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January 2013

SAG AWARDS 2013

I’m still in rehearsals six days a week for the new play, and doing various freelance gigs, so this won’t be a full write-up, just a few highlights in case you missed the show (apparently it didn’t air in some territories).

I tune in to the SAG Awards, which are less glamorous than the Oscars and not as freewheeling as the Golden Globes, because I get to vote for the winners here. There are 15 categories, and I voted for 7 of the winners, so I was happy about 50% of the results.

The one I was most excited about was Argo‘s win for best ensemble in a motion picture. It didn’t surprise me because I polled my actor friends and there’s a lot of love and respect for that movie. This bodes well for Argo winning best picture at the Oscars next month, which should make Oscar voters look shortsighted for ignoring Ben Affleck.

As I mentioned on Facebook, he is the only director of a best-picture nominee who also starred in it. I don’t see Spielberg directing himself as Lincoln or David O. Russell playing bipolar. What Affleck did has a high level of difficulty and he pulled it off with aplomb. The Producers Guild of America likes Argo, too, because it also won the top motion picture prize at that ceremony Saturday night.

Two of my favorite quotes came from acceptance speeches by Tina Fey, who won for best female actor in a comedy series (30 Rock), and Daniel Day-Lewis, best actor in a motion picture (Lincoln). Fey said to Amy Poehler: “I’ve known you since you were pregnant with Lena Dunham,” a continuation of the joke they started at the Globes when Dunham thanked them for getting her through middle school.

Day-Lewis, who got a standing ovation, said: “[I]t occurred to me that it was an actor that killed Abraham Lincoln, and therefore somehow it’s only fitting that every now and then, an actor tries to bring him back to life again.”

Go here for the full list of winners.

Let’s discuss some of the fashion. There were no real standouts for me. Most were ho-hum (too much black) or in the what-the-Freud? category.

Anne Hathaway usually has impeccable taste but I hate this look, which is reminiscent of Demi Moore’s bicycle-shorts-under-a-skirt fiasco from the Oscars in the ’80s (click here to see it—if you dare). This style just doesn’t make sense to me. If you want to wear a short dress, do it. Don’t throw some froufrou around your hips to cover up your legs but not really.

 

Oh, dear. It’s really unfortunate that Julianne Moore, whom I think is amazing, attended a SAG ceremony wearing this.

 

Claire Danes‘s dress is interesting but makes her look much older. Helen Mirren would rock this.

 

This probably would look like a cheesy prom dress on me and most people, but Marion Cotillard makes it impossibly chic.

 

Rose Byrne gets the award for Most Creative Use of Grandma’s Bathroom Wallpaper.

 

I wondered if Jaimie Alexander was wearing her dress backward. Or if she’s a fembot who managed to turn her head all the way around.

 

The dress isn’t anything special—she’s worn this style before—but Naomi Watts gets my vote for Most Consistent when it comes to hair and makeup. She looks flawless every time. And as much as I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence‘s performance in Silver Linings Playbook, I’m kind of hoping for an upset by Naomi at the Oscars. Her work in The Impossible is brave, raw, and devastating.

 

Nina Dobrev wore my favorite gown of the night. The pink is striking without being girlish, and that slash of bare flesh under lace adds unexpected sexiness.

Did you watch? What are your thoughts? Am I the only female alive who doesn’t think Bradley Cooper is hot?

Photos: Hathaway, Moore, Danes/WireImage; Cotillard, Byrne, Alexander, Watts, Dobrev, Affleck and Argo cast/Getty Images

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Book Review: STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE by Ian Rankin

I finally jumped on the Inspector Rebus bandwagon after friends (I’m looking at you, Jenn aka The Picky Girl) have long pulled it alongside and tried to heave me on board. It wasn’t a matter of disinterest on my part but lack of time. Then the generous people at Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur sent me Ian Rankin’s latest novel featuring Rebus, Standing in Another Man’s Grave. I read the first page, then kept going, and finished the novel in two sittings.

Five years after he retired, Rebus is working as a civilian for the cold case squad. He meets Nina Hazlitt, who insists that her daughter’s disappearance in 1999 is connected to several other missing young women, including one who recently disappeared. Rebus is Nina’s sole sympathetic ear, and as he probes the matter, he finds she might be on to something.

