Monthly Archives

January 2010

CD Review: Vampire Weekend’s CONTRA

This review is by new contributing writer Ethan Ogilby, whose musical taste is way more hip than mine.—PCN

The second album usually determines the staying power of an artist. It must be faithful to the established sound as well as explore new ground, be both familiar and more substantial than just The Debut Album: Part Two. As such, after the firestorm of admiration around Vampire Weekend’s eponymous LP and the anticipation and hype that surround Contra, the question remained: Were they in it for the long haul, or would they burn out like so many former next big things?

The answer: Vampire Weekend is here to stay…probably.

Contra is definitely a good album (and may end up as one of my favorites when this year is over) but I don’t feel it quite captures the simple genius or fun of their first record. The “indie Graceland” aesthetic—one of the elements that endeared me most to Vampire Weekend—is not as prevalent this time around.

But Contra has subtlety, thought, and purpose behind the music. Frontman/guitarist Ezra Koenig is at his best when his voice doesn’t have to work too hard. His melodies are so natural you feel like you’ve been listening to his songs for years, prime examples being “I Think UR a Contra,” a quiet, elegant tale of falling out of love; and “Diplomat’s Son,” a multifaceted yet graceful journey through an aristocratic adolescent romance (and one of the songs that best fulfills the new-but-faithful requirement).

The instrumental arrangements and rhythmic interweavings are even more advanced and challenging this time around. From song to song and section to section, new instruments and lines drop in and out, sometimes sacrificing continuity, but also creating remarkable moments, such as the cascading faux-horn lines of “Run” and the layered, yelping choruses of “White Sky” (though I would have preferred the yelps being swapped for something more pleasant).

And yet, Contra feels more produced than the debut, which compromises the balance of the band’s sound. The Vampire Weekend LP was something I’d really never heard before, that rare feel-good indie “rock” record that wasn’t hokey. You could put it on and let it play right through—in a bar, at a party, hanging out in a basement—and people would want to know what it was whether they liked it or not.

Contra, on the other hand, sounds more like everything else. There are electronic drums and uncommon percussion and even some vocal effects, but it’s hard to find where any of this makes their music better. “Giving Up the Gun,” while a different sound for the band, doesn’t chart any new territory. Its pulsing, electronic background and vocal harmonies remind me more of a Postal Service song than my favorite musical Columbia literati. Similarly, their effortless, melodic sensibility—ubiquitous on the first album—is on occasion disappointingly replaced by frantic disjointedness, sections of “California English” and “Cousins” being the worst offenders.

Vampire Weekend’s guitarist-keyboardist, Rostam Batmanglij, told Rolling Stone, “Our first record kind of has one vibe, one tone. [Contra] goes in a thousand places at once.” To dismiss the debut as “one vibe, one tone” is underselling the distinction between the songs and belittling the cohesion and flow of the previous album. This quote does sum up, however, both what’s great and not so great about Contra: too many twists and alterations crammed into one record, but with enough detail and emotion to keep me coming back for years.

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Mel Gibson Goes to EDGE OF DARKNESS

Edge of Darkness is an appropriate title for Mel Gibson’s latest starring vehicle because the name is as blandly formulaic as the movie, and it tells you upfront it’ll only go to the edge, not plunge you into something that could have been great.

Thomas Craven (Gibson), a Boston cop, is mad as hell after his daughter is killed right in front of him in an attack believed meant for him. As he investigates, he quickly realizes his daughter was the target and that she had a whole secret life he knew nothing about. His relentless search for answers uncovers corruption high up in the corporate world, not to mention within the government. He gets a little help from a shady character (Ray Winstone, having loads of fun) sent by people unknown to clean up the mess, but in the end, it’s Craven who’s going to blow the house down.

Let’s get something out of the way: Mel Gibson’s still got it as a movie star. Since he hasn’t been in a movie in eight years, I was shocked at first to see how much older he’s gotten. But it’s fitting that he’s not a cocksure pretty boy anymore; he’s a grieving father and the deeply etched lines on his face reflect every ounce of frustration he feels. Few actors can play righteous rage as effectively as Gibson, and when he unleashes it on the deserving parties, it’s highly satisfying.

Which is more than I can say about the movie, directed by Martin Campbell and based on a British ’80s miniseries he also helmed. It contains a couple shocking moments of violence that made me jump but other than that, there are few surprises here. If you’re familiar with a certain actor’s work, you’ll know who the bad guy is the minute he shows up because that’s all he ever plays. And is anyone stunned anymore to find corruption exists among politicians and Big Company? Yawn.

