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

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Music Video: R.E.M. "Hollow Man"

Once upon a time, R.E.M. was a band known for making some visually arresting and thought-provoking videos — and their new video for the song "Hollow Man" shows that Michael Stipe and co. still know what they're doing.

The song, from their new album Accelerate, is a downtempo melody that surges into a toe-tapper pretty quickly. The video's images are chopped and spliced together, and it looks like a mix between an old video game and a broken TV set. The bright color scheme is something I'd bet Kanye West would envy. It's a little dizzying, but I think I'm digging it.

To take a look for yourself .

The Riches: The Last Temptation of Wayne

As much as I liked the first season of The Riches, I thought the show had a couple of basic flaws. First, it seemed like too many episodes were about the con of the week rather than the "big con," which was the Malloys trying to pass for the Riches. But the most fundamental flaw of the entire first season was that, well... I just didn't find enough of a reason to like the Malloys. As despicable as the characters around them in Eden Falls were, I still felt that they were the victims of this family of Irish Travelers stealing the American Dream.

And where did the show leave off? Dale had infiltrated Eden Falls and is threatening to blow Wayne and Dahlia's cover; Doug Rich's old friend Pete Mincy, who the Malloys were trying to keep from ratting them out, ran afoul of the violent Dale; neighbor Nina's marriage fell apart after her husband revealed he's gay; Hugh Panetta lost his mojo after his new stripper wife dumped him; and in general the Malloys were ready to go back to the RV and run to Mexico.

What I found out is that Dale's just smart enough to not let them leave, but not smart enough to hurt Pete without killing him. So as Dahlia, the kids, Doug's Cherien Rich's mother (yes, she's part of the family, at least for a few episodes) and Nina hightail it out of town in the Mercedes, Wayne and Dale deal with what to do with Pete.

Almost the entire first episode sees Wayne separated from the rest of this family, as the Pete situation is complicated by the arrival of a drunken Hugh. I wonder if the writers wanted to make Hugh a little more sympathetic by having his wife dump him: he was a world class asshole most of last year, and it made me wonder why Wayne would waste time on the guy, despite the buffer life sucking up to Hugh provided. What I learn here is that there's an even bigger deal brewing, one that is going to drive the Malloys for the rest of the season. There has to be some way to bring the Malloys back together and bring them back to the Riches' house, right?

Interesting stuff:

Dale and Hugh in the same room is a dangerous thing. Though, the best dramatic tension in the episode comes when Dale holds the gun on the security guard as Wayne tries to tell him that shooting the guard is only going to screw things up for both of them.

It must be killing Wayne to have to be in this partnership with Dale. But at least he has Pete's death to hold over the big idiot; Dale thinks that Wayne killed the Riches, but can't be sure.

I still don't really know what Nina's purpose is besides showing how desperate things are at Eden Falls. I'd like to see her character developed more this season.

Having her tail along with Dahlia and the kids was an interesting plot twist, but it has a very artificial kind of feel; Mother Morgenstern was one thing, considering she was out of it and had no one to take care of her. But Nina? It doesn't seem like a Traveler family would ever let an outsider join them in their conning adventures. Maybe that's a sign that the family is softening in the buffer world.

As for the kids: Cael is still doubting and obnoxious; DiDi is still emotionally in both worlds; and Sam... well, let's just say he grew a lot between seasons, which doesn't help when the story just picks up from where it left off. He still is the young manifestation of Eddie Izzard, though, cross-dressing when the mood strikes.

Sam really does seem like he's the smartest Malloy, doesn't he? He's the only one who knew where the money was buried. He also seems to do well during the family's cons. He's got a future in either world.

As I guess we will see what is in store for the Malloys. The Malloys' moral struggle will be more acute than ever. Will it make them a more sympathetic family? I guess I will find out soon enough.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Horton Hears a Who: Sweet and Surreal Seuss

Turning a classic children's story into a mass-market, big-screen movie is always a risky proposition. So many never live up to the promise of the original — or, worse, change it into something unrecognizable. But luckily, Horton Hears a Who is on the other end of that spectrum. 20th Century Fox's animated adaptation balances Seuss's sweet story with stunning visuals, deftly sharing its message ("a person's a person, no matter how small") with only brief interludes of cheesiness.

In case you were more of a One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish fan, here's the story of Horton in a nutshell: In a magical jungle, there lives an elephant named Horton, who one day spots a little speck on a flower. Thanks to his big ears, he can hear the noises coming from the speck and finds a way to communicate with the Whos of Whoville, who have lived their entire lives unaware that their universe was nothing more than a precarious resting spot on a flower somewhere. Horton wants to get the Whos to a safe place, but the jungle's bossy kangaroo doesn't believe Horton (and certainly doesn't want all the other jungle creatures imagining there are worlds on their flowers, too) and tries to thwart his mission. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Whoville — the only person who can communicate with Horton — has some doubters of his own who want to make a fool of him for suggesting their universe is merely a speck. Will the two worlds ever find common ground? Well, it's Dr. Seuss, so I suppose it's no spoiler that the answer is yes — but the way it plays out on film is fun to watch.

On a visual level, the movie is stunning — not because it's so realistic (that's more Pixar's bag) but exactly because it's so surreal. The landscapes and loopy line drawings look like Seuss brought to life; the saturated colors tell a whole story in themselves, from the leafy greens of Horton's jungle to the spooky grays of the villains' lair. The houses of Whoville are lopsided and loopy, perfect for a land that's just a little off-kilter.

One of the best decisions, in terms of keeping the story true to Seuss's spirit, was to have a narrator (Charles Osgood, better known for his news-anchor job) speak in Seuss's traditional, sing-song-y rhymes. Anytime it seemed like the movie was getting too far from the original story, Osgood's calming voice was there to ground it. Other voices are also highlights: Jim Carrey faded so completely into Horton that I never really connected the actor with the elephant. Steve Carell, on the other hand, simply is the Mayor of Whoville; that character is right in his bumbling, inept wheelhouse. My favorite, surprisingly, was Seth Rogen as Horton's dopey sidekick, Morton; apparently, Rogen is good at playing the buddy in any form.

Horton is clearly shooting to appeal to the whole family, and for the most part, it succeeds: There are enough clever details to keep adults entertained, while the lumbering goofiness of Horton himself kept the kids at my screening riveted. Unfortunately, what doesn't work are the parts of the movie aimed at the pre-teen crowd. Granted, I'm not in that demographic, but I was surprised at how flat those jokes — mostly gags along the lines of "Whoville mayor gets fishbowl stuck on crotch" — fell. And I'm not sure why the movie includes a montage of characters singing "Can't Fight This Feeling." It felt unnecessary, a cheap dig for a last laugh.

But does any of that really matter? In the end, Horton tells a sweet story with fine acting and a quirky visual style that perfectly fits its source, and that's all I ask from a movie like this.

Eli Stone: Heal the Pain

Eli Stone continued on its path of providing middle-of-the-road entertainment, and it did so with an episode that was actually halfway decent. Not that there was anything extremely different about it, just that there were less things to be annoyed with in this installment. The visions actually directed Eli to make certain choices and the case offered up some more great chemistry between the lead and Maggie Dekker. Unfortunately, the baseball murder case, which just isn't as interesting as the writers seem to want me to believe, has become a continuing storyline.

The big vision was a giant fire-breathing dragon tormenting Eli, first in his closet and later on the city streets. It wasn't long before I learned the vision's connection to the real world. A 15-year-old boy asked Eli to help him make a malpractice case against a Dr. Agon. Get it? "DrAgon." Seeing the name, Eli immediately agreed to take the case, even though the likelihood of winning was almost nonexistent. Though possibly a little too straightforward, a vision like this is at least better than some I have seen where it's a stretch to make any sort of plausible connection to the real world. Later in the episode, a white knight protecting Eli from the dragon turned out to be his brother Nate. Again, a little too spot on, but at least it directed Eli to his brother who then gave him information to help break the case.

The case itself, as has been the norm for Eli Stone, was fairly black and white. A doctor had done wrong and a hospital had covered it up. There was never any doubt that Eli and Maggie would bring out the truth. But while the case was rather bland, watching Eli and Maggie working together continued to be a treat. This episode in particular gave the pair a lot to play with by having Maggie as lead counsel while Eli, as a silent second chair, was pulling all the strings. I wasn't thrilled with the surprise kiss when the case was won, however. Clearly their chemistry has been building with each episode, but a slow burn of a relationship would have added more depth to the couple rather than having them awkwardly kiss so soon. This isn't to say that can't still happen, but a kiss in this episode seemed to quash their chemistry rather than build it.

