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One Cool DRINK

Reading a good book is always a pleasure, but there’s something extra exciting about discovering a new author and his smashing debut, a PWA winner for Best First Private Eye Novel. Thomas Kaufman‘s Drink the Tea is a witty, fast-paced mystery that made me hope, only a few pages in, that it’ll be turned into a series.

Willis Gidney is an orphan who spent his childhood in and out of foster homes, becoming an expert at stealing and lying, heading for a life of crime until he gets taken in by Captain Shadrack Davies of the D.C. Police. The experience changes him, not completely, but enough so that he grows up to be a smart-ass D.C. private eye.

An old acquaintance, jazz musician Steps Jackson, asks Gidney to find his daughter, Bobbie, the result of a one-night stand twenty-five years ago. Supposed to be a straightforward missing persons case but right away, thugs show up to rough up Gidney, people start dying, and Gidney realizes he’s stumbled upon something which might involve a powerful corporation and a corrupt congressman.

The story jumps back and forth between the present case and Gidney’s time in foster care, slowly doling out what happened between Gidney and Davies during their short stint together. Gidney has a quick wit, but we find it was born as survival instinct. We get to witness Gidney’s evolution from problem child to a man trying to do the right thing, if sometimes reluctantly.

Kaufman, an Emmy-winning cinematographer who’s shot shows like The FBI Files and The New Detectives, brings his eye for detail to his writing and excels in showing instead of telling. He describes a picture of a boy in a high-school yearbook thusly:

His interests included biology, chemistry, debate. He looked apologetic, as though his violin lesson had run over and he’d shown up late to chess club.

Kaufman didn’t need to write “nerd”; the description couldn’t be clearer. And instead of using variations on the word “big,” the author writes that an internet cafe “had an espresso bar the size of Congress but with less hot air,” and about “a pair of shoes that would have won me free tuition to Clown School.”

Gidney’s background and sensibilities make him part Elvis Cole, Robert Crais’s wisecracking P.I. who was an old youngster once; and Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s foster-care-raised detective whose biggest mystery is his own lineage. Since those two are top of my list of favorite series characters, Gidney is in lofty company indeed.

Nerd verdict: Drink this

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Events I’d Like to See in the Olympics

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching and enjoying the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I must admit, though, that I don’t get some of the sports. Curling? The Biathlon, which involves shooting & skiing because you might want to do some hunting while going down the bunny slope?

I started thinking about activities which would really impress me if someone can complete quickly and came up with the following:

  • Getting through airport security when you’re behind people with lace-up shoes and babies
  • Totaling receipts for tax itemizations
  • Driving 2 miles on the 405 freeway on a Friday at 5 p.m.
  • Getting through to a live agent when calling the DMV
  • Putting together an IKEA computer station
  • Opening the vacuum-packed plastic packages electronics & toys come in

What alternative events would you like to see?

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Shut-Eye ISLAND

Saying this might make me seem insane, but Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island bored me silly. Having loved Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name (read my review here), I thought I’d at least enjoy the movie, maybe not as much as the book, since that rarely happens. Last thing I expected was to be sitting in the dark, rolling my eyeballs back and nodding off as if I’d been given too much Thorazine.

In 1954, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are summoned to Ashecliffe, an institution for the criminally insane on an island off Boston Habor, to locate a missing patient, Rachel Solando. The woman seemingly escaped without shoes (island terrain is rocky) or anyone seeing her, from a room locked from the outside. The staff’s and marshals’ search efforts are hampered by a hurricane which shuts down the island’s electrical system, allowing all 66 violent offenders to run wild. But wait. Solando left behind a note implying there’s a 67th patient. Who is this mysterious person whose existence everyone denies?

And that’s just one of the island’s mysteries. Daniels and Aule soon wonder if the doctors at Ashecliffe are really treating their patients or doing illegal experiments on them. Daniels also has his own agenda for being there: He’s searching for his wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis. The plot has more twists and turns than an Olympics slalom, culminating in a twist which may or may not shock you, depending on whether or not you read the book or are an especially astute viewer.

