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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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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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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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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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Nerdies for Best & Worst of 67th Annual Golden Globes

I usually love me some Globes but last night while they were on, I was deep in HTML hell so my wrap-up will be a bit more succinct than usual. If you’d like a complete list of winners, go here. I’m just going to run down the moments that stood out for me.

Best She-Cleans-Up-Well Award: Mo’Nique. I whooped with joy when my girl won for Precious, and then she moved me with her eloquent, heartfelt acceptance speech, a completely different kind from the terrifying one she makes in the movie to the social worker.

Least in Need of Airbrushing: Meryl Streep. Did you see her skin?! Whatever she’s using, I want several buckets of. She was so glowy, if the lights had gone out, she would have been the only person in the room you could still see clearly.

Best Sense of Humor about Himself: Mel Gibson. Ricky Gervais introduced him by saying, “I like a drink as much as the next man…unless that man’s Mel Gibson!” Then Gibson proceeded to play along by slurring his words as he presented the award for best director.

Most Disturbing Dresses That Were Actually Half Gorgeous: Drew Barrymore’s and Christina Aguilera. Barrymore looked radiant (she won her first Globe!) but I could not take my eyes off those lumps on her shoulder and hip. They looked like baby porcupines that had fallen into jars of glitter. Aguilera looked good, too, but her two-toned dress made it look as if she forgot to tuck her right boob back in after she breast-fed her child. And speaking of breasts…

B(r)e(a)st Smackdown: Halle Berry vs. Mariah Carey. These two ladies wore plunging necklines that showed most of their womanhood to the world. But while Berry managed to look sexy, Carey just looked cheap and porny. Put them away, Mariah. They’re not that precious.

Most Handsome Nerd: Dude, Zachary Levi was smokin’ in his tan and tux! If he keeps that up, who’s going to buy him as a nerd on Chuck anymore?

Biggest Failed Attempt at a Clever Speech: Robert Downey Jr. I’m not happy about that; I’m crazy about him as an actor. But when he won for Sherlock Holmes (what the…?) and pretended he wasn’t going to thank anyone, he sounded like an ass instead of charming and funny the way George Clooney and Hugh Grant did when they pulled the same stunt in the past.

Hottest Train Holder: Jon Hamm. During the red carpet arrivals, Jennifer Garner had a problem with her train. As she struggled with it, Hamm came along and gallantly held it up for her.

Best Dress: Zoe Saldana‘s gorgeous red ruffled gown. I’m not usually a girly girl but took one look at that and thought, “Oooh, pretttttty.” Louis Vutton knew how to do ruffles, unlike the designers of the Chloe Sevigny’s and Anna Kendrick’s dresses.

Best Put-Together: Jennifer Garner. Despite all the rain (even Heidi Klum had flat hair!), Garner was perfection from head to toe.

What did you like (or not) about the Globes? Who did you think was best dressed?


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Welcome!

Usually when people get a facelift, they don’t talk about it. But I’m proud to say I’ve spent the last several days giving my blog an overhaul even Joan Rivers would envy.

First, if you followed me over from my WordPress.com blog, thank you for making the switch. Please adjust your bookmarks and links accordingly if you had me in your blogroll. And don’t forget to re-subscribe (look to sidebar on right) because your subscription to the other blog is now defunct.

This site is a work in progress—it’s only about 25% finished—because I’m no tech wizard and too cheap and stubborn to pay someone to do it. The past few days I’ve felt like a chimp playing the roulette wheel, having just as much chance of clicking on the wrong thing as not.

Speaking of clicking, I hope you’ll do so all over the site and explore it (check out that carousel of featured articles on the home page!).

I added a “top commentator” widget which keeps track of people who leave the most comments. Jen Forbus is currently in the lead; are you just going to let her stay there? Occasionally, I’ll give prizes to the most vocal readers so now’s a good time to de-lurk yourself.

But I don’t want you only commenting on what I write about. I also added a forum so you all can hang out here and discuss anything you’d like. Share your pop culture recommendations, swap books, tell nerdy stories—click on the tab up top and have fun!

Enough yammering—I can hear the orchestra playing me off the stage. I’d like to say a special thank you to le0pard13, who provided superhuman support, and to my husband who allowed me to lock myself in the den for hours and slipped food under the door just when I needed it.

