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

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Video for Gnarls Barkley's "Run" Is So. Much. Fun.

The video for Gnarls Barkley's "Run" actually makes me want to, well, run. And dance. And stomp around. And wave my arms all crazy. The video features Justin Timberlake as an uber-geeky, wannabe "fresh" host of City Vibin', a hyper-frenetic dance show with '80s effects and a costume designer straight off the set of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The song itself is so frantic and urgent, and in this video that energy is channeled into dance.

You just have to watch this — but you might want to be sure there's nothing breakable around first, because the urge to move might overtake you. To check it out and start doing dweeby dance moves similar to Timberlake's in this video, click below:

Friday Night Lights: Who Do You Think You Are?

This episode of Friday Night Lights wasn't the most subtle episode of the show, with its twin themes of separation and prejudice leaving their mark on almost every story line. But amid the occasional heavy-handed nonsense, there were some interesting developments for Smash, Tami, and even Matt (finally).

Sometimes I think FNL just let its cast grow too big; even I'm having trouble remembering the last time we saw some of these people. Take Lyla: After a several-episode absence, she popped up as the new co-host of a Christian teen radio show that Tim Riggins prank-calls while he's hanging out with Jason Street. (Yes, I said Jason Street. I can cancel that missing persons' alert now.) While the radio show — and the associated makeout session with the boy formerly known as Logan from Gilmore Girls — came out of virtually nowhere, a few things about it worked.

For one, I like seeing Lyla getting more comfortable with expressing her faith. For another: That moment with Tim Riggins walking in with drugstore flowers just as Lyla and her co-host started kissing was fantastic. I'd nearly forgotten Tim was still carrying a torch for her, and while he might have tossed the flowers aside, I don't think he's going to give up on Lyla so easily.

Onto Smash: As skeptical as I am of the idea that his mom and Noelle's parents would throw a dinner party to announce that a black guy and a white girl shouldn't date, this was an intriguing story. Dillon's a place where players of all colors share space on the field relatively easily, but I've also seen how tenuous that racial truce is, and I'd believe an interracial relationship could still raise some eyebrows. I wish I could have seen a little more of that eyebrow-raising before this episode's big blowout, though — not to mention some more of Smash and Noelle actually dating, rather than her acting as his football adviser.

Tami got a big dose of separation anxiety when she realized that leaving Gracie with Shelly and with strangers at day care were two very different things. I loved the way Coach and Tami ended up having essentially the reverse of the conversation they had about TMU in last season's finale: In that episode, he said he wouldn't take the job because he didn't want to hurt the family, and she insisted she had to follow his dream; this time, she said she was ready to give up her job, and he refused to let that happen. Their scene on the couch, with Coach assuring Tami that Gracie could always come to her for counseling, was one of my favorites.

Some other thoughts:

So, Carlotta's gone. I guess I'm glad it's over, but why did it even happen?

Santiago's story with Buddy's grandpa's watch and his juvie friends was about as telegraphed as anything gets on FNL — I mean, Buddy practically said aloud that one of Santiago's friends would steal the watch. Also, between this and the watch Landry lost, this show has quite a fascination with heirloom watches.

Speaking of Landry, we finally got a scene of him and Matt hanging out! What's a little murder between friends?

Guess that drug dealer had better things to do this week than come after Riggins.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

DVD Review: Hitch

Among comedic talents, only Jack Black and Will Smith have the ability to carry a picture solely based on their personalities. Ben Stiller needs a good script. Vince Vaughn needs a sidekick. Even Will Ferrell needs some guidance from a director. But put Black or Smith in front of a camera, get out of the way and you'll have a hit.

School of Rock was a short film plus an hour of Black mugging with kids — and it worked. In Hitch, Smith is too perfectly cast as a charismatic date doctor who overcomes his alleged fear of love.

The man has played a gay con man (Six Degrees of Separation), one of the most charismatic figures of the 20th century (Ali), an action hero (Enemy of the State, Independence Day) and now a romantic lead. If he chooses to I have no doubt he could become president. That's how much magnetism he has. But somewhere along the way, one hopes he will make some choices to do some edgier material. I mean, c'mon, he could have played this role high on Benadryl.

That said, there are some things to recommend here, especially Smith's underrated value as a straight man. When you have the energy Smith has it must be difficult to play second fiddle to another actor, but that is what Smith does in his scenes with Kevin James. I found the dancing scene hilarious, and while obvious credit goes to James, it is Smith's generosity that allows this scene to work. Also interesting are the observations about modern dating that reminded me of an updated Alfie.

The biggest problem with the story is that we are supposed to believe Hitch, who caught his college girlfriend kissing another dude, has sworn off love because of the incident. This is fine, although it seemed tacked on, but I never see how this transformed him into a guy who will only help men who truly love their prospective mates. How did he learn all these tricks? And how did he make the transformation from geek to stud? But more importantly, if he's sworn off love for himself, but not for others, then why does he try to woo Eva Mendes' character? It's not for a booty call, since he went to all the trouble of an elaborate proposal and an even more elaborate date.

When it comes down to it, not enough time is invested in these two seemingly perfect people to understand what their problems are. Thus their relationship never seems to be in doubt, a requisite for creating drama.

The real story here is James' characters wooing of Allegra. It is sweet, makes a lovely point about being yourself and would have been paid off nicely had the editors not been in such a hurry to rush their moments to get back to Smith and Mendes. All the pieces were here to write a movie on the level of Jerry Maguire, the film they reference here, but they didn't all fit together.

But don't worry, the dance sequence at the end will make it worth it and show why Will Smith will someday rule us all.

Law & Order: Bottomless

SavingsMart (no need to second guess what company they are talking about) quality control, big company ethics and the Roy Pearson dry cleaners lawsuit was the combination of several stories ripped from the headlines and turned into one story. However, the lawsuit on the missing paints was just left hanging (no pun).

Other than that, this was really well written, and I liked how the ADAs met up with the SavingsMart execs. Seems like L&O is still a bit apprehensive about giving Linus Roache a lot of courtroom scenes (for mainly two reasons: we like McCoy and Roache is not Waterston in the courtroom). That meeting was a good way to give Cutter some good screen time.The SavingsMart story from the secret relationship to the whole toothpaste scandal was really good, in my opinion. Even if it was totally "ripped from the headlines," the story was believable, despite the twists and turns.

Also ... try imagining Jack McCoy shopping for a pink tricycle for his niece. Hmmm.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

I didn't have much familiarity with Nick Hornby going into A Long Way Down except for an enjoyment of the movie version of About a Boy and knowledge of the cult surrounding works like High Fidelity. A Long Way Down started with great possibilities, but these remained largely unfulfilled. There were funny parts, and touching parts, and thoughtful parts, but these were counterbalanced with some boring parts and depressing parts.

The story follows four people who come together on New Year's Eve at a popular suicide spot in London. Obviously, all four of them mean to kill themselves, but meeting and seeing each other changes the courses of things and their lives begin to intertwine and go in unexpected directions.

The characters are diverse, from a punkish teenage girl to the prim mother of a handicapped child. I liked the relationships all four formed with each other, how they talked to one another, and how their feelings were expressed. As well, I liked how the plot was laid out, jumping from perspective to perspective as it progressed along, without too much recapping and over-explanation.

Here's the gang: Martin is an ex-talk show host who thinks his prison sentence for having slept with a 15-year-old is unfair because he was "not a criminal" but "a television performer who made a mistake." Maureen is a mother whose adult life has been taken up by the needs of her disabled son. Jess is eighteen going on eight, a rebel without a clue who peppers her every sentence with four-letter words. Finally, J. J., the obligatory American in the mix, is a washed-up musician whose bathroom library extends to Richard Yates and Pauline Kael. None of these people have a compelling reason for taking his or her own life, but there were times I was close after putting up with these whiners for 333 pages.

As for Hornby's meditations on suicide and soldiering on with life, well, I will give him credit for not going down the stereotypical route, for showing that it's not easy and everything doesn't turn up rosy even if you don't want to kill yourself anymore. But none of this felt very deep to me. As much as I understood the characters' situations, I didn't feel them, I didn't feel their desperation and their reasons, I didn't see the emotion behind the decision.

Nip/Tuck: Rachel Ben Natan

After a month off, Nip/Tuck is back. Only 14 of this season's 22 episodes were finished pre-WGA Strike, so it makes sense that FX threw that mini hiatus in there. I was really looking forward to this episode, and even though I liked it, there was still a lot of stuff that just didn't feel fresh to me. Recycled is probably more accurate. I love this show, but c'mon... Sean and Christian fighting over Julia is really getting old.

