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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodbye September

I'm a huge fan of the Autumn months, so I'm excited that it's almost October. Still, September is one of my favorite months, as it always seems to signify — even now, years after school has been over for me — new beginnings and new possibilities. I like that there's a chill in the air, but it's not so sharp that you need the big puffy coat. It's almost holiday season, but it's not yet time to enter into the stressful frenzy of shopping and preparing. So, to mark the ending of this first Fall month, I've put together a little September playlist. To enjoy, click below.

I know there are two versions of "September Song" here, but that song has been covered by pretty much everyone, and I could only narrow down my favorites to these two!

September Songs

Monday, September 29, 2008

Remembering Paul Newman

For me, Paul Newman epitomized the term "Hollywood movie star." His devastating good looks (especially those blue eyes that make your knees go wobbly), paired with a great talent and sheer charisma made for a rare and winning combination. His cinematic career spanned over 50 years, a feat that only a handful of actors will probably ever match.

The New York Times has a terrific article about his life, and contextualized his mark in film with the following:

If Marlon Brando and James Dean defined the defiant American male as a sullen rebel, Paul Newman recreated him as a likable renegade, a strikingly handsome figure of animal high spirits and blue-eyed candor whose magnetism was almost impossible to resist, whether the character was Hud, Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy.

While Newman will be remembered for his extraordinary career in movies, it was his mark in philanthropy and his dedication to his children and his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, which ultimately made the man.

It's an old cliché but it seems like it was coined for him: beautiful on the inside and out. He will be missed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Song of the Day: "Let It Rock" by Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne

I try to keep an eye on the top songs list and I've noticed that a duet by Kevin Rudolf and Lil Wayne called "Let it Rock" has been hovering around the top 12. For those of you who aren't familiar, Rudolf is a producer/guitar player-turned-singer (for this single) who's credited on an array of pop songs, like Nelly Furtado's "Say It Right."

"Let It Rock" is super catchy and (almost) makes me feel like I should go for a run. It's exactly the kind of song that could have been the "can't get it out of my head" song of Summer 2008.

Rudolf's first full-length album, In the City, will hit stores Nov. 25. To listen for yourself, click below.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mad Men: The Gold Violin

Mad Men ended on a totally shocking and gross note that rendered me unable to finish a piece of pizza. I was just wondering when any of these men were going to get called out on their cheating ways (especially Don), and finally it kind-of, sort-of happened! I've also been wondering when I'd get back to some of the peripheral characters, like Ken Cosgrove (remember, he's a published writer of fiction?) and art director Salvatore Romano (remember, he's tormented by his sexual orientation?), and was happy to see the show pick up with those folks where it left off.

And then there was the Joan/new girl smackdown (totally awesome) and more flashbacks to Don's strange and mysterious past, including a little about how he got his start. He's come a long way, that Draper, but that only means he has farther to fall.

Don Draper: The episode opens with Don shopping for a lovely new Coupe de Ville when it flashes back in time to his beginnings as a used-car salesman who's loving life until a strange woman (an actress with a seriously creepy face) shows up at his work and tells him she knows he's not Don Draper. His face registers the same look of terror I've seen several times now when his true identity is threatened to be revealed. Back in real time, though, Don is doing quite well at work. He lands a new account, is invited to join a board of a philanthropy, and is informed by Mr. Cooper that "There are few people who get to decide what happens in our world. You have been invited to join them. Pull back the curtain and take your seat." Don's moving up in the world!

Betty Draper: When Jimmy Barrett called Betty at home to flirt with her invite her to his party, I first thought that he was beginning to cross some lines and hit on her and maybe later she'd slap him and/or sleep with him. But it turns out he was just using her to stick the knife in Don, who he knows is sleeping with his wife, Bobbie. When Jimmy's eyes darken and he gets in both Drapers' faces separately at the party, rendering them stunned, I felt very, very frightened of that man. I was glad to see someone finally say something on the matter of infidelity rather than just suppressing emotions. However, I saw what getting stuff like that out in the open does to Betty: It made her barf all over her pretty dress in the brand new car. Shoot.

Salvatore Romano: There have been subtle hints in the past about Sal's sexuality even though he is in fact married to a nice woman named Kitty. He reads young Ken's story and invites him over for dinner, where one of the most awkward dinner table scenes ever ensues. It becomes painfully clear that Sal has a crush on Ken and is far more interested in conversation with him during dinner than Kitty. It's hard to say whether Kitty suspects something is off or if she was truly just upset that she was ignored at the table. I'm enjoying the way this delicate subplot is being unraveled — the actor who plays Sal smolders with longing, and it's pretty powerful.

Some more thoughts:

How gorgeous was that family portrait of the Drapers out on the lawn enjoying a picnic with the new car radio playing tunes in the background? The colors, the outfits — divine! Until, of course, Don smashes his beer can and chucks it out into the park and Betty leaves their trash on the lawn. I guess thinking about the environment was a ways off.

I really get a kick out of the new young and hip Sterling Cooper "kids," aka Smith & Smith, telling Don what people their age want out of life. They informed Don that their generation doesn't "want to be told what to do or how to act. We just want to be." Yeah, man! Yeah!

Joan vs. Jane was so amazing, don't you think? I seriously think you could have a whole series based just on the secretaries. Round one goes to Jane who is much, much more conniving than I (or Joan for that matter) initially gave her credit for. Jane lives on the edge and has dirty old man Roger on her side now, so Joan better watch out.

I really like Kitty and feel sorry for her. I hope we see more of home life with her and Sal. I was shocked by Sal's crush on Ken, though. Did not see that coming.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pam's New Music Downloads

Before Coldplay became the big daddies of Brit pop, there was the Verve. On Forth, their reunion album,the blokes hit their stride right away. "Love Is Noise," the standout single, is a pumping anthem.

As the cover girl of the September issue of Vanity Fair, Carla Bruni - a former model who is now the first lady of France -is heralded as possibly "the new Jackie O." But it's doubtful that J.F.K.'s wife could have ever produced such a sultry set of folk-pop. This mostly French album Comme Si De Rien N'Etait (which means "As If Nothing had Happened") is an alluring affair full of lilting cadences and come-hither coos. "La Possibilite d'une Ile," is a poem set to lush music.

With backup from piano maestro Henry Butler, Irma Thomas, the Grammy-winning New Orleans native, takes a turn at John Fogerty's ode to hope "River Is Waiting" from her new CD Simply Grand.

Juliana Hatfield's bold guitar playing and shimmery vocals energize a defiant rock song on "The Fact Remains" and "This Lonely Love" from How to Walk Away.

Fronted by vocalist Sarah Dugas, the Canadian Band The Duhks delivers an irresistible lullaby on "Sleepin Is All I Wanna Do" from Fast Paced World.

The queen of folk, Joan Baez, sends chills down my spine with "I Am a Wanderer" from her recent disc Day after Tomorrow.

Nat King Cole's daughter Natalie sings the praises of a good cup of joe, backed by a cool-jazz trio of bass, drums and piano on the single "Coffee Time" from Still Unforgettable.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk's 100th Case

Too often when a show reaches an anniversary, like say 100 episodes, the producers feel the need to mark the occasion with an extraordinary entry. That was what happened with Monk.

To commemorate the 100th episode, they created Mr. Monk's 100th Case, and using a show within a show format, celebrated Adrian Monk, a modern day Sherlock Holmes. San Francisco's defective detective

Thank goodness it all worked! I was afraid I was going to get a clip-laden, down-memory-lane type of show with nothing remotely intriguing. No, the writers were more clever than that.

Yes, there were memories, but there was also a new case and many of Monk's previous adversaries/killers (guest stars) that were revisited in new filmed scenes! Kudos to the Monk team for getting so many stars to return.

Eric McCormack played an unctuous host of a TV crime docudrama series called In Focus. With a haughty "Chris Hanson style" (To Catch a Predator), the In Focus production focused on Monk solving a serial killer case.

This gave the show a great opportunity to remind viewers about the Monk biography, including a really good recap of the death of his wife, Trudy. It wasn't just the telling of her dying in a car bombing, it was that documentary footage, the interviews with Ambrose, Monk's brother (John Turtturo), and Stottlemeyer, about how her death devastated Adrian.

Then, the question asked by Novak of Monk, "Why do you keep going?" With tears in his eyes, Monk answers, "I can't die until I know." The Trudy connection has never been better explained than that.

There was a good balance between the serious stuff -- Trudy -- and the comic -- Monk's quirks, like what he does with his hands and why. It was an easy get when Monk discovered that the photographer was the link to the killings -- his name was on each photo. But it was good that for once the obvious suspect was the killer, but not the "guy."

You had the feeling that Eric McCormack had to be the "guy." His motivation was a little weak (his wife was going to find out he was cheating), as was his pulling a gun in a room filled with cops -- did he really think he was going to shoot his way out of there?

As I mentioned, many of the stars who've appeared on Monk returned for extended cameos, including Howie Mandel and Andy Richter. My favorites were Angela Kinsey, Sarah Silverman and Brooke Adams. Also, you had to love it when Tim Bagley as Harold Krenshaw, Monk's enemy, was interviewed. I think Dr. Bell and all references to Dr. Kroger were left out because of doctor/patient confidentiality. Would a psychologist discuss a patient with a filmmaker? No.

