Quotable:

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

'The World Is Yours' from Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu returned to Kalamazoo speaking eloquently, forcefully and at times humorously to a full house of about 3,000, which included me and my friend Jean on Thursday, July 24 at Miller Auditorium on Western Michigan University's campus.

The Fetzer Institute sponsored the event, and Tutu sat wearing a traditional African shirt with the group's president and CEO Thomas Beech on stage. Tutu's face was projected large on a screen behind him.

He pointed to several people in the crowd before pointing to himself. "You, you, you, you, and I - each one of us is created in the image of God," he said. "You are God's viceroy. When we treat someone as less than we are, it's not just wrong; it's not just evil; it's actually blasphemous. It is spitting in the face of God."

Thursday's event had the feeling of a talk around a living room coffee table, with Tutu interacting with the crowd, eliciting many a laugh. He slid to the edge of his seat, his hands a whirl of action, when he was making an excited point. During more serious matters of discussion - such as the genocide and refugee crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur - Tutu leaned back, his eyes closed as if in prayer.

Three area high school student sand one recent high school graduate asked Tutu questions about peace, politics and the role of today's youth.

"Young people are so idealistic," Tutu said, laughing. "Don't let the (older generation0 muck you up. Go on dreaming - believing we can live in a world without war."

Then he cupped his hands and extended them. "The world is yours," he said.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Closer: Speed Bumps

"Margaritas. One is never enough. Two is too many. And 12, well, you're looking at 12."

Is this the right Brenda? So happy, so horny, so friendly and jovial. After the last episode, which was a heavy duty episode, with the fires and the serial arsonist with the creepy (also very beguiling) smile, this episode found Brenda in a playful mood. I just love a well-rounded character.

It was very romantic the way Brenda was awakened by Fritzie, and for a show that tends to show more of the neurotic Brenda than the sexy Brenda, this was a lovely change of pace. And if you can consider a story in which homeless drunks are run over (and over) by cars -- vehicular homicide indeed -- for insurance money a light, comic turn, then this episode qualifies.

I appreciated that the case involved a lot of the team, especially Flynn who had a beef with the victim, Roy Wilkinson. It turns out that the corpse was a notorious child killer who had only served eight years in prison for his crime. Flynn was offended by the lack of justice. He remained friendly with the girl's parents to the point that when they were "persons of interest" in the homicide, the couple -- nicely played by familiar TV star Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky & Hutch) and Amy Aquino (Everybody Loves Raymond) -- dressed him down. And when Brenda learns that Flynn committed a sin of omission, i.e. not telling her that he'd sent the victim flowers on the anniversary of the girl's death to remind him of the crime -- "Happy Death Day" -- Chief Johnson is rightfully pissed.

Tao also had a wonderful bit in this episode. He's such a geek with his forensics, but the guy is really invaluable. When he calls Brenda back to the crime scene to explain the anomaly in the case -- the multiple injuries on the corpse that could only have been done in a specific way -- he gets her to follow the oil trail, saying over and over, "Walk with me, walk with me, walk with me." The topper, of course, is that Johnson and Gabriel leave Provenza to walk with Tao, only to come full circle.

In true keeping with Brenda's ultimate trump card, the reason she is "the closer," the evidence leads to a confession scene. Something unusual has been happening with the homeless men dying at the shelter and leaving life insurance benefits not to family, but to the ladies who run the shelter. Brenda knows how to get these women to squeal and does she ever. Wendy Phillips (Homefront) and Jenny O'Hara (The King of Queens) really rose to the occasion, as their characters erupted into a cat fight in the interview room. Of course, how many women in their 50's really go for the cat fight option? Wouldn't be my first choice of solving a problem, but it made for a bizarre climax.

There were a couple of really nice touches at the end of the show; first, Brenda reached for a bottle of wine and a glass, thinking that after the day she had, she needed a drink to unwind. But when she saw Fritz, sleeping and flat on his back on the floor from a severe back spasm, she put the bottle away. She got into her pajamas, brought her pillow and a blanket and joined Fritz on the floor. Then, in a shot that matched the opening -- only in reverse -- she embraced him from behind and he smiled and took her hand.

Other points of interest:

Bullsh*t, ass, you greedy bitch... My, my what language! TNT is definitely stretching the boundaries. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the realism.

Why does Chief Pope wear a uniform on occasion and the rest of the time, he's in a suit. Like tonight.

"You can't give Vicodin to an alcoholic," Fritz tells Brenda. Come on, Brenda, even I knew that.

Has Brenda switched her vices from junk food to wine? I would have thought she'd reach for Ben & Jerry's more than a red wine, but then it wouldn't have connected to Fritz's alcoholism.

Why was Brenda so horny in this show? I guess she and Fritz are happy in the new rental bungalow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Plain Sight: Don of the Dead

In what might have been one of the stranger episodes, there was a point in the voiceover where Mary comments her clients, Ruth and Don. They're devout Catholics, but they hate each other and want to split. They don't because they cannot get an annulment. When Mary urges them to just get a divorce, saying that as a Catholic she understand them, they say they'll continue to suffer because it's God's will. That's when Mary's VO is, "Okay, too weird for me."

That's how I felt about this show. While it was an interesting examination of a couple facing a dilemma while at the same time being in Witness Protection, there were elements that made me cringe. It wasn't the religion that bothered me, it was the details. For instance, in Boston where they witness a mob boss killing a priest, they're presented as regular church goers and do-gooders who run a soup kitchen. So why then in WITSEC are they living the same lifestyle, going to church daily and running a soup kitchen? Mary and Marshall seem perfectly okay with the couple living the same life.

Another problem was the wrap up. Mary listens to Don's explanation for faking his death and agrees to move him to a new location and let Ruth think he's dead. Not only is this unethical and in violation of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Witness Protection Program, but Mary's just spent time and money in WITSEC resources searching for this guy. He was in violation of the agreement and is never held responsible.

Instead, they become complicate in his lie. Why does Mary sanction this? Because Don says it's God's will. Holy moly! Are you kidding me? This was just a lame way to close this case, and if Stan were any kind of a real supervisor (is he still on the show?), Mary and Marshall would never be able to pull this kind of stuff.

The "A" story was just an excuse for the writers to expound on the idea of a couple who hate each other and can't separate. There was also the part where Don explains why he married Ruth, their love of God and how he sees in her a connection to God that he doesn't feel in the same way. I get it, identification of the same.

The "B" story, however, involving Raph and Brandi was far more interesting. Brandi has suffered no ill-effects from the coke in the suitcase -- yet. There was no mention of it and no more calls from the boyfriend. She is now obsessed with Raph and made a sort of move on him in the car. I liked that Raph stopped her and said he wouldn't cross the line. Finally, some backbone.

When the episode ended with the mystical moment by Don, the line from the Bible that tied in to the capture of the two mobsters fishing in San Diego, I think the writers hoped the audience would go "wooo." Instead it was more like "no!"

Other points of interest:

Hooray! Jinx actually was shown working and acting like a parent. She warned Brandi to keep out of Mary's relationship and sounded like a mother. It's about time.

Raph is such a sad sack. How could he let Brandi and Mary use him like a pinata and he still winds up with nobody to help get him to physical therapy. Where are his friends? He needs some baseball buddies.

How dumb is Brandi? She doesn't know the differences between lemon and limes, cauliflower and broccoli. She also was shopping (like Pretty Woman)and she still has no means of income. Maybe she kept the cocaine and threw out the suitcase? She still seems high on something.

Wouldn't you know that Marshall quotes Ayn Rand. I love this guy, but in this show he was back to being Mary's errand boy. What happened to the balance from the last show?

The owner of the bar, Joe, is becoming a character. He summed up Jinx pretty well when he said, "It's tough, watching the light go out on those childhood dreams." They should follow up on Jinx auditioning for Sweet Charity.

Thank you! We got the back story on the Mercury Caliente. It was won by the father on a bet and Jinx has taken care of it all these years. Although why doesn't Mary get to drive it?

Great use of the split screen on the phone calls between Jinx/Raph/Mary.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Silver Leaf Renaissance Faire

In strictest adherence to the One Fun Rule, a roadtrip was made this past weekend-a step back in time, into Sherwood Forrest, the world of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, wenches and swashbucklers, knights and fairies, kings, queens and all manner of royalty and their attending courts-including jesters and wizards! The Silver Leaf Renaissance Faire takes place each year in Battle Creek, MI at Kimball Pines Park and runs every weekend from the first weekend in July through the first weekend in August. This is the 17th season, growing and going strong!