If there’s a reason to see this movie, it’s Gibson. His personal travails aside, he’s still a lethal weapon on screen after all these years.

Nerd verdict: Didn’t quite keep me on Edge of my seat

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DAMAGES: Hurts So Good

by Sarah Carbiener

“So you understand that men have their secrets.” —Mrs. Tobin

“But so do women, and I find that women are better at keeping them.”—Patty Hewes.

I usually loathe shows about lawyers. They’re either sanctimonious with soap boxes and young bucks who just want to make the system work the way it’s supposed to, or they’re about a group of hot, oversexed yet still brilliant legal minds whose inability to keep their pants on always gets them into trouble. In other words, I usually find them pat and boring.

But this is not the case with Damages, and for two reasons:  1) The show stays out of the courtroom, which is smart considering much, if not most, of the drama from being a lawyer happens outside the courtroom, and 2) it stars Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. When she’s on her game, she’s a powerhouse: unreadable, immovable, and so much fun to watch. When she’s coming apart at the seams, she’s unpredictable, manic, and so much fun to watch.

This season, like the two previous, begins with a mysterious, violent incident and then is intercut with events that took place in the six months leading up to the opening act. At the start of season one, Ellen (Rose Byrne), the young doe-eyed associate, wanders into a police station confused and covered in blood. This time it’s Patty in the hot seat. It’s going to be great to see Patty play the persecuted, somewhat clueless victim, even if it turns out she’s been playing her own game the whole time.

In addition to Patty and the absence of the courtroom, this show is highly entertaining for its cast and the guest stars it brings in to fill out the new case. (Hmm, that seems to be a running theme in my posts here.) This season’s case is all about figuring out where financier Bernie Madoff—I mean, Louis Tobin (Len Cariou)—stashed all the money he stole, and the Tobin bunch is played by fantastic actors. Lily Tomlin as Mrs. Tobin, the beleaguered wife who supposedly had no idea what hubby was up to, is brilliant, and her scenes with Patty promise to be consistently amazing. Martin Short as the Tobin lawyer is also great fun to watch. I’m not the only one who loves comedic actors nailing dramatic parts, am I?

My least favorite part of this show is Ellen, but even she is easier to take this season. Unlike the first season, when she’s so naïve that you’re just waiting for Patty to literally eat her alive; or the second, when she swings all the way to the other side as she seeks revenge, Ellen finally feels as complicated and nuanced as Patty. The student is finally a strong foil for the master.

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Nerdy Hot 10 List—Female Edition

Last May, I published a Nerdy Hot 10 List of actors who are goofy or awkward but sexy because of it. As of this writing, that post alone has received over 52,000 hits. Crazy!

I’ve received numerous requests to post a female version, so I now present in random order my list of 10 actresses whose silliness make them hot.

  1. Tina Fey. I know, this is obvious, but her goofiness is brilliant so how can she not be here?
  2. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The Elaine dance alone cemented a place for her on this list, but her continuing knack for physical comedy on The New Adventures of Old Christine and in those Healthy Choice commercials proves she’s got more than one move.
  3. Judy Greer. She’s got leading-lady looks but producers dumb her down so she can play the best friend (13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses) without stealing focus from the star. The friend usually gets the funniest lines, though, and funny is sexier than pretty and bland.
  4. Anna Faris. One of the goofiest actresses around, never saying no to humiliating situations on screen, but also hot enough to play a Playboy bunny in The House Bunny.
  5. Sandra Bullock. Yeah, she looks phenomenal naked in The Proposal, but it’s her special blend of on-screen klutziness and social awkwardness that puts her on this list.
  6. Jennifer Coolidge. Her presence, often in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, guarantees that lunacy will ensue. I’ll watch anything with her in it (even the awful series Joey) and that, to me, is true star power.
  7. Missi Pyle. Out of character, she’s stunning, but her absolute fearlessness in playing freaky characters (remember the unibrowed terror in Dodgeball?) is what makes her so winsome.
  8. Leslie Mann. Because she’s married to Judd Apatow and looks like that, one might be tempted to say she gets roles due to nepotism and for merely being pretty. But her hilarious turns as the girl who terrorizes Steve Carrell while driving drunk in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and as Katherine Heigl’s much funnier older sister in Knocked Up have proven she’s one dynamite talent.
  9. Elizabeth Banks. Her looks qualify her for magazine covers, but she’s most winning when she goofs it up in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and on shows like Modern Family.
  10. Andrea Anders. Sure, she’s a cute blonde, but there are busloads of those in Hollywood. It’s her zeal for making her character on Better Off Ted (and earlier, on Joey) socially inept and sometimes just plain wrong that makes her stand out.

