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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

1st Annual Kuthenator

My very good friends Gregg and Chris held their 1st Annual Kuthenator, which was a triathlon for all us "non" sports, "non" exercise type of people. Of course, I still didn't participate but I was the official Kuthenator photographer. For anyone who knows me, you know the only exercise I do is yoga and playing golf. Everything else, just makes me sweat and I don't like to sweat.

The triathlon consisted of a 1/2 mile swim across Little Paw Paw Lake, a 5 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run/walk. Gregg and Chris put a lot of time and effort into making this day successful and it showed.

Everyone was given triathlon names, boards were made to write down every one's time, map of the courses were well layed out, everyone cheered all the participants on since you were only racing against yourself, and a wonderful breakfast served afterwards. Plus you didn't need to participate in all three events, only what you were comfortable doing.

It was beautiful morning and I do have to say that all 35+ people who came out had a great time. We didn't have too many casualties, although we did lose one bicyclist who went the wrong way and one runner who ran 5 miles instead of 3.

While everyone was packing up and helping to pick up, we were are all talking about next year's Kuthenator and maybe, just maybe, I'll take the plunge and be one the participants. It definitely was a lot of fun.

Check out my photos:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The New Morning Jacket Video is Melting My Heart

Awww! Talk about cute overload. The video for My Morning Jacket's "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2" (which is on their latest album, Evil Urges) is so insanely adorable and fits so well with the song, I can feel the cold cockles of my heart gradually warming. The video follows a super cute, wide-eyed fuzzy-wuzzy as he chases fireflies around the forest, trying to capture them for himself. But then he finds out what happens when someone wants to take away all the light.

I was just talking about my favorite videos of the year earlier today, and this one is definitely joining the ranks. This video actually makes me like this song a lot more. You should watch it, especially if you're in need of a sweet little pick-me-up, so click below.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Movie Preview: The Secret Life of Bees

It's not every day that the film adaptation of a well-loved book appears to capture the same atmosphere and sentiments that the book does, but in my opinion, the trailer for The Secret Life of Bees looks like it might do just that. I loved the novel by Sue Monk Kidd; it was one of those books that left me feeling sad at the end because I had to part with characters I'd come to care about deeply.

The story follows 14-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning) whose mother died, leaving Lily with an abusive father. Together with her caregiver Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), Lily runs away from her father, and the two wind up at a pink house and under the protection of four smart, strong, beekeeping sisters.

The trailer does seem to veer into sappiness a few times, but is just grounded enough to avoid looking like a Lifetime TV movie. Queen Latifah has a solid, maternal way about her in this role, which is refreshing, and it's really great to see Dakota Fanning playing an older character. Alicia Keys has a good presence onscreen, and I may be most excited to see Sophie Okonedo (who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda), whom I find absolutely mesmerizing every time I see her in another movie.

The Secret Life of Bees opens October 17. To see what I'm talking about, click below.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk is Underwater

"It's funny how the mind works."-- Monk to Dr. Bell

I kind of knew when I put together the words Monk and submarine I was going to get an unusual episode. As a longtime Monk watcher, I know that enclosed places are not Adrian-friendly environs, so when an old friend of Natalie's -- hottie Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) as her late husband Mitch's buddy, Lt. Steve Albright -- asked Monk to investigate a suspicious death on the U.S.S. Seattle, trouble would ensue. Was it a contrived situation to get Monk trapped on board? You bet, but I accepted that and moved on.

What made this episode unique was how Monk reacted. Initially, he ran for the hatch like a crazed three-year-old. But then Adrian concocted a coping mechanism. This was a Monk first. To deal with claustrophia, he envisioned Dr. Bell by his side.

It was like Harvey, the movie in which Jimmy Stewart has an invisible best friend named Harvey, a giant rabbit. To the world, Jimmy's character, Elwood P. Dowd, is completely daft. In a similar fashion, Monk spent this entire episode conferring and talking to an invisible Dr. Bell. Monk appeared delusional, but the illusion allowed him to cope with the situation and solve the case. It was actually pretty funny.

Is it possible that Monk is getting better -- at least better for him? Since his illusion was Dr. Bell and not someone else, that means he's bonded with the new therapist. If the late Stanley Kamel were alive, this illusion might have been Dr. Kroger. Still, Monk's subconscious chose someone who can help him deal psychologically, as opposed to Leland or Randy, who would have been there to help solve the crime only.

It was pretty obvious that Commander Whitaker was the "guy," especially because William Atherton always plays an S.O.B. Remember the Die Hard movies? He was great in the pompous, over the top, "I am the Lord on this boat," scene. But there was little doubt that he was the killer.

While there wasn't much suspense, I liked the character development for Monk and the hint of a romance for Natalie. They left it out there that Steve might be back for Christmas. He's single, she's single. They clearly have chemistry. It's time for Natalie to complicate her life with some love. And, finally, if there was any question about Monk and Dr. Bell, it's been answered. When the shrink appeared at the end of the show to meet Monk at the pier and they walked off together, it was like the fade out of Casablanca, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Other points of interest:

With all the references to NCIS, I half-expected to see Mark Harmon make an appearance! (Too bad it's a different network).

As the water filled the sealed room, Monk panicked -- naturally -- crying, "Ocean in my pants."

The shot of the U.S.S. Seattle from the pier was pretty good CGI work, although I knew it was a process shot.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eureka: Best in Faux

It's still too early in the season to get too deep into the bigger picture mystery. In fact, the clues that were given in this episode where Eva's plans are concerned made the whole thing even more confusing. That's ok though, I've got lots of time for that story to grow. In the meantime, "Best In Faux" was another quirky stand-alone that got a lot of things right. The yearly dog show managed to dovetail with some crazy science, Zoey's homework, and some fantastic guest casting to deliver a very fun hour of television.

Let's kick it off with the puppies. It's easy to see what Eva sees in that project. Aside from the scientific gains to be had, who wouldn't want one of those robotic dogs? I'd never really put it together, but that's the thing that's kept me from getting a dog. None of the real ones can be shut off and tossed in the closet when I just don't have time to deal with them. The one drawback to the pups was that they did create a bit of a continuity error. How is it possible that this is such a hotly contested yearly contest and Carter has no idea about it?

That's easily forgiven though, as the dogs lended themselves well to the story. The logic diamond was a bit of the crazy science, but I really liked the way it all came together. The dogs with homegrown logic diamonds, Zoey's acoustic physics homework being used to create the homegrown diamonds, and the diamonds causing the magma pocket. If that wasn't enough, it also provided the opportunity for the show to invite Lexa Doig back.

As great as it was to see Doig return, she wasn't even the best guest star in the episode. How do you not like Alan Ruck as Dr. Wood? He was just nutty enough to make you wonder. Add to that the idea of a disgraced scientist trying to regain some notoriety, something I've seen before, and he was quickly on the short list of suspects. He also had more than a little in common with Carter. Everyone was so eager to dismiss his warnings, because they all know better. Something I've seen time and again where Carter is concerned. The tunneler was also very good as a gadget and an idea. The effects were a little iffy, but apparently MARTHA was very expensive.

The tunneler also set the stage for more of the Carter/Stark relationship. There's still some contention, but the two do seem to be warming up to each other. Something I see with Carter asking, "What do you want to do tomorrow?" And moreso with Stark pausing to actually offer Carter praise for a job well done. As the two becomes closer, it makes the Carter/Allison/Stark triangle all that much more interesting.

Regarding that, I'm still firmly in the camp that the wedding isn't going to happen. I felt like I got a little peek at that in the scene between Carter and Allison when she was stuck in the wedding dress. I heard once again how pressure makes you do crazy things, and it was followed by a look from Carter that said, "Like marrying the wrong guy."

As far as Eva, I'm as confused as ever. I know that Henry's pardon was coming so she could use him as she moved her plan forward, but I still don't have a bead on just what that plan is. The age, the vial, the film, and now the heretofore theoretical radiation all add up to... not sure. Going off of that evidence, perhaps the vile is the elixir of life and Eureka, with the rare radiation, is the one place where conditions exist to create it.

Overall, still waiting to get to the meat of the bigger story, but this was a fun episode.

Other fun bits:

Favorite crazy science of the night. Logic diamond processors connected with tantolin tantalum beams.

Fargo entering a real dog to win the contest was funny.

Carter's reaction to Stark asking for a favor. "That's how you ask? Who raised you!?"

