do you think the other one is?

Hugo's parents' jokes about island life and that island party theme are so hilariously misplaced.

I saw the numbers again! 4815162342 on the dashboard of the car Hurley's dad (good ol' Cheech) gives him.

So now Jack knows that Claire is his half-sister. I want to go back and watch flashbacks to Jack in the Sidney airport to see if I can spot what he wrote on the cocktail napkin for his father's eulogy. I don't recall ever seeing details of what he wrote. I just can't remember this.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Photos From O'Shea's

Liz & JoseCheryl & Liz

Me & Bob
Kenn & Girts

MTTT - O'Sheas Pub

The M Thirsty Third Thursday gang visited O'Sheas Pub last week. O'Shea's opened this spring in the former Saladays location. Long salad counters have been replaced by handsome polished bars. Bright yellow walls have been painted over with mauve and chocolate hues.

O'Sheas prepares exceptional hamburgers. The burgers sit up tall, about six inches above the plate, on homemade buns that are plump and toasted. The thick ground Angus beef patty inside is fresh and cooked to a person's taste.

I especially liked the Loaded Dublin. Onion rings dipped by hand in batter laced with Guinness Stout were neatly tucked inside the sandwich along with mushrooms, bacon and provolone cheese. The Irish glaze was made from a reduction of Guinness that was sweetened with honey.

Cheryl also like her burger. Liz was disappointed that they had ran out of potato skins. So she opted for cheesy potato soup and a french dip. Her boyfriend, Jose, had the fish & chips and commented that they were very good. Girts just had the onion rings and they were delicious.

The pub had a huge selection of beer on tap. And the 16oz glasses were only $3.00. I will probably go back but only if I'm on the west side of Kalamazoo near the restaurant. It was over a 35 minute drive from the office to O'Sheas and the traffic was horrible. But this is probably due to the fact that nearly every other road in Kalamazoo is closed for road repair.

CSI: For Gedda

Wow. I knew this was coming. The news of Gary Dourdan's exit from CSI has been all over the press. And yet, despite all the warnings, I was still horrified and saddened by the final moments of this episode. This is how they decided to say goodbye to a major character that has been on the show since the beginning of the series? Really? Well, I can't say that I was impressed.

The plot was fairly simple. Gedda, Warrick's nemesis, is found dead, handcuffed to his barber chair. Unfortunately, Warrick is also found at the scene covered in Gedda's blood and unable to remember what happened.Things only get worse when the evidence shows that Gedda was shot by Warrick's gun, that the handcuffs used to restrain Gedda were also Warrick's, and that Warrick had hired a private investigator to look at Gedda's involvement in the murder of Joanna—the stripper who was murdered in the "Cockroaches" episode—despite being told to let the matter drop. Unfortunately, the private investigator that Warrick hired was also the first murder victim of the night.

Warrick is processed and interrogated—on the wrong side of the table this time. Despite being removed from the case, Grissom, in full-on Mother Hen mode, tries to find anything in the evidence that will exonerate Warrick. The only highlight of this episode for me was Grissom. I love watching him go to work when one of his chicks is threatened.

Grissom uses the blood splatter on Warrick's shirt to determine that Warrick was likely unconscious and being held up at the time of the killing. He also realizes that Warrick's handcuffs were too small to have created the ligature marks found on Gedda's wrists.

Figuring that Warrick has been framed, Grissom theorizes that Gedda's mole in the LVPD is likely responsible, so he starts looking at the private investigator's death. They quickly find a connection between the cases: chloroform was used both times. An examination of the fingerprints left by the police officers at the two scenes shows that one officer left prints on the private investigator's coffin—something that would not be possible unless the officer was at the mortuary.

One locker search later, they find traces of blood on the cop's handcuff keys. The cop has fled, but Warrick, at least, is freed. To celebrate, the team goes out for breakfast. As Warrick is about to leave in his car, he is confronted by Under Sherriff McKeen. Upon learning that Warrick is never going to stop hunting for the mole, McKeen shoots Warrick in the head—twice.

Warrick's eyes twitch, and then close, as he slumps against the wheel. I start crying. Yeah, I'm a sucker, but I'm going to miss Warrick! For the record, they didn't confirm that Warrick is actually dead. The episode ends as his head slumps against the steering wheel, so it's certainly possible that Warrick is still alive, but I think I'm meant to assume that he's gone, especially in light of the news that the actor is not returning.

Warrick was easily my favorite CSI character, despite his sometimes uneven characterisation over the last few seasons. Gary Dourdan did a fine job playing him, and I will miss him next season.

Was killing Warrick really necessary? Whatever problems the actor may have had off screen, he was good at his job—he really brought the character of Warrick to life. I wish they'd chosen a different way for him to leave the series.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Name Is Earl: The Camdenites

In the entire run of this series, I have never been more sympathetic to any of Earl's situations than the one he is in now. What is a man to do when he has a new wife and everything she does drives him nuts? I see now why Billie and Frank got along so well.

The sad part is that it seems like Earl is destined to be shackled to women who are just plain evil. Karma takes him to Billie, he can't seem to get away from Joy and any time he meets a woman who seems half way sane, his list gets in the way. I can only hope this is all part of karma's master plan.

As a brief aside, I want to say how much I love the kids who play young Earl and Randy. They are perfectly cast as they look just like the trouble-making kids I grew up with. I don't know what they tell those boys to give them the look of malicious boredom, but it works.

I can't wait to see how many people were offended by Earl's hopping adventure. A few weeks ago, all the wheelchair-bound characters seemed to rub a lot of people the wrong way. I guess the writers either like to make folks feel uncomfortable or just don't care if they piss people off. In truth, it's probably a little bit if both.

It makes perfect sense that karma has a special set of rules for past wrongs done unto the opposite sex. We all know the guy who is a great person and treats everybody with respect and kindness except his wife. It's these guys for whom the addendum to the big book of karma was written.

How great is it that the strict religious population of Camden County are just as stupid as the rest of it? The consistency is one of the things about Earl that I admire most. You'd think with all the recurring characters and flashbacks some continuity errors would be inevitable. I, however, have yet to see even one.

I don't know what was more brilliant: having Billie become the evil version of Earl or the CSI:Miami reference “the creamsicle-looking guy’s name is Horatio.”

I had a feeling that Billie was going to become a permanent resident of the Camdenite community. I'm sure I wasn't the only who saw it as the perfect way for Alyssa Milano to exit the series and for everything else get back to normal. While the season has certainly had its ups and downs, the soundtrack for this season's finale was awesome.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Musical Interlude: Animated Video for Andrew Bird's "Lull"

Wow, I just totally zoned out to this video for Andrew Bird's aptly titled "Lull," and now, I gotta admit, I'm feeling pretty calm and peaceful. The combination of Bird's soothing voice and the animated maritime narrative that accompanies the song has a, well, lulling effect.

The story being told in the video is at times bizarre and full of melancholy, but watching it is like a meditative exercise. It might be a welcome treat for anybody singing the still-in-the-office-on-the-first-official-day-of-Summer blues (or anyone else). To check it out, click on the arrow below.