Honestly, I'm hoping that this episode signifies the end of it since Sean seems to finally be willing to forgive Christian. They physically fought about it for the second or third time and the whole plot is just stale at this point. Just let Julia sleep with Christian and wait for him to disappoint her. I know he will. Whether they're in love or not, he never was a one woman man. Plus Gina ("Hey asshole." I love it.) is back and I know Christian won't be able to keep his hands off her.

On a side note, this is the one thing that bugs me when a show "moves" to a different location. To make it work, all the characters need to have reasons to move. Gina just so happened to get her California Realtor license. It's just a little odd to me. After Christian got Wilber, I would have never expected to see Gina back. I'm glad she is though.

Moving on, Dawn Budge and Freddy Prune were back. She started pumping money into Hearts n' Scalpels and Freddy made her a producer. Hilarious. Rosie O'Donnell is great in this role. She got run over by a lesbian biker! Plus she had one of the funniest lines in Nip/Tuck history: "Chop chop people. We got a clit to build." Too funny, especially since it's coming from O'Donnell's mouth. Granted, the story went a little overboard in the "OK, we get it. How ironic that Rosie O'Donnell is playing a homophobe" department, but she was still great. I also loved the fight she got in with Aidan. ("I'm not a bigot." "Bigots always say that.")

This episode also saw the return of Rachel Ben Natan, Matt's rehabilitation counselor. If I recall, she was next to a suicide bomber in Palestine when he pushed the button and now she wants his "human shrapnel" removed from her body. Nip/Tuck has always handled the similarities between its doctors and patients well, but this was particularly well done. Comparing Sean to Rachel's suicide bomber and seeing the anger and resentment of Christian and Julia build inside him was great. Just really well done. Of course, as good as that was, it culminated in my original gripe. Matt sure can pick 'em though huh? Transvestites, white supremacists, porn star meth addicts, and now Rachel. Quite the track record.

More thoughts...

Freddy finally came out. Not like I didn't see that coming. No straight man calls his girlfriend "petal."

Whatever Eden dosed that fruit cake with isn't leaving Julia's system. She's getting daily bloody noses now. Plus, she's been to three doctors who all say she's fine. It sounds terrible, but I love the idea of her being killed off. That would really force things to change.

Also, I was dying to know who played Rachel, it was Maggie Siff. Now I remember her as Menken's daughter on Mad Men (my #1 favorite current show). I really couldn't tell who she was in this show though... for obvious reasons.

I had forgotten that Dawn donated one of her kidneys to Liz.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Gnothi Seauton

"Gnothi Seauton" is Greek for "Know Yourself". I suppose it is similar to the personal growth going on with each of the characters at this stage.Projected into their own future, Sarah and Cameron go to one of Sarah's old friends named Enrique while attempting to get new fake id's, in case Sarah wants to get beer later.Meanwhile, John leaves their safe house in an expression of his teenage, rebellious nature. Where did he go? The mall, of course. I suppose he was interested in the technological advancements in malls between 1999 and 2007.

The show is really starting to kick off its two major sci-fi cliche's. The first being time-travel and the resulting contradictions. The second is the Pinocchio syndrome of the robot trying to be human. I was particularly amused when Summer Glau was trying to imitate the woman leaning against the car.I like how the action of the series is getting tongue-in-cheek silly, much like Buffy did when that show was in its prime. An example of this is when the headless Terminator ripped off a construction worker's head to walk around inconspicuously.I also found it amusing how Sarah Connor was unaware of what 9/11 was. Isn't it standard operating procedure when waking up in the future to do historical research?

I don't get John Connor as a character. Why search for Charley Dixon, his mother's ex? It really doesn't make sense given the situation they're in. I recognize that this entire show is a fantasy, but in my opinion good television involves people giving realistic reactions to unusual situations.

The new family pseudonym for the Connor family is Baum. As in L. Frank Baum, the writer of The Wizard of Oz and creator of the Tin Man, the mechanical man with no heart.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Drink Your Milkshake from Saturday Night Live

"I Drink Your Milkshake" references have been all the rage ever since There Will Be Blood hit theaters last year. But nothing could be funnier than this parody from Saturday Night Live as the basis for a Food Network show that finds Daniel Plainview criss-crossing the country in search of the perfect milkshake.

Bill Hader does an eerily spot-on impression of the now-Oscar-winning Daniel Day-Lewis, and Fred Armisen makes an appearance as No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh, complete with deadly air tank and Javier Bardem pageboy. But you've got to watch to the very end for my favorite part: guest host Tina Fey poking fun at Juno's hipster dialogue. "My kudos to whoever shook this shake, magnum."

Prison Break: Boxed In

"Let's see if he has the tattoo to get out of that one." - T-Bag

Prison Break may not be the best thing on TV at this point, but hey - at least it's new. It's been over two months since the mid-season finale and I was a little sketchy on what had happened previously, but this was never a show that required much thinking. Once the action started, it was easy to figure out what everyone was up to. You know... breaking out of prison.

So if I recall, the last episode ended with Michael being brought out of the prison, presumably to solitary confinement. After the two escape attempts, the new general put two and two together and figured Scofield had something to do with it. So they threw Michael in some sort of mini-greenhouse/chicken coop cell. In the hot Panama sun, it didn't take him long to revise his plan and start talking to the general.

This is where it got a little ridiculous though. He spilled the beans about everything - Lincoln being set up in the US, The Company, Sarah's murder, and LJ. Of course the story sounds bogus... but somehow the general verifies it and starts to believe Michael. Now I realize this guy is some high-ranking government official and he most definitely has eyes and ears everywhere, but still. Even the slightest inkling as to how he got his intel would have been nice. After that, it played out as you would expect. Michael gave up Whistler and Whistler gave up Susan B. a.k.a. Gretchen Morgan.

This was interesting though. Michael went through with this extremely dangerous course of action fully aware that any mess up could get LJ killed. It shows you his motives though. While I believe he truly fears for the safety of his nephew, getting revenge for Sarah's death seems to be at the top of his list. He was willing to lie to Lincoln (recall that "this is part of the plan" crap) to make sure Gretchen got apprehended and as a result, Michael got his face time with her. Getting out of prison is now just supplementary to his main goal: killing Gretchen, or at least "making her pay." Of course, Michael is on to Whistler now too. He now knows that the meeting he witnessed was more than just a casual encounter. Obviously, Michael was always suspicious, but now his curiosity is truly piqued. That and he's pissed.

Elsewhere, prison life went on as usual. Mahone was dumped back in Sona and seems determined to stay clean. I doubt that will happen with T-Bag pushing drugs every five minutes. T-Bag has motive though. Get Mahone to take out Sammy and T-Bag is in on the escape plan. Sure Whistler gave him his word, but I wouldn't trust that guy. It shows you how much T-Bag really wants out though. He looked like he was going to cry when he realized that Mahone was in no way prepared to get high and drop Sammy a chicken leg.

More thoughts...

Now that Gretchen has agreed to pay Sucre to continue helping Michael, Sucre has no reason to keep smuggling for Augusto. So... what happens when he says no to Augusto?

Bellick kicked the sh*t out of Sammy's goon! Yeah, I know he fought dirty (acetone soaked rags) but I can't help but root for the guy at this point.

What's going to be the significance of that coin that Lang gave to Mahone? I see no point in bringing it into the story if it's only going to be some sort of good luck charm. It's got to play a bigger role if you ask me...

Gun or no gun, in a fight I think I'd pick Sammy over Lechero. Sammy seems scrappy and Lechero is starting to come across as old. He'll probably have Sammy killed before the potential for a fight even comes close though. Unless T-Bag's plan for Mahone suddenly comes through.

So isn't Gretchen going to have "wanted" posters all over the place now? Every guard at the prison saw her when the general brought her in. It's going to be a little odd if she just goes back to business as usual and doesn't encounter any interference from the law.

Maybe I missed this, but why does Augusto want Lechero dead? What does he gain by having Sammy in charge? I don't think Sammy is going to have an easier time smuggling Augusto's contraband (booze, etc.) into the prison.

Is Sofia going to do anything besides whine? If she's going to be kept around, at least have her character do something productive. She should go figure out why Whistler is lying to her.

From here on out, it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. The escape can't be far off and nothing is really clicking. Michael doesn't trust Whistler, Mahone is in withdrawal, T-Bag and Bellick both want in on the plan, and Sammy has plans for Lechero. Doesn't exactly sound like a cohesive group.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Masterpiece Theatre: Persuasion

Over the course of the next few months, Masterpiece Theatre is presenting six adaptations of Jane Austen novels. Persuasion is the first. I'm not sure if I'll watch all of them, but will try my best since I'm a Jane Austen fan.

Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) is 27. Unmarried and dealing with family financial peril, hope is fading for our heroine. Eight years ago, she was persuaded by her family not to marry a young naval officer whose fortune was yet untold. Now, circumstances bring Captain Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) back into her life. Returning from sea, Wentworth finds no lack of swooning young ladies. Anne is determined to avoid him, brooding on what should have been. Desperate to know if he still loves her and yet afraid to find out. Can love lost be rekindled?

Nothing can take away from this beautiful adaptation filled with period drama, lovely costumes, and rich dialogue. Hawkins is the perfect morose and wistful creature stewing in unrequited love. The dashing Captain Wentworth is quite breathtaking. Ladies can't help but melt at the sight. Although, he does have a very fashion forward hair style for the period.

My high expectations were easily met. Unrequited love, delicate and haunting and so very romantic .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Pilot

I have to admit; from the beginning it seemed to me that a "Terminator" series was a bad idea. Then I heard the name "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" – and things seemed to be going downhill quickly. Very few times does the word "chronicles" bode well for anyone. After all, what could the show be but one of two things – either a prolonged flight from a single Terminator, or even less interesting – a "Terminator of the week" show where I am treated to pale imitations of all the elements that made the movies so exciting.

The awkwardly named Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn't just better than I may have thought, it's damn good. Whether it's the well chosen cast, the deep integration with the mythology of the movies, or the direction – this is a show that deserves my attention.

While the differences aren't monumental, the show's strength is in the details. Lena Heady takes on what seemed the thankless role of replacing Linda Hamilton as iconic Sarah Connor. She's certainly taking a page from Hamilton's work, but Heady (who's a bit softer than the hardcore physique Hamilton displayed) is quickly making the character her own.

The John Connor that Thomas Dekker is playing is on the cusp of becoming a leader – but isn't quite there yet. Dekker (who last played "Zach" on Heroes) fits the mold of the outcast and watching Connor come into his own might be one of the best parts of the series.

The pilot falls a bit short since it doesn't introduce anything I haven't seen before. While there's nothing too original here, it's fun to watch these characters react to something that should no longer exist - and I get a sense of how things work in the reality of the show.

Sarah Connor has plenty of action to satisfy action fans. It can't outdo the spectacle and over the top effects of the movies. Sarah Connor has always been resourceful, and that's the side of the character brought to the foreground in the series. The show never looks cheap (and considering the amount Fox has invested in promoting it, there's plenty of money on screen), but it will have to be consistently inventive to provide the "wow!" factor so closely associated with the films. It's smart, well acted, exciting and some of the best entertainment on the air.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Friday Night Lights: Jumping The Gun

Friday Night Lights just can't seem to have its characters stop breaking the law this season, can it? Granted, the criminal twist in "Jumping the Gun" seemed more believable than a lot of the Landry/Tyra murder plot, but still, I'm a little surprised. That plot was just a minor part of of this packed episode, though, which featured Smash having to make a decision about a college and Coaches Taylor and Dickes facing off in a major game.

I'm beginning to think that Tim Riggins is one of the most frustrating (but wonderful) characters ever written for TV. It would have been easy for him to rat Julie out and try to keep his sweet living situation at the Taylors'; instead, he kept her drunken evening his secret and went about trying to go home — where, naturally, Billy has left everything in shambles. For all his drinking and womanizing, Tim is the most responsible member of the Riggins family, and he seems to genuinely want to be good. So why, oh why, would he steal a pile of money from the biggest drug dealer in Dillon? Taking the cash does fit with what we know about Riggins; well-intentioned as he may be, he's also lazy. But what good does an easy mortgage payment do when you're too dead to enjoy it?

Smash's recruiting plot line has delivered some of this season's finest moments — Cabo in my pants, anyone? — but it hasn't always rung completely true. I was glad to see Noelle reappear in this episode as Smash's pseudo-adviser, and Mama Smash's wary reaction to Noelle's supposed expertise was perfectly played. But why am I just now learning that it's been Smash's dream to play for TMU?

Meanwhile, as enjoyable as it was to have Tami's sister around for a while, I'm glad Shelly's moving on. This starts an interesting new chapter for Tami: What will she do with baby Grace now that her built-in babysitter is gone?

Some other thoughts:

Subtlety has always been a hallmark of FNL, so I'm annoyed at how the Coach Dickes situation ended. I loved him continuing to be a dick(es) by calling his players "girls" and generally being the opposite of Coach Taylor in every way. I even believe he was capable of tackling an opposing player mid-game just to show his own team how it's done. But for the explanation to be that his wife is dying and he doesn't "have a game plan for that?" Groan.

Julie Taylor has been a brat for much of this season, but I'm glad she grew up enough to tell Coach what Riggins was really doing hovering over her bed. Coach's"Damn, Julie," and his little heart-to-heart before Tami got home, were classic.

Also great: Tim offering Jackie his dad's address so she could complete "the Riggins trifecta." I wouldn't have guessed Tim knew the word "trifecta," but hey.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Review: Zorro by Isabel Allende

Did you ever come to the end of a book and wish it would just go on and on because it's so wonderful you don't want it to end? A book like that is worth its weight in gold, and I found one: it's Zorro by Isabel Allende. The text is beautifully translated from Spanish and it's so easy to read that the pages seem to turn themselves.

Because of the familiar "Zorro" persona, from both the late-1950s TV image of Disney's handsome Guy Williams and the more recent movie image of the yummy Antonio Banderas, I thought the book would be more romantic -- you know, handsome hunk in a mask kissing a lot of beautiful, swooning ladies. Well, it isn't that, and I didn't miss it at all. But it is a real swashbuckler, with lots of action, and it's amazing fun.

This is the prequel to the story of the dashing swordsman who fought for justice in early California. Although that legend was long established before Allende came along, her work adds the perfectly fitted pieces to the classic puzzle that is the Zorro legend -- his boyhood, his education and his motivation. I think it will become an adventure classic for adults and kids alike.

The story starts with the meeting of Diego de la Vega's parents and his birth in 1795. It ends with his first acts as the mysterious caped avenger. In between, we travel with him from California to Europe and we meet American Indians, Gypsies, sailors, pirates and aristocrats. We see how Young Diego and his lifelong friend, Bernardo, learn the principles of justice from horrifying acts of prejudice they witness as children and government corruption they are subject to as adults. We learn why Bernardo doesn't speak, how Diego took the name Zorro, and what the governmental factors were that drove him to his destiny.

We see how he picks up his skills -- fencing, horse riding, acrobatics, illusion -- and adds to his Zorro disguise one element at a time -- a mask here, a horse there -- until he's fully prepared to fight for the downtrodden. I don't normally like fight scenes, but these drew me in right away and I followed them intently.

I found myself getting lost in the story, losing track of time. This book is absolutely captivating! An excellent, excellent read for any age.

Concert Review: Nellie McKay

“I didn’t know the world was like this/If I had known, then I’d be psychic”

It doesn’t take Nellie McKay long to start her crusade against society’s self-appointed thought police. It takes even less time for McKay to pick her first target: feminists. “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor,” McKay admonishes straight away, no refrain. “Feminists just want to be alone/Feminists spread vicious lies and rumor/they have a tumor on their funny bone,” from Nellie's latest CD, Obligatory Villagers. We, the listeners were put on immediate notice that the next 1 1/2 hours would be a different type of experience.

Nellie McKay appeared last night at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The singer-songwriter is like a young Bob Dylan: hard to categorize, impossible to imitate and subversive, as are all independent thinkers.

She was cyncial, yet also hopeful about our world of violance, corruption and grand stupidity. And she's on a journey of discovery she sometimes shares with the public and sometimes doesn't.

Her music, an unusual mix of cabaret-style songs, rap and jazz, is understandably challenging. If the blonde bombshell can avoid alienating broad cross-sections of the people she depends on to buy her albums, she has the charm, the skill, and the pedigree to make noise in the music business.

At first listen, she’s folksy, talking more than singing. McKay keeps her part of the deal by bringing consistent quality. Perhaps the best descriptor of McKay’s unique sound comes from the starlet herself, who deems her music “schizophrenic voodoo,” a phrase that fits so well.

Did I like the concert? I have to admit "no". I didn't get her type of humor or satire. The good size crowd (mostly the NPR set) laughed at her lyrics or giggled when she went got on her soap box about the election, Columbia University, and her sermon on being a vegan. I personally think they were just being kind and considerate. However, I do have to admit she was a master on the piano. If she just would have played the piano and left the vocals out, it would have been an enjoyable evening, at least for me.