"You're wearing my whole batch of misty green."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Music Video: Juliana Hatfield, "This Lonely Love"

Technically, this Juliana Hatfield song is kinda sad and lonely (hence the title, of course), but the chorus is so catchy I've taken to happily belting it out along with her when I listen to it. I think "This Lonely Love" has a spot waiting for it on my commute playlist.

The video isn't particularly inspired, but it certainly gets across the aloneness of this lonely love, as we watch Hatfield walk around by herself on streets and near trees and on the beach. "This Lonely Love" is on Hatfield's upcoming album How to Walk Away, which was released Aug. 19. To check out the video, click below.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Closer: Dial M for Provenza

This was probably the most anticipated episode of The Closer ever for me. The idea of Provenza stepping into the spotlight and working undercover seemed like a can't miss. Add to that the dramatic conclusion to the last episode "Live Wire" and it really seemed to have the makings of a great episode. Unfortunately, it didn't really work out that way. "Dial M For Provenza" certainly had it's moments, but overall, I'd call it hit and miss.

Let's get started right where I left off last time, Fritz and Brenda. Good grief, that was a fantastic scene, and there were so many ways to interpret it. As I watched it, I was fully on the side of Fritz. Brenda was completely in the wrong. And all of that played a big part in my excitement for this latest entry.

What I got, honestly, was really kind of a let down. Bitten by the fact that The Closer isn't a true-to-form serial. I get that, and I can roll with it usually. But to just see Fritz in the background, joking about Brenda's case, took it too far away from the serial line. A big development like the end of "Live Wire" really deserves some play at continuity. It would have actually been better if I just hadn't seen Fritz at all, then Brenda's frustrations with Provenza would have played in a whole new light. Disappointed, but looking forward to the return to that story.

On a brighter note, the increased Provenza did work really well here. It's one of the great things about The Closer. While Brenda is the show, what makes it great is the cast of characters that surround her. I now have enough background on all of them that I am invested. I get Brenda's attachment to Provenza, and I get Pope's budget concerns. My only complaint about Provenza's part in all of this is that I would have liked to see more of his undercover operation.

Although, that may have been asking for more trouble, because this was one of those cases that kind of strains the suspension of disbelief. The team just splits up to drive back? Provenza and Flynn are transporting the prisoner, and the evidence, in his personal Civic instead of Brenda's cruiser? It's the kind of convenience that makes you cringe a little bit. Fortunately, once the case moved beyond the murder for hire sting, it got a little better.

The scene with Hava..Hanaav...Hanava...Hank and Brenda was classic. Right down to Brenda with the sweet little, "We all tell little white lies from time to time..." And I loved Gabriel's reaction, "No." Until the bit about the combination, I was still unsure of just where it was headed. The brother as the culprit, and Provenza saving his own bacon by working the confession out of Angie, made for a solid wrap up to an episode that started on some shaky footing.

The biggest surprise of the episode for me was another bit that missed, and that was Jennifer Coolidge as Angie. It's surprising because I really like Jennifer Coolidge. I think she's very funny, and well cast for this part. But what was up with that accent? It came and went, and I'm just not sure why it was there in the first place. It was all just odd and distracting.

Finally, the last scene with Pope and Provenza really was great. It's something I've seen before. Two members of the team with tension between them finding a common ground and sharing a moment. It reminded me of Brenda and Taylor in "Cherry Bombs." So, overall, it was a good episode, but stopped short of being great by some bits that just didn't quite work. If this is the worst I get though, I'm way ahead of the game.

Other fun stuff:

Tao continues to be a scene stealer. Both with his Dr. Horrible goggles for the bomb removal, and the followup popping through the wall in exaltation. He also had the line of the night with, "Money is exchanged...and so ends another Provenza date."

The bit with Provenza taking the picture of Willie Rae to use in his interrogation was very funny. "He's always been fond of my mother." Of course, that was topped by the exchange with the perp. "Do you know who this is?" "Your daughter?"

The short exchanges with Brenda and Pope were very good. My favorite was the look on her face as she tried to hide the fact that Serabian had now been murdered for real. And Pope's reaction to the realization.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mad Men: The Benefactor

Last week I mused that the soul of Pete Campbell was being set up as a battleground for the competing forces at Sterling Cooper, but I may have been a little premature, as Pete was nowhere to be seen in the latest episode of Mad Men. Boo. Even though Pete can be slimy and repulsive, that's a heck of a lot more interesting to watch than, say, Harry angling for a raise. Joan was also pretty much MIA, which only added to a sense of wanting this episode to be over so that I can get back to the good characters next episode.

That said, this episode was not without its fair share of slime, although the target of my revulsion came as a bit of surprise to me. Plus, I got a lot more Betty, which means I'm inching closer to knowing what happened between her and Don during the break between seasons — and also means I'm probably closer to her ilicit affair with the horse guy (at least that's what I'm hoping for).

Don Draper: Whoa! All this time spent practicing restraint and staying loyal to his wife and he throws it all away in . . . the front of a car? With someone who is not Rachel Menken or my other favorite lover-of-Don, Midge Daniels the bohemian? I was not happy with that but also wasn't surprised to see Don back to his cheating ways. The biggest ick moment of the night for me came from how violently Don treated his new mistress, Bobbie Barrett, at Lutece. His manhandling of her after she threatened him on behalf of her "client" was uncomfortably sexual and made me a bit fearful of Don (has he ever treated Betty that way?).

Betty Draper: Betty had quite the episode, starting with her little moment with Arthur, the horse rider all the ladies have a crush on (do you find him all that dashing? I don't). He comes onto Betty by telling her she's beautiful and his fiancee is jealous of her. He also observes several times how "profoundly sad" she is, which turns out to be quite intuitive because after attending the business dinner at Lutece, in which she fulfilled Don's request that she be "shiny and bright," she breaks down in tears on the drive home. She tells Don they are tears of joy because she really enjoyed being a part of his life, being on the same "team." I feel like poor Betty is heading for an emotional implosion, and yet I can't completely guess what that will look like.

A couple more thoughts:

One of the biggest cringeworthy moments for me was when Betty asked Don, "Is this one where I talk or don't talk?" after he invites her to a business dinner in the city. Can you even imagine asking that of your husband one day? Ugh.

There was definitely a body-shaming theme woven through last night's episode as well. Betty's horse riding friend casually refers to her own daughter as fat (with a twinge of remorse and bitterness in her voice) and the whole episode's dramatic arc kicked off with a comedian comparing the overweight wife of one of Don's clients to the Hindenburg. In regard to a certain standard of beauty for women and girls, I wonder how far we've truly come since then.

Harry and his wife were actually pretty adorable. I loved her coaching him on how to get a raise, although it struck me that she was far more savvy about how these things work than he is and probably would be better in the corporate world!

How did you feel about Don firing his secretary? That poor girl was doomed from the start, but I'm unclear what purpose her tiny subplot has served other than showing us how tough it was to make it as someone's "girl" in the office, especially since they were practically asked to read minds and cover their male bosses when they slipped out to cheat on their wives and/or watch French movies. Who knows, maybe I haven't seen the last of this girl.

And I just have to say that I totally love Roger Sterling and laughed out loud during his scene with Harry discussing the raise. The cavalier way he speaks is often a welcome relief from how stilted and repressed the rest of the cast can be.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pam's New Music Downloads

Having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, John Mellencamp could certainly be forgiven for coasting a bit on the memory of "Jack & Diane." Instead the heartland rocker has released one of his best discs in years, Life, Death, Love and Freedom. "Longest Days," is a spare, Springsteen-esque ballad.

The Hold Steady, Stay Positive. Lyrically and musically rich, these indie rockers hold your attention steady. Best cuts: the Springsteen-esque single "Sequestered in Memphis" and the blues-colored ballad "Lord, I'm Discouraged."

Fleet Foxes may be from Seattle and record for the same label that gave us Nirvana, but this quintet couldn't be anything further from grunge. On their self-titled debut album, these sweet Foxes will have you blissing out with their airsy dream pop. "White Winter Hymnal" is one of my favorites.

Friday, August 22, 2008

In Plain Sight: Stan By Me

"My family will be the death of me."

What an opening act! What a set up! This seemed to be the first of the two-part finale for season one, and in this episode, the writers really delivered a knockout. I think we're finally getting that clash of Mary's personal and professional life that's been building from the pilot when Brandi showed up.