As mentioned before, the baseball murder case continued this week, and appeared poised to carry over into at least one more episode. Me, I'm not a fan. As I stated last week, it annoys me that the writers want us to believe a District Attorney would even try to prosecute a ball player for murder, apparently aiming a ball hit during a game at the head of the third base coach. This week, a video of the player hitting a target repeatedly (down the third base line, no less) was brought to light, but deemed inadmissible at trial. Even so, attorneys Bennett and Dowd quibbled over a defense strategy and viewers likely couldn't care one bit. This one didn't. The show is called Eli Stone, but Eli and his visions are in no way involved with this case.

This is still a mediocre program, but at least "Heal the Pain" wasn't a complete pain to watch. The show was even able to do something different with Eli's reaction to his visions. No, the dragon stuff was business as usual -- Eli falls down, people look at him funny. But this week, Taylor took Eli to a George Michael concert and for the first few moments, Eli was convinced he was having another vision. It was a truly fresh moment for a show that has so quickly become stale. If the series can continue to put smart, fun spins like this one on Eli's situation, Eli Stone may raise itself to a higher level yet.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Wedding Music: Slow Songs for Everyone

When planning a wedding, most brides spend a lot of time hunting down one perfect song that captures their relationship with their new husband for the first dance of the night. Another big chunk of time and energy goes into finding the music for walking down the aisle. I've helped many friends with this search, and we always end up with a whole pile of songs that are not necessarily appropriate for the bride and groom alone but are no less romantic and beautiful.

Instead of discarding the leftover slow jams, why not sprinkle a couple in between blocks of the faster-paced fare during the reception? After all, weddings are the only times nowadays that those of us not in high school get to dress up and slow-dance together.

I've compiled a few of my favorite slowish songs that are romantic and universal but usually don't make it onto the "our song" lists. To listen to my playlist, click below:

Lost: Ji Yeon

So, with this episode of Lost, I started out all excited that we got another Sun episode (yay!). Then there was that part with Juliet that made me scream at the TV. Then the thing happened with the person with the chains (I mean . . . what?!). Toward the end I realized that they'd been totally messing with me, ime-wise and then it ended with. . . wait for it . . . an emotional sock to the gut. I'm still reeling from this.

I have to talk about the time stuff first. Making me think both Jin and Sun were a part of the Oceanic Six — I was racing to figure out what that panda signified — was nothing short of awesome. I am sure I'm not the only one who cursed out the TV upon figuring this out, but also kind of smile? Well played, Lost.

And I thought I was so smug when I figured out that hers were flash-forwards before they even said Oceanic Six. I do have to say, though, I took note of how old and clunky Jin's cell phone seemed.

Also: Yay, Sun is one of the Oceanic Six!

I love that Desmond can't seem to button up his shirt. I'm not being snarky here, I really do love that.

My favorite line: "Don't worry, everyone loves a panda." — toy store clerk, after inquiring about whether it's a boy or girl.

All my newfound affection for Juliet from the last episode is out the window. I don't care how good her intentions are, that is a low blow with telling Jin about the affair. When Sun is getting the prenatal vitamins, Juliet says, "After everything you confided in me, I should at least have your trust." Well, now she's proven that she'll promptly abuse that trust. I don't think her intentions justified her actions.

Also, this was great: Juliet: "Translate for me."Sun: "No."

Why does Kate have to be such a snot-nosed tattletale? "I'm going to have to tell Jack." Seriously?

OK, a woman drapes herself in chains and jumps off the side of the ship.And . . . I stopped breathing for a minute.

I love it when Bernard pops up to say some good-natured things. Who else would you want to go fishing with just after learning of your wife's affair? I think his karma talk is going to prove significant. "See, it's all about karma, Jin. You make bad choices, bad things happen to you, you make good choice, good —" Jin catches a fish. "See that? Now, that's karma. We must be the good guys."

So, this is Charles Widmore's boat, and the captain is determined to find Ben who is responsible for faking the recovery of Flight 815.

With all this other stuff going on, I'm glad it was who we all expected on the boat (Michael) and not someone else in a big twist.

"So I forgive you." I thought that Desmond-Penny episode wrung me out, but no. More tears. More tears!

Awww! Ji Yeon is born!

Hurley — in a suit!

Jin's tombstone states the day he died is the day of the crash, September 22, 2004. This implies that the Oceanic 6 have told the world that he died in the crash and brings up questions about the true circumstances of his real death.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Men In Trees: Home, Seized Home

It’s a big step -- moving in with someone -- and Jack and Marin certainly did it sooner than most couples. But then again, if you almost lost someone, it makes sense that you want to keep them close to you, right? Near death experiences make "seizing the day" seem less like a choice, and more of an obligation. We don't know how long we have, so we've got to make every moment count. But, as Marin learns, the day AFTER you seize the day is when reality sets in, when the romance starts to fade and you have to deal with all the pesky details. Which are often messy and complicated. Just like life.

In this episode, all of our characters are struggling with the practical fallout from their decisions. Theresa and Ben want a baby, but this desire transforms sex from a romantic act, to a scheduled event. Buzz allows Patrick to fly his plane, only to be met by Celia's wrath. And Jane and Sam? Well, their hasty wedding and their decision to split their time between Elmo and New York, means that Jane has to reconcile what she thought her life would look like, with what it actually does look like. Even if that means she won’t get into the New York Times Vows section.

And then, there is Marin and Jack. Marin’s fear that she and Jack moved too quickly, and that he will be less enchanted by the "real" her -- warts and all -- is, I think, a very relatable one. After all, in the early stages of dating we pick and choose what we reveal. We hide our flaws, and then show them slowly. When we feel safe.

But, because Jack and Marin never really dated, and their history is more a series of stops and starts, she doesn't feel safe yet. And so, when her work is lost due to his "unplugging", she overreacts. And then, when Jack calls her on her overreaction, she overreacts further -- as if daring him to love her, despite her flaws.

She is upset about her lost work, of course, but more than that, she is scared that she and Jack made a mistake -- that they rushed into things, that once he knows her -- really knows her, the way you know someone when you live with them -- he won't love her. She sort of spirals into self-doubt (as we all are prone to), until Sara points out that she's looking for reasons to bail, instead of looking for reasons to stay. See Marin likes to be in control. Plus, she's been burned before, by Graham. All of which makes opening up, and sharing a life with someone, a very scary prospect. Then again, maybe that's why they call it "falling in love." You can’t be in control. You have to let yourself "fall."

Pam's New Music Downloads

Death Cab for Cutie gets in college-radio gear on the trippy "I Will Possess Your Hear," from their May 13 release, Narrow Stairs.

That Jack White sure does like to keep busy. He's back with the second album from The Raconteurs. Consolers of the Lonely is another strong effort, with White sharing lead vocals and songwriting. The group continues to revive classic rock, displaying a Zeppelin-esque blues streak, while also showing flashes of Beatles melodicism. "You Don't Understand me," is an epic ballad that evokes the Fab Four after a night out at the juke joint.

Kat Parra's "Sugar" from Azucar de Amor is a mambo treat from a bilingual chanteuse who sings jazzman Stanley Turrentine's song in Spanish and English.

Piano, organ, and harmonics accompany Holly Long's soulful testimony to living the good life on "Sunday Redemption" from Leaving Kansas.

Kathy Mattea's "Green Rolling Hills" from Coal is backed by masterful bluegrass pickers. The West Virginia native sings a gorgeous ode to her mountainous home state.

The acclaimed jazz diva, Dianne Reeves, takes an R&b turn in this uplifting number "Today Will Be a Good Day," from When You Know.

Meg Hutchinson's "Ready" is from this Boston singer-songwriter's debut CD Come Up Full, which kicks off with a powerful proclamation of self-renewal ("I belong to the day now!").

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Canterbury's Law: Pilot

Julianna Margulies returned to network television as Elizabeth Canterbury, a defense attorney with issues, in Canterbury's Law. The executive producer is Denis Leary, the star of Rescue Me, which is another drama on FX (another FOX network) and as many of you know, I am huge fan of Rescue Me.

Most of the cast was unknown to me. Elizabeth's three associates are played by actors that I have never seen in anything. Even Aidan Quinn as Elizabeth's husband Matt was almost unrecognizable in his first scene. None of the actors turned me off, but they didn't sparkle. That puts a lot of pressure on Margulies to carry the show.

In the pilot, Elizabeth is defending a young man name Ethan who has been accused of killing a boy and hiding his body. Public opinion is already against Ethan because he had been convicted previously for statutory rape. However Elizabeth believes that he is innocent and is willing to go to any lengths to prove it, including putting her career on the line by having Ethan lie on the witness stand.

This story is interchangeable with the ones I've seen on Law and Order or CSI. I could tell who the real culprit was going to be about 15 minutes into the show. The plot isn't what kept me watching. It was Margulies' portrayal of Elizabeth that kept me glued to the screen. Her Elizabeth was a cynical smart-aleck in chambers and with her colleagues, but the minutes she was with the client I could tell that Elizabeth truly believed in his innocence. There wasn't a hint of reserve or sarcasm.