Bones: The Wannabe in the Weeds

This was a very lighthearted and playful episode, particularly after the gravitas of last episode's trial. Not only was it a great send-up of FOX's sister show, American Idol, making light fun of the show and its contestants, but there was also a lot of joking around and funny moments, reminiscent of the best of Bones' first two seasons with the Squint Squad. It was nice to see them back in full force this episode. Simultaneously, there were plenty of clues from the beginning of the episode about what was going to happen.

I had all of the pieces of the crime very quickly (except the head, ha ha). Before I get into the clues, let's talk for a minute about the humor from the beginning: Cam says she has brain matter, so the victim must have had a head, which is funny because presumably he had a head because he was a person, and not just because there is brain matter at the scene. Brennan's glee at finding the head in the mower's grille just exemplifies that fact that this is not a heavy-duty crime. The victim was an ass who stole money, disturbed his neighbors, made fun of his clients, and had delusions of grandeur. Even his name was funny: Tommy Sour. Nobody really seemed to care that he was dead: Except Pam.

From the minute they interview the artist, they have motive (the noise) and method (Bones makes a big show of admiring the artist's sculpture, which is held together with the same kind of wire that was used to kill the victim alter). So, even though I don't know yet that I have all of the pieces, the rest of the episode is window dressing, used to introduce us to Pam, the catalyst for the climax of the episode. So to speak.

Here is where Dr. Sweets comes in handy. His analysis identifies Pam as both manipulative and dangerous. He warns Booth openly about Pam, and Booth is dismissive. Booth even laughs off Pam's socks gift later, when, as an FBI agent investigating her in a murder, I am pretty sure he cannot accept gifts. For Booth, who reads people like books usually, it was unusual for him not to see Pam more clearly when she wanted to see him without Bones. However, it is plausible that Bones tends to make people uncomfortable.

There were so many nice moments in the episode: Zach talking about how buff he is. Zach breaking out into song in the lab. Booth busting the fake talent agent, who was drawing cartoons in his notebook. And probably the best part of all, when Brennan got up and sang, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Wait. Temperance Brennan did what? She spent a lot of time talking about the open mic night and the need for people to have affirmation. Was her singing, as Sweets would put it, Presentational (ego-driven) or Relational (trying to make the audience feel something)? Cold, rational Temperance Brennan got up and belted at an open mic? Is this true to her character, or is the show starting to jump the shark?

Actually, I would love to have seen the open mic become a showcase for Zach, and have that become a new sub-plot, even though they established that Brennan's mother had a high opinion of her performance of that song. Perhaps that set up was enough, paired with Brennan's obliviousness about other people's perceptions of her, to make her performance believable. Believability aside, even though part of my brain was sounding alarm bells, I still enjoyed it.

And, of course, the real reason for Temperance to sing was revealed when Pam The Stalker showed up to see her new true love Booth. "Who will love me now?" Booth's placing his hand on her shoulder was an answering response, and Sweets was absolutely right to mutter, "No, don't touch her." Perhaps Pam should have been Tommy's killer, considering how easily and fast she was willing to fire that gun. She was trying to eliminate Brennan, and Booth took the bullet for her. Whoa! Even though I knew Pam was scary and dangerous, I didn't expect that. And how BAD-ASS was it when Brennan picked up Booth's gun and shot and killed Scary Pam? Nobody messes with her man. Nobody.

In some ways, it's a rip-off because they aren't going to kill off Booth. Of course he is still alive. So, I hope there is a purpose behind this, like this makes Brennan realize the depth of her feelings for Booth. I can bet my bottom dollar Sweets is going to have a lot to say about the fact that Booth stepped in front of a bullet for Brennan-- and then Brennan shot Pam without hesitation. I'm sure Booth will say that it was a combination of training, instinct, her protecting his partner, and Brennan will say that Pam still had the gun so it was self-defense. None of it had anything to do with deeper feelings they might harbor for each other... Yeah, riiiiiiight. But I'll see. I could be completely wrong.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

DVD Review: Hustle & Flow

Terrence Howard is one of those actors who seemingly can do anything. No matter what the role he intelligently chooses to play he is always phenomenally fine. In Hustle & Flow the writer and director has finally given him a vehicle that allows him more screen time and the opportunity to create a character that burns his image on my memory indelibly.

The story of a pimp and drug dealer in Memphis, stuck in the poverty level and rapidly drowning in mid-life crisis, who pulls himself into the stream of his need and dream to be something different, a rapper star, has been told before but never in the gritty realistic atmospheric way this film does. One of the most telling sequences of both writing and acting is the opening scene of the film when Djay (Howard) quietly talks his philosophy to Nola (Taryn Manning), his primary prostitute, simply sitting in the front seat of his car, awaiting johns.

While Terrence Howard is towering, the supporting cast is superb also. All offer genuine portraits of difficult characters. The smarmy side of Memphis is well captured. This is a fine film, a bit difficult to watch at times because of the bruises of poverty and the depths to which people must descend at times to survive. But the story is good and Terrence Howard is a marvel to watch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Simpsons: Mona Leaves A

"Mom, I can't believe you're here! You keep disappearing and reappearing and it's not funny! You're just like that show Scrubs" -- Homer to his mother after her unexpected return.

What I thought to be a sweet story about the return of Homer's mother turned out to be a huge joke fest. Well, actually more a joke fest during the second half of the show than the first half. The first half was actually kind of sad as Homer couldn't take one more of Mona Simpson's promises that she had stopped running from the government and was now ready to devote her time to Homer and his family. The second half was a totally different Simpsons episode.

This has been done many times on the show, but it seemed like such a drastic change in tone that it was hard to grasp. One moment, Homer is mourning the loss of his mother and wallowing in guilt that the last thing he said to her was said in anger. The next moment it's a parody on James Bond movies. Yes, it was really Mona's last protest request, but it really didn't play out that way.

Fact is, when Homer was tied to the chair in the missle silo and the door opened I really felt that it was going to be Hank Scorpio who walked through. Now, that would have been pretty cool and fit right in to the whole James Bond motif that was being built. Alas, it was only Mr. Burns who entered. While not as good as Hank Scorpio would have been it was nice to see Mr. B. in this small role since he has barely been around this season. Plus, it gave Homer the setup to tell his boss he would need Thursday off.

Getting back to the first part of the episode -- the return of Mona Simpson. There were some good moments between Homer and his mother during this installment, particularly when Homer expressed his feelings of disappointment to his mom about all of the times she was not there for him. Homer has been disappointed many, many times over the 400-plus episodes of The Simpsons, and he has rebounded fairly quickly from most of them. But, this was someone he loved and cherished. Which meant that the disappointment he felt wasn't going to be washed away any time soon.

The predicament Homer fell into -- angrily asking Mona to go away shortly before she died -- is one very common in real life. None of us really know when our last day will be on solid ground. Yet, we are always walking out of the house angry for some reason, or leaving work in a snit due to something a co-worker or manager did. Then, when the people we were angry with unexpectedly pass away, enormous guilt sets in because we never got the chance to say good-bye or 'I love you' or millions of other positive and nice things. This is where Homer was this episode and, although it was a bit jokey, it was done tastefully.