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No Limits on the Horizon for U2

So, U2’s dropping a new album Tuesday (download it from Amazon for only $3.99!) and I’m excited, having been a fan since 1980. But when it came to doing a review, I knew the best person for the job would be my contributing writer, Debbie DeNice, the resident U2 expert. I’m telling you—she’s got a Master’s degree in Bonology and has traveled the world to see them live (from the pit, baby). She turned in the following review plus exclusive photos she took herself. Enjoy!

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Uno. Dos. Tres. Cinco. Cinco? Yes, cinco. That’s how many years have passed since U2’s last studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This Tuesday, U2 will release No Line on the Horizon and Club Vertigo, with the boys who play rock and roll and the girls with crimson nails, has been left behind. We’ve walked out in sexy boots because the future needs a big kiss—along with some love and community.

Most certainly this album is a departure for U2. Listening to it for the first time I thought, “This doesn’t sound like U2.” My second thought was, “This doesn’t sound like anyone other than U2, either.”

They began work on NLOTH with Rick Rubin, a producer known for his “stripped-down” sound, creating naked vocals and bare instrumentation. For whatever reason, their teaming with Rubin ended (two songs completed with Rubin, the cover of the Skids’ “The Saints Are Coming” with Green Day and “Window in the  Skies,” were released on U2’s 18 Singles compilation album in 2006) and they reunited with Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite. Out went the back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll of Atomic Bomb and in came the experimental, sonically textured NLOTH. And it works. It rocks.

The standout tracks for me: “Magnificent,” “Moment of Surrender,” and “White as Snow.” Each of these songs begins pared down, stripped bare with only an instrument or a vocal. A sonic focal point on the water that slowly amplifies by layering tones, vocals, and instruments, sending rippling sound waves out onto the horizon.

The range of sounds and the texture of tones that NLOTH brings are unexpected and welcomed—‘70s rock, folk music flavor, and a touch of otherworldliness. The sound of a droning organ and a fat, fuzzy, or distorted guitar prove that when it comes to rock musicians, the Edge is in rarefied air. Bono is in brilliant voice and writing some beautiful lyrics that touch on themes of love, war, transcendence and being Bono. While Bono and the Edge get most of the attention, the rhythm section consisting of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. kick ass. Funky bass grooves and staccato drumming add to the richness of this aural pleasure that is NLOTH.

This is a transitional album for U2, in the same vein as The Unforgettable Fire and Zooropa. As such, it may take awhile to be fully appreciated but U2 is back. Back with big sounds, big ideas and a big voice, though some may argue—a big mouth. As I heard Bono say recently, “U2 are not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Tour information goes up on their website (U2.com) next Monday, March 9th. Rumor has it they may have some recession-priced tickets so check them out this summer in a city near you. I, for one, can’t wait to meet them in the sound!

Rating: Brilliant

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Finalists from Group 2

Let’s get right to the point. The 3 who made the top 12 from this bunch were Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen and Adam Lambert. Save for the choice of Iraheta, who has an incredibly powerful voice and kinda looks like early Kelly Clarkson, I’m hugely disappointed by the results. I thought we’d get 2 girls and 1 guy since the girls were so much better last night. But no, we got 2 guys—1 white bread, 1 cheesy. Together, they couldn’t even make a sandwich because there’s no meat in their performances.

Iraheta was the first one to claim one of those coveted stools after Ryan asked her, Jesse Langseth and Matt Breitzke to come center stage and then the latter two were sent packing. I was hoping against hope that red-hot Jesse would get in but I’m absolutely okay with Iraheta. Iraheta’s got a great voice; she just comes across so unformed and awkward whereas Langseth seems to be the more ready-for-prime-time performer. I hope she comes back for the wild card round.

Next up were Kris Allen, Megan Corkrey, Matt Giraud (looking more like Justin Timberlake every day) and Jeanine Vailes, in short shorts again. That girl ain’t stupid; she knows what her best assets are. But this is American Idol, not Miss America, and her shapely gams couldn’t save her from being eliminated. She’s going home and should stay there. Matt is also gone, but we might see him again, hopefully in front of a piano.