Even though the plot was tired, the pacing of the show was quick enough that I almost didn't mind. I didn't feel like I was watching the set-up episode of a new show. The writers gave me just enough information to figure out each character's role in the story and then moved the scenes along. There were hints of a few mysteries in the characters' backgrounds to keep the viewers coming back for at least a few episodes.

Canterbury's Law is a legal drama. There are plenty of those on TV already. In my opinion, the only reason that there are so many versions of the same show is that viewers prefer one actor over another. But I'm going to give Canterbury's Law a shot to see Julianna Margulies breathe new life into tired plots.

Traverse City: Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries

If Northern Michigan had a capital, it would be Traverse City. The city is the largest in the northern part of the state, and among the most popular with visitors. Besides Florida, this is where downstaters dream of retiring or opening an antiques shop or bed-and-breakfast. Purists claim the city's original charm has been lost to excessive development, but I find Traverse City to be a delightful mix of small-town friendliness and big-city amenities.

The aerial map to the right shows the Grand Taverse Bay area. Leelanau Peninsula to the left and Old Mission Peninsula to the right. Traverse City sits at the bottom of the bay between the two peninsulas.

The area earned its name from the early French fur trappers. Traveling by canoe across the stretch of open water between the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and Charlevoix, they would call their venture la grande traverse, or “the great crossing. ”Thus the area became known as Grand Traverse Bay. Lumbermen followed the fur traders, tapping the area's rich resources. Lumbering thrived into the early 1990s, when two other industries—cherry farming and tourism—began to flourish. Both continue to influence the local economy today.

My good friend and fellow yoga babe, Leslie, invited me to Traverse City while she was there doing a book tour and education programs to the local school districts and libraries. Of course, I can never turn down a trip mostly when it is to one of my favorites places in the state.

Traverse City is about a 3 1/2 hour drive north of Kalamazoo. I arrived around 2pm on Friday and spent the afternoon walking along the bay. Her sponsors put her up at the BayShore Resort, which was was right on the bay and about four blocks from downtown.

Leslie and I then drove up to the Old Mission Peninsula to see the lighthouse and all the huge mansions that line this very wealthy area. We shared a platter of Lake Perch at The Bowery. Later that night we stopped at the North Peak Brewing Company for one of their micro-brews. Very cool place inside a uniquely restored candy factory.

Saturday Leslie was off doing her book tour all day, so I headed downtown to a little shopping. The stores here are so amazing. No major chains (except for a Talbots) so you can find the most unexpected items. The downtown is also a favorite of Michael Moore, the famous Michigan-born documentary director. He has restored the State Theater and I hear it is absolutely amazing with car seats that form to your body and twinkling lights in the ceiling. My next trip I will definitely see a movie so I can check it out.

That afternoon I drove up to Leelanau Peninsula to check out some of the wineries. There are 13 wineries in this area but I only made it to four since I was driving. My first stop was the Shady Lane Cellars. A beautiful tasting room in a refurbished cobblestone chicken coop. Black Star Farms Winery & Distillery was next on my list. The girl serving the wine made it an enjoyable stop plus I met the nicest couple from Ann Arbor. I ended up running into them later that night at the sushi bar. Black Star also makes cheese so I bought a brick of aged cheddar.

My third stop was to the small, almost unrecognizable winery called Raftshol Vineyards. It is not listed on any brochure and has just a rickety old sign. Inside was a mess but the winemaster was a very nice older man. He said the farm had been in his family for just about 100 years. The wine was actually very good. On his property was the original 100 year barn. My final stop was Leelanau Cellars in the Village of Omena.

During my drive I stopped in Suttons Bay and had lunch at The Silvertree Deli and ate outside. I had the most wonderful shitake mushroom chicken soup. I also met the most delightful older women who was there visiting her nephew, the owner of the deli.

Before heading home I drove to the tip of the peninsula to see the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. A beautiful drive and lots of photographic moments.

Saturday evening, Leslie and I had dinner at Amical a downtown bistro featuring the most wonderful whitefish and the best ever butternut squash ravioli. She had a book signing at Horizon Books from 7pm to 9pm so I just hung out listening to music. Later we celebrated her successful book promotion at Red Ginger a sophisticated restaurant and sushi bar.

Sunday morning was time to pack up and return back to Southwest Michigan. What a wonderful weekend. Can't wait to return to this oasis in Northern Michigan. Be sure to check out my photos by clicking below.

Friday, April 25, 2008

An Indie Wedding: An Alternative Approach to Wedding Music

Tonight Liz and I stopped for a drink after work and she was discussing the wedding she is in this summer. Our discussion turned to music since I have been on this strange kick the past couple of days over wedding reception music.

Her friend's music collection is stuffed with indie rock staples, but I don't think she has to put them aside while planning her wedding playlist. Mainstream dance tunes just aren't every couple's style, and there are plenty of indie songs with a good beat that will get the crowd grooving.

Don't be afraid to wander off the proverbial beaten path when compiling your reception playlist. If this is the kind of music you and your fiance enjoy most, it will have more meaning. Just because Sinatra didn't croon it (or Timbaland didn't produce it) doesn't mean it's not wedding-appropriate or fun.

I put together a playlist of good reception songs from smaller artists — including some tunes that are pretty and others that are straight-up fun to dance to. Whether you're looking to go all indie or just want to sprinkle in something a little different between your oldies and your retro tunes, these songs are a good start. To check out my playlist, click below.

Breaking Bad: A No Rough Stuff Type Deal

Well, I have to say that while this finale did establish a certain status quo, albeit a highly precarious one, it was by no means a satisfying series ender. Thus, I fully expect that AMC will renew this amazing show for a second season post haste. Did you here me, AMC? Whatever you need to do to secure these actors and get this ball rolling. And maybe give me at least 13 episodes next time, eh?

It's an interesting parallel developing between Walter White's skirting with the law; okay let's call it escalating all-out belligerent assault on the law; and his sister-in-law Betsy Brandt's kleptomania. When a baby shower gift from turns out to be stolen, leading to Skyler's near arrest when she goes to return it, it sets up a conversation between Skyler and Walt whereby he can feel out how she would take it if she found out he was perhaps on the other side of the law as well. It may not go as he was hoping.

I hate to tell you, though, Walt. It's not apples to apples comparing shoplifting to murder, arson, desecration of a body, property destruction and production of methamphetamine, just to name the biggies. That said, though, Skyler hasn't turned her sister in as of yet so it's not yet clear how strong her moral compass is.

Also telling was the unexpected amore in the school meeting regarding the missing lab equipment (let's add withholding evidence and hindering a police investigation) leading to the madcap car sex between Skyler and Walt. When she asked him why that was so amazing, his terse response: "Because it was illegal." Walt's becoming an adrenaline junkie, and his trigger is illegal activity. He's been buttoned down and powerless too long, and the tastes he's getting of real power out there on the "streets," as it were are going straight to his head.

The irony of the whole thing is that the guy who's been dealing in drug trafficking for years and years, Jesse Pinkman, is by far the reluctant partner in all of this. He'd just as soon pack it all up and move to Oregon, as he suggested at one point, than deal with the obvious risks of getting into bed with Tuco. Remember that Tuco is the guy that nearly put Jesse into a permanent coma. And, as I learned tonight, that particular outburst of violent insanity isn't uncommon with Tuco. Nor is the target of his psychopathic rage always so obvious.

Nevertheless, through Walt's maneuverings last episode that's exactly who they find themselves intricately tied to. The money's looking real good, but the dangers may just outweigh the potential benefits. Not only from Tuco himself, should anything go not to his liking and set off his incredibly dangerous temper, but from Hank and his DEA hounds tracking the stolen lab equipment and trying to find this new meth producer in town. It's an extremely dangerous game they're playing, and I don't even know if it's enough to handle Walt's bills as his answer to how much he needed was simply "more."

One sequence within the show set itself up to be much more sinister and dangerous than it turned out to be, which was a bit of a disappointment. Jesse selling his house due to the "incident" earlier made perfect sense. And when the boys were forced to cook in his basement at the same time that an Open House was scheduled upstairs, I was certain that something serious was going to come out of it. Ultimately, other than some surprise comic relief in the whole situation, it just seemed to be resolved far too easily for my taste. Almost like the whole segment was either an afterthought to lighten the episode, or something more serious that they ultimately changed at the last minute, perhaps due to this episode having to be the season finale.

As a season finale, the episode was paced brilliantly. With the end sequence, wherein Tuco nearly beats to death his own henchmen simply for presuming to speak for him, Walt and Jesse saw that this business arrangement has even more risks than Walt seemed able to believe. Leaving me with that lingering image and afterthought was the perfect tone to set for the hiatus between seasons (you are renewing it, right AMC?). I still have the burgeoning situation with Betsy's shoplifting and how Skyler plans to respond to it, as well as the underlying situations with Gray Matter to get to next season. Not to mention that whole lung cancer thing Walt is dealing with.