Other memorable things that went down this week:

Moe playing with the emotions of all of the parking lot drivers at the mall. I knew that someone like Moe existed! In addition to positioning themselves at malls they also have personnel down at the beach who load up their trunks with their chairs, umbrellas and beach bags thinking they are going to leave, then it turns out they're just dropping everything off so they can walk the boardwalk. By the way, if it sounds like I'm bitter, you're absolutely right.

Ah, the Stuff-N-Hug: one more store to add to the ever-growing list of mall offerings the Simpson family will probably be banned from, especially after Homer destroyed their entire stock of talking hippos (thanks to the speed-recording efforts of Bart). Best lines from this vignette: "How much love do you want in your Stuff-N-Hug?"; "I want all the love!" -- Squeaky-voiced sales person and Ralph Wiggum.

The ESPY Awards featuring Lance Armstrong and Fozzie Bear. Pretty funny since, after grabbing Fozzie and throwing him away, the puppeteers hand continued to speak 'Wokka, Wokka.'

The discovery of Mona by the fire. It was a little silly at first, but became sad when he found out his mother was dead. The scene where Homer softly calls out "Mom?" with the shot of house exterior was a nice touch.

Cameo appearances by Seth and Munchie at Mona's funeral.

Homer using his chain-and-block device not once, but twice in the episode. Although, he wasn't sure what to initially do with the chain and block when he saw them in the silo.

Poor Lenny -- his mother won't even talk to him. However, she is more than willing to speak with Carl and happy to let Moe know that she wishes he were her son.

The religious debate with Apu and Ned. Apparently, religion is confusing but the sing-a-longs are fun.

The nice tribute to Mona Simpson at the end of the episode.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Album Review: Alanis Morissette's Flavors of Entanglement

Most people own one Alanis Morissette album: Jagged Little Pill. For those of a certain age, it's an album that defined our angst and shouted to our lovers of yore a loud, angry "F You!"

Alanis went on to record more albums, and some were successful (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie went platinum three times) while others were not (her last album So-Called Chaos peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart), but none were quite as beloved as Jagged.

Some critics have attributed the disappointment of Chaos to Alanis' "domestic bliss" at the time, which now appears to be over as a result of her broken engagement to Ryan Reynolds. I'd like to counter that her recent musical downfalls have occurred because she was the lead producer. With her new album, Flavors of Entanglement, Alanis lets someone else run the show, something she hasn't done since Jagged.

That someone is producer Guy Sigsworth, and he is a breath of fresh air. He takes Alanis in a new direction, closer to the sounds of other artists that he's produced including Imogen Heap, Bjork and Madonna ("What it Feels Like for a Girl"), while not leading Alanis too far astray. Thankfully, this is not a transition like Jewel's disastrous 0304, it's more of a graduation. What results is an Everything but the Girl-esque sound mixed with Morissette's always strong lyrics, which, when combined, result in her strongest album in more than a decade.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lost: Cabin Fever

Oh, I just love the Locke flashbacks! And this one is especially cool because it begins before Locke is even born, which I thought was awesome. There are so many clues and connections between Locke and the island that started way before he got to the island — before he even ended up in the wheelchair.

I loved the beginning of this episode. The young Locke's mom putting "Everyday" on the record player, bopping around, getting ready for her date with a man who her mother scolds her about for being "twice your age, Emily." ("So what, Mother? Jealous?") Such a good setup.

Starting with Locke's birth we can see from the start that he's a fighter, a special person. Throughout his life it seems that he was being drawn to the island, one way or another (Richard Alpert going to his house, the high school teacher pushing him to go to science camp at Mittelos Laboratories, where Juliet was recruited to do reserach) but that he never accepted his "destiny" — until he got to the cabin.

So, Ben understands that where he once was "the chosen one," now it's Locke's time. He watches Locke as he dreams about Horace, and later tells him, "I used to have dreams."

I originally thought Horace's nose is bleeding because that's something that happened when he died. But here's another theory: maybe his nose is bleeding because he's traveling through time, and his nose bleeds just like Desmond's did in "The Constant."

The scene in which Alpert asks Locke to choose the items that belong to him "already" is so tense and interesting, but it baffles me. "You sure the knife belongs to you John? You sure of that? Well, it doesn't." Why do you think Alpert rushes away after Locke chooses the knife?

There is an idea that this process Alpert utilizes with Locke is "very similar to how the new Dalai Lama is selected."

Sayid: "The only way to save our lives is to get those people off the island."Hmm. . .

Ewwwwwww corpses make me so nauseated.

"You can't be the prom king. You can't be the quarterback. You can't be a superhero." The superhero line is funny because, Alpert's introduction to the little kid John is almost word-for-word from The X-Men: I'm Richard, John. I run a school for kids who are. . . extremely special, and I have reason to believe that you might be one them."

I love that Frank Lupidas and his lively, bushy eyebrows.

Best line of the night goes to Ben: "Those things had to happen to me. That was my destiny. But you'll understand soon enough that there are consequences to being chosen. Because destiny, John, is a fickle bitch."

I knew the guy pushing the chair was going to be Matthew Abbadon. I just knew it. He tells Locke that he should go on a walkabout, and ends things with, "When you and I run into each other again? You'll owe me one."

Eeeek, this time bending thing — with the doctor showing up on the shore with his throat slit "before" he's killed on the boat — is hurting my brain a little bit.

Love the part when Ben says, with his eyes all creepy, "The island wanted me to get sick. It wanted you to get well. My time is over. It's yours now."Hurley: "Yeah, I'm cool with you going in alone, too."

Even though I've known for a while that it's probably Christian Shepard sitting in that cabin, I was still afraid of the creepy shadowy guy sitting in the dark. And then Claire's calm, smiling face! Aaack! Now we know that Christian isn't Jacob but he "can speak on his behalf." He confirms that Locke was "chosen" to be there, and says that Aaron is "where he's supposed to be, and that's not here." This makes me think of Hurley's comment to Jack in the future that Jack "isn't supposed to raise Aaron."

The one question that matters: "How do I save the island?"

OK, I laughed out loud at the Hurley-shares-a-candy-bar-with-Ben bit.

Finally: Move the island?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

CSI: Two and a Half Deaths

Writing CSI is easy, writing Two and a Half Men is hard—or so the writers of Two and a Half Men would have us believe. There were Two and a Half bodies on CSI as the writers from Two and a Half Men crossed over to write an episode of CSI. I think this was the first time that writers crossed over instead of cast members, and I'm not sure it's something that I want to see done again.

The show starts, appropriately enough, with the dead body of a sitcom actress, Annabelle, star of the show Annabelle, played by the wonderful Katey Sagal. She's found dead with a rubber chicken stuffed in her mouth. A search of her room finds lots of water and no alcohol even in the mini-bar. There are also candy wrappers and a bottle of urine found in the closet.

It becomes clear very quickly that Annabelle was no angel. Spencer, the Executive Producer of the show, reports that Annabelle had a few problems, like alcoholism, bulimia, and a drug problem.

As Grissom tries to work the scene, Bud, Annabelle's husband of two days, arrives. Bud will inherit Annabelle's fortune, which gives him a fine motive, but Bud denies killing Annabelle. He claims that she was alive when he left her.