CSI: Bull

Who doesn't want to see cowboy's wearing tight jeans and chaps? Country music, the hats, the drawl! Loved it, even if it is the last one for a while...

The "CSI Effect" was awesome in this episode. The scenes of the body mechanics (bull and rider) were totally cool. As for the show itself: coming on strong with the quick humor and sexual innuendos. This is the CSI I grew to love over the past eight years.

"Bull" was very well researched and written. Nice to see the gang back in full swing. Nick having excellent mitigation skills. Warrick's is back to work, even though the "office mole" has not been reveled yet. Grissom's is still down over Sara's departure, but seems more open to talk about it. Hodge's forthcoming about his eclectic movie genera (scary). Wendy's demented storytelling. And one of the better bar scene fights I have seen in quite a while. Humor all around. Overall, I did like this episode very much.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Bad Earl

"There's no room at the motel and it's Christmas eve. Just like Jesus' baby." -- Randy Hickey

I don't know about you but I really have a problem watching holiday episodes after New Years. I guess, like many people, I have just had enough "holiday cheer" and when I see those references, I feel like I'm watching an old episode. Maybe I should just be happy that there are new episodes at all.

As I've said before, I always love to see recurring characters. Seeing Ralph and gay Kenny actually crossing paths was one of the high points of this episode.

This episode answered a lot of questions for me. The biggest being, "Is everyone in Camden County a complete idiot?" Clearly, the answer is yes. More importantly, it seems that idiots migrate to the area. Case in point, Tim Stack. Once a Hollywood TV personality, now a drunken wash out living in Camden County. It's the only place that a mental deficient like Ralph can actually outsmart someone.

Personally, I think it's about time Earl gave up on the list. It's clear that he is no longer karma's bitch and the line between making up for something bad you've done and humiliating yourself isn't really all that fine. It seems that it's time for the list to be shelved.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Earl shouldn't try to be a good person. He just doesn't need the list anymore. There are plenty of ways he can assuage his guilt and still live a normal life. Watch Joy's kids, feed Mr. Turtle, help Catalina become a citizen; in addition to getting a decent job and being a functioning member of society, any of these are worthy goals for a fulfilling life.

Adding Alyssa Milano to the cast is a stroke of genius. Now Earl can live a more normal life with a girlfriend who is trying to achieve similar goals. Together, they can strive to be better people and make the world a better place. Of course, along the way, their white trash leanings will offer a few rough patches but that's to be expected.

Overall, I thought this episode was a little light on laughs but you have to expect that with a transitional story such as this one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Playlist: I Think I'm Falling in Love

During the run-up to Valentine's Day, I've been posting playlists that might capture your outlook on love this year. I've already tackled the single and empowered playlist, as well as the list for those of you who may be feeling a little bitter towards love. Now that the big day is here, I figured I should celebrate the exciting feelings that come along with new love. Plus my friend Liz , who is in a new relationship, told me to lighten up and not be such a downer.

"New love" could mean lots of things. The most obvious variation is falling in love with someone you've been seeing for awhile. Then there's that person you get your coffee from everyday because you're secretly a little obsessed with them. Or maybe it's slightly inappropriate, like your insanely good-looking and insightful co-worker with whom you'd enjoy spending V-Day in another life, perhaps.

None of these have necessarily been me of course, I'm just saying.

For those of you who have recently fallen hard or are working up the nerve to talk to someone you've eyed from afar, I present a playlist that helps you indulge these feelings. To see some of my suggestions, just hit play.

DVD Review: The History Boys

The History Boys is based on an acclaimed play, which I have never seen but have heard good things about. So I was looking forward to seeing this movie, but have to say I was rather disappointed.

It follows a group of young intellectuals and their attempt to get into an esteemed university and their relationships with their teachers.They like to recite poetry to each other, discuss philosophy, and to gather around a piano and sing as they plan how they will gain entrance to higher education. Some of the pupils then begin to discover their sexual orientation with their homosexual teachers, in a slightly comedic style.

I just couldn't relate to any of it. These guys read Byron - I read People, they recite poetry to each other, I recite catchphrases from the Daily Show, they love their teachers, I hated mine, their gay, I'm straight etc , etc. The point is, I couldn't relate to anyone in the film, and didn't care about what happened to any them.

And although there is supposed comedy running throughout this film, I can't remember laughing out loud once. I don't know. It's hard to explain but the characters just seemed far away and distant. Maybe I will check out the play if I get the chance.

On the plus side - Richard Griffiths relives his role as an Uncle Monty type character which made it worth watching.

The Simpsons: E. Pluribus Wiggum

"To Springfield!"
"Which one?"
"The one where The Simpsons live."

My oh my, was this a jam-packed episode of The Simpsons or what? I haven't seen this many sight gags in one installment of the show for the longest time. Not only that, but this was probably the first episode of the season where Homer and the rest of the family took a back seat to the rest of Springfield's citizens.

That's not to say that the Simpsons were entirely missing from this episode. It was Homer's accidental destruction of Fast-Food Boulevard (1972-2008) that actually helped move the presidential primaries up to a time before the New Hampshire primaries. If you think about it, Homer has probably done more damage to Springfield in the time he has lived there than any alien invader or army could do. If Springfield existed in the real world the place would be utterly and totally broke, or bonded up for so many generations that the ape people who conquered Earth in the 27th century would be left with the burden of paying that bond off.

Besides Homer, every other member of the Simpsons crew had something to do this week. Lisa was at the forefront since her former "boyfriend" Ralph Wiggum was the person picked to run for president. Lisa hasn't had a good episode all season -- she usually gets at least one a round -- so it was nice to see her defending Ralph from the Democratic and Republican representatives who wanted him to run for their party.

While there were a few good laughs in this episode, and I found the show as a whole pretty entertaining, there were some disappointing points. One was the amount of time it took to bring Ralph in as the presidential candidate. It took nearly two whole segments before the young Wiggum's name was even mentioned. Then, he only got one segment, at the end, to do what he needed to do. Hey, I understand that this episode was a take on the hype that surrounds the presidential primaries (even more so this time around than last), and they did a good job at showing all of the absurdities.

Another disappointing...well, more weird than disappointing...matter was the way the episode ended. After Ralph became a bit more coherent and devious (to the point where Lisa actually exclaimed 'Whhaaaaaattttt?') all I saw was a joint campaign ad from the Democratic and Republican parties --- the donkey and elephant kissing was a bit disturbing for some reason --- featuring Ralph. Once his campaign slogan appeared the show ended and the credits rolled.
Perhaps I've gotten used to an episode of The Simpsons being tied up in a nice bow after 22 minutes.

Moving on, Dan Rather and Jon Stewart were the guest voices on this week's episode. I didn't expect too much from Dan, so I thought he was used pretty well, especially where his voice just drips of elitism when he introduces a member of his panel from print media. I thought Jon Stewart was used pretty well, even though he only had one scene. What really got me were the first few lines where he asks himself if he should tell people he's Jon Stewart since they already know who he is. I also thought his interactions with Krusty were fairly amusing.

Here's just a sampling of what I found good:

The appearance of Cheesy McMayor seen on the Town Hall Stage. Gee, he looks and sounds an awful lot like Mayor McCheese from McDonalds past.

Bill Clinton asking the air 'When is she going stop holding that over my head' when he asks Hillary what he did so wrong for him to be putting up campaign signs on people's lawns.

A return of the Republican Party headquarters for Springfield as well as those who are part of the committee.

The Democratic Party headquarters is in a Trader Earth's, which is making fun of the Trade Joe's organic supermarket chain.

Homer's phone call to the mailroom guy to get him out of the way so Burns could go home. His use of 'Happier...Happier' is something that is utilized all of the time on the show.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Friday Night Lights: There Goes The Neighborhood

Wow, did I go on a rant during the first commercial break of this episode of Friday Night Lights. First a murder plot, now a horribly fake CGI tornado? What was this show coming to?

But this time, I needn't have worried. Yes, the tornado was pretty awful — but it set up a story that put football front and center at last. The rest of the episode outweighed the cheesiness of the setup.

I think I love Friday Night Lights best when Eric Taylor gets to be Coach Taylor, and he was all Coach in this episode. Having a rival at his school was a test of character, and no matter how much Coach told his guys to respect their rivals, things were bound to get messy. (Literally messy, in this case, with shaving cream and food fights and even pee-soaked towels — ew.) Coach tried to set an example, to put his rival in his place while still being civil — but every so often, even Eric Taylor needs to throw someone up against a wall and tell him what's what. Did anyone else literally pump their fist at the TV?