Who’s on your nerdy hot list? Sound off in the comments! (UPDATE: See my new 2010 Nerdy Hot Actors list here.)

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Book Giveaway: Ben Sherwood’s THE SURVIVORS CLUB

It’s Monday. Do you think, “Damn, it’s gonna be another long week”? Or, “Hey, I survived my weekend”?

According to Ben Sherwood’s The Survivors Club, how you look at life can determine whether or not you live or die in a catastrophe. This book gave me anxiety because it constantly spouts statistics about one’s chances of dying in a myriad of ways. But I couldn’t stop reading because it also shares fascinating survivor stories and tips on how we can increase our chances of surviving unfortunate events, big and small.

Sherwood interviews people like the woman who lived after falling from the sky (she was a flight attendant on a plane that exploded), the man who didn’t die after his suicide jump from the Golden Gate Bridge (he changed his mind on the way down), the woman who survived a knitting needle through the heart AND breast cancer. Reading this book was like watching an episode of the ’80s show That’s Incredible!

Sherwood also talks to doctors and empiricists about the many variables that influence a person’s chances of survivability. Are you an optimist? You might die first in an extreme situation! The book contains instructions on how to take an Internet test called the Survivor Profiler to determine your Survivor Personality.

There are 5 types:

  • The Fighter attacks adversity head-on
  • The Believer puts faith in God
  • The Thinker uses his/her brain to get out of a bad situation
  • The Realist accepts life isn’t always rosy and knows how to adapt
  • The Connector draws strength from family and friends

We’ve all survived one thing or another, so which type are you? Answer this question in the comments section and I’ll enter your name in a random drawing for 1 of 5 paperback editions of The Survivors Club I’m giving away, courtesy of Hachette Book Group.

Rules:

  • You must be a subscriber or Twitter follower of this site (see sidebar on right)
  • Per HBG’s request, only U.S. and Canada residents are eligible (they’ll ship books directly to winners)
  • If you tweet about this giveaway, I’ll give you 2 extra entries
  • Contest ends Friday, February 5 at 5 p.m. PST, with winners announced only here and via Twitter. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with mailing address before alternate names are chosen.

Now, tell me what kind of survivor you are!

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Nerdies for Best & Worst of SAG Awards

I usually love movie award shows but last night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards bored me. Many of the winners were the same as Globe winners from less than a week ago so I couldn’t muster up enough excitement to cheer even if they deserved it.

For a complete list of winners, see here. Read on for my random thoughts and nerdies for the event.

Most Shocking Winner Even Though I Really Like Her: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. Yes, I know she won a Globe but that performance wasn’t up against Meryl Streep’s in Julie & Julia (Streep won in the comedy category). I’m a big fan of Bullock’s, thought she was quite good in the movie and with her acceptance speeches, but Streep’s Julia Child wasn’t just a performance, it was a complete transformation.

Least Likely to be Wearing Any Underwear: Kate Hudson. How do you squeeze anything under that dress? How did she keep her bits in? I’m not picking on her; I really want to know.

Most Potentially Riotous Glee Guest Star: Justin Timberlake. After cast members said they wanted him on the show, Timberlake said he’d love to do it but no one has asked. Ryan Murphy, call JT’s people first thing Monday morning! Is it wrong for me to want the cast to do “Dick in the Box”?

Best Inclusion of Overlooked Co-Stars: Mo’Nique. In winning for Precious, she thanked the co-stars who haven’t been in the spotlight with her but are no less deserving of attention and accolades. She mentioned the actors who played the students in the Each One Teach One program and, most movingly, the child with special needs who played Precious’s daughter, Mongo. Mo’Nique has proven to be the most elegant acceptance-speech giver of the season. I can’t wait to hear what she says when she wins her Oscar.