The more risks that Walt takes on in his illegal gambit just brings to question more and more why he refuses financial assistance, either directly or through taking a job, from his former friend and partner Elliott. What happened between Walt, Elliott and Elliott's wife Gretchen that would so harden him against them that while he'd still attend a birthday party for Walt, he'd never accept a job or an offer to cover medical expenses from them?

Breaking Bad has proven to be a refreshing and amazing show.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wedding Reception Playlist: Getting Down to the 70s and 80s

I've already suggested a few oldies, but goodies, so now it's time to get the party going. Ha! And what better decades in music history to get folks off their feet and dancing than the '70s and the '80s? Which are the decades I was in my teens & 20's and having the time of my life.

From big hair bands to men in tight, tight jeans — these years produced some highly danceable tunes. Plus, if your DJ just can't conceive of a wedding without "YMCA" you'll have a handful of other, not-so-grating anthems from that time period to load'em up with.

To see a handful of the songs that I've loved dancing to at weddings, click below

The Family Guy: McStroke

As with so many other episodes, Peter comes up some ridiculously crazy idea that always seems to have slight undertones of social commentary, and then takes it to illogical extremes, making sure to present the audience with as many oddball movie and cultural references along the way. Standouts included snippets which poked fun at One Tree Hill and The Shawshank Redemption.

The absurd but seemingly disjoint storylines flow brilliantly in this episode. From Peter's decision to grow a mustache, to his heroic efforts as a fireman rescuing the manager of the McBurgerTown, to his reward of free burgers for life, to getting a stroke after consuming 30 hamburgers, to living at home with his paralysis, to his miraculous stem cell recovery, followed by his subsequent vendetta to bring McBurgerTown to justice, which involved visiting their manufacturing facility, where he uncovers a cruel slaughterhouse inhabited by a talking genetically enhanced cow, aptly named Mr. Cow and voiced by none other than Ricardo Montalban. In between I'm treated to musical numbers featuring R.E.M., The Monkees and Bob Dylan, and are even subjected to a lecture by Mr. Cow congratulating the efforts of salad-eating homosexuals.

The use of so many licensed tunes might be an indication of the lack of written content available to complete the episode, but it actually works quite well in this case. In particular, the imagery of a half-paralyzed Peter driving with his paralyzed arm stuck out the door and incoherently singing R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" was absolutely hilarious.

The secondary plot thread in this episode consisted of a bet between Brian and Stewie about whether or not Stewie can succeed in becoming the most popular kid in high school. This involved Stewie's seduction of Connie D'Amico, and culminated in an all-too-detailed revelation about Stewie's homosexual tendencies. In a seemingly innocent conversation about scoring at the aptly named "Anal Point," Stewie admits that he'd rather be a parking spot than the car trying to park in it. Brian's reaction to this is absolutely priceless, and the episode is probably worth watching for this moment alone. To top things off, Stewie decided to get revenge on Connie after his date goes sour by stripping down and kissing her, and then having her arrested for kissing a baby.

Fortunately, there's so much here that one simply can't go wrong with. Peter's mustache and subsequent stroke, Mr. Cow, and Stewie pretending to be a cool high school kid are all concepts that are bound to entertain, and they do in this case – brilliantly so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wedding Music: The Oldies, But Goodies

A few days ago, my friends and I were discussing wedding reception music. Not sure why since none of us are planning any weddings, but probably because we have all been to some great wedding receptions and some not so great receptions. The DJ can make all the difference. Now when I was first married back in the mid-80s, bands were still the way to go. If I recall, the band I hired basically played big band music and polkas. And the old folks danced nearly every dance.

Planning the music can be a challenging task when you try to appease everyone's musical tastes. You and your friends might have a different perception than your grandparents of what constitutes fun dance music — perhaps more "Golddigger" and less "String of Pearls." Yet if you truly want to make the oldsters happy and have a fabulous, danceable playlist (even for people who don't know how to jitterbug), check out my Oldies-But-Goodies Reception playlist.

From The Temptations to Sinatra to Louis Armstrong, you'll be able to shake your moneymaker and make your great aunts smile, so to take a listen.

Eli Stone: Something to Save

"Something to Save" should have been a fantastic episode. This should have been Eli Stone's most memorable episode of the season. This should have been the episode fans of the series would talk about for years to come. Because this was the episode where Eli's condition became public and changed the way his colleagues view him. Instead, it was more of the same mediocre storytelling from that "quirky" show that airs after Lost. (I'm convinced that most of the ratings points Eli receives come from people who leave their TV on while discussing what just happened on the island.)

This episode started with a good idea by having Eli facing disbarment for his odd behavior. It was about time that somebody, anybody, called Eli out for his ridiculous antics. Unfortunately, Eli can't find anyone to represent him. In the series' most inspired moment of the season, one of the attorneys who refused the case was played by Alan Rachins and was alluded to be his character Douglas Brackman, a lawyer from the classic series L.A. Law. The reference to a series that's been off the air for 14 years was very telling for the show. Clearly the program is skewing towards an older audience. The type of audience that finds it amusing every time Eli is caught singing a song that only he can hear, even though it happens the same way every time in every episode. And if that's what they're shooting for, they're succeeding.

"Something to Save" was just as banal and repetitive as the episodes that came before it. The idea of Eli facing disbarment should have added some much needed conflict, but at no time did I ever feel like anything was actually going to happen to my hero. Even when doctor brother Nate became involved and was ready to lie for his sibling, I never once thought Eli would actually let that happen. If I can guess what's going to happen, what's the point in watching?

A big reveal in this episode was the reason why Patti absolutely hates Taylor. This has been bugging me so much in the series that when the moment came where Patti was going to share her reason, I literally leaned forward and thought, "This better be good." It wasn't. Turns out Patti didn't like the man Eli became after his engagement to Taylor. I guess that's all well and good, except I as a viewer am only familiar with Eli post-engagement, and so far he's been a pretty decent person. It didn't make any sense.

And speaking of not making sense, was I really supposed to believe the Assistant District Attorney would seriously prosecute a baseball player for hitting a foul ball that killed the third base coach… for premeditated murder? Quirky court cases can be fun, but there has to be at least some sense of reality involved.

If anything saved the episode, it was the fine performance turned in by Tom Cavanagh in the flashbacks with Eli's father. It's this dark backstory to Eli's upbringing and the history of the aneurysms in the family that give the series it's only interesting dynamic. In the flashback, I learned that Eli's father could see visions of the future. This led to Dr. Chen revealing his association with Eli was no coincidence. Clearly, the father's visions were far more powerful (and likely more interesting) than the songs and dances Eli's been suffering. And in this episode, Eli's vision didn't even lead him to change anything. The people around him did all the work. In the end, "Something to Save" did nothing to help Eli Stone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost: The Other Woman

Bottom line of this episode of Lost: Sucks to be Juliet. I still don't altogether trust her, but man, she has got it bad on that island. Although I did find her to be really pretty in this episode? OK, maybe I am warming to her. Just a little.

The episode wasn't as gripping as the last episode with Desmond's crazy experiences, but it was more of a fill-in-the-gaps episode, rather than a blow-your-mind episode.

I love how they tried to mislead me in the beginning, when Juliet is explaining to a therapist that she hates to be the center of attention. My first assumption was that Juliet is one of the Oceanic Six — but no. OK, so maybe they only misled me.

There was a time when I thought the driving rain in the forest meant something significant every time it happened, like a motif or something. Now I'm pretty sure it's not that calculated.

How did Therapist Lady Harper get a message from Ben when he's being held captive by Locke?

Goodwin says he got the burn on his arm because he "was pressed up against a transformer." Like, Optimus Prime?

Dan: "So they have Miles."Kate: "Yeah, but he's fine. They're treating him fine." You know, grenade in the mouth, he's really comfortable.

Best line of the episode: "It's very stressful being an Other, Jack." — Juliet

Claire's haircuts are always so fresh and modern.

I love Ben's allusion to the rabbit he used to trick Sawyer into thinking he'd been implanted with a pacemaker. "This didn't have a number on it, did it?" Hilarious.

Lots of private vs. public discussion. Juliet hates to be the center of attention. She doesn't know why Goodwin has a problem with being private about their relationship.

OK, this whole Charles Widmore thing. First off, who is videotaping the incident with Widmore and the "unfortunate" member of Ben's people who got caught? Also, if Ben really did "tape over" the Red Sox game that he showed Jack that one time, then this thing with Widmore happened between that time and right now.

I still want to know why, exactly, Widmore is so invested in finding the island.

Michael Emerson, who plays Ben is simply one of the best actors working on TV right now. Unbelievable.