The abduction of Mary was well done because they chloroformed her. If she weren't drugged, she would have not been overpowered. As it was, she nearly got away. Of course, they thought they were grabbing Brandi so why did they need to knock her out? Also -- continuity error -- Russell said they grabbed the first hot blonde that came out of the house. That's not where Mary was snatched; she was in the alley outside the theater.

One of the best sequences was Jinx's audition. She sang "Neverland" -- and yes, that really was Lesley Ann Warren singing. She has legit musical comedy chops -- Victor/Victoria, TV's second Cinderella (after Julie Andrews, before Brandi). That was also the perfect song for her character -- it's from Broadway's Peter Pan, a song is about never growing up, and isn't that just so Jinx Shannon? Jinx's reaction to seeing Mary at the audition was a stunner. All that pent up anger. I've heard week after week how frustrated Mary is with her family, who knew they were equally frustrated with Mary! Jinx turned on Mary and screamed, "The only time you're ever happy is when Brandi or I are miserable. You root for our failures. It's the only thing that gives your life meaning." Whoa! That's a heavy burden, especially since Jinx and Brandi are living off Mary. How can her mother really feel that way?

As screwed up as Jinx is, I'm really ticked off with Brandi. She is a maddening character. I think I hate her guts. She's selfish and manipulative. Oh, and did I mention that she's stupid! She's determined to get herself or someone close to her killed. She's already succeeded with Chuck. I think another victim is going to fall. Look out Raph.

The revelation about Mary's background was also stunning. "Honestly, with this family tree. It's a wonder she got into the U.S. Marshall service at all." Boy, did Agent O'Connor hit the nail on the head. Mary's father is on the most wanted list! Jinx and Brandi have rap sheets. I'm wondering if Mary did something underhanded to get into the Federal Marshall program. Did she bend the rules to achieve her goals?

Mary McCormack really shone in this episode. I loved the way she played Spanky, scamming him about the $500,000. It would have worked if not for the media alert the FBI was told not to put out. Later on, when she had to go along with the rape attempt to put herself in a position to kill Russell, that was Emmy worthy. It was also cathartic to see her shoot the guy -- and completely justified.

Other points of interest:

The FBI comes off really badly. Not only is O'Connor a pain in the ass, the two dead agents in New Jersey hang out at Chuck's long enough for Spanky to get the drop on them. If they had just taken Chuck to the office as planned, they wouldn't have been shot.

Hooray for the homeless dude. Bobby D. acted like he couldn't be bothered with him, but the guy did the right thing. So much for prejudging the bums in the alley.

Did you see Marshall's emotional reaction to Mary's abduction? Talking to Bobby and Stan, Marshall was choked up.

The red Mercury Caliente doesn't have seatbelts. Isn't that illegal? Of course, Jinx and Brandi seem to regularly break the law.

For the first time all season, Stan finally rose to the occasion. He not only was involved in the case, he had the topper at the end, locking Agent O'Connor in the office to cool his heels. I guess that's why this episode was called "Stan By Me."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Rock-afire Explosion Movie

Did you grow up in a place with a Showbiz Pizza? Even though I was in my 20's, I really liked Showbiz and its animatronic band, the Rock-afire Explosion. Made up of a singing gorilla, a bass-playing bear, and many other lovable if slightly creepy characters, the band would sing rock and country hits of the '80s and earlier (plus, of course, "Happy Birthday" to the many kids who celebrated there).

The restaurants have since closed, but the Rock-afire Explosion lives on — most notably on YouTube, where the band has been reprogrammed to sing such modern hits as Usher's "Love in this Club." And the phenomenon isn't going unnoticed: There's a Rock-afire documentary in the works, slated to be released this Fall.

The trailer for this movie just has to be seen to be believed; even at that, I'd think it was a mockumentary if I didn't know better (the guy who says, "It was like being in rock-and-roll. It was exactly like being in rock-and-roll" just seems so earnest!). To relive the magic if you were a Showbiz kid — or if you want to understand click below.

The Rock-afire Explosion Movie Trailer

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk Takes a Punch

Okay, this episode was a definite reach, especially the convoluted way they came up with a climax to feature Monk doing all the things necessary to pass a fitness exam. Perhaps it was an homage to the Olympics, a twisted connection thanks to the NBC Universal. I don't know, but it took a leap of faith to buy it all.

For starters, there was no star murderer. It was an interesting case for a change, especially since the killer was a professional hit man. The planting of the bomb in the heavy bag was clever, although wouldn't a real pro make sure that the target would be hit? The set up was so random. And if you don't care about killing, why not leave a bomb big enough to destroy the gym and everyone in it? Just wondering...

So we get Monk in a boxing ring. Hmm... Was this episode inspired by the Rocky movies? You have to wonder, because boxing is hardly a "now" sport. This was more like a 1930's boxing movie, which is what Rocky was basically re-creating. Very anachronistic. This was especially true in the scene when Monk confronted Ray with the evidence that he took a dive, it seemed to come out of left field. There was no build up to it... Adrian said he was quitting before the commercial, then he's on the case.

The show did have familiar stars, like James Lesure who played Mike on Las Vegas, as the boxer (turns out that he's an amateur boxer). Great character actor Robert Loggia seemed to be doing the Burgess Meredith role from Rocky, you know, crusty old Mickey? (I guess I should be glad there was no Burt Young character).

The strands of this episode were all over the place -- Ray taking a dive for Flynn's daughter's operations, stolen art, Marino the mob boss, the hired gun man with the high powered rifle, Monk's ineptitude at physical activity -- which prompted a quick wrap up (at warp speed) once Disher and Stottlemeyer shot the assailant (and wasn't that a shock; normally nobody is shot by the cops on Monk). Randy looked devastated, even though Leland said they'd acted in self-defense.

Overall, not a great episode, but at least Monk's still on the San Francisco P.D. consultant list. Hopefully, "the beast" will get more interesting cases to come.

Other points of interest:

Great catch by Stottlemeyer, noticing that the thread from the heavy bag had been licked and had to have DNA on it.

What? Adrian Monk doesn't know anything about the web. Really? How could he tell Julie what to look up and how to find it on the Internet Worldwide Web if he's never used it. This seemed off to me. Monk has OCD, but he's not out of touch with the 21st century.

When Monk goes to the bomb site in the track suit, moaning that he's going to quit because he can't pass the fitness test, Flynn growls, "He looks like a big, sad plum."

For a change, Randy was very funny. His undressing to prove that he wasn't wearing a wire made me laugh out loud.

I never thought I'd see Tony Shalhoub mimicking Barbra Streisand, but his gags at ringside were just like hers in The Main Event, i.e. getting tangled in the ropes trying to climb into the ring, then straightening the boxer's socks when he's supposed to get back to the fight.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Eureka: What About Bob?

"This is the best season yet!" -- Fargo, speaking about the ongoing adventures in Lab 27.

Now that the storylines for this season have been established by the season premiere, Eureka moved ahead with an episode that was straight out of a Sci Fi Channel original movie. Except, you know, more entertaining. Not that those Sci Fi movies aren't entertaining, mind you. You have to have a very broad imagination to make a movie about Noah's Ark holding evil spirits bent on destroying the world.

But, I digress. What makes Eureka a refreshing change of pace in the science fiction genre is, while everyone in the town is brilliant and talented and unique in their own way, they are human. In other words, they have their own personal feelings and foibles. Yet, in Eureka, they are able to all work together to keep the town what it is. And, when someone or something comes around to throw off the balance these geniuses react.

Such is the case with Eva Thorne, who came in last episode to straighten up the town. Now the 'Chairman' Eva is making a number of changes to both Global Dynamics and to the town itself that are upsetting the precious balance that is contained within the electromagnetic shield. For instance, because she liked the cut of Zane's jib, he was named director of Consumer Product Testing for GD. She also decided to place a hiring freeze over at Global, cut out free meals for Jo and Carter at Cafe Diem, add parking meters to the streets in the area, charge for library cards, and close the Eureka museum.

What this did was begin to divide the town up: you were either on board with Eva's changes, or you weren't. Or, the quiet third option ... you were reluctant to make the changes but did anyway to keep everything going. Hence, the reason that Allison was unsure to tell Carter that she was tasked to watch over him (whether it was her own decision or her and Stark's is something I can't recall) due to all of the events that took place since he became sheriff. It initially led to some animosity between the two, which was not something that was healthy while investigating the de-evolution of one of the team members of the controlled bio-system within Lab 27.