What was missing was Sharona (Bitty Schram). She should have been one of the interviews.

The topper was the finale, with Monk saying he was going to stop detecting because 100 was a good even number to call it quits. Natalie nicely noted that it was actually case 101, forcing Monk to keep going till he reaches 200 -- or so they said. I guess that'll be up to USA and Tony Shalhoub.

Other points of interest

-- Gillian, Disher's girlfriend is a re-enactor, an actor specializing in shows the re-enact crimes. "She was bludgeoned to death on Dateline," says Randy proudly. Later, when the gun fires and she falls to the ground, it set up a great line: "Sorry, force of habit!"

-- When Natalie warned Stottlemeyer to stop switching over to the basketball game, he snarked at her, "You're not my mother."

-- Loved seeing Kathryn Joosten, "Where's the fiber?" commercial lady and Desperate Housewives' regular (not to mention Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing) as Monk's babysitter from childhood.

-- Monk's TV remote language was great: Picture freezer, picture go fast, picture regular.

-- I liked the Dracula at The Morbid Cafe, the whole idea of that kind of theme restaurant was very funny.

-- Randy's assertion that "If you can name him, you can catch him" about serial killers was typical Disher inanity. The Lipstick Assassin or Mr. Lipstick.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto is the story of a group of elites in an unnamed Latin American country who are taken hostage by a group of terrorists. What was meant to be a "simple" kidnapping of the country's president went afoul when the president was not present, and so they decide to take over the entire party and hold everyone hostage. Among them is the rich businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, whose birthday the party was for; Mr. Hosokawa's translater, Gen; world-reknown soprano Roxanne Coss, and the vice-president of the country.

As weeks turn to months, alliances and friendships begin to form between the hostages and between the hostages and the terrorists. Soon, they become so comfortable with one another that no one really wants to leave and return to their humdrum existence in the real world. Everyday, Coss performs for them, and everyday, their negotiator brings back whatever needs they have, including imported shampoo, and such.

But I think the more important point was that love can overcome barriers like being from different societies or classes or not even being able to speak the same language. On that level I thought the book really worked because most of the main characters loved someone despite the odds. Gen the translator and Carmen the terrorist loved each other despite the difference in age, culture, and background. Roxanne the American singer and Mr. Hasakawa the Japanese CEO loved each other though they could not speak the other's language. Ruben the vice-president and Oscar Mendoza the construction boss loved Ishmael like a son though he was a terrorist. Even Simon Thibault loved his wife more and more though she was on the outside while he was trapped in the house. So in the end the book was about love though not really what you'd call a romance.

I fell for the whole thing, hook, line and sinker. I loved these people. I wanted them to be okay. I found the story engaging, the soprano indomitable (aren't we all?), and the music handled perfectly.

That's where the bad end part comes in. After some two hundred pages of build-up, during which I began to feel like I knew these characters, the ending is bundled up and off-stage in about four pages, leaving me feeling a little like I got the bum's rush.

I just wanted MORE...I was left entirely unsatisfied by the author's uncomprising butchery of the terrorists, along with perhaps the best-loved of the hostages. I was left more than unsatisfied by her refusal to follow up on ANY of the others except Gen, Roxane, and Simon. And I was utterly mystified by the marriage of Gen and Roxane; it just made no sense to me at all, partly because I was given no context for it.

So I do recommend this because there is much to love - but prepared to be disappointed in the end.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Movie Review: The Transporter

An ex-military man who now makes his living in the South of France as a transporter for all types of goods for bad guys, breaks one of his own personal rules of professional conduct, opens a contracted package and finds within...one Asian chick. Needless to say, the aforementioned bad guys aren't hip to our man breaking the rules and fiddling with their parcel, and prepare to blow his ass to kingdom come. A shirtless Jason Statham...ensues!

The idea behind any "popcorn" action movie is to provide audiences with a believable, charismatic "hero" and just enough over-the-top fun and action to make up for the lack of depth in its storyline. Some popcorn flicks actually manage to transcend the basic nugget of corn requirements, and are not only able to provide their audience with escapism galore, but a solid story and believable characters to boot (Die Hard is the ultimate example of such a film).

The Transporter doesn't check off all such requirements, but does provide enough cool, exciting action sequences to make up for its recyclable plot, dinky dialogue and lame bad guys. Another reason the film succeeds on some level is the presence of a new "action man", a dude who seems ready to join Vin Diesel as one of the few new action heroes of our day, a man who goes by the name of Jason Statham. Up until this film, Statham was satisfied in playing slick secondary characters in "guy movies", but he seems to have doubled his shifts at the gym for this role and showcases enough intensity, grit and balls (sounds like an order at Denny's), to make for an enjoyable 90+ minutes of fluff.

If you weren't a fan of this dude before, I see no reason why you wouldn't want to ride alongside him after the machismo he displays here. Good show, mate! The film also provides for a handful of groovy action sequences, starting with a frenetic car chase a la RONIN through the cobblestone streets of the French Riviera. In fact, the South of France provides for a gorgeous backdrop to the staple story.

Writer/producer Luc Besson knows his target audience as well as anyone and loads the film up with enough action, to keep folks jazzed during the tamer periods, hip-hop, to sell those soundtracks (not my groove) and kung-fu, ass-kickings, explosions and fire-power to quench any 15-year old male's cinematic thirst.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't try to be anything more than what it is, and despite the originality of some of its action scenes (I loved the "money shot" of Statham kicking through that door and the "oil" fight in particular), the plotline is as ho-hum as they come with a typical good-looking "bad guy" dressed in black with polished facial hair leading his disposable crew of bumbling side-kicks through the numbers of some idiotic "Asian slave trade" scenario. I did like how the bad guys actually took the time to paint shark faces on their missiles before launching them into Statham's home though-it's nice to know that some evil-doers take that extra pleasure in their work.

Things get even more melodramatic when another over-the-top bad guy, this time Asian (dressed in black with weird facial features), makes an appearance and brings along a ridiculous relationship with his daughter. Thankfully for us, Statham keeps his cool throughout, plays by his own rules, wears plenty of polished suits, ultimately takes off his shirt more times than Vin Diesel at a photo shoot and kicks bad guy arse left, right and even center. I also appreciated the chemistry between he and the subservient Asian chick, and might even have bought some of their "romance".

Of course, this movie isn't about the plot (which you'll forget as soon as the credits start to roll), the romance or the dialogue (most of which is serviceable at best), but about action, explosions and ass-kickings and if you're willing to sit through some less successful bits, like one of the most ineffectual cops this side of Frank Drebin, you will likely enjoy the goings-on limited by your expectations of what a movie like The Transporter is aiming to deliver.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Movie Review: Batman Begins

I was able to catch a lot of movies flying back & forth to Germany these past two weeks in case you were wondering why so many moview reviews.

So how did Batman become Batman? Well, this movie basically provided me the lowdown on all of that, as well as all of the background required to understand his transformation from young, rich punk to old, rich punk with a huge chip on his shoulder and a Batsuit in his closet. Add to that, trouble in his city of Gotham by the way of a variety of baddies, and I've got a movie co-starring that Katie Holmes for whom Tom Cruise likes to jump on couches. What ensues is lots of cool bat-shite…!

A dark, edgy, origin-based Batman flick that kicks the asses of the last two Bat-tries, kickstarts the disenfranchised franchise and finally provides me with an actor who is completely believable as both Bruce Wayne and Batman himself, Christian Bale. Batman Begins is great movie in many ways, but didn’t completely blow me away, as it seems to have others, with a small number of nagging bits, nudging me along the way. First, allow me to get the good stuff out of the way.

Based in reality, unlike its predecessors, this film really gave me that sense of a world that might actually be possible, with characters, gadgets and situations, all set in an environment that doesn’t go over-the-top (the little amount of CGI in the film also helped to that effect). That said, that realistic approach actually bothered me a little about halfway through the film, as I was impressed by its ability to keep things realistic, but missing the “fun” aspect from the comics and the first two Bat-flicks. The film’s grandly entertaining finale did make up for some of that though.

The actors in the film were also great across the board, particularly Bale, who I’ve fallen in love with since American Psycho, and who here, continued to embody characters entirely, with a rendition of Bruce Wayne that married his anger, humor and action-man personas idyllically. Tom Wilkinson was also tops as Falcone, as was Michael Caine as Alfred the Butler, adding that required sense of Wayne history and honor to the proceedings.

Bad-guy wise, I have to give the thumbs up to Cillian Murphy, super-creepy as Dr. Crane and the Scarecrow (maybe even more so as Dr. Crane!) with a steely look that would put the fear in anyone. Gary Oldman was good, but I wish he had a little more to do, while Katie Holmes actually wasn’t as bad as I thought she might be, in fact, she was just fine. Unfortunately for her, I thought that her character was too young to play that role, and would have preferred to see an older actress in her place.

Kudos also go out to director Christopher Nolan who was able to nix Joel Schumacher’s disaster Batman scenarios, and present the world with something a lot closer to what we’ve been reading in the comics for years, as well as a great pace, respected thespians, a memorable score, a decent amount of action pieces, and the return of the friggin’ dark knight…with the emphasis on the word “dark”.