The moment Chris, Elizabeth, Talia, and I stepped through the front gates,we were transported to another world. In the forest all the vendors, staff, volunteers, entertainers and even some of the guests, are in costume and in their character roles for the entire event.

There are nine different stages that host live entertainment all day long! We took in a few shows while there. The first was a musical comedy act called The Bocca Show, which combined beautiful, harmonious voices, along with jokes, silly songs, and slapstick humor. The Birds of the Gauntlet is a falconry show where we saw elegant falcons and hawks fly free and learned about this ancient art. The Deb Bob Sho was a unique brand of graveside humor. Luckily we weren't "Bob-mo-tized"! Noble Cause Production was the valiant jousting knights, but due to the all the rain the day before they had to cancel their show because it would be to dangerous for the horses. Instead the knights gave a very informative lecture about their armor and weapons.

All of the shows were free with our admission to the festival, however, the actors do accept tips. Many of them are theater interns and semi-professional actors from local theater groups. The only pay they receive for their efforts at this event are through the tips they are given. All of the shows we watched were well worth a buck or two!

Then we capped off the experience with the final act of a 6 vignette that went on throughout the day starring Robin Hood, his Merry Men, Maid Marion, King Richard, evil Prince John, and the entire Sherwood Forrest! Of course, in the final act, good triumphed over evil.

This was a great time! Check out my pictures below.

video

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk Buys a House

Just when I thought it was another lazy summer waiting for fall programming, I was blessed with the first episode of the new season of my favorite obsessive detective.

The Murder –A nurse is trying to get information from an old man in a wheelchair. When she doesn’t get what she wants, she brings him up the stairs in his wheelchair, only to stand him up and push him back down the stairs to his demise.

Monk is up to his usual antics. He’s very upset hearing a young girl playing her piano, and he calls the police on her. I find out soon after that Monk’s therapist Dr Kroger has had a heart attack! (In true life, actor Stanley Kamel passed away in April of this year.) Adrian will need a new therapist.

At the station, Monk is chomping at the bit for a new case, and finds the folder with the case of the old man. He wants to investigate it, and Captain Stottlemeyer finally concedes. Leland, Randy and Monk go to the house where the crime was committed. While Leland and Randy were asking the man’s daughter questions, Monk seems more interested that the house is for sale. Against Leland’s advice, Monk agrees to purchase the house!

Later I meet Dr. Neven Bell, Monk’s new (assumed) psychiatrist. He’s not happy to meet with a new doctor, and Natalie’s mentioning that his last name is a palindrome doesn’t help. Although things start to look up when Dr. Bell offers Monk a wipe. After talking a while, Dr Bell thinks the reason that the piano playing is only bothering him because it’s Chopin and Dr Kroger loved Chopin. Monk is missing his friend.

After his session, Adrian is shopping in a hardware store for a new showerhead for the house. He’s unhappy that there aren’t 100 holes in the head, finding only 98. But then a friendly handyman named Jake comes by and offers to drill those extra holes for him. Monk is happy to hear this news.

Monk has now moved into his new house. He gives Natalie a tour of the home, and she shows some concern. She can’t believe that he is able to move out of the apartment that Trudy lived in. And she reminds him that is he not good with change. However, Adrian thinks he’s matured.

Later he has Jake by to help center his dining room chandelier. Jake tells Monk that his wiring is out of date, and he needs to run a new line. Then Jake starts to smash down Monk’s “Third favorite wall”. Then Jake brings in Ramon and they start smashing through all of the walls!

As the dust settles on the stairs, Monk has his first revelation. He notices thin tire marks on the stairs, highlighted by the dust. He pulls out the wheelchair and sees that it’s a match. Later that night, Cassie (the nurse) comes home from a late shift. And guess who is sitting in her apartment already? That’s right, it’s Jake the handyman. He tells Cassie who purchased the house from the old man. Jake wastes no time in stabbing Cassie to death.

The following day Stottlemeyer and the crew head out to speak to Cassie, only to discover that she’s been murdered! They find some cash that has dates from the 60’s with old serial numbers. Leland and Randy go to an armored truck service and they find out that the numbers on the money they found were from a robbery back in the 60’s. Two of the robbers were caught and died in prison. The third robber was never found nor ratted out. Stottlemeyer figures that this person may have been the old man.

Meanwhile, Natalie and Monk are going through an old scrapbook that the old man had. She can’t understand why he would have the clippings that are in there. That is, until Monk starts turning over some of the clippings to reveal stories of the heist. Monk then notices an awl hanging out of Jake’s toolbox. He pulls it out and sees blood. But Jake has already noticed and is pointing a gun at Monk & Natalie. Jake chains them to the bathtub and continues smashing walls to look for the money. Natalie notes that Jake hasn’t fixed the light.

Then it occurs to Monk where the money is. Jake starts to smash down what is a false wall to reveal the money, and then shoots Ramon right after. Then Monk and Natalie are able to kick the wall over on Jake for enough time to send out a help signal from the fireplace. Fortunately Stottlemeyer sees the signal and comes to the rescue. Adrian is back in Dr Bell’s office. He is obviously happy with him now, and will be coming back.

The episode ends with Monk back in his apartment, but this time he opens the widow to hear the piano. The camera scrolls over to show Dr Kroger’s picture.
This was an excellent first episode to kick off the 7th season. It was very touching at the end, with the producers dedicating the episode to Stanley Kamel. Brad Garrett was great as Jake, stepping totally away from his character on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Closer: Controlled Burn

"Hello, just plain Brenda." - Bill Croelick

I was so nice to have Brenda back on my televisions. It's like catching up with an old friend. Or, old friends, as the case may be. And what a way to come back. Multiple homicides, an entire park for a crime scene, the return of an old foe, and more shenanigans on the home front. Brenda's plate is very full as I jump into season four, and that's a good thing.

Right off the bat I was impressed with the scene at the wildfire. The detective shows don't usually get to go all crazy with the effects shots, because it's just not their nature, but that opening scene with the team at the edge of the wild fire was impressive looking. It doesn't hurt that I'm fascinated by natural disasters and how so many of us live under the threat of being wiped out at any time by them.

Enough about the weather though, let's get to the case. I thought they set it up beautifully. The idea that the burning mass in front was the crime scene was a perfect way to jump back into the series. Brenda is a big time investigator that does big time things. I love to see her challenged. So, with that in mind, I was already on board when they started panning through the crowd. I almost jump out of my seat when I saw Bill Croelick (Jason O'Mara) there, looking.

If I was to go back through all the guest star baddies from the show, I don't think I could find a character I was more excited to see return. I really liked watching the two of them in "Fatal Retraction." And they were just as good the second time around. Particularly in the interrogation scene. Bill is just so smarmy. He's so sure of his own wit and guile that he can't fathom that he's not in control at all as I, once again, watch Brenda work her magic. I could really see it as he started mocking Brenda with his imitation of her.

His investigation and explanation of what happened also played very well. I loved the line where he explained that everything they see: "It's all fuel." It also concluded with a great moment as he looked up and fingered Ramos for giving him information on the case. And, of course, there is the showdown at the end. I was on the edge of my seat there because I couldn't figure out how it would go. Would he make a move? Would Brenda shoot him? Was there more to the candles than just candles? It was all very tense.

The way it worked out, with Bill sneaking out the door, supposedly to never see Brenda again, is probably for the best. Of course, I say for the best out of mostly selfish reasons because I'm already eagerly awaiting the episode where he does return. It was an interesting little change of pace for Brenda as she tried to shut it all out as Fritz walked in. Their interaction was one of the more surprising bits of the premiere.
I was curious to see just where they would be in the relationship when they got back into the swing of things. Considering the way things ended in the season three finale I thought there might be more tension. What I saw as they dealt with the cat, and the temporary house, was some of the classic Brenda/Fritz relationship that keeps that part of the show so interesting. Her reaction as she realized what Fritz meant by "I took a shower" was hilarious.

Meanwhile, back at the case, I have to admit that I was totally thrown by Merrick. Looking back, I really should have suspected him. I'm chalking it up to being out of detective TV practice. While I'm sure that many cast a more suspicious eye on him than I did, the machinations of his deed were still well constructed. The fact that he was able to sneak out of the fire by donning his uniform was clever, and a nice bit of detective work from Brenda. His decision to go from the hospital to the impound yard was a bit of the dumb criminal, but then the smart ones generally don't get mixed up in homicides to start with, right?