Speaking of close quarters: Riggins living in the Taylors' garage was probably too perfect a setup to last for long, but I love the way it shook up the family and picked on Shelly and Tami's insecurities. Riggins brought their issues to the forefront — Shelly ogling him, Tami accusing her of flirting, Shelly calling Tami on treating her like a child, and so on. Tami telling Shelly it's no wonder she's single is probably the most hurtful thing she could have said; likewise, Shelly spitting back that Gracie's doctor says hello got to the heart of Tami's fears about work and family.

And Julie's part in it was no less brilliant. I'm a little surprised Julie and Riggins ended up at the same party, but hey. How tragic that Riggins stepped up in a big way, slapping Julie's drunken suitor down, just before getting caught hovering over Julie in what appeared to be a compromising situation. Granted, when you're putting Coach's 16-year-old daughter to bed, no amount of "it's not what it looks like" can save you. But Riggins was anything but provocative there; he was downright brotherly.

The tornado's aftermath swept up Tyra and Landry, too — and while I liked their storyline, it also bugged me. Landry has always thought he's tougher than he is, so I wasn't surprised to see him taking on Tyra's suitor. I also wasn't surprised to find Tyra struggling to figure out Landry's place in her life right now; she no longer needs him, and it's true that normally, a guy like him wouldn't be seen with a girl like her. My problem: The murder is practically a non issue now. How would there be gossip about Landry and Tyra being together without any chatter about how, oh, you know, Landry killed a guy, possibly for her? Nothing in this episode seemed like it needed the murder plot to set it up.

Some other thoughts:

Buddy Garrity: Worst salesman ever? His "I love you" pitch to Pam was an honest try, but I think he's going to have to accept that he lost his wife to some tofu-eating hippie.

Best line of the night: Either Lois's "What does he smell like?" or Coach's "I want lasagna."

So Matt and Carlotta are still together. Yawn.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine's Day Playlist: When Love Turns Bitter

Ah, love. For something that can be so good, it's amazing how so very bad it can also be. And bad can turn to bitter around Valentine's Day, when the rest of the world is celebrating love's virtues just as you are in the middle of a breakup, still waiting by the phone, or figuring out how to tell someone it's over.

From now until V-Day, I'm posting playlists that might capture how you're feeling about romance this year. Last week I posted songs for the single person, and today I found this playlist that capture different variations on heartbreak and being "over it" when it comes to relationships. What's sweet for some this time of year can feel like salt in the wound for others, and a solid playlist might help the less lovey-dovey folks among us know you're not alone.

Law and Order: Called Home / Darkness

LAW AND ORDER is back, people. In this period of TV drought, it is so refreshing to have a TV show that delivers fresh content that keeps me up for an hour, or in this case two. Here’s my review of the first two episodes of the new season.

“Called Home”

In this episode, the story centers around the theme of assisted suicide mixed with revenge. The beginning was a little too Law and Order CI because I actually saw a person die. The story wasn’t particularly strong or controversial but it did the trick. The investigation itself was not very interesting but the court drama was very crisp and to the point, in a very classic Law and Order fashion. The outcome was quite of a surprise.

The episode also introduces a lot of changes to the Law & Order franchise.Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) is the new DA which is an odd fit for him. It’s hard to see him become the voice of reason now but I guess I just need to get used to it. I am introduced to a new A.D.A Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) who comes in as McCoy’s replacement. He’s pretty cool. He brings a clean, intense performance. He even has a blackberry on which he relies on quite a bit. A 21st Century McCoy! I'm also introduced to a new detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) who has a personal stake in this particular story line. He’s good at this role. He definitely brings a certain edge to the part but I don’t know how much of it he can dial down. After all, this is not Six Feet Under.

Overall, a good episode with some very strong characters. Like I said, a great start for the Season!


The story centers around a kidnapping that occurs during a blackout in New York. The investigation gives Jeremy Sisto a very nice opportunity to show his chops as a detective. The man can definitely sprint with the best of them and he certainly seems to carry the cop aura pretty well when he interrogates his first suspect.It is also a delight to see Linus Roache turn on the prosecution heat on an unwilling witness. He has a very cool speech pattern that makes whatever he says sound deep; the man can make ordering coffee sound like poetry, I swear.Anyways, the story takes an interesting turn and takes on an Enron-like theme which makes it very compelling. I love how they make me think that the story goes one way and then it goes in a whole new direction.

Again, strong episode which bods well for the rest of the Law and Order Season.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Simpsons: I Don't Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

If I don't make it, feel free to re-marry from anyone on the list on the bulletin board in the closet. -- Marge, during her hostage scare

I had two good things happen in this episode of The Simpsons. First, I finally had an episode that didn't focus on Homer. Second, I had a guest voice that was actually utilized. Actually, there were two guest voices used well; I just didn't know about one of them until the credits were rolling. More as I progress.

This was another episode that could be filed under 'Marge's Heart is too Big to Keep Her Promises' with a sub-heading of 'Marge Gets Involved With a Convict. Again.' I know that Marge is one of the nicest people to live within the confines of Springfield. Sometimes, her achievements in niceness backfire on her, as they did this week.

All Marge was trying to do was to get Dwight David Diddlehopper, voiced by Steve Buscemi, to give himself up after a botched bank robbery. But, because she promised to visit this bug-eyed criminal in prison she gave herself more trouble. This is fairly typical Marge when it comes to the criminally insane. When she tried to help Jack Crowley get back to society in the episode 'Pokey Mom' all she got was trouble.

I think that this is Marge's bane of existence. When Homer gets into trouble he can, for some reason, get out of it without too many repercussions. For Marge, though, there's always some type of effect from the promises she makes. Take a look at what happened here. If Marge had visited Dwight he would have served his sentence. Because she avoided it he escaped and stalked her throughout the town. Of course, this is all animated, so none of my ravings mean anything at all.

Now, for a few months I've ranted how the guest voices were not being used to their maximum ability. This episode that argument can stand down as Steve Buscemi had a fairly meaty role as Dwight. Maybe this was to make up for the small cameo he had as himself in the episode 'Brake My Wife, Please'. Whatever the reason, Steve did a good job in the role. He even had a catchy phrase -- a loudly snarled 'Dammit!'. The funniest time that this was used was when he escaped the penitentiary through the prison waste pipe, only to realize that the Clean Spring Water pipe was just a few feet away.

Another guest voice on this week's show that took me by surprise was Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Since she wasn't credited in the promos for the show I didn't realize that she was Snake's (Three D's?) girlfriend until I saw her name in the credits. I wondered why Snake's scene, where he complained about his biography being edited in Wikipedia, was included. It was a small moment in the episode but it was used well.

While I thought the episode was funny and focused well on Marge, I do have one small complaint. When am I going to see some Bart/Lisa episodes? These two have have had very little screen time over the last month ... I don't think Bart said more than one or two words this entire episode.

Over to the highlights:

Blackboard gag: I am not a FDIC-Insured Bank

Firsts of the season: Homer having a conversation with his brain, and an appearance from Gil.

Poor Gil, the man has worse luck than Britney Spears.

Homer working on his Superman novel after arriving early for Lisa's award ceremony.

'Oh great! We're being robbed by Johnny and Clyde.'

Chief Wiggum not understanding that a robbery was in progress. Finally, with stick figures he realizes that it's a 'shootie-stealy'.

Marge's re-marry list: Lindsay Naegle, Booberella, Bly the Dancer, Also: Feed Cat

Krusty is named worst clown of 2007 by Laffways magazine, beating out even Carlos Mencia.

Dwight being hit by countless blue-dye packs, including one shaped like a bank employee.

Chief Wiggum learns hostage negotiation tactics from a DVD of, what else, The Negotiator.

Ted Nugent wants you to say 'No' to a proposition banning crossbows from schools.

Johnny Stabbo's many references to the electric chair.

While scanning the skies of Springfield to land at the penitentiary we see Ralph Wiggum flying away while holding a number of balloons.

In the Itchy & Scratchy episode -- is it me or were the jet pilots wearing X-Wing fighter helmets?

Names of various rides at Plaster Mountain Theme Park: Dilbert's Flying Cubicle, Tilt N' Spew, Mr. Frogs Mild Ride, FedEx Presents: The Bathroom, It's a Long Line

Krusty and Dr. Hibbert meeting up at the amusement park and talking about their harrowing hostage experience. Seems to me they were referencing The Nine in that scene.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

2008 Grammy Picks

It's the 50th anniversary of the Grammys tonight. Maybe it's me but in reviewing most of the popular catagories, I really wasn't too excited about any of the choices besides, of course, Seal, White Stripes & Alicia Keys. Heck most of the artists that were nominated I had never heard of before or just plain didn't care for their songs. But here are my choices from the many songs I downloaded and listened to in 2007:

Album of the Year: Amy Winehouse Back to Black, but the Foo Fighters Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is pretty good.