That said, I had a bunch of “little problems” with the film, the biggest of which would probably have to be its fight sequences – the hand-to-hand combat stuff – which much like many of the most recent Hollywood flicks, were simply edited too fast, cut too quickly and left way too much to the imagination (Is that his hand? Was that his leg? Was that the baddie kicking him or he kicking the baddie?). For goodness sakes, why don’t directors leave the camera back a ways anymore, so that the audience can actually see the people fighting? Quick-cut-fighting sucks!!

Other small bits that bugged me included Batman’s voice when he was Batman, versus his voice as Bruce Wayne. In theory, I was actually very much for this idea, as it makes more sense to change your voice when you’re in a friggin’ Batsuit, but every time Bale spoke in that voice, I just thought it sounded goofy and forced.

I also didn’t like how they ended things with the Scarecrow (that’s the best that you could come up with?), thought the design of the Arkham Asylum was boring as heck, appreciated the scenes with the “Tumbler”, but still missed the Batmobile (which really can’t be replaced by an all-terrain vehicle – sorry!) and didn’t like the handful of one-liners one bit.

Last paragraph aside, I really did enjoy the movie overall, with its awesome look, its brilliant story, providing me with a great sense of why this dude decided to don Batman, and the charismatic performance by Bale, and creepiness from Wilkinson and Murphy, providing the film with just that right amount of evil. Gotham City was also wickedly designed, and the film’s subway conclusion was a breathtaking ride.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Movie Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

The most accurate way I can describe my feelings about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is by gushing that it's just so dear. It's darling. It's funny, tender and charming. It's a Cinderella story for adults who want a movie that's not ridiculously cheesy or stupid. It's gloomy in spots but always quickly uplifted, either through the toe-tapping music of the 1930s or the silly wit of the writing.

I was introduced to Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) as she is fired from yet another governess position and shuffles her way to the agency that has found her each of her ill-fated jobs. When the stern agency woman refuses to find Miss Pettigrew more work, she grows desperate, having no money and no home. She swipes the business card of a client in need of a social secretary: the American cabaret singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). She arrives at the sprawling London flat to Delysia frantically trying to get rid of one man before another man comes home. Immediately Miss Pettigrew proves herself a helpful ally, smoothly navigating Guinevere's potentially disastrous dealings with the several men in her life. In this way, the title of the film seems like it could be Miss Pettigrew Saves the Day, but things get a little bit more complex than just this.

In the arrangement the women swiftly fall into, everyone wins: Miss Pettigrew helps to sort out Delysia's complicated personal matters and gently shows her what's most important in life. Miss Pettigrew herself obtains both a sense of self-worth and a glimpse into the dashing, glamorous life of the wealthy. She is also introduced to a handsome lingerie-maker her own age who, despite the nubile young women around him, finds himself drawn to Miss Pettigrew's maturity and honest nature.

The pairing of the two women, however, is what makes this film pure satisfaction to watch. The humble, gentle Miss Pettigrew on her own might be a somewhat one-note character without the wriggly, shimmery Delysia Lafosse. Yet, lest Delysia's silliness get to be a bit too much, there are many sobering references to the imminent war, often revealing the great divide between Guinevere and Delysia's generations. Guinevere wearily recalls the previous war while Delysia is distracted by mannequins wearing gas masks in a store window — not because of the gas masks, mind you, but the "hideous" cap sleeves on the mannequins' dresses.

The entirety of the action takes place in one day, which makes for one incredibly eventful 24-hour span. But such is life with Delysia Lafosse, played with that wide-eyed beauty and energy that I'm starting to expect from Amy Adams. I predict some people will grow tired of Adams' endless chattiness and blithe innocence but I'm perfectly happy to sit back and watch her light up the screen with her sparkling presence. She is a natural-born entertainer, of the old-fashioned, all-smiles, song-and-dance variety. In this way, she slips easily into the role of an aspiring actress in 1939, and I willingly give her all my attention.

There's a lot going on in this film. Lessons on true love and compromising one dream to attain another. The theme that a woman can do anything if she puts her mind to it. The incredibly refreshing message that love knows no age. The whole, "be yourself and love will find you" thing. And yet it never feels overwrought or cheese-filled. It may be a lot at once, but I loved it all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bones: Yanks in the UK

Welcome to the fourth series premiere of Bones. It has been a summer of anger and anticipation for me as a fan of the show. Anger, as I felt creator Hart Hanson bollixed the whole thing up by making Zack Addy a bit potty. Anticipation, because I was curious to see how Hanson and his writers would fill the gap and how the rest of the blokes at the Jeffersonian will adjust. And, of course, there's also the unanswered question as to the state of Bones and Booth's relationship: will they shag or not this season?

None of those questions were answered in this two-hour series premiere, althouth Zack's fate was briefly mentioned. What I did get was a trip to Londontown by Temperance and Seeley (hence, the British slang), and some significant relationship changes amongst the Squints. So, grab a pint, some fish n' chips, and your favorite duck, and let's begin.

Premiering a new season with a two-hour episode is always a gamble in television. It either runs the risk of filling the episode with too much information for the viewer to take in, too little information to keep the viewer interested, or is uneven in its presentation. The season premiere of Bones fell under the title of uneven, at least with the London story line. While the second hour of the premiere felt more like a regular episode, the first hour felt a tad uncomfortable.

That could be due to Booth's portrayal during those first 60 minutes. I know that Seeley is a pretty bright person (that's why he's a Special FBI Agent and not just a FBI Agent), but in the the first segment of the show he looked pretty dim. Understandably it could have been the adjustment of being away from his home base and feeling both unwelcomed by some and unwanted by others. Without a gun, the resources of his agency behind him, and no good coffee, Booth probably felt a bit impotent...in the figurative sense.

It doesn't mean that his awkwardness didn't give me some interesting moments. His tiny breakdown in the middle of a London traffic roundabout was one good example of how his uneasiness worked to my favor. Sure, stereotypical American driving on the wrong side of the road is always amusing. It was just the way that Booth handled it that made it funnier. That big, strapping guy in that tiny little car, screaming at the top of his lungs about the deficiencies of England. It's probably something that everyone who has been to another country has thought of doing one time or another and I speak from experience since I just returned a few hours ago from spending two weeks in Germany.

Perhaps the other reason that the first hour of the premiere felt off was the case Bones and Booth were involved with. Frankly, it wasn't that interesting. So it involved an American who was a huge entrepreneur in England. I've seen that all before. That, and the oh-so-regal royal family that tries to hide their dirty laundry behind their titles. The only good thing about it was Booth's no-nonsense approach to interviewing the family and getting them to spill the beans. Blue blood or not, Seeley doesn't stop at anything to get the truth out.

The second hour of the premiere was much better as Bones and Booth became more involved with the case. Perhaps the interest was there because of the death of a character I was just introduced to an hour before. Dr. Ian Wexler was a charming, intelligent professor of anthropology. He was also a horndog. Throughout the first hour he continually tried to add Temperance as another notch on his belt which, if he really knew Brennan, he wouldn't have tried in the first place. He was also a tad bit pompous and looked down on Booth as just another American "cowboy". This probably placed him down a step on the likable chart.

When he was found dead it wasn't a total loss. Still, it did add additional drama to the case. It also gave a more human face to Inspector Cate Pritchard -- Booth's counterpart in England. During the first hour, Pritchard showed a good deal of cooperation with their American partners in trying to solve the murder of the expatriate daughter of a real estate mogul. Once Wexler was killed that all changed. Being close to Ian, and I mean close, she doled out her help in smaller portions. As the investigation progressed she realized that holding information back would not solve the case any quicker. By the end of the episode there was a new found respect on both sides.

Time to turn my attention back to the Squints of the Jeffersonian and, perhaps, the more interesting storyline of the episode. First, Clark Edison was back in Zack's position. Unfortunately, it was only for a short time. Hart Hanson has mentioned that Bones and the team would have a series of assistants this season in Addy's slot. That's too bad, since Clark was interesting and presented a stable front in the soap opera that is the Squints.

Which is something that wasn't realized until this week's episode. For the most part the lives of Hodgins, Angela and Cam have that soap opera element to them. Well, more Angela and Hodgins as I saw in this installment. No, really, think about it. A longing love that would not be reciprocated; a marriage that never was; the mysterious "other man"; the loss of trust between the two. Take all of those plot points out and they could have been part of the new 90210 except, well, they would be better acted on Bones.

Despite the disappointment, the breakup of Angela and Hodgins was a good thing. Workplace romance on television is always a risk because it can go stale at a moment's notice. Angela and Hodgins looked to be heading down that path anyway. Now, instead of having a multi-episode arc where there relationship breaks down into constant snipping between each other, new storyline avenues can be opened up for both of these characters.

This episode was also a big one for the young Dr. Sweets. After being on the periphery of the Squints for most of last season, Lance really became fully intertwined with the group. Thing is, the fit is off. Where Booth actually fits pretty snugly with the team now, there doesn't seem to be a place for Sweets amidst this group. Oh, helping Bones and Booth profile a potential killer...absolutely. Sitting there while one of Bones' assistants of the week talks about stress fractures in the fourth and fifth thoracic vertebrae is another story.
Whew! That was a lot to talk about concerning the season premiere of Bones.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Song of the Day: Jenny Lewis "The Next Messiah"

If you're eager to hear Jenny Lewis's forthcoming album, then you — and I — are in good company. Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard's also ready for Acid Tongue to hit stores, and in a series of YouTube sketches, he's been stalking Lewis around her house, demanding to hear some new songs.