I'm not sure what I think of Ramos (Stephen Martines). I thought he was a little shifty, and not very likable. But he wasn't supposed to be. I actually like the idea behind bringing him in, and I will be seeing him again, because that relationship between the PD and the media is a real thing, and something that I think there is some mileage in. It's one more thing to set Brenda on edge. He also provided a nice scene for Sanchez.

With so much going on between Brenda and Bill, Brenda and Ramos, and Brenda and Fritz, it was a bit of a quiet week for the team. Highlights for me included Taylor's reaction to Ramos subverting Brenda's investigation, Tao's part in the rehydrated hand experiment, and the ever evolving relationship between Gabriel and Daniels. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to make of those icy looks they exchanged in the squad room, but my guess is there is more to come on that front.

Overall, it was a very strong premiere. Four seasons in and the show is still cruising right along. The decision to bring back Croelick made the kick off to the season feel like an event.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In Plain Sight: Iris Doesn't Live Here Anymore

This was quite possibly the best In Plain Sight so far. Seriously. From start to finish, this one had it all -- a good story, interesting characters, not too much voice over, a relatable situation and ultimately, a satisfying resolution that was realistic but tough. It also had what has been sorely lacking in the previous episodes -- balance. Marshall got as much to do as Mary, for a change, and was equally involved on an emotional level. Too often, Frederick Weller's character has been reduced to Mary's sidekick and support system. Not this episode.

The situation was a tough one. In the opening, Mary says the Witness Protection Program places people: some criminal, some not. The McBride family fall into the "not" category. They have everything to lose when their daughter's in the wrong place at the wrong time. With very little time, they're uprooted, kicking and screaming all the way.


Subplot of Raph and Brandi is going to some strange places. Apparently, Brandi is as nasty, selfish and bitchy as I thought. For her to see through the door that Mary and Raph were getting it on, and still knock on the door, was out of line. Geez, Mary's her sister! That's wrong. And I know that her attempt to dump the suitcase of cocaine -- notice it didn't go in the river -- is going to blow (ha, ha) in her face.

Warren was a complete asshole. His anger and disappointment in Iris was understandable, but that monumental selfishness was stunning. My favorite scene was when the adoring wife tells him straight out that as much as she adores him, and she clearly does, he better not ask her to choose between her children and him. That reminded me of Sophie's Choice, not the situation, just the idea of a mother loving her children equally.

Why has it taken till now for Mary to present the Memorandum of Understanding for the Witness Protection Program to clients? This was such an important scene, it makes me wonder why they haven't played this out before. Warren finally comes around, especially when he learns that Lily was as responsible for the situation the family's in as Iris. Can he really blame both his daughters to the point of losing them? Marshall's words about reconciling sink in and Warren forgives and becomes contrite.

Other points of interest

"Not supposed to situations" like Lawrence says is prefiguration, all right.

Background symbols abound. When Warren walks out of the office and Marshall confronts him at the elevator, the sign in the background is "High Voltage." That completely describes Warren's emotional state. "Now I have this rage inside me," he bellows, and you can see and read it. \

Another symbol, the high school is called Rio Bravo. Also, the calendar story is told instead of the Alamo story. That's two homages to John Wayne movies, which is who Mary is most like. Can The Searchers be far behind?

After the shooting, it was great the way the innocent bystander with the lawnmower was shown to have been mowed down by the machine gun. You didn't see the body, just the lawnmower going down the driveway by itself.

The opening gag with Mary, Marshall and the stewardess story was great banter, and for a change McCormack paced herself. She has a tendency to talk too fast and rush the joke.

Marshall's so smart and observant. Bach on the piano, the measurements on the door. Mary's sensitive in her own way, hard though it is for her to show it. Marshall's heart is in the job, too. He also pegs Warren as all bluster and no balls.

Mary's calendar on the refrigerator, her setting a goal for them to survive six months, was gone after one scene. Continuity error or did the McBrides dump it.

Like I said, there was just enough voiceover, like Mary overhearing Lawrence's romantic words to Iris and saying, "Only a 17-year-old can pull off that kind of crap." She's right and because she is, it's funny.

Over the wrap, Mary says a few words that really speak to the episode -- and in this instance -- really were appropriate. "People generally think of forgiveness as the flipside of contrition, the obligatory response to an apology. It is not. To forgive is to answer the call of our better angels, and bear our wounds is the cost of doing business. It is that rarest of things, simple and pure. Transcendent, without strings."

The final touch, Marshall brings the door to the family, was a perfect coda.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Is Your Favorite ABBA Song?

Friends, the time is here. That spectacle of a musical, Mamma Mia!, hit the theaters last weekend. While many rushed to see The Dark Knight, some were lured to this shining, glorious ABBA extravaganza starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried and Colin Firth.

In celebration of this, you must now choose your favorite ABBA song of all time. Ready, set, debate!

What's Your Favorite ABBA Song?

"Dancing Queen"
"Take a Chance on Me"
"Mamma Mia"
"Waterloo"
"Fernando"
"Gimme Gimme Gimme"
"Lay All Your Love On Me"
"S.O.S."
"Knowing Me Knowing You"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book Review: "Abide with Me" by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout pulls off a difficult maneuver in Abide with Me, which excavates the emotional lives of a Protestant congregation in rural Maine, a place where people pride themselves on keeping emotions buttoned down and zippered up.

The year is 1959. Tyler Caskey, a minister in West Annett, Maine has recently lost his wife to cancer. He's trying to get past his grief, dress and feed his two little girls, and tend to the needs of his congregation, but his efforts are getting as ragged as the cuffs of his dress shirts. The book starts slowly, and it's hard at first to tell one member of Tyler's congregation from another. About a third of the way in, a few faces start to separate out from the crowd: the church deacon Charlie Austin, who hates his day-to-day life and escapes it by visiting a naughty lady down in Boston; Tyler's housekeeper Connie Hatch, who has a secret that's growing in her like a tumor; Rhonda Skillings, a school guidance counselor besotted with Freud's swirling sexual underworld.

Tyler keeps turning over memories of his wife Lauren. She taught him about love, but this girl from a well-to-do Boston family wasn't really cut out to be a small-town minister's wife. The congregation, smitten with Tyler, never warmed up to Lauren. As Tyler feels his faith slipping away, his zeal for his calling starts to diminish. The congregation senses his withdrawal, and resents it. His daughter Katherine is acting out all over, and Tyler's not prepared to deal with it. Connie Hatch finally reveals her secret, which precipitates several kinds of crisis. Tyler and his congregation have to decide if they can continue forward together.

This is a book that's easy to respect: the folks of West Annett are finely rendered, their plights feel real, and the resolution is unexpected and satisfying. But it's hard to warm up to these characters. The concerns of the congregation seem selfish and small-minded. For instance, it's not clear why so many congregants, including her kindergarten teacher and Sunday school teacher, have so little compassion for Tyler's daughter Katherine, a five year old who just lost her mother. Tyler's own mother comes across as a cold-blooded bitch. Tyler himself lacks that core of will you'd expect in a charismatic minister. Admittedly I'm seeing him during a bad time, but he's so passive that I, like his congregation, started to lose patience with him.

In the end, all wounds are healed or healing. Her fictional world is alive and credible. But it's a bit too Hallmark-like in the end. All the loose ends are resolved too hopefully. And, although the novel is absorbing, I wanted something more dramatic to occur than ever does.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We'll Miss You, Estelle Getty

Sad news this morning: Estelle Getty (a.k.a. Sophia from The Golden Girls) has passed away at the age of 84.

Best known as Sophia, the snappy, sarcastic mother of Bea Arthur's character Dorothy, Getty endeared herself to audiences everywhere for being hilariously no-nonsense — effectivey shattering the stereotype of the sweet old lady. According to the AP, Getty initially didn't get the part of Sophia because "she didn't look old enough to play 80." She later told an interviewer, "I could understand that. I walk fast, I move fast, I talk fast."

The AP article also includes this interesting tidbit:

Getty had gained a knack for one-liners in her late teens when she did standup comedy at a Catskills hotel. Female comedians were rare in those days, however, and she bombed.

Well, thank goodness she wasn't discouraged from continuing in the business; we'll all remember her as hilarious, sarcastic and spunky. We'll miss you Estelle Getty.