Record of the Year: Amy Winehouse "Rehab"

Best Male Pop Vocal: Seal "Amazing"

Best Female Pop Vocal: Amy Winehouse "Rehab"

Best New Artist: Amy Winehouse

Best R&B Song: Alicia Keys, "No One"

Best Rock Album: Bruce Springsteen Magic

Best Alternative Music Album: The White Stripes Icky Thump

My Name is Earl: Frank's Girl

I was wondering when they would get around to conjugal visits. This storyline is exactly what I have commented on previously. Earl doesn't need a list to do good things. List or no list, he has to help people with their problems and now that he's locked up, he can spend more time helping his friends and family.

Even at the ten minute mark, I was pleased with how many actual jokes were in this episode. Randy's "half-circle" joke, Earl's "wrote on a pillow case" joke and especially the "good for pillow" line. It's lines like these, the witty throw-away kind of comedy that shows how witty and clever a sitcom can be.

Then when I think about the other storyline with Joy's incontinence problem, I have to wonder. Is this an effort by the writers to even out the script with some solid toilet humor or am I overthinking it because sometimes a pregnant woman crapping herself is funny? In any event, the truth is I am kind of over the animosity between Joy & Catalina. They don't really have any reason to be around each other so why don't they just avoid one another? I know Joy has an excuse with her being crazy and all but I thought Catalina was the nice one.

John Farley as Annie was a funny take on an old joke. I wasn't surprised when Earl's date turned out to be a dude, but I was surprised that he was so funny.

All in all, I enjoyed this episode. I've never been a huge Rapaport fan but I think he's a welcome addition to the show. I know many haven't enjoyed the new direction of the show for a number of reasons but I think it's clear that you really only have two choices...get over it or stop watching.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Valentine's Day Playlist: Hey, I'm Single and I'm Fine With That

I think how each of us feels about Valentine's Day usually depends on our particular mood at the time (read: personal relationship status). Musicians are particularly good at articulating these moods of ours, which is why many of us rely on them more than ever this time of year. So from now until Valentine's Day, I'll be posting a series of themed playlists that might capture how you're feeling about romance this year. Whether you have a new person you're excited about, are in the midst of a break-up, or are happily going it alone, you're going to need a soundtrack to get you through the 14th, don't you think?

So first up, songs that empower and celebrate life as a single person. Valentine's Day can kind of suck when everyone in your office gets flowers delivered except for you. Fear not, for there are plenty of songs that you can stick in your ear to drown out all those happy (or is it sappy?) displays of coupledom and make you feel good about being on your own. What songs do you listen to when you're single? For some of my suggestions, just hit play.

Nip/Tuck: Duke Collins

"Your promises are sh*t, Matt." - Sean

They really are, aren't they? Matt is pretty much full of it, most of the time. Granted he escaped death here, but when I consider his track record (white supremacists, transvestites, Scientology, foreskin removal), it's pretty safe to assume that he'll get wrapped up in something else before too long. That's why I found it so amusing when Sean apologized and Matt said he just really needed to grow up and stop being Sean's "child." Why? So he can graduate to more adult scheming? He's there already! Last I checked, you don't see too many eleven year olds cooking meth and raising a child with a former porn star. Matt has always led a screwed up life, so it's not as if any of this comes as a surprise. Fortunately, the rest of this Christmas themed episode took the torch from previous Nip/Tuck holiday installments and the results were hilarious.

Where else am I going to find a group of Christmas carolers wearing red, who get the snot beat out of them by a gang of blue clad Crips? Nip/Tuck. Or a career mall Santa Claus who lies about skipping out on his family and gets shot in the face by his son? Nip/Tuck. This is all par for the course.

Two major plots ruled the episode though. First up, the love triangle. It's plagued the show as the fall-back story since the pilot, but when it's done right, it's still good. Sean finally heard the words that he's dreaded forever. Christian and Julia are in love. He figured out they had been sleeping together and proceeded to pout as I'd expect. However, by the end of the episode he shed his Scrooge demeanor and seemed to make peace with the idea -- even though he didn't toast his drink with the love-birds. He says he's OK with it, but I know that this isn't going to die. Sean will get annoyed. Sean will get hurt. Sean will fight back.

The other big story? Eden and Julia's "reconciliation." Not so fast. Eden baked Julia a fruitcake with something special added. But what? I never found out, but Julia must've eaten half that loaf. It made her dizzy and I was hoping she'd faint by episode's end. The obvious question? Is Eden's special ingredient traceable? Julia isn't stupid. She may figure it out and realize what Eden did. It sounds terrible, but if that loaf is just sitting on the kitchen counter, then what's stopping Annie from having a piece? Something bad needs to come from this for it to really pay off.

More thoughts...

Kimber is a bitch again! Speaking of something terrible happening, Jenna is not safe with Ram and his team of porn star nannies. Something is going to happen to that poor child.

I love the character of Rachel, the Israeli burn victim who's counseling Matt. She's exactly what Matt needs, someone to prove to him that things could be much worse.

Wilber, Annie, and Connor! They're alive!

The snowman got shot by Duke's wife! Again, only on Nip/Tuck.

So... was there anything in that antique box that Sean tried to give to Matt? Or was the whole point that it was empty? So his "dreams" could fit inside?

I loved how the Hedda Grubman Cosmetic Surgery Fund still exists! I had completely forgotten about it and I'm glad that someone finally took advantage of it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Simpsons: Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind

I should have known this episode of The Simpsons was going to be different as soon as I saw the Couch Gag, which panned from the Simpson family all the way out to the edges of the known universe and then back into Homer's head (resulting in a statement of 'Weird' from Homer). From that point on the show took on a surreal feel as Homer tried to find out why his family was gone and his dog was angry at him. Along the way he encountered friends and family who guided him along his journey of memory recovery. Eventually, it led to a journey into Homer's deepest recollections.

By far, this was the most interesting episode of The Simpsons this season, incorporating humor, romance, and a little bit of science fiction into a tidy little plot. Not only were there elements of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sprinkled throughout, but there was also a smattering of It's a Wonderful Life and Total Recall added as well. True, it was another Homer-centric episode -- one of too many this season, but the writers gave the show enough of a twist to keep it intriguing for me.

I think the most enjoyable part of the episode was Homer's journey into his memories via Professor Frink's memory machine (a Deja Viewmaster, as Homer mentioned). Using stills from the 400 previous episodes to show the memories he kept was a great idea. Some of those images were from all the way back in the first season. It was actually a nice tribute to the long history that the show has had. And, at least during the journeys without Memory Bart and Memory Lisa, it was taken pretty seriously.

The other part I enjoyed was Homer reliving his 39 (still?) years on the planet as he was falling to his supposed death. I thought it was great how they incorporated all of the stages in his life into such a short span of time. My favorite was all of the costumes Homer was shown wearing during the last part of the scene.

Some other items that tickled my fancy:

The prehistoric squirrel from Ice Age makes a cell-animated appearance in the first few moments of The Simpsons.

Moe's video on how to make the drink that blots out a person's memory. He pauses on a particularly bad shot of him, and his frame-by-frame movements don't make him look any better.

Krusty pulling a Mel Gibson at the Latin Grammy Awards.

Courtesy of Bart, Homer replacing the memory of his very first kiss with Marge with his very first kiss with Apu.

Speaking of Bart, he can whoop the ass of a 10-year-old and 20-year-old Homer.

While Homer is reliving his life he is shown drinking probably hundreds of cans of beer to make some wonderful designs.

Patty and Selma pushing Homer off of the Suicide Bridge than feigning agreement that it was all in the plans for his surprise party.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I don't know why this episode of The Simpsons was kept until now to air. Granted, it wasn't the Best. Episode. Ever. Yet, it was one of those installments that should be given a better slot to gain interest. Frankly, I would have rather seen this during November sweeps than an episode where a guest voice is underutilized.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How Many References to 80s Can You Spot In Ben Lee's Video

I love this video for Ben Lee's song "American Television" for so many reasons. It's entertaining, colorful and so very, very 80s. The best part, though? Tiffani (Amber) Thiessen stars in the video, acting out spoofy scenes of various TV shows that were wildly popular a couple decades ago. And she's funny!

From Bruce Springstein to ALF to Doogie Howser, there's a lot for 80s-philes to enjoy here. To watch the video and see how many references you can spot in "American Television," click on the video and let me know what you spot.

