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Book Review—BRIDGET JONES: MAD ABOUT THE BOY by Helen Fielding

mad about the boyI really hated starting this book after I’d seen Entertainment Weekly‘s major plot spoiler in a headline on its homepage, with no spoiler alert or option to have the spoiler revealed only to readers who click on the article. Up to that point, I’d avoided all of Helen Fielding’s interviews and was happily clueless, awaiting the return of Bridget Jones.

So, if you hadn’t heard about the bomb Fielding dropped and intend to read the book, I’ll warn you there will be SPOILERS in this review. I wasn’t going to include any but it’s hard to discuss the story without revealing the Very Big Deal.

Stop now if you don’t want to know.

Last chance to bail.

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OK, Bridget is now 51 and a mother of two grade-school-aged children, Billy and Mabel. She’s also a widow. *Sob*. Mark Darcy was killed while on a trip to Darfur, doing his international rights work. (The book starts five years after Mark’s death, but backtracks a year, and then catches up to the current year.) Bridget is getting back into the dating game via different online methods, including Twitter and dating sites. She engages in a relationship with a 29-year-old “toy boy” named Roxby but called Roxster due to his Twitter handle. She juggles this with her single-mum duties and work on her screenplay, a modernization of Hedda Gabler.

It’s good to see Bridget back, nutty as ever, but the humor is tempered by sadness. It’s to Fielding’s credit that she created a character whose absence is deeply felt even in a book where he does not appear. When the children do something wonderful and Bridget wishes Mark were around to witness it, or when it’s late at night and Bridget’s loneliness intensifies, the scenes are poignant.

Fielding doesn’t dwell on the sadness, though. Bridget snaps back to her usual go-getter self, and her pluckiness in the face of adversity is probably one of the reasons readers like her.

But sometimes Bridget—and the author—tries too hard to be funny, as if to entertain a younger audience. There are a lot of fart jokes between Bridget and Roxster. And jokes about syphilis and gonorrhea. And pubic lice and diarrhea and throwing up in your mouth. A couple of the jokes made me chuckle but I did wonder at times if I’d wandered into a Hangover sequel.

The ending is predictable; you’ll most likely spot the person Bridget ends up with right at the beginning. That part is OK because in Bridget Jones’s Diary, it was also obvious right away that she’d end up with Mark.

What I question is how this new man managed to develop the intense feelings he seems to confess to Bridget near the end. Mark had known Bridget since they were both children, so despite only occasional encounters in Diary, it was believable that he could have fallen in love with her somewhere along the way.

In Mad, she has only brief run-ins and limited conversations with this new romantic interest. The two barely know each other so it’s not clear where the feelings come from. It seems he’s into her because she’s such a mess, a damsel in need of rescuing, and that’s not a strong foundation for a relationship.

There’s one thing I’m hoping for if this book gets a movie adaptation. Fielding described Mark in Diary as looking like Colin Firth and the actor ended up playing Mark. In this latest book, she describes Bridget’s love interest as looking like Daniel Craig and Bond-ish. Make it happen for the movie! I’m mad about that boy!

Nerd verdict: Pages 386, pages too long 60 (approx.), issues 2 or 3, overall still good

Amazon | IndieBound

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84th Academy Awards Highlights

When I first heard Billy Crystal named as host this year, I thought it was a very good choice. He’s one of very few hosts who can improvise and riff on unexpected moments that occur during the show. But then a friend of mine who went to the rehearsals told me the skits were boring and the banter dull. So I approached the show with somewhat lowered expectations but ended up enjoying it quite a bit, definitely much more than last year’s ceremony.

First, the winners in some of the major categories:

Best PictureThe Artist

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, The Descendants

(For a full list, go here.)

Some of the highlights:

Funniest but least helpful focus group: Christopher Guest and Co. as an early focus group, giving feedback on a test screening of The Wizard of Oz. Favorite comments were Catherine O’Hara’s complaint about the use of little people to play munchkins (she thought they were kids): “You hire all these children and little people when there are plenty of capable, full-sized men out in the bread lines still.” Jennifer Coolidge chimed in with “there’s lots of ugly faces in this film, lots of elevator faces, faces that look like they were caught in an elevator, smushed together, hatchet faces, long chins…I’ve never seen so many unattractive people.”

Most inclusive thank-you: The sound editing duo of Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty, for Hugo, who said, “I’d just like to thank everybody who is here tonight, and everybody who isn’t, and everybody who’s ever been born, or may be born or be born again or reborn. If I’ve forgotten anybody then you probably know who you are.”