To check out a clip montage of classic Sophia moments, click below.



Monday, July 21, 2008

Claymation + Fleet Foxes = Feast for the Senses

You know what I really enjoy? Claymation. Even better? Claymation paired with a delightful song from one of the bands getting a lot of play time on my MP3 player right now: Fleet Foxes.

If you haven't checked out their new album yet, I'd urge you to do so — it's so fantastic. Now one of my favorite tracks, "White Winter Hymnal," has a lovely animated video to accompany it and like Andrew Bird's video for "Lull" early this summer, it's the perfect match up of interesting animation with an appropriate song to make a totally great music video. Or, if psychedelic folk music could be made out of clay, it would look like this.

To see for yourself, click below!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

DVd Review: Hoodwinked

We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, right? But with director Cory Edwards at the helm of this fairy tale, things get changed …just a wee bit.

Little Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway) wants out of the forest. She's not happy living in such a constrained society. She dreams of flying over the mountains and seeing what lay beyond. But bad things are afoot in the forest. Food establishments are closing due to a rash of recipe thefts. Little Red has to protect her and Granny's recipe book before it disappears as well. But who's behind these thefts? And for what reason?

When Little Red arrives at Granny's house, the typical meeting with The Wolf occurs …sort of. Granny (voiced by Glenn Close) is tied up in the closet (or is she?) The Wolf asks Little Red lots of probing questions about her basket. And as Little Red discovers that The Wolf is not Granny, The Woodsman comes bashing through a window wielding his axe and acting murderous. But is he?

The police are called in to investigate this "domestic disturbance" and as Detective Nicky Flippers (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) soon discovers, many more strange things are happening than meets the eye. Granny has a triple-G tattoo on her neck and loves extreme sports (paying homage to XXX with Vin Diesel). The Wolf (voiced by Patrick Warburton) is actually a reporter researching the recent recipe thefts and feels that Granny and Little Red are at the center of it. The Woodsman (voiced by James Belushi) is just a Schnitzel-On-A-Stick salesman turned actor trying to find his inner Woodsman. And Little Red is simply a delivery girl who's disenchanted with the world around her.

Borrowing from just about every action film out there, Hoodwinked really works. Everything from The Matrix to City Slickers is referenced …and it's done very well. The animation seems nearly old-fashioned and out-of-date, which actually adds a quaint quality to the film; it's not trying too hard to be something it isn't. It isn't Finding Nemo or Shrek. It couldn't be with a budget only a fraction of what those two animation goliaths cost. This is an independent film (gotta love 'em!), so money is stretched thin.

And here's the thing, this movie is good. It's not perfect by any means, but it's fun, light, engaging, voiced well, animated fine, and uproariously entertaining. I especially enjoyed Twitchy the speed-talking squirrel whose brush with caffeine addiction makes for some of the funnier moments. I also liked Japeth the singing Goat, who takes a ride with Little Red through a mine that looks suspiciously like the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction at Disneyland. Loved it!

And who is the recipe thief, you may be asking. Well that's something you'll have to find out for yourself …and it's worth it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

MTTT - Fieldstone Grill


The gang of M's Thirsty Third Thursday decided no matter how hot it was, we were going to sit outside. Since summer here in SW Michigan is usually only three or four months, we try to take advantage of every warm day. Well warm it was - like near 90 degrees on Thursday.

Luckily the Fieldstone Grill has a covered patio area and it was just lovely sitting outside. Lots of alumnae showed up - Randy & Peat, Bob, Megan, and Bert. Plus Gary brought his family and Megan's fiance', Chris, also came along.

The eclectic menu is very impressive at the Fieldstone Grill, which is part of the Millennium Restaurant Group. The decor is among the best Southwest Michigan has to offer, and the outdoor patio offers a view of a beautiful marsh. And whether one puts down a bunch of cash or spends light on a pizza or hamburger, one is bound to get an unusual twist on the average. There is also an excellent take-out menu and house-made desserts.

John, Cheryl & I had the hamburgers. They were so huge, I could only eat half of mine. Megan & Liz both had nachos. Randy & Maddy split the calamari and Kristen had the Caprese salad. Bert took a chicken dinner to go. Everyone else just enjoyed their drinks and the good company.

The Fieldstone is one of my favorite places. I stop here when I have an hour or so to kill after work. The bar inside is very nice and classy and I fell comfortable sitting there by myself. If you haven't been to the Fieldstone, be sure to check it out. You won't be disappointed.
Check out the rest of my photos below:


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In Plain Sight: Who Shot Jay Arnstein

It was the best of In Plain Sight, it was the less than best of In Plain Sight. For starters, the only carry-over from the previous episode was Marshall's arm in a sling. Hey, what about his nearly dying and Mary's emotional breakdown in the waiting room? The lack of follow-through was stunning. Granted, this show isn't a serial, but I did expect at least a moment between Mary and Marshall that would connect back beyond her quip in the art gallery. It was too glib. Would it have killed them to have a moment? I can imagine a fight in the writer's room over this point and keeping it light and unemotional won.

I liked the case this week, although once again, is Witness Protection really this amenable? When art dealers with shady dealings Jay and Marcie are put into the program, Jay arranges for his mistress to also be WITSEC'ed. Are you kidding me?

Maybe this really happens all the time, but if so, why are my tax dollars paying for three people when only two are really in danger? It was funny, though, when Jay asked Mary to break up with Kay for him, taking his mistress out of the system so he could commit to his wife!

This is the first episode since the pilot to involve a mystery -- the title of the show, Who Shot Jay Arnstein? -- and it was great to see Mary investigating rather than just babysitting. I like her interaction with Bobby D. and the scene where they get caught in the gallery when it's torched was excellent. The snappy dialog, the danger element, it all worked. I loved that Mary couldn't unlock the fire door and after telling Bobby not to shoot out the lock, she does it anyway and it works.

Sherry Stringfield as Marcie was a plus. She's a familiar face -- ER, NYPD Blue -- and you automatically feel for her as the wronged wife. Also, she could have been the shooter because, after all, she's the guest star. But the thing about Sherry is she can play it soft and vulnerable, they let off a wicked line. When she realizes that Mary, whom she trusted as her handler and the person who helped her with Jay was in on the deception, she cuts Mary with a single word, "Liar."

The key to the plot was wood -- poplar versus cottonwood -- and it was cool that Marshall pointed it out. Like Monk or Columbo, Marshall is sneaky smart. The suspects, naturally, were fairly obvious, especially the artist. Why was he even at the gallery in the first place if he was banging Marcie and didn't want Jay to know? Then, on top of that, why did he make a scene by smoking and call attention to himself?

So once Mary puts two and two together, she trapped the killer. You didn't really think that was Jay in the hospital bed, did you? And don't you wonder about the killer coming up with a syringe filled with poison on short notice? How did she do that? Is there an all-night pharmacy that sells that item?

Maybe I'm over-critical, but the ending of the case felt rushed and too neat. Mary's voiceover was used to tie together all the loose ends more than to comment on the action. It should be more of the latter and less of the former. Still in all, I enjoyed the show.

One thing I will say for sure, In Plain Sight has earned a second season.

Other Points of Interest

Raph, or Chico as Brandi likes to call him, is back. His career with the Florida Marlins has hit a major roadblock now that he has a torn ACL. Mary sets him up in her living room until he can take care of himself. Mary's to busy to help, but in an ironic twist, Brandi becomes his caretaker. You mean she's not useless?

Marshall's prescription for Mary when she's pissed off -- pie. He then answers the phone, "House of Pie." Too bad they didn't say, "The Pie Hole," referring to Pushing Daisies.

Great voiceover line when Mary has to accept putting the mistress into the program, "Funny how mortgage payments and the desire not to eat cat food can get between a person and their principals."

"You're the glue that held us together," Marcie tells Mary. Mary's response, "Just call me Elmer."

Mary admits to Marcie that she felt bad about lying to her. Marcie's answer was choice: "Geez, I am so sorry. It never occurred to me that helping my husband cheat on me would make you feel bad. Wow, I must be a really selfish bitch!" Door slammed in Mary's face. Ouch.

Brandi finds the engagement ring in Raph's suitcase. Later, she wisely tells Mary that if she doesn't watch it, someone as great as Raph won't hang around. Was she showing an interest in him herself?