At this point, Kris Allen and Megan Corkrey were left standing together and told that one of them was a finalist. I was thinking, “Oh, no contest. Megan’s got this in the bag.” When Ryan announced it was Kris, I thought he was on crack or maybe April Fool’s came early. To me, this was the night’s most shocking result. Kris seems like a perfectly nice kid but he’s so vanilla and nowhere near as dynamic and compelling as Megan on stage. She’s definitely coming back; I’d put money on that. They need someone unique like her in the finals so that we don’t have a bunch of cookie-cutter contestants.

At this point, there were still about 30 minutes of show left so you knew they weren’t going to reveal the third finalist any time soon. Instead, we got a performance from season 7’s top-five finalist, Brooke White, who looked gorgeous (she was my fave last year). She sang her brand new single, “Hold Up My Heart,” (available on iTunes) which had a nice, ’70s feel to it. It’s not the best song ever but the chorus was pretty catchy. I love her raspy vocals and how she still plays the piano with one bare foot to work the pedals.

OK, back to judgment time. Mishavonna Henson, Jasmine Murray, Kai Kalama, Nick/Norman and Adam Lambert were brought down. There wasn’t one ounce of surprise when Henson, Murray and Kalama were told America just didn’t give them enough love. Which left Nick/Norman and Lambert still standing. This was so gross; I wanted them both gone. But again, after no suspense whatsoever, Lambert was declared the victor and we had to experience his hideous rendition of “Satisfaction” all over again. I might need therapy after being repeatedly subjected to such heavy trauma.

Next week, group 3 will perform: Nathaniel Marshall, Kendall Beard, Taylor Vaifanua, Kristen McNamara, Von Smith, Alex Wagner-Trugman, Felicia Barton, Lil Rounds, Arianna Afsar, Scott MacIntyre, Ju’Not Joyner, and Jorge Nunez. Are you excited about any of these people? I’m not.

Did you agree with the results tonight or were you disgusted like I was? Post me some comments!

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THE REAPER Kicks Butt!

beat_reaperMan, oh man, I just finished this book by Josh Bazell called Beat the Reaper and it was so good, I started writing this review before the book’s back cover had slapped shut. That’s how fast I wanted to spread the word. Bazell is a first-time novelist but you wouldn’t know it from his assured control of pace, plot and dialogue in this hilarious and outrageous mafia comedy thriller. 

The novel starts out with our protagonist, Dr. Peter Brown, getting mugged while watching a rat fight a pigeon in the snow on his way to work at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. Turns out Dr. Brown’s a lot like the rat and knows a thing or two about fighting himself.

Brown is really Pietro Brnwa aka Bearclaw, a former mob assassin who turned state’s evidence then went into witness protection and medicine to atone for his killings. Not that he’s suddenly turned into a Boy Scout. He calls a patient with rectal pain “Assman” and agrees to lick a pretty patient’s leg before she’s wheeled to surgery to get it amputated. He also eats Moxfane like potato chips (“Moxfane is the drug they give to bomber pilots who need to take off from Michigan, bomb Iraq, then fly back to Michigan without stopping. You can swallow it or use it to run the engine.”). 

Of course, like the pigeon fighting the rat, people from his past just won’t stay down and keep coming back for more, no matter how bloody the result (very, in case you’re wondering). Bazell, who’s a real doctor in San Francisco, switches back and forth between the present and the past to fill us in—even exposition unfolds at heart-thumping speed—on how Brnwa got sucked into the mob in the first place and how it all went wrong. The action leads to a climactic confrontation in which Brnwa uses an insane, improvised lethal weapon that I’m pretty sure has never been used in crime fiction.

Bazell’s voice is fresh and scalpel-sharp, his prose vivid and cinematic. As Brnwa enters a pitch-black room, the author writes: “I recognized the sound of her instantly. The adrenaline jacked my pupil size…An impulse hit me. Kill. All around the room, knees, eyes, and throats lit up like targets in a shooting gallery.” Bazell definitely hit the bull’s eye with his debut so it’s no surprise to hear Leonardo DiCaprio has already snapped up movie rights. Other good news? Bazell promises Brnwa will be back in a sequel.