Most Likely to be Working Until She’s 150: Betty White. Usually, during tributes to life achievement recipients, I take a bathroom break. Heck, I take a whole shower, those tributes are so long. But the one for White showed what an engaging entertainer she’s been throughout her long career, and her acceptance speech (“I look out at this audience and I see so many famous faces…I’ve worked with quite a few. Maybe had a couple”) proves that, at 88, she’s still got the wit and spunk to go a few more decades.

Best…Oh, Never Mind: I just wanted to run this picture of Colin Firth. Do I need an excuse or a fake award category?

Favorite Homegirls: Tina Fey and Bullock. Fey went to my alma mater, University of Virginia (I have a yearbook with her picture in it—no glasses, listed as Elizabeth Fey), and gave it a shout-out when she thanked her acting teachers there. Meanwhile, Bullock went to high school at Washington-Lee in Arlington, Virginia, not far from where I grew up (my brother’s best friend was in her class).

Best News for 40-Year-Old Men: The stunning Sofia Vergara says she’s single and looking for a 40-year-old guy. Her publicist’s inbox is going to explode.

Did you watch the awards? What were highlights and lowlights for you?

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Inside the SAG Awards’ Voting Process

The 16th annual SAG Awards are tomorrow, January 23, 2010 (televised on TBS and TNT), but before they’re handed out, I polled three different voters to see how they cast their ballots, not just who they voted for but the process in which they made their choices.

My interviewees come from different demographics and have been SAG members for various lengths of time. How much do they agree on 2009’s “best” performances? I sent them all identical questions but their answers are hardly the same.

The voters are:

  • Lauren, 20s, SAG member for 9 months, first-time voter
  • Actor (he wished to remain anonymous), 30s, SAG member for 12 years
  • Susan, 40s, SAG member for 14 years

PCN: How long did it take you to fill out the ballot? How much thought did you put into it?

Lauren: I knew who my favorites were as soon as the nominations came out, which made voting pretty easy. It was my first time voting so I was pretty excited! There is nothing like opening your mailbox for the first time and having a screener addressed to you “for your consideration.” I felt special!

Actor: I did it in two sittings with a lot of thought put into it. It’s a privilege to be able to vote.

Susan: I must say I filled out the SAG ballot with great alacrity as I looked at the calendar and realized it had to go out yesterday [January 19] or it wouldn’t be counted. It was raining, I could hear the mailman coming and so I kinda sped thru filling in the little bubbles. I would say it took me about two minutes and I didn’t really ponder a great deal on any of my choices except for thinking some of the categories were ridiculous.

PCN: Who do you feel deserves a win so much, you’d go on strike if it doesn’t happen?

Lauren: I thought there were some really great film performances this [past] year. I was especially happy with a lot of the female performances…As I’ve heard from most people, I think Mo’Nique really deserves to be recognized for her performance [in Precious]. I also really enjoyed Christoph Waltz’s performance in Inglourious Basterds.

Actor: Mo’Nique.

Susan: It would be a travesty if Meryl Streep doesn’t win for Julie & Julia. She WAS Julia Child and she is soooo NOT Julia Child [in real life]! In TV ensemble cast, I want Glee or Modern Family to win. If anything else wins, I will not be happy.

PCN: Who do you think shouldn’t bother preparing a speech?

Lauren: As an actor, I have a hard time saying I don’t think anyone should “bother” preparing a speech, because I honestly believe anyone nominated should relish it and hope to win. That’s how I would feel if it were me.

I thought Diane Kruger was an odd nomination for Inglourious Basterds but that was just because her performance didn’t stand out for me. I also am one of the five people that didn’t like The Hurt Locker so I wasn’t on board with Jeremy Renner’s nomination, but I stress that I was one of the very few people I know who didn’t care for the film.

Actor: Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), and the cast of An Education.They just have really stiff competition.

Susan: Much as I love Sandra Bullock, and I really did think she did a lovely job in The Blind Side, she shouldn’t really think that she can beat “La Streep.”

PCN: Which categories do you think will contain the exact same names when the Oscar noms are announced? Which categories do you think will change the most?

Lauren: I hope An Education gets recognition at the Oscars! The ensemble and storytelling in that film made it one of my favorites of the season. For me, it came in as the second best film this season behind Up In The Air. I think the lead actor and actress Oscar nominations will be similar to ours. I do think Avatar will definitely cancel some nominations out. That said, there are 10 nominations for best picture this year so most movies worth seeing should be nominated.