Mary looked really great in the little black dress. Bobby D tells her, "It's a good thing you're hot." Mary acts surprised like she doesn't know -- come on.

If Marcie and Jay were in the art business in New York and had to go into WITSEC because international art baddies are after them, why would WITSEC let them open another art gallery in New Mexico? Would that be a big flag?

It's about time a witness had the hots for Marshall. Kay was definitely intrigued with Marshall. He went all enigmatic on her, then explained entropy to her. Good Marshall stuff.

No Jinx this week. I didn't miss her. At least Brandi showed some humanity this week, but Mary's family is still the show's weak link.

Another weak link is Stan. This character is just a plot device. He just moves the story forward, that's it.

Liked the art class with the nude model, "What does he make an hour? Or does he charge by the foot?"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On What TV Show Would You Want To Be an Extra

I recently learned of a Mad Men contest in which fans are challenged to submit videos of themselves doing line readings from the show to possibly win a walk-on role. How fun would that be? You'd get to wear an amazing costume and be a part of a set that is essentially transported to the 1960s.

It got me thinking about other shows that might be interesting for a fan to be a part of. Of course, it would be exciting to be on set for a filming of Lost — not just for the beautiful locale, but also to learn some of the super secretive plot points in advance. I'd be intrigued to check out Pushing Daisies and find out how much of that show is special effects and how much is actually a set. There doesn't seem to be much extra work available on The Office, but it seems like that cast has a ton of fun at work, and I'd love to be a part of that, however temporarily.

What about you? If there were a contest to win an extra role on your favorite show, would you enter it? And which show — or shows — would get you to try?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pick Me Up: Those Funny Hellboy Videos

If you're anything like me, when I came back to work after the long 4th of July weekend of fun, it was hard to get back in the groove. I even needed a boost that even coffee couldn't bring. Luckily, I've found something to perk me up, and I have hopes it will work for you, too.

I've already admitted my love for Hellboy, the big, goofy red guy whose second movie hit theaters last week. Hellboy 2 has me psyched partially because of director Guillermo del Toro's awesome visual storytelling, but I also love how adorable and bumbling Hellboy himself (played by Ron Perlman) can be.

Well, some smart executive has also picked up on Hellboy's more endearing qualities, producing a series of videos with Hellboy playing video games with NBC's Chuck, being interviewed by Inside the Actor's Studio's James Lipton, and even doing a "The More You Know"-style public service announcement with a cat. They've had me giggling at my desk all day. You can see my favorites here.





Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Plain Sight: Trojan Horst

Okay, this was the best episode of In Plain Sight to date. Action-packed and filled with character revelations, if this is where In Plain Sight is going, it's going to definitely make it beyond this premiere season.

The set up has Marshall and Mary taking custody of a seemingly innocuous, diabetic, asthmatic accountant/arranger for a hit man named Lola. He's been caught in an FBI sting and will go WITSEC in exchange for "delivering" Lola.

Expertly played by Dave Foley (News Radio), he's just enough of an unctuous ass to make him amusing. When Mary throws him to the ground and pounces on him, he says, "Could you get off of me, you're not exactly petite."

The subtext of the episode was more fascinating than the case itself. Mary snoops into Marshall's mail and discovers he's been interviewing for a new job outside the Witness Protection Service. She acts out, getting moody, but not revealing why she's pissed with him. There's an interesting workplace dynamic between Marshall and Mary; they're really good at doing their business while doing this back-and-forth battle about their relationship. I wonder if they would they have walked into a trap if they were not bickering? I don't think so, because at the rest stop, Marshall is suspicious of the bottle drop.

So their Jeep breaks down, it's a trap. They're outside cell phone range -- good! I hate when you can just call out of a perilous situation, don't you? While checking out the engine, Marshall and Mary are ambushed by two shooters in a car -- the couple from the rest stop. There's a tremendous amount of shooting, but only Marshall is hit on first shot. Excuse me for complaining, but these people need to get to the shooting range! Mary shoots and shoots and doesn't hit either of the bad guys. There's lots of bullet holes, but only Marshall's blood.

Thanks to Marshall, they get away and find shelter in an abandoned building. Anyway, Marshall he passes out and Mary gets desperate. She really needs him, despite what she says. He comes to and manages to temporarily mend his wound with a plastic tube and a bottle of water. You gotta love Marshall's ability to know what to do when - bravo.

Mary suspects the bad guys have a GPS device. They're trapped, outnumbered and vulnerable, and in this tense, dangerous situation, Marshall admits he wants to leave the marshal service because of their relationship -- but it's not a love thing (at least that's not what he's saying). He tells her, "I feel like I'm this keeper of an exotic animal." He's protecting Mary -- the exotic animal -- from the world and the world from her. The responsibility of caring for her is getting to him. Mary gets it.

She kisses him -- as a friend -- says he can't quit. He's her friend; she needs him. When he starts bleeding, Mary acts boldly because she must. She tries to get the drop on the baddies, and when she uses their Jeep to get position, she realizes Horst was never shot at. She confronts him and in a rapid connect-the-dots way, she sings words to the Kinks' song "Lola," and confirms that Horst is hitman Lola. He got himself arrested to do a job. Acting decisively, Marshal Mary exchanges Horst for a car and rushes Marshal Marshall to help. Horst is apprehended and Marshall's fate hangs in the balance.

Other points of interest:

Mary brings "expensive coffee beverages" to the office. Marshall is stunned: "You're not a treater. ...It's just an observation, not a criticism." He's right, though. Mary wants to be reimbursed.

After discovering that Marshall's looking for another job, Mary wisecracks, "Why did I put up with your running commentary for three years?"

The weakest part of the In Plain Sight continues to be Mary's family. Brandi busts Jinx for not doing her cosmetics job. Jinx claims that "The dog ate my samples" which is dumb, but true. Brandi forces Jinx to turn to her "box." No, not that box. It's her jewelry. Guess what? All her gems are paste -- DOH!

Back at the bar, Jinx and Brandi drink to Mary, their meal ticket. By the way, who's paying for their drinks?

Great line when Mary confronts the woman from the shootout. "You shouldn't have shot my friend; I only have one friend." She then kicks her to the ground. Nice.

As "Lola" plays on the soundtrack -- "She walked like a woman and talked like a man" -- you realize the lyrics kind of describe Mary.

In voice over (the only time during the show), Mary quotes Nietzsche: "We go into the world alone and come out alone." At hospital, Mary really breaks downs and we see that she does need the emotional connection to her dysfunctional family. She is, as she says, "Infuriatingly dependent on others."

Lesley Ann Warren needs a new outfit. Her hot "Mary Kay" pink suit is tired.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pam's New Music Downloads

Emmylou Harris, always a sought after collaborator, gets some help from her friends on her first solo outing since 2003, All I Intended to Be. But it's Harris - a model of grace and restraint who could school today's Nashville belters - who sets the beauty standard here. "Broken Man's Lament," is an aching story song.

Priscilla Ahn was heard on last month's Grey's Anatomy season finale, which featured her ethereal ballad "Dream," There's more lithe, lovely folk-pop where that came from on her full-length debut, A Good Day.

After two albums with husband Kenny Lattimore, Chante Moore, the classy songbird, is back with her first solo disc since 2000, Love the Woman. She makes lush R&B for grown-ups, getting jazzy on tunes like the ballad "Give Me Time."

Brian Culbertson, a jazz-keyboardist-composer, taps a funk dream team for old-school sounds that nod to P-Funk, Kool & the Gang, and Earth, Wind & Fire on his latest CD Bringing Back the Funk.

Los Lonely Boys show they still know their way to pop paradise on their third studio disc, Forgiven. The brothers Garza - Henry, JoJo, and Ringo - smoothly integrate pop, rock, blue, country and Tex-mex sounds into a breezy blend perfect for summer chilling. Highlights include the Santana-esque first single "Staying with Me."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Texas Brisket BBQ

Thanks to Deron and Deanna (and Chloe of course) for opening up their home yesterday for the Wednesday Night Threads Group. Deron, who hails from the great State of Texas, prepared the most delicious brisket I have ever tasted. He said the secret was in slow grilling it since 8am that morning with charcoal and mesquite. The beans he made were also very, very good. The rest of the meal was rounded out with dishes we all brought - fruit salad, potato salad, pistachio fluff, cookies, and my famous chocolate lemon bars. What a fun evening!