But it’s hard to make progress when he’s up against a supervisor more interested in climbing the bureaucratic ladder than clearing cases, and the internal affairs investigator named Matthew Fox who’s hell-bent on nailing Rebus for his unconventional methods. Rebus also has to contend with a couple of mob bosses, all while attempting to not destroy the career of his partner, Siobhan Clarke.

Rebus is a winning protagonist, with a quick wit, sharp eye, and irreverence for anyone he deems a moron. Underneath Rebus’s defiance, though, are melancholy reflections on mortality (the title is something he mishears in a song’s lyrics). He’s aware of his limitations, but still determined to operate on his terms.

It’s interesting how Fox, who headlined Rankin’s The Complainants and The Impossible Dead, is supposedly the bad guy here, but the chapters told from his point of view manage to make us almost sympathetic to Fox’s cause. Rebus can be a loose cannon, and Rankin does a nice job of showing how these two flawed men are possibly more alike than they realize.

The one issue I have is with the ending. **Spoiler**

 

Rankin doesn’t explain the murderer’s motives, having Rebus and Clarke simply write off the person as a psychopath. This is too easy. While in real life we often don’t get insight into a killer’s mind, in fiction it’s possible to answer the whys, if only to create a sense of logic in a chaotic world, which is one of the reasons I think crime fiction is so attractive for some readers.

The killer’s actions don’t need to be explained by Rebus and Clarke—they’re not psychologists—or even by the killer. What I found lacking was how the cops don’t even seem concerned about the reasons as long as the perp is in custody. The “psychopath” label is supposed to explain everything, but if we just accept that without any desire for a deeper understanding of the roots of violence, it feels like we’re already standing in humanity’s grave.

**End of spoiler**

That quibble aside, I would follow Rebus and his trusty old car on future adventures, and even look into his old cases to see how he got here.

Nerd verdict: Rebus alive and kicking in Grave

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Book Review: RATLINES by Stuart Neville

The following ran in Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for Readers last week, and is reprinted here with permission.

The title of Stuart Neville’s standalone thriller Ratlines refers to the underground network that helped former Nazis and their associates escape Germany after the Second World War, one of which led to the Republic of Ireland, which remained neutral during the war. The year is 1963, President Kennedy is planning a visit to his ancestral country, and Nazi war criminals living there are being murdered. The nation’s Minister for Justice orders Lieutenant Albert Ryan, an agent in the Directorate of Intelligence, to investigate the killings. Ryan doesn’t like the assignment much, especially since he has to protect the next threatened target, the real-life figure Otto Skorzeny, a ruthless man and commando most famous for rescuing Mussolini in 1943, who plays an important role in the ratline network. Ryan finds that the lines between right and wrong are muddled, and the only moral compass he can follow is his own.

Set in a time when James Bond was becoming popular, Neville’s lean, mean prose tells a brutal story that’s the opposite of 007-glossy but no less captivating. At first, Ryan seems like a rules-following government flack, but readers discover what he’s made of when the bad guys mess with people close to him. Ryan takes matters into his hands, exposing a side that’s dangerous—and exciting. He encounters some really nasty characters besides Skorzeny, but going up against them only makes his formidableness grow. He may struggle with crises of conscience, but readers will probably be squarely on his side and rooting for him to return in future novels.

Nerd verdict: Brutal Ratlines

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Few Thoughts on the 70th Golden Globes

I had rehearsal today for the new play I’m doing, so I tuned in late to the Golden Globes. I’m now exhausted so this write-up won’t be long; I just wanted to throw out a few thoughts (for winners list, go here):