Lucky for us, it's hard to say no to Gibbard, so Lewis has rolled out the second track from the new album. "The Next Messiah" is a lot of things I'm not used to hearing from Lewis. For one, it's just a lot of song – more than eight minutes, in fact, with several long jam sessions interspersed between the singing. It's bluesy at times, funky at others, and there's a cool shift just after the five-minute mark, when the male backing vocals really kick in and Lewis's voice gets a lot more raw and desperate. On my initial listen, I like the track, but I think it will come alive a lot more in live shows, when the band can really let loose and just rock.

To hear the song for yourself, click below:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Closer: Split Ends

"Oh, goodness. Is this where they do Dancing with the Stars?"-- Willie Ray Johnson, Brenda's momma

Here was an episode that epitomized what I like about The Closer. This was an excellent mystery. It was complicated and drew you into the chase. Like Brenda, I was wondering how it was done, why and by whom. Of course, it didn't seem like it was going to be a heavy duty episode, not when the opening was all about Willie Ray and Clay's unexpected visit. That damn RV has brought Brenda's parents cross-country, even with gas at $4 a gallon!

Don't get me wrong, I like Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen. They're great actors, but the roles are so broadly drawn. The show uses them for comic relief, even though they can do drama brilliantly. The scenes at the film studio were too jokey to me, especially in light of the heinous crime scene that Brenda was investigating.

The murder reminded me of the O.J. Simpson case. It looked like Ryan -- an actor with anger management issues -- was the murderer. He lied and had a history of beating his wife. The sight of him with the gym bag and then those black gloves were all vaguely reminiscent of O.J. Of course, since he was the prime suspect, I never thought that he was the killer. Too obvious.

I noticed that when Brenda's light bulb went off, noticing the script pages. When the squad approached Kelly's home, the mood shifted dramatically. The big close ups on the actors' eyes, the shot of Brenda reaching out her hand, was very effective. Still, the jarring moment when Kelly's spouse grabbed her from behind and threatened to kill her was intense. It captured the terror of a violent domestic attack. It was interesting to note in that scene that Sanchez froze. As Brenda mentioned earlier in the show, he is still not all there because of his brother's death.

Finally, I loved Pope's apology. Ryan, the narcissistic actor, didn't deserve a sincere apology. He wasn't interested in his wife's death, just how it affected him. He didn't shed a tear for Rachel. He had lied and been completely uncooperative. I'm all for the police admitting when they're wrong and apologizing to a wrongly accused person, but this character deserved to be disrespected.

Other points of interest

Was the TV show Trauma Unit supposed to be NBC's ER? That would make sense because Warners is one of the only lots where I think you can still take a tour. It was good to give Momma and Daddy something to do. Willie Ray's get up reminded me of a Democratic convention delegate, minus the Obama-Biden buttons!

How on earth does Brenda stay so thin? Did you see that breakfast? The junk food? I want her metabolism.

I like that Sanchez isn't recovered. He should be grieving and struggling with crime scenes after losing his brother Oscar.

The L.A. Times continues to be a big political thorn in Priority Homicide's side. Ramos has an ax to grind with Brenda's unit. Look for the upcoming episodes to deal with his story getting published.

Pope and Taylor have come to not only admire Brenda, but they're protective of her. You could see that in Will from the start, but Taylor's come a long way in terms of how he feels about Chief Johnson.

It was wonderful that Brenda finally stood up to Daddy, thanks to some coaching by Fritzie, and probably the after-effects of the case. I was all for her telling him to stop with all the wedding talk. Even better was Fritz turning the tables on Brenda and demanding that she get ready to set a date for January or February 2009.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prision Break: Scylla/Breaking and Entering

"Yeah well, a lot of people that believed in me in the last few months Agent Self... not all of them are alive today." - Scofield

I've always loved Prison Break. I still do. I'm four seasons deep now and I've fully accepted the fact that this show is constantly reinventing itself and as a result, the level of ridiculousness that I as a viewer need to be willing to eat is absurd. I'm not sure if I laughed louder when T-Bag adopted a cannibalistic lifestyle or Linc called the new guy Roland a douche. Oh right... and Sara is alive. So don't act surprised by the picture. But I knew that anyway. FOX didn't even try to keep that one a secret.

Picking up three weeks after Michael and his merry band of fugitives busted out of Sona, he's hot on the trail of Whistler, Gretchen, and Mahone all in an effort to get revenge for Sara's death. Needless to say, it was painful to watch all this play out as I knew she was alive and breathing. When Michael finally did meet up with her near the end of the first episode, it was quite possibly one of the flattest and most anti-climactic reunions in TV history. I'll get back to this though.

In those three weeks, a lot happened. Linc settled down to a nice life with Sofia and LJ in Panama. Sona burned to the ground and T-Bag, Sucre, and Bellick all escaped. And Pad Man (or as Gretchen calls him, "The General") really started knocking some heads around at The Company.

Then, in classic Prison Break fashion, everyone broke the law inside of five minutes of each other, and ended up in the same room with the show's newest addition, Homeland Security Agent Don Self (Michael Rapaport). Do what he wants and you're all free - finally. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

He wants to take down The Company - something they can all agree on. The first step is stealing Scylla - the encrypted files that contain all of The Company's dirty secrets. Which brings me back to the beginning and what Whistler, Gretchen, and Mahone were all doing. That got botched up and Pad Man's newest errand boy Wyatt popped -- wait for it -- Gretchen and Whistler. Two series regulars dead just like that. So imagine my surprise at the end when we found out that Wyatt actually kept Gretchen alive. No! Not on this show! So help me... if Whistler shows up next week with his brains tucked back into his forehead...

That won't happen, Whistler has to be dead - which leaves open a ton of questions. First off, if he and Mahone were indeed working against Gretchen (remember, he and Mahone had that meeting in the bar at the end of the last season), then why did Whistler hand off his one copy of the Scylla card to Stuart, who's clearly working with Pad Man? Or is Stuart actually one of the good guys and he too is just trying to take down The Company? That whole connection was extremely ambiguous. Because if he is one of the good guys, then why would Self have enlisted Scofield and Co. to steal from him? Back and forth, back and forth. I should know better by now.

Self's plan has me worried though. The obvious question? Aren't there better people to pull off something like this? I'm thinking yes but that doesn't really matter. Stealing one Scylla memory card would have been OK, but then Sara made the Odyssey connection and realized that there are five more pieces to go. See what I mean by reinvention on this show? From fugitives to spies.

More thoughts...

I had no idea people could heal that quickly from extensive full upper body laser tattoo removal!

Are we just forgetting about Sofia and LJ? What happened to them after Linc got busted?

Back to Sara and Michael. Is her return to the show that big of a deal? What does it actually add? It's not like she knows some huge secret that supposedly died with her. That and the whole awkward reunion mess and I'm honestly wishing her head was actually in that box. That could change though. It's only two episodes in and maybe something will happen to change my mind.

Alright, I'm reaching back to season two here, but didn't Bruce Bennet give up Sara to the police or The Company? I don't recall precisely, but I could have sworn he was one of the bad guys. If so, why did Wyatt need to sedate him to get answers? Or more importantly, what was in it for Bruce to bail out the brothers? Penance for actions past?

T-Bag roasted a fat Mexican man on a small fire and ate him. WOW. A cannibal plays a key role on this show now! Amazing. He's got the bird book, but what exactly did he uncover from the late Whistler's locker at the bus depot? Looked like a fake ID and a credit card, but what's in the folder? More importantly, did T-Bag memorize everything on the pages he ate from the bird book? Nice to see that he did right by Sister Mary Francis though... you know - before he ate a guy.

I'm hoping that there's more on Don and his connection to Linc and Michael's father. I know he's dead, but I've always hoped that he'd somehow play a bigger role in the show's over-arching plan.

I also hope we get more on Jasper, Don's car salesman, "ex-Company" man.

Maybe I'm just not up to date on technology, but is something similar to what Roland invented even possible?

Sucre finally got to see his daughter (but no Mari Cruz) for about eight seconds until Mari Cruz's sister turned him in. Didn't Mari Cruz tell her anything about what happened south of the border?

I appreciated the fact that numerous little tidbits from seasons past were brought up - Scofield's Czech wife, europeangoldfinch.net, the paper maché rose, D.B. Cooper's money, and the return (and murder) of Mahone's wife Pam. It's nice to know that not everything on this show gets forgotten.

What's the significance of Michael's nosebleeds? Clearly he's sick, but am I supposed to interpret that as an early indicator of this being the final season of Prison Break? Without Michael, this show doesn't work.

Overall, a decent two-hour premiere. It would have been foolish to have expected anything more from Prison Break than what I got. It's the Cadillac of bad TV. So corny, so cheesy... I can't get enough.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mad Men: Maidenform

This episode of Mad Men was a lot of things: illuminating, kinky, awkward, frustrating, and heartbreaking. I guess same old, same old for this show — but something in this episode was a bit more intense, a touch more raw than the previous episodes this season. Maybe I'm just at a place in the story arc of all the characters where, as Bobbie put it, "the gloves come off."