Best live special effects: The Cirque du Soleil performance. I’ll take them over lame musical numbers any day.

Funniest reality check: Chris Rock on why “I love animation. You could be anything you want to be. You’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra.”

Randiest presenter: Melissa McCarthy, doing a take on her Bridesmaids character by coming to Crystal’s dressing room in a robe and asking him, “How about we make this dressing room an undressing room?”

Longest wait for an Oscar: Christopher Plummer’s. The 82-year-old actor started his acceptance speech by addressing the Oscar: “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?” He continued, “When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank-you speech.”

Best quip after a boring speech: After Academy president Tom Sherak gave his obligatory dull remarks, Crystal said, “Thank you for whipping the crowd into a frenzy.”

Funniest improvised bit from a winner: The Descendants‘ co-writer Jim Rash (who also plays Dean Pelton in Community), striking the same pose as Angelina Jolie when she came out to present his award.

Most exciting moment for a Flight of the Conchords fan: When Bret McKenzie won best song for “Man or Muppets” from The Muppets. Who knew half of that brilliantly goofy duo would one day be an Oscar winner? He said, “I grew up in New Zealand watching The Muppets on TV. Never dreamed I’d get to work with them. I was genuinely starstruck when I finally met Kermit the frog, but once you get to know him, he’s just a normal frog. And like many stars here, he’s a lot shorter in real life.”

Most, ah, interesting way of presenting awards for the short films: Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph making double entendres about the shorts, though Rudolph claimed they were talking about movies, not “wieners.” Wiig: “See, I’d rather have a short film with some heft that’s nice to me, rather than a long film that just lies there and makes you do all the work.” Rudolph: “But sometimes a film can be too long.” Wigg: “Not for me, not for me.”

Goofiest running gag: The Scorsese drinking game that the Bridesmaids ladies started at the Golden Globes, in which if someone says the director’s name, they have to drink. The best part was Scorsese’s delighted but completely befuddled reaction, having no idea what was going on.

Presenter who best managed to make scripted bits seem funny and sincere: Colin Firth, who presented the best actress award. When paying tribute to Meryl Streep, he said, “Mamma Mia! We were in Greece, we danced, I was gay, and we were happy.” He also told Michelle Williams she was his mentor on the movie they did together (A Thousand Acres), and that he aspired to be like her “even though you were 12 and I was 35.”

After the show, a friend of mine who was at the Oscars called and sent over a couple of fun photos she took. She said Octavia Spencer decided her clutch was too small so she also carried a giant handbag with her.

My friend also caught Kenneth Branagh photobombing John Corbett and his longtime partner, Bo Derek.

What did you think of the show? Favorite bits? Parts you hated? For my fashion roundup, click here.

Photos: The Artist cast/Ian West/PA; Cirque du Soleil/Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Angelina Jolie-Jim Rash/Entertainment Weekly; Rose Byrne & Melissa McCarthy/Kevin Winter/Getty

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Tired Soldier Spy(ing) on Firth

I went to a Variety screening of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last night, something I was looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, running on only four hours’ sleep from the night before, I nodded off at one point in the movie—lots of men talking in low tones did the trick—and when I woke, I had no idea what was going on. I heard that people who stayed awake thought it was dense, so although I pried open my eyes Clockwork Orange-style for the rest of the two hours+, I was too lost to review it properly.

But the evening wasn’t lost, as my boyf Oscar-winner Colin Firth was there to do Q&A, along with Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), co-screenwriter Peter Straughan (he and Bridget O’Connor adapted the John le Carré novel), and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Since I’m not reviewing, I’ll just throw up a couple of pictures and call it a day. Enjoy!

Oldman & Firth

Firth & Strong

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Awards Are Coming! Awards Are Coming!

I’m a little behind but want to cover Golden Globe nominations and winners from some major critics’ groups.

First, GG noms in the big movie categories, with a few brief observations:

Best Motion Picture–Drama

Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

It’s a toss-up between Inception and The King’s Speech for me. Both are remarkable but in completely different ways.

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Alice in Wonderland
Burlesque
The Kids Are All Right
Red
The Tourist

Burlesque? Seriously? Kids is the obvious choice here.