It also led to a confrontation between Sheriff Jo Lupo and Eva at Cafe Diem. It was this meeting with Jo that made "The Fixer" reconsider some of her actions. Actually, it was that and something she saw in Lab 27 that made her change her mind. During the crisis in the controlled bio-system, which involved an evolution downgrade and a missing scientist, Eva got to see how Jack, Nathan and Henry (via bio-holographic display) worked together despite the issues they had with one another. It was the particular pairing of Carter and Henry, and how they were able to resolve the danger taking place around them, that made Eva realize that she was toying with a bit too much in Eureka.

It also made her realize that Henry wasn't doing anybody any good sitting in a super max prison. So, after a short period of time (at least in television time) he was given a pardon. This did something to people's opinion of Eva: it made her a human being. Sure, she was still a cutthroat businesswoman intent on making Eureka a leaner, meaner machine. Yet, she still had the sense to realize that the balance needed to be restored for things to work properly. At least, for now.

Switching over to Lab 27. Even though it was still within Eureka it was nice to see Allison and Jack outside the environs of the town. And, for some viewers, it was probably nice to see both of them out of their clothes. Colin Ferguson got this treatment twice as he was shown as an anatomically inaccurate hologram. Even though it was typical science fiction fare, I enjoyed the way that the producers handled the plot. Rather than have someone people care about de-evolve into some animal-like being the person first infected turned out to be a bit lecherous. As Jack said when the crisis ended "Once a snake, always a snake."

Other other moments from this show:

"How do you make the rain?" "Recycled urine." -- Jack asking Allison how the rain was made in the bio-system.

For Fargo, Lab 27 is the mother of all reality shows. He said it was his Barney when he was growing up.

"The insertion of the talent has made the show fresh again." -- Fargo talking about the inclusion of Jack and Allison into the bio-dome. Perhaps an inside joke concerning the addition of characters to this season's Eureka. He was later heard saying, "This is the best season yet."

"I'm just glad you have pants." -- Jack talking to Henry's hologram.

Henry's homecoming. This was very heartwarming, especially when Jack saw Henry entering Cafe Diem. Any animosity they had against each other looks to have melted away from that moment on.

My two favorite scientific terms: macro de-evolution and mutagenic wavelength

Allison's engagement to Nathan: it was coming. While she and Carter have a deep connection, Nathan was her former husband and has a unique link with her son Kevin. This frees Jack up to pursue other love interests. And, of course, there's nothing written in stone that says that these two can't connect up. I mean, it's television!

I knew that Eva was in Eureka for more than just corporate clean-up, as was shown in the last scene of the season premiere. This time I got some more clues as to what Ms. Thorne was looking for. It seems she was watching an atomic bomb test. But, as the film canister label displayed, the filming of the test was from 1938 and not 1945. So, what's going on here?

Monday, August 18, 2008

DVD Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend is not a terrible movie. It's simply disappointing to see something that could have been great — and that starts out with some excellent things going for it — whimper out to nothing in the end. Based on Richard Matheson's 1954 sci-fi novel, this story has been adapted for film before (Last Man on Earth, Omega Man), with moderate success. Why a modern-day adaptation was supposed to work best is unclear (maybe the use of CGI was alluring?). Will Smith has a challenging task, acting almost entirely alone for the better part of the film, and he's surprisingly good at it. But his fine performance becomes the film's one redeeming quality, and one is not enough.

The movie starts out with Smith's character, Robert Neville, roaring around Manhattan in a sweet car, hunting for food. The visual construction of a barren, silent New York City is this film's strength. It's eerie to see "the city that never sleeps" half-crumbled, overgrown with weeds and devoid of human life. We discover that three years earlier, a virus took hold of the city and wiped out the entire city's population (and then the world's population) — with the exception of a few immune people, like Robert, and a group of infecteds who turned into "the night seekers."

These former humans are now vampireish, zombielike monsters who can't stand the light and prowl around at night looking to destroy/infect any survivors. Robert, a scientist, diligently works to find a cure for the virus using his blood, though capturing an infected without being attacked himself proves challenging. Thus, it turns into a race against time: Robert trying to figure out a cure before any of the night-seekers destroy him.

The science-fiction aspects of the film are often intriguing — and far and away more interesting than the disgusting animated night-seekers who alternate between gratingly annoying and laughably ridiculous. The vicious, hairless, screeching monsters resemble larger and stronger versions of Gollum from Lord of the Rings but are emptier and more pointless versions of Gollum. As the film continues, there are more and more jump-scares, featuring a quiet scene jarringly interrupted by a sudden noise (usually the outrageously obnoxious monster screaming sound), a tactic that grows incredibly tiresome.

Soon the struggle becomes that of Robert trying to stay alive against an army of night seekers — which, while more action-packed, is a far less compelling storyline than seeing Robert figure out a cure. Thus, there are ways that this movie could have been cooler and more interesting, but the cheap scares and goofy CGI monsters bring it down many notches from what it might have been.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Closer: Live Wire

"You didn't do it for the justice system. You did it to close your case."

Nobody would ever doubt that Chief Brenda Johnson is a smart woman, but how smart was it of her to use Fritz the way she did? That's the question I came away with after seeing this episode. Is closing a case so important for the closer that she'd mess up her personal relationship?

Fritz was rightfully incensed by Brenda's tactics, and yet I could see it from her point of view, too. I guess that's why The Closer remains such a good drama -- the conflicts are real and there are no easy answers.

The killing of Benjamin Masters was a good mystery, especially with the wired camera showing whodunit -- sort of. It was a good twist, seeing the killing, but not being able to ID the killer.

Turns out that Ramos is a slimy character. It seemed very coincidental that he happened to discover -- and tamper -- with the body. In a nice switch, Brenda uses the L.A. Times reporter to plant a story in the paper that flushes out the killer. I get the impression that Ramos will be back again, although instead of accidentally getting involved in a murder case, he should be assigned to the beat.

There were a lot of great moments in the show. Tao's magic forensics with the ring was like a great improvisation, especially getting the Q-tip to turn red. I wonder how many criminals are entrapped by cops doing stuff like that?

Certainly Brenda's interview with Dean Murphy stacked the deck against his making a deal with the FBI; I assume there are all kinds of turf wars between cops over who makes what collar -- or so it seems in movies and TV. I think Brenda really thought she'd lost Murphy when she turned him over to the FBI, to Fritz. She seemed genuinely surprised later when Fritz told her that Murphy chose not to take the FBI's deal.

The whole Gabriel-Daniels romance exploded in a very nasty way. I was sort of stunned that these cops would air their dirty laundry in the office, especially since they know that Brenda frowns on love in the workplace. No doubt Brenda's feelings date back to her history with Pope, which nearly screwed up her career. I thought it was great that when Gabriel pulled one of his political moves, trying to get Daniels transferred out of Priority Homicide, Brenda wouldn't be played. He looked shocked and pissed that he may have to transfer out of the unit.

I liked the way Brenda handled it, tearing up the transfer papers and after they both promised to never bring their problems to the office again. She told them, "Then neither one of you will mind complying with my direct order: work it out!"

But the ending was a real knock out and I think the ramifications have to be developed over the next few episodes. Fritz believes that Brenda chose her professional victory over their personal relationship and that's fundamental. He didn't accept Brenda's apology -- which was lame -- and he stormed off with all his addiction triggers having been set off by her actions. He was going to an AA meeting, or two. That's not good.

Kudos to Kyra Sedgwick and Jon Tenney. This was top notch stuff by them.

Other points of interest:

Brenda's back on the junk food. Didn't you love her going for the chocolate when she was stressed out? Then after throwing the candy in the trash, she actually retrieved it and was ready to finish eating it. Reminded me of George on Seinfeld.

While searching the parking garages, Flynn did that thing with the key and said, "I'm using my head as an antennae," said Flynn. Was that hilarious or what?

Good catch by Provenza with the orthopedic shoes to ID the victim.

I loved when Brenda asserted her authority with Daniels and Gabriel, saying, "I don't come to work everyday to watch soap operas. I mean it." She did.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ben Folds with Regina Spektor, "You Don't Know Me"

Ben Folds's plucky tune "You Don't Know Me" has that bouncy piano thing that actually reminds me more of Regina Spektor's music than Ben Folds's, so it seems fitting that Spektor would contribute some sweet vocals to the track. "You Don't Know Me" will be on Ben Folds's September album Way to Normal .

I'm really digging this song. No, it's not much like Folds's older stuff, but it's a cute, jaunty departure from the norm, and I can appreciate that. To check out the song for yourself, click below.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In Plain Sight: To Serge With Love

What does Mary expect? I mean, really, what does she expect! Okay, before I get to the gory details, let's talk about the case.