A lot of the characters in the Mad Men universe had moments of self-reflection: Don at the end of the episode, after another intense encounter with Bobbie, gazing at himself in the mirror; Pete taking a good look at himself in his own mirror after a night with a model. Meanwhile, Peggy's professional journey still captivates me, as she continues to face challenges as an up-and-coming woman at the office.

The part of Peggy's story that gives me chills is watching how ambitious she is becoming while knowing that, to some extent, she's not quite right in the head — or, at the very least, has experienced some emotional trauma I haven't seen her cope with yet. And this episode also had me laughing at the funny, old-fashioned terms people used for bras (like "brassiere")!

Don Draper: Don is quickly unraveling on the inside, and I can't totally place why this is occurring, other than the fact that his secret past is eating away at him. While he appears to be rocking and rolling at work, personally he's become unstable. First he ditches Betty at the country club gathering they attended on Memorial Day to call and flirt with Bobbie. Then once he's in bed with Bobbie it goes from being totally hot and sexy to terrible. Bobbie mumbles something about Don's reputation with other women, and it sets him off. He ties her to the bed and leaves her there! Don also completely undermines Betty's self-esteem when he tells her she looks desperate in her new yellow bikini. So mean — I could have cried for Betty.

Peggy Olson: Peggy has been getting left out of a lot of business meetings and gatherings inside and outside the office. I really loved how this episode captured what must have been the most difficult part of breaking glass ceilings as a woman in business back then (and maybe now?) with the impromptu decisions being made at strip clubs and other men's hangouts. In the end, Peggy decides that if she can't beat them she'll have to join them, dresses herself up, and heads to the strip club with the gang and the bra client. But ew — when she sat on her client's lap and he said "Tell me what you want for Christmas," I nearly threw up.

Pete Campbell: Sometimes Pete doesn't seem as diabolical as he is pathetic, and his motives are hard for me to discern. His visit to Peggy in her office to talk about the Clearasil idea got weird as he lingered there awkwardly. I couldn't tell if he was trying to steal Peggy's idea or undermine her position at the firm in some way — or if he was trying to figure out if she still has a crush on him. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it? And then later I see Pete cheat on his wife with a young, blonde model. Wouldn't you love to see one of these guys get caught cheating? Just once?

A few more thoughts:

I really liked the exchange between Joan and Peggy when Joan told a discouraged Peggy, "You’re in their country, learn to speak the language," and then handed down this advice: "You want to be taken seriously, stop dressing like a little girl."

How'd you feel about "All women come in two types: Jackie or Marilyn?" I thought it was hilariously sexist to reduce an entire gender to two categories.

Betty's flirtation with Arthur was back again and Don noticed! I really like this storyline and can't wait to see how it unfolds.

And finally, smarmy line of the night goes to Pete as usual. When Don asked Peggy about the difference between Playtex bras and Maidenform, Pete chimed in with, "I find they both open easily."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Arlington Park Race Track

Over the Labor Day weekend, I was off to the races at Arlington Park Racetrack in Chicago. OK, so it isn’t the Derby or Churchill Downs, but it is the next best thing!

My good friends Gregg & Chris raise thoroughbred racehorses and their Little Mac Attack was racing that Saturday. They invited me and another couple (Joe & Andrea) to ride along with them to Chicago. Little Mac Attack was in the lead, we were screaming, but unfortunately he fizzled out towards the end and came in 5th.

Rest assured, I didn't wear a big oversized hat, but did enjoy the entire day learning all about horse racing and having just a wonderful time. Even though I lost more money than I won, I have to share my secret for picking my horses from two criteria: 1) the name of the horse racing and 2) the color patterns of jockey’s jersey! LOVE IT!

That's me in the middle with the dress on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eureka: Show Me The Mummy

Eureka wasn't quite what I expected. After the dramatics from "I Do Over" I assumed most of that would be swept to the side and I would be treated to one of the more comedic episodes. The fact that the episode was based on a mummy, and that goofy title, kind of hinted at that as well. It wasn't all yuks and Egyptian mysticism though. Weaved in with that weekly story I had the fallout from those major events from last week.

The mummy part of the story started out well. The setup, from Carter's "Eureka had a queen?" to Wilding's warning of a curse, right on through to Sebastian Marx (or Paco Lopez if you prefer) being a giant tool, was all very entertaining. It started to get a little convenient when the swarm left the hazmat tent at the B&B and stayed together to the point that every last one of them was lured into the Cafe Diem freezer by Lexi's yoga hits. I forgive the convenience though, because I always like it when Carter's common sense and reasoning trumps the big brains at GD.

While it was a little by the numbers as a main story, it's worth pointing out that the whole thing looked great. The tomb set, the hieroglyphs, and even the swarm were all very well done. I also liked that they continued with the new, self aware Carter. I was unsure about the addition of Lexi when I heard she was coming, but it's working out rather nicely. The opening scene was very cute. It's still obvious that Carter is working at being a better brother to her, but it also shows that he's starting to get what the benefits of that are.

The Allison story leaves me a little torn. I never really felt like they sold the Allison/Stark romance, which is a big part of why I was so sure that the marriage would never happen. Because of that, I have trouble getting too drawn in by the aftermath. It was ok. The newly complicated Allison/Carter dynamic is intriguing, but the logic diamond hologram didn't do a lot for me. I was disturbed by the loss of Stark, but not from that angle. I'm actually going to miss the Carter/Stark relationship much more than Allison/Stark.

Eva's big plan remains a mystery, but there was some more incremental development. Apparently Henry has had time to look over that pardon and realize that he's not beholden to her, so he's not so game to be involved if he's going to be left in the dark. That came as something of a surprise. I assumed he'd stay as involved as he could in order to gain information. By stepping back from the mysterious "hotel", he left the door open for Zane. The way he is falling in with her scheme tracks well with what I saw earlier in the season.

My best guess is that it also points to what will eventually be Eva's downfall. Zane has certainly been shown to be one with questionable ethics and morals on occasion, but Eureka has given him a chance to straighten things out. When the dust settles, he'll be on the Carter side of the inevitable showdown, much to Eva's detriment. I'm not sure how the cryptex combination lock fits in with the other clues, but the description on the page Eva had ends with "...successful entry of all the coordinates...deactivating the security system." Perhaps this is what gets her into the underground areas I saw earlier?

Other bits:

My favorite nutty science of the night: "Had to use a superconductor to generate a massive anti-gravitational field. It's protected by a thermoplastic multifilament polymer." "Air bags."

The title of Marx's book was the same as the episode, "Show Me The Mummy." Nice touch.

A memorial hallway? Even with a koi pond, it's still a hallway. I expected more for Stark.

Stark is dead... for now.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mad Men: The New Girl

Whoa — big episode of Mad Men with all of my favorite characters getting a good amount of screen time. One of my favorite characters from last season makes a return and I learn a whole lot about what happened to Peggy a while ago, including how she managed to keep her job after going through her secret ordeal.

I don't know about you, but there were some heart-stopping, high drama moments for me in this episode. Pressure continues to build within the Draper marriage as Don's lies keep piling up, Pete is a tool to his wife as usual, and there's some exciting news for Joan!

Don Draper: Once again Don succumbs to Bobbie's charms, and after getting thoroughly wasted he gets behind the wheel of his car for a late night tryst by the sea. As he guzzled hard alcohol while driving I thought, "I know they smoked while pregnant and stuff but surely they understood the hazards of drinking and driving?" And, of course, that's the moment when Don and Bobbie get into a terrible accident. Oh! But before all that they bump into Rachel Menken (yay! She's back!), who is now Mrs. Katz. Her husband seems a little less exciting than Don but likely not as much of a d-bag. There's a lot of clean up after the big wreck, including some more lying to Betty who is angry that Don didn't call her after his accident. Of course, he dismisses this argument from his spouse by calling her hysterical and telling her to help him get dressed.

Peggy Olson: I learned a lot about Peggy this week via flashbacks, including a diagnosis by the doctors in the mental institute: "psychoneurotic disorder" a.k.a. "refusing to admit she had a baby." Then I found out that Don visited her in the hospital and offered some eerie words of advice to poor, confused Peggy, like "Get out of here and move forward," and "This never happened. It will shock you how much of it never happened." This scene gave me chills all over; the way Jon Hamm delivers these lines is extraordinary. Later, Bobbie gives Peggy some constructive advice on how to get that corner office: stop being so deferential toward Don and start acting like his equal. Thus, Peggy asks Don to repay her for his bail, and when he hands her money, she calls him by his first name instead of her usual "Mr. Draper." The playing field has been leveled a little bit (both Peggy and Don now know destructive secrets about each other), and Peggy is learning how to leverage that.

Some more thoughts:

Did anyone else notice that Peggy's sister is hugely pregnant when she visits Peggy in the hospital? What do you think that's about? She could be pretending to be pregnant as a cover for Peggy, or perhaps the little boy we've been seeing this whole season is actually Peggy's sister's.

Um, what the heck was up with that guy who popped out of his office and played Mozart on his pants zipper? Oddest. Mad Men moment. Ever.