The autopsy shows that she was killed by a blow to the back of the head and that, despite having had a hysterectomy, she was using a tampon. A little research shows that she used her tampons as a vodka delivery system. Can we all say yuck?

A video of the elevator to Annabelle's apartment leads the team to Natasha, Annabelle's assistant/stand-in, also played by Katey Sagal. She claims at first not to have seen Annabelle or Annabelle's body, but when Warrick finds a bloody, female footprint on the carpet in the room, Natasha becomes a suspect. Unfortunately, before I can wonder why this episode of CSI only has one body, Natasha becomes our next victim.

Grissom and Brass go to Hollywood to visit the sitcom set where Natasha was found dead after crashing Annabelle's car. Someone modified the computer chip in the car and Natasha lost control.

Meanwhile a video of Bud and “Annabelle”'s wedding surfaces showing that Bud actually married Natasha, not Annabelle. Bud admits that he and Natasha faked the wedding to try to get Annabelle's money, but that they didn't kill her—she was already dead.

The CSI team finds DNA on the rubber chicken that matches the urine found in the closet. Fingerprints on the bottle lead them to struggling actor Richard Langford. Richard once had a cameo on the Annabelle show before Annabelle fired him after he refused to sleep with her. When he realized that she was in town, he decided to try to get his part back by sleeping with her. He snuck into her room and hid in the closet until she was alone. Unfortunately, it all went wrong when Annabelle slipped and hit her head. To try to shift the blame to Bud, since Annabelle liked to hit Bud with the rubber chicken during sex, Richard shoved the rubber chicken in her mouth.

End of story? Not quite. It turns out that Annabelle had high levels of blood thinner in her bloodstream. Without the blood thinner, Annabelle probably would have survived the head injury. The team discovers that the blood thinner was in her vodka stash. They track the blood thinner to Annabelle's co-star Megan. When Grissom and Brass confront her, she admits nothing and points out that they have no hard evidence. She walks off with her lover, Spencer, to start her new job as the lead on a CBS sitcom.

The Good
The cameo of the actors from Two and a Half Men.
The lighter tone and most of the jokes. I especially liked the differing responses to the Rorschach-like blood blot. Catherine: a puppy. Grissom: a hermaphrodite on roller skates.

The Bad
Too many puns and inside jokes. Granted, I have a low pun tolerance, but by the end of the episode, I was just sick of them.
The EXTRA scenes were just awful. One would have been more than enough.
The "half death" of Bud cutting his neck while shaving. Is that something that happens on Two and a Half Men? Or was it just to get two and a half deaths on the show?

The Science
What science? They didn't find any hard evidence! On CSI!

I was not a fan of this episode, but then again, I don't watch Two and a Half Men, so I may have been missing something. I wouldn't want this kind of episode on a regular basis, though.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Girl Earl

"And Barry Schmo heads home with an empty sack!" - Announcer at Bagging Competition

I would think now that Earl and Billie are married, Earl would expect some changes. Of course, everyone has little annoying habits, but I know compromise is what makes a marriage work. I have to admit, though, the Van Halen thing would be a deal breaker in my house.

That fact that Earl is already getting irritated by Billie just proves the old adage, "Show me the most beautiful woman in the world and I'll show you a guy who's tired of F-ing her."

I find it a little hard to believe, however, that after being married to a nightmare like Joy, Earl would complain about someone because they're annoying. Maybe someone should point out that Billie isn't cheating on him or expecting him to raise kids that aren't his.

I enjoyed seeing Jon Heder bag those groceries almost as much as I was horrified by his deformed hand. I'm guessing he went to the hospital but Camden County's lackluster medical community had nothing to offer. It was also nice to see Jon Henson again. Now I can finally stop asking whatever happened to him.

I didn't see the bagging training coming and I really enjoyed it. All the inane exercises and how seriously Heder was made it really funny. Of course, Earl eventually got the hang of it. Once again, the good folks of Camden come out to support their favorite "athlete." I guess the Killerball league didn't have a game that night.

When I saw Saviero Guerra as the referee, I hoped he would have more to do than wave his flag. It wasn't much but his line about the web address where he got his license made me laugh out loud. Now I just have to hope that they bring that character back for repeat visits.

Bagger Lance was pretty damn funny. I have always loved Pat Kilbane and there was a time when he was on his way to having his own sitcom. I don't know what happened but his performance tonight was proof that he still is a very funny dude.

I thought this was a damn good episode. It gave me the basic plot of the karma list while advancing other story lines at the same time. It seems clear things won't be working out for Earl and Billie, but if the show is going to continue the way it should, that's probably just as well.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In The Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Don't let the title of this book put you off. It's a very enjoyable and well written piece of historical fiction. Sarah Dunant brings Renaissance Italy to life and skillfully integrates real people and events into this fictional story.

The story is about Fiammetta, a high class Italian courtesan in the 1530s, who is forced to flee Rome after the brutal invasion and sacking of the city. She escapes with her faithful servant and companion, the dwarf Bucino, having only a few jewels to her name. It is from Bucino's point of view that the story is told.

Bucino and Fiammetta settle in Venice and work together as a team to establish her as one of Venice's leading courtesans. As she becomes more successful, the dynamics of their relationship change subtly.

I enjoyed this book very much. I was caught up in the characters and the decisions that they made. I found the ending very moving and I was sorry to say goodbye to these characters. I also enjoyed finding out more about Renaissance Italy. The way that Sarah Dunant brings historical figures into the story is very clever and makes it feel very real.

About halfway through I realized the significance of the cover illustration. As Sarah Dunant explains in the author's notes, it is a painting by the artist Titian, most probably of an Italian courtesan of that time. In her book, she has Titian painting the same portrait with Fiammetta as his model.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bones: The Verdict in the Story

"Friends don't let friends' fathers go to the electric chair." -- Angela, on why she wouldn't testify against Bones' dad

Doubt. A word that many of I use in some context at least once a day. We don't doubt it, we doubt it happened or, used in a positive manner, we prove that there isn't any doubt about it. In the legal world the word has a much more powerful connotation. Should a shred of doubt exist during a criminal trial, there is always that slim chance that the judge or jury will see past the crime of the defendant and rule in the opposite manner.

Sometimes, the physical evidence that the prosecution provides is the reason for doubt. Other times, it is the testimony of the witnesses that causes the judge or jury to think. Then, there are those times where doubt is seeded by the team of lawyers who are trying to get their client off.

Finally, there are those very rare occasions where the doubt is provided by the client's daughter. Guess which type of doubt was used in this episode of Bones?

What an interesting development in the case of Max Keenan. I knew that he was the one who murder the Deputy FBI director -- heck, even the evidence (once the actual murder weapon was found) showed that Max was the killer. And, it seemed almost a certainty that he was going to find a spot on Death Row. Yet, Bones came through with a ploy that cast the smallest bit of doubt onto her father. It was enough for the jury to render a 'Not Guilty' verdict that set Max free.