Best Director – Motion Picture

Darren Aronofsky–Black Swan
David Fincher–The Social Network
Tom Hooper–The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan–Inception
David O. Russell–The Fighter

Again, it’d be between Nolan and Hooper, but I’m surprised Danny Boyle didn’t make the cut. He turned what people said was an unfilmable book into an exhilarating and intensely moving motion picture.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Jesse Eisenberg–The Social Network
Colin Firth–The King’s Speech
James Franco–127 Hours
Ryan Gosling–Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg–The Fighter

Firth is tops for me, with Franco a close second and Gosling a very close third.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Halle Berry–Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman–Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence–Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman–Black Swan
Michelle Williams–Blue Valentine

Portman would get my vote, but Williams’s performance also got under my skin. Huge omission: Lesley Manville’s raw portrayal of a woman in denial slowly falling apart in Another Year.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Johnny Depp–Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp–The Tourist
Paul Giamatti–Barney’s Version
Jake Gyllenhaal–Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey–Casino Jack

Haven’t seen all these perfs so not sure about this one.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Anne Hathaway–Love and Other Drugs
Julianne Moore–The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening–The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone–Easy A
Angelina Jolie–The Tourist

Tough to pick between the Kids leads but I’d go with Moore for her insecure, vulnerable, conflicted, lovely turn.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Christian Bale–The Fighter
Michael Douglas–Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield–The Social Network
Jeremy Renner–The Town
Geoffrey Rush–The King’s Speech

Bale is the clear winner but Renner and Rush are very strong. I’m disappointed John Hawkes didn’t get recognized for his creepy turn as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams–The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter–The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis–Black Swan
Melissa Leo–The Fighter
Jacki Weaver–Animal Kingdom

Haven’t seen Weaver’s performance. Between the other four, I’d go with Leo for her brassy, trashy mama.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Inception

Tough call between Inception, 127 Hours and King’s Speech, all complex and smart. Good thing Oscars distinguish between original and adapted screenplays. For originality, Inception should get it. For adapted, I’d go with Hours since it was probably more difficult to rework the mostly internal story into something cinematic.

In the last couple days, film critics associations have also been doling out awards, with most naming The Social Network and David Fincher as best picture and best director. I strongly disagree but here are partial lists from some of the more prominent groups. (Click on links to see full lists.)

New York Film Critics Circle:

Best Film:
The Social Network

Best Director:
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay:
The Kids Are All Right

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actor
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Best Cinematography
Matthew Libatique, Black Swan

Best Animated Film
The Illusionist

Boston Society of Film Critics:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Actor
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress
Juliette Lewis, Conviction

Best Director
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins, True Grit

Best Animated Film
Toy Story 3

Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer)
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan

Best Ensemble Cast

The Fighter

I like how the L.A. Film Critics Association threw in a few surprises:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Director
Olivier Assayas (Carlos) and David Fincher (The Social Network)—tie.

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Actress
Kim Hye-ja, Mother

Best Supporting Actor
Niels Arestrup, A Prophet

Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Black Swan

Best Foreign Language Film
Carlos

Best Music/Score
The Ghost Writer (Alexandre Desplat) and The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)

If you’re still with me, here are links to winners from the Toronto Film Critics, D.C. Film Critics, Southeastern Film Critics and AFI’s top 10 movies of the year.

Do you agree The Social Network is this year’s best movie? Any others you’re rooting for? What about favorite-but-overlooked performances?

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THE KING’S SPEECH: Movie Review with Production Notes

When I first heard a while back that Colin Firth had picked this as his next project, I thought, “Ugh.” I’m not a big fan of historical drama and the description sounded so humorless and Oscar-baity. Does a story about a former king of England struggling with a stuttering problem seem exciting to anyone besides members of associations of speech pathologists?

Surprise—The King’s Speech (which I saw at the tribute gala at the AFI Fest presented by Audi) turns out to be witty, moving, entertaining and extremely well-acted. Well, that last part is no surprise and I’d be cheesed-off if this doesn’t get some Oscar love, especially for Firth, who turns in yet another pitch-perfect performance after last year’s A Single Man and for whom I’m rooting to take home the gold.

Right before England goes to war with Germany in WWII, the frail King George V (Michael Gambon) is preparing his second son, Albert (Queen Elizabeth II’s father), for the possibility of taking over the throne since he has little faith in his eldest, David, who’s been gallivanting about with a twice-married American woman named Wallis Simpson. Albert has no interest in being king, however, since he has suffered from a stammering problem most of his life and public speaking terrifies him. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), refers him to a speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who has unconventional methods and isn’t intimidated by royalty, as evidenced by his nickname for the prince: Bertie.