Ugh, Pete! He finds out that he does not have fertility issues (which I knew because of his baby with Peggy) and proceeds to rub that in his wife's face and treat her like a child. He is so despicable sometimes.

I like the addition of "the new girl," though I think she looks more modern than any of the other women. Like, 2008 modern. I'll be curious to find out more about her.

Joan has some great lines this week, and the one that made me laugh out loud was when she told the group of men gathered around near the new secretary to go and "Pitch your tents somewhere else."

Speaking of Joany — she's engaged! Cue break area squealing! I haven't seen much of this doctor love of hers, so I'll see how long this engagement lasts. Can you really see Joan out in the burbs next door to Betty raising kids? Me neither.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson has lived not only a fascinating life but a life filled with terror, insight, and most of all, humanity.

His life began growing up in Tanzania where his Minnesota-born parents moved him at a very young age to be Lutheran missionaries and teachers. There he learned to live in, and be accepting of, a culture much different than that he experienced in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It was that tolerance and his acquired love of climbing that led him to the start of his humanitarian efforts.

In 1993, a failed effort to scale K2 found Mortenson being brought down the mountainside, broken and battered, and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished village in Pakistan's Karakoram Himalaya. After gaining the strength to get up and about, he found the girls of the village writing "lessons" in the dirt with sticks in an attempt to educate themselves. In gratitude for all they had done for him, he made them an impulsive promise of building them a school so their daughters could obtain a proper education. He went back to his home in Berkeley, CA, sold all his belongings and headed back to fulfill his promise.

In living among the people of the region that gave birth to the Taliban and sanctuary to Al Qaeda, Mortenson realized that the only way to fight the ignorance and poverty of its people was to educate their sons and daughters. He believed that providing girls and boys with a balanced, non-extremist education would make them much less vulnerable to the extremist madrassas.

Today, Mortenson is the director of the Central Asia Institute and has built fifty-five schools serving Pakistan and Afghanistan's poorest communities.

In reading Three Cups of Tea, I was completely riveted from the beginning. Mortenson has climbed mountains, been taken hostage by terrorists, was led into Mother Teresa's death room to pay his respects, and has personally spearheaded a move towards peace between warring factions. He is a truly amazing man with a truly amazing story. I highly recommend this book; it will both educate and entertain.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Closer: Sudden Death

The Closer continues to get some great mileage out of the supporting cast in season four. With episodes featuring Flynn and Provenza already in the books, Sanchez steps to the front of the stage. The resulting story was quite a bit darker than what I saw with "Dial M for Provenza." As Sanchez dealt with the murder of his younger brother, I got to take a closer look at him than the usual episode provides.

I actually came into this one knowing nothing about the story. Because of that, the "sudden death" at the beginning of the episode caught me completely off guard. Seeing Sanchez at home, working on his Moto Guzzi, I expected I was finally getting a little peek at the man away from work. And, I suppose that's what I did get. It just wasn't what I thought I would be seeing.

The murder, and the aftermath, painted quite a picture of Sanchez and his environment. The fact that his brother was gunned down in the street, the ambulance drivers afraid to enter the neighborhood, and his reaction at the hospital combined to provide a whole load of back story for the detective. They also set the stage for what I found to be the most interesting scene of the episode. Seeing the whole team, and their spouses, gathered at the hospital was both strange and moving. Everyone wanted to help, but nobody knew what to do. That feeling rings so true.

The case itself was interesting in that, much like the team, there wasn't a suspect in sight for most of the episode either. So often, a parade of possible perps is presented right away, and the game is narrowing the field down. This time, there was nobody. It really helped to amplify the tension the team was feeling as the days passed and they were no closer to finding the killer.

That lack of suspects was also a good point to bring back Ramos (Stephen Martines). His question, about why priority homicide was focusing on this case in particular, while other cases were being handled by robbery/homicide was so thinly veiled, but it seemed fitting for his character. I really enjoyed how Brenda spun it back on him with how his paper covers those same cases.

And in the end, the big break that ended up solving the case came from Fritz. It's nice to see that relationship work out on the professional level, but it does leave me thinking about what I haven't seen from that relationship on the personal level.

Other bits:

In the midst of all the drama, Provenza did provide the comic relief. His whole scene, from pulling up his pants to get in the boat/pool, to the 12ft/16ft law game, was very funny.

I totally fell for Brenda's cell-phone ruse too. I thought that she just wanted the photo, not realizing she was going to use it to uncover Tao's indiscretion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

MTTT - Bell's Brewery - 4th Anniversary

I can't believe four years have passed since I started organizing the M Thirsty Third Thursday events. As is our tradition, the MTTT'ers gather at Bell's Brewery where it all began in August 2004.

This month though it was a little bitter-sweet because we were saying goodbye to two co-workers - Krista & Kit.

Bell's Brewery is based in Kalamazoo and has a nation-wide following. One of their most popular and publized beer is Oberon Ale. I'm going to try to pack an Oberon and hopefully it will make it on the long journery to Germany next week. Our local paper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, has a special blog called KalamaBrew, which features the local breweries and photos of their products taken throughout the world. I will let you know if my photo makes it on their blog.

I also personally like their Amber Ale. The Ecletic Cafe' offers up great sandwiches. Their BBQ pulled pork is one of the best in the area.

As always, we had a great time at Bell's; although my drive home was eventful when a cop pulled me over for running a red light. I'm still not convinced the light was totally red, but I certainly wasn't going to argue with her. I was totally bummed. This was my first traffic violation ever! Not bad for someone who has driven for over 30 years.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

U.S. Man Rocks the Air Guitar World Championships

This news is so fantastically funny to me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, air guitar. Secondly, air guitar world championships. Third: air guitar world championships in Finland. Finally, the champion this year is an American dude! Craig "Hot Lixx Hulahan" Billmeier beat out the two-year reigning champion, Japan's Ochi "Dainoji" Yosuke, for this year's top title. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Most hilarious, however, is this brief BBC News video about the championships in which a droll newscaster explains that in air guitar, "Long hair is optional, but jumping around and feverishly finger-picking at an imaginary guitar is not. Headbanging is in, but make sure your headband is secure. You don't have to get undressed, but the crowds seem to like it."

To watch the winning air guitar performances by our very own Hot Lixx, click below.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk Falls In Love

This was a rarity in the Monk canon. It was not only a serious episode, but one in which Monk seemed capable of touching another person and falling in love again. The title of the episode, in fact, suggests that he does fall in love.

There were other differences in the show. The murder of the taxi driver brought Stottlemeyer and Disher to the case, and Natalie and Adrian, but also a San Francisco Homicide task force -- i.e. two other detectives. Have I ever seen these guys before? I don't remember them. They were there for one reason basically, to contradict Monk's assertion that the prime suspect -- Layla with a Z, a beautiful social worker -- is not the "guy." In the face of mounting evidence, Monk refused to believe she did it.

At the same time, Monk allowed himself to be attracted to her, or rather, he couldn't help himself. When he goes to see her to warn her that the cops will arrest her, he admits that he could have called instead. Fighting every one of his instincts to pull away, Monk kept coming back to her. Joanna Pacula played Layla with complete sincerity. She did look like an angel when they first interviewed her. At no point, did I think she was playing Monk, like the other two detectives suggested.

As attracted to her as Monk was, she was attracted to him, too, a fact that was underscored in the dancing scene. Monk actually overcame his phobias about intimacy and after a hesitant start, he took her in his arms and they danced. It was a sweet moment, but it couldn't last. Monk's obsession with Trudy continues to hold him in check. Scrubbing the wedding ring symbolized his need to remain only Trudy's. Sad, really.

The Zemenian restaurant scene was fun, sort of a Benihana of Slavic food. Like the last episode on the submarine, Monk refused to eat. This time it was because of chef was playing with the food. One of these week's, Monk's going to have to eat something.

When the story of the butcher came out and Layla mentioned Emmerich by name, Monk's calling for 911 because the guy spat on the floor was over the top. But then, this is Monk.

The ending though was particularly poignant. Monk did the right thing. He save Layla and found the right "guy," but was it fair that an old woman was imprisoned when a war criminal, "the butcher of Zemenia," was never brought to justice? Yes, she stabbed him, but what crimes had he committed and never been tried for?

Ultimately, Monk's choice resulted in his losing Layla. There was no right answer, actually. If he let her confession stand, he'd lose her. Bringing in her mother and revealing that she was the killer, lost Layla to him, too. The final shot of Layla walking away and the door swinging closed on Monk sealed the deal. I doubt Layla will be back again.

Other points of interest:

Randy in date mode was like Randy at work, oblivious. By the way, Randy looked quite randy in the cab. I guess he hasn't been dating much lately.

When Layla kissed Monk for the first time, Natalie gave him a wipe, which he didn't use.

"Red light, schmed light. That's your argument?"

The cops should not have had guns drawn when they went to arrest Layla; there was no imminent danger.

Showing the murder in black and white was a nice touch, even though we've seen it before. But wouldn't the cabbie have some inkling that he was despised by the Zemenian community? Was he hiding in plain sight?