The ploy was interesting: get the jury to believe that Bones could have potentially been the one performed the murder, disemboweled the corpse and lit it on fire. Look, I know Temperance, Booth knows Bones, and the Squints know Dr. Brennan. While she can be cold and analytical she is definitely not a Dexter. Yet, the jury didn't know that. And, with that tiny seed of doubt planted in their minds, the absolute guilt of Max Keenan wasn't as absolute any more.

She could probably thank Booth for giving her the idea in the first place. He was the one who told her that Max's story could be embellished (without perjuring herself) to the point where reasonable doubt could be established. Granted, he told Bones to shutdown her brain and use her heart as the motivator; however, this is Bones I'm talking about. When has Temperance ever been able to totally shutdown her brain? If she did that for her father, the results may not have been as positive.

This surprise ending was one of many strange and wonderful things that took place in this change-of-pace episode of Bones. It was almost a certainty that the weekly mystery element was going to be pushed aside for this pretty important event in Bones' life. No issues here, since Bones is one of those shows that can have an one-off episode without throwing the whole rhythm. It was actually refreshing to get away from some of the blood and gore that are common for this show.

Also interesting was the dynamic that this week's installment provided. Instead of Bones working together with Booth, her fellow Squints, and Sweets, she was working against them as they were all witnesses for the prosecution. Not willing witnesses, mind you, but expert witnesses nonetheless. The most unwilling of witnesses was Angela, who decided outright not to testify against Max. A decision that landed her in jail for the rest of the episode.

The best thing about this episode is that it featured the entire immediate and secondary members of the Bones family. In addition to the Squints, who had a different look to them outside of the lab, there was Max, Tempy's brother Russ, Caroline Julian in all of her grumpy glory, and even Ernie Hudson, reprising his role as David Barron.

Even Sweets had a bigger role than normal this week, and really exhibited some of his more immature tendencies by answering a number of questions with 'Totally.' It looks like Sweets will have a bigger role next season as he becomes a backup interrogator for Booth and Bones. Sweets is a good fit into the Bones cast and works well with Booth and Brennan. Plus, they like him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's Your Favorite Movie Sing-Along Scene?

Sigh. Movie sing-alongs. They are so good. When Top Gun was first out, if I wasn't head-over-heels for Tom Cruise already, his belting out of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" to Kelly McGillis would have sealed the deal.

And come on, who didn't want to run down to their local dive bar, take some shots and belt "Sweet Caroline" after that fantastic scene in Beautiful Girls? Also, I will never tire of the part in My Best Friend's Wedding when that gorgeous man, Rubert Everett, kicks off an all-restaurant sing-along to "Say A Little Prayer for You."

For me, sing-alongs can take a good scene and make it the best scene. They tap into that basic human desire to break into spontaneous song and dance when the mood strikes. OK, maybe that's just my basic desire.

So tell me, what's your favorite sing-along scene of all time?

I just had to include the clip from My Best Friend's Wedding (note the people waving their lobster claw arms in the background toward the end!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lost: Something Nice Back Home

So, I watched this episode of Lost and turned off the TV and. . . immediately forgot what happened in the episode. Why? Because nothing really happened in the episode! I was so excited when Hurley brought out the note and read it to Jack because at least that was somewhat intriguing. Most of the other stuff was Jack stressing out and the Jack-Kate-Sawyer and Jack-Kate-Juliet love triangles which, in my opinion, is getting tiresome. Anyone else slightly bored by this episode? I do have one interesting theory however.

Here's my one theory for this episode, though I might be reaching a bit because I'm craving anything juicier than just some soap opera storylines and cryptic messages from dead Charlie: When Jack is looking at X-rays, I wondered if they were his own, and if Juliet did something to him during the operation. Yeah, I know, I know, unlikely. But I feel like we're trained at this point to look for conspiracies where there are none.

Again with an Alice in Wonderland reference (Jack is reading it to Aaron). Alice in Wonderland pops up in various ways in the show, and at least two of the Jack-centric episodes have been titled after the book ("White Rabbit," "Through the Looking Glass"). In this episode, the words he reads to Aaron seem significant: "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle."

Jack always seems to have this smug, cocky, inflated sense of grandiosity. As he's reeling from pain on the island, he says "I've gotten us this far," (just you, Jack? Really?) and he later tells Kate that he "saved" her (which, admittedly, might be what happens in a future episode, but still).

I do like how Jack's beard has become an indicator of time and his emotional state in this season.

Sawyer has become so tender toward Claire lately. It's so sweet. I love that he tells Miles, "You got a restraining order. Twenty feet."

Yay for Rose and Bernard. I'm always happy to see them. I do wonder about what Rose points out: that the island is supposed to heal people, not make them sicker. But maybe that's some kind of indication that some people should stay on the island while others should leave?

Why is Sad Hurley so much sadder than anyone else being sad?

Finally! Hurley reads the message from Charlie. "You're not supposed to raise him, Jack. Charlie said someone's going to be visiting you, to. Soon."

That was really sweet of that pilot, Frank Lapidus to protect Claire, Sawyer, Miles and Aaron like that. As one of the few tense moments in the episode, I thought it was great.

All that moment of Jack proposing to Kate did for me was make me want to watch more of The Office. It's a beautiful diamond, though.

I knew something was up with that Charlotte, listening in on Sun and Jin's conversations. She's a shady one.

Anybody else kinda miss Ben in this episode?

So. . .Christian Shephard is everywhere.

I respect that Juliet admits the kiss to Kate. It's a noble thing for her to do, really. Makes me like her again.

It's so strange to see Kate and Jack chatting normally on couches in a house.

Sawyer chose to stay?

So instead of dying, Claire might simply disappear with Christian Shephard?

Monday, June 9, 2008

CSI: The Theory of Everything

Lions and tigers and bears and deer dressed in tutus and killer squirrels and dead cats and that's just the animals! There was also people going up in flames, humans masquerading as Vulcans, and heads exploding. And if that isn't enough, the MythBusters guest star.

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It opens with a woman dressed in tin foil shouting about “them” in the CSI lobby. The woman, Evelyn, warns Nick to watch out for things tonight. He would do well to listen to her advice.But he doesn't. He's too busy trying to give a Breathalyzer test to the suspect Brass is interrogating. The suspect, a very, very drunk man, is insisting that they got things all wrong. The “thing” that they got wrong is the dead deer dressed in a tutu in the coroner's office. A tutu? The poor deer was shot by our suspect's crossbow. The suspect flees the interrogation room, knocks a cop through a window, gets pepper sprayed, shot with a stun gun, and then actually goes up in flames!

The CSIs test the stun gun, the shirt, and the pepper spray, but none of these items alone or in combination create a human torch. They add the moonshine they found in the suspect's truck, but that also doesn't help. After they review the tape of the incident, they realize that the suspect touched Evelyn before he went up in flames. Cue an Evelyn manhunt that ends quickly when they discover her dead.

She was run over by a trucker who was blinded by her tin foil suit. A search of her body reveals that she was carrying a cracked butane lighter, which could have been enough to create the flames. Oh, they also find that Evelyn's blood was green. Yes, green. Green like Spock from Star Trek. After Wendy and Hodges geek out over why Spock's blood is green on Star Trek (Wendy wins the geek prize, BTW), they discover that Evelyn was not a Vulcan, which saddened me, but instead had incredibly high levels of sulphur in her body.