Remember the Russian girl from the pilot? Natasha with the new boobs -- thanks to the U.S. government, our tax dollars -- has gotten a job at Headlights (nee Hooters) and has hooked up with a new guy.

Turns out he's Marshall's charge, another program member, Serge. The problem is not just the huge coincidence that they've hooked up, it's that she's a witness and he's a felon, they cannot stay together.

I was with Mary on this one; I didn't trust Serge. I didn't believe he was sincerely in love with Natasha. However, Mary ripping off his computer was blatantly illegal. The evidence would have been thrown out in court, but maybe the WITSEC program has different rules when dealing with felons.

Whatever, the bottom line is that her Charles Bronson bluster broke the case opened and revealed just how big a pile of steaming poo Serge really was.

Speaking of steaming piles, what the hell is wrong with Brandi? Could she really be this dumb? She listens to the never-seen Chuck in New Jersey and agrees to sell the cocaine and deal with the lowlifes. I don't think so. This is the same girl who gave Chico a hard time about doing his laundry. Would she break a nail for Chuck let alone commit a felony?

The baby twist took me by surprise. But even as wasted as the chick in the hotel was, why did she let Brandi into the toilet -- twice -- knowing they were hiding the kid? I liked Brandi coming back with Biscuit, the teddy bear and the back story about Mary having given it to her. Brandi's choosing to do the right thing -- but in her own screwed up way -- is going to lead to no good.

Finally, the finish. Mary just uses her keys to walk into Raph's house where he's conveniently comforting a sleeping Brandi. Naturally, Mary storms out. Are you kidding me? I'd be screaming bloody murder. Why is Brandi there? Why didn't she get on the plane? And Raph should be screaming, too -- why are you letting yourself into my house when you broke up with me?

Other points of interest

It was great to see Mary and Marshall at odds. They're fun when they're fighting.

Stan is still ineffectual. His character may be one of the worst I've encountered on TV drama in a while.

Didn't Mary throw Brandi and Jinx out of the house last week? Now she's paying for Brandi's flight out of town? And apparently Jinx is still living there. So much for that dramatic moment.

I loved Mary calling Brandi on watching The Secret with Jinx. Mary denouncing the magic of the universe was classic Shannon.

Did you notice that Mary was driving the WITSEC SUV? Why does she drive the Ford Probe on the job sometimes, but here on a personal errand, she's using the government car?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mad Men: Flight 1

On Mad Men a tragedy struck the office and set off a chain of events that further divided Sterling Cooper into two competing sides: the good (Don) and the bad (Duck). Or at least that's how I like to think of it, even though nothing is as simple as good vs. evil in the world of these ad men. For now, though, the show seemed to kick off what I bet becomes a struggle for the soul of Pete Campbell (of all people), and I'm probably in for some interesting office politics over the next several weeks.

The thing that continues to nag at me, though, is: What's wrong with Don? He's seriously lost his mojo and is constantly looking bewildered and sad. The previous show hammered on the fact that he's growing old and might be losing touch with those hip kids so important to advertising. This episode was all about watching him lose power and influence at the office and at home, and it clearly doesn't suit him. It's quite the departure from the cocky and ambitious philandering dreamboat I met in season one.

This episode also belonged to Paul, Joan, and Peggy, as I got some deeper revelations about what their lives are like outside of the office and what makes these people tick.

Pete Campbell: The office is shocked when an American Airlines jet crashes. Pete, being the class act that he is, jokes that there were likely golfers on the flight, so the bay probably turned plaid. He then learns that his father was one of those passengers and proceeds to be awkward the rest of the episode. At first he turns to Don for comfort (they have a strange father/son-ish relationship sometimes) but the next day Don is rude to him so he goes running to Duck. Together they use Pete's tragedy to try to get American Airlines as a client.

Don Draper: Don doesn't know Pete helps Duck, but he knows Duck isn't wasting time to woo the troubled airline, and he's rather repulsed. He's then instructed to dump their other airline client so, all in all, it's a bad time for Don. That night over cards with their friends, Betty tells a story about their son lying about a drawing he did. When Don says it's no big deal, Betty shoots back, "What about all that praise he accepted for something he didn't do?" Don's look of bewilderment indicated to me he was thinking something along the lines of, "Oh great, now my wife is thinking? What a crappy day!"

Peggy Olson: So, it turns out Peggy comes from a super Catholic background, and I finally get to see where her love child with Pete has been stashed: with her sister and mother. I know I'm supposed to feel sympathy for Peggy, being that women pregnant out of wedlock had few options at that time — not to mention she's right in the middle of a bona fide career in a boys' club industry — but her total inability to deal with her baby irks me. And then, when Pete gives her a tiny look that indicates he might feel something for her, it clearly still melts her heart. She's come a long way in terms of having a spine, but I still have trouble with her sometimes.

A few more thoughts:

Joan's reaction to Paul's girlfriend was deplorable. Makes her somewhat of a villain now. I loved how Paul's response to her evilness was publicly posting her real age (In her 30s! Gasp!) in the office.

How funny was that passive-aggressive battle between the Olson wives to comfort their mother-in-law at Pete's family home? I loved when Pete's sister-in-law said, "I like to offer a nice bouquet of my thoughts." I'm going to use that line the next time I deal with my cable company.

Poor Paul. His outfit, plus the way he held his drink at the party, plus his beard, plus his pipe was kind of ridiculous. But generally speaking, I like him as a character, even though he always sounds like he's delivering a Shakespeare monologue.

What did Peggy's sister mean when she told Peggy that neither the State of New York nor the doctors thought she was capable of making her own decisions? Did someone take Peggy's baby away from her? Were they allowed to do that back then? I've assumed she gave her baby to her family because she couldn't deal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monk: Mr Monk Gets Lotto Fever

"You used to be a superstar and now you're Garfunkel."

I never realized that Mr. Monk likes being a celebrity. This episode really underscored that fact. When the uniformed cop asks for his autograph and then he talks to the guy's nephew, Monk is giddy as he tells Natalie that the kid thinks he's "Cooler than Spider-man?" Autographs and ego. I didn't realize that Monk enjoyed his status. Meanwhile, in a really odd turn, the body is just laying there. What a cavalier attitude about showing the body, I mean that's kind of unusual for an episode of Monk. There was no sheet over the body. And the killing was pretty vicious. The aggressiveness of the killer, the way he chased her, then stabbed her three times, suggested passion to me, but it was all a red herring.

There's some real tension between Natalie and Monk. I've seen this before, including last week with the money issue. Are they building to something? Monk's attitude about saying, "Nokay" to Natalie's chance to do become "Lotto Girl" (for one night) was typical, selfish Monk. "You'll thank me later," Natalie said, borrowing from Monk. The sight of Natalie posing as lotto girl on the city bus was great. It really hit home her 15 minutes of fame. Monk mocks her and nearly calls her a bimbo. It reaches a crescendo when Monk demands that she choose and Natalie quits. "I quit you. I quit us." For Natalie, this was all emotion. She ran off in tears. Monk doesn't seem to get this fact and is only concerned with who will hand him a fresh wipe. Later, he laments, "Everyone leaves. I'd leave me too if I had a chance." Why doesn't he realize that he has the power to change that? Guess it's part of his neuroses.

I loved Lotto guy. What a great character! Instead of just being an obsessive nut, his theory about how to win was very well-thought out and revelatory. See, even geeky fan boys are more than just their obsessions! By the way, he was living in Nob Hill Towers. In San Francisco. Maybe he had won some Lotto millions, how else could he afford even a studio apartment there?

The finale was again rushed. I don't know why the writers are having such a hard time pacing the mysteries. The scene in which the lottery commissioner and the station manager confront Natalie and Leland and accuse them of rigging the lotto machine was really badly written. Leland's a cop. Natalie has no criminal record. The accusations were all conjecture and the evidence didn't prove that they had doctored the system. Monk figures out the metallic paint and the magnet in 30 seconds. Then he recognizes the logo on the hat and Billy Logan, sound man -- who should have been the obvious suspect because of his connection to the equipment -- is conveniently lounging by the pool with his accomplice.

Other points of interest:

Leland to Randy when the other cop comes up with his funny one-liner about the murder: "Come on, Shecky. Let's walk it off"

Monk makes a reference to celebrity, saying, "I felt like Fats Domino." Really? He knows Fats Domino but not Art Garfunkel? I guess he stopped listening to music in 1961.