When Juliet wonders about the children (Zack and Emma), Ben references the lists again. "Who are we to question who's on the list and who's not?"

I always suspected something weird was up between Ben and Juliet. But holy cow he's a psychopath. "You're mine!"

It's just like Jack to be all macho and smug, "He knows where to find me." Barf.

Monday, April 21, 2008

DVD Review: House of Flying Daggers

Jin and Leo are officers, trying to stop an underground faction known as the House of Flying Daggers. News tells them that a blind dancers is apart of this faction and plan to capture her. After the capture the dancer Mei, Leo and Jin plan to use her to find the location of the House of Flying Daggers. Pretending to be a loyal follower of the Daggers, Jin fools Mei, yet starts to fall for her, yet may fall into her own trap.

House of Flying Daggers is an amazing, breath taking, visual feast of epic proportions. Daggers is more straight forward, with double and triple crosses to twist the stories narrative. Daggers also blends a very heavy love story amidst all the action, between the three leads Jin, Leo and Mei.

House of Flying Daggers is visually deep and rich. The colours leap of the screen, with brilliant cinematography. The fight sequences are simply stunning; superbly choreographed action. The fight in the bamboo forest is just jaw dropping.

As the blind dancer Mei, Zhang Ziyi is such a beautiful actress, its hard not to take your eyes off her. Takeshi Kaneshiro is charismatic as Jin. Andy Lau brings a strong performance as Leo.While the story might be contrived, House of Flying Daggers is an amazing feast of cinema, it's hard not to be swept up in its beauty

Men In Trees: Sonata in 3 Parts

So, did I really think Jack was dead? Even for a second? Really? I only ask because Chief Celia said that Jack is lost at sea -- possibly forever!

this was a tricky episode because it ran the emotional gamut for Marin -- going from total despair at learning the news of Jack's likely death, to impotent anger as the news finally sinks in, to utter joy at their unexpected reunion. Incidentally, that scene at the dock is my personal favorite. Even after watching it, I cried like a baby the moment when Marin realizes that the man walking along the dock isn't a ghost, it's actually Jack. Still, I'm sure the writers wanted to do a different slant on the traditional lovers' reunion. Everyone's seen the romantic "run through the field" moment. And really, who doesn't love it? It's classic! The challenge I'm sure was to find a way to have this classic moment, but still make it their own. That's where the bike came in. Seeing Jack get bowled over by Marin's runaway bike cut through what might've been a very melodramatic moment and hopefully, was funny, too.

I also enjoyed getting to explore Jerome's musical back-story. What sort of people move to Alaska? People that are either running away from something or who have something to hide. That idea of a character having a secret past was something that was pretty coole. Jerome seemed both the likeliest and unlikeliest candidate for that particular idea. He's someone that always seems to know something about everything, but I'm never exactly sure how he knows it. (Also, I remember seeing Jerome ponder an interesting picture of himself alongside important looking folks after he goes sober for Patrick's wedding.)

The theme of the episode -- which may have been kind of hidden -- was regret. I'll tell you one of the things I don't regret -- is taking a leap a faith and going after what I want. But in all seriousness, I liked the theme of regret and what it does to people. When my life flashes before me, I don't want to regret one of those moments that passes meby. So, why not have Jack and Marin move in together? Maybe? I don't think it's too soon. I think they've been through enough and they're ready for this step. Time will tell! Or… the next episode.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie Video: "I Will Possess Your Heart"

Death Cab for Cutie's new album, Narrow Stairs, will be in stores May 13, and I have already fallen in love with this song "I Will Possess Your Heart." Now, the video for this song is out.

It's long — really long, about eight minutes, aka long enough that your coworkers might get suspicious if you watch it in your office. However, if you've got the time, it's definitely worth a watch.

It's really beautiful and kind of charming. It made me want to strap a backpack on, take trains around Europe, and stare listlessly at the sun rising in the distance.

To check it out for yourself, click on the arrow below.

Sarah Connor Chronicles: Vick's Chip/What He Beheld

The writers' strike has almost totally altered the landscape of this season (and perhaps some of next season) of television. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a case in point. There's the fact that the series was unable to finish its 13 episode order, so instead the "finale" comes here – at episode nine. It's a bit of a mystery why FOX decided to burn off their remaining two episodes in one final two hour block. Whether it was to make the evening more of an event, or to simply put the show to rest early – I can't know for sure.

The two hour finale does indeed consist of two separate episodes – "Vick's Chip" and "What He Beheld." They are quite different episodes, and their stories don't actually tie in to one another all that much. There is definitely that strike-era jury rigging going on here. "Vick's Chip" feels a lot like a regular episode, even though it has some important movement story wise. "What He Beheld" does have more of a "finale" feel to it – but that seems to be more due to style (and effective style at that) than crucial story developments.

The first hour is marked by some of the best performances from the cast so far. Summer Glau is proving that you can give a complex, nuanced performance even when portraying a robot. At any given moment it's hard to figure out what Cameron is "thinking" – and she seems to be gaining more depth with each passing day. It's this greater level of humanity that makes her all the creepier. It's hard to argue with Derek Reese that you shouldn't trust her.

Cromarite is suitably creepy and unsettling and seems to just be getting warmed up in what is the last episode for who knows how long. While the mother-son chemistry between Sarah and John deepens here, Derek Reese is probably the biggest surprise of the season with one excellent moment after another. Whether he's using a little girl as bait or introducing John to his five year old father. There is a very good argument to be made for Derek to become a regular on this show, as it feels as though the core dynamic between the characters solidified once he arrived.

There are a lot of fun ideas at play in these two hours. In "Vick's Chip" I learned of another possible component of Skynet – the LA traffic grid it uses as its early eyes and ears. John's exploration of the T-888's brain is effective both stylistically as well as being just downright creepy and ultimately tragic. The fact that the Terminator can reset itself, and adapt to using whatever technology is available – is an interesting twist. It also seems that John's affection for Cameron is growing; which does kind of raise comparisons to a highly advanced and lethal "real doll."

The major sequence at the end of "What He Beheld" is Agent Ellison's ill fated raid on Cromartie. Set to Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around," this is a fairly gripping scene. SWAT members fall, bleeding into a swimming pool while Charley races to the scene in his ambulance upon hearing the name 'Kester' come over the radio. The episode ends with the death of Agent Simpson and leaves Ellison and Charley with indisputable knowledge of the existence of the Terminators – and an awareness of each other's knowledge. How this will change the dynamic in the future is uncertain, but it's fair to say nothing will be the same for them after this.

The final moments certainly work as a cliffhanger – with the man who owns "The Turk" still at large, and Cameron blowing up in the jeep. Although this was not intended as a finale – it leaves me wondering what happens next. Now, the question for FOX is, will I get to find out what happens next? And if so, when?

MTTT - Main Street Pub

What a beautiful Thursday night. M's Thirsty Third Thursday gang met at the new Main Street Pub on S. Westnedge. We started out inside in the circular room called the "the barrel" but it was way too warm in there. We asked if we could sit outside and if we could have our same waitress. They were happy to oblige.

After we moved to the patio, we enjoyed the warm spring evening. The service was fine and so was the food, which was familiar fare at comfortable prices. I ordered a gyro sandwich and Liz had the potato skins.

The waitress told me the The Bourbon Salmon is especially popular, as are the hamburgers. The extensive menu also includes pastas, salads, Mexican dishes and some homestyle favorites like meatloaf and pot roast.

We chose the Main Street Pub because they have a good reputation and because this new one was the first freestanding Main Street Pub in greater Kalamazoo.

During the dinner, our server was helpful and especially attentive. Everyone enjoyed themselves and it was just a wonderful time sitting outdoors for the first time in 2008!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tax Day Playlist: Songs About Money

Well, guys, yesterday was tax day. Too bad I didn't have my list completed yet because you might have wanted to pull out your headphones and listen to these songs about money while you were staring at your 1040.

If you're getting a big refund, I've got songs about the things you can buy with money ("Material Girl," "If I Had a Million Dollars"). If you end up owing the IRS, you can take comfort in the songs about things that are more important than money ("Danny's Song.") And if things are just looking really bleak, you can turn to the Spinal Tap guys as they cry, "Give Me Some Money"!

To this list, you might also want to add some classic Beatles songs like "Can't Buy Me Love" and especially "Taxman." What other money songs would you rock out to on tax day? To check out my playlist, just read more.

Breaking Bad: Crazy Handful of Nothin'

I hadn't even realized how quickly this season has gone by until the closing moments told me that the next episode was the season finale. That's way too soon, and yes I understand there was a pesky writer's strike which played havoc with production schedules. But Breaking Bad is just too good of a show that's just starting to find its groove. Bryan Cranston just constantly blows me away with his performance, and Aaron Paul continues to find ways to turn what could be a very one-dimensional, archetypical street thug into a complex personality.