Before they can figure out why Evelyn's blood is green, they find another body, Wayne. Wayne was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. He also had green blood. Meanwhile, Grissom and the crew figure out that flaming guy was killed by flammable pepper spray. The cop who sprayed him was using non-department issue pepper spray. Nick retests, with the MythBusters in attendance, and indeed, the new pepper spray recreates the flames. The MythBusters give Nick two thumbs up. Heh.

The CSIs use fingerprints found at the scene of Wayne's death to find Dave Bohr. They pay him a visit only to discover that he's bleeding green blood from his nose. One of the cops opens a window to let in the sunlight and Dave's head explodes! It turns out that all three of the green-blood victims were suffering from migraines. They were taking incredibly high doses of a drug supplied by Dave. This drug turned their blood green. Dave killed Wayne during a drug bust gone wrong.

Case closed, except for the the death of an elderly couple who died in holding each other in bed. Aw. Not so sweet, however, is the large number of dead ground squirrels in their backyard. They find a rodent removal system, Atomic Dave's Painless Removals, in the backyard and wonder if that is what caused the deaths of the couple and the squirrels.

Warrick goes to talk to their neighbor who says that she was working in her studio making jewelry. When the tox screen and Hodges nose discover that the squirrels and couple where killed by high doses of cyanide, the neighbor becomes a suspect. She explains that she uses cyanide in her jewelry work and to occasionally, accidentally, poison ground squirrels and her neighbors' cat. She insists that she's not a murderer of people though. I also find out that her ex-husband was the man who went up in flames at the station and that Dave supplied her neighbors with the rodent removal system.

Coincidence? Not if I ask Grissom, who decides that it might just be string theory at work—the theory of everything so to speak.

But who killed the elderly couple? Catherine discovers that it was actually the squirrels. Yep. The animals finally get some revenge in this episode. A squirrel, probably running from the “painless” atomic removal system, chewed through a wire under the house, setting old carpet underneath the couple's bed on fire. When the carpet burned, cyanide was released. Catherine pronounces it self-defense. I have to agree.

The Good -I think Brass had the best lines this evening. Telling the cop to stun the suspect by saying “Light him up”. And referring to Evelyn as “very shiny”.The insights into Hodges home life. He's finally moving out of his parents house!

The Bad - Okay, they didn't explain why the deer was wearing a tutu. How do you get a tutu on a live deer anyway?

The Science - They had me at the green blood. I'm such a Star Trek geek.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Simpsons Will Turn 20 Next Fall on Fax

I knew The Simpsons had been on the air for a while, but this is pretty mind-blowing: The show has just been officially renewed for a 20th season on Fox. That ties it with Gunsmoke for the title of longest-running primetime TV series . . . ever. Pretty big stuff for a cartoon family whose youngest member still sucks on a pacifier.

The news follows the announcement that the show's voice actors struck a deal for more money — a four-year contract that will earn them each about $400,000 per episode. That's a lot of — sorry, guys — d'oh. (Speaking of which, here's a fun fact from Fox's press release: The dominance of The Simpsons is so great that "D'oh" is an official word in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Twenty years is an awfully long time for a TV show to stay relevant. I remember watching the early years first on the Tracy Allman Show and then watching the reruns at least 3 times a night on WGN or TBS many years ago. Yet the show still pulls in between 6 and 8 million viewers per week, and the success of last summer's The Simpsons Movie proves that it still has a huge audience. So here are my questions for you: Do you still watch The Simpsons? How long have you been a fan? And do you see yourself sticking with it till the end?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Love Octagon

"I'm a new lesbian!" - Catalina

In most places, knowing that a family of four is living in your favorite restaurant might make you think twice about eating there. However in that wacky Camden County it just makes the place feel more "homey."

The beginning of this episode was the most exciting two minutes. Randy's account of what Earl missed made me laugh out loud, seeing Joy's kids actually trying to learn something was refreshing and learning that Catalina is a lesbian. Welcome back Earl!

There was a slight change in theme this episode. Instead of doing something good for someone else because he wants to atone for his past bad deeds, Earl actually did something good in order to benefit from it. What that's you say? It's impossible to benefit from a good deed? Well, clearly, you have been watching too much Survivor.

Seriously though, while I am a fan of the list (mainly because of the nutty characters it introduces us to), I think it's smart to have Earl and company make a few changes in their lives, Shake things up a little bit.

Having Billie staying with Stuart was pure genius. Not only does it make perfect sense, but it adds a whole other level to the show. It's sort of like The Fugitive if Richard Kimble was a hot lady and Phil Gerard was a possibly brain-damaged redneck.

Watching Earl and Billie drive away in wedded bliss made me feel so happy for so many reasons, not the least of which was that the show is finally back on track. Not only was Earl able to find his own happiness but he now has an assistant with a normal I.Q, which gives Randy more time to catch that damn bird.

I loved this episode and I can't wait to see what happens with the rest of the season.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Riches: The Lying King

With Dahlia's breakdown, Didi rebelling against her father, and the growing tension between Wayne and Quinn, things are building nicely. As a season finale though, I'm left feeling disappointed. Still, "The Lying King" did offer up some good bits to the story.

To start, let me go to the end, with Quinn's closing words for the season, "I have your son." I suspected that was the motivation for his interest in Cael. But they did do a good job selling the possibility that Quinn could have other ideas. For just a moment, as he defended Wayne to Cael, I could almost believe that he was a changed man and did want to take the family in a different direction. Alas, as I saw, not so much.

Clearly, Wayne wants no part of a partnership with Quinn. I'm missing some pretty big bits to that back story, and it's something that I would really like to see in season three. Of course, even if Quinn was sincere in his desire to deal with Wayne, that ship had already sailed with what happened at the Bayou Hills construction site. Sabotage and just showing up to take over are not the friendliest of methods for saying let's be partners.

For me, the best part of the Bayou Hills construction story was the entrance of Wayne's mafia muscle. It was good to get Minkov back into the story. It's a great example of just what the Riches project has become for the Malloys. It did all start on a fluke. It was a perfect storm of coincidences that brought them into this situation to begin with. And with everything that has happened, all the close calls, they should have cut and run by now, cashing out for whatever they could from Doug's estate.

And they almost did, but then they had Bayou Hills and the promise of the big payday. It's just as much the definitive deadline as it is the $13 million. When they first took this gamble, it was all wide open. But now, if Wayne can just get to the end of the Bayou Hills project he can disappear with a big score. So now the game becomes juggling all of the balls until the very last minute. It's a tricky bit of business. He doesn't have to actually solve all of these problems. He just has to delay any negative resolutions until just after he's out.

That's what I see shaping up with Minkov. Given the choice, Wayne would surely side with Hugh and turn the tables on Minkov. And really, unless he absolutely has to in order to keep the game going, he's not going to throw Hugh under the bus. At some level, Wayne is growing to like Hugh. When Hugh stops to share a genuine moment where he thanks Doug for everything he does for him, it is just that much more pressure on Wayne. It all makes for a fascinating story.