What is brisket you may ask - or really I asked, so I found this on the Internet:

In almost any meat animal, there are regions of the body used for different cuts. The brisket is the lower front region, akin to the breast area of a chicken. Brisket in general is one of the tougher cuts of meat, but it can become very tender through slow cooking and regular basting.

Brisket is a relatively inexpensive cut of beef, lamb or pork found on grocery store shelves, but it can also be one of the toughest cuts if not prepared properly. Meat cutters often divide a whole brisket into two separate parts before presenting it for sale. The flat cut brisket is very lean, but less flavorful and more difficult to prepare without a slow cooker. The other cut, called a point cut, is more marbled with fat and collagen, which makes it more flavorful and easier to tenderize through slow cooking at low heat.

A point cut beef brisket is often included on the menu of Southern-style barbecue restaurants, especially in the state of Texas. Although other animals have a brisket suitable for braising or barbecuing, the default setting for brisket served as barbecue is beef. Large slabs of point cut brisket or even whole brisket are placed on racks in a barbecue smoker, with an indirect heat source of wood chips providing a controlled slow cooking atmosphere. A beef brisket prepared for barbecue could spend at least 10-12 hours in a smoker or other cooker before it is ready to be served.

Beef brisket becomes very tender after slow cooking because of a cap of fat, known in some circles as a deckel. The brisket is placed in the slow cooker, oven or smoker with the fat cap on top, which allows gravity to draw it into the meat very slowly. The slow cooking process also allows the collagen and fat between the muscle tissues of the brisket to melt, not burn or sear.

So now I know. Enjoy the photos. The flower photos are from my home.


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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Have You Ever Gone To See A Drive-In Movie?

The drive-in movie theater conjures up all kinds of romantic ideas of date night and steamy make-out sessions in old-timey cars. I was lucky enough to grow up in a town with a drive-in, and my Summer weekends were full of two-for-the-price-of-one screenings, huge tubs of popcorn and extra-large Dr Peppers, and lots of family-friendly movies under the stars. I can still remember seeing the original Planet of the Apes at the drive-in in Napoleon, Ohio.

Drive-ins are definitely still out there; this site has a pretty comprehensive list. There are about three within an hour or so drive of Kalamazoo. But in these modern times with Netflix, iTunes, and OnDemand, I'm wondering if people are still going — or if you've ever even had the chance?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pam's Bi-Annual GRM Party

It is now become a tradition in my office that I host the GRM (Girls Rule M) party. This is an evening where just us women-folk in the office can get together to talk, relax, eat, and drink. My first party was in 2006. Wednesday night I hosted my second party.

The weather was perfect so everyone enjoyed sitting outside on my deck. I grilled chicken, which had been marinating in a honey-lemon marinade for a few hours. Everyone brought a dish to pass. Barbara brought German potato salad. Cheryl tried out a new green been salad. Liz brought a tasty pasta/bacon salad. Lauren prepared a hot jalapeno dip. Lindsey picked up some spinach dip. Vicky made a pasta salad. Kim came with a refreshing fruit salad. And of course, we had the desserts ranging from the wonderful grape salad that Megan made, Jane's delicious cheesecake, and the moist cake that Pat brought.

Who could ask for anything better! Enjoy the photos.


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

DVD Review: Hellboy

Towards the end of World War II, the Nazis engage in efforts to win the war through means of invoking the paranormal. They attempt to open a "portal" for seven beings who are meant to invoke the apocalypse on Earth, but a U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense is on hand to stop them before they get too far. They do not stop them as quickly as they'd like, however, and the U.S. troops soon discover that a bizarre infant, part devil, part man, red, with horns and the demonic works, with a large right hand made of indestructible stone, has gotten through. They acquire the infant, we go forward in time to the late 20th Century, and most of the film concerns an adult Hellboy still working in conjunction with the U.S. government to help battle monsters and the paranormal.

What worked best for me was the material that showed Hellboy, portrayed exquisitely by Ron Perlman, as just a regular guy cum sassy detective. Even though he's half demon, a large part of the comics, at least--and this is hinted at in the film, particularly in the climax--is a continual nature versus nurture "debate". He was raised by humans who were as normal as they could be, being government agents in a bureau dedicated to the paranormal. So he has a large number of human-like quirks, including a love of old music, beer, cats, pancakes, chili, and so on. He's also a cigar-smoking, smart-assed detective. Hellboy is at its best when it focuses on these characteristics.

But everything else works well, too. Hellboy has a monster-like counterpart, Abe Sapien, and a "freak" love interest, Liz Sherman, who are almost as fascinating as he is. The villain and neutral creatures (such as the "half-creature" with a speaking role towards the end) are just as captivating. There are also other characters providing enjoyable comic relief, most notably Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). His adopted father, Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm is intriguing. And newly recruited "caretaker" John Myers shows promise, even if we do not get to spend much time with him here. Like many films of this type, I'd love to see all of these characters further explored in prequels, sequels and spinoffs. That's a good sign, because it shows that del Toro has successfully conveyed a world with "deep" characters who have extensive histories.

Hellboy is captivating, suspenseful and humorous. It is well worth watching for anyone with a taste for fantasy. And you know I'll be at the theaters soon to see Hellboy II, which opens this weekend!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Lost Book Reading Club: Read the books referenced in the show

Do you miss Lost? Are you jonesing for a new book club? Are you slightly obsessed with any scene in the show that includes Sawyer reading? (Or is that just me?) Well, ABC is offering one solution to the no-Lost-'til-January-2009 blues: a Lost-themed online book club.

As ABC explains it, the book club section of Lost's official website will feature a list of "the books that have been either seen or referenced throughout the dynamic four seasons" of the show, and will include "a message board to discuss the titles, a synopsis of each book, along with when and how it was referenced in the show, and an introduction by co-creator/executive producer Damon Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse."

There are many titles I've never noticed in the show, though I definitely recognize some of them. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, for example, has been clearly referenced in Desmond's storyline, with all the weird time stuff he experiences. Others have been used as titles for specific episodes, like Stranger in a Strange Land and The Shape of Things to Come. Oh, and of course I'll always remember Sawyer reading Are You There God? It's Me Margaret on the beach. Sawyer + Judy Blume? That is my kinda beach day.

Anyway, click here to start checking out the Lost book club for yourself!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Plain Sight: Never The Bride

For a change of pace, In Plain Sight opted for a mainly comic episode. The results were mixed. The comedy wasn't really all that funny, and the plot was plagued by more than a few inconsistencies and holes. But once again, what's keeping me from switching to another channel is Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon. She's really a compelling actress, and this Mary Shannon is a complicated mess of a very cool character.

Mary's newest witness to be protected is a con artist, bigamist scumbag -- Mary's words -- named Treena. She ripped off her previous husband while on a Hawaiian honeymoon, getting away with $10 million in conflict diamonds before being arrested by the FBI. When Mary is forced to take Treena under her wing, she makes no secret of her antipathy for people of her ilk, saying, "God I hate con artists, even more than murderers."

There's an instant conflict between Treena and Mary, the uncooperative witness and unhappy marshal. Mary suspects that Treena is playing her and the system. She warns her that if you hang onto garbage from your past, sooner to later it starts to stink. The machinations to get Treena into the WITSEC program is the first leap of faith in the episode. The second comes when she allows her picture to appear in the newspaper, announcing her sixth wedding.
By this point, Treena should be out of the program, but instead I'm led down a path that finds Mary's anonymity as a U.S. Marshal compromised, Mary being trussed up in a ridiculous bridesmaid gown, and finally, Mary being tarted up by her sister Brandi to attend a bridal shower. All of this was supposed to be funny. It was more incredulous than hilarious. I appreciate absurdity, but the Treena wedding scenario strained. Mary is smarter than this. She wouldn't put up with this kind of nonsense. She's way too in control to be dictated to by a witness, especially one with a history of lying like Treena. It was all a bit much.

On the plus side, the subplot involving Raphael and Mary was illuminating. Raphael, I learn, is a professional baseball player. That was not in the pilot, as I recall. Anyway, he's called up to the Marlins. So, because he's leaving town immediately, Raph invites Mary to his home. She thinks it's a booty call. It's not. He proposes and she can't handle the prospect of commitment. She flips out and runs out leaving him with no answer. It's only in the end of the episode, when Treena -- who was really in love with her latest (yeah, right) gets married and tells Mary, "Allow yourself for the possibility of something greater" -- that Mary comes to grips with her feelings about Raphael.