Actor: I don’t think any of the categories will have the exact same names. SAG nominees, from my recollection, traditionally have different nominees than a lot of the other mainstream organizations. They (we) also vote for really weird things. Take, for example, some previous winners for best ensemble cast: The Birdcage over The English Patient, Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed.

Susan: Well, of course it won’t be the best picture ensemble because for some reason there are going to be TEN best picture nominees. Whatever! And there will be no TV categories or stunt categories (another whatever!). But I do believe they are pretty dead on with most of the nominees in the film categories except maybe best supporting actress.

PCN: How do you vote when you haven’t seen most of the nominees in a category? Do you randomly pick one or leave it blank?

Lauren: I voted for Drew Barrymore for Grey Gardens even though I hadn’t seen all the nominees in [female actor in TV movie/miniseries]. I would have left it blank, but it’s rare that I appreciate Drew Barrymore’s acting and I thought she did a really wonderful job in that film.

I also had a tough time [with the lead movie actor category] because the one film I wanted to see and haven’t yet is Crazy Heart and I’ve heard wonderful things about Jeff Bridges. I voted for someone else in that category but hopefully if Mr. Bridges really deserves the award, my vote will be canceled out somewhere.

Actor: I go with the actor’s body of work. Are they credible? Have they proven themselves? I also sometimes consult a trusted friend.

Susan: If I haven’t seen a performance, I usually try and think about the actor and what I have seen them do. For instance, in the male TV actor category, I have seen all of these actors’ work before, just not necessarily their work this season of the show, so I try to go on that.

PCN: Do you really vote for the best actors, or do you go with your favorite actors?

Lauren: I vote for the best actors in the roles they have been nominated for. In the TV comedy ensemble, I was tempted to vote for Glee because it’s my favorite new show, but I took a second to think about it and ended up voting for Modern Family instead. I felt the acting and comedic timing is genius within the Modern Family ensemble, even though I do enjoy the cheesy dancing and singing that comes with Glee.

Actor: The best.

Susan: I would like to say I always vote for the best performance but sometimes, if I haven’t seen all the performances, I do vote for my favorite. Or, if there is a performance that I haven’t seen but it has gotten such great buzz, like Mo’Nique in Precious, I vote with the masses (yes, I am a lemming).

PCN: Which performances do you think deserved nominations but were snubbed?

Lauren: Marion Cotillard was FANTASTIC in Nine. I think her performance made the movie enjoyable when it had so little plot to go on.

I also really enjoyed Peter Sarsgaard [in An Education] and I thought Tobey Maguire was really good in Brothers even though I didn’t love the movie itself.

Actor: Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Marion Cotillard (Nine), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), the Up in the Air ensemble, and Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Stoning of Soraya M.).

Susan: Julianne Moore (A Single Man), Samantha Morton…There were a lot of good supporting performances this year for actresses.

PCN: When they win SAG Awards, actors often say, “This means more to me than anything because it’s from my peers.” If you win one, would you feel that way or is that B.S.?

Lauren: I would definitely feel that way! Actors are very judgmental…and they understand how hard it is to be a working actor in Hollywood. To have people I respect and admire voting for me to win an award specifically for acting would be really special. It’s always the best to have validation from your peers; it’s one of the best kinds of respect and support in an otherwise very competitive field.

Actor: I do think the award would mean more because it comes from peers. Everyone knows the joke: “How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “One, and twenty others who say ‘I can do it better.'” Actors can be a catty bunch.

Susan: When an actor says the award means more because it comes from their peers, I guess I believe that because I feel a fellow actor probably knows a bit more about the craft and the business of acting than the press or the general public. But would I look down on a People’s Choice Award or a Golden Globe or any other random award someone wants to give me? Hell, NO! I am open to all awards!

And there you have it, readers—an inside look at how SAG Awards recipients are chosen. Which ones were your favorites? How would YOU vote?

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4 Down, Only 20 More Hours of 24


by Sarah Carbiener

Season 8 of 24 begins with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) curled up on a couch with his adorable granddaughter, and for the first hour of the new season, the show was having a hard time finding a reason for him to get off that couch and fight new terrorists. But by the end of the final hour in the four-hour season premiere, Jack had a beautiful and dangerous reason to stick around and I had a reason to keep watching.

Starting at 4:00 p.m., Jack’s latest day from hell involves (so far) hunting down weapons-grade uranium, infiltrating the Russian Mob, and protecting the world’s one hope for peace in the Middle East, President Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor), from being assassinated. Typical stuff for our man Jack.