Pushing Daisies: Corpsicle

When I first heard that Pushing Daisies would be ending the first part of this strike-addled season on a major cliffhanger, I assumed it would be Ned telling Chuck he killed her father. But then that happened, and I was left wondering: What could be more major than that? Well, I'm not sure if the cliffhanger that closed "Corpsicle" was bigger, necessarily — but it certainly wasn't something I saw coming.

The good news: If that's our last Pushing Daisies for quite some time, it left on a high note, with a great balance between drama and chuckle-out-loud cleverness.

It's a little embarrassing, but I wanted to cry from the second Young Ned took us back to Play-Doh world. That scene of Chuck stomping around in her dino costume was the moment in the "Pie-lette" that I knew this show was a keeper. And it set the tone perfectly for the episode, which was oh-so-cute and yet oh-so-heartstring-tugging — from the aunts comforting Ned and Chuck on the day they both lost their parents to Lily's drug-induced revelation at the end.

About that: Lily is Chuck's mom? Wha-huh? I'm glad there's something tying the aunts (er, mom-and-aunt duo) tighter into the series, but I wasn't expecting this. Lily's so caustic — "motherly" wouldn't come to mind — but I wonder how much of that is due to losing her only daughter. Plus: Does Vivian know? It seems like Chuck certainly doesn't. That twist also answers my question about what the show would do when the secret about Chuck's father was revealed: Why, they'll introduce a new secret!

But as for that first secret: Poor Chuck. Usually so chipper, she was really down in this episode — and no surprise, given that she'd just learned her soulmate killed her dad. She came so close to letting Oscar know her secret, to let it escape and "warm its toes in the sun." But she pulled back, for some reason, so now the only person who knows is Olive — and Olive thinks the whole "I was dead" thing was just a way for Chuck to stop talking. (Olive at her literal-minded best: "Is this an insurance scam?")

It would be easy to skip over the Corpse of the Week, but the case offered some comic relief in a heavy episode. It must have been fun for the writers, who usually work with such cheery material, to create the character of miserable little Abner ("I said lap dance, not tap dance!"). And the Wishy Wish lady being the "killa killa" was perfect, down to the jaunty tune that played as she claimed her victims and the benobo named Bobo who took care of her in the end.

Some other thoughts:

Oh hey, Emerson has a daughter! Yet another new secret.

Sight Gag O' The Week: I've gotta give it to the shotgun through the mail slot and straight into Ned's crotch.

Much as I loved Emerson and Ned's exchange with the coroner in his holiday sweater, Emerson's word vomit line was my favorite: "And you slipped in word vomit and fell on your ass and now you're covered in word vomit."

Oscar calling a bludgeoning "a unique sensory experience" was super creepy. I hope he's back when the show returns.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Nip/Tuck: Dr. Joshua Lee

This was a fantastic episode to boot. Honestly, it might be the best of the season thus far. I'm actually half way through the chunk of completed episodes (14 were wrapped before the strike hit) and it looks like this season is finally going somewhere. Up until now, it's been a lot of "we're in LA, so let's take advantage of that" plots. But now, I'm seeing some real serious stuff take root. And by serious, I mean old men who have been abducted by aliens.

The patient du jour was Dr. Joshua Lee. I've seen McNamara/Troy handle some insanely weird cases, so Lee's was nothing too out of the ordinary. Remove the alien implant from my back. Sure. While it was predictable (I knew his actual daughter would show up at the end), it was still compelling. I thought he was a great character. This show has never shied away from tackling oddball issues and I'd love too see the good doctor back again, maybe in four or five episodes to see if he knows "who" took him away. Aliens? NASA scientists?

Speaking of being "taken away," how about Julia and Olivia's own abduction? At first, I thought it was pointless; just another gimmick so the two of them have a reason for "vacationing" in LA for so long. But what it set up was great! Olivia is all talk. She cracked immediately. Crying, begging for her life. All this time Julia has been so intimidated by Olivia, but she was the one who stood tall with the chubby dude who held them at gunpoint. It woke her up it seems. She got a gun for protection and hopped back in the sack with Christian for satisfaction. It's going to be interesting to see how they hide that from Sean and Olivia because it seems like Julia might be in it for real this time.

As far as things being hidden, I was hoping that Sean and Eden's "affair" would stay secret a little longer, but Sean's full circle realization that he is indeed getting older came much faster than I expected. I wonder if his adverse reaction to the Ecstasy had anything to do with all the crap that Aiden's new age doctor pumped into him? Might Sean's problem be an indicator for what's in store for Aiden? Probably not since he's too minor a character for anyone to care if something happened to him. Sean is just old.

The biggest shock, for me anyway, was Kimber and Matt coming clean. Clearly, it was all Kimber's idea since she did all the talking. Whether Matt realizes it or not, Christian making that deal with Kimber was a good thing. Let her go back into porn. Good riddance. She was hurtful to Matt, and I actually did believe her when she said she never loved him. Two things though. First off, she kept Jenna at Ram's place. No way Christian is going to stand for that. Giving up the baby was part of the deal. Secondly, after Christian's tough love session, I really thought Matt would go into rehab. Instead, he tried cooking meth and lit himself on fire. Can he sink any lower? Besides into the hotel pool?

More thoughts...

Christian was on fire with the zingers in this episode! Your face looks like a fraternity couch. Your vagina is a cesspool full of Alaskan king crabs. Taking ecstasy is like listening to Fall Out Boy. Hilarious.

Julia threatened Eden. So what's Eden going to do to retaliate? She'll never sit still.

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz

EVERYTHING you could possibly crave to find in a relaxing and genuinely entertaining cinema experience is in this movie! Hot Fuzz brilliantly combines the wittiness & fast dialogs of a buddy cop movie, the excitement & spectacular stunts of a Hollywood summer blockbuster, the absurdity & convoluted plot twists of an Italian Giallo, the excessive gore and sickness of splatter-horror, the atmosphere & setting of a British comedy sitcom and the cast of a thousand. If all this isn't enough yet, "Hot Fuzz" refers to multiple great classics of the big screen and even pays tribute to styles and sub genres of the almost forgotten but once golden days of cinema.

For those who were still suspecting "Shaun of the Dead", the previous scripting collaboration between Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, to be a fluke, Hot Fuzz will take the doubt away once and for all. These two British lads are creative and multi-talented movie freaks and they know exactly how the please a wide & versatile range of audiences. The less you know about the film's plot (particularly the main twist) the better, because it's even more amusing when it comes as a totally unexpected and deliciously grotesque surprise.

Simon Pegg stars as London's super cop Nicholas Angel, but he's actually too good in comparison with the rest of the corps, and so his superiors shamelessly transfer him to the countryside community with the lowest crime-rate in the whole of England; Sandford. Nick's new colleagues aren't used to solving crimes at all and fill their days with hanging around the pubs, smoking cigarettes and making fun of his obsession with law enforcement.

Even when several prominent Sandford inhabitants die in grisly "accidents", Nick can't seem to convince them to investigate the possibility of murder. The eventual truth behind the crimes is as demented as it is brilliant, and the last half hour of Hot Fuzz is a simply non-stop adrenalin-rushing, over-the-top comical, blood-spattered and wildly cheerful spitfire of action highlights.

Technically speaking, Hot Fuzz is a masterpiece as well. The editing is genius, the cinematography is very imaginative and the film makes absolute brilliant use of the rural settings and all its typical characteristics and clichés.

Of course, the film owes a large part of its massive impact to Simon Pegg's masterful performance. He's simply awesome and hugely charismatic, especially when depicting the obstinate and firm officer who knows every tiniest detail of the law enforcement book. Pegg's facial expressions (or lack of, for that matter) add even more comical genius to the already hysterical script.

The supportive cast (pretty much an assembly of England's finest players) is amazing as well, and each and every one delivers flawless performances. I think Timothy Dalton hasn't had this much fun starring in a film since he completed his first scene wearing the James Bond outfit. "Hot Fuzz" is a unique experience all together. It features all the known genre clichés & stereotypes and narrates a seemingly derivative story, and yet, the elaboration is (or at least feels like) something entirely fresh and original.

Comedy and violence can melt together in a movie perfectly, it simply requires a gifted team of cast and crew members. Highly recommended! Seriously, if you haven't watched Hot Fuzz yet, do it as fast as you can!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Concert Review: Joe Henry & His Trio

Joe Henry may not be a household name in contemporary American music but he made a small theater full of converts, especially me and my friend Jean at the Sunday night Artist Forum at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Actually, the small crowd wasn't all converts. A certain number of patrons obviously were familiar with the young man's music, applauding songs in recognition after the opening bars. But it is fair to say that the 100-minute concert introduced Henry and his music to a significant percentage of the audience.