On the other side of the tale, there is Dahlia. I found myself mesmerized by Minnie Driver this week. The breakdown of Dahlia as her past and her present just overwhelm her is great TV. It was impressive how much of her story they were able to tell by letting us watch her think about her situation. Dahlia's part of the story also served as the setting for some of the best Nina scenes I have had yet. I've liked the Nina character from the start, but watching her deal with Jim's death, and both Dahlia and Wayne, was Nina at her best. It really showed just how much alike Wayne and Dahlia are. She is so angry with Wayne, yet doing the exact same thing to Nina.

The only part of Dahlia's story, and the episode, that didn't work for me was the scene with Devereaux. I just wasn't buying his sudden kiss of Dahlia to start with, let alone with his wife and kids just inside the house. That's just not at all what I got from all of the earlier Devereaux scenes.

As to the kids, there's not a lot to take from Sam and Cael's involvement. I'm curious to see more with Sam and his new friend, but as this was the season finale, that bit felt kind of tacked on because they needed something for Sam to be doing. And Cael, he was more or less playing support to get to Quinn's big line. There was a bit more for Didi this week though. Dahlia tossing Wayne under the bus by telling Didi about Pete set a lot of things in motion. The telling line for me was Didi asking Wayne if that's who they are now. She's left searching and confused, seeing everything falling apart and takes off for some good old fashioned teen age rebellion.

And there I am. All the seeds have been planted for what should surely be a great season three. I do wish that I could get all of those answers over the next couple months as a full season two raps up, but what am I gonna do? I suppose I should take from it that six episodes of a very good show is still a check in the win column.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bones: The Baby in the Bough

"Dancing Phalanges!" -- Bones playing with Baby Andy

Anyhoo, I finally had a chance to see the episode, and it was all good. How could it not be -- this installment prominently featured a baby. Whenever you have a newborn as the focus of an episode the whole mood changes. Sometimes, the mood is quite somber when it comes to the baby's mother being murdered. But, this is Bones, so the mood wasn't nearly as grim. Fact is, having a baby around really softened up most of the major characters.

Well, all except Bones. Being her usual self, Temperance initially took on the task of taking care of baby Andy in the clinical fashion that she takes on when examining a rotting corpse. As the episode continued she warmed up to Andy enough to start having fun with him rather than fearing every cry that emanated from his mouth. By the time that she gave Andy to the dead mother's friends (a hanky moment if there ever was one) she was truly sad that she would no longer be watching the little boy.

Brennan also softened up when it came to the economic plight of Huntsville, West Virginia, which must have been right over the Maryland border because Booth and Bones were traipsing back-and-forth to the town several times (no high gas prices in the Bones universe, it seems). At first, she was of the belief that when it's time for a town to die, it's time for a town to die. This didn't make some of the citizens of Huntsville too happy with her. Like her attitude with Andy, Temperance eventually softened up and realized that there are some causes to be saved. Thus, the reason that she used a good portion of the seven-figure advancement on her next book to help pay for a new bridge that would return the city back into a stretch of road open to tourists.

One more thing about Bones: there was one scene where I really saw the fury and anger that Dr. Brennan could express when provoked. It was when she encountered the murderer of baby Andy's mom. After giving his little explanation of why he did what he did, Bones grabbed him by his shirt, slammed him against a chain link fence, and growled that he was a son of a bitch. It's very rare that I see this side of the mild-mannered, analytical Dr. Brennan. When it does rise up, it can be a bit surprising to viewers.

Over to Special Agent Seely Booth. Booth is so cute, isn't he? He's all macho on one hand, but he'll turn away in embarrassment when someone (Bones) mentions breast feeding or teets. To him, and apparently other men that surround Booth, this talk is a bit awkward coming from a woman. Nevertheless, that didn't stop him from helping out with the care of baby Andy. Fact is, Bones went to him quite frequently at first to have him change a diaper and other routine baby tasks. He also became quite attached to the orphaned child, even going so far as to say that the baby was 'our Andy' to Bones instead of just saying 'Andy'.

Moving on to the Squints. The only interaction this week was between Angela and Jack amidst a discussion about having babies. Angela mentioned that she wanted to have a million of them (uh, better start now and take a lot of fertility drugs). Jack wasn't so sure he wanted a million children at first -- maybe one or two -- but then decided that he would be more than willing to have as many children as Angela wanted. It didn't matter if she became one huge pile of goo after having all of those children because he would still find her sexy. And, if she got wide that would just be more of her to love. Of course, that little smirk of his told the audience that he was just joking.

Now to this week's mystery. Poor Biff Tannen! First Marty McFly knocks him down to size, and then he embezzles money from the tire recycling plant and kills Andy's mom to cover it up. Didn't he learn anything after running into that manure truck? It was pretty much a given that he would be the murderer since he was a pretty familiar face. But, it was still an interesting mystery since Bones, Booth and the Squints had very little to go on at the start other than the safety desposit key.

Ank, that's the one nitpick I had with this episode: Andy swallowing the safety-deposit key. That was the fastest swallow done by a newborn that I have ever seen, which made the mystery a little less plausible. Would a newborn be able to swallow something like that when they could barely grasp it in their hands? And, wouldn't the sharp edges of the key have torn up his little baby parts as they scraped along the sides of Andy's throat and intestines? I could see it being much more of a problem than they made it to be.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

DVD Review: The Human Stain

The Human Stain is a comment on society. An incitement of the system of stupidity and illogical ideas, commonly known as 'political correctness'. The film starts out with a great sequence in which Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is forced to quit his job, which later leads to the death of his wife, for using the word "spooks" to describe two students that haven't attended one of his classes yet. Of course, in that context; he meant 'spooks', as in ghosts, but as "spooks" is also an ethnic slur, and these students just so happened to be black, Silk is hounded for racism. In this day and age, political correctness is more a hindrance to society, than a progression; and this film sums that up perfectly.

In the story respect, this film is good. On the whole, the film could...no, actually, the film should have been great; but it isn't. One of the major reasons for this is casting. Anthony Hopkins takes the lead role; and there is nothing wrong with the film there. Hopkins is an actor of such brilliance that even when he is miscast, he still brings much to the film. Towards the start, he is hammy; but it is hard to imagine the role being played by anyone else, and that is testament to Hopkins' talent.

The big miscasting here is Nicole Kidman. Nicole is a great actress, there is no disputing that; but she isn't at home here. Nicole is, frankly, too glamorous to play her character in this movie. Her airbrushed look just doesn't suit the character and the film loses credibility there. Of course, also in 2003, Charlize Theron, another glamour-puss, took a gritty role that you wouldn't expect her to excel in and she won an Oscar for her troubles, but that same philosophy just doesn't work in this movie.

The other two lead roles in the movie go to Gary Sinese, as a novelist and Ed Harris as Kidman's ex-husband and both do well in their roles, but as they are support, their screentime is too little for them to make a real impression. Wentworth Miller, the young man that plays Coleman Silk at an earlier age deserves some credit for his performance. He isn't show-stealing, but he still excels in a role that is integral to the film.