That said, after this episode I find myself wondering if Cranston's Walter really needs Paul's Jesse anymore. I'm sure he ultimately does but he seemed to handle things pretty well himself. Walt is clearly emboldened by his prior misdeeds, murder and arson on top of the obvious drug activities, as well as his sense of impending mortality. His new-found courage, or lunacy, reached a crescendo in how he ultimately handled the Tuco situation. By the way, I thought that was a really well handled flash-forward effect. By showing us the carnage and the bald Walter, I know it's something that's to come as the chemo hadn't taken his hair yet, but I didn't yet know when.

After having both failed to find other ways to get by in life in last week's episode, Walt came back and agreed again to work with Jesse. Still left unresolved is why he's so adamant in refusing his former partner's money for his treatment. Preferring to take on the tremendous risks of cooking and selling meth over accepting a handout from a friend, or at least a former friend, is a pretty huge statement. Whether it's a huge statement of Walt's stubborn independence or pride or an indication of tremendously bad blood in that relationship remains to be seen. And hopefully it will be addressed, because right now it's a huge albatross hanging over the story.

Meanwhile out in the desert, the arrangement put in place for "cooking" is that Walt is the chemist and Jesse the salesman, with no crossover between the two. That plan quickly fell apart, though, as Walt's deteriorating health in response to his chemotherapy chased him from the RV mid-batch, leaving Jesse to finish up. This also led to Jesse discovering that Walt had cancer as he'd watched an aunt die from the disease. In a moment of tenderness, Jesse suggested, "Put an icepack on your head during chemo. My aunt said it helped with the hair loss." Later, when Jesse brought back a paltry $1,300 from his various sales, Walter was disgusted and immediately started making suggestions on how to rectify the situation. By the end of things, arbitrary lines would be broken and Walt would be fully involved in this side of the operation as well.

When Walt asked Jesse if he knew any distributors to whom they could move large quantities, Jesse responded, "Yeah, I used to. Until you killed him." A sobering reminder of this dark path they're going down. With that distributor, Krazy 8, out of the picture, a guy named Tuco had horned in on his territory. But despite Walt's insistence Jesse explained that you can't just go up to someone like that and try to sell. You have to have an "in." And then, later, Jesse finds his "in" with a friend of his who used to share a cell with Tuco.

Unfortunately, when Jesse called to give Walt this good news, Walt was in the middle of going over his high school lab equipment with DEA agent and brother-in-law Hank. The gas mask they'd found in the desert when investigating the new clean strain of meth circulating had led Hank back to Walt's high school. At this point, Walt should be incredibly grateful that he comes across as such a stick-in-the-mud because it was just beyond Hank's comprehension to think that Walt could possibly be involved. I would suspect he'll be in for quite a rude awakening if and when he finds out.

Throughout the episode I was treated to Walt both receiving his chemo treatments and responding to them. From bouts of sickness to clumps of hair falling out to him ultimately shaving his head when the bald patches were getting too prominent. I also got to experience an incredibly awkward group therapy session in which Skyler and Walt, Jr. lamented that he goes off in the afternoons and seems withdrawn. Honestly, Walter has been a withdrawn man since I've met him and I have a hard time believing this is a dramatic character change. Sure, he's probably become more withdrawn and it's more challenging now, but should they really be surprised.

The creators did a good job of setting up high school janitor Hugo as a sympathetic character while at the same time showing us Walt's declining health. It always seemed to be Hugo who was there to help clean up after Walt's bouts of vomiting as a result of the chemo. Be it to clean it up so Walt could get back to teaching the kids or just to offer him a stick of gum, Hugo came across as a decent guy. So I guess I should have seen it coming when Hugo took the fall for the missing lab equipment. Even though his only crime seemed to be the fact that he was a pothead, it was enough for Hank to connect him. Ultimately he was cleared of that, but he was still looking at losing his job and going down in some fashion for possession. Another notch on the bedpost of victims Walt is ratcheting up.

While Walt was busy dealing with this, poor Jesse was getting his ass kicked ... again. He has spent at least half of this series so far either getting his ass handed to him physically or verbally. And this time it was by Tuco and his goons. At the arranged meeting, after Jesse demanded he be paid $35,000 up front for the pound of meth he brought rather than trust that Tuco would repay him later, he instead got beaten nearly into a coma. And then Tuco just took the meth anyway. Walt didn't even know this had happened for the longest time. When he found out, he went and saw him in the hospital where Jesse had a neck brace, broken bones and extensive injuries. Again, something that might not have happened were it not for Walt.

At this point the episode came full circle as bald Walt arrived at Tuco's pad with a bag of meth. I've seen Walt show increasing signs of reckless behavior, but this was him entering into a whole new arena of crazy. Manhandled and escorted to the same room in which Jesse met his grisly fate, Walt made his demands. "Thirty-five for the pound of meth you stole, and another fifteen for my partner's pain and suffering." Standing there with nothing but a bag of meth, torn open in front of him on Tuco's desk, Tuco could do nothing but laugh.

"Let me get this straight. I steal your dope. I beat the piss out of your mule boy. And then you walk in here and bring me more meth?" Tuco laughed. "You got one part of that wrong. This is not meth," Walt said picking up a piece of it and throwing it to the ground. The next shot was ground level outside as all the windows blew out upstairs. Here I have terminal high school chemistry teacher Walt walking into the hornet's nest. He knows what they're capable of because he's seen Jesse and knows they've already stolen a pound of meth from them. It would be nothing to these people to kill a sickly looking middle-aged white dude.

But a show of strength was exactly what Tuco would respond to and suddenly Walt had made the business deal that Jesse couldn't. Of course, it will still probably all turn out horrible for Walt as this is a very dangerous crowd he's now climbing into the proverbial bed with. So far, Walt has managed to roll with every punch the meth game has dealt him, but I have to figure he's going to meet his match soon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Movie Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I'm so glad I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly yesterday. The movie was nominated for Oscars in several categories including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Achievement in Cinematography — all of which are well-deserved. It's a beautiful and ambitious cinematic journey to the place where our strongest emotions intersect with imagination, and it's worth adding to your list of movies to see ASAP.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric) was once the glamorous editor-in-chief of Elle France, enjoying a fashionable and charmed existence in Paris. The good times screech to a halt, however, when he suffers a rare stroke that renders him paralyzed except for the ability to blink his left eye, a condition called "locked-in syndrome." This is where some might get turned off by what appears to be an unbearably depressing premise: A man who "has it all" becomes condemned to watching and listening to the world go by from the inside of a motionless body. Yet to my surprise, Bauby's true story is far from depressing. In fact, I found it to be exciting and inspiring.

Shot as though I'm looking through his one eye, the movie begins with a confused Bauby awakening from a coma. As well-meaning doctors ask him questions he can't physically answer, I feel Bauby's frustration. Director Julian Schnabel allows me to experience the situation along with Bauby, whose easy sense of humor and wit actually manages to keep many of these scenes light. From here Bauby is confined to the care of the dedicated hospital staff in Berck where a patient and kind speech therapist (played by a sweet Marie-Josée Croze) teaches him to communicate through a system of blinking to indicate a letter of the alphabet. Expressing his thoughts this way, he begins to write a memoir.

Bauby starts out observing the most pathetic, even boring details of his day-to-day happenings, like having strangers bathe him and orderlies turning off his television mid-soccer game just as it gets good. Over time, however, he begins to unleash his imagination, indulging in the very best of his memories. I join a dashing Bauby as he dines at the best restaurants in Paris, makes love on the beach to his physical therapist, and relives tender moments with his father.

Through vivid bursts of color and possibly the most beautiful cinematography I've see this year, the end result is a freeing of the mind — not a confinement of it. Incredibly, I almost felt envious of his unique experience rather than horrified by his tragedy.

Eli Stone: One More Try

A few episodes ago, Eli Stone had its best episode so far when it delved into darker territory with Eli's father. Every episode before and after that has been the same old song and dance, literally. In "One More Try," I was given the same exact series of events that drive every outing. But it's just getting worse. The visions aren't as mysterious (if they ever really were), the cases seem more ridiculous and the storytelling has yet to improve. Gone is the potential this series once had.

The episode started with Eli and Maggie arriving in Molokai, Hawaii. I was then cast back three days, left to wonder how and why the two lawyers ended up on the island. Unfortunately, the episode doesn't really make the Molokai trip a mystery. As soon as Eli mentions that a witness in a court case he has to retry disappeared five years earlier, it's easy to guess said witness might enjoy long walks on the beach. There's nothing to analyze with Eli's visions, nothing to interest anyone. He sees surfers on a beach; he eventually ends up on a beach with surfers. The visions are supposed to be guiding our hero, but in this episode, it was Maggie who tracked down the missing witness in Hawaii. Eli simply had an "Oh, yeah," moment when he put Maggie's work together with what he had been witnessing (gospel choir equals "Gospel of Surf"). Essentially, the visions were a complete waste, making the entire conceit of the program a complete waste.