In his glee at winning the lottery, Stottlemeyer showed his generosity, offering to pay off Randy's student loans. And he's ready to give up his job in a heartbeat.

When Randy arrested Logan, he peppered him with zingers, then said, "You have the right to remain silent." Logan shot back, "I will if you will."

Monk's thinking that Garfunkel was Garfield the cat, or Alvin and the Chipmunks, or a carbuncle, was funny.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eureka: Bad to the Drone

With the return of Eureka, I think my summer viewing schedule is now complete. It's not exactly fall premiere season, but it's hard to complain about summer schedules anymore, given the amount of great programming available. When last I left my favorite eggheads, and Carter, there were two big questions in play. How would Allison respond to Stark's proposal? And would Henry go to jail? I got one of those answers, and a very short peek at where this will be headed in season three.

As far as cliffhangers go, those are both pretty light weight stuff. A proposal and a possible arrest lack a certain grandness. It actually makes sense for the way Eureka is playing out though. Season two wrapped up the big artifact story, leaving season three to start with a, mostly, fresh slate. That's a good decision. In Eureka, a little serial goes a long way.

Getting to the answers, didn't you think that Allison was going to say 'yes'? It's far too early in the going for her to be settling down with Carter, even though I know that's where she'll end up. She may have said yes to the proposal, but I don't think Stark should be counting on that wedding actually happening. As for Henry, he did go to jail, but it's still up in the air just how long he's staying for. I'm betting he'll be back before too awfully long.

Ah, but the rest of the GD team didn't get off scott-free. They're stuck dealing with, The Fixer. I like the addition. With everything that's happened in Eureka, it makes sense that someone up the chain is going to want a little oversight. She's quickly learning the same lesson that normal rules just don't apply in her new environment.

That's something I saw in great detail with the Martha saga. Only in Eureka do they create an A.I. capable of learning, and give it weaponry capable of destroying buildings. I wouldn't call the Martha story the best of the series, but it did its job as a backdrop to get me involved with all of the characters again. The fact that the wife was ultimately behind the bungled demonstration was a surprise, but the story of the scientist that was under appreciated did feel a little familiar.

The thing that most stands out to me is the relationship between Carter and Stark. It seemed like they were making some progress in the season two finale. Like the two of them had finally found some common ground. Yeah, that really didn't last long. There's still a reluctant respect, but they just don't like each other. I especially like the little digs, like Stark answering the question about why Martha shot at Eva instead of Carter, "Poor judgment."

Overall, it was a nice welcome back episode. The gangs all here, mostly, and it feels right. My only complaint would be that I could have gone for a little less Larry, preferably replaced with an appearance by Tag. In fact, I would have been ok with the episode ending without that last telling scene with Eva. Having the show back was good enough, but I am sure they will start to tackle the vast conspiracy in the coming weeks.

Best crazy science quote of the week: "Maybe that photon blast she absorbed somehow supercharged her microprocessor."

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Closer: Cherry Bomb

"You cannot trust the police. They lie about everything." - Brenda

The story actually tied in nicely with last week's episode, "Speed Bumps." With that one we saw Flynn obsessing over a case, and this week we find Taylor, and then Brenda, in a similar predicament. Perhaps that's why it was bumped up in the rotation. Originally this one was slated to be number four.

What really made the episode work for me was the interaction between Taylor and Brenda. They've always had a very tenuous relationship, but at the core of it there is a respect. It showed here as Taylor had to ask for Brenda's help cleaning up his mess. Of course, she couldn't just agree without making it perfectly clear that he had screwed up. "You left your victim exposed while you busied yourself with the political ramifications." Once she was on board though, she quickly became as obsessed with it as he was, and understandably so.

It really was a grisly crime. They managed to convey just how much so without actually showing us the crime, or even very much of the evidence. The small peeks, and the reactions of everyone involved, were more than enough. And those political ramifications, those serve as another ongoing theme this season. It's a game that Brenda is just not going to play, and it's going to keep Taylor and Pope awfully busy.

Getting to the case, I was curious by the 'twist' at the end. It seemed pretty obvious to me from the moment that the friends provided the alibi that the younger Yates didn't commit the murder, and that Brenda would be arresting the father for lying about his alibi. You knew it couldn't end well for him when he called Brenda a bitch. It's worth mentioning that it was a nice guest performance from Daniel Baldwin.

As part of the case, I also got another great example of how hard Brenda's job is. Not just from an investigation standpoint, but from an emotional one. The most telling bit of that was her scene with Ally. She, essentially, abducted the girl and put her in a place that she really didn't want to be. Ultimately, she did it with good intentions, but it still has to take a toll to put someone through that. There was another quick look at that as Brenda confessed to Fritz how much the case was getting to her.

The only real negative I have for the episode is that it might be too stand alone. The Closer is certainly not a serial, but I do like a little something to tie it all together from week to week. Some kind of hint toward the Daniels/Gabriel story, or a little more Brenda/Fritz, would have been nice. I actually don't mind that the ending was predictable.

Rest in Peace, Isaac Hayes

It was a pretty depressing weekend in the world of entertainment as we lost first Bernie Mac and then Isaac Hayes. Hayes passed away on Sunday in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 65.

Many people know Hayes as the deep-voiced singer who brought the theme song to Shaft into the world. In 1972, he won the Oscar for that song, becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar in a non-acting category. Hayes went on to pick up three Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

For people of a younger generation, however, Hayes will be remembered as the voice of Chef on South Park. To enjoy a video set to Chef's "Chocolate Salty Balls" in Hayes's honor, just read more.

Warning: The video includes some content that is NSFW, but it is also hilarious.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In Plain Sight: Good Cop, Dead Cop

If you've invested in this show from the start -- as I have -- here was a really welcome episode to fill in the blanks. Finally, I was given a little back story about Mary, the place she's living, her obnoxious family, her frustrations with her life and even Marshall's unrequited (or so he thinks) leering for his partner. There was even some good character stuff for Bobby D -- whom Mary colorfully calls a "little prick" -- which was really nice.

I liked the case of a Chicago cop doing a "Serpico" -- going undercover to rat out police corruption -- and winding up killing a fellow officer in self-defense and being forced into Witness Protection was on target. And unlike the ridiculous Russian girl in the pilot who was asking WITSEC for new breasts, this was a realistic relocation. He resented being stuck in Albuquerque, and proving that he wasn't a stone, he was attracted to Mary. Of course, Mary did cross a line by sleeping with the guy, but that was all right, too, because it proved that she wasn't a stone, too. And since it was back story, it was pre-Raphael.

When another former Chicago cop happens to be killed, Eps is implicated in a very convoluted way, forcing Mary and Marshall to defend their charge and also investigate who really did it. Any time Mary has had to interact with Bobby D the show has perked up, and this was no different. But when it comes to crossing the line, his using her cell phone to uncover Eps identity was tricky and clever, but it I know my Law & Order, completely inadmissible in a court of law. Even if Eps had shot Rodriguez, there would have been no conviction because the evidence was all tainted.

I could definitely see him and Mary hooking up again because that door was left wide open at the end of the show.

Other points of interest:

Why is Raph incapable of doing his laundry? Even Dr. Horrible did his own laundry.

Roxanne attacks Mary -- cat fight!! Granted, they're both in law enforcement, but this kind of fighting is really a guy thing. Cat fights are a male-fantasy. What is it with male scriptwriters and their obsessions with two girls wrestling, beyond the sexual turn on?

So the suitcase of cocaine didn't float down the river after all. Brandi retrieved it, although I recall her dropping it off a bridge and there was none in sight, and now she's going back to Chuck. I see flaws in that plan, don't you?

Marshall is too smart and observant not to have picked up on the fact that he walked into a gay bar. Also, Albuquerque can't have that many gay hangouts that someone as sharp as Marshall wouldn't know this one. Really. They're like an open secret in most cities.

Stan found a pair of balls! For the first time he acted like federal marshal with some clout.

I think Mary and Raph are done. She's moving on.

Call me crazy, but reading someone else's cell phone is an invasion of privacy, even if you're a cop. It's wrong.

I like Mary's idea about having a room full of cornflakes -- very practical.

I wonder if this was considered as the first episode? Or maybe it should have been in the first two or three. The info about Jinx driving from Paramus to help Mary move in to her house was great, especially Mary's line, "There are two kinds of surprise, Marshall, birthday and Pearl Harbor. Guess which category Mom showing up falls under?"