The cast is very good here. The intense DiCaprio and laid-back Ruffalo balance each other nicely; Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley with a cool presence which keeps you guessing about his true intentions; Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson turn in notable performances as patients. (Michelle Williams, as Daniels’s deceased wife, doesn’t have much to do until the end.)

But the actors are failed by the movie’s sedate pacing. With this kind of (literally) crazy plot, the thriller should be more, well, thrilling. Instead, lots of long expositional scenes and dream sequences slow down the momentum, and characters meant to be creepy become less so when they linger on screen for too long talking too much.

Scorsese also heightens every scene with a lot of DRAMA: the hammering Bernard Herrmann-esque score, the artsy slo-mo and overly saturated colors in the dream sequences, twisty camera angles, lots of water imagery. It’s like announcing Creepy Scene Alert! at every turn, which takes away any surprise that might lie around the corner.

One might argue there are no surprises for people who have read the book. All I can say is, I also knew what would happen in Scorsese’s last movie, The Departed (having seen the original Hong Kong version Infernal Affairs), and still found it to be quite suspenseful. The director should have trusted his source material here; a leaner, less heavy-handed approach would have allowed the story’s creepiness to crawl under our skin.

Nerd verdict: More wreck than treasure on this Island

All photos © Paramount Pictures/Andrew Cooper

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 9: Meet the Top 24 (Spoilers)

FOX unveiled their other 24 tonight (the kind without Jack Bauer) and there were few surprises. Starting next week, when American Idol goes live, the following will be vying for your votes:

GIRLS

  1. Didi Benami
  2. Katelyn Epperly
  3. Janelle Wheeler
  4. Ashley Rodriguez
  5. Lacey Brown
  6. Crystal Bowersox
  7. Lilly Scott
  8. Michelle Delamor
  9. Siobhan Magnus
  10. Haeley Vaughn
  11. Katie Stevens
  12. Paige Miles

GUYS

  1. Michael Lynche *
  2. Casey James
  3. Todrick Hall
  4. Lee Dewyze
  5. Joe Muñoz
  6. Alex Lambert
  7. Tim Urban **
  8. Jermaine Sellers
  9. Tyler Grady
  10. Aaron Kelly
  11. John Park
  12. Andrew Garcia

* Some websites are reporting that Mike Lynche was replaced after his father confirmed to a newspaper back in January that Lynche had made the top 24, violating a confidentiality agreement (click here to read People.com’s article). FOX hasn’t made an official announcement.

** A replacement for Chris Golightly, who was disqualified after making the top 24. Read more about it here.

It’s way too early to predict but I think Bowersox, Garcia, Benami, Stevens and Dewyze are the ones to watch. Since the real competition starts next week, time to start learning their names!

What did you think of this bunch? Is there an Adam Lambert in there? Who’s being eliminated first next week?

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 9: 7 of Top 24 Revealed

AP/FOX, Michael Becker

I watched this two-hour show in about 40 minutes because it was so annoyingly full of filler. Yes, I know that’s how they always do it, but this ep seemed more padded than usual. A hundred twenty minutes weren’t enough for them to reveal all the top 24 contestants? It’s like James Cameron thinking he needed almost 3 hours to give us a nature video!

Let’s get right to the point here. The first 7 singers through to the next round are: (SPOILERS!!)

  1. “Big Mike” Lynche, first-time father whose wife gave birth during Hollywood week. He’s a good singer but his smugness kinda turns me off.
  2. Didi Benami, Lauren Holly lookalike who gets intensely emotional with every song. LOVE her but I hope she can keep her nerves and tears in check during live competition. It’s only going to get tougher from here.
  3. Katelyn Epperly, pretty with wild, fabulous hair but nothing about her voice makes her stand out for me right now.
  4. Casey James, blond Zach Braff-y dude who was sexually harassed by female judges during his original audition (they made him take off his shirt). So unnecessary since his voice is quite good.
  5. Aaron Kelly, kid who was adopted by aunt because his parents couldn’t take care of him and his brother. Seems really sweet, has a decent voice, but I don’t think he’s ready for the big time. He forgot the lyrics multiple times during Hollywood week.
  6. Lee Dewyze, guy with the HUGE voice, probably the strongest male in the top 24 so far.
  7. Todrick Hall, with the striking eyes who made Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” his own.