The 'secret' that Coleman Silk is harbouring contains another swipe towards society besides the one from the earlier scene mentioned. The film seems to be keen to comment on society, but it never really takes the bull by the horns. If the messages contained within were put forward to a better standard and in a more powerful way, then the film could have really hit home and could have became the masterpiece that it obviously wants to be; but it didn't; so it isn't.

Overall, however; The Human Stain is definitely worth a watch. It is obvious that there is a good film under there, and that alone makes it worth watching. But I just can't help but think that with better handling, it could have been really great. A shame.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Family Guy: The Former Life of Brian

After tracking down a former girlfriend, Brian's surprised to find out that he's a father to a teenage boy named Dylan. Never mind that Brian's a dog, and hasn't actually been alive for that many years - that's not the point. The episode focuses on Dylan moving into the Griffin home and Brian's parenting skills being tested.

Dylan's a rebellious teenager who's nearly impossible to handle. He violently threatens the entire household, and even beats up the evil monkey that lives in Chris' closet. Perhaps the funniest and cruelest of his atrocities against the Griffin family involved tying up Meg in the basement and forcing her to watch lesser known Monty Python sketches, to which Meg replies, "I'm a girl! I don't even like the good Monty Python sketches!" In one of the better sight gags of the episode, Peter's response to getting an unwanted Mohawk hairdo from Dylan was to reveal that he's full of Play-Doh, and promptly re-grows his hair.

It wasn't until the unlikely father-son duo shared some pot that they finally bond with a heartfelt connection. In typical Family Guy manner, this was all quite tongue-in-cheek and trumpeted with a naked Stewie cheering them on with a Jerry Springer reference.

After that point, Brian suddenly transforms into the type of annoyingly overprotective parent that far too few of us try to avoid turning into. While Brian's sharing a drink with Peter and friends, he snaps at Quagmire about not understanding what it's like to be a parent until you have a kid of your own. This prompts Quagmire and the others to come up with unlikely harmful scenarios involving Dylan, upsetting the dog more and more.

The last straw with the Griffins was when Brian confronts Lois for serving Dylan a sandwich made with white bread. He wanted Dylan to be served something healthier, and Lois' following tirade is bound to make even the most jaded viewer smirk. Peter decides to take matters in his own hands and brings Tracy back and tries to convince her to take her son back.

Dylan's transformation to a respectable, caring do-gooder seems just as extreme as his pre-joint-sharing with dog-father past, but it does lead to the teen wanting to go back to his mother and try to transform her life the way Brian transformed his.

Family Guy episodes are better served when trying to tell a cohesive story and "The Former Life of Brian" is a great example of this. Not all of the random manatee jokes were hits, but the storyline makes up for it, and forces one to focus on that and not the barrage of cultural references. The Cocoa Puffs and cut-out folk art jokes bombed, but there were some amusing ones such as the The Wizard of Oz goodbyes. However, all of this takes a backseat to the crux of the episode: Brian fathered a human child! Where else but on Family Guy could I see something like that happen, and actually feel plausible?

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Simpsons: Apocalypse Cow

"Sorry, Lise. I can't be a vegetarian. I love the taste of death." -- Bart Simpson

Another Bart-centric episode, which means another decent installment of The Simpsons. Shows that feature Lisa and/or Bart tend to be more interesting in nature because there are more dimensions to these characters than Homer or Marge. Because of their diverse personalities and passions there is more to explore with the younger Simpsons; more unique situations where they can be placed. Sometimes, they are right in their element. Other times they are put in a scenario that they are initially uncomfortable in but eventually adapt. Such is the case of this episode.

One would think that placing Bart in a nature-related environment would be like putting Dustin Diamond into an Academy Award nominated movie: it just seems un-natural. Yet, Bart adapted quite well as a member of the 4-H. Perhaps it was the chance to drive a large piece of farm machinery that drew him to the club. Eventually, driving the harvester across clotheslines and piles of manure (which turned into DVD copies of Pirates of the Caribbean 3) wasn't the only thing Bart expressed interest in. As the Simpson-universe summer began the young Simpson boy took interest in animal husbandry in order to win a contest.

If I think about it Bart has always been a defender of the weak. Yes, he's always on the case of people like Lisa, Martin and Rod and Todd, but he is more than willing to come to their aide when it is needed. That's why he was a good fit for his little runt of a cow named Lou. Through determination and a little help from another 4-H member named Mary (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), Bart was able to pull Lou through his paces and make him a winner. This really made him a loser since Lou was headed to the feed yard and imminent slaughter.

Of course, Bart wasn't going to let Lou get turned into Sloppy Joe without a fight. This is Bart's M.O.: not very nice to humans, but very kind to animals. In the many episodes where Bart has had to make a decision about the fate of one animal or another he has usually gone the side of good.

He made the right decision to save Lou and get him to a better place. Since Bart is a man of action instead of ideas he needed to incorporate Lisa into his plans. With the help of her radical environmentalist friends (who said a prayer to the spirit of the chain link fence before cutting it open) they were able to take Lou to Mary's house. Little did Bart know that Mary was one of Cletus' children ("It was a regular city birth, in a gas station".)

After being a one-joke character for many seasons, Cletus has been promoted to supporting character status as of late. Cletus is a good character to have because it allows the producers of The Simpsons to show the other side of the city that isn't revealed as much. I got to see that side in this installment as, under the rules of the hill people, Bart and Mary needed to get married. Blame it on his request to have her take Lou to keep him safe.

The wedding scene was pretty amusing, but it went so fast that it was hard to catch all of the jokes. Most amusing was the contradiction of the caterer who was trying to properly position the spittoon. Also funny was what Brandine gave Mary as something old (a rebel flag), something new (one of her baby brothers?), something burrowed (a possum?) and Something Stew. Then there was the ceremony itself, where the preacher assumed that Mary was going to say 'I Do' since the hill people didn't really care what the women-folk had to say.

After Lou was rescued by Apu (hey, that rhymes) Marge and the family needed to rescue a cow-costumed Homer (who didn't have much to do this episode) from being made into some very fatty ground chuck at the Laughter House. Sure, it was jokey and you knew that Homer was going to be saved, but it was an amusing moment. The best line of the night came from Bart at the very end of the episode when he said that he was proud to say that he had a cow, man.

Some other observations about this week's episode:

No sub-plot at all this episode, unless I consider Marge and Homer trying to get Maggie to eat greens as a sub-plot. That's okay, because there was enough story that a secondary storyline wasn't needed.

This week's Blackboard joke: A person's a person no matter how Ralph. Meh.

Six hours of Saturday morning cartoons? The Simpsons really do live in another universe! There hasn't been a broadcast network that has shown six hours of cartoons since the late 90's. Then again, there hasn't been a host like Krusty introducing the cartoons in several decades.

The Trans-Clown-O-Morphs harken back to the days when kids were asked to enter the secret code into the decoder rings they found in their cereal boxes to find out the name of the next adventure. Oh, plus The Transformers. By the way, would you ever tune into a episode of the Trans-Clow-O-Morphs?

Homer was very family-oriented this episode as well as fairly low-key. It was surprising to see him pass on having Lou stay with them when Bart suggested it. Usually Homer is all gung-ho for those types of things.