At first, it felt like this season was going to stay a little too true to formula. Jack is pulled out of retirement (again), no one at CTU trusts his instincts and he has to go out on his own (again), and at one point he ends up tied to a chair getting the crap beat out of him (again). But then former FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) is brought in to CTU.

Apparently, Renee had a breakdown after the events in season 7 (check out the DVD if you want to see why), but she’s the only one who’s ever gotten close to the Russian Mob, having gone undercover six years ago. Jack is worried she’s too much of a loose cannon to be trusted. As it turns out, she’s more like an entire armory of loose cannons. She is the perfect reason for Jack to stick around CTU one more day and for me to stay tuned.

The casting department scored some major hits this season. Jennifer Westfeldt of Kissing Jessica Stein plays a reporter who’s gotten too close to her subject, President Hassan, played by Slumdog Millionaire’s charismatic Kapoor. And Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff plays Dana Walsh, CTU’s new top tech geek, rankling the already cranky Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Even if Renee Walker hadn’t entertained the hell out of me, I would keep watching this season for its cast alone.

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Tell Me a Story About…Chair

I had so much fun when we played our storytelling game last time (read it here), I decided to do it again. Based on an exercise Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in her book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, the rules are simple. I throw out a random word and you tell me a story, whatever thought or memory triggered by that word. The word is mundane on purpose because creating an interesting anecdote around it is more of a challenge than if the word is, say, “lederhosen.” I mean, that’s too easy, right?

I asked someone to give me a word so that I don’t cheat and only select ones that have amazing stories tied to them. And I was given: chair.

This made me think of a time in fourth grade when I was the new kid in school. My first day, I had to take the chair at the front of the class directly across from the teacher’s desk because no one else wanted to sit there.

I was asked to go to the blackboard at one point to do some math problem. When I came back to my chair, I unwittingly sat down on a handful of thumbtacks. YOW! Apparently, the two classroom bullies decided to waste no time picking on the new girl so they put tacks in my seat.

Instinctively, I knew if I cried out, I’d be a target forever. They were waiting to hear me scream and then they’d laugh at me. So, though my eyes started to water, I clenched my teeth and sat still.

I heard one boy whisper, “I thought you put the tacks in her chair!”

“I did!”

“Why isn’t she doing anything?!”

“I don’t know!”

“You’re stupid!”

“No, YOU are!”

If I hadn’t been in pain, I would’ve laughed. Instead, I focused on resisting the urge to jump up and pull tacks out of my butt. When the two boys eventually lost interest in me, I shifted, um, myself slightly and yanked them out discreetly. The morons never picked on me again.

OK, your turn!

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Unexpected Life in LIFE UNEXPECTED

By Sarah Carbiener

Before the premiere of this show, I would have told you that, after Grey’s Anatomy’s Meredith Grey, I was really tired of the tough, pretty, talented woman who can’t commit to a sweet guy who loves her despite her many flaws. But playing AM-radio talk-show host Cate Cassidy on Life Unexpected, Shiri Appleby made me forget all about Meredith and her existential angst.

We meet Cate on the day her loving boyfriend proposes and, after hitting him for springing the question on her while she’s holding a snow ski, she accepts. Fast forward to when Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), the boy with whom she had a one night stand in high school, outs her on her radio show for being the girl who got knocked up on prom night, or actually, “more like winter formal.” She runs out mid-show and meets the daughter she gave up for adoption in the radio station parking lot.

Lux (Brittany Robertson) had hunted down her birth parents purely to get their signatures so she can jump through some legal hoops, escape foster care, and become emancipated on her sixteenth birthday. Things do not work according to plan, and the birth parents end up as her legal guardians.

The extended trailers all over the Internet made the plot of this pilot episode obvious and predictable, but it’s the tone, characters, and details that really sell this show. The chemistry amongst the cast is great, and they manage to deliver even the cheesiest lines—which there were surprisingly few of—with honesty and sincerity. For the most part, the dialogue is very smart, and though not quite up to Veronica Mars-caliber—RIP Neptune—it was much more consistent than the rest of the fare on CW.

The show also did a great job of working through the logic of Lux ending back up with her birth parents. The show’s creator, Liz Tigelaar, who was adopted, obviously knew how important it would be to deal with this setup as honestly as possible. Whatever legality or quirks of the foster care system they fudged, they did it well.