Mary told Brandi and Jinx to leave her house -- will they? I doubt it. When have they ever listened to her before!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight - Tense, Sad and Unsettling - One of the Best Movies I Have Seen In Years

"This town deserves a better class of criminal." – The Joker

Indeed. And by extension, audiences deserve a better class of villain. In The Dark Knight, I get one. Director Christopher Nolan seems to have a keen understanding that I want my heroes to be badass — but I want my villains to be way badder. The movie tells a story about Batman, sure, but really, this is The Joker's tale. Even when it's Batman's story. . . The Joker owns it.

The Dark Knight is unlike almost any other superhero movie that came before it. It's insanely dark, it's melancholy, it didn't leave me with a great sense of peace. But the thing is, I can handle it. I think this is Nolan giving audiences some credit. And every superhero tale has these themes of good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, hero vs. villain. It's just that this one doesn't sugarcoat these things at all. And why should they be sugarcoated? The superhero's tale is actually the perfect vehicle for exploring these things, and explore them I do. Nolan brings an affecting, disturbingly dark tale, and one that could easily be seen as an allegory for the goings-on of today's world (terrorism vs. peace, cowardice vs. heroism, etc.).

Christian Bale reprises his role as the manly, gravel-voiced Batman by night and the wealthy Bruce Wayne by day. Michael Caine again dryly charms his way through the role of Bruce's helpful butler Alfred, and Gary Oldman is again the likable Commissioner Gordon. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives Rachel Dawes, Bruce's love interest and Gotham City's District Attorney, some much-needed depth and chutzpah. In this installment, there's an evil mastermind on the loose, terrorizing Gotham, and his name is The Joker. As The Joker continues to taunt Batman, trying to get him to break his noble moral code of beating the bad guys without actually harming anyone, the body count rises and Joker gets closer and closer to forcing the citizens of Gotham City to turn on each other. He is the greatest fearmonger of all time.

Heath Ledger is thoroughly mesmerizing as Joker. Should I be talking Oscars? Absolutely. I haven't seen a performance so impeccably realized, so desperately truthful in a long, long time. However, another impressive performance comes from Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Gotham's great white hope for a safer, Joker-less future. His mixture of political-minded bravado and inner turmoil makes for a far more layered character than one might expect.

In perhaps my favorite scene — one that is so exciting, and yet so agonizing — I got both of these tortured souls, The Joker and Harvey Dent, alone together. The outcome of this scene is a profound sense of despair because in it I witnessed how quickly people can shift from good to evil, and how easy and nonsensical violence is. On Joker's part, there is no real reasoning behind his cruel madness, and I'm reminded that sometimes evil simply exists for no good reason. It taps into a very real, basic and horrible fear: that in this world where terrorism could lurk anywhere, where chaos and war and murder exist, we struggle continuously to figure out "why?" The Joker represents our most feared response to that question: There is no reason.

Then again, here is another truth: Sometimes people choose good over evil, no matter what. Some will surprise you with their unselfishness. There is a lot of bleakness in this film, but there is also hope.

Of course, compounding the darkness of the movie is the maddening real-life tragedy that is forever intertwined with it. An unsettling side effect of Ledger's death is that I will never see the man behind the garish, horrifying makeup. And in this sense, the Joker is forever, hauntingly alive. There’s no Heath Ledger to do the late-night TV show circuit or the red carpet interviews. He's not coming out from behind the screen to reassure us, "No, no, it's all an act. Here I am, just a guy, just an actor, see?" Logically, I understand that the Joker doesn't exist. And yet. . . Ledger's absence causes the tiniest of doubts in the back of my mind, the part that's still on board for superhero movies. With no one telling me otherwise, I'm left with the cryptic suggestion that the Joker might very well be. . . real.

This is partly what has left me with such a sense of uneasiness since watching the movie, and one of the things that is keeping The Dark Knight at the forefront of my mind. But even beyond that, the film is so well-written, thrillingly suspenseful, action-packed and brilliantly acted. It's all the things I want in a superhero movie — along with a whole bunch of dark, thorny morality issues tossed in.

All told: It. Is. Amazing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mad Men: For Those Who Think Young

It's no secret that I'm quite addicted to AMC's Mad Men! It's fresh and smart, with great writing and fantastic characters (and the fashion is awesome, and Don Draper is one of the dreamiest men to hit the television in a long while . . . ), and because there isn't a lot going on this Summer in TV-land, the show's return felt a little like Christmas in July.

Season one closed with just about every character in crisis on a depressing Thanksgiving 1960. Last night opened just over a year later, on Valentine's Day, 1962.

Don Draper: Last I saw the handsome creative director, his secret identity had nearly been exposed and his affair with his client Rachel Menken had ended. This season opens with Don at his doctor's office, basically being told he's getting old. Then, he heads to work only to be told that the firm needs young talent to stay relevant and keep clients happy. Don's also acting more his age at home: He's coming home at night to Betty and the kids and has seemingly halted all extramarital affairs. So the moral of last night's opener is that poor Don is feeling over the hill. Do I like this new and improved Don? I feel like I'm supposed to say "yes," but it wasn't as much fun to watch.

Betty Draper: January Jones must be thrilled, because Betty is becoming one of the most fascinating characters on the show. I know she knows that Don has had affairs — but did she confront him about it? Is that why he's shaping up? At the downtown hotel where the Drapers go for V-Day, they run into Betty's old roommate, who is now a high-priced call girl — or "party girl," as Don puts it. Later, when her car breaks down, she dabbles in bargaining with her sexuality with the mechanic fixing her car, only to catch herself and back down. Clearly she's hungry for male attention (that Don doesn't seem to be great at giving her) — maybe deep down she wants to be treated like a grown-up woman? An equal instead of someone who has to ask her husband for money and gets in trouble when the car breaks down? I wonder what is going on in Betty's head?

Peggy Olsen: So Peggy had a baby in the finale last season, and so far the only evidence is that she clearly lost all the weight. Then, the men in the office notice her weight loss and gossip behind her back that Don got her pregnant and then gave her a promotion. Pete guesses she went to the "fat farm." UGH. Poor Peggy endures the most awfulness in Mad Men, even as her influence in the office grows. She's clearly Don's favorite and is portrayed as more talented than all of those sexist ad-boys combined. She also makes Don's new secretary cry, displaying a new, hardened Peggy. Is the baby at home or did she give it up for adoption? Will Pete ever find out? Let's hope she's not still caring a torch for that guy.

A few more development thoughts:

Joan nabbed herself a doctor! She seems confidante she'll get a proposal soon, but I wonder if that's truly what she wants? I never thought of her as husband-hunting, so that was a change.

Pete is still slimy, and currently he's dealing with his wife's desperation to get pregnant. Something is being set up here, given that we know Peggy gave birth to Pete's child last season. This has to all blow up on him at some point.

Betty also flirts with a horseback rider guy, and I feel like a Betty Draper affair is just around the corner! Do two wrongs make a right? Probably not, but that is good stuff.

How great was that vintage Jackie Kennedy footage? It seemed like all the women were curious to see this classy new first lady while the men seemed casually dismissive of her and some even wondered why the president wasn't pictured.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk and the Genius

I really thought this was going to be a superb Monk. It had all the elements of a top notch cat and mouse affair, starting with guest star David Strathairn -- so brilliant in Good Night and Good Luck as Edward R. Murrow -- as a chess grand master, Patrick Kloster.

The set up was elegant; Kloster's wife hires Monk to investigate her murder because she is certain her husband will follow through on his perfect plan to kill her. Within a day, she's dead and the chess master has an airtight alibi. How did he do it? It was a Columbo gambit, and only a genius like Columbo -- or Monk -- could figure it out.

The clues to the mystery fell into place without any great surprise or twist. The wife was poisoned when she drank from a secret stash of oleander laced wine, which was never found. That was just Monk's supposition after swiping the flowers from the garden. That would be inadmissible evidence because he had no warrant to get them from Kloster's home. Then he actually tried to plant the evidence -- again, not very smart or Monk-like.

The scene that preceded the planting of evidence was the "moment" for the show. Leland suspected that Monk was about the "cross the line" and manufacture the evidence to get Kloster. In a well-written and nicely directed scene (Monk's face is shot in half-darkness and Stottlemeyer is shown as a mirrored reflection), Monk reveals that the wife touched his hands when she convinced him to take the case in a way that was just like Trudy. Monk couldn't just "let it go." He had to make Kloster pay for his crime.