  • Adored Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts. The line about best director nominee Kathryn Bigelow—Poehler said, “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron”—was hilarious and a strong way to open the show.
  • I liked most of the winners, even the ones I didn’t expect, such as Ben Affleck for directing Argo (I thought Steven Spielberg was going to take it). For years, I was not a fan of his as an actor, but he won me over as a director with Gone Baby Gone, and Argo is his most accomplished work yet. A few days after he was snubbed by the Academy, his win and the movie’s win for best picture drama must’ve been especially sweet for him.
  • What does it take for Jon Hamm to win an award??
  • Loved Jennifer Lawrence thanking Harvey Weinstein for killing whomever he had to kill to get her up there, and Adele saying she’d been pissing herself laughing. So much better than dull winners reading from sheets of paper.
  • Who freaked out at Michael J. Fox’s son looking exactly like him? Fox père sported that haircut all through his Family Ties years.
  • I don’t know what to think about Jodie Foster‘s speech. On one hand, I think if she wanted to publicly come out, she should’ve just done it instead of playing coy. On the other hand, I’m all for people, including celebs, retaining some modicum of privacy, and agree with Foster that she doesn’t owe the public any kind of explanation or statement about her private life. Then again, she brought up the subject. No one asked her to address her sexuality as part of her acceptance speech. If she didn’t want to talk about it, she could’ve just said thank you and gotten off the stage. I did think her tribute to her mother was touching. The L.A. Times transcribed her entire speech here.
  • Lena Dunham needs to learn how to walk in heels or don’t wear them. During the time it took her to wobble to the stage the two times she won, I finished my taxes and Christmas shopping for this year.
  • Kristin Wiig and Will Ferrell made me laugh as the most clueless presenters ever. Their fake description of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen‘s plot was ridiculous. Tommy Lee Jones looking like he was going to bust their kneecaps at an after-party was even funnier.
  • Favorite dress, and most appropriate for the cold, L.A. weather: Naomi Watts in Zac Posen

  • Favorite dress I wouldn’t wear but it looks cool on her: Lucy Liu in Carolina Herrera (it has pockets!)

  • Daniel Day-Lewis made me swoon with his elegant acceptance speech, telling Lincoln writer Tony Kushner: “Every day I have to live without the wealth of your language, which reminds me every day of the impoverishment of my own.” That’s impoverished? About the others nominated in his category: “If I had this [the Globe] on a timeshare basis with my wonderful gifted colleagues, I might just hope to keep it for one day of the year, and I’d be happy with that.” Um, I feel penurious now so I’ll just stop here.

What did you think? Happy about Les Mis‘s win for best picture, comedy or musical? Shocked Quentin Tarantino won best screenplay?

Photos: Fey & Poehler/NBC, Watts and Liu/Getty

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Book Review: SAFE HOUSE by Chris Ewan

The following ran in Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for Readers last month as a starred review, and is reprinted here with permission.

At the start of Chris Ewan’s Safe House, Rob Hale wakes up in the hospital and receives good news: despite painful injuries after a motorcycle wipeout, he has no permanent damage. But when he asks about Lena, the beautiful woman who was with him, no one knows anything about her, claiming he was found alone. Some even question whether he’s confused by his sister Laura’s recent suicide.

Having hazy memories of Lena being taken away from the accident site by men in what looked like an ambulance, Rob goes searching for her, teaming up with Rebecca Lewis, the attractive private investigator his parents hired to look into Laura’s activities before she drove her car off a cliff. The two race to save Lena’s life, and end up also uncovering the truth about Laura’s death.

Ewan, known for his Good Thief’s Guide series, tackles a standalone this time, and Safe House shoots out of the gate like Rob on his motorbike. His everyman quality—the guy is recovering from injuries, so no over-the-top stunts for him—is the perfect anchor for a thriller that gets increasingly complex and dangerous as it unfurls. Rebecca picks up the slack by being scarily competent at handling bad guys and sticky situations. This woman is tough, and she keeps Rob and readers guessing about her true intentions for taking the case. The sympathetic characters, Isle of Man setting, plot twists and Ewan’s propulsive prose should take readers on a ride that feels anything but safe.

Nerd verdict: Thrilling Safe 

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Nerdy Special List January 2013

I went away for the holidays, but didn’t intend to go undeground and disappear from my blog and social media for two weeks. It was a good thing, though. Unplugging allows me to just be in the moment instead of living out loud, and to recharge and observe and experience so I can have something to write about.