Henry is a singer-songwriter-bandleader-guitarist. He's young, good looking, and has an ingratiating stage presence. He discusses his music with his listeners, which is his prerogative, which is helpful to the first-timers to hear what he had in mind in composing his music. Some conversation were appropriate because most of his program consisted of new songs.

Henry is a composer with an offbeat sensibility. His lyrics are full of weird images and rhymes. Most of his numbers were quirky love songs, delivered to an unnamed subject, presumably female.

There is an apparent lack of emotion in Henry's music and not much humor. But cumulatively his songs do exert a fascination, marred only by the occasional blurring of a key word in a line through slurred pronunciation.

Henry doesn't have a great singing voice, but it is perfectly suited to his songs. Vocally, he operates in the middle register. His tempos are almost always leisurely and only a couple of numbers built to any real intensity. Henry is laid back in his stage presence and in his music, but that's clearly by intent.

Henry led a superior backup band consisting of an amazing drummer and a wonderful standup bass plyer. The band is onstage strictly for support and there were no solos. But the musicianship was high, even though the sameness of the tempos sometimes resulted in a sameness in the music.

Henry's resume is impressive. He's produced records as well as recording numerous CDs. He is also Madonna's brother-in-law. He has made music with John Denver, Roberta Flack, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra, among others. But Henry is probably at his best interpreting his own music, especially in an intimate setting like KVCC before an appreciative and attentive audience.

Friday Night Lights: Confession

Friday Night Lights is one of the few, fortunate shows that has several more episodes stored up to get through the Hollywood writers' strike. Nonetheless, Friday night's episode felt like the end of a chapter. On the one hand, I'm glad to see some of these stories end; on the other, it felt like a little too much, too fast.

I have to start with Landry, because his confession anchored the episode. Landry has always been at the moral heart of the show, and so it makes sense that once he'd admitted what he'd done, he'd want to be punished. As usual, Jesse Plemons sold every one of his scenes; I shudder to think how bad this story could have been with a less-capable actor. But the whole thing — from the confession itself, to telling Tyra what he'd done, to the decision not to press charges — felt way too neat to me. A cop's son — a Dillon Panther, no less! — confesses to murder, and the whole town isn't buzzing? That's tough to believe. Even tougher: that the police don't care that Landry dumped the body, nor that his father destroyed evidence. True, I would have hated to see Landry go to jail, but why take the show so far from its heart for a story with no consequences?

Speaking of the show's heart: we FNL fans like to crow that the show's not just about football, but I must say, the football parts of this season make no sense. Have the Panthers played a single game yet where they haven't been behind? And wouldn't Dillon be expecting more from its defending state champions?

I am still liking Santiago's development, however — even if his whole force-a-fumble, be-the-hero story was pretty much the landy plot from episode five. He's so tough, but he's terrified; he's the kind of kid who's always given up, and now he's surrounded by people (Coach, Buddy) who won't let him. His scenes from the football game really got me into his head, as he got rattled again and again before learning how to respond.

My favorite subplot of the whole night, though, was Jason's blind date with the pee girl. Jason finally gets the nerve to date while in a wheelchair and ends up with a girl who gets turned on by golden showers? Some luck. I loved the waitress getting the full wrath of Ms. Kinky while Jason cowered behind the kitchen doors. One glaring inconsistency, though: His parents freak when he spends one night with a girl, but they don't care when he sneaks off to Mexico?

Some other thoughts:

Riggins' meth-making roommate creeped me out in this episode, and I'm hoping Riggins is out of there for good. The scene with Coach wordlessly handing Riggins a sleeping bag was one of those little moments this show does so well.

Matt and the nurse: still boring. Kinda cute — making mole, aww — but boring.

Tami and Julie ended up in a good place at Gracie's christening, but it sure took a lot of work (and some crafty playing-dad-against-mom antics) to get there. That "a thank-you would be nice" fight was such a classic mother-daughter moment, it gave me chills.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Men In Trees: Sweatering It Out

One thing I always love about this show and will continue to love is all the supporting characters. I’m also a big fan of Marin (obviously) but I like her more when she’s dealing with the craziness of all the other regulars. Where are Buzz and Mai? Where are all of Celia’s snappy returns? Where is that Marin and Jack spark thatI love to see every week? That’s hard to duplicate when Jack and Marin don’t actually share any screen time. And I’m definitely missing it.

Now that Marin’s committed herself to Jack and has turned into a woman who waits by the phone and knits, is she still the same Marin? One thing that remains the same is her propensity to attract trouble. This week’s trouble comes wrapped up in a big Patrick bow. With his memory gone, he’s basically starting from scratch and he sees something he likes in Marin. I laughed out loud when he tried to kiss her — mostly because Marin was so horrified and did a mad scramble to get away from him. It’s interesting to have Patrick look the same and talk the same but have a completely different outlook on life. I wonder when and if he’ll get his memory back.

One person who can’t wait to get the old Patrick back is Annie. I loved these two together but I understand that it’s not such an interesting story dramatically if Annie and Patrick get married and live happily ever after. But it’s tough for me to see Annie in such anguish. When you find the guy you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, you think you’ll have at least a few good years before it all goes to hell. Not so much for our Annie. I was, however, very proud of her for suggesting friendship when she and Patrick didn’t score similarly on Marin’s quiz. She’s trying but what kind of toll is it taking?

Another couple whose relationship is changing, but in a very good way, is Sara and Pastor Eric. As soon as he started talking about people who believe they see the chief seeing him, I knew his faith had been restored and he’d return to his calling. And I’m glad. I’m also happy Sara and Eric can admit they're in love. Good luck with that whole no-sex thing.

Which brings me back to Marin. Former lover and current publisher Stuart calls Marin out of the blue. Well, I guess it really starts with the flowers. He hopes Marin will meet him halfway between Elmo and New York because he can’t stop thinking about her. His call and questions about the nature of Marin’s relationship with Jack ultimately help Marin realize she’s doing the right thing. Maybe she does have to sit by the phone and wait for her man to call, but she seems happy. If that changes I’m sure I’ll see Marin dip her toe back in the dating pool. She was certainly getting some major male attention, perhaps because she’s off the market. As long as she doesn’t date Patrick, I think I'm good.

And I’ve got to mention Jack, too. My only quibble with those ocean scenes was that they didn’t look real. I had a hard time seeing past the wave machine making ripples in a pool surrounded by man-made fog. Maybe it was just me. But it was sad to see Jack and Julia have to untether their raft from Gary’s. But it’s all about survival now, and Gary was badly hurt and sinking. Gary seemed like a good guy, very selfless. It would have been nice to get to know him a little better, but I’m glad Jack’s alive (for now) and trying to make his way back to Marin.

Wow, I can’t believe I almost forgot about Sam and Jane. How cute are they? I’m just so darn happy to see them together and happy. I knew one of them would be smart enough to suggest the bicoastal thing, so I’m not worried about those two at all. I did love Sam’s face when he saw that monster plow truck. Men do love their cars.

Book Review: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

The Great Readers of M are participating in the 2008 Kalamazoo Reading Together program for the month of February. This year's selection was Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. As my friends and book reading discussion group know I am NOT a Barbara Kingsolver fan. I hated Poisenwood Bible, but thought I would give Ms. Kingsolver another chance. Never again. I have never been so bored and it was pure torture to get through this drible.

After decades of familial estrangement, a woman temporarily returns to her western hometown to be a doctor-turned-school-teacher and care for her father, a newly diagnosed Alzheimer's Disease patient. She finds solace in the company of her extended family and also the arms of an old high school crush.

If you value your time or effort, you will stop right here and now, and not waste either on this publication. The main character is an irresponsible middle-aged female who flits from one idea to the next without reason, rational thought or accountability. She reviews her pursuit of a medical career, only to quit a few months short of the completion of her training and complain about it. She bounces from one domestic fling to another and then expresses her dismay. She moves from one geographic location to another, only to (you guessed it) gripe about moving. Additionally, her reasons for really returning to her hometown are not extraordinarily clear, since her initial one-year plan did not include staying to care for her father throughout the duration of his terminal illness. Time and time again I ask of Kingsolver, "What is your point?"

The title is gleaned from a short conversation between characters who witness a slumbering dog in dream state pursuit. The author and characters may only guess what that animal could be dreaming about, for only his legs move as he sleeps, but can't quite see into his dream. Kingsolver vaguely attempts to tie this concept to the behavior of human beings, but never quite pulls it off. In a few weak examples, her Alzheimer's Disease patient is voicing a completely rational thought that seems so ludicrous to those who cannot see into his mind.

I may only venture to guess that the author's intentions were much like those states of dreamy consciousness. I was never quite sure of her intentions, because even her written word will not reveal what is on her mind.