But the way Monk finally figures out how the headstones were switched, by recognizing the castling move in a chess match as Patrick's method of switching the corpses, was too elementary. What goes unexplained is how on earth Kloster could have moved the headstones before the police appeared to dig up his first wife's body? How could he have done it without a trace? Monk was there for the exhumation and didn't notice a blade of grass unturned -- how likely would that be?

So, overall, an episode that promised a lot, but wasn't grand or masterful at all.

Other points of interest:

Finally, a scene with Natalie bitching about her job and how much -- little -- she gets paid to be his assistant. Is Monk having money problems because of the house? He should have reminded her of that debacle.

Julie's flirting with the young chessman was cute, especially Natalie's pride/upset at how good her teenaged daughter is at getting to the guy.

It was a relief that Randy wasn't made to look like an idiot for a chance. In fact, his predicting that Stottlemeyer would in some way spill his coffee and he'd be forced to clean up the mess was very prescient.

Would Monk really have not endorsed the $5,000 check unless tricked into it? The guy has to pay his rent.

What a relief when Monk finally tells Kloster that he's sick of the chess metaphors! It was becoming a bore.

I liked the way Kloster was dressed like Monk in the first scene; no tie, buttoned up. As the episode progressed, his look became less and less Monkish.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's the Song of Summer 2008?

You know, I'm not gonna lie: kind of a tame summer for music, don't you think? Not to say that there weren't solid releases from big names, but it's that time of year when everyone seems to be singing the same song ("Umbrella-ella-ella-ella!") and yet I can't seem to find a consensus of what songs are perpetually on the radio, in our heads, or on the dance floor.

But here are the songs that, as far as I can tell, are on heavy rotation right now. You know, the songs that will remind us in the future of that one summer when every superhero movie ever came out, Mariah Carey got married, and neither Obama nor McCain was president yet.

What's the Song of Summer 2008?

"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry
"Mercy" by Duffy
"American Boy" by Estelle
"Viva la Vida" by Coldplay
"Love in This Club" by Usher
"4 Minutes" by Madonna and Justin Timberlake
"Pocket Full of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Weekend Trip to Ohio

This past weekend I drove down to Ohio to visit my childhood friends in the town I grew up in, Napoleon, Ohio. We lived there from the mid-60's until 1977, basically my formidable years. I still have a lot of friends that I keep in touch with and we try to get together at least two times a year.

Friday night I made it to Jean's home by 730pm. We picked up her daughter Carissa, Patricia, and Michele and went to the Rally in the Alley, which I believe is a monthly outdoor concert held in the city. We ran into some other high school friends - Teresa, Mark, and Lana. The band was so loud that it made it impossible to carry on any conversation unfortunately.

After the dance was over, we stopped by McDonald's and headed back to Patricia's home. No one in a million years will believe this, but they have pet duck that follows there dog Ruby around. If the dog isn't within sight, the duck (Mildred) goes crazy and starts honking out of control. It is the most funniest thing I have ever seen.

Saturday, Jean and I picked up Michele around 1130am and headed to Put In Bay, which is an island in Lake Erie. After having a beer in Port Clinton at an Irish Pub, we boarded the Jet Express high speed ferry (compliments of a client of Michele's) and dashed to the island in about 20 minutes. Once at the island, we tried to find our other friend Shelley but we couldn't locate her in the pool area with hundreds of other sunbathers.

We walked up to Hineman's Winery and sampled two bottles of Riesling. I'm very surprised I liked this wine since Riesling is not one of my favorites. I'm more of a dry white-type of girl. The island is hopping with golf carts for people to use since there are not many cars. Walking back to the main drag, a lady picked us up and proceeded to tell us all about her divorce. She was on her way to mass.

Shelley was finally located in her hotel room. But she was busy getting cleaned up and had plans to eat with some other girls. We had dinner at The Boardwalk, again compliments of one of Michele's clients, and then went to the another bar, Axel & Harry's I believe, that Dianna had recommended and had their speciality - Mango Mojito. This was absolutely the most delicious drink I have had in a long time. I need to get the recipe. Three men sat next to us at the bar and we started talking. They asked us to go out on one of the guy's boat for a ride, but being the smart girls we are, we declined. But we offered to meet up with them later at the Beer Barrel.

The Beer Barrel I guess is world renowned for having the longest continuous bar. The place was huge and I certainly could not see the entire bar. The featured band was The Menus, which are a fabulous band out of Cincinnati. We had a fun time dancing to their music. The men from Axel & Harry's miraculously found us in the sea of people. So we hooked up with them for a round of drinks before we had to dash to the dock to catch the 1145pm ferry back to Port Clinton.

Another stop at McDonald's to refuel us and we made it back to Jean's by 230am. I was absolutely exhausted and slept like a baby. What a weekend! Hope you enjoy my photos.

Let's Do The Time Warp Again

It may be "just a jump to your left/ Then a step to your right," but I can't help but think that this might be a giant step to the back. That's right, news surfaced that a The Rocky Horror Picture Show remake is in the works. The MTV network is partnering with Lou Adler, who produced the 1975 film, for a remake that will feature the original screenplay of Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien, with the possibility of a new song or two.

As someone who is a big fan of the original film and the stage production, this news makes me a little sad, especially as it's coming from the network that brought us Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Regardless, the original is such a cult classic, and Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Meatloaf are so iconic in their respective roles. Seriously, who else but Tim Curry could sing "Sweet Transvestite?" Alan Cumming perhaps? How do you feel about this news? Are you ready to do the time warp again?

Monday, August 4, 2008

DVD Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle is a charming, odd movie that tilts between fantastical beauty and the irrationalities of war. Howl (voiced by Christian Bale) is a wizard who's had his heart stolen by a demon. His efforts to recover himself include assembling a ragtag "family" to live with him in his moving castle. These include a friendly fire demon named Calcifer (jokey Billy Crystal: "He burns me up!") and young apprentice Markl.

The newest member is Sophie, a 90-year-old housekeeper who's really an 18-year-old hat-maker, cursed by the large and lumpy Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) so she cannot tell anyone that she's been transformed. Sophie has been led to the castle by a hopping, turnip-headed scarecrow. And here she finds not only acceptance, but also a crew in need of a mother.

While keeping track of who's cursed whom and who is disguised can be confusing, the movie -- based on a book by Diana Wynee Jones -- pits two major forces against one another: the war-making king, aided by royal sorceress Madame Suliman (Blythe Danner), and the well-meaning but childishly petulant Howl. Sophie helps to sort out his bad behavior, in part by forgiving and looking after everyone, including the conniving Witch of the Waste. Sophie's wisdom is a function of her kindness, but her unbidden transformation is also unnerving.

Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's animation style is famously delicate and inventive. All in all, it was an enjoyable movie and it was great to have the feeling that magic still does exist somewhere out there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Book Review: Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

The July Great Readers of M read Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigini. Sheila chose this book because we weren't looking for anything too deep. But it was the concensus of the group that there wasn't much substance to the book at all.

At thirty-five, Ave Maria Mulligan feels like the spinster of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, the small mountain town where she has lived most of her life. Grieving the recent death of her mother, Ave Maria plans to go to Italy and meet her mother's family for the first time.

Ever read a book where you feel like you don't know the main character any better in the last chapter than you did in the first chapter? That's what this was for me. I watched Ave Maria do many things in her thirty-fifth year, but I never felt like I really understood her or what she wanted. It's possible that there was too much going on here.

When I began this novel, I thought it was going to going to focus on Ave Maria's family relationships and her love life, but no, it focuses on everyone else in town as well: the sexy Bookmobile librarian who after decades of living like a Cosmo girl decides to settle down (even though the reader never sees her significant other do anything interesting enough to cause an independent forty-something woman to want to settle down), the plain but brilliant high school girl that Ave Maria takes under wing, a rattlesnake handling evangelist, Ave Maria's attorney and his wife (and their various marital and weight problems), the current high school beauty queen, a former high school beauty queen, the two men who are fixing Ave Maria's roof, the man who loves Ave Maria desperately (even though she is evil to him for reasons that are somewhat fuzzy to me). Even Elizabeth Taylor has a cameo in Big Stone Gap. I'd like to see someone outline this monster of a plot, and then explain to me why Ave Maria is so self-righteous.

The story is weak and the character development is non-existent. While the description of the town is delightful and the visit by Liz Taylor quite humorous, the rest of the story is lacking.