Meanwhile, there are still all sorts of unbelievable character developments in the show. Eli's assistant Patti was still full of unexplained hatred for Taylor. Taylor, for some unexplained reason, was hired to work for her father's firm. Keith Bennet, the black lawyer hired by Jordan in the last episode, showed up for work this week, but unlike the loud, aggressive, pompous man I was first introduced to, he just became a background character. Without more explanation and development, watching Eli Stone becomes frustrating. Patti's hatred of Taylor is annoying without an explanation. Taylor's arrival only seems convenient for the writers as an easy way to keep her involved. And Bennet went from a slightly interesting character to a token.

Another ridiculous surprise this week was to suddenly see Matt Dowd thrown in as a character with his own storyline. Wait -- don't know who Matt Dowd is? He's the smarmy associate of Eli's who, up till now, has spent his time making wisecracks about Eli's odd behavior. In "One More Try," he was suddenly a character I was supposed to care about, with feelings and everything. The case he was given involved his ex-girlfriend, who is now a lesbian, fighting for shared custody of her soon to be born child with her ex-girlfriend, who is now a "heterosexual Jesus freak." But like every episode of Eli Stone, these interesting, oddball cases suffer from minimal screen time and weak writing, which make it impossible for them to ever make a full connection with the audience. There were a lot of tears and emotion as this case unfolded, but I couldn't have cared less.

Will Eli Stone ever go beyond this oversimplified formula of cheesy visions and case-of-the-week antics? By the looks of things, the answer is no. I just can't imagine that viewers will continue to tune in each week if the storylines and story structure remain so repetitive and unoriginal. The series needs a darker side. The series needs to bring back Tom Cavanagh. The series simply needs to get better.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lost: The Constant

Wow. This is one of them freaky mess-with-your-head Lost episodes, and I think it's one of the most riveting episodes I've ever seen. They're again playing with the space-time stuff, nearly to the point of causing vertigo. And I like it.

Plus I cried a little at the end. Um, maybe more than a little. Please — tell me I'm not a total sap.

Oooh, Juliet is all sarcastic with the archaeologist lady. "Maybe if you speak real slow, we'll understand what you're saying." Sassy.

I am loving this Desmond-and-Sayid duo. I'd like Desmond to see more of that in my future.

They do really well to disorient me, along with Desmond. These quick cuts between Desmond's experiences — apparently called flashtimes, rather than flashbacks or flash-forwards — are totally dizzying.

The guy in the bed, Minkowski, is so creepy. "It's happening to you, too, isn't it?!" "I was just on a Ferris wheel." Gah! This episode struck me as being similar to older spooky shows, like The Twilight Zone. It's not just mysterious at this point — it's really scary.

However, sometimes this time travel stuff squishes my brains.

I'm starting to like the eccentric Daniel Faraday. His 1996 self had a pretty hairdo. And now I know that his faltering memory might be due due to prolonged exposure to radiation.

Minkowski says they regularly got calls from Penny that they were under strict orders not to take. Why?

So, Mr. Widmore had the highest bid on the log from the ship on the island, the Black Rock (which, among other things stored dynamite, and was also the place where all the Sawyer-Locke-Locke's dad stuff went down). The ship's log was kept secret by, apparently, the Hanso family, and now (er, in 1996 anyway) it's in Mr. Widmore's possession.

Desmond and Mr. Widmore in the bathroom together is kind of funny, but that dude is harsh: "It's not me who hates you." Ouch.

Sayid is so totally desensitized: When that Minkowski guy drops Sayid barely raises an eyebrow.

Aww . . . Penny is Desmond's constant! "I love you, Penny. I've always loved you."Aaaaand crying. Turning to sobs. Okay, end the episode already!

Dan's notebook: "If anything happens, Desmond Hume will be my constant." Love it.

Pam's New Music Downloads

Panic at the Disco opens their second album with an apology. Clearly, this Las Vegas quartet realizes how crucial their follow-up to 2005's platinum A Fever You Can't Sweat Out is. And Pretty. Odd. does well to assure that they won't go down as some emo dudes who got lucky thanks to MTV. "Northern Downpour," is a ballad that is power-pop bliss.

Can you imagine any band on the planet being more fun to hang out with than the B-52s? On their first studio album in 16 years, Funplex, the quirky quartet parties like it's 1989 (the year they released their bestselling album, Cosmic Thing). "Pump" is the pulse-racing, guitar-riffing opener.

After forgetting how to rock following the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1997, R.E.M. cranks it up on Accelerate, their most amped effort since 1994's Monster. The result is simply the best R.E.M. disc since 1992's classic Automatic for the People. Accelerate hits the ground running with the opening assault, "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," as Michael Stipe tears into his vocal with renewed vigor. I can just imagine him thrashing about to this one onstage. Even better are "Supernatural Superserious," the chugging, instantly catchy first single, and the soul-deep "Hollow Man," both of which stand up to about anything in the band's catalogue. Lean and mean, Accelerate clocks in at less than 35 minutes, its 11 cuts racing by so fast I can't wait to play it again.

Were it not for the success of "Crazy" - the insanely catchy hit that propelled Gnarls Barkley to platinum sales and two Grammys for their 2006 debut, St. Elsewhere - the collaboration between singer Cee-Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse might have been just a one-off project. Thankfully it wasn't: The Odd Couple shows that the pop world would be a lot more boring without this twisted twosome. While there's nothing here as genius as "Crazy," it's another trippy journey into psychedelic soultronica. Highlights include "Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)," the speedy, shimmying first single and "Surprise," a hand-clapping, '60s-grooving euphoria.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

The April selection of the Great Readers of m was "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Cheryl chose this book and it is definitely now part of top 10 books that I love.

Perhaps it was a fit of angst dealing with his own personal version of a mid-life crisis that led Bill Bryson to tackle the challenge of hiking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail! It was certainly a solid understanding of his own personality and clear recognition of his own physical and mental limitations that prompted him to invite his friend, Stephen Katz, an overweight and out of shape recovering alcoholic with an inordinate fondness for snack foods and cream soda to accompany him on this daunting challenge.

The demands of the AT ultimately proved too much for Bryson and Katz who sensibly (and with an almost relieved sense of philosophical acceptance) decided to abandon the notion of a complete through hike. But the resulting story, drawn from Bryson's daily journal of the summer's efforts, is an overwhelming success and pure joy in the reading.

"A Walk in the Woods" is an extraordinary, entertaining travelogue on both the AT - the Appalachian Trail - and the people and places of small town America that dot the trail's path along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. At the same time, it is much, much more. Bryson is scathing in his political commentary and almost enraged criticism of the ongoing state of mismanagement and the sadly misguided policies of both the Parks and Forest Services of the US government.

"A Walk in the Woods" is also a deeply moving introspective examination on the nature of friendship, family, perseverance, joy and despondency. As he and Katz amble along rock strewn trails dappled with sunlight broken by the leafy forest canopy, Bryson frequently, effortlessly and almost without our even noticing the change, wanders metaphorically off the main trail and onto a side path of lightweight but nonetheless informative and educational sidebars of nature writing on an amazingly wide variety of topics. Glaciation, bears, bugs, ecology, continental drift, hypothermia, hypoxia and weather are only a few examples of the topics.

Then there is the humour! It is perhaps an understatement to say that, in this regard, Bryson has a rare gift. He has treated his readers to laughs originating in every imaginable corner of the vast world of humour - wry sardonic wit; biting satire; slapstick; self effacement; sarcasm and insults; fear; and even extended comedy sketches worthy of stage or television. His description of the astonishingly stupid and entirely self-absorbed fellow hiker Mary Ellen who has the annoying habit of constantly clearing her sinuses with a grating honk is definitely laugh-out-loud material.

Pure entertainment and enjoyment from first page to last. I believe Bill Bryson would consider it a compliment if I suggested that "A Walk in the Woods" is the first book I've ever read with a smile on my face during every single moment of the reading. Highly recommended - even if you've never spent a single night under nylon in the woods.

Men in Trees: Charity Case

After a hiatus duirng the writer's strike, Men in Trees is back. Although I have heard it is not being picked up by ABC next season, I'll still watch the remaining last episodes to immerse myself into the world of Elmo, Alaska, and all the quirky folks who call it home.

Cash drops in on Marin looking as good as ever. Marin learns that he is having health problems. She climbs onto a roof in order to ferret out his secret. In no time at all, thanks to Marin, all of Elmo knows his secret. Then without consulting him, she advertises a fundraiser for him. Good Golly.