And the details in the relationships are seriously great. My favorite moment was between the cynical Lux, who’s lost all faith in the adults who haphazardly control her life, and Baze, the ambitionless slacker who only owns his own bar because his father left him the building. After Lux declares that she hates YouTube, the two watch the famous clip of Christian the lion being reunited with the British guys who raised him (see video here) and they both end up crying.

Life also has weighty moments, like when Lux alludes to the terrible parent figures she’s had in foster care, or when she goes back to her foster home to find all her stuff packed, but I can already tell it’s going to be memorable for its slightly silly yet touching moments like Lux and Baze crying together over a YouTube video.

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TARGET This

Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is a bodyguard for hire and a man fighting the good fight as a sort of freelance version of a TV James Bond in Human Target, the exciting new series from executive producer McG (Chuck/Supernatural). Only this guy doesn’t just work for money, he’s willing to barter and he just might enjoy being a human target a bit too much. These quirks, the action sequences and a solid cast combine to make this new FOX drama series a standout and one to watch in 2010.

In opening scene of the seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines pilot episode, a disgruntled former employee has taken his former co-workers hostage by strapping explosives to his body and wielding a shotgun to show us how serious he is. A SWAT negotiator convinces the disgruntled employee to give up the other victims while allowing him to hold on to the company’s CEO, who is tied to a chair with a black hood over his face.

Once all the other hostages exit the building, it is revealed that—SURPRISE!—our hero Chance was actually the guy under the hood the entire time and he is suddenly no longer tied up. A few lightning-quick moves and the shotgun is no longer an issue. Sure, the building gets blown up in the process, but our hero knew he was only six feet from a wall that would shield him from the blast. Of course, he also saw the fuse on the bomb had a three-second delay. Chance survives and is onto the next case after a month of recovery.

You may ask how the heck our hero was able to switch places with the tied-up CEO without anyone in the room finding out and no, it isn’t explained. After all, it’s based on a comic book so you have to suspend your disbelief a little. But this show is fun to watch for anyone looking for an everyman hero with some real action minus all the emotional angst that seems to plague many other action dramas these days. For instance, the cast is top-notch. Chi McBride is wonderful as the curmudgeonly Winston, Christopher’s handler and partner, and the always underrated Jackie Earle Haley plays the mysterious computer whiz who freelances for the two men.

The fight scenes rival anything you’ve seen in the Jason Bourne or revamped James Bond movies. More importantly, you can actually see the moves because these sequences aren’t shot using the lame but very popular hand-held camera method. This series shows some real promise and I will target the next episode airing on Wednesday night in its regular time slot of 9 p.m.

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Behind the Scenes at the Golden Globes 2010

After the ceremony (and maybe a party or two), a friend of mine who had attended the Globes called and we chatted briefly about some things that weren’t shown on TV. She wished to stay anonymous since she often works with many of the celebrities in attendance.

PCN: Did you have fun?

A: Yeah! It’s so ridiculous. Marion Cotillard and Mo’Nique are kind of like my buddies now. At the end of the night, Mo’Nique kissed me on the cheek and said, “See you at the SAG Awards [next weekend]!”

PCN: Don’t make me push you down the stairs. What other moments stood out for you tonight?

A: The reunions [of former co-stars]. At one point, John Lithgow was talking with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jodie Foster ran into Mel Gibson, who was wandering around because he didn’t have a seat.

PCN: Why didn’t he have a seat?

A: Lots of stars show up just to make an appearance and then leave. They don’t stay for dinner.

PCN: Who else did that?

A: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Josh Brolin, off the top of my  head. Oh, get this. For some reason, Taylor Lautner had better seats than Amy Adams, Halle Berry and Kate Winslet.

PCN: What?!

A: I know! The best seats are on the bottom floor and then there’s the second tier. So on the floor there was Robert De Niro, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophia Loren and Taylor Lautner.

PCN: That makes no sense. OK, what got the biggest gasp in the room?

A: When Ricky Gervais made the crack about Mel Gibson.

PCN: What did you think of Gervais?

A: He’s very nice but I don’t think he was great [as host]. He was well-spoken and witty but for some reason, I wasn’t drawn in, I wasn’t enthused.

PCN: I hate to say it but I have to agree. He certainly wasn’t terrible but I expected him to be much funnier.

A: Oh, I have another call. Gotta go!

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