Though skeptical at first, because no other therapist has been able to cure him, Bertie nevertheless subjects himself to Lionel’s unique exercises, including a rant consisting mostly of curse words since Lionel notices that the prince is almost stammer-free when he’s impassioned. Meanwhile, King George V dies and David becomes King Edward VIII, only to abdicate so he can marry Simpson. Bertie is thrust onto the throne and takes the name King George VI to honor his father.

One of his first duties is to deliver a radio address to reassure his people, who are disheartened by news of England declaring war. Thinking the speech will be impossible, Bertie almost gives up his lessons until Lionel makes him see that he must believe in himself as much as the public needs to have faith in their new king.

Hollywood wisdom (oxymoron, I know) goes that if an actor plays a character with a handicap, he/she’s a shoe-in for award nominations. But it would cheapen Firth’s work to say that’s the reason for his nod, which is a sure thing at this point. While some actors think the trick is to play up the affliction, Firth goes the opposite way—he underplays it. It’s not his realistic simulation of stuttering that’s most impressive, it’s what he does when he’s not speaking. Every time King George stares down his enemy the microphone, Firth makes it look as if the king has a gun to his head, so great is his anguish. On the outside, he looks every bit the royal with his perfect posture and sharp jackets, but his eyes give him away as a man terrified he’ll let down his people. As he touchingly says at one point, “They look to me to speak for them but I can’t. I can’t speak.”

Rush matches Firth in every scene as the eccentric Lionel. Instead of playing it all Annie Sullivan-ish, Rush’s Lionel is irreverent and witty yet stern when he needs to be. He sneaks up on the king, and us, in showing how effective a therapist Lionel is.

As Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), Bonham Carter turns in a warm performance that’s refreshingly low-key for her. You can see the real Queen Mum’s gait and posture in how Bonham Carter carries herself. There’s absolutely no trace of the off-the-charts crazy Bellatrix Lestrange here. (Speaking of Harry Potter characters, it’s also fun to see Dumbledore/Gambon and Timothy “Wormtail” Spall, though he mugs so much as Winston Churchill I feared he’d pull a face muscle.) Jennifer Ehle shows up as Lionel’s wife so for fangirls of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice like me, it’s thrilling to see a brief reunion of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Firth’s breakout role.

Firth at AFI Fest presented by Audi

The AFI Fest gala for it was attended by Firth (that man can fill out a suit!), Rush, director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler. The men introduced the film and shared some interesting tidbits:

  • Seidler was a little stammering boy in England when he heard the real king’s speech back in 1939. His mom pointed out that if the king could overcome his problem, so could Seidler.
  • After deciding to write a story about his lifelong inspiration, Seidler’s research unearthed incredible materials including the king’s journals. When he sought permission to make the film, however, the Queen Mother asked him not to make it in her lifetime since her memories of that time were still too painful. No one had any idea the queen would live so long.
  • Some of the funniest lines from the movie were written by King George VI himself because they were taken straight from his journals.
  • Rush got involved with the project first when the script was dropped off on his doorstep by the sister of a friend of the producer or something (he couldn’t remember). They bypassed his agent, which Rush liked.
  • Firth was intimidated by playing the king. One of his biggest concerns was that he’d overdo the stammering since he wasn’t sure what the right amount was. He was interested in portraying a man who just did not want the power given to him.

Nerd verdict: A princely King’s Speech

Movie stills: The Weinstein Company/Firth at AFI: Getty Images

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PCN’s Weirdest Keyword Searches

My admin panel has a section titled “search engine terms” that displays the keywords people use in their Internet searches to land on my site. Most of them are understandable: “rooney mara” (the new Lisbeth Salander), “colin firth” (I’ve written about him numerous times) or “fall movies 2010.”

Every once in a while, though, a really strange search phrase jumps out at me, making me wonder why in the world Google/bing/Yahoo brought them here. I can say with certainty I’ve never written about any of the following topics:

  • “what to do when you feel stupid”—um, maybe get off the Internet and read something?
  • “harry porret”—same advice.
  • “german men looking for wife contact  @yahoo”—damn, what’s the rest of that e-mail address?
  • “sexy actors receding hairline”—is your next search “sexy actresses with no teeth”?
  • “licking and rubbing teenage girls legs”—you searching from prison?
  • “romanian bondage”—how’s that different from Yemenian bondage?
  • “peeling man sad face”—if my face were being peeled off, I’d be sad, too.
  • “sex furniture”—you looking for a bed? Couch? Magazine rack? Can you be more specific?

So, ah, what keywords did you use to find my site?

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Nerdies for Best & Worst of 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Greg Shapiro. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Oh, man, I didn’t do so well this year in my predictions. Usually, I miss only 2-4 categories but this year I tanked by getting 7 wrong (17 right). I thought Avatar would win more technical awards but The Hurt Locker demolished it in the sound categories, too.

I assume you already know that Hurt Locker, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, and Kathryn Bigelow won the big awards. (For the rest of the winners, click here.) So I’m only going to discuss the moments which stood out for me for reasons both good and bad.

Most Confusing Guest? Host?: Neil Patrick Harris opening the show with a musical number. I like him and he’s a talented singer but he was neither Alec Baldwin nor Steve Martin. It felt odd that he was auditioning to be host of next year‘s telecast while this year’s was just beginning.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best Agency Dis: Baldwin. At the beginning of the show, he said, “In Precious, Gabourey Sidibe is told she’s worthless, nobody likes her, that she has no future. Hey, I’m with CAA, too!”

Least Prudent Interruption: Elinor Burkett, producer of documentary short winner Music by Prudence, Kanye’d director Roger Ross Williams’s acceptance speech by hijacking the mike and talking over him, complaining that women never get to talk. Her rudeness and anger were ironic since the film is supposed to be uplifting. (Salon.com has the story behind the incident here.)

Funniest “Horror” Clip: Martin and Baldwin’s Paranormal Activity spoof, which shows Martin bitch-slapping Baldwin in his sleep, causing Baldwin to fall out of bed.

Most Welcome Close-Up: During the animated sequence featuring the nominees for best animated feature, Up‘s talking dog, Dug, went right up to the camera and licked it before saying, “This is not food.” I love Dug and his big, squirrel-sniffing nose!

Understatement of the Year: Julianne Moore. Regarding filming A Single Man, she said, “Three days is not nearly enough time to spend in the company of the magnificent Colin Firth.” Truer words were not spoken.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best Nerd Representative: Sam Worthington. He whipped out thick black frames to read the teleprompter while presenting best score nominees. Holla! Sully (and the upcoming Perseus) is a cute myopic nerd!

Rudest Omissions from Memorial Tribute: Where were Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur?

Most People Thanked in Least Boring Speech: Sandra Bullock. Somehow, she managed to thank her fellow nominees, the Twohys, her husband, her late mother, all mothers, and her “lover Meryl Streep” while gettiing laughs and reducing her tough-guy spouse to tears.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best “I So Deserve This” Award: Sandy Powell for best costume. She was decked out in a striking dress with impeccable accessories, right down to her sequined beret. If you saw her walking down the street like that carrying an Oscar, you’d know instantly what category she won.

Strangest Pop & Lock(er) Sequence: For The Hurt Locker‘s nominated score, dancers performed a pop and lock dance routine. How does that represent soldiers deactivating bombs?

Wrongest Place for a Stripper Pole: In the middle of the dance number to Up‘s nominated score, a pair of dancers cavorted around a pole that looked like one from a strip club. I can’t even think about Carl and Ellie in those terms.

Kevin Winter/Getty

Best New Contender for President: Kathryn Bigelow. Can we get her to run in 2012, please? Her arms alone could crush bin Laden’s head like a grape. The woman kicks butt 9 kinds of ways and looks like one of Wonder Woman’s Amazon sisters from Paradise Island.

Which moments were memorable for you? Did you like Baldwin and Martin as hosts? How’d you do in your Oscar pool? Make sure you check out my fashion slideshow here!

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Movie Review: Colin Firth as A SINGLE MAN

I wanted to see this movie because of Colin Firth, though I wasn’t crazy about the notion of a sad, mopey Firth when I like him awkward and silly as in Love Actually and the Bridget Jones movies. But his performance in A Single Man (limited release, Dec. 11) proves he’s a first-rate actor who can make grief not only watchable but compelling.

Set in 1961 and based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Man deals with college professor George Falconer’s (Firth) struggle to cope with the death of his long-time partner Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The whole movie takes place on the day George decides to commit suicide. We see him putting his affairs in order and internally saying goodbye to his students and best friend Charly (Julianne Moore). Ironically, as he prepares to die, he becomes more alive, taking in details about his surroundings he hadn’t bothered to absorb during his grief-stricken stupor.

And that’s about it as far as plot goes. Being a fan of plot-driven stories, I was greatly surprised I wasn’t bored by some tedious navel-gazing. Most of the credit goes to Firth, who’s in every scene and holds my attention in all of them. He pulls off the difficult act of covering up feelings you suspect are roiling inside George, but he doesn’t bury them so deeply that the character becomes inaccessible. You can see his thoughts as they flit behind his eyes, the mental screams he’d like to release. For all his graceful suffering, George should bring Firth his first Oscar nomination.

Moore is also impressive—is that news to anyone? She plays a woman in mid-life crisis, feeling worthless because her husband and son have left her and her looks are fading (she’s still gorgeous to me). As strong as her performance is, though, I’ve seen better from Moore—in The Hours, for example. If she does get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, she has no chance (no one does) of beating Mo’Nique for Precious.

Hoult in SINGLE MAN

The biggest surprise here is Nicholas Hoult as a conflicted student of George’s who slowly awakens the older man to feelings he thought he no longer had. Hoult is so impossibly pretty with his golden hair, flirty baby blues, and pink pout, I was shocked to realize he’s the same actor who played Marcus,

Hoult in ABOUT A BOY

the plump, awkward kid who pestered Hugh Grant in About a Boy. Well, he’s all grown up and ungainly no more.

First-time director and co-screenwriter, Tom Ford, known primarily for his work as a fashion designer for Gucci, knows a thing or two about beauty. All his actors are ridiculously good-looking and he made sure you know it. It got to be a bit much after a while; I actually chuckled when the camera zoomed in for the umpteenth time on Hoult’s and Firth’s naked bodies floating in slo-mo in the ocean, or lingered on a starlet’s bee-stung lips exhaling cigarette smoke seductively.

Ford said during the post-Variety-screening Q & A (more on that below) he wanted a Bernard Herrmann-esque score as homage to the composer known for his work in Hitchcock movies, but the plaintive strings are too overpowering for such an introspective film. Ford needn’t try so hard; he has potential as a filmmaker and was smart enough to cast superb actors who added class to a project that could’ve been dismissible.

When Ford showed up for the Q & A, he was soft-spoken, articulate and unexpectedly vulnerable. He told a lot of personal stories which he said informed the movie. Some details:

  • He first read the book 25 years ago when he was living in West Hollywood and working as an actor.
  • George didn’t want to kill himself in the novel but Ford added that plot point because of a suicide in his family.
  • Firth originally turned down the film so Ford cast another actor. When that actor dropped out 3 weeks before production, Ford flew to London, pitched Firth personally instead of going through his rep and this time Firth said yes.
  • The film was shot in 21 days, with only 3 of rehearsal. Ford simply had Firth watch a clip of Bill Clinton denying he’d done certain things to Monica Lewinsky, then told Firth to have George cover up his emotions like that.
  • In a scene where George is supposed to chastely kiss Charly, Firth wouldn’t stop kissing Moore, resulting in several unusable takes. Ford had to keep reminding Firth he was playing a gay man.

Nerd verdict: Man is imperfect but Firth is impeccable

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Interview: Nerdy Questions for THE PENNY PINCHERS CLUB's Sarah Strohmeyer

Photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur

Author Sarah Strohmeyer must have a crystal ball. When she started this book, our 401(k) hadn’t been reduced to 201(k). But now the title of her new novel, The Penny Pinchers Club, could apply to our nation as a whole, not just the support group that Strohmeyer’s protagonist joins.

Kat, a forty-something New Jersey mom and shopaholic, finds evidence that her husband, Griff, is preparing to leave her for his research assistant. Instead of throwing him out or driving off in a huff, Kat must pretend she doesn’t know anything and bide her time until she saves enough money to live on her own. She joins a group of eccentric, budget-conscious people to help her accomplish this goal.

pp clubIn the midst of all the coupon clipping and Dumpster diving, Kat’s old boyfriend resurfaces, someone who conveniently has loads of cash. Many years ago, he had proposed to her but she turned him down for Griff, choosing the hot, romantic guy over the nice, stable one. A couple of decades later with her marriage on the brink of collapse, Kat wonders if she made the right choice.

This synopsis doesn’t do justice to Strohmeyer’s witty prose and endearing characters. It’s a fast, sexy read that surprises just when you think you know where it’s headed. It also gives you easy tips on how to save money and who can’t use that?

I’ve always enjoyed Strohmeyer’s zesty writing from the Bubbles Yablonsky series and now that I’ve had a chance to do an e-mail interview with her, I like her even more (she’s a Colin Firth and Daniel Craig fan!). Read her answers to my nerdy questions and tell me you don’t want to invite her to dinner and have her dog drive her over.

PCN: If you had to start a club to pinch something else besides pennies, what would that be?

Colin Firth

Colin Firth, Photo: Jim Wright

Sarah Strohmeyer: Colin Firth. Or maybe Daniel Craig. Nah, he’s too wiry. Definitely Colin. More to pinch.

PCN: Ooh, I’ll take both. One for each hand, please. What’s the one thing you will never give up, no matter how cash-strapped you get?

SS: Books. Wine. Dark chocolate with cherries. Though not necessarily in that order.

PCN: Kat chose to marry a man she was crazy about over one who had lots of money. What’s the most romantic but cheapest date you’ve ever had?

SS: This is horribly corny and I’m embarrassed to admit it—walking hand in hand as a light snow fell on a quiet December night 21 years ago, stopping to kiss under a tree as my future husband asked me to be his wife.

PCN: That is romantic but neither cheap nor corny. What’s cheap is when Kat goes Dumpster diving with her friend for groceries and an antique chair. What would you Dumpster dive for?

SS: Colin Firth. No, wait. He can’t be the answer to EVERYTHING.

PCN: Sure he can!

SS: I would Dumpster dive for more talent. And maybe if I accidentally threw out my engagement ring. When my brother was 13, we had to comb a landfill on Cape Cod for his retainer that he “accidentally” tossed in the trash. Ninety-degree heat. Stinking lobster shells. Seagulls threatening to pick out our brains. Fun times. (And, no, we did NOT find the retainer.)

PCN: Um, maybe that’s a good thing? One of the characters in the book turned out to be worth millions but struggling with the burden. What would you do with that kind of money? Would you still write if you didn’t have to work anymore?

Strohmeyer's dog, Fred

Strohmeyer's dog, Fred

SS: I would still write but I wouldn’t care if I sold. (Bliss!) I’d like to say I’d use the money to make sure no child anywhere went hungry at any time, but I think that’s a pipe dream. In truth, I’d buy a house I just saw in the New York Times that’s built over a stream in a California forest. Then I’d read, write, cook, hang with my family and play with my dogs. Kind of like my life now, except the $2 million crib.

PCN: I love your list of DOs and DON’Ts for saving money at the end of the book, which included a recipe for making your own mildew-remover. Any cheap, easy dinner recipes you’d like to share, too?

SS: Tortilla casserole:

1 package corn tortillas

2 cans black beans (or be a Penny Pincher and pressure cook your own)

1 large jar salsa

3 Tbs cilantro

8 oz cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350. Combine drained beans, salsa, cilantro in saucepan. Heat on low and stir until warm and flavors meld. Grate cheese.

In a casserole dish, spoon some of the salsa sauce on the bottom, cover with two or three tortillas, 1/3 sauce, 1/3 cheese.

Then another layer of tortillas, sauce, cheese and repeat, topping with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 1/2 hour. Remove foil and broil for a few minutes until cheese bubbles.

Let sit five minutes, cut and serve. Reheats well. Serves tons of people. Can be made ahead of time easily and is great for weekday dinners. Plus, it provides complex proteins and is suitable for vegetarians. (My son’s one—grrr.)

Serve with a green salad. I usually make this on days when my son has a game and then put it in a timed oven so it’s ready when we get home.

PCN: I have no immediate plans to invite tons of people over so that will feed me for a week. Thank you. Next question: It’s said that the best things in life are free. What are some of the best things in your life right now?

Strohmeyer's backyard

Strohmeyer's backyard

SS: Generic antidepressants. Not free, but cheap. Best things are my husband and kids (though my 18-year-old daughter’s a bit of a trial). The view of the mountains out my back door. Running around the dirt roads in my neighborhood. My basset hound, Fred, aka Mr. Bigglesworth. My friends and books. The hat I’m knitting. The fact that my cholesterol is 177 and I feel healthy and alive.

PCN: What would you tell someone who said he/she’s on a budget right now and can’t afford your book?

SS: “I’m sorry.” Then I’d suggest the library, a Penny Pincher haven.

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The Nerdy Hot 10 List

Maxim released its annual Hot 100 List today, focusing on women with exceptional beauty and bodacious bods. (House‘s Olivia Wilde got the top spot.)

Looking at some of the names, I thought the chosen women are indeed gorgeous but physical perfection is only one way to judge hotness. Year in and year out, the same people seem to end up on these lists.

So I decided to release my own Nerdy Hot 10 List, with male celebs who are sexy not because of their ripped bodies (though some might have them), but because of something a little imperfect, goofy, or nerdy about them. So here’s my list, in no particular order, and the reasons why these guys made the cut.

1. Colin Firth. Firth is the epitome of the awkward man who always gets tongue-tied around a pretty girl. But that awkwardness is what makes him so endearing, as evidenced by the hilarious scene in Love Actually when he publicly proclaims his love in halting, butchered Portuguese to the object of his affection. And remember those dreadful reindeer sweaters he sported in the Bridget Jones movies? He’s hot for having the courage and good humor to wear them.

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2. Hugh Laurie. He often appears slovenly and unshaven on House and behaves like an ass. But then you hear him play piano, sing a funny ditty on a talk show or give a humorous, humble acceptance speech for an award and all is forgiven.

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3. Paul Rudd. He’s most famous for doing bawdy comedies as part of the Judd Apatow gang; his blue eyes and boyish charm allow him to get away with all the mischief. But he can also do Shakespeare (I saw him do Twelfth Night in a Lincoln Center production), write scripts, sing, produce and all these hidden talents add up to one sexy guy.

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4. Robert Downey Jr. The first time I saw him was in The Pick-Up Artist, where he played a pretty geeky guy trying to hit on Molly Ringwald. What a difference twenty years make. Despite all his legal troubles and drug abuse, he’s somehow managed to salvage his quick wit, intelligence and ultra-sized talent. You may be well aware of his acting prowess but have you ever heard him sing? Forget about it. He’s got a voice that can melt inhibitions.

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5. James McAvoy. He may not be the tallest, most muscular or dashing man but oh, is he romantic. Check out those intense blue eyes. When he looks at his leading actresses in movies like Starter for 10 and Atonement, he really looks at them, as if they’re the most exquisite creatures he’s ever seen. And we the audience can almost feel him gazing right through the screen into our own eyes.

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6. Jon Hamm. I tried watching one episode of Mad Men and Hamm did nothing for me as Don Draper, though he was certainly groomed and dressed well. Then I saw him on 30 Rock as Tina Fey’s hapless boyfriend and developed a crush immediately. Hamm was ridiculously funny as the guy who was so beautiful, no one would tell him the truth about anything. He played tennis atrociously but thought he was awesome, rode a motorcycle like a drunk but thought he was cool and was clueless about the correct usage of the word “ironic.” I think Fey is a comedy genius and for Hamm to keep pace with her is sizzling hot.

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7. James Franco. He’s not that interesting as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man movies but when he’s goofy, like in Pineapple Express and funnyordie.com videos, he gets my sexy stamp. Plus, he gets extra points for being a nerdy academic, with an English degree from UCLA and working towards graduate degrees in creative writing and film at Columbia and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, respectively.

bret mckenzie

8. Bret McKenzie. As half of Flight of the Conchords, he doesn’t have much luck in his career or with the ladies on the show. But he, along with Jemaine Clement, makes me laugh hard with brilliant, kooky songs and their hilarious, clever lyrics. I don’t get starstruck much but if I ever meet him, I’d be completely tongue-tied and that’s a true sign of hotness in my book.

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9. Daniel Craig. Yeah, he beefed up for Bond and looks great in a tux but before that, he played a scrappy drug dealer in Layer Cake, a murderer in Infamous and an unsympathetic Ted Hughes in Sylvia. His face isn’t conventionally pretty, with rough features that look like he’s been in a few brawls, but I’ll take him over the typical Calvin Klein model any day.

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10. Brad Pitt. I swear he’s not on this list for the obvious reasons because, frankly, I find him rather bland when he plays heroes and pretty boys on screen. But he rocks my socks when he plays crazy like in Twelve Monkeys or a doofus like in Burn After Reading. A funny man who also happens to look like Pitt? Smokin’.

What do you think? Who else should be on the list? To see who’s on my Nerdy Hot 10 List—Female Edition, click here. (UPDATE: Check out my new 2010 Nerdy Hot List here.)

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