Wednesday night, the judges will reveal the rest of the semi-finalists: 10 more girls, 7 guys. My guesses for some of the females: Ashley Rodriguez (she’s ready to go pro right now), Haeley Vaughn (little guitar-playing girl with a voice bigger than her body), Angela Martin (smooth operator), and Crystal Bowersox (Janis lives!). If Bowersox doesn’t make it, look out your window for flying pigs.

Among the guys, I can only think of Andrew Garcia being worthy. No one else has really made an impression on me. Doesn’t matter; the Idol will be female this year.

Do you have favorites yet? What did you think of Jessica Furney’s begging? Are you glad Mary Powers is gone? (UPDATE: Here’s the full list of the top 24.)

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WE ARE THE WORLD 25 FOR HAITI Video

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the new version to raise money for Haiti. Love the little kid waving his hand in the air in the beginning. Babs still got it. So moving to see Michael Jackson. And oh my gosh, Jennifer Hudson blows my hair back with her voice. Incredible.

How do you think this compares with the original?

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Movie Review: VALENTINE’S DAY

The marketing for Valentine’s Day makes the movie look like a shiny, pretty gift for those looking for a little romance come February 14. In reality, it’s like a box of candy that’s already been opened, with the contents all stale and hard to swallow.

Many storylines and characters collide to make up the narrative. There’s Reed (Ashton Kutcher), the boy who owns a flower shop that gets a huge boost in business on the titular day; his best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner), the impossibly perky grade school teacher who’s in love with a brilliant surgeon (Patrick Dempsey); Liz (Anne Hathaway), an office assistant who doubles as a phone sex operator; Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts), a military officer flying home on leave who strikes up a friendship with a fellow passenger (Bradley Cooper), and a couple of silly teens in love (Taylors Swift and Lautner).

As you can see, almost all of Hollywood is crammed into this movie, and I didn’t even mention the plotlines involving Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx and several others. (Kathy Bates and Lautner might as well have been glorified extras, considering how little screen time and few lines they have.) It felt like director Garry Marshall was cooking spaghetti, throwing all these stars up on screen to see who sticks. Sadly, none of them do.

Some of these actors are favorites of mine, but most were directed to overact to the point of embarrassment. Biel’s character, Kara, has a ridiculous meltdown that made me feel sorry for the actress. Swift is goofy but in an over-the-top way, trying too hard to impress in her big-screen debut. No one behaves in any manner that seemed even remotely real (except for Roberts, who wisely underplays her role) and in the end, their stories are wrapped up with unnatural and implausible conclusions. If you’re looking for a romantic movie with lots of attractive stars and real heart, skip the cineplex and rent the superior Love Actually instead.

Nerd verdict: If not a massacre, Valentine’s Day is still a giant mess

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I’m a Big Fat Liar

Within the last week or so, two of my blogger friends, le0pard13 and Poncho, kindly bestowed on me the Creative Writer Award (Poncho also gave me the Kreativ Blogger Award), with the real implication being they think I’m a bald-faced liar. Which I take as a huge compliment! It takes a lot of talent to be a convincing liar, I’ll have you know.

One of the rules in accepting the award requires me to post statements about myself—some lies, some truths—and have readers guess which is which. I also have to thank the people who gave me the award and then give it to seven others.

So here goes: Thank you, le0pard13 and Poncho, for telling me to my face how you really feel about me. People who call me a liar behind my back are cowards and need to be whacked repeatedly with nunchucks.

As for nominating seven other bloggers, I only know about five and they’ve all received this award already (thanks a lot for picking me last, guys; what is this, kickball?). So, I will pass it on to only one other blogger, the divine Ms. Shell Sherree, who does beautiful illustrations, schools me on Australian lingo, and is a gorgeous friend.

Now for the statements:

  1. I once provided backstage security for Duran Duran at a concert.
  2. Mel Gibson and I once shopped for books together.
  3. I was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.
  4. Several years ago, I finished the New York Marathon right behind P. Diddy.
  5. I’m a crack shot at the firing range.
  6. I have a black belt in tae kwon do and once trained with Chuck Norris.
  7. I was voted Most Likely to Win Hot Dog Eating Contest in high school.
  8. I worked briefly for the FBI after college.
  9. I’ve skydived out of a C-130.
  10. I once played Charlie in a school production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Think you can figure out which statements are true or false? Have at it! Extra points if you tell me why you think something is a lie or truth.