Taking Treena's advice (really?), Mary calls Raphael and asks him to wait before boarding the plane to Miami. Mary tries to get to the airport, but at the railroad crossing she's held up and attempts to drive through. Her car conks out on the tracks, and with the train careening in her direction, she gets her dress caught in the door. Mary finds the strength to push the crappy purple Ford Probe across the tracks. As the train zooms by, the plane flies overhead. Was Mary really willing to risk it all for love and Raphael, or was this her trying to prove to herself that she would put it all on the line to make a commitment? What was she thinking?

Other points of interest:

How rich is Mary supposed to be? She's living in a house with a pool -- and a pool boy (with a six-pack) to take care of it. She also still supporting her mother and sister, apparently. Brandi lounges around in a string bikini, reading Success magazine, and seems oblivious to Mary's suggestions that she get a job.

I love that Marshall is wearing "mambo pants." What does he do when he's not working a case with Mary? In the office, however, the way Stan stepped up to give him pointers about how to dance was over the top. So far I'm not impressed with Stan. What is this character about, other than giving Mary and Marshall their next assignment? They need to color in the details. He's a stick figure right now.

Mary lets Brandi dress her for the party and Marshall is stunned by her slutty look and says, "You look nice," but he can't look at Mary because her boobs are so distracting. Not sure I believe this; he's never noticed Mary's a looker in all the time they've worked together.

And when she kisses him in the stable, Marshall is too willing to take it to the next level. Have they never confronted the underlying attraction they have for each other?

Funny stuff when Treena tells the story about Mary as a co-ed in psych class dressed as a Catholic school girl sans panties. That was quite a bit of imagery.

At the bridal shower, that was a butt ugly male stripper. They should have shown the guy from the pool instead. Of course, it turned out that the stripper was a real cop. Not much of a recommendation for the real thing.

Loved it when Bobby D. appeared on horseback with the bad guy in tow and Mary wonders, "Where the hell did he get a lasso?"

Treena nails Mary for being like her, lying for a living. It hits home, but would Mary really commiserate with the male stripper, even one who was actually a local cop? Maybe it's easier to vent to a stranger than to her family or friends?

Nice to see Joanna Cassidy as the groom's mother. Would have liked to have seen more of her.

No Jinx in this episode and neither Mary nor Brandi wondered where she was. To be frank, she wasn't missed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

In Plain Sight: Hoosier Daddy

Overall, a very good episode from Mary and Marshall as In Plain Sight settles into the kind of show it's going to be. Far less frantic than the pilot -- which in retrospect looks like a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth -- this show dealt with one main issue and it was a touching one at that. The story starts 18 months earlier when Mary's assigned to place an 8-year-old boy who's seen drug dealers kill his mother in Witness Protection, which is virtually impossible unless she can find a family in the system who are willing to take on that responsibility. I was stunned that she pulled it off, and when we were back in the present and we see little Lonny -- now Leo -- enjoying a perfect life with the Billups, I was skeptical. The adoption seemed too good to be true. Leo fit right in, taking care of the baby. Were the Billups for real? I thought there had to be something wrong, but it wasn't. I was just suspicious. It turns out there was a reason to show Lonny/Leo in such a happy family.

While he's having a happy family life, Mary's continues to be a disaster. Jinx and Brandi are just caricatures. How long has her mother been living there? I'm told it's three weeks for Brandy since she's come from Jersey (the New was dropped by Mary). I loved Mary telling them both to get jobs and contribute or else. It was about time, but I'm still wondering about Jinx...has she been living there all along and Mary's only now asking her to get a job?

The job she gets is a Mary Kay Cosmetics like gig, Dana Dean Cosmetics. "I need $2500 to get started." If I were Mary, I wouldn't have done it, but here I see evidence of just what a softy Mary really is. She writes on her car-pad, "Transfer $2,500 for Jinx." She's a good daughter, but is Jinx any kind of a good mama? The answer, no. In a scene that's a complete anachronism, Jinx dons a hot pink business suit and starts going door to door to sell the cosmetic. Nobody sells door to door anymore, do they? Of course, after one $10 sale, Jinx is done. She's ready to celebrate and goes to see one-eyed boyfriend for nookie. When his dog eats her sample case, her DD career seems over. Her lover says he doesn't love her enough to cough up $2,500 to replace the samples.

Meanwhile, Mary learns that Lonny's drug-dealer dad back in Indiana -- who has not been indicted -- is petitioning for custody of his son. Mary and Marshall, and a stuck up attorney from the DOJ (Department of Justice) have to fly Lonny back to Indiana to face a judge. Holed up in a big house with other marshals, it's like a big sleepover. Marshall wears funny pajamas, Mary comforts Lonny when he has nighttime fears of facing his Dad again. Good moments, especially more insight into Mary's real heart. She's doing this job because she cares.

The best scene in the show is when the courthouse has to be evacuated. It's a great action sequence; to flush Lonny out of the building, a car is blown up in the parking lot. The evacuation commences and in the crowd, Mary races to stop Marshall from taking Lonny out in the open. Turns out the evacuation exits are public information and the perfect way for the bad guys to rub out Lonny. They have a sniper rifle trained on the kid. Mary yanks him to safety just in time, then they race to get him into a government SUV and out of harm's way.

By this point in the episode when Lonny asks Mary about her gun, a Glock, she realizes Lonny has blocked out the truth about what happened the day his mother died. He used his father's gun to shoot the drug dealers but shot his mom instead. Vernon, the dad, still wants his son back. Mary won't let Lonny return to him and his dangerous life. She tells him, "You better make your peace with that," and I see her steely determination. But she also gives him photos of Lonny in his new life.

In an ending that was just a little too sappy/happy, the judge rules in Vern's favor, but he renounces his rights so Lonny can stay with the Billups. Then on the tarmac back in New Mexico, Lonny/Leo returns to his new family, but Dad is there, too. He's going to join WitSec, give evidence against the Cruz brothers, and have some kind of contact with his boy.

Other Points of Interest

The show had that time shift from the first scene to 18 months later. Hard to get into the time shift, but it's a necessary element to the storytelling.

How did Mary get a plain name like Mary when her mom is Jinx and her sister is Brandi? What? She named herself? In the episode when she's forced to use the alias Sarah White, Mary doesn't think she can pull off a Sarah!

Poor white trash background? You have to wonder about the Shannons. When Jinx and Brandi want to win over Mary's good favor, they do it with tuna casserole. Love the line, "With Velveeta and potato chip crust?"

Not so good line, "What's that game called, Texas what-em?" The smart ass kid is a TV cliche. On the other hand, I liked when they showed his sensitive side. He wonders if his Dad will think he doesn't love him anymore.

When protecting Lonny, Marshall gets tough at the courthouse and shows his bad-ass side. See, he's not always laid-back.

Where did Brandi get the cool red convertible? It was a Mercury Comet circa 1965. I love cool cars, but they're also a TV cliche. Everybody seems to have some kind of vintage wheels. Don't the producers know how expensive it is to keep a car like that? Also, where did it come from? Mary drives the crappy Ford Probe, Brandis visiting from Jersey, and Jinx has nothing...

Does WitSec really use a private jet? Looks like a lot of tax payer dollars to take a kid to Indiana and back. Marshall and Mary couldn't have protected him on a commercial flight? I think they could have.

Mary doesn't even mention Raphael. Are they on a time out? She could have left a message on his machine, couldn't she?

Stan is a waste of time. He does nothing and yet he's Mary and Marshall's supervisor. No wonder they don't consult with him about their operations. The only thing cool about Stan is his last name - McQueen.

When is Mary going to get wise to Brandi's drug use and her calls to a boyfriend who's clearly a criminal?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

There's a lot to enjoy about this fourth installment of Indiana Jones. It's fun, silly, adventure-filled and completely entertaining in ways I don't always get from movies these days, with the greatest parts coming straight from the marvelous imagination of Steven Spielberg. Plus, it's a summertime blockbuster that doesn't totally rely on CGI which feels practically old-fashioned — and I mean that in the best way possible. The performances are strong and overall it's a sequel that doesn't embarrass itself or the whole franchise. It's refreshing and, honestly, it's a relief.