The mythical Zemenia reminded me of Freedonian.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

The August Great Readers of M read the Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. I chose this book as our monthly selection and it quickly moved into my Current Top 10 books. This book was absolutely amazing. It was a candid look into the lives of Afghan women. Debbie is hilarious, I often caught myself laughing out loud. She did something most American women would never dream of doing.

Kabul Beauty School begins with the story of a wedding. Families save for years and even take on huge debts to make engagement parties and weddings as festive (despite men and women being separated) as possible. The groom's parents are usually expected to provide a large cash dowry, expensive dresses, and gold to the bride. The bride's virginity and family honor are very, very big issues in Afghanistan, and in this particular wedding it turns out there is a serious "technical" problem. Fortunately, "Miss Debbie" solves it just in time.

Deborah came to Afghanistan as a set of extra hands for a medical team in an effort to escape her abusive husband. After the culture shock of her first few days and feeling useless, she discovers her beauty-shop experience is highly valued by both Afghans and Westerners in Kabul. Upon learning that the Taliban essentially destroyed the existing salon industry, she vows to establish a training program. So, its back to Michigan to obtain corporate donations and divorce her husband before returning.

The bulk of Kabul Beauty School consists of vignettes of what Deborah learns of terrible female abuse (mostly by their husbands) from her students. Fleeing an abusive husband or having been raped are even grounds for imprisonment. In addition, we learn that electric power in Kabul is on for less than 4 hours/day, significant caste-like differences exist between tribes, and the nation is also plagued by corruption and inept police. At the end, Deborah wonders if she has accomplished anything lasting - her school and salon have been shut down as a reaction to civilian deaths caused by a traffic accident involving the U.S. military, and the Taliban are re-surging.

This book is refreshing and passionate. I could not put it down. I am so lucky to be living in the USA. I recommend this book to everyone.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

DVD Review: Into the Wild

Here is a movie that, for all intents and purposes, is a good film. It is a travelogue that shows some of the most picturesque landscape that America has to offer. However, despite all that it offers visually, it's compromised in the romanticized view of its central character by writer/director Sean Penn.

Into the Wild chronicles the journey taken by Christopher McCandless. He was a young man who, upon graduating from Emory College in 1990, rebelled against his family and what he felt was a capitalist, materialistic society. He chose to remove himself from society, lest he be caught up in it and have his life spoiled by it. To that end, he donates his life savings to charity, drives his car as far west as it will go, burns his money and identification, and heads off into the wilderness.

Along the way, with Alaska as his goal, there is a succession of individuals who float in and out of his life, each leaving an indelible mark on the young man. Among them are a couple of hippies living life out of an RV (Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker), a wheat farmer (Vince Vaughn), a couple of Danish vacationers, a teenage singer (Kristen Stewart), and a kindly old man (Hal Holbrook).

The most notable is Hal Holbrook's Ron Franz, who stands out the most. The elderly war vet sees something in the young man. During the short time they spend together he comes to look on McCandless as the son he never had. It is the most emotionally touching and involving sequence of the film. Holbrook truly left a mark on the journey.

To its credit, the film is very well made. It takes its time to get from point A to point B. It has a nice, meandering pace that allowed me to linger on some of the beauty that the country has to offer. It is different than your standard Hollywood fare, which is always about how fast we can get to the next plot point or set piece.

The performances are also quite good. Emile Hirsch does a good job of portraying the idealistic young man. I do not, exactly, buy him as the saintly, driven person portrayed here. I get the feeling that Penn has, at least slightly, idealized him and what he believes he stood for. However, that is to take nothing away from what Hirsch was able to do. As for the supporting roles, I already mentioned Hal Holbrook's impact, but he is not the only one to have a moment of clarity. Brian Dierker as the hippie Rainey has considerable presence as one of McCandless' benefactors. Even Vince Vaughn has a memorable turn as a happy-go-lucky man who takes a liking to the traveler.

Eddie Vedder's collaborations provide some good music, athough, it is not the same Vedder I remember from the early Pearl Jam days. The music is quite fitting to the tone and pace of the film.

For all the good that Into the Wild has to offer, I am sure you are wondering why I don't like it. Well, it has to do with Christopher McCandless himself. I mean no disrespect for the dead. I am sorry about what happened to him, but the thing of it is that it did not have to happen. I get the feeling that his desire to flee materialistic society and rebel against his family were just a smokescreen covering up some mental problems. There are other ways to rebel rather than heading off, unprepared (no matter how many books he had, he was not prepared for what was to come), into the wilds of the north.

I have to believe that there was a better way for him to deal with his society issues, with his father problems, and whatever else he felt, or thinks he felt, about society. Instead, he chose a rather selfish route that eventually led to his death and irreparable pain for his family. I liken him to Timothy Treadwell, another man who was not prepared for what he was getting himself into, likely suffered from mental problems, and eventually paid for his actions with his life.

Bottom line. It is a nicely crafted film, however it seeks to make a statement about society that rings hollow and canonizes a young man who went about his revolution the wrong way. Do I have the answer? No. He would probably see me as part of the "problem." Be that as it may, he went off into the wild, ill prepared to handle what was there and eventually paid the ultimate price.

Friday, September 5, 2008

DVD Review: the Illusionist

It’s the early 1900s in Vienna, Austria, following the adventures of one Eisenheim, the illusionist, as he dazzles the everyday folk and the royals with his trickery on stage. That is, until he decides to challenge the Prince with his puzzles, and ends up be smitten by his lover. What follows are more tricks, deceptions and plenty of slight of hand, as the illusionist is backed into a corner and I'm left wondering what is real and what is not.

A gorgeous-looking movie featuring a fascinating lead character who likes to pull the wool over people’s eyes by amazing them with feats of magic, disappearance, guesswork and yes, you guessed it…illusions. I guess you could call this guy the David Copperfield or David Blaine of his day, only unlike Blane, he actually performs magic and doesn’t just cage himself in ice for a few days and call it magic.

The actor portraying the man of which I speak is Edward Norton, back in top form on the big screen, after seemingly disappearing from the face of the planet himself over the past few years. But he’s back with a vengeance here, and a monster goatee to boot. Paul Giamatti also plays his conflicted character to a tee, finally discarding his knack for playing lovable schlubs and showing the world why he’s been certified as one of our best character actors. In third spot comes Jessica Biel, who despite my own personal reservations, actually held her own against the two more established thespians, and did so without any gratuitous boob or ass shots (although she definitely allowed her lips to do the acting in a couple of sequences).

But the film wasn’t entertaining all the way through simply because of its characters alone, it also featured a highly authentic and moody look and feel, which along with some darkened corners on the film reel itself, provided the movie with just the right amount of mystery required. I love movies like this because they keep me guessing, and nowadays in Hollywood, the only thing left to answer is how many sequels a successful generic film will require in order for the studio to stop their uninspired movie-making trend (there’s no correct answer to this query as of yet).

Thankfully, writer/director Neil Burger has other plans as he has created here, a wonderful cinematic experience filled with lush visuals, eye-catching costumes, authentic locales, a believable and romantic love-story, as well as plenty of magic and suspense for anyone who appreciates that sort of thing. I didn't guess what the film’s final “illusion” was, but the movie still held me within its grasp, if only because I was consistently wondering from where the next twist would come.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot about the always-entertaining Rufus Sewell, who sneered his way through yet another palpable nasty-man role. The film did surprise me with a couple of small turns in the end, and I most certainly appreciated its final “reveal”, if only because it helped clear it all up in my mind, and left me with a happy feeling in my heart.

I dug it all, and even though I liked its first hour a little more than its second half, the film on the whole was a wonderful achievement in many respects and should be viewed by anyone searching for an old school whodunit sprinkled with love, magic and the massive Norton goatee!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Eureka: I Do over

"Ohh, dude." -- Jack Carter, on learning he would have to memorize a formula for the next time loop shift.

Boy, I do loves me a Groundhog Day episode! No, I don't mean an episode of a show where they pull a helpless groundhog out of its hole in the cold of winter just to "predict" what's coming up in the next six weeks. I'm talking an episode that features some sort of time loop where a character or characters relive a particular day over and over again. As they go along they learn from the mistakes they made in previous loops. Eventually, through some way that usually isn't understandable, the time loop is closed and things move forward. It's been done on past shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files.

Now, Eureka joins their ranks with another Groundhog Day episode. At first, I was looking forward to the episode. And, as it progressed, I really enjoyed how the story expanded and how Carter put the pieces together. Then, came the solution and....Oh, no no no no no! (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Look, I wasn't the biggest fan of Stark. He was a bit too smart for his own good, he was always at odds with Carter and, as Jack said in this episode, his ego was too big to fit in the building. But, deep down inside he was a caring, loving individual who cherished Allison and her son. Plus, he was starting to warm up to Jack this season. Though, that wasn't very apparent for most of this episode. I chalk that up to wedding jitters.

Now, Nathan's gone. Oh sure, he can come back at any time -- this being a science fiction show and all. It was just the suddenness of Stark's "demise" that was so shocking. I thought that all of the good-byes he was saying to Jack were just precautionary. I guess he knew more about what was going to take place than either Jack or Fargo knew. When Nathan was shown suspended in time I knew something was going to go wrong.