I love the relationship between Sarah and Eric. They are so sweet together and she is wonderfully supportive of him. I loved the rock climbing to relieve sexual tension.

As for Patrick, I'm getting a little tired of the whole memory loss thing. Patrick was a great character the way he was. Now he's going to be a beer drinking, burping, inconsiderate jerk? I'm not feeling it.

In the end, Marin learns that Jack's ship has gone down. Even though I knew this from the last episode, it was still sad. Poor Marin.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Demon Hand

"Demon Hand" strikes an uneven balance between being powerfully dramatic and somewhat needlessly ponderous. As is becoming the norm, the show once again delves into the Terminator mythology with great success, this time even bringing back Dr. Silberman.

There are distinct spheres of action happening in this episode, with no single solid through line. I had Agent Ellison looking into Sarah's past, which takes him to see Dr. Silberman. Then I had Cameron searching for the missing Terminator hand, which takes her to Andy Goode's chess playing colleague and his sister. Finally there's some stuff here between Derek Reese and John Connor. John knows that he's talking to his uncle, and even though Derek is unaware of this – he does seem to sense a connection.

There are some great unexpected moments here. Silberman drugging Ellison was a tough one to see coming. Cameron may be learning some of the behavior of human beings in order to fit in, but I got a nice reminder here that she has no compassion.

When John finds the tape of Sarah giving up her rights as a parent – John is understandably crushed. It's also interesting to revisit one of the more famous sequences of the second movie and understand some of her motives behind what she was doing.

What this episode lacks is any kind of action, at least action of the sort I've come to expect from the series. That does make this episode feel a bit slower than normal, but at the same time it seems the show is maturing. Watching Cameron walk away from the two Russians, or seeing Silberman crack up in the rain – and Reese's face as he watches the machine practice ballet. All of these moments are effective, and serve their purpose well. While it would have been nice to have some action thrown in as well, as it nears its two-hour finale, Terminator is proving to already be a good show in what is a sadly shortened season.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Breaking Bad: Gray Matter

This episode served as a bridge to the next chapter of both Jesse and Walt's lives. In the previous installment, Walt withdrew from the sordid world of drug trafficking and focused on his family, revealing his cancer and looking at the varying options available to him. Meanwhile, his erstwhile partner Jesse had a bad drug reaction and sought refuge in the home of his parents, which didn't turn out as well as he had hoped. Here they both continued their efforts to move on with their lives, to varying degrees of failure.

The failure for both seems also to be a matter of some pride. For Jesse, it is the same pride that hinders so many young people trying to make a go of it in the professional, or so-called "real" world. Not willing to pay his dues at the bottom of the corporate ladder, a la his whacked out friend Badger, Jesse sought to get a real estate sales job with no prior professional experience. And when offered the costume wearing sign spinning job, he balked.

For Walt, it's a little more complicated. "Gray Matter" refers not only to the portion of the brain that can be irrevocably destroyed by crystal meth, but also to the name of the company that apparently Walt should have been a part of. When Skyler and Walt attend a birthday party for Elliott Schwartz, I learn that the two were science partners in college. In fact, it was the combination of their names (Schwartz is German for black) that created the Gray Matter name that became Gray Matter Technologies, Elliott's award-winning research company that he owns with his wife, the very familiar Gretchen. Gretchen is the girl from the flashback I saw to Walt in college breaking down the components of the body a couple of episodes ago.

Elliott lives in a palatial estate with his wife and receives personally signed gifts from the likes of Eric Clapton, while Walt struggles to make ends meet with a high school teacher's salary and a son with cerebral palsy; let's face it, medical bills aren't cheap in this country. And yet Elliott proudly introduces Walt as an integral part of Gray Matter as well as a "master of crystallography," indicating that there certainly doesn't seem to be any ill will from Elliott's perspective toward Walt. Even his subsequent job offer seemed sincere, despite the fact that Skyler had already spilled about Walt's cancer.

The question becomes: Why did Walt walk away from this enterprise to become a high school teacher? Was it because of Gretchen? Did Walt pine for this girl in college only to lose her to Elliott, or was there more to it than that? I wonder, considering the difficulties they've faced, how Skyler feels about Walt's decision to not be a part of Gray Matter, or even how much she knows about it. Perhaps she came into Walt's life well after that chapter was closed. Certainly she seems to want him to do what's best for himself and struggles to see why he doesn't always seem to want to.

It was this concern that led to the intervention scene with Walt, Walt Jr. and Skyler, as well as Hank and Marie. While Skyler wanted to have this "family meeting" so that everyone could tell Walt what a terrible mistake it would be for him to deny chemotherapy, she was appalled when first Marie and then Hank supported the notion that Walt should be able to make his own decision. At that point, Walt took the pillow and revealed that he felt kind of like he'd never made a decision of his own in his entire life; this is a very interesting statement and the fact that Skyler let it stand with nary a retort is also very interesting and potentially telling. He wanted to take control of this one aspect of his life and rather than live out his last days weakened and sick from chemo, he wanted to really live.

In the end, though, after a touching scene with Walt in bed hugging Skyler's pillow, looking over her mix of cancer and baby books, and smelling her skin creme, he reneges on his original convictions and tells her he'll get the treatment. But, despite the fact that Elliott still has an offer on the table to pay for the treatment because, as Gretchen told Walt later, half of everything they own including their company name is rightfully Walt's, Walt insists that he can take care of the expenses himself. Pride? Or something more going on with his past?

Meanwhile, Jesse's impatience to earn money in the real world, probably that is made more difficult by the crappy pay that he'd be facing there compared to what he can make in the drug trade, leads him back in the meth business, this time with the paroled and imbecilic aforementioned Badger. Taking most of the credit for the pure and beautiful meth Walt had cooked, Jesse convinces Badger that the two of them can accomplish the same thing. But when the batches consistently come out cloudy and below Walt's established standard, Jesse rejects and pitches them. Ultimately, Badger can't take it anymore and the two of them fight tearing up equipment in the Winnebago, which leads to Jesse abandoning Badger in the desert.

As such, both of my wayward "heroes" have failed to accomplish their needs and desires on their own, and so I have Walt in the final scenes showing up back at Jesse's with a simple proposition: "Wanna cook?" The significance of this decision by Walt is profound. He had an offer on the table for a legitimate job in his preferred field of study, offering excellent insurance working with his college friend and partner. He also had a second offer to just flat out pay for his surgery from that same friend. But Walt would rather take the inherent risks of cooking meth and trying to become a drug producer/dealer than take any legitimate and real offers. The falling out between Walt and Elliott/Gretchen story has to be simply epic. Not so bad that Walt wouldn't go to his party, but enough that he'd make this decision rather than take what he perceives as "charity" from Elliott and Gretchen.

Light on the action but heavy on background and character depth, I thought this was an excellent episode of a show that continues to impress me more and more. I still have no idea where it's going to go, but I suspect it will end the same way the series title does. And it's gonna be a helluva ride all the way down. The stage is set for the action and chaos to kick into gear.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk is on the Run, Part 2

The build up was great in the first-half of the season finale. Adrian's clearly being targeted for a murder by a local sheriff, and he's in some serious trouble. Then to give him and Leland time to figure everything out, they concoct a plan to "kill" Adrian.

All of that went very well. Nobody really suspected anything was up, which led for some interesting scenes between Leland and Natalie. Her reactions seemed perfect (no over-acting), but at the same time, they didn't make a whole lot of sense. Natalie has only known Adrian for a short period of time, and yet she seems as distraught as a wife would react. The acting was believable, but not the story aspect.

As soon as Natalie learned Adrian was alive, I knew exactly how the episode was going to end.

Adrian really hasn't had many arch enemies. It's something that's always been missing in the series, but the closest there is is Dale the Whale and he made a re-appearance in the finale. He's actually a great villain. He's wealthy and obviously still has plenty of connections to the outside (of prison).

Whether or not Dale will be back is uncertain, but it's hard to overlook the fact that the ending seemed rather final. Dale didn't seem willing to part with any information he may have on "the judge," so he may not be back.

The story was pretty good, but I need to point out that Adrian did save the governor's life. The question is will the governor do anything to reward him. I seriously doubt it. And that's unfortunate. He saved the man's life; re-instate him or at least begin that process.

With season seven officially announced, it's likely going to be the final season. At that time, I figure the writers will finally wrap up the Trudy murder mythology and bring the series to a proper conclusion.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What? - Lost Clip Montage

Even if I weren't such a fan of Lost, I'd find this clip montage ridiculously funny. If you're a fan of the show, this video has probably already made it to you, but it merits another viewing. Or two. All it is — seriously, all it is, for two full minutes — is a series of clips of various characters saying, "What?"

The ones in Korean with subtitles are some of the funniest.

It's just plain silliness. It's like trying to whistle the same note at the same time as someone else — you have to laugh. To see what I mean, click on the arrow below.