Sure, there are aspects I didn't like about it, but the experience of seeing this movie with a theater full of fans and happy moviegoers pretty much trumps any quibbles I have. The story finds my beloved Indy caught up with a group of Soviets (led by one fierce Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett) trying to find the secrets behind ancient crystal skulls which are said to have been shaped by some kind of higher power (or other-worldly power). They need Indy's mad archaeologist skills (and wide base of experience) to do this and one way of luring him in is via Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who they've taken captive. Marion gets in touch with Indy through her son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf). That's the basic gist of things.

As with last summer's Simpsons Movie, Indiana Jones is not just a highly anticipated movie, it's a highly anticipated movie event. There are plenty of people who will see it no matter what anyone says, and there are plenty of people, too, who are determined to like the movie no matter what. I understand this fanaticism, and though I don't personally feel it about this Indiana Jones movie, I had a great time watching it. At the same time, there are things I disliked, too. Most of all, there is some bizarre, random supernatural stuff at the end that struck me as out of place and totally hokey (and not in the fun way, in the annoying way).

But you know what? It's still a lot of fun. There is much pure, innocent joy to be found sitting in a packed theater, clapping and whistling at the first glimpses of Indy's shadow and Marion Ravenwood's bright smile. There's a goofy pride that comes from laughing along with everyone else at the film's nods to previous films. It is an event, and in some ways it's the quintessential summertime movie event: a fantastically fun time for kids, and a sweetly nostalgic trip for adults.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

DVD Review: Hero

I have seen a lot of films and every now and then I come across one that really touches me with its story and action . This is one of those films.

Hero is a tale about loyalty and trust, about a code of honour among warriors. It follows the story of a nameless assassin in the third century BC in China who tells the King of Qin that he has killed his three fiercest enemies. But is he telling the truth?

Hero is full of strong, vibrant colours and great choreography. Some of the film is shot in black and white (the house of chess sequence) and some scenes are almost totally red. Color plays a dominant role as it has many connotations. It gives the film a stylised look.

Hero is full of visual poetry. The wood sequence where Moon seeks vengeance after her master's death is a spectacular action sequence. As Moon and Flying Snow fight, hundreds of golden leaves fly through the air. My favorite sequence is the one on the lake. It is so beautifully shot. It is one of the most memorable sequences of the film. The blue of Broken Sword's clothes blends well with the setting. There is a lot of wire work and when Broken Sword and Nameless bounce off the water you can imagine how much time and effort went into the choreography.

The scenes of Hero are full of emotion and the music reflects the mood of the characters well. It also features a lot of exotic locations. Hero ticks all of the right boxes - action, story, direction, music, location... I could go on forever.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Destination Movies:

I've been really inspired by traveling this week — both because of my own itch to go on an adventure right now. I have two more months before I head to Germany on a 2-week castle & cuisine trip. As part of my travel urge, I got to thinking about movies that captured a culture and a country so well that they've made me add a new entry to my list of places I have visited or vowed to visit soon. Come away with me on a mini-jaunt around the globe!

Out of Africa: This Oscar-winning classic directed by the late Sydney Pollack starred Meryl Streep and an extremely dreamy Robert Redford, but the biggest star of the film is East Africa. The movie is loosely based on Karen Blixen's 1937 autobiography about her real-life journey to Kenya. The character based on Blixen enters a loveless marriage but then meets Redford's character, a local-game hunter, and an epic romance ensues. The movie was filmed on location and is breathtakingly beautiful. If this doesn't make you consider Africa as a travel destination, I don't know what will. I went on a safari to Kenya in 2006 and absolutely fell in love with the country.

French Kiss: Most people probably don't need their arms twisted to stick France on their travel list, but when a movie comes along that captures that certain je ne sais quoi of the French countryside, vineyards, and coast, it makes not being there feel nearly intolerable. French Kiss is one of those movies, and it stars Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline as unlikely partners in a trek across France. She's on a mission to get her cheating fiance back, and he's a petty criminal who helps her as a means to reach his own goal of buying back a vineyard he lost. Their chemistry is charming, but the way the film captures the spirit and nonchalance of the place is what makes it a lovely vicarious trip abroad. My last trip to France was in 2005. It's time to head back.

Sex and Lucia: To call this movie racy is probably an understatement. The word "sex" is in the title for good reason, because there's a lot of it in this mystical Spanish film — and it's pretty explicitly discussed and enacted. You've been warned. That said, nearly five years after I first saw this, what sticks with me are the unbelievably gorgeous shots of nature: the azure skies and ocean set against the snow-white sands of Spain's Balearic Islands. After this movie, this semi-remote location has remained high on my list of places to get myself to.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In Plain Sight: Mary Sunshine

You know that commercial that says, "The real question is, when you turn your car on, does it return the favor?" Well, over at USA Network, the question isn't whether "Characters Welcome" is their slogan, it's "Do I want to welcome these characters into my world?" In the case of their newest drama, In Plain Sight, the answer is...I don't think so.

The series presents Mary McCormack (The West Wing) as Mary Shannon, a U.S. Marshal for the Witness Protection Program, living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To say that Mary is a bitch is an understatement. She's aggressive and grumpy and hard to take. As the pilot played out, Mary showed glimpses of a softer side, a need to fix the problems of others that led to her career protecting and serving those in the Witness Protection Program. However, unlike USA's other quirky character dramas, In Plain Sight doesn't have the whimsy of Monk. It may be that this pilot was just overstuffed with too much of Mary's life, but overall, there's not much in Mary Shannon's life worth watching.

In Plain Sight depicts the marshals of the Witness Protection Program as part baby sitters, part detectives, and always on the clock. Nobody will be signing up for this service based on what they saw of Mary Shannon and her partner Marshal Marshall Mann -- get it?. As played by Frederick Weller, Marshall is a laconic foil for Mary's over-the-top histrionics. He's cool and collected, and even though he reminds Mary that he's not her assistant, he's the one doing the scut work and interfacing with the boss. The boss is completely ineffectual and doesn't seem to know what's going on with the case or even how to buy a gift for Mary. It's her birthday, which apparently is more important to everyone else than it is to her. When she's forced to a surprise party thrown in her honor -- "There are 60 people in there waiting to scream surprise" -- it makes you wonder if she even has six friends, let alone 60.

As hard as it is to put up with Mary's attitude, she's a walk in the park compared to her flaky, floozy mom, Jinx, and Brandy, an obnoxious, criminal little sister. With family like these two, it's a wonder that Mary hasn't placed them in the system and relocated them where they could be someone else's headache. Mary also has a hunky Hispanic boy toy, Cristian de la Fuente, who sounds like Fernando Lamas and shows off his pecs. No dancing, at least not yet.

There was a case to be solved. The teenage son of one of Mary's mob witnesses is murdered along with a girl who seems to be an innocent in all this. Mary is pissed off because the boy was her responsibility, and her investigation involves local cops, Mexicans, Native Americans, mob witnesses and such. Yes, there's lots of local color. The script skirts around the procedural aspects of the case, and the voice over narration which is meant to help tie in all the details, isn't very helpful.

Overall, In Plain Sight isn't without some moments that work. Bobby D, the local detective played by Todd Williams, is fun. Although why he is attracted to Mary -- "Is she seeing anybody?" -- is anybody's guess. Okay, I realize Mary McCormack is beautiful, but Mary Shannon is like John Wayne on estrogen. Not a nice mix. In the end, I'm not thrilled about the prospect of spending more time with Marshall Shannon. Maybe one more episode to see if it improves, as is the case with many pilots. However, if In Plain Sight doesn't click by then, it's going into my closed case file.

Other points of interest

An occasion pop culture reference is dropped, like the Amazing Kreskin. Mary doesn't know who Kreskin is. She does, however, wish she had a Columbo question when she wants to bring down a snotty Indian, and pulls a fake Meg Ryan orgasm when trying to smoke out a mob guy on the phone. In that instance, she says her name is Nomi, as in Nomi from Showgirls. Really, I'm not kidding.

Great crack at the Witness Protection Program, Bobby D refers to them as "The branch of law enforcement that puts criminals back on the street."

Mary is supposed to be a fixer, but does the Witness Protection Program really offer breast augmentation for witnesses who want new boobs? Maybe it was just more quirky storytelling.

Living up to his name, Frankie Nuts, Mary's mob witness, tears through a morgue, unzippingbody bags to find his son.

Running gag involves Mary's purple Ford Probe, a piece of dreck car that she uses to transport witnesses and everything else she has to do.

Why is Mary wearing layers, including a jacket, when it's 112 degrees in the desert? When you live in a desert town or the tropics, dress appropriately.