Nerd Verdict: Hard to beat this brilliant combination of thrills, humor and action

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AMERICAN IDOL — Group 2 of Semi-Finalists

The girls were way better than the guys tonight and it burns me that the rules force us to accept at least one guy from this group into the top 12. There are three girls (Allison Iraheta, Megan Corkrey, Jesse Langseth) who should easily move on, but nooo, one of those shiny stools tomorrow night will be occupied by either a boring or ridiculously cheesy guy (Adam Lambert, I’m talking to you). Let’s break it down.

  • Jasmine Murray. She’s beautiful and can sing but her rendition of “Love Song” was a mess. The arrangement was too slow; it’s supposed to be a bouncy pop song. She over-‘tuded it up with the distracting, jerky choreography. Wasn’t one of my favorite females tonight.
  • Matt Giraud. Oh my goodness, I so wanted him to be the top male vote getter tonight but his perf of “Viva La Vida” was sooo bad. He kept gasping for breath and couldn’t hit any of the high notes. I love the song and really like this guy so this was a bummer. Now we’re probably stuck with cheesy Lambert.
  • Jeanine Vailes. What is going on tonight? Everyone’s bombing so far! We’ve never seen this girl and I was willing to give her a chance but after her atrocious take on Maroon 5’s “This Love” (a song I already dislike), I’m thinking it’s a good thing we haven’t heard her sing before and hopefully we won’t again. She admitted she might have overcompensated to get America to like her but I’m afraid she won’t get a second chance to atone for this.
  • Norman Gentle. I’m too tired to say much else about this guy. Please end the torture, America, and send him home.
  • Allison Iraheta. Anyone who has attempted to sing Heart’s “Alone” in recent years on A.I., I immediately compare, usually unfavorably, to Carrie Underwood’s searing version of it as a contestant four seasons ago. Iraheta’s performance wasn’t as good as that but she made me sit up and listen. She’s 16 and she can blow like that? Wow! It was a little shouty at times but she was way better than I expected. 
  • Kris Allen. Who? I’ve already forgotten. He was definitely not memorable. For the record, he sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” but nothing about it stood out for me. 
  • Megan Corkrey. I love this girl—she’s so quirky and sweet and charming and gorgeous. She stood there with an armful of tattoos and yet came off like Little Miss Sunshine in her white babydoll dress. She sang Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” which showcased her unique, funky voice. It was good to see her sing again after she was practically invisible during Hollywood week.
  • Matt Breitzke. I’m sorry, did you say something? I fell asleep during this performance of Tonic’s “If You Could Only See.” Everything about it was bland and half-baked and soporific. Too bad ’cause I liked when he sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” in his original audition. I think it ends here for him.
  • Jesse Langseth. I love me some Jesse! I just think this girl is so cool. She’s got grit and spunk and her voice is smoky and bluesy. She was captivating to watch with her slinky, sultry hip-swaying, and yet still came across like a pretty and accessible tomboy. When Simon said he didn’t think her performance of “Bette Davis Eyes” would incite people to jump on the phone and vote, I said, “That’s exactly what I’m doing!”
  • Kai Kalama. He sang “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” better than I expected but I just can’t find anything exciting about him. Not strong enough for the top 12 in my book.
  • Mishavonna Henson. Her singing of “Drops of Jupiter” wasn’t a Train wreck—she’s got a nice, strong voice—but there’s a little something too robotic and stiff about her. No personality comes through when she sings. I think she’s going home but she’s young enough to try for the third time next year if she wants.
  • Adam Lambert. When he first came out to start the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” I recoiled with such horror I almost fell off the couch. I was mortified by his opening, trying to seduce the camera with his eyes (I hate when contestants follow the camera around with their eyes!), and his fake snarling. This guy is such a poser. He thinks he’s a rock star but he looks and sounds like a girl. He thinks he’s singing rock and roll but he was doing a rock musical. When he tried to growl out parts of the song, I just laughed. Then the full-throttle, mouth-wide-open final note struck fear in me once again. It was like looking into the Hellmouth and hoping you don’t get sucked in.

I ended up voting for Megan Corkrey and Jesse Langseth but no guys. Judges’ pet Lambert will probably get the top male spot but at least I’ll be able to say I didn’t help put him there.

What did you think of tonight’s show? Did you like or hate Lambert’s performance?

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