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Winners of Ben Sherwood’s THE SURVIVORS CLUB

With Random.org‘s help, I drew the following 5 names to receive a trade paperback copy of this book from Hachette Book Group:

  1. Alana (Whitman)
  2. Lydia
  3. le0pard13
  4. WotV
  5. Elizabeth (APMonkey)

Congrats! Please DM or e-mail me your address (click on “contact” tab at top of page) and I’ll pass it along to the publisher. If I don’t hear from you by 5 p.m. PST Sunday, alternate names will be selected.

Thanks to all for entering and telling me what kind of survivor you are. Stay tuned for more giveaways soon!

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Movie Review: FROM PARIS WITH LOVE

During most of the Luc Besson-produced From Paris with Love, I had no idea what was going on. Oddly enough, being a fan of plot-driven movies, I still found it to be a blast, and I’m not just talking about the explosions. It’s because of John Travolta having more fun than I’ve ever seen him have on screen, making it impossible for me to not enjoy the ride with him.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a junior CIA agent living in Paris with a cover job in the U.S. Embassy, doing little more than grunt work and eager to take on more dangerous assignments. He gets his wish when the agency teams him up with loose cannon agent Charlie Wax (Travolta) to take down drug dealers and terrorists. You don’t need to know more than that because it’s irrelevant. Do you remember what the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was about? No, but you’re probably still chuckling about Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack.

And so it is here with Travolta’s portrayal of the profane, badass, bald, goateed, tattooed, beefed up Wax with even beefier guns. When he first appears on screen, I thought, “Oh no, he just graduated from the Nicolas Cage School of Hambone Overacting.”

But the actor quickly won me over with the sheer joy he exudes in playing this character. Watching him take down bad guys and blow things up is like watching a child get exactly what he wants on Christmas morning. (I couldn’t help but also think that since this movie was shot while his son Jett was still alive, it may be a long time before we see Travolta this gleeful again.) And a movie with so many explosions, car chases and shootouts—done in spectacular “Aw, YEAH!”-inducing style—needs a big character like Wax to anchor it. Anything less would have been blown away with the scenery.

Nerd verdict: Fun adventure in Paris

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2010 Oscar Nominations & Script Giveaway

By now, you’ve heard the Oscar noms (you haven’t? click here) and have probably dissected them with your friends, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway and then get to the script giveaway.

The nominees were mostly predictable so my excitement was muted (it was also wayyy early when nominations were announced), and the few surprises were not happy ones. Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart? Someone needs to explain that to me. No way was she better than Melanie Laurent’s subtly seething performance in Inglourious Basterds or Marion Cotillard’s wife whose heart is breaking in Nine.

And I liked The Blind Side, mostly (only?) because of Sandra Bullock’s performance, so I’m okay with her nomination, but the movie has no business being in the best picture race. Neither does A Serious Man, which HAS NO ENDING! Why have the Coen brothers decided it’s okay to put their characters through all sorts of travails and then resolve nothing? They did that with No Country for Old Men and again with Serious Man. I am done with their films for now.

OK, rant over, let’s get to the giveaway. First of all—it’s open to international readers. I will e-mail a script from one of this year’s Oscar-nominated films to everyone who can get 3 people to subscribe via e-mail to this site (if you’re already a subscriber, you only have to get 2 others). If you can get 6 people, I’ll e-mail you 2 scripts. I don’t spam or give out the list to anyone.

After they subscribe, just send me their e-mail addresses so I know which ones to give you credit for, then tell me which script(s) you want. There’s no time limit to this giveaway.

Available screenplays:

  • Avatar by James Cameron
  • Crazy Heart by Scott Cooper
  • An Education by Nick Hornby
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
  • The Hurt Locker by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino
  • Invictus by Anthony Peckham
  • Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • A Serious Man by Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Up in the Air by Jason Reitman
  • The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke

What did you think of the Oscar nominations? Who will you be rooting for on March 7?

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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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