I have to applaud the writers and producers of Eureka for throwing us this curve ball. The episode was set up to make the ending seem like the wedding would go on with Allison and Nathan becoming happily wedded while Carter watched on in, if not approval, at least acceptance. It was practically telegraphed with Carter's statements to her after the last time jump. Plus, when the promo said that the town would 'lose one of their own', it added up to the loss of Leo, who handled Time Maintenance for Global Dynamics and died trying to stop the time loops from happening.

Things will definitely be changing on Eureka. At least for the time being. It will be interesting to see how Jack reacts to this. Being that he doesn't have an opportunistic bone in his body, I can't see Jack jumping in to fill the gap that Nathan left when he disappeared into the time stream. He will be there for Allison, no doubt about that, but he will probably stay a safe distance away. Especially since he watched Nathan sacrifice himself for Allison. Whether Allison will remain distant to Jack is another story entirely.

Let's talk about Jack's adventures through time for a moment. After watching these type of episodes on a number of different shows, it seems that you can't really screw it up too much. That's because the story can stretch and grow as each instance is shown. The biggest pitfall is missing something someone mentioned in a previous loop. Carter's little journey over the same day was one of the better versions of this format I have seen. It was enjoyable not only because Jack was able to learn from his mistakes in order to determine what was going on, but because the added value of other stuff bleeding through each loop added a bit of interest to the plot. Not only was it enjoyable, but it was also frustrating to watch.

Until the very end only Jack knew that something was wrong. It was hard to watch him struggle to let everyone else in the town know what the hell was going on. And, when he did tell them, they didn't believe him. I mean, what did he know about the mechanics of time! Sadly, it was too late for a number of people when everyone realized what was going on.

Oh-kay! There was another storyline in this week's episode of Eureka: Jack's sister, Lexxie. Oh yeah, two totally different people. Where Jack has stability, Lexxie has that free-wheeling sense of adventure -- probably one reason why she will fit in well in Eureka. She does bring some baggage into town -- she's pregnant, which will be an interesting plot point as she gets more and more pregnant and Jack begins to react. I can also see some conflict brewing as Lexxie begins to exert some of her influence on Zoe. Something that will probably give Carter many headaches.

Before I conclude, a few odds and ends:

Degree deodorant had at least three scenes as it was given a deliberate close-up in Carter's bathroom. Well, at least they weren't talking about the advantages of the product right in the show.

"He's your Doctor WHO." "That's my favorite show!". -- Vincent getting the reference to the World Health Organization a bit incorrect.

I learned a bit more about what Eva Thorne is looking for in the town of Eureka. It seems she is searching for something under the ground. What that could be is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Plain Sight: A Fine Meth (season finale)

It feels to me that a big chunk of the first season of In Plain Sight was Brandi's great adventure, and this show was the big finish. In a twist that was both surprising and satisfying, the loose ends were tied up and the air was cleared for the show to return for more chapters in the Shannon family saga. And all that other stuff that Mary's been doing with the Witness Protection Program, too.

After nearly eleven hours (give or take) of Mary's frustration with her mother and sister, it all came to a head. This was an episode heavy on the drama, and he did a great job balancing the FBI investigation, Marshall and Stan's efforts to save Mary's career, and the family dynamics. From the first scene between the Shannons, there was no question that this was not going to be a warm and fuzzy examination of their feelings. Mary dropped the hammer when she told Jinx and Brandi how much trouble they were in.

Kudos to Mary McCormack. She looked like hell for most of the show, which was completely appropriate after what she'd been through. Her performance was excellent. It was hard to feel sorry for Brandi. She was crying and moaning like she was the victim when she created the entire disaster. Mary had every right to be furious with her sister. Brandi's reckless actions endangered all of them.

Jinx's revelation -- that Mary was not her father's favorite -- was cruel beyond belief. I loved it when Mary was able to trump her with the letters. Also, considering the fact that Mary's such a savvy character, it would have been incredulous if she'd thought she was her father's favorite based only on her wacky mother's stories. It made sense that Mary had proof of his feelings. Of course, next season is going to have to get in to where Mr. Shannon is. I wouldn't be stunned to find out that he's in WITSEC and Mary's his handler.

The back story about Biscuit, the teddy bear, was sweet. I could really relate, too, because those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz gave me nightmares when I was a kid, too. It was also nice and appropo that Raph was the person to remind Mary that Brandi's family and she needs Mary's help.

Were you worried that Mary was going to be found with the suitcase of meth? I was. Then I thought she must have had a plan or something because just as she told Brandi when she wanted to make a run for it, the FBI would stop her before the car was down the street. Instead, Mary, Jinx and Brandi were all shocked to see towels in the suitcase instead of drugs. The final shot of Raph taking batting practice in a baseball stadium, with the grounds crew putting white chalk down the foul lines, was the perfect button on the season. The smile on his face was not in reaction to his swing (which was awful), it was because he knew what was really lining the field. Raph turned out to be smarter than all three Shannons put together. He's also a really good guy.

In Plain Sight is now officially over for 2008. I'm anxious to see where they take the show in 2009. I'm even curious about Mary's annoying family, which is something I thought I would never feel when the series began.

Other points of interest:

Great line. "I'm the hall monitor in this family and nobody likes the hall monitor."

I've wanted to like Lesley Ann Warren, but I just don't. She's all wrong for this role. She's too hysterical...all the time.

Dad's letter to Mary was perfect. I mean, considering the fact that he was abandoning her, the sentiments were great.

Spanky wouldn't drink a Diet Coke but he'd eat powdered sugar donuts? I guess he got that Michael Phelps body from proper eating habits.

Mary's description of the taste of blood was graphic and pretty gross. "A sickening, sweet smell. I don't think it's ever going to go away." All the booze in the world wasn't going to erase that taste.

The authorities have the right to rip up someone's home with a search warrant. They have the right, but it's really disgusting that they can do so much damage and just walk away. And, yes, they do it all the time.

As I said last time, Stan finally has proved himself. Marshall also was the real brains, figuring out that Rebecca's kid was Spanky's because of the RH factor. Love that Marshall.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mad Men: Three Sundays

After the last episode of Mad Men, I have been thinking about that scene in the restaurant between Don and Bobbie (you know, That Scene) and what it means for Don's character. My feeling was that this was the beginning of Don becoming dangerously unhinged, and after this episode I'm even more convinced. I would not be shocked if he became increasingly violent as this season progresses.

But Don's not the only one whose world is unraveling; it seems that many people in the Sterling Cooper universe are reaching their own breaking points. With the slow and deliberate pace of Mad Men, I find myself becoming more and more on edge with each episode, as though watching a storm slowly gather, and waiting for lightning to strike.

Don Draper: I think Don's unraveling is two-fold. Firstly, men like Don and Roger Sterling are a dying breed, and as this dramatic decade rolls on, I think they will feel more and more obsolete. This is tough for men who pride themselves and have entire careers riding on the fact that they are in touch with what Americans want and need. Earlier episodes this season that hinted at Don's age and things like his not being charmed by Jacqueline Kennedy, support this point. Secondly, Don is having an increasingly difficult time reconciling his troubled, secret past and his present life. In this episode, he struggles mightily to not repeat the sins of his father, only to explode and shove Betty. More and more I'm seeing the scary side of Don.

Betty Draper: Poor Betty is clearly feeling trapped, and conflicted about this life that she thinks is supposed to make her happy. The scenes between Don and Betty are unsettling. Earlier episodes this season hinted at her sexual dissatisfaction with Don, testing the waters elsewhere to feel attractive and sexy. She has a lot of anger pent up, and her outbursts signal that she's becoming discontent and overwhelmed by raising their children, feeling like she's stuck at home all day and "outnumbered" by the kids.

Peggy Olson: Peggy's family hosts a young priest from their congregation and he quickly takes a shine to Peggy. Her sister can't help but be a little disgusted by all the praise heaped on Peggy — despite her recent transgressions. The constraints on women at the time aside (and I know we don't know the entire story yet), I am still weirded out by Peggy's odd state of denial. So, even though ratting Peggy out in confession to the priest was not very nice, I can sympathize with her sister's frustration.

Some more thoughts:

Scariest line of the night goes to Don: "You want me to bring home what I got at the office today? I'll put you through that window." Yikes.

Also someone should just sign Sally Draper up for AA meetings right now. After fixing her dad stiff drinks and getting wasted at the office, I think it's safe to say the girl's going to have issues. And by "issues" I mean hopping on that free love revolution train and heading to San Francisco, to Don's horror.

Pete's short shorts are amazing. I am still intrigued by him, and would like more Pete next episode.

Does anyone else find the kid playing Bobby Draper a little creepy? I know he's just a kid, but onscreen he just seems utterly lifeless.

I really enjoyed the scene between Roger Sterling and his daughter. Let the generation clashes begin as the daughter has her own ideas about what a wedding means to her. Then it swiftly turns sad as Roger's wife romantically reminisces about their wedding, followed a few scenes later by Roger's interactions with Vicky.

High-priced hookers are popping up quite a bit on Mad Men (remember Betty's old roommate, the "party girl"?). Do you think this was more common/classier than it is today? Perhaps more overt? At any rate, as much as I enjoy the life Roger injects into the series, he also strikes me as pathetic when it comes to the ladies. And I can't help thinking about his poor wife.