Among other things I did during my break, I had a readathon and finished 3 books in 2 days. Which brings me to the January Nerdy Special List. This month, Jen of Jen’s Book Thoughts and I both recommend two titles, but there’s one overlap so only 3 books are on the list.

Jen’s selections:

Suspect by Robert Crais (Putnam, Jan. 22)

Robert Crais is a master at the theme of interpersonal relationships. His depth and detail make readers feel like a part of the relationships. In Suspect, that strong relationship occurs between man and dog. While Crais has created minor connections between man and animal in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, now it’s front and center. He delivers it with compassion and understanding. And oh yes, there’s also a suspenseful crime. Suspect just took the gold in my book; it’s now my favorite Crais novel. I’m hoping it goes from standalone status to regular series. It would be a shame for Scott and Maggie to bid adieu already.

Suspect is perfect for all those who say they haven’t read Robert Crais yet—no backstory needed and it’s a stunning display of his talent. Meanwhile Craisies will not be disappointed. Of course, we always enjoy our visits with Elvis and Joe, but you’ll be willing to wait a little longer for the boys after you meet Scott and Maggie.

As a side note for my fellow audiobook fans, this book will also be available on audio January 22nd, narrated by MacLeod Andrews.

Buy Suspect from AmazonBuy from an indie bookstore

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur, Jan. 15)

Twenty-five years after the first appearance of John Rebus, Ian Rankin returns to his long-time protagonist, post-retirement from the CID. Now the inspector is working as a civilian, reviewing cold cases. Rebus uncovers an old case connected to a current one, and he’s back in the thick of it again.

Despite this being the 18th novel featuring Rebus, it’s the first one I’ve read and I was blown away. I don’t know where I’ve been for 25 years. Rankin’s beautiful language, rich characters, and complex plot make this a book nearly impossible to put down.Standing is a gorgeous tribute to Rankin’s friend Jackie Leven, a Scottish musician who died of cancer in 2011. Rankin dedicates the book to him, opens each section with Leven song lyrics, and begins the whole book with Rebus at a funeral for a friend who died of cancer. In addition, the title is a mondegreen of Leven’s song “Standing in Another Man’s Rain.” Rankin’s play on the song title is one of the highlights of the book.

I’ve been missing out on Ian Rankin all these years. If you have been, too, I encourage you to pick up this book and see what you’ve been missing. If you’ve been in on the secret of Rankin’s greatness all this time…why didn’t you tell me?!?

Buy Standing from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

PCN’s recommendations:

I also recommend Suspect, but at the risk of seeming lazy redundant, I’ll simply refer you to Jen’s remarks above. Maggie broke my heart, and if I talk about it too much, I’ll cry the ugly cry.

The other book I suggest you check out is Lisa O’Donnell’s debut, The Death of Bees (HarperCollins, just released). First, let me share the prologue:

Eugene Doyle. Born 19 June 1972. Died 17 December 2010, aged thirty-eight.

Isabel Ann Macdonald. Born 24 May 1974. Died 18 December 2010, aged thirty-six.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

Neither of them were beloved.

Don’t you want to read it just based on that?! Need more convincing? OK, fine. You’re only saying that to make me work harder but here goes.

Bees is about two Glaswegian sisters, Marnie, 15, and Nelly, 12, who find their parents dead about a week before Christmas. They each suspect the other of killing their father—their mother hung herself—but decide to bury the bodies in the backyard instead of alerting authorities, out of fear they’d be taken into government care and separated. They start to arouse the suspicion of their lonely neighbor Lennie, who takes a paternal interest in them, but there’s the inconvenient matter of his being a registered sex offender. The three form a sort of family, which is threatened by the girls’ secret, the arrival of their grandfather looking for their mother, and the drug dealer who won’t stop looking for their father, who owes the dealer money.

It’s hard to categorize this book, and I love it when that happens. It’s bleak and gruesome, but also funny in a pitch-black way, and contains some very moving scenes. The characters are flawed and prickly (Nelly inexplicably talks like Bette Davis), they lie and hurt each other. But they also heal and love and make great sacrifices, and my heart was in my throat while reading, hoping they’d beat all odds to find happiness.

Buy Bees from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

What good books did you read over the holidays?

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