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This past weekend, I wore my nerd badge proudly and indulged my reading, TV- and DVD-watching, M&M-eating, CD-listening, pop culture-loving tendencies. Here’s what I covered.
DVD — Chéri
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Lea de Lonval, an early 20th-century Parisian courtesan who takes Chéri (Rupert Friend), the teenage son of a former rival, under her wing to teach him the ways of the world. A weekend turns into a six-year affair which ends when the boy’s mother (Kathy Bates) arranges for him to marry a girl closer to his age. Lea and Chéri pretend they’re okay with moving on until they realize they can’t.
Pfeiffer is as radiant as ever, showing the vulnerability beneath the proud and elegant facade. Friend’s titular character, however, comes across as a spoiled rich brat and borderline stalker. I didn’t get a sense of true love from these two; it’s more like Lea just doesn’t want to grow old alone and Chéri only wants what he can’t have.
Lea’s gowns are resplendent and Alexandre Desplat’s score is melodious as always, but I expected more from director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (adapting stories by Colette), both of whom had worked with Pfeiffer on the superior Dangerous Liaisons. Nerd verdict: Respectable in parts but not that endearing.
CD — Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson’s Break Up
Last month, my friend Tomas made me aware of this album over at his blog, make.see.eat.do, and I finally had a chance to listen to the whole thing. If you were envious of Johansson before because of her bodacious looks and acting skills, you’ll positively want to push her down the stairs after hearing her sing. Because she can, quite impressively. Her retro smoky tones blend well with Yorn’s emo voice on this album of mostly catchy, toe-tapping, folk-rock tunes. This isn’t some misguided star trip a la Don Johnson or Bruce Willis; Johansson (who was asked by Yorn to collaborate) is better than some “singers” out there and should do more albums.
Don’t believe me? Watch the video below for the first single “Relator” (you’ll need surgery to get it out of your head afterward), then go to www.lala.com and register to listen to the entire album for free by entering the actress’s name in the search window. (This only works for U.S. visitors. If you’re overseas, search YouTube for other videos like this one.) Nerd verdict: A recommended Break Up.
TV — White Collar & Grey’s Anatomy
White Collar, USA’s latest original series, stars Matthew Bomer as Neal Caffrey, a convict who excels in the kind of crimes for which the show is named. In order to stay out of jail, he makes a deal with the FBI agent who finally nabs him to let him help solve cases, using his expert criminal mind. Bomer is handsome with his piercing blue eyes and does a capable job, but he lacks the extra oomph that makes an actor a breakout star. Tim DeKay is solid as Agent Stokes, the straight-up guy who’s frustrated by and a little envious of Caffrey’s lifestyle. The show doesn’t offer anything new but I might tune in again if I’m home on a Friday night and there’s nothing better to watch. Nerd verdict: Lightweight criminal.
Over on ABC, this week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode had the kind of action-packed, pulse-quickening drama that called to mind the show’s best episodes from seasons past (i.e. the “Into You Like a Train” crash ep in which two people were impaled on the same pole and the doctors could only save one). A patient dies amidst the chaos in the ER after a nearby fire and Chief Webber interviews the doctors to determine who’s responsible. The camera swirls like a Tasmanian devil through the scenes, throwing the viewer into the confusion and leaving no time for the kind of angsty stuff that can drag the show down. The Rashomonian element of the doctors telling conflicting stories about the same events made it fun to try and figure out who made the fatal mistake. It also made me hope that Izzie never returns. I didn’t miss her at all and found Alex’s repeated phone calls to her super annoying. Nerd verdict: Heart-poundingly good.
Book — Daniel Judson’s The Violet Hour
This noirish thriller, set in the Hamptons, unfolds over three days as auto mechanic Cal tries to hide his pregnant former boss from her abusive husband while searching for his friend, Lebell, who has gone missing after leaving a trail of blood in his apartment. Cal wants nothing but an orderly life to prove he didn’t inherit criminal tendencies from his father and brother, but as he gets more involved in his friends’ crises, he wonders how far he’s willing to go to keep them out of trouble and even save their lives.
Hour grabbed me from the first minute with its mysterious opening paragraphs about a deadly female assassin. The pace is non-stop, the language rat-tat-tatting through one plot development after another. This book reminded me a little of Charlie Huston’s debut, Caught Stealing, another crime noir with a lean style in which an innocent bystander is driven to violence after inadvertently crossing paths with bad guys.
The novel isn’t perfect; it’s a little too coincidental that all the bad stuff happens to different friends of Cal’s on the same weekend. Judson also has a tendency to overuse commas by inserting adverbs and prepositional/adverbial phrases in awkward places, disrupting the flow of his sentences. Witness:
Closing her eyes, she held still for a moment, or tried to, ended up, despite her efforts, wavering a little.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, and when they did, she saw, beside the house, in its shadow, both the motorcycle and the Lexus.
But Judson’s characters are dynamic and his plot riveting enough that I was willing to overlook this quirk. Not only that, I now want to read Judson’s other novels, too. Nerd verdict: Hour goes by fast and is time well spent.
What did you read